Freedom Writers

The plot elements of the new movie "Freedom Writers," starring Hilary Swank, are familiar: young first-year teacher, high school with gang problems, low-achieving and uninterested students. But the movie, based on a true story, is really good, give or take some obvious product placement. (That would be you, Borders). Hilary Swank plays Erin Gruwell, a naive idealist who unites a class of misfits, and they end up saving themselves through writing. I love that. Books (including young-adult novels) play a central role, there's a department head so un-visionary that you want to hiss when she appears on screen, and amid the learning, there's a tiny bit of dancing. I liked this one a lot, much more than the fake-o "History Boys," which is also about a charismatic teacher and his students.

Links: Rotten Tomatoes review compilation; The Freedom Writers Diary, the book on which the movie was based; Freedom Writers Foundation

"Curious George" Carries On

"Curious George" the movie opened today. For a list of reviews, see the Rotten Tomatoes compendium of criticism. Audrey Rock-Richardson, at the Tooele (Utah) Transcript Bulletin, writes, "It's the complete opposite of the pushy, loud-mouthed, smart-alecky stuff that dominates children's cinema."

Last year Louise Borden published her story of Curious George's creators'—Margret and H.A.  Rey's—harrowing escape from Europe during the Second World War. Titled The Journey That Saved Curious George, the book was a subject of a previous Chicken Spaghetti post.

Here's a neat article in the Concord Monitor about the Reys' life in Waterville Valley, New Hampshire, where they had a summer home after coming to the U.S. (Their main home was in Cambridge, Mass.) The Reys were well-known to the children of the Waterville Valley area. When Hans was working in his studio, he would hang out a picture of a man at his desk if he was receiving small visitors. The town of Waterville Valley now owns the Reys' cottage, which is open to the public, and the cottage maintains its own blog!

Then there's a sad corollary to the current Curious George news. Allan J. Shalleck, who collaborated with Margaret Rey on film shorts and books based on them (like Curious George Goes to an Ice Cream Shop), was murdered this week in Florida. The Palm Beach Post covers the gruesome story. (Link via GalleyCat)

The Lion, the Witch, and the C.S. Lewis

William Booth explains the brouhaha about the Narnia movie, opening  tomorrow, in the Washington Post. His article is called "The Roar Over C.S. Lewis."

The New Yorker critic Anthony Lane reviews the movie in the December 12th issue of the magazine, which is on the newsstands now. About the books on which the film is based, he writes,

Lewis lovers must squabble among themselves. I cannot join the party, having missed out on Narnia as a child. I was busy elsewhere, up to my armpits in hobbits, and starting to ask hard questions about the sexual longevity of elves.

Reviews, Narnia, and the Prom

Kelly, proprietor of  the kid-lit blog Big A little a, rounds up the latest children's book reviews from the Washington Post, LA Times, and the New York Times, so do go check them out.

At the Guardian, the author Alison Lurie writes about C.S. Lewis and Narnia. The Narnia topic, currently stirring up things on at least one  list-serv and a couple of Internet bulletin boards,  is on everyone's mind (or so one might think) because of the movie, which comes out on Friday, December 9th.

Your Fairy Bookmother reviews Laurie Halse Anderson's young-adult novel Prom on her blog. I"ll check our library for the new book, as  I read Anderson's Speak earlier this year. Speak is a powerful, accessible story about a serious subject, a sexual crime at a high-school party. It's not a dreary read at all;  Halse's heroine is triumphant.

Et Alia

The author Chris Van Allsburg expounds on the movie version of his picture book  Zathura. Link:  North

Jared Lee, You're Different and That's Super's illustrator, talks about collaborating with the author, Carson Kressley of TV's "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy." Link: Cincinnati Enquirer

"The Art of Dr. Seuss" exhibit at the Austin Museum of Art runs through January 15th. Link: AMOA

Lit blogger MoorishGirl is exasperated, to say the least. (She has good reviews of her short story collection, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, to console her.)

Wild Things in L.A.

Where the Wild Things Are, the classic Maurice Sendak picture book, is in movie pre-production. The film's director, Spike Jonze (of  "Being John Malkovich" fame), collaborated on the screenplay with Dave Eggers. Dave Eggers? The Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius guy? Yes, indeed. The New York Times relates the saga of how this film came to be, or rather, is coming to be. The screenplay is pending final approval by Sendak and film studio honchos.

Sendak is frank, as usual, when interviewed by the reporter  Charles Fleming:

He had then and has now, Mr. Sendak said, "a loathing of movies that are based on children's books, and a loathing for most children's books." In his words: "It's all vulgar. It's all  Madonna." Asked about the film versions of Dr. Seuss's Cat in the Hat or How the Grinch Stole Christmas - both released by Universal, where Ms. Snider is now chairman - he said: "What is the purpose of this debauchery? Money! Only a seriously sick or brainless person could like them."