Sunday, May 30, 2010

Literary Feast Discussion: Incarceron (The End!)

Incarceron (Incarceron, Book 1)Hey cool cats and prisoners! Well it looks like our stay in the Incarceron is coming to an end for now. Below are Monica and my thoughts about the conclusion of the book. We'd love to hear what you thought of Incarceron as well!

Shel: Hot darn, Claudia's dad is so...slytherin. You know how I feel about my slytherins. LOVE THEM!

Monica: He's Slytherin, but only sort of -- like Snape in a fanfiction, where he has a heart of gold underneath his cruel and calculating exterior. Seriously, "You have become dear to me"? C'mon, Warden, either you're good or you're bad! I don't play this shades of grey game!!

Shel: I love me some shades of grey!  Bring on more shades of it!  I'm so glad Jared made the connection between the cult and Sapphique.

Monica: I know, I was waiting for someone else to make the connection... and I hearted Keiro's moment where he realized a reason why Sapphique might have hacked off his own finger. Yeeks. Incarceron: Robots in Disguise!

Shel: Yeah, I liked that connection as well.  I was scared Keiro would cut his finger.  It's a big risk to take, not knowing if you have more internal robot parts.  I also like the detail about Claudia destroying her dress. It reveals so much about what she's going through emotionally.

Monica: That poor girl. She didn't get nearly the kind of cheerful resolution I was hoping for... but on the upside, at least she's not being forced into a marriage! And she doesn't end up with Evian (PS, do you think, like the water, that his name is supposed to be read backwards as an indication of his character?) which I was also strangely convinced was going to happen....

Shel: I think you were alone there.  Aww, I love that the prison wants to know about the outside world. It almost makes me sympathetic toward it. Almost.

Monica: Almost. If it wasn't so busy metabolizing people into itself, I might like it a little bit more. Because you're right, its practically a sympathetic character, and you can't say no to the irony of a prison being imprisoned by itself!

Shel: Wait! The warden was Blaize? Blaize was the warden? I'm confused. How did he get into the prison? Is there a third key? I don't understand. I didn't see that coming

Monica: Blaize was the Warden, who was also pretending to be Sapphique... and don't even get me started on my questions regarding Finn and his apparently Amazing Ability to pull people into his own seizure-induced visions? What the heck, Catherine Fisher!?

Shel: But the Warden isn't actually Sapphique?  Will he continue to pretend to be him though?  Confuzzled!  I have to say. This really wasn't one of those satisfying endings. What do you think?

SapphiqueMonica: It was tremendously unsatisfying. Unfortunately, I sort of knew I wasn't going to be happy with the ending, because once we hit page 400 or so, I realized there was NO WAY things were going to get wrapped up neatly in time. Curses. When is the next book due out?

Shel: December 28th  You can make it, Monica.  I'll help you!  And I'm sure there will be fanfiction to tide you over.

Thanks for joining us in the Incarceron!  Hope to see you at some of our future literary feasts.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Zombies in C-Bus! The end arrives on a beautiful sun-shiny day in the park

As you all probably know, zombies are huge right now.  They seem to be shuffling their way into every medium imaginable.  Including the background of my laptop.

Today, the zombies have managed to make their way to Columbus, in a zombie walk at Goodale Park.

I managed to get off my bum, brave the heat and go check it out.  I also managed to remain uneaten, which is impressive, given the number of zombies in the area.

I didn't dress up, in part because I arrived at the park two hours before the walk was scheduled to begin to sit under a tree and read (very pleasant!).  That experience probably would have been less pleasant if I had fake blood drying and flaking to contend with.

So, I read until I saw the first zombies making their way through the park.  Then I followed them to where they were gathering.  And by "follow" I mean, saw them, looked at the direction they were headed and made my own way there.  Zombies=not fast (in this particular case all of the normal park goers were asking them what was going on).

And I have to say, I'm glad I didn't attempt to dress up.  Because whatever I would have done would have been pathetic compared to these zombies:

Quite the happy family, wouldn't you say?

Yes, Mr. Priest Man, I think we are doomed.  Especially since it was over 80 degrees and so many of the zombies were overdressed.  But I suppose they didn't mind too much, being dead and all.

That wee-little boy is, in fact, a zombie killer.  He is poised to take on all three of those police-zombies.  Who are you betting on?

I was just so impressed at some of the detail these peeps went to.  I wouldn't even know how to begin doing such a job...aside from maybe never washing my face again...but that doesn't really appeal.

Some zombies even brought their own food (btw, the entire event was a food feed the living).

And also, ducklings! and Happy Dog!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Literary Feast Discussion: Incarceron (Chapters 14-28)

Incarceron (Incarceron, Book 1)Welcome back, prisoners!  I hope you're enjoying your visit to the Incarceron as much as the rest of us.  Our discussion is below.  Feel free to share your thoughts.  The more the merrier.  

Shel:   So what do you think of all these mounting religious undertones?  I'm curious to see where it will all go.

Monica:  Oooooooooooooooooooh… the Nine Fingered Man!  He’s like Count Rugen, but a thousand times more awesome!  (Honestly, though – it got introduced so late in the game that I’m definitely wondering if things will get wrapped up neatly, or if we’ll have to wait for Back To Incarceron.)

Shel:   I think we're going to have to go Back To Incarceron!  These time and spatial shifts are going to make my head hurt.

Monica:  You know, it’s a neat (albeit cheating) idea that the author snuck in – because of Protocol and whatnot, all the knowledge of how they built the prison is lost… so the author doesn’t need to explain the science! 

Shel:   Science explained?  That sounds like a lecture.  I'm an English major.  Unless something goes boom, my mind would wander anyway.  Why are apples always poisoned?  How come we never hear about the dangers of cumquats?  

Monica:  Because no one would ever eat a kumquat!  Those suckers are sour as anything!  ;)

Shel:   They're a nice little shock to the system!  Good for when you first wake up.  Anyway, I'm so glad Attia lived.  I like her.

Monica:  Ditto.  She’s spunky.  Although I’m not entirely sure what her fate is going to be in this book… she’s obviously not allowed to be the love interest with Finn, because he’s got Claudia.  Do you think Kiero will have a massive change of heart?  Think they’ll pull a JK Rowling “Oh, they’ve been fighting this whole time but really it was just them working through their passionate feelings for one another” plot twist?

Shel:   I'm kinda glad Claudia couldn't get into the prison yet.  I feel like there needs to be more buildup.  And she'd need more weapons.

Monica:  Plus, it definitely wasn’t complicated enough.  I have a mental image of Incarceron having a front hallway like the Labyrinth, with Claudia running along endless hallways cursing like a sailor while the Eye chuckles menacingly.  If she just waltzed in with her tutor, all “Here I am, let’s get the heck out and reinstate you as king!” it would definitely lose something.

Shel:  Mmm, Labyrinth talk makes me think of Labyrinth again. *sings*  Dance Magic, Dance...Hmmm, mini-prisons.  I'm suddenly reminded of Men in Black.  Anyone missing a galaxy on a cat collar?

Monica:  Or in a locker?  Wasn’t the galaxy in a locker, in the second movie?

Shel:  I...I have no memory of this.  All I know is that the break-away Will Smith hit for the movie was Nod Your Head.  I think my mind works in scary ways.

Monica:  Is it bad, as an aside vaguely related to the phrase “my mind works in scary ways,” that my first thought on learning about their miniaturization skills was that omg, I totally want my own teeny tiny zoo!  Or my own teeny tiny people!  They could live in my old Polly Pocket houses, and it would be aaaawesome!!  (I don’t know about you, but I really enjoyed Indian in the Cupboard when I was younger….)

Shel:  Oh, Polly Pocket, I loved locking your case and giving your world a shake.  I'm more of a fan of big zoos.  Give me life-sized lions any day!  

Monica:  I can tell that you enjoyed reading Jumanji…. 

Shel:  My favorite Van Allsburg!

Okay, prisoners.  We're almost through our stay with Incarceron.  We'll be finishing up our discussion on Saturday.  Hope to see you at the parole hearing then.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

REVIEW: The Surrender Tree

The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba's Struggle for FreedomEngle, M.  (2009).  The Surrender Tree:  Poems of Cuba's struggle for freedom.  New York:  Henry Holt and Company.


160 pages

Appetizer: This novel in verse spans 30 years in the late 1800s to share about the several wars Cuba endured to try to gain its freedom from Spain.  The narration switches point of view from poem to poem and focuses most closely on Rosa who would, in my words, become Cuba's SUPER-DOCTOR!!!!!!!

The story also shares the perspective of Jose (her husband), Lieutenant Death (a slave hunter who--fictionally--became obsessed with trying to kill her) and Silvia (a young girl who escapes a reconcentration camp in the hope of learning from Rosa).

At first this book was VERY difficult for me to read.  I blame my lack of schooling on the history of Cuba.  Around page 30, I skipped ahead to the historical note and timeline to try to figure out the history more clearly, but it didn't help too much.  Eventually though, the characters' perspectives did win me over and I still managed to get into the story, but even after finishing the book, I still feel like I need a eighth grade social studies teacher to sit me down and explain the historical context of the book to me.

The reason the characters won me over was because Engle does a very interesting job of showing how the different characters perceive one another.  As a child, Rosa, already a talented healer, doctors the son of a slavehunter, Lieutenant Death.  She mentions that LD and his father tell lies to "seem like heroes," then in the next poem, LD shares his perspective and describes how he chooses to call "wild dogs" wolves to seem "truly brave" (pp. 8-9).  This continues more as characters meet throughout the book.

Also interesting, by page 25, Rosa is an adult.  Soon after she's married.  For the next 50 pages, the poems follow an adult.  This surprised me, since writers usually don't try to have readers engage too closely with adult characters.  I think the fact that this is poetry helps, since readers can also focus on the imagery.  I still felt thankful when Silvia, who is described as being eleven and twelve-years-old in the poems, was introduced.  I felt that helped to make the book more child-focused once more.  Plus, there's a poem narrated in Rosa's voice that begins "Today the children saved us" (p. 136).

Despite my above critiques, The Surrender Tree gives voice to an important aspect of history.  It uses a lot of beautiful metaphors and (in a few cases startling) images to show the horrors of war.  I really love the thought that lots of middle grade kids and young adults have the opportunity to explore this time period and conflict (that opens up to comparisons to other wars and times when concentration camps were used).  I wish this story had been around when I was a kid.  And that I had a teacher who would explain it to me.

Dinner Conversation:

"Some people call me a child-witch,
but I'm just a girl who likes to watch
the hands of the women
as they gather wild herbs and flowers
to heal the sick" (p. 3).

"Should I fight with weapons,
or flowers and leaves?

Each choice leads to another--
I stand at a crossroads in my mind,
deciding to serve as a nurse,
armed with fragrant herbs,
fighting a wilderness battle, my own private war
against death" (p. 27).

"Who could have guessed that after all these years,
the boy I called Lieutenant Death
when we were both children
would still be out here, in the forest,
chasing me, now,
hunting me, haunting me...." (p. 39).

"The angel-man brings me
tiny bits of smuggled food,
but there is never enough,
and my brothers are turning
into shadows" (p. 99).

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Literary Feast Discussion: Incarceron (pp. 225-304)

Incarceron (Incarceron, Book 1)Hey kids! Welcome back! I'm glad to see most of you have managed to fight your way through the web of Incarceron (web? tunnels? caverns?) and make it safely here. Ready to join in as we discuss chapters 18-23? Let's go!

Shel: So, after this forced heart-to-heart, do you find the warden more relatable? I can't help but think he's still playing his beloved game of chess.

Monica: He seems sketchy. Perhaps the years of being Warden have twisted him into a shell of his former self, and way deep down there’s a kind, loving father trying to get out… but I still don’t trust him.

Shel: I think he was most likely a bit twisty to begin with. Finn asking for the background story of the cave feels very forced. Kind of like, "for all you readers at home" kind of moment.

Monica: OMG! I totally agree. To be honest, it’s the first time that the narrative stuttered – I’ve been enjoying this book so much so far, that I definitely noticed this scene. (Isn’t that sad? That the iffy parts are so much more noticeable in good books, because they stand out more?)

Shel: I know, right? It's like the curse of the good writer. Well, I got my wish about Incarceron becoming more of a character. I guess I'm just glad it recycles.

Monica: Right, but it recycles PEOPLE! It’s very soylent-green-ish. I’m not sure I approve. But, I suppose when you’re a crazed sentient jail who has been left all on your lonesome for umpteen years, you make do with what you’ve got.

Shel: Of course, a prison must be frugal! How convenient that they discovered that the keys can make you invisible to surveillance. Just in time!

Monica: I’m waiting for the keys to develop more magical powers. If you twist the top clockwise, it simulates bird songs! You can inflate one end to make a zeppelin! It doubles as a coffee-maker! It’s a LIGHTSABER!!

Shel: That would be pretty awesome. How do I get me one of 'em keys? I could use it to help keep my students interested in class! If they participate they get to see a lights show while sipping lattes and listening to a gaggle of geese's rendition of Row, row, row your boat.

All right, friends -- that's all Shel and I have for you today.
Join us on... Tuesday? Yes, let's say Tuesday. Join us on Tuesday for a discussion of pages 305-364. It'll be epic.

How My Writing Goes

I would like to discuss an important aspect of my life as a writer:


I do that.

On an unrelated note, I've been tested and I am a Cylon.  I understand if none of you want to be my friends anymore.

On the plus side, so is my cat.

That is all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

REVIEW: Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dragon Players

The Dragon Players (Knights Of The Lunch Table)Cammuso, F.  (2009).  Knights of the Lunch Table:  The Dragon Players.  New York:  Scholastic.


127 pages.

Appetizer: In the sequel to the original Knights of the Lunch Table, a little time has passed.  Artie is now comfortably friends with Percy and Wayne, but the Horde are still causing trouble.  As Artie and his friends prepare for a "Dragon Duel" robot competition as a part of the Dragon Day celebration, their main competition is the Horde of bullies and Artie's own decision about whether or not he'll cheat to win the prize Wayne needs to escape Principal Dagger's clutches after an incident in which his bowling ball met her shiny car.

So, I originally wasn't going to review this book.

It seemed to lose some of the focus on re-presenting Arthurian legend that the first book had (which actually seemed a little heavy handed...I also had to reread that book this week.  It's been a busy week o' the graphic here.).  The plot of the sequel also seemed less focused.  Percy was avoiding Artie.  Morgan, Artie's sister is trying to give his toys away to charity.  All of these things do contribute to the overall story, of course.  I just felt like it took some time to get there.

Also, some of the illustrations were a little harder to decipher.  Take this page for example.  Which one is Artie's sister, Morgan and which is his Mom:

It took me several extra glances to figure it out.  All of this was of course triggered by the thought, "Why would Artie's mom give him the extra hot wings?"  Then after five minutes..."Oh wait, that smile's more of a sneer and the bangs are parted in a different way.  How could I not notice sooner?"

But then I came to the end of the graphic novel.

And I decided I HAD to review it.

The Dodgeball Chronicles (Knights of the Lunch Table, No. 1)You see, one of my big problems with the first book was the ending.  The way Artie defeats The Horde in a dodgeball championship can kinda-sorta be construed as cheating.  I had a problem with it and so did some of my students.

The Dragon Players seems almost to address that complaint directly.  Once again, Artie goes on a quest to find a way to defeat Joe and the Horde, but when he realizes that his plan is cheating, he must, ahem, choose between feeding those two internal dragons that we all know so well:

Artie:  "Two Dragons?"
Mr. Merlyn:  "Sure.  One stands for what's right:  sharing, kindness, compassion, and truth.  The other stands for all the bad stuff like fear, anger, greed, and deceit.  And those dragons are always fighting."
Artie:  "So which dragon wins?"
Mr. Merlyn:  "The one you feed the most."

It all makes more sense in context.

I just liked that it felt like Cammuso was going back and addressing the critique of the first book.  It made me happy.  Mmmm, happy.

Dinner Conversation:

 Mom:  What are you two doing?!
Morgan:  I'm collecting junk for a charity auction at school on Dragon Day.  It's for my cheerleading squad.
Artie:  She's stealing my stuff! (p. 8).

Wayne:  Where are we going to get $300?
Percy:  What do you mean we?
Wayne:  It wasn't just my fault [the bowling ball threw Principal Dagger's windshield]!
Percy:  Since when is your bowling ball our responsibility?
Artie:  We all had a hand in it.  We're in this together.  We are Knights, after all (p. 29).

Miss Flunke:  People say that on Dragon Eve, a dragon roams the town looking for a sacrifice.  If you are outside past dark, he will swoop down and take you away.  Just thinking about it gives me the creeps.
Mr. Merlyn:  Yes, well, Dragon Day has changed from a day kids fear to one they enjoy.  It is still about sacrifice.  That's why we're having a charity auction.  So people can donate some of their belongings to a good cause.  But it's also about having fun and laughing at what makes you scared" (p. 31).

Percy:  The Dragon Duel?  It's boring!  Every year, teams build remote-controlled robots, then let 'em loose in battle.  The toughest robot wins.  How stupid.
Artie:  It sounds cool to me!  (p. 34)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Literary Feast Discussion: Incarceron (Chapters 13-17)

Incarceron (Incarceron, Book 1)Hello, fellow prisoners (whether your prison is existential, the world or the Incarceron)

We're back again with our thoughts.  We're both still enjoying the book quite a bit.  But we'd also like to hear your thoughts.

Shel:  I would have expected the prison to be more of a character.  It fusses with the weather and trees every now and then, but I want to see more...personality.

Monica:  We've still got quite a bit of book left... maybe it's just waiting to make its move?  I'm kind of liking it being not-so-sentient, but if it whips out the vocal cords and starts being all, "I'm sorry, I can't do that, Finn," I'll be equally pumped. (I'm also secretly hoping that it speaks through something else -- like, if one of the crazy cyber-horses suddenly swings around and tries to engage them in conversation....)

Shel:  I keep asking "what if" type questions with this story, like, "what if Giles hadn't been "killed," and Claudia was being forced to marry him.  Would she still like him so much?

Monica:  Definitely not.  I 100% bet she'd be freaking out just as much now about him... and, let's be honest, there would easily be enough political intrigue that probably she'd be involved in another potential coup as well.  "The Crown Prince has many enemies," and all that.  But luckily we don't need to worry!  Through sheer plot twisting alone, Giles is going to be an awesome future hubby!!  (Assuming Incarceron doesn't eat him....) 

Shel:  I liked the hint into Sia's past.  It's interesting with a bit of fairy tale whipped cream on top.

Monica:  Seriously, and with "strange eyes, with pale irises," I've got a very Fae feeling about her.  Are there elves in this Era?

And as long as we're on the subject, can we go over how much I like Gregor Bartlett?  That narrative was fantastic!  I'd kill for my diary entries to be that engaging!  I'm really kind of bummed he got offed before we actually got to meet him.

Shel:  There we have it.  Page 203:  Finn's voice "seems familiar."


Shel:  Would you have given Keiro the key?  I may have at least tried to hand it to Attia.  She seems like the smart and loyal type.

Monica:  I think Finn's sort of trapped.  He has only known Attia for a very, very brief while, and prior to that he wasn't thinking of her as human.  Keiro, on the other hand, is his bondbrother... so even though he probably knows way deep down that Keiro is less than trustworthy, tossing him the key might have seemed like the only option.

Or... maybe he has another copy?  It's a fake key!?  It's... no, I think he's just desperately hoping Keiro won't betray him....

Shel:  My oh my, how exactly did the Fates from Greek myth wind up stuck in the Incarceron?

Monica:  Was it you that I was having the conversation with, about how there are only approximately thirty stories in existance, and they all just keep being twisted and turned about and made into new stories with the same core ideas?  Maybe "Three ancient creeptastic ladies with a string fetish and a strong belief in their own superiority" is one of those stories!  And it lives on even in Incarceron!

Shel:  I like, "He was a master chess player at the Court.  She was a pawn on his board, a pawn he would make a queen, despite everything" (p. 223).  Well put.

Monica:  Hmm.  Methinks her dad should remember that once she's a queen, she can probably pretty much trample him.... 

Shel:  I always loved the Queen in Chess.  She kicks so much bum-bum.  I keep asking myself if I could write something like this.  And I think the resounding answer is no, no, I could not.  I couldn't manage as many plot twists.  I suppose I could just say that I tend towards a more "gentle" writing style....

Monica:  Ditto -- I'm being pulled so many ways in this that I'm confused sometimes just reading it, let alone trying to write something similar.

So, that's it for now kiddies.  We'll be back on Thursday to discuss chapters 18-23.  We hope to hear from you before then!!!!!

Friday, May 14, 2010

REVIEW: American Born Chinese

American Born ChineseYang, G.L.  (2006).  American Born Chinese.  New York:  First Second.


233 pages.

So, I recently had to reread American Born Chinese and I figured I may as well write a review this time around.

Appetizer: American Born Chinese shares the story of the Monkey King who has been excluded from a party by the other gods, Jin Wang who is having trouble adjusting to being one of the few Chinese-American student at his new school and his friendship with a "fresh off the boat" new student named Wei-Chen.  AND it's the story of Danny, who seems like the typical white-American teen, who must suffer through a visit from his (intentionally) stereotypical cousin, Chin-Kee.

It's a lot of stories, my friends.

Rereading the graphic novel, I was impressed by how expertly woven the themes and images of identity, inclusion exclusion and transformation are.  Lots of details all add to the overarching significance.  I can see why this pretty-baby won the Printz award (and thereby made a name for graphic novels everywhere)!.

I really like how vivid Yang's illustrations are throughout the graphic novel.  At the same time, his style is relatively simple, faces are made up of clear shapes, that seventh and eighth graders would be able to copy to create their own sketches (if they wished).  I like how essential the images are to make meaning.  It actually made it hard to pull quotes for this review, since the characters' expression really contribute to the meaning of the dialogue and narration.

For better or worse (worse!), this graphic novel did give me a flashback to grade school. At one point, Chin-Kee sings the rhyme "Me Chinese, Me play joke, Me go pee-pee in his coke" (p. 118).  I can remember hearing this in grade school.  From what I remember it was just a fun rhyme (I liked the pee-pee part), there was no consideration of the inherent racism.  I didn't think to myself, "why this runs counter to the treat everyone with respect, we're all equal" type of messages that I heard during school.  Although I probably wouldn't use this book with two many groups of middle graders, I do wish someone would have taken up this moment in the book and rhyme when I was in high school.  It presents a valuable opportunity to reflect and consider the more subtle racisms that go down on the playgrounds and in the halls.

One of the chief difficulties of this graphic novel is the fact that the chapters are seemingly unrelated to one another.  That's actually not the case.  And it turns out that some characters are the same person, but in disguise.  But there are few to no hints of this until the end of the book, when suddenly you're given this moment of "Woah, wait..." and you have to mentally go back and see if all the parts of the story still make sense together (they do!  But it's a bit of mental gymnastics to get there).  But some readers may not like going to all the trouble of integrating all the separate pieces into one whole.

American Born Chinese can also do an excellent job of beginning conversation on Chinese mythology, racial stereotypes, racism, Americanization, identity and on and on.

Dinner Conversation:

"One bright and starry night, the gods, the goddesses, the demons, and the spirits gathered in heaven for a dinner party" (p. 7).

Guard:  " Look.  You may be a king--you may even be a deity--but you are still a monkey" (p. 15).

"It's easy to become anything you long as you're willing to forfeit your soul" (p. 29).

Ma:  "I have some exciting news!  Guess who's coming to visit!"
Danny:  "Who?"
Ma:  Your cousin Chin-Kee!"

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Literary Feast Discussion: Incarceron (Chapters 7-12)

Incarceron (Incarceron, Book 1)
Hello again, all!  So, it would seem Monica and I are still entangled in the Incarceron and are pretty happy about it.  Our conversation for the next section is below.

Monica:  Gasp.  GASP!  A missing prince, with references made to his seventh birthday?  An amnesia-suffering teen boy with mysterious origins, with references made to his seventh birthday!?  OMG I WONDER WHO FINN COULD BE?!?!

Shel: Who, indeed.  Color me unsurprised.  How long do you think it will take the characters to figure this out? 

Monica:  I’m hoping Claudia does, although I can see why she might be running into some trouble – There are so many bad and/or questionable people in this, I’m surprised all the good people aren’t more suspicious and twitchy than they already are.  Seriously, is Keiro a good guy or a bad guy?  How did Jormanric get people’s lives into his rings?  What exactly makes the Warden so evilish?  Can we trust that earl dude!? 

Shel: My money is on Keiro being bad.  Finn needs to divorce him, or whatever you do to separate from an oath brother.  I totally believe he's the one who destroyed the bridge.  I didn't, by the way, see that coming.  As for Jormanric, I repeat:  "You want my word!  I haven't kept my word since I was ten and knifed my own brother" (p. 87).  That's my kind of bad guy.

Monica:  Poor Claudia and Finn.  I suspect they’re going to have a hard time coming out on top in this book.

SapphiqueShel: And that's what book two will be for.

Monica:  Hopefully a second book will give Finn time to work out any sort of personal crises that Gildas is inflicting on him.  Seriously, “Everyone has memories, Finn.  Your prophecies are what matter” (p. 81).  Yowch.  You know what he cares about.  Oh, and PS, have you ever seen the show SuperJail?  I’m imagining Incarceron as this terrible twist between that and Azkaban, with a little tiny bit of 1984 thrown in.  (I think it’s all the Eyes.  The idea that something is monitoring everyone is super creepy.)

Shel: Can't say I've seen SuperJail.  I keep having flashes from The Labyrinth.  For better or worse.  Oh, David Bowie.  "Slap that baby, make him free."

Monica:  The make-up of the jail still escape me.  It’s gigantic, but it’s not… physically present in Claudia’s world?  I feel like someone would notice a huge domed jail sitting in the middle of the countryside.  And if Incarceron is recycling organic tissue, is it doing the same for things like air and water?  Who’s keeping track of climate control?  Basically, I demand schematics.

Shel: At one point, Claudia hinted that it might be underground.  I'm sure we'll learn more.  I think the Incarceron is in charge of climate control--or lack there of.  I kinda think of it as a Matrixy super smart machine which may or may not have homicidal tendencies.  We shall see.

Monica: Like HAL!  “I’m sorry Finn.  I can’t allow you to escape.”  Blahahahahahaha…..

Shel:  I don't know how I feel about the changing of perspective every few pages.  I was comfortable with it switching each chapter.  It could be cool if the faster and faster perspective changes are working up toward them meeting.

Monica: I’m afraid for them to meet!  I’m halfway convinced, the way this book is going, that there’s going to be a giant fake-out at the end.  Claudia will have her arms outstretched, about to pull Finn out of the jail, and then the entire thing will collapse.  Happy ending?  NEVER!

Well, kids are you as entertained as we are?  I certainly hope so!  We'd love to hear what you think.  Also, if you're not detained elsewhere, feel free to wander on back her Sunday when we'll post about chapters 13-17.  Hope to see you then!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Literary Feast Discussion: Incarceron (pp. 1-78)

Incarceron (Incarceron, Book 1)
Hi friends, and welcome to our newest Literary Feast, starring Incarceron by Catherine Fisher.

Shel and I obviously haven't gotten very far yet, but at the moment, we're both really enjoying the book. So hop on in and join the discussion. We hope you'll be as (wait for it...) captivated by the book as we both are.

(Get it? Because they're all in prison? Like captives?)


Monica: Incarceron is pretty. The actual physical book, not the prison itself, obviously. I’m liking the mysterious twisty numbers and cogs, although… the key doesn’t really seem to match the description....

Shel: I agree about the cover. And I would like a key that looks like that. But when do the cover and content of a book every completely match? I think cover designers are out to torture us all.

Monica: I think the authors would agree with you on that half the time, Shel. ;)

Shel: Maestra, Jormanric, Sim, Keiro, Aslo...Good God, I'm going to have trouble remembering the characters' names in this book!

Monica: I’ve had to revert to what I do normally in fantasy books – I just look at the first letter and sort of substitute in a sound. Because let’s be honest – you can register the name with the character visually, without actually *reading* the name. (Like, for years I would read “Hermione” as “Hrmnnnnnn” and just keep on going.)

Shel: Yeah, for me Hermione was just Her in my mind... Ooh, and yet another Warden's daughter. I'm reminded of Al Capone Does My Shorts.

Monica: Only Claudia is AWESOME. Seriously, I’m loving her. She’s sneaky and rebellious and (best of all) she actually appears to be as smart and talented as she thinks she is. It’s not just that she doesn’t want to get married, it’s that she actually is arranging the means to avoid it! Piper is a pale, pale shade in comparison.

Shel: Yeah, I think Claudia kicks bum-bum too. Plus, there are also some big differences between the fathers as well. We have a father twisted around his daughter's pinky and a sociopath. I like the small little comment about how Claudia thinks that she's in a "hated cage" (p. 19). I think this could really draw out questions about what a prison is. To get my nerd on, I'm also reminded of my favorite section of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, in which she discusses Foucault's interpretation of the Panopticon prison. Good times, all these prisons.

Monica: Gaaaaaah. What are you doing!? You can’t bring up Foucault in the middle of my fantastic fantasy revels!! Away with ye – I’m going to keep thinking shallow thoughts about how incredibly cool all the imagery is, without looking for that deeper meaning.

Shel: I can't help it! I'm mentally structuring a quarter in which my students and I would look at the way prisons are presented in YA novels. It would be glorious. And intense.

Monica: Dear Shel's students, I apologize if I in any way played a part in this terrifying lesson plan. Love, Monica.

Shel: You know, compared to the slimy Taccone in Heist Society (our last literary feast, for those of you paying attention), Jormanric feels much more evil. Yet, so far he's all talk. How did Fisher do that?

Monica: I think it’s because Jormanric is so over the top – I’m imagining him as this sort of terrifying Jabba the Hutt man, all "Ohta su marvalic plesodoro" and chortling away as he ruins people’s lives. Taccone was described as evil, but I always got the feeling that he didn’t really want to dirty his hands with anything. Jormanric, though, seems like he’d really, really enjoy bringing the hurt – and since he hasn’t actually done anything yet, you’re stuck waiting for whatever awful thing you just *know* he’s about to do.

Shel: I totally pictured him as a Jabba like character too. Expect a little less green. So, I'm still kind of confused about what exactly is going on in the Incarceron, but Claudia's plot line has me intrigued. I'm getting into this book! How about you, Monica? Readers of the world?

Monica: No, for realsies, I’m finding this first section ridiculously entertaining. I’m enjoying how it keeps startling me, especially in terms of the “Era” appearance versus the actual available technology, and the descriptions of things in the prison. When Finn passes a rat, and sees "dust falling on its metal scales" (p.28) – I love stuff like that.

Shel: I think I'd blocked out that thing about the rat. Thanks for mentioning that again. BTW, if I lived in this world, I'd be all about this Era business. But I wouldn't be able to stick to just one. I'd have a 1920's afternoon than a Victorian evening. Fun!

That's all we've got for you so far, friends -- now get to reading!

We're going to be discussing the next section, chapters 7-12, on Wednesday. Hope to see you all there!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Literary Feast Introduction: Incarceron

Incarceron (Incarceron, Book 1)Dear friends,

You are cordially invited to our next Literary Feast.  

The conversation will begin on Saturday. 

Just to warn you, the feast will be held in a prison.  A living prison "like no other.  It gives life.  It deals death.  It watches all."  Won't that be fun!

To get a taste of Catherine Fisher's Incarceron, check out the trailer below:

Does that morsel tempt you enough to brave entering the Incarceron?  I certainly hope so, because Monica and I don't want to go through this alone.

I hope to hear from some of you in the comments.  We'll be restricted to discussing the first six chapters of Incarceron on Saturday.

Monday, May 3, 2010

REVIEW: Gregor the Overlander

Gregor The Overlander (Underland Chronicles, Book 1)Collins, S.  (2004).  Gregor the Overlander.  New York:  Scholastic.


311 pages.

Appetizer: 11-year-old Gregor is facing a hot, boring summer in New York City, watching his grandma and one of his little sisters, Boots.  His mom works all day and his dad had mysteriously disappeared several years ago.

But, when Boots falls into a large open duct along the wall behind the dryer in the basement laundry room of their apartment building, Gregor has no choice but to follow her.  The siblings fall into a mysterious underland where cockroaches, bats and rats are giant, the people have never seen the sun and where, Gregor quickly learns, it's much easier to arrive than to escape.  Looks like his summer has taken a turn for the interesting.

Okay, so I'm in love with The Hunger Games trilogy that Collins wrote after the Underland Chronicles.  And since I'd heard good things about it, I figured it was my duty to pick up this series as well.  But while by the same author, who still writes in clear and action-packed prose--I mean, can the woman end a chapter without there being some kind of plot twist/moment of emotional "ooh"?--The Underland Chronicles will really appeal to middle grade boys.  I'm guessing the giant cockroaches, spiders and rats will entertain.  And the fact that Collins includes real behavioral and biological features when she describes the animals will amuse even more.

I particularly like Gregor the Overlander because quite a few of the initial interactions and misunderstandings revolve around cultural misunderstandings.  This can help prepare students or open up discussion about experiencing another culture.

I also like that the book explores what it is to be a hero/warrior and the sense of determinism that can arise when characters must worry about fulfilling a prophecy.  Between the prophecy, quests, and links between the giant bats and their human riders, the book feels like it is the underground baby of The Lord of the Rings series and Avatar.  Seriously!  (Never mind that Gregor came out long before Avatar.  It's still its baby.  Don't ask me about the math!).

I do have one small complaint though.  I didn't like that the protagonist's name was Gregor and one of the antagonists was named King Gorger.  Gregor.  Gorger.  Gregor.  Gorger.  Knowing Collins, this may have been intentional.  But since I tend to focus on the first and last letters as I read names, there were a few moments of confusion.

Also, as a warning, there are multiple character deaths in the book.  As a rule, the characters who die aren't the ones the reader is expected to love the most, but they're also not nameless, faceless, motionless rocks in the background either.  (But how unexpected would that be?!  If a rock died?!  Those kids don't even breathe!  Nobody would see it coming!)

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (The Underland Chronicles, Book 2)The next book in the series is Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane.  While it won't be able to fight its way to the top of my book pile, it'll still make the pile, which is saying something.

Dinner Conversation:

"Gregor had pressed his forehead against the screen for so long, he could feel a pattern of tiny checks above his eyebrows.  he ran his fingers over the bumps and resisted the impulse to let out a primal caveman scream" (p. 1).

"As he reached the far wall, a strange scene confronted him.
The metal grate to an old air duct was wide open, secured by two rusty hinges at the top.  Boots was squinting into the opening, about two feet by two feet, which led into the wall of the building.  From where he stood, Gregor could see nothing but blackness.  Then a wisp of...what was it?  Steam?  Smoke?  It didn't really look like either  Some strange vapor drifted out of the hole and curled around Boots.  She held out her arms curiously and leaned forward.
"No!" yelled Gregor as he lunged for her, but Boots's tiny frame seemed to be sucked into the air duct.  Without thinking, Gregor thrust his head and shoulders into the hole.  The metal grate smacked into his back.  The next thing he knew, he was falling down, down, down into empty space" (p. 13).

"All right, okay, I'm talking to a giant cockroach," thought Gregor.  "Be cool, be nice, answer the bug.  He wants to know 'Smells what so good, smells what?' So, tell him."  Gregor forced himself to take a deep sniff and then regretted it.  Only one thing smelled like that.
"I poop!" said Boots, as if on cue.  "I poop, Ge-go!"
"My sister needs a clean diaper," said Gregor, somehow feeling embarrassed." (pp. 18-19).

"It is simple to fall down, but the going up requires much giving."
"What do you mean?" asked Gregor, his throat tightening.
"He means you cannot go home," said Luxa flatly.  "You must stay with us in the Underland."
"Uh, no!  No, thank you!" said Gregor.  "I mean, you're all great, but I've got stuff to do...upstairs!" he said.  "Thanks again!  Nice meeting you!  Come on, Boots!" (p. 36).

"He'd seen movies.  He'd read books.  He didn't in any way resemble any warrior.  First of all, they were grown up and they usually had a lot of special weaponry.  Gregor was eleven and, unless you counted a two-year-old sister as special weaponry, he'd come empty-handed" (pp. 111-112).

"Gregor succeeded in thinking of himself as a warrior.  A bold, brave, powerful warrior that the Underlanders would tell stories about for centuries.  He could almost see himself leading a squadron of bats into battle, stunning the rats, saving the Underland from--
"Ge-go, I pee!"  Announced Boots.
And there he stood, a boy in a goofy hard hat with a beat-up flashlight and a bunch of batteries he hadn't even tested to see if they still had juice.
The mighty warrior excused himself and changed a diaper" (pp. 137-138).

Tasty Rating:  !!!


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