Tag Archives: book review

More Literate Than Lauren Conrad!

Thanks to The Longstockings blog for highlighting the “expert” interview of author reality star Lauren “LC” Conrad on EW.com’s Shelf Life.  It’s no surprise that the girl couldn’t have come up with a genuine answer if she tried (Goodnight Moon? Really?), and it’s pretty funny. I feel for her ghost writer.

I decided to show the West Coaster how it’s really done… by filling out the interview for myself.  Read on…

Favorite book as a child / There were SO, so many, but my standard answers as a child were Rechenka’s Eggs by Patricia Polacco for my favorite picture book, and as I got older, The Trumpet of the Swan by EB White.

Book you’ve gone back to and read over and over again / I’ve probably read the Golden Compass by Philip Pullman dozens of times in my life, and it is fascinating in a completely different way now than when I was 10 years old.

Required reading that you hated / God rest his soul, J. D. Salinger, but I genuinely hated Catcher In The Rye.  I’m sorry, but that’s what I would’ve said last week.

Fictional character you most identify with / She’s not fictional, but Sloane Crosley, whose memoir I Was Told There’d Be Cake had me in stitches for weeks, is the Westchester-Jewish-writer version of myself.

Favorite book by a fellow celebrity / Does David Sedaris count? How about Amy?

Favorite book as a teen / Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli, is pretty much the reason I made it through my adolescent years.  She was my role model… I used to read it over and over for reassurance.  My dog-eared copy still sits on my shelf at college, and I’m pretty sure I’ve teared up every time I’ve read it.

Book you’ve faked reading / I try never to use SparkNotes, but I did fake reading Nietszche. He’s not my scene.

Book you’d use as a doorstop / Janson’s A History of Art is the requisite doorstop of any art student.

Book you want to read next / I’m simultaneously reading The Help and Double Take, but the top three books/audiobooks I’ve been dying to get to for months are Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation, Love In The Time Of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine.

Book that changed your life / I already mentioned Stargirl, so here is my cheesy runner-up answer to make LC proud: last year, He’s Just Not That Into You became the first and only self-help book to change my life. Seriously. Now, it’s the book that I want to use to slap my girlfriends in the face.

Book with the best movie version / I’ve always had a soft spot for High Fidelity, and the movie adaptation is almost as witty, poignant and entertaining as Nick Hornby’s novel.  More recently, I was blown away by Precious: based on the novel Push by Sapphire, and I keep picking up the book in stores but I don’t think I have the guts to read it (if you can believe it, the movie actually glossed over a lot).

Best author to read on airplanes / I always read short stories, like No One Belongs Here More Than You by Miranda July, that keep my attention, but I can fall asleep and not lose my place if I want. Just make sure the person next to you isn’t reading over your shoulder at the inappropriate parts.

Fictional character you have nightmares about / After reading The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen in 4th grade, I had nightmares about the Holocaust for the rest of the year!


It’s Not As Simple As It Seems – Part II

Thinking about Neal Hagberg‘s commitment to addressing social issues in his songs, it got me to thinking about what I could do to incorporate important themes into my own children’s books. Since I don’t have a second senior project lined up yet (think… think…), this could be a perfect opportunity to create something that is meaningful to me, and could speak to others as well.

I’ve mentioned before that I remain VERY skeptical of the use of biblio-therapy. I fear that basing a children’s book around a “moral” or lesson could lead to a preachy tale that hits the reader over the head – I’d rather see books as a form of escapism or entertainment.

However, when I thought about it, some of the best books speak to greater issues, teaching children (and adults!) while still being beautiful and expressive in themselves.  Here’s my top five:

1.  Religious Tolerance: The Trees of the Dancing Goats by Patricia Polacco (Simon & Schuster, 1996).  When scarlet fever falls on Trisha’s Christian neighbors, her Russian Jewish family prepares a celebration for them, complete with latke dinners and Christmas trees.

Roy and Silo (photo credit and full article)

2.  HomosexualityAnd Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, illustrated by Henry Cole (Simon & Schuster, 2005).  This is a story about a REAL gay penguin family in the Central Park Zoo!  I still can’t believe that this adorable story of nurturing is on banned books lists all over.

“We wrote the book to help parents teach children about same-sex parent families.  It’s no more an argument in favor of human gay relationships than it is a call for children to swallow their fish whole or sleep on rocks.” – Justin Richardson, to the New York Times

3.  Death of a ChildThe Purple Balloon by Chris Raschka (Schwartz & Wade, 2007).  This is the most beautiful book on death I’ve ever seen, using the imagery that terminally ill children express in art therapy of a floating purple or blue balloon.

4.  BullyingChrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow Books, 1991).  Unusual children (ahem… like myself) need to grow up with this book of standing out and being “absolutely perfect” even if you’re different.

5.  CharityThe Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister Herbert (North-South Books, 1995).  Today’s society needs this book to learn how to share a bit.  (Note: when I was looking it up on Amazon, there was a comment about this book being “socialist propaganda”.  Case in point).

Can a children’s book make a difference (or make a point) in the world?  These five did it.  But can – or should – I?  I’m going to find out.


Confessions Of A Foodie Part II – Kids Love Food, Too!

yelling orange with plumIn celebration of my foodie obsessions . . . here’s a top 5 list for the kids!

Top 5 Food-Related Children’s Books I Love:

1. How Are You Peeling?  by Saxton Freymann and Joost Eiffers (Arthur A. Levine Books) – Foods with moods.  I am more than happy to find daily reminders of this creative childhood obsession on the counter of Pratt’s Pie Shop cafe.

2.  Strega Nona by Tomie DePaola (G. P. Putnam’s) – I got my nickname “Strega Nona” from manic episodes of all-nighter pasta-making . . . and shouting children’s book references (“I’m f*ing Strega Nona!”) as I attempt to cook my own recipes.

3.  Jamberry by Bruce Degen (HarperCollins) – A small child’s bacchanalia.  Really.

4.  Gingerbread Houses For Kids by Jennifer A. Ericsson and Beth L. Blair (White Birch Press) – Shameless plug for my mother’s self-published cookbook.  But seriously, making gingerbread houses is my favorite winter activity, and no one does it better than they do. 

5.  Chicken Soup With Rice by Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins) – 

In July I’ll take a peep

Into the cool and fishy deep

Where chicken soup is sellin’ – cheap! 

Selling once, selling twice, selling Chicken Soup With Rice!

Confessions Of A Wanna-be Foodie

I have to a confession to make.  

Despite my inedible baking disasters (ask my sorority sisters), perpetual lack of groceries/clean dishes (ask my roommate), and habit of buying all my meals at the deli (ask my bank account . . . and the guy who knows my sandwich order by memory) – I’m obsessed with the culinary world.  Maybe it has something to do with the fascination of watching an art that I can’t seem to master.  Maybe I’m just always hungry.  But it started with Top Chef . . . and now it’s taking over my book choices, too.  

imageDB.cgiYesterday, I finished my latest (free!  gotta love publishing) subway read, Food Of Love, a light and enjoyable romance by Anthony Capella.  In a predictable, but lovable, series of comedic twists, flashy waiter Tommasso seduces a beautiful American art history student, Laura, by pretending to cook the food of his quiet chef friend, Bruno.  Naturally, Bruno’s in love with Laura, Laura’s in love with Bruno’s food, and all hell breaks loose like a boiling pot of pasta.  

I couldn’t help it – just like the gotta-watch-it appeal of a Bravo TV Show, I’m completely enamored with just reading the recipes and the names of all the seductive Roman dishes – zabaione, coda alla vaccinara, abbacchio alla caccciatiore, pappardelle al sugo di lepre . . . bravo!  bravo!  

Now I’m on to a different take on food (one that’s not so likely to get one “in the mood”, per se), The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan.  I was delighted to find it sitting on my desk yesterday, as a little gift from the Penguin gods, in celebration of their 75th 74th anniversary (Happy Birthday, Penguin!).  It is said to take you back to the basics of food . . . maybe it will help me improve on my own culinary skills.

Hope For The Flowers (and for hippies everywhere!)

Found among the dusty shelves of The Community Bookstore in Cobble Hill, a 1973 children’s novel called Hope For The Flowers, written and illustrated by Trina Paulus.  


“A Tale – Partly about life, partly about revolution, and lots about hope for adults and others (including caterpillars who can read).”  Sounds like the ’70s!

I picked it up – and spent my grocery money to bring it home – because, let’s face it, I’m a huge sucker for a book with a textured paper and entirely written in hand lettering.  The book has a graphic feel that seems like it was personally doodled for you, and the linear illustrations are carefully highlighted in shades of olive and yellow.  Mmm.


The story is a thinly (okay – NOT at all) veiled metaphor for screwing the capitalist “man” and finding glorious, hippie enlightenment, with a cast of . . . fuzzy caterpillars?  Yep, “Stripe” and his love, “Yellow”, meet climbing the corporate ladder, I mean, pillar of other caterpillars, clawing each other to get to the top, and decide to forsake the ladder for making some easy, breezy, caterpillar love and smoking eating grass.  

But Stripe is not content, and abandons Yellow to go back to the pillar and succeed in getting to the top – only to realize that there’s nothing there (get it?).  Meanwhile, Yellow learns to look within herself, let go, and transform into a shining butterfly.  When Stripe finally makes it back down, she helps him see that there’s a butterfly in every one of us . . . caterpillar. 

I was fascinated by the design and highly entertained by the look back at bohemian “revolutionary” ideals, but overall, I really don’t like philosophy dumped in my coffee – or in my children’s literature.  I much prefer stories to be just as they are, because trying to be blunt about making a point makes the writing suffer – there’s too much explaining involved.  

I also don’t believe that “enlightenment” is such a tangible state, either.  There’s not a black and white of contentment between those who are driven to take part in mainstream America and those who don’t.  I think happiness comes in a variety of forms for different people – and questing for the magic way to be forever a “butterfly” will probably leave you disappointed. 

Hope For The Flowers, which I judged as a precious old find but actually has sold over 2 million copies, is definitely worth picking up – if only to see how different attitudes are now (and look at the rad hand-drawn look!). Peace Out!