Monday, July 30, 2007

J.K. Rowling Interviews

J.K. Rowling is currently doing a FANTASTIC webchat on Read the transcript here.... it's amazing.... she's answering every question fully and a lot of wonderful questions are being asked.

UPDATE: The chat is now over and definitely worth reading. It's refreshing to see so many questions answered and wonderful that she's not holding anything back any more.

I posted a short excerpt of J.K. Rowling's interview on The Today show... but now the entire interview is online. If you enjoyed the excerpt, you'll love the rest of interview.... there's tons of interesting information in it. Several of J.K. Rowling's comments in this interview have already been twisted and taken out of context.... so it's refreshing to read the complete transcript.

Pssssst..... don't read either of these interviews until you've finished the book.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Harry Potter 7: Chapters Six and Seven



Chapter Six

and Chapter Seven

This post is safe to read if you've finished Chapter 7.

Chapter Six: The Ghoul in Pajamas

Most memorable:
-Harry noticing that Mrs. Weasley’s eyes are the exact same color as Ginny’s eyes.
-Mrs. Weasley’s frantic obsession to keep Harry, Ron and Hermione apart.
-The things Ron and Hermione have done to protect their families.

Funny: Mr. Weasley keeping Sirius’ motorbike in the chicken coop.

Connection to previous books: The books that Hermione sorts in Ron’s bedroom are all ones that have been mentioned previously. I love that she has pores indecisively over Break with a Banshee (because of her crush on Gilderoy Lockhart) and that she tosses Defensive Magical Theory (the book from Umbridge’s class) into the trash without hesitation.

Favorite quote: Mrs. Weasley asks Ron to clean out his bedroom… and Ron demands why it needs to be cleaned. Mrs. Weasley: “We are holding your brother’s wedding here in a few days’ time, young man-”
“And are they getting married in my bedroom?” asked Ron furiously. “No! So why in the name of Merlin’s saggy left-” (Scholastic hardcover, page 92)

Chapter Seven: The Will of Albus Dumbledore

Picture: Is it just me, or does Harry look incredibly tall in this picture? Or is Ginny just short?

Most memorable:
-Harry reveling in turning of age and finally being able to do magic outside of Hogwarts
-Ginny’s birthday present for Harry
-Harry’s vision of Ginny marrying a faceless stranger
-The warning that came from Mr. Weasley’s Patronus. Although we know that the Order of the Phoenix communicates via Patronus and we’ve seen Dumbledore send one before… this was the first time we really saw the communication in action.
-Rufus Scrimgeour, who was much more openly hostile than the last time we met him.
-The wonderful puzzle in the objects that Dumbledore left to Harry, Ron and Hermione. Clearly they would be very important and I couldn't wait to find out how.
-Ron knowing more about a book than Hermione .

Funny: Norberta the Norwegian Ridgeback was very funny and I loved Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches.

Connection to previous books: That in his first ever Quidditch match (in Book One) Harry nearly swallowed the Snitch. I’ve always thought that was incredibly random and was glad to finally know that Rowling wrote it in deliberately.

Favorite quote: Hermione comments that she, Harry and Ron should get some sleep because it’s late and they wouldn’t want to oversleep Bill and Fleur’s wedding.
Ron agrees and says “A brutal triple murder by the bridegroom’s mother might put a bit of a damper on the wedding.” (Scholastic hardcover, page 136)

Friday, July 27, 2007

All Harry, All The Time?

If you've just tuned into Wizards Wireless, you might have the impression that the only topic on this blog is Harry Potter. Not really... just for the last week or so. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows seems to have dominated my posts lately and I'm currently discussing the book chapter by chapter. That's been taking a while, so there will be some more non-stop Harry Pottering while I work my way through discussing the book.

If you're more of a big picture person, my overall impression of the book is here.

I have no Internet connection this weekend (sigh) but should be able to post several more chapter discussions by Monday. Please comment... I'd love to hear what your impressions are about each chapter.

If you're not a Harry Potter fan, the children's book reviews section of this blog will be back soon. And if you are a Harry Potter fan.... enjoy! There's so much to talk about!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Fantastic J.K. Rowling interview

Want more information than what was in the epilogue?

Check out this interview with J.K. Rowling on the Today show... this was very satisfying to read. It filled in a lot of holes for me.

DON'T read the interview or the comments on this post until you've finished the book.

UPDATE: the complete interview is now online. See this post for the link.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter 7: Chapters Four and Five

Spoilers and lots of them!

This is safe to read if you've finished reading Chapters Four and Five... but please don't read this if you haven't. They are both such wonderful chapters and I'd hate to ruin them for you.

Chapter Four: The Seven Potters

General comment: Rowling doesn't mess around. It's only chapter four and she already has a major battle scene featuring Voldemort. Talk about hitting the ground running (or flying, as it were.)

Most memorable:
-Hedwig dying so quickly and unexpectedly.
-A solid brick wall appearing out of nowhere in midair.
-The helplessness that Harry experienced being with Hagrid who was the least talented wizard.
-The sidecar falling to earth.
-Shock that the Death Eaters figured out who the real Harry was.
-The terror of Voldemort catching up with Harry so soon.

Funny: The reactions of the characters who changed into Harry, and the image of each of them lining up to take a rucksack and an owl cage. I particularly liked Harry's comment that the doubles were being rather immodest with his body.

Connection to previous books: Hagrid does have Sirius' bike! I knew it! I'm glad Rowling brought it back. Also, Fred's comments about Mad Eye not being able to tell the twins apart is a mirror of Fred's conversation with Mrs. Weasley in Book 1 in the train station (Sorcerer's Stone, Scholastic hardcover, pg. 92).

Favorite quote: There were so many funny lines in the beginning of this chapter that it's hard to chose. I thought everything Fred and George said was hysterical. But if I had to pick just one, it would be after everyone has drunk the Polyjuice potion:
"Fred and George turned to each other and said together, 'Wow- we're identical!'
'I dunno, though, I think I'm still better looking,' said Fred." (Scholastic hardcover, pg. 51)

Chapter Five: Fallen Warrior

General comment: This was a fantastic and suspenseful chapter. It really kept me on the edge of my seat. Since it was the last book, I felt that really anyone could die... that no one was safe. I thought it was wonderful the way Rowling staggered the arrival times at the Burrow to leave the reader in suspense as long as possible.

Most memorable:
-The psych-out that Hagrid was dead. That was gut-wrenching.
-Harry's reaction to Andromeda Tonks.
-Lupin telling Harry that the time to disarm was past, now was the time to kill.
-Mr. Weasley's angry insistence to see his injured son.
-Mad Eye's death, because I always saw him as such a tough character.
-Bill's salute to Mad Eye which was done so quickly out of necessity.
-Fleur's allegiance to the Order of the Phoenix... it's the first time I really saw that.
-Harry trying to be an adult and proclaiming that he trusts everyone in the room.

Funny: Fred and George again, of course. I loved that George had a sense of humor even in light of a significant injury. I also liked the sight gag of Hagrid continually getting stuck in doorways.

Favorite quote: Fred's comment after George says that he's holey.
"Pathetic," he told George. "Pathetic! With the whole wide world of ear-related humor before you, you go for holey?" (Scholastic hardcover, pg. 75)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Change of topic

Enough about Harry Potter, you say! No problem. How about I talk about comic strips?

Sounds good.

Here's the last two days of Unshelved... Monday's is here and Tuesday's is here.

P.S. They're about Harry Potter. Couldn't resist, sorry.

P.P.S. For more about Unshelved, read this post.

UPDATE: Wednesday's is here and Thursday's is here.

Harry Potter 7: Chapters Two and Three

Spoilers coming!!!!

It's safe to read this post if you've finished Chapters Two and Three of the Deathly Hallows... but do NOT read it if you haven't finished reading the Half Blood Prince.

As I move on to chapter two, I think I better start talking about them in outline form, otherwise it might take me longer to go through all the chapters than it did for J.K. Rowling to write the book. So here goes the (hopefully) streamlined discussion of the next few chapters.

Chapter Two: In Memoriam
Most memorable: When I read Dumbledore's obituary, I felt like I was mourning someone I knew personally. This was the first time my eyes watered while reading this book.

Funny: The Rita Skeeter interview was absolutely hysterical.

Worth pointing out: Aha! He found the mirror that Sirius gave him. I knew that would be important. The fact that Harry saw a blue eye in it made me think he was summoning Professor Dumbledore back from the dead, but I wasn't sure how. I kept thinking that the fragment would break apart once it was in his backpack.

Connection to previous books: Elphias Doge (the writer of Dumbledore's obituary) was one of the members of the Order of the Phoenix who escorted Harry to Grimmauld Place in Book 5.

Favorite quote: "The idea of a teenage Dumbledore was simply odd, like trying to imagine a stupid Hermione or a friendly Blast-Ended Skrewt." (Scholastic hardcover, pg. 21)

Chapter Three: The Dursleys Departing
Picture: I understand that Dudley has more muscle mass than in the past, but is it just me or does it look like he has balloons up his sleeves and has turned into a hunchback?

Most memorable: Harry standing up to the Dursleys, so completely unafraid of them... and actually protecting them. And of course, the fact that Dudley redeemed himself.

Funny: Dedalus Diggle. This is the first time we've really gotten a chance to see him say more than a a sentence or two, and he cracked me up. I loved when he asked Uncle Vernon if he knew how to drive. And his pocket watch is great. I could use one of those.

Connection to previous books: The image of Vernon Dursley packing and unpacking and repacking was reminiscent of his madness in Book One in The Letters From No One chapter.

Favorite quote:
Dedalus Diggle to Harry: "The hopes of the Wizarding world rest upon your shoulders."
"Oh," said Harry, "right." (Scholastic hardcover, pg. 41)

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter 7: Introduction and Chapter One

Look out, spoilers coming!

No, really, I mean it.

BIG spoilers.

Last chance to stop reading.

Okay. You asked for it.

Can you believe that the giant squid was a horcrux?

That was just a test to see if you really stopped reading this post.

Now for the real stuff...

I've got to start with the cover. Not the artwork... that was released weeks ago and it's been pored over minutely. It's the jacket flaps that are intriguing. There's no plot summary on the front one (just a one sentence introduction) and the back flap is completely blank. Totally intriguing and classy... and I've never seen it before. It heightened the sense of drama.

And next, the dedication. (Wow, this series of posts is going to be long, isn't it?) I love that it's split seven ways... to her husband (Neil), her children (Jessica, David and Mackenzie), sister (Diane) and mother (Anne)... and the readers. It thought it set the right tone to have the fans be included on the dedication and this the first book she's done it. It also felt like it made a full circle with the first book, which was dedicated to Jessica, Diane and Anne. (Neil, David and Mackenzie and the fans weren't in her life at the time). It's also the first time she's included quotations and I thought they were well chosen and also heightened the tension. Clearly, this book is going to talk about death. It's in the title. It's in the preface. There's no escaping it.

Just a quick note about the audiobook here. (I simultaneously listened to the audiobook and read the book.) All the Harry Potter audio books (the Random House Listening Library versions) begin the same way... a very short piece of music (the same music for every book), the title, the author's name, the narator's name and then Chapter One. For Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the music was very different from the quick jaunty theme of the other books. It was much longer, more intense and more poignant. That coupled with the quotations made it a far lengthier introduction than usual... and I thought it was well done and very effective.

Chapter One: The Dark Lord Ascending
Raise your hand if at first you thought this was the same night that Snape fled Hogwarts. I certainly did. I've got to hand it to Rowling for an excellent psych-out. This was the first time we saw a Death Eater meeting, and it was intense. I didn't know whether or not to believe Snape's information but I liked that Draco was scared. I was surprised that Lucius was at the table, and thought the way Voldemort took his wand was a wonderful sucker punch. The words Charity Burbage used to plead for her life were an exact replica of Dumbledore's last words: "Severus... please." And the image of the snake slithering onto the table was suitably creepy.

The Plot That Must Not be Named

(This is the last spoiler free post).

So, as mentioned in the previous post, I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows but haven't yet said much about it yet. Here goes....

I have to say that I don't know where to start. There was just so much in the book... and there's so much to talk about. The only way I can think of to do this is to go chapter by chapter (lumping several chapters into each post so that it isn't too tedious to read.) I'll put the chapter numbers in the headline of each post- so you'll know what is safe to read if you haven't finished the book.

As a whole, I thought the book was extraordinary. The plot just wasn't guessable and I loved that. I experienced the whole range of emotions while reading... sadness, joy, shock, surprise. Mostly I was amazed at how many clues and double and triple meanings had been buried in the other books and what a complex tapestry the whole thing is. Congratulations to Jo Rowling for writing such a fantastic story and for keeping a secret for seventeen years. It was worth the wait.

Be warned.... from here on, the posts contain spoilers.

So I finished the book and....




Friday, July 20, 2007

Tonight, Tonight

A few final pre-release thoughts about Harry Potter. (The Harry Potter posts will stop dominating this blog soon.... I promise.) I made some predictions in this post... but why miss a chance to embarrass myself and make a few more? =)

So here goes (and try not to laugh too much if you're reading this post after you've finished reading the book).

Ginny will do something amazing... and it will involve cats. I'm not sure if she's an animagus.... but she seems to have a special affinity with cats, particularly Crookshanks. Also, adjectives and descriptions of her frequently are cat-like. If I'm right about this... it will make the following line from book two absolutely brilliant: "Ginny Weasley seemed very disturbed by Mrs. Norris's fate. According to Ron, she was a great cat lover." (Chamber of Secrets, Scholastic paperback, pg. 146). That would mean that line not only works when re-reading Book 2, but is actually an important detail for the whole series.

We will FINALLY find out about why it is important that Harry has his mother's eyes.... and why Lily had a good wand for charm work. (Every time I read that Harry has his mother's eyes, I think of a rejoinder from the Mrs. Doubtfire movie ... "not unless he fills out a donor card.")

Aberforth Dumbledore (see this post for more about him) will be important because he's been an incredibly minor character until now.

There's been a lot of speculation about will Harry live or die. My friends and family (who all know that I'm an obsessed Harry Potter fan) keep asking me what my prediction about this is. My answer is that I don't think it will be that simple. It's hard to guess anything at this point (without looking like a complete idiot tomorrow).... but I feel sure that there's more to it than just living or dying.

So enjoy reading.... and don't forget to savor the book as you tear through it. My first step (while exiting the parking lot at the bookstore) is to pore over the table of contents. These may feel like extra pages that are in your way of getting to the first chapter, but I found that in Book 6, Rowling did some fantastic psych-outs with the chapter titles and I'm looking forward to seeing if she does it again.

Have fun at the Harry Potter release parties. If you're debating whether or not to go at midnight (it's just a book after all).... just go. It's the last book, the last party... it'll be worth staying awake for. If you haven't found a party in your area, check out the extensive listings at Potter Parties.

As for me... I'm retreating to a cave (well, figuratively- see the new poll on the right side of the page) until I've finished the book. I'll post lots about it when I'm done.... with gigantic spoiler warnings. I always finish the books very quickly and can't find anyone to talk to about it. I would LOVE to hear your opinions about the book... e-mail me at or post to the comments section, but please put Spoiler in the heading.

And then, I promise, I'll get back to writing about something other than Harry Potter.

Enjoy the book!!!!!

Update: Check out the acknowledgements on J.K. Rowling's official site. Click on the pink eraser on the desk. The Room of Requirement will open for you.... there's no secret code for getting past the door this time.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Speaking of spoilers

Don't worry there aren't any in this post!

There is a wonderful post on The Leaky Cauldron this morning about the fact that The New York Times chose to run a review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows before it has been released. The Leaky Cauldron has a fantastic sample letter to the editor of the Times.... so I'm just posting the link here because they said it far better than I could have. Their staff is wonderful... you can truly see how heartfelt they are.

They also have a great poll that sums up how I feel about it: (go to Leaky to vote) and lets you choose who people who spoil Deathly Hallows should be handed over to: Filch, Umbridge, Fluffy, Snape, Griphook, the Aurors or Voldemort. Voldemort is (of course) currently in the lead, but Umbridge is a surprisingly close second.

See my previous post about how Book 6 was spoiled for me.

One Day More

As I'm waiting (just a few more hours!) for the release of the 7th Harry Potter book.... I keep thinking about when the 6th book came out.

I had just started working in the children's department of a major independent bookstore.... the WEEK before Book 6 came out. So it was a bit, ummm, hectic. When the UPS driver came into the store on Wednesday.... the staff cheered (what if the books didn't come, after all the pre-sales?) The driver said that everywhere he went that day (to drop off Harry Potter books) everyone was thrilled to see him.

There were so many boxes that all available staff helped unload the truck. So, there I was, handling the boxes of books, but couldn't look inside. Talk about torture! Once inside the store, the books were immediately sequestered in the receiving room, so they could be processed and mailed (to customers who would receive them on Saturday). If I had thought handling the boxes was bad... seeing the piles of forbidden books was worse.

Saturday finally came (I wasn't at the midnight party because they needed staff on Saturday morning). The books were everywhere, all over the store, and I handed out hundreds that day. But we were so crazily busy I didn't have time to even peek at the table of contents. It was a fabulous day though... watching kids literally glow as I handed them their precious book.

About halfway through the morning an adult came to the counter. She said she couldn't wait to find out who died in the book (J.K. Rowling had already announced that a significant character would die.) She started flipping through the book while still at the sales counter.... apparently determined to find out the answer right that minute. (I couldn't leave the counter because I was assisting other customers). I said that the staff were fans and we hadn't had a chance to read the book yet.... so whatever she found out could she please keep to herself? I think I said this about three times. Didn't work... she told me who died. ARGH!!!!

So, because of this, I'm very wary about revealing things before readers have had a chance to find out for themselves what happens. There's an article today in the Washington Post "Spoiler Frenzy Follows Early Mailing of "Hallows" by Monica Hesse (there aren't any spoilers in the article) about people who want to ruin it for everyone else.

All this is a long-winded way of saying that I will be posting about Book 7 (after it's been released).... and although there will be giant spoilers all over it, PLEASE don't read the posts if you haven't finished the book yet. I really really really don't want to ruin it for you. You only get one chance to read the book for the first time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Jim Dale and Audiobooks

There's an article today by Motoko Rich in the New York Times about my favorite audiobook narrator and how he makes an excellent Secret Keeper.

He's won a Tony, a record number of Audie Awards and been nominated for tons of Grammys and even an Oscar. To find out more, visit Jim's website.

He's had a very interesting career to date.... audiobooks are relatively new for him but he's also been an actor, comedian, DJ, songwriter... and when he was younger he was a rock star. Now, that's a cool career.

But that's not why I think he's so great. He's my favorite because he can make a story come alive utterly and completely. He's my favorite because I totally forget that I'm not listening to a full cast recording and there is just one man doing hundreds of voices.

I discovered the power of Jim Dale 's voice through the Harry Potter audiobooks (as most people did) but I've been beguiled into listening to everything else he's recorded. My favorites (not including Harry Potter, of course) are Peter and the Starcatchers and Peter and the Shadow Thieves by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. (These books are so good that I'll give them a post of their own at some point). I think the books are great, but Jim Dale manages, incredibly, to make them better.

Here's some quick unscientific research about how popular audiobooks have become (and in particular the Harry Potter audio books). This morning I went to my library's catalog and added my name to the holds list for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in book, tape and CD format.... and saw what number I was on the lists. (Then I removed my name... because I reserved my copy months ago).

But here's what I found out for my library system (a large suburban system near a major city):
  • 754 holds for the book
  • 247 holds for the CDs
  • 107 holds for the tapes

So, that's 754 holds for the book, 354 holds for the audio format; for a total of 1108 holds.

Which means that in my library system, of the people who put themselves on the holds list... 68% will read the book and an astounding 32% will listen to the audio book (either in CD or tape format. So, essentially one in three people will listen to the sound recording instead of reading the print edition. Wow....

I'm anticipating the Harry Potter audio book as much I'm anticipating the actual book. I don't see it as an extra.... I feel that the two versions (print and audio) combine to make a complete experience. There are things that work better in print than in the audio version.... but there are also things that work better as audio than in print. I'll get more into the specifics of the Harry Potter audio books in another post.

It might be dangerous for me to be involved in a business negotiation with Jim Dale. He could talk me into anything.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Piled Higher and Deeper

Speaking of grad school... check out the PhD comic strip (which actually does stand for Piled Higher and Deeper). It started when creator Jorge Cham was an engineering graduate student at Stanford University (he has since escaped with his doctorate). It keeps getting better (and seems eerily familiar to my own grad school experience). PhD is a self-published and unsyndicated web comic strip (similar to Unshelved- see this post). There are three book collections... the third one Scooped just came out.

If you've ever been in graduate school, know anyone who has, or passed someone on the street working towards their doctorate... you'll get a laugh out of PhD. (The doctoral student will probably groan, though.... because it'll feel like they're reading their own diary.) It's more for PhD students... but I find it pretty funny, and I'm just a lowly master's student.

Short post

This is an extremely short post to say that:
  • My summer class is starting tomorrow, so my posts may thin out a bit while I concentrate on grad school.
  • Only 4 more days until Harry Potter!
  • See, I told you this would be a short post.

In Training?

Do you have a little boy (or girl) in your life obsessed with trains? Here are a few of my favorite books about trains... keep in mind these are all pretty basic and recommended for babies and toddlers.

I Love Trains! by Philemon Sturges and Shari Halpern: this is a very simple, very colorful book. It has a good rhythm and is easy to read aloud. This pair has collaborated on several other books including I Love Trucks and I Love Planes.... but I Love Trains is my personal favorite.

Trains by Byron Barton: even simpler than I Love Trains! and it's been issued both in paperback and as a board book. If you like this book... check out Barton's other wonderful books including Trucks, Boats, and My Car.

Freight Train by Donald Crews: one of my very favorites. I wrote more about it in this post.

Trains by Anne Rockwell: more of a non-fiction book than the ones mentioned above, but it still works well for young kids. Probably more of a toddler book than a book for babies.

The Little Engine That Could by Wally Piper: you're reading right over this one, aren't you? Of course you know about this book, you don't need me to tell you about it. Well, maybe you don't know about a wonderful new version with illustrations by Loren Long. I think it's absolutely beautiful- and really enhances the story. Some people fall in love with it at first sight (like I did) and some people don't like it because it's not the one they grew up with. Give it a try... see what you think. And if you do like it... check out this wonderful page on Loren Long's website that features several sketches for the book along with the finished artwork.

Got any other good train book recommendations? (There are an enormous number of books published on this subject.) Let me know.... write them in the comments section of this post. I'm always looking for new easy books about trains (at least, my son is).

By the Nightlight

Check out a wonderful new blog about children's books called By the Nightlight. It's written by two sisters (who I first met about twenty years ago) who both love books and are top-notch writers. Good luck to Jody and Liz and I can't wait to read more!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Tickle the Duck!

This is one of my favorite touch and feel books for babies and toddlers. It's also one of the only ones I know that has an actual page-turning plot (which can be summed up as- the duck doesn't want to be tickled, but you're going to tickle him anyway). It's a great excuse for you to tickle your baby (or for them to tickle you)... but it's also wonderful to see a book in this genre that is more than "Feel the fuzzy bunnies."

My only word of caution is that it isn't a board book (the pages are made out of durable paper) so it might get destroyed by babies. I think it's good for one year olds and up.

Kudos to Ethan Long for creating such a funny and accessible book, for taking this age group seriously and for drawing an utterly irresistible duck. He has a new book featuring the duck called Stop Kissing Me! coming out in August 2007.

Be sure to read Tickle the Duck with a two year old. It's a whole different experience than reading it to yourself.

Proud to be a Potterhead

That's the title of an article by Sabaa Saleem Tahir that appeared this morning in the opinion section of The Washington Post. Why am I mentioning this particular article when there have been dozens (and possibly hundreds) of Harry Potter articles in the media in the last few weeks?

Well, for starters, because it's one of the best articles I've read about the subject.... in particular the way that Tahir describes her change from skeptic to die-hard superfan. And because it sums up exactly how I feel about the Harry Potter books. I started off skeptical too.... but now have badgered everyone around me into reading the books (at least the first one) and have produced a fair number of converts. My husband will also have to guide me through the bookstore parking lot at 12:03 am on Friday night/Saturday morning as I try to read the first chapter of the book. And... although I'm dying to know what happens.... I'm crushed that the series is ending.

There was another article about Harry in the Post's Outlook section this morning... titled Harry Potter and the Death of Reading. I have absolutely no problem with two contrasting viewpoints.... after all, that's what the opinion section is supposed to be all about. What did irritate me was that the negative Harry Potter article took up two thirds of the front page of the Outlook section... and Tahir's positive article was buried in the back of the section with no mention of it at all (not even a small blurb on the front page that there was a second article on the subject).

Anyways, if you're a Potterhead... give Tahir's article a read. And if you're not... then you'll love "Harry Potter and the Death of Reading."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Harry Potter and the... Goat?

In my previous post about the Order of the Phoenix movie, I said that:

"I was the only one in the entire, packed movie theater that laughed when there was a goat in the Hog's Head. Okay, it's an obscure reference, but I thought it was hysterical that they included it in the movie."

My husband just read my post and wanted me to clarify that he got the joke too, he just didn't think it was laugh-out-loud funny like I did. (Which, technically, makes my comment still true).

So what was the goat reference about? (If you understood it the first time, or aren't interested in Harry Potter... you'll probably want to skip the rest of this. And you should also skip this if you haven't finished reading Book 6.) For the two of you who are still reading, it is an obscure reference, but I'm pretty sure it will be important in Book 7.

In Book 4, (Chapter 24- Rita Skeeter's Scoop) there's a scene in Hagrid's hut in which Dumbledore, Harry, Ron and Hermione convince Hagrid to return to work after Rita Skeeter's article about Hagrid's giantess mother.

Dumbledore says: "My own brother, Aberforth, was prosecuted for practicing inappropriate charms on a goat. It was all over the papers, but did Aberforth hide? No, he did not! He held his head high and went about his business as usual! Of course, I'm not entirely sure he can read, so that may not have been bravery...." (Goblet of Fire, pg. 454)

All page numbers in this post refer to Scholastic hardcover editions.

Seems like a throw-away comment from Dumbledore, doesn't it? Go ahead and read these two excepts from Book 5 (Chapter 16- In the Hog's Head):

Description of the Hog's Head: 'The Hog's Head bar comprised one small, dingy, and very dirty room that smelled strongly of something that might have been goats."(Order of the Phoenix, pg. 335)

Description of the Hog's Head barman:
"The barman sidled toward them out of a back room. He was a grumpy-looking old man with a great deal of long gray hair and beard. He was tall and thin and looked vaguely familiar to Harry." (Order of the Phoenix, pg. 336)

Well, now it's starting to come together. But nothing is ever definite until J.K. Rowling confirms it. Let's she what she said when asked about it in a Q&A session at the 2004 Edinburgh Book Festival (it's a great interview by the way, well worth reading... just remember it came out before Book 6 was published).

Audience member: "Why is the barman of the Hog’s Head vaguely familiar to Harry? Is he Dumbledore’s brother?"
J.K. Rowling: "Ooh—you are getting good. Why do you think that it is Aberforth?"
Audience member: "Various clues. He smells of goats and he looks a bit like Dumbledore."
J.K. Rowling: "I was quite proud of that clue. That is all that I am going to say. [Laughter]. Well yes, obviously. I like the goat clue—I sniggered to myself about that one."

So, yes, the barman at the Hog's Head is Dumbledore's brother Aberforth.
Once you know that... there's a few other throw-away comments that suddenly become more important.

Such as...
-In Book 6 (Chapter 20 - Lord Voldemort's Request) Harry and Dumbledore are watching a memory in the Pensieve about Voldemort's request to teach at Hogwarts. Dumbledore lists the names of several Death Eaters that accompanied Voldemort and mentions that they are staying in the Hog's Head that evening. Voldemort is extremely surprised that Dumbledore has this knowledge and comments:
"You are as omniscient as ever, Dumbledore."
'Oh no, merely friendly with the local barmen,' said Dumbledore lightly."
(Half Blood Prince, pg. 445)

-Also in Book 6 (Chapter 25- The Seer Overheard) when Trelawney describes her job interview in the Hog's Head and says it was interrupted by Snape. Trelawney : "There was a commotion outside the door and it flew open, and there was that rather uncouth barman standing with Snape." (Half Blood Prince, pg. 545) Aberforth is mentioned in Book 5 as being in the original Order of the Phoenix... so he was the Order member who caught Snape and ejected him before Snape heard the rest of the prophecy.

One more reference in book six (Chapter 30- The White Tomb). Harry mentions several of the people who attend Dumbledore's funeral and they include: the barman of the Hog's Head. (Half Blood Prince, pg. 641)

Anyways, rather long explanation... but now you know that the Hog's Head barman is Dumbledore's brother (although you probably already knew that). But that's why there was a goat in the Hog's Head bar in the movie and why it made me laugh... and my husband smile.

Now you too can laugh at the goat when you see the movie.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Order of the Phoenix- The Movie

Have you seen the new Harry Potter movie yet? No? Then you should stop reading this post right now.

Seriously... I have all kinds of spoilers, and don't want to ruin it for you.

Last chance to stop reading.

So you're one of the millions of people who HAVE seen the movie? Okay, you can read on.

First off, great movie. I always have a tough time with the movies because I LOVE the books so much, and its hard for me to watch 900 pages turned into a 2 hour movie. But I thought this movie was good and worth seeing (if you've read the books). If you've only been watching the movies to this point... I think you'd have a really tough time understanding what the heck was going on.

So, in no particular order... here's my comments:

  • Cho was the sneak who ratted on Dumbledore's army??!!!
  • Grawp was surprisingly cute, not as scary or computery as I expected.
  • Luna Lovegood (who was excellent by the way) was surprisingly prominent.
  • Percy's part was surprisingly small. Couldn't he have at least appeared in the hearing scene? There was also very little of Draco and Lupin.
  • I was so disappointed that they didn't have Harry, Hermione, Ginny, Luna, Neville and Ron all squeeze into the telephone box/visitor's entrance to the Ministry. That would have been a great sight gag.
  • Fantastic moment that wasn't in the book- when Harry says to Umbridge in the forest- "you told me not to tell lies, professor."
  • Lucius broke the prophecy... I liked that.
  • The Dumbledore/Voldemort showdown was terrific and dramatic, but I'm not sure why they cut out some of the wonderful moments from the book- particularly Fawkes swallowing the Avada Kedavra curse. I loved that they kept "It was foolish of you to come here tonight, Tom"... although anyone who hadn't read the books would have had no earthly idea of what that meant.
  • There was a lot of Ron and Hermione romantic foreshadowing.
  • My husband's comment on Umbridge "She wasn't how I pictured her, but she did manage to completely and totally irritate me, so I guess she did a good job."
  • I was the only one in the entire, packed movie theater that laughed when there was a goat in the Hogs Head. Okay, it's an obscure reference, but I thought it was hysterical that they included it in the movie.
  • There were a lot of funny sight gags... mostly seeming to involve Filch.
  • I understand it was a hot day, but Aunt Petunia's dress was a little...ummm... short.
  • Great sight gag about Mr. Weasley getting past the ticket barriers on the London underground.
  • Very funny moment when Fudge sees Voldemort at the ministry and says "he's back."
  • The Mr. Weasley and the snake scene was a little strange... they cut out St. Mungo's entirely (which I understand was done for time purposes) but it felt awkward and choppy.
  • There was more of the D.A. then I was expecting... they were great scenes. Although, why invent a random cute little boy named Nigel? What was wrong with using Dennis Creevey... who is a cute little boy who's actually in the book?
  • Kreacher's betrayal never happened.... so why was he in the movie at all?
  • Dumbledore's twenty page speech at the end was summed up into four sentences... really, it was Lucius Malfoy who explained the prophecy.
  • If the whole point of the Order of the Phoenix is to avoid being seen.... WHY would they fly their brooms right through the London harbor???

I think my favorite thing was seeing the child actors.... and to watch how they've gotten older and grown into their parts. Anyways... good movie.... worth seeing.

You read this post before you saw the movie, didn't you? =) Yeah, that's what I would have done too.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale

Warning: This Caldecott Honor book may cause obsession among small children. Be prepared to read it aloud many many many times.

Ah... Knuffle Bunny. What a wonderful book. It has a pretty simple premise... a little girl (Trixie) loses her stuffed bunny at the laundromat. Doesn't sound like amazing drama, does it?

That's because you haven't read the book. (Or maybe you have.) Mo Willems manages to turn this basic story into a riveting page turner that children can't wait to read again and again and again (and again).

What makes this book so good? So many reasons. First, it's realistic and easy to relate to (ask any parent who has lost their child's favorite stuffed animal). The sentence structure is fairly simple with only one sentence per page (a crucial element in a book for young children). The pacing is excellent and moments of drama are inserted at just the right times. The writing and illustrations are funny, and both adults and children get the jokes. (Every child or adult I've shown this book to has known exactly what going boneless means). I also love how Willems uses every available space to tell his story... the endpapers, the copyright page and the back cover all advance the plot.

I think the real genius is in the illustrations. Vibrant colorful characters are layered over black and white photographs of Brooklyn, New York. My favorite picture (although it's hard to chose just one) would have to be the one accompanying the words "So Trixie's daddy decided to look harder." I love the look on Trixie's daddy's face as he rolls up his sleeves.

This book was recently turned into a short film by Weston Woods Studios. And the movie is as wonderful as the book... and definitely worth checking out at your local library. The real Trixie (Mo Willems' daughter) narrates it along with her parents. It's a perfect combination of still photography and animation... and stays reverently close to the book. The video won the 2007
Andrew Carnegie Medal. Read the bottom of this post for my son's reaction to the movie (and how I felt about watching it again at the Caldecott/Newbery banquet.)

I attended this year's ALSC awards ceremony (where the Carnegie medal was presented). Mo brought his daughter Trixie up to accept it (to huge applause and lots of exclamations of "she's so cute!") He said in his acceptance speech that the book and video are completely true... except for the parts he made up. He did mention that he doctored the background photos (to remove things like overflowing dumpsters.)

Want more knuffle bunny? (Who doesn't?) Knuffle Bunny Too: A Case of Mistaken Identity is coming out in September 2007. Need your own personal knuffle bunny? Check out Yottoy- where you can also get an irascible plush pigeon. Want more Mo Willems? Check out his website and his funny and creative blog, Mo Willems Doodles.

Note for fans of other Mo Willems books: when Trixie, her mommy and her daddy run through the park... they pass a man wearing a white t-shirt. The pigeon from Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is on the shirt.

Note for pronunciation perfectionists: the title character is pronounced Kuh-nuff-el Bun-ee. The K is not silent because it's a Dutch word.

Read it again?

Update: Check the comments for a few interesting points about the bunny's name.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

Non-fiction biographies can be tough to write. Let me tell you about one that I consider a masterpiece of the genre: the 2004 Caldecott medal winner The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordecai Gerstein.

It's the story of Philippe Petit’s daring tightrope walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center. Petit performed the walk clandestinely in 1974 while the two iconic buildings were still under construction. Mordecai Gerstein read about Petit’s walk shortly after in happened and tried several times to write a book about the event. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers is the result of nearly thirty years of germination.

The illustrations are simultaneously realistic and fanciful and reflect the combination of mechanics and magic in Petit’s extraordinary feat. Petit's book To Reach the Clouds contains numerous photographic images of the walk but it is Gerstein's illustrations that give the reader vertigo. Gerstein was not confined to the roof of the tower as Petit’s real life photographers were, and was therefore able to use his imagination to portray a much larger variety of angles and viewpoints.

The pictures methodically deepen in intensity and propel the story forward. The book begins with small framed vertical illustrations that parallel the planning stage of the adventure. The pictures stretch to long horizontal vistas as Petit constructs his wire and strings it across the towers. As the drama of the actual walk between the towers unfolds; the white space disappears completely and the pictures spread fully across both pages. Even two pages are not enough to convey the majesty of the walk itself, and the picture spills onto a third page which physically lengthens the image. The unique gatefold pages suddenly and dramatically transform the reader’s perspective until they are walking above the clouds with Petit.

Gerstein employs the combined media of oil paint and pen and ink drawings extremely effectively. He conveys images as small as the tendons on Petit's ankles and as large as the view above New York City. The twin towers appear in virtually every illustration in the book. They dominate the book just as they dominated Petit’s imagination. Gerstein continuously contrasts the strong, vertical lines of the towers with the horizontal line of the tightrope. The color palette changes throughout in response to the mood and the action. When Petit and his friends are working feverishly in the moonlight, the dark colors provide an air of secrecy. As the sun rises, so does the color intensity, which gradually gives way to bright hues.

The simple and straightforward text leads the reader step-by-step through Petit's thoughts and preparation. “I didn't want to just tell the story of the walk – I wanted the book to be the walk between cardboard covers," said Gerstein in his Caldecott Acceptance speech. He achieves this with a methodical chronicle of Petit's motivations and actions so that the reader can clearly understand every step of the process. This "how-to" explanation is well suited to children who are fascinated with the mechanics of an event.

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers is a book about the power of memory. It is not only the memory of the Petit’s walk; but a broader collective memory about the symbolism of the World Trade Center. Gerstein invokes this idea from the first page as he begins with the words “Once there were two towers side by side.” He unfolds the specifics of Petit’s walk; then pauses to reflect on the twin towers again before the books’ conclusion. The impermanent nature of both the walk and the towers is united into one sentence; “Now the towers are gone.” Both the solid, physical buildings and the magical, ephemeral tightrope walk now belong to the world of memory.

I got to meet Mordecai Gerstein briefly at an  ALA convention. He answered a question I've always been dying to ask... what does Philippe Petit think about the book based on him? Gerstein's answer was succinct... Philippe Petit loves the book. His only issue was the thickness of rope used, which Gerstein changed in a later edition of the book.

There's a paperback edition of The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, although the hardcover is my favorite.

To Reach the Clouds
is currently out of print, but is readily available in many libraries. 

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers soars every time I read it... the way Philippe Petit soared above the World Trade Center.

ALSC awards

Don't know what I mean by ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) awards? Chances are, you're probably more familiar with them than you think... and you've probably read (or watched your kids read) many of these books.

ALSC is a division of ALA (American Library Association) and they confer a number of awards, but the ones I'm referring to here are the Literary and Related Awards. The most famous, of course, are the Caldecott and Newbery. But there's also a number of other wonderful awards (which have been growing through the years.) Check out ALSC's descriptions of the various awards... they explain it much better than I could.

The awards are announced every January (and sales immediately skyrocket- literally within the hour). The winners are talked about on lots of listservs and websites when they're announced, but alas... it's really hard to get a copy of the books when they've suddenly become incredibly popular. It so happens that I've read the winners and honor books of just about every single ALSC award honored this past year... see a partial explanation of why (and how) towards the middle of this post.

So, even though it's many months after all the hype, I'm going to be posting reviews of several of the honored books, because, well.... they're excellent books. Also, I got the chance to attend almost all the ALSC award ceremonies this year, hear the speeches and meet the authors... and I'd love to share all the fascinating things I learned. And to get feedback from people who've read the books (now that they're easier to get than they were in January.

I've already reviewed two 2007 Newbery books... the superlative winner- The Higher Power of Lucky and one of the fabulous honor books- Rules. Stay tuned for the other two (Hattie Big Sky and Penny from Heaven), as well as the Caldecott, Geisel, Siebert, Andrew Carnegie and Batchelder 2007 winners and honor books. I'm also going to be highlighting some of my other favorite Caldecott and Newbery books from previous years.

Blog feedback

I've been delighted with the responses I've gotten to this blog (and how many people seem to be reading it!) It's been an eclectic mixture of people looking for books for babies, older fiction, Harry Potterisms, etc. I've been trying to vary the subjects as much as possible (i.e. not too many Harry Potter posts, a range of age levels on the books I'm reviewing, etc.)

Please keep the feedback coming... it's fantastic... and it gives me an idea of what age range(s)/interests to write reviews for.

There are experienced children's librarians reading this site (wohoo!!!) as well as people who are brand new to children's books. All of this is a rather round-about way to say some that some of my posts may be rather introductory for those who are new to it. If you're an old hand, go ahead and skip the next post on the ALSC awards.

Monday, July 9, 2007


I've started to feature comic strips on this blog... but haven't yet written about one of my very favorites... Unshelved. It's purely a webcomic, although it does have several collections (4 so far, Book #5 is about to be released.) It's set in a library and it's about... well... libraries. And books. And technology. And graphic novels. And customer service. And a guy in a beaver suit.
It has a great cast of characters, funny plots, and is just altogether a wonderful comic strip.

The whole comic strip is online, so you can read through their archives, starting with the very first strip. (It isn't a bad idea to start from the beginning anyway, to get a sense of the characters,... and to figure out the story behind the beaver suit.) They also have an RSS feed, or they'll e-mail the strip to your Inbox every day.

They've also started a new (in the two last years) feature... the Unshelved Book Club, which features individual recommended books in full color Sunday strips.

My favorite Unshelved strip ever is Seven Stages of Falling in Love with An Author. This is exactly how I feel when I find a terrific author. I've never seen it so well described before. Take a look at Merv in the "infatuation" panel. Is it just me, but does it look like he could be walking in either direction? (His nose and ear are about the same size).

If you're not familiar with Unshelved... give it a try, and let me know what you think. It's funnier than it sounds.

Sunday, July 8, 2007


This book kept surprising me... particularly how I was unable to put it down until I finished reading it. I had heard the book was about autism (and knew that author Cynthia Lord has an autistic son). But really, that is only one part of this incredibly dynamic book. It isn't preachy, it isn't filled with beat-you-over-the-head lessons and morals... it's about accepting who you are (and accepting the people around you for who they are.) It's also about how important words are... and how easy they are to take for granted.

I love the protagonist Catherine... and how human she is. And her brother David is so well described that you really feel like it's like to live with someone autistic. Catherine's and David's parents are terrifically portrayed... not as saints, but as believable and realistic people.

I must admit, though, that wheelchair-bound Jason was my favorite character, he just kept getting more interesting and I couldn't wait for the next chapter with him in it.

This is a compulsively readable joy of a book... I can't say enough good things about it. A few things to keep in mind...
  • This is Cynthia Lord's FIRST novel. WOW!
  • It received an extremely prestigious Newbery Honor.
  • It also received the Schneider Family Book Award which honors children's books about disabilities.
  • It's fantastic.
If you're interested in more about Cynthia Lord, check out her website and her blog.

Bookstore Tourism

There's a relatively new trend called bookstore tourism... which, as I understand it, is organized bus tours of book lovers to cities with a large number of independent bookstores. It's becoming quite popular... there's even a National Council on Bookstore Tourism. I find this very interesting, and am glad to see independent bookstores getting new and appreciative patrons.

I've always practiced my own (and far less formal) brand of bookstore tourism.... I try to find an independent bookstore wherever I travel and go visit it. The Book Sense website is a good place to find listings of bookstores across the United States... just type in a city or zip code to find a bookstore.

I've listed some of my favorite independent bookstores on the right hand side on this blog. Chances are, if it's on my list, it's either a children's bookstore or it has a great children's department. There may also be a few specialty bookstores like The Drama Bookshop, which doesn't have any children's books, but is a holdover favorite from when I used to work in professional theater.

Let me know what your favorites are, and I'll add them to my list (and I'll visit them the next time I'm in the area).

Harry Potter websites

So... if you are a Harry Potter fan (see the previous post)... I just posted a new list on the right side on the page of my favorite Harry Potter websites. (If you're not a fan, just go ahead and skip this post).

These are all pretty major reputable and trustworthy websites (and if you're a Harry Potter junkie, you probably know them all. But just in case you don't.... check out:

J.K. Rowling's official website. Possibly the best, most creative and accessible author website I've ever seen. A real gift to her fans. What are you still doing here? Go check it out if you haven't seen it. If you're having trouble making all the cool stuff work, there is an entire fan website devoted to it... Potter's Keys- where you can figure out how to find the early drawings and drafts J.K. Rowling has hidden about her site.

The Leaky Cauldron and Mugglenet. These sites are very different, and very similar. They both include reliable Harry Potter news, they both have large passionate staffs, they both have tons of interesting things and contests on their websites. Mugglenet is probably a bit larger... but Leaky's getting pretty big. Check them both out... they're both absolutely wonderful.
The creators of the two websites (Melissa Anelli and Emerson Spartz) had the chance to do an exclusive interview with J.K. Rowling immediately after the sixth book was published. The interview is in three parts, and prominently displayed on both websites. It remains the best and most authoritative interview (and the one with the most information about what's to come in Book 7).

The Harry Potter Lexicon is essentially an online encyclopedia... and incredibly thorough. They also have a fantastic archive where you can replay the various doors opening on J.K. Rowling's website.

Quick Quotes Quill has an archive of every J.K. Rowling interview they could find. Her interviews are fantastic, and well worth reading... and this is definitely the website to find them.

Potter Parties has a searchable listing of all the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows release parties, so you can check if there's one near you.

There are thousands more Harry Potter websites out there, but like I said, these are my favorites. Enjoy!

Wild about Harry? Or not.

Do you love Harry Potter? Tolerate him? Can't stand him?

Whichever one it is, chances are that you have a strong opinion about the boy wizard. I've been surprised at how polarizing these books can be... either you like them or you don't. It's pretty impossible to recommend the series, because everyone has heard of it, and you can't say "I know this great book, you should give it a try."

There's a third category of people... the ones who really, truly want to like Harry, but just haven't been able to get past the fourth or fifth books. (Pssst... if that's you... see if you can make it to the sixth book. It's terrific... and in my opinion it's one of the best in the series.)

I've also found it difficult to make recommendations based on Harry Potter. Whenever I get asked for a book recommendation, I always ask what else the person has enjoyed reading. If they answer "Harry Potter" then it gives me pretty much nothing to go on... and I have to ask for another book they like. Why? Because you can enjoy Harry Potter and be an eight year old interested in light fantasy, or an eighty year old looking for serious science fiction. So many people like Harry, for so many different reasons.

I find that when you read the next book (or if you read it at all) is a pretty good indication about your relationship (or lack thereof) with Harry Potter. I've put up a new poll (see the right side of the page) about when (or if) you plan to read Book 7. Take a moment to answer... I'm always curious to gauge reactions (and see if I should scale back the Harry Potter posts a bit- or not).

Shhhhh! Everybody's Sleeping

This is a new book (published in 2005) that feels like a classic. It's a perfect last book before bedtime. It shows people in a variety of professions sleeping (much more interesting than it sounds)... with the hint that if everyone else is sleeping, shouldn't you be?
Julie Markes' text is simple and rhythmic, yet not over-
complicated or overdone... and it works really well for babies and toddlers.

David Parkins' illustrations are so creative and inventive... as well as warm, bright and inviting. Also, the pictures make me laugh... the grocer is sleeping on a "bed" on lettuce, the farmer's pillow is a sheep, the librarian has a lamp made out of books, etc. I see something new every time I read it.

This book makes a fantastic baby gift.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Stone Soup

This is a wonderful comic strip... and one of my favorites. Check out its official website here.

Unfortunately, it isn't carried by my newspaper so I've been catching up on Val, Holly, Alix, Wally, Phil, Andy, Joan, Evie and Max through the book collections. The characters don't age, but somehow the strip always feels fresh and funny. Jan Eliot is one the few syndicated female cartoonists and its wonderful to see real life and working moms on the comics page. The comic strip has a terrific organic drawing style and a unique, funny sense of humor. It's also one of the few comic strips I know that shows blended families... which I think is very realistic, and you don't see a lot of it in Dennis the Menace.

This is one of those strips that it's helpful to read from the very beginning, because there have been some major plot developments and character additions. If you're interested, here's the list of other books in the series in order, starting with the first one: Stone Soup, You Can't Say Boobs on Sunday, Stone Soup the Comic Strip, Road Kill in the Closet, and Not So Picture Perfect. The new one, Desperate Households just came out... it's the sixth collection so far.

It's almost impossible to read a Stone Soup strip and not see yourself in it.