Monday, June 7, 2010

Picture Book Review: Whatever Happened to the Dinosaurs?

It doesn't seem possible to exhaust the dinosaur subject when it comes to kids and picture books.  We're presently making our way through a stack of books on the topic at our house, with varying degrees of amusement.

Luckily, today, we came across a classic just by chance at our local library.  It's called Whatever Happened to the Dinosaurs? by Bernard Most.

Whatever Happened to the Dinosaurs? (Voyager/Hbj Book)

The book is a simple set of questions pondering what happened to the dinosaurs, a question that I struggle to find a satisfactory answer to for my toddler.  The suggestions are wonderful and had both my daughter and I chuckling.  Perhaps the dinosaurs are in disguise?  (See the cover picture.)  Maybe the dinosaurs have gone underground?  Are the dinosaurs on another planet?

The pacing is perfect and the accompanying pictures have demure black and white drawings and then one or two images is delightfully illustrated with a bright color (some pages happily reminded me of a Mondrian painting).

I've noticed that there is a video based on the book that we'll be looking for, and I'll definitely be looking for more books by Bernard Most.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Weekly Recap: the Fundamentals

After reviewing the news in YA lit this week and my own musings, I'm coming around to the idea that writing (like everything else that is worthwhile in life) requires getting the fundamentals right.

Fundamentals of Physics, Volume 1 (Chapters 1 - 20)

You can't get good at tennis without practicing routinely, and also seeking help from a pro.  My meals only improve whenever I slow down and follow the instructions, and make the same dish over and over again - each time slightly altering the recipe until I've finally nailed the right amount seasoning and the proper cooking time.

And writing requires the same amount of attention and devotion.  In cooking, you may learn to coddle an egg (delicious) and coddling a poem, an essay, or a novel is the same principle.  Slowly simmer until the words and sentences and paragraphs form a congealed dish for the eyes.  That process is long, involved, torturous and fraught with distractions.  It's not always fun, or easy, to work on style.

I'm reminded of a friend in college.  He chose to study English, not because he was good at it, but because he wasn't.  I don't feel particularly adept at writing, but I know that with practice I can become passable.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

KidSpeak: Shaking the Tree

Me: When you were younger, I did everything for you.  I fed you, bounced you, changed your clothes.  Now that you're three, you can walk and run and feed your self.

3 year old: And shake a tree.

Me (stifling laugh): Yes, I suppose now you can shake a tree.

3 year old:  Can I shake that one?

Me: Well, that one is pretty big.  We would probably need to find one your size.

3 year old: Yes, that one touches the sky.  It probably touches all the way to California.

[Note: This conversation should not be confused with Peter Gabriel's fantastic album and song, also by the same title.]

Shaking the Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Lake Shasta

Lake Shasta
Do you haveta
Be so blue?

My eyes flinch
It's no cinch
Watching true

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Style: Eye of the Beholder

I'm currently reading a YA book (The Book Thief) that has been celebrated by the press and received numerous awards (more on the book next Monday).  For me, though, I'm having difficulty managing my way through the prolouge where the descriptions are meant to be clever and arch, I suppose, but instead I find them perplexing and simply strange.  For example, a description of skin as skeleton colored is brilliant whereas the description "there were black crumbs, and pepper, streaked across the redness" less engaging.

The Book Thief

In cases like this I'm left to wonder if there isn't a bandwagon effect going on.  Or perhaps I simply prize a different style.  (Or maybe I'm just too simplistic.)  But the prose that speaks to me is often clean, clear, evocative.  I think Kent Haruf of Plainsong fame achieves this type of style that I'm describing like few others have.  There is a woman in my writing group who comes a close second.  The writing is not terse, but concise - not a word wasted.


When I first began blogging a few weeks back, I noticed that if I gave myself a word challenge to cut my word count in half, my writing dramatically improved.  I find that as I read YA books, among others, I am wishing that others would attempt this same sort of precision.