Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Spooky Cemeteries

Williams, Dinah. 2008. Spooky Cemeteries. New York: Bearport.

Spooky Cemeteries was the 2009 winner of the Children's Choice Book Awards 3rd and 4th Grade Book of the Year. At the time the awards were announced in May, my library did not own a copy , but I'm pleased to say that we have it now.

According to its opening pages, "in this book, you'll meet a voodoo queen, ghosts who won't rest in peace, an ancient mummy, and other creepy creatures of the night."

Spooky Cemeteries is a compilation of short pieces on 11 of the world's most famously creepy burial grounds, including the Catacombs of France (home to 6 million skeletons and featured in the 39 Clues mystery, Maze of Bones), Tutankhamun's Tomb in Egypt, and Westminster Burying Grounds in Baltimore, Maryland, the final resting place of Edgar Allan Poe (whose 200th anniversary we celebrate this year).
More factual than fantastic, most entries contains the local legend or lore,

She then turns into an ugly monster with long teeth and red eyes before killing
them. She hides in the tall trees and flies through the air. Don't let her get
close! ... Some people think that a Pontianak is nothing more than a large owl.
The faces of these birds can look human when they swoop out of the darkness.

actual photographs of the location, dramatized photos or artwork depicting the ghost or relevant artifacts, and a text box containing interesting facts,

Most cemeteries in New Orleans have tombs where the dead can be buried above
ground. why? About half of the city is below sea level. If coffins were buried
in the soggy ground, they would float up out of their graves.

A table of contents, map, glossary, bibliography, index, and suggested reading round out this scholarly look at an unscholarly topic. Spooky Cemeteries is part of the Scary Places series.

A real kid-pleaser! Not too gory, but just spooky enough!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

As They See 'Em

Weber, Bruce. 2009. As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires. New York: Scribner.

As They See 'Em is NY Times writer, Bruce Weber's, exhaustive look at the insular world of umpires, particularly major league umpires. If you've ever vilified an umpire (and who hasn't?), consider Weber's observations about the sport of baseball,

"It is the only sport in which nonplayers are even allowed on the field to dispute with the officials. In any other context, sporting or otherwise, one grown man raging at another in apoplectic frustration, kicking dirt on his shoes, throwing his hat on the ground and stomping on it, would be considered either ridiculous or childish, not to mention grounds for being punched in the nose."

In baseball, it's the norm - not the exception.

"Is there another line of work - prison guard, maybe? - where the workplace is so steeped in hostility? Or where being right is no defense against attack? ...umpires go to work expecting to be derided and disdained."

The best possible day that an umpire can have at work, is one in which he has not been noticed.

Bruce Weber follows the path of umpires from their beginning - at one of two official umpiring schools, through the long and poorly-paying position of minor league umpire, to the pinnacle of the profession - major league baseball. He attended the Jim Evans Academy of Professional Umpiring, worked in lower-level games (even umpiring a pre-season inter league game), traveled with minor league umpires, and interviewed many aspiring, retired, and active umpires from all levels of baseball.

Baseball politics, rulebook, players and plays - Weber leaves no stone unturned in his quest to present an in-depth, unbiased look at this often maligned profession. If As They See 'Em places umpires in a more favorable light than usual, so be it. No reader will finish this book without a new-found respect for the intricacies and complexities of the umpire's role in America's favorite pastime. Watching a game will never be quite the same.

As a side note, my son's team narrowly lost a tournament game this weekend. Of course, the kids were disappointed, but slightly heartened by the one thing that all players know - 'the ump made some bad calls!' ;-)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


Funke, Cornelia. 2005. Inkspell. Read by Brendan Fraser. Listening Library.

Inkspell is the 2nd in the Inkheart trilogy and continues the saga of young Meggie Folchart and her family, whose lives become entwined in the pages of author Fenoglio's book, Inkheart. In Inkspell, the characters spin out of Fenoglio's web and even, he, the Inkweaver, can no longer control the story.

The Inkheart trilogy is a gripping tale of suspense and adventure with the unique premise of travel within the pages of books. It is a tribute to the power of the printed word. The plot is fresh and inventive, and while Inkspell's ending is less satisfying and conclusive than the first book of the series, the cliffhanger ending will send listeners scurrying to seek out the story's ending in Inkdeath. Inkspell introduces a boyfriend for Meggie and several obscenities, which make it suitable for older Juvenile fiction readers as well as Young Adult readers.

Brendan Fraser's reading of the story is entrancing, with just the right touch of mysticism. He creates believable and memorable voices for each of the story's many characters. He cackles, chortles, exclaims, and whispers - all within character and perfectly suited to the dialogue. His narration is far superior to Lynn Redgrave's reading of book 1. (see earlier post)

Highly recommended.

Friday, June 19, 2009


2009. Up in 3-D. Disney/Pixar. Rated PG for Some Peril and Action.

Up is certainly not the movie that you might expect from the trailer. (That seems to be the case more often than not, lately) It is, however, a great movie! The old man, Carl Fredricksen (whose voice is that of Ed Asner) is not the grumpy old man that he is portrayed in the trailer. Rather, he is a sweet and sentimental man. His deceased wife (who we meet in a short vignette of his early life) was the one and only love of his life; he treasures her memory and the dreams of what they had hoped to accomplish together in faraway Paradise Falls, a remote South American waterfall.

When it becomes apparent that he will lose the lovely home they had created together, he decides to risk everything on a flying adventure to Paradise Falls, unknowingly carrying along the young scout, Russell. Of course, when he finally arrives, everything is not as he had dreamed.

The digital 3-D was impressive and there is action and humor enough to go around, but in the end, Up is a love story - the love of man, a boy, a bird, and a dog. There is a moral to this sweet and melancholy love story, and the moral is not so much to follow your dreams as it is to appreciate the journey. The movie may be called Up, but it is grounded in reality. Even dreams that come true do not make "happily ever after," - that is something that we must work at, every day.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Sorrells, Walter. 2008. Erratum. New York: Dutton.

er·ra·tum (-rätm, -r-) KEY NOUN: pl. er·ra·ta (-t) KEY
An error in printing or writing, especially such an error noted in a list of corrections and bound into a book.

When Jessica Sternhagen finds a book titled, Her Lif, inexplicable things begin to happen. For starters, the book ends with her death!

Page 621

"Mr. Queeg began to drag her lifeless body through the shop, for heaven only knows what terrible purpose. Dead at twelve, Jessica's lif had been an utter and complete waste. THE END"

But when Jessica turns to run and escapes Mr. Queeg, a piece of paper suddenly appears in the book.

"Had that been there before? She pulled out the paper. It said:


Page 621, beginning, "...heard the boards squeak..." was incorrectly printed. The correct text should read...

And there it was, a complete description of her fight with Mrs. Rosewood and Mr. Queeg. At the end of the slip of paper, it said, 'The Publisher deeply apologizes for this mistake.'"

Her Lif - can it be an erratum? Is the book really Her Life, the life of Jessica Sternhagen? What if every single choice that Jessica makes, from the color of her shirt to the direction that she walks, affects the rest of the world? Can she truly hold the fate of the universe in her hands?

Erratum is a fast-paced thriller. Each of Jessica's decisions opens an alternate chapter in the universe. There is evil afoot and the identity of the "correct" universe becomes murky after the book is lost. Jessica fights to regain possession of Her Lif and set the universe back on course.

Like the Inkheart series, Erratum pays homage to the power of the printed word, but in a more metaphysical and less fantastical manner.
A great read for grades 5-9 that will leave readers thinking. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Pirates of Crocodile Swamp

Arnosky, Jim. 2009. The Pirates of Crocodile Swamp. New York: Putnam.

*Spoiler alert*

I don't like spoilers, but I feel like I have to write one for The Pirates of Crocodile Swamp by Jim Arnosky. If you're not familiar with Jim Arnosky, he's a prolific writer of children's nature books, mostly Juvenile non-fiction and Easy fiction. I picked up his latest, thinking that I'd enjoy an adventure book with a nature theme - always looking for that perfect "boy" book. I expected from the cover art that the "pirates" of Crocodile Swamp would be two young boys, but I did not expect that they would be on the run from their father - a drunk, kidnapper, murderer, and abuser.

Unlike Kathy Appelt's, The Underneath, which couches its violence in an opaque mysticism, the violence in The Pirates of Crocodile Swamp (although not a focal point of the book) is real and urgent,
The day Terry died, Dad had come home early from work, drunker than ever. He
staggered in... Jack and I watched the whole thing from the living room. I can
still see Dad standing wobbly at the top of the stairs, cursing and mumbling
that we were bleeding him dry. We were chains around his legs, and he was tired
of working all day to feed our grubby faces.

The story is told from 9-year-old, Jack's point of view. After the boys are kidnapped by Dad, and Mom has likely been murdered too, they steal Dad's money and escape to a swamp in the Florida Keys where they live in a boat abandoned by Cuban refugees. In the book's conclusion, Dad finds the boys in Crocodile Swamp. As they fight against him for their very lives, a large crocodile attracted by the struggle, swims up and deals Dad a fatal bite to the leg. The boys pull him from the crocodile's jaws and place him among the mangroves. Dad makes his peace with them as he lays bleeding to death. Deciding not to report the death, Jack and Sandy set Dad's body adrift in the Gulf Stream.

I don't write this because I didn't enjoy the book; it is certainly an action-packed adventure novel full of admiration for nature and appreciative of nature's quietest moments, such as a moonlight encounter with feeding manatees,
We were about halfway across the bay when something splashed near Jack's oar.
Then a great bulge formed in the water and the back of a huge animal rolled
up to the surface. We pulled in our oars and dove for the floor. I said a quick
prayer, expecting that we were going to be swallowed by a whale. Jack was
hunkered down beside me, but when he heard a watery snort coming from
the animals in the water, he recognized the sound. 'Manatees,' he whispered.
We peeked over the side of the boat. There were three animals in the water,
each one as big as our boat. They looked like enormous gray footballs.
"Manatees," Jack said again. "Real live manatees! Get up, Sandy. They won't
hurt us." We crawled back up on the seat and watched the manatees in the
moonlight. One at a time they lifted their heads, and when they did, we
could hear them breathing.

The quiet splendor of nature creates a stark contrast to the rage of the boys' father.

Arnosky imparts useful and interesting facts about wildlife, nature, boating and survival, but they're integrated so seamlessly into the story, that readers won't even realize that they're learning. A rousing tale of survival and adventure, but not for the squeamish.

Beneath the Waves - a review

As we read disturbing news accounts of dying manatees , environmental disasters caused by toxic waste, and ocean pollution on the scale of ...