One-Minute Book Reviews

August 10, 2007

A Children’s Book That Honors the Men and Women of the U.S. Military

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:07 pm
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An explanation of the military alphabet in a Golf Oscar Oscar Delta, Bravo Oscar Oscar Kilo

Alpha Bravo Charlie: The Military Alphabet. By Chris L. Demarest. Margaret K. McElderry, 32 pp., $16.95. Ages 4 and up.

By Janice Harayda

The buzz this week might be about Lone Survivor (Little, Brown, $24.99), Marcus Luttrell’s book for adults about the dangerous work of Navy SEALs in Afghanistan. But you can also find good children’s books about servicemen and -women, including picture books that honor both veterans of past wars and those who are serving in Iraq.

One of the best is Chris Demarest’s Alpha Bravo Charlie. This vibrant picture book introduces children to the International Communications Alphabet (ICA) used in the U.S. military and in civil aviation worldwide. It also gives an excellent overview of the many kinds of jobs performed by U.S. servicemen and -women.

Each page or spread in Alpha Bravo Charlie shows a letter of the English alphabet and its military counterpart and signal flag. Then a picture and line of text illustrate the use of the letter. The page for M (MIKE in the ICA) shows a man and woman in scrubs dashing toward an arriving helicopter emblazoned with a Red Cross: “Medical personnel work to save lives at mobile army surgical hospital (MASH) units.”

Alpha Bravo Charlie is intended for children old enough to enjoy words or phrases like “flak jacket” (F or FOXTROT) and “Nuclear Class submarine” (N or NOVEMBER). But it could also make a great baby gift for the child or grandchild of a proud U.S. veteran. It depicts the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and even those of us who soldier at computers. The page for J (JULIET) reads: “Journalists travel in jeeps to report news from the front lines.”

Best line or picture: The page for W (WHISKEY), which shows ugly but ferocious-looking U.S. Air Force A-10 Thunderbolts (“Warthogs”). You’ll understand how those planes got their nickname after seeing this one.

Worst line or picture: A line in an author’s note at the end, which explains how the military and later the airline industry adopted the ICA. “When service people transfer information verbally, confusion between certain letters, such as the similar-sounding B and D, could bring disastrous results.” Good information. But “orally” would have been better than “verbally,” which means “with words” and can apply to spoken or written words.

Recommendation? This is the rare alphabet book that could appeal to children who have long since learned their ABC’s.

Published: June 2005

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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Ian McEwan’s ‘On Chesil Beach’: A Mitch Albom Novel With a Higher IQ?

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:26 am
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Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light …

— From Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach”

On Chesil Beach. By Ian McEwan. Doubleday/Nan Talese, 203 pp., $22.

By Janice Harayda

Much of Ian McEwan’s new novel seems designed to remind you of “Dover Beach.” The title, the plot, the melancholy tone of On Chesil Beach — all raise echoes of Matthew Arnold’s lament for the erosion of spiritual values.

But you might also think of Mitch Albom after reading McEwan’s tale of a young, educated couple and their disastrous wedding night at a hotel on the English Channel in 1962. On Chesil Beach is a short, flyweight novel that wears its message on its sleeve. And it’s the kind of message you might expect from Albom: “This is how the entire course of a life can be changed – by doing nothing.”

Actually, the newlyweds in On Chesil Beach do quite a few things on their wedding night, each more humiliating than the next. But what Florence and Edward don’t do – and this is what changes their life – is express their true feelings, because the let-it-all-hang-out era is a few years away. If the couple had more substance, this overfamiliar idea might not be a problem. But Florence and Edward come across less as characters you care about than as emblems of English “types” fleshed out by dutiful research into their era.

Some of the period details in the novel are mildly interesting. Can hoteliers of the pre-Nigella era really have had so little Freudian sense that a typical honeymoon-suite meal began with “a slice of melon decorated by a single glazed cherry”? Other details are ’60s clichés. And none can turn this book into more than better grade of pop fiction, a For One More Day with a higher IQ. I read part of it on a trip disrupted by the tornado that struck Brooklyn, and, it was perfect, because unlike that journey, nothing about it was taxing in the least.

Best line: “And [he] would never have described himself as unhappy – among his London friends was a woman he was fond of; well into his 50s he played cricket for Turville Park, he was active in a historical society in Henley, and played a part in the restoration of the ancient watercress beds in Ewelme.” That phrase about the watercress beds is one the few that gives you a sense of why McEwan has such a high reputation.

Worst line (tie): McEwan aggressively courts a Bad Sex in Fiction Award from the Literary Review with: “Like most young men of his time, or any time, without an easy manner, or means to sexual expression, he indulged constantly in what one enlightened authority was now calling ‘self-pleasuring’ … How extraordinary it was, that a self-made spoonful, leaping clear of his body, should instantly free his mind to confront afresh Nelson’s decisiveness at Aboukir Bay.” A non-onanistic example: “Because the instrument was a cello rather than her violin, the interrogator was not herself but a detached observer, mildly incredulous, but insistent too, for after a brief silence and lingering, unconvincing reply from the other instruments, the cello put the question again, in different terms, on a different chord, and then again, and again, and each time received a doubtful answer.”

Reading group guide:

Consider reading instead: Anita Brookner’s Hotel du Lac (Vintage, $12.95). This Booker Prize-winner involves a bride-to-be who backs out of her wedding at the last minute, an event that is as humiliating as the trauma that occurs in On Chesil Beach but handled with more credibility.

Published: June 2007

Furthermore: McEwan’s novels include Atonement, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Amsterdam, winner of the Booker Prize. He lives in London.

Update: After this post appeared, On Chesil Beach was named a finalist for this year’s Man Booker Prize, to be announced Oct. 16.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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