Do the kids need a few more school-safety lessons before their classes begin? Pick up Officer Buckle and Gloria (Putnam, 40 pp., $16.99, ages 7 and under). Peggy Rathmann won the 1996 Caldecott Medal for this picture book, and her art is no match for that of honorees like Maurice Sendak, Chris Van Allsburg and Virginia Lee Burton. But Officer Buckle and Gloria tells the lively story of a high-spirited dog who helps a luckless policeman teach schoolchildren vital safety lessons such as: Don’t stand on swivel chairs, and don’t leave thumbtacks where people could sit. If only it had a page on how to stay safe from swine flu.
September 5, 2009
August 16, 2009
7 Questions and Answers About Dan Brown’s New Book, ‘The Lost Symbol,’ His First Novel Since ‘The Da Vinci Code’
Is it a conspiracy? Dan Brown has said little about the plot of The Lost Symbol, his first novel since The Da Vinci Code, which Doubleday will publish on Sept. 15. And while his publisher has been releasing cryptic teasers on Facebook and Twitter, these may read to the uninitiated like excerpts from a North Korean auto repair manual.
Here are some answers you don’t have to decode:
1. What is The Lost Symbol about?
The Lost Symbol brings back the fictional Harvard professor Robert Langdon, the protagonist of The Da Vinci Code, a thriller based on the premise that Jesus and Mary Magdalene had a child whose descendants became kings and queens of France. Langdon again tangles with codes and secret societies – this time, in a plot that unfolds over a 12-hour period. He first appeared in Brown’s Angels & Demons.
The cover of the British edition of The Lost Symbol shows, as the Belfast Telegraph described it, “a key surrounded by flames and bearing a Freemasonry symbol above Capitol Hill, suggesting the action will unfold in America’s seat of power.” The slightly different American cover – which also shows the Capitol Building – supports this idea.
2. What is the “lost symbol” in the title of Brown’s book?
The BBC News reported that the novel is “believed to focus on freemasonry, with the lost symbol of the title a reference to a ciphered pictogram in an ancient book called The Key of Solomon.”
3. What about Leonardo da Vinci? Will he have a role in The Lost Symbol?
Da Vinci or his legacy will have a substantial role unless Brown’s publisher has misled libraries. The electronic catalog at a consortium of New Jersey libraries says The Lost Symbol involves the following: “Leonardo, da Vinci, 1452–1519 – Manuscripts – Fiction – Cryptographers – Fiction. Mystery fiction.”
4. What else is known about Brown’s new book?
Other facts appear in the “codes, cryptic trivia, puzzles, secret history, maps” and more that Doubleday has been releasing on Brown’s Facebook page and the Twitter feed for The Lost Symbol. The publisher said on Twitter that “Robert Langdon’s next adversary will be revealed when http://www.facebook.com/DanBrown reaches 100,000 fans.” Brown had 67,686 fans on the afternoon of August 16.
5. What do you learn about The Lost Symbol on Facebook and Twitter?
Facebook member Mark Gray suggested that The Lost Symbol may involve explosive sexual tension and, to support this idea, posted a diagram of two Washington landmarks. “When the energetically (male) Washington Monument is positioned in front of the energetically (female) Capitol Dome an explosion of force is created,” he writes. He added, “An OBELISK is a male PHALLIC. A DOME is a female WOMB.”
A Facebook member named Buddy didn’t think much of the idea. Buddy told Mark: “You keep focusing on the phallus and vulva, but what do you think it means? Surely, this is not an answer. Why would you think those focused on spiritual symbolism and related philosophy would obsess about male and female organs? The effort is to affect the minds of many not magically conjure up some energy effect. What would be the purpose?”
On Twitter, The Lost Symbol has fewer followers (3,210) than Shaquille O’Neal (1,964,646) and Bon Jovi (22,685) but more than Molly Ringwald (93).
6. When can you buy The Lost Symbol?
Doubleday will publish print and electronic editions of the book on Sept. 15, 2009, in the U.S. and Great Britain. You can preorder from Amazon, Barnes and Noble or an independent bookseller that you find through the Indie Store Finder on IndieBound.
7. Are you going to review The Lost Symbol on One-Minute Book Reviews?
I couldn’t finish The Da Vinci Code, so I’m not going to buy The Lost Symbol. And I don’t accept review copies from publishers. But I give out the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books every year on March 15 and wouldn’t want to overlook a stellar candidate. So I’ve put my name on the waiting list for The Lost Symbol at my library. We’ll see if I get it before Malia Obama goes to college.
Janice Harayda is a novelist and former book editor of the Plain Dealer in Cleveland.
August 14, 2009
Update, Jan. 11, 2010: The School Library Journal blogger Elizabeth Bird now predicts that When You Reach Me will win the Newbery Medal and The Lion and the Mouse the Caldecott. She also predicts the Honor Books at http://tinyurl.com/yarluuf.
You say the kids aren’t going back school for a couple of weeks and you’ve run out of ideas on what they could read? You might want to look at the 2010 Newbery and Caldecott Medal predictions that Elizabeth Bird has posted on the School Library Journal blog. Bird is a children’s librarian with the New York Public Library system and a past Newbery judge who has a better record than most of us do for predicting the winners of the American Library Association’s annual awards. Among her favorites for the 2010 Newbery: Jacqueline Woodson’s: Peace, Locomotion (“it has her customary style and grace intact and she’s been edging closer and closer to outright Newbery Award status with every year”). Bird’s 2010 Caldecott candidates include Jerry Pinkney’s “almost wordless” and “meticulously researched” interpretation of a fable by Aesop, The Lion and the Mouse (“the kind of Pinkney book that will make converts out of people who weren’t Pinkney fans before”).
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
August 3, 2009
July 31, 2009
Kate DiCamillo’s Allegory of Christian Faith and Resurrection, ‘The Miraculous Journey of Edward to Tulane,’ With a Key to Its Biblical Parallels
This review appeared in January 2007, right after the American Library Association gave that year’s Newbery Medal to The Higher Power of Lucky instead of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, regarded as a favorite for the award.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. By Kate DiCamillo. Illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Candlewick, 200 pp., $18.99. Ages 7 and up.
By Janice Harayda
Edward Tulane spends “40 days and 40 nights” in a wilderness, is nailed to a cross, dies after a shared meal, and is resurrected and reunited with a parent figure. Sound like anybody you’ve heard of?
How about if I added that Edward is a rabbit, a symbol of Easter? And that he is loved by a girl named Maggie, which can be a nickname for Magdalene?
That’s right. Edward Tulane is a symbol of Christ, his story is a Passion narrative, and this novel is an allegory of Christian faith and resurrection.
If you’ve followed the publicity for The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, you may have heard denials of all this. So here are a couple of facts:
1) Anyone who has a financial stake in this novel may have to deny its religious motifs, even though the book includes a striking full-page picture of Edward’s crucifixion. Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux, and the award helped to make her books among the most popular in American schools. The Christian imagery in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane may have cost DiCamillo 2007 Newbery Medal, which the American Library Assocation awarded to The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron. A blunt acknowledgment that Edward is a Jesus figure might also keep the book off school reading lists.
2) The religious themes in the book do not appear once or twice or in ways that might have been accidental. They appear in the title, the artwork, and throughout the story. DiCamillo is too careful a writer to insert such motifs casually, which would violate the reader’s trust and well-established dramatic principles. At the end of this review are some lines that are identical or closely parallel to lines in the Bible. In DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, the main character’s father was a preacher.
Children can enjoy The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane without understanding its religious themes just as adults can love Animal Farm without realizing that it is an allegory for Stalinism. But some children will sense that DiCamillo’s book has more than one level of meaning. To deny this could undermine their confidence in their ability to make intelligent, multi-layered judgments about books. All children benefit from learning to grasp a story on more than one level. DiCamillo has given them a chance to do this in a moving and suspenseful novel, beautifully illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline. Children of any faith can enjoy its story. How unfortunate if the novel were kept out of schools because it might help them appreciate the many layers of meaning that a good book can have.
These are three of many passages in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane that have parallels in the Bible:
DiCamillo’s lines appear below in a light-faced font. The parallel lines from the King James Version appear in bold.
Edward begins his journey by leaving “a house on Egypt Street” where he is in bondage to his inability to love. “Remember this day, in which ye came out from Egypt, out of the house of bondage …” Exodus 13:13
Edward spends “40 days and 40 nights” in a garbage dump surrounded by rotting food. “… he had fasted for 40 days and 40 nights …” Matthew 4:2 Also: “I will cause it to rain upon the earth for 40 days and 40 nights.” Genesis 7:4
A shopkeeper tells Edward: “I brought you back from the world of the dead.” “… he rose from the dead.” Acts 10:34
Many names in the book also have religious connotations. They include those of three female characters: Abilene (once a region of the Holy Land), Natalie (which means “birth of the Lord”); and Maggie (often a nickname for Magdalene).
Published: February 2006
Read an excerpt from The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane on the Candlewick Books site.
Furthermore: Kate DiCamillo’s “Mercy Watson” series for beginning readers was reviewed on this site on Feb. 10, 2007. DiCamillo’s new novel for children, The Magician’s Elephant, will be published this fall, and an excerpt appears on her Web site.
© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
July 28, 2009
No time to read long book reviews? Every review on this site is condensed into a one-line summary saved in the Books in a Sentence category. Summaries of recently reviewed novels and short stories for adults appear below. You’ll find other one-line condensations, many of them shortened versions of reviews of books of nonfiction and poetry, in the Books in a Sentence category at right.
Finger Lickin’ Fifteen. By Janet Evanovich. Evanovich’s series about bounty hunter Stephanie Plum goes further south with a tasteless beheading and sophomoric jokes like, “Nobody calls me pecker head and lives.”
The 8th Confession (Women’s Murder Club Series). By James Patterson and Maxine Paetro. A glorified San Francisco police procedural set in such large type, you wonder: Was this novel written for for people who will be reading it by candlelight while eating Beanie Weenies out of a can during a power blackout?
Love in a Cold Climate. By Nancy Mitford. A beautiful English heiress flouts convention by marrying a man who had been her mother’s lover in a modern classic of comedy, inspired partly by the author’s half-batty upper-class family.
Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind. By Ann B. Ross. A rich Presbyterian widow in North Carolina learns that her dead husband has left her a startling legacy — an illegitimate 9-year-old son — in the first of ten novels that are more irreverent than those of Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series but cut from a similar bolt of pop fiction.
The Pains of April. By Frank Turner Hollon. An 86-year-old retired lawyer looks back on his life from a Gulf Coast rest home, where he has held onto more of his marbles than some residents. (Briefly mentioned.)
The Naked and the Dead. By Norman Mailer. Nowhere near as good as some of the 20th-century war novels often mentioned in the same breath, such as All Quiet on the Western Front and A Farewell to Arms. (Briefly mentioned.)
A Summons to Memphis. By Peter Taylor. One of the great American writers of the late 20th century shows how a move from Nashville to Memphis has reverberated over time — all but destroyed a family that was once a model of Southern gentility — in a novel that deservedly won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
The Ponder Heart. By Eudora Welty. A comic novella about a rich and kind-hearted uncle put on trial for a murder he didn’t commit, full of examples of Welty’s wonderful ear for the dialect of many Southern groups.
The Genocides. By Tom Disch. Unseen aliens sow the seeds of an ecological catastrophe in a book two experts recently named one of the “100 must-read” science-fiction novels of all time. (Briefly mentioned.)
Middlemarch. By George Eliot. The first great multiplot novel in English — and maybe the greatest ever — tells the story of a young woman who longs to be useful as it reminds us that “that there is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it.”
The Host. By Stephenie Meyer. A woman wages a host-versus-graft struggle with a new soul, inserted in her body by aliens, in a creepily Freudian tale written at a fourth-grade reading level.
Bright Shiny Morning. By James Frey. A dark, postmodern novel about Los Angeles that combines stories of stereotypical characters — a Mexican-American maid, a closeted gay male superstar — and so many trivia lists, you almost expect a recipe for huevos rancheros.
Jane and Prudence. By Barbara Pym. A clergyman’s wife plays matchmaker for a female friend and fellow Oxford graduate in a quiet novel salted with wry observations on the sexes. (Briefly mentioned.)
A Gentleman’s Guide to Graceful Living. By Michael Dahlie. A witty and intelligent novel of New York manners (and a recent prize-winner) about a blueblooded father who finds comfort in the love of his adult sons after a divorce and other crises.
Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes. By Tamar Yellin. An award-winning English writer’s superb collection of 10 linked short stories about geographically or otherwise displaced characters, inspired by accounts of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
Olive Kitteridge. By Elizabeth Strout. An uneven collection of linked short stories (published in Seventeen, South Carolina Review, O, the Oprah Magazine, and elsewhere) that, alas, won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for its tales of a retired math teacher in a coastal town in Maine.
All Souls. By Christine Schutt. A skimpy Pulitzer finalist that its publisher has billed as a novel but is, in fact, a collection of linked short stories — many no more than vignettes — about how students and others react when a Manhattan prep school senior gets a rare connective-tissue cancer.
One-Minute Book Reviews has a policy that at least 50 percent of all reviews will deal with books by women. The “About This Blog” page describes other principles of the site, including that it does not accept free books or other promotional materials from editors, publishers, authors, agents or others with ties to books that may be reviewed here. The “FAQ” page answers questions such as, “Why don’t you take free books?” and “If you don’t take books from publishers, where you do you get them?”
(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
July 21, 2009
One way to get teenagers into libraries: Have a party and invite the kids to come as their favorite character in the bestselling “Twilight” series of vampire romance novels. You might show the movie “Twilight” and play trivia games, as the Fairhope Public Library in Fairhope, Alabama, did.
June 27, 2009
June 20, 2009
John Updike celebrates the Fourth in the spirited children’s poem “July,” which begins: “Bang-bang! Ka-boom! / We celebrate / Our national / Independence date.” The poem is one of 12, one for each month, collected in A Child’s Calendar (Holiday House, 32 pages, $17.95 hardcover, $6.95 paperback, ages 4–8). Beautifully illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, this picture book won a Caldecott Honor for its images of four seasons in the life of members of an interracial New England family and their friends. Don’t miss Updike tending the barbecue grill in the full-page picture next to the poem.
June 12, 2009
On this site I’ve often faulted publishers’ reading group guides for their poor quality –- poor in part because they tend to pander to book-club members with loopy questions like: “The heroine of this novel is a one-eyed snake charmer whose parents were abducted by aliens. Have you ever known a one-eyed snake charmer whose parents were abducted by aliens?” Gee, I’ll have to think about that one! I might have known one-eyed snake charmer, but her parents got in the space ship voluntarily and technically weren’t abducted! How about you?
So I was heartened to find that the U.S. Government has posted more than two dozen free reading group guides that are more objective and helpful. The guides come from The Big Read, a National Endowment for the Arts program intended to encourage reading, and most cover major American works of fiction for adults or children, such as My Antonia, The Great Gatsby, The Age of Innocence, The Call of the Wild, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. But a couple deal with books by authors from other countries — Naguib Mahfouz’s The Thief and the Dogs and Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich – and the NEA plans soon to post companions to the poetry of Emily Dickinson and others.
You can download the guides for free at the site for The Big Read. And some libraries can get printed versions and CDs with more information at no cost. (I learned about all of this when I found a stack of free reader’s guides and companion disks for To Kill a Mockingbird at a small-town library giving them away to patrons.) Along with warhorses such as The Grapes of Wrath, The Big Read guides deal with a couple gems that are less well known, including Cynthia Ozick’s The Shawl.