One-Minute Book Reviews

January 11, 2008

Will the ALA Honor a Book About a Self-Declared ‘Chronic Masturbator’?

Is a phallic trend developing at the American Library Association?

By Janice Harayda

Will the American Library Association give an award to a book about a self-described “cronic masturbator”? Why not? The ALA gave the 2007 Newbery Medal to Susan Patron’s The Higher Power of Lucky, which has the word “scrotum” on the first page And Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian recently won the National Book Award for young people’s literature in November (“I Belong to the ‘Tribe of Chronic Masturbators,’ One-Minute Book Reviews, Nov. 16, 2007

Alexie’s novel is the front runner for the ALA’s Michael L. Printz Award, which honors “excellence in literature written for young adults,” so a phallic trend may be developing at the ALA. (Don’t ask how many times Alexie’s book uses the word “boner.”) The ALA will announce the winner on Monday, when it will also award the better-known Newbery Medal (for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children”) and Caldecott Medal (for “the most distinguished American picture book for children”).

Other questions to be resolved on Monday: Will the ALA give the Caldecott Medal to Jack Prelutsky’s picture book Good Sports, a collection of poems about sports, some of which the American Pediatrics Association doesn’t recommend for preschoolers, the usual readers of picture books Or will ALA honor Prelutsky’s nakedly commercial The Wizard, maybe his worst book? The librarians didn’t give a medal to Prelutsky’s excellent 2006 book Behold the Bold Umbrellaphant and may try to make up for it by rewarding a less worthy book at its meeting in Philadelphia next week.

Check back Monday for the names of the winners and, possibly, commentary on them.

(c) 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

January 3, 2008

Good Poems for High School Students (and Maybe for Yourself, Too)

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

From Alfred Tennyson’s “Break, Break, Break”

By Janice Harayda

Looking for good poems for a teenager or for yourself? You’ll find them at Poetry Out Loud, the home of National Recitation Project, a nationwide competition that encourages high school students to read poetry in class and elsewhere.

Teenagers who enter the contest must choose from among the 400 new and classic poems posted on Poetry Out Loud, which gives the full text of each and a short biography its author. Students can select work by fine contemporary poets such as Kay Ryan and Yusef Komunyakaa or warhorses like Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson (identified as “the famous hermit of Amherst, Massachusetts”).

Poetry Out Loud is also a good site for teenagers and adults looking for poems to read on their own (which you can find by clicking on “Find a Poem” in the “For Students” category). You might start with one of Alfred Tennyson’s best poems, “Break, Break, Break,” the first lines of which appear above. This brief lament for a lost friend has elements that may appeal to the most reluctant readers, including rhyme, clarity and a strong rhythm. “Break, Break, Break” also deals in part with a theme that’s easy for teenagers to identify with – the difficulty of expressing deep thoughts and feelings. And because it comes from a great English poet of the Victorian era, many students are less likely to have read in it in school than the work of American poets such as Frost and Dickinson.

Furthermore: “Break, Break, Break” is a great tool for teaching teenagers about poetry because it is relatively easy to read but uses many techniques found in more challenging poems, including assonance, repetition, alliteration, and onomatopoeia. The first three words are an example of three-syllable foot with three stresses, known as a molossus.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 3, 2007

What Is One-Minute Book Reviews?

One-Minute Book Reviews is a site for people who like to read but dislike hype and review inflation. It is also for people who dislike long-winded weasel reviews that are full of facts or plot summaries but don’t tell you what the critic thought of the book. You may not agree with the opinions you read here, but you will always know what they are.

This blog focuses on book reviews and does not cover literary news or gossip. Occasional exceptions may occur when other media cover literary news slowly or not at all or when news relates to a book this site has reviewed or will review. I recently wrote about the Bad Sex in Fiction Award because it related directly to my review of On Chesil Beach and because the nominated passages clearly weren’t going to make it into most American newspapers.

Some of the unique features of One-Minute Book Reviews include the Totally Unauthorized Reading Group Guides, free reading group guides without the hype of publishers’ guides, and the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books, announced annually on the Ides of March. The site does not accept free books or other promotional materials from editors, publishers, agents or authors.

If you know someone who might enjoy this site, I’d be grateful if you would forward a link to this post. In addition to hundreds of links from personal blogs, this site has many links from schools, colleges and libraries. That’s why the “Top Posts” on this site regularly include both reviews of new books and a quote about literary symbolism from a nearly 50-year-old textbook: Colleges are apparently linking to this site from class wikis, syllabi or reading lists.

One-Minute Book Reviews ranks seventh in the world on the Google Directory of “Top Arts and Literature” blogs: Thanks for visiting One-Minute Book Reviews.

(c) 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

November 16, 2007

I Belong to the ‘Tribe of Chronic Masturbators,’ Says the Hero of ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,’ Winner of the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

By Janice Harayda

Remember how upset some librarians got when the word “scrotum” appeared on the first page of the 2007 Newbery Medal winner I wonder what they’re going say to when they find out that the hero of Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian says that he belongs to “the tribe of chronic masturbators.”

Alexie’s novel won National Book Award for Young People’s Literature on Wednesday, so it’s safe to say that it will also receive consideration for the Newbery that the American Library Association will hand out in January. I’ll review the book in the next week or so (along with Daughter of York, originally scheduled for this week).

Until then librarians who want to check out that “good part” can do it by going to the listing for the novel on Amazon and using the “Search Inside This Book” tool to search for “tribe of chronic masturbators,” which appears on page 217. [Note: All you teenage boys who found this site by searching for “scrotum” or “masturbation,” go back to your Social Studies. That page number was a public service for librarians.]

Oh, am I going to have fun reviewing this book! Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed if you’d like to read my comments.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 25, 2007

‘Miss Nelson Is Missing!’ A Back-to-School Favorite Returns in a Book-and-CD Set

The deliciously vile Viola Swamp is back in a new edition of a book that has sold more than a million copies

Miss Nelson Is Missing! Story by Harry Allard. Pictures by James Marshall. Houghton Mifflin, 32 pp., varied prices. Also available in a book-and-CD edition, $9.95. Ages 3–8.

By Janice Harayda

“More than a million copies sold” is often a publishing-industry code for, “This book is utter trash.” In the case of Miss Nelson Is Missing! it’s proof that a good picture book can find its way even if its illustrator was insufficiently honored in his lifetime by the American Library Association, which tried to make up for it by giving him the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award posthumously.

Harry Allard’s text tells a lively story of pupils who torment a kind teacher until she doesn’t show up and they get a loathsome substitute, Viola Swamp, who teaches them a lesson in “as you sow.” But James Marshall’s pictures send the text into orbit.

Marshall had “an intuitive grasp of how to reduce a visual object to its most basic elements, the type of genius found in the sculptures of Alexander Calder,” former Horn Book editor-in-chief Anita Silvey has rightly observed. But his art is so rich you can’t call it minimalist. Marshall defines Viola Swamp in a half dozen or so boldly drawn features, including a huge potato-shaped nose that is both memorable and symbolic in a genre in which liar’s noses grow. No less striking is her ski-slope chin, defaced by a large mole. It reminds you of Jay Leno’s until, a few pages later, you come across an illustrated reference to sharks and see that the chin foreshadows this.

Many back-to-school books are dreary examples of bibliotherapy, more therapeutic than artistic. In its way, Miss Nelson Is Missing! says the same thing that many of those books do: School can seem good and bad at different times. But it doesn’t bludgeon children with an educationally correct message. It’s pure fun. If you were a soon-to-be-kindergartener, which type of book would you rather read?

Best line/picture: A full-page image of Viola that makes her look at once sinister and, in horizontally striped green-and-yellow socks, comically absurd.

Worst line/picture: The good Miss Nelson has blond hair, and the bad Miss Swamp has black hair. Some people might object to this, because it perpetuates a stereotype. But among the children, bad behavior comes in all hair colors.

Published: 1977 (first edition). August 2007 (book-and-CD edition)

Caveat lector: This review is based on the first edition. I haven’t seen the just-published book-and-CD package.

Furthermore: Marhshall is best known for George and Martha, a book about the friendship between hippos, and its sequels. The American Library Association gave him, besides the Wilder award, a Caldecott Honor for Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Puffin, $6.99, paperback), which he wrote and edited.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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