cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the category “Reflections”

Debatables Recap: An Ominous Outcome


The January Debatable proved a lively round of arguing. Mike Allegra appointed Jilanne Hoffmann as his proxy while he trotted off to a fellowship for work on his newest creative endeavor. Niggling wonderment if the fellowship is just a guise not to lose another round of Debatables traisped across my pathway of reason for not participating. I mean, I teach, grade essays, and contribute to my blog on a weekly basis… Y’know–just wondering.

This month’s topic of contention for readers to decide: Which scene is more ominous–Edward from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe meeting the White Witch in the winter woods of Narnia or Scrooge meeting up with the ghost of Marley one dark night in A Christmas Carol?

Image result for white witch and edmund

How could anyone not see the ominous aspect of this scene? That is one creepy lady. Beware, Edmund! Beware!

Jilanne proved to be a formidable debate partner. Even with sound logic and a solid grasp of what ominous really means from readers such CharlesBakerHarris , Chelsea Owens, and Courtney Wright, Edmund could not nudge past the last minute flurry of voting for Scrooge’s encounter with Marley. Even Mr. Allegra went the way of ghost protocol. [Really, Mike?]

Jilanne wins the January round, and she added her own style of quippery to the verbal sparring.

Image result for marley's ghost

I know–doesn’t impress me as ominous, either.

If you missed out, you can backtrack and read our exchange here. You can even still vote–as long as it’s for Edmund, and as long as you know it’s only to make me feel better.

See you next month for a new round of Debatables.

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Reading Round Up: December


Reading is my go-to for stress relief. And December is stressful. Some of you know what I’m talking about. Especially if you either teach or are a student or are a parent with children in school. Or are a person just dealing with the holiday rush. That about cover everyone? I suggest reading to calm that December tension. Here are my highlights. BtW: I read everything. I volunteer at our library when I have time and shelve books. Somehow I always end up with the children’s cart. I usually take home a couple. Channeling that inner child? Umm, how about it’s work-related research? I like to think I’m staying informed of what my students read.

Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Excellent. Uniquely presented and memorable. The old story of two misfits by society’s standards gets a new fit as the Kevin the Freak(y) little brain teams up with Max the Mighty (big kid). Middle schoolers will gain from this book that there is so much more to first appearances. Those who appreciated Wonder will add Freak the Mighty to their list.

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

It’s understandable why this is a Newberry Honor book. A WWII story with a different lens, one dialed in on looking at how some people are survivors in a different type of war. Ada is a survivor, and this is her story.

Set in Kent, England just as the war is starting, Ada and her brother Jamie are evacuees and slowly learn what love is once they are taken in by Susan, a survivor in her own manner.

The rushed ending prevents this being a solid 5 star review; however, it is a story of recommendation.

Orbiting Jupiter by Gary Schmidt

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Another heartbreaking story from Gary Schmidt.

In this one, Jack tells Joseph’s story because Jack has Joseph’s back in more ways than one. Jack is able to convey well Joseph’s pain at being separated from what he cares for in life, and Schmidt relates Joseph’s emotional and physical travail through Jack’s honest observations. While there are moments of happiness, much of the story dwells on the sad, thought-provoking life of Joseph who is among the growing number of characters Schmidt portrays as having abusive fathers, and trying to make the best out of hard situations.

Schmidt’s storylines are reminiscent of Chris Crutcher’s penchant for telling hard stories about kids who need a break in life. But without the swearing.

The Happy Bookers by Richard Armour

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Armour, a prolific punster of over 50 books, creates a light-hearted history of the librarian. Written in 1976, it’s a tribute to celebrating the double anniversary of the American Library Association and the Dewey Decimal system.

Interwoven in all the puns are history nuggets about the library and their keepers. It is difficult not to laugh out loud at some of the humor. People overhearing your snickers will want to know what’s so funny. Save time and hand them the book to enjoy.

Julie by Helen Markley Miller

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Julie fits in well with other titles focused on young women who have to make adjustments to a new environment, such as Kirby Larson’s Hattie Big Sky. Centered on the growing town of Twin Falls, Idaho, Miller tells the story of how sixteen year old Julie traveled with her father from the comforts of family life in Iowa to start a new life out west.

Full of lively dialogue and characterization, readers come to appreciate this story of how a town grow up out of the desert, and a young girl grew up to become a young woman of dreams, yet have her feet planted firmly in Idaho soil.

Twisted Tales From Shakespeare by Richard Armour

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Irresistible. Seriously, Shakespeare shouldn’t be taken as seriously as he tends be. After all, he knew how to have pun with words. Richard Armour also knows his way around puns and takes on Hamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, The Merchant of Venice, and Othello and paraphrases these well-known plays with wit and plenty of wordplay.

A gem of amusement of both students and scholars. A four only because some of the punnery became a wee bit extreme. I can mock fun of Shakespeare just so much. I am a Bardinator after all.

I hope one of the listed titles intrigues you, and I am open to suggestions. I am always scouting out other reader blogs.

Debatables: Ominous Winter Scene


The usual monthly Debatable format shall be slightly different this month. Mike Allegra, that talented, and becoming increasingly prolific writer, is off on a month-long fellowship diligently working on his book. This means he does not have the time, nor can he spare the creative pundit, to dabble in quibbling and debating. In his stead, he has asked Jilanne Hoffman, a capable author in her own right, to quibble and debate upon a chosen topic. He likened it to her being a tribute. I promise no life-threatening survivalist tactics will be forthcoming. Instead, I offer a warm welcome for Jilanne. Please feel free to trot over and check out her blog. I suggest signing up her updates and such while you are there. She has a fascinating bio:
Jilanne Hoffmann has been a zoo train engineer and a “real” engineer, but switched to freelance writing 20+ years ago and now enjoys writing stories for kids and adults. She has an MFA in Creative Writing, has read at Listen to Your Mother – San Francisco, and is an alumna of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and the Rutgers One-on-One Conference. One of her stories is included in a forthcoming anthology (Feb 2019), “She’s Got This: Essays on Standing Strong and Moving On.” She is currently at work on a new adult novel and many, many picture books.


Today’s Topic: What is the most ominous winter scene from a juvie book?

I have selected the passage from the C.S. Lewis classic The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where Edmund meets the White Witch upon his entry into Narnia.

Image result for edmund meets the white witch
That’s right, Edmund–think twice about talking to that lady in the sledge.

Jilanne has decided upon the scene where Scrooge meets up with Jacob Marley in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

The same guidelines apply: we each have 300ish words to state our case, and then another 150 to counter argue.

Let the quibbling begin!

First off, a definition of ominous is needed:

om·i·nous/ˈämənəs/adjective:giving the impression that something bad or unpleasant is going to happen; threatening; inauspicious.

Cricket:

For those not familiar with the Chronicles of Narnia, the first book introduces readers to the Pevensie children: Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan. Lucy finds her way into the enchanted land of Narnia, yet her siblings disbelieve her.

In chapters three and four Edmund follows Lucy into a wardrobe during a game of hide and seek, and unexpectedly enters Narnia, where it is winter. His paradigm has definitely shifted. A stranger in a strange land, he decides “he did not much like this place.” Tension builds. He can’t find Lucy, he is freezing cold, and wonders how to get home. Desolation increases–that feeling of”something bad or unpleasant is going to happen” is about to happen.

In the distance a sound of bells. They come nearer. What can be approaching? A threat forms. Suddenly a sledge drawn by reindeer driven by a bearded dwarf appears. This is not promising. What’s really startling is the formidable woman seated in the sledge, who holds a wand and wears a crown. Her severe manner startles Edmund into stuttering out his name. She demands information from him. The interview’s only bright spot is the Turkish Delight she provides. But wait! Readers are informed that the candy is tainted with her evilness, creating a craving for more, to the point of Edmund promises to turn over his brother and sisters to this imposing woman to satisfy his craving.

Minutes later, Lucy and Edmund reunite and Edmund discovers he’s been fraternizing with a witch, the dreaded White Witch. Edmund is sick with his realization (not to mention the overindulgence of Turkish Delight).

This scene is truly frightening: a lost child, cold, made more miserable upon understanding how badly he’s messed up. Lewis knows how to capture the fears of childhood, and creates an absolute memorable ominous scene.

Jilanne:

I nominate Jacob Marley’s chilling scene from A Christmas Carol. It has always terrified me. Scrooge feels a “strange, inexplicable dread” as bells clamor in his gloomy house and then stop, followed by “a clanking noise, deep down below, as if some person were dragging a heavy chain over the casks in the wine merchant’s cellar….the cellar door flew open with a booming sound…the noise much louder on the floors below, then coming up the stairs, then coming straight towards his door.” I cowered behind my mother as she read, my head under the covers, hoping this ghost would take only her and let me live.

Jacob Marley, a “bristling” specter drapedwith the miserly chains of cash boxes, ledgers, and purses he forged in life,has “death-cold eyes” and a handkerchief wound round his head like a bandage.Although he sits still, his “hair and skirts and tassels were still agitated asby the hot vapor from an oven.” When Scrooge doubts his vision, Marley removesthe bandage, releasing his lower jaw onto his breast. Aghhhh! Dives below theblankets yet again, and stays there.

Marley hears “sounds of lamentations and regret, wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory” outside the window. He joins in “the mournful dirge” before floating “out upon the bleak, dark night.” Scrooge peers out the window and sees “phantoms wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went.” Each wore chains like Marley’s ghost. This scene could turn anyone but Voldemort into a philanthropist.

Ah, even in Mike’s absence, quibbling is still a part of the format. So—

Cricket’s Rebuttal:
Quibble point #1: Yes, ghosts are scary. Yet, does winter really play into this scene? Ghosts can appear any time of the year. Marley’s ghost is not even associated with Christmas specifically; he’s just the forerunner of other visitors. And is Scrooge actually intimidated? He is doubtful and doesn’t become a philanthropist at that point. A scary scene, but not really ominous.

Quibble point #2: Did Dickens write this for children? Wasn’t he actually trying to soften the hard hearts of adults?

Main point: The cold, foreboding setting of the perennial winter forest creates an unpropitious mood. Add in that austere White Witch and her toxic Turkish Delight, and a menacing winter scene designed just for children is created. Lewis imbues an impactful lesson: taking treats from wicked witches can lead to all sorts a serious trouble beyond tummy aches–becoming a traitor is indeed ominous.

Jilanne’s Rebuttal:

Winter plays a HUGE role. Scrooge’s rooms are bitterly cold and dark, like his heart, a stark contrast to generosity and warmth. PLUS Scrooge does fall to his knees, asking for mercy when Marley raises “a frightful cry.”

 

Ditch authorial intent. It’s like asking Maurice Sendak if he really wrote for children. By the time kids reach the age of reason (seven), they know this story and its meaning: be generous and compassionate toward those less fortunate.

 

My quibble for you:

Edmund’s not scared. He’s cold and in a strange place, but he spies a bearded dwarf (Santa!), a sleigh, and reindeer. Fun! The queen’s just a brittle genealogist seeking to identify Edmund’s siblings. Plus the promise of a title! Who doesn’t want to be a prince and eat sweets, bellyache notwithstanding? Marley’s ominous promise, OTOH, led me to save my quarters for charity before I was five years old!    

 

And there we have it–two scenes that should elicit feelings of something threatening or bad about to happen.

Readers: as a child reader, which is more ominous to you?

Let the voting begin–and, of course, comments are always encouraged.

Word Nerd Confessions: January


I really like the time around New Year’s. Turning the calendar page, fresh start, anticipating what’s ahead, knowing that the midpoint of the school year has arrived and I’m ready to return for second semester.

It’s also a time I feel the need to tidy up: closets, projects, pantry, and my email gets a sound once over. This month’s feature of Word Nerd gets an extra dose of cleaning up. Some of these words have been lingering in the queue for over two years. Time to dust them off and send them out in the bright new year of 2019.

*This became the word one year in my AP Lit class. It found its way merrily into many an essay.

*I do so like this one. However, I feel a bit snooty when I insert it in a sentence.

*A personal favorite. I do so cringe when people say “a small, little”–it’s small or little. And don’t say “very unique” around me either. Yes, real estate blurbs are the worst offenders.

*footle and gleek must be pals

*As a child I remember a comic strip called “The Katzenjammer Kid’s”–they were naughty little trouble makers. Ah, they obviously caused their parents distress.

This word is supposedly obsolete, yet I think it could catch on once again. Bumper sticker stuff: Experience Esperance.

Well, my word closet is a bit less crowded. I hope you picked up a couple or a few new words to carry you into the new year.

Any favorites from the list? As for the usual challenge of creating a sentence with all the words (20!)? Only if you are up for it.

Reader Review: Such Good Reads


Blank yyib header maxres

The Goodreads elves sent out their annual Year in Books report earlier than expected this year. Although I surpassed my reading goal of 101 books, I’m still reading! I hope to reach 135, and I just might.

Because I know you are interested, here are the highlights:

The Golden Mean by Nick Bantock Shortest book–46 pages/4 stars

Part of a series I discovered at the library. Very creative format.

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Longest book–655 pages/3 stars

I read most of Brian Selznick’s books, having

enjoyed The Invention of Hugo Cabret. This title, although an interesting, wasn’t quite as compelling as his other stories.

The Girl on the Train by Paula HawkinsMost popular read: 1,790,319 readers can’t be wrong? Right?

I read it simply to see what the fuss was about, and why so many of my students were reading it. An idea Hitchcock, no doubt, would have explored. Or did he?

Literature Made Easy the Merchant of Venice by Ruth ColemanLeast popular read: 0
–that does not bode well for my upcoming unit…

Highest rated on Goodreads: a warm tribute from a son to his well-known, beloved father.

Through My Father's Eyes by Franklin Graham

First review of the year:

The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman A four and half star read that contained an intriguing plot twist (or two). A find at the library sale.

Last review of the year:

A fun, and surprisingly informative introduction to Shakespeare I found while shelving at the library. A solid four stars.

I will continue setting my goal at 101 for next year. We’ll see what happens. And I am open to suggestions for reads.

And if you are really interested the elves might be willing to show off their colorful Goodreads chart work by clicking here.

Give Me a Break…


December consists of hurry up and wait.

At school we hurry through the last unit, hoping to complete it before

a)an unexpected snow day hits

b)the current bout of flu doesn’t empty out the classes

c)too many of my students leave for early vacation.

At home it’s a flurry of hurry as I shop, package, insert, check lists, pull down boxes, search and find–that is, when I am not grading those last minute assignments.

The wait part is counting down days to Christmas Break. We voted to make 12/21 the exit day in order to have an extra week at the end of break, instead of at the beginning. Fumes of distinctive burn out permeated the hallways on Friday. Everyone was tired. I know waiting so long for the break to begin will mean I enjoy that much more–right?

I did a happy dance in the kitchen on Saturday 12/22. Walked around in the brisk, sunny, pre-snowstorm. Definitely appreciated the Christmas weekend. Love being on break.

It’s Wednesday. Umm, how long before we go back to school?

It’s true: You can take the teacher out of the classroom, but you can’t take the classroom out of the teacher.

So far I’ve read two books, answered a dozen Quora requests, watched three movies, straightened up my Hamlet unit, polished my Merchant of Venice lesson plan, finished a puzzle, made a batch of cookies, tried out my new walking poles (thanks, Hon), slept in (6 am!). Now what?

Sheesh–I better figure out something about down time. I’ve got about four years to retirement.

They say knitting can be fun.

Word Nerd Confessions: December


[somewhat hummed to Tannenbaum]

December. Oh, December. How colorful, your days are bright. With evergreen and flashy lights, your lengthy nights are cozy bright. December. Oh, December. Your passing will soon bring June.

Don’t get me wrong. December is fairly pleasant, considering all the snow that must be dealt with. Decorations, festivities, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Christmas Break. I like December much more than January. But that is next month. This month let’s focus on the bright, brilliant, and happy of the Christmas month.

And this last word is to bring in the new year…

Reading Roundup: November


The flurry of December’s Debatable Reindeer vs Penguin sidelined my usual attention to reviewing previous monthly reads. Here’s the scoop for November:

Pilgrim’s Progress by Gary Schmidt

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Pilgrim’s Progress is a classic appreciated for its allegory of the walk one makes in faith and belief. It would be difficult to improve upon it, yet Gary Schmidt creates a version for contemporary audiences that deserves noted acclaim for keeping the original message intact while providing a more approachable format.

Barry Moser’s agreeable, stunning watercolor illustrations aptly and deftly accompany Schmidt’s retelling.

Appropriate for middle readers, yet probably more appreciated by adults who remember the original Bunyan version.

Nowhere to be Found by Emily Thomas

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Irresistibly drawn to series that combines creating a library in a renovated house plus a cozy mystery. An enjoyable, undemanding read that combines Christian values with a well-paced plot.

Whisper by Lynette Noni

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

This is one of those books that is so captivating that finding a place to bookmark for the night is difficult. Best to start earlier than later in the day.

The first 100 pages are spellbinding. Jane, as in Jane Doe, a young woman is being held prisoner in a secret facility. She suffers silently because she refuses to speak to anyone. This is not only because of sheer determination, but because JD is afraid to do so. In her case, words do have power.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

It’s a quick, quiet, uneventful cadence of vignettes with the theme of a grandmother and her young granddaughter circumnavigating each other’s quirks while living on an island for the summer. Being Finnish in original intent changes some of the dynamics of the characters, yet the bond between the adult and child holds well.

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Written by a son and mother team, this is #8 in an ongoing series about Bess Crawford, a nurse who likes to solve mysteries.

An intriguing idea to have a WWI nurse solve a tangled mystery involving a wounded soldier of dubious identity. Unfortunately, the plot becomes muddled with confusing details such as too many suspects with similar names, and the device of Bess, the protagonist, running around annoying people with her questions while healing from her wounds received at the front. The mystery itself proved intriguing, yet the solving was drawn out

much too long. The characters are agreeable and the writing is accomplished enough to look into other books in the series at some point.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

One problem with experiencing the movie before the book is that so many book scenes become overlaid with cinematic scenes. Clare is Rachel McAdams and Henry is Eric Bana while I read and I’m annoyed when the author changes things up character and plot wise. Then again, she had it all mapped out first. Lesson: read the book first.

Review wise: interesting beginning, muddled middle, and melodramatic ending. Not a romance book fan, and without the time traveler gimmick this would not have kept my attention, as the plot device of a woman constantly waiting for her ideal man to return to her is a metaphorical irritation after awhile.The swearing and sex scenes detracted instead of added to the plot. At one point the characters ask if their sex life is normal. Well, if you have to ask…

Alba, their daughter, makes it worthwhile to finish out the ending. I’m rooting for a sequel with Alba working out her own time traveling agenda.

Debateables Recap: Rudolph Grounded


Each month, Mike Allegra and I take on debating mostly meritable topics concerning children’s literature. We each state our initial argument in about 250 words and then add on a 150ish counter argument. You then, dear readers, vote accordingly and add in commentary. Mike and I look forward to the votes, and truly relish your comments.

Our December Debatable focused on Christmas specials based on books. I offered the perennial classic: Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, based on the song, which is based on the Montgomery Ward coloring book. The book lasted longer than the store, sadly.

Image result for rudolph the red nosed reindeer

Mike, suggested his usual underdog, a relative newcomer to the seasonal menu: A Wish for Wings That Work based on the title by adult/children’s writer Berkeley Breathed, known for his Bloom County comics.

Image result for a wish for wings that work

This month proved, well, ummm, different. Lots of likes and visits. Few commitments. Mike edged the voting outcome by one vote–two, if you go by what Mike says. Anyway, quibbling aside, Mike is the winner. The score is now *gasp* EVEN! We are now 3-3.

Stay tuned for January’s Debatable. A winter theme? Open to suggestions. Leave your comments and certainly your suggestions for new Debatable topics.

Until then…

Blue skies, and happy reading…

POM: “Approach of Winter”


I am not a fan of winter. I may have mentioned that once or twice. In fact, I confess, I am known to have at least one ridiculous emotional meltdown–a little kid unreasonable tantrum, when the first snow makes landfall. Yes, I am embarrassed. If they had a support group for Winter Lamenters Anonymous I would attend.

Once my tantrum is over I am resigned to winter. To not acknowledge that we are stuck with it for the next 3-5 months is added misery. I buy sweaters and sip cocoa. More books get read. I try to find the bright side to the dark days of winter. Nope, I don’t ski. I might be convinced to sled though.

For the most part I ignore creative acknowledgements of winter. Don’t sing to me about wintertime; I am not interested in chirpy little winter televised specials. Fine. Maybe the Olympics. So, I was surprised when I actually liked the poem that dropped into my mailbox that’s part of my subscription service. You do subscribe to a poem service, right?

This caught my eye since it caught how I feel about the onset of winter. It earned double appreciation points having been penned by William Carlos Williams–the doctor poet. Enjoy.

The half-stripped trees
struck by a wind together,
bending all,
the leaves flutter drily
and refuse to let go
or driven like hail
stream bitterly out to one side
and fall
where the salvias, hard carmine,—
like no leaf that ever was—
edge the bare garden.

 

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