cricketmuse

a writer's journey as a reader

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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.

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Movie Musings: Bill


The mystery of William Shakespeare’s “lost years” are revealed in the 2015 film Bill.

Be forewarned though, this is merely a presented supposition. A hilarious one at that. Why couldn’t William of Stratford be an aspiring lute player hoping to make it big on London stages? Seems to fit right in there with the other theories of him being a teacher, lawyer, sailor, butcher, baker, candlestick maker. Well, maybe not actually a candlestick maker, more of a candlestick consumer (burning those late night candles writing, writing, writing).

But in Bill, William is not penning plays, he’s tuning up songs. And many of his plays do feature songs, so perhaps he was a frustrated musician. The lute being the forerunner to the guitar suits him as it can be soulful, playful, and even rock n roll in approach. I think he would prefer the Beatles over the Rolling Stones. However, in the movie, Bill is terrible at playing the lute. Horrible, in fact. Good thing he’s got this play he’s been working on, especially since Good Queen Bess is demanding a new one for her courtside entertainment.

This is where the story get going. Bill does have a play. Well, most of one. Other people want it as well for their own nefarious purposes. Intrigue, slapstick, punnery and foolery ensue. Think Monty Python meets Studio C on the skewed History Channel.

Family entertainment at its best and a must for Bardinators. A bonus is the various Star Wars lines that are woven into the dialogue.

[Nicely done, Cricket–you managed to squeeze in your Monthly Movie Musings and your Shakespeare-for-the-23rd post]

Reader Round Up: December


December is reading crunch time. School is winding down, Christmas stress is building, weather is all about keeping the driveway clear of snow, and that Good Reads Reading Challenge number smirks quietly–“gonna miss it this year-heh heh.”

YET–this year December proved quite complacent. Two snow days prior to the Christmas Break (which didn’t happen until 12/22!?!) helped calm the last minute crazies and allow for last minute holiday need-to-get-done. As for the usual Good Reads smirk? Didn’t happen. Remember? I had tremendous down time in August nursing my broken wrist and managed a huge padding of 20 books read that month. I finished the year well, being over my 101 goal plus 12. I don’t plan on breaking anything in 2018 or anticipate unexpected down time, but I will pluckily sign up for another 101 reading goal.

One really lovely aspect of late  Christmas Break is two weeks of reading guilt free. I really appreciate that break from grading, and cozying up with books is truly a balm to my frazzledness. Here are a few top picks from December:

After the Rain  by Karen White


Although somewhat predicable in plot [troubled woman on the run stops in a small town and gets accepted by all the usual stereotypes and then falls for the town good guy, and there are major problems getting together but of course you know they will], this nevertheless has solid writing and provides that comfy, light read needed after a long week.
Mockingbird Songs by Wayne Flynt


I surprisingly did not hear about this book until I found it whilst shelf browsing. Dr Wayne Flynt and his wife Dartie have the distinction of being within Nelle Harper Lee’s inner circle. The friendship began with professional correspondence, since Flynt is a noted historian, and warmed up to a true relationship lasting a couple of decades. In fact, Flynt provided Lee’s eulogy. While more of a epistolary than a true biography, the correspondence between Flynt and Lee reveals aspects of Lee’s personality that solidly establishes her as a national treasure.

Green Tiger’s Illustrated Stories from Shakespeare


A definite charmer. Ten of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays are paired with captivating artwork, and are retold by E. Nesbit. Aimed towards children, this is an adaption that is appealing for anyone interested in Shakespeare, or even those desiring a winsome read.

 Steal Away Home by Billy Coffey


Billy Coffey is establishing himself as a storyteller who combines faith with a tale that’s in no hurry to get there. The plot will travel forward some and then twist and turn and settle in for a culimating ending that is so surprising it makes a reader shout out loud. At least I did. This is a story of living with choices made, of loving with a divided heart. And baseball. Coffey flips his story around a live game and the past that brought a Cinderella minor player up to the majors for one night. A five star.

Red Kayak by Priscilla Cummings


Looking for books to plump up my classroom SSR shelf, I picked up this surprising gem at the local library book sale. Not being a huge fan of younger YA, I didn’t have high expectations for an engaging read. Wrong call. Cummings presents a compelling story of how one decision can affect many people, and she does it without a sermon. Her realistic situations and characters resonate well. I promptly set off to find the other two books in the series. Another five star.

Looking forward to another year of Good Reads. Any favorites from 2017?

Review Round Up: March 


Nothing like Spring Break to throw off a blogging routine! Take a little R&R and the regiment of writing piffles away. The excellent part of R&R is the time to read instead of time spent grading essays. While I didn’t get down to business on my own writing as planned, I did get into quite a few great books. Here are the top picks for March.


image: Margaret Atwood.ca

There is a slew of Shakespeare retellings out there, and my request for Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed, her version of The Tempest, finally came through at the library. The basic plot is Felix, a well-known director, whose overly creative approaches to theatre, is ousted by his protege. Seeking exile in a dilapidated farm house, our hero has a rough time of it until he takes a gig at a prison to bring Shakespeare to the inmates. 

While it was difficult to get into the story at first, Atwood’s version of The Tempest won me over once the inmates began acting out the play. Their fresh approach made The Tempest stand up and become more relevant to present day concerns.

All the new revisionments of Shakespeare’s plays tend to be hit or miss in their approach. More misses than hits. Yet, Atwood, being the maestro of imaginative tales herself, gamely applied her own brand of magic to Prospero’s tale and conjured up an agreeable story within a play which plays upon the story.

The best part of her adaptation was having Felix, the artsy, exiled director, explain the play to the inmates. Valuable education stuff. Should I ever choose to teach The Tempest I shall delve into Ms. Atwood’s classroom references.


image: Goodreads.com

I’m not sure how this book got on my TBR list as I shy away from tragedy stories, especially ones about 9/11. And this story had yet another tragedy story woven throughout–the Triangle Shirtwaist fire of 1911. I got over my initial “read or not to read moment” and found myself involved in an amazing story that speaks well towards the gifts of grace, forgiveness, and redemption.

The parallel stories of lost love due to horrendous circumstances is skillfully and eloquently written. Susan Meissner infuses her stories with rich prose and an underlayment of faith that provides a richly satisfying read. The characters transcend their paper boundary and imprint. I looked forward to my reading time and spent most of one Saturday intrigued by Clara’s choices and Taryn’s painful healing. I cried. And laughed. It’s been a while since that’s happened with a book. 

My second book by Meissner. I’ve now loaded her other books on my TBR list. I can take a bit of tragedy in my reading when the story had such a powerful message attached.
image: Goodreads.com
As a sequel to The Shakespeare Stealer, the story continues in following the historical fiction of Shakespeare’s acting troupe. While the action is not as lively as the first book, there is still plenty of intrigue as readers follow Widge’s determination to find his place as a player in the Chamberlin’s Men. The primary audience is middle readers or even young adult, yet I’m always game for a Shakespeare story.

The black plague is a definite presence throughout the story and Blackwood’s attention to detail creates an engaging insightful look into the times of England’s Renaissance.

Shakespeare Knew Unrest


Peggy O’Brian, director of education, of the Folger, queries how former Folgerians are doing from time to time. Seeing the Folger is neighbors with many prominent Washington DC power sources, such as the Supreme Court, her question holds some resonance of consideration.

I paused and thought. How are we doing? The “we” for me being the school environment because school is a large part of my life and serves as a reflection of how the world out there is affecting the lives of present and future citizens: students. I will say this: there is unrest and concern.

Here is my partial response to Peggy’s question:

We are feeling the bite of unrest. Students are forming clubs that reflect their need to express their views. We have a club that celebrates the 50.5%, formed by young women (and young men). Another club is the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, young men who want to explore what it means to be a male in today’s society. We also have Interact and Key Club, which reaches out with fundraisers to meet the needs of the community. The administration has a mentor class of student peers who lead discussion groups.

Class discussion topics for my AP Language class bring forth interests such as “fake news,” and how women are portrayed in the media. Students exchange ideas and debate views. We share. I remind them their voices can be heard. They march. They write letters and articles for the school paper. They are involved. I am fortunate to be part of their conscious desire to be the change they want to see in the world.

And in all this, I keep teaching Shakespeare. He saw injustice, corruption, love, hate, death, prejudice and he put pen to paper, and words became actions upon the stage. Students see that 400 years later we still have the same issues, even if they are expressed in a different manner at times. My students see that one man continues to have a large influence upon the world. Shakespeare truly is a man for all time.

Shakespeare is one way I illustrate how times of unrest are reflected through the arts. And it’s frightening to learn that funding for the arts is being threatened.

I’m hoping our voices will be heard up on the Capitol’s hill that the arts are important and the people want them to remain a vibrant voice.

We especially need our voices to be heard in times of unrest.

Bard 400: Shakespeare Club


The continuance of celebrating the 400 year passing of Shakespeare continues–I hope it just keeps continuing.

My mission this month is to convince high school students to join my Students for Shakespeare Club. I’m doing this not only because I want students to know the amazingness of Billy Bard, I’m also promoting the club because I don’t want to lose $400.

You see many years ago a batch of drama students formed the Students for Shakespeare Club so they could perform the Scottish play at the town’s local theatre. It was a success. Money was generated from tickets, the students graduated, and the club somewhat languished until it became the starting point for sponsoring the yearly Shakesperience drama production. Long story short: it’s well known on campus how much I like Shakespeare, so it wasn’t too difficult to convince me to take on the task of scheduling the annual play. So what’s with the $400?

Basically if a club does not use its funds it loses them–they get dispersed to other clubs. At least that’s what I understand. If I can get a few students dropping by my classroom now and then to learn Shakespeare stuff, like stage fighting, tossing out insults, arranging a flash mob, playing around with scenes, I think I’ll be safe.

Here’s my promo for the morning announcements. It was a hit.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B_-zu__fglN_dDRZSEhONGdvVkE

At the homecoming carnival I provided the game of “Thou Art” which involved selecting a slip from three available baskets in order to form a personal Shakespearean compliment.  Such as: THOU ART A…

MELTING    TIGER-BOOTED    GODDESS 

It was a hit. As a thanks for playing, participants got Smarties for becoming smarter about the Bard. Candy is always a hit.

I managed to sign up six students. I’m in business. Should I go for  stage fighting for the first meeting? Image result for stage fighting moves

Or a (maybe not so politically charged) flash mob scene?

Tickled With A Really Fun Bard Site


Yes, I’m still talking about the Bard. I’m gearing up to initiate a Shakespeare club at school and I’m getting inspiration from different sites. One of them is Mya Gosling’s Good Tickle Brain, which is an absolutely delightful blog about all things Shakespeare. Most of her work is done in one of those simple, yet hilarious cartoon styles, which, even after given this step-by-step instruction, I still can’t manage. She makes it look so easy. If you love Shakespeare, enjoy a good laugh, like to keep up on the Bard, I suggest checking out Mya and her marvelous Shakespeare stuff:

A Bard In Hand Is Worth Two In The Bush or There’s No Bardness Like Slow Bardness


Shocking. The tremors from the announcement that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival will be futzing with the Bard are rippling through out various literary communities. It’s one thing to sneak No Fear Shakespeare into the classroom when teaching Hamlet  and company to students, it’s quite another to go to the theater and pay good money to hear modernity instead of Bardinator verse. If you haven’t heard the news, hear it here: Shakespeare is undergoing translation, and yes, I do believe something will be lost along the way.

“I suspect that Shakespeare himself, in his eagerness to reach audiences, would be perplexed by the idea that our job today is to settle for only half understanding his work. Let’s embrace Shakespeare for real and let him speak to us.”

So says Dr. McWhorter who teaches linguistics, American studies, philosophy and music at Columbia University.

Just because we haven’t kept up with Old English doesn’t mean it should be changed to meet our needs. There are plenty of analysis experts who have provided handy translations of Shakespeare’s works. We just need to take the time to read them. Or better yet, figure it out on our own. It’s called learning.

What really concerns me is if this could be a trend towards other changes. Sophocles? That old dead writer of Mediterranean vintage who wrote about the son who inadvertently married his mother? Yeah, it’s Greek to me too–better change it up so we can understand his plays. Then there is Emily Dickinson. Dash it all, she really doesn’t understand how to properly use punctuation, better to get grammar check suggestions for her. She’s still in public domain, so she won’t mind. Honestly, if we quietly allow Shakespeare to be mucked about with and don’t fuss about how *presto chango* his beautiful verse and prose gets shazzamed into everyday slings and arrows, then we will surely watch all the old classics become literature lite. Less calories, less filling.

How do you feel about those Oregon Shakespeare folk messing about with Shakespeare?

Here’s the article. Let me know what you think. *grumble grr*

Me thinks it’s piteous to mess with the muse.

image: morguefile/johninportland TRANSLATION: Roses are the prettiest flower out there. Nope, it just don’t float.

A Trio of Shakespeare 


Considering I had no exposure or any real knowledge of Shakespeare until I began teaching his works in high school, I’ve certainly made up for lost time.

In the twelve years of morphing from a displaced school librarian to an AP teacher I’ve developed an appreciation for Wm. Sh. to the point of labeling myself a Bardinator. *

“Yo, thou intensely doeth Bard if thy be a Bardinator.” image: flickr.com

Bardinator /n./ a person who goes beyond face value knowledge of Shakespearean works and dives in to study, appreciate, and revel in the works of William Shakespeare to the point of total commitment. Simply put–a dedication to the Bard’s works beyond what is considered sufficiently normal. 

This summer I have reveled in more Bard than usual. It began, appropriately enough on July 4th* when I landed in Washington DC to study Hamlet for a week at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Later that month I finally got around to Anonymous, which is actually anti-Bard, as it is a ridiculous conjecture that William Shakespeare was not a brilliant playwright but actually a drunken sot of an actor fronting for some earl who was a closet playwright. The only takeaway was how stunningly the time period and the theater was portrayed. I squirmed through this insulting and terrible premise to absorb the glory of the Elizabethean stage snippets. One star of note was Mark Rylance. This observation led me to–

Twelfth Night starring Mark Rylance in the role of Olivia. Yes, finally. A Shakespearen production as it might have been presented because of the all male cast. The play was filmed at The Globe with a live audience (groundlings included) in sharp, glorious HD. Mark Rylance and his troupe superceded expectations. It was unprecedented theater. I will have problems readjusting to women playing women now in Bard dramas because Shakespeare wrote the parts knowing men/boys would be playing women. Or in the case of Viola/Caesario-, a youth playing a woman disguised as a youth. The lines and meaning take on a whole new dimension with the knowledge it’s two men playing they are attracted to each other but the manly man doesn’t want to admit to it . But thr audience knows the fair youth is really supposed to be a woman since it’s a boy playing a woman dressed as a boy. The confusion is intentional, as is the jovial mistaken engendered double meanings.

“Yonder sun doth the moon, y’all.” Image: YouTube.com

To round out the summer I watched my first ever Shakespeare in the Park or more precisely, on the grass at the local fairgrounds.  A group of thespians out of Montana traversing five states presenting either Cyrano or Taming of the Shrew graced our fare (or fair) town. And what a turn out. Beginning at three o’clock people arrived to claim their patch of grass and browsed the various booths ranging from spun wool goods to sword play. A lively Renaissance trio added appropriate musical ambiance. At six o’clock the western-themed show begun and the audience whistled and hooted out their appreciation at all the puns and ribaldry. The best bit was unplanned when a wee little lass wandered onto the stage at just the moment when Petruchio instructs Kate to speak to the “maiden” (Vincentio).

“Speak to yonder maiden, Kate. Not that one–the other one.”

Not missing a beat, Vincentio grabs up the sweet interloper and announces: “This is my granddaughter” and managed to return her to an embarrassed audience mother.

A truly fun community event to commemorate the closing of summer. Soon I will be bringing Shakespeare to the classroom, but perhaps we’ll Bard out on the lawn. BOOC–bring our own chairs.

Did anyone else have a bit of Bard along with their beach and BBQ days this summer?

—————————-

*yes, there is a connection of studying Shakespeare during America’s independence week–Wm. Sh. became our nation’s first playwright when his plays sailed over from England. In fact, the Folger has the first Elizabethean stage. A regular Tudor de force (upon which I played a hammy Horatio).

*I just spent an hour hopscotching about the Net trying to find that nifty definition I stumbled across years ago. No luck. I did find a new blog concerning Shakespeare. I have created my own definition. This will be a work in progress and I am quite open to other interpretations.

2/50: Bloom’s BioCritiques–William Shakespeare


William Shakespeare  Frustrated Harold Bloom. image:meme.com

Harold Bloom knows a lot about literature. I think “intimidated” along with “impressed” are among my reactions to his introduction on William Shakespeare

 

2015 is going to be my Shakesyear, since I have set out a goal to gather research to write about Shakespeare. I’m not sure from what angle I’ll proceed, but I’m looking forward to the process. I do enjoy researching. It’s the doing something with it all that I struggle. I do know I have a daunting task ahead of me. Consider how little we know about him, I realize I’m probably going to be chasing about looking at the same old information presented by different people. Maybe I’ll be fortunate and find two needles in the info haystack…

The first book I’ve come across is a dandy. Harold Bloom, esteemed literary critic, takes on the task on presenting literary biographies of all sorts of famous authors. Although intended for juvenile readers, I found his vocabulary and syntax fairly challenging at times. For instance, what middle schooler would grasp this sentence easily: “I surmise that the egregious interventions by Vencentio and Iago displace the actor’s energies into a new kind of mischief-making, a fresh opening to a subtler playwriting-within-the-play.”

Bloom creates a portrait of Shakespeare through the observations of others including Samuel Johnson and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Considering this volume is under 200 pages, it’s packed with vital insights, including a chronology, works list, and a bibliography, to set me off along the trail in my search for Shakespeare.

Some new-to-me facts about the Bard:

  • he was “fostered” out to another family whose connections might have helped him rise above the failings of his father (which is quite the story in itself)
  • in 1587, when Shakespeare was 23, five theatrical companies visited Stratford and it wasn’t long after that Billy Boy went off to London
  • Hamlet, produced in 1601, was among the first plays the Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed at the Globe theater
  • Shakespeare’s company performed at least twelve plays every year for King James and his court
  • The purchase of the Blackfriars, another theatre, allowed Shakespeare’s acting troupe to perform year round since this was an enclosed theatre, unlike the Globe

I look forward to my discovering of William Shakespeare, and I hope you won’t become bored with my Bardinating over the course of the year.

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