Zoom at Sea
“Zoom love water. Not to drink — he liked cream to drink –Zoom liked water to play with.”
Zoom is a small cat who in the opening pages of this first book straps two wooden spoons to his paws so he can paddle in a sink full of water. This opens up an idea in him to make a small boat for the tub. Lastly he goes into the attic finding several sea-going artifacts and learns that his uncle is a sailor cat and that Zoom does not live very far from the sea.
From there, he meets with his uncle’s former owner, tell her who is, and is invited in. There, she has a giant wooden wheel attached to the wall and when she spins it, it opens up letting in a huge amount of water, sand, and sea creatures. She then opens a bad and lets out all kind of birds from the sea. Zoom gets to play all day and at the end, he thanks her and says he will be back.
The book is delightful and tender. The art style is pencil on white paper, so everything is delicate looking, and has a kind of Chris Van Allsburg element to it, but with the text as well. Zoom is a little white cat, but he’s always dressed in some way — like with a captain’s hat or a scarf. The town itself looks like something out of a Miyazaki film, which perfectly fits the tone of the book. I also have a little cat who is obsessed with water, and it’s always hilarious to watch her be curious and do stupid little things with it.
In book two, Zoom returns to Maria’s house, his human friend, after spending some time knitting warm clothes. At her house, they go upstairs (North!) so that can go to the North Pole. As they climb the stairs, the stairs become covered in snow, and eventually Zoom has to put snowshoes (ping pong paddles) on his feet to continue walking. Eventually they come to a door called the Northwest Passage, and on the other side is a place for Zoom to go sledding, go ice skating, and see the various Arctic animals. He also comes across a sea-going vessel frozen in the ice with the name The Catship emblazoned on it. When he gets close to it, he finds it empty, but with a note from his Uncle telling him he will be back when the ice melts. Zoom eventually falls asleep and awake in Maria’s house in an armchair near the fire.
This second book is setting up the epic side of it. I am most reminded of the uncle from Fraggle Rock, who is cast an explorer and anthropologist. But in Zoom’s world all the details of the adventure are embedded into the scenery of the house itself, adding a delightful cleverness to it all.
In this final adventure Zoom is lazing around in the fall in Maria’s backyard when he falls asleep. He awake to find himself alone, but there’s a set of footprint leading first to the phone in the kitchen, and then to the library where they end. A beam of light peers out from a bookcase where a book has been removed, and Zoom enters the light to find a secret passage leading down to an underground river with a crate floating in it. He paddles the crate down the river past crocodiles, and ends up in an Egyptian tomb. There he sneaks past ancient Egyptian cats celebrating Bastet, and finds Maria wrapped in gauze like a mummy. He unwraps her and they follow a trail buttons apparently left by Zoom’s uncle, who also escaped ahead of them. They make it outside, see The Catship, now free from the ice, and join the uncle for a bowl of grog, and the promise of more adventure.
How To Read a Book by Kwame Alexander
There’s a book called How to Read a Book by the scholar Mortimer Adler that I read and reviewed some time ago that is a truly obnoxious how-to guide for reading steeped in condescending language and silliness. It’s like reading that textbook that gets mocked in the opening scenes of Dead Poets Society as being a weird technical manual for something that is not at all technical. It’s funny too because yesterday a student told me it was immoral to grade her final essay because it’s writing and writing is art and it’s immoral to judge art. I said, no it isn’t, and then went on to grade her essay, which was fine, she was just bullshitting.
Kwame Alexander though does treat reading as an art like writing is an art so he compares a book to a piece of fruit that must be unpeeled and savored to be enjoyed. And like fruit, you don’t need to really fully understand to articulate what about a book makes it so important to enjoy, but instead just flourish in it. But also adding some additional thinking can help enjoy the flavor of something and that of course is true for books as well. The book here is an illustrated adaptation of Alexander’s poem about reading, and not a how to guide.
A Bad Case of Stripes
Sometimes children’s books like to throw a little body horror at you. I am thinking of course of books like Chocolate Fever, or the 1985 movie The Peanut Butter Solution which freaked the hell out of me. When I asked students recently to tell me about books they liked when they were kids, this one was one of the more common answers. The book is about a little girl who worries a lot about school, and it seems to act upon her in a way to give her a set of colorful stripes across her whole body (illustrating in bright colors in the book). The stripes then seem to be a manifestation of her worrying, and ends up being like a kids book version of Gabriel Mate’s When the Body Says No. When she’s out of school, she worries about school, and it’s only when she takes the time to relax that she ends up getting better. Of course the students who told me about this one are the absolutely worst worriers I’ve taught this year, and don’t really seem to have fully absorbed things. But maybe that’s why they liked it so much. They could just tell
This is a kind of kids book I used to love as a kid, a true story that told a compelling story, and also taught me something. I used to read this series of book my library had about famous people. They were called ValueTales, and were about a kind of random collection of people and were illustrated like cartoons. The one I remember the most was about Ralph Bunche, which I mostly recall because I thought his name was funny. Here’s what they looked like:
So this book is a similar story about the artist Tyrus Wong who was a Chinese-born American artist who got his start in art by animating backgrounds for Walt Disney films like Bambi. The story here is about how he was sent to the US as a “Paper Son” in which Chinese children were sent to the US and Canada with documents claiming they were relatives of people already granted citizenship as sons or daughters mainly. The story here involves Wong having to say goodbye to his birth parents and take on a false identity and memorize details of this for when he receives scrutiny from US immigration. The author mentions at the end of the book that she wrote about Wong because of his success as an artist, which we likely would not have had he not immigrated, but also because her grandfather immigrated in a similar fashion himself.
The Princess Who Saved Herself
This is a short graphic novel written by Greg Pak based on a Jonathan Coulter song. The comic book is not really all that much like the title suggests, but the story is about a princess who plays guitar by herself, apparently badly, and summons up lots of little friends from her surroundings. She ends up getting in a fight with a local witch, who as it turns out is also a guitar player. Once given a chance to explain herself tells us that she cannot stand to hear the princess play her guitar because it’s out of tune and awful. She tunes it for her and now they too are friends.
The book’s art is colorful and bright and the story, silly as it is, is fun and enjoyable.
Sign of Chaos
This is book three of the second generation of the Chronicles of Amber series. Last we left off Merlin had just approached a keep, fought his way through expecting to find the keep’s master, an old wizard. Instead, a new figure calling itself Mask appears and casts a spell that more or less ended the last book. It was kind of, but not exactly a cliffhanger. We come to at the beginning of this book in a funny way. Merlin is narrating an incredibly strange experience, but rather than doing the annoying character tact of being mesmerized by it all, he simply describes it as it is. It, it turns out, is stolen straight from Alice and Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, to point that the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, a Bandersnatch, and the Jabberwocky are all apparently real. We come to see that Merlin is caught in an LSD trip made real by the accidental magical powers of Luke, Merlin’s frenemy, who is the one having the trip.
Once thing get cleared up, Merlin fights off a monster, meets a girl, and takes her on a date. It turns out the date is a bit of a setup, and the date is a kind of relative, who trick Merlin into teaching her about walking the path. And then she does.
There’s more that happens, but it’s plot reveal heavy so I will skip it for now.
I liked this one more so than the last even though the last ended well. It was otherwise moving things along. I like this this series more so over all than the other one as well.
A companion audio disk that came with the Norton Guide of Poetry in 1992 or so, but now is just a free audiobook of a lot of amazing poems by white men primarily. It’s hard to fault the poems for that one, but the editors should know better.
Here’s a great poem.
Ode on a Grecian Urn
BY JOHN KEATS
Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness,
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape
Of deities or mortals, or of both,
In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead, and a parching tongue.
Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.
O Attic shape! Fair attitude! with brede
Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
When old age shall this generation waste,
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”