Monday, February 25, 2008

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

A 2008 Newbery Honor Book

Hope is the thing with feathers
that perches in the soul,
And sings the tune--without the words,
And never stops at all - Emily Dickinson

"I guess the writer was thinking about how light feathers are and they can just float everywhere. And I guess that's how hope is too--all light and everywhere like that. There's hope in this house. And at your church. And at OnePeople. At our school. Across the highway and on this side too. Everywhere."
- quote from Feathers

Eleven-year-old Frannie is wondering about hope. Her mother has experienced two miscarriages but is pregnant again. Her sister Lila died as a baby. Her older brother Sean is deaf. Her grandmother and best friend Samantha are very spiritual and religious. To top it all off, there is a new boy in class - the only white boy in a school of African-Americans - who the bully Trevor picks on and calls "Jesus."

This novella is too slow and subtle for my taste, and yet I also think it borders on being preachy. But there is still plenty to like about it! I like how it is a story about family. I like the poetic main character Frannie and the other characters. I especially like how Feathers explores "looking beneath the surface" of people and the many shapes, sizes, and colors of hope. This book left me feeling more compassionate towards other people and, yes, it left me feeling hopeful about, well, everything. :)

Tarie's "feathers" (at the risk of bordering on being preachy myself):

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart." (Jeremiah 29:11-13)

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Spiderwick Chronicles

The books

What I liked: This fantasy series for children definitely has charm. It's a fast-paced, action-packed story about family. The characters are very likeable. It's set in a great old house. The book design is beautiful and the illustrations are great. The mystery about Arthur Spiderwick's Field Guide to the Fantastical World Around You kept me reading...

What I didn't like: The series didn't excite me. I thought that all of the problems of the characters were solved too easily. And I was disappointed with the fantasy element. I thought too much attention was paid to elves and dwarfs - fairies that already heavily populate other fantasy stories! I wanted to read more about creatures like brownies and phookas because they are new fantasy creatures to me. :)

The movie

What I liked: Hooray for good family entertainment like The Spiderwick Chronicles! The special effects were nice, and it's always a real treat to see books come alive through the magic of movies. Of course the movie didn't follow the books exactly, but I still felt that it was so faithful to the books (in everything from characterization and set and costume design to family themes and how the ogre Mulgarath was defeated). Better still, the movie glossed over the parts of the books that I didn't like! Yay! For example, it didn't include elves and dwarfs. Instead it focused on fantastical creatures that are less common in contemporary fantasy for children. And the happy ending was even happier in the movie!

I must say, Jared Grace (played by Freddie Highmore) and Hogsqueal (an unlikely hero) were adorable. Plus, it was a pleasant surprise to see Andrew McCarthy play the father!

What I didn't like: My only complaint is that I feel the movie could have been more exciting. Hmmm, maybe I am getting desensitized by other action films and/or my attention span is getting shorter.


The story of a teenager who gets pregnant and gives her baby up for adoption... Juno is filled with really witty, quirky, and beautiful characters (portrayed through superb acting). I chuckle to myself when I remember the movie. :) But I didn't just find the movie really smart and funny, it also felt so real. It actually made me feel the responsibility and beauty of pregnancy, the weight and awkwardness of an unplanned pregnancy, the longing for a child, and hope about love. Sensitive me cried during a couple of parts! I love this movie. :)

"In my opinion, the best thing you can do is find a person who loves you for exactly what you are. Good mood, bad mood, ugly, pretty, handsome, what have you, the right person will still think the sun shines out your ass. That's the kind of person that's worth sticking with."
- quote from Juno

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Dr. Aureus couldn't make it to class today, so my classmates and I went to the Cordillera Coffee cafe in Vargas Museum. We discussed King Lear, family, learning Spanish, and educational theories over coffee. (I ordered a Cafe Amandie: hot almond-flavored coffee with whipped cream.) I love life. :)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

UP Fair

The University of the Philippines Diliman, the annual fair, Friday night, best friends, hot dogs, Philippine street food, mouths pink from cotton candy, and goofing off in front of the camera.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Art by Ellen Forney

I don't usually read young adult novels. I'm really partial to middle grade fiction. But when I found out that The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie won the 2007 National Book Award for Young People's Literature, I bought myself a copy.

This book terrified me.

The writing was so honest. The story was so raw and real. The main character, Arnold (Junior) Spirit, was so real.

I was stunned.

This is the story of fourteen-year-old Junior, an Indian living on the Spokane reservation, and his first year in an all-white high school. Junior has to deal with poverty, racism, loneliness, loss, being condemned as a traitor to his people for leaving the "rez," and much more. He goes through A LOT. I couldn't help but cry at one point in the novel.

And yet, this book is laugh-out-loud funny! There are really amusing illustrations. Junior witnesses and experiences tragedies. But he is a really smart, funny, and resilient guy. And there's still a lot of hope in the novel. It certainly ends on a hopeful note. In fact, it's a novel about going after your dreams... or at least making an attempt.

This novel is chock full of revelations about Native Americans and the Native American experience and enlightenment about contemporary adolescence and life in general. Sherman Alexie is such a good writer. His writing is so witty, so beautiful, so fluid.

At first I wondered why The Invention of Hugo Cabret didn't win the National Book Award. Now I know. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a really good book. It's even better than The Invention of Hugo Cabret!

Because of all the pain he has to deal with, Junior's "grieving ceremony" is trying to find the little pieces of joy in his life. He hangs on tightly to good moments. I hope I can be as strong as Junior Spirit. He manages a lot of changes and deaths.

Junior makes lists of what gives him the most joy. Here is a list of some of my "little pieces of joy":

my family
children's literature
literature for teens
Japanese food
rice, rice, rice, rice! riiiiiice
comments left on my blog
Baking and Books
A Fuse #8 Production
the University of the Philippines Diliman
the resources team (goExplore) of iTi Consulting, Inc.
my friends
pleasant surprises
sleeping in on Saturdays
Sunday worship services
excellence in any form
the sense of fulfillment after hard work

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Winner of the 2008 Caldecott Medal
Finalist for the 2007 National Book Awards in the Young People's Literature category

While reading this book, I thought: Wow...WOW. With each page, this book just got better and better. When I got to the end, I literally cried out, "Nooo!" It was more than 500 pages, but I didn't want the book to end.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a breakthrough in the novel form: the story is alternately told through words and pictures. Neither the text nor the images can tell the story alone.

It is set in 1931, and it is the stirring story of twelve-year-old Hugo Cabret - an orphan, Timekeeper of a Paris train station, and thief. Hugo solves a mystery involving an automaton with a hidden message and an old toyseller. This story is also about our hopes and dreams and passions. It's about clocks and other machinery, art, genius, and the magic of movies. It's about how all machines are made for some reason; and a broken machine always makes us a little sad because it isn't able to do what it was meant to do. It's the same with people. If you lose your purpose, you are broken. The story is also about how people, like Prometheus in Greek mythology, can be bound, but can break their chains and be free.

It's a beautiful story in beautiful packaging. Book design was given more attention than usual. The book design is simple, yet lovely enough to make the book itself, as an object, a work of art. I found the book compelling, not just because of the mystery I got more and more curious about, but also because I was always thirsty for the pictures. I marveled at the 284 pages of original drawings from Brian Selznick. Actually, I wanted even more pages of drawings!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a new favorite of mine. I can imagine myself reading it over and over again. And if I had the money, I would buy a copy for everyone I know.

"I like to imagine that the world is one big machine. You know, machines never have any extra parts. They have the exact number and type of parts they need. So I figure if the entire world is a big machine, I have to be here for some reason. And that means you have to be here for some reason, too."
-quote from The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Happy Thoughts

* The Arrival by the amazing Shaun Tan: a wordless narrative about the confusion and excitement in the immigrant experience. The surreal and endlessly detailed images that tell the story had me floored.

* children

*The addicting website Just One More Book: a treasure trove of podcasts on children's literature. There are interviews with authors and illustrators, and reviews/discussions of excellent children's books.

* soft, warm croissants with hot coffee

* Shen's Blog: the official blog of Shen's Books, a U.S. publisher with a specialty in children's books on Asian cultures!

* lots of sticky glutinous rice cake at home because of the Chinese new year

* The blog of children's book illustrator and writer Elizabeth O. Dulemba: free cute coloring pages every Tuesday. Weee!

* teaching English to children

* book talks

* book trailers

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Erec Rex: The Monsters of Otherness by Kaza Kingsley

Erec Rex is no ordinary twelve-year-old boy. He has a powerful inborn magical gift that helps him save other people's lives; and one of his eyes is fused with a dragon's eye! More importantly, Erec has begun the journey to becoming one of the future rulers of the Kingdoms of the Keepers of magic.

Erec must go on twelve quests before he is crowned the king of the magical realm of Alypium. These quests are not contests to win in order to become king, but situations that need Erec's fixing. From these quests Erec will gain the knowledge and power he needs to be king. The Monsters of Otherness is about Erec's first two quests. He must save the dragon hatchlings of the wilds of Otherness. And he must stop the monsters in Otherness.

This second installment in the Erec Rex series is funnier and deeper than the first. The Monsters of Otherness has more humor and explores more serious themes, such as trust, self-sacrifice, politics, prejudice, discrimination, and justice. I also think this installment is better because it uncovers some of the secrets from the first, but also introduces new mysteries. The plot thickens in The Monsters of Otherness, and you all know how much I love complex plots. ;)

I continue to wonder at Ms. Kingsley's imagination! There's the brilliant "ten years earlier" section that serves as the epilogue of the book. And more fun things like pet vending machines (put in a couple of coins for a cute hamster or rabbit!); chocolate rain (be careful of the bugs that get in with the rain); a dancing coat rack; a memory mogul; and cyclopes, hydras, trolls, and valkyries like you've never heard of before!

The Monsters of Otherness has its flaws - just like every other book. Its author has her weaknesses - just like every other writer. But I will not dwell on any shortcomings because 1) I always try to focus on what is happy and hopeful :P and 2) the bottomline is: The deeper I get into the Erec Rex story, the more I think about it and the more I analyze it, the more I like it! :)

If you are looking for a light, but engrossing read, I recommend the Erec Rex series. Readers young and young at heart will enjoy this series because it is COOL.

"I just do what I have to... We do what is right. We don't have a choice."
- quote from The Monsters of Otherness

Monday, February 04, 2008

Congratulations to JP and Brian! Yesterday, they competed in the Carlos Palanca, Jr. Poomsae Championships. They both won gold in the team competition, JP won gold in the pair competition, and Brian won gold in the individual competition!