What’s in Mina’s Book Bag?

July 20, 2009

As most of you know, Mina and I have our little routine: around 10 a.m. we head down to Starbucks, grab a coffee and sample soymilk, head to the bookstore and plunk our bottoms down in the same corner. We are slowly making our way through most of the books on the shelves right next to us.

A few weeks ago, we came across a couple of books that actually made me “sit up and listen” to their message. We have been reading John Muth’s Zen Ties and Zen Shorts. We began with Zen Ties because it was a little less dense than Zen Shorts. Once Mina got used to the writing style, we moved into Zen Shorts.

They are stories about three children and their friendship with a Panda named Stillwater. Through his stories and example, he quietly and gently teaches them many lessons. The combination of beautiful artwork and magical lessons is seamless. The pages are done in watercolor and he executes the brush marvelously. The high contrast between some colors and shadows that he achieves with watercolor is impressive. He gets the effect of oils but with a softer edge, making it a bit more accessible for the kids.

It was in the book Zen Shorts that I felt that the author was also talking to the parents as well as the children. The books is divided into three sections, and each section has a story with a child and then shifts to a fable done in black and white Asian brushwork. These fables seem to be almost meant for the parent or for a slightly older child. The fable that really hit home for me was about releasing and letting go. It is about two monks, one younger and one older, who come upon a haughty princess in her carriage. She needs to get across a big puddle. The older monk lifts her, carries her across and puts her down and goes on his way. She doesn’t say thank you and pushes him out of the way. The younger monk, broods over this all day long and says as much to the older monk. To which the monk answers: I put her down hours ago, why are YOU still carying her?

That really hit home for me because I am a thinker and a brooder. The more I read that story the more I realized that, sometimes, I just need to let go. The watercolor version of the story with the little boy captures this fable perfectly and brings it down to a child’s level of understanding.

Zen Ties is the second book. Stillwater returns, but this time his nephew Koo comes to visit. I love that Koo only speaks in haiku! It is wonderful to have this literary technique interspersed in a children’s story. This time, Stillwater has the children help an old women in the neighborhood. In doing so, they gain a greater appreciation of how much you can learn from the older generation and vice versa. The story begins with the children being scared of the old lady who yells at them to get off her yard and play in the street. Then after becoming friends, the old lady is yelling at them again, to get out of the street and play in HER yard.

We don’t have the graphic contrast of images as in the first story, but the watercolors are still beautiful and the essence of the scene is captured in the minutest detail. I haven’t seen someone capture the soul of a character in watercolor before. When you look into the old woman’s eyes, you can see how she has changed over the course of the book. Her eyes tell the story.

I can’t wait to see the next installment of Stillwater and what he has in store for the children!


Review | Operation Redwood

June 27, 2009

Operartion Redwood is an intriguing and sensational book. Everything starts with one e-mail, nine words and a pair of curious eyes. Julian Carter-Li finds himself doing things he’d never even dreamed of doing. With the help of Robin and Danny, Julian goes on a dangerous quest, to save the tallest trees in the world. S. Terrell French turned a boring nonfiction into a delightful fantasy. I LOVED THIS BOOK! – Abigail, TKE Customer


Review | One Square Inch of Silence

March 25, 2009

Gordon Hempton’s One Square Inch of Silence has actually, literally, changed my life. Hempton has opened my eyes and ears to a whole new dimension of life—sounds and the very rare lack thereof. I have changed my alarm clock, the volume levels on my television and iPod, and have a whole new appreciation of the impact of sound on my daily routine. One Square Inch of Silence is a fascinating look at the often overlooked problem of noise pollution, a rousing call to action, and a wonderful record of one man’s search for the quiet places of America.

Powell’s has a great piece on their blog featuring Hempton and co-author John Grossman.


Review | Wintergirls

March 19, 2009

Laurie Halse Anderson will present Wintergirls at TKE on Thursday, March 26, at 7 p.m.

Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak) is NOT afraid to tackle the difficult dark subjects of teens. Wintergirls dives into the dismal world of eating disorders. Lia is anorexic, and to make it worse she is in competition with her bulimic friend. Despite the absolute horrors of this story, I was left with a glimmer of hope. Anderson explores these modern teenage tragedies with genuine empathy and realism. – Margaret Brennan Neville


Review | Handle With Care

March 18, 2009

Jodi Picoult will be at Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s (on Lincoln) on Wednesday, March 25, at 7 p.m.

Picoult’s newest, Handle With Care, is the ideal weekend escape–a riveting page-turner of a novel. Charlotte and Sean O’Keefe’s vibrant, wonderful six-year-old Willow is perfect in every way, except for her health. Willow suffers from OI (osteogenesis imperfecta), a disease that consumers the family’s every waking moment. Exploring family dynamics when they collide not only with medical issues but lawsuits as well, Picoult weaves a story that questions our assumptions about health and quality of life while introducing us to unforgettable characters. – Jenn Northington


Review | My Abandonment

March 10, 2009

Peter Rock will be at TKE on Wednesday, March 18, at 7 p.m.

Thirteen-year-old Caroline has been living with her father on the fringes of Portland in dense forest. No one knows of their existence, and they are living the lives of true innocents, living in tandem with the seasons, living off of the land itself–until one seemingly insignificant slip-up propels them back into the urban world, a world in which they are far less-suited to survive. Junot Diaz said, “My Abandonment is mesmerizing and disturbing, a book as fierce as it is tender, as tender as it is real.” His words are, if anything, an understatement. This is a book you won’t put down until you finish it, a book whose characters you’ll never forget. Reading it you’ll think about Elizabeth Smart and the wilderness of her captivity, perhaps about Opal Whiteley’s nature diaries and certainly of the woods themselves, which have seldom been brought to life in such vivid fashion. But most of all you will be ensnared by the adolescent voice of Caroline and by the world she inhabits–in real time and in her imagination. – Betsy Burton


March Staff Favs

March 8, 2009

Heller introduces us to the Litvinoff family at a crisis point in The Believers. Joel, the head of the family, suffers a stroke at the start of an important trial in a New York courtroom. His wife Audrey calls her son and two daughters to his bedside. In between battling with the doctors over her husband’s medical care and wrestling with her conscience over keeping him alive, Audrey learns that Joel had a mistress. She was tolerant of his many affairs, but this mistress had a son who Joel has secretly been supporting. Her family has its own troubles: Lenny, the recovering drug addict, may have fallen off the wagon again; barren Karla, a dieting social worker, has a husband so desperate to foist an adoption on her that he’s pushing her towards another man; and, finally, Rosa, a radical atheist working with disadvantaged African American kids who feels a pull a pull towards her Jewish roots, begins to explore her denied faith. A complex study of nature-over-nurture in post-9/11 New York. – Paula Longhurst

When readers met Henry in 100 Cupboards, we were introduced to a whole new world. In Dandelion Fire, Henry decides he has to go into the cupboard world to find out who is parents really are. Surprises are plentiful in Wilson’s fantastic world, down to Henry’s own source of power. Henry has to blend his own abilities into his new reality, and hopefully help save the world behind the 100 cupboards. Highly imaginative, clever writing, and surprising twists, make this is one of the best sequels I have read in a long time. – Margaret Brennan Neville

This book made me late for work every morning for a week–I just couldn’t resist picking it back up during breakfast. Reading Happens Every Day is like sitting down for a long cup of tea with a good friend you haven’t seen in a while. Gillies is frank, funny, and a great storyteller. Her story of love and loss is achingly true, fundamentally hopeful, and absolutely engaging. – Jenn Northington