Part of that is because of its small scale. There’s an author whose father has died and on his visit home for the funeral he stops by a neighbour’s farm. This prompts recollection of the story of the opal miner who was their lodger when he was seven, which is a story he’d forgotten. The story involves a creature giving people money and seducing his father so that he will never be able to get help.
I liked the story, it was beautiful and Gaimany. I kind of feel bad for saying it but I’d hoped for something more substantial.
I do not have kids. I don’t have plans to parent any time soon. I am happy my job does not require me to be actually responsible for the long-term development of children. But I have friends with kids, and one of them recommended Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting to all his friends with toddlers as a way to look at discipline and the kinds of things people should be looking for rather than blind obedience from their spawn.
The first half of the book looks at the whole notion of reward and punishment as both being bad because they rely on the notion that parents do not love their kids unconditionally. That when the kid is bad and is punished by withdrawing love, or when doing something good means she’s showered with affection it changes the way a developing mind thinks of the world. Kohn is looking at that “sticker generation” phenomenon of rewards for every little thing and saying that doesn’t teach kids to think about what others actually want (just like a forced apology is no apology).
The second half deals with what parents can do instead. It’s explicitly anti-behaviourist, in that Kohn’s thesis is you shouldn’t train a kid the way you train a pet. There are bits about observing what a kid does and asking questions rather than just saying “Great job!” Taking the kid’s perspective into account and working with it to get things done, that sort of stuff that might be hard to do in the middle of a rushed morning but that is at least a bit reflective on the whole process of child-rearing.
It’s not a step by step to raising kids differently, but it’s an interesting book of ideals.
I have a couple of friends who are getting their education degrees right now and one of them asked if I’d read any of these Sir Cumference books. I hadn’t, but now I have.
Sir Cumference and the Viking’s Map is a story that goes over the basics of the Cartesian plane. There are two kids who get a map that’s supposed to lead to treasure and they have to figure out how the coordinate system works, while being chased by enemies.
I like the concept but thought there weren’t enough plausible mistakes in it. They just read the clues and knew what the negative numbers meant and that you’re supposed to read the X axis first. There are probably sound pedagogical reasons for that, but it made it feel overly simplistic as a story. It felt too obviously like a lesson and not like a story you could happen to learn something from – for my taste at least.
Now I’m looking for more math/story books to see if I can find some I really like and will let you know if I find any.
Johnny and the Dead is a book about a boy who can see and talk to the deceased folks in his local graveyard. Terry Pratchett uses this short kids’ novel to deal with the importance for living people to remember the dead (and the dead people to forget the living). The basic plot is that the village council wants to put in a new condo development on the graveyard and the dead people tell Johnny to stop them. Johnny gets his friends together and (this is where the book really shines) do not organize a protest or anything big and outside the scope of what a bunch of 11-year-olds could conceivably do, they just ask questions about the people who are in the graveyard.
Now, it’s Terry Pratchett writing this, so the characters are funny, but the situations never really are. Even though it’s a bit dated (it’s from the ’90s), it’s a pretty excellent story for Remembrance Day, especially since it talks about how sad it is that soldiers go off and die (instead of doing some bullshit celebratory thing about their noble sacrifices or whatever). Also, it’s the middle book of the Johnny Maxwell trilogy, but I haven’t read the first one and did not feel like I was missing anything.
Legends has Zita dealing with the tedium of fame. When she finds a robot who can take her place during all the autograph signings and such it sounds great. Then the robot takes her place on a mission that will let Zita go home again. Zita has to find new allies and get her life back.
The book has Zita dealing with awesome new characters and setting up seeds of connection for the future books. She’s clever and heroic and even though she’s out of her depth she doesn’t lose her head. It is a bit more explicitly a part of an ongoing series than the first was, but Hatke is doing a great job making it work on its own as well. Very recommended for the middle school crowd.
Hope Larson kicked ass in her comics adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I reviewed the book last year, so I won’t dwell on the story because Larson doesn’t deviate too much from it.
She drew it in a timeless kind of style, with rotary phones, but not expressly a period piece, which I think worked well. It is an old-fashioned sort of story. I appreciated how subtle the evilness of the evil in the story was drawn. And by that I mean that Charles gets spirally eyes and sharper expressions when he falls under IT’s sway, but he doesn’t become monstrous looking. Even the darkness and the red-eyed man were pretty subdued (unlike in Faith Erin Hicks’ excellent review of A Wrinkle in Time). The only thing that got the full-on icky feeling was IT, which is suitably jiggly and veiny and gross. I also loved the multiple speech bubbles from Aunt Beast, and Mrs Whatsit and Mrs Who were both suitably jolly in human form, and Mrs Whatsit in her angelic form looked so completely different the question of what to call her made perfect sense.
I was kind of sad there was no Punch of Love!! in the book but otherwise it was great. I’m looking forward to our library getting it so I can put it in people’s hands. I think it’ll be a good gateway comic.
Wildwood is Colin Meloy’s fantasy novel about Pru, a girl in Portland whose brother is stolen by crows. The crows take him into the Impassable Wilderness on the edge of town and Pru goes in to rescue him, along with a nerdy classmate. Within the wilderness there’s a world of talking animals and magic and politics, three nations plus bandits and coyotes and witches trying to destroy it all out of spite.
Meloy tells the story well, creating sympathetic characters who aren’t idiots. There are places where a lazier storyteller could have fallen back on cliches, but he generally avoids that kind of thing. Still, nothing feels terribly new. It’s predictable in the way an old story (or perhaps more appropriately for the lead singer of the Decemberists the way a song) is. The bandits aren’t as terrifying as they might seem, a hero is tricked but manages redemption, there’s military assistance when all seems lost.
It’s good. I enjoyed my time in the world of the book (whose atmosphere was helped by Carson Ellis’ illustrations). And though there’s a sequel, this didn’t end on a cliffhanger, so I can go about my life thinking of the story as its own little thing.
Disclosure: I loved the movie version of P.D. James’ The Children of Men and without having read the book made the assumption that they would be very similar. Because I am strangely naïve about movie adaptations I guess? I’d have thought I was a cynic in these matters by now, whatever. The book in this case is very different from the movie.
The best way to think of it is to consider the two stories to be parallel tales about the same world. In this world, there have been no babies born for decades. Humanity has inexplicably gone sterile. Here, the book and movie part ways.
In the book the protagonist Theo is in his fifties and is a history professor with no real students anymore since even the youngest people are over 25. The youngest people are known as Omegas and they terrify the aging populace, since they were brought up doted on and knowing they would be the final humans ever. Theo is the cousin to Xan, the despotic ruler of England. A bumbling bunch of fools ask him to talk to the ruler to make some sort of change. Against his better judgment, he does so.
The book is about that relationship between Theo and Xan, who are both not-young men. Theo has all this guilt from accidentally killing the daughter he and his ex-wife once had, which plays a big part. The bumbling fools are trying to be terrorists to get England changed, but they aren’t effective. There is talk about the Isle of Man, where the prisoners are exiled to, but the book doesn’t take us there. The climax in the book takes place in a woodshed near Wales. It’s very different.
I like the movie version better but I love the idea that both stories happened, with different participants and results. If more stories from the childless future intrigue you, the book is worth your time. If you mainly loved Children of Men for that amazing Steadicam shot, there’s not a lot for you in the book.
I was really excited about Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado’s kids comic Giants Beware! and it did not disappoint. Claudette is a brave little girl in a town that’s very wary of the outside world. She tricks her little brother (who wants to be a sword-making pastry chef) and best friend (who wants to be a princess) into helping her on her quest to go kill the giant in the hills near the town (which no one has seen for ages).
The story does great things with impatience, bravery, cleverness and family. It reminded me tremendously of Bone, which is a very good thing. Highly recommended.
The previous edition of this F1 racing game was called Formula Dé and we sold it at Campaign Outfitters many years ago. I’d had the coolness explained to me, how the gearshifting worked by using custom dice, but never had the chance to play it. Now that I have, (in its modern incarnation: Formula D) I have to say it was awesome. We had a group of 9 people and it was like playing a boardgame version of Mario Kart, meaning it was great fun indeed.
Everyone has a tiny car on a track with spaces. You roll a die and move your car that many spaces. The first one to the finish line wins. “Well, that sounds about as much fun as Candyland,” you might say, and if that were all, it would be a shitty shitty racing game. But that is not all.
You see, every car has a gear shift, so you have to upshift to go faster. In 1st gear you can only move 1-2 spaces, in 3rd you move 5-8, and if you hit 6th gear you move 21-30 spaces. Each gear has its own colour coded die, ranging from a d4 to a d30.
The next question you might ask is what is to prevent a racer from just jumping up into 6th gear and moving 21-30 spaces every turn? The curves in the track prevent this. Every corner requires you to end your turn in a certain zone a certain number of times, or damage your car. An easy turn has a large number of possible spaces and you only have to end your turn in it once. A nasty pile of hairpins might be a lot fewer spaces and require you to end your turn 3 times within it, forcing you to downshift so you stay inside.
We were playing with the basic rules which just give a certain number of damage points to the cars, but the advanced rules split the damage up between tires, brakes, gears and more, which means you have to work your car a bit differently. We treated it in a much more Mario Kart fashion and had a blast.
There is a lot of luck to the game, as a couple of bad rolls on a straightaway while competitors roll well can really hurt your chances (you have to take more risks in the turns while the leader can negotiate them safely), but in our race there was a lot of position-shifting and even though Kifty ran away with 1st place, the rest of the racers were contesting with each other right to the end.
Excellent game, and one that works with kids and large groups.