book review: the ocean at the end of the lane

The Ocean At The End of The Lane is Neil Gaiman’s latest book for adults, but it reminded me much more of Coraline or The Graveyard Book than American Gods.

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.

book review: unconditional parenting

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.

book review: sir cumference and the viking’s map

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.

book review: johnny and the dead

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.

book review: legends of zita the spacegirl

I think I liked Legends of Zita the Spacegirl even more than the first book. And I liked the first one a lot.

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.

book review: a wrinkle in time: the graphic novel

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.

book review: wildwood

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.