Starting 2013 off right


007) Spacecave One by Jake Parker, finished January 19
006) The Antler Boy and Other Stories by Jake Parker, finished January 19

Jake's Kickstarter was a massive success and I suppose I get a little credit for that. I did not remember before opening my package that I had pledged at a level to get the sketchbook as well as the collection. (Honestly, I'm not sure I did but I'm too lazy to check. I'm not sure I would rather believe I gave Jake more money or that he gave me a book just because he loves me.)

(Also, I should maybe admit in case I'm coming off disingenuous, Jake gave me a bit of credit in the acknowledgements for talking him into making "The Star Thrower"---but that's a bit ridiculous since I totally underpaid him. You're a good sport, Jake! Thanks for playing! Someday I'll be actually worth your time monetarily!)

Anyway, we opened the package at which point I was constrained to read Antler Boy without delay. We read straight through all the stories, most if not all of which the boys had not heard before. And they loved each one.

Jake's a major talent.

But I think he'll be most pleased by the Big O's reaction.

After looking through Spacecave One, Biggo now wants to spend more time drawing.

He did the dishes so he could stay up late with his pencils and pens.

(If you're in Southern California, meet Jake.)


005) The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons, finished January 14

I had an ambivalent reaction to the first novel, and if I hadn't been lent this one at the same time, I would never have bothered seeking it out, cliffhanger or no. And given it took me almost six months to read the first fifty pages, I think we can safely say the only reason I finished the book is because the person who loaned it me is graduating.

Just as I did not care about the frame story in book one, I cared even less for the newly introduced main character. Not returning to our cliffhangered pilgrims for twenty pages? Bad form, Mr Simmons! Then making the new guy I don't care about more and more and more and more important. Grumph.

Anyway, in the end, I'm impressed with the book's ambition. It really does try to be about everything---life, death, technology, religion, god, God, the past, the future, poetry, politics, the universe---you name it. Like Asimov's Foundation series, the book is trapped firmly in the age it was written. The Hyperion Cantos is only twenty years old (compared to Foundation's sixty) but already it's showing its age. Granted, it is aging well---it sounds quite similar to a world that might be predicted in a novel published this year---but lists of ancient authors or composers or whatever that is composed primarily of the same people under discussion today just makes the occasional "future ancient" writer emphasize the artificiality of the whole thing. (This is just one example. The common use of Christian metaphors---important for the novel's message---by people in a world where Christianity has been near forgotten for centuries is another. I could list more, but why?)

If you like ambitious science fiction that tries to be about everything ever, read these books. And they do make sincere attempts at artistry with occasional success.

But I was more disappointed than pleased in the end.

(Incidentally, the books' covers are an example of my beef with faces I was just talking about. The Shrike, as pictured on the books, doesn't quite look like the Shrike as described in the book. Missing a couple arms for example. Yet all my mental images are defined first by the cover image. Fail.)
about six months but mostly in the last two weeks


004) The Crab with the Golden Claws by Hergé, finished January 14

Everything I say below about Tintin holds true here. Though this one seems a bit less polished. He got better!


003) The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham's Treasure by Hergé, finished January 11

I tried to get into Tintin as a kid and failed. I tried again more recently and failed. But Tintin's all the rage among the smartset these days and my nine-year-old is as taken as any of them. So all his younger not-yet-reading brothers pick them up and read them because the Big O can't stop laughing while he reads and talking them up when he doesn't. So I picked this one up and read it to them.

As for me, I'm still not quite sold. But reading it with enthusiastic kids certainly did wonders for my enjoyment.
two noncontiguous nights


002) Using the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts With Gifted and Advanced Learners edited by Joyce VanTassel-Baska, Ed.D., finished January 10

Note: This book was provided to me by the publisher free of charge

You might think---and you would be right---that as a teacher of English to advanced kids in a state moving to the Common Core that I would be open to listening to sound notions on how to move in this Exciting New Direction.

But alas, this committee-written book is just eighty-eight pages of stating the obvious followed by strings of jargon followed by some what's-hip-now-in-education. Plus charts not that different than are available everywhere.

Then there's the whole (poorly addressed) question of why should "advanced" kids require better instruction. This aspect will rankle anyone with the slightest liberal streak.
over a month


001) Jellaby by Kean Soo, finished January 8

I've been aware of this character for a long time---read some shorter works---and so I picked up this book (the first in a series) and checked it out. The quotes from Jeff Smith (!) and Scott McCloud (!) taste vaguely like friends-giving-favors, but the book was fine.

It's clearly heavily influenced by Calvin and Hobbes. And sure! who isn't of this generation of cartoonists? But Soo has deliberately made his book seems as C&H-like as possible. Check out some of these images:

You can see it, right? From the proportions of the kids to the gestures and expressions to the woods behind the house---everything points to Calvin and Hobbes. The first food Portia feeds Jellaby? A tuna sandwich. Case closed.

Portia is not much like Calvin though. She's more like Susie Derkins. And, being Susie, and this being a Modern Take on a Classic, the imaginary creature is real and we're embarking into a world of real magic and real adventure etc. Because, you know, can't beat Watterson at imagination so we'll have to beat him in the real world.

Other influences I think I noticed are Millionaire and Herriman---a deliberate nod to Crockett Johnson---etc. Good things all.

At the end of book one I'm not overwhelmed with desire to read on, but I suspect my kids will like it more than I do. The storytelling wasn't tight or sensible enough for my taste, but I do like some things Soo did. For instance:

Cool, right?

Anyway. A nice book but not worth suffering to find.
snatches of one evening

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