Blue Moon Mountain (Geraldine McCaughrean)

So, today my preschool daughter signed up for the summer reading program at the local library. It was so sweet to see her getting her very first library card, playing with the kids' computers, and browsing the children's literature collection. It is a massive library, so she was pretty overwhelmed. For that matter, I'm a librarian, and I'm overwhelmed when I go into this particular branch. But, we'll continue to visit and get oriented to the building throughout the summer, especially when we go to show her reading log to earn her tickets. Granted, the prize room looks just like the treasure box at Chuck E. Cheese's, filled with trinkets that are either cheap pieces of candy or what must be lead-laden toys. Sweet Sassafras (my nickname for her), I'm not trying to micromanage your ticket purchases, but darlin', I can buy you a teensy pack of fun dip for .15.'s about the reading, right?

Which brings us to this post.

Her poppa is rather goal-oriented, and competitive, so he is all into this earning-a-ticket deal. We have just completed 4 books (and 140 points total, mind you), so as much as time permits, I'll be sharing about some of the books we are reading this summer.

Blue Moon Mountain is a weak effort at trying to weave a story together filled with villains from mythical and folktale history. Big Bad Wolf, the Kraken, Hydra, Gorgon, something called the Cockatrice, the Troll from the 3 Billy Goats Gruff, etc. are all characters living on this mysterious Blue Moon Mountain. The mountain can only be reached once in a blue moon, and so one night a little girl (Joy) makes her way to the Blue Moon Mountain in search of the unicorn (which, by the way, when did a unicorn become a villain?). She meets all these creatures, tells them they are wonderful, and then goes home. That's pretty much it. I found it spotty and poorly written, with illustrations that never matched the animals mentioned on the pages. Sassafras found it rather boring, and so the book became a lesson at reading a book to the end, regardless of how lackluster it is.

Because we have TICKETS to earn, right?! ;)

The Cat who Went to Heaven (Elizabeth Coatsworth)

First published in 1930, this book is about a very poor Japanese artist whose housekeeper brings home a cat to keep them company. He is reluctant about this cat at first, but as she comes to distinguish herself as an extraordinary sort of cat, he gives her the name Good Fortune and grows to accept her as a member of the household. The cat watches as the artist designs a great picture of Buddha for his town's largest temple, which is a great honor to him. The artist goes through several meditative-sort of states in order to encompass an accurate depiction of Prince Siddhartha, the man who came to be known as the Buddha, and all the animals who supposedly came to pay homage to him.

A few things I learned from this book included some background information about Buddhism. I don't practice Buddhism, but it is always good to be educated about other religions.

I have a few questions about this one that were never answered in the story...namely, how does a poort artist still have enough money to keep a housekeeper? What was it about the animals (and their place in this culture) that made the artist focus so intently on them?

Cross Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

Another audio encounter, and one I thought would NEVER release me from its evil clutches!

Criss Cross is about 4 teenagers, and how they are going about their daily life trying to figure out who they are and what they think about things. There weren't really any major events or development in character. There weren't any major conflicts. It was just these kids, doing normal things. It reminded me of that movie Crash in a way, as occasionally each of the characters would cross paths with another and only the reader is aware of the full impact of each event...only Crash was interesting. I know, sounds harsh.

I do have one good thing to say about this book. The author's style is very sophisticated. She used lots of metaphors in the book, which made for beautiful text. The only problem was, no true picture of these characters was really painted.

I will be honest, I have no idea why this was a Newbery winner. Did I skip a CD or something?

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle

First in a series of 3, this book is the winner of several prestigious literary awards (Hans Christian Anderson, John Newbery, Lewis Carroll, and Sequoyah Book Awards) and is on the American Library Association's list of most challenged books. I finally got around to reading it this week, and I must say I was pretty surprised that it has ever been challenged. As a matter of fact, I had to do a little research to discover just why it was ever considered controversial in the first place. Before we go there, though, I better give a little plot synopsis...

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of three children's adventures through space and time travel. Meg and Charles Murry are looking to save their father from being entrapped by the Evil Black Thing, and Calvin is a friend who accompanies them. They meet three angels who help them on their journey (who give love and encouragement to the characters through Scripture quotations), and in the end are able to get themselves back safe and sound to planet Earth.

As far as the writing style goes, I'd have to say that it is a little too simplistic for the nature of the subject within. Of course, I'm reading this through eyes that have read Harry Potter and the Chronicles of Narnia, as well, so maybe at the end of the day it is more about my personal preferences than it is about the quality of writing here. Regardless of what I think, though, this book was highly controversial in its initial years of publication (early 60's). Wrinkle was considered to be a book that was "too different" from other books in 1962, and was rejected by over 20 publishers for that very reason. When I began to research the cause of all the fuss, it was mainly because Jesus Christ was mentioned in the same list as Copernicus, Einstein, Euclid, etc. as people who were fighting the Evil Black Thing. Despite the prevalence of Biblical Scripture in the plot and themes of this tale, L'Engle was heavily criticized for her "liberal Christianity." Hmm.

But even though I don't love A Wrinkle in Time as deeply as I do other works of fantastical fiction, I can wholeheartedly appreciate its apparent groundbreaking in the public's acceptance of books that are "different." Who knows? Maybe L'Engle's Wrinkle was inspiration for contemporary works of fantasy.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

I feel as though my brain has been assaulted. The 394 pages of this monster were filled with the strangest, most obscure, most bizarre characters and events that I have ever encountered in a book. I am unsure that I have recovered enough to describe it, but here goes. Hold on tight.

Ignatius Jacques Reilly is a thirty year old, very well educated, egotistical, mentally deranged, idealistic yet diluded, morbidly obese man still living at home with his mother in New Orleans. He passes the days by writing insanely in his collection of notepads, watching movies at the local theater (but disrupting by screaming criticism at the screen), concocting plans to overthrow the government, and harassing everyone around him. It's pretty easy to see where Ignatius got his crazy, because his mother is just as bad...though I would concede that she is slightly more in touch with reality. (But only slightly.) Because of a debt owed by the Reilly duo, Ignatius is sent out to find a job. This leads to an absurdly ridiculous turn of events involving a riot in a pant-making factory, an underground pornography ring, and a comical attempt at hot dog vending.
The descriptive language used by this guy is hilarious. Rather than saying he was too fat to wear the former hot dog vendor's uniform, he says that "the costume, of course, had been made to fit the tuburcular and underdeveloped frame of the former vendor, and no amount of pulling and pushing, inhaling and squeezing would get it onto my muscular body." (page 228)

There are about 10 other minor characters that are sprinkled throughout. There is the flamboyantly gay Dorian Greene, who goes along with Ignatius's conspiracy for gay men to infiltrate the military and therefore take over the world solely because the "kickoff rally" will be a fantastic party. Then you have Darlene-the-Stripper whose act includes a cockatoo, policeman Mancuso who is forced to dress up in silly costumes while on patrol until he brings in a real criminal, and elderly and demented Miss Trixie working at the pants factory who makes daily demands for her Easter ham and turkey. Some of these people are inconsequential, some are vital to the plot of the story-even though you have to wade through Ignatius's spew to actually find it-and all are badly broken. They also have a heavy and distinctively New Orleans accent. I found myself rereading more than one page in attempt to figure out what the heck "Recor plain star at thirty a week" (page 218) really meant. (Translation: Record playing starts at thirty dollars a week.)
By the way, A Confederacy of Dunces was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1981.

I really had to work to read this bad boy. Its peculiarity wasn't endearing, its characters were confusing, and though its ending provided closure, it wasn't happy closure. I am glad to have read it, though, because a) It is an award winning book, b) It is renowned in the world o' books, and c) I can see it being valuable for study on the undergrad level or above. *There are some rather shocking and inappropriate manifestations of Ignatius's sexual delusions, which do fit in with his characterization but are still completely out of line for discussions in the high school setting. Kids should not, I repeat NOT, be reading this book. The truth is, though, with the way the whole situation is worded, they probably wouldn't understand it anyway.

It's over the top, this book. It is wild and shocking and completely unlike any other of its kind....I guess that is what makes it a perfect representation of New Orleans.