High Variance

Violence in Picture Books #IMWAYR

Violence is rampant in kids’ books. The Hobbit and the Harry Potter books are filled with magical blades and fierce battles. The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew are dodging bullets and getting bound to chairs in every other chapter. Even Charlotte’s Web starts with a near ax murder. My kids (age 3 and 5) aren’t quite old enough to be reading these books on their own, and we are pretty careful about what we read to them. A while back I wrote about R’s fascination with Greek mythology, but this turned out to be a phase–The closest she gets to violence these days is a food fight with Jigsaw Jones.

Both girls still spend most of their time in the relatively safe world of picture books. I say relatively safe because occasionally we happen across some surprising brutality. Here are a few examples we’ve happened upon recently:

  • Millions of cats (written and illustrated by Wanda Gag in 1928) The illustrations are uniquely beautiful black pen and ink drawings and the story is about a very old man who goes out looking for a cat but has trouble deciding and ends up returning to his wife with millions of potential pets. (This happens to me sometimes when I go grocery shopping hungry, albeit on a smaller scale.) Unfortunately, the story takes a Malthusian turn when the multitude of cats start fighting about who is the prettiest:

They bit and scratched and clawed each other and made such a great noise that the very old man and the very old woman ran into the house as fast as they could. They did not like such quarreling. But after a while the noise stopped and the very old man and the very old woman peeped out of the window to see what had happened. They could not see a single cat! I think they must have eaten each other all up said the very old woman, “It’s too bad!”

Too bad indeed! Luckily one kitten who didn’t think he was prettiest survived. In this case One Direction was right when they said “You don’t know you’re beautiful and that’s what makes you beautiful.” Seriously, I loved this book when was a kid and only found the millions of deaths mildly unsettling.

  • Feathers and Fools (written by Mem Fox, illustrated by Nicholas Wilton in 1996) Mem Fox has written some tremendous books, but no matter how you slice it, this book about two flocks of birds who don’t get along is not young-child-appropriate. You might as well just read the latest news stories of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to your kids at bed time:

But the swans, seeing them coming, made ready. Soon cries filled the air and blood darkened the earth. A cloud of feathers rose into the sky and haunted the sun.

Of all the birds, not one remained alive. Silence hung over the gardens. And over the the lake.

Then, in the shadows of the gardens, an egg hatched, and a small bird staggered out into the bloodstained silence.

Among the reefs beside the lake a second egg hatched, and another small bird teetered out into the ruins

  • Mr. Nosey (written and illustrated by Roger Hargreaves in 1971) I’ve written before about how much I love the Mister Men and Little Misses, but this particular book is one that I actively avoid. Mr. Nosey is just one of many annoying but endearing Mister Men in the series who get their comeuppance. What’s different here is that Mr. Nosey is actually physically abused. Even worse is the pleasure the abusers take in hurting their victim:

“BANG” went a hammer right on the end of Mr. Nosey’s nose.

“Oh dear. I AM sorry!” said old Mr. Chips, who was nailing up a loose plank in the fence.

Poor Mr. Nosey had to go home immediately and bandage his poor red sore nose.

Mr. Chips grinned a broad grim.(sic!)

The Plan was working very well indeed.

The real world is violent place. Eventually my girls will have to learn this and figure out how to live in it. We’re going to shelter them until we think they’re ready. I don’t know when that will be, but I know it won’t be for a while.

Originally hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, Jen over at Teach Mentor Texts along with Kellee and Ricki at Unleashing Readers host kidlit versions of It’s Monday! What are You Reading? All three sites are great places to find new books for yourself and your kids.

My Favorite Podcast App: It’s Not What You Think

The whole Internet seemed to go crazy today about the release of Marco Arment’s new podcast app for iOS: Overcast. He’s a nerd celebrity and he’s been teasing his fanbase (myself included) for what seems like a year as he worked on it and talked about it. Marco is an accomplished entrepreneur and engineer, and this release was highly anticipated. As a fan and a regular podcast listener, you might think I would be one of his first customers, but you’d be wrong.

I’ve been using Network for the last six months and am very happy. The UI couldn’t have less chrome–All you see in the app is the artwork from your podcasts, episode descriptions, and a plus sign for adding new podcasts. Your interaction with the app is almost entirely through gestures. It’s not completely intuitive, but it makes me smile and reminds me a lot of the Clear to-do and reminders app.

Instacast, Downcast, Pocket Casts and now Overcast all have a lot more features than Network, but I don’t need a lot of features and I certainly don’t want to fiddle with my podcast app while I choose avocadoes and listen to John Siracusa complain about LCD TV’s. Some of Overcast’s features (e.g., Smart Speed) do sound cool and non-intrusive, but for now Network is perfect for me–It plays my podcasts and just melts into the background.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #IMWAYR

So it turns out there are people out on the Internet out on the Internet besides me that read and review picture books! Not only that, a whole bunch of them gather on Mondays to share their latest favorites. I guess this has something to do with this “social media” thing that is so trendy these days. Sigh, I feel so old.

Without further ado, here are the three books in heavy rotation on right now with my three year-old that I love:

  • Alexander and the Wind-up Mouse (written and illustrated by Leo Lionni) I’ve written about my love for Leo Lionni before and this is my personal favorite. It’s got magic lizards, beautiful artwork, and the last page brings a tear to my eye every time I read it. The amazing thing is that my three year old seems to love it just as much as I do.

  • Norman the Doorman (written and illustrated by Don Freeman) Corduroy gets more attention, but Don Freeman was far from a one-trick pony. This book about a mouse that works at a museum by day and creates art at night is lovely story with a sweet message.

  • Zack’s Alligator (written by Shirley Mozelle and illustrated by James Watts) This story is pure fun and I’ve never met a kid who wouldn’t do anything to have Zack’s alligator keychain. It’s like reading a smarter Danny and the Dinosaur with a strong female lead character.

Kid Book Review: The Mister Men and Little Misses

For weeks now our house has been coated in a thin layer of Mister Men and Little Miss books. We have about 70 of these brilliant little square paperbacks, and both girls love them. My three year old carries bundles of them around the house in little bags. She pages through them looking at the pictures, trying to sound out the names, and laughing her head off. It takes her ten minutes to select just the right set to read at bedtime. My five year old will also grab a stack and try to wrap her brain around the stories and the British vocabulary.

The funny thing is that my wife and I amassed our collection before we had kids.

1983: Revisited

In the weeks after I posted my case for 1983 as a crucial year in heavy metal history, I went through a crisis of faith. What about Judas Priest? What about Iron Maiden? And what if I forgot an even bigger band or album? Luckily I could turn to my metal sensei in this time of need. The same Mike who dragged me to the import metal bins at the Rockin’ Mania record store in Framingham and opened my eyes to a whole world of music was just an email away. Here’s what he had to say:

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Dokken Versus the World

I love Dokken and I know I’m not alone. George Lynch is an amazing guitarist, and Don Dokken has a perfect hair metal voice. They really are the musician’s hair metal band. But even I have to admit that Dokken was not the most original band in the world. For years, it bugged me that their song “Tooth and Nail” ripped off Foreigner’s “Tooth and Nail”. And just recently I realized that many of their songs share titles with other big eighties (or late seventies) songs. In a few cases, Dokken came first, but with most, Dokken looks more like the inspired party than the inspiration. I thought it would be fun to explore when Dokken’s song was better (or worse) with a little head-to-head competition.

Kid Book Review: Robot Edition

B is really into robots lately, and I thought it would be fun to share her favorite books that feature robots or have exciting robot-related scenes.

  • The Robot and the Bluebird (written and illustrated by David Lucas) This is a sweet story that takes on some heavy topics: love, sacrifice and even death. Spoiler alert: The bird comes out ok at the end, the robot not so much. The quirky drawings are wonderful, and honestly I think David Lucas is physically incapable of creating a book that’s not great.