Usborne puzzle books – “Land of Lost Teddies”

My 7 year old and 4 year old love to read this together before bed with us. They take turns spotting all the different clues, and enjoy the charming characters. We do the voices for all the bears, and just enjoy the drama of a kid finding their lost teddy bear.  Every prompt is thoughtful, and the kids enjoy the side quests that we give them (such as finding the set of pajamas that you would like”). The illustrations and text are beautifully composed. Definitely fun for the whole family.

Land of Lost Teddies on Amazon

March of the Empire Penguins

H says he brought  Eve of the Emperor Penguin from the library. After weeks of searching, we still can’t find it in the house.  Maybe they’ve marched away???

Instead, we have been reading Robo-Sauce,

the novel transforming book that really “changes” its content.  The dialogue is delightful– banter by an “all-knowing” narrator, and the beeping noises of robots.  W loves the repetition of “B” words that she can say out loud, H loves the transformation.  All of us enjoy the chaos, too– we love the graphic effects and we throw up our hands and shout, trying out different explosion euphemisms together.  We can’t wait for the future to bring on the robots!

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Dao

I happened to pick up the audio book from the library. I truly enjoyed the narration– it was so personable and soothing. The story was pretty interesting– revealing the voodoo superstitions in Dominican culture and talking about the political climate in the 50s. I learned a lot about how the three different generations dealt with issues of love, life, and identity under Trujillo’s dictatorship in the DR. I gained an insight into the terror and confusion that must have existed under dictatorship, where there is no democracy or human rights. There were some sad stories overall but some happy bits. Even through pain and suffering, people can find happiness somewhere– maybe that’s just life. I liked the unusual narrative style, and the metalepsis because some of it is told through flashback. Sometimes I spaced out due to the lulling voice. My favorite was the surprise ending and the personal change in all the characters. I thought Oscar, Lola and Junior were very well fleshed out characters, and I cared for their happiness. The relationships between the protagonists were very real, and I could understand the family problems that they were having and sympathize with each perspective. In particular, I resonated with the conflict of how a parent cannot bear to let their child (at whatever age) expose themselves to harm (either willingly or naively)? A good story, lots to think about in terms of personal freedom and the choices we make for love. This is a story of true bravery in heroes/heroines of all shapes and sizes. Also, thinking about how much our fates conspire against us, and what a person has to give up to do what is right for humanity. Warning that some of the parts were a bit violent… A very good thoughtful audiobook. I don’t think I could re-read it, though. It was pretty intense.

The Hornblower Companion, or Forester’s unique process of creative development

After reading the whole Hornblower series, I had to read the  The Hornblower Companion“>Hornblower Companion.  It is inspirational, specially for aspiring creative minds. The first half of the book described the specific research done for the different books in the series. Basically, this half contained a bunch of maps and annotations about the battles in detail.

The second half was the more interesting half, and it helped me understand the author, CS Forester’s writing method. One of the most interesting revelations was how he thought about Hornblower as a real person, and how the different novels were written out of chronological order because each book answers a question about how Hornblower’s character was shaped.  After reading this book, I learned that every person has a unique creative process, and that we shouldn’t question it or try to conform to other people’s ideas of how to do things. As long as you have a process, and it works for you, keep at it and hone it.  Forester had a method of reading passionately and fact-finding about naval history, and he ended up connecting all the bits and pieces throughout his life to create the narrative.  . Apparently, Forester never took notes, but had an internal process for crafting his stories. If you read the Hornblower books, you’ll appreciate how detailed his notes were and how empathetic he was to Hornblower.  I think the candidness of his approach is useful to me, as a creative artist. I have a process that is inspired by the people I meet, and I attempt to meet many different types of people and keep connected with them. Eventually,  I get to collaborate with that person, and the work is much stronger for that ethnological study. I don’t know other people with this method, but it works for me.

The movies are highly enjoyable as well.
This is the only set of DVDs that I return to. The details of life in the 1700s, the details on the naval battles, and the quirky social relationships are entertaining to anyone who likes historical fiction. Every adventure is delightful– from the grains of rice, the chides between Bush and Hornblower, the longing for his love, the beauty of the ships, to the naval battles– everything is just perfectly enjoyable. The hairstyles, the uniforms, the grungy bits– Even the way a boot lands on the step of a handsome carriage… ah, I must go watch it some more now.

Leaving a note to myself to watch these related DVDs sometime:

In Every War But One

Not the usual kind of book to read, drawn from interviews and testimony of soldiers from the Korean War.  How did communist indoctrination work? How did not even one GI manage to escape a war camp?  In every war but one was quite interesting, and I learned a lot about how the government analyzes a large group of people that shared insights on their experiences using qualitative research. The scale of implementation of this study was quite interesting, as was the scope of the subject- returning POWs. I had the feeling the whole time that this was propaganda, but it was still a fascinating study on post-war briefings. They methodically examined things at all angles, and it was cool to see the breadth of scope  and the details they examined.

How do the top people make crucial decisions based on data that affect the lives (and deaths) of millions?  If you’re interested in this topic too, I also recommend reading more about these decision makers in The Fog of War: Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara or getting the movie from the local library.

End of the Brotherband Chronicles

The final book of this Flanagan series was great. It was enjoyable and the kinship shared by the kids in the book was so unique and moving. Zavac finally gets his.The brotherband has redeemed themselves and become expert at their skills in seamanship and warfare.  Its a coming-of-age story and is beautifully written. The story was very neat and there was only one loose end at the end– I think the ending where the girl decides to wait to choose was great cliffhanger, perhaps foreshadowing a series with a female heroine? If so, I look forward to it.

Green Mars was Rad!

This second book in the Kim Stanley Robinson Mars series was very uplifting. There were a few sections that were overly technical and long, so I skimmed them, but in general, I had a terrific experience imagining this post-Revolutionary Mars. The terraforming effort is underway in this sequel, and the fascinating effects of combining underground groups was fascinating. I loved the clash of cultures between the new natives and the old, and the way the revolution is accomplished in this book. This was a book of redemption for a lot of the old guard, and I enjoyed their path to amending past wrongs.  My favorite take away is that there is strength in working together collaborative, and figuring out what values/views people have in common as a way to move forward. Where there is discord, it matters that there is a starting point to compromise and acknowledge a shared interest in moving forward. There was more empathy in this book than in the previous book, and I thought the growth of each character, particularly Saxe Russells and Art, were fascinating.  Definitely will read Blue Mars next, but its a looong book so I’m going to wait until I’m on a holiday.