Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Regarding the... Series

Titles: Regarding the Fountain, Regarding the Sink, Regarding the Trees, Regarding the Bathrooms, Regarding the BEEs

Authors: Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise

Rating: * (1 star out of 3 possible, "C")
Recommended with Reservations

Audience: 3rd grade and up

The Klise sisters get an "A" for creative wit in these fun, clever stories communicated via memos, letters and news clippings. The reader gets lots of wordplay to help solve a little mystery in a very entertaining and intelligent fashion.

It is the subject matter that gets a "C" in some of the editions. For instance, in Regarding the Sink, Eastern philosophy is introduced and it may be helpful for some parents to be prepared to discuss this with their kids.

Iron Lady

Rating: *** (3 stars out of 3 possible, "A")
Highly Recommended

Audience: ages 13 and up

Saw this movie a couple weeks ago and want to recommend it to anyone who is interested in history or cares about politics, or plans to vote this year!

First of all, it is an amazing acting job by Meryl Streep, who plays Margaret Thatcher, ages 40-80. In the opening scenes I had to convince myself that it was indeed Meryl Streep and not a third actress, as the aging makeup was so remarkable. This is a movie of head shots and I challenge you to find one that is not up to par. But that is only makeup. Streep is transformed into Margaret Thatcher with spot-on British accent and delivery as well as the way she physically carries herself. To see her walk and putter as the elderly Baroness Thatcher is a tribute to the dignity of the aging process and Streep's respect for her character.

Secondly, it was encouraging to watch the story of a principled politician develop, from Thatcher's early days as grocer's daughter and scholarship student to strong party leader. She patiently pays her dues in the man's world of politics to eventually conquer the "Good Old Boys" system. Margaret Thatcher earned her elections and never minced words, becoming the UK's strongest Prime Minister since Churchill. She remembered WW II and applied those lessons to the Cold War and acts of terror. Thatcher stood by her beliefs when it was not popular or politically advantageous to do so, quite different from our current pre-occupation with external appearances and political correctness.

A few quotes, or near-quotes, from the movie:

Redwall Series

22 Titles: Redwall, Mossflower, Mattimeo, Muriel of Redwall, Salamandastron, Martin the Warrior, Bellmaker, Outcast of Redwall, Pearls of Lutra, Long Patrol, Marlfox, Legend of Luke, Lord Brocktree, Taggerung, Triss, Loamhedge, Rakkety Tam, High Rhulain, Eulalia, Doomwyte, Sable Quean, Rogue Crew

Author: Brian Jacques

Rating: *** (3 stars out of 3 possible, "A")
Highly Recommended

Audience: 4th grade and up

(Guest Reviewer, Paige King, 10 years old)

The Redwall Series is about forest creatures (mice, badgers, moles) that live in a land called Mossflower. In the mythical land of Mossflower, evil creatures (rats, weasels, foxes) try to take over a place called Redwall Abbey. (It's not Catholic.) The critters in Redwall (mice, badgers, otters) respond by fighting back, aided by a vision of Martin the Warrior (a mouse) and riddles that will lead them to his magical sword, crafted from a meteorite. Sometime the GUOSIM (Guerrilla Union of Shrews in Mossflower) or the Badger Lord of Salamandastron with his Long Patrol of hares help out. Some important events are: when Martin's sword is made (Mossflower), when Cluny the Scourge is defeated (Redwall), and when Cregga Roseyes is blinded (Salamandastron). Be careful! There are 20 books in the series. Don't wear yourself out!

I like these books because there are riddles to solve and codes to decipher. The characters are fun to read about. I also like it when the evil creatures get killed. They always say things like "Ha! You can't kill me!" and then they get killed. There are lots of surprises and excitement, so it's fun.

There are about 20 books in the series, so there are a lot of morals. The author, Brian Jacques, uses morals such as: never give up on yourself, friends are important, always try your hardest, and evil never pays. The characters always work together to solve problems and liars and cheaters never win the battles.

(Thank you, Paige. Sounds like you've found a winner.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Titles: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (#1); Rodrick Rules (#2); Last Straw (#3); Dog Days (#4);Ugly Truth (#5); Cabin Fever (#6); Diary of a Wimpy Kid Do-It- Yourself Book

Author: Jeff Kinney

Rating: D/F (0 stars out of 3 possible)
Not Recommended

Audience: 5th Grade and up

I usually try to read 2 or 3 books of a series before I write a review. In this case, I read the original Diary of a Wimpy Kid/Greg Heffley's Journal and have decided to make a snap judgment against it, thus avoiding the torture of reading others in the series.

Sorry I could not find any redeeming value in the book. I could try to justify it given all the best-seller status, Hollywood movie, getting kids reading arguments, but the evidence just isn't there.

It is disappointing to read all the parents on Amazon gush about how much their kids love this series, as if that is the only criteria for reading. Well, children love candy. Children love mud. Children love television. Children love staying up late. That is why children have parents. Someone needs to help children discern the best from the good, and the good from the c**p. (Pardon my vernacular.)

Now, if it was a simple argument of, "don't kids deserve some fun in their reading" I would say, yes, absolutely. No one reads classics all the time. Everyone needs some recreational reading and everyone needs to change genres from time to time. The problem with this series is that it fails on so many levels. It offers a flat story line and no real vocabulary. Language and grammar fail because, of course, it's a 6th grader's diary. Those things could be forgiven, because, of course, it's a 6th grader's diary, if only it were funny! It is not funny or clever. (I think my daughter and I smirked twice.) The pictures are ugly (yes, I know, it's a 6th grader's diary).

But the worst part is serious: Greg is a lousy, dishonest friend. He mishandles his Safety Patrol responsibilities and lets his friend Rowley take the blame. Throughout the rest of the book he remains oblivious to his greed and selfishness, never tells the truth about the situation, and never apologizes. Greg makes a small sacrifice for Rowley at the end, but by that time it seemed too little, too late to actually be considered redeeming. He just wasn't the kind of role model my kids need. Naturally, a book of this type can also be predicted to stereotype parents. As you might guess, the dad is clueless and the mom alternates between nag and embarrassment.