Sunday, November 28, 2010

Let's try this again

I posted this yesterday, but apparently it wasn't an authorized version and YouTube took it down. The actual creators seem to have posted this one, so here's hoping. Enjoy!

Monday, November 22, 2010

The blogger plays catch-up

Hello. Remember me? I am Ellen the Freelance Ne’er-do-well, but other than monthly book reviews a more accurate description lately would be Ne’er-blog-well. Herewith, the harrowing yet somehow tedious history of the past four months or so.

I'll do it backwards. Not, however, in high heels. (If you're under, oh, say, 45--and therefore perfectly capable of reading tiny type--this is a reference to the dancer Ginger Rogers, who "did everything Fred Astaire did except backwards and in high heels.")

First, SMALL PERSONS WITH WINGS has a new cover. I say “new” because this is the third one I’ve seen, and I understand there was yet another that I never saw. This is, fortunately, the best of the bunch. See?

Gorgeous, right? Plus, I’m told there will be glitter. I’ve never been a glitter sort of person—more denim and fleece. But clearly fleece fairies weren’t going to cut it.

The book comes out January 20, so it’s a fair bet that it’s gone to press now. If I bolt upright at midnight and realize that something makes absolutely no sense, I’ll just have to live with it.

Working backward through the ages, we reach the cider-pressing at the John household. We all brought apples—I stole some from our summertime neighbors’ tree—which got dumped into a grinder and then squished so the juice ran into a bucket and the apples were a juiceless pulp. If you’ve never tasted minutes-old cider, I’d suggest you try putting yourself into that position next fall.

What you see below is Rob and Nathan John running around and around to wind down the squisher.*

Let’s see. Still earlier, there’s Labor Day Weekend's Blue Hill Fair, which we attended en mass with friends. What I always like best is the juxtaposition of large animals, kids (the one in the middle is trimming her goat's toenails*), tractors, and honky-tonk. Oh, and french fries.

In the “no fool like an old fool” division, Rob and our friend Michael spent all their free time last spring building radio-controlled model sailboats. They sailed the boats, fending off interested canines, when Michael and his wife Linda visited in August.

And, for truly heart-rending nostalgia in deepest, darkest November, here's Rob and our friend Lisa watching the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta the first Saturday in August—all wooden boats, many of them vintage. Every year we kayak out to an island to eat lunch and watch the boats go by. This year the wind was so good we actually watched the boats come back, too, which is what’s going on here.

And now it’s 4 p.m., cold and dark as a witch’s armpit. But I’m going to see the new Harry Potter film tomorrow night (speaking of witches), and Thursday we hobnob and eat and drink. So who’s complaining?

*Technical term.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November Book Review Club

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy

We got our first killing frost last night at Castle Ne'er-do-well, so it's definitely time to hunker down. If you're already sick of the blip-bleet-blip of video games, try this one on your reluctant reader. Or grab it yourself for a laugh.

Don't forget to click on the button above for more great entries in the Book Review Club!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
By Jeff Kinney
Amulet Books, 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0-8109-9313-6

The Wimpy Kid series spawned a movie last spring that’s out on DVD now, but that’s not why I chose it for this month’s review book. I chose it because of Arthur (not his real name).

A student at our local elementary school, Arthur’s an imaginative, potentially talented kid who doesn’t like to read—not the first I’ve run into, I’m sorry to say. In Arthur’s case, the chief competition is video games, surprise, surprise. He and I worked together on a short story last year, and I tried like hell to get him to read a book that was kind of the same genre as the story he was writing. He politely took the book home and just as politely ignored it. He told me he’d never read a book outside of school. Not once.

This year, he said he’d like to write something funny. So we went to the library and found DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, the first book of what will be a five-book series as of November 9. I got my hands on a copy of my own, and we agreed we’d read a chapter a week and discuss it briefly when we met.

Last week, he announced that he’d finished the book ahead of schedule and wanted to start the second. He’d gotten bored on a Saturday and picked it up, he said, and all of a sudden he’d finished it. He suggested he might finish the second one by the time he saw me today. He’s not a fan of the movie.

Author Jeff Kinney was at the Boston Book Festival a couple of weekends ago, which I attended. I went to another panel instead of his, but now I wish I’d sought him out and kissed his feet. It’s not for nothing that this book has a “Maine Student Book Award Winner” sticker on the front—that award is voted by Maine school kids, and this is obviously a kid-friendly book.

I mean, just look at it. The typeface is fun but readable, and the cartoons are hysterical. I often managed to read through a scene without inhaling my hot beverage, only to choke half to death when I saw the drawing that accompanied the action.

This first book is the sad tale of narrator Greg Heffley’s first year in middle school, which he describes as “the dumbest idea ever invented. You got kids like me who haven’t hit their growth spurt yet mixed in with these gorillas who need to shave twice a day.”

In middle school, someone like Greg is acted upon more than acting. Parents, older brother, teachers, bigger or more popular kids—they’re the ones with the power. We share Greg’s abortive attempts to control his own destiny, whether by running for class treasurer (in a smear campaign involving head lice) or by joining the safety patrol in order to get hot chocolate and miss some pre-algebra.

The great thing about his odyssey is that Kinney allows us to see where Greg’s going wrong without one single word of preachiness.

At one point, Greg allows his dopey best friend Rowley to take the fall when one Mrs. Irvine reports a Safety Patrol member terrorizing the kindergarteners in his charge. He admits to Rowley that he was the culprit, having borrowed Rowley’s coat.

“Then I told him there were lessons we could both learn from this. I told him I learned to be more careful about what I do in front of Mrs. Irvine’s house, and that he learned a valuable lesson, too, which is this: Be careful about who you lend your coat to.”

To Greg’s indignation, Rowley turns him in. He loses Rowley’s friendship for a while, eventually gaining it back. We know he’s being punished for being evil, but Greg never admits to the connection. He’s a modern-day Tom Sawyer.

My friend Arthur thinks he’s awesome.