Monday, February 1, 2016

A Collection of Kids' Books

Richard Scarry's Best Word Book EverRichard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever by Richard Scarry
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

* * * The following three books were read and reviewed by me & my niece Emma * * *

Emma has real doubts about that title. I fought for Richard Scarry, but I'm afraid the 5 year old girl might be right.

Scarry's cartoony fantasy land populated with eyelid-less, anthropomorphic animals was absolutely beloved by yours truly when I was but a wee lad. However, this incarnation has none of the sense of fun found in the Scarry books I read as a boy. Nothing, I mean nothing out of the ordinary happens in Best.... In the Scarry books of my youth, the characters got into all kinds of zany japery. I recall one high-larious episode in which an ape went for a joy ride that turned the town upside down!

(In retrospect, I think the ape was a watch thief.)

This...thing is nothing more than animal people doing nothing untoward, just normal day-to-day activities: waking up in the morning, playing on the playground, building things, farming, going shopping, etc. There are pages of airplanes, cars, zoo animals, firefighters, things you'd find at the beach, and facial expressions. Each page is filled with these items. Each item has its word beside it. Each page has one short, explanatory paragraph with such "riveting" prose as:

School is fun. There are so many things we learn to do. Kathy Bear is learning how to find a lost mitten.

OH MY GOODNESS! Call out the National Guard! Someone get the Bureau of Lost Mittens on the line!

Holy hell, talk about boring.

Not only is this book fun-free, I couldn't even find my favorite character Lowly, an earthworm in a dashing little hat.
Aside from a logo on the cover, Lowly doesn't seem to appear in the book at all. Each page is so very busy that perhaps I missed him, but I looked and looked for such a long while that Emma went off to entertain herself elsewhere and came back some time later asking, "Did you find him?!" Yes, that exclamation point is necessary. Emma possesses an "indoor voice," but likes to know she's being heard.

Okay, so clearly Best... is meant to be a book for learning purposes, but did it have to be so purposefully dull? One reason my be that this was one of the author's very early books. I'm no Richard Scarry scholar, but it would seem he started off staid and later amped up the good times.

Whether you were born in the '60s or the '00s, kids like fun, and so for this one the Emma-o-meter registered utter disinterest.

Five Little Pumpkins (Harper Growing Tree)Five Little Pumpkins by Dan Yaccarino
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

* * *Read and Reviewed by Me & My Niece Emma * * *

Horrendous. I understand and accept the dumbing down of this sing-along standard (back in my day it was always 10 of this or that, but the rhyme was also much more repetitive than today's version), but this isn't good in any way, shape or form. The rhyme just sucks and the ending is lame.

I only picked this up for Emma, because last school year I recalled helping her memorize just such a "5 Little..." (I think it was ducks) which she had to recite to her class, so I figured she could read this one to me. We got it home and it was such a hot day yesterday that we sped through her library books in order to go swimming, and I accidentally read this to her without thinking. So we didn't even get any reading practice out of it. I don't blame the book for wait, I do, because if the book hadn't sucked so much we might've slowed down to savor it more and had the wherewithal to recall what we'd gotten it out for in the first place!

The Emma-o-meter for Five Little Pumpkins at first registered the excitement of recollection soon followed by a grave disappointment.

Peck, Peck, PeckPeck, Peck, Peck by Lucy Cousins
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

* * *Read and Reviewed by Me & My Niece Emma* * *

A daddy red-headed woodpecker sends his son into the world to peck holes in things and boy howdy, that little bird is one hell of a pecker!

The moment I saw this sitting on the library shelf, I knew we'd be reading it. You see, Emma is a first class sucker for any book with holes in it.

Peck, Peck, Peck just might be the book that busts that proclivity. It was nothing but page after page of a woodpecker pecking holes in various objects. At the high point, he gets into somebody's home and pokes freaking holes in everything, even their jellybeans!

But that's it. That's all that happens. No one chases off the bird. There's no lesson to be learned aside from that woodpeckers like to peck holes, and the why of that phenomenon isn't even explained. Also, the artwork is meh subpar.

I think this would be more suitable for the 3-4 age range. Maybe I should've pointed that out while we were at the library.

The Emma-o-meter registered only a couple giggles.

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This is what NOT to do when bored with college.

Into the WildInto the Wild by Jon Krakauer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"A man who's passions leads him into the wild"

Doesn't it seem such a simple context to write about a event that has happened. It's something that can been seen through many documented civilizations, back to the Egyptians. Without delving into a whole historiography essay, we know through some, what is considered primary sources, is sadly inaccurate or (perhaps more so) difficult for a mind influenced through a modern intellect to understand or grasp the eras we are reading about. Have I bored you yet? Stick with me Trooper!

Jan Krakauer, who himself has adventured throughout the wilds of American, decided to write a book upon Chris McCandless own Odyssey. Chris was a native New Yorker, from a wealthy background, a over achiever and some would say, a idealist. I feel (and having experienced this myself) words can have a hold over you, especially when you're searching for something to believe in (or to escape from). Chris McCandless was influenced from works by Leo Tolstoy, who was a master of fiction through portrayed extreme moral views. Rene Descartes, well how long do you have? One of the first to come up with the philosophical view of 'natural science.' Descartes theories such as 'Dualism' (Passions of the Soul) would have had a influence upon McCandless no doubt. Jack London, a atheist who wrote a fictional account of 'his' own adventures through Alaska. The book was called The Call of the Wild written from the comfort of his own home, having never ventured out too Alaska. Some say London was a recluse and a drunkard, couple that with apparent sexual appetite that would leave most 'vanilla' individuals in shock. Such a poignant tale would have had (and arguably did) a profound impact on the 23 year old.

Why have I bothered to wrote all that out? I'm trying to give the reader a idea just how words have power, strong meanings, underlying tones, powerful imagery and cryptic metaphors. As a idealistic 23 year old, it could only have helped 'guide or hinder' Chris.

It's easy to build up the picture of Chris as a university jock throughout the narrative. A spoiled boy, indulged by his parents but pushed into higher education. What happened was the New Yorker and graduate from Emory began to rebel. With his relationship already deteriorating with his father, it really came across throughout the narrative how Chris, A) Blamed his parents for the way he was, B) Lead by words from Descartes, Thoreau and London decided to disenfranchise himself from society that he felt was interfering with his own beliefs. I believe Descartes said something along the lines that a good government should not be seen. Can't say I've heard of a modern government not to have interfered in people's lives in some way!

I'm waffling. Eventually after Chris's graduation from Emory (and very nice university by the way!) he jumped into his banged up (but reliable) old Datsun and motors on towards his big adventure, where he is soon self-styled as Alex The Supertramp which we discover he names himself throughout his diary entries. He is never to be seen again by his family, Walt and Billie, only his sister receives a post card from him. McCandless's travels take him from Mexico City all the way up to Alaska. By a mixture of hiking, hitching rides, rail road jumping and taking the odd job, where he eventually hits Yukton.

Chris really comes across in the narrative as a considerate, generous and loving guy (when he chooses to be) this is (perhaps) embellished by Jan Krakauer, but during moments when he stops and takes work, he builds lasting relationships with those folks. Even the guy giving him a lift to the Stampede Trail really took to McCandless. It kind of hit home this guy isn't just on a adventure, it's a personal quest for him. Yes, of self discovery, but one of escape as well. What's he running from? Perhaps the pressure from expectation from his family, the everyday grind of society, his father or has he just reached that breaking point of giving up on himself? A question you may ask yourself as a reader when coming to the facts of Chris's demise.

OK, so last couple of points. Jan Krakauer, the author of Into The Wild is very biased towards defending Chris. There's no other way to see it. I'm not just saying that, you can see Jan's staunch defence of the New Yorker by just reading the narrative. Especially towards the end where he attempts to explain McCandless mindset by bringing in his own experiences. Which for me is wrong when attempting to write a piece of non-fiction/factual piece (perhaps I've fallen into the same trap with this review hah). When Krakauer introduces the book in his authors note, he clearly states -

"I won't claim to be a impartial biographer.'

A few lines down the same paragraph, Jan makes it clear that his authorial presence does interrupt the narrative which draws from his own youthful experiences. My main problem with this, where does the actual facts end and Krakauer's experiences take the lead? It's bemusing that this is presented as a non-fiction title, when the author has allowed the facts to become diluted with his own passion and experiences. It's a concern that I felt I needed to mention. The majority of primary sources are gathered from postcards Chris sends to those he has met on his travels. Etchings that were been made by Chris in his final place of rest. Also the real essence of Chris's character is shown to the reader through highlighted passages in certain literacy works.

To many Chris McCandless was a unprepared idealistic youth, living with tales from London, Tolstory and Descartes. Recklness goes hand in hand with being young! Did he prepare for the harsh realities of the Alaskan snow desert, no! Was he prepared to live off the land for the summer of '92, to some extent. Was he idealistic, yes. Was he a fool for doing so, no. He was a brave intelligent young man, fed up with society and the 'isms' that underline our current social-structure. He died, possibly by error of judgement, or possibly by just giving up. I don't know. Even with the medical jargon Jan Krakauer evidences', I prefer to think Chris McCandless as a type of modern day explorer. You should follow your passions in life, as what else is there! Live the life you choose to live, not what other's expect or decide of/for you. Surely there is purpose to such a ethos? Idealistic, but then that is me.

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