Ship Breaker

Book Review

A post-apocalyptic, swashbuckling adventure, Ship Breaker begins the story of the young teenager Nailer, who works the “light crew” with a ship scavenging outfit on a beach on the gulf coast. Old oil tanker wrecks wash up on the beach, and Nailer climbs through their tight ductworks, stripping copper wiring for scavenge. In a future world where city-destroying category six hurricanes are a regular occurrence and the coast is lined with drowned cities and treacherous swamps, Nailer lives with his violent, strung-out father in a shack on the beach. When Nailer finds the ultimate scavenge that could bring him great wealth, he must make the tough decision to take the scavenged goods and continue life as usual on the beach, or face the unknown by rescuing a survivor for the risky and questionable possibility of great reward. Adding another complication, the survivor just so happens to be a beautiful and swanky girl.

Bacigalupi has constructed a gritty, violent adventure tale set against the backdrop of a future American gulf coast laid waste by climate change and environmental catastrophe. This book is smart but compulsively, easily readable, and is the first of a series: look for its sequel, The Drowned Cities, to appear later this year. Highly recommended for fans of The Hunger Games, this is another brutal teenage adventure rife with strong ethical dilemmas.

Ship Breaker
Written by Paolo Bacigalupi
Little, Brown & Company
326 p.
Release Date: May 1, 2010
ISBN: 9780316056212

Color Study, Squares with Concentric Rings


Wassily Kandinsky (Russian, 1866-1944). Color Study, Squares with Concentric Rings (Farbstudien, Quadrate mit konzentrischen Ringen), 1913.  Watercolor, gouache and black chalk on paper.  Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus und Kunstbau München

My wife bought some cool fabric to make bumper pads for our forthcoming baby’s crib; it reminds me a lot of this painting by Kandinsky.  And this isn’t anywhere close to my favorite work by Kandinsky, so you’ll likely be seeing a lot more of his stuff here at the Froz-T-Freez Gallery in the future.

Picture Book Marathon

I’ve never written a picture book before, but I always thought I would try it one day. Well, it turns out that one day will come very soon, and for 28 days in a row, starting February 1. I recently happened upon the Picture Book Marathon, and after a five second perusal of the site I rashly signed up to give it a go. The Picture Book Marathon appears to have been started by two people of my own home town of Salt Lake City, which I think is special. The idea is that participants will write the text of one picture book every day for the month of February. The project is clearly inspired by NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), but thankfully they’ve ditched a lot of the anal retentiveness of that competition (the obsessive word counts, the emphasis on “finishing,” the need to actually work on the same story every day, all that silly stuff). Novelists may need that sort of thing, but we picture book authors and illustrators are a much more fun, laid back kind of crowd.

I’ve tried NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) a couple of times, and each time I have prematurely ended it 1.5 to 2 weeks later in a maelstrom of stress, guilt and failure. But for some reason this new idea of writing 26 picture books in a month holds no such negative power over me. Maybe this is because I have no great expectations for myself in writing a good picture book. Maybe it’s because I don’t even have a very clear idea of what constitutes a good picture book. Maybe it’s because I will be free to write about whatever I want, and my commitment to a certain story or idea need only last for one day, or even for one hour. Whatever the reason, it sounds like just a whole bunch of fun without a lot of pressure.

I guarantee you right now there will be at least one book about a robot, maybe more. And a talking rock. And an okapi. Definitely an okapi. Yeah, I know you’ve probably never heard of it. I think the okapi has more indie cred than any other ungulate, but it’s going to blow up in the mainstream really soon and one of my picture books will be the cause. Then I’ll write another book about the okapi being a corporate sell-out.

Wish me luck?

I Remember a Cassette Cathedral


One of my musical pastimes of 2011 shall be an exhaustive exploration of my tape collection. At New Year’s time I dug all of them out of my parents’ basement, and I’m so excited.

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard Fresh Aire V. Too Long.

The Kneebone Boy

Book Review

Three siblings: Otto, Lucia, and Max; the story is told by one of them, but the teller has been sworn not to reveal him or herself by the other siblings.  They live with their dad in a small town in England where they were long ago labeled the weird kids of the town, but only because their mother mysteriously vanished and/or died before they were old enough to really remember her, and the super-tall and oldest brother Otto never speaks and always wears a scarf.  The nasty theory is that he strangled his own mother with the scarf in a rage of madness, and their father covered it up to protect his son.

With The Kneebone Boy, American author Ellen Potter lets loose her anglophilia and successfully hijacks the magic of the long and storied history of British children’s literature, from Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis to Roald Dahl and J. K. Rowling, that she clearly loves so much; except there is no magic in The Kneebone Boy.  Our unidentified narrator makes this ever so clear from the outset, lest we end up disappointed.

Oddities?  Does the rumored existence of a boy born with bat ears and fur all over his body and locked in the top chamber of a crumbling old castle sound normal to you?

Mysteries? If a missing mom and a furry boy locked in a castle aren’t enough mysteries for you, then you are a tougher reader than me.

Adventures? Would getting in a fight with a tattooed thug while stranded in the streets of London parentless count?  How about exploring the treacherous secret passageways of the aforementioned crumbling castle, perched on a cliff overlooking the sea?

With all that, who needs magic?

Told by one of the cleverest narrative voices I’ve read in a long time and abounding with the weirdness, mystery, and plot twists of the children’s books I grew up loving, this is the first book I’ve read in a while that made me genuinely excited about children’s literature written primarily for children.  For that, and even though and maybe actually partly because of the fact that this book probably won’t win any awards, it was my favorite book of 2010.

The Kneebone Boy
Written by Ellen Potter
Feiwel & Friends
288 p.
ISBN: 9780312377724
Release Date: September 14, 2010

Moon over Manifest

Book Review

Abilene has spent most of her life riding the rails with her father, but in the summer of 1936 he sends her to his once-upon-a-time home town of Manifest, Kansas, telling her that he has to work a railroad job in Iowa alone and that he will return to pick her up at the end of the summer. Her father has always told her happy stories of the town of Manifest and Abilene is warmly welcomed by several of the townsfolk, but she immediately feels that they are holding something back from her. When she finds an old tin filled with mysterious keepsakes and letters under a floorboard, she sets out to discover the secrets of Manifest, and hopefully those of her own father as well.

This is a well-rounded historical novel abounding with great characters, stories and details, ultimately providing an epic view into numerous historical events from what is basically a story of a young girl in a depression-era Midwest town. The small town mysteries, adventures, and con jobs slightly echo The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, while the experiences and stories of individual characters take us far from Main Street to places as diverse as the Ellis Island immigration inspections, tent revivals, orphan trains, a KKK rally, the bottom of a coal mine, influenza quarantines, bootlegging operations, hobo camps, and the French front lines of the first World War. Moon over Manifest is an engaging read that underscores the power of story and will give young readers a taste of many real flavors of American life during the first third of the 20th Century. It was a nice choice for the 2011 Newbery.

Moon over Manifest
Written by Clare Vanderpool
Delacorte Books for Young Readers / Random House
368 p.
ISBN: 9780385738835
Release Date: October 12, 2010

Did You Mean: Barf Manifesto?


So, um, I guessed pretty far off on the Newbery awards this year. I thought I would do awesome because I so easily picked last year’s winner.

I am now about to proceed to read the actual Newbery winner, Moon over Manifest, and as I went in to my Goodreads account to search for the book and faithfully record my commencement of its reading, I was greated with the above friendly suggestion from a search robot. I really hope this book isn’t a barf manifesto; it looks too cute.  However, it certainly would be a lot more fun for the kids if a book called something like Barf Manifesto won the Newbery.  I guess we can only hope for next year.

One Crazy Summer

Book Review

In the summer of 1968, when sisters Delphine, Vonetta, and Fern are put on a plane across the country from Brooklyn to Oakland, they are cautiously optimistic.  They are going to California, after all, but they are going there to meet and stay with their mother, who left them before they could really remember her.  Instead of the welcome hug they hope to receive from a long lost mother, they get a cranky, secretive woman who barely tolerates their being in her house, treating them neither like her children nor even like decent house guests.  Instead of a vacation filled with trips to Disneyland, playing on the beach, and seeing movie stars, their California trip is four weeks stuck in a poor black Oakland neighborhood, spending their days at a youth summer camp run by revolutionary Black Panthers because their mother will not have them around all day, distracting her from her cryptic work as a poet. Will the sisters be able to get through these four weeks nearly on their own, and will they figure out the multitude of mysteries surrounding their mother, who won’t even let them set foot in her kitchen?

Delphine, at eleven years old, is one of the more mature, practical and memorable characters I’ve ever encountered in children’s literature, a strong and steady oldest daughter taking on the role of mother for her two little sisters.  She deftly negotiates her sisters through numerous tense and tumultuous situations, showing great wisdom.  Through Delphine’s eyes, the author shows us what it was like to be a black child in the midst of the radical late 60s.  From the way she smartly calms her sisters on the plane to avoid them “making a grand negro spectacle of themselves,” to her studied assessment of the revolutionary rhetoric the girls are taught at the People’s Center as it compares to what she has learned from her father and grandmother, she shows a great understanding and gives the reader an insightful view of these times.

This would be a great book for any child who has ever been or felt abandoned by a parent.  It gives no easy answers, neither unfettered condemnation nor forgiving justification for the mother’s actions, but rather shows things how they really are, without a false happy ending.  It is also a great piece of historical fiction, giving readers an appreciation for the challenges and complexities of the times.  Although its appeal may actually be more adult and I suspect most young readers won’t be busting down the library doors to read this one, One Crazy Summer is the best-written children’s novel I have come across this year, and therefore the strongest contender for the Newbery.  (We’ll find out tomorrow.)

One Crazy Summer
Written by Rita Williams-Garcia
Amistad / HarperCollins
218 p.
Release Date: January 26, 2010

Jesus Goes Up Alone onto a Mountain to Pray

Brooklyn Museum: Jesus Goes Up Alone onto a Mountain to Pray (Jésus monte seul sur une montagne pour prier)

Jesus Goes Up Alone onto a Mountain to Pray (Jésus monte seul sur une montagne pour prier)

from The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ (La Vie de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ)

James Tissot (French, 1836-1902). Jesus Goes Up Alone onto a Mountain to Pray (Jésus monte seul sur une montagne pour prier), 1886-1894. Opaque watercolor over graphite on gray wove paper, Image: 11 3/8 x 6 1/4 in. (28.9 x 15.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Purchased by public subscription, 00.159.137

Last night my father-in-law took us down to the BYU Museum of Art for the final night of an exhibition of paintings by James Tissot.  I was unfamiliar with Tissot and did not know what to expect other than a reference to religious art, but I’m always willing to go to museums and galleries and look at art, so I gladly went.  We descended to a downstairs gallery filled with over one hundred small, meticulous watercolors that took the viewer through the life of Christ, from Annunciation to Resurrection.  They were all from Tissot’s massive undertaking The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on loan from the Brooklyn Museum.  There was a particularly reverent, church-like atmosphere to the gallery; Tissot was so interested in depicting events directly from scripture that looking at each painting and reading the captions became almost like reading the scriptural accounts.  As I embark on teaching a church primary class on the New Testament to 10-11 year old boys this year, it was a nice way to overview these sacred events.

Tissot was apparently a society painter in London and then Paris, until at some point while painting in a church he had a mystical, revelatory experience in which he saw Christ in vision. As a result he became a reformed Catholic and he devoted his artistic work to painting the life of Christ and the events of the New Testament.  He traveled extensively in the Middle East to study  and sketch the cities, landscapes, and people.  His goal was to make more culturally, geographically, and scripturally accurate representations of the subject of Jesus Christ than many artists had undertaken up to that point.  He described his artistic process as something that bordered on revelation, but nevertheless each picture is studied and meticulous, with incredible attention to craft and detail.  The painting above is just one of over 350 images of the New Testament that Tissot rendered, and I particularly liked it.  These paintings are all held by the Brooklyn Museum, and digital images and information can be found in their archives.

* * *

This post commences a new feature here, the Froz-T-Freez Art Gallery, in which I will simply post pieces of art I like.  In some instances, as in this post, I will also take the opportunity to speak ignorantly about art or whatever else I want for a paragraph or two.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti: Before Today

Record Review

In the late eighties, a succession of lemon vehicles and financial problems led my family to procure from my uncle a run-down, rust orange 1975 Chevrolet Impala out of desperation.  Un-affectionately referred to as Big Red, the “boat” was somewhat of an ugly embarrassment, and its exhaust production was so profuse that I don’t doubt that it could have single-handedly instigated our growing global warming crisis.  Still, it got us around just fine, and I now remember it with more fondness than any other car my family had during my childhood.

Seemingly exclusive to the period of the Impala, my dad tuned in to a 70s/80s soft rock station on a constant basis. This incessant radio listening and genre choice is one that I have never witnessed my dad repeat in any other car or at any other time in his life; it is as if the Impala itself demanded its own soundtrack, reliving its faded glory days back in the summer of ’75 with songs like “Jackie Blue” and “Summer Breeze” still blowing through its speakers.  Big Red has now long since met the junkyard, but my secret fondness for large American sedans, the color of rust, and, most of all, the music of Seals & Crofts, Hall & Oates, Christopher Cross, and many other fine artists still remains.  Judging from his band’s first full-length effort for label 4AD, Ariel Pink must have a similar fossil fuel-consuming dinosaur in his past.  Fully inhaling the carcinogenic particulate cloud of bygone pop eras, Pink has constructed a masterpiece of yacht rock, synth pop, TV show theme songs, and much, much more.

I wish I had that ‘75 Impala today, so that I could pop in a cassette of Before Today and drive around town listening to these would-have-been-on-the-Time-Life-compilation classics.  Big Red would have let these tracks breeze through its speakers with nary a backfire.  “Round And Round” is more than a great sing-along; it pulls out all the compositional stops with pre-choruses, bridges, and breakdowns all over the place.  Meanwhile, “Can’t Hear My Eyes” is the soft grooving #1 hit that Hall & Oates forgot to write. The impeccable vintage production work is lovingly crafted just for my Impala’s speakers, while the at times cartoonish vocal parts that burst out at random times imply that Pink shares with many of us that same complex love-hate relationship with this pop detritus to which he pays homage.  Some sort of ironic wink exists with every song on the album.  One example is “Fright Night (Nevermore),” in which Pink sings his own line “Knock knock on the door three times! Baby, knock knock on the door!” like it’s an irritating jingle he can’t get out of his head.  Most undercutting is the final track, which, while sounding like a murky, authentic reproduction of early British post-punk, proclaims somewhat cynically the anti-punk, anti-idealist declaration that “Revolution’s a lie.”  Pink’s songs do bring back that pleasant summer breeze of years past, but they bring with it the embarrassing exhaust, the rust, the broken door handles, and the guilt of a pop culture environmental catastrophe.

Before Today
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
4AD
Released: June 8, 2010