Tag Archives: 1940-1949

Corduroy

Author: Don Freeman

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In a big department store, a small stuffed bear named Corduroy sits on the shelf waiting for someone to take him home. One day, a customer points out that he’s missing a button, prompting a midnight expedition through the store in search of said button. Corduroy finds lots of interesting things that night. But the next morning, he finds something even better–a home and a new friend.

Over 50 years old, this picture book is just as charming and engaging as it was when it was originally published. Corduroy is just a very cute story, with a nice sprinkling of adventure and humor and a satisfying “happy ending.” I appreciate the way the author expresses Corduroy’s opinions of his experiences–“I guess I’ve always wanted to” or “I think I’ve always wanted to” for all the adventures in the store, but “I know I’ve always wanted” when it comes to a friend and a home. It’s a nice way of using repetition with variation that I like to see in kids’ books. Fair warning that this book is a bit text heavy when compared to other picture books; at age two-and-a-half, my niece is just now able to sit still for and enjoy reading the text in its entirety, but before that, I had to do some summarizing. (It’s recommended for ages 3-8, technically). As for the art itself, it’s got a charming old-school feel to it, one that both captures the flavor of when it was written back in the 1940’s but that is still enjoyable and approachable today. Corduroy is definitely a classic, and a picture book that I would recommend for just about any younger child.

 

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The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Author: Jonas Jonasson/Translator: Rod Bradburythe-100-year-old-man-who-climbed-out-the-window-and-disappeared

My rating: 4 of 5

On his one-hundredth birthday, Allan Karlsson finds himself in a nursing home with a big party planned in his honor. If only they had deigned to ask what he wanted! Allan would much rather have a bottle of vodka to enjoy–something that is, in fact, forbidden in the home. In that case, it’s time to stop sitting around. Allan climbs out the window of his room and embarks on quite the adventure, one including murder and elephants and, of course, vodka. Not that it will be the first adventure of his long life.

I first discovered The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared through a review by Paul@The Galaxial Word (which you should check out; it’s excellent). It seems that this is a book which inspires rather polarized opinions in either direction. Personally, I enjoyed it, but I think you have to come at it with the right expectations. Because this book is, essentially, an extended tall tale, a larger than life story that’s meant to be fun and funny but that can’t be taken too seriously. The humor is rather dark, I must warn; there’s some violence (actually, quite a bit) scattered throughout the story as well. I found that, while I didn’t exactly like the characters, they were interesting and they all contributed to the story. As for the plot, it’s a fascinating blend. Half of the time, you get a present-day romp through contemporary Sweden with this old man and the people he picks up along the way sending the police and the papers on a merry chase. The other half, scattered between the present-day chapters, is a historical progression through Karlsson’s long and storied life. It shows his intimate involvement–brought about by his coincidental presence in most circumstances–in numerous high-profile situations throughout the years. Obviously, such involvement is highly improbable and historically unlikely (a common complaint that I’ve heard). Duh. It’s a tall tale; it’s meant to be improbable and unlikely. I did enjoy the close-up walkthrough of those historical events though. I guess what I’m getting at is that, while it’s not for everyone, I personally found The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared to be enjoyable, and I’m planning to check out others of the author’s books (which all seem to be just as ridiculously titled!).

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Goodnight Moon

Author: Margaret Wise BrownGoodnight Moon

Illustrator: Clement Hurd

My rating: 3.5 of 5

A little bunny goes through his nighttime ritual, naming the objects he sees and saying “goodnight” to each individually. As he goes, he gets sleepier and sleepier, until just as he’s finishing his goodnights he’s drifting into slumber.

Whatever else you can say about Goodnight Moon (and yes, there’s a lot that can be said), it certainly can boast longevity–it’s been around since 1947. And yes, that age shows in the style and content of the pictures. This picture book is also addictive for little kids it seems; it was my brother’s favorite book when he was little, and he insisted on reading it every single night. And for really young kids, I think it is something of a nice bedtime ritual. The rhythms of naming items and saying “goodnight” to each of them–all in rhyme–has a certain comforting pattern to it, especially when it’s a daily consistent activity. So for it’s intended audience (babies and kids up to about 4, maybe), I’d have to give Goodnight Moon 5 stars. My 3.5 rating is a compromise between that and my personal opinion rating of approximately 2 stars. Because as an adult, this book holds very little appeal. It quickly gets repetitive, has no real story (see the summary above), and has a rather atrocious color scheme. So on the one hand, if you have small children they might really enjoy Goodnight Moon, but on the other hand, if they fall in love with it, I feel sorry for you. . . .

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Dust of Eden

Author: Mariko Nagaidust of eden

My rating: 5 of 5

Mina Tagawa was born in the U.S. She sees herself as an American just as surely as her best friend Jamie Gilmore is American. Sure, her family speaks both English and Japanese in the home, eats miso soup as well as potatoes, it’s never mattered. Until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 and suddenly everyone in her hometown looks at her like she’s the enemy. Until she and her family are forced from their homes into camps like war criminals in their own country.

Dust of Eden was a hard book to read. I can only imagine how hard it was to write. I feel that Mariko Nagai chose a very important but difficult topic in depicting the internment camps the government forced many Japanese Americans into during the second World War. And I do feel that she handled this topic with grace and respect. Mina is a beautiful character, and her loving family and supportive friend Jamie do a lot to soften the story without diminishing the unfairness and wrongness of the situation. The entire story is written in verse from Mina’s perspective, and Nagai’s poetry is truly beautiful and moving–a style that reminds me greatly of Helen Frost’s work in that it is poetic and elegant without ever stooping to being rhyme-y or cheap. I ended up crying through a large portion of the book; it’s that sort of story. I found Dust of Eden in the children’s section, and it’s appropriate for younger readers although I would recommend an adult reading the story first and being available to discuss it. But this is a book that breaks age barriers and speaks an important memory to adult readers as well.

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Blue

Presented by The Lenoir-Rhyne University Playmakers & The Little ReadBlue

Based on the novel by Joyce Moyer Hostetter

My rating: 4.5 of 5

WWII is raging, and Ann Fay Honeycutt’s father is going off to fight. Before he goes, he leaves her a pair of blue overalls (the same color he claims the wisteria is, despite her protestations that it’s purple!). He tells Ann Fay that while he’s gone, she’s going to have to be the man of the house and look after her mother, two little sisters, and little Bobby the baby. And of course, Ann Fay assures him that she’s up for the task–and pushes herself to fulfill her commitment, accepting no help from anyone, not even her neighbor Junior Bledsoe (who is pretty obviously sweet on her). Little did her father know when he left her in charge that folks in their small North Carolinian town were going to be facing a war of sorts of their own: an outbreak of polio that wrecked havoc on the community and even on the Honeycutt family itself. Brave and strong as she is, Ann Fay’s going to have a challenge for sure keeping her family safe and together in the face of this disease.

I had the immense pleasure of seeing this stage adaptation of Joyce Moyer Hostetter’s book Blue a few weeks ago at a local college. (Yes, I know, I’m very belated in this review. Sorry.) It was a lot of fun. They did a good job of adapting the story for a small stage–the total cast was only 8 individuals, with several playing multiple parts. I particularly enjoyed their use of live stage music, old-timey local radio, walking “car rides”, and a dream fight with a wisteria plant–all of which added a lot of character to the show and also provided nearly Shakespearean-comedy worthy humor, which was nice in a story that is at times extremely sad. The balance was good. I also really enjoyed that they chose to use a children’s book for their basis . . . usually at colleges, the plays are all overly stuffy and serious, which is fine. But it’s nice to have a more innocent and sweet story once in a while. Especially when it’s full of local history and tells a sweet, moving story. And has a strong female lead. What more can you ask for? I enjoyed the play greatly, and seeing it has made me interested in reading the original novel Blue as well.

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Death of a Salesman

Author: Arthur Miller

Willy has spent his whole adult life as a salesman, telling himself he’s on the road to wealth and stability. He’s told his boys they’re on the way to greatness as well. His self-sacrificing wife Linda has always supported him in his beliefs. . . . But the truth is that he’s never owned up to his own failings, never admitted he might not be as good as he wants to be. He’s even gotten his family convinced that they’re all much more successful than they really are. But when poverty comes knocking, Willy must make some adult decisions–something he’s never really done his entire life. His son Biff is starting to own up to who he really is, who his father really is. Is Willy capable of making the same hard decision?

I’m well aware that Death of a Salesman is considered a classic play; however, it was never taught in the literature classes I took in high school and college, so I’m coming at it strictly based on what I see from reading it. In that light, I would say that this is an excellent story, although rather depressing. It was written in the late 1940’s, and delivers a certain flavor because of that. I think even more so, though, it has a slightly childish feel simply because the characters are so immature. It’s like they never grew up. Probably the most rewarding part of reading this is seeing Biff choosing to acknowledge himself–and at that point, you’re feeling proud of a klepto loser! I guess what I’m trying to say is that, while the characters are unappealing, they are portrayed well. Linda is an interesting character in that you can’t really tell to what extent she believes the lies versus recognizing the truth and willfully choosing the lies . . . nor can you easily tell why she would choose the life she has. Of note, it’s really odd to read a play this old with that much swearing in it; it was probably pretty shocking when it was first performed, but my strongest impression is not shock but a feeling that all the swearing just proves the characters’ immaturity. I’m not sure whether I’d recommend Death of a Salesman or not–it’s certainly a classic, and probably should be read just for that, but I still find it depressing.

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The Wind Rises

Studio Ghibli

Written & Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toshio Suzuki/Music by Joe Hisaishi

Ever since he was young, Jiro Horikoshi has dreamed of the sky and the aircraft that inhabit it so gracefully. He would have loved to be a pilot, but due to his poor eyesight, that dream would never come to pass. Realizing this early on, he takes a note from his hero, the Italian airplane designer Caproni, and pursues a career in aircraft design. A combination of innate talent and unflagging work keep him on the path, designing better and better planes, always pursuing the ideal craft that exists only in his dreams.

Over the years, I have come to expect great things from Studio Ghibli, and from Hayao Miyazaki in particular–and I must say The Wind Rises is something special indeed. It is, at its core, nearly a documentary on the life of Jiro Horikoshi, designer of the Mitsubishi A6M Zero–a plane used by Japan during the second World War. Yet Miyazaki transforms this young man’s life story into something beautiful and spectacular. Jiro deals, throughout the story, with the impossible question: would you pursue your dreams, even knowing what you create may be used in war, or would you live in a world where you abandon your dreams and refuse to create? The telling of the story itself is fascinating–you are given snapshots of various important events in the life of Horikoshi, but each is filled out in great detail, enough to give a good idea of who the characters are. I love that Miyazaki included Jiro’s brief, fateful relationship with Nahoko his beautiful, sickly wife (although I find Nahoko herself a strikingly Mamoru Hosoda sort of heroine). All the aircraft that are included only serve to emphasize that this is a Hayao Miyazaki movie–they’re kind of his trademark. The art is classic Studio Ghibli–breathtakingly beautiful. I think the inclusion of certain rather surreal elements, particularly in Jiro’s dreams, adds a lot to the story as well. I think my favorite Miyazaki movies will always be his fantasies like Spirited Away and Howl, but The Wind Rises is pretty incredible as well–you should check it out, especially if you’re a fan of Studio Ghibli or of older planes.

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