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There’s something so irresistible about a wordless graphic novel – you take a peak at the first page, and before you know it you’re halfway through the book. And while reading a wordless book might not count as reading to some picky people, I firmly believe it does. Even though it doesn’t require you to read words on a page, you are still reading a story – reading the pictures, individually and in sequence, to piece together what is happening. The reader might start to narrate it internally, and it gives the reader opportunity to use imagination in a different way than a written story. I think each format has its place, and Sara Varon’s Robot Dreams is certainly a fine example of its form.

At first the dog seems like the hero of the story, assembling his mail-order robot and becoming best buds. They become regular library patrons – sure to endear this book to any librarian with a heart – and once they’ve done some research on dog beaches, set off for a day’s adventure. Unfortunately, the trip doesn’t turn out as they planned, and Robot and Dog are separated. Dog tries to make other friends, and Robot dreams of possible futures for himself. It’s surprisingly sad and sweet, but also funny. There’s a lot going on in terms of friendship and responsibility and obligation and loneliness – in fact, I think I could easily read this through a few more times and pick up on more and more complex themes each time. Which is not to say that it would be hard for a child to read and understand and enjoy that book – I think the opposite would be true.

This would be great for a beginning reader who wants a break from sounding out words to whiz through a story, for readers who think they’re too old for picture books but still want to look at pictures, and for anyone looking for a graphic novel that’s appropriate for any age.

My nine-year-old cousin was over recently, and we were making blueberry muffins (the oatmeal muffin recipe, with fresh blueberries in lieu of raisins – so tasty).  Inspiration struck while we waited for the muffins to come out of the oven.  He poked around in the extra blueberries, and created an original, made entirely of blueberry matter: The Blueberry Man.  Finally, a good use for those pesky twigs that fall in while you’re berry picking.  Behold:

And then he decided that it was not good for Blueberry Man to be alone:

And why not a third?

And then of course they need a sign.

Yes, things are ALWAYS this exciting around here.

I can’t remember where I originally saw the link, but you can listen to this year’s Printz acceptance speeches  here.  I’ve listened to a few of them, but so far my favorite is Elizabeth Knox’s speech – her book, Dreamquake, was an honor book this year.  She tells a great story about her father, and her own experiences with libraries and books (plus it’s always fun to listen to New Zealand accents).  At one point she says that perhaps she should have been a librarian, but decided to be a writer instead.  And then she says something I love:  “Although I have managed to become a writer, my true aim is somehow to become a book.”  Um, YES.  That’s it exactly.  So go give it a listen – or better yet, read her books.  I thought The White Darkness (this year’s Printz winner) was excellent, but Dreamquake was probably my favorite from the list of honorees.  Which reminds me that I need to look for her adult books, too.

I really really wanted to love Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog.  It’s got a lot of things going for it. There’s the setting: a fantasy world that seems to be a strange version of California with an old-world feel, where magical butlers that run the great houses of the city (and who doesn’t love a magical butler?) There’s a lot of atmosphere, and a sense of more history and past intrigue than has been uncovered yet. Then there are the characters – Flora Segunda (we never find out quite what happened to the first Flora), her army general mother, her tragic father, and other assorted colorful characters. There’s even a man known as the Dainty Pirate! Add in the language – lots of fun slang and colloquial language, a nice big juicy vocabulary, fun place names (the Bedchamber of Redoubtable Dreams, the Cloakroom of the Abyss, etc.), and an overall sense of the delights of delicious words.

So why didn’t I love it? What held me back? I’m not sure, honestly, if it was me or the book. I was reading it a bit here and a bit there, not having much time, and this may have made the book feel slower than it was. It’s a nice thick 430 pages, and that might have been part of the problem – while each piece of the story was interesting, it probably could have been scaled back without hurting the overall story. It took a while for the plot to really heat up, and although I enjoyed the process, I was never quite hooked. And it felt like the book wanted to hook me, so it was a bit disappointing.  A tad bit long, a tad bit disjointed.

Overall, though, I feel a great fondness for the story, and as I’ve been writing this I feel my fondness increase. The language and setting make up for a lot of bumps in the road.  In fact, I just bumped up my Goodreads rating.  And I’ll be keeping an eye out for the sequel, which looks like it will be coming out next month.  Oh, and it’s that sort of inbetween fantasy – middle grade or YA, depending on the level of reader.  The story would suit in either direction.

Julia asked which dessert I would make again – the Madeira Cake, the Victoria Sponge, or both. Good question. I will definitely make the Madeira Cake again – it was good plain, or you could dress it up with some berries or a chocolate sauce or something. Maybe a lemony glaze. But absolutely worth eating plain, and very satisfying. I didn’t like the sponge quite as much – it was basically a giant strawberry shortcake in terms of flavor. Tasty, certainly, but I didn’t swoon. Maybe I needed sweeter strawberries, or a bit more jam, or a dash of sour cream or yogurt in the whipped cream to make it more interesting. You could mess around more with the sponge – using different fillings or the flavorings suggested in the book.

In book news, I just finished listening to Leif Enger’s new one – So Brave, Young and Handsome. And typing out the title just reminded me – I never noticed a mention of the title in the book. I can’t remember if any of the characters were ever described as “so brave, young and handsome.” Maybe Hood Roberts, the young mechanic – he was the only young one, and the only one that someone might have spoken of in that tone of voice. It didn’t hit me quite as hard as Peace Like a River, but it had the same sort of humanity to it. Characters who are flawed, but capable of facing redemption. A run from the law. A sense of adventure. A description of what it means to be at home in certain places and with certain people. Heart and humor, and an old-fashioned feel without seeming like it was trying too hard. I wasn’t sure about the audio version at first, but it got me hooked after a few minutes. It all felt real.

I listened to a podcast of a reading Enger gave, and he talked about how he wanted to write for as wide an audience as possible – young adults on up – and his books really do seem suited to that. They have a good balance of character and plot, and there’s no reason you couldn’t hand one to a high schooler or your grandfather. I think he’s succeeded – and I will certainly go back and read both this one and Peace Like a River again.

I am alive.  Yes, it is remarkable.  I feel like I am talking like Elephant and Piggy.  Today I will fly!*  No, wait, today I will make chocolate pudding!  That’s more like it.

Clearly the heat has gone to my head, except I can’t really use that as an excuse since I’m sitting in air conditioning.  A perk of the move.  It’s been hot and muggy, and my car doesn’t have AC, and I’ve been driving around a lot, as usual, to and from internship and jobs.  One job is the opposite of air-conditioned – I spend 2 hours in a warehouse doing manual labor.  I drip.

Fortunately, I only have one week left for my internship, and then I can actually enjoy a brief period of something we like to call “summer” before school starts – I’ll have about a month where I’m just working – no school, no internship, no extra demands on my time.  I can sleep and bake and read to my heart’s content.

Speaking of baking, I tried a new recipe for the church picnic – Dream Bars from the good ol’ King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion – they’re a gooey mess of coconut and pecans on top of a cookie crust, and they’re fabulous.  I’ll find the recipe again when I bother to get off the couch.

To conclude an incredibly scattered post, some pictures of things I baked ages ago.  First is the Madeira Cake from How to be a Domestic Goddess:

This was dense and moist and satisfying.

Next is the Victoria Sponge, also from the Nigella book, with strawberry & whipped cream filling (there’s also a thin layer of strawberry jam, but you can’t really see it).  I made this for the 4th of July – see how behind I am on my pictures?

Also from the 4th, my cousins-once-removed hamming it up:

One of these days I’ll come back and talk about what I’ve been reading (or what I haven’t been reading).

*So, I wanted to link to Powell’s, because I like Powell’s, but anytime I searched for anything Mo Willems related, all the results were random and obscure and had nothing to do with the esteemed Mr. Willems.  It was like stepping into an alternate internet.  I was scared.  The titles didn’t even have any similar keywords.

I’m alive.  It’s all work, weddings, blueberries, hurried meals, books read in spare moments, driving to and fro, trying to remember all the places I need to change my address, internship evaluations (even though it’s not over yet – but for school credit), zoning out watching Veronica Mars in the evenings, and having time generally zip past.

I feel like I haven’t been reading much, but suddenly I was way behind with keeping track of things on Goodreads.  I loved David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green on audio.  I’m also loving Leif Enger’s So Brave, Young and Handsome, which I’m listening to now.  I’m still hooked on Elizabeth E. Wein’s books.  I started Flora Segunda last night and I’m prepared to be delighted.

Two more weeks of internship, and then I can catch my break and enjoy about a month of real summer vacation before I start back to school.

I think most of the insanity has ended and life is settling back down a little bit.  I’m no longer housesitting, I’m 100% done moving (although not 100% done unpacking – I’ve got a few boxes of baking supplies & kitchen odds and ends waiting to be assimilated, and no pictures up on my walls yet), and I actually get a WEEKEND.  A weekend-plus since I only work one job today, instead of two, in order to go to a bachelorette party.  Then I have tomorrow off to go to a wedding (not the same friend as the bachelorette party) and Sunday is completely free.  Wow.  Is this how normal people live?  They get off work at 5:30 on Friday and don’t have to show up again to work until Monday morning?  I could get used to this.

I stepped into my role as house baker this morning, and I do call it a success even if I’m the only one around eating the fruits of my labor (little brother is still sound asleep, and everyone else is off doing whatever they do – seriously, considering there are FIVE adults living in this house, I barely see anyone.  I haven’t seen my mom in days.  Did I mention that I’m living with my entire family?  Hellooo, savings account!  It’s nice to see you, too!)

After poring over my cookbooks last night, in consultation with my brother who thinks there should be more cinnamon in the world, I ended up putting oats and buttermilk to soak overnight for Oatmeal Muffins.  This time I added a dash each of cinnamon and nutmeg, and plopped a few frozen boysenberries (or were they marionberries?  I can never remember which is which) and blueberries into each muffin cup.  The
boysenberries were HUGE and turned into slightly tart, jammy spots in each muffin.  Since I didn’t stir them in, I didn’t get those unsightly blue/gray streaks in that batter that berries often leave.  A success!  The original recipe called for raisins, and I’ve made this recipe with dried cherries, currants, and raisins, but my heart still belongs to fresh/frozen fruit.  Next time I’ll have to try the whole grain version of the recipe (once I figure out where all my odd flours went to…)

August 2008

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