Reviews

Idioms ain’t really idiotic

Out of the Blue: A Book of Color Idioms and Silly Pictures

**** [GOOD]

By Vanita Oelshlager (text) and Robin Hegan (illustrations)
VanitaBooks
ISBN:9780983290421

At times I read books for fun. Other times, I read texts that pile up on my to-be-read shelf to acquire Out of the Blueor deepen my knowledge on a subject. I read Out of the Blue for both. The work gave me a quick refresher on the notion and variety of idioms in the language. Also, the author and illustrator demonstrate a clever way to promote a greater grasp of American English.

Vanita Oelschlager , who bills herself as wife, parent, grandma and ex-teacher, easily demonstrates in the work that she never sheds the mantle of any of those roles. Her text is well structured, organized and clear, written with the kind of passionate tone to educate witnessed in the best exchanges between a loving adult and child. There is also a cleverness in the way that she pumps information into the process of play. Each page is a demonstration of the idea of idiom in a drawing by Robin Hegan that is geared to grab a child’s attention, if not evoke outright laughter. Also, if the adult who shares the book needs a prompt, the entries each have a two-sentence script upside down in the bottom right hand of the page.

The publisher summed it:

Out of the Blue shows children the magic of idioms – words that separately have one meaning, but together take on something entirely different. Children are curious about words, especially phrases that make them laugh (“Tickled Pink”), sound silly (“Shrinking Violet”) or trigger images that tickle a child’s sense of the absurd (“A Red Letter Day”). Out of the Blue uses outlandish illustrations of what the words describe literally.

The reader will not be fooled, the book is page after colorful page of largely American idioms. Except for the final pages, the text is but a series of phrases and blithely concealed prompts. And yes, the pictures are often silly, yet irresistible, because they are so cute. I found myself flipping back and forth in the 66-page manuscript to see various images again and again.

I wrote that the book says the images are silly. I found them whimsical, lightly fanciful in the most amazing ways. The artist tends to use solid colors, no shades or tones, which makes the drawings gain a certain vibrancy. For example, the expression “white elephant” is portrayed in one of the stark brilliance – a slight boy in a navy blue t-shirt and pants with a brown cape and black mask stands faced with an elephant under a white sheet carrying an pumpkin-striped, jack-o-lantern, Halloween container.

If that effort to describe what happens left you blank. Check out the artist’s description of how the artwork is done. Yet some matters remain a mystery.

I believe the prompt states, “Something unusual or even special, but useless to you is a white elephant.” I say that because the e-book pages make it hard to be sure. I do not understand why the author chose that touch. The tiny upside-down sentences work better in a printed copy, but in a fixed medium such as a digital book, they are a loss. The other thing I wanted to see was a brief description of how the phrases were derived. The author did that with “green with envy” at the end of the manuscript, but I wanted something similar for each phrase. Those are the only down-sides (no pun intended) to this book.

I recommend Out of the Blue to any parent, grandparent, teacher, preacher, or avid reader, who wants to entertain a child while doing an exploration of the complicated nature of American English. The publisher offers some thoughts on how to use the book on the VanitaBooks. Even more, we need texts like this to develop reading and language skills which studies show continue to lag in this country. Every kid needs to know that idioms ain’t idiotic.

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Mom-lovers Unite!

 

Tips onReads to Feed Mom'sBook Hunger

Mom. Love her or not, most people have one. Call her mother, mum, ma’dear, nana, or by her first name, she is someone you have to speak with, and someone who is bound to talk with you. That is why so many folks with moms find themselves on the lookout for ways to keep up the flow with her in conversations. If your mother reads, wants to read, threatens to read, or is a full-blown bibliovore, here are five current and upcoming titles to check out. I plucked these works by indie authors from the Veereads to-be-reviewed pile as worthy for offerings to the book-hungry mom.

Addicted to Love by Kathleen Murray

is a powerful thriller about a young woman’s growth in a dysfunctional family during the turbulent Seventies. The main character, Sally Smithfield, lives in Northfield, a suburban neighborhood on the posh North Shore of Chicago. The streets that surround her are pretty safe, but the threat to the quality of her life comes from the secrets she holds and her many losses. Murray takes the reader from Northfield to St. Louis to Scottsdale, Arizona in Sally’s journey through the devastating residual after-effects of childhood abuse in a suspenseful showcase of a struggle to find self. Addicted to Love, is sure to delight mom’s who enjoy tales about a quest for redemption.

The History Major by Michael Philip Cash

is a book I am very anxious to read, because I love horror and science fiction. Also, Cash is one of the best writers in those genres. Readers will figure out for themselves as they see what happens to protagonist Amanda Greene, a college freshman who has a “through the looking glass” ride into terror. After a bad fight with her boyfriend, and a night of heavy partying, her eyes open to find she has a roommate she does not recognize, classes she never choose to take, and she is being chased by a shadowy figure. This is just the book for a mom who loves stories where fantasy and reality collide.

Toto’s Tale and True Chronicle of Oz by Sylvia Patience

offers mom the rest of the story about a literary and film classic. If mom has not read the original book by  L. Frank Baum, she has likely thrilled to the 1939 movie, about an orphan from Kansas raised on a farm by her aunt who discovers that happiness is home, and home is where you find those who love you. Patience tells the story from the viewpoint of a character that used to be “carry on,” Dorothy’s little dog Toto. Readers will follow Toto as he sets out on his own and meets Dorothy when she arrives in Kansas on an orphan train. The story unfolds amid the sights, sounds and sensibilities of the original tale, except this time readers find out about the dog’s frustration at being the only one who can’t talk, and that like Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and Scarecrow, Toto wants something from the all-powerful wizard. If mom is really into grandchildren, this is a great story for her to share. If she is a fan of Oz, or loves dogs, this book will entertain her.

Meantime Girl by Sindhu S.

is love story. That statement barely captures the essence of the feminist fable with deep psychological undertones. If mom loves strong women characters in a “coming of age” drama, this book will hit the spot. Meantime Girl  journalist Anjali’s effort to define her sexuality  beyond the expectations  or pressures of her family, friends and society. More than the usual “married man/victim”  narrative, Sindu S.’s protagonist is a New Age woman who clings to sexual freedom and rejects any ties to the man she loves out of fear they might lead to his control. She gets into a relationship with a married friend, Siddharth or Sid, with a clear conscience and assurance that he won’t marry her. Mom should expect  wit and humor with an undercurrent of pathos from what appears to be a love story for our times.

This blog usually only mentions books in reviews, but this is a special occasion. Moms who love books, and the people who love moms are always in need of new information. I hope the Mother’s Day is wonderful experience. I wish all moms to feel special and valued, especially the book-lovers. I hope these few tips add to the health of the day. Buy them, or use them as a spark during talks with Mom.

 

 

A Word You’ve Heard

I Saw An Invisible Lion TodayThat title caught my attention first. Then a read of the Millbrook Press description of the 36-page book for ages 7 to 11, and I knew that it must be mentioned during National Poetry Month. As you can see from the image, the text rates high on cute. At the same time, the content is clear, entertaining and informative as it lays out the poetic form quatrains to kids.

A poet I know always says, “Never stop askin’ for poems,” and this work is ideal to Coverspark an interest in wordplay in even the youngest. Aside from the multicultural and lighthearted drawings the cadence of each tale and playful topics seem so simple and open, a child might believe that he or she can do quatrains. In fact, despite the avowed audience, the ease with which author Brian P. Cleary approaches the poetical technique might enchant anyone (even a grownup) who listens.

The Ohio-born humorist and poet is no novice. As I learned, Cleary is author of a broad range of works on language,  math, food, phonics and poetry for the young. I did not know the name when I picked the title, but the thrill of the book’s explorations with wordplay made me a fan. Most readers will want to see more, too. Especially if they check out his website.

I Saw An Invisible Lion is reader friendly, as befits a text for the very young. Many parents will find themselves reading the book several times, yet I can see how a children might soon pick it up themselves. The author starts with explanation – “quatrains are four-line verses that usually rhyme.” Just that simple, and that is what I liked. Then he adds the notion of rhyme schemes or end rhyme patterns – “the most common types: AAAA, AABB, ABCB, and and ABAB.” That is about all that is needed to make a move on quatrains. The rest of the work is examples.

Now most poets and readers well-learned in the intricacies of form poetry are probably saying, “Oh, give me a break,” right now. However, the key to a true appreciation of the work is to look at it from the perspective of an average reader. Clue: most people in the U.S. neither read nor understand poetry. If a person is not certain about the form, they will be when finished.

I read I Saw An Invisible Lion Today from the viewpoint of a parent, grandparent, or any older person who wants to teach an elementary age child that words can be more than just a hard labor. More than that, I read the work again from the approach of of  average reader who knows little more about poetry than the kind they prefer. I came away a great fan of Cleary, because the book teaches and makes you laugh. Anyone who can read this book and come away with nary a giggle or snicker, either does not understand English, or is dead. Academics aside the sounds of the lines alone sometimes draw smiles.

The organization of the book seems pretty obvious. Cleary places the rhyme scheme for the mostly four-line examples at the start of each tale to make sure. As I wrote, the bulk of the book is the quatrain patterns in  poetic quips of various lengths. The topics are silly in unusually clever ways. The tales he spins can help children to see reality as it might be, and poetry as a way to escape what is. For example, the title poem:

I saw an invisible lion today
and fourteen invisible leopards.
And thirty invisible sheep being led
by thirty invisible shepherds.

I saw an invisible baby giraffe
who ate from invisible trees.
I watched as he shook an invisible nest
filled with invisible bees.

I saw an invisible penguin who skated
upon an invisible rink
along with a group of invisible skunks
who made an invisible stink.

British illustrator Richard Watson adds to the sense of mirth in the work. Most of the art matches to the sometimes extraordinary scenes the poet described (invisible skunks). I cannot critique the illustrations, only say that they made me look intently to see how his vision complemented the writer. Most times they were as tight and serendipitous as a good jazz riff. Watson showed his greatest skill with the drawings for “At the Muzzaloo Store.”

At the Muzzaloo Store there are crates of persnoobles
fresh-baked flobitzen and tazbees with jubles.
They’re stocking the shelves with the best alaprises,
ungden and traffadoo (three different sizes!)

Watson’s store scene delivers just enough ick! factor to make an average 7-year-old squeal with delight. The syncopation of off-beat words and art, made me wonder what he might have done with Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.” The critters in the crates and elsewhere look bizarre, but not a nightmarish sight.

Parents will love to show kids pages like that. Their children will have fun trying to spot the “tazbees” and “alprises.” In the end, children and adults will learn enough about the form that they will be inspired to make up poems. I Saw An Invisible Lion Today, is a great way to get readers of all ages to “never stop asking for poems.”

 

 

The Music of Lives

Mingus_Lullaby“I play or write me the way I feel through jazz, or whatever,” the late bassist and pianist Charles Mingus wrote in a 1955 open letter to trumpeter Miles Davis. “Music is, or was, a language of the emotions. If someone has been escaping reality, I don’t expect him to dig my music, and I would begin to worry about my writing if such a person began to really like it. My music is alive and it’s about the living and the dead, about good and evil. It’s angry yet it’s real because it knows it’s angry.”

My thoughts continually went to that passage as I read, A Mingus Lullaby, Toronto poet  Dane Swan‘s latest collection. The perceptive works are vibrant with anger, good and evil, and the cadences of progressive jazz. They are not what an average reader might expect of “poetry.” That is why those who love poetry, people, passion, personalities, and protest will find the March 1 release from Guernica Editions to be a treat worthy of the $20 price.

As the Mingus quote states, Swan gives reader a collection crammed with raw emotional power. It is as if the poems get nose to nose with readers and scream “Look!”  The poet wants readers to see the greatness that the last jazz icon and civil rights leader harbored.

Admittedly, that kind of forced dialogue can intimidate those who look for poems to “escape reality.” Swan channels the spirit of the jazz legend who died in 1979 at age 56, as a means to reveal himself. The best part is the author, like Mingus, does not shrink from truth.

The experience begins in “Epitaph 10,” where the writer wrestles identity:

 My man Charles, your autobiography jumps from first person to third.

 Got me wondering who I am.

Is this Dane or Mingus?
Is this Dane as Dane, playing Mingus?
Or is this Dane, as Dane in the role of Dane inspired by Mingus?

The writer riffs Mingus’ insistence that he was possessed by a three-part identity:

One man stands forever in the middle, unconcerned, unmoved, watching, waiting to be allowed to express what he sees to the other two.
The second man is like a frightened animal that attacks for fear of being attacked.
Then there’s an over-loving gentle person who lets people into the uttermost sacred temple of his being and he’ll take insults and be trusting and sign contracts without reading them and get talked down to working cheap or for nothing, and when he realizes what’s been done to him he feels like killing and destroying everything around him including himself for being so stupid. But he can’t – he goes back inside himself.

Mingus claimed to be a conflicted and tortured spirit whose capped emotions built and built, and jazz allowed the release. In A Mingus Lullaby Swan’s wordplay allows him to speak to readers as he slides through different voices, which the poet describes in “Epitaph 6” – emotionless observer, passionate lover, manic loose cannon. At the same time, readers will find the author is not shy when the personalities mix. For example, in  “Objectors,” readers hear hints of the emotionless observer and passionate lover:

They look like adolescent weaklings.
So fragile, you imagine
the bullied bullied them;
their strength – immeasurable.

Could confuse them for children.
More man than us,
have been couriers of imperialism, death,
decided to defend life.

One admits
he ended numerous existences.
Innocent civilians
haunt dreams.

They look like children
but are men
trying to skip double-dutch
with children.

The same comes through in a veiled commentary on the riots at Toronto’s G20 Summit, which the poem, “26.06.2010,” sums as “A protest of 30,000 destroyed by 200 with violent intent.” The poem observes:

Violence isn’t anarchy;
it’s organized failure.
None of this will lead to change.

The manic loose cannon is evident in a number of the poems. In “Resuscitation,” the pathos takes readers into the soul of a Black Canada (oddly resonant with the United States) and wields cultural self-analysis like a bat:

I balance my heart on the edge of razor blades
trying not to pierce my aorta.

(my heart bleeds)

I’m a black nigga, immigrant nigga, legal problems nigga. I’m everything I fight; fucking stereotype. Looking for a hot-forty-year-old, president of a publishing company. Whisk me to your manor with Raptors TV; shelves stacked: Greek philosophy, Tales of Anansi, old soul records, my favorite spoken word CD by Garmamie.

(my heart bleeds)

Sick of niggas using the word nigga lightly. Of niggas who think stupidity is pretty. Got C’s in school. Other kids hid comic books between text books, I hid my copy of “The Egyptian Book of the Dead.” Failed math studying architecture – towers from before ancient times in the Horn of Africa. Got an A minus in music ’cause that teacher didn’t like me.

(my heart bleeds)

My anger management coach, slowly, surely convinces me.
Couldn’t do what I do. Suggests a minor augmentation towards
conformity – we are in a white society. I agree. No more Afro.

(my heart bleeds)

At the end, in “Epitaph 14,” Swan’s Lullaby bids Mingus a subtle “sleep well”:

Dizzy called you a great administrator.
I never knew a secretary could look so ugly,
or sound so sweet in quadraphonic sound.

 

The Long Line In White

Pope Francis! 

The name echoes in the news. He rode in Fiat 500s during his visit to New York to Philadelphia. He met with actress Eva Longoria, is said to have a lot in common with singer John Legend,  has his own pop album, Wake Up! and has been dubbed the Tech world’s  secret weapon. So much energy and reverence is attached to those two words. Wyatt North Publishing’s three-volume series A History of the Popes helped me understand why.

Most people throughout the world hold the figure of every leader of the Roman Catholic Church in great esteem. This is done so much so, at times, the people forget that a man exists beneath the white cassock and zuchetto that symbolize the office. The Wyatt North history places the man who sits on the throne of Peter today in broad context. The easily readable text is worthy of exploration because those who indulge its depths will learn a lot about the real nature of the popes who have filled the long white line.

“The history of the men who have held this position is fraught with villainous and heroic actions,” the Introduction to the series asserts. Translation – the stories are told in a direct, yet concise manner. The authors did not waste time with sentimental or maudlin details, which is one of the books’ strengths. As the Introduction also promises, the works allow the reader to become acutely aware of how the papacy has “left a profound impact on the development of civilization as we know it, both in the East and the West.”

The book’s treatment of the condemnation of the scholar Origen Adamantius of Alexandria, Egypt, shows that trend in stark detail. The writer, who died in 245 AD is highlighted in story of Pope St. Anastatius I, who reigned from November 399 until he died in 401. The text says Origen “was one of the greatest theologians in the third century,” despite his theories about salvation were once labeled as “unCatholic.” The pope said he taught that “God would save all angels and men.” Modern scholars say that the writer only posed the idea as a speculation.

Even so, the Wyatt North text’s narrative is not as directly dreary as in Brenda Ralph Lewis’ A Dark History: The Popes: Vice, Murder, and Corruption in the Vatican (2011). That said, the pace of the text is less breezy a read than Jesuit Father John W. O’Malley’s A History of the Popes: From Peter to the Present (2011).

A History of the Popes offers stories to attract readers who seek a broad range of interests – action, adventure, piety, bravery, sacrifice, political intrigue, and spirituality. It also provides details that might fascinate readers who never paid much attention to the office. For example, I did not realize that most early popes were declared saints upon their deaths. That made Pope Francis’ 2014 decision to canonize of the late popes John Paul II  and John XXIII seem less extraordinary.

 

 

 

 

An Irish Treat For All The Ages

Since early morn – and I mean before dawn – “Happy St. Patty’s Day ” greetings have come at me from nearly everyone. OK. I surrender to the mood. I can no longer resist, so I dug into the top of the pile of books to be discussed on veeareads and found this audio gem, Children’s Stories by Oscar Wilde, Volume 2. The work is narrated by actor Stephen Fry.

Now critics are going to jump on this entry and say, “With all of the great writers cropping up today, why are you hyping the works of someone who died in November 1900?” True. There is a great deal to be said about contemporary writers, and I will. Continue to follow this site. At the same time, audiobooks are in an explosion, and when a really clever collection by Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie, born to William Wilde and WHO on Oct. 16, 1854, is extant, there is no harm. These two volumes of children’s stories, of which only one is represented here, are a need to know. Veereads keeps you in the know.

WildeOscar Wilde published “The Happy Prince and Other Tales” (1888), and “The House of Pomegranates” (1892), collections of children’s stories, around the same period as his classic,  The Picture of Dorian Gray (Click the link to download a free copy ), his one and only novel. In the 125 years since, the tale  has been adapted to print, stage and film. Despite its frequent appearances, the work remains lightening rod for outrage and criticism. When first published in 1890 in an American magazine, the horror story’s hints of homo-eroticsm outraged Victorians. Wilde’s alleged sexual orientation has continued to remain a subject of debates. At the same time, his creations are hailed as examples of brilliance. Wilde’s plays “A Woman of No Importance” (1893), “An Ideal Husband” (1895), and “The Importance of Being Earnest” (1895), are often required reads in this country. Fact is, as listeners to this 20-minute, audio excerpt will discover,  Wilde’s short stories are a delight for all ages.

Fry is a British actor, writer, director, and voice-over artist who many Americans have appreciated on the U.S. television series like “Bones,” and director Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes film, “Game of Shadows,” and several of the Harry Potter series video games. He is the smiling fellow in the image above. In the United Kingdom, the prolific actor and writer is most widely remembered for his title roles in He the Black-Adder II (1986) and Jeeves and Wooster (1990) television series.

 

 

Change is Not just a Six-Letter Word

Change is More than a Six-Letter Word Available in  Kindle Edition and Paperback
Even as one glances at the cover, Mark Reklau’s 30 Days-Change Your Habits, Change Your Life echoes the kind of idle boast even a true expert usually wants to avoid. My first impression was that the book sounds like a bad infomercial. Yet, as is often wisely stated, you can’t judge this book by the cover. Page after page, the review copy provided showed me that  30 Days is more than a boast. The book delivers on its promise for those focused and ready to act on self-improvement, even as they try to keep pace with life’s daily shifts.

More than that, as I read the 204 pages, I began to wish the book had come to my attention sooner. The release date is more than a year ago. Even so, I choose to share the publication because the knowledge it holds remains in constant demand.
“Taking full responsibility for your life includes the risk of making mistakes and leaves you without the common excuses (society, my boss, my family, my age etc…), but it also creates options, space and power,” the author states on his website.  Change can never come too late.
As for tone,  30 Days is easily read, mostly because every chapter is topical. Readers can explore each of the 94 chapters in sequence, or as I, many readers might prefer to jump to the areas of greatest interest. That said I recommend anyone who gets a hold of the book read the Introduction and first chapter to gain a feel for the author’s views.

Reklau is clear from the start – the blame for our lives is on us. “Most people have no idea how they get what they get,” he writes in the Introduction. Some of us just blame it on fate and chance.,,,Everything that happens to you is created by YOU – either consciously by design or unconsciously by default; it’s not a result of fate or circumstances.”

Reklau, who uses the book in his pursuits as a life coach offers advice in a manner that one might expect from improvement gurus. The main difference, which makes this work worthy of a read, is that the book is complete in its message, not a come on. Those who follow the link above can check out his business website and find offers for ongoing consultation, but those who seriously want to redesign their lives will find the book a treasure trove.

He offers blunt advice in a direct, concise prose. “Every day brings with it the opportunity to start a new life!” he writes in the first chapter, Rewrite Your Story.  “You get to choose your identity at each and every moment! … It’s up to you to decide who you are going to be from this day on.”

As stated, the Table of Contents reads like an advice list – Choose Your Thoughts, The Importance of Attitude, Know Your Strengths, Avoid Energy Robbers.  When one steps back from the work, it is clear that part of the book’s attraction is its tight organization and design. Readers who want a quick answer to the life-change question will glean a lot from the browse. Those who take the few moments needed to read a chapter will gain ever more. For example, in Chapter 11, Get Comfortable with Change and Chaos, Reklau writes: ” For personal growth you have to be in a constant state of feeling slightly uncomfortable. Get into the habit of doing things that others don’t want to do. You have to choose to do what needs to be done regardless of the inconvenience!”

Readers who take the thirty days to reflect on their attitudes and behaviors will not be disappointed. In that effort, the book can be a guide and counselor. In the end, 30 Days will be one of those keepers on the shelf that is pulled down once or twice a year to refresh our thoughts on what it takes to achieve the lives we desire. If nothing else, the book will serve as a constant reminder that life we have is the result of our actions. Change will become more than a six-letter word.