Cloaked in Red

Vivian Vande Velde has this Red Riding Hood thing down.

I have written before about how Vivian Vande Veldes’ young adult literature is filled with magic and wonder, with excellent twists that make readers gasp or laugh. They are always delivered in smaller, more manageable bites than most of today’s authors, who seem to think a novel isn’t a novel unless it’s over 400 pages, works, which make them engaging for even so-called reluctant readers.

I don’t buy reluctant readers; I think anyone who doesn’t enjoy reading either struggles with it, which makes it unenjoyable, or simply hasn’t found the right story yet. This has proven itself over and over to me both as a parent and a teacher, and I’ll stand by it until I see one case otherwise.

Vande Velde likes to take on fairy tales with problems, especially of a plot nature. Why are people so stupid in fairy tales? She wonders. To explain why a woodcutter would just suddenly leap into a house and cut open a cross-dressing wolf, or why a loving parent would send a little child into the woods all by herself, and many other conundrums, Vande Velde penned the collection of short stories, Cloaked in Red.

Readers will delight in these fun and fanciful tales. Whether Red is a crafty girl, a poor girl hoping to escape her parents, or a dimwitted dwindle head, she’s always fun to read about—as is her ever-changing granny, the many wolves of the book, and other memorable characters. You’re bound to select one of the many tales as your favorite new telling of the classic story (spoilers ahead).

My favorite story is more about the grandmother than anyone else. She is a widowed woman who lives alone, and wants to stay that way. A man is after her money by marriage, and her son worries she is too old to take care of herself. She ends up adopting a wolf who protects her from both, in different ways, and silliness ensues as her relationship with her new guard/pet molds to fit the classic story, however slightly and skewed it is.

Last year I saw a little girl dressed as “Little Dead Riding Hood” for Halloween and I thought it was the cleverest costume ever. I look forward to reading many other versions of this tale throughout my lifetime—perhaps I’ll even tell a few of my own—but I would definitely recommend Vande Velde’s collection to enjoy right now.

Fly Free!

What a lovely, meaningful story.

Roseanne Thong is a favorite author of my daughter’s and mine, so when we heard our book club was going to read Fly Free! by Thong at our next meeting, we both were excited to hear it. Unfortunately, we had to miss book club because my husband needed the car for work, so we had to wait and get the book from the library later.

Nevertheless, the book finally found its way into our home, and after reading it, all I could do was delightfully sigh. What a beautiful book! It is the tale of young Mai in Vietnam. Mai wishes to free the sparrows for sale by the temple, but she has no money.

Instead, she sings a song while feeding the sparrows about how when you do a good deed, it comes back to you. Her friend, listening to the song, pays the favor forward when she gives a shoeless, hurt girl her own shoes, and the kindness keeps passing from one person to the next throughout the book.

I did have an issue with some of the kindnesses. Two of the kindnesses paid by men—a man who gave a woman a ride and a monk who helped a sick boy—were conditional. Wouldn’t the monk heal the sick boy with or without a paid kindness? And the man asked the woman he provided with a ride for one of her cakes in exchange since she had no money. Could he not have simply given her one, and then taken a cake later if she offered it?

Otherwise, it’s a lovely story about the circle of kindness—indeed, the author explains about karma and samsara, or the wheel of life, at the back of the book—and the illustrations are just as lovely, lined with pretty watercolor brushstrokes.

In fact, they gave me goosebumps, as once my fifth grade teacher consoled me when I white-outed the lines in a drawing I had done on notebook paper and despaired over the marks. “It could be your trademark,” she told me gently. “It makes your art different from everyone else’s.” I never did adopt the practice of lining out my art, of course, but her kindness reminds me of the kindness in the book, too.

If you get a chance to read this book, sing the kindness song in it aloud with your child and see if you, too, can keep the wheel going. The song goes like this:

“Fly free, fly free

In the sky so blue!

When you do a good deed,

It will come back to you!”

The Demon Trapper’s Daughter

Get ready for some fun adventure and a hint of romance.

Though my local library did not carry the bestselling book The Demon Trapper’s Daughter by Jana Oliver, that didn’t stop me from reading it. I ordered the book through the interlibrary program and just finished it yesterday, and must say that it deserves its bestselling status.

While it’s not the most compelling YA novel that I’ve read, it is a highly enjoyable, exciting adventure featuring a strong heroine who doesn’t allow boys to boss her around. It’s set only a few years into the future, in a world full of chaos brought on by the economic collapse of America. Demons lurk on streets and in homes, and it’s up to the demon trappers to catch them and take them to the Vatican.

Riley, our 17-year-old heroine, is the only female trapper and gets a lot of slack for it. Poor and motherless, she idolizes her father only to have him taken from her early on in the book. She is determined to remain a demon trapper despite his death and the dangers he had been investigating.

This world itself is gripping. Not only are there demons; there are also witches and necromancers, the former helping the demon trappers and the latter working to raise the dead to sell as slaves. Schools don’t exist anymore due to the economy; school takes place part-time in old abandoned grocery stores and coffee shops two or three nights a week.

Riley is enjoyable to read about. She’s gutsy and doesn’t complain, she’s tough even when the rest of the trappers give her a hard time, and she’s got a few love interests who like her quite a bit—one of whom she’s falling in love with (though I’m not quite a fan of the super religious kid, even with his gentlemanly habits and support of the heroine). Despite a few instances of unbelievable dialogue (who refers to their brother as “bro” not in speaking to him in person, but in mentioning him?), the book was very well written, its loose ends either wrapped up or promised to be in the next installment.

Of course, I am behind in reading the series; Oliver is releasing the fourth book this fall, so I have to catch up quickly! In the meantime, I would highly recommend this book for any fans of supernatural adventures and romance—especially teen girls who could use a decent heroine to look up to.

7 Major Ways Movie Katniss Was Watered Down, Part 2

Why the slight stupidity and helplessness of on-screen Katniss marred the movie for me.

Katniss saving Peeta. Make no mistake; this is what she does. Peeta doesn’t have some simple cut that can be cured with a CREAM like the movie portrays; he is dying. He is cut to the bone, with a skin infection that requires a heavy antibiotic. He relies heavily on her to nurse him back to life—to take off his clothes and wash them, to clean out the wound, to feed him, give him medicine for fever, put a washcloth on his head, drug him, and get his medicine. It’s not some simple task like it was in the film—and afterward, when he’s a bit better, he still limps, he still clomps in the woods, and still has to be told what to do by Katniss. He is both sick and lovesick, saying he’s not scared because he has her to protect him—but in the film, it’s him saying what they should do (joking that he’ll take the bow, even) and what their next moves are! This. Is. Infuriating. I can just see the film folks mulling it over, “Well, we don’t want her to give orders and be a bitch, so we’ll have Peeta do it.” They took her power and made him more masculine—Hutcherson even admitted so in an interview—all for the sake of entertainment, and perhaps traditional gender roles…

Katniss saving Peeta again. If the previous paragraph weren’t enough, Peeta again saves Katniss upon the cornucopian when Cato tries to toss her off—after he helps her climb it, by the way—which is not how it happens at all. Katniss climbs it on her own—DUH. She climbs trees every day!—and then pulls Peeta up. When Cato tries to knock Peeta off, SHE saves HIM, not the other way around! He gets bitten in the leg and is bleeding to death, by the way (again), and she makes a tourniquet. She saves his life again and again, yet he is shown as a hero here. Come on, this is a baker’s son who is afraid of the woods! He is not a fighter; he is a lover. She is the one used to fighting and sacrificing and being strong; it only makes sense to have her fulfill this role and not a stereotypical Hollywood one.

Had I not read the book, I would have thought that this film was led by a really strong female for sure—one who had lots of help and a strong male by her side. But knowing how much stronger she was in the book—and how much Peeta depended on her—I can’t help but feel a bit hollow (though, yes, I still ambivalently love the film, too). This is what we do to powerful women in movies.

It’s really too bad that they chose to present one of history’s greatest fictional heroines in such a subdued light, giving supporting cast members part of her glow instead. I’m all about Rainbow Fish and sharing scales, but could you really see them doing this to a male lead? Nope. In fact, they do all they can to beef up male leads (such as having Jason Bourne’s wife murdered in the second film when they have children together throughout the books, for Peeta’s sake!). Perhaps one day we won’t fear female power so badly and we will present heroines as heroically as they are written.


*Update: I forgot several, but especially these two: Peeta giving Katniss the bread (we saw that but not her fight to feed her family before that by selling clothes and digging in trash bins before she started hunting, leaving viewers to think she was simply dependent on the handout from the get-go--and not giving us context for how she started saving her family afterward) and Katniss trading in the Hob (something that's risky and that mostly only grown-ups do, but that looked rather safe in the film).

7 Major Ways Movie Katniss Was Watered Down, Part 1

Why the (slight) stupidity and helplessness of on-screen Katniss marred the movie for me.

If you’ve read The Hunger Games, you know how strong Katniss Everdeen is. In fact, strong just isn’t a strong enough word to use. She protects her family after her father dies, hunts in the woods (which is punishable by death, if caught) to feed her family and herself, cares for her twelve-year-old sister, and volunteers to die for her in the Hunger Games—something that never happens in her district, as you are almost sure to die. She is the ultimate strong female lead that girls need to see in film.

Too bad they didn’t get to see her in the movie.

Don’t get me wrong. Movie-Katniss was pretty brave and tough, and Jennifer Lawrence did a hell of a job portraying her. In fact, aside from her tallness, I would say she was perfect for the role. However, the writers and director of the film watered her strength down in the way they chose to present her, making her less smart and strong than we know her to be. Here are just a few instances.

Katniss hunting in the woods. I loved how they showed Katniss hunting and tracking that deer. It was brilliant. But then Gale comes along and scares her, then says, “What are you going to do with that deer?” She says she’s going to sell it to peace keepers on reaping day—reaping day!—and he chastises her like a child, telling her she can’t on that day. Well, DUH. She knows this already; she is far from stupid. Really, movie team? You couldn’t have explained this another way?

Katniss on the train. The movie team chose to make Peeta the brave one here. It was his idea (not Effie’s, as it was in the book) to get Haymitch to help them; he would “talk to” their mentor to get him on board. Look, I know this was done to establish that Peeta is likeable and convincing, but it didn’t work for me—and it just made Katniss look stupid. And she isn’t.

Katniss in the Capitol. Again, Peeta was made to look smarter by grasping her hand, when it was really Cinna’s idea in the book. Katniss refuses, then holds it in spite of herself. Why do this? To make Peeta seem like he’s more charming? Again, he didn’t. And he didn’t seem to be as in love with her as he did in the book, either, by the way.

Katniss in the tree. This scene was one of the biggest that bothered me when adapted, because instead of charming the cameras and looking triumphant, taunting the Careers below her with, “Why don’t you come up?” and waving an arrow above their heads, she looks terrified (as she is) and helpless. Again, really? Katniss is exceptionally shrewed, knowing that there are cameras and playing them to her best abilities. This was pretty much ignored in the movie.

Katniss being aided by Rue. It’s true that Rue helps Katniss by giving her leaves to aid the stinging pain, but in the film she puts them on her while she is asleep. This makes the audience think that she might have saved Katniss’s life, and that she might not be alive if not for Rue! (This is true regarding the tracker jacker nest and the Career ambush, by the way; just not with the leaves.) This is simply untrue. When Katniss wakes, Rue shows her how to use the leaves, just as she helps Rue by giving her some burn ointment. This allows them to have a bonding moment and crucial dialogue that helps us get to know Rue (and Katniss, actually) better, when this is all cut down to mere moments in the film.


Continue to Part 2

Bread, Bread, Bread by Ann Morris

A simple picture book can convey messages beyond words.

If I told you that a picture book held, say, fifty words or so in it, you’d probably think it was one of those boring Bob books that are used to teach kids words today, or even a “See Jane” book from your own childhood. But what if I told you that there is a book that only contains a few words, yet through its provocative (but age appropriate) photos, a much deeper story—and even discussion—could emerge from it?

That’s exactly the case when it comes to Ann Morris’s Bread, Bread, Bread with photographs by Ken Heyman. I ran across the book on a list of books about environmental and social awareness and was lucky enough to discover that our library carried it. The text alone doesn’t tell you that much. Sure, bread is crunchy or soft, it’s good for you (what a revolutionary thought in the west! I was so happy to read that bread makes you strong and healthy to my child), and people use it to sop up eggs and so forth. But the real story emerges when you see the first photo in the book—which is of a young girl carrying a tray of flat breads on her head.

Why is she carrying these breads? What will she do with them? My six year old, who fortunately lives in a developed area where she is not required to work, has no idea what the answers to her questions might be. Maybe the young girl is going to a picnic. When we begin to talk about how some children must work to help their families out—and sometimes that work involves baking and selling bread and other baked goods—she is simply amazed.

And so goes the rest of the story—but especially its photos—with even more questions and explanations. At the end of the book, there is fortunately a breakdown of each type of bread and where the bread is from, with 29 different countries highlighted. From toasting bread outdoors in Italy to eating long loaves of baguette in France, kids will get both a kick out of seeing all of these breads and where they are from as well as simply be awed at how people of the world live similarly (such as the breads in both America and Indonesia) and differently (such as the tortillas of Mexico as opposed to the sweet filled breads of Hong Kong).

Hunger Games Adaptation to Be Altered

Do you want a different spin on Haymitch and no Madge?

By now if your Charlotte Book Club hasn’t read The Hunger Games, you probably have it on your schedule, at least. If you don’t, or you simply haven’t read the trilogy yet, what are you waiting for? The novel may be marketed as YA lit, but it’s a vividly engrossing story for older readers as well. (Spoilers ahead.)

Fans are eagerly awaiting the release of the film, which is less than two months away, and it sounds as if, while the majority of it will remain true to the book—after all, the author was involved heavily throughout production, including in the writing of the script—there are some major differences that will be included. I can understand these alterations in terms of how a book must be adapted for the screen; after all, first person narration doesn’t work so well, and we’ll need to see the entire point of view of the cast, not just Katniss’s, while she is in the arena. But some changes simply don’t make sense.

For example, Madge, Katniss’s only female friend in District 12, is cut. Why cut a character who is so likable, and who plays a bit of a part in two of the books? Instead, Prim is rumored to give Katniss her pin in the movie, which doesn’t make any sense. After all, if they had it all along, it would have surely been sold for food when her father died. There is also LOTS of modified dialogue, so it seems; I compared my book with the trailer today (yes, I am a total fan geek) and there wasn’t much in common between the two in terms of what the characters said.

The thing I have the most problems with, however, is Woody Harrelson’s Haymitch “upgrade.” He doesn’t want to turn Haymitch into a stereotype, so he’s making him more classy, less messy, and apparently less drunk. This just doesn’t sit well with me because Haymitch MUST be destroyed; he must be drowning his pain in liquor.

I must wonder if Harrelson (whom I love very much, don’t get me wrong) has read the second and third books to completely get the character. If not, I would urge him to do so, because part of Haymitch’s drunkenness is his disguise for later in the series, and much of it is to bury his great loss and depression. Depicting him as classy and cute, while it may be fun, doesn’t do his character much justice after what he’s been through—nor for what he’s up to.

Aside from Peeta’s short stature (he is supposed to practically dwarf the tiny Katniss!) and the lack of a dark-skinned Katniss (I had pictured her as much darker), I think the rest of the film looks like it’s going to be spot on, and no matter what, I cannot wait to see it!