Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger

by Kevin Bolger
Razorbill, 2008

After learning that a principal prematurely ended Bolger's author visit, in which he was reading from this book, I knew I had to read it. Click here for my blog post on the banning.

When the brave Sir Fartsalot dines with the King, he is on a quest to quell the Foul West Wind. By the end of dinner, thanks to young prankster, Prince Harry, he is also on the hunt for the monstrous Booger. The King decides that Prince Harry could learn a lot from travelling with the knight, and the two set off on their great adventure. Along the way they encounter (among other things) a jester, a fortune teller, ogres, princesses, a two-headed giant, and a very hungry roc.

The humour is gross, as befits the intended audience - primarily boys, grades 4-6, though one non-traditional princess sets an appropriate tone for girls. And the book has a message: Prince Harry learns that pranks don't always turn out the way you plan, and can end up hurting people you care about.

A fun spin on the traditional knight's quest, Bolger only offends those with the most tender sensibilities.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Daily Devotions for Writers

compiled and edited by Patricia Lorenz
The Writing Academy, 2008

This collection of 366 devotionals contains true stories about the challenges and delights of writing, and offers a daily encouragement, short prayer, and inspirational quote to help writers as they journey along. Though some entries were better written than others, I still thought the book worthwhile overall. In reading the experiences of others who pursue the craft, one finds hope that one's words can mean something to others, that one's words will reach the right readership, and that publication is possible despite the obstacles.

A good gift for the writer in your life or to treat yourself.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Secret Fiend

(The Boy Sherlock Holmes series)
by Shane Peacock,
Tundra Books, 2010

You may remember that after young Sherlock's last adventure, he had taken early leave from the detection business. With the apparent return of the "Spring Heeled Jack," a fictional character from the Penny Dreadful thrillers, whose exploits played out in real life London about 30 years earlier and now threaten again, Sherlock is brought out of retirement. The Spring Heeled Jack has red eyes, super human strength and agility, breathes blue fire, and wears a black and green suit with bat-like wings. A terror to all who see and are attacked by him.

When the Jack attacks Beatrice Leckie, an old friend, and daughter of the local hatter, Sherlock reluctantly becomes involved. As he observes, investigates, and makes deductions, the suspects multiply. Could it be his own companion, Sigerson Bell? The politically ambitious Alfred Munby or the popular Robert Hide? Who is Malefactor really? Is it he, Sherlock's arch enemy, who is wreaking havoc and terrorizing the people of London, bringing chaos and possibly murder, as he has suggested he would? Does Beatrice herself, or her friend, Louise, have something to do with the case? And what does Sherlock's old love interest, Irene Doyle, know? She is, after all, far too close to the hoodlum Malefactor, and she is greatly changed.

With plenty of action, mystery, and red-herrings, and set during the time of England's first Jewish Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, when there was much social unrest, Peacock rushes the reader along at a dizzying pace. As this case resolves with typical Sherlock Holmes flair and the fever-pitch of last-minute revelation, the reader is left waiting breathlessly for the next installment in the series.

This I Believe: the Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women

Edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman
Henry Holt & Company, 2006

This book contains the personal philosophies of famous and "average" men and women from all walks of life. The collection includes, for example, essays by Isabel Allende, William F. Buckley, Jr., Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, as well as those written by a lawyer in Brooklyn, a woman who sells advertising for the Forth Worth Yellow Pages, and a man who serves on the parole board for the state of Rhode Island. The editors profile stories that reflect guiding principles and values, not those that would focus on pious platitudes, dogma, or narrow prejudice, so you will find here people who believe in Barbie, or that it's important to "be cool to the pizza dude," or that one ensures prosperity by feeding the monkeys on one's birthday. There are those who believe in God, those who don't, and those who believe in the sun. In other words, expect an eclectic, diverse set of beliefs that will challenge you to think about your own.

The editors offer guidelines for writing out your beliefs and maintain a website where you can submit your personal essay. There you can also read other people's essays - both from the original 1950s series and those that have been more recently penned. There's already a This I Believe II, so who knows? Maybe your essay will be published in an upcoming volume as well.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer
HarperCollins, 2009

I read this book on the recommendation of my friend, Faith. You can read her review of the book here.

William Kamkwamba was born into a poor farming family in Malawi. He is very matter-of-fact about the conditions of life for himself and his countrymen, and invites no pity, even when describing the effects of famine that ravaged the country, killing many of its people, early in the new millennium. Death by starvation was a daily threat for his own family, where just a handful of food had to feed several mouths and was available only once daily.

Given the lack of income during the famine period, William's parents were unable to continue paying his secondary school fees, and he had to stop attending. Always curious from a young age about how things worked, forever taking things apart and putting them back together, William was determined to continue learning on his own. Taking full advantage of the local library, which was stocked with books from America and elsewhere, he read up on subjects of a scientific nature, including physics and electricity. Discovering instructions for building a windmill and recognizing how its addition would help his family, he spent hours scouring the scrapyard for pieces he could use in its construction. With the assistance of a cousin and very good friend, he was able to assemble a working windmill that provided light to the family home and powered a small radio.

While initially ridiculed by former classmates and fellow villagers, William's efforts came to the attention of news reporters and important people in the scientific community. As a result, he was able to participate in a scientific conference and gain sponsorship to continue his education.

William remains passionate about helping the people of Malawi and Africa use their intelligence, skills, and drive to better their country and continent. He has already been involved in the addition of several more windmills to his own village and been able to send relatives and friends to school to further their own educations. Now in his early twenties, William maintains a website worth looking at. His rags to "riches" story is inspirational and proof that if you set your mind to something, you can accomplish much, no matter what obstacles may stand in your way.