"review" · Children's · concenter · Picture book · recommend · Tales

bringing art to life

30 days of pbDay Sixteen:  Brush of the Gods

by Lenore Look and Illus. Meilo So

Schwarz & Wade Books 2013

brush-of-the-gods_cover-imageWhen an old monk attempts to teach young Daozi about the ancient art of calligraphy, his brush doesn’t want to cooperate. Instead of characters, Daozi’s brush drips dancing peonies and flying Buddhas! Soon others are admiring his unbelievable creations on walls around the city, and one day his art comes to life! Little has been written about Daozi, but Look and So masterfully introduce the artist to children.–goodreads

An “Author’s Note” prefaces the story with a brief history of Wu Daozi (689-759) “known as perhaps China’s greatest painter.” Little has been written about him, and Brush of the Gods is “pieced together from references I found in translations of T’ang poetry and essays and from the many know facts about life in Chang’an during T’ang times.”

brush of the gods calligraphyEven at a young age, the classroom was no place for Daozi. He moves his creations into the community, onto the walls, earning and generously dispensing food and wonder for the impoverished. His work becomes increasingly magical, and it is not only the city’s children that become enchanted—the reader is drawn into a sense of awe. Look is eloquent and So’s brushwork likewise. Rendered in watercolor, ink, gouache, and colored pencil, So’s artwork seeks to transport the reader not only into a historical narrative but into an understanding of how captivating art can become.

BrushofGods2Brush_of_gods_spread

Brush of the Gods is a beautiful and inspiring story of a human artist’s restlessness that rewards him his imagination, daring, and charitable life. It took time and perseverance and belief for Daozi–as well as a healthy dose of rebellion; his story encourages the same for the young artist.

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Lenore Look is the award-winning author of numerous children’s books including the popular Alvin Ho series and the Ruby Lu series. Her books have been translated into many languages. She lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Meilo So Country of origin- China/ Made in Hongkong/ Packaged in England/ Domiciled in the Shetland Isles/A tangled history/ Or a kind of freedom/ Many cultures make a world citizen/ Not a purist/ Methods and media change as required/ Pen and ink, brush drawing, gouache/ Subjects endlessly varied/ Magic, history, animals, humour, children, sex/ Or a quick sketch from life (via “about“)

Her Children’s Books include: Water Sings Blue by Kate Coombs and Tasty Baby Belly Buttons by Judy Sierra.

{illustrations belong to Meilo So}

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · concenter · fiction · recommend

{book} ruby’s magic madness

ruby lu brave and true coverRuby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look

illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004.

Hardcover, 105 pages incl. “Ruby’s Fantastic Glossary and Pronunciation Guide”

Library borrow. Ages 6-10.

Most days the best thing about being Ruby is everything. Like when she’s the star of her own backyard magic show [“Ruby’s Magic Madness”]. Or when she gives a talk at the school safety assembly on the benefits of reflective tape. Or when she rides the No. 3 bus all the way to Chinatown to visit GungGung and PohPoh.
And then there are the days when it’s very hard to be Ruby. Like when her mom suggests Chinese school on Saturdays. Or when her little brother, Oscar, spills all of Ruby’s best magician secrets. Or when her parents don’t think she’s old enough to drive!
Come along with Ruby Lu in her chapter-book debut — which even includes a flip book of a magic trick — and share the good and the not-so-good days with an (almost) eight-year-old Asian-American kid.—Publisher’s Comments

When Natalya was in grade-school, the most popular chapter book choices for reading aloud to each other were those with a high whimsy, strangeness, or humor factor. Had I known Lenore Look existed then, her books would have been bought and shelved next to Junie B. and Dragon Slayer Academy. The Alvin Ho books (my first intro to Look) are awesomely funny, but Ruby Lu, she has an absolute charm all her own.

Anne Wilsdorf illustrative contribution reflects the spunky, live-wire world of Ruby Lu. They have a comic-realist balancing act that fits the character and her stories. They provide visual breaks in the text and clarify the events/antics of the story in a pleasing way. Wilsdorf and Look entertain.

There is a straightforward style in the telling of the story that suits Ruby Lu very well. There are little neighborhood stories that characterize and are characterized by Ruby Lu. Certain interests and attributes thread the small chapter book together. Look begins with the things Ruby likes and then dislikes and as the story progresses Ruby’s relationships with many of these things vacillate based on circumstance. Her baby brother is a great example of this…so is Chinese school. Her “likes” rely on what suits her, and when—sound familiar?

But Ruby is true, true to self and whilst learning is undeniably Ruby Lu—actually, I wonder now if most of the learning is on the part of the reader. Ruby’s bravery is a bit foolhardy at times—there is a marvelous mouth-covering sequence suspending the reader between horror and humor. But her bravery allows her to endure the uncertainty of whether she can learn what she needs at school, whether the bully can be revisited, or whether her emigrating cousin Flying Duck will an embarrassment or a familiar.

ruby-lu-brave-and-true-illustration-anne-wilsdorf-001

Ruby Lu has her charming little quirks that celebrate individuality and, well, childhood; and she isn’t the only one. Ruby’s family is sweet, very present and parental—including the grand-parental. I adore her family and her little Seattle neighborhood.

With concerns over her Asian-cultural education and Ruby’s concerns of integrating her emigrating relative, Ruby Lu has the double-pleasure of telling a story specific to the Asian-American protagonist and providing a glimpse for those with different childhood experiences. Look thoughtfully includes a “Glossary and Pronunciation Guide,” but if there are any worries that Look’s chapter book reads “educational,” relax. Learning about Ruby Lu and life on 20th Avenue South is as effortless as Look makes her storytelling ability appear—which is incredibly fluid and compelling. Look draws such a delightfully funny and fierce heroine, you are guaranteed to enjoy having this one read-aloud to you.

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{image belongs to Anne Wilsdorf}

other books in the Ruby Lu series: Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything (2006) and Ruby Lu, Star of the Show (2011).

———————author——-

lenore lookLenore Look is the award-winning author of numerous children’s books including the popular Alvin Ho series. other books: Love as Strong as Ginger (1999); Henry’s First Moon Birthday (2001); Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding (2006); Polka Dot Penguin Pottery (2011); Brush of the Gods (2013)

Learn more about Lenore Look on her site; there is a nifty “q&a” page open for questions wherein I learned much, but here is a few things: She started writing when she was 6 and published her first book 31 years later (‘kento’) ; Look is “from Seattle, WA. [Her] parents, grandparents and great-grandparents all emigrated to the U.S. from China’s Guangdong province. [… ] My parents speak only Chinese to one another and to their children, so Toisanese, which is the country-cousin version of Cantonese, was my first language. I also understand Cantonese, which is more widely used, so I use it in my books (‘tanja’); & in answer to ‘aiden’: “I have two favorite books that I love equally and re-read nearly every year. CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White, and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee.”

book list · chapter/series · guestblogger · N · recommend

{book list} n’s summer reading recs (pt1)

I’ve a guest-blogger today. Natalya (aka the daughter) promised me some posts and a couple weeks in, she hammers out one with 2-parts! Come back tomorrow for numbers 11-20 of her summer reading book recommendations. ~L

_________________________________________

Yes! Your favorite contributor on the blog is back! (And will hopefully keep updating and more lists and reviews.) This time around I have created a list of some of the best reads for summertime. They are listed from first to twentieth using the criteria of how light (cheerful) or humorous, how thick, how easy to read, and how enjoyable the book is overall. All the books are fantastic, even the last one is great, so you just read them all, or pick the ones that seem to appeal to you. Enjoy and continue to have a wonderful summer!

1. The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg (Aladdin 2004)

This is a quirky, fantastic book, featuring Margaret Rose and her uncles and her uncles’ towers. This book is about the realistic fact that all good things must come to an end and how, while her uncles are giving into it, Margaret is refusing to let go of the tower, no matter what. This story gives you the contented feeling that there is nothing that determination and creativity can’t conquer.

2. Letters from Campby Kate Klise (HarperTrophy 1999).

One thing I admire of this series of different books is that it never has pure narrative. Never. It consists of letters, menus, schedules, pictures, and more, but carries the plot better than some books with the traditional narrative. This book shows how evil summer camps may be and the bravery and resourcefulness of children. The clashing of characters and brothers and sisters is hilarious as they communicate by letters and eventually work together to fight the horrible camp counselors and owners. A fairly quick, but captivating read.

3. Savvyby Ingrid Law (Dial 2000).

What power would you inherit on your 13thbirthday? This is a book of magic, but in a practical, down-home sense. Our character is so well-created, you feel who she is, why she would do something. This is an awe-inspiring journey of a girl trying to go and save her daddy, with a–I promise–happy ending.

[omphaloskepsis review]

4. Chompby Carl Hiaason (Random House 2012).

Another glorious book from Carl Hiaasen! This book talks of endangered animals and blends a world of humorous circumstances and hilariously written characters as a popular wildlife TV show and animal trainers have to sort their differences and work together to find TV star Derek Badger while protecting a young girl from her abusive father who is hunting for her. You will be racing through it, praising Carl Hiaasen once more!

5. Because of Winn-Dixieby Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick Press 2000).

This popular summer classic runs a beautiful chill up my spine, at the beauty, and the characters; especially at the bittersweet ending. If you haven’t read it, ask yourself, “What am I doing? How in the world have I not read this book?” and start reading. If you have read it, read it again and maybe again. The friendship between the two characters and the more friendships that come from it will warm your heart more than imaginable.

6. Un Lun Dunby China Mieville (DelRey 2007).

This book is the thing that fantasy-lovers will drool over! The oddness of everything shows China Mieville’s creativity, while the comparisons with London (which will leave you laughing hours later) show his wit. He leads you in, making you believe this is a normal fantasy, using the usual characters, the usual plot, and suddenly turns everything around; leading you into the fantastic realm he has created. The rapturing story will suck you into it, only to reluctantly spit you back out when you finish the story!

[omphaloskepsis review]

7. The Westing Gameby Ellen Raskin (Puffin 1978)

This mystery has become a favorite of mine. It is a mystery not only to read, but for you to solve! (I’m still waiting for the board game though.) The characters Raskin creates and the ways each come about are surprisingly unique and clever and the resolution is fitting, perfect even, although it certainly won’t cross your mind immediately, if at all. Sit back and relax with this clever, cleverly written mystery.

8. My Name is Minaby David Almond (Hodder Children’s Books 2010).

This book is a companion to Skellig, but has its own story and is perfect just by itself. Mina, a free-spirited young girl, is fighting her way into the mix of what is normal, and what her own feelings are. Not only is it an enjoyable read, with a character you come to love, there are activities for you to do, perfect for filling your summer with!

[omphaloskepsis review]

9. Utterly Me, Clarice Beanby Lauren Child (Candlewick 2002).

This book is a favorite in the household, and beginning to a hilarious series. This story is about a young girl and looks like it is written by one, with the unique changing and positioning of the writing. Clarice Bean is a creative, outgoing, young girl, determined to be a detective, just like the main character of her favorite series. This book, while aimed towards the younger audiences, is perfect for both young and old.

10. Alvin Ho: Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disastersby Lenore Look, LeUyen Pham (illustrator) (Random House 2009).

I have to admit, this is a little kid’s book. Yes, it is. But you can’t be too old for a good book, can you? This little boy, Alvin, is scared of everything. Yes, this is a book in a series. The whole family is fairly quirky. His father curses in Shakespearean, his brother too. Even though this book is short, and might not be an award-winner; it is short and sweet, making you laugh your socks off. Trust me, children and young adult books can be the best type.

[omphaloskepsis review]

~Natalya

———–comeback tomorrow for 11-20 on the list of summer recommendations.

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · series

{book} Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, & Other Fatal Circumstances

A cure for those hours steeped in academia ala textbooks and essays? Lenore Look’s Alvin Ho. I’ve been intrigued by the title for awhile, Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances, so when I saw it face-out on the Library shelf I brought it home. This is the fourth book in a series that I’ve been assured will continue with a fifth in 2013. I picked up the other books from the Library today. Yes, I adored my first treatment that much.

Let’s face it. When it comes to death, everything is scary. Especially if your name is Alvin Ho and you maybe, sort of, agreed to go to a funeral for your Gunggung’s best friend (who was your friend too).

Alvin’s all freaked out, and here’s why:

  1. He starts seeing bad omens…everywhere.
  2. People are telling him creepy things, like how a dead body cools one degree a minute until it reaches room temperature.
  3. The dead body might wake up, like in the movies!
  4. He has to dress special for the funeral (including clean underwear!)
  5. He has to be brave. He has to look death smack in the eye.

But being brave is hard. What if Alvin’s not ready to say goodbye to someone he loves?

–inside jacket copy.

Alvin Ho is an anxious 2nd grade boy. I don’t know what is going on with him, but he seems frightened by most everything (real or imagined); which, of course, is the greatest source of the reader’s angst and amusement. The sweet comes from Alvin’s ability to articulate his anxieties with childlike brilliance (you know, that coincidental poignancy young people often express in their language).

“My vocal cords grew hair.

And the hair tangled into a hairball.

I gagged silently.

Everything in the room faded to gray.” (81)

Look has a great way of describing things.

The story surrounding a serious topic takes on the morbid curiosity and fantastic imagination of the young. For example, their living in Concord, Massachusetts, the local kids think the Historic House tours are led by the ghosts of the celebrity occupants. The story takes unexpected turns that remain consistent with the characterization—I realize this should be a given, but it feels especially organic in this instance.

 “I love it when he calls me that. Son. I love it more than my own name. I love it so much that hearing it could make me cry. So I did.” (157)

I must add my adoration for the family and friends.  Alvin has loving parents and grandparents; and his siblings are sources of frustration and affection, in other words, familiar. (Man does big brother Calvin sound like my two older brothers combined.) The school staff seem to get Alvin, and I absolutely love Flea. (“She’s a girl and she was all dressed up like a girl too, which, as everyone knows, is horrible, especially when it makes her look clean and shiny like a new car.” 179) Characters have their quirks without running risk of being cute. The father and his cursing in Shakespearean had me laughing out loud. There was a lot that had me laughing. The novel was punctuated by a deeply felt smile. Look has an excellent sense of timing. And her hand with suspense isn’t too shabby either.

 “Deep breathing helps when the heart falls out of your chest. I learned this from the psycho who is my therapist, but I could never remember to do it, until now.”(43)

I was so thoroughly charmed by this read. I don’t know how well it goes over with the young (intended) audience, but reading these with a child would be no chore what-so-ever.

The Illustrations have as much personality as the words. And LeUyen Pham does not skimp on the quantity. They are a really nice company and I think they free Look to spin lovely similes and metaphors. Want to cultivate a young writer?–or Illustrator? [check out Pham’s site.]

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recommended: for any young grade-school reader (or learning to read), and even older elementary because they can probably laugh a bit more easily (having survived the earlier grades); for those who prefer books you may learn from but is not heavy-handed (obvious) with the messages. Look/Pham offer a light-hearted treatment of the subject Death and Dying without losing gravity.

of note: I noticed what seemed to be references to earlier books, but I was not lost or deprived of enjoying the read.

The different cultural responses to Death and burial (or non-) are nicely sewn in and very interesting. Not only would this make a fun read for a family, but a source of great conversation as well. Allergic to Dead Bodies is a good Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) suggestion that will help you include the younger members of the family.

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Alvin Ho: Allergic to Dead Bodies, Funerals, and Other Fatal Circumstances

By Lenore Look, Pictures by LeUyen Pham

Schwartz & Wade Books, 2011.

187 pages, hardcover. Pages 189-197 “Alvin Ho’s Deadly Glossary”

Ages 6-10.