Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sports from Hell: My Search for the World's Dumbest Competition by Rick Reilly

The premise of veteran sportswriter Rick Reilly's narrative nonfiction title Sports from Hell is a simple one: after 31 years in which a sportswriter has covered every major sport event and is starting to get a been-there, done-that sort of feeling, what is he to do? Ah-HA! He can find something "mind-warpingly...dumb." Hence, readers are treated here to chapters including everything from the World Sauna Championships to Chess Boxing to Jarts. Reilly sets out his rules for covering these events, all of which are treated with utter seriousness by the competitors. He also participates in all of them.

Readers are taken around the world, as he starts off in the World Sauna Championships in Finland, tries Zorbing in Australia and ends up at the Homeless Soccer championships in Copenhagen. His comments on the social outcomes of this last championships, which does exist and which had profound outcomes not only on the participants during their participation but afterwards. This is a very funny book with a few hidden depths -- it would make a great quick pick. While this is not a great literary work it is a highly enjoyable book that will be popular with high schoolers, whether or not they are fans of sports, as the "sports" under discussion are debatable and the book does include a chapter that discusses why baseball is a 'sport from hell.'

Strictly as an aside, perhaps if Mr. Reilly is looking for more sports for another edition, he and his assistant, TLC (The Lovely Cynthia), might consider visiting The Masters of Library Science Croquet Tournament?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sir Charlie Chaplin: the Funniest Man in the World by Sid Fleischman

How to best understand the comic genius of Charlie Chaplin? Well, it helps if you have the writing of Sid Fleischman. The author’s last work, published posthumously in June, 2010, manages to convey Chaplin’s talent and drive while giving reader’s a full picture of the comic’s troubled upbringing and marriages.

This is a book that had me marking pages: I don’t do that very frequently. To describe the Little Tramp’s appeal for the public, readers are told that he “was forever David in a world of Goliaths.” It can be hard to understand Chaplin’s popularity in a world where movies make the kind of money they do today – the information and comparisons help to make that clear, both providing background for and giving readers justification for Chaplin’s outrage over his deportation in 1952.

Charlie’s family life and marriages, from his first shotgun marriage with actress Mildred Harris to his final love match with Oona O’Neill, as well as his complicated relationship with his mother are included. Charlie plumbed his own history as well as current events for his movies. This well-sourced, indexed, illustrated beautifully written book about a comic genius by a master will lead readers to Chaplin’s movies.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Tom Thumb: the remarkable life of a man in miniature by George Sullivan

George Sullivan's biography of Charles S. Stratton, better known as Tom Thumb, is a portrait of one of America's first celebrities. It is a complementary title to Candace Fleming's award-winning The Great and Only Barnum: the Tremendous, Stupendous, Life of Showman P.T. Barnum, which not only included Tom Thumb, but also pointed out that Barnum can be credited with creating the concept of celebrity as we know it today.
Indeed, Barnum is a central figure in Sullivan's book, as Stratton/Thumb was always inclined to be the center of attention and figured in a number of Barnum's enterprises, from the American Museum to tours to the circus. Barnum also introduced Tom to Lavinia Warren Bump, who became his wife.
It is worth noting that the global tours undertaken by Tom and Lavinia would be arduous today: it is almost inconceivable to think of the difficulties they must have endured in the 1800s. The reader will at least be able to picture some of the amazing moments of their lives, from multiple meeting with the Queen of England to their constant tours due to the copious photographs reproduced in the text. This is a slice of life that will be completely foreign and utterly entrancing to readers.
This title was made available courtesy of Netgalley and will be released in February, 2011.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Cat's Pajamas by Wallace Edwards

The Cat's Pajamas illustrates 26 idioms, in Wallace Edwards' inimitable style. That is to say, readers are treated to intricate, beautiful pictures of animals that portray the meaning of the idiom while allowing the reader at least one further in-joke. Accompanying a picture with the caption "Ahab didn't mind if one got away; he knew that there plenty more fish in the sea" is a picture of a dog watching a small fish jumping out of his net while a much larger fish approaches him from the bottom, mouth starting to open, a la the cover of Jaws, thus providing at least two different references in the picture.
If these aren't enough to keep readers busy, there is a hidden picture of a cat in each illustration that readers will be encouraged to find once they get to the very last picture, surely enough to keep them going back again and again. An explanation for the idioms has been added to the back of the book.
This will make a wonderful gift book. The illustrations are intricate and beautifully done; the idioms cleverly matched and rather punny. One of my colleagues has already asked me to add this to her Christmas list!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics

Freddie Williams is an illustrator with DC Comics. He is unusual in that he illustrates solely with Adobe Photoshop. He mentions in the introduction to his book, The DC Comics Guide to Digitally Drawing Comics, that he had been faced with a bit of unease by both other illustrators and some editors when he used to mention that, as he then wouldn't be considered a "real artist." Until the San Diego Comic Con, in 2005, when he met the creative director from DC, who responded that he couldn't tell the difference. He presents a number of compelling reasons why working digitally (and readers are given all of the specifics of the kind of software and hardware he uses) works better for him than by hand.
Indeed, readers interested in creating their own comics will be hard pressed to find a more specific guide to follow. The instructions include clear graphics that cover almost all of the tools in Adobe Photoshop, with additional suggestions for marketing the artist him/herself in the form of printing off one's best works that will make this a book that includes (or could perhaps convert?) established illustrators. It does assume some knowledge of comics, but will likely entice those readers who are interested in the form into branching out into creating their own. Not a bad thing at all.

Friday, July 9, 2010

More Life Size Zoo: Give Me More!

There is something about a life-size picture that will grab a child. Teruyuki Komiya's Life Size Zoo did just that, with it's amazing photographs of more than 20 animals ranging from a fold-out page showing a rhino's horn to favourites including a lion and mother and baby elephants and animals that kids may not know quite as well such as a capybara, an anteater or a sloth.
What makes the book absolutely extraordinary, and work particularly well not only for outreach but also for an ESL audience, is that each page incorporates some really interesting facts, placed along either the side or the bottom of these truly amazing photographs. Children will be captivated by the photographs and will learn from the information. I'd never known that a rhino's horn is actually hair. This was the most popular book in the outreach (K-6) I did this spring, in an area with a very high population of ESL children.
I was absolutely delighted to see a second book in the series, More Life-Size Zoo. The quality of the photographs hasn't changed, nor has the information in the sidebars: on the page with a picture of an adorable seal, there are several leading questions, facts and tidbits in addition to the information added to the photograph. A standout is a foldout of a lion: because of the lion's size, the page needs to be folded out twice! These are books that are guaranteed to leave readers wanting more. Luckily, they will be able to look forward to Life-Size Aquarium, which will bring them up close to beluga whales among other underwater denizens.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Nat Geo Amazing! is just that.

Nat Geo Amazing! was one of the goodies I returned with from ALA Annual this year. This is a book that took me completely by surprise. The book's subtitle says it all: 100 people, places and things that will surprise you. It is a large trade paperback and each of the 'things' are presented either in a double-page spread or introduced with a double-page spread and then delved into with a further essay. They can be accessed by subjects -- the table of contents breaks them down into 14, including: adventure, people, amazing worlds, ancient worlds, animal kingdom, behind the image, extreme athletes, from the vaults, global cultures, the incredible story of..., natural world, planet in peril, science and technology, and survival stories.
The quality of the photographs, as expected, given their sources, are exceptional. So is the writing. The variety of material is appealing and varied but provides multiple points of access. It can be read through or browsed. This would make a great quick pick as well as a valuable book for public or high school libraries.