Wednesday, June 29, 2011


FEYNMAN, by Jim Ottaviani, ill. by Leland Myrick (First Second, Aug. 2011)(ages 12+).   In this biography in comic format, Ottaviani and Myrick bring to life one of the giants -- and true eccentrics -- of 20th Century physics.

From Feynman's childhood when his father told him stories about dinosaurs (!), young adulthood and college and graduate school, and later life when he worked on the Manhattan Project, won the Nobel Prize for his work on quantum electrodynamics, and served on the Challenger Commission, Ottaviani and Myrick provide a fascinating look at the private and public lives of a man who truly thought "outside the box."

FEYNMAN touches on the concepts behind quantum electrodynamics and the Feynman diagram, and provides interesting background to the genesis of the now-famous Feynman Lectures on Physics.  But in addition to introducing the professional life of the scientist, FEYNMAN also captures the mundane, the poignant, and the whimsical: Feynman's relationships with his wives, his safe-cracking, toying with military censors, and how he dealt with fame and the famous.

Altogether, FEYNMAN makes excellent use of the graphic format, providing a funny and fun introduction to the science and the scientist.  FEYNMAN should appeal to both the scientifically and non-scientifically inclined and makes an excellent accompaniment to Feynman's own memoirs, SURELY YOU'RE JOKING MR. FEYNMAN and WHAT DO YOU CARE WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK?            

Monday, June 27, 2011

It's all Homer's fault...

The Supreme Court recently held that a California law outlawing the sale of violent video games to minors (18 and under) was unconstitutional.  In doing so, the majority, per Justice Scalia, had a number of things to say about literature for young readers, demonstrating that, at least, the issue of, and concern about, violence in books and media for young readers goes way, way back:
California’s argument would fare better if there were a longstanding tradition in this country of specially restricting children’s access to depictions of violence, but there is none. Certainly the books we give children to read—or read to them when they are younger—contain no shortage of gore. Grimm’s Fairy Tales, for example, are grim indeed. As her just deserts [sic] for trying to poison Snow White, the wicked queen is made to dance in red hot slippers “till she fell dead on the floor, a sad example of envy and jealousy.” The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales 198 (2006 ed.). Cinderella’s evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves. And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven. 
They had this to say about literature read by high-schoolers:
High-school reading lists are full of similar fare. Homer’s Odysseus blinds Polyphemus the Cyclops by grinding out his eye with a heated stake. The Odyssey of Homer, Book IX, p. 125 (S. Butcher & A. Lang transls.1909) (“Even so did we seize the fiery-pointed brand and whirled it round in his eye, and the blood flowed about the heated bar. And the breath of the flame singed his eyelids and brows all about, as the ball of the eye burnt away, and the roots thereof crackled in the flame”).
In the Inferno, Dante and Virgil watch corrupt politicians struggle to stay submerged beneath a lake of boiling pitch, lest they be skewered by devils above the surface. And Golding’s Lord of the Flies recounts how a schoolboy called Piggy is savagely murdered by other of the Flies.
They go on to discus some of the history of attempts at regulating "minors' consumption of violent" media:
This is not to say that minors’ consumption of violent entertainment has never encountered resistance. In the 1800’s, dime novels depicting crime and “penny dreadfuls” (named for their price and content) were blamed in some quarters for juvenile delinquency. When motion pictures came along, they became the villains instead. “The days when the police looked upon dime novels as the most dangerous of textbooks in the school for crime are drawing to a close. . . . They say that the moving picture machine . . . tends even more than did the dime novel to turn the thoughts of the easily influenced to paths which sometimes lead to prison.” For a time, our Court did permit broad censorship of movies because of their capacity to be “used for evil,” but we eventually reversed course. Radio dramas were next, and then came comic books. Many in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s blamed comic books for fostering a “preoccupation with violence and horror” among the young, leading to a rising juvenile crime rate. But efforts to convince Congress to restrict comic books failed. And, of course, after comic books came television and music lyrics.
And a couple of comments on the nature of reading: 
California claims that video games present special problems because they are “interactive,” in that the player participates in the violent action on screen and determines its outcome. The latter feature is nothing new: Since at least the publication of The Adventures of You: Sugarcane Island in 1969, young readers of choose-your-own adventure stories have been able to make decisions that determine the plot by following instructions about which page to turn to.
As for the argument that video games enable participation in the violent action, that seems to us more a matter of degree than of kind. As Judge Posner has observed, all literature is interactive. “[T]he better it is, the more interactive. Literature when it is successful draws the reader into the story, makes him identify with the characters, invites him to judge them and quarrel with them, to experience their joys and sufferings as the reader’s own.” 
Footnote 5 addresses censorship of comic books:
The crusade against comic books was led by a psychiatrist, Frederic Wertham, who told the Senate Judiciary Committee that “as long as the crime comic books industry exists in its present forms there are no secure homes.” Juvenile Delinquency (Comic Books): Hearings before the Subcommittee to Investigate Juvenile Delinquency, 83d Cong., 2d Sess., 84 (1954). Wertham’s objections extended even to Superman comics, which he described as “particularly injurious to the ethical development of children.” Wertham’s crusade did convince the New York Legislature to pass a ban on the sale of certain comic books to minors, but it was vetoed by Governor Thomas Dewey…
Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 564 U.S. ___ (2011)(some internal citations omitted).

Sunday, June 26, 2011


CHEESIE MACK IS NOT A GENIUS OR ANYTHING, by Steve Cotler (Random House 2011)(ages 8-12).  Eleven-year-old Ronald "Cheesie" Mack is on the cusp of graduation from fifth grade.  But to get there -- and survive -- he has to navigate an evil older sister, an idiosyncratic family, a best friend who's hatching a scheme to unleash mice on the school, a graduation party, and mysterious artifacts found in his best friend's basement.

CHEESIE MACK is an enormously fun read:  Cheesie is witty and his conversational voice and relationships ring true to middle school and all that that entails.  Altogether, a fine novel of family, friendship and fifth grade angst and adventure.

First in a series.

Friday, June 24, 2011


BOOTLEG: MURDER, MOONSHINE, AND THE LAWLESS YEARS OF PROHIBITION, by Karen Blumenthal (Roaring Brook 2011)(age 10+) provides a fascinating account of the passions on both sides of the temperance movement, which was intended to uplift American society by drying it out.  The apparent victory of the movement in the passage of the 18th Amendment led instead to a decade and a half of lawlessness and corruption... 

In BOOTLEG, Blumenthal does a terrific job of bringing the era to life and documenting the resulting societal upheavals.  An excellent introduction to the times and personalities of temperance and Prohibition.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


TANTALIZE; KIEREN'S STORY, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, ill. by Ming Doyle (Candlewick Aug. 2011)(ages 14+).  The graphic novel version of TANTALIZE presents the story from half-werewolf Kieren's point of view.  Under suspicion for murdering Chef Vaggio, Kieren must clear his name and stop Quincie from falling into the clutches of the evil Bradley Sanguini...

New scenes provide additional insight into Kieren's doings and his efforts to uncover the truth.  Ming Doyle's drawings are elegant and expressive.  A must-read for all fans of gothic fantasy.

Note:  A graphic novel version of ETERNAL, also illustrated by Ming Doyle, is forthcoming.

Update:  Cynthia Leitich Smith will be appearing with Barry Lyga on the MORE THAN ONE WAY TO READ: GRAPHIC NOVELS panel at the Texas Book Festival on Saturday, October 22, from 11:30-12:30 in Capitol Extension E2.010.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


WILD LIFE, by Cynthia DeFelice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2011)(ages 8-12).  Twelve-year-old Erik Carlson and his best friend Patrick have just completed the New York State Gun Safety class and are eagerly anticipating this weekend's opening of pheasant season.  But then Erik receives the news that his parents -- both Army reservists -- have been called up for service in Iraq.

For the six months of his parents' deployment, Erik is to live with his grandparents (Oma and Big Darrell) -- whom he doesn't know at all -- in a remote corner of North Dakota.  When he arrives, the situation is even worse than he'd been dreading: Big Darrell is taciturn and mean, while Oma is quietly sad.  And the room they're making him stay in is filled with piles of junk...

When Erik finds and helps de-quill a German short-haired pointer that had encountered a porcupine, he begins to hope that things might be looking up -- maybe he actually will be able to hunt pheasant this season.  But Big Darrell doesn't hunt any more and tells him the dog can stay only one night.  Disappointed and fed up, Erik takes a shotgun and Quill, as he named the dog, and runs away, intending to live off the prairie and out of his grandparents' way...

WILD LIFE is a powerful story of family and secrets and loss and living-off-the-land.  As he learns to survive "like a pioneer," Erik's trek across the wild prairie and relationship with Quill make for a compelling and satisfying coming-of-age story.


Thursday, June 16, 2011


DANNY DUNN AND THE ANTI-GRAVITY PAINT, by Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin (orig. published 1956)(ages 8-12).

What I remember:  In the DANNY DUNN series, Danny and his friends (Joe and Irene, etc.) have various science fiction-y adventures.  In this one, they accidentally set loose a spaceship and go traveling across the solar system...

I didn't read the entire series, but do recall DANNY DUNN AND THE HOMEWORK MACHINE and DANNY DUNN AND THE SWAMP MONSTER.

The rest of the recollection:  I remember always liking these books and am a little surprised I never read them all (especially since there's one about them being trapped on a desert island).  I also remember ANTI-GRAVITY paint feeling a little dated, but that was kind of one of the things I liked about it.

And now:  It's still a bit dated, but still fun (The science, even apart from the "anti-gravity paint," doesn't quite work...). 

In addition to Danny and his friend Joe, we're introduced to Danny's mother, and to Professor Bulfinch and Dr. Grimes (The jolly chubby scientist and the more saturnine tall, thin one must have been popular back in the day (it's also featured in THE ENORMOUS EGG)).  Irene apparently doesn't join the cast until book 3.  And, it's illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dallas Museum of Nature and Science

When Cyn and I were up in Dallas for BooksmART, we took an afternoon to go see the Dallas Museum of Nature and Science.  At the moment, the museum is actually in three buildings, formerly the Museum of Natural History, the Museum of Science, and the Children's Museum, in Fair Park, just across from the Cotton Bowl.  A new facility is currently being built in Victory Park.  Check out the new digs here.  

The dinosaur paleontology exhibits are spread between the Nature Building and the Science Building.

The Science Building has a "Dino Pit," where kids can "dig" for dinosaur bones.  Looming above the sand boxes is a T.rex and a Quetzalcoatlus.

Author and pterosaur
In the room next door are various displays of Alamosaurus bones, as well as other creatures from the Texas Mesozoic.  One of the more interesting exhibits is of a bird called Flexomornis howei, discovered in the Woodbine Formation of Texas (about 93-100 million years ago).

Author and bird
Over at the Nature Building, paleontology displays include a Malawisaurus (discovered by researchers from SMU), ammonites and other sea creatures (including the primitive mosasaur Dallasaurus), and Deinosuchus.

Greg and Deinosuchus skull

The basement of the Nature Building houses the prep lab, where paleontologists are presently at work preparing a new Alamosaurus for display.  It's my understanding that this Alamosaurus is proof that this genus was a lot larger than previously thought...

Alamosaurus being prepped

In addition to the permanent exhibits, the Dallas Museum is host to any number of traveling exhibits.  Presently, they have "Chinasaurs," an exhibit of some of the extraordinary fossils that have been uncovered from China and Mongolia.  The exhibit is arranged chronologically, with a room dedicated to each of the Triassic, Jurassic, and Cretaceous Periods.

The stegosaur Tuojiangosaurus
I had the chance to see some dinosaurs I'd never seen in person before, including Psittacosaurus, which was a lot smaller than I'd pictured it:
Really small Psittacosaurus

Perhaps most significant of the recent finds was the discovery in 1995 of Sinosauropteryx, the first dinosaur found to have had feathers.  Although hypothesized as early as the 1970s, this was the first definitive proof.  Other dinosaurs in the exhibit that have been found to have had feathers include include Caudipteryx and Microraptor.

Author and Caudipteryx
In addition, they have a pair of Velociraptor, which hasn't yet been found with feathers, but whose fossils have been found to exhibit what are probably "quill knobs," i.e., attachment points for feathers.

Greg and Velociraptor
Other dinosaurs in the exhibit include the extremely long-necked sauropod MamenchisaurusLufengosaurus, Bellusaurus, Dilophosaurus, Monolophosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, Szechuanosaurus, Tsintaosaurus, Oviraptor, and the sheep of the Cretaceous, Protoceratops.  In addition, they've got some good displays of dinosaur eggs and nests.

The exhibit is a mix of skeletons and animatronics. I'm not crazy about the animatronics, because they never look quite right to me.  With this exhibit, the theropods in particular seemed a bit too large and "thick bodied," and Oviraptor and Velociraptor should have feathers.  Still, they're kind of fun and there's something about seeing the creatures with "flesh" that makes you appreciate them as actual animals.

The Chinasaurs exhibit will be there until September 4, 2011.  The web site includes some terrific information, as well as a Teacher Guide [pdf].

Friday, June 10, 2011

Writers and Dinosaurs: Amy Rose Capetta

Amy Rose Capetta and Brachiosaurus altithorax outside Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago.

Amy Rose Capetta is a naturalized Texan and an MFA candidate in the Writing for Children and Young Adults program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.  She grew up in a small town in Connecticut where the librarians still know her by name.

Now living in Austin, she writes middle grade and YA fantasy, science fiction, and mystery, and is a self-described "fan of the adventurous and odd."  She is presently on the staff of the Writers' League of Texas, so if you're attending this weekend's Agents Conference, say "Hi!".  

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


TRUE GRIT, by Charles Portis (Overlook Press 2010, orig. pub. 1968)(ages 12+).  It's the 1870s, and fourteen-year-old Mattie Ross is out to avenge her father's death at the hands of the coward Tom Chaney.  So she hires the tough, fearless, one-eyed, and frequently drunk federal marshal, Reuben "Rooster" Cogburn.  Accompanied by a Texas ranger named LaBoeuf who wants to bring Chaney back to Texas for killing a judge, the three set off into Choctaw Nation to bring Chaney back, dead or alive.       

In TRUE GRIT, Portis evokes Mattie's gimlet eye and deadpan voice in a surprisingly funny novel of Old West justice, drive, and determination.  Definitely not to be missed.

Comment:  Like most kids of my generation, I grew up on the John Wayne movie; I was somewhat appalled when I first heard that the Coen Brothers were remaking it.  And then author-illustrator Mark Mitchell told me it had been a book first (yes, I hadn't realized that until recently :-)). 

I was somewhat reluctant to try it, since I don't really have time for "adult" fiction.  But I picked it up off the shelf at Book People, read the first page, and loved the first-person voice (Mattie's).  I tend to think that, if published today, it might be considered young adult literature (It does have a kind of adult-looking-back overlay on it, though).  In any case, Mattie is a wonderful teen character, fearless and implacable, and without a hint of whininess


Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Paleo. blogging

Skull display, Texas Memorial Museum
I've mentioned before that one of the great things about researching and writing THE CHRONAL ENGINE has been wandering around the paleo-blogosphere and keeping up with breaking news and generally seeing what paleo-artists and paleo-enthusiasts and paleontologists are up to. 

One of the blogs I keep up with regularly is LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHASMOSAURS, which features (among other things) some really terrific posts on "vintage dinosaur art," including coverage of older children's books.

Chasmosaur blogger David Orr has also been responsible for organizing the current incarnation of the Boneyard Blog Carnival, which runs at various blogs on the first Tuesday of each month.

The June 2011 Boneyard Blog Carnival is hosted by the Project Dryptosaurus blog.  This month, they were gracious enough to include a link to my Pliny Moody post and also had some kind words to say about my blog here (thanks!).  Go take a look and check out some other great links! 

Incidentally, Project Dryptosaurus is the brainchild of Gary Vecchiarelli, a grad student and research assistant at the New Jersey State Museum.  Per the web site, "Project Dryptosaurus is a non-profit organization, dedicated to educating the public and scientific community about the world’s forgotten second dinosaur skeleton from New Jersey, Dryptosaurus aquilunguis and thus resurrecting this specimen to its rightful position in the chronology of dinosaur discoveries...

"Our project goal is to secure sufficient funds to mount this specimen for use in an exhibit and to have a permanent home in an institution synonymous with the local area in which it was found. Project Dyptosaurus overall is dedicated to advancing the science of dinosaur paleontology." 

For more information, go take a look at Project Dryptosaurus.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Remember that book: KIDNAPPED, by Robert Louis Stevenson

A couple years back, I did a post titled "Remember that book...?" in which I discussed some books that had appealed to me as a young reader, and my current reactions upon reading them.  I thought I'd take a look at some others...

KIDNAPPED, by Robert Louis Stevenson (orig. published 1886, now available in many editions).

What I remember of the story:  David Balfour gets whacked on the head and is sold into indentured servitude by his uncle and taken aboard a ship bound for the Carolinas sometime before the American Revolution.  He escapes when the ship runs aground and he has to make his way back across the wilds of Scotland.

The rest of the recollection:  I remember this one being intense and really kind of scary.  But, I did check it out of the library more than once.

And now: Still a great and intense adventure story, although at times David struck me as being a bit young for his age (17), especially given the era.  Stevenson also pokes gentle fun at robinsonades (island castaway stories) and there's a lot more having to do with the politics of the day than I remember:  I had no memory of the Jacobite subtext (the version I read was probably was a "middle grade" or edited-for-children version).

Written as a serial "boy's novel," KIDNAPPED feels older than TREASURE ISLAND, although should still appeal to fans of adventure and treachery in the Highlands and on the high seas.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Writers and Dinosaurs: Tim Wynne-Jones

Tim poses with Daspletosaurus at the Canadian Museum of Nature

Tim Wynne-Jones is the author of more than thirty books for readers of all ages and has won countless awards, including the Governor-General's Award (Canada) and the Boston Globe/Horn Book Award (not Canada).

Tim is on the faculty of the Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches in the MFA for Writing for Children and Young Adults program. His latest novel is Blink and Caution.

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