Book Review: Trump Is a Nasty Knight

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Nick and the Nasty Knight by Ute Krause was published in 2012. The book is not anti-Trump protest literature. It’s just a story about a boy who lives in an impoverished town where the political power (the nasty knight) uses taxes, sleazy political (legal) maneuvers and physical violence to drain every last penny out of the residents.

This knight lives in an enormous castle where he keeps all of the gold locked up, forces people to carry him around because he will not be bothered with walking and…get this…he uses a golden toilet.

Much like Maurizio Cattelan’s “America“, the similarities and political applicability are almost eerie. While it’s important to note that Trump’s golden toilet is an internet myth, it’s symbolism is very much a political reality.

When I first read this book to the children in my life, I was hoping for an anti-bullying or a problem solving story. Every once in a while I will come across a kids book with excellent pictures and some good hard advice for dealing with people – this is not that book.

The story is about Nick, a child who is taken from his family, by the nasty knight, as a slave (yes, he is actually taken as a slave) because his family is poor and had no more money to give to the knight when he came pounding on their door during one of the all-to-frequent tax-collecting tours. Nick is trapped in a never-ending cycle of work, the reality of which is well illustrated without being excessively scary.

He decides to escape his indentured bondage by climbing out a castle window and accidentally stumbles across the knight’s secret room full of (stolen) gold. Nick steals one coin and successfully escapes. Once in the woods beyond the city, he encounters a group of bandits and thieves who are just as horrible as the nasty knight – possibly worse.

At this point in the story I’m feeling both impressed by the realism and a bit disappointed in the lack of proactive resolution. The main character just can’t get a break.

The bandits find the single gold coin and Nick tricks them into returning to the castle. He leads them to the secret room filled with gold and sounds the alarm, causing an enormous brawl between the knight, his soldiers and all of the bandits.

Side note: the knight won’t walk to his golden toilet but he’ll jump into a potential bloodbath of a battle to protect his gold…interesting.

Ok, that was pretty good. Tricking bad guys into fighting bad guys is an impressive maneuver.

But then it turns out that the coin the boy stole was a magic coin, which ultimately transforms all of the bad guys into alligators. This saves the town and returns peace and prosperity to all. Here’s a quote:

When the people up in the castle saw what had happened, they began to cheer. Without the Nasty Knight, they were once again free!…From that day on, Nick made sure that at last his poor mother and his family had enough to eat every day.”

(sigh)

It’s a good story for kids. The ending to the plot is pretty standard in literature and film but…

I really wish the resolution hadn’t been reliant on a magic coin or the elimination of a handful of bad guys. Neither scenario is real and there are other ways to resolve the story.

Even so, this book remains on the family bookshelf and is pulled out from time to time because acts of bravery and defiance in the face of corrupt powers and politicians is a good place to begin. It’s an excellent story to enjoy and to talk about; because, sometimes, the flaws in stories lay the groundwork for excellent discussions about what is fun fiction vs effective in real life.

In this case, the symbolism is fitting and powerful: It’s a story about using money to take down a corrupt politician with a golden toilet.

There may be a few adults in your life who would appreciate listening to this story over the holiday break.

Holiday Book Review: Life of Santa

This has got to be one of the best holiday season biographies I’ve ever read. Actually, it may be the only holiday-season biography I’ve ever read, since most biographies do not frame their life experiences within the context of a single holiday.

Sal Lizard is a man who spends a significant portion of his life, rear round, playing scheduled and impromptu Santa Clause performances and he is considered one of the best Santa Clause performers in the United States. His body shape and beard are real. The he actually looks so similar to Santa Clause in his regular everyday life that he frequently walks into large toys stores, to take a look around and to familiarize himself with the names and titles of anything new to the toy market, and children will start running up to him with a toy in hand, excitedly informing him that “THIS is want I want this year!”

This biography is filled with stories and anecdotes that include his introduction to the world of Santa Clause performance, many experiences interacting with people while in character and the way playing Santa Claus changed his perspective on life and the way he behaves day-to-day.

An excellent illustration of the way being Santa Claus changed his everyday life was the story of the young single mother who was to poor to buy her child a Christmas gift or a Christmas tree. She’d simply resigned herself to working through the holiday season (she was a food service worker) and not participating in the celebration. There would be no Christmas. Sal decides to help her out directly (he finds gifts for her daughter – mostly used but in excellent condition) and works with some friends to secretly deliver a tree to her front door. While those gestures are wonderful, the funny part is the fact that things just worked out that he knew this woman through his work and he changed jobs immediately after delivering the tree. So, from the woman’s perspective, this kind stranger who just happened to look exactly like Santa Clause hands her a bag full of gifts, delivers a tree to her door (in a locked building) while she is at work, and then vanishes off the face of the earth. When the woman called the company Sal had been working for, to thank him for his generosity, his former employers played along and told her the truth: He left and never came back. (shrug) Can’t tell you where he went, he was only here a few weeks.

My retelling of this story does not do it justice. It actually made me laugh out loud while getting all holiday-season warm and fuzzy inside. Correction, the entire book  achieved those goals. It’s a good-feeling biography that is simply filled with wonderful holiday-season inspired moments that encompass everything from laughter to tears.

If you are looking for a good book to read this holiday season, look no further than Being Santa Claus. It’s simply wonderful!

Quotes from this book can be seen HERE.

Being Santa Claus: What I Learned about the True Meaning of Christmas by Sal Lizard, Jonathan P. Lane

Thanksgiving Book Review: Food and Community

The Thanksgiving holiday has a fascinating history.  There are many reasons and historic events behind the holiday, some good and some bad, but most people think of it in terms of two things: family and food.

Bear Says Thanks, is the perfect representation of Thanksgiving as a family-and-food holiday. It’s similar to the old ‘stone soup’ fable, where everyone brings a little something and the feast they share as a community fills both bellies and hearts.

In this story, Bear is sad because he doesn’t have any food and he wants his friends to come over for the holiday, but he can’t host a gathering without food. His friends come over anyway, each bringing something to share. Bear’s den provides the gathering space and the warm fire. A wonderful time is had by all.

It’s a simple and lovely story with beautiful illustrations that very young children will enjoy hearing over the holiday weekend.

A quote can be read HERE.

Bear Says Thanks, written by Karma Wilson and Illustrated by Jane Chapman

Suggestions for Building Excitement Over The Holidays

Ordering Books: Whether you are building a family library or simply looking for a fun way to build-up to the Holiday celebration, having brand new books shipped to your home, in your child’s name, is a great way to do it. To a child, it is super exciting to receive a package in the mail, addressed to them! They may even want to read their brand-new book immediately AND before bed.

Library Holds: If you’d prefer to review the books before buying them, or need to maintain a tight budget, then use the local library. Go to the library website, locate the book and place it on hold. When the notification arrives, bring the child along and let them help find the books in the on-hold shelves.

Book Review: The Family That Forages Together Stays Together

When I picked up this book, I was looking for practical information on foraging for food in an urban environment.

I like to garden and (frankly) would prefer to live in the country on a little hobby farm, but I work in IT Security, so my job keeps me city-bound. Identifying and using wild plants is something I’ve had a long-standing interest in, but was never able to pursue, so I started poking around different blogs and forums, looking for information on plant-identification classes and nature hikes. That was when I stumbled across this book.

The family lives in a suburban environment. Midwestern cities tend to look very suburban, even in the inner city – this is not universal, of course, but as a general rule, we have a lot more green space than people in much more densely populated areas (particularly along the coasts). Therefore, this book describes a living situation that is very close to my own.

If you are living in the inner city (a truly urban environment) you will probably find this book equal parts interesting, entertaining and not-entirely-useful.

The book is filled with hands-on practical advice, but the facts are provided through the medium of the journey of discovery this family experienced during a year of living off of what they could forage. Every family member had been involved in learning these skills – and they clearly had a wonderful time playing outside together as they pursued this interest. So, the decision to attempt living off of their foraging for an entire year was a natural and logical progression of this pursuit.

Personally, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was fascinating and eye-opening from the perspective of what is possible, even within a suburban (or urban) environment. There are several points where they decide to collect apples, berries or rose hips off of public land (e.g.: the decorative bushes planted in the medium in the middle of a road or an apple tree in a public park) and find themselves asking – or being asked – if that was even allowed. Of course, the next question was always – who’s going to stop us? After all, there aren’t any official apple-protecting-police-officers assigned to the park.

There are also a lot of really good tips and commentary on raising a family. The beneficial aspects to simply setting a goal and pursuing it together, as a family and as a team, are beautifully illustrated by this book.

It’s an excellent read. I strongly recommend taking a look.

Quotes from this book can be found HERE.

Browsing Nature’s Aisles: A Year of Foraging for Wild Food in the Suburbs by Wendy Brown and Eric Brown

Book Review: Adventure and Mundane Magic

Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic create a world that looks and operates a lot like ours, with one big exception – magic is real and everyone has some level of ability.

Since the world runs on magic, getting into a really good university requires both exceptional magical skill and strong academic ability.

Gooseberry Bluff Community College is not a particularly good school. Yet, there’s very powerful magic located on and around the school grounds; which is why the people who work there aren’t always what they appear.

The novel takes the reader on an adventure where bad guys from another dimension use a magic-wielding cult-like collection of community college professors as the key for entry into the Gooseberry dimension. If the bad guys get through, the very-similar-to-our-own world will be viciously invaded and transformed into something terrible (in a post-apocalyptic kind of way).

While the story is well told, with a plot that provides ample opportunity for adventure and intrigue, the truly unique aspect to this novel is Joy, the main character – a black woman with exceptional magic skills and a life-long struggle with Prosopagnosia, the inability to distinguish or recognize human faces (including her own).

Joy was recruited to work for a secret agency that greatly resembles the FBI or the CIA, despite her handicap, because her magic skills and knowledge are exceptional. She also has the ability to read auras, which she uses in place of reading faces; s system that works just fine, most of the time.

Another interesting element is the description of magic. There are characters who compete in magic martial-arts competitions where laser-light-shows and smoke machines are utilized to show where the magic is flying through the air. In this world, the combatants don’t need to see the magic attacks because they can feel every move. It’s the audience who needs the light show – to make watching the combat easier.

Tossed in here and there are the personalities of characters who cross-over into this world from other dimensions. They provide a fascinating contrast to the personalities of the Gooseberry Bluff natives, many of which are complicated and nicely fleshed out.

All in all, this is a fun read. If you are looking for some vacation-time entertainment, I highly recommend this novel

Gooseberry Bluff Community College of Magic by David J. Schwartz

Quotes from this book can be found HERE.

Book Review: The Stories Behind Tattoos

Shocking Tattoos

I was standing in the driveway, casually discussing the possibility of renting part of a house. The prospect of entering into a situation with roommates wasn’t particularly appealing, simply because I’d had my own space for many years and I prefer to live with that level of control, specifically: I make the decisions, period.

As the conversation progressed, my potential roommate/landlord brought it around to the other, long-standing roommate. The one not present. The one with…and she paused while making the pained expression people have when they fear a particularly bad response to what they are about to say…dreadlocks and tattoos.

I paused a moment, wondering when, exactly, I had physically transformed into the middle-aged, suburban, ignorant-about-everything woman people kept (incorrectly) assuming I was.

“I have tattoos,” was my only response.

She clearly did not expect that.

My Tattoos

I got my first tattoo right before the beginning of my divorce when I knew something was going to have to change or I was going to have to leave. As it turned out, lots of things needed to change and we both needed to go our separate ways (the details are another story for another day).

It’s the lion from the strength card in a tarot deck I owned at the time. I chose that image because I liked both the symbolism and the artwork. It translated into a beautiful tattoo. The symbolism behind the card and the lion (outside of the tarot deck’s interpretation), combined with the circumstances surrounding the act of being tattooed, couldn’t have been more perfect.

My second tattoo occurred during the height of the legal process of that same divorce. It’s a stylized hawk in similar colors and artistic design to the lion. It was designed by a friend with Native American lineage (and a grandmother actively involved with that community), so it includes a balance symbol from her own traditions. At the time, I suspected that particular element was included because the artist thought I needed to find balance in my life; which was true enough, so I went with the design. However, for me, the hawk has always symbolized freedom from entrapment (another long story for another time). Yet, freedom and balance can easily intersect with one another – particularly when necessary changes happen to include the end of a relationship.

The third tattoo was acquired at the very end of my divorce, during the absolute worst period of social and relationship drama. It’s a snake around my ankle. It’s the most visible tattoo I have. It’s a stylized blue tattoo, whereas the other two are red. It’s not scary and the symbolism behind it is not what you think – which is kinda the point. (And, yes, that is also a long story for another time.)

I like my tattoos. They are both symbolic and earned. I wish more people understood both of those concepts.

Chick Ink

This story is not in the book Chic Ink, but a complete version of all details (including those not provided here) could be pulled from this book.

Chic Ink is a collection of experiences, explanations, deep thoughts and memories. Reading it is like sitting down for coffee with a random collection of women and listening to every one of them answer this question: “What’s your tattoo and why did you get it?”

If you’re looking for a good read this holiday vacation, consider picking up Chick ink. The stories behind the tattoos are positively fascinating.

Chick Ink: 40 Stories of Tattoos–And the Women Who Wear Them by Karen L. Hudson

Quotes from the book can be found HERE.

Grown-Ups Choice: Homelessness and Building Community

I bought this book for myself. I read it to the children in my life – they like it too – but this is one of a small selection of children’s books that I bought specifically because I really liked it:

Julia’s House For Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke – quote found HERE.

The story-line: Julia lives alone, in a house built on the back of a giant turtle. When the turtle moves, Julia and her house go with it.

It’s a rather large house and a positively enormous turtle. So, when the turtle settled by the side of the ocean, Julia found herself feeling lonely in her great-big-house and decided to hang up a sign outside the front door: “Julia’s House for Lost Creatures”.

Before long, she has a house filled with mythical, magical and homeless creatures of every possible type, shape, and size. There’s a bit of a problem keeping things clean, organized and under control; but Julia solves the problem and everyone settles down into a happy communal life.

While the story is a bit idealistic (it IS a children’s book, after all), it presents a positive perspective on building community, helping others and homelessness.

Also, the pictures are positively wonderful.

Sometimes I pull this one out, look through the pictures and read, by myself….just because.

Suggestions for Building Excitement Over The Holidays

Ordering Books: Whether you are building a family library or simply looking for a fun way to build-up to the holiday celebration, having brand new books shipped to your home, in your child’s name, is a great way to do it. To a child, it is super exciting to receive a package in the mail, addressed to them! They may even want to read their brand-new book immediately AND before bed.

Library Holds: If you’d prefer to review the books before buying them, or need to maintain a tight budget, then use the local library. Go to the library website, locate the book and place it on hold. When the notification arrives, bring the child along and let them help find the books in the on-hold shelves.

Halloween Book Review: The Family That Plays Together

Ninja! Attack of the Clan by Arree Chung

The family that plays together, stays together! This family likes to play Ninja games and the book ends with a wonderful image of everyone in the family wearing home-made ninja costumes, complete with spatula weapons, while playing ‘ninja’. Everything that is good and fun about Halloween is summed up in that one image.

For more information about this and other books in the series, see the June 2017 Giggle Book Award.

All of the Halloween themed books, quotes and commentary posted to this blog can be found HERE.

Suggestions for Building Excitement Over The Holidays

Ordering Books: Whether you are building a family library or simply looking for a fun way to build-up to the Halloween celebration, having brand new books shipped to your home, in your child’s name, is a great way to do it. To a child, it is super exciting to receive a package in the mail, addressed to them! They may even want to read their brand-new book immediately AND before bed.

Library Holds: If you’d prefer to review the books before buying them, or need to maintain a tight budget, then use the local library. Go to the library website, locate the book and place it on hold. When the notification arrives, bring the child along and let them help find the books in the on-hold shelves.

Halloween Book Review: Granny Is Gloriously Different

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Hubble Bubble Granny Trouble, written by Tracey Corderoy and illustrated by Joe Berger

Granny is wonderful! The heroine adores her grandmother, she just wishes granny were a little more….normal.

Granny is a witch who tries, really tries to be helpful, but many of her spells take a turn for the worst. The granddaughter decides she wants things to be very VERY normal on her birthday, so Granny puts away the spellbook and the two do absolutely everything by hand.

The cake they make is a bit lopsided and the dress is a glorious mess of scraps from the sewing box, but the two do everything together and have a wonderful time! When the guests arrive for the party they are taken aback by the sight of the cake and the dress, but granny pulls out some face paints and soon all of the children are having lots of fun pretending to be wild animals or monsters.

The party is a hit, one whole day of being ‘normal’ (as defined by our heroine) is divine, and the mess left behind is massive. Granny pulls out her spellbook and the clean the house Granny’s-way, together. In the end, the granddaughter wouldn’t want her granny to be anything other than who she is.

It’s a wonderful book that is perfect for either Halloween or a birthday.

A quote can be found HERE.

All of the Halloween themed books, quotes and commentary posted to this blog can be found HERE.

Suggestions for Building Excitement Over The Holidays

Ordering Books: Whether you are building a family library or simply looking for a fun way to build-up to the Halloween celebration, having brand new books shipped to your home, in your child’s name, is a great way to do it. To a child, it is super exciting to receive a package in the mail, addressed to them! They may even want to read their brand-new book immediately AND before bed.

Library Holds: If you’d prefer to review the books before buying them, or need to maintain a tight budget, then use the local library. Go to the library website, locate the book and place it on hold. When the notification arrives, bring the child along and let them help find the books in the on-hold shelves.

Halloween Book Review: Dangerous Adventures

Amazon.com

Frangoline and the Midnight Dream by Clemency Pearce and Rebecca Elliott

Frangoline was told to go to bed. Frangoline was told to stay in bed. Frangoline decided to get up, sneak out of the house, and explore the world at night, where she encounters many adventures and frightening things. Finally, the creatures of the night tell her to go home, go to bed, and stay there! Frangoline runs home and promises to be good – for tonight.

It’s a spooky book about a girl who breaks rules, takes risks and has adventures that very nearly become disastrous. The images and creatures are very Halloween-esque.

However, if you have a child who is inclined to actually leave the house and break the rules, then this book may not be for you. On the other hand, if your child simply enjoys a good adventure, this book may prove to be a big hit! The quote posted HERE should help you decide if Frangoline is a good fit for your family.

All of the Halloween themed books, quotes and commentary posted to this blog can be found HERE.

Suggestions for Building Excitement Over The Holidays

Ordering Books: Whether you are building a family library or simply looking for a fun way to build-up to the Halloween celebration, having brand new books shipped to your home, in your child’s name, is a great way to do it. To a child, it is super exciting to receive a package in the mail, addressed to them! They may even want to read their brand-new book immediately AND before bed.

Library Holds: If you’d prefer to review the books before buying them, or need to maintain a tight budget, then use the local library. Go to the library website, locate the book and place it on hold. When the notification arrives, bring the child along and let them help find the books in the on-hold shelves.