Friday, July 29, 2011

Book Review: Three Rotten Eggs, by Gregory Maguire, Illustrated by Elaine Clayton

     "Thud grabbed the hen under his arm. The hen clucked and struggled. 'Tough it out, Doozy,' said Thud, and slammed his way across the boards into the store.
     'Well, lookee-see,' said Bucky Clumpett. 'It's the smilingest boy in town trying to squeeze all the air out of a pair of chicken lungs. I know this is Vermont, son, but you can't bring a chicken into this store. Not good practice when we're trying to sell food to the public.'
     'I need your help,' said Thud in a voice that sounded as if he wasn't asking for help but demanding it."

In the very small town of Hamlet, Vermont, there are strange goings-on. A mysterious stranger's motorcycle is hit by lightning while it's parked behind Clumpett's General Store. The motorcycle has a briefcase strapped to it. Inside that briefcase are genetically altered chicken eggs, only three of which survive the lightning strike. Then Thud Tweed stomps his way into town, telling a different outrageous story every time someone asks about him, his family, or his past. His very wealthy and very aloof mother, Mildred Tweed, is equally puzzling - fully expecting her boy Thud to be kicked out of school, and ready with a blank check for what she is certain are the inevitable damages to come.

While the town is busy sifting through all this puzzling stuff, Trooper Crawdad is trying to puzzle out a couple of mysteries of his own: who is this fellow who's all fired up about a briefcase he reports has been stolen, and how could chicken eggs - as the fellow claims - possibly be a matter of national security?

For Teachers and Librarians:
Three Rotten Eggs has so many possibilities in your classroom, you won't know where to start. In the broadest sense, it is a story about the importance of being trustworthy, the politics of groups, asserting your individuality - whether you're part of a group or not, and that age-old question: nature, or nurture (once a "bad kid," always a "bad kid")?

In the detailed sense, there's not enough space to list all you can do with this book, but here are a few ideas to try: 
  • Chickens Unit (care, feeding, life cycle, types)
  • Mini-unit on small towns and small-town life in the state of Vermont
  • Trust/truth (What is it? How does the presence or absence of trust/truth affect people and relationships? Is it easy to be truthful? Once a liar, always a liar? Or can people change? What about cheating? And how do good intentions factor into this?)
  • A Mystery/Secrets Unit (Everybody's trying to find out something in this book. And several people are harboring secrets. Who are these folks, and what are each of them trying to figure out/hide? Why?)
  • Theme: Change (Eggs to chickens, "bad egg" to good, wary to trusting, winter to spring, exclusive to inclusive)
  • Genetic experimentation (pros, cons, ethical implications)

For Parents, Grandparents, and Caregivers:
Three Rotten Eggs has a lot to like, and a lot for you and your kids to think and talk about. But the serious topics of trustworthiness, being part of a group - or not, "bad kids" - or not, and even genetic experimentation are presented in a safe, non-threatening, sometimes touching, sometimes funny, but always straightforward way. It may help your kids see difficult kids they know in a new light. It may help them work out difficult choices they are facing in their own lives. It will definitely make them - and you - laugh. A lot. And probably? By the end, they'll find they've learned an awful lot about chickens, too.

For the Kids:
Three Rotten Eggs, part of the Hamlet Chronicles series, is full of questions. Questions that need answers. Like, why did that motorcycle guy have a briefcase full of eggs strapped to the back of his bike? What's so special about those eggs that a state trooper keeps coming around asking about them? What kind of chickens are gonna hatch out of those eggs? Why does new kid Thud Tweed tell so many outrageous lies about himself and his parents? What's the deal with Thud's mysterious mom, Mildred Tweed? And, are Miss Earth and Mayor Grass dating, or not?

If finding out answers to those questions isn't enough, check these things out: you'll learn more than you ever expected to know about chickens, the streets in town have names like Squished Toad Road, and there are characters with names like Theckla Mustard. Best of all, it's a book that will make you laugh out loud. A lot. Really. Really really.

For Everyone Else:
Though Three Rotten Eggs is a book written for the 9-12 year-old set, it is one of those wonderful titles that will make both kids and adults laugh out loud. And despite yourself, no matter what your age, the story will make you do a lot of thinking, in-between all the giggles and guffaws.

Wrapping Up:
Three Rotten Eggs is not to be missed. And if you like it so much that it leaves you wanting more, you're in luck - it's part of a series of seven books: the Hamlet Chronicles series.

Title: Three Rotten Eggs
Author: Gregory Maguire
Illustrator: Elaine Clayton
Pages: 192
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Clarion Books, March 18, 2002
Edition: Hardcover, library copy
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $16.00
ISBN-10: 0-168-09655-8
ISBN-13: 978-0618096558


Author Spotlight: Author Gregory Maguire, Illustrator Elaine Clayton

Gregory Maguire: Author

Gregory Maguire grew up with a great affinity for books, most notably fairy tales and fantasy fiction. Add to that his experiences throughout childhood living with his journalist father and poet stepmother, and it makes perfect sense that the young Maguire would someday become a writer.

Two years after receiving a B.A. from the State University of New York at Albany, his first book for children was published: The Lightning Time (1978). From there, he went on to write several other books for children, and stayed active as author, teacher, and advocate in the area of children's literature. He taught for eight years at Simmons College Center for the Study of Children's Literature, and is founder and co-director of Children's Literature New England, Incorporated - a non-profit educational charity established in 1987, which "focuses attention on the significance of literature in the lives of children."

Mr. Maguire earned his Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Tufts University (1990). In 1995, his first novel for adults was published: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, and from there he has gone on to write several others, as well as more children's titles.

Born on June 9, 1954, Gregory Maguire has lived in Dublin, Ireland, and London, England. He now makes his home in Concord, Massachusetts, with his family.

Gregory Maguire: About Gregory (author official site)
An Interview with Gregory Maguire
Gregory Maguire (Wikipedia)
Gregory Maguire (GoodReads)
Gregory Maguire: Biography
Meet the Writers: Gregory Maguire

* * *

Elaine Clayton: Illustrator

Elaine Clayton comes from a large family, and she says that while growing up in such an environment: 

"I...learned the importance of lively conversation and storytelling. As I grew up, my private world was one involving characters I drew, whole families of people with stories I made up."

This childhood immersion into story and art seems a solid foundation for the artistic paths she has followed as an adult: fine artist, and children's book author and illustrator. 

Ms Clayton earned a BFA in 1984 from Atlanta College of Art, and went on to receive her MFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts in New York City in 1996. She has taught elementary school in Atlanta and Boston, and has worked as a community organizer in Cesar Chavez camps for Spanish and Indian migrants.

Her first children's book, Pup in School, was published in 1993, while she taught at the Atrium School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since then, she has gone on to write and/or illustrate many other books for children, including those for which she may be best known: her illustrations in Gregory Maguire's Hamlet Chronicles series for middle grade readers. Her work has also appeared in such publications as the New York Times. In addition to her illustration work, Elaine Clayton accepts commissions for various fine arts projects, including murals, portraits, studio and landscape painting.

Born in the Texas Panhandle in 1961, Elaine Clayton has lived in Texas, Kansas, and Georgia. She now lives in New England with her husband and two sons.

Elaine Clayton: About the Artist (official site)
Elaine Clayton (
Elaine Clayton (1961-) Biography - Personal, Address, Career, Writings, Work in Progress, Sidelights (
Elaine Clayton (

Monday, July 11, 2011

More Book Meddling...Sort Of

Today is July 11th, which means it's Bowdler's Day. You know: Dr. Thomas Bowdler, the 19th century English dude who infamously changed the words in books - most notably the words of Shakespeare.'ve never heard of him? No worries. Click on that red link above and read all about him.

While you're there, you'll also read about a man named Reverend James Granger: the 18th century English dude who infamously put extra stuff into books. When you've finished reading, come back here.

...All done then? Right. So, it was while researching Rev. Granger that I came across this quote: 

"There is one member of the Fraternity of Book Collectors who has of late years rather fallen in the estimation of his brother Bibliophiles. This knight of the shears and paste known in bookman's parlance as the Grangerite. The title never has been understood to indicate exalted bibliophilic rank, and now, alas! the individual who bears it appears to be upon point of losing all honorary distinction whatever in the little world of the book collector."  

- W.L. Andrews, from Of the Extra-Illustration of Books    
Source: With Deft Knife and Paste: The Extra-Illustrated Books of John M. Wing, by Jill Gage
(Well. Tell us how you really feel, Mr. Andrews.) 

Anyhow, when I read that quote, what stuck in my brain and refused to leave was the phrase "knight of the shears and paste jar." Seeing as this little phrase seemed determined to take up such stubborn residence in my head, I decided to get out my art supplies and breathe a little life into it:

Perhaps if I go a bit further and fashion Sir Cutandpaste his very own noble steed, he'll finally decamp from my brain and ride off into the sunset, searching for books to Grangerize. 

Or, maybe he's come to like living in my head, and intends to hang out a while longer, steed or no steed, cutting and pasting new stuff into the other thoughts living in there.

I'm cool with either.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Book Review: Black Duck, by Janet Taylor Lisle

     "I suppose you're here to find out about the old days,  Mr. Hart says. His voice is raspy-sounding, as if he doesn't use it much.
     I am.
     Must be the liquor Prohibition back in the 1920's you're interested in, rumrunners and hijackers, fast boats and dark nights.
     Yes, sir!
     I wasn't in it.
     You weren't? David frowns. I heard you were.
     I wasn't.
     I guess that's that, Mr. Hart says. Sorry to disappoint you.
     Did you know anyone who was? David asks.
     I might've. Mr. Hart's glasses glint again.
     Could you talk about them?
     That was the end of their first meeting."

David Peterson wants to be a reporter, so he contacts his local newspaper about a job. The editor won't hire him. But, if David can bring him a good story, the paper will print it. Which is how soon-to-be-freshman David finds himself sitting in 80-something Ruben Hart's parlor, hoping to learn straight from the source about the infamous goings-on that supposedly flourished for a time in their little Rhode Island town way back when. The rumored former Prohibition-era rumrunner denies being part of it.

Undaunted, David keeps going back to try again. It isn't until their third meeting that Ruben Hart finally relents. He tells David about his boyhood adventures with his best friend, Jeddy McKenzie, starting in the spring of 1929, when they were 14, and found a dead body - wearing an evening suit - washed up on Coulter's Beach. Over several visits that summer, Mr. Hart tells David the rest of the story: about him and Jeddy, and how they find themselves pulled deeper and deeper into the world of Prohibition, and rumrunners, and the legendary rumrunning boat, the Black Duck.

For Teachers and Librarians: 
Your students will find themselves fully immersed in Black Duck before they realize what's happened. And you can find a ton of ways to integrate Black Duck into your curriculum. For starters, you can craft a history unit with this book as its anchor: Prohibition, the rumrunning vessel Black Duck, rumrunners, life in the late 1920's in the United States and the impact Prohibition had upon it, and Rhode Island history. 

The book is interspersed with several news articles about the tragedy that befell the Black Duck, as well as present-day conversations between young David and the elderly Mr. Hart. David's pursuit of a story about the Black Duck, to be able to submit to the newspaper, is a nice springboard into a career unit focusing on journalism: deciding on a topic for an article, gathering facts, research methods, interviews and how to get them, finding sources, breaking into the business, etc.

Or, how about a couple of mini-units? A brief geography mini-unit on Rhode Island's coastal areas such as Narragansett Bay, and their significance in the state's history, would be interesting. Or, a fun side-lesson on the way people spoke in the 1920's, and how those words and phrases are used (or not) and what they mean, then vs now, such as: fellow, folks, hot shot, come along, having a grand time, hoof it, high roller, looking for a fix. Or, have your students research famous mobsters and their mobs mentioned in the book: Lucky Luciano and the New York City mob, Al Capone and the Chicago mob, and the Boston mob. Or, craft a mini-unit on crime and law enforcement as related to Prohibition: racketeering gangs, bootlegging, mobsters, Rum Row, law enforcement and corruption within its ranks, payoffs, bribes, protection money, smugglers... 

Well. Perhaps that last one would be more of a full unit, rather than a mini one. But you get the idea. Black Duck is the total package: a story your students won't want to put down, and a treasure trove of teaching material for you.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
You know how it seems to go: kids just don't understand their elders, and elders just can't figure out these kids today. But for those who take the time to learn about each other, the perceived great divide between the two isn't quite the chasm it was once believed to be. In Black Duck, teenage David Peterson and octogenarian Ruben Hart don't immediately hit it off. David tells a bit of a white lie to get a conversation started with Mr. Hart. Mr. Hart can tell something isn't quite square, and is wary of opening up. 

But instead of ranting and giving up when he's initially rebuffed, David takes the time to prove he really is interested in Mr. Hart and his part in local history. And instead of blocking out David completely, Mr. Hart leaves the door open a crack, enough to notice the teen's sincerity, even if he took a bit of a slippery beginning to get there. Though the main story is about Prohibition, the infamous rumrunning boat Black Duck, and Mr. Hart's part in each, this is also the story of two people from different generations getting to know each other, and discovering that despite their ages, they have a lot in common. The reader is left with the impression that this is the beginning of an unlikely, yet lasting, friendship.

For the Teens:
Late 1920's. Small town. Prohibition. Rumrunners. Fast boats. A dead body. Secrets. Mystery. The mob. Kidnapping. That's just some of the exciting stuff you'll read about in Black Duck. And in amongst all that excitement, you'll also read about friendship, and family, and how two people of very different ages who grew up in very different times discover that they're not so different as they imagined. It's one of those books that will still be on your mind long after you've finished it. And aren't those the best kind?

For Everyone Else:
Black Duck has a little bit of everything: mystery, history, action, adventure, excitement, and lots and lots of things to make you think, and wonder, and perhaps examine life from different angles than you might be used to.

Wrapping Up:   
Black Duck, by Janet Taylor Lisle. Get it. Read it. You won't be disappointed. 

Title: Black Duck
Author: Janet Taylor Lisle
Cover art and design by: Tony Sahara
Pages: 256
Reading Level: Young Adult
Publisher and Date: Puffin Books, September 6, 2007
Edition: Sleuth Edition (paperback)
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $6.99
ISBN-10: 0142409022
ISBN-13: 978-0142409022

Author Spotlight: Janet Taylor Lisle

You might say that Janet Taylor Lisle has writing in her blood: her father wrote stories as a young man, she has been a writer since childhood, and her daughter writes. Ms Lisle has built upon this seemingly natural inclination to write, and has worked hard to become the writer she is today.

Ms Lisle's writing career began with a degree in English Literature from Smith College in 1969. She spent the next two years in Atlanta, Georgia, working for VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). Her time with VISTA inspired her try her hand at journalism, so she enrolled in the appropriate coursework at Georgia State University. She then worked as a journalist for the next 10 years, before moving to New Jersey in 1981 with her husband and young daughter.

Her foray into writing for children was sparked during a writing workshop she took after that move, where she was introduced to children's book editor Richard Jackson. Jackson accepted her first book, The Dancing Cats of Applesap, in 1983. It was published in 1984, and Jackson has worked with her ever since. 

Says Jackson:

"Janet Taylor Lisle is drawn to the mystery of things, to the ambiguity of life that books for children often gloss over...her interest is in what's hidden. As well as why."

Janet Taylor Lisle was born in Englewood, New Jersey, on February 13, 1947. The oldest - and only girl - of five kids, she grew up in rural Rhode Island and in Connecticut, and spent her summers in Rhode Island. She now lives on the seacoast of Rhode Island with her two cats, Kayla and Roosevelt, and her husband, Richard.

Birthday Bios: Janet Taylor Lisle (Children's Literature Network)
Janet Taylor Lisle (
Janet Taylor Lisle (
Janet Taylor Lisle (New England Independent Booksellers Association)
Janet Taylor Lisle - Author Page (official site)
An Interview With Janet Taylor Lisle - With Booksellers Baker and Taylor (via official site)
The truth is never easy to define in this novelist's provocative and surprising stories - Riverbank Review Author Profile 2002 (via official site)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Book Meddlers. Or, Folks Who Fiddle With Books

Bowdler's Day occurs annually on the 11th of July - the anniversary of the birthdate of one Dr. Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), an Englishman who became famous for his expurgation of Shakespeare.

In other words, he changed the words. And then he published them.

Image from:
Why would someone meddle with such classic literature? To bring the works of Shakespeare more in line with what was generally deemed appropriate reading/listening material for women and children in the 19th century. He called his first edition The Family Shakespeare (1807), and in 1818 published The Family Shakespeare, in Ten Volumes. And he didn't stop with rewording the Bard. He also published what came to be known as "bowdlerized" versions of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and even the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. 

Thomas Bowdler was, in general, criticized and ridiculed for meddling with the classics. However, his edited editions made it possible for Shakespeare's works to be appropriate enough for 19th century women, children, and families to enjoy them, and affordable enough for the 19th century middle class to buy them.

Yet, whether he be literary demon or protector of decency, surely we can forgive the good doctor some of his zeal. One could argue that his actions were a natural extension of his own childhood: When Dr. Bowdler was young, his father would nightly read Shakespeare aloud to the family. When he came to a word or passage he deemed unsuitable for women or children, he would either: a) not read it aloud, or b) alter it on the spot. And who among us, in the 21st century, hasn't committed similar extemporaneous omissions or edits, in order to (at least for the time being) shield the littlest ears among us from fare deemed not-yet-suitable for their tender ages?

* * *

Well. Every yin has its yang, does it not? And so this discussion of book meddling would not be complete without consideration of the Reverend James Granger (1723-1776) - Dr. Bowdler's countryman, yet literary polar opposite. Reverend Granger didn't take things out of books. He pasted extra stuff in: words, lithographs, portraits, engravings, letters, maps - anything that even remotely related to the text, the author, the illustrator, or the illustrations.

From Google Books
In fact, he didn't stop at stuffing other authors' books with additional, post-publication information: in 1769, he published the Biographical History of England from Egbert the Great to the Revolution. His book was noted for its intentionally blank pages, left there for the reader to fill with portraits and other illustrations and information complementary to the text. And yes, revised editions came later.

The practice came to be known as "grangerizing," (1769) or "extra-illustration" (1878), and became quite a popular hobby. A grangerizing enthusiast was known as a "Grangerite," or, as W.L. Andrews describes such an individual in Of the Extra-Illustration of Books, a "knight of the shears and paste jar." (Though intended to be derisive, "knight of the shears and paste jar" does sound quite poetic, doesn't it?)

Grangerites didn't limit their literary additions to the Rev. Granger's title. The practice spread to other books of biography and history throughout most of the 19th century. Some of this extra information was purchased expressly for this purpose, then cut and pasted into their Granger, as the Reverend's book became known. And sometimes, people cut information directly out of other published books, then pasted those items into a different book, Granger or otherwise.

As one might imagine, not everyone was so enamored with the practice. John Hill Burton in The Book Hunter, for example, viewed the hobby as "a sort of literary Attila, or Genghis Khan, who spreads terror and ruin around him." But others, such as Daniel Treadmill in A Plea for Bibliomania, had a far more complimentary opinion: "There are no general rules, no formulas, no beaten paths in this department of art - taste and genius are its only guides."

When we in the 21st century read about grangerizing, does the practice sound vaguely familiar? If so, Philip Kennicott (writing for The Washington Post) has an explanation: he asserts in his article on extra-illustration that grangerizing is in fact a direct precursor to our modern scrapbooking, except for that pesky mucking-up-someone-else's-book bit.

* * *

So. Whether one bowdlerizes or grangerizes, one thing is certain: Each practice is an exercise in readers taking a story and making it their own - one way or another. Many have argued vociferously (and still do) for or against each practice. And each practice has its own virtues and vices, its own shades and nuances of bibliophilia, as its practitioners see it. 

When Bowdler's Day comes about on July 11th, spend some time reading about what others (my sources) have said about bowdlerizing and grangerizing:

Goatview Farm: The Saint Report
Thomas Bowdler (Wikipedia)
Shakespeare's Editors: Thomas Bowdler 
Bowdler, Dr. Thomas ( 
The Granger Collection: About Us
With Deft Knife and Paste: The Extra-Illustrated books of John M. Wing 
Library of Congress: 'Voices from Afghanistan'; Folger: 'Extending the Book' (The Washington Post - Philip Kennicott

Then come back and tell me, what say you