Coraline, by Neil Gaiman...vs. Coraline screenplay and direction by Henry Selick

Ok - first, a common misconception - Tim Burton had nothing to do with this movie...except probably he was at the premier and watched it because the team who did do this movie worked with him on The Nightmare Before Christmas.

I'm just going to post up the trailer instead of writing an overview because it'll pretty much cover that.

Now, a little book vs. movie.

The book is excellent. It's short and readable in a few hours for most adults. Children could take a few days depending on their willingness to put it down and do important other things like going to sleep. It's not illustrated, but Coraline's blue hair is described in great detail, as is her love of colorful fun clothes and her obvious boredom in their new flat. The book skips a lot of development for the secondary characters and dives straight into the main plot of the book: looking for excitement and attention from the distracted adults around her, Coraline goes looking for adventured and finds herself wooed by the Other Mother and Father. She quickly finds herself sucked in, and then trapped, and then in a game with the Other Mother to win back her life and the spirits of three lost children she meets in the Other House. It's suspenseful and creepy and a page turner. A must-read.

The movie is better. It is film-adaptation at its best. Selick took an already amazing piece of fiction and fleshed it out. It was already a stage musical, so I really can't be sure how much of the difference is attributed to Selick and how much to the stage scriptwriters -- but I do know that the movie is the darkest version of the three (book, stage, film) and that can be directly attributed to Selick.

The secondary characters have larger parts to play - presumably so that the audience is aware of just how different the Real World is from the Other World. Wybie is completely created for a viewing audience (not sure if he's in the play) - neither he nor his grandmother appear in the book. Sometimes, the addition of a random new character feels random. In this case, however, he's someone Coraline's own age that she can relate to, and he gives back story that is missing from the book. When he shows up in the Other World...well that just adds to the scariness and suspense. The voice of the cat (Keith David) is perfect. Indescribably so. Actually, all of the casting is spot-on.

Two notes about the film that are not plot/character related, but which add to the overall atmosphere:

First, the music. In addition to a catchy little song by They Might Be Giants (who originally wrote songs for the entire movie, but when the tone turned away from the Musical and became darker and (I presume) truer to the book they only used one) Selick retained the talents of a Hungarian children’s choir to sing the background music. It’s chilling and haunting and perfection.

Second: the film is also entirely stop-motion. They made use of puppets and sets and filmed the entire thing in 3D. If you have the opportunity, that is the way to see it. (I’ve seen both 3D and flat.) The use of models and puppets over straight CGI adds a dimension of “reality” that -yes- adds to the creepiness.

Pick a drizzly, cold day to read the book. And then wait for a drizzly cold night and watch the movie. I guarantee chills.


(click enter site and it'll take you there)


Cracks by Sheila Kohler

I picked this book up because of a short piece in Vanity Fair in which it is described as The Children’s Hour meets Lord of the Flies. I haven’t read The Children’s Hour, but I have read Lord of the Flies. So given that comparison along with a few other tidbits that appeal to me - I checked it out from the library.

I was not disappointed. Kohler uses the first person plural to narrate the memories of a group of women who were on the swim team of their boarding school together many years ago. This viewpoint, which includes the author as one of the fictional swimmers, removes guilt from a single person and lends their feelings - jealousy, eagerness, shyness, enthusiasm, competitiveness, lust - a degree of credibility. It’s almost as if by speaking for the group rather than the individual it becomes alright for the reader to accept as fact what might otherwise be colored by the time between then and now. It also helps that young teenage girls are cliquey and vicious.

Kohler’s gift for description - both of how the school appeared as they were girls and how it has changed in the decades since - brings South Africa to life. The way that people talk about New York City being a character in movies and tv shows, Kohler has made South Africa a character in her novel. The drought that stretches through the narrative is almost tactile. This “character” - the drought - actually heightens the sympathy the reader has for the girls and their situation. They have a teacher - also their swim coach - for whom they all want to be the teachers pet. The heat, the water rationing, the dust...and the New Girl, Fiamma...it all serves to feed their madness. (Come on - there’s a Lord of the Flies reference, you knew there would be madness.)

This teacher, Miss G., on whom the girls have “Cracks” (crushes) is, in fact, the least sympathetic character in the book. She spews out repetitive speeches during late-night “Team meetings” about letting go of inhibitions and embracing your emotions...it all has an air of Venus Fly Trap about it. And it’s no wonder that things go awry.

I read this book quickly - it is well written and engaging and I needed to know what happened...and when it was over, I closed it, looked at my visiting mother, and said “Well. That was disturbing.” Hauntingly so. But I do look forward to the film of the same name, which will be out at the end of the year.


Private on Teen.com

Trailer...and it's a web series, which I <3 even more. Is it bad that I'm 31 and my favorite thing to watch is the drama of 17 year olds?


Into the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern

[ed note: the cover of my galley copy is not nearly this cute.]

This release (available in October) says that it’s appropriate for ages 13 and up. I’m gonna bump that to 14. High School Freshmen. Because while it is engaging and funny and endearing and relatable -- there is adult language and some adult situations that these 14 and 15 year olds find themselves in. Just sayin’.

Jessie, our heroine and narrator, is looking forward to the start of the school year. She has two best friends, an older brother who is part of the Cool Punk Scene, and a nice back-stock of funny/irreverent skirts that she has spent all summer making because she is - and I quote - “A fan of funny clothing.” She makes these cute little ironic skirts while listening to audio books about doom and death (Stephen King, and a few post-apocalyptic numbers) and she is looking forward to adding pre-calculus homework and girls nights to these two activities.

Of course - if things worked out that way we’d all be bored. So, as with all good coming of age novels, Things Go Wrong. Her “best friends” turn up “punk” overnight and start to obviously use her. There is even The Biggest Girlfriend Transgression a 15 year old can commit (I don’t want to give it away because it’s a major plot point, but I’m sure you can guess.) It quickly becomes clear to Jessie that these girls are not her friends. Or, at the very least, they’re not people she wants to be friends with any more.

So Jessie starts out on what my English professors always called a “Rite of Passage” - trying to find her own identity while keeping her own humorous outlook on the world - and come to terms with the fact that her Cool Punk Brother is doing the same thing - and she starts to socialize with other groups of new people. She also - gasp - starts to see her family in a new light.

Halpern (who works as a school librarian for the very age group this book is targeted at) has the vernacular down. Will it seem dated in 10-15 years? I hope not. Or if it does, I hope it’s dated in a Judy Blume way...where you don’t really notice because the story is so darn good and you know Exactly How Jessie Feels. Because I think a lot of girls do. And will, once they read this. She’s certainly a unique character (audio books and funny skirts, anyone?) but she’s also a recognizable one. Even for us girls who are twice her age.

[ps - I think that this would even be a good read for moms...she might just be this generation's Judy Blume. So pick it up and understand your daughter that much better.]


The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac

Pennac is a very well-respected and popular French author. This book, which I read translated into English but which retains its French flair, focuses on the journey one takes from being an avid reader of picture books through being a student who reads only because it is required but will otherwise avoid it at all costs, to the adult who may or may not have returned to reading...and what parents and teachers can do about it. I’m not sure how to summarize, or even chat about it more without just quoting bits of it. Not that this is a bad thing. It’s a quick read, but neither my library nor my local megabook emporium had a copy on hand, so I picked it up off of Amazon and I like that it has a place on my shelf.

I did hijack a quote and have put it on my facebook profile...particularly because it appeals to me not just as a former interior designer (the skill and desire are there, I just haven’t practiced outside of my home since we moved) and an aspiring novelist (desire and practice...but maybe not skill? That remains to be seen.)

“We human beings build houses because we’re alive, but we write books because we’re mortal.” (this is where I ended my quote. His next sentence reads: “We live in groups because we’re sociable but we read because we know we’re alone.” Also applicable to my life, but not nearly as inspiring, no?)

I don’t normally pull from the back of the book, but his Rights of the Reader are printed right there for all the world. So I will reprint them here:

1) The right not to read.
2) The right to skip.
3) The right not to finish a book.
4) The right to read it again.
5) The right not to read anything.
6) The right to mistake a book for real life.
7) The right to read anywhere.
8) The right to dip in.
9) The right to read out loud.
10) The right to be quiet.

And there you have it. Read the whole book, though. Teachers, parents, people who interact with hesitant readers...this is good for all of them. And it’s illustrated by Quentin Blake, which is a bonus in my eyes.


Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

I re-read this (and some other) classic children’s books during my two months “bed rest” and I enjoyed it. To clarify before you start jumping to conclusions - I just read this one, and not Through The Looking Glass, which came next and had the Jabberwocky in it.

Alice starts off being spectacularly bored by her older sister, as any child would be on a beautiful afternoon when there are more interesting things to do than read a book...so she drifts off for a minute until she is startled awake by the White Rabbit. I’m going to assume you know the story. Everyone does.

It’s not surprising that as I read I heard the soft voice and saw the cartoony characters that Disney put on the screen decades ago. And then I realized something when I was about halfway through the book…it had been Disneyfied! Lewis Carroll was on (HAD to have been, but I haven’t done the research. Forgive me) drugs. Opium, maybe? The caterpillar was. And it’s the only way to explain the baby turning into a pig (left out by Disney.)

I was also struck by how RUDE all of the adults were and how creepy everyone else was. I’ve had some weird dreams lately (yay hormones) but Wonderland puts them all the shame. Which is why the reader is never quite sure if Alice dreams it all or if it actually happens - which is one of the common threads I’ve found in the books that last: where the author decides that the reader is smart enough to figure it out.

That doesn’t mean that this book isn’t dated, because it is. Who curtseys anymore, when they’re not meeting the queen? The language and the lessons place it squarely in the place and time in which it was written, but that only adds to the magic and mystery of Wonderland. A lost little girl speaking a language that sounds like English but which isn’t as familiar as our own English encountering people who in turn are speaking an even less sensical version of the language. If you think too hard on it your brain might turn to mush.

It’s a short little book, and filled with lovely woodblock illustrations - I do recommend reading it before heading to the theatre to see the Tim Burton version. Relying on Disney as the yardstick against which to measure it...well, that will only leave you wanting.

Click here for the trailer of what could be the best possible cinematic interpretation.

This is only slightly related to the book, it's more of a family drama in which wonderland plays a role, but I watched it and I feel that everyone should.

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