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review 2015-01-10 02:17
Review: Folk Tales from Russian Lands by Irina Zheleznova, and the film Morozko/Jack Frost
Folk Tales from Russian Lands - Selected and translated by Irina Zheleznova

Another childhood read - apparently I'm still on a roll with those. This is a Dover paperback from 1969, and I've lost track of how many times I read as a child. It wasn't until this reread that I really thought about how I've never known how to pronounce any of these names - and still have no clue. Names like Pokati-Goroshek, Pilipka, Hiysi, and Altyn-Saka. Even my favorite - Basil Fet-Frumos - I'd remembered as Fret-Frumos.


I'd also never thought to look up Irina Zheleznova, who selected and translated the stories in this book. She doesn't seem to have a website (in English, that I could find that is), but if you check her name on any book site you'll find lots of material. I think there are a lot of children that have her to thank for introducing us to these fairy tales.


It's thanks to her that I know what a yurt is! But since there were no web images to look up back then I only had a sketchy idea of what they looked like. And I'm only now looking up how you play the game of knucklebones (which is mentioned in a lot of folktales around the world). But then I bet there are a lot of kids now who've never heard of the game of jacks (I was not good at it, I preferred to spin them).


The witch Baba Yaga always confused me. In some stories she's - well, not nice exactly - but you can go ask her for advice and she won't immediately try to kill you. While in other stories she will indeed immediately try to kill you. It's actually thanks to Baba Yaga that I remembered this book, come to think of it.


A few days ago I was randomly looking at things on youtube (the ol' one vid leads to another game) and found myself remembering the 1964 film Jack Frost - a Soviet film originally called Morózko. I'd seen it in the 1970s when a midwestern tv channel would schedule dubbed foreign films for their weekly Children's Theatre show. Which resulted in me watching some really bad and weird foreign children's films. For some reason I fell in love with this particular film - I'm betting it has something to do with Father Mushroom, and also that Baba Yaga's house really walks (a little) on chicken legs. Anyway, I found a youtube version of the film which is much longer than the dubbed version - probably because it has singing.


Morozko, with English Subtitles (1 hr 18 min)

You'll be able to tell from the editing that this is not an entirely professional film. But the quality and color in this print is insanely better than the one I saw as a child. I also learned thanks to the subtitles that I missed out on a lot of rhyming dialog. Because of the over-the-top characters, Baba Yaga played by a male actor, slapstick - it reminded me of the UK's panto. (Am wondering if there's the same tradition in Russian children's theater?)


If you decide to actually watch some of this - Father Mushroom first appears around 14 minutes in. Maybe someone can tell me what's up with those little bell things he's always ringing. Also speaking of fashion - because Father M's hat is stylin' - check out the embroidery on everyone's outfits. Father Frost/Jack Frost's is especially fab. I envy his coat.


How good a movie is this? Um, well, MST3K used it, which I think says it all. (I don't think it's one of their better episodes though.) So yes, cheese factor is high.

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review 2014-12-25 01:31
Review: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery - also Some Holiday Cheesy Film (Links)!
The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,Katherine Woods

Well, Saint Exupery, you've made me cry again. Though I don't think I cried in my first reading of this as a child, which tells you something about how differently you read things as an adult I suppose. I did get misty when I saw the movie years ago. But that has everything to do with the Fox being played by Gene Wilder, and also because that bit uses more of the words of the book. (Youtube links further on. Also quotes from the book, of course.)

And look, here I am again referring to the 1970s film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. (First time today was here.) Because there's a quote from The Little Prince in that film that I'll post now. Though it's the heart of the book, it's not exactly spoilery since you don't know any of the context:

p 87: "Goodbye," said the fox. "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

I think one reason Willy Wonka fans still refer to the film is that it was full of great quotes, and when you'd bump into them later in other literature (or the original work) you'd think "ah, that's where that was from!" I'm not sure if I recognized the quote when I first read The Little Prince though. But is is particularly fun that Wilder is the one who says the line in both films. (Again, clips further on.)

For those who haven't read the book:


Wikipedia: The Little Prince (novella)

Wikipedia: Antoine de Saint-Exupery


Saint-Exupery had a fascinating life, so perusing his bio is worth it. Read the wiki on the book for details on possible real life events that inspired it - not that you need to know any of that to enjoy the book.

A short version of the plot, that I've written to sound as book blurby as possible: a pilot crash lands in the Sahara desert and is trying to repair his plane. A boy walks up to him out of nowhere, and asks that the man draw him something. Over the next few days the man pieces together the story of where the boy cames from, and his previous life on a tiny planet the size of a house. However mysteriously the boy has traveled to Earth (details are vague), traveling back to his own planet will be much more difficult.


The actual blurb on the back of my book, which has a black and white photo from the 1974 film under it (again, more on the film later, I know I keep mentioning it!):


"The man can't believe his eyes! A little prince has suddenly appeared in the desert! Where did he come from? Why is he here? Why is he looking for the deadly golden snake? Learn the incredible truth about THE LITTLE PRINCE."

The book is a combination of memoir, pseudo-memoir, fairy tale, surrealism, fantasy, scifi, allegory - and loads of other genres that I'm probably not aware of. As a child it was another fantastic story, only with an author who seemed to be talking to me, and who seemed to understand how children think. I'm not able to put my finger on exactly what I like out of the whole - so as usual I'll just post some quotes that I particularly like and let those speak for themselves. (Except when I feel I must chat about them.)

I think child-me truly fell in love with the book for the first two pages where the author shows how he drew a snake that has swallowed an elephant and all the adults thought it was a picture of a hat. I adored that. But I that bit I can't quote because you need to see the images.

I'm reading this via the same 1975 Scholastic paperback that I used for my first read through. Which is somewhat fun. I didn't realize we still had it - it had been used in my mother's classroom when she taught elementary school, where a lot of the books I wasn't emotionally invested in keeping were loved/read to death. (Not a sad fate.) 


[Look out, I'm about to get all quote happy!]

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review 2014-12-24 03:07
Review: How To Care for Your Monster by Norman Bridwell
How to Care for Your Monster - Norman Bridwell

In case you missed it, reading this book happened because:


1) I posted about Norman Bridwell and a couple of his books you might not have read




2) After a bit of messing about on Google I found that I could check this book out on Open Library.


Open Library link here.


Silly me, I thought I'd post the review the next day. I had this idea that I'd be that fast since the book's only 64 pages. I finished it - but then I said "oh I'll just do this other thing first" - and we all know how that goes, right?


Much of Open Library's content are scans of actual print books. This particular book, on its title page, has written in crayon: Double Terrific. And the names Dana right (her non capitalized last name or she's correct?) and Johnny Graham. I'm assuming Dana had it last since Johnny's name is crossed out. So there's our book history.


Anyway, the fun part is that I still love this book. I was worried that nostalgia might have made me think it was better than it was. Nope, it's still the same fun drawings and sweet sense of humor - yet just enough dark humor to still love all the more. This is the kind of gently warped lit that has made me what I am today. (That and being introduced to Monty Python and George Carlin when I wasn't yet in high school. Plus lots of monster movies!)


One of the particularly delightful things about the book to kid-me was that it's written as nonfiction. Because who doesn't want to live in a neighborhood where there are Monster Stores and Mad Scientist neighbors?


From the book's opening:

p. 3: "So you want to own a monster? Many people do these days. You can bring a monster into your home. It's just a matter of finding one you like.

This book will tell you how to get your monster, and how to keep him healthy and happy."


Keep in mind that all of these quotes have drawings, sometimes more than one, to illustrate them. And the details are terribly fun. But I think you can see some of that just from the text.


p. 4: "If you are lucky enough to live in a town that has a monster store, getting a monster should be easy. Just show Dad the ad and ask him for some money.


Thank him and run - before he asks questions."


p 6-7: "If new monsters are too expensive, buy a used monster. Check him carefully. Used monsters may be slightly damaged.


Some have been thrown over cliffs or burned a little in old windmills by angry owners or hard-to-please villagers.


If you can't buy a new or used monster, perhaps you can have one made to order."


p 8-9: "The Frankenstein monster is put together in a way I would rather not go into. Making one is not a do-it-yourself project. I suggest that you ask your friendly neighborhood Mad Doctor for help. He will enjoy picking up the pieces and putting them together. And he probably won't charge you - just the monster.


Your friendly neighborhood Mad Doctor may already have a monster hidden somewhere in his office. Look around. If you find him and he likes you, he may follow you home. The monster, not the doctor."


p 23-25 "Dig Up a Friend - A Mummy

If your family is always telling you to turn down the record player, and not to shout, giggle, or slam doors, then a mummy is the monster for you. He makes very little noise - except at night. Then your mummy will go thump-thump across the attic floor, right over the family's heads. Well, that will show them what noise really is.


...If your monster store doesn't stock mummy-monsters, you have a problem. Unless someone in your family has stolen a Mummy's Hand. In that case, the mummy will find you. But don't count on it. Maybe you can get acquainted with a mummy in your local museum."


p 38-39: "Now we come to the biggest problem a vampire fan must face. Vampires don't eat the foods we do - they crave a special liquid diet.


So a vampire-owner needs to have a large and understanding family and a lot of very good friends who will help out at feeding time. One person can't do it all alone."


On the werewolf:


p 47-48: "If he acts sluggish and out of sorts take him to the doctor or to a veterinarian. Which one you take him to depends on the moon. Don't delay. It could be distemper...


...or it could be someone he ate. Count your friends.


Don't blame your monster. After all, you wanted a werewolf and you got it."


Of course you really should see the illustrations to fully appreciate all those quotes. Thankfully there are a few folk online who are also fans of the book, and so there are some scans of the pages here:


Mixed Up Monster Club: How to Care for Your Monster by Norman Bridwell

(You'll see many of the pages I've just quoted at this link! Nice scans too.)


The Haunted Closet: How to Care for Your Monster


Frankensteinia: Norman Bridwell's How To Care for Your Monster


The Drunken Severed Head: How To Care for Your Monster

(This blog also has a post here about a reprint edition you do NOT want to buy.)



And finally, here's a link from an interview with Bridwell where he briefly mentions the book:


Scholastic.com: Norman Bridwell Interview Transcript (not dated?):


You mentioned earlier that you had close to 120 stories that were rejected. Have you ever experimented with creating any other series besides Clifford and the Witch stories?
I did a series about monsters, not scary monsters — funny monsters. The book we did was How to Care for Your Monster, based on the idea that a kid would have to take care of their Frankenstein monster or a werewolf. I've done other books like Kangaroo Stew, A Tiny Family, and Tiny Charlie.


Anyway, this was probably the year's best reread because it was just me and kid-me, reading along and remembering. And thinking about how great it was that Bridwell had funny ideas about monsters and didn't worry about how weird the book might seem.

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text 2014-12-17 19:30
Reading in Progress: How to Care for Your Monster - A Moment Of Squee
How to Care for Your Monster - Norman Bridwell

So I just posted about this book here. And I figured I'd dig a bit more on google (translation: read more than the first page of results), and what do you know:


How to Care for Your Monster at Open Library


Currently checked out to me. I am grinning like a fool. Heh.


However this day is getting too weird. Good news via email on real world related stuff, 50+ ebook sale alerts (99 cent sales many of them, yes will link later) I need to root through, and now I'm reunited with a childhood friend/book. I'm not a pessimist really, just one of those people who always worries a bit when suddenly too many nice things happen. Because I've seen way too many movies and read way too many books - and so a part of my brain is always saying "ah, but that's what happens right before the sudden plot twist!" (My brain and I have further discussions on this. It's mostly amusing since I'm good now at telling it that it's worrying too much.)


Happily since the trend is taking me into the world of Norman Bridwell, the twist should be that there were nice monsters that have been secretly living next door this whole time and we'll now plan fun social events together. Or perhaps a giant dog will accidentally sit on my Honda Fit and crush it (wouldn't be difficult, the car is tiny), and there will be momentary sorrow but it'll all work out in the end. Everyone laughs and end scene.


Actually I could deal with either of those scenarios quite happily.


Also I do love Open Library. Seriously, so much good stuff there, especially handy for some out of print books. Add it to your book search links because you never know when it'll be useful, or a fun surprise.


The book's only 64 pages so I'll return it and post a review tomorrow. In case anyone else wants to read it too.


And thanks again, Norman Bridwell.

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text 2014-12-17 16:56
Norman Bridwell and the Books You Might Not Have Read
How to Care for Your Monster - Norman Bridwell
Monster Holidays - Norman Bridwell

Sadly this is one of those posts I make after reading about someone dying. Norman Bridwell was known to many of us as that guy who writes/draws the Clifford the Big Red Dog children's books. His sense of humor in the art (and the little details in it) and writing was always there, and often mild. But many people don't realize he wrote a couple of weirder books.


Yes, I know - The Witch Next Door, you could have seen that. That's not the one, though that one was also fun.


I'm talking about the monster books:


How to Care for Your Monster (1970) [Amazon, Goodreads]


Monster Holidays (1969) [Amazon, Goodreads]


Until I wrote this I always thought the caring for your monster one was the first - guess not. Anyway the premise is that monsters aren't out to kill you  - they're actually rather shy and misunderstood, but when approached in a friendly way they're happy to be sociable. I think there was something in the caring book about getting a family member to allow Drac to have a nip or two of blood, but otherwise it was along the lines of protecting Frankenstein monster from fire (he scared easily), problems with keeping the Wolfman suitably groomed (he was often unkempt) - that sort of thing. Where did you find a pet monster? At "a neighborhood Monster Store." As a kid I loved this.


In fact, I still love them as an adult. But if you look up the books on Amazon (or elsewhere) you'll find they're kinda pricey, even for beaten up copies. Because these books never made it back into print. I'm wondering if it has anything to do with weirdness, or wording, or copyright issues on the monsters (which I think were all public domain). I'm fuzzy on the exact details because it has been since the 1970s since I last read them. I have had both books on an Amazon wish list for years though, hoping I'd find out they'd released them digitally. But not yet. (This is where you chime in and correct me if I'm wrong and someone's selling reprints.)


Thanks to the internet being the internet (when it's wonderful), other folk who blog also love this idea and thus there are images of some of the book pages online:


The Haunted Closet: How to Care for Your Monster

(Confession, I have read this blog many times before and love it. Also links to a post on Bridwell's Witches Catalog, which I never read. Sadly.)


Frankensteinia: Norman Bridwell's How To Care for Your Monster

(Blog I hadn't read before but am now enjoying. Also has the image of Drac having a bit of the family blood at the dinner table that I thought was funny. Note how mom and sis aren't at all phased but dad is nervous because it's his turn.)


Both of those links show different images, so take a look at both. Simple art, as usual for Bridwell, and not much color. But oh how I loved them. Especially since I started watching classic monster movies early, having been broken in on Scooby Doo (pop music playing during the monster chases still influences my love for bubblegum music), The Monster Squad, The Groovie Goolies - you get the idea.


Bridwell had a great sense of humor, and will be missed.



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