Travel Thursday Snapshots: Tunisia after Djerba

(The Story of Djerba is in a previous blog.)
The ferry back to the mainland took only twenty minutes and wasn’t at all crowded, like most ferries on this sea. A call yesterday had nabbed me a car and driver, who grinned for some reason when told our destination would be Matmata. Commonly known as a Berber troglodyte settlement—which makes it sound worse than it was, considering how elegantly decorated some of the caves were—it had been a port founded by the Phoenicians, full of temples, the forum, baths, and a market, the kind of historical site where I could spend hours photographing and playing archaeologist.
Which I did, of course, but that wasn’t the actual reason for being here. Lunch wasn’t usually a highlight in my itineraries, except when it took place in a famous movie locale, in this case the interior of the Skywalker home in the first Star Wars movie. {The propaganda said it was the home of Luke Skywalker’s parents, which I promptly called them on; the English-speaking tour guide rolled his eyes and said new brochures were on the way, from a different printing company, that said “Luke’s aunt and uncle” in large print. Don’t know if that was truth.}
Despite its formal name of Sidi Driss Hotel, it was known locally as the Star Wars hotel, for obvious reasons, considering all the visitors it received. Since I can never get used to spicy food, I brought along my own provisions, but pretended to eat up as the owner regaled me with stories about the filming of the first movie, particularly how everything had been returned to normal after shooting, because no one figured it would be such a gigantic smash, but lucking out in that the crews came back and restored it to shoot Attack of the Clones.
As soon as lunch was over I smiled to myself, ready to immerse my photographic soul into shooting every inch of this place. The exteriors of this set were pretty far away, and best left for last, but the Mos Eisley exteriors, especially the cantina, from the first movie were a lot closer, and somewhere in between was the castle from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. And though it took a lot of slogging and I never had a chance to verify it was the right spot, the top of the dune where Luke watches the binary sunset was a bucket list moment.

;o)

Book Reviews: Kid Detectives and Monsters

Little Detectives At School
Like they did in their previous book at home, the Little Detectives are tasked with looking for specific items from a list, this time in crowded classrooms. It’s a simple concept but a popular one, as there are plenty of similar computer-based games for the kiddies to graduate to when they’re older. For now, this should keep them occupied.
4/5

Nile Crossing
Even more than three thousand years ago kids had anxieties about the first day of school. Here we follow a small boy as his father takes him across the river to his new school. He’s excited for something new, but wants to cling to the old.
“The words we do not say fill the hush of dawn.” Kind of an oxymoron—though you can argue it works the same as “The silence speaks volumes”—but sounds beautiful. I recommend you read it out loud. Another line I love: “Not a bad start, as the serpent said when he swallowed the toe of the hippopotamus.” The whole story has a very poetic style, though I’m wondering what age group this is recommended for, as it might be too much for most.
The painting style isn’t meant to be lifelike, especially as far as the humans, but the landscapes, and particularly the skies, are beautiful.
At the end it leaves the first-person perspective and visual style to talk about the classroom and his making a new friend. The author’s and illustrator’s notes are quite informative, making me want to read it all over again from this new perspective. It even includes a glossary.
4/5

Plume
For those who read this blog regularly—stop laughing—this book is by the same author as The Blue Hour, which featured more style than substance while portraying beautiful landscapes. That kinda happens here too, although with a very different subject.
The book starts with a spread containing numerous feathers, to show how different they can be. Each page after that has a painting of a bird and its feather on a white background. And in every shot there’s a bit of a cat stalking it. That’s it.
Thought it’s beautifully drawn, I don’t know how entertaining this would be for kids. The plumes might be dissimilar, but a little one would have to be looking really hard to get that. Maybe they’d have more fun finding the cat on each page.
2.5/5

Roger Is Going Fishing
Roger is riding his bike with Emily in back and Bob (a dog) in the basket in front. They’re loaded down with fishing gear, which makes that much weight on a bike not a good idea even before you throw in the cobblestones. Either bored and evil or not watching what she’s doing, Emily is hooking people and stuff as they bike through town in a heavy rain. Roger always tells her not to fish until they get to the lake, for all the good that does. Pretty soon there’s an angry mob following them like a Benny Hill skit. Even the cow is after them. I feel sorry for the sax player in those high heels.
Cute enough, but not much to it. Seems like everyone was too forgiving in the end.
The artwork isn’t meant to be realistic, so it looks a bit strange to start. It basically comes across as drawings on a white background with some parts watercolored.
3/5

The Call of the Swamp
A couple told they couldn’t have kids find Boris by the edge of a swamp and claim him as their own, without actually checking to see if his real parents are around. After a few years he smells his previous environment and wonders how his life would have been had he grown up there. But after he’s been in the swamp a while he feels homesick for his human parents and house.
Right away it was mentioned that Boris had gills, yet he lives out of water without a problem. I guess the author doesn’t expect kids to get that, but then why bother mentioning it?
As an allegory for adoption, it’s pretty good. Some of the details could have been better, though.
The art is somber gray and yellow, not visually appealing at all, certainly not the bright colors kids expect.
3/5

The Warli People
A rare children’s non-fiction book, about a society that existed in what is now India in 10th century BCE.
In addition to farming and hunting and fishing, they also harvested salt from the sea; hadn’t heard of a civilization doing that so early. The women were artists, drawing on the mud walls. . . or would that be carving? The background of the mostly stick-figure art is orange, which does look enough like mud, as well as brown and other earth colors.
This is like Anthro 101 for pre-schoolers, with more older-level info at the end.
Interesting point: no myths or gods in the artwork, only regular people doing their daily tasks.
4/5

When a Wolf Is Hungry,
A wolf has a hankering for rabbit and heads into town to find a perfect victim. He’s dressed in a tux, then rides a bike; that would be weird even for a human.
On his way to the rabbit’s apartment, he forgets his knife in the elevator, where it’s scooped up by a literal turkey. Every time he goes back home for another weapon, each bike ride increasing his hunger, a friendly neighbor in rabbit’s building co-ops the instrument of death.
The final twist was unexpected, both food and social wise. But I was never convinced as to his carnivore credentials; he’s far too much of a pushover to be a real wolf.
The artwork is perfectly cartoon.
3.5/5

It’s Hard to Swim
Ellie, a purple weinerdog, thinks canines don’t belong in the water, but despite that Doggie is placed in some kind of swimming device and pushed in. Then she’s imagining all the things in the deep water that would enjoy a doggie snack before realizing there was nothing to worry about at all, just the opposite.
A cute little story told in rhyme; don’t be afraid to try out new things is what it’s basically saying. The artwork is exactly what you would expect.
3.5/5

Max and Bird
Max is a cat who wants to be friends with Bird. . . and then eat him. Bird doesn’t think that’s a great idea, mostly because he’s so young he hasn’t learned to fly yet. They make a deal to postpone the eating and be friends for a while first.
They go to the library, which has a whole section on flying. . . but it’s so big they can only reach the bottom shelf. Too bad they can’t fly. . .
It took so long to finally fly that Max forgot all about eating his friendly snack, and wouldn’t have remembered had Bird not been dumb enough to remind him. But then Max wouldn’t have had his existential moment. . .
It’s a rather silly story; I can just picture little kids saying, “That doesn’t make sense!” Compared to most others, this artwork is rudimentary.
3/5

Boston Monsters
In another edition of the “find monsters, not Waldo” books, the hunt leads the reader to places like the ducklings sculpture in the Public Garden, New England Aquarium, Bunker Hill, and the Tea Party port, and ends up being subversively educational. If you’re a monster in Boston, where would you hang out? Fenway, of course, home of the biggest of all monsters.
These were harder to find than the previous books, because I couldn’t tell if some of them were monsters or not; not enough detail, or too far away.
4/5

Texas Monsters
Don’t know why they chose Texas, as there are places with a lot more famous landmarks, plus this covers a whole state when previous editions were in only one city. Even then there weren’t that many famous places; the Alamo—the only obvious one—Houston Space Center, and Route 66 are the features.
On the bright side, more monsters per page!
3.5/5

Washington DC Monsters
DC would seem the most logical choice to set a find-the-monsters book—other than El Lay—though sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart from the politicians.
The first puzzle is at the Capitol, but the scene is so big depth-wise it’s hard to make out if those are monsters in the back or not. There’s a similar problem with the Lincoln Memorial, where the people look tiny and it’s hard to differentiate. On the other hand, the Air and Space Museum, Zoo, and Museum of Natural History were easier to discern as well as beautifully painted.
4/5

;o)

Book Reviews: Empathy and Emojis

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look On My Face?
Many years ago I saw Alan Alda on a TV show, something about scientific frontiers. While that’s mentioned in this book, he focuses on one particular subject, that of empathy.
It all started with an encounter at the dentist’s, where the man couldn’t get his point across to his patient because he couldn’t stop thinking like a dentist. From there Mr. Alda moved to doctors, stating, “People are dying because we can’t communicate in ways that allow us to understand one another.” Another great quote is, “Not being truly engaged with the people we’re trying to communicate with, and then suffering the snags of misunderstanding, is the grit in the gears of daily life.” There’s some fascinating points where he talks about using acting practices to get doctors and others to communicate better. It didn’t take long for the realization to hit: “Developing empathy and learning to recognize what the other person is thinking are both essential to good communication.”
Here’s a little hint to make this book more interesting: read it in his voice, feel it reverberating inside your skull.
Most of the chapters are small, some only describing an encounter, story, or lesson that led to his conclusions, but it seems to work fine. In explaining how to better explain things, he explained everything really well. Even a book about making communication accessible can be full of jargon, but thankfully this one wasn’t.
4/5

Emoji Adventures Book 5: The Pet Unicorn
Told in first person by a kid/emoji named Annie, this story revolves around her and three others—Dot, her sister with heart-shaped eyes; Kevin, her evil twin; and Billy, a soccer-playing poop—who try to find a unicorn to claim the missing poster reward, only to find it cooler to have an actual unicorn to play with.
It takes a while to get to the first photo, with the quartet inside the fro-yo shop, showing them to be actual emoji heads on stick bodies, with hands to hold ice cream cones (but no stomachs). And yes, Billy is a poop emoji. Annie is a cute brunette with a big smile. Once I see it I can accept this ridiculous reality and treat the story as it was intended. On the other hand, the unicorn is full-bodied, not an emoji (how many times do I have to write that word?). Not forgetting other parts of social media, the chapter titles are hashtags. (Dumpster pasta should have been a hashtag too.) And of course they literally live in Emojiville.
There’s plenty of humor here, which is really the only thing it needs. Examples:
“The Ancient Egyptians were a lot more sparkly than people think.” I know exactly who to spring that line on.
“All I want to do is take this unicorn to a field of flowers and braid its mane.”
“Shakes her mane around like she’s at a heavy metal concert.” But later it’s said that unicorns like Taylor Swift, which pretty much explains everything.
And I’d gotten so into thinking of them as kids that I didn’t get their disgust when the unicorn licked Billy.
Quite an enjoyable little story, though I can’t help but think it would have been just the same without the emoji conceit. If there’s a moral here, it’s on the last page: always take the reward money. The author lists his Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at the end; bet he gets inundated with emoji suggestions for the next book. And I can’t help but wonder if the upcoming Emoji movie is based on one of these books (is Sir Patrick Stewart really playing the poop?).
4/5

101 Things to Do Instead of Playing on Your Phone
I love it when the title tells you everything you need to know. However, I’m reading this on a tablet, so it was a little hard remembering it’s meant to be a physical book, which makes things like Draw a Selfie and Coloring very difficult, though not as impossible as Cutting out the Paper Airplane.
Kids’ games abound, my faves being I Spy and Cloud Zoo. Smile at someone, see if they smile back. Play Fashion Adviser has too much opportunity to turn to the dark side. I particularly like the Giving Awards one, though the fun in it is coming up with the right awards.
But there’s also quite a bit of stuff like Write Your Grocery List for Tonight’s Meal or Bucket List where it’s the same as doing it on the phone, and would be simpler. Still, most of it is fun stuff, as well as things to think about.
4/5

Wolf
A philosophy grad student at Northwestern, who despite seemingly being a good girl keeps getting into perilous dumb situations and poker games, comes across the dead body of her advisor just as he was planning to ruin her career. In addition to that there’s a Russian mafia plot that makes things convoluted, with too many characters to keep straight and flashbacks that spoil the flow.
But the author’s main purpose in writing this story is the rape culture and drugging found in colleges today, especially at frats. There’s an avenger that kicks ass—literally—but unfortunately she’s not the main character. Instead we get Jessica, the Montana cowgirl philosopher with a love of Nietzsche, who at least three times in this story passes out, either stone drunk or drugged. Yet at the end there she is getting drunk again. Did the author really intend to make her protagonist seem so stupid? Or is it trying to impart the belief that even the smartest can fall prey to drugs and evil guys. . . over and over and over? Still, you’d think that, short of admitting she was an alcoholic, she’d learn not to drink so much. It’s hard to respect people, especially those who think of themselves as so intelligent, who can’t figure things out.
Despite that the writing is pretty good, with plenty of droplets of humor. There’s a cute mention of Star Trek: The Next Generation near the end that fans will love.
3/5

;o)

Poetry Tuesday: Thinking of Lady Yang At Midnight

Anonymous from 12th century Korea.

Watching alone by the ancient city wall,
Thinking of one who was too beautiful,
What did I see? What did I hear?

Moonlight, quivering over empty courtyards,
A voice calling out of the midnight shadows.
One name, her name, echoes across the silence.
Light feet, her feet, in shoes of peacock feathers,
Dance through the empty halls. Will they never rest?

Thinking of joys that ended and sorrows which never end
I find my white robe spangled with tears for her.

;o)

Book Reviews: Why Do I Read So Much Kid Stuff?

Some people are just allergic to logic. . .

Pirate John-Wolf
Plenty of ominous skull and crossbones wallpaper to start, but the first thing seen is a kinda goofy-looking dog dressed as a pirate while the text tells us about how he always feels weak. The only time he feels strong is when he’s playing and singing in his room. Then he’s whisked away to be a real pirate, where he needs to work on his courage. Luckily the pirate captain needs a musical biographer.
A silly quick story intended to help little ones overcome their fears.
3/5

The Wolf
The cover shows a family of smiling wolves, the pups roughhousing and basically being kids. It’s already apparent that this book wants people, especially kids, to look at the wild canines as something other than hungry monsters in the woods.
The text basically asks a question, such as “Where does the wolf live?” and then answers it, thereby imparting knowledge. Reviewers have mentioned the spelling mistakes, but since this was originally published in Belgium and Holland it seems to be more of a problem of translation. Still, I do wonder if the original used “coniferous” and “deciduous,” amongst other big words that are a good decade ahead of being taught in school.
Some of the artwork is beautiful and would not be out of place in a gallery of the West, like in the Autry Museum.
3.5/5

Want to Know. The Romans
At the start there’s a cartoonish drawing that displays most of the clichés about Romans, like lying on a couch drinking wine and eating grapes while slaves wash their feet; all that was missing was the palm frond fans.
After some more drawings of kids both today and in the past there’s disparate facts, beginning with the army and how they liked to inspire fear so no one would want to fight them. There are also sections on how the Romans lived, going to the market, taking a bath, the various temples, and so on.
Even the kids drank wine. Slaves are treated as a matter-of-fact occurrence. The story of Romulus and Remus is told to the very gory end. There’s an elaborate street scene that looks beautiful despite the slightly goofy style. There’s even a test at the end to see if you’ve been paying attention.
There sure are a lot of blonde and redheaded people in these drawings! With the author being Dutch, there’s a last section on Roman antiquities found in the Netherlands.
Kind of a mishmash. Not at all sure if kids would go for this, since this book is thinly veiled as opposed to those that don’t look like they’re educational.
3/5

What Can Your Grandma Do?
There’s an upcoming talent show at the grade school, but in a twist that I’m glad we didn’t have when I was that age, it’s for the grandparents. There are cooks, painters, dancers, and so on, but Jeremy has no idea what his grandma’s special talent is. The book shows them trying several things, all failures, which makes both of them sad.
Perhaps they should have looked at the cover, where grandma is spinning a basketball on her finger. Pretty sure that even with the ballerinas and hula hoopers, she’s gonna win.
Simple story with effective artwork. Doesn’t try to overdo anything.
3.5/5

I’m Just a Little Someone
A cute little doll sitting on a shelf in a toy store is lonely, despite having all the other toys to play with; unlike Toy Story, apparently only the human-shaped toys can pretend to be people. For some reason—maybe because she looks so sad—no kids want to buy her. Finally she notices another semi-human doll across the way and invites him over to play (Sorry, it’s told in rhyme, so I had to).
It’s a cute touch that the page numbers are given as counting blocks. The art is cartoonish more than any type of realistic, but exactly the brightly-colored no-subtlety kind you’d expect for little kids. The last pages are activities—a lot of them—and author bios.
3.5/5

The Adventure of Thomas the Turtle
Between bright illustrations of forest and water a mama turtle tells her son not to go to the forbidden zone, where his dad was lost so long ago. He’s a kid, one who roughhouses with his sister; guess what happens.
Pretty simple story well told, with a message parents will love, if not kids. Even the humans come off well in this one.
4/5

Beauty and the Beast
I didn’t need to be told this was by the same illustrator as Baba Yaga, for the cover shows the same kind of extremely cute little girl face. The cover also features Beast as a goat.
The prince had a heart of stone, spoiled and selfish, and got what was coming to him from a witch who turned him into a beast. Belle’s older sister is similar, which already differs so much from the more famous version of this fairy tale. And Belle is her nickname, not given name. I’m not familiar with the original story, but I figure this was in keeping with it; do not expect the Disney version here.
Belle is a little too good to be true, but I suppose she had to be in order for her love for the Beast to be convincing.
The drawings, colored pastel-like, are gorgeous, and are of course the highlight.
4/5

My Potty
The premise of this story reminds me of the old movie The Gods Must Be Crazy, only with a little kid’s potty rather than a Coke bottle. Every animal who comes across it uses it for a different thing, none of them knowing what it’s actually for. So after finding out what it really is, does Dog feel a little bit sick after having it on his head? (Well, maybe not a dog.) And how did it not break with the elephant balancing on it like that?
Cute story, well-drawn.
3.5/5

Tobor
Ben has four animal friends to play with, but it’s boring because they don’t have minds of their own. So on his next birthday he gets a robot. Tobor is a full service babysitting/kid-playing AI in a boxy body on legs. But after a long day of playing Ben is tired of his new companion and goes back to his previous pals. And then in the middle of the night he wants to be with Tobor again.
Tobor falls from a tree and goes dark, but it doesn’t take much for a 5-year-old to repair him. Guess he just needed a reboot. And it’s a little creepy how the robot’s always smiling.
If there’s a moral here, I don’t see it.
Artwork is fine, much like a lot of others, awash with bright colors, of which Ben’s curls are the best. There’s a cool page at the front that looks like a circuit board, but much more beautiful.
3.5/5

Nick the Knight, Dragon Slayer
It’s all there in the title: kid wants to be famous by killing a dragon, goes off to fight one, but things don’t work according to plan.
The knight is barely as tall as a dragon tusk. And he’s woefully unprepared, and would be even if the dragon was much smaller. Sword too small, no shield, no armor. Every time the dragon tells him he’s lacking something, he goes back to the village to get it, but there’s always something else.
“Fighting a dragon was not as much fun as he thought.” Even though he hadn’t fought him yet. Finally they fight, albeit on a smaller field of honor.
Boy, those are some big rampant curls! Can’t fit a knight’s helmet over all that. . . oh, he doesn’t have one. Never mind.
Though it feels like a good idea, the story isn’t all that entertaining, in fact gets repetitive (and it’s only 18 pages long!). The writing is tiny even when there’s plenty of room. The artwork is the best part, bright and cheery even on the red dragon.
3/5

When Will Fall Arrive?
A bunny is worried he’ll be lonely without his best friend the hedgehog, who will be hibernating when it’s autumn. So he comes up with an elaborate plan to keep fall from happening: hide the red leaves.
His idea is heartwarming yet incredibly selfish, but of course it works out in the end.
As you might imagine, the artwork is dominated by red, especially at the end when all the leaves are gathered. Like certain cartoon ducks, they were shirts or jackets but not pants.
3/5

Little Detectives At Home
This is like the series of find the monsters books that are popular right now, but simpler, for younger children. It actually reminds me of the app game where you have to find a number of objects hidden in a landscape in a certain amount of time. The difference here is that the scenes are populated by animals acting as humans, though it’s a bit strange that, for example, you have to find a mouse, but it’s the tiny mouse, not the human-sized mouse having breakfast with the other animals. There’s bonus games at the end, to see if you were paying attention.
Simple and clear.
4/5

;o)