"A library book, I imagine, is a happy book." Cornelia Funke

"Everything puts me in mind of a story." Ben Franklin

Friday, January 31, 2014

Thing 3: Utilities

For Thing 3, we are to try out a new app to help make our devices more useful. I went for iHome Sleep. From the 23 Things website:
"iHome Sleep is a feature rich alarm clock app allowing users to set fully customized bedtime and wakeup routines. Sleep to calm sounds, wake to your music, and read Overnight News, a summary of what happened on your social feeds while you were sleeping. iHome Sleep also provides users with a useful sleep log, and sleep stats so you can begin monitoring and improving your sleep."

That sounds fun to explore, right? I was interested to hear what alarm sounds they have. Honestly, I wake up to the music on my Hello Kitty clock/radio and my husband's overlapping church bell alarm on his iPhone. So I was up for something new. It also sounded useful to be able to track the hours that you sleep. Mine tend to be too much = never enough.

Downloading iHome Sleep was simple. Customizing it was too:

Alas, the alarm sounds are sadly disappointing.  Your choices are:
  • Bells (mournful, for whom the bell tolls types)
  • Buzzer (abrasive!)
  • Disco
  • Fire Alarm (Are they kidding?)
  • Groove 
  • Old Phone (ring! ring!)
  • Xylophone
These are ick. When you get the iHome Sleep app, they let you know that there is an iHome Zen app with additional noises, for 99 cents. That sounded more like it. I imagined being awakened by singing bowls. So, I sprung for it and was again disappointed to find that there are no more alarm noises, but only gentle noises for falling asleep. I usually fall asleep to no noise, but there are nights when the attic squirrels that are sharing my house sound like they are holding a little party and bowling on the ceiling. Assuming that I can hear it over our dogs' agitated barking, some relaxing sound would be welcome. With iHome Zen you get:
  • Box fan
  • Brown Noise
  • Car (?)
  • Light Rain
  • Marsh (sounds like peepers or crickets)
  • Meditation (sounds like background soundtrack in relaxation portion of yoga videos)
  • Pink Noise
  • White Noise
  • Zen (subtle)
I didn't know that noise came in several colors. Whether brown, pink or white, it all sounds like TV fizz to me. I think that the rain would make me get up to go to the bathroom too much to be useful. I might listen to Meditation though.
I set this up a few days ago, but I still haven't used it. iHome Sleep seems like a good idea, but honestly, most nights I'm barely able to take off my mascara and put on wrinkle cream before I crawl into bed, so I haven't taken the teensy bit of time required to enter what time I retired. Necessity has not forced me to use it, because I have Hello Kitty. I will probably only use this app when I travel.

Thing 2: Mobile Device Tips

In this Thing I learned that I have an iPhone 4s and that my family has not updated it to Software 7.04 because there are "too many bugs." This is kind of disappointing, because I want to try out some of the nifty new features, like making Siri pronounce my name correctly (Not Don-nell Clawsir, Da-nell Clowser) or using the live photo filters. Still, being a relative innocent about my phone, there was plenty for me to find out. I did this with my usual mix of frustration and elation.

I learned that my phone can take panoramic photos. This would have been really helpful last summer when I was evaluating Minneapolis gardens for Metroblooms (which was super fun, by the way,  I highly recommend it). I found out how to take a screen shot and add it to my post from my phone:

My Facebook Page

Dealing with Siri went a little less smoothly. For one thing, she had been turned off on my phone. I don't remember doing that, but I must have. It's true that I haven't used her in a really long time. After the childish joy of having something to boss around and ask inappropriate questions died down, I really only used Siri to call phone numbers. My favorite story of my Siri is when I asked her to dial Bagu Sushi and she tried to call Bob Moose. So, when I found out that I could make her understand relationships (if only she understood them as well as my therapist, then I could save some money) , I was eager to try. Her first response was, "I don't know who you are." So I had to load in my info and go from there. Carol, my co worker later teased me about my repeated phrase, "Siri, Kristian Clauser is my husband." But, so he is and now Siri knows it and so I can say, "Siri, call my husband at work" and she knows who to dial.

I have actually already done Thing 3, so here it comes.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Dragon Emperor: a Chinese Folktale

The Dragon Emperor: a Chinese Folktale retold by Wang Ping, Illus. by Tang Ge, 2008.

This is another offering in the "On My Own Folklore" series and it is divided into four detail-packed short chapters, but is still heavily illustrated. It tells of the Yellow Emperor, A.K.A. the Dragon Emperor, who was born on Mount Tai, home to snake-bodied gods and goddesses. With four faces and a dragon's body, the Yellow Emperor ruled the people, but he also taught them how to survive by cooking food with fire, digging wells and building houses. He was an inventor and encouraged his people to also create, and so written language, laws and a calendar came about. Unfortunately, one of his greatest warriors, the Black Dragon, called Chi You, made war against the Emperor. Chi You had supernatural powers and 81 equally fierce fighting brothers. Ten battles were fought, and then the emperor found help: Ying Long the dragon, who could control the weather, and Ba the Drought Goddess (the Yellow Emperor's daughter). After defeating his foe, the Yellow Emperor was the sole ruler of the Middle Kingdom until he rode away on Ying Long's back, disappearing into the heavenly court, leaving behind people who continued to worship him.

In the book's Afterword, we learn that the Yellow Emperor is seen as China's founder. Chi You is also honored during festivals, and Ying Long is China's most popular dragon, with dragon dances done for him on New Year's Day.

Tang Ge's colorful art captures the odd majesty of the magical animals, unusual appearing deities and terrifying warriors of the story. Chi You has six scaly arms and four green eyes that match his emerald fangs, but also has the body of a mighty man. The emperor, in his human form, has a long white beard and a rich robe, and he casually perches on Ying Long, the dragon with golden wings and antlers and an impressive snaky tale.

23 Mobile Things: Thing 1

Minnesota Library Systems is offering a new program for librarians called 23 Mobile Things and I will be doing them. In 2008 and 2009, I  participated when they did 23 Things on a Stick and More Things On a Stick, so naturally, I want to keep learning. I will be doing the things on my iPhone.

It's funny, but a few years ago, I had no interest in having a smartphone. As far as I was concerned a phone's whole purpose was to ring, dial and take a message. Now, I'm pitifully attached to my iPhone. Aside from the pleasure of having a pink phone case, I love having instant access to Facebook, Youtube and other Internet joys, plus my camera and photos, and apps like The Weather Channel, Pinterest, and a solitaire game where you also collect virtual cats. It's great! Yet, I know as these things go, it's barely the tip of the iceberg. So, I'm eager to find out what other play and work help awaits me in 23 Mobile Things.

What's already on my phone:


  • Castle Solitaire
  • Dakota County Library Mobile
  • Find iPhone
  • Flashlight
  • Gmail
  • Goodreads
  • Google
  • Hennepin County Library Mobile
  • iTunes
  • Kitty Solitaire
  • Pinterest
  • Safari
  • Samegame
  • ScanLife
  • Skyview Free
  • Weather Channel

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Luminous Pearl: a Chinese Folktale

The Luminous Pearl: a Chinese Folktale retold by Betty L. Torre, Illus. by Carol Inouye, 1990.

Under the sea, the Dragon King and his advisers attempt to find a husband for his daughter, the intelligent and lovely princess. She knows her own mind and refuses everyone that they suggest, waiting instead for a man who is honest and brave. Admiral C. Horse knows of such a fellow,Wa Jing, so they devise a test for the young man to prove himself worthy. He dreams of a beautiful maiden, but shares this with his older brother, and soon both are in a contest to win the heart of the sea girl. She will marry the brother who can bring her a magical pearl that shines by night. Each brother sets off to find the treasure, but along the way they both promise to help the people of a flooded village. Eventually, each must make a choice: bring back a pearl for the Dragon King's daughter or honor his promise to the villagers. So, the brothers are tested. Which one will become the bridegroom of the fair princess?

Carol Inouye's artwork is a fine accompaniment to the story of The Luminous Pearl. Readers will enjoy the weird and whimsical pictures of the dragon-headed king and his sea creature/humanoid advisers that resemble a crab, tortoise, octopus, etc. People who like pretty princesses will not be disappointed in the beauteous sea maiden. The colors and details of the underwater kingdom should please everyone, with waving plants, lacquered screens and curious fish.

8,000 Stones: a Chinese Folktale

8,000 Stones: a Chinese Folktale by Diane Wolkstein, Illus. By Ed Young, 1972.
This folktale centers around the gift of an elephant from the prince of India to Ts'ao Ts'ao, the Supreme Governor of China. The amazing creature is ten feet tall, but no one knows how much it weighs. The royal advisers can't figure out how to weigh the elephant, but Ts'ao Ts'ao's little son P'ei has a method that just may work. The clever child eventually becomes the emperor of all China in a.d. 200.

Like many of the Chinese folktales mentioned on this blog, 8,000 Stones is illustrated by Ed Young.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Hunter: a Chinese Folktale

The Hunter: a Chinese Folktale retold by Mary Casanova, Illus. by Ed Young, 2000.

During a drought, the village hunter, Hai Li Bu, has occasion to rescue a pearly colored snake from a hungry crane. The reptile, not just what she seems, is the daughter of the Dragon King of the Sea, who rewards the hunter with the treasure of his choice. Although he is offered rubies, emeralds, sapphires or pearls, Hai Li Bu asks that he may understand the animal's language. With this talent he is able to provide food for his village and restore health to his people. Then one day he learns from the creatures that a flood is coming that will destroy the village. He has been told that if he reveals the source of his gift, he will be turned to stone. Yet, without proof his people will not believe his story of danger. Will Hai Li Bu sacrifice himself to save the lives of so many others?

Ed Young's pastel and gouache illustrations have graceful line drawings against warm sepia backgrounds, highlighted with white and subtle color.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Real Story of Stone Soup by Ying Chang Compestine

The Real Story of Stone Soup by Ying Chang Compestine, Illus. by Stephane Jorisch, 2007.

You've probably heard the story of Stone Soup, but this is an amusingly different version of the tale. The unreliable narrator, a somewhat self important and lazy fisherman, hires the three Chang brothers to help him with his boat. At lunchtime, he realizes they have nothing to cook in, but the boys manage without a cooking pot. They have some fun with him as they secretly introduce fish, vegetables and eggs into the soup, but tell him the ingredients come from whispering to special stones. The fisherman takes the credit for inventing stone soup, and everyone has a swell lunch. The soup recipe follows the story.

Jorisch's comical watercolor illustrations add to the book's fun. The narrator tells us one thing, but we readers see another. The fisherman claims he's doing the "hardest job" while lying back with his hat over his face, as the "lazy and...somewhat stupid" boys struggle to heave the fish-filled net into the boat. While cooking the soup, the brothers rush the gullible man off to find some salt or sesame oil, while they slyly add fish or eggs, then show him how to  listen and speak to the stones.

Apparently, stone soup really is a traditional dish in southeast China in a region called Xi Shang Ban Na. The legend is that fishermen created the recipe, which is cooked in a hole in the ground lined with banana leaves and brought to a boil by dropping in hot river rocks.These rocks bring out a unique smell and taste. Compestine visited and found that her favorite of the various soups was Egg Drop Stone Soup!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Little Sima & the Giant Bowl: a Chinese Folktale

Little Sima & the Giant Bowl, Adapted by Zhi Qu, Illus. by Lin Wang, 2009.

In Little Sima's great-great-grandfather's day, dragons wove clouds in the sky that would bring about the rain or snow that the people needed. One day, the village dragon decided to stop his duty and went to live in the river instead, bringing about a drought, and making a nuisance of himself by breathing out fire and draining the villagers' wells of much needed water. For one hundred years, the people suffered, until Sima's family fed and offered shelter to a fragile old man, who in return gave them a gift that would save the village. Some years later, young Sima and his friends are playing when an accident occurs that forces him to choose between following the rules and ensuring regular rainfall or saving his friend's life and facing the consequences.

The tale's Afterword explains that, like several of the other Chinese folktales mentioned on the blog, the story features a real person, in this instance Sima Guang, who lived during the Song dynasty from 1019 to 1086. He was a government official, a scholar and an author whose book Zizhai Tongjian (A Mirror for Good Governance) is still read in China. The fictionalized Sima is intended to be a heroic role model for children. This story is in the "On My Own Folklore" series from Lerner publishing. Although it is thoroughly illustrated, it it not in the picture book format, but is the size of an early reader book. A glossary is included as well as a list of further reading and websites to explore.

Wang's attractive, dreamy illustrations set the mood for the story. Muted washes of pale green and speckles of blue, or burnt orange and pink streak the skies. The highlights are the paintings of the dragons snaking through the sky, with antlered heads and whiskered snouts.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Cricket's Cage

The Cricket's Cage: a Chinese Folktale retold by Stefan Czernecki, 1997.
This pleasing Beijing folktale is about emperor Yongle's desire to place four watchtowers at the corners of the newly built imperial palace and the humble cricket who proves to be the perfect designer. Yongle is incredibly hard to please and his minister Wu Zhong has already presented him with more than sixteen different plans, only to have each rejected. The emperor threatens to behead his minister, which causes a chain reaction as the minister in turn menaces the Master Builder with execution, who passes the ultimatum down to the carpenter, who builds the tower models. The carpenter doesn't know what to do, so he visits his friend the cricket seller, who gifts him with a cricket for inspiration and good luck. Although the carpenter is in despair, he promises the cheerful cricket that he will build it a new cage before he dies. After the carpenter has retired to bed, the cricket draws a plan for an elaborate cage that he hopes to make his home. It proves to also be perfect for a tower, saving the lives of several men and ensuring happiness for the emperor, the carpenter and the cricket!
In Czernecki's Author's Note, we learn that Yongle was the third emperor of the Ming dynasty and he really did restore the imperial palace at the capital. He had the royal buildings protected by a wall and created the Forbidden City. He then found his way into this tale, which was originally published in Beijing Legends by Jin Shoushen in 1957.

Czernecki's artwork is made with Chinese mineral and vegetable pigments and the pictures are bordered with dragon designs of the emperor's robe, in yellow, because only he was allowed to wear that color during his rule. The little green cricket appears at the bottom of every page of text. Overall, this is a bright and beautiful book.
Some charming examples of cricket cages:


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2013 Fifty Fifty Me Challenge Summary

Clearly, I became increasingly unfaithful in reporting my fiftyfifty.me statistics as 2013 wore on. When I last reported in September, my stats were:

Books total: 90
Minus folktales: 53
Movies 28
Major 37/7
Minor 2/3

One thing I learned was that I was not going to watch 50 new movies in 2013. I would much rather read or watch a TV series on DVD or Netflix such as Orange is the New Black, Grimm or Murdoch Mysteries. So, I pretty much gave up that challenge. In fact, the only new (to me) movies I can remember watching between October-December were Enough Said and Despicable Me. So, I only watched 30 movies.

I think that I read twelve more chapter books/novels:

Alphabetical by author:

  1. Long Lankin by Lindsey Barraclough
  2. After: 19 Stories of Apocalypse & Dystopia Ed. by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling
  3. The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
  4. If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan
  5. On the Day I Died: Stories from the Grave by
  6. Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
  7. Skylight Confessions by Alice Hoffman
  8. The Great Trouble: a Mystery of London, The Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel by Deborah Hopkinson
  9. The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell by William Klaber
  10. The Treachery of Beautiful Things by Ruth Frances Long
  11. Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
  12. UnSouled by Neal Shusterman
I only read two books by John Steinbeck in 2013. Maybe I'll read the last one in 2014.

I read twenty one more folktales, but I left Japan behind and visited stories of Aboriginal Australia and China. To see them, click my labels for each country.

 Final stats (or so I think, I've never been good at math):

Books total: 123
Minus folktales: 65
Movies 30
Major 37/7
Minor 2/3

Friday, January 10, 2014

Lani and the Secret of the Mountain

Lani and the Secret of the Mountain by Jewell Reinhart Coburn, Illus. by Mikki Senkarik, 1996.

This book is part of the Common Values series and, unlike most of the folktales that I have mentioned, was created specifically for teaching. It is intended for discussing values such as: "Responsibility, Loyalty, Compassion, Courage, Self-sacrifice and Thinking Consequentially." It is also a multilingual edition and contains a long version of the tale in English, plus shortened tellings in English, Chinese: Traditional & Hanyu Pinyin, Hmong, Cambodian (Khmer), Lao, Vietnamese and Spanish. Following the story is a teaching section, with background about China and this folktale, reading suggestions, story-related activities and discussion questions.

The story, also known as "The Long Haired Girl", it is about a brave young girl named Lani who saves her village from a terrible drought. The people and animals are suffering in the heat. Known to her neighbors as laughing and attractive, with long black hair that reaches the ground, Lani suddenly returns from the mountain with downcast eyes and lifeless, snow-white locks. She has learned that the mountain spirit is hording a special plant that can return water to the village, but she has been threatened with death if  she tells of it. Even so, she is willing to sacrifice herself and bring life back to her people. They rejoice in the water's return and the spirit of the mountain sentences her to die in payment. Fortunately, the newly releases water spirits have a plan to save Lani from her execution that also brings back her health and beauty.

Senkarik's illustrations are a mix of black and white and color pictures. Lani is first shown with a little face surrounded by her waves of dark hair, intentionally springing out around her like a halo. This contrasts with a saddened Lani with cascades of white tresses. From there, the illustrations are done in color, each with fancy border frames. Lani is shown with her animal friends, both her pet piglets and wild creatures.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Liang and the Magic Paintbrush

Liang and the Magic Paintbrush by Demi, 1980.

In the company of Han Gan and The Boy Who Drew Cats, Liang can draw things that become real and alive. He has the strong desire to paint and is driven away from an art school because he is only a beggar, but one night an old man riding a phoenix appears and gives him a magical paintbrush. He paints both useful things and toys for his poor friends. To make his living, he sells paintings of birds in the marketplace, but he always leaves a detail out to keep them from springing to life. One day, something happens that draws the attention of the greedy emperor. He demands that Liang give him the brush, and when he will not, and will not draw what he is commanded, the ruler has the boy imprisoned. The emperor tries to draw himself riches, but the magic fails. To prevent him from ruining the magic brush, Liang agrees to paint what the emperor wills. Yet, Liang and his magic paintbrush are enough to defeat the monarch and go back to aiding the poor.

Demi has illustrated her retelling with subtle watercolor paintings. Her books The Firebird  (retold & illustrated) and Bamboo Hats and a Rice Cake  (retold by Ann Tompert, illus. by Demi) are also described on this blog.