Archive for the ‘book reviews’ Category

book review: Kid Beowulf and the Rise of El Cid

May 21, 2013 Leave a comment


Kid Beowulf and the Rise of El Cid is the latest in the Kid Beowulf series of graphic novels from Lex Fajardo, which make the classics approachable and fun. In Lex’s re-envisioning, Beowulf and Grendel are 12-year-old twin brothers, travelling the world (with their constant companion, Hama the pig) meeting many of the great epic heroes.

One of my favorite aspects of each Kid B book is a short opening section that tells the “classic” story as it has come down to us, with full drama and poetry the way the bards might have sung it, and then the story switches over to Lex’s own retelling.  For Kid B and El Cid, many may remember the classic movie with Charlton Heston and Sophia Lauren, but Lex takes on the story at a much earlier time, when a young not-yet-El-Cid Rodrigo is still struggling to find his place in the world. Along the way, young Beowulf and Grendel unknowingly take a few more steps toward their destiny, and (unintentionally) even start the first “running with the bulls” in Pamplona!

I’ve liked the Kid Beowulf series from the start, but it gets even better in this third book. There is new depth and shading, in the art, in the characters, and in the storytelling, which is very appropriate for young readers who are growing up with the twin brothers Beowulf and Grendel. In this installment there are also some strong female roles (Ximena, Queen Urraca, and Boudi), and a story that very organically touches on always-relevant issues of tolerance and empathy, without losing Kid B’s signature sense of humor and playfulness. I highly recommend it for both kids and grown-ups — I love it! (5 stars in Goodreads)

Kid Beowulf and the Rise of El Cid, by Alexis E. Fajardo. Published by Kid Beowulf Comics (2013). Previous books in the series were Kid Beowulf and the Blood-Bound Oath (2008) and Kid Beowulf and the Song of Roland (2010).


truth in advertising

October 10, 2010 Leave a comment

At Wordstock I got this year’s must-read book, “Zombie Haiku” by Ryan Mecum. I like it when a book’s title tells you exactly what you’re going to get!

Reportaje de libro: Cajas de cartón

May 14, 2008 Leave a comment

This is a book review of one of my favorite books. I wrote this back in 2004 while I was living in Santa Clara CA, taking an intro Spanish class, so please forgive the inevitable errors :-). FYI, my translation back to English follows the Spanish version.

Reportaje de libro: Cajas de cartón, por Francisco Jiménez

Este libro is una historia autobiográfica, con “relatos de la vida peregrina de un niño campesino”, como dice la cubierta.Estoy leyéndolo sin diccionario, aunque hay muchas palabras las que no entiendo, casi cincuenta porciento quizás. Pero yo entiendo bastante bien que puedo saber las cosas más importantes que pasan. Y me gusta lo mejor cuando puedo aprender una palabra nueva por el contexto.

Por ejemplo, en una cuenta el bebé de la familia estaba enfermo, y el autor dice “Todas nos arrodillamos frente al Santo Niño para rezar.” No sabía que significa ni “arrodillamos” ni “rezar”. Pero sí ya sabía que “rodillos” son “knees” en inglés y por eso decidí que “arrodillarse” significa “to kneel” y “rezar” debe ser “to pray”. En esta manera he sido aprendiendo algunas palabras nuevas.

Hasta ahora yo he leído cuatro de los doce relatos del libro. En el primero, el autor cuenta como él y su familia se fueron su pobreza en México y viajaron a California para trabajar en los campos de algodón, uvas, y fresas. Ellos tuvieron que ir bajo de la cerca de la frontera durante la noches, para evitar “la migra”, la policía de la frontera.

En la segunda cuenta, él relata como él tenía que cuidar a su hermanito nuevo en el carro cerca de los campos mientras su mamá, papá, y hermano mayor trabajaban pizcando algodón. Un día, decidía pizcar algodón también, cerca del carro. Él era muy orgulloso hasta que los padres volvieron y descubrieron que ¡el bebé ha se hecho muy sucio!

La tercera cuenta es sobre su primer año de escuela. Él no entendía nada de inglés y la maestra no trataba de enseñarlo a él. ¡Pero su dibujo de mariposas ganó el primer premio de la clase!

Yo ya mencioné la cuarta cuenta, en la que el bebé estaba enfermo. La familia rezaban día y noche, arrodillándose bajo de la pintura del Santo Niño, pidiéndo que si el santo mejorará su bebé, ellos rezarían al santo cada día por un año entero. Me gusta decir que el bebé se mejoró despues de muchos rezos, y un viaje a la hospital.

Me gustan mucho estas cuentas y entiendo mejor cómo era ser un niño campesino en California en las años cincuenta. A veces, todavía pienso en mí mismo como un niño campensino de Iowa, donde me crecí. Este libro es un poco como “The Grapes of Wrath” para latinos. El autor hasta dice que ese libro fue su favorito cuando estaba aprendiendo inglés.

Una nota más: el autor, Francisco Jiménez, vivo en Santa Clara y enseña en la Universidad de Santa Clara. Cuando yo estaba sentando en una tienda de café viernes, alguien me vio leyendo Cajas de Cartón. Me dijo que él conoce señor Jiménez y es un hombre muy amable y bondadoso.

vocabulario (palabras que yo tenía que encontrar en el diccionario):

  1. la cubierta: the cover (of a book)
  2. la cerca: the fence
  3. evitar: to avoid
  4. el premio: the prize
  5. bondadoso: kind

Book review: Cajas de cartón (Cardboard boxes), by Francisco Jiménez

This book is an autobiography, with “stories of the nomadic life of a young migrant farmboy”, as it says on the cover. I’m reading it without a Spanish-English dictionary although there are many words I don’t understand, almost half maybe. But I understand enough that I can follow the most important things that happen. And what I enjoy most is that I learn new words by their context.

For example, in one story the baby of the family was sick, and the author says “Todas nos arrodillamos frente al Santo Niño para rezar.” (“We all <something> in front of Saint Niño to <something>.”) I didn’t know what “arrodillamos” and “rezar” meant. But I did already know that “rodillos” are “knees” in Spanish and so I decided that “arrodillarse” means “to kneel” and “rezar” must be “to pray”. In that way I’ve been learning some new words.

So far I’ve read four of the dozen stories in the book. In the first, the author tells how he and his family left their poverty in Mexico and journeyed to California to work in the cotton, grape, and strawberry fields. They had to go under the fence at the border at night, to avoid “la migra”, the border police.

In the second story, he tells he had to care for his new little brother in the car by the fields, while his mother, father, and older brother worked picking cotton. One day, he decided to pick cotton too, next to the car. He was very proud, until his parents returned and discovered that the baby had made himself very dirty!

The third story is about his first year at school. He didn’t understand any English and the teacher did not try to teach it to him. But his drawing of butterflies won first prize in the class!

I already mentioned the fourth story, in which the baby was sick. The family prayed day and night, kneeling under the painting of Saint Niño, begging that if the saint would heal their baby, they would pray to the saint every day for a whole year. I was pleased to read that the baby got better after many prayers, and a trip to the hospital.

I’m enjoying these stories very much, and understanding better what it was like to be a migrant farmboy in California in the 50’s. Sometimes I still think of myself as a farmboy from Iowa where I was born. This book is a little like a “The Grapes of Wrath” for Latinos. The author even says that that book was his favorite when he was learning English.

One more note: the author, Francisco Jiménez, lives in Santa Clara and teaches in the University of Santa Clara. When I was sitting in a coffeeshop Friday, someone saw me reading Cajas de Cartón. He told me he knew professor Jiménez well, and he is a very friendly, kind man.

book review: Bicycle

March 29, 2008 1 comment

20080329.jpg Bicycle

Bicycle is a short book of delightful poems, haiku-short and epigrammatic, written by Paul Fattaruso with drawings by Adam Thompson. I found it in the “small press” section at Powell’s bookstore last weekend. A few of my favorites:

Twice a year the air carries the faint whir of migrating bicycles.

Romance. A bicycle parked on a slope.

Today’s bicycle is amiss; it is an imperfect echo of yesterday’s bicycle. Then I notice that I myself am amiss, an imperfect echo of something.

The assassin carried a quiverful of arrows, a strip of jerky, and rode the shadow of a stolen bicycle.

Through the quiet of each night, a faint song, the mild squeak of a heartbroken bicycle.

We arrive a an intricate crossroads. I hand the compass over to the bicycle.

The bicycle cannot know it is a bicycle. It cannot even suspect.

How easily one commits its fragile balance to memory.

Under tires, the road sings out in its hidden language, sforzando.

At moonrise, the snow is the same purple as the sky. This is the secret hour when the bicycle leaves no tracks.

Like haiku, these short poems are grounded in sensory experience, and also like haiku they inspire and justify reflection on larger truths. The whimsy of many had me stifling laughs in the bookshelves, while the quiet and contained sadness of others will stay with me for a long long time. Of course I read it all there in the store, and of course I bought it – and it doesn’t feel presumptuous for me to put it on my shelf next to Basho.

Bicycle, by Paul Fattaruso with drawings by Adam Thompson. Published by the Hotel St. George Press, Brooklyn NY (2007).

book review: Robinson Crusoe

March 25, 1998 Leave a comment

I thought I might share some thoughts I had on a book I first read a few years ago: Robinson Crusoe. I guess this is not so much a book review as it is my assessment of the character of Robin himself.

Within the bounds of the era, I ended up not liking Robin very much. He, without really even thinking about it, always strives for power over nature and other people. Some examples: He clips the wings of birds to keep them around, for no particular reason. He despised being a slave, and escaped at his first chance, yet he wants slaves for his plantation and considers it merely a business opportunity to go to Africa to get some. When Friday throws himself at Robin’s feet in gratitude, Robin takes him as a slave instead of picking him up and allowing/teaching him to be his own man – an independent friend, not a servile stooge. Indeed, Crusoe doesn’t even think twice about taking Friday with him when leaving Friday’s father and country behind forever; and when in civilization, Friday is not even mentioned at all. With this precedent, I’m not sure how great a compliment it would be to be someone’s “Man/Gal Friday”. Robin has a racial double standard as well: he leaves the cannibals alone, so long as they are merely eating each other; but when another European is prisoner, he is so outraged that he immediately begins indiscriminately slaughtering all of them within reach.

I was also surprised at his extreme lack of curiosity. He spent years on the island before even performing the least cursory exploration. There could have been an English seaport on the far side and he would have never found it, being too busy building a fortress out of paranoid delusions. He could have starved to death, never knowing that there were thousands of tortoises on the far shore. He was a very clever man, very inventive and persistant, and could plan well ahead, but he had no vision.

A thought I had: suppose the English ship had not landed and he had not happened across the Spaniard and Friday. He would have lived a long life, been very comfortable, and then died. He would never have advanced his mind or discovered anything new. He was merely getting along, in what amounted to the “upper end of the lower class” existance he so despised! An analogy: a sheep escapes from the confinement of the herd and pen, wanders to a far valley and spends years learning how to fence itself back in, perhaps even learning how to fleece itself!