Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The True Story of a Dog

This is the true story of a dog who lived almost a century ago. His monument stands in Scotland's capital city of Edinburgh to this day. Remembering his devotion to an old man whom he loved in life and guarded for fourteen years after death had parted them. He made happier the lives of a whole generation of children who knew him. This is his story.

Title: Greyfriars Bobby: The True Story of a Dog
Release: July 17, 1961
Genre: Family-Drama
MPAA Rating: G
Based On: Greyfriar's Bobby by Eleanor Atkinson
Writer: Robert Westerby
Director: Don Chaffey
Music By: Francis Chagrin
Produced By: Hugh Attwooll & Walt Disney
Distributed By: Buena Vista aka Walt Disney Company
Run Time: 87 minutes

Pedigree pooches to street-smart mutts, the Disney studio has cornered the market on lovable canines. Besides Pluto and Goofy, many of the earlier movies starring dogs are based on books and Greyfriar’s Bobby is no exception however, the author Eleanor Atkinson actually based her novel on a true story.

For the most part, Disney’s Greyfriar’s Bobby has been forgotten over time but it’s still a lovely, quiet little film that just left out much of the story’s exciting moments that may have had a more lasting impact on audiences. My only real complaint about the film is actually the same one I had about the book and that is that the Scottish accents in the movie are a bit "hard on American ears" but since I read the book first (and had a really hard time understanding some of the dialogue even then) I was better prepared.

Disney is the only company that has made a Greyfriar’s Bobby movie adaptation that is mostly loyal to Eleanor Atkinson's book. In addition, it is the only one to use a Skye terrier (rumored to have actually been named Bobby), a mostly extinct breed now that was thought to be what Bobby was. MGM’s Challenge to Lassie (1949) replaced Bobby with Lassie and Piccadilly Pictures changed so much of their 2005 adaptation that only the bare bone of the plot was still true.

Walt Disney himself made a trip to Edinburgh to see where Bobby roamed in life but because of modern things like telephone poles, it was decided to film mostly on a studio set however, those beautiful landscapes in the film are from the location. I was a little surprised to learn that this wasn’t Donald Crisp’s (James Brown the kirkyard caretaker) first experience with the story of Greyfriar’s Bobby either. He played Auld Jock in the Lassie version of the story Challenge to Lassie!

  • Wikipedia has a plot and cast synopsis as well as a little about the film's inital reception.
  • A little trivia can be found on's Greyfriars Bobby page.
The first part of the complete movie:

Related Links:
Greyfriars Bobby by Eleanor Atkinson

Friday, September 25, 2009

Grandma Dowdel Takes Home the Newbery

Oh didn’t I feel sorry for myself when the Wabash Railroad’s Blue Bird train steamed into Grandma’s town…

Mary Alice’s summer days spent in Grandma Dowdel’s hick town had been packed with enough surprises and drama to fit the double bill of any picture show. But now she is fifteen and facing a whole year with Grandma, a woman well known for shaking up the local populace. And all Mary Alice can know for certain is this: When trying to predict how life with Grandma might turn out… better not.

Richard Peck crafts a worthy successor to his Newbery Honor-winning A Long Way from Chicago in this richly entertaining story. With its masterfully interwoven tales of moonlit adventures, lovesick maidens, and fools made to suffer in unusual (and always hilarious) ways, it’s readers will want to return time and again.

Title: A Year Down Yonder
Author: Richard Peck
Series: Grandma Dowdel, Book 2
Start & Finished: 3/23/09
Published: 2000
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Pages: 130 (hardcover)
Genre: Juvenile Fiction- Newbery Winner

Joey’s story of the summers he and his sister spent with their eccentric Grandma in A Long Way from Chicago earned the author Richard Peck a Newbery nomination but it was Mary Alice’s story in the sequel A Year Down Yonder that actually won the coveted award. Grandma is a larger than life figure in both her grandchildren’s lives and the readers' as well. The format of this book is different than when Joey was the narrator in the first one since they were only visiting Grandma during the summer each year and Mary Alice is actually living with her but it’s also the same as each "story" can stand almost completely alone.

Halloween, Christmas, Armistice Day, and even Valentine’s Day are spent in Grandma’s company during this story, even though Halloween was probably the best holiday. “To Grandma, Halloween wasn’t so much trick-or-treat as it was vittles and vengeance. Though she’d have called it justice.” Then when Christmas came around, “Somehow I didn’t think Grandma and Christmas went together,” then Mary Alice learns that Grandma goes with anything she pleases and she’ll make room for herself if not.

A Long Way from Chicago quickly became on of my favorite stories- or more accurately, Grandma Dowdel quickly became one of my favorite character- so I honestly didn’t think its sequel would measure up even if it did actually win the Newbery. I should have known that spending the year with Grandma would be better (and even more hysterically funny) than the summer no matter who the narrator was. In the end, I believe that Peck’s sequel worked so well because Mary Alice is much more like Grandma. As she puts it, “I hadn’t lived all year with her for nothing. Sometimes I thought I was turning into her. I had to watch out not to talk like her. And I was to cook like her for all the years to come.”

Richard Peck says that Grandma Dowdel is completely fiction but, “The house in the stories is certainly my grandma's, with the snowball bushes crowding the bay window and the fly strip heavy with corpses hanging down over the oilcloth kitchen table, and the path back to the privy. I even borrow my grandmother's physical presence. My grandmother was six feet tall with a fine crown of thick white hair, and she wore aprons the size of Alaska. But she wasn't Grandma Dowdel. When you're a writer, you can give yourself the grandma you wished you had,” and he gives us the Grandma we wish we all had!

Grandma Dowdel Series
A Long Way From Chicago (1998)
A Year Down Yonder (2000)
A Season of Gifts (2009)

First Paragraph: Oh, didn't I feel sorry for myself when the Wabash Railroad's Blue Bird train steamed into Grandma's town. The sandwich was still crumbs in my throat because I didn't have the dime for a bottle of pop. They wannted a dime for pop on the train.

Interviews with Richard Peck:
Education Paperback Association (EPA) (under Commentary by Richard Peck)
Notes from the Horn Book

  • A transcript of Peck's Newbery acceptance speech
  • A Year Down Yonder Book Log with quotes from the book and explanations of what they are mentioning- Burgoo for instance.
  • Kids. Librarypoint article about Richard Peck- army man, teacher, and finally author.

Richard Peck at the National Book Festival

Picture Explanations
Philco Portable Radio: One of the few things Mary Alice brings with her from Chicago
Pumpkin & Pecan Pie: Grandma “borrows” the main ingredients to make these for the school Halloween party
Kate Smith: The songbird of the south whose song about
Moonlight is very popular during the time period the book is set in and is mentioned a few times.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Help is Coming from Above

E.B. White's classic children's story comes to the screen in this live-action adaptation with an all-star voice cast. Fern Arable (Dakota Fanning) is a young girl growing up on her family's farm. When a sow gives birth to some piglets, Fern's father (Kevin Anderson) intends to do away with the runt of litter, but Fern has become attached to the little pig and persuades her father to let him live. The pig, named Wilbur (voice of Dominic Scott Kay), becomes Fern's pet, but when he grows larger, he's put in the care of Homer Zuckerman (Gary Basaraba), a farmer down the road. Fern is still able to visit Wilbur regularly, and it soon occurs to both of them that pigs tend to have a limited life expectancy on a farm, and that unless something unusual happens, Wilbur will eventually becomes someone's dinner. Charlotte, a friendly spider, hatches a plan to make Wilbur seem special enough to save by weaving messages about the "terrific" pig into her web, and she soon persuades her barnyard friends to join in her plan.

Title: Charlotte’s Web
Release: December 15, 2006
Genre: Family
MPAA Rating: G
Based On: Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Writer: Susannah Grant & Karey Kirkpatrick
Director: Gary Winick
Music By: Danny Elfman
Produced By: Jordan Kerner
Distributed By: Paramount Pictures/Nickelodeon Movies
Run Time: 97 minutes
Official Site
Nickelodeon Official Site

E.B. White's story of a little spider that saved a pig's life has delighted everyone since 1952 when it was first published. Then in 1973, another generation experienced it a different way when was adapted into an animated musical. More than 50 years after White's book was nominated for the Newbery award, Walden Media, Paramount, and Nickelodeon teamed up to bring the world of Charlotte's Web as a live-action/ computer-animated film to life.

The nostalgic scenery and the beautiful setting are the very best highlights of the film, besides the actors (like Dakota Fanning who plays Fern)/ voice actors. Even if at times it did remind me of Walden Media’s work on Because of Winn-Dixie. However, instead of a cute dog, somehow they are able to get you to love and care about a creepy spider (although the fact that Julie Roberts is her voice certainly helps!) and a little “runty pig,” but then everybody loves Wilbur. The soundtrack is also wonderful as it’s done by my second favorite composer Danny Elfman (my first is the Sherman Brothers who actually composed the songs for the first animated version).

The animated Charlotte’s Web by Hannah Barbara has been one of my favorite films and it has never failed to make me laugh and cry. I actually saw it way before I read Mr. White’s marvelous book too but when I learned there was a re-make I couldn’t help but be eager to see it. Especially when I saw the names attached to the project! Julia Roberts (Charlotte), Kathy Bates (Bitsy the cow), Reba McEntire (Betsy the cow), Oprah Winfrey (Gussy Goose), John Cleese (Samuel the Sheep aka the old sheep in the book), Steve Buscemi (Templeton, The Rat), and many more too. The star power attached to the film did worry me a little but for the most part I really loved seeing the story the way the author must have originally envisioned it. Some of the film was made with animatronics, and you can tell at times but there are real animals too.

Written so the story is "as loyal to E.B. White as [it] can possibly be" by the original screenwriter, the script was revised to add in humor that keeps the film from verging into being sickly sweet. Some of the humor was a bit distracting but never distasteful and it didn’t subtract from the emotional ending either. Wilbur (who is ironically played by almost 50 different pigs) will always be terrific in my book and Charlotte too. Actually, everybody involved in this radiant movie is terrific!

Featured Songs:
Ordinary Miracle performed by Sarah McLachlan

  •’s page on Charlotte’s Web has some interesting trivia, links, and much, much more.
  • The Charlotte’s Web Wikipedia page has lots of information about the production of the film, how it was recieved, and even a little about the soundtrack and video game.
  •'s Charlotte's Web page has videos of interviews with the stars, behind the scenes, and even clips from the movie.
  • There is an article at Animation World Network about the film as well.


Official Trailer

Dakota Fanning Interview with Chuck the Movie Guy

Meet the Star of Charlotte's Web Julia Roberts Interview

Related Reviews:
Charlotte’s Web (1973)
Charlotte’s Web by EB White

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Surviving the Wild

Sam Gribley is terribly unhappy living in New York City with his family, so he runs away to the Catskill Mountains to live by himself. With only a penknife, a ball of cord, forty dollars, and some flint and steel, he intends to survive on his own. Sam learns about courage, danger, and independence during his year in the wilderness, a year that changes his life forever.

Title: My Side of the Mountain
Author: Jean Craighead George
Series: Mountain, Book 1
Start & Finished: 3/21/09
Published: 1959
Publisher: Puffin Books
Pages: 177
Genre: Children's Literature

This year is the 50th anniversary of one of Jean Craighead George’s most famous books My Side of the Mountain. Like the majority of her books, this story deals "with topics related to the environment and the natural world" and also of living off the land. Sam’s story is completely made up by the author and “his adventures are the fufillment of that day long ago when [she] told [her] mother [that she] was going to run away, got as far as the edge of the woods, and came back… but not Sam.” Growing up with a father who was both a naturalist and a scientist, Ms. George learned at an early age many of the things Sam learns from books as well as trial and error in his quest to live off the land.

“With ideas coming fast, the first draft [of My Side of the Mountain] was done in two weeks. Five revisions later, it was finished and off to the publisher,” but the author almost wasn’t able to get it published as the publisher didn’t believe that children should be encouraged to leave home. However, he soon changed his mind when he realized that “it was better for children to run to the woods than the city.” Even if they aren’t ill-treated (like Sam), there are quite a few kids who want to run away from home and some did after they read this story. I doubt they lasted as long as Sam does nor do they have an adventure quite like his either.

Learning to live with the weather and living by learning animal and bird habits, Sam survives and thrives in the wilderness and that is what makes this story so magical even today. I stumbled across this book for the first time in middle school and just loved how the author makes you feel like you’re on the adventure too. Several years later I had forgotten everything but Sam and ‘Bando’ making the clay jars and blueberry jam so re-reading this story again was like reading it for the first time. Becoming reacquainted with Baron Weasel again who is “a fearless wild animal” with “something human about his beady glance” and seeing Sam train Frightful were some of the very best parts that I can’t believe I had forgotten them!

This clever book was recognized by several prestigious children’s book awards like the Hans Christian Anderson International award, and the ALA too, however most importantly, it was nominated for the Newbery award in 1960. Nine years later it even became a film set in Toronto, Ontario and Sam runs away to the Laurentian Mountains in the adapted version instead of The Catskills like in the book. Sam’s adventure inspired people everywhere to appreciate nature and many environmentalists today read it when they were children. It took the author until 1991 that she began to write sequels to her Newbery Honor book and so far there are four. Although none of them could ever hope to measure up to the original, they should still help keep interest alive in it and the 2007 release is probably going to be the last one.

Jean Craighead George dedicated My Side of the Mountain “to many people-
to that gang of youngsters who
Inhabited the trees and waters of the
Potomac River so many years ago, and
to the bit of Sam Gribley in the
Children and adults around me now.”

My Side of the Mountain Series
1. My Side of the Mountain (1959)
2. On the Far Side of the Mountain (1990)
3. Frightful's Mountain (1999)
4. Frightful's Daughter (2002)
5. Frightful's Daughter Meets the Baron Weasel (2007)

First Paragraph: I am on a mountain in a tree home that people have passed without ever knowing that I am here. The house is a hemlock tree six feet in diameter, and must be as old as the mountain itself. I came upon it last summer and dug and burned it out until I made a snug cave in the tree that I now call home.


  • Wikipedia lists Jean Craighead George's works and includes a short biography.
  • There is also a Wikipedia page on My Side of the Mountain that has a complete plot summary (with spoilers)
  • On the author's official website under What's New, there is a video talking about the upcoming 50th anniversary edition of My Side of the Mountain. She also reads from her story.

    The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) interviews Jean Craighead George about My Side of the Mountain

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Come Meet Little Georgie

"New Folks coming, Mother- Father, new Folks coming into the Big House!" shouted Little Georgie the Rabbit. All the animals of the Hill were very excited about the news and wondered how things would change. Would the new Folks bring dogs, traps, and guns? Or would they be planting Folks who would care for the land and grow rich crops? It had been years since there had been a garden at the House.

Title: Rabbit Hill
Author & Illustrator: Robert Lawson
Start & Finished: 3/20/09
Published: 1944
Publisher: Viking Penguin Group
Pages: 128
Genre: Children- Animals

Simple, yet oh so charming! At only 128 pages, with an illustration on almost every page, Robert Lawson’s Newbery winning novel Rabbit Hill is most decidedly a children’s book but enjoyable enough for anyone of all ages. Mostly an illustrator for many books other than his own (and quite a few of them award-winning as well), Lawson is the only person to ever be awarded both the Newbery and the Caldecott medal for his story They Were Strong and Good published four years earlier.

There have been stories about how animals behave away from human eyes since before the written word but the ones that really made an impact were stories like Beatrix Potter and Thornton Burgess which this particular book fits in well. Animal tales, especially ones where the animals talk and act like humans have always had a place on my shelves and in my heart since before I even learned to read. Particularly as I was growing up too as I very rarely read books if they didn’t have animals in them or where the main characters! All of the little Animals in Rabbit Hill do appear in Lawson’s sequel The Tough Winter too.

This story is perhaps a bit wordy at times, especially when Father Rabbit gets started on his Kentucky bluegrass but even if it does seem a trifle old-fashioned (the very best kind in my opinion) and seems to meander a bit, I truly enjoyed this quick read. It sort of reminds me of the Ballet Shoes by Noel Streafeild as quite a few things happen but when its over, it doesn’t seem like much at all went on. I do find myself wishing I could have read it from the human’s view point at times though the animals were plenty entertaining and interesting: “There’s Good Times, Georgie, an’ there’s Bad Times but they go. An’ there’s good Folks an’ there’s bad Folks, an’ they go too- but there’s always new Folks comin’. That’s why there’s some sense in that song you keep a-singin,’” said Uncle Analdus (don’t worry not all of the animals talk like this) on page 54 to Little Georgie (who is kind of like Potter‘s Peter Rabbit).

Of all the animals I think I agree with whoever T. is that the author dedicated the book to as I love Little Georgie as well. All of the animals are well presented for such a short story but he is definitely the favorite of the author as well as his fellow companions “for of all the younger Animals Little Georgie was the most beloved.” I’m not sure if kids today would sit through this story but I’m sure many adults would enjoy it. I plan to seek out other stories by this author soon and I’m looking forward to watching Little Georgie of Rabbit Hill if I can find it (originally on NBC Children's Theatre in 1967)… then I think I’ll go plant a garden.

Copy: Library check-out

First Line: All the Hill was boiling with excitement.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Presenting It Right Now:

In this lighthearted comedy which was her second star vehicle, Shirley Temple sings, tap dances, and displays all the charm and talent which have made her the biggest child star of all time.

Shirley's father (James Dunn) is an ex-con trying hard to make an honest living by working as a chaffeur. But he runs into trouble when a pearl necklace dissappears from his employers home and the detective on the case decides he's guilty. Luckily, Shirley finds the pearls and winds up the case in short order. But not before she engages her father and the detective in the film's most enjoyable scene- a hilarious game of hide and seek.

Title: Baby Take a Bow
Release: June 30, 1934
Genre: Drama-Crime Comedy
MPAA Rating: PG
Based On: Square Crooks by James P. Judge (play)
Writer: Philip Klein & Edward E. Paramore Jr.
Director: Harry Lachman
Music By: David Buttolph
Produced By: John Stone
Distributed By: Fox Film Corporation
Run Time: 76 minutes

“On account’a” Shirley Temple‘s lasting fame, there are many films that have been preserved that may have fallen into obscurity and none so much as her earliest ones. Baby Take a Bow was one of the earliest feature length films that she starred in and her very first for Fox Film Corporation. Temple stars alongside James Dunn whom she had acted with during a previous role in Stand Up and Cheer. The song that they performed together in that film was called Baby Take a Bow funnily enough; it doesn’t appear in this particular film however.

Originally called Always Honest, this movie is actually an adaptation of the little-known play Square Crooks by James P. Judge. It does however bring to mind other Temple vehicles (such as Little Miss Marker) especially when instead of playing the role of “cute-little-girl-whom-you-forget-about-as-soon-as-the-action-starts,” Shirley Temple instead steals the whole show.

A year after this was made, all the original negatives and master prints were thought destroyed after a fire but a copy was found with only three minutes missing from it and that is what is shown today (it isn‘t very noticeable). It’s also what was colorized in 2005 and that it what I watched. I almost believe I would have enjoyed the black and white version more! It would have made the action scene near the end (which is why this film was banned in Germany) seem more dramatic at least so I suggest avoiding the colorized version if possible.

Truly this wasn’t a bad film and it actually did have many cute moments. This is genuinely a “for curiosities’ sake" film and without little Miss Temple, Baby Take a Bow would now be largely forgotten as it is mediocre except for its song and dance performance.

Related Posts: Temple’s Baby Burlesk Shorts, Stand Up and Cheer, & Little Miss Marker

Links:, TCM, Wikipedia, Shirley Temple Fanpop

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Kickass Supernatural Heroine

Welcome to Patricia Briggs's world, a place where "witches, vampires, werewolves, and shapshifters live beside ordinary people" (Booklist). It takes a very unusual woman to call it home-- and there's no one quite like Mercy Thompson.

By day, Mercy is a car mechanic in the sprawling Tri-Cities of Eastern Washington. By night, she explores her preternatural side. As a shapshifter with some unique talents, Mercy has often found herself having to maintain a tenuous harmony between the human and the not so human. This time she may get more than she bargained for.

Masilia, the local Vampire Queen, has learned that Mercy crossed her by slaying a member of her clan-- and she's out for blood. But since Mercy is protected from direct reprisal by the werewolf pack (and her close relationship with the sexy Alpha), it won't be Mercy's blood Marsilia is after.

It'll be her friends'.

Title: Bone Crossed
Author: Patricia Briggs
Series: Mercy Thompson, Book 4
Start & Finished: 3/17/09- 3/18/09
Published: February 3, 2009
Publisher: Ace
Pages: 309
Genre: Paranormal

In 2006, fantasy author Patricia Briggs published the first book in her urban fantasy series starring Mercedes (Mercy) Thompson and she continued to gain fans with each new story. Three years later, Ms. Briggs’ mechanic coyote skinwalker heroine with the complicated love life finally received her due recognition when the fourth book Bone Crossed was published in hardcover.

"One of the important things about urban fantasy is that you ask the readers to believe this big whopper, that there are vampires and werewolves in the real life- at least I hope it's a big whopper- that there are vampires and werewolves in the real world. You have to set it in a really real setting and that's where the "urban" part of urban fantasy comes in." Urban fantasy is a particularly favorite sub-genre of mine and the Mercy Thompson series is one of the best. That's not to say that I haven't had problems with it though, especially the previous book, Iron Kissed. It was just as intriguingly written as the Moon Called and Blood Bound however there was quite a bit of more unpleasantness to it than I had expected. Fortunately, in Bone Crossed the characters don't dwell on things very much but continue to move forward.

With each novel Mercy has somehow managed to make someone powerful angry and with Bone Crossed that’s no exception. However she has good friends and allies that have managed to pull her tail out of the fire in the nick of time again. Fans of the series will be happy to know that Stefan, the Scooby-Doo- loving vampire has a more dominant part in this story too.

Altogether, a lot of things happen during this book- way too many to name and even harder to remember months later after I’ve read it. This latest Mercy book was incredibly good and I can't wait for the next one Silver Borne. Until then, I may just have to refresh my memory by reading this awesome series again.

Mercedes Thompson Series:
1. Moon Called (2006)
2. Blood Bound (2007)
3. Iron Kissed (2008)
4. Bone Crossed (2009)
5. Silver Borne (2010)

Related Posts: Cry Wolf (spin-off series) & On the Prowl (anthology)

Links & Interviews: Patricia Briggs' Wikipedia, Mercy Thompson Wikipedia, Mercy Fanpop Page, Book Smugglers Interview Part 1 & Part 2.

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