Recent Reads

Posted: June 28, 2010 in Uncategorized
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Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Another book I’ve been meaning to read, heard of, sounded good …. and then the movie coming out doesn’t sound terrible, but Must read the book First.  I’m afraid to see the movie, afraid of the trivialization.  She has written other books, which I may someday get around to reading, as I do enjoy her style.  But that is not what kept me reading this book.  The book allows you to follow Ms. Gilbert on a transformative journey, from broken by divorce to peace and health, and yes, finally love.  I think this is the type of book you need to read at a certain time in your life.  If you’re 20 and life is fine, it won’t be as meaningful as it is to someone trying to find their own way through midlife and back to what passes for sanity.  If taken to heart, the book could also be a catalyst in one’s own life.  If the student is ready …  I was ready for this book – I just wish that I could keep it, and reread passages over and over again until they stick.

So Many Books, by Gabriel Zaid.  Translated from the Spanish, but there is certainly no feeling of ‘otherness’ in this book, it feels as if you were a book-geek and sat down to discuss with another book-geek.    A pithy little book, and one I’d like to add to my collection, as there were a number of places I wanted to underline, and emphasize, which is certainly not possible in a book not one’s own (and questionable even then!).  I greatly enjoyed this book, which spoke about the volume of volumes published, good bad or indifferent, and the economics of current publishing.

The Clone Codes, Patricia & Frederick McKissack.  A short book which preaches against slavery without being preachy, teaches tolerance while admitting that we are creatures of our environment and habits, and leaves you feeling that we can change and we can do better.  And yes, I did pick the book up because of its’ cover (shiny! code!).  A good book, for the middle school crowd; too much violence for younger kids and not enough for the older ones.

Children of the Sea, by Daisuke Igarashi.  Manga, but with color, and the characters seem more real, more individual, with modern clothing.  The coloring, primarily on separator pages leans heavily to the blues and greens, graphically situating you for this series about, well, children of the sea.  It centers (at least in books 1& 2, further books not yet in English translation) some children in Japan, with odd vignettes that seem to be actual reports of sightings, except for the disclaimer that the book is entirely a work of fiction.  We are fascinated by the sea, and there have been legends of children raised by seals, sea lions, dolphins … many larger marine life forms, depending on the area.  Gentle, and almost comforting.

Sookie Stackhouse novels… Charlaine Harris, author.

Living Dead in Dallas. Shifters and maenads and Weres, Oh, My!

Club Dead. Anti-social networking.

Dead to the World. As the fur flies…

Dead as a Doornail.  Hot times in Bon Temps

Definitely Dead. Courtly manners and unruly wolves.


(started…) Night Train to Lisbon, by  Pascal Mercier, translated from the German.  Slow starter, but richly detailed.

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger.  I wanted to say this was Nicholas Sparks.  It was emotional, cloying at times, irritating at others because of the constant switching back and forth in voice and time.  That was part of the idea, I am sure; give us a sense of how  … unnerving it would be to unanchored in time, and unable to control it.  I enjoyed the quotes far more than the rather heavy handed philosophizing about whether or not is was possible or appropriate to change the future, or if it could be done.  The author seems to argue that what’s happened can’t be changed, no matter what we do – and then goes ahead and has the characters warn each other about things to come.  The books started out well, but it seemed to get about half way and peter out, running out of energy and reasons to hold true to not telling each other anything. I had wanted to read the book before I saw the movie – now I’m not sure that I’ll bother with the movie.

The Girl Who Played with Fire, Steig Larsson (again!).  I’m sure everyone has read at least one book by an author and was blown away, only to read book 2, and find it … less.  This is not such a book.  If anything, it was faster paced, playing out over a few weeks, rather than months.  We find again Mikael Blomkvist, intrepid investigative journalist, and the elusive Elsbeth Salander, of the title, with a host of supporting cast.  The story  is loosely drawn at the start, but becomes a noose rapidly tightening, like the tension.  My only complaint was the abrupt ending – and that I didn’t have book 3 in my hands.

Here, There Be Dragons, by James A. Owen.  This was a fun book with plenty of action, confusion and mythical creatures.  It pulls from CS Lewis and Arthurian myth and references many authors and historical figures.  Written for teens, but not sure that they will catch all the literary references – I didn’t, and I think that was half of the author’s point.  First of a trilogy, fantasy certainly, but … not really sure that it holds enough interest for further books, especially since they’re Large books.

Magic Knight Rayearth, by Clamp.  My continuing mission to try to ‘get’ manga.  Three girls get whisked from Tokyo to another world/dimension where they are magic knights who have been summoned to help save the world.  They have to embark on a quest to become the saviors the world needs. Entertaining, typical ‘manga’ with the large eyes, long hair,  schoolgirl uniforms, blob-like mystical creatures and ‘mini’s when they are angry. Interesting, but maybe I should have gotten the whole series to read instead of just one book.

Wild Magic, by Tamora Pierce. A girl, on the run, trying to hide who she is finds acceptance. Magic, epic battles, and a coming of age story all wrapped up in one.  A fun read, but also part of a series, which I should have had and read all at the same time – I really wanted to read the second (and presumably third).

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.  Wow.  I’ve seen the books, and they looked interesting, and seem to recall having seen some good press.  It was understated.  An action/thriller/mystery that moves very quickly after the first few pages. The verbal precision and tight construction of Tom Clancy, but with more twist, turns and complexity.  Each section has a statistic on violence towards women, which ties in neatly with the book.  I watch far too much crime tv and can generally spot what’s coming, but that was not a problem in this book; everything made sense,  you were led to where he was going. It was refreshing to not be able to predict what was going to happen.  The whole book was like that – very new and not quite like anything else that I have read. Stupendous.

Dead Until Dark, by Charlaine Harris.  OK, cheap trashy, but still fun.  It was interesting to me; Gossip Girl was made into a series, but each book was a separate episode.  This one book became a whole season.  Again, I have to learn that when there is a series, I should request the whole thing and read it at once, because now I want to read the rest of them.

Angel Sanctuary, by Kaori Yuki.  This one was a little disturbing, with the gender-bending, the main character in love with his sister.  The story arc concerns angels before and after the fall, and the attempts by the fallen to recover their place and by the cherubim to make sure that all stays well.

Nana, by Ai Yazawa. A story of two girls with the same name (Nana).  I like this one; the drawing is less stereotypical and the story is more real. It’s a little odd, because I like stories of gods and fairies and the mystical/supernatural.

Eragon, by Christopher Paolini.  After all the hype about the movie, which was very pretty, loved the scenery, but … meh, I read the book. Much better; I understand why book fans were miffed at the movie treatment.  The movie left out a great deal of the story, changed things that were important to the story line… in short, a typical Hollywood treatment, unfortunately.

First Contact, or It’s Later Than You Think, by Evan L. Manderly. Wow. What a wonderful, fun book. The aliens have landed, but it’s OK.  Perhaps we have seen the aliens and they are us?  Irreverent, poking fun at politics, politicians, the judicial and legislative branches of government, among other things.  Self-referential, with the narrator stepping out of the story to address us directly, à la Woody Allen.  Strongly recommended.

The Tarot Café, Sang-Sun Park. So, I’m a librarian, interested in things YA.  I know manga is big with teens, so I wanted to read some.  It was definitely different, interesting … maybe I need to read the whole series?  I think Kindles and reading on the computer are just fine, but will never switch from actual, hold them in my hands books … with words.  I like pictures, but I really, really like words.

The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery.  I need to brush up on my French.  This gem is a translation from the original French.  The prose is elegant, the characters are deep and intricate. I loved the sense of everyday France which it shows you, but more the glimpse into the interior lives of people trying to be invisible, people thinking and discovering themselves.  This is no American novel, with ‘happily-ever-after,’ no huge action, nothing bigger than life, rather the exact opposite; it treats you to simple wonder, to the exquisite in simple details … like a camellia against moss.

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen and Daniel Relin.  A book that makes me want to change the world, go do good works, or donate a fortune (if I had one). Mortenson was raised in the shadow of Kilimanjaro (Africa), a missionary’s child and became a climber. After a failed attempt at K2 (northern Pakistan), he got lost and found himself in Korphe.  As he recovered, his hosts show him around their town and he sees students determined to learn, thought they lack materials, a consistent teacher or a building. Mortensen promises to return and build them a school.  Set before and after 9/11, it shows us a forgotten and misunderstood corner of the world, where schools set up by his agency, the Central Asia Institute (CAI) are the best advocates that the US could hope to have.  I’d been meaning to read this for some time; a man who was a mountain climber, who was trying to improve the world one school at a time, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. While the US military was bombing everyone, he was building; a a school, a dream, a future – and for girls, who typically get less education in less developed countries.  Buildings, rather than bombs. Bridges rather than ultimatums.  It made me wish I was 20 and free to go to Pakistan and help build schools, teach, change the world – one girl at a time.

Cardcaptor Sakura, by Clamp. Still working on the whole manga thing – this one has the original back to front format, and has the typical Japanime features on the characters.  It takes me a while (antique that I am!) to remember in which order the panels should be read, which makes the reading … interesting.


Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.
Open, locks,
Whoever knocks!

MacBeth, Act IV, Scene 1



From Bewitched to Charmed to Sabrina the Teenage Witch, we seem to love our witches.  The Bible addressed witches, one of Shakeseare’s most famous plays heavily involves witches (excerpted above), to say nothing of the recent offerings, from T’Witches to Daughters of the Moon, to the Harry Potter series.  Witches seem to be  part of our psyche.

Witches are seen to be powerful (Macbeth, Charmed).  Witches have been perceived as having the ability change the path of the future (Macbeth, Harry Potter).  Witches are portrayed as ugly hags, because the power that they are perceived as having is so powerful and potentially toxic.  It is human to want those who have (ab)used power to show signs of it, rather than being perceived as innocent.    We want to believe that we can whip up a quick little potion to solve all our problems, light a candle to make our reality change; anything that will absolve us of the onerous work of, well, working for what we want.  We want the fairy godmother, and the magic pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I’m not saying that it’s not possible to change our lives.  I’ve completed no study of the efficacy of prayer, or the ability of people to believe what they will, regardless of what anyone elses’ opinion may happen to be.  People change everyday, from people who quit smoking, to people who wake up unhappy one day and decide, big or small, to change their lives.  I remain skeptical of claims that seem to good to be true.

People want to believe in something greater than themselves, believe that sometimes, we can be better or more than merely human. Witches allow us to play with that fantasy; what would happen if we could freeze time? What would we do if we had unlimited powers? Do we have the wisdom, and moral strength to ‘do what’s right’?  Or do we become victims of our own mortality and the truism ‘power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.’

It is past midnight, and sticky as I sit here.  The helpful thermostat indicates the temperature is well past 80℉; how far I’d really rather not know.  My solution to (pre-)summer heat? Escape to the cool confines of the air-conditioned library whenever possible. I can’t possibly get much *less* accomplished than I do sitting here, wilting.  In honor of the library, a few things I have finished reading, which might possibly be of interest to you, Gentle Reader.

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark was indeed good fun.  The main character was lively and interesting, though flawed, which made him more interesting.  The historical aspects of the novel appealed to me, and the culinary focus certainly captured my interest.  The food is lovingly, thoroughly described in its preparation and as one observes its consumption.  I like the idea of a secret book, and how it was handled, but the addition of a secret society and their incorporation into the book I felt was weak.  If the secret society is responsible for the mysterious book of the title, and the main characters are involved in the society, it would seem to make sense to develop this theme, or in contract, merely allude to it, retaining the mystery of secret societies.  It seemed perhaps that the author was looking for a halfway point on that spectrum, and missed the mark. I love a mystery and would have been more than happy to see further depth added to this part of the story.

Rosemary Rowe‘s Requiem for  Slave was a dip into another world.  I am a fan of the ‘edge of civilization;’ where Roman civitas runs into a pre-existing culture, how prior culture folds into Roman ways or  the blurred lines where the Roman empire withdrew and left the inhabitants to themselves again.  This was a tale set in a Roman village, but there was still a touch of the Celtic way left.  I enjoyed the concept of the mosaicist, who would indeed need to know how to work with patterns, as a solver of mysteries.  This world was well-developed, and perhaps my error was reading a book from a well-developed series (this appears to be the eleventh in this series).  I have noticed that sometimes when an author plumbs a character or story arc for a number of books, the later ones can be, well, weaker.  This was a good read, well-paced and interesting, but I knew who the killer was virtually from his introduction, and became increasingly irritated with the main character as he failed to glean clues which I felt were all but flashing neon in front of him.  I, however, have read many, many books.  I am a bright child; literally, ‘card-carrying’ certified smart, as well as (generally) quick on the up-take, so perhaps, just perhaps I am a little harsh. 

Bordeaux, by Paul Torday was another book I hadn’t meant to pick up. Really, I have a house full of books, and half a dozen already from the library.  But the cover is so elegant in its simplicity, and I could still almost taste The Book of Unholy Mischief …  What was I supposed to do? The book did not disappoint.  It is about Bordeaux, and wine afficionados may recognize many of the names in the book – I think.  The descriptions of the wine made me wish I could afford to indulge and read with a nice glass of wine (assuming I had such a thing!).  The subtitle is A Novel in Four Vintages, and we are treated to the protagonists vision from four years/vintages.  Unfortunately for those of us in linear lives, the book gives us the vintages in reverse order.  It makes complete sense for the book, but it can be a little jarring.  The book asks us, even requires us, to question; ‘What is addiction?’ ‘What is important?’ and even ‘What is reality?’  It was an absorbing book; I finished it in under 24 hours.

What will I read next? I still need to finish Graham Robb’s The Discovery of France; Historical geography from the Revolution to the First World War, which fascinates me.  I also have books on fairy tales which I need to read, and at the book sale today I picked up a book on myth, The Cry for Myth, Rollo May, and one on language, The Language Instinct; How the Mind Creates Language, by Steven Pinker. Having started Bordeaux, I couldn’t stop myself from picking up Burgundy; The country, The Wines, The People by Eunice Fried. The fact that I’ve been there might have had something to do with it, possibly.

odds ‘n ends

Posted: May 24, 2010 in Uncategorized
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I finally finished The Children’s Book.  Some books pull you in and force you to dive into their world, making you not want to put the book down until you’ve finished.  I felt initially drawn in, but lost focus later in the story as it devolved from a straightforward tale of the original characters to an in -depth piece on an entire Broadway cast.  It opened well, introducing us to the three main characters and the residence of one.  The writing is intensely descriptive, which is essential as there is much detailed discussion of museum pieces and pottery.  I was vaguely reminded of Hugo’s Les Miserables, social commentary interspersed into the tale.  While certainly the time in which a novel is set is important, it disrupted the flow of the narrative for me, without significantly adding to the storyline. I did enjoy the book, but it is one which I feel should be read multiple times to get the full effect, as well to pick up on something that may have been unnoticed in the initial reading.  I would certainly recommend it, with the caveat that it is not a small book, nor a light one.

I finally watched Memoirs of a Geisha.  Now I want to read the book.  It may spoil the movie for me, which would be too bad, because it was visually stunning, as well as emotionally authentic.  I suspect that reading the book will be a richer, fuller experience and I will have a better feeling for the world of a geisha, especially pre-war.  I look forward to it – but as I currently have half a dozen books out, I’ll just have to come back to it a little later.

Authors I intend to read:  James Patterson, ‘adult’ books leading into Maximum Ride series, and then the rest of the series; Rosemary Rowe, for her series Libertus Mysteries of Roman Britain and Alexander McCall Smith, for his Isabel Dalhousie mystery series ( at least).

The Book of Unholy Mischief, by Elie Newmark is very promising.  I plead guilty to being a sucker for a good story which integrally involved cooking, and the main character here is a reformed street urchin who is apprenticed to a master chef in Venice.  I think the motto for this book is ‘nothing is what it seems.’  I am enjoying it, like the first juicy peach of summer.

Dream Castle

Fairy Tale castle

I am possessed by the image of fairy tales; luminous, mysterious and Other.  My younger self read all the tales I could get my hands on;  Greek and Roman myths, Norse and Native American, Hans Christian and Mother Goose, Celtic tales and Arthurian lore, Sleeping beauties of all sorts, Lewis Carroll and L. Frank Baum, and of course, Tolkien.  The Eastern European tales scared me, Baba Yaga with her chicken-legged house.  It was distinctly unsettling, but I have come to understand many things ‘all that glitters is not gold.’  We as humans wish for the the light, but we are drawn to the dark, can’t resist watching the trainwreck – physical or metaphorical.

Harry Potter speaks to our longing for fantasy, for a world just a little ‘off’ from ours.  We have manga, a Japanese import heavy on the fantasy element which is wildly popular and new movies like the Watchmen and Avatar which take us into and fantasy worlds.  All fiction involves some suspension of reality; perhaps when we hear daily of job losses, economic woes, and natural disasters  we need more of an escape than other times.

I know I’d like to escape sometimes – turn a corner, and walk into a world where a magic spell can solve all my financial concerns.  Am I the evil queen, pulling what I need regardless of the needs of others, or can I be the hero, creating a new way to create wealth that helps everyone?  I want to be a hero.  I’d like to be anyone else, for a while. Just a quick little vacation from my life ‘my boring life’ as my ex- so joyfully put it (he’s the Ex for a reason!).

That’s what fantasy and fairy tales can do for us; a Rowling or Tolkien can transport us into their world, teach us something about life, and return us a little bit wiser, and hopefully, more capable of dealing with our respective realities.  Tolkien conveys the importance of friendship, and having people you can count on, from his Fellowship to Sam and Frodo’s close friendship.  All friends have issues – Frodo was ever loathe to tell Same everything, even if it was important.  Rowling again returns to the theme of friendships with Harry, Ron and Hermione, but her books also seem to insist on ‘human’ values; witness Hermione’s agitation over the enslavement of the house elves.  Human or not they are entitled to basic rights.  The inclusivity of a world where anyone can be born a witch/wizard even if their parents aren’t is powerful.  She continues the theme with the horror over the issue of ‘muggle-born’ and the use of the term mud-blood.  Tolkien had dwarves and elves, but humans were never really their equals in the LOTR trilogy; the humans who had been were long passed into myth.

What does myth tell us about ourselves?  What can we learn from the myths which have remained – Cinderella in all her many forms is absolutely a universal tale, but what do the ‘lesser’ tales, tales more linked to specific geographic areas have to tell us about who created and passed them on?

‘To question is the answer’ states a bumper sticker.  I like questions.  Answers I am less certain of, there are so many variables to account for.  Opening the question, will come back and stir the pot, now and again.

Sometimes, it’s not about what’s new, but wrapping oneself in the comfort of old friends.  Today is just a few of my favorites.

Emily Dickinson, of course:

I’m nobody! Who are you?

Are you nobody too?

Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!

They’d banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!

How public, like  a frog

To tell your name the livelong day

To an admiring bog!

How apropos today – as I sit here (semi-) anonymously adding my voice.  I’m nobody. Certainly the cults of personality exit (Ashton Kutcher, anyone?) but I can think of nothing more dreadful than to have to live in the public eye as so many seem willing to do – pick your version of reality tv if you’re not sure.

More fun, also Emily:

In a Library

A precious, mouldering pleasure ‘t is

To meet and antique book,

In just the dress his century wore;

A privilege, I think,

His venerable hand to take,

And warming in our own,

A passage back, or two, to make

To times when he was young.

His quaint opinions to inspect,

His knowledge to unfold

On what concerns our mutual mind,

The literature of old;

What interested scholars most,

What competitions ran

When Plato was a certainty,

And Sophocles a man;

When Sappho was a living girl,

And Beatrice wore

The gown that Dante deified.

Facts, centuries before,

He traverses familiar,

As one should come to town

And tell you all your dreams were true:

He lived where dreams were sown.

His presence is enchantment,

You beg him not to go;

Old volumes shake their vellum heads

And tantalize, just so.


books on a bookcart


Lucky me, I have met and held antique volumes in their vellum bindings.  The sense of history they impart never ceases to amaze me.  A book, older than the country in which I live, and I can hold it in my hand(s).  And yet, in spite of their age, many of the oldest books are in better condition than some from the turn of the last century, owing to the cheaper paper of the late 1800’s and early 20th century which allowed cheaper and more widespread printing but brought with it the curse of acidity which is now crumbling the books as they sit and concerning archivists, preservationists and conservators around the world.


And a quick trip to fancy, from an old book of mine, The Big Golden Book of Poetry; 85 Childhood Favorites (Golden Press, 1965) Jill Came from the Fair, by Eleanor Farjeon, p. 10.

Jill Came From the FairJill came from the Fair

With her pennies all spent;

She had had her full share

Of delight and content;

She had ridden the ring

To a wonderful tune,

She had flown in a swing

Half as high as the moon,

In a boat that was drawn

By an ivory swan

Beside a green lawn

On a lake she had gone,

She had bought a gold packet

That held her desire;

She had touched the red jacket

Of one who ate fire,

She had stood at the butt,

And although she was small

She had won a rough nut

With the throw of a ball,

And across the broad back

Of a donkey a-straddle,

She had jolted like Jack-

In-the-Box on a saddle —

Till mid frolic and shout

And tinsel and litter,

The lights started out

Making everything glitter,

And dazed by the noise

And the blare and the flare,

With her toys and her joys

Jill came from the Fair.

I am a Reader.  I read books, magazines, newspapers, and the backs of cereal boxes when all else fails.  I am a consumer of words, spoken, written, good, bad, absurd and everything in between.  This is my small attempt to put ideas (words) inspired by things I have read, seen, imagined or been curious about in some form and share some of my enthusiasm with you (presumably) another Reader.

So what, as a Reader, am I currently reading?  Hmmmn…

I am wading through The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt.  The title, and yes, I confess, the dragonfly design on the cover caught my attention, and the flyleaf promised a rich tale.  A dainty tome, at 675 pages, it is indeed rich in period details, as well as rich in characters.  We are introduced first to three boys, but are soon plunged into the lives of their families, which then expand to the families social and political acquaintances.  It is not a swift read, either in pages or in events.  The characters are complex, and so are the intertwined storylines.  It would go better if I hadn’t started reading it on break at work, but … there it is.  I haven’t finished, only half-way so far, so no final verdict.

I picked up Graham Robb’s The Discovery of France; Historical geography from the Revolution to the First World War as I was sorting books at the library.  I am a confirmed Francophile. I love this book, it talks about the people of what is now France and how separate they were, even from village to village.  I am fascinated with the linguistic variety and how recently French was not the major language.  Time to move the Breton and Basque language learning back on the to-do list.  I want to go back!

I picked up Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality Taste & Style by Tim Gunn and Kate Moloney.  I picked it up for my daughter, who loves Tim Gunn, but wound up skimming it myself.  Who, it asks, are you (clothing/presentation-wise)?  My closet would give anyone a headache.  Now all I need to do is decide what style I want to project – I have everything from crisp, tailored professional to fringe, tie-dye and Ren wear, not to mention lots of t-shirts, jeans and sweatshirts.  Lots of good food for thought, and he/they isn’t advocating breaking the bank or starting from scratch.  Go, Tim!

Today’s picks (I can’t walk into the library without walking out with a book):

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark; a mysterious book, a rescued orphan being taught the secrets of the table by a chef.  It sounds like great fun.

I had a wait, and I found Rosemary Rowe’s Requiem for a Slave.  It’s part of a series, a Libertus Mystery of Roman Britain.  History is another interest of mine, and Roman-era Britain intrigues me.

Lastly, I recently read a sweet picture book to my (19-year old) daughter.  Adèle and Simon, by Barbara McClintock is a lovely picture book, with repetitive text.  Adèle has to fetch her little brother, Simon from school, but he looses pieces all the way home.  We are treated to views of iconic places in Paris, where Pierre manages to loose items.  Waldo-like, you can find his assorted pieces hidden in the pictures.  And for every child who has stressed about loosing things, they all appear at the door at the end of the book.

A bientôt!