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Jason Orendorff RSS Feed (Nashua, NH USA)
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D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths
D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths
by Edgar Parin D'Aulaire
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.73
87 used & new from $12.47

5.0 out of 5 stars If your kids like Batman, wait til they get a load of Loki, March 14, 2011
My kids and I enjoyed D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths, but wow. This one is even better. It's not just a retelling of some famous old tales. It's not just a roller-coaster summer blockbuster epic. It is those things; and it's good literature. Maybe great.

One key way the Norse myths differ from the Greek myths is that they have a suitably epic ending: Ragnarok, the final battle between the gods and the forces of destruction, literally "the fate of the gods". The D'Aulaires place Ragnarok in the past, and their framing (briefly) identifies it with the rise of Christianity and the waning of the Norse religion (around 700-1200 AD). This is a pretty serious departure from the source material, I gather, so you have to think of this book as an "inspired by" adaptation, a la The Once and Future King, not a survey course in old Norse customs.

Anyway, the reason they did it is clear enough. In the D'Aulaires' version, Ragnarok is an inevitable consequence of the characters involved, the decisions they make, and... well, human nature. (The characters aren't human in the literal sense, but their passions, dilemmas, and relationships sure are.) The ending is artfully foreshadowed throughout. Events build and accelerate toward that fate, and when it arrives, rather than make a jarring switch to the future tense, they plow right into it. Gods and monsters from stories throughout the book return to play a role in Ragnarok. It's a tremendously satisfying conclusion.

There is continual violence and war; to Thor every problem is a nail, if you get my drift; and almost all the characters end up dead at the end. But the storytelling and illustrations are gentle throughout. I had no qualms reading it to my five-year-old daughter; any seven-year-old who likes books will devour it. An epic masterpiece.


Fossils Tell of Long Ago (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2)
Fossils Tell of Long Ago (Let's-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2)
by Aliki
Edition: Paperback
Price: $5.39
150 used & new from $0.01

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I love this book." --my 5-year-old, September 9, 2009
I'm quite taken with this one myself. We just picked the 1990 Revised Edition off the library shelves this week. What a find! It's 32 pages and just about every page is a home run. There's no fluff. The scientific content is spot-on. And the book is thick with fascinating stuff. We see rocks formed from mud, coal from peat, and amber from sap; geological changes; paleontologists at work --and did you know a whole woolly mammoth was found frozen in the Siberian tundra in 1901?

Usually I can take or leave Aliki's smiling schoolchildren and their cartoon speech balloons. Here, everything they say is interesting or illustrative, and their enthusiasm is contagious.

My 5-year-old is somehow able to read a little of this book at a time (by aggressively guessing at the longer words, I guess) but with words like "imprint" and "preserved" it's closer to a second-grade (7-to-8-year-old) reading level.

P.S. The famous fish-within-a-fish fossil described in the book is on display at the Sternberg Museum of National History in Hays, Kansas, USA.


Great Swedish Fairy Tales
Great Swedish Fairy Tales
by Elsa Olenius
Edition: Hardcover
28 used & new from $23.41

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic stories from another world, July 27, 2009
A mother troll falls in love with the smell of coffee and bacon and decides to live as humans do.

A boy goes into the woods to confront a horrible troll; but his parents do not worry, for he is so gentle and kind that no one can harm him.

An innocent girl does a good deed for a very wicked magician, ruining his evil lifestyle.

Little Peter Pastureman, a thunderclap of a boy, keeps his head while four great trolls vie for the throne in Seven Mile Mountain.

We bought this for the pictures, but it's the stories that blow me away. Here are 21 classic fairy tales that you've never heard before. They're quite strange really, strange and wonderful. An unexpected treasure trove.

They're a bit long for bedtime, but we don't care.


Vocabulary Power Grade 1
Vocabulary Power Grade 1
by Audrey Carangelo
Edition: Spiral-bound
20 used & new from $9.97

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing definitions, July 12, 2009
Some of the definitions here seem a little off. Your kids will learn that "Salt and pepper are spices" and that "If you fidget, you move around like a monkey!" For "complain", the full definition is: "People complain when they are angry or unhappy about something." Well, does "complain" mean to cry? Sulk? Take deep breaths?

Even dictionaries don't always have spot-on definitions. But all these examples come from the first 40 pages.

In fact everything about this book is lackluster--definitions, illustrations, examples, jokes. For building vocabulary, I recommend getting a good storybook instead. Or a book about spiders. Or a good dictionary.


Vocabulary Power Grade 2
Vocabulary Power Grade 2
by Audrey Carangelo
Edition: Spiral-bound
13 used & new from $423.00

2 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre edutainment, June 29, 2009
This might be the least engaging children's book in my house. I could carp about the mediocre examples and illustrations, but the bottom line is, my son would rather read about bugs or something. It's hard for me to imagine anyone reading "Vocabulary Power" a second time.

Every kid is different. But I think for most kids, it's probably best to keep lots of great storybooks and nonfiction lying around. What really grows a person's vocabulary, at any age, is the habit of reading challenging stuff.


The Book of Beasts
The Book of Beasts
by E. Nesbit
Edition: Hardcover
43 used & new from $0.22

5.0 out of 5 stars A delicious lighthearted adventure, June 29, 2009
This review is from: The Book of Beasts (Hardcover)
A boy accidentally releases a terrible red dragon from the magical Book of Beasts. His first attempt to make it right is clever--maybe clever enough, in some lesser storybook--but no, it doesn't work: the boy must face the dragon himself.

The way Edith Nesbit gets her hero into and out of this predicament is the defining quality of the book. There is peril, yes, and bravery, and adventure--but none of the grim, visceral struggle or the emotional sound and fury of, say, Saint George and the Dragon. Instead the turns in the plot are surprising, lighthearted, silly even--yet clever, with a certain satisfying fairy-tale logic.

This is an abridged, picture-book version of the original (in The Book of Dragons), which I have not read. The illustrations (like the prose) are airy, comic, and marvelous. Perhaps because it wasn't originally intended for a picture-book audience, the story will be a vocabulary builder for young children. Grown-ups will find much to savor here.


Melissa & Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards
Melissa & Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards
Price: $16.99
71 used & new from $10.99

19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unguided, creative play, January 2, 2008
= Durability:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:4.0 out of 5 stars 
My four-year-old son did each of the printed boards once and since then we haven't bothered much with them. It's more fun to play with the tiles by themselves.

And believe it or not, it *is* fun, for all of us. The four-year-old boy makes pictures. The mommy makes groovy geometric patterns. The math nerd dad (that's me) makes dodecagons. I'm especially happy that there are enough pieces for the whole family to play at once.

Pure unguided, creative play. That's where the magic happens, folks.

The pieces do tend to scatter. We don't care.


Chasm City (Revelation Space)
Chasm City (Revelation Space)
by Alastair Reynolds
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $8.09
111 used & new from $0.01

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Read something else, June 17, 2007
If you *really* like both noir and hard sf, this is a must-read. It's fairly well written; you'll feel the unshakeable low-grade despair of the characters in your gut. And there's a set piece involving a space elevator that--I must admit--is pretty darn cool.

But ultimately there was nothing here to hold my interest. The plot is nothing special: I've seen essentially the same plot in more entertaining works. The setting felt a little flat, or maybe contrived. I found the characters unsympathetic.


Types and Programming Languages
Types and Programming Languages
by Benjamin C. Pierce
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $77.13
65 used & new from $54.99

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just right, June 3, 2007
This is a textbook about programming language theory, somewhat mathematical-- but it's must-read material for anyone who wants to gripe about programming languages cluefully, much less design them.

For me, this book strikes exactly the right balance between theory and practicality. Chapters on the mathematical properties of various tiny programming languages are interleaved with chapters that provide annotated implementations of those languages.

The book will also give you the background (notation and terminology) you'll need to read cutting-edge research papers on programming language theory.

This book contains all the information I was missing. Excellent presentation of the material, well written, great exercises, doesn't go off into lala-land. Highly recommended. Some math background very helpful (you need to know what a mathematical proof is).
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 11, 2012 3:17 PM PST


Relativity: The Special and General Theory (Dover Books on Physics)
Relativity: The Special and General Theory (Dover Books on Physics)
by Albert Einstein
Edition: Paperback
Price: $8.96
43 used & new from $5.04

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear, concise, brilliant, January 5, 2007
You know, Albert Einstein was a genius.

I mean, he would have been a genius without ever communicating a single thought clearly to any other human being. But this book makes him, like, genius squared.

The first part of this book covers special relativity. It's about 62 pages. I've never read anything like it. I'm not exaggerating when I say special relativity is a difficult topic. Einstein's presentation is clearer than I would ever have thought possible, concise but never rushed.

Some pages may require many readings. But everything you need is there on the page.

I would appreciate a looser translation; in a few places Lawson's translation reads to me like German with English words. Nonetheless: 5 stars. One of the most enlightening science books you'll ever read.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 5, 2007 1:05 PM PST


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