Tuesday, April 14, 2009

of art and puzzles

Well I have been a bad blogger, but nothing cures that like
April vacation at the beach with the kids. Life supplies
coincidences and this week it's that both boys were reading books
with themes of art and puzzles. Henry had to read The Eleventh Hour
by Graeme Base (is there a better name on earth?) and Gus was re-reading
Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett (oh, I guess there is a better name
than Graeme Base!) I read along with Gus and just can't stop talking about
Chasing Vermeer. I am calling it the From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs.
Basil E. Frankweiler
of this generation. It is!! Leslie Badoian, if you are
out there, this book is for you! (Leslie was my bff in first and second grade
and a math genius! She loved that book!)

So Gus (9) is doing a book project on CV, and it's going to be fun because the
book is so terrific. It takes two characters--Petra and Calder. One is left brain and one is right (this is not stated) and they work together to solve an exciting art mystery. Some books have great plot and great character. This one has a lot of both, but what it really has is an author who was bursting with ideas about art and puzzles and a need to share her experiences as an art historian and teacher--her ideas about how teachers HAVE TO be creative and think outside the box, that we should look closer at everything from art to unexplained ocurrance, that math and art and life are all woven together into a big exciting world--a world of innumerable ways of looking at everything.... I am going on a bit I know. But it is such a good read aloud. And it's inspiring me. Whether I decide to go back into publishing or write more books or take steps toward becoming some type of teacher, I will try and remember the feeling of how excited Blue Balliett must have been when she wrote this book (in five years while working!) and how she infused it with the all important Rilke-esque message: Live the questions!! YUM!!!

As for The Eleventh Hour--a picture book with so many puzzles to solve that my husband is exhausted--I have yet to dip in. So much work goes into a book like this--a picture book with countless puzzles and a mystery to solve that is truly work to accomplish! I never did anything like that when I was little. Maybe madlibs or something with invisible ink... the occasional code in Dynamite Magazine, but this has Morse Code, anagrams, and much more hidden everywhere!!(PS: My husband tells me that Henry just burst into tears when Eric mentioned that he was "done" with the book. The book means so much to Henry, but it turns out that Eric (after hours of working on solving the mystery) read the answers in the back and he is SO SO SO disappointed with the answers he felt he had to cut his losses. But Henry crumbled, so now Eric has to go back to it! It just seems unfair to make a child work so hard for a set of unsatisfactory answers--and maybe I would even say the puzzle answers are self indulgent. Sorry, Graeme Base, you will have to explain this to Henry, a crying seven year old beginning reader! What if he never reads again because of YOUR self indulgence!)

In my own reading world I just finished Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, a story that takes place in China during the height of the foot binding tradition. The story is pretty good. The writing is somewhat frustrating, but you can't help needing to know what happens to these young women who are married into strange families and have teeny feet! I mean, just the descriptions of how it was done (toe bones cracking!) and understanding why they considered it to be beautiful is worth the price of admission. I also appreciate understanding more about Chinese culture. It's a very very difficult mindset for a typical American to relate to.

I watched the film Circle of Friends when I was sick in bed with a cold and I loved it (Minnie Driver, Alan Cumming, Chris O'Donnell!) so I downloaded the Maeve Binchy book. It's lots of fun, and easy going and wonderful, and I am reading it on my i-phone, so it's about twenty words a page. I think I am on page 100 out of 15,000pages or something...

Today we went into Southhampton (Long Island) village and walked around and happened upon a teeny old house on the main drag. Eric noticed it said "Silversmith" with an historic town-made sign. Coincidentally Gus was given the role of silversmith for his class Colonial Day project (June 17, please come!) What fun. The little house dates back 300 years and was the workshop of a real silversmith back in the day. The person who is there now--Eric--is a French jewelry maker who started decades ago at VanCleef and Arpels and let Gus and Henry try on his various goggles, and hold the blow torch he uses to make stuff. Henry, a budding pyromaniac, was entranced, and I think Gus felt lucky to stumble on something so rare that he is connected to. Most excited was Eric, who felt like he had traveled back in a time machine three hundred years. It was completely charming! And we got a lesson in wax and molds for jewelry.


  1. That's more like it! Now I know alls well in the Davis Pearl family! I love the pics of Gus and Henry (scroll down to the bottom of the post, people.)

  2. Leslie B. is indeed out there. Her e-mail is