Monday, February 27, 2012

Sounders FC Women Sign Alex Morgan

Photo credit:  Daniel Roland, AFP Photo
Alex Morgan is a star on the U.S. Women's National Team.  In the 2011 Women's World Cup Final versus Japan, she scored the go-ahead goal in extra time (the U.S. lost the match on penalties).  She has scored 16 goals in 32 appearances for the USWNT.  She is 22 years old.  Oh, and she is the girfriend of current Sounder Servando Carrasco.

Sounders FC Women are going to be really awesome next year.  Hope Solo, Sydnex Leroux, and Alex Morgan will only play in about half the games, however, as they will be busy in the summer with the USWNT.  Still, the Sounders FC Women will be fun to watch.  Hopefully, their success will lead to a Women's Major League, with franchises in Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver.  If we do get a Women's Major League franchise, though, I hope it is given its own idetitiy separate from the Sounders.  Otherwise it will feel the team is always in the shadow of the men.  At this point in time, however, in the absense of a North American Women's Major League, joining forces with the Sounders is the smartest thing a Puget Sound-area professional women's team could do.  I'm proud to be a fan of both the Men's and Women's Sounders FC clubs.

Seattle Sounders FC Women actually release their schedule tomorrow, which is also the first day to purchase tickets for their upcoming season.  Home games will be played at Starfire.  Visit the Sounders FC Women's website here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Book Review: "The Tiger's Wife," by Tea Obreht

The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht
Random House, 2011

The protagonist of The Tiger's Wife, Natalia, is a young woman who has followed in her grandfather's footsteps by becoming a doctor.  The chapters of the book interweave three stories.  The first is set in the present.  Natalia and her long-time best friend, Zora, travel to a rural Balkan village to inoculate children, a mission similar to ones undertaken by her grandfather when he was a young man.  While she is on the road, she learns of her grandfather's death.  Natalia and her grandfather were close, and Natalia has many memories of him.  Foremost among these was visiting the zoo, particularly the tiger who made his home there.  The news of her grandfather's death prompts Natalia to tell the stories that comprise the other two strands of the novel.

The second strand of the book concerns the village where her grandfather grew up as a boy.  It concerns a tiger, the tiger's wife, the tiger's wife's husband, the apothecary, and a bear hunter.  The third strand of the book concerns Natalia's grandfather as a young man.  As he traveled the region as a doctor he encountered more than once "a deathless man."  Thus the life story of Natalia's grandfather's becomes a series of fables, not unlike, I suppose, the stories in a book which has particular meaning for him, "The Jungle Book."

The Tiger's Wife is set in the former Yugoslavia, but names of ethnicities such as Serb, Bosnian, Croat, and Slovenian are never mentioned.  Likewise, states and large cities are not referred to by name.  Neither are specific wars (and there have been quite a few).  This reinforces, I think, that the stories in The Tiger's Wife are fables.  And, I might add, the fables are fantastic stories.  They're sad, they're suspenseful, and they're incredibly detailed.  Above all, they're incredibly imaginative.  And, of course, they're thought-provoking, as fables should be.

Did I mention that The Tiger's Wife is a great book?  It definitely is.  The story behind its writing is pretty great too.  Tea Obreht was all of 24 when it was published.  She was born in Belgrade, moved to Cyprus at age 7 or thereabouts, lived for a while in Egypt, and finally moved to the United States at age 12.  She wrote the bulk of the book while in college at Cornell.  I'd say Ms. Obreht is a pretty gifted writer and storyteller.  I hope she appears one day on The Charlie Rose Show or Fresh Air with Terry Gross, because I'd love to hear how she came up with some of the ideas in the book.

The Tiger's Wife is not a Young Adult title, but it is a book certain young readers will find rewarding.  It gets my recommendation. 5 out of 5 stars.

* * *
Okay, so it's not Charlie Rose or Terry Gross, but here is a very interesting clip of Ms. Obreht on PBS' Newshour:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Sounders Trade Fucito and Neagle for Eddie Johnson

Eddie Johnson
(Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)
After Steve Zakuani was injured at Colorado last year, the Sounders have lacked a goal-scoring forward to pair with Fredy Montero.  The Sounders attempted to remedy that situation yesterday by trading Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle to Montreal for Eddie Johnson.  Montreal had only recently drafted Johnson with the first pick in the Allocation Draft.  Fucito and Neagle are young players who represent potential.  They will fit in well on an expansion club building for the future.  Johnson will turn 28 next month.  He is a former MLS star and starter on U.S. Men's National Team.  The last few seasons have not gone well for him, however.  He signed with Fulham of the EPL in 2008 but never really got a chance to play there.  He then bounced around England's lower divisions and Greece.  Last year was a lost year.  He thought he was going to sign with Puebla in the Mexican League, but at the last minute the Mexican club withdrew the contract.  Thus, Johnson is a bit of a mystery player.  If he can regain his past form, he will make the Sounders stronger.  If he can't regain that form, the Sounders could rue letting Fucito and Neagle go.

I like the deal for the Sounders.  It's a bit of a risk.  Fucito and Neagle were fan favorites and both have potential.  However, the Sounders need a player to put them over the top.  They have hopes of winning both CONCACAF Champions League and the MLS Cup.  Johnson gives them a chance to beat top clubs like Santos Laguna and the L.A. Galaxy.  There's risk, sure.  But I like the move and applaud the Sounders for not standing pat.

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty Opens Today in Theaters

Princess Mononoke
The release of a Studio Ghibli film in theaters in the United States is a cause for celebration.  Studio Ghibli films use classic, hand-drawn animation, and the Studio Ghibli style is lush and distinctive.  Studio Ghibli films are revered around the world.  The studio was founded by master animator Hayao Miyazaki, who continues to oversee all major Ghibli productions.  I've been a fan since Princess Mononoke was released in the U.S. in 1999.  Princess Mononoke was released by Miramax Films, known for releasing "art house" and "independent" films aimed primarily at adults.  The critics loved Princess Mononoke, but since it was released as an "art film" in the U.S., it did very modest business.  In fact, Princess Mononoke was rated PG-13 and was undoubtedly seen by many more adults in theaters than kids.

In 2001, Walt Disney Pictures released Spirited Away.  Its reviews were even better than Princess Mononoke's, even though it is a more "kid friendly" film (PG rating).  The release of Spirited Away was even overseen by John Lasseter, known as the chief creative force behind Pixar.  The film also won the Academy Award for best Animated Feature.  Still, Spirited Away made only $10 million dollars at the box office (Shrek, released a year earlier, made $267 million, for means of comparison).  Howl's Moving Castle was released in 2005 and Ponyo was released in 2009.  Howl's was seen mostly by Miyazaki die-hards.  Ponyo, while considered a lesser film in the Ghibli canon (it's aimed at a much younder audience), nonetheless received a wider U.S. release than any Ghibli film which had come before it.

The Secret World of Arrietty is being released today in 1,500 theaters.  While a Harry Potter movie is released in over 4,000 theaters, the release planned by Walt Disney Pictures shows a definite commitment to grow the profile of Studio Ghibli in the U.S.  Will Arrietty be a hit for Walt Disney?  That remains to be seen.  You can see how the release for Arrietty compares to the laast four Ghibli features released in the U.S.
The Secret World of Arrietty
The Secret World of Arrietty is based on the children's novel The Borrowers, by Mary Norton.  It's about a group of tiny people living under the floorboards of a family of what we would consider regular-sized people.  It has the humor, beauty, and magic of the Miyazaki brand.  It's not getting the rave reviews of Spirited Away, but it's getting very positive reviews.If you're a Miyazaki fan, you will want to seek it out.  If you've never seen a Miyazaki film, you need to see one in a theater.  The Secret World of Arrietty is currently playing in Olympia, Lacey, and Tacoma.

If you're interested, here is my ranking of my favorite Miyazaki films:

1.  Porco Rosso
2.  Princess Mononoke
3.  Spirited Away
4.  My Neighbor Totoro
5.  Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
6.  Castle in the Sky
7.  Howl's Moving Castle
8.  Kiki's Delivery Service

I haven't actually seen Ponyo.

Grave of the Fireflies
I also recommend the Studio Ghibli film Grave of the Fireflies.  It was directed by Miyazaki's contemporary Isao Takahata, whose style is different than Miyazaki's.  Its subject matter is the bombing of Kobe at the end of World War II.  It is much more serious and somber than other Studio Ghibli movies.  Film critic Roger Ebert was a vocal champion of the film.  Here is his review of the film for his Great Movies series.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sounders Women FC sign Hope Solo and Sydney Leroux

This is very cool news.  Hope Solo is arguably the best female keeper in the world and is a star on the U.S. Women's National Team.  She is from Richland, Washington, and played at the University of Washington (Go Dawgs!).  Sydney Leroux is a bright, young star on the USWNT.  She is originally from Surrey, British Columbia, but because she has a parent with American citizenship she is eligible for the U.S. team (which has not made her popular in Canada).  In her second game with the USWNT she scored 5 goals against Guatemala (the U.S. won 13-0).

Seattle Sounders Women FC is brand-new.  Last year the club was affiliated with a team called the Tacoma Tide.  They play in a league called the W-League, which has teams across the U.S. and Canada.  The league is similar to the league the Seattle Sounders played in before they entered MLS.  The official major league of women's soccer is called the WPS.  However, the WPS is on hiatus in 2012 due to poor management.  In 2011 the league only had 6 teams, and all were on the east coast.  The future of the WPS is unknown.

The Sounders Women's season will begin in May.  The team will play about 14 games, plus exhibitions.  I assume they will play st Starfire in Tukwila.  Obviously Solo and Leroux aren't joining the W-League because of the money.  It's an opportunity for them to play and grow the sport of professional women's soccer.  We all know the Northwest has the best soccer fans in the country.  I want to encourage people to go out this summer and see the Sounders Women play.  You'll be seeing world-class athletes.  You'll be proving that Seattle, at least, is ready to support a major league women's soccer team.  And of course you'll be proving that Sounders fans are the best, most loyal fans in the sport of soccer.

Visit the Sounders Women FC website here.  Check back for updates as the team gets ready for its upcoming season.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Book News

The New Books in the Library will be available Friday.  There will be a photo op of students with the books happening Friday at Break.  All students are encouraged to participate.  The books will then be available at lunch, but only to those who participated in the photo op.  After school on Friday, the books will be available to everyone.  There are a lot of great books in there, so do check them out.

I have now also updated the Library Wish List.  We welcome donations of books from this list.

Here are 5 books from the list which we need to complete series in our library:

1.  Dark Fire, Chris D'Lacey (Last Dragon Chronicles)
2.  The Sea of Monsters, Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson & The Olympians)
3.  The Merchant of Death, D.J. MacHale (Pendragon)
4.   Lies, Michael Grant (Gone Series)
5.  Chosen, P.C. Cast (House of Night)

Also, if you're looking for a good book to read, check out Cleo's book review blog Literary Reviews.  She has great taste in books, and she reads books across many different genres.  Before long she will have read every book in our Library!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

European Countries Quiz

Northern & Western Europe: Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Portugal, Spain, France, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, United Kingdom, Ireland.

Southeastern Europe: Italy, Slovenia, Greece, Albania, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, Croatia.

Eastern and Central Europe: Russia, Poland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine, Moldova, Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Belarus, Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Europe Physical Features Quiz

Picture of Pic du Midi d'Ossau in the
French Pyrenees from Wikimedia Commons.
 Rivers: Danube, Rhine, Seine, Thames, Volga.
Mountain Ranges: Alps, Caucasus, Pyrenees, Urals.

Bodies of Water: Adriatic Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea, Baltic Sea, North Sea, Norwegian Sea.

A blank physical map of Europe can be found here.