Fun at Foster's blog

Font to Film: “Shrek”

When Font to Film looked at Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, we saw that a successful film can be produced even when the source material is less than a full-length novel. This month we follow that concept even further by examining William Steig’s Shrek! (1990), a slim picture book that served as the inspiration for the 2001 DreamWorks film that spawned a decade’s worth of sequels, with the last one, Shrek Forever After, being released in 2010. Despite the widespread success of the Shrek franchise—which includes spin-off movies, video games, and even comic books adaptations—many viewers remain unaware of its humble origins.

Readers might be more familiar with some of Steig’s other works, such as the Caldecott Medal-winning Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (1970) or Doctor De Soto (1982), which won him a 1983 National Book Award. Shrek! is a relatively simple tale, following an ogre’s journey from his swamp home as he leaves his parents to experience the world. He encounters a witch who delivers a prophecy, telling Shrek that he will meet a stupendously ugly princess who will be his bride. As he heads off to meet this destiny he encounters a peasant, a dragon, a talking donkey, and an armored knight, each of whom either helps or hinders him somewhat on his way. In the end, Shrek and the princess find each other and live “horribly ever after.” The main hook for the story seems to be the value reversal—embraced by the narrator and Shrek himself—whereby traditionally negative terms (such as “ugly” and “horrible”) instead hold a positive connotation. Thus, while Shrek's behaviors and physical characteristics are terrifying to those around him, he finds those same traits comforting and even attractive in others. Though overshadowed by Steig’s other works, Shrek! was named the best children’s book of the year by Publishers Weekly and the School Library Journal.
The 2001 film version of Shrek, directed by Andrew Adamson and Vicky Jenson, also played with the idea of relative beauty and societal norms, albeit in a more nuanced way. And while it imports some characters similar to those in the book—including the talking donkey and the dragon—it is otherwise radically different. For starters, all of the characters are greatly fleshed out, with Mike Myers providing the voice of Shrek and Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz, and John Lithgow in supporting roles. The movie is heavy on referential humor, poking fun not just at fairy tale clichés but filmmaking tropes in general. The story still begins with Shrek forced to leave his swamp, but includes an entirely new main plot built around the beautiful Princess Fiona and her arranged marriage to main antagonist Lord Farquaad. Themes of persecution, isolation, and inner and outer beauty are artfully addressed all while maintaining the movie’s overall comedic tone. Shrek was a huge financial and critical success, winning the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and proving to be an incredible feather in DreamWorks’ hat.

William Steig’s Shrek! is available to borrow as part of E.P. Foster Library’s children’s picture book collection on the second floor of the library. Adamson and Jenson’s film version can also be found on the second floor, in the children’s DVD area. If you are interested in the book, the movie, or any of the various sequels, stop by the library or place a request either over the phone or through our online catalog. If Foster doesn’t have the title you want, you can always request that it be brought in from another branch!


Scared up by Ronald Martin.

CAPS Make a Video Series @ Foster

On Saturday, October 18, CAPS TV will be presenting a workshop at E.P. Foster Library.

This event will center on creating movies from start to finish. You will have the chance to learn the basics of recording and editing your own videos!

No reservations are required for this free event, which begins at 9 a.m. in the Topping Room. Stop by if you've ever wanted to learn more about filmmaking!

Pretty Deadly

“Attend the song of Deathface Ginny, and how she came to be
A wraith of rage for men who’d cage and harm what should be set free.
It all began when the Mason man took Beauty for his bride.
He quick turned a fool and made her a jewel in the crown of his glittering pride.”


Thus begins the intriguing tale of Pretty Deadly. A pair of unusual characters come to an unnamed town to perform their tale of Beauty, Death, and their daughter, Deathface Ginny. One is a blind man, who plays more than just the part of storyteller in this strange tale. The other is a young girl dressed in a cloak of vulture feathers, with one blue eye and one brown, who is the key to Death’s undoing. To say any more would spoil the story, but let me just say that by the time they meet up with Ginny, and eventually Death himself, questions will be answered.

Pretty Deadly is what you get when you cross a western with Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. It’s something akin to a paranormal western, a distant cousin perhaps. There’s just no easier way to describe this book. That’s not to say that I didn’t like it, because I did, immensely. It’s smartly conceived and unique in the western genre. I love how each main character has a part to play, and a secret identity waiting to be discovered. It’s all cleverly brought together by the end.

Pretty Deadly is a worthwhile read, but definitely for adults. It’s a well-thought-out story that’s not to be missed.


Heather, the Graphic Novel Goddess

Into the Unknown

When I was growing up the movie distribution situation was such that once a film had played its first run in the downtown and neighborhood theaters it was pretty much gone forever. There were a few re-issues of certified classics but generally the avid (i.e., obsessed) fan was left hanging with only memories of his vanished film favorite (today I still can hardly believe it when I see a VHS copy of FANTASIA for 50 cents in the Foster book store!).

That’s one reason I am constantly amazed at the accessibility of movies today. So sometimes I find it interesting just to choose films about which I know absolutely nothing.

Here are a few DVD surprises I’ve come across recently.

Wreckers (2011): Benedict Cumberbatch is so all over the place these days (Sherlock, Star Trek Into Darkness, August: Osage County, 12 Years A Slave) it’s surprising to find him in a small indie film from an emerging British director/writer. This somewhat enigmatic film deals with a young married couple starting out in a country cottage in rural England. Their bucolic idyll is interrupted by the return of the repressed, in this case the husband’s disturbed brother, and complications, of course, ensue.

In her first feature, director/writer Dictynna Hood infuses the slight plot with visually beautiful images of the English (Norfolk) countryside, and in that respect and in the emotionally-intense, conflicted relationships the film reminded me of a modernized Thomas Hardy. A lyrical score adds to the mysterious impact, as do the rural accents and a very muffled sound mix which makes the dialogue sometimes incomprehensible. And be warned, there are no subtitles.

Mako Mermaids (2013): This was a real wild card, an Australian young adult series about mermaids interacting with a “land guy” who has accidentally acquired merpeople powers and occasionally turns into a merman himself. How the trio of mermaids, each a distinctive personality, deal with the situation on land keeps the plot interesting and amusing.

An attractive cast and rather good special effects and underwater location (Gold Coast, Queensland) cinematography create a colorful fusion of reality and fantasy. A cool techno/pop score, sometimes suggestive of the tiki exotica of Les Baxter—and in stereo—and a few tween-friendly pop tunes (one of the mermaids sings) add to the bubbly appeal. BTW, Mermaids is a spin-off of another show, H20: Just Add Water.

Ice Soldiers (2013): A kind of retread of the 1950s classic The Thing, but in this case the trio of hunky blond “things” are not aliens but genetically-enhanced Russian soldiers bent on invading Cold War America. After they trash a remote arctic outpost and escape we skip ahead several decades and they’rrree back, with predictable results.

It’s a low-key but fairly engrossing thriller with some striking wide-screen cinematography of the frozen landscapes (shot in Ontario, Canada). As one review put it, “Don’t take it too seriously and you will enjoy being entertained by Ice Soldiers.”


Retro Ross, Foster

E. P. Foster Library closed today!

E. P. Foster Library will be closed again today, 10/4. Avenue Library is open from 10-3! The California Condors event will still take place at 5:00 in the Topping Room.  

Avenue Library open today!

E.P. Foster Library is closed today, 10/3, due to extreme heat.
Avenue Library will be open to the public from 11-5 to serve the Ventura community. Please call the library at 643-6393 if you have any questions.

Beyond Los Padres National Forest @ Foster

On Saturday, October 11, author and wilderness hiker Diane Soini will give a presentation at E.P. Foster Library.

This event will focus on lightweight backpacking techniques, and will include tips and stories from Soini. Questions are welcome, so come prepared!

This talk is free and open to the public. It all starts in the Topping Room at 5 p.m. Whether you're an avid hiker or just curious about how to get started, we'd love to see you there!

Jade’s Sci-Fi & Fantasy Minute: “Dune,” by Frank Herbert

Dune has been hailed as the “first planetary ecology novel on a grand scale.” It is a tale of political corruption, the fight for limited resources, and the fight for territory—but on an interstellar level. In a universe where powerful families rule entire planets, young Paul Atreides is made a duke too soon after the assassination of his father, and now must keep control of the planet Arrakis. It is a hostile planet, a desert filled with deadly sandworms where water is a precious resource to be guarded and fought over. It is also the only planet where one can find a powerful drug called Spice. Spice gives people increased power over their own bodies and minds, and is itself the catalyst for interstellar travel. In order to hold Arrakis, Paul must gain the loyalty of the native Freman people, tribesman that have learned the desert’s ways, adapting their bodies while searching for a way to bring plants and water to life around them. The Freman find their messiah in Paul, sparking a jihad against those who would try to take Arrakis. Paul is caught in a spiral of religious fervor he can’t control, and comes up against some of the most fearsome fighters the universe has ever seen.

I’ve read Dune many times over the years and am always struck by the fact that even though Herbert wrote it in 1965, it doesn’t feel dated at all. Deep down it is really about many people coming together to solve planetary problems in ways that benefit them all, as well as the need to cease their fighting over territory and resources as it benefits no one in the long run. It is a thinly-veiled argument against an addiction to one resource and the thought that having that resource makes you powerful. In a time of serious drought and war around the world, it makes you stop and think. This is what makes the sci-fi and fantasy genres so memorable and amazing to me: how writers take us to fantastical places but still manage to ground us in situations we can relate to.

Dune is part of E.P. Foster Library’s Science Fiction collection, and can also be found in our catalog.

See you, Space Cowboy,

Yours Truly

Book Discussion, Nature, and Poetry @ Foster

On Friday, October 3, at 8 a.m., Foster will host a talk on software testing for small teams.

On Saturday, October 4, at 10 a.m., the Friends of the Library will be discussing Michael Ondaatje's The Cat's Table.

Then, at 5 p.m. on Saturday, the Friends of California Condors will give a talk on Los Padres National Forest, followed by a reading by Ventura's poet laureate Mary Kay Rummel at 6:30 p.m.

All of these events will take place in the Topping Room. Check out E.P. Foster Library's location page for more info!

Novelties: “In the Kingdom of Ice,” by Hampton Sides

While the world of fiction is full of intricate stories that showcase the human spirit and the lengths to which we will go in pursuit of greatness, some of the most impressive tales are ones that actually did happen. Good non-fiction authors can help us realize that history is full of accounts of courage, resourcefulness, survival, and determination that rival—or even serve as inspiration for—our greatest works of fiction. This month Novelties will feature its first non-fiction titles, and we will hit the ground running by looking at a topic that lends itself to some amazing stories of discovery and sacrifice: 19th-century Arctic exploration.

Hampton Sides’ newest release In the Kingdom of Ice (2014) is an account of the voyage of the USS Jeannette, which in 1879 carried George Washington DeLong—a naval officer and explorer—and his crew on an expedition to the North Pole. Sides recounts how DeLong’s efforts were funded by the owner of the New York Herald, James Gordon Bennett, a man hungry to make headlines with such a sensational achievement. At the time, knowledge of the North Pole was limited, and a successful expedition would shed light on one of the few remaining dark places on the globe. Unfortunately, DeLong’s Jeannette became trapped in ice, ultimately succumbing to the elements and forcing the crew to abandon ship. What followed was a struggle to reach safety in the frozen north, with no shortage of threats as immediate as polar bears and freezing temperatures and as insidious as starvation and madness. While it would be years before the public knew for sure what happened to DeLong and his crew, his journal provides insights which Sides incorporates into his own compelling narrative, bringing to life a story that might easily have been lost forever.
Shifting subjects a bit, we have In the Heart of the Sea (2000) by Nathaniel Philbrick. Still set on the open ocean, this title tells the story of the Essex, a whaling ship that set out from Nantucket in 1820. It would be fifteen months before the remaining members of her crew were discovered and the truth of what happened was revealed. The Essex suffered serious damage while being attacked by an aggressive sperm whale, forcing the crew onto lifeboats where they drifted desperately towards the coast of South America—some 3,000 miles away. Philbrick incorporates primary sources and personal experience with the sea into a bleak but oddly lyrical narrative in which he explores the physical and psychological trauma of the survivors, who were forced to cannibalize their shipmates as their ordeal dragged on over several months. During the 19th century the wreck of the Essex loomed heavily in the public consciousness, and served as inspiration for Melville as he wrote Moby-Dick. Extensively researched and full of exquisite detail, In the Heart of the Sea is a great pick for anyone looking for a gateway into non-fiction, and is currently being made into a film directed by Ron Howard, to be released in 2015.
Finally, we return to the Arctic with The Ice Master (2000) by Jennifer Niven. In this book, Niven recounts the details of a 1913 Canadian expedition led by anthropologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who abandoned his crew when their ship, the Karluk, became stuck in ice. Those left behind were short on experience and wound up relying heavily on their captain, Robert Bartlett, who led them from the Karluk’s wreck and subsequently traveled roughly 700 miles—mostly on foot—in an attempt to reach civilization and arrange a rescue. Those who stayed behind, some seriously injured, had no choice but to wait for Bartlett’s return and try to eke out an existence as supplies ran short and tensions ran high. Niven’s comprehensive research incorporates diary entries, news articles, and individual accounts to paint a picture not only of the immediate difficulties the crew faced—which included starvation, disease, exposure, and more—but of the ways in which various personalities rubbed against each other and led to social strife among those left standing. Though the narrative drags at points, The Ice Master winds up delivering a striking tale of suspense, heroism, and perseverance.

In the Kingdom of Ice, In the Heart of the Sea, and The Ice Master are all available to borrow at E.P. Foster Library, with some additional copies available at our other branches. Check out NoveList Plus in the Reading Suggestions section of our eLibrary if you’re looking for more non-fiction on this topic, or to browse for something entirely different. And remember, if the copy you’re after is checked out you can put in a request for it in person, over the phone, or online through the Ventura County Library catalog.


Explored by Ronald Martin.

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