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Finding Nemo, a Toddler’s Guide to the Prison Break Movie

Finding Nemo presents parallel story lines following A) Marlin’s journey to find his son Nemo, taken by a dentist for his aquarium, and B) Nemo’s life and then attempted escape from that dentist’s aquarium. Watching it last night with my toddler, I was struck by the similarities in structure to prison break films. Forefront in my mind was The Shawshank Redemption.

The tropes of the prison break are quoted from the excellent TV Tropes website.

The Big Idea: Prison movie protagonists are almost always the new guy, who on his first day does something to gain a lifer’s trust. The lifer will then hip the fresh meat to the escape plan and introduce the conspirators. Nearly always, the plan is fortuitously just days away from fruition, which is a writer’s trick for confining the action to a short stretch of time.

nemo005The prison in Finding Nemo is an aquarium in an ocean-side dentist’s office. The other fish in the tank are “lifers” – they were purchased from pet stores and have spent their lives in captivity. Except one. Angel, like Nemo, is a fish of the ocean. He’s the gruff, scarred lifer who recognizes the potential in Nemo.

When Nemo gets sucked up into the water-intake for the filter, the other fish move to pull him to safety, but Angel shoos them away, telling Nemo how to swim out of the tube on his own. Nemo accomplishes this, and the act ingratiates him to Angel and the rest of the group.

The group initiates Nemo through a dramatic ritual in which they give him his prison nickname: Sharkbait. The new guy has gained the lifer’s trust.nemo initiation

The fishoners soon learn that Nemo is going to be gifted to the dentist’s niece Darla, a infamous killer of fish. This is the impetus to move the plot forward quickly. They must get Nemo out. Angel has long wanted to get back to the ocean, and with Nemo’s impending fate, Angel sees a new opportunity to enact his long-imagined escape plan. Crucially, Nemo is small enough to play the linchpin role in shutting down the tank’s filter. And if the plan goes off, the broken filter will mean the dentist has to clean the tank, and the fish will have a chance to escape out the window.

Of course, Nemo nearly gets dismantled by the tank filter’s fan when the fish enact their plan. Angel reconsiders his motives and the cost Nemo almost paid for their attempt at escape. He regrets enacting the plan and loses hope of escape.

Oh no, the snitch! Every prison has a snitch, a weaselly character who gives information to the guards in exchange for cigarettes. At a critical conspiratorial moment, he’ll overhear the wrong conversation and our heroes have to decide how far they’ll go to shut him up.

Finding Nemo incorporates this element of the movement of information into our outside the prisoner’s circle in an alternative way. The spread of information isn’t from the prisoners to the guards, but from the guard to the prisoners. Out in the ocean, as Marlin makes his way to Sydney, the stories of his journey travel in front of him, finally reaching the dentist’s fish tank via the friendly outsider (guard), the pelican Nigel. Once word makes it to the tank that Marlin is on his way, Nemo is spurred to re-attempt the escape plan. He pulls this off all on his own, and the escape is back on.

The Night Before: Let’s go over the plan, one last time. Every conspirator plays a part, and they’d better have it down cold. Depending on how complicated this plan is, we may cut away while the conversation is superimposed on a visual demonstration of what’s supposed to happen. Not that it matters because…

640px-Jacques-Cleaning-tankAngel goes back over the plan with the group: everyone will do their part to sully the tank, and Jacques will refrain from his normal modus operandus of cleaning the tank. The day before Darla arrives, the dentist will be forced to take them out to clean the tank, and they can roll themselves out the window down to the ocean and be away.

The Great Escape never goes as planned. Close calls abound, someone chickens out or dies, and the way out, inevitably if improbably, runs right through the big nasty antagonist.

Of course, it doesn’t work. The dentist buys a brand new super powered tank filter that cleans the dirty tank the night before Darla arrives. The escape has failed again.

Finding-Nemo-finding-nemo-3568748-853-480The group is forced to improvise. Nemo fakes death in the hopes of getting flushed down the toilet. The escape is full of chaos and excitement, misperceptions and near-misses. Darla discovers that Nemo is still alive, and Angel has to throw himself into harms way in a last alley oop to get Nemo down a drain.

But what made me really think of Shawshank was a similarity in the films’s scores. After a bare minimum of research, I found that Thomas Newman composed BOTH The Shawshank Redemption and Finding Nemo scores.

First, listen to this track from The Shawshank Redemption, from when Andy escapes and arrives on the other side.

Now listen to this one from the Nemo score, starting at about 50 seconds in. They are remarkably similar.

Further similarities:shawshank1

  • Andy “crawled through a river of shit and came out clean on the other side.” Nemo swims through the sewer system to get to the ocean.
  • Andy’s planned destination after escape is also the ocean.

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Ability to Resist Firefly Online Fading

fireflyonlineiconEnter the last week of July, the season of San Diego Comic Con, which always brings out the big news and developments in the geek world.

A year ago, I experienced momentary glee when Quantum Mechanix Inc. (QMx) and Spark Plug Games announced Firefly Online, a multi-user strategic roleplaying game set in the Firefly ‘Verse. That moment was immediately followed by resigned distance. If the game actually got legs, it might be lackluster. If it was, in fact, good, it wouldn’t matter anyway – I didn’t have time for it. I had a 6 mo. old at the time and was three years out from World of Warcraft progression raiding, which had taught me that MMO’s turned into a second job of near 40 hours a week when you play them seriously. No matter how good the game turned out to be, there was no way I could let myself get involved.

This year, my emotions are again in turmoil thanks to SDCC. First I heard that all of the major cast members were going to reprise their roles for the game – even Wash (Alan Tudyk) and Book (Ron Glass), who were cruelly killed off in Serenity. Alan Tudyk, the actor who played Wash and has now become something of a voice-actor extraordinaire, is actually voicing multiple roles in the game. Also appearing, Niska.

That’s what initially engaged my attention again – the news that the cast would be involved, that those characters would be reprised. They would part of the gameplay, their stories continued in some way.

Then I saw the video of gameplay. It opens with Ron Glass narrating, “If I were a captain…” then montages numerous Browncoats talking about the type of character or ship they would generate with screenshots. There’s even a Sims-like aspect where they showed decorating the ship with posters, furniture, and rugs. Are you kidding me? (Before the World of Warcraft obsession, I was a total Sims addict.) Then Nathan Fillion shows up. And by then my eyes were watering. Seriously, there may have been tears.

So I’m starting to wonder if I can resist the pull of Firefly Online. And I’m not alone.

QMx and Spark Plug announced that the player networking system, aptly called The Cortex, was now live and invited people to register. And then their servers broke. Big time. The Firefly Online Facebook page gave this update on the topic:

We’re aware of the issue, the server is being swamped with 10s of thousands of hits every second. Apparently us Browncoats are generating more traffic than an Amazon sale.

They’re now in the process of relocating everything onto Amazon servers to take the traffic demands. So currently The Cortex appears to only be gathering intel, allowing wannabe players to register. However, registering before the end of August will pay off in a free Kepler as a starter ship in the game.

Word is that the game will also be available to play on iOS and Android, which greatly increases my ability to work it into nap times and the other minute spaces of “free” time I have.


Hey, look! They’ve already made me in game – how convenient!

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Review – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Part III, Mercerism

Part I: Simulated / Real Dichotomy

Part II: Human / Inhuman Dichotomy

In Roger Ebert’s Walk of Fame remarks in 2005, he talks about film in a way that makes me think of Mercerism:

Movies are the most powerful empathy machine in all the arts. When I go to a great movie I can live somebody else’s life for a while. I can walk in somebody else’s shoes. I can see what it feels like to be a member of a different gender, a different race, a different economic class, to live in a different time, to have a different belief.

This is a liberalizing influence on me. It gives me a broader mind. It helps me to join my family of men and women on this planet. It helps me to identify with them, so I’m not just stuck being myself, day after day.

This is the crux of the Mercerism divide between humans and androids.

Mercerism is an amalgam of religious signs. Notably, he has an element of Sisyphus. His struggle is to walk an uphill path while being pelted by stones. He is part Jesus, in the victim of rock-throwing and his sacrificial nature. He is part Buddha, emphasizing the falseness of the separation of people through the shared emotions when connected to the empathy box. The construction of Mercer becomes more obvious as the book goes on, and turns out to be very much the point.

The big reveal of Buster Friendly, his anticipated expose, proves that Mercer is just a third-tier actor on a stage. The androids celebrate at this deicide of the human’s god. Without this idol of empathy, the androids believe they’ve brought humans down to their level. Society constructed Mercer to cultivate particular human traits and tendencies to create a cohesive society after natural disaster and mass exodus. But society didn’t manufacture the spiritual hole that Mercer filled. That’s an inborn human trait according to PKD, and that need for a connection to a world or entity beyond the self is a quality the androids don’t have. The androids think they’ve won by using their android-buddy Buster Friendly to debunk the existence of god, but PKD shows that it does not matter. Mercer gets proved to be a movie, but as Ebert presents above, that movie delivers an empathetic experience.

In fact, the deconstruction of Mercer appears to strengthen his presence for Deckard. In the climax of the book, Deckard must overcome his emotional attachment to Rachel to retire her double, Pris. Mercer appears to him before the moment of action, telling him that though he is being asked to do a bad thing, it is a job he must do for the greater good. Mercer gives Deckard the moral permission he needs to overcome the empathy telling him not to kill the android. Paradoxically, Mercer, who appears alone against the elements and rock throwers, makes Deckard feel not alone through empathy. The fact that Mercer appears visually to Deckard suggests a supernatural aspect to be sure. He might have been depicted for the empathy box by a mere human actor, but Mercer now lives beyond those origins.

DADOES_24_Preview_Page_05After Deckard retires the Baty gang, he drives into a wasted Oregon in his exhaustion. He becomes detached from his worldly responsibilities to the police force and bounty hunting, his wife, his physical self. He parks at the start of a sandy path and begins to walk. The setting morphs into the supernatural or fantastic. He starts to feel rocks hitting him. He is walking Mercer’s path. He is becoming Mercer. Or he is discovering the Mercer in him. No, Mercer is him. And to punctuate this realization, he finds a toad when he returns to his car. Like Isidore finding the spider, this is a miraculous moment. Deckard feels blessed by Mercer. And he feels at one with him.

Through the empathy box, the remaining humans on Earth have poured their emotions, shared their feelings through empathy. Together they have infused themselves into what they experience as Mercer. Mercer is them. Each of them. Deckard has now had an experiential epiphany of this fact.

But, again, PKD offers no easy answers. Though the epiphany feels authentic and changes Deckard at his core, when he returns to home and shares the toad with his wife, she discovers the toad is artificial. Deckard is disappointed but ultimately values knowing the truth of the toad’s nature. He goes to bed in exhaustion, and his wife makes a phone call to order supplies for keeping the toad as a pet.

So once again PKD gives us the paradox. The toad is a symbol of god, a symbol of the oneness the humans have with god through empathy, but the toad is manufactured, constructed, just as the androids have shown Mercer is. But the experience humans have with god through the empathy box is authentic. Empathy, PKD seems to say, is always authentic, even in response to manufactured things. The spiritual connection to god is an act of empathy, so even if the god is constructed, the experience of the god is authentic.

105_revandroids23splashConsider the ramifications: Any human construction of god, if it engages the human trait of empathy, is an authentic, real god. Thus all gods are true, even if all gods are false. Human empathetic experiencing of a being that fills the spiritual hole makes that god real. Deckard voices this at the end of the novel: ““Everything is true…Everything anybody has ever thought…’I’ll be all right,’ he said, and thought, And I’m going to die. Both those are true, too.”

Bam. Hey, PKD, thanks for the philosophical shake-up.

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Movie Re-view – The Brothers Bloom

This is not an official Star Wars Saturday, but Star Wars adjacent, since Rian Johnson is set to write and direct Episode VIII.

brothersbloomErin’s Take

We watched The Brothers Bloom a few years ago, shortly after falling in love with Rian Johnson’s Brick. I can’t say it got a fair shake from me. With Brick, we’d seen the film more than once (at least I had), and had gone through a whole exploration of film noir prior. We’d actually steeped ourselves in the genre Brick was turning in. So we got it.

On the other hand, we didn’t “research” con and heist films before watching The Brothers Bloom. We just jumped in. Of course, the film has charms whether you are familiar with its references or not, but knowing more means getting more. Re-watching it recently meant we not only had more cinematic knowledge to draw from, we also knew where the story was going. It was an absolute joy to watch the second time.

First of all, we hadn’t noticed that most of the Brick cast cameos in the second scene of the film–even Joseph Gordon Levitt and Lukas Haas are party “extras”. But that’s just an Easter egg. The real pleasure of the opening is in its structure. The narrative flashback of the Bloom Brothers sets up the plot and theme of whole film. In this way, it’s structurally tight, like Edgar Wright’s The World’s End. The film’s payoffs, twists, and conclusions are all telegraphed from this opening. This defining framework allows the rest of the film to be eclectic and absurd in its humor.

There a couple of literary allusions at play as well, most obviously James Joyce’s Ulysses and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. In Ulysses, the two journeying characters are Stephen Daedalus and Leopold Bloom, and in the film they are Stephen and Bloom. In Joyce’s works involving Stephen Daedalus (which also includes Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), Daedalus is the aspiring artist, like Stephen in the film is. Leopold Bloom is on a quest to return home to his wife in Ulysses, while Bloom in the film is seeking love and a sense of home. Instead, Stephen often sets him up to “act” the romantic hero in their cons and then pulls up their roots after the con is done. They are necessarily drifters, defined by Stephen’s con scripts. Bloom seeks “the unscripted life.” I’m much less familiar with The Brothers Karamazov, but Bloom mentions that Stephen’s cons are like Russian literature in their scope, complexity, and thematic content.

Inside this structural framework is a goofball, antic comedy. There are pratfalls and sight gags aplenty. Comic explosions. Absurd characters. In short, it’s very funny. However, it doesn’t have a straight comedic ending, which traditionally means a wedding or riding off happily into the sunset. Stephen sets up what makes a happy ending in the film through his description of the perfect con: 1) everyone gets what she wants, 2) the con becomes real. The ending delivers on Stephen’s version of happy, but it’s more ambiguous as far as the viewer is concerned.

Ultimately, it’s that twist of genre that elevates the film to something more philosophical, a deft exploration of the existential aspect of life. We write our own story or allow others to write it for us. The mark of a life well-lived is to become real, no longer playing the roles society sets out for us, but authentically engaging with and defining our own significance.

still-of-rinko-kikuchi-in-the-brothers-bloom-(2008)-large-pictureComparing The Brothers Bloom to Brick and Looper, I think Brothers has the most cinematic style to it. The mise-en-scene and composition of shots are gorgeous, quirky, and a bit fairy tale-esque. Watching it offers a visual vacation.

The Brothers Bloom definitely deserves and rewards multiple viewings.


Michael’s Take

We watched Brick mostly because of Filmspotting.  They were early champions of the film and eventually named their award for best overlooked film, The Golden Brick, after it.   It’s a sort of suburban high school hardboiled film noir.  If that doesn’t intrigue you, then that’s your problem.

Rian Johnson’s next film was The Brothers Bloom.  It’s rare treat.  Style and substance in equal measure propelled by solid engaging plotting.  It works on several levels.  Right at the surface it’s movie about the last con, the greatest con of the titular brothers.  It’s a knowing, winking, nod to the genre, to genre, and to the act of acting.  He doesn’t do things by halves.

Looper‘s like this, too.  A time travel movie with all the tropes that gives you the last thing you want as the only possible outcome.  Chances are you didn’t get it the first time through.  Not because you’re lacking in faculties, but because you don’t love it the way Johnson does.  You don’t know where it came from deep in your firmament.

That’s okay.

I’d been lobbying for a rewatch of The Brothers Bloom because I hadn’t been much of a fan.  After watching Brick a couple more times and Looper, I realized I probably hadn’t gotten it.  When Johnson landed Star Wars VIII, I saw my moment.

Erin tells me there are Joyce riffs, but the viewer doesn’t really need to know anything more than what’s said out loud.  Of course even what’s said aloud goes a little metafictional now and then.  There’s a Melville parallel spelled out in dialogue.  Stephen’s a romantic in every sense.  He scripts his cons like literary fictions, dense with references to classic works and pregnant with meaning.

The opening scene ends with Bloom questioning something their latest mark said.   “Four months and a thousand years ago.  That’s Kipling, isn’t it?  He stole that from Kipling.”  Stephen says, “No,” right before the cut.  It’s actually from a film, The Man Who Would be King, based on a Kipling novella whose narrator was unnamed.  For the film they called him Kipling.  Why was the mark talking like that?  Is Stephen conning Bloom?

“Bloom, the day I con you is the day I die.”

The Brothers Bloom works a lot like his other two movies, taking the conventions of a genre, piling a few more genres on top of them, and adhering to it all as strictly as possible while bringing the humor.  So, it’s a con movie.  But it’s got a tragic hero.  Who knows he’s a tragic hero.  Which makes it worse for him.  He can’t enjoy it in the doomed way a Byron or a Shelley might.

And actually, it’s got two tragic heroes.  But there’s a sort of limited PoV thing going on so that you don’t really see the one until he upstages the other.  Breaks him out of the narrative if you will.  Something he’s been trying to do since they were kids.

I’m trying not to let myself hope for a Star Wars movie with this kind of tight, circular plotting and self awareness.  It’s not really working.  I love this kind of thing.

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Frozen Friday: Winter is Coming

Season 4 of Once Upon a Time will premiere Sunday, September 28, at 7cst on ABC with the Frozen-themed episode “A Tale of Two Sisters.”

Master storytellers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz (“Lost,” “Tron: Legacy”) invite everyone to join Emma Swan, Snow White, Prince Charming, The Evil Queen, Hook and all the other resident fairy tale characters as they prepare to defend themselves against a magical force from the past that’s too dark and unpredictable even for Rumplestiltskin – The Ice Queen. – abc medianet

I say this every time, but we love Frozen here.  It’s an indellible part of our family.  Long after we’re tired of watching it, when our toddler is grown and embarrassed, we’ll unpack the memories and handle them reverently.  So it was a relief when producers Kitsis and Horowitz recently sat down with Entertainment Weekly to explain that they love it, too.

Thematically we can say the first half of the season is about how you never give up on the people you love.

They confirmed that the Frozen arc would be discrete.  Season 4 will open with Elsa, but the story line will wrap up by midseason.  None of the characters will carry over into season 5.

Elizabeth Mitchell’s character is connected both to the world of Arendelle and the world of Storybrooke.  While Kitsis did not reveal exactly who she would portray, he did admit that the character was one of the two most popular speculations: Elsa’s mother or Andersen’s original Snow Queen.  My money’s still on the latter.

Fan favorite Olaf will not be a part of the show.  However, Horowitz did reveal that a fifth character from the movie had been cast.  Sven will be played by an actual reindeer.

They plan to show a realistic looking Arendelle.  There will be no musical episodes.  Like Olaf, they just wouldn’t fit.

While the first episode will be written by Horowitz and Kitsis, the second, titled “White Out,” will be written by veteran Jane Espenson.  And Sven isn’t the only surprise.  TVLine broke the news that a sixth Frozen character will be joining the cast.  Prince Hans will debut in episode 3!  Anna’s (Elizabeth Lail) one time love interest was one of the biggest surprises in any Disney movie and he practically belongs in this setting.

So far, only the casting call has gone out.  We don’t know who will play the thirteenth in line to the throne of the Southern Isles.  But we do know that he’ll have the same closely cropped hair as all of the other royals.

Set photos have begun circulating.  Georgina Haig as Elsa looks very good for someone without anime proportions.

elsa set

And we’re pretty sure Time released an unlabled image of Scott Michael Foster’s Kristoff opposite her.

Georgina Haig as Elsa


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Anticipating Fight Club 2, the Continued Commentary on Failed Fathers

Fight Club comic book sequel Chuck PalahniukAccording to a USA Today interview with Chuck Palahniuk, a Fight Club sequel is in the works. As commenter BigDukeSix states on The Guardian article on the same topic, “I am Jack’s growing sense of doubt.” I too initially thought only of the impediments to Fight Club 2 living up to the legacy of the original, not so much book, but film by David Fincher. Because if you live in my house, you believe the film is greater than the novel.

The sequel is taking the form of a 10-issue graphic novel published through Dark Horse and illustrated by Cameron Stewart, which initially struck me as an oddly confined narrative format. The limits of prose in a graphic novel are profound – allowing maybe six sentences a page, mostly dialogue with phrases of exposition or narration. Furthermore, though graphic novels are visual and can be cinematic in a storyboard sort of way, the form lacks the kinetic movement and editing surprises the film version offered. For instance, the flashes of Tyler early on in the film, before the narrator actually meets him, would be difficult to suggest in comic book pages.

However, upon further thought, there is a brilliance to making the sequel a graphic novel mini-series. Most importantly, the comic book form is a bridge between novel and film. Fans fall into the categories of those who love the novel, those who love the film, and those who love both. The graphic novel allows an in-road for everyone to relate to. Additionally, if the story is good, and Fincher is directing, I’m all for a second film. In that case, the graphic novel can serve pretty easily as an initial storyboard, depending on how the artist conceptualizes the frames. And Cameron Stewart, the graphic artist on the project, described it thusly:

Fight Club 2, especially for those like him who were first exposed to the movie, “is as much a meta-fictional comment on the cultural response to Fight Club as it is a sequel.” And instead of embracing realism, his style for the series tends toward the “cartoony” because it was “more appropriate for the density of the story and for some of its more absurdly comical moments.” (Truitt, “Chuck Palahniuk reconvenes his ‘Fight Club'”)

Even five years ago, a sequel to Fight Club would have seemed like an absurd money-grab, but reading Palaniuk’s reasoning makes a lot of sense to this new(ish) mother:

The original book was “such a tirade against fathers — everything I had thought my father had not done combined with everything my peers were griping about their fathers,” says Palahniuk, 52. “Now to find myself at the age that my father was when I was trashing him made me want to revisit it from the father’s perspective and see if things were any better and why it repeats like that.” (Truitt)

In fact, it reminds me of the way Richard Linklater approached the Before series – Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. Linklater would not even consider making a sequel until he had enough life experience to offer a new perspective and wisdom on the central couple, Jesse and Celine. At that point, he would meet with his actor-collaborators, Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, and they would collectively script the next chapter of these characters’ lives. Likewise, the original Fight Club is told from the perspective of a lost son, a young man whose father has failed to raise him into adulthood. Fight Club 2 makes the narrator the father of a 9-year old, finding himself now failing that son. Further, his son is now at the mercy of Project Mayhem. That’s a perspective change that intrigues me greatly.

However, I’m less enthusiastic about a less ambiguous Tyler Durden. Palaniuk has teased: “Tyler is something that maybe has been around for centuries and is not just this aberration that’s popped into his mind.” Tyler works, in part, because of the mystery of him. I suppose it’s a necessity to explore what Tyler actually is. Will he be a supernatural trickster figure? Will he be an archetypal shadow? Some other type of god or demon? A manifestation of a shared psychological aspect of humanity?

Fight Club 2 is scheduled for May 2015. I know I’ll be reading it.

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An Educational Celebration of World Religion – Children’s Book Review of Mahavira by Manoj Jain


From the Amazon book description:

Imagine a world where no one gets hurt, a world where no one is teased or bullied, a world where there is no fear or anger. Six centuries before the birth of Jesus, in the faraway land of India, there lived a great spiritual teacher name Mahavira (which means “very brave”), who imagined just such a world. He showed kindness to every living being and emphasized the practice of nonviolence, compassion, and forgiveness. The religion of Mahavira was called Jainism.

Mahavira by Manoj Jain and illustrated by Demi is a beautiful introduction to the eponymous hero and Jainism’s values for children and adults alike. Especially for Jainists and those who celebrate world religions, this would be a must-have.

The artwork by Demi is reminiscent of ancient Indian scrolls. It gives it a timeless nature and shows the value of traditions.

By telling the life story of Mahavira, the book offers lessons about love, compassion, and forgiveness to approach the world through non-violence. Though the Jain religion is small in number, these values are held world over, and are among the most important values we can teach our children, no matter their spiritual upbringing.

Attention, librarians, this is definitely a great addition to your children’s collection.


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