Monday, November 23, 2009
Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything by Lenore Look
Jack Plank Tells Tales by Natalie Babbitt
Me and the Pumpkin Queen by Marlane Kennedy
Secret of the Painted House by Marion Dane Bauer
Double Identity by Margaret Peterson Haddix
That's a lot of reading, folks! And just in one week. So, maybe with the holidays coming, I'll get a little more with it and post some more reviews.
My kiddos' favorite book right now:
I Spy Spooky Mansion
They love just looking at everything in the pictures!
Monday, September 14, 2009
Bone: Out from Boneville
Bone. What do I say about Bone? I've heard so much about this series and was pretty excited to finally get to read it. The illustrations play a key role in this graphic novel extraordinaire. What amazing art for simple line work! And I'm going to really get into the illustrations a bit here because I had a unique experience. Upon seeing that my library's copy was going to be out for a while, I had mentioned waiting for it in front of a librarian friend who volunteered her personal copy. Not more than a day or two had gone by and the library copy showed up on my desk. But they were different, way different. The personal copy had color illustrations, the library copy, black and white. I kept one at home and one on my desk at work for breaks. There was such a difference between the two, and I found myself enjoying the black and white copy so much more. I'm usually into rich texture and color, so was surprised by my reaction. I found that in the color illustrations, the background became just that: background. In the black and white, I noticed everything, especially some of the little details in the background. My reaction was just a resounding, "Huh!". And I don't have a better word now, either. Just that. I do have to say, although there were some really great humorous moments in the book (like the snow), I wasn't that blown away by the plot. It wasn't that complex, not that it needed to be. And maybe that's just it. Who needs complexity? Maybe for this book simple black and white and a simple plot makes it just perfect. After I got done, I wanted to go talk to the people that I knew had read the book just to get their reactions. Mine: "Huh!" Yours: Please let me know.
Babymouse: Queen of the World
by Shaun Tan
The Arrival is a totally wordless graphic novel. So, what the story is about is totally up to what the "reader" sees and thinks is happening in the pictures. I think it's about a man who has to leave his family because war (or some other bad thing) has come to their town. He goes to another place, totally foreign to him, to find a way to help his family. He meets people along the way who tell him their story, even though he doesn't know the language well, and he finds out that this strange land
isn't as strange as he thought it was. There are a lot of people like him.
I really want to know what other people think about this book. Since there are no words, I think 10 different people could read this book and come up with a different story of sorts. I interpreted the wavy monster arms as "war" but I wonder what others would see it as. It truly could be anything. The pictures make
me think of sci-fi movies, but they have a rustic feel too that makes me think of earlier times in our country, like in a time period when so many people were coming to the United States from Europe. The author gives us a true idea of what it might be like as an immigrant. And there are pets. I like the pets. At first, I thought the pet that found the man was more like a cat. But later in the book, I decided it seemed more like a dog to me. What do you think?
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute
by Jarrett J Krosoczka
I just about died laughing while I read this book. And then I toted it around for a couple of weeks and approached people with a goofy grin on my face saying, "You have to read this book! Hee hee hee!" with book outstretched in offering. I'm sure they thought I needed to visit the loony bin, but if you read this book, you just might find yourself doing the exact same thing.
"What do you suppose she does? You know, when she's not a lunch lady?"
"Maybe she has a family to take care of."
"I bet she has like a hundred cats!"
"Maybe she's some sort of super-secret agent spy or something..."
This last statement is met with unbelieving looks that translate to "Yeah, right."
But little do they know, that the Lunch Lady turns superheroine in her spare time, with the help of her super-savvy lunch lady assistant, Betty, who sets her up with gadgets such as the spatu-copter she is "Serving justice! And serving lunch!" As the Lunch Lady serves up chicken patty pizza, she notices that something's not quite right about the substitute teacher in for Mr. O'Connell. And isn't it odd that Mr. O'Connell is ill after 20 years of no sick days? So, after a bit of surveillance in her Boiler Room lair, Lunch Lady is on the case!
You seriously just have to pick up this book!!! Go! Now! And ask your library to buy it, if they haven't already.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
by Sherri L. Smith
As the cover says, "All Ida Mae Jones wants to do is fly. Her daddy was a pilot, and even years after his death, her connection to him feels strongest when she's in the air. But in 1940s Louisiana, being black and being a woman are two strikes against her, no matter how light-skinned she might be." But then Ida Mae learns of the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots). And yet, there's no way that they would take someone that's black. Is her skin light enough that she could pass for white? What happens if she's found out after the fact? Even with all the risk, Ida Mae decides she has to try, if only for the fact that she would be "doing something" for the war effort and get to fly as a bonus.
I really enjoyed this book. I learned so much about the air portion of the war and what went on stateside. You hear about the battles overseas and the food rationing in the states, but not so much about this part of it. In my library this book is located in the YA area. I think it would be fine for middle school readers, although the main character is in her early twenties. In order for the story to happen at all, she has to be that old to enlist in the army. But all the same, there are some semi-adult situations, such as the main character's colleagues drinking in the bar. So, recommended for adults, young adults, and middle-schoolers, with a caution on a few scenes containing drinking and minimal romance.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
by Laurie Halse Anderson
Let me set up the story. Isabel is a slave in the south at a time when America is talking about revolution against England. Her father was sold, her mother is dead, and she's left to take care of her little sister who is afflicted with epilepsy. Luckily, their owner happens to be a nice elderly lady who treats them as her own grandchildren, teaches them to read and write, and has written in her will that they are to be freed. And then, their owner passes away. The lawyer is not in town to corroborate Isabel's story, and they are taken away by a not so pleasant relative and sold immediately to a not so pleasant family of husband and wife on their way back to New York City. Her new master is a Loyalist, against the revolution planned by the Tories. And Isabel is asked to spy for the Tories. Should she do it? Which is worse, to be beat by her master, or to get caught spying against him? How can she protect her sister from the harsh life of a slave? Will this great man called George Washington protect her? What will happen when the war breaks out?
Read the book. Find out what happens...
Friday, August 7, 2009
Bad Girls Don't Die
by Katie Alender
I loved this book! I am not a fan of ghost stories. In fact, I try to avoid them at all cost. And yet, I read an online review about this one and thought I'd give it a go. I'm so glad I did. I couldn't put this one down.
This is Katie Alender's debut novel about Alexis, a high school loner who loves photography. It all starts this Alexis (known as Lexie) seeing a weird light outside while she's taking a picture of her house one evening. Then weird things start to happen which lead to Lexie finding out about the house's dark history, realizing that she's not as alone as she thinks (in more ways than one), and then surviving in the midst of supernatural chaos.
The writing in this novel was superb. Well-developed characters lead to a complex plot that worked on so many levels. I appreciated the author adressing the issue that I think all high school kids go through, trying to decide if they want to "fit in" or go it alone and be different. Lexie struggles with her identity and what she wants out of school life, but learns that she can still be herself and socialize with other groups. I loved Lexie as a character. She was so believable that I wanted to meet her and befriend her.
And the ghost story was eery! It has all the ghostly aspects a person could want: haunting, sightings, poltergeist action, possessing, and exorcism. And, the ghost story was handled so subtly and perfectly, I was even able to read it before bed and not have nightmares (the reason I usually don't read ghost stories).
A must read.
Home of the Brave
by Katherine Applegate
After reading this one, I wanted to buy copies and just hand them out to people, maybe as gifts, or a "just because" giveaway. It's about a Sudanese boy that comes to Minnesota as a refugee to be with his extended family while they search for his missing mother. His country is wartorn and he has watched his father and brother perish brutally before running for his own life. So, he's already traumatized. And then he sees the snow... What is all of this white stuff?
Someone has picked him up from the airport because his family was not able to meet him there and on the way to his new home, he sees something that is so familiar to him, he makes the driver stop the car. A cow. In his country, they are nomads who herd cattle. Cattle are like money in his culture. And here is finally something familiar in this cold country. And so it goes that this young man, Kek, tries to make sense of our strange culture.
I thought this story was so heartfelt. There was a beautiful note from the author in the back of the version that I read talking about why she decided to write the book. She talks about how all people, at some time in their lives, find that they are lost. And then they have to re-evaluate and figure out what "home" is to them. I think that is so true and it's also the reason that everyone will understand what Kek is going through. The book is written in short prose, which normally would be a turnoff for me, but in this case, is very appropriate to the fact that Kek has limited English. The narration is more a stream of concsiousness of his thoughts in English.
You must read this book!
I had a third book, but I'll have to leave it for another post. More reviews another day!
Monday, July 27, 2009
by Jennifer Sattler
I'm not really one of those flamingo fanatics. Come on, you know you're out there. Those of you who put flamingos in your front yard and are huge Mary Chapin Carpenter fans. But I think I've become a little bit of a fan after seeing this book. I always enjoyed looking at the flamingos when we went to the zoo, mostly because they stood so still, I always wondered if they were real. And then every once in a while they would MOVE. Here's the thing about flamingos. (Yes, I know I'm going on forever. Just hang on.) They are so very graceful looking when they are just posed on that one leg. How do they do that? Their legs are so skinny, like a stick. And then they walk and they look AWKWARD. So there you have it, the duality of flamingos, awkward little graceful things, they are. And now I'm going to get into the book...
Somehow Jennifer Sattler nailed that awkard gracefulness that all flamingos have in her illustrations. Now I want to know, how did SHE do that? And it's a great story besides. And the story goes: Sylvie is a young flamingo. She looks around and notices that her whole family is pink and wants to know why. Well, you are what you eat, right? And flamingos eat pink stuff (seafood, right?). So Sylvie decides she's going to branch out and try something new. She takes a little nibble of all sorts of colorful things on the beach, including a paisley swimsuit, and changes colors accordingly. Here's where the illustrations are just amazing because Sylvie practically dances across the pages with her long awkward legs. But after taking a taste of a lot of different snacks, Sylvie doesn't feel that great. In fact, she just doesn't feel like herself at all. She goes back to her family and eats some more shellfish, and then she feels just like she should. The story of Sylvie would be great for an "I Like Me" theme and reminds me of Leo Lionni's A Color of His Own.
If you want to read more about Jennifer Sattler and her artwork, check out the interview at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Color
by Joyce Sidman
illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
I don't have as much to say about this book, but I really do appreciate the combination between the poetry of Joyce Sidman and the artwork of Pamela Zagarenski. The artwork is so very detailed that my three-year-old spent a lot of time just looking. The simple, yet exquisite, poetry on each spread focuses on one or two colors (a couple of spreads have many colors), with splashes of that color throughout the scene and cleverly illustrating the concepts into a more concrete form for little ones to understand. "In SPRING, Red sings from treetops: cheer-cheer-cheer, each note dropping like a cherry into my ear." The accompanying artwork shows redbirds in the tree with very delicate little red notes sprinkled throughout the sky looking very much like cherries. So, my daughter and I had discussions of cardinals and how their song does sound like "cheer", how berries fall from our crabapple tree, and what musical notes look like (very much like cherries, don't they?). What a great teaching tool! And to top it off, we're learning to read individual words, so I was thrilled that the color words are all in their appropriate color(the rest of the text is black or white, depending on the background color). My daughter might not have been able to read the word, but she got a great hint to give her success even before we sounded out the word. This one should definitely be used with the older preschool set, ages 3 - 5.
Here's the interview with illustrator Pamela Zagarenski at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast.
Monday, July 13, 2009
Who Ate All the Cookie Dough
by Karen Beaumont
illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
Both kids have been lovin' this book for the last couple of weeks. It's pretty much a "Who took the cookie from the cookie jar" setup with a couple of nice changes. Mama Kangaroo is searching for whoever ate all the cookie dough. She asks various animals if they ate all the cookie dough, and they refer her on to the next animal. So, nice change #1: four or five animals in, Mama Kangaroo is referred to Monkey, who is a little hard to find. This happens about the time that my 3-year-old's attention started to wander, because of the repetitiveness, and drew her right back into the story. And then, nice change #2: when we finally find out who ate all the cookie dough, there's a lift-a-flap to find out who the culprit is. The repitition and vibrant illustrations kept my toddler enthralled, so this book worked for both age groups: preschool and toddler. Very fun!
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
illustrated by Jen Corace
Ah, Little Pea! Here's the perfect book for picky eaters. Little Pea really doesn't want to eat dinner; it's yucky! Who would want to eat all that.... candy. Bleh! But Mama Pea says Little Pea has to eat six pieces of candy to get any dessert at all. So, one by one, the candy gets eaten with appropriate "yuck" faces and sounds. And what might be for dessert then? Spinach! And Little Pea gobbles it up! This book was our city's community read this year. With quite a bit of text on some of the pages, I would recommend it for the 3 - 5 age group.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Play! A Flip-a-Shape book
It looks like this book series was created by Harriet Zeifert, a name that is extremely well known in children's lit circles. And she did a wonderful job with it, as always. I can honestly say that this book has been "kid tested, mother approved". I took it home to my 15-month-old son, and it's become one of his new favorites. He loves the colors and shapes. Cut-outs of the shapes carry over to use patterns and colors from the previous pages, reminiscent of Lois Ehlert's Color Zoo and Color Farm. It's a beautiful board book. Well done!
The Magic Beads
written by Susin Nielsen-Fernlund
illustrated by Genevieve Cote
I happened upon this book in the stacks and was intrigued by the beautiful butterfly illustrations on the jacket cover. I opened it up and read this outstanding story about a girl who has butterflies when she finds out she has to do a Show and Tell. Each child is assigned a day to do their Show and Tell and as Lillian gets to see all the other children do their Show and Tells, her butterflies turn to grasshoppers, then rabbits, and so on. In each spread, the illustrations are offset by black and white images of what Lillian is feeling or thinking, and color illustrations of what is actually going on. Up until this point, the story tells an everyday tale of a child nervous about presenting in front of her class, but then the story flips. We find out Lillian is nervous because she lives with her mom in a women's shelter right now. And she doesn't have her toys or really much of anything that she can bring for Show and Tell. She overcomes by bringing in her "magic beads", a long string of beads that she plays with and creates "tight ropes" and "wands", "snakes" and a "leash" for her pet elephant. It turns out that imagination is the best toy of all. The author and illustrator even handle the issue of the women's shelter and why Lillian is there with such delicacy and matter-of-factness, that it makes the book, just endearing to me. I LOVE this book!