Saturday, October 11, 2014

Winter Waits, by Lynn Plourde illus. by Greg Couch

I have wanted to review this book for 3 years! It eclipsed into and out of my life , then re-entered, to finally capture on this blog.

This time, the writing is not the star here - it is the illustrations. But before I go on about the art, let's look at the text.

It is presented in verse, but I think the flow is a little broken. It is a sweet sentiment, nonetheless, and has a gentleness to it, like a lullaby.

But pick up this book for the illustrations. The artist runs with the given concept, taking it further than you expected with a child's picture book. You will be glad he did, too. His selected aspects are very celestial, along with a dash of science, astrology, and art. The little character, Winter, feels transparent, like a jar full of fog. I delight in the palette, the texture and the compositions.

it is simply beautiful. Children need to appreciate unexpected beauty. Take the time and help them see it. This book is brimming with it!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

My Blue Is Happy, by Jessica Young

I love colors. Always have. This book delights me in that it opens the conversation for what we all have unique feelings about - color.

There are no surprises inside, but it works as a conversation starter in a very simple and immediately intriguing way.

The pictures work to interpret the text very well, showing the variances of people's impressions of color, be it neutral, negative, or positive.

The title gives you enough to go on. Pick up this book and have a discussion with your child. Age is not a consideration; we all feel something about colors whether we are 2 or 92.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Bloody Jack: being an account of the curious adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, ship's boy, by L.A Meyer

This was a curious title to me to find in the YA section of the collection, and it is the first in a series. Since there were still installments being reviewed in the industry periodicals, and they were recommended, I knew I had to eventually read at least the title book.

The story began in 18th century London as Mary just lost her parents and little sister to illness. Being one of many orphans with no decent home to call her own, she joined a group of street urchins that managed to take care of themselves; living under a bridge, begging for food, but staying together. Once their leader was lost to them, Mary knew that to survive in the world, she would have to earn a living, and presenting herself as a boy would be her best chance. So the adventure begins.  She changes her name to Jacky, and is soon hired on as a ship's boy, traveling the high seas.

Upon the book's opening, what struck me was the vernacular; everything Mary/Jacky said was in street slang. Once I got used to that, the story was riveting. It reads authentically,with no candy-coating. She faces real danger, even as a boy. There is a reason it is to be found in the YA section of the library. This is definitely a young adult read.

Aside from the mild thematic warnings (about the level of a PG-13 movie), this book is a well-done story with a smart girl as the protagonist. Try it if you like historic fiction, and perhaps you will continue to read Jacky's further adventures!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Girl Who Wouldn't Brush Her Hair, by Kate Bernheimer/illustrated by Jake Parker

This is the most charming cautionary tale I have ever read. A little girl has a nightly routine that is just "her way", meaning she'll wash, but not brush. She has a baby doll that accompanies her everywhere.

Then one night, with her hair so tangled, a mouse takes up residence in a particularly heaped spot. The girl doesn't mind, but slowly, more mice come to live in her knotted and muddled tresses.

This is where the lively story becomes quite animated.

The language is chatty and informative, slightly formal and polite, but that is its appeal. Reading this story is like listening to a particularly entertaining storyteller; in my opinion, the mark of good text.

The illustrations - now this is where the blend of text and picture give the story a life of its own. The mice are adorable and memorable. They mimic the personalities of favorite pets or cartoon characters, and do all kinds of peripheral things; play cards, watch a movie, set up a volleyball game.

Baby, the little girl's doll, is fun to watch as the story progresses. She copycats the emotions of the page very cutely.

Make time to read this book to one child or a group. Even little ones will enjoy the nonsense.

A Moose That Says Mooo, by Jennifer Hamburg/illustrated by Sue Truesdell

The rhymes caught my attention in this book; they are simple, clever and silly.

This book has the appeal of a fun greeting card in extended form. It additionally has secondary action within the pictures, which enriches the enjoyment of the commotion. The hoopla spills over to the next scene, keeping the fun going, and creating a grand sense of chaos. I kept finding even more silliness as I perused the pages.

This book is bound to tickle everyone's funny bone, from preschoolers up to their second or third grade siblings. (parents too!)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Dream Animals, A Bedtime Journey, by Emily Winfield Martin

Oh my gosh, this book is a gem!

An effortless, lovely poem of text is illustrated in a dreamy, vintage greeting card-like style, which is rich and simply gorgeous.

Little children ride the animal they snuggle to bed with, to a fantasy dream place where they can play with fairies, or fly to the moon, or command a circus. It is gentle and inviting, making it a treat for the reader and the listener. A wonderful bedtime book to share and linger over with relish.

The Skeleton Pirate, by David Lucas

We received this book back in August, but seeing it again made me want to feature it here.

It is cheeky, with bright busy pictures and a fun protagonist. The Skeleton Pirate looks like he is made of wood, not bones, which makes me chuckle. He has a tag line he repeats throughout the book. The story reads like kids' play, making the experience all the more appealing because it's familiar to youngsters.

There are lots of pirates, a sea serpent, a whale, a mermaid, and lots of gold. The story is simple, choppy with plot twists, and full of surprises. A great read for both boys and girls.

When Lions Roar, by Robie H. Harris

There are never too many books to help empower children. If fact, we need more! All age levels, all realms of difficulties. It is a kindness we provide our children; to find tools to help them overcome fears they may harbor.

I like this book for that reason. In simple language, a child empowers himself to overcome "the scary". It is a launching point for boundary acknowledgment, that children do not have to feel powerless. Startling things in his life bring on a disquieting feeling, and they threaten to overwhelm him. Somewhere, he finds the strength to take control of the feeling and tell "the scary" to go away. And it does.

If a child has a plan to help him deal with life's tough moments, he will go on to find other self-empowering methods, and build character with each triumph.

Look to this and other books that give your little one the "take charge" abilities to cope and deal.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Wee Hours, by Stephanie Watson

This gorgeously illustrated book has a dreamlike whimsy throughout.

The Wee Hours are little pranksters who enchant a child's room in silly ways while she sleeps, stealing dream bits and playing happily with them, or wreaking havoc with her belongings. Each "hour" bounces, dances, or cartwheels through antics, like children at a playground.

As the night progresses, their nonsense increases until the 5 o'clock wee hour settles all the little hours down with whispered stories. Like older children, the later hours tidy up what the wee hours jumbled, leaving the child's room undisturbed by morning.

Much is packed into this story, both conceptually and visually. It is a rich read for slightly older children.

The illustrations are done by Mary Grandpre, illustrator extraodinaire of the Harry Potter series. Her use of color, light and shadows is just glorious. I think that is the main reason I picked up this book before I realized who illustrated it. Talk about enduring appeal!

 Enjoying the fanciful elements of this book makes it a "must do" on my growing list!

Harold Finds a Voice, by Courtney Dicmas

I guess I am a big proponent of cheerful, positive messages in the children's books I recommend. It stands to reason; many many books intended for children are positive and upbeat, and I believe in teaching optimism as a default response in children who will soon enough be adults making their own choices.

That being said, here is another book with an optimistic message. Harold Finds a Voice is about a funny little parrot who likes sounds, and wants to learn about them, which brings him to considering - what is his own sound?

He truly is a funny little guy; the illustrations of Harold are full of personality. His curiosity drives the story. We can share his journey and delight in discovering and mimicking all kinds of sounds.

This book is guaranteed to turn your little one into a sound copycat, and generate giggles with every page!

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Paintbrush Dreamer, by Wende Essrow illus. by author

The spiritual effect of this book is so welcome and needed in our fast-paced, adrenalin-laced lives. It is a long-time coming, and I celebrate its arrival.

I remember loving art at a very young age. I didn't know why painters chose their subjects, but it fascinated me. I know there are scores of parents and family members who share this love, and want to bestow it on their children.

The author launches her art talk with a walk through the natural world, a world to which we can all relate. Children are invited to enjoy the bounty of nature around them in little bites; a bird, a butterfly, the sunset. In the author's telling, the love of nature and beauty is never outgrown; it can bring wonder and joy to our lives forever.

Her view is exactly how I feel about nature, but could never express it adequately. Wende says it all just right. She honors all aspects of nature, and children cannot learn early enough how important this is.

How appropriate a reinforcement - making the desire to capture beauty in our minds and hearts a right shared by us all. I can turn to any page in this beautiful book and the message resonates to me in a gentle and non-preachy way.

Not only does the author share her love of nature and "finding beauty" with us, but she shares a gratitude for the experience as well, a step so important for the full appreciation of all the gifts around us. What an incredible gift to give our children.

Her illustrations are brilliant, true, sweet and inviting. You see the affection between the horses in the field, the wisdom in the wolf's eyes. Her love of nature saturates her illustrations making them utterly drinkable.

Find this memorable book and share it with your little ones. It is not yet largely available, but worth pursuing. If you get stuck, just check your local library!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Once Upon a Northern Night, by Jean E. Pendziwol

Open this book. I do not favor the cover, as it did not pull me to the story at all. I just opened the book, and then the magic released.

Now try to describe the magic of winter. For those of us who love the season, it is something more felt than articulated. The author takes the voice of what I believe to be Nature, and weaves a gentle poem both loving and enduring, citing the charms of the frostiest season, and delivered as a gift to the sleeping child.

We can absorb the quiet of the landscape, follow the path of a hungry mouse to the bird feeder for a late night snack, watch the sky lighten, and see the beauty of the freshly fallen snow in the dawning light.

The illustrator cleverly wraps the sleeping child in a downy blanket, mimicking the snowfall on the earth, and creates many charming scenes, despite the vague appeal of the cover.

Another dreamy book to relish together on a cold wintry evening.

Read Me a Story, Stella, by Marie-Louise Gay

Children are wonderful with conversation. They seldom stay on topic, yet encompass a clear understanding of the subjects of the moment.

This lovely book features the easy flow of conversation between familiar chums; siblings spending simple time together. It begins when Sam finds some wood, and an idea sparks - he is going to build their pudgy dog, Fred, a house.

His big sister, Stella, is busy reading, but offers to help him. From there, the conversation follows their actions blissfully through their summer day. Stella leisurely shares her book stories with Sam and Fred, but the focus is truly on the moments they share as they meander through their day.

It is difficult to put my finger on what appeals to me about this book, but I really like it. The contentedness of the characters is heartwarming. The author has invited us in to spend some time in this world, enriching us through the serenity of children.

The illustrations are full of life. The main action is set in nature, and many critters enhance the scenes. They peek and flutter into scenes. Watch the bunnies in particular. They bring a smile to my face. The action is innocent and sweet without be overly-so.

This reassuring visit is a joy to share with a child who still encompasses this simplicity, and even for us grownups, to bring a smile to our faces.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mr. Wuffles!, by David Wiesner


Mr. Wuffles! is a completely unexpected wordless graphic novel featuring a cool cat and some, um, visitors.

The cat, Mr. Wuffles, is rather finicky about his toys. The floor is littered with new kitty amusements. One in particular catches his eye. Unfortunately for the tiny aliens inside, it is their spaceship that has caught his fancy.

I laughed out loud when the inside views of the ship showed the little green guys and their dialog; the speech bubbles held geometric shapes, making their dialog unreadable, but the sense of urgency for their dilemma rang loud and clear.

As the cat continues his playful assaults, the aliens partner up with some ants hiding in the woodwork, who also have an unreadable language, represented in squiggles. Curiously, the geometrics and squiggles are understood by both, and thanks to the diversionary help of a ladybug, they devise a plan for freedom.

It is silly, intelligent, and a great sharing opportunity for kids 5 - 7 to discuss with an adult what is happening in each picture. For enjoying alone, save this for the older kids - 8 and older should do it.

But definitely read, and share the chuckles.

Some Monsters are Different, by David Milgrim

Mr. Rogers used to say, "I like you just the way you are". This book affirms this when dealing with the quirky quirks of children.

Adults know the peculiar little characters on each page are really children and the challenges they face. The message is clear - they are all okay. Whether they like only certain foods, or aren't very chatty, who they are is all that matters.

There is limited text on each page; just enough to make its point. Any book that teaches children tolerance in such a friendly and sweet way is important in my opinion, and this book achieves that winningly

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Red Sings From Treetops, a year in colors, by Joyce Sidman Ill by Pamela Zagarenski

I know, I know. Not  fan of poetry? Well, this is a book of poetry every nature lover can relate to with great relish.

If you enjoy the four seasons, the text and the illustrations celebrate each facet - crimson birds heralding the warm breezes of spring, purple shadows of a summer sunset, rich fall fragrances in the air, and winter's magical command of the landscape.

The illustrations are tantalizing. I can smell the fresh evening air through the moth-littered screen, a frog happily catching a tasty meal. Or enjoy the inviting glow of a harvest moon as the backdrop to a jack o' lantern incandescent from the inside.

Each page holds a delight of verse and art. Most of the characters have crowns; I don't quite know why, but I don't need to know; it lends them a dignity and special place, and I like it; even birds, dogs, and foxes sport little crowns.

There is lots to mull over page by page, read backwards or forwards or randomly, as I did. This is a treasure of a book.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The Very Inappropriate Word, by Jim Tobin

There are a lot of new books that have caught my eye, and I hope to get to all of them shortly.

This particular book is on my desk at the moment, and every time I look at it, I can't help but smile.

The cover shows a little boy happily saying some kind of word, but the speech bubble over his head looks like a toxic cloud with the uppercase keyboard symbols (&*%) saying something we understand to be, well, inappropriate.

Michael likes words, picks up all kinds of interesting ones in his day. One day he picks up a word he hears on the bus.

His journey through the rest of this book is as an innocent child in possession of something foul. The book makes no one the bad guy. The word is just - inappropriate.

Michael wasn't punished or even reprimanded for using the word, or sharing it with others. We understand the child simply heard the word and repeated it with no understanding of its offensiveness.

I like the way the little boy, Michael, likes words. That's because, I like words, too, and it is heartening to see an author credit a child with that same specific interest.The illustrations are honest and cartoony, and very relatable.

The teacher disarms the situation in a very healthy way, and Michael is on his way again, collecting great words, leaving behind the inappropriate one. Nicely done.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Tiptoe Guide to Tracking Fairies, by Ammi-Joan Paquette

Okay, I admit it. I have lived this book.

When my daughter was about 8, we walked through our favorite local park, imagining places fairies could hide. We really got into the game, and scoped out all kinds of places we could imagine fairies would favor; shallow pools in the creek, under foot bridges, in a moss-covered glen. Then we began collecting items we thought would make good building materials for a fairy house. She had a ball, and thought of all kinds of out-buildings fairies probably couldn't do without.

This book has taken that sweet adventure, unbeknownst to the author, and made it available for all fairy seekers to enjoy.

The first thing that struck me was the illustrations - quirky little fairy characters scuttling through photographs of flowers and grass, just like my daughter and I imagined!

The text is like a conversation that would naturally occur between adventurers. It reads naturally and pleasantly.

This is a charming book to enhance fairy spotting, and I heartily suggest sharing it with your fairy fans!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mouse Bird Snake Wolf, by David Almond

I am never one to promote books not truly meant for children. You know the kind; the showcase for a celebrity to show how brilliant or multi-dimensional they are. Or the text with references that only an adult would grasp, or the pictures that are too lofty or dense that a child would easily miss the meaning. Or the title with a play on words lost to children. These are unkind books at least, and literary travesties at worst, in my humble opinion.

This book feels it could possibly be over most children's heads, but there is something about it that resembles a cautionary tale, seeking out the clever, provoking some deep thinking, something children can take away with them and refer to sometime in their lives.

I have never experienced a book like this one, and I invite you to have a look at it and see what you think.

The story involves some gods and 3 children. The gods have become lazy and complacent. They have left things undone and spaces undeveloped. The children have ideas they try to bring to life. They imagine creatures of different attributes, then use materials around them to illustrate their concepts. And, of course, they get into mischief.

The illustrations marry the story perfectly - part art, part caricature. The concept drawings of the childrens' creations are nothing short of ingenious, simple, exciting and provocative.

I hold this book in high esteem, but save it for the children interested in mythology. They will be the ones that get the most out of the story.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

On a Beam of Light, by Jennifer Berne pictures by Vladimir Radunsky

When a new book comes in, I don't always agree with the review that made me purchase it in the first place, after seeing it for myself. This book surprised me, and in a very good way.

It is a picture biography of Albert Einstein for children. What first struck me was how tricky the subject was for the author to make captivating to youngsters. Albert Einstein is an intellectual icon. How does one explain a wildly famous, dense scientific theoretician to children?

The author's/illustrator's solution was to just take his life and ideas in little bites. The text and pictures are very simple and straightforward. The blend of both is a charming, warm presentation of Einstein in all his brilliant oddness, appealing to children for just the person he was, and not presenting a ficticious personality applied to a vague, intimidating real-life character. He reads as authentic. She portrays him as a learner, a student of his own discoveries.

The illustrator enriches the story by adding wonderful facial expressions and body language to Albert, his parents, and others filling out the artwork. They draw you in and befriend you. You want to read more.

The author researched her subject thoroughly, so what she captured is the individual at the heart of the legend. She touched upon his body of work, and deciphered it in simple terms, resisting the urge to carry on past what was necessary to consider. We understand without needing to study. And we like Albert.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

a funny little bird, by Jennifer Yerkes

Inconsequential never has a place in children's books. This has been the case forever, and sometimes the very reason a story exists. Authors love to present us with a character that is easily shrugged off, only to find the great value of spirit or presence in their story. And, so, we meet what seems to be just such a character in this funny little bird.

As you can see from the cover art, he hardly shows up at all in pictures. But what he CAN do is revealed later in the telling.

The author very cleverly depicts her character in a way we have rarely enjoyed before. He seems to inhabit the negative space of the illustrations, which I found to be quite wonderful. She kind of stacks the deck against him in the title, which is done in lower-case letters.  

The story is very simple that any preschooler can follow along. It's fun to try to make out the little bird in each frame.

The lesson in the story is what is pivotal in our understanding of his value: respect all beings - there is no such thing as insignificant. And finding this out is not geared as much for older children, but for the very young, allowing them to discover for themselves a reason to treasure this funny little bird.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Emily and Carlo, by Marty Rhodes Figley

It is unusual to witness a lofty literary great become humanized in a picture book, but that is what transpires in this story, Emily and Carlo.

Emily Dickinson was an introverted child, growing up to be a solitary young woman. Her father gave her a Newfoundland pup to keep her company on her walks. Their relationship is celebrated in this book. It allows us to enjoy their companionship. Children especially recognize the bonding of the girl and her dog.

Told in simple, straightforward text, the history of the relationship is chonicled with lively illustrations and quotes. There is no snuggly talk, no silly antics, but the reader understands clearly that this pair cherished each other. When Carlo passed at the ripe age of 17, Emily lost more than a companion. The sad note on which the book ends is not a deterrent at all, but a validation of a true love relationship between a girl and her treasured canine companion, and reveals the value of our pets in our lives today. And it helps children relate to a nearly legendary character through this simple fact of her life brought to the fore in this charming telling of it.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Cloud Spinner, by Michael Catchpool

I really thought all concepts of fairy tales were exhausted. How can we possibly erect new tales that have been so well told in so many countries for so long?

I found just such a story - a fresh candidate for the fairy tale shelf.

In The Cloud Spinner, a little boy magically looms luscious fabric from the clouds in the sky. The colors in the clouds color the fabric. The king of the land spots the fabric one day, is enchanted by it, and wants all the fabric the little boy can make.

Of course, such demands cause a problem in the land, and many suffer for his indulgence.

What did I like about this book especially?  The tale is nicely told in simple clean sentences. There is a storytelling quality to the rythm of the text, making it very apealling. The illustrations are a study in adjectives - soft, plump, fluffy, serene. Once you open the book, you will understand. The color palette is very Roccoco to me, rich colors captured from an 18th century portrait. A not-so-hidden feature on each page shows the landscape reflecting the emotions of the story.

This is a gentle story of balance and the wise children who show a greedy king the meaning of guardianship and prudence.

It was a standout for me on the cart of new children's books.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

hello! hello!, by Matthew Cordell

A little girl is uninspired when she tries to connect to various family members with a "hello". Unfortunately, they are all on different electronic devices. Dejected, she wanders to the back door. A leaf blows in, inviting her to explore her yard. She greets the leaf and other things she meets with a "hello", savoring each. We, the audience, can feel her become integrated in the natural environment, wild and overflowing, and it becomes a reverie of adventure and fun.

Suddenly, she is shocked back into reality by her own cell phone ringing. The fun doesn't stop here. She finds a way to include her disconnected family to spread the joy she has discovered.

Few words grace this book, but the pictures say all that needs to be said.   

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I Am Small, by Emma Dodd

A child feels his lack of size in many ways when she is small. So it is with our baby penguin in this touching, beautifully rendered story. Our fuzzy little small fry sees the world around her with a vastness that her size just seems to magnify. She isn't up to the challenges her world presents.

But, the comfort lies in her realization she does not have to face these elements alone, when she snuggles up to her warm parent, and she understands that she is the most important thing in her parent/protector's life.

A very touching, reassuring read for little ones, and beautifully bold and simple illustrations to share.

I love this book.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Crow, by Alison Croggon

The third book in the Books of Pellinor series by Alison Croggon deals with Hem, Maerad's brother, and his digression away from her, on his own mission.

The author makes a graceful switch to his story, leaving Maerad behind for the time being, her presence acknowledged by an occasional reference. We join Hem as he grows from a street urchin into a student bard, then a healer of great compassion. He witnesses destruction first-hand, discovers the magic within himself, and travels with a displaced band of bards and warriors who survive the destruction.

He experiences first-hand the fatal grip of the dark entity during their journey, taking on suffering and hardship, disguising his powers just to survive. His venture is wretched and riddled with dangers at every turn. It sounds grim, but is so expertly rendered we can't help but stay with the story. The compassion we feel for Hem keeps us engaged; we must know what happens, and that is the magic of this series, the reader building a relationship with the characters without realizing it.

The book's appeal is heightened with the introduction of Irc, the white crow.

His mission is heart-rending and absolutely riveting. This was my favorite book in the series by far. The characters were utterly memorable, the conditions Hem witnessed in places thoroughly deplorable, the story extraordinary.

One more part to go...

The Riddle, by Alison Croggon

In this continuing saga, the first being The Naming, Maerad experiences the full effect of becoming the Bard she is destined to be.

This volume is written beautifully, just like the first book, and the story is engaging. As I stated in the review of the first book, there are Tolkienian similarities. Although not always agreeable to me, and fortunately fewer in this volume, the borrowing of ingredients from Tolkien is just part of the fabric of the story. Perhaps a nod to Tolkien is the author's way to honor him. And who could blame her?

The story takes unusual turns and has a much darker theme. Maerad's persona is no longer innocent and ignorant of her powers, but made of many layers which make her more complicated than in the previous volume. This makes her real and believable. Dealings with the Winter King, unfortuately for me were vague and hard to imagine, and this is where I felt the book lagged. But Croggon's descriptions of the palace and surroundings felt authentic. I breathed the frigid air and actually saw the stars in my mind's eye.

Aspects unexpected present themselves through the wolves, and are written in such a beautiful way, I felt a part of them. Oh, I loved her wolves! This part of the book is absolutely captivating.

There are many surprises in store, some anticipated, some very unexpected, but all drove the story so that I couldn't put it down, could not leave the world behind, and immediately read the third book in the series.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Dragon Puncher by James Kochalka

I haven't belly-laughed at a book (not counting Harry Potter, which I am constantly rereading) since the days of Calvin and Hobbes. You know that humor - the catching you in an explosion of guffaws that are beyond the response of typical humor. This book does that for me. It's completely silly, outrageous juvenile fun.

The pictures are hilarious, making the sweet kitty face the focus of the Dragon Puncher's persona. Dragon Puncher is quite the thespian, but the scene stealer is the sweet little dude who just wants to be Dragon Puncher's buddy.

The dragon itself made me almost spit out my coffee when I turned the page to be met by a big green critter with a one word vocabulary.

I heartily recommend this book and it's future sequels to anyone who loves back-of-the-classroom hijinks, where comedy is created on the fly and in generous doses. Blarg!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Been reading and reading, and lately my choices have been adult selections - Game of Thrones, some Agatha Christie, Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, specifically. Since this blog features juvenile and YA, please stay tuned! I have some interesting selections lined up.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Goddess of Yesterday, by Caroline B. Cooney

Goddess of Yesterday 

Caroline B. Cooney is the author of some heavy hitters. I am not sure how far-circulated this book has gone, but since I read it twice, I thought I would include it as a not-to-be-missed Young Adult keeper.

The story is based on the legend of Helen of Troy and the Trojan war. Anaxandra is the daughter of a pirate on a small island kingdom, and in order to survive its sacking, she assumes the identity of a dead princess, finds herself in the service of the children of Menelaus, king of Sparta and Helen, his wife. She follows the children to Troy with Helen, and lives through the destruction of Troy, witnessing it firsthand in the company of the Trojan royal family.

Cooney builds an ancient world we can live in, walk through its streets, and feel we are a part of it. The Trojan War is one of my favorite historical events to explore, and living vicariously through Anaxandra/Callisto (her alias) was a great pleasure. I felt a witness to this time and its famous personalities, and enjoyed every minute of it. The character of Cassandra was particularly enigmatic, fascinating.

Helen is portrayed as an egotistical narcissist, which I found to be a little difficult to accept, but allowing myself to enjoy the story as it was offered made the journey whole and satisfying.

Read this, period.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Say Hello to Zorro, by Carter Goodrich

I don't think this book has been given the attention it deserves. Mr. Bud, the dog, has a set routine, and everyone adheres to this routine. Introduce Zorro, the newcomer, and the story's conflict begins in charming, matter-of-fact simplicity.

The illustrations are an engaging study in doggie psychology. Anticipation, trepidation, and annoyance are all beautifully represented in the dogs' wonderful expressions. These faces are the best part of the book for me. The words easily take root. The conflicts are direct, to-the-point, the resolution gratifies, and the story has a happy end.

The blending of simple text and straightforward illustrations makes this story a gem of a picture book children and adults both can relish and appreciate. What a warm, sweet, amusing book.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Naming: The First Book of Pellinor, by Alison Croggon

This series of four books had been recommended to me by 2 separate staff members. I finally broke the suspense and sat down to read the lengthy first volume, The Naming. The first one-third of the book was enjoyable. It had an interesting beginning, with appealing characters and wonderful ambiance. More than occasionally, there were generous nods to Tolkein, but the story maintained its own identity. I especially liked that the main character, Maerad, was very observant of her surroundings, and favored nice hot baths.

Then, by the halfway point, the similarities to the Lord of the Rings was absolutely distracting. I could not continue the story without wincing in anticipation of the next parallel. I wanted to like this book. The writing was lovely, articulate, detailed, and flourishing. But the constant storyline copy-catting of Tolkein greatly annoyed me.

This is one of my pet peeves; copying stories from another writer is cheating. Creating an original piece of literature is difficult, but, in my mind, very much like conquering Everest: others have done it before, but your circumstances cause you to navigate it differently. Riding on the coattails of another is a dicey thing, to say the least.

With that said, I relayed my feelings to one of the staff members who recommended the book. She frowned, disagreed with me, and suggested I continue on.

Grudgingly, I did so. And I must say, I came to enjoy the story much better after it veered from its current Tolkeinian course. There were some really original elements explored, and the language, descriptions, and atmosphere continued to delight me. The story was gritty, the characters noble and authentic, and the female lead real, strong, and gentle.

I ultimately found myself looking forward to reading the second book, and will let you know how I feel about that.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray

Victorian era fiction brings to mind sweeping castle-scapes and hunky men embracing women looking more like modern glamour queens than accurate renditions of their times. You know the ones, the romance novels we have all read at least once in our lives. Fortuntely, the Young Adult genre prefers to feature magical elements, leaving behind old story lines of these cookie cutter romances.

This enigmatic story deals with a mother's sacrifice, visions, unexplained magical places, friendships, struggles, and yes, romance, all wrapped up in the propriety of a girls school and a very structured way of life.

It is a read that keeps you desperately wanting to know the outcome and find the answers hinted at throughout. Immerse yourself in this smoke-and-shadows mystery, and enjoy the ride.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What to Read for Children at Each Age Level

What makes a book good for a child? Different age groups have different skill levels and needs. Here is a list of suggestions:

            Tana Hoban - Red Blue Yellow Shoe                                 Clip-clop [Book]  

A baby (up to 18 months) is stimulated by rhymes, colors, or things familiar. Try Red, Blue, Yellow Shoe, by Tana Hoban; or Clip, Clop by Nicola Smee.

                   Baby Shoes [Book]                      Front Cover

Toddlers are ready for more. Try Baby Shoes, by Dashka Slater; or Daisy’s Hide and Seek, by Jane Simmons. Simple counting or alphabet books are also good choices.

 Front Cover Front Cover A Splendid Friend, Indeed

Pre-schoolers, ages 3-5, enjoy a fuller story and an expansion of concepts, such as Goodnight Moon 1 2 3, based on the classic by Margaret Wise Brown; Will Goes to the Post Office, by Olof and Lena Landstrom; or A Splendid Friend Indeed, by Suzanne Bloom.

                            Front Cover                   

Kindergarteners to Second graders still enjoy being read to, although they have been working hard to read independently. This age provides two options: easy readers for solitary reading, and picture books to share. Easy Readers such as Easy as Apple Pie, by Karen Gray Ruelle provides age-appropriate vocabulary to help sharpen skills. Books such as The Raft, by Jim Lamarche, provide a more complex storyline for the older child, complete with pictures.

                                                            Third grade to Middle schoolers are ready for chapter books: the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling, or the plethora of series books available. These work right into Junior High level.

                          Fallen (Fallen, #1)                    

Young adult books are usually reserved for ninth graders and up. These include difficult subjects such as sex, drugs, or emotional traumas. They provide a bridge between younger-aged books and adult fiction. They may help teens deal with personal difficulties, or understand these subjects better.

Do consider this: Reading together can be enjoyed at any age!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Certain Slant of Light by Laura Whitcomb

I read this book almost 2 years ago, and it still has a haunting quality that stays with me. The writing feels unexpectedly familiar with a realm of the afterlife, making me wonder if the author hadn't crossed over and come back herself. She writes with a command and conviction of her characters' world.

The story is poignant, bittersweet. One feels an intimate bond with the characters, as they feel bonded to one another. It is a world of veils and smoke, harsh realities, past calamities, deep redemption.

Progression of the story leaves one wanting to discover and reveal the mystery; putting the book down is difficult. Immerse your mind in another world, and experience a love story devoid of artificial sweetness, rich with exquisite yearning, deep joy. A young adult choice book.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Children’s Gift Books – the Keepers

We all have one – a book from childhood we hold dear. It could be a magnificent array of illustrations that take us to a glorious place, or perhaps the text rings so right and true, it has a timeless quality.

This is a precious gift to give the beloved child in your life. Here are some suggestions to inspire, delight, and mesmerize the children you know.

For children 3 – 8


Owl Moon

Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen; this simple story has breathtaking illustrations and a simple text that is poetry, pure, sweet, and simple.

The House in the Night, by Susan Marie Swanson; if you want to reassure a child that nighttime is good, this book does the trick. It soothes with its coziness and its minimal text, and paints joyful images that the moon, stars and a comfy room create.

For children 9 – 12

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter #1)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling; I did not discover Harry until he had been in print for several years, but I am a bona fide fan. The story is engaging, and the writing is clever, witty and crisp. There are a total of seven books in the series, but the first book will get them started. Adults in a child’s life can share this well-written series, and book-talk with their youngsters.

Cover has stylized drawings of mountain peaks with snow on the tops and trees at the bottom.

The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkein; rich text and adventure define this treasure. This is a story to share; help your child navigate through some of the denser language. Don’t be afraid to try it: you’ll be surprised at how amusing Tolkein can be. I read it to my daughter when she was 10, although I wasn’t sure if she would like it. She loved it. We read it twice.