Monday, December 21, 2009
Using the lyrics of the song, "Good King Wenceslas", this book tells the story of the tenth century king. King Wenceslas sees from his window a poor man gathering fire wood on a feast day and asks a page if he knows the man. The page tells the king the poor man is a good man who lives near the forest. The king orders food, wine, and fuel to be gathered and thent he king and page trek through the snow to give the man and his family a Christmas gift.
This is one of my favorite Christmas songs and I have to admit to not really knowing the words before I read this story. I like at the end of the book there is a page of historical facts about the real King Wenceslas so you can get so of the facts about his life and where the song originates. There is also sheet music with all four verses of the song if you are musically inclined and would like to give singing it a try. I like the sentiment of this story of just giving to others who have less than you do. I think this is a great read aloud, it is short but beautifully illustrated and has a great message of giving.
A young adult fantasy story revolving around Katsa, the niece to King Randa, who is "graced" with the gift of killing. As Katsa grows up she is forced to be an enforcer for her uncle. In effort of secret rebellion Katsa and some loyal nobles from across the seven kingdoms form a council to make sure that peace is kept behind the kings' backs. On one mission for the council to recover the grandfather of the king of Lienid, Katsa meets Po and her life changes forever.
I loved this book. I read it really slowly as to savor it and so that it wouldn't be over too quickly. Katsa is a very strong female character who struggles with her grace until she realizes that instead of having the gift of killing she actually has the gift of...(I'm not going to spoil it for you, if you would like to know leave me a comment and I will get back to you). Although a bit of a love story there is a lot more action then gushy romance. It was great having a strong male character in Po who was confident in who he was and did not need to change, tame, reform or anything else our heroine. I feel that there are almost two different stories in the book, the first half is about Katsa at home and her struggling with her life there. In the second half she has defied her uncle and is on the road with Po on a mission to find out which king kidnapped his great grandfather. The two stories do blend together quite well but there is a slight disconnect in my mind between the two. The writing flows very quickly and it is easy to get caught up in the story. The descriptions of the different kingdoms and of Katsa's fights are wonderful, just enough detail to have a very vivid picture of this world and not so much that it becomes boring or monotonous. Overall an excellent read for girls 12-16+.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
It was the third day of Christmas and a Parisian sent her true love, who lived in Paris, three french hens. The only problem is, they never arrived. Colette, Poulette, and Fifi somehow ended up in New York and were determined to be delivered, even if they had to deliver themselves. They searched for Philippe Renard but could only find Phil Fox in the phone book, so they went to his apartment. Phil was not doing very well, he had no food, no friends, and a very dirty apartment. When the hens arrive Phil lets them in knowing he is not the correct Philippe and plans to eat them. But after they take care of Phil for an afternoon, transform his apartment into a cozy home, and feed him a mountain of french dishes Phil cannot eat the hens. He also confesses to not being the correct person for whom they were intended. The hens do not care and decide to become Phil's friend. When Phil offers to share his Christmas presents they refuse, in a surprise twist the hens celebrate Hanukkah. They decide to celebrate the twelve days of Christmas and the eight nights of Hanukkah together and start a beautiful friendship.
I am unsure where to start with this book. Many things about it are a bit odd. The story for one is strange. The hens are given as a gift to be servants of some sort, but they are shipped to their destination instead of on a plane as a passenger. When the chickens arrive at Phil's house, Phil wants to eat them. Is that something chickens in New York have to worry about walking around late at night, an actual predator? I think I am being far to logical for the whimsy of this book but even now, a few days after reading it, I still feel it is just strange. I did like it though, I think it is a fun story about making friends and being kind. The illustrations are a bit strange too and have an unusual feel to them. All of the animals are realistic and there is a lot on each page to look at for clues about the story. Overall I would recommend this book.
It is the night before Christmas and Moo has discovered that the farmer has forgotten his grandchildren's presents in the barn. Thankfully Moo has just read 'Twas the Night before Christmas and comes up with a plan to get the presents into the farmers house. With the help of all of the animals in the barn Minnie and Moo, dressed up as Mr. and Mrs. Claus get the presents down to the farmers house and under the tree. The grandchildren are so happy, and Minnie and Moo feel they have saved the day. The animals are even able to get back to the barn before the farmer's wife realizes that Minnie and Moo were not human.
This is my first Minnie and Moo book and I must say I like Minnie and Moo a lot. This is a great book for kids who are just learning to read. The words are nice and big on the page and there are not too many of them on each page. The illustrations do tell the story as well to provide plenty of context clues for any new words on the page. In this story specifically, I like how elaborate Moo's plan is to get the presents to the farmer's house and how Minnie is the 'voice of reason' but goes along with Moo's plan in the end. I also like that the focus of this story was not getting presents but making sure that other people had their presents and trying to help the farmer. Minnie and Moo do get a thankful at the end of the story but that is their only reward and they seem very pleased with their night's work. Overall a great Christmas story for new readers.
Monday, December 14, 2009
Frances lives in an apartment building on the corner of Fifth and Vine. Every day she watches an organ grinder and his monkey play music for the people passing by on the street. As Frances prepares for the Christmas pageant at church she is worried about where the organ grinder goes at night. When Frances discovers he sleeps on the street she is very concerned and wants to help him in some way. The night of the pageant Frances invites the organ grinder to attend. Frances is only able to say her line "I bring you tidings of Great Joy" when the whole community, even the organ grinder is in attendance.
I must admit to being a bit disappointed in this story. The last page of the book the organ grinder is welcomed in church but that is where the story ends. He seems happy to be involved in the community but I think I wanted a little more substance from author Kate DiCamillo. The illustrations are very warm looking and remind me of illustrations from the 1940's or 50's. It is a sweet story and would be a good read aloud before a nap or bedtime to wind down. The only mention of Christmas in the story is a little talk of the pageant. Overall a good story but not particularly a good one about Christmas.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
I really enjoyed having this story read to me by Grover. I feel the pace is very good for young readers and I liked that you have the option to turn the page yourself or have the it turned for you. I remember reading this story when I used to babysit and it was always fun to watch the kids at the ending when they find out who the monster at the end of the story is.
Check out this book online by clicking the link below or the cover image. Enjoy.
The Monster at the end of this Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Mike Smollin
Monday, December 7, 2009
Come join Sophie as she tries to discover the truth about her great-aunt, Auntie Claus. Sophie lives in New York in the Bing Cherry Hotel with her mother, father, and little brother Chris. She is a Kringle, and the Kringle's love Christmas so much they keep a Christmas tree up year round. But Sophie loves Christmas for the presents, and always wants more of them. Every afternoon Sophie has tea with her Auntie Claus, who teaches her all about Christmas. Each year just after Halloween Auntie Claus would go on a business trip that would keep her away until Valentine's Day. Sophie wanted to know where her aunt went but Auntie Sophie would never tell. On year Sophie decides to try and follow her aunt on this business trip, after saying goodbye to her parents Sophie sneaks up to her aunt's room and sees her aunt put a large diamond key into the elevator at the end of the room. Sophie hides in a box and suddenly the elevator is flying high above the city. When Sophie gets out she is in a very cold and snowy place that she has never seen before. An elf, Mr. Pudding, greets her and Sophie pretends that she is the new elf who was to start working that day. Mr. Pudding takes Sophie to work in the mail room where for weeks Sophie works with the other elves. But she still cannot find her Auntie Claus. Finally on Christmas Eve Sophie is asked to go down and retrieve coal for the boys and girls on the B-B-and-G List (Bad Boys and Girls List). As Sophie reaches the bottom of the tunnel she sees the list and there is her brother's name. Sophie thinks of all the presents she will get on Christmas morning and how sad her brother would be to only get a lump of coal and erases his name and replaces it with her own. Suddenly Sophie is standing right next to Auntie Claus and Santa Claus. Auntie Claus is Santa's sister. Sophie rides home in Santa's sleigh. On Christmas morning she realizes, when she sees how happy her brother is with his presents, that it really is better to give than to receive.
This is a very cute story. The illustrations are very colorful and tell a great narrative in-and-of themselves. There are many little details tucked away on every page which are fun to discover as you examine each page. There are some good lessons in here about sharing, giving, and working hard. This is a great read aloud but it is a bit long so leave at least 20 minutes. There are a couple good stopping points along the way though if your young reader needs a break. I highly recommend as a Christmas story that is about giving and being selfless.
Friday, December 4, 2009
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Published in October by HarperCollins this book follows the adventures of Odd, a young viking growing up in Norway a long time ago. Odd is in fact odd, although that is not what his name means. He loses his father before he is ten and then suffers a terrible accident in which the bones of his right leg are shattered leaving him crippled. Once his mother remarries Odd spends as much time as he can away from home to get away from his stepfather. One winter just when spring should have arrived, it didn't, and Odd leaves his village to escape. He goes to his father's old logging cabin deep in the woods and there his adventure begins when he meets a fox, bear, and eagle that can speak. The animals are actually the gods Loki, Thor, and Odin who were turned into animals and banished from Asgard by the Frost Giant. Odd decides to try and help the gods return home and get their land and bodies back. And hopefully be able to bring spring to his world.
I have long been a fan of Neil Gaiman's work and I was not disappointed by this book. In fact, I loved it. The chapters are a reasonable length for a third to fifth grade reader, and while some of the vocabulary might be a bit difficult most words can be figured out through context clues. The story moves quickly giving just enough background to set up the big adventure. Our hero, Odd, is very likable and easy to relate to for boys or girls. He uses his mind in a society where brawn was considered to be everything. In my opinion is it good to have heroes who can think and reason rather than just fight their way out of trouble. I like that this story has a lot of accurate information about Norse mythology while still telling a its own narrative. I believe the author plans to write more Odd books and I could not be more excited to read what other adventures Odd will have.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Senor Calavera has a birthday party for Grandma Beetle to attend, and he needs to find the present she "would love the most." With help from Zelmiro the ghost, Senor Calavera finds a present for every letter of the Spanish alphabet. After every few presents Zelmiro asks Senor Calavera to check and see if he has anything else to give "just in case" it is not what Grandma Beetle would love most. On his way to the party Senor Calavera falls off his bike and all the presents are ruined. What can Senor Calavera bring to the party? He decides to bring Grandpa Zelmiro because that is what Grandma Beetle loves most.
At first I was very skeptical of this book. A skeleton, who lives with the dead, attending a birthday party seems to me to be an ominous setting for a book. However, as the book continues it is a nice story about trying to find a meaningful present for a friend's birthday. The Spanish words do not have a pronunciation guide, so if you are like me and do not speak Spanish, you could have a bit of trouble saying the works correctly when reading aloud. The illustrations are very colorful, with each page being devoted to one color in a variety of shades. The images have a distinct look to them they are very interesting to look at and study. The author/illustrator has won numerous awards for bother her writing and illustrations, you will not be disappointed with the quality of art in this book. I think this is a good read aloud to be tried during the day at first as every child reacts differently to ghosts and skeletons. A fun way to introduce the Spanish alphabet to young children.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Set to be published December 8th by Random House, Fallen follows Luce Price as she starts at Sword & Cross reform school after a frightening incident at the end of the previous summer that left one boy dead. The dismal grounds and drab buildings give the whole campus a sad and depressed feeling but there is much more happening than meets the eye. Luce cannot understand why she can see dark shadows wherever she goes or what Daniel and Cam see in her that is worth fighting over. Will Luce be able to unravel certain mysteries about her past before it is too late?
This is a young adult paranormal romance. For some strange reason this is my new favorite genre to read for fun. So as you can imagine I was very excited to read this book and to receive an advanced reading copy from Random House. However, I felt that the story had a very long lead and set up for only about 50 pages of interesting story at the very end of the book. To top that off, this is a series, so not much is resolved when we leave Luce after a month at Sword & Cross. I am interested to read the next book in the series which is scheduled for next fall; and at that point I feel like the story will actually take off. I cannot fault the writing of the book from a technical standpoint but ultimately I felt that it was uninteresting. I will admit that I was hoping for a different kind of story based on everything I had read about it from the pre-publication publicity. I was hoping for much more detail about the paranormal aspect of the story, and more about the past of the characters, as that is a central part of the plot. There is a prequel scheduled to be published and that may have more of the background that I was hoping for in this book.
A bit of a slow starter, I would recommend waiting until Torment, the next book in the series, comes out next year before picking this one up.
Friday, November 13, 2009
Middle grade fiction from HarperCollins this book follows young Tom Ward as he begins his apprenticeship with the county Spook. The Spook fights "the dark" in the area. Tom, being a seventh son of a seventh son is uniquely qualified to fight all the things that go "bump in the night." This is the first book in a seven book series however, the storyline ends nicely in this book so there is not a cliffhanger awaiting you at the end. Tom's first year as an apprentice is filled with danger as he encounters Alice (a village girl with pointy shoes), Mother Malkin (an old vicious witch), and Bonny Lizzy (another equally as dangerous witch). All of Tom's training may not be enough to save him or his family from these evil women.
This book is surprisingly scary for middle grade fiction. The reading level is for 7-11 year olds depending on the reader and is not for the easily scared child. I did like how the story is told through Tom's eye's so we learn as he learns. The chapters are a manageable length and while the book is on the long side I think most readers will be so engrossed in Tom's struggles that they will have to know what happens and finish it. The illustrations at the beginning of the chapter are excellent and give the reader a great sense of the dark and danger that Tom faces on a daily basis. The character of The Spook is firm and fatherly and you cannot help but like him even though he is often hard on Tom. Tom is a very likable character who is easy to identify with as he learns his new trade and is often scared of the predicaments he finds himself in. Recommended for readers 8-10.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Published in 2007 I was intrigued by this book when I passed it in the library because it has no words. The book is laid out in a series of panels (ranging from 1-9 panels per page) like a comic book. Flipping through the book I quickly became intrigued about what this story was about, so I brought it home to read.
Polo is a dog who lives in a tree by the water. The story begins with Polo packed and ready for adventure. He starts on a boat and travels across the ocean, to a tropical island, a frozen iceberg, to space and then safely back home again. Polo has many adventures in each place and uses his creativity to get out of some sticky situations.
I was a bit skeptical of this book at first because so many odd things happen to Polo that I thought it would be hard to keep a cohesive narrative going while telling this story. Then I realized that Polo is all about imagination. This story can be as tame or outrageous as you want. I like that young readers can make up their own version of Polo's story from the pictures and learn story telling along the way. With bright primary colors and simple clean illustrations Polo lets the reader use context clues in the images to come up with a different story every time. I feel this is a great book for children 2-6. The younger readers will enjoy hearing the story change from time to time and as they get older will be able to "read" the story themselves. A great tool to teach story telling for children 2-4 and a wonderful way to begin talking about narrative for children 5-6.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
From Knopf this January Turtle's Penguin Day is a great picture book for any child who loves animals. The story begins with Father Turtle reading Little Turtle a bedtime story about penguins. Little Turtle dreams he is a penguin and has so much fun in his dream playing with penguins that when he wakes up he decides to be a penguin that day. He goes off to school in a big black jacket and red slippers. Once at school he tells his teacher and the other kids about all he learned about penguins from the story he read. The kids all want to be penguins and they spend the day learning and pretending they are penguins.
This is a very fun story that would be a fun read aloud for kids about to go to preschool. The story takes the reader through a lot of activities that Little Turtle has at school that would be a great way to introduce school to children. I liked that at the end of the story there is a list of facts about penguins so that curious minds can learn more facts about these cute birds. The illustrations have an older feel to them that fit really well with the story and add a lot to the overall tone. All of the animals in the story are represented accurately so that you can easily tell which animal is which. It is always fun to have young listeners point out the different animals in this story and maybe learn some new animals. Great for bedtime or anytime throughout the day, Turtle’s Penguin Day is a fun way to learn about animals and going to school. Recommended for children ages 3-5.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Tough Chicks is a new picture book from Clarion Books published in November 2009. The story centers around three newly hatched chicks, Penny, Polly, and Molly. These chicks are curious and adventurous. The other farms animals are constantly asking their mother to "make them be good" to which their mother always replies "they are good". The chicks eventually get into some trouble with the farmer when they are caught looking in the hood of his tractor. However, when the tractor brakes fail and the farm is in danger, it is the three little chicks that save the day and are able to fix the tractor. In the end the chicks are appreciated for who they are rather than being compared to the other chicks.
This is a very cute story about being able to do your own thing. I like the fact that the three little chicks are appreciated for who they are and their special talents. I also like that the chicks are athletic, smart, daring, artistic and scientifically minded. This story is a great way to encourage little girls to be just who they are, no matter what that is. The illustrations in this book are wonderful. The colors are bright and vibrant which helps convey the chicks' adventurous attitude. Not to mention the fact that the chicks themselves are adorable, and you instantly love them. Throughout the story, as the chicks zoom through the pages they say "peep, peep, zoom, zip, cheeeep", which has a fun sound to it when read aloud. It is also something that young listeners can remember and can say along with the storyteller. I like books where there is something the kids can repeat and feel a part of the storytelling process.
This is a great read aloud for three and four year-olds with a lot of good lessons to take away.
Thursday, November 5, 2009
Ballyhoo Bay by Judy Sierra, Illustrated by Derek Anderson
Ballyhoo Bay is a new picture book from Simon & Schuster published in May 2009. Written in rhyme, it tells the story of Mira Bell, an artist and art teacher who conducts her classes on the beach at Ballyhoo Bay. She teaches humans and animals to paint, sketch, sculpt, and decorate. Mira Bell is planning a big art show for the first of June with contests and races. When she shows up at the beach the day before to set up for the art show, she finds barbed wire and a plan to construct apartments and a casino. She gets all of her students together to make a plan to stop this from happening on their beach. They attend the town meeting that night and are able to save the beach and keep it free for everyone to use. Mira Bell and her students are able to have their art show the next day and it is a great success.
This is a very fun story. The rhyming is great for a reading aloud and the story matches the rhyme's fun feeling. The illustrations are wonderful, very colorful, and a lot to look at on every page without being too busy. There is a lot on every page to stop and point out to young listeners. All of the animals look like what they are supposed to be so it is easy to identify the wildlife in the story. The colors are very warm and give you the feeling of being on the beach in the summertime. I am impressed that they story is kept lighthearted while dealing with some very real content. It gives a chance for parents or educators to begin the conversation of conservation in a way that four and five year-olds would understand. I highly recommend this book. Whether in a classroom or for a read aloud at home, this is a very colorful and fun book to read that teaches kids about saving our natural resources in an age appropriate way.
Monday, November 2, 2009
Calvin Coconut: The Zippy Fix by Graham Salisbury
Calvin is in the fourth grade and lives in Hawaii with his mother, little sister, and fifteen year old babysitter Stella. The Zippy Fix follows Calvin and his friends as he tries to get even with Stella for teasing him about his height. Calvin learns that Stella is allergic to cats and so decides to put his friend's Maya's cat on Stella's pillow. He thinks she will just sneeze a bit. After taking a nap on that pillow Stella's face is swollen and her voice raspy, she then has to cancel her first date which was supposed to be happening that night. Calvin feels justified in his actions but also a bit guilty. Calvin's mom asks him the next day to try to get a present for Stella for her sixteenth birthday on Monday. Calvin has three days to try and put something together. Eventually after working a couple jobs, and with the help of his friends, he raises $18 to buy Stella the new CD from her favorite artist.
Although there are some good lessons to be learned from this story about working hard and asking for help, Calvin never admits to putting the cat on Stella's pillow that causes her allergic reaction. I have a problem with this. His mother asks him repeatedly if he knows what might have happened and he lies every time. By the end of the book he no longer feels guilty about what he did because Stella was so happy about her new CD. I think this is a terrible ending. I realize that children lie everyday and are not caught but I do not think promoting it in their books is appropriate. I also disapprove of the underlying message that if you do something wrong, then buy someone a present, it is all ok. It is not ok, and I don't think lessons like this teach children anything positive. I hate to stand on a soap box here but it is another one of my pet peeves, when people do not apologize. (On a side note I have noticed this in movies too, characters rarely if ever apologize, they may admit they were wrong but do not ask for forgiveness). Why is forgiveness such a bad thing?
Overall though, this is a fun read for boys ages 8-11. It is also the second book in a series, so if you like Calvin and the little adventures he has, there are more books to come.
Prophecy of the Sisters by Michelle Zink
Prophecy of the Sisters is a new young adult book Little Brown published in August of 2009. This paranormal romance is hard to put down. It is book one in a trilogy so beware before you begin that you will be left hanging. Lia and Alice are twins living in 1890's upstate New York when their father dies leaving them and their brother orphaned. At 16 Lia feels the need to care for her family and is a naturally mothering character but has an unsettling feeling about her sister. Soon after her father's death, a strange mark appears on Lia's skin that she discovers will pit her against her sister in a prophecy that has caused generations of sisters to turn on one another (including her mother and aunt). Lia knows that she must work to end the prophecy before her sister does.
I found this story to start a bit slowly at first, but once I started to care about Lia and to see how twisted Alice could be, I was hooked. I do love stories from another time period and this book does incorporate details about life in the 1800's without becoming monotonous. The story does stick to the conventions of conduct at the time so there are very innocent interactions between our heroine and her finance James that are not gooey or hokey but have a sense of realism about them. I appreciate how intricate the plot is as well. The author reveals information to us slowly and weaves a very complex story, just when you think you have everything figured out another twist or turn is revealed. The one drawback I found is that the next book may not be out until next year at the earliest and I want to know what happens next.
A great read for girls 13+.
Monday, October 26, 2009
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
This movie was the scariest of my childhood. I was terrified of it for years and unfortunately so was my brother. For some reason we were home alone and decided to watch a movie, so I turned on the Disney Channel. This was one of the approved channels, and after reading the description of the movie and seeing the period costumes, I was sold. I think my brother thought this was going to be a "girl" movie but I was older and had control of the remote so he was stuck watching it. By the end of the movie, the two of us had every light in the house on and were huddled together on the couch jumping at every noise. For years after that, whenever either of us are driving through woods and come to a clearing, we expected to see wolves galloping across the open field to attack our car.
I have in the past couple years been looking for a version of the movie to buy and give to my brother as a gag gift. This film was made in the UK in 1986 and the only copy I could ever find was about $70, which seemed a bit expensive for a VHS tape. Then, a few days ago, I was searching for a cover image to the book (which I will review soon) and found the whole movie up in eight installments on Youtube. My joy abounded. I found it very difficult to concentrate on anything until I finally gave up and watched it. Even with the poor video and sound quality I was taken back to that night in the TV Room and had a lot of fun remembering how much my brother and I loved to fear this movie. It does deviate from the book from time to time but overall I think it is a good interpretation of the book. I hope you enjoy.
Sick by Shel Silverstein
"I cannot go to school today," Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
"I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
My mouth is wet, my throat is dry,
I'm going blind in my right eye.
My tonsils are as big as rocks,
I've counted sixteen chicken pox
And there's one more--that's seventeen,
And don't you think my face looks green?
My leg is cut--my eyes are blue--
It might be instamatic flu.
I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke,
I'm sure that my left leg is broke--
My hip hurts when I move my chin,
My belly button's caving in,
My back is wrenched, my ankle's sprained,
My 'pendix pains each time it rains.
My nose is cold, my toes are numb.
I have a sliver in my thumb.
My neck is stiff, my voice is weak,
I hardly whisper when I speak.
My tongue is filling up my mouth,
I think my hair is falling out.
My elbow's bent, my spine ain't straight,
My temperature is one-o-eight.
My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear,
There is a hole inside my ear.
I have a hangnail, and my heart is--what?
What's that you say?
You say today is. . .Saturday?
G'bye, I'm going out to play!"