Reviews of children's and young adult books old and new

Monday, December 21, 2009

Good King Wenceslas

Good King Wenceslas by John M. Neale, illustrated by Tim Ladwig

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.

Graceling

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

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

Three French Hens

Three French Hens by Margie Palatini, illustrated by Richard Egielski

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.

Minnie and Moo: The Night Before Christmas

Minnie and Moo: The Night Before Christmas by Denys Cazet

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

Great Joy

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline

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

The Monster at the End of this Book - Sesame Street eBooks

As I was reading a few publishing blogs I came across an article about Sesame Street creating eBooks for children. I had to check it out at once so I went to the Sesame Street site and found this book ready to be read. At the moment they have a few books that are read to you on the computer free of charge. There has been some discussion the the publishing world about whether or not having a computer, or other electronic device, read to you is going to be detrimental to young readers. I have to say I think it will be great for young readers. Being able to have a book read to you at any time is a wonderful thing. Not to mention the fact that when this book is being read, by the one-and-only Grover, the words are highlighted as he says them. That is wonderful for teaching children to follow along. I can also see the benefit of having a child be able to share this book with his/her parent. Giving young readers the opportunity to be read to even when mom or dad is busy would seem to give kids a lot more chances to hear "masterful reading."

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

Auntie Claus

Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera

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

Christmas Reviews

My favorite time of year is Christmas. I can't help myself. I try and sneak in the Christmas music right after Halloween but usually get told to turn it off until at least Thanksgiving. There is something about Christmas trees and being with family that is just magical to me. So get ready for some Christmas themed books for the next couple weeks. I hope you are able to enjoy some of these books with your family this holiday season.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Odd and the Frost Giants

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Brett Helquist

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

Just in Case

Just in Case: A Trickster Tale and Spanish Alphabet Book by Yuyi Morales

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.