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

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Valentine's Day Facts

The Story of Valentine's Day by Clyde Robert Bulla illustrated by Susan Estelle Kwas

I have long defended Valentine's day as a "real" holiday. I know that the card, candy, and flower companies have used it to their benefit and commercialized it to no end, but I have always believed that there was a real holiday in there somewhere. Apparently not. According to this book Valentine's Day was loosely based on an old Roman holiday that was actually a celebration of spring. Love didn't really enter into at all. Girls would write their names on a piece of paper, drop it into an urn, and then the boys would pick a name and that would be their partner for the games and dances that followed. When Christians came along they moved up the date to February and renamed it for a saint.

I am very sad. I thought there would be some better origin than this. The book itself though is very good. Each page spread has a large illustration and one page of text. The reader is taken from ancient Rome to today hitting some of the major changes in the celebration of the holiday along the way. It was interesting to learn that in Germany for awhile boys used to have to write down the names of saints, pick one from a jar, and then they were supposed to try and live like that saint for a year. (I can see why that custom did not catch on.) And that it was the French who started the giving of flowers to your valentine. The text is easy to follow and it is at a third or fourth grade reading level but I think it might work better as a read aloud.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Vampires, Werewolves, and British Blend

Soulless: an Alexia Tarabotti Novel by Gail Carriger

New from Orbit (a Hachette imprint) last October, Soulless follows spinster (at age 26) Alexia Tarabotti in late 1890's London. Now, I was lead to believe by various reviews that this was a YA book. According to the publisher that is untrue. However it is a paranormal romance as promised so I am going to say that this is approved for the older young adult. Miss Tarabotti has no soul, and due to that condition she can make any supernatural being mortal while she touches him or her. After being viciously attacked by a vampire at a party (which is simply not done, vampires must find willing victims), Miss Tarabotti has no choice but to kill the young vampire (which is also simple not done, vampires are protected under the law). Queen Victoria has her own agency, BUR, in place to deal with rogue supernaturals and Alexia has just become entangled in a very dangerous plot. Add in a very handsome, although altogether too bossy, alpha werewolf and a plot to kidnap (or worse) Alexia and you have a the making of a truly great alternative history with some romance and of course supernatural elements thrown in.

Let me again be clear this is not for the young, young adult reader. Although Alexia is never "compromised" before marriage...well...you get the idea. With that said, I love this book! The characters are very colorful and you have a sense from the detailed writing that you know them right away. The author does admit to watching numerous BBC costume dramas, as have I, so I might be a bit more in tune with this style of writing but I think that is diminishing Gail Carriger's talent. Alexia is a heroine every woman can understand, self confident, intelligent, outspoken, and a little insecure about her appearance thanks to years of society holding up a false standard of beauty. Our hero, werewolf, Lord Maccon is a Scottish earl who holds a very high place in society and cannot help but argue with Alexia at every turn. The cast of supporting characters are more than just likable and I feel that everyone has at least one friend that fits into their mold. Not to say that they are cliche or static just that the overarching personality traits are recognizable. I realize that I am gushing in praise of this book, but I cannot help myself. Go read it, it is a fun read with a very different take on the idea of vampires and werewolves and how they fit into society.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Opposites Made Interesting

Black? White? Day? Night?: A Book of Opposites by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

The title says it all for this one. Each page has a word and an image, when you lift the page you see the rest of the image that is the opposite of that first word.

Very clever and interesting this book will make you love opposites. The images are simple but have enough complexity to make them fun to look at. Great bold primary colors adds to the overall distinct feel of this book. The opposites used are nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Teaching possibilities abound, not only for the words, colors, and images, but also in how to turn and lift pages properly. I really enjoyed this look at opposites and think it would be a good read for children ages 1-3.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Boys and Valentines

Nate the Great and The Mushy Valentine by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat illustrations by Marc Simont

When a Valentine for Nate's dog Sludge mysteriously appears, Nate must investigate to find out who this Valentine is from. Before he gets very far in the case his friend Annie comes over looking for his help to solve her case of a missing Valentine she made. Although Nate does not like to take on two cases at one time he decides to make and exception for his friend Annie. Once on the case Nate is taken to Annie's house and her friend's Rosamond's house. After a hearty helping of pancakes Nate solves the case only to have another unexplained Valentine turn up on his door. Nate knows who this Valentine is from and decides rather than take it he will stay with Sludge until someone removes it.

This was a cute story of Valentine mystery. Nate, like most boys, does not like Valentines. I think this is a great Valentine story for boys and girls but really a great way to have a young boy read about Valentine's Day. Not mushy at all despite what the title implies. I like how many questions Nate asks as he tries to figure out this mystery. I also love the ending. The fact that Nate will not touch the Valentine and would rather go hang out in the dog house then take it down is such appropriate behavior for that age group. This Nate story does not disappoint with large text size for new readers and an easy to follow story arc. I recommend this book for readers 6-8.

Valentine's Day

In honor of the upcoming day of love I will be reviewing some books about this very heart filled holiday. I hope you enjoy. Valentine's Day for me growing up was always so much fun. I don't know if it was the party we used to have at school or getting all those little cards but I loved it. It changes a lot once you get to middle and high school and you are supposed to have a date but being the hopeless romantic that I am, (I do believe in love at first sight) I still love the holiday. I know what some you of you think that Valentine's Day is an excuse made by Hallmark to buy more of their cards, but I think that a day to remember those you love is always a good thing especially in the hectic world we live in (or at least that I live in). So with all of that said be prepared for some books on all things love, and who knows it might turn out that there is something worth celebrating in Valentine's Day after all.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Peter Rabbit goes to sleep

When the World is Ready for Bed by Gilliam Shields illustrated by Anna Currey

Told in rhyme this story follows three young bunnies (illustrated in a style very reminiscent of Peter Rabbit) from dusk to bedtime. The bunnies take us through a normal routine eating dinner with the family, cleaning up toys, talking about their day, getting all washed up for bed, hearing a story, and finally snuggling into bed. The last page reminds us that tomorrow is a new day waiting for us to enjoy.

This book was amazing cute and sweet. Obviously a great read aloud for bedtime, but also very heartwarming. The illustrations are beautiful and are similar to that of Peter Rabbit but do have their own style and great warm colors. It doesn't hurt that the bunnies are adorable and have something a bit different about each of them. Each page spread has a different activity that the bunnies are doing to wind down for bedtime. The text on each page is only four lines long with the second and fourth lines rhyming which gives the story a great flow. I think this could become one of the books you read every night as the very last story before bedtime. Highly recommended for ages 2-4.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Raccoon on His Own

Raccoon on His Own by Jim Arnosky

Little Raccoon gets separated from his mother and siblings one day while out in the forest. At first he is scared and nervous to be in a boat alone but them he starts to look around and enjoy what he sees and hears. When the boat comes to rest at the shore his mother and brothers and sisters are there to welcome him home.

Simply written and beautifully illustrated and yet I do not like this book. Maybe it is too simple or maybe it is the partial attribution of human characteristics to raccoon but I could not get into this story. I think it would be great as a read aloud at bed or nap time as it has a slow pace and muted colors. The word to picture ratio is great for very young readers/listeners. All of the illustrations accurately convey the animals and plants represented which gives a great teaching opportunity. I wish I could put my finger on what I did not like but I am glad I only had to read this story once. Read aloud for 2-4 years olds.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Beauty

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty & the Beast by Robin McKinley

What if Beauty did not consider her looks to be her best asset? That is part of the premise of this retelling of Beauty & the Beast. Beauty is fond of learning and spends hours in her father's library when his fortune changes and she and her sisters are forced to move the the country. The story follows the traditional course of events from there with her father going to town on hearing a ship had some in, getting lost on the way home devastated that he still has nothing, taking a rose from the Beast's castle, and Beauty having to go to the Beast's castle to spare her father. What develops in the magical castle does deviate from the original story and has some great description and magic to it.

I must have read this book over fifty times growing up. I loved it so much. I really liked that Beauty did not see herself as a beauty at all and felt silly about her name. I also liked the fact the Beauty was a reader and sought knowledge passionately. It was great to read as an eleven year old that girls can like books other than YA fiction, and to have a heroine really wanted to learn. I must admit to also liking that her sisters in this book are very nice and wonderful people. It was more fun to read about a family that gets along than one that hates each other. Beauty's companion on her trip to the Beast's castle is her horse, and I must admit to liking that character as well. He is not magic and does not gain any powers upon being in the Beast's castle but watching him learn to trust the Beast was a great addition to the story. This book is filled with some wonderful detail about the castle and Beauty's surroundings including her wardrobe. These do not get too long but are just the right length to have a good idea of what things looked like and then let your imagination see the rest. I highly recommend this book for 8-12 year-olds.

Monday, January 11, 2010

There's a Wolf at the Door

There's a Wolf at the Door: Five Classic Tales retold by Zoe B. Alley with pictures by R. W. Alley

An oversized book with comic book layout, There's a Wolf at the Door retells five classic nursery tales (The Three Little Pigs, The Boy who Cried Wolf, Little Red Riding Hood, The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing and The Wolf and the Seven Little Goslings) with the Wolf going from one tale to the next in search of his next meal. Each story has a slightly different twist to put on the characters we thought we knew so well. For instance Little Red Riding hood is actually an extremely fashionable youngster who cannot resist red. While Barry (a.k.a. The Boy Who Cried Wolf) was trying to choose between a career in the circus and shepherding.

Overall I like this book. It has a fun and new way to look at some of these stories. I did find the format a bit hard to follow at times. Some of the panels are laid out in a funky way that makes it difficult to know where to begin reading and where to go next. I do think that this book is a good introduction to the world of graphic novels and getting used to reading a story in a different way. I also liked how the wolf got from one story to the next, getting in more and more trouble as the book went on. The stories do not stay true to many of their more gruesome original endings and I do not believe that any animal or person is hurt in any of the new tales. I do not know how I feel about that yet. I remember being horrified as a child when I read the original versions of some fairy tales and nursery rhymes but I was also a little bit fascinated by them. I could not imagine a world where I was actually encouraged to read these violent stories and felt like I was getting away with something by reading them. Thereby making me want to read all the more. However the stories in this book are not cleaned up just for the sake of squeamish parents, the new endings do serve the greater story arc. The illustrations have an enormous amount of detail in them, so please take the time when reading to look for all the little pieces of the story that are told by the artist. Overall I would recommend for ages 4-10.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman with illustrations by Dave McKean

First off let me say that I cannot believe it has taken me so long to pick up this book. I was so excited when I heard it was coming out and them somehow did not get around to it until now.

With that said, on with the review. This is the story of a young boy who comes to live in a graveyard and is given the name Nobody Owens. Nobody at first does not think it odd to live in a graveyard as he has no other frame of reference but as he grows up and hungers for knowledge of the outside world he realizes that there is a whole world beyond the graveyard. He stays under the protection of a guardian named Silas who is neither dead nor alive but provides food and clothes for him as the ghosts he lives with are tied to the cemetery and cannot leave. Nobody is also not allowed to leave the graveyard because it is unsafe for him to do so. As he grows he learns that his family was killed and that the one who did it is still out there hunting for him. In the end Nobody must face his attacker and choose between a life with the living or with the dead.

I am a huge Neil Gaiman fan so I was already predisposed to like this book, and I did. I will admit to it being a bit hard to get into though. It is not that it started slowly as much as it did not draw me in right away and at one point I had to really push myself through to the next chapter. Once I did though, I was hooked. We learn about Nobody's life every few years and the gaps are never filled in so we are left to imagine them as we see fit. I actually put the book down for a few days at one point because I got so worked up over what I thought was going to happen that I couldn't bear to read it. It turned out better than I thought but I was surprised by my reaction to the crisis I saw coming. The illustrations are not my favorite. To me, they did not mesh with the book, I saw Nobody's world in a very different way. However they are very well done and do add a dark and almost ghostly feeling to the book. It is a bit long so for younger or reluctant readers it might be difficult to get through, although I think it is worth it. Nobody is an odd character to get to know, you like him but also find yourself feeling something like embarrassment for him as he tries to interact with the world outside the graveyard. His pursuit for knowledge is very realistic as it depicts how curious children are about the world around them. I would recommend this book for children ages 10-14.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Oh, Brother!

Oh, Brother! by Nikki Grimes, illustrated by Mike Benny

Twenty poems describe Xavier's displeasure about having a new little brother when his mother remarries. This wonderful book takes the reader from the wedding day through everyday life as a new family. Eventually Xavier learns to like and even love his new little brother, Chris, and they are both thrilled when a year or so later they have a little sister.

Very honest and well written this book takes the reader through a lot of the emotions children go through when having new siblings introduced into their lives. The illustrations are wonderful and add a great warm feeling to the book. Some of the poems rhyme and others do not but they all have a very fun meter that will make reading aloud great fun and a wonderful introduction to poetry. It will also be a good place to start talking about feelings if you are in a family with step brothers and sisters. Recommended for boys or girls ages 3-6.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Storyline Online

I came across Storyline Online today in my search for other sites that have online books for kids to read. This site will have a member of the screen actor's guild read on to you. While I like the site and the book that was read to me, I wish that the video of the book was more about the illustrations on the page then about the actor. I felt as if I was only getting half the story because so much of the page was not shown to you the reader. I would recommend this site though if you have little ones who enjoy having a story read to them. There are also additional activities you can do related to each story.

Sebastian's Roller Skates
by Joan De Deu Prats, illustrated by Francesc Rovira
Sebastian is very shy. He usually doesn't speak to anyone even when he has things to say. One day while walking home from school Sebastian sees a pair of blue skates in the park. He has always wanted to skate so he tries them on and promptly falls down. After a few days of coming to the park and trying the skates he eventually get better. He takes the skates home and find the confidence to talk to people when he has something to say. He decides to buy himself his own pair of skates and take the blue ones back to the park so maybe someone else will learn as he did.

This is a very cute story and I can only imagine that if I got to see the full illustrations it would have been even better. Sebastian is able to overcome his shyness with a little confidence boost from learning how to skate. He falls down a lot at first and has to go very slowly but is rewarded in the end for all his hard work by being able to skate all around the park. I like that learning for him was not easy, it is a good lesson to have in a story that we are not good at everything we try the first time. I recommend this book highly for 3-6 year olds.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Barnaby Grimes

Barnaby Grimes: Curse of the Night Wolf by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

From the creators of the Edge Chronicles comes a new tale of adventure. Barnaby Grimes is a tick-tock lad in nineteenth century London who spends his days working as something between a messenger and delivery boy. One night while climbing over the rooftops of the city (that being the fastest way to get around sometimes) Barnaby encounters a huge wolf that is out for blood. Barnaby is somehow able to kill it but gets wounded in the process. The memory of that ferocious beast in the middle of London makes Barnaby suspicious and he sets out to find some answers. His quest for the truth takes him all over London and almost costs him his life before he is able to solve the mystery.

I liked this book. I tried to read the Edge Chronicles from these authors and just could not get into the story or the characters so I was a bit skeptical of liking this series either. However, I loved it. This is the perfect mystery adventure for young boys . It has the right about of intrigue and mystery paired with adventure and puzzle solving. Barnaby is a character that is easy to relate to and you like him from the beginning. I wasn't sure how I felt about the story beginning at the end with Barnaby then going back and recounting it to the reader but it did work well. The illustrations are great and help to give a slightly gory morbid feel to the whole book which fits the mindset of the kids who will be reading it. The next book in the series is already out and I cannot wait to read and see what Barnaby gets involved in next. Highly recommend for boys ages 8-12