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

Friday, May 28, 2010

More Books Than You Can Shake a Stick At

Greetings! I have been attending BEA (Book Expo America) this week and that is why the blog has been woefully neglected. Never fear though, I have many, many fun books now just waiting to be read and reviewed. In the coming weeks I will also be holding a giveaway for a few of the books so watch for those posts.

I will tell you more about BEA in the coming week, it was a lot of fun and I met a lot of great authors that I think you will enjoy reading. Plus a few others that I just admire and shamelessly wanted to autograph a book just for me, like Tim Gunn for example. I am really excited to share these new books with you so keep reading!

Monday, May 17, 2010

ADHD May be a Sign of Divinity

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

Book one of a five part series, Percy Jackson is not your typical twelve year-old. The book begins with a warning from Percy and then he tells the reader his tale of the past year and more specifically the summer after 6th grade. Percy discovers that he is half god, the son of Poseidon and that his uncle Zeus thinks he stole his thunder bolt. Wanting to clear his name Percy takes on a quest to recover the stolen lightning bolt to prove that he was not the one responsible and to avoid a war of the gods. With the help of Athena's daughter Annabeth, and a satyr named Grover Percy heads west to the underworld to confront Hades and clear his name.

I realize I am coming late to the party on this book but that didn't stop me from loving it. I was very impressed with how Rick Riordan mixed our world with that of the ancient Greek gods. The idea that there are still half human half gods running around fighting monsters is very fun and perfect for the setting of this book. I also liked that Riordan didn't rely too heavily on magic. Percy is just discovering that he is half god and that he might have powers. Using or controlling those powers was very difficult to achieve. It was interesting the characteristics that Percy warns the reader of in the beginning. They are common for some children but they also could be a sign of something more. I thought it was great to attribute his ADHD to a increased sense of the world due to being a demi-god instead of the stigma it has in today's society. The story moves along quickly and there was never a point at which it slowed down or got too detail intensive. I wouldn't have minded a few more lessons in Greek mythology but that is the teacher in me. It will be fun to pick up the next installment and see what lies in store for Percy in the coming year. I am also very curious about the movie now, I think this book could be done in movie format very well but I will reserve judgment until I see it. Overall I recommend this book for boys or girls ages 9-12.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Classroom Chaos

This is the Teacher by Rhonda Gowler Greene, illustrated by Mike Lester

"This is a book about a teacher all ready for school. And also the students who rush through the door and drop sacks of lunches that smash! on the floor. Not to mention the snake that escaped, the cupcakes that flew, the bad bee that buzzed, the fountain that clogged, the kid who got sick, and-Eek! There's the hamster that spins in a wheel!" From the first line you know this is going to be a crazy day at school. From the first few lines the craziness and chaos continue to build and be repeated on each page until then end when the school day is finally over.

This book makes me chuckle. I remember days that felt like that while teaching, nothing could go right and everything that could go wrong did. The students are not being naughty they are just a bit excited and clumsy and that is all you need. The story repeats certain lines on every page you get the feeling of how long this day is going to be for the 'teacher that is all ready for school'. I think kids will get a big kick out of all the things that go wrong throughout the day. As the words repeat so do some of the illustrations so be on the look out for that snake, the hamster, a bad bee, and some ants. The illustrations look like they were drawn very quickly with lines that do not connect or overlap. This adds to the haggard feeling the teacher has as she goes through the day. The book is filled with bright colors which can help you find the items that are repeated. The repetition in words and images helps young readers to anticipate what is coming next as you are reading and is a good tool for when they are learning how to read. Overall I would recommend for children ages 3-6.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better

The Big Boasting Battle by Hans Wilhelm

Horace the Lion is waiting for his friend Sylvester the Snake to come over for tea and crackers, Sylvester is late again. When Horace complains Sylvester says it is unfair that he should always have to go to Horace's house since snakes have been around for so much longer than lions. Then the boasting begins. Each friend tries to outdo the other one. They do not listen to each other they both just want to be right and prove that their species is the best. They try to decide once and for all with a race. As they are running through the tall grass they fall into a deep trap. Horace and Sylvester are both scared about what will happen to them if they cannot get out. Then Sylvester has an idea and with lion's strength they are able to get out of the pit. After that Horace and Sylvester do not boast anymore and appreciate each other, they also meet for tea half way between Horace's house and Sylvester's house.

I found this book online, rather than my usual trip to the library and I am excited about how many more free children's eBooks there are online now. The title of the books links to the International Children's Digital Library. There you can find many books from around the world. I like that there are a lot of very old books that you can read, to me a version of Cinderella from 1853 is amazing. However, the pages are often small and you need to use their tool to magnify the text to really enjoy reading the book. Another plus to this site is that there are books from all around the world, so if you live in a bilingual home or are just trying to teach your children about other cultures you can read a book from just about anywhere in many different languages.

The cover of the book links to Make America Reads Fun. This site you have to download a .pdf of the book but I feel that the reading experience is a bit better because the image is larger. Also on that site are activities associated with their books so if you child really liked one story in particular there is a long list of things to do associated with the story. Either site offers you free eBooks which I think is a great thing. I know that I don't always have time to run to the library to pick up some new books and although reading from a computer screen is not the same as reading from an actual book it is great for those days when you want to read something new but can't make it to the library or a bookstore.

The story itself was good and had a lot of lessons to teach. The obvious one is that bragging is not good and will only lead to trouble. The other lesson is that working together can help you accomplish your goals. Both those lessons are great for 4-5 year-olds because for some reason at that age they start trying to be the best in everything. There is nothing wrong with striving for excellence but teaching kids that other people can be good at things or even better at some things then they are is an appropriate lesson. The illustrations have a cartoon feel to them with very round edges and some exaggerated facial expressions. They help to tell the story and offer some very funny images to go along with the text. I recommend for children ages 3-5.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Listen Up! Listen Up!

Who's Got Game? The Lion or the Mouse? by Toni and Slade Morrison, illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre

A retelling of Aesop's fable The Lion and the Mouse, this version also takes us back to the jungle. Told in rhyme and with more of a comic book layout then traditional picture book layout, we get to see a different side to this fable. Lion is the biggest and strongest animal in the jungle and he knows it. He says, "Listen up! Listen up! No ifs, maybes, ands, or buts. I am the king all over the land. I do what I like. I do what I can. In this place I make the laws because, because of my mighty paws." Yet, when he gets hurt with a thorn through his paw no one will stop and help him. Mouse comes along and offers to help as long as lion does not eat him. Mouse pulls out the thorn and they both go home. The next day though mouse starts to act much like lion did, trying to bully people into doing what he wants. The other animals just laugh at him and mouse gets more and more angry. Finally one day he tells lion that he needs his house and throne so the other animals will take him seriously. Lion leaves his home and goes to the plains to live. There he realizes that he was being a bully before mouse helped him and that bullies are really just scared to be themselves.

Interesting spin on a classic story. I enjoyed Morrison's take on the fable and adding in the new lesson about not being a bully. The rhyming is excellent and I think it is great that she and her son are writing books for children, their talent is extraordinary and kids will benefit from reading masterful rhymes. The illustrations are not what I would have chosen. They are every rough and almost messy looking. The characters do not have clean lines and you get the sense that it was not supposed to be perfect, just as the characters are not perfect. In addition the illustrations have a rounded comic feel to them that adds to the overall feeling that something is not quite right. I do like the comic book layout, it lends itself very well to the rhyming scheme and helps the reader follow the dialogue. The story is easy to follow and I think kids will have fun listening to the rhyming and even repeating the lion's first phrase or two by the end of the book. I recommend for kids ages 3-6.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pretending with Friends

Monkey and Me by Emily Gravett

"Monkey and me,
Monkey and me,
Monkey and me,
We went to see..."

A little girl and her toy monkey love to pretend. They act out what animal they are pretending to be while the text on the page say the above. When you turn the page we see what animal they are pretending to be. The little girl and her monkey have great imaginations.

Very simple yet very fun to read this story lets the imagination run a little wild. The illustrations are very simple with a lot of white space that lets the reader really study the drawings. Done in pencil with only a few colors the red in the girl's red shirt stands out. Because of the repetitive nature of the book it is great to start teaching children about rhyming and let them read along with you. At the end of the story the little girl and monkey fall asleep. I recommend this story to read before nap or bedtime.