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

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dragons Can be Boring

Firelight by Sophie Jordan

New from romance writer Sophie Jordan comes this young adult paranormal romance. Set in modern day America, Jacidina realizes that she is something special to her pack of dragons, being the first fire breather in over 300 years. But an unauthorized flying trip puts her very life in jeopardy. Her mother, not wanting to risk her daughter takes Jacinda and her twin sister Tamera far from the pack. In the desert Jacinda feels like she is going to die until she meets, or meets again Will. Will is from a hunter family, who's only purpose is to hunt down dragons. Jacinda is torn between her attraction to Will, and how he keeps her dragon side alive and letting her dragon die as her mother and sister would like and would keep them all safe.

Argh. This book is part of a series and I must say that book one was very unsatisfying. There was so much build up and then nothing happened. I was hoping for so many more answers out of this first book only to be disappointed. I can appreciate wanting to write a series and giving the reader sufficient back story and character development to make the story interesting but there was little story. It was all conversation and feelings with little to no action. And then when you hoped something would happen the book ends. I also felt that the main character, Jacinda was a bit too tempestuous for my tastes. Now, I may just be prejudice against the author because she normally writes romance novels, but I detected a bit of the overly selfish and obtuse in her heroine that is just unrealistic.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Guessing Games

Round Like a Ball by Lisa Campbell Ernst

"Is it a meatball? A basketball? A pearl? As the round hole through the pages of this book grows larger, readers will come closer and closer to guessing the identity of the object that's round like a ball, hot and cold, every color, always moving, and home to us all."

I like the way this book is laid out but at the end it just seemed at bit odd. The entire book is trying to figure what this round object is, once we know that the object is the earth the last line is "everybody celebrated." It just didn't seem to make sense with the rest of the story. There are also some tips about how to take care of the earth. I think if this book was supposed to be about caring for the earth there might have been a better story to write than a guessing game. The repetitive nature of the book in always starting the clues with "it is round like a ball" does get on your nerves by the end. Usually I am a big fan of repetition in children's books but this one is too much. Overall I was not that impressed. Not a bad book but I would not go out of your way to read it either.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Sharing Books Is Never Easy

But Excuse Me That is My Book by Lauren Child

Charlie and his sister Lola are going to the library to get Lola's favorite book. But when they get to the library they cannot find the book anywhere. Lola is very upset that someone took her book. Charlies tries to tell Lola about other books in the library and eventually after asking a lot of questions about what she likes to read he thinks he found a good choice. Lola is skeptical that she will like the book but agrees to give it a try. Lola now has a new favorite book.

I picked up this book because it was about books and going to the library. I sometimes forget that you do have to teach children about going to the library and sharing the books, even their favorite ones. I thought the story was very true to real life and how kids think but it is still very funny. Charlie is a kind big brother to Lola and I think kids will relate to either character. The illustrations are a bit odd. The author has a very definite style and point of view. I did like how the characters are portrayed but I found the picture collage background to be disjointed. However, I can see how this style would be very popular with some readers. A great book to read in nursery school or before a trip to the library to remind young readers about the right way to act in a library. I highly recommend, and there are many more Charlie and Lola stories if your young reader enjoys these characters.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Bad Ideas Illustrated

Never Take a Shark to the Dentist (and other things not to do) by Judi Barrett, illustrations by John Nickle

To be honest this is a book I picked up for the cover. It looked so funny with the little suction tube way up in the shark's mouth, I had to read it. On every two page spread we read something we should never do and an illustration of how that action can go wrong. On the last page we find out something that we always should do. I think my favorite is "Never go to the bank with a raccoon" because the raccoon's face looks shocked and flabbergasted that everyone in the bank thinks he is trying to rob it.

I think this book is funny buy by the end the negative statements on every page starting with "Never" got to me. I would have liked more "Always" statements mixed in. But that is just me. The book itself is, as I said, very funny and I think kids will get a kick out of some of the situations. All of the situations are very easy for a child to relate to, so I am sure they will see the humor in the silliness of the statements. The illustrations are great as well with a lot of attention paid to facial expressions. And it is the facial expressions that caused me to giggle on more than one occasion. Because there is only one sentence on the page it is a very fast read but if you take the time to look for all the details the illustrator included it could take you awhile to finish the book. I recommend for boys or girls ages 3-5.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Magic of a Quilt

The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau, illustrations by Gail de Marcken

There was an old woman who lived high in the mountains for as long as anyone could remember making quilts. Her quilts were so lovely that the rich would come from all over the world to buy one. But the old woman always responded that her quilts were not for sale, they were for the poor and needy and she would not sell one for any price. In the kingdom where she lived there was a greedy king who demanded presents at least four times a year from every person in the land. When he heard about the old woman he thought that he was still unhappy because he did not have one of her quilts, that is the gift that would make him happy at last. He demanded the old woman give him a quilt. She tells him that when he gives away all his possessions she will make him a quilt, one square for each present he gives away. King is distressed, he cannot imagine giving away his possessions, so he has the woman imprisoned. Later the king thinks better of it and does give away a single marble. The little boy he gave the marble to is so happy that the king decides to try and give something else away. After that the king learns to love to bring joy to others by giving gifts and he travels the world giving away his possessions. The old woman keeps her promise and after many years when the king returns home poor, but happy, she gives him his quilt which is more beautiful than any of the others.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I did judge it by the cover and thought that it was not going to be very good, but it was a great read. I read this online at the Children's Library and was a bit sad that I could not have the actual book in front of me to see the illustrations in all their glory but even on the computer screen you still get a lot from them. There is so much happening on every page that I would recommend that you not try to read this to a group larger than two people because it would be very difficult for everyone to see the pages and the little details the illustrator includes. The writing is very well done and before you know it you are sucked into this story. It is a bit longer than most picture books so I would recommend this for an older audience of four to seven year-olds. The message of this story is 'it is better to give than to receive' but it is told in such a way that I think children will respond to it and be able to grasp that message at whatever age. There is a little bit of magic in the book as well which adds to the storytelling and wonder of the quilts that the old woman creates. I think that boys or girls will really like this story and the characters of the old woman and the king. The old woman being a grandmother figure that everyone can relate to and love, and the king being a spoiled person who learns to think of others.

There is a website devoted to this series,, with some online resources for quilters and additional information about the book. I would love to learn to quilt, and it is on my list of things to do but I am a crocheter and have a hard time abandoning my yarn. Plus a sewing machine seems to be required and I do not have the space for that in my little apartment.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Transformation and Alchemy

Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman

Meggy is sent to live with her father in London, she has never seen or even heard of her father spoken of so it was a surprise when she was summoned. Meggy's only friend is a goose named Louise. Meggy attributes this to the fact that she and Louise are both crippled and therefore considered useless or ever worse, cursed by the devil. When Meggy arrives in London she discovers two things, one that her father is completely devoted to his work of alchemy (trying to discover how to transform metal into gold) and that he does not care about her or anyone else. Meggy is forced to try and find her way around London alone and make her own way in the world. Along the way much to her surprise she makes friends, and finds the strength within herself to make her own transformation.

I was very excited to read this book because I am a big fan of Karen Cushman. Anyone who writes about Elizabethan England or the Middle Ages is alright by me. With that said though I was not blown away by this book. I liked it but it is not something I would want to read again. The story was well written and I like the message of taking responsibility for your own life and making things happen. But the character of Meggy was not that interesting to me. Meggy has a bad temper and feels worry for herself for being crippled. She is very unhappy to be in London and without her grandmother, who passed away. I think the more interesting story might have been in the small town Meggy was from with her grandmother, the grandmother seems like a much more interesting character. For that matter so does her mother, who we also never meet, and seems to be a hard but beautiful woman who runs the local alehouse. The character of Meggy's father is very one dimensional. He is focused on his work and needs to be funded for it to continue so he will do some questionable things. That is all he is, there is nothing more, and that was a bit disappointing. However, there are some great passages with colorful descriptions of London during the Elizabethan era and a bit of history cleverly thrown in that kids will read and soak up without realizing that they are learning. The author also gives some more information about the time period and alchemy in the back of the book along with other non-fiction to read if you wanted to know more.

I would say to start with some of Cushman's other work if you are new to this author, if you love that then read this one. If you are already a fan you will enjoy a new work but this is not a great introduction to what this author can write. Below is a video of the author talking about her book.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Giggle Fest 2010

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse

These are a few of my observations about seeing the movie Eclipse, an odd post for a book blog I know but, it was a very funny experience.

I went to go see this movie last night at 6:30 thinking I would have to brave a theater full of screaming tweens and teens. There were certainly a lot of adolescents having a hard time controlling themselves whenever Jacob walked on the screen without his shirt on (which was most of the time he was in the movie) but there were an equal number of young women in their 20's and 30's. As it turns out the older crowd was worse than the youngsters. Most of the cheering and yelling things like 'good Lord' and 'mmm-hmmm' at the screen came from the 20 and 30 year-olds. One woman actually got up out of her seat and yelled 'yes!' at the top of her lungs when Bella and Jacob kissed. I must say this was one of the most amusing experiences of my life.

When I read the books I remember having a running commentary in my head similar to the one that was going on in the theater. Basically I questioned what was wrong with Bella that she could not make up her mind between two completely different 'men' and shocked by her antics with both of them. It seemed to me that most of my fellow viewers had not read the books though so, they were completely surprised by how the story unfolds. It was so fun to watch and listen to these people react to the plot of Eclipse because that is something you do not generally have while reading. In book clubs you can talk about it later but it is not the same thing as being with a large group while they experience a story for the first time. Knowing what was coming next it was fun to anticipate the reaction of the audience and then get to participate in their shock, surprise, joy, and frustration.

In addition to the commentary and shouting there was a lot, and I mean a lot, of giggling. That is not something I experienced while reading the book. I remember rolling my eyes a fair amount at some of the cheesier parts but to see them acted out on the big screen brought on giggles from everyone. With the possible exception of the two men that were taken to see this movie, they did not giggle but groaned very loudly, which unfortunately for them only made the giggling worse.

What does this have to do with the book or the movie as a whole? I am not entirely sure. I can say though, that the movie does follow capture the essence of the book and that the back story scenes are wonderful. I was disappointed that the character of Jacob doesn't get more depth in the movie but then again he must have spent all his time in the gym to look like he did for his time on camera. Overall if you like the books or the other two movies you will enjoy this movie, but go prepared for all kinds of audience participation.