Any excuse to re-read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a good excuse foThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.25 of 5
Any excuse to re-read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a good excuse for me. But this one is even better because it's not just the classic story that is featured here, but the artwork for the story by Salvador Dali.
This year of 2015 we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, so I expect we'll see a number of editions of the book being re-released, but I suspect Princeton University Press' edition will become a collector's edition.
I don't feel the need to comment much on Lewis Carroll's work. (I imagine most people reading this already understand that Lewis Carroll was the pen name for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.) I've said before that I think it is one of the most highly creative, original pieces of literature that I've ever read. And I don't think I'm alone, given the books I've seen commenting about the work.
This edition is about Salvador Dali's illustrations. While there is a part of me that misses Sir John Tenniel's work -- which is typically very much a part of the experience of reading the book -- Dali's work is possibly even better suited to the work. Tenniel was Dodgson's first choice to illustrate his work because of the "grotesqueness" of Tenniel's work. "Grotesque" is a style that "is an abnormality that imparts the disturbing sense that the real world may have ceased to be reliable" (Wikipedia). The real world may have ceased to be reliable? Does any artist better imply this sentence than Salvador Dali?
The paintings within are not to be glanced at, appreciated in passing, but actually looked at and studied. Finding the sources within the story that inspired each moment, is sometimes a jigsaw puzzle, but the sources are there and can be found for the astute reader. Knowing the story quite well already, I appreciated this challenge. Given the nature of Dali's work - surrealism - sometimes the images themselves are not as understandable as we are often used to. What do the images of a figure on fire, repeated, represent? And what is the figure? A stick man? Caterpillars? Soldiers? This art is extreme surrealism.
We must be honest, though, and admit that this is not Dali's strongest work. Unlike his more famous work, The Persistence of Memory, this art is not sharp, clearly delineated, but rather a much more scattered and sketched look, with seemingly a variety of mediums involved. Watercolors? Oils? Ink?
Some of the art is stunning (I am particularly drawn to those in Chapters 4, 5, 7 and 8) and some rather bland (chapters 6 and 10), but all should evoke reaction from the reader.
The book begins with an introduction, "Dodgson and Dali" by Mark Burstein and "The Math Connection" by Thomas Banchoff. Both are fascinating essays and well worth the price of the book alone. Getting a personal account of Dali is a true bonus in a surreal fiction book!
I will admit to being particularly attracted to this book because of my strong interest in all things 'Alice in Wonderland' as well as all things 'surreal' art. In the 1980's I bought two museum-quality Dali prints from the 'Alice' series which are still a part of my extensive art collection, and among the very few 'prints' (rather than originals) that I own. I am thrilled to see more from this 'Alice' series.
Looking for a good book? Anyone interested in the "Alice in Wonderland" stories or the art of Salvador Dali should make sure to add this book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, illustrated by Salvador Dali, published by Princeton University Press, to their 'must buy' list.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
This is a slight departure from the sort of books I typically review, butThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.25 of 5
This is a slight departure from the sort of books I typically review, but ever since my father had a book published on science and experiments for elementary students (40+ years ago?), I've been interested in this sort of book. All of my children (now young adults) have shown great interest in science, which delights me (despite my own science ineptitude).
This iScience reader about sound is a delightful book that manages to address the younger reader without talking down to them. It does not take for granted there's previous knowledge of what sound is or how it works (one of the first sentences is: "All sounds begin with vibrations."). It speaks mostly of music, which is very appropriate to these students who may just be starting to play instruments, but even if not, the book offers up some very simple experiments with everyday household items (yes ... really, some everyday household items and not just items that can be bought at a local specialty store).
In these few pages, the book even manages to offer up some information that was new to me (remember, I said I was not particularly science proficient) ... that sound travels as much as four times faster in water than in air, travelling the length of thirteen football fields in one second. Awesome!
I quite enjoyed this book.
Looking for a good book? If you are a teacher, or a parent who loves teaching opportunities at home, then this book is really great for a science lesson in sound!
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
Why are there so many adaptations of William Shakespeare's works? The answeThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5 of 5
Why are there so many adaptations of William Shakespeare's works? The answer is that Shakespeare wrote about human behavior better than anyone else has. What Shakespeare had to say about what it means to be human, and all the different emotions that go with being human, still holds true today, nearly 500 years after his works were written. Which of course means that man himself hasn't changed much.
Adapting Shakespeare's works for children isn't a new idea. Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare was written back in 1807, and today, books are still coming out. One of the latest is Hamlet, retold by Timothy Knapman with illustrations by Yaniv Shimony.
The adaptation is pretty straightforward and very readable, and very readable to children (of the upper elementary grades). The illustrations help the story, and it's nice to see the story take shape through the illustrations.
Hamlet is a strange choice for a children's story -- revenge killing, power-hungry female, insanity ... why are we reading this to our children? But if it gets children to become familiar with the famous works of Shakespeare, or gets children interested in attending the theatre, I am all for it.
Looking for a good book? Hamlet: Retold in Modern-Day English is a simplified, children's book adaptation of Shakespeare's famous play and does what it sets out to do ... tell the story very simply, so even a child can understand it.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
It is really wonderful when a children's picture book can be captivating aThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.75 of 5
It is really wonderful when a children's picture book can be captivating and educational. Author Eileen Cameron's story of the Magna Carte, Rupert's Parchment is such a book.
Rupert, twelve years old, is the son of a parchment maker. It is Rupert's father's parchments that King John uses for writing his promises to the people of England, and Rupert has the perfect seat for observing and relating the story of this tremendous event.
Author Cameron masterfully manages to bring awareness of just what this event meant to the people of England. It is powerful, it is exciting, and it is very, very real. Making a historical event something that a child can relate to, is more difficult than one might think, but as a reader, I found myself drawn in to this story, and I know younger readers/listeners will too. There is some nice information about the Magna Carta following the story for the adult readers, and somehow, this entire book is only twenty pages long!
The illustrations by Doris Ettlinger suit the book well.
Although I was familiar with the concept of the Magna Carta, I couldn't have told you much about it, and this children's book was a good primer for me, and I suspect for many adults (at least in the United States). I highly encourage this simple, informative book.
Looking for a good book? Rupert's Parchment is a children's picture book with a big history theme and it's worth having and reading.
I received a digital edition of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
What is it about artwork from the 1930's and 1940's that it is immediatelyThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.0 of 5
What is it about artwork from the 1930's and 1940's that it is immediately recognizable as being from the period? Particularly children's book art?
The Big Snow and Other Stories is a collection of three children's picture books by Berta and Elmer Hader. Although there is a sub-title that reads "A Treasury of Caldecott Award-Winning Tales" only The Big Snow was a Caldecott winner. The other two books were Caldecott Honor books.
One of the really nice things about a picture book is that if the story is well told, it is truly timeless and could (should) be enjoyed by generations of readers. Thanks to Dover Publishing and this reissue, these three classic stories can indeed be enjoyed by a new generation of youngsters.
In The Big Snow, woodland animals prepare for the coming winter and the impending storm. The nice touch at the end is the humans who toss some food out for the animals to help them survive the storm.
Cock-A-Doodle-Doo is the second book in the collection and this is sort of an 'ugly duckling' story. Here, a chicken is born in to a family of ducks and despite his being raised as a duck, he can't escape who he really is. When he hears a rooster crowing, he leaves the safety of everything familiar to him in order to get to the roosters. This lesson of being true to yourself, seems extremely timely today -- perhaps moreso than when this was first published in 1939.
The final book is The Mighty Hunter, which is the one book that might struggle in today's market due to political correctness. A young Native American, referred to as an Indian, would rather go hunting than attend school. He hunts with a bow and arrow and is about to shoot a mouse. The mouse, however, has another idea, and leads the boy to a slightly larger animal. Each animal in turn leads the boy to still a larger animal, playing on the boy's greed to kill something bigger. While I appreciated the ultimate goal of reminding the boy that school was a worthwhile engagement, I didn't care for the process in getting there. This is one of those books that definitely feels dated.
This is definitely a book I would want in my collection if I had young children to whom I still read picture books.
Looking for a good book? The Big Snow and Other Stories is a reissue of three award-winning picture books that still have relevant messages and beautiful artwork.
I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
How many people who are readers today did NOT read the Curious George booksThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5 of 5
How many people who are readers today did NOT read the Curious George books when they were young? Not too many, I would guess. But how many of you are aware that the creator(s) of Curious George wrote and illustrated other children's stories as well? The H.A. Rey Treasury of stories features four short, illustrated stories for children by H.A. and Margaret Rey.
The first story, "Tit for Tat," is a short little parable to get children to be kind to animals by turning the tables. If offers a 'what if/do unto others' idea. For instance, first we see a horse pulling a carriage and then we see a human pulling the same carriage, with the horse riding. It actually gets a little 'dark' as we see a mouse caught in a mouse trap and then a woman with her hands caught in an over-seized mouse trap while a crowd of mice cheer in the tit for tat. There's also a fox wearing a human stole and a caged man singing for canaries. The point is definitely delivered with some pretty strong images.
The second story, "Elizabite: Adventures of a Carnivorous Plant," reminds me of a child's version of "Little Shop of Horrors" in which a small carnivorous plant has a habit of biting people and pets that get too close. It does manage to foil a robbery by nearly eating a burglar. To protect the plant, and the people around it, it is finally put in a zoo.
Just like "Tit for Tat," "Elizabite" tends to be just a bit on the dark side. For those of us who grew up with Grimm's and Andersen's fairy tales, dark is just a part of story-telling. In today's politically correct world, these might not fare quite as well.
The third story is a bit smoother and kinder. In "Billy's Picture" a little rabbit, Billy, is wanting to paint a picture of himself. Along comes a friend, a puppy, who adds to the painting, but the painting looks like a cross between a rabbit and a dog. Then comes a goose, who also adds to the picture, but the picture becomes a cross, now, of a goose and a dog, and a rabbit. This story is simple and goes on and on with a new animal coming in and changing the picture each time, until it is completely unrecognizable. Finally Billy gets angry and tells everyone that all he wanted was to paint a self-portrait. The story ends happily, with everyone painting their own self-portrait.
The final story is my favorite. "Zebrology" is a story without words, about the history of how zebras came to be. It's delightful, cute, humorous, and precisely the sort of story I would have loved as a child (I would have gotten to make up my own story to go with the pictures) and would have eagerly read to my children.
This feels a little thin to be called a 'treasury' but the four short stories within are delightful throwbacks to a very different era in children's picture books, and aside from the historical interest and the curiosity point of view, these stories could still be read to, and be entertaining to, children.
Looking for a good book? The H. A. Rey Treasury of Stories is a nice look at some of the other works for children by the creator of Curious George -- some a little 'dark' but all of them entertaining.
I receive a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
What do you look for in a child's picture book? For the story, you want soThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.25 of 5
What do you look for in a child's picture book? For the story, you want something that is simple and direct with a message that is easy to understand but morally straight. For the art, you want something that is bright and bold. Something that children can look at and see things that are recognizable and fun. The Wise Boy, by JiYu Kim, has all of this.
"In an African village," the book begins, giving it just a slice of exciting adventure because Africa is a faraway land, "there lived a boy so wise that he was made a chief. His name was Wusuri." A boy, probably not much older than the child listening to the story, who is so wise he's made chief! Again, in this simple first sentence we've set up an exotic location and we've hit upon a child's desire to be recognized as something special.
Through the course of the book, Wusuri listens to the problems in the village and, mostly through common sense, comes up with an acceptable answer for solving the problems. With one particular problem (villagers fighting over claim to a chicken), I was not happy with Wusuri's solution, but as I turned the page, I realized that his solution was really a 'trick' to finding the real owner.
The story ends with a reminder that Wusuri, great chief though he may be, is still a child who relishes his mother's love.
The artwork is really beautiful with a hint of native African styles and designs, but somehow managing to be modern as well. I could stare at this artwork for a very long time and I expect most youngsters listening to the book could as well.
I am a little sad, however, that everyone in this little village seems so angry (in appearance and in manner). It is too bad that he couldn't solve at least one problem that didn't have to do with quarrelsome villagers but fixing, perhaps, a problem of nature. In any event, this is definitely a book that I would read to children and one that I am confident would want to be heard/seen again and again (the real measure of a good children's book).
Looking for a good book? The Wise Boy is a wise choice for anyone looking for a good, new picture book for children. I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher, through Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
I was absolutely thrilled to see a book, a children's picture book, of PeteThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.0 of 5
I was absolutely thrilled to see a book, a children's picture book, of Peter Pan, using the lyrics from the musical adaptations of the play.
Betty Comden & Adolph Green's "Neverland" and Carolyn Leigh and Mark Charlap's "I'm Flying" form the essential story for Amy June Bates' delightful artwork.
Anyone looking for the complete Peter Pan story, in abbreviated, children's book format will be disappointed. This book picks one very small portion of the story to highlight and to hopefully capture the attention of children who might one day become theatre-goers. And what better way to do it than to tell the story of a young boy from a place called 'Neverland'; and the boy who can fly!?
I can easily see myself reading this to some youngsters, relishing the "I can fly!" moments, and I can picture children getting caught up in the excitement. But best of all, I see this building interest in J. M. Barrie's play and the musical adaptations.
Bates' artwork is soft watercolors that will catch a child's interest and give them something to think about and build upon as they imagine the story in motion. The fact that she has given us a Peter that isn't in the typical Disney or Broadway-looking costume, yet still clearly a Lost Boy that is full of curiosity (and has a tiny fairy for a friend).
My only grudge ... other than a note in the introduction by Phyllis Newman, Peter Pan's creator, James M. Barrie, is not credited, even though an uncredited epilogue points out that "So many of these lyrics contain actual lines from the original play. ..."
This is a book that I will recommend and purchase for friends with small children.
Looking for a good book? Flying to Neverland with Peter Pan is a beautiful children's picture book that is built from the lyrics of the popular Peter Pan musical. I received an electronic copy of this book from the publisher, through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review. ...more
Having long been a fan of Jonny Quest, I borrowed an e-copy of this book from an on-line world-wide library service, hoping to have a little Jonny QueHaving long been a fan of Jonny Quest, I borrowed an e-copy of this book from an on-line world-wide library service, hoping to have a little Jonny Quest fun. Sadly, it's about as abysmal as a book can be, clearly trying to capitalize on the Jonny Quest name.
In the 22 pages of story, Jonny finds a cave that connects to his home. As he enters the cave, he sees men parachuting down to the island he is on. Jonny hurries in to the home to warn his dad. Jonny trips and falls on something sharp as he's trying to sneak away. The parachuting men arrive and hold Jonny and his dad at gun-point, but suddenly a voice, from the secret cave entrance, tells the men that they are surrounded. the voice belongs to Race Bannon. At dinner that night we learn that Race knew there was trouble because Jonny fell on the emergency button.
I know that this is simply a children's book, but there's no action! There is danger, and then there isn't danger, and we don't get to see any of this fleshed out. (There's also no 'Hadji.')
It's tough to write a 22 page picture book, especially one based on an adventurous youth, but it never felt like author Horace J. Elias even tried. I guess I'll go back to watching the old episodes again......more
They just don't make books like this anymore, so a big "Thank you!" to DoveThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 5.0 of 5
They just don't make books like this anymore, so a big "Thank you!" to Dover for reissuing this book!
Short and sweet, this 33 page book is full of easy to read rhymes and beautiful black and white drawings (by Maurice Day) that will be great to share with the pre-schooler in your life.
Each of the short poems is a miniature morality story, extolling the virtues of good behavior and pointing out bad behavior. But all the 'children' depicted within are anthropomorphic animals, so parents who share this book with children can remind their tots about the bad behavior of "Danny Donkey" who didn't wash behind his ears, or Susie Squirrel who didn't like having her tail brushed, or Zebulon Zebra who didn't like to wear the nice clothes his mother thought best.
The rhymes were easy on the tongue, and there's still something that feels so nice when reading a children's book and having a nice rhyme scheme.
Maurice Day's art is fantastic. I've often been partial to pen-and-ink artwork, and this is remarkably detailed (for prolonged viewing by the youngsters) while managing to be simple enough to capture immediate attention. It's a tremendous skill that I haven't seen much in modern artists (with the possible exception of Jan Brett's work).
I really liked everything about this book. It surprisingly didn't feel too dated, despite being 90 years old.
Looking for a good book? The Animal Etiquette Book of Rhymes is delightful and should be in the homes of everyone with a pre-schooler....more
It's been awhile since I've read a good book aimed at that older elementaryThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.5 of 5
It's been awhile since I've read a good book aimed at that older elementary school reader. Karin Adams delivers with a winter-themed Frostbite Hotel.
In this story, Kirby Katz dreams of being as successful as business entrepreneur William T. Williamson. Kirby faithfully follows Williamson's advice from his "how-to" book. Kirby decides to start on his path to success just as Williamson had done ... with hotels. Kirby believes that while every other school kid will be building a snow fort on the playground, he will build a snow hotel. He gathers his most trusted friends and slowly reveals plans for making his hotel a place that every student will want to visit. But there's one problem ... 6th grader 'Bear' Brewster. Somehow, Bear knows every move Kirby is about to make, and Bear has the muscle-power to get the same job done, in short order. How is Bear getting the edge on Kirby? How can Kirby become a success just like William T. Williamson?
Author Adams really nails the elementary school relationships: the friendships, the fears, the strengths. Children reading this book will be able to identify with the characters in the book.
What also rings true is Kirby's ambition. An organizer and planner, I can picture him outside in the winter and building a 'hotel' that he has every confidence will put him on the path to success.
The betrayal from within Kirby's camp and the manner in which it is handled also feels absolutely right.
Adams manages to write a book that doesn't talk 'down' to the elementary school reader but in which most students will be able to identify. Some of the words may prove challenging, but there's nothing that will put the reader 'off' (young readers often won't bother reading if a book is too challenging).
There is enough action to keep the story moving, but it really is about people and relationships and the young reader may manage to learn something without realizing it.
This book is a winner!
Looking for a good book? Frostbite Hotel is a great book for that student who is just ready for a longer book and is perfect for those who may be snowed in during the winter months!...more
This review is specifically in regards to Denslow's Night Before Christmas (ISBN 0486783332). The review was originally published in Looking For a GooThis review is specifically in regards to Denslow's Night Before Christmas (ISBN 0486783332). The review was originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.75 of 5
There's something I find wonderfully appealing about Victorian Era children's book art (though, yes, technically speaking, this would be in the Edwardian period as it was published in 1902 ... but Denslow was certainly famous for his work during the Victorian period). There's a great deal of whimsical fantasy, the sense that anything is possible, and yet it is anything but cuddly. In fact it is often a little eerie or creepy. But of all the versions of this poem that I have on my shelves (and there are more than a few of them), this may be my favorite.
I'm not sure how many people are familiar with Denslow's work as the illustrator for the Wizard of Oz series (it's not a storyboard of the movie, folks!), but his work here is in a similar fashion. (I'm not quite sure how to define the 'style' except to say that it is consistent with other works I've seen from that era.)
I am particularly fond of the little eerie faces throughout. The brass andiron's in the fireplace have expressive faces, as does the clock on the mantle. And who doesn't find the face in the Christmas tree to be just a tad frightening. Or that of the face in the moon?
Denslow gives a nod to Wizard of Oz with the inclusion of a Tin Woodsman doll in Santa's sack.
Be warned...this is from 1902 and there are some politically incorrect figures here, including an Al Jolson-like black-face doll.
I really like this edition and am grateful to Dover Publications for re-issuing it. I hope they will consider publishing some of Denslow's other works as well.
Looking for a good book? Denslow's Night Before Christmas in a beautiful example of story-telling art from the late Victorian Era/turn-of-the-century and is still enjoyable today. ...more
Ah, sweet nostalgia! This book is a throwback to a simpler and often more eThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.0 of 5
Ah, sweet nostalgia! This book is a throwback to a simpler and often more elegant time.
Dover Publications has put together a collection (or 'treasury') of stories, poems, and illustrations from the turn of the century. Clement Moore's "The Night Before Christmas" is a perennial classic and would be obvious if it were missing, but the inclusion of lesser-known works makes this a gem. Our bookstores and bookshelves are over-flowing with modern holiday reads, most of which don't satisfy but exist because someone (many someones) is hoping to cash in on the festivities. But these older tales stand the test of time because they tell us interesting or important stories. My favorite is "How Santa Filled the Christmas Stockings" in which a greedy young boy learns a hard lesson.
This Victorian-era art is elegant and charming. Who can't look at the picture of a warmly-wrapped child riding the back of a Polar bear with a sky filled with both a bright sun and a colorful aurora and not be charmed?
This isn't necessarily the sort of holiday book that my children would choose to read, but it IS the sort of book that my children would enjoy having me read to them at bedtime around the holidays!
Looking for a good book? This is a simple and elegant, turn-of-the-century sampler of holiday stories that is likely to be a treasured book for families that enjoy celebrating Christmas. ...more
The debut novel by Esther Ehrlich, Nest, is a beautiful, poignant, slightlThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.25 of 5
The debut novel by Esther Ehrlich, Nest, is a beautiful, poignant, slightly dark tale of the trials of childhood.
Set in the early 1970's, eleven-year-old "Chirp" Orenstein is beginning to learn that life can be cruel to a child. Her mother struggles with a terrible disease and spends time in a 'loony bin' and goes through electro-shock therapy. As a Jew, Chirp struggles through the Christian holidays and the lack of understanding from her classmates. Her closest friend is Joey, a neighbor boy who is often beat up by his father and locked out of his own home. When she and Joey run off together for an adventure and to try to find something in their lives that they can take control of, they discover that the world might be too big and unforgiving for the pre-teens.
Author Esther Ehrlich's writing is magnificent. It is beautiful and lyrical without being too flowery or 'sappy.' She has created characters, all of them, that are so real that you might think you are reading a journal. Chirp and Joey are the strongest, most vivid characters, but Chirp's family (father, mother, sister), teachers, and even Joey's family (rarely seen) strike a chord as being flesh-and-blood people rather than simply characters in a book.
The story is a bit depressing and it is on the strength of the characters that I kept reading. Chirp is growing up in an era that I am very familiar with (the 1970's) and there doesn't seem to be much that is going 'right' in her life. Of course, she perseveres and grows stronger, but there is so little happiness here that even upon finishing the book, I can't say that I had any truly positive feelings for Chirp (or Joey) or that life would be any better for them in the days (and years) to come.
I'm not sure why this book is set in 1972 other than that it might be a time in which the author is well acquainted. There seems to be nothing specific to this era necessary for the story, though it certainly made it easy for someone, such as myself, to recall the time and events. But would it make it easier, or more difficult, for young readers today (or have no impact either way)? Could this story have been set today? Perhaps. Though the shock therapy would likely not have occurred.
That Chirp is a bird-watcher is a very nice touch (this was certainly not nearly as common in the 1970's as it might be today), and of course a 'nest' is a home or safe haven for Chirp, but I actually thought that Chirp's bird-watching interest could have been used just a little more.
A nice read, well written, but didn't leave me with a strong sense of ... anything ... upon finishing.
Looking for a good book? Nest, by Esther Ehrlich, is a beautiful story of a preteen growing up in the 1970's....more
This is a beautiful picture book that is sure to sell well at state and national parks and along rock-picking shores.
Rhoda is a young girl spending tiThis is a beautiful picture book that is sure to sell well at state and national parks and along rock-picking shores.
Rhoda is a young girl spending time with her aunt and uncle in their "up-north" cabin. She loves rocks ... really loves rocks ... and collects rocks of all shapes and sizes. On a hike, she collects a wide variety of rocks. As long as she can carry them, her aunt and uncle allow her to pick rocks along the way. Then they come to the "Big Lake" and its rocky shore. It is a rock paradise for Rhoda, complete with glowing agates. But Rhoda's backpack is so full of rocks that she can't carry them all, and so she chooses only the most precious of stones to bring back, building a small tower with the others.
Author Molly Beth Griffin really captures the curiosity and excitement of a child very well. We all recognize just about any child who's ever been to the North Shore and hiked the north woods. And it would be easy to dwell on the negatives (uncomfortable sleeping and carrying a heavy pack laden with rocks) but Griffen touches on these without it drawing focus away from the joys of rock picking.
Jennifer A. Bell's illustrations are perfect for this book. Simple and stylized and yet there's enough going on in each page that adults and children alike will enjoy looking at the pictures.
I really, really like this book and I will be buying a copy or two for relatives this Christmas. But I do feel compelled to comment on two missed opportunities....
Not everyone who reads this book will have spent time picking rocks along the North Shore and so the idea of agates is lost here. They are described once ("tiny banded (rocks) that glowed the color of sunsets") and mentioned once ("a small handful of tiny glowing agates") but we never see an agate as a banded, glowing rock.
The other missed moment is the building of the cairn. The term 'cairn' is used ("Then she smiled at her rock cairns") but it isn't clear what a "cairn" is. I've seen many more cairns built along the shore in the last few years and I felt it might have been nice to describe just what it is.
In any case, this is one of the most delightful picture books I've read in a long time. It is highly recommended.
Looking for a good book? Rhoda's Rock Hunt is the perfect picture book for families who enjoy the outdoors....more
Young man, Clay, gets in hot water at school when worThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0 of 5
Bad Magic is good fun.
Young man, Clay, gets in hot water at school when words from his journal appear as graffiti on a school wall. Clay is blamed for the tagging (even though he didn't do it), labelled as a problem, and sent to a summer camp for troubled kids. The camp is on a remote, volcanic island and everything, and everyone, there is just a little bit off-kilter. Clay wonders if he'll ever get off the island safely and seeks to solve as many of the islands' riddles as possible.
There is a lot of fun in this book and it offers up a really nice introduction to Shakespeare's The Tempest, hopefully encouraging the reader to seek out the play. But I can't help but wonder who the target audience is. Looking at the style of art on the cover and the interior illustrations, and at the marketing, and even the style of writing itself, it would appear that this is targeted toward the younger readers -- 4th or 5th grade. But some of the concepts (specifically the association with The Tempest) and the additional little sub-plots, and the length of the book, would suggest middle school readers. Finding its niche may be the toughest job for this book.
The story contains a nice blend of mystery and fantasy while rooting it with a main character who is a young Everyman. The additional characters are just that ... characters (and I mean this in a good sense) -- each with unique traits and qualities that help the reader identify them. Among the cast of characters is the island itself -- as one might expect if you are familiar with The Tempest.
The book is a bit slow at times (I have to admit I got bored shortly after Clay arrived on the island), in part I suspect because there's a great deal of set-up. A lot of set-up. I suspect that there are intended sequels and we're being set up for all the future books, and not just this one. That said, once the set-up is over, we do get to have some fun. I personally enjoyed the library scenes and the characters there the most, though we don't get to them until after half way through the book.
As a reader, once I got settled on the island, I had good fun, but it took my awhile to get there. I am not familiar with the author "Pseudonymous Bosch" (sounds more like a marketing gimmick than a pseudonym), but I am not overly impressed. It was a fun book, but I'm not eagerly anticipating the next installment.
Looking for a good book? Bad Magic is a fun fantasy/mystery read for young readers that may take a little while to get in to, but should be fun along the way and will hopefully tempt the young reader to seek out some Shakespeare along the way....more
I really appreciate it when people take chances, to try something new or diThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.0 of 5
I really appreciate it when people take chances, to try something new or different, and I really appreciate author Avi (and his publishers) for going out on a limb and producing a book that will challenge its targeted reading audience. This book, "Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway?" is written completely as dialog only. No "he said" "she said". No narrative description of the characters or the locations. And Avi doesn't do this just be different. He does this because it is completely in line with the major object of his book.
Set in 1945, Frankie Wattleson is an extreme fan of radio shows. Whether at school, or hanging out with his best friend, he turns everything in to a radio show, even telling his friend how to respond, and giving himself a more radio-show type of name ("Chet Barker"). Frankie's uncle has returned from the war, wounded and withdrawn. Frankie's teacher gets word that her fiancée was killed in action. Frankie decides he needs to get Miss Gomez (his teacher) and Tom (his uncle) together. Meanwhile, Frankie's parents have rented out a room in the house to bring in extra income. Frankie is sure that the boarder is actually an evil scientist and continually sneaks in to look for proof. Frankie's grades suffer because of his inability to focus on schoolwork when he instead is always thinking about radio shows.
This idea for a story is really fun and it's a great way to introduce an impressionable audience to the wonderful world of radio shows (which can be much more dynamic than the biggest blockbuster movie). The story is nicely developed, though the WWII themes seem to 'date' this book (even though it wasn't written then ... perhaps this speaks well to Avi's ability to capture the feeling of an era extremely well.
And so it is perfectly in line with the story and the era and the characters that Avi has written this book entirely in dialog as if it were a radio play. But it's also extremely challenging. It makes the reader work, rather unnecessarily. Do we need to have to pause or stop our reading to identify who is speaking or where we are? Most of the time, Avi makes this abundantly clear through the source of the dialog and I was quite impressed with his ability to do so. But those few times when it wasn't clear, it simply became frustrating.
A few times I thought it might be fun to record this book as a radio play -- he even calls his chapters "episodes" -- but while the book is written entirely in dialog, that does NOT mean it is written as a radio script. A radio script would identify the name of the speaker and include the one thing that is really crucial to radio and missing from a novelized version of radio ... sound effects. The wonderful world of radio is filled with sound that helps create atmosphere and set the scene. A book of nothing but dialog misses this. I missed this.
As a tremendous fan of radio shows, I really appreciated this book. As a reader of YA books, I really appreciated the daring. But as a reader looking for a book to read, I found the task of reading nothing but dialog challenging when it didn't need to be so.
Looking for a good book? Who Was That Masked Man, Anyway? is a delightful novel of old-time radio shows, written entirely in dialog that may challenge the reader unnecessarily....more
Oliver and the Seawigs is a delightful, flight of fancy fantasy.
Author Philip Reeve has captured the imagination of a young reader quite well in this story of Oliver Crisp, a ten-year-old who was born into a life of adventure. His parents are explorers of a voracious sort. They can't NOT explore if there's something that captures their attention. They try to settle down, buying an old seaside home. One morning Oliver wakes up to discover that his parents are gone. He wanders down to the shore only to discover a series of islands that he couldn't remember being there the day before. Knowing his parents must be exploring one of them, he decides to head home and wait for them. The next morning, still with no sign of his parents, Oliver discovers that all the islands he saw the day before are gone, except for one smaller island. Taking a small boat to the island, Oliver befriends an albatross by the name of Mr. Culpeper, and a near-sighted, off-key-singing mermaid by the name of Iris. And the islands...? The islands are Rambling Islands, currently making their way to a big gathering where one island will be selected the winner in a 'seawig' contest (the islands pick up scraps of ocean debris [sunken ships, etc] to wear as decorative wigs). Oliver knows his parents must be trapped on one of the islands and is in a hurry to get to them. He passes through the Sarcastic Sea (where kelp make sarcastic comments) and sea monkeys (actual monkeys popped from seaweed) are sent to stop him.
As you can see, it is highly inventive and imaginative journey for Oliver and the readers.
The book is lavishly illustrated by Sarah McIntyre with whimsical drawings that perfectly capture the mood. The full and double page spreads are busy with eye-popping characters that will make adults chuckle and have children staring for a long time, absorbing all that is going on.
One aspect of the story bothered me, though. Oliver is clearly our hero and the one to whom our children readers will be drawn to, and yet Oliver does one not so nice thing. Oliver makes fun of another character. Oliver meets a young boy by the name of Stacey, who becomes Oliver's nemesis as he will do what he can to keep Oliver from getting to his parents. Oliver makes fun of Stacey for having a girl's name. More than once. And this made me twinge. Like it or not, belittling someone is bullying, and bullying is a hot topic in schools and education. It just doesn't seem right that the hero of the story should be allowed to tease someone else for their name. Ten year olds get teased enough for all sorts of things. We don't need to get the impression that this okay because our heroic character in a funny book does it.
There were times I found the book to be just a little dull. Some of the 'stops' on Oliver's trek to the seawig competition really slowed the pace of the story. The 'sea monkeys' was one of the biggest culprits here, though the stop in the Sarcastic Sea was another. The ideas here were clever, though both probably appeal more to the adults reading the story than to the children.
Looking for a good book? The story in Oliver and the Seawigs was fun and clever, but it's the art that will hold the young reader's interest....more
I am not particularly familiar with Avi, though I recognize his name as a pThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.5 of 5
I am not particularly familiar with Avi, though I recognize his name as a prominent author in the YA/Children's Book field. What I don't know is whether this is a departure from his other writings, or if this is in line with the bulk of his cannon.
The story is a dark fantasy. Some sort of dark, supernatural beings, Kurbs, living deep beneath Manhattan island have loaned the island to humans. Every year, the humans must find and return a particular power source to the Kurbs, otherwise the city will be frozen and destroyed. It's actually quite a fun story ... dark and mysterious with the occasional bit of whimsy and flights of fantasy (literally) thrown in. This could very easily have been written as a novel, rather than as a graphic novel, and quite possibly it would have come across just a little bit better.
The art, by Brian Floca, is a very mixed bag. The black and white, pen-and-ink panel drawings are well suited to the dark fantasy nature of the story ... most of the time. For the scenes with the blind man, Underton, and the Kurbs, and the occasional city-scape wide shot, the art is really beautiful and enhancing. But when the story is featuring the young boy Carlos, or the girl, Sarah, the artwork is weak. Very very often it appears to be a rough sketch, rather than a finished work of art. And Sarah and her mother look SO much alike (I get it... the resemblance is important!) that it was sometimes confusing who was in the panel.
The beginning of the story is packed with a great deal of set-up information and thus it is a fiction story, lavishly illustrated, and then becomes the graphic novel. This change in format was confusing at first.
Underton is trying to get ahold of the Kurbs' power source, which appears as a normal New York City subway token. But the token holds magical powers that offer some potential for personal power, which is why Underton wants it so badly. Underton displays a bit of supernatural power himself (which I don't recall being explained) and is a delightful (in a frightening way) 'bad guy.'
The whimsical fantasy is a treat (Underton is carried away by a large flock of pigeons and Carlos and Sarah chase after him in a motor-less glider), but it comes a bit out of nowhere. A couple more fantasy scenes like this might have helped the arc of this otherwise very dark and disturbing story.
I liked a lot of what was here, but it never felt fully realized. The basic story was interesting, but got caught up in aspects of the minor storylines that weren't as interesting. And the art never felt finished. It looks as if Avi and Brian Floca were trying to sell this story on 'spec'; they threw it together in draft style, with the occasional strong piece of art to show how it could look, hoping to get the go-ahead to make a finished version. Only this became the finished version.
Looking for a good book? City of Light, City of Dark, a re-issued graphic novel by Avi and Brian Floca, shows the beginnings of a good story as a graphic novel, but neither story, nor art, are fleshed out well. ...more
Comparison's to Harry Potter are going to bThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.0 of 5
**WARNING -- SPOILERS AHEAD!!**
Comparison's to Harry Potter are going to be inevitable as The Iron Trial deals with a young man going to a magician's school to learn how to use (and control) his magic abilities. There's also a prophecy about the return of a 'bad' magician and a group of students thrown together who become friends and rely on one another's talents. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
The similarities run throughout the book, but as I was reflecting on this it occurred to me that the primary reader that this book is targeted toward is typically young enough that s/he will not have remembered the first few Harry Potter books. They may have read them, but more likely, they will be familiar with the movies more than the books. And in the grand scheme of things, if the similarities are what draw the young reader, ultimately it is the quality of the story-telling that will hold the reader. Fortunately, the story moves along swiftly and the plotting will hold the reader's interest.
Callum Hunt is a young man about to take his entrance exams for a magic school. Callum's father is encouraging Call to fail the exams so that he will not be admitted. Call does everything he can to fail and becomes the laughingstock of the students and no one wants to be near him. But as the entrance list is announced, Call is not only in, but will be taught by the best of the teachers (which earns Call scorn by some of the students who wanted that position for themselves). At his father's encouragement, Call works to get expelled, but slowly, and certainly not unexpectedly, he comes to like where he is and the other students he is learning with. As the school year progresses, Call finds a letter from his father to his teacher, encouraging the teacher to 'bind' his magic so that Call will never be able to perform magic. Call also meets an older student who many believe may be the fulfillment of a prophecy. And the appearance of a dreaded evil sets a number of things in motion that promise a whole series of books.
It took me a little bit to get involved in the story. The premise of trying NOT to get in to the school didn't work well for me. I understood what it was trying to set up, but I think I understood that within the first few paragraphs, and so it dragged on. It seemed pretty clear that Callum would be in the school or there probably wouldn't be a book, and so to spend much time on this was counter-productive.
I very much liked the style in which the students (at least those in Call's group) were taught. This somehow felt more 'real' to me for magic, rather than sitting in classrooms the way our students do. Call's ability to strike out on his own and even steal a few things from his teacher's room never felt too believable, and the confrontation with the evil character(s) didn't quite build to the climax that it should have and was a little too easily resolved.
And yet ...
And yet I was completely in to the book. The characters, and the situations they were in, felt completely believable and likeable, and these two components will carry a book (and a series) a long way. I DO want to know what happens to Call, given some of the information he's received and the choices he has to make. I'd like to know what magic he'll learn in his second year, and how his friends will support (or turn on) him.
We know that I am not a fan of books that don't have endings ... books that are so clearly pieces of a larger story that you have to read more books in order to get the conclusion. We'll see some of that here, of course, since this is the first book in the Magisterium series. But the book does a good job of wrapping up the internal story while keeping the door open for more books with an overarching story. Yes, there are a few too many questions left unanswered to be a solid, stand-alone book.
In the meantime, I'm hooked and I want to read more.
Looking for a good book? Book 1 in the new Magisterium series, The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, begins a fantasy series you won't want to miss, and brings a new school of magic that you will want to attend. ...more
I was really excited to read this book ... enough so that I bumped it wayThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.75 of 5
I was really excited to read this book ... enough so that I bumped it way up on my reading schedule ... but am disappointed in the outcome. This book feels like a very one-note story that grew a bit tedious.
The story: Twelve-year-old Gabriel Finley's father has been missing for a number of years and Gabriel now lives with his aunt. On his twelfth birthday, Gabriel discovers that he has a magical bond with a raven, Paladin, and he has the ability to talk with ravens. It is said that his father also possessed unique abilities. With the help of his raven Paladin, his wacky neighbor Abby, and the live-in house-guest Pamela, Gabriel must travel to the secret underground city of Aviapolis to confront his evil uncle and rescue his father.
There's a very nice touch of Norse mythology here with Huginn and Muninn (Odin's ravens) spurring on the initial mystery that Gabriel becomes embroiled in. Unfortunately, other than establishing a premise, this is nothing more than a nod to the Norse mythology, rather than an integral part of the story.
There is very little character development and no character growth. The story climax comes with Gabriel making an important decision but it does not build to suggest that this is a turning point or moment of character growth. He is a twelve-year-old for whom the idea of special abilities and magic seem very second nature. Abby and Pamela are slightly more interesting than Gabriel. Abby is a fairly stereotypical 'wacky' character, comfortable with being different and more open to variety and the unusual. For her, this journey seems a natural progression. Pamela is slightly more interesting in that she comes from a home with a very domineering mother. For her the challenge is to step outside of the normal and do something unusual and unexpected. This is conflict, and conflict is what creates interesting stories. Unfortunately, her conflict is a minor portion of the story.
Author George Hagen seems to struggle with what sort of story this is to be. It appears that he would like to create a wonderful fantasy world, but is uncomfortable leaving behind what he knows. We test the magical waters with the fun, walking desk, and the first time Gabriel learns that he can communicate with the ravens, but then we even out and the 'magic' goes away.
I mentioned at the top that this felt like a one-note story, and that note is riddles. Being clever with asking and answering riddles is nothing new to readers. J.R.R. Tolkien does it in The Hobbit. But I felt like we were constantly being reminded how clever Hagen is with all his riddles (though at the same time, none of these riddles appeared to be new). I'd much rather read an exciting story than a story filled with clever riddles.
The book leaves a wide open door for a sequel. While I'm not particularly keen on this book, I can see the potential in the sequel. Deeper, stronger characters will go a long way in helping make the sequel a stronger book.
This book is written for the teen/pre-teen reader and I fear that most will struggle with maintaining an interest.
Looking for a good book? Gabriel Finley and the Raven's Riddle is a predictable, slow-moving fantasy that needs some stronger characters to make the story more interesting. ...more
How do you hook early readers who are raised in a culture of social media aThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5 of 5
How do you hook early readers who are raised in a culture of social media and at-your-finger-tips-videos? You hook them with books such as this, Jedi Academy: Return of the Padawan.
Roan is in his second year of Jedi training and young Roan deals with everything that the average middle schooler has to deal with ... bullies, fickle friendships, teachers who seem to have it in for you, and cafeteria food! It's kind of the same plot as so many other pre-teen readers books, but of course with one major difference: Roan is hoping to become a Jedi Knight and there are a plethora of Star Wars references tossed in to the mix.
One interesting aspect of this book was that it didn't always follow a straight narrative line. The storyline was interrupted (or amended) by Roan's journal entries, school newspaper pages, "Things Yoda Said This Week," twitter-type discussion posts, etc. It is all clearly designed to capture the feel of a modern student, and it does this quite well.
Although not specifically described as a graphic novel, that is precisely what this is. The main story is done in comic book format with multiple panels per page, and even the additional pieces have the same style of drawing to them. This is a graphic novel, and as such, the perfect vehicle for the target audience.
The art in this book is very much a comic book, or even a comic strip style, aimed at the elementary school readers. Very cartoonish, meaning friendly and un-threatening and whimsical at all times. It works very nicely.
What doesn't work (for me), is the lettering. Wow ... who ever talks about 'lettering' in a graphic novel? While I assume the decision to hand-letter, or hand-write, this book was done to keep the book feeling as though it were being written by a twelve-year-old, or to connect with the twelve-year-old reader, the book is actually difficult to read because of this. I am making the assumption that this was done by hand rather than choosing a hand-writing font, as I can't see consistency in the individual letters. I read this book in electronic form, on a 10" tablet screen, and reviewed it again on a large computer screen, both which are likely larger than the print format, and there were times I had difficulty making out the words. Making something physically difficult to read is never a good obstacle.
The characters were fun and the cast of students each seemed just different enough to provide some variety, but over-all most elementary school readers will be able to identify with the trials and tribulations of school, and anyone who's already taken the step to pick this up will love the Star Wars universe as presented here.
This is only year two and so clearly there is the opportunity for Roan and his friends to continue their education and for young readers to continue to have fun.
Looking for a good book? Elementary school readers will love to be able to identify with their 'peers' in the Star Wars universe as they begin their Jedi Knight training in this graphic novel. ...more
The Newbery Medalis the top prize in American literature for children. HavThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.25 of 5
The Newbery Medal is the top prize in American literature for children. Having read a great number of Newbery Medal and Newbery Honor books, I can tell you that there's a common ingredient among them all. That ingredient is 'education.' Every book I've read finds a way to teach the reader a little something in the course of the story. Jennifer L. Holm, a three-time Newbery Honor winner, keeps that tradition alive in her latest book, The Fourteenth Goldfish.
The story, briefly: Eleven year old Ellie is entering middle school. That alone can be a frightening change for a young girl. But Ellie gets even more change in her life when her grandfather comes to stay and has to go to school with her because he is now a teenaged boy. You read that correctly! Her grandfather, a scientist, has discovered the means to reverse the aging process and he is living proof. He's confident it will win him the Nobel Prize. But first he has to get his project and notes from his lab, which is difficult to do since he is no longer the aged scientist with the proper credentials.
Ellie takes after her grandfather, showing an interest in science and scientific discovery. With help from her grandfather, Ellie (and the reader) learns a little about Robert Oppenheimer, Jonas Salk, Isaac Newton, and Marie Curie. Ellie's mother is a theatre teacher/director and so we get the beautiful balance between the creative world and the world of facts and figures, with Ellie caught in between. In addition to learn a little about science and scientists through the course of the book, we also learn just a little bit about J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, as well as Thornton Wilder's play Our Town. Author Holm beautifully captures the essence of the this book in a poignant scene near the end using Our Town to question some the of the ethics of science. This scene is worth the price of the book.
Although basically science fiction (Ellie's grandfather is now a teenager), Holm has based this scientific discovery on current science! Ellie's grandfather (Melvin) makes the discovery of anti-aging through his studying of jellyfish. Coincidently, I am also reading the Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013, which features a 2012 New York Times Magazine article, "Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality?" by Nathaniel Rich which details the science behind Melvin's 'discovery.'
The book is beautifully written, easy to read, and most certainly a contender for the Newbery Medal. Ellie's fears of losing her best friend doesn't play as well as Holm intends. Ellie displays concern over losing her best friend because of their lack of spending time together, but because we never see them together in the first place, this one aspect is constantly told to us, rather than shown to us. And because Ellie is busy with her own story-line, we never get the sense that she's missing her friend ... again, we have to be told that she is. I can over-look this because Ellie's and Melvin's story is fascinating. I do have one large problem and one small problem with the book, however.
The small problem: some simple science. How is it that Melvin is a teenager? We don't really learn how the process of his experiment worked to set him at that age. Is he aging backward? Did he revert to an infant and age to his present persona? He has all the memories of his older self but is in the his own teenage body. How and why did he choose this age? It's a small concern, and one easy to overlook for the sake of a (science) fiction book.
My bigger concern is also, potentially arguable ... illegal entry and theft.
Because Melvin can't get in to the building where his research was being done -- he is chased off by security guards for being an intruding kid (and we later learn the real reason for his key-card not working) -- he enlists Ellie's help and then some of Ellie's friends to find a way in to the building to take the experiment. There are multiple attempts, and with each one I felt as though we were reading about Ellie's descent into crime. I couldn't shake that feeling and it definitely disrupted an otherwise really beautiful tale.
Looking for a good book? The Fourteenth Goldfish is a remarkable and beautiful story that offers up some insightful questions of ethics. This will be a strong contender for the Newbery Medal. ...more
The second book in the Disaster Strikes series is "Tornado Alley." The story tThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5/5
The second book in the Disaster Strikes series is "Tornado Alley." The story takes place on a large ranch in Oklahoma. Wyatt, his friends Joshua and Jackson, and Wyatt's cousin Alison are out fishing at a pond when a storm moves in quickly, and produces a monster tornado. They manage to get to a storm cellar, but Alison runs toward the barn (and toward the tornado) to get her dog. They don't have time to flee the barn, so they cling to the bottom of a tractor when the tornado is on top of them, tearing the barn apart and tossing them around. As Wyatt says to Joshua and Jackson later, "Thank goodness the barn didn't collapse or we actually would have been goners."
The kids upright some tossed-about four-wheelers and head out to look for Wyatt's father. Just as they find, driving toward them, they watch another tornado develop right between them. The new tornado is headed their way and, unable to outrun it, they lie flat in a ravine. They soon realize, though, that the tornado isn't headed their way after all, and as they stand to see what's happening, they see Wyatt's father's truck get tossed around by the tornado. Wyatt's father is injured, but alive, and Alison performs first aid -- something she learned in Girl Scouts.
Joshua and Jackson, with Wyatt's help, go looking for their parents; their home is nearly demolished. They rush in to an unsafe, damaged home. They first have to rescue Joshua who is hanging from a collapsed stair-case, and then the parents, who are trapped in their cellar from debris against their exits.
Like the first book in the series, we manage to get a number of potential concerns from a tornado, not just the tornado itself. Here it's mainly debris and unsafe structures due to the damage. But also, as in the first book, we have youngsters doing things that they shouldn't, putting themselves in harm's way. But these instances felt 'real' in the sense that they are what kids their age would likely have to deal with or how they might truly react.
The 'story' book-ending the disaster didn't really work. I think it was supposed to be about Wyatt not looking forward to entertaining his cousin Alison and his coming to accept her and actually look forward to visiting her in New York at the end of the book. But it was so casual, almost tossed off at the beginning, that it never had anything to develop. Fortunately, the real story is the dealing with the natural disaster.
The fact pages "More About Tornados" is interesting and probably just about right for an early reader.
Looking for a good book? This early-reader adventure will keep readers turning pages and teach a few things about what to watch out for when a tornado is imminent....more
One of the things that has always drawn me to books for younger readers is thThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.25/5
One of the things that has always drawn me to books for younger readers is the opportunity (or challenge) to teach, or share information, in an entertaining and exciting story. This new Disaster Strikes series is a little more overt in its educational aspect (emergency preparedness), but it is still a fiction story at its heart, with a disaster as the springboard for the story's action.
In Disaster Strikes #1: Earthquake Shock, author Marlane Kennedy sets her story in Los Angeles where Joey Flores is skate-boarding with his peers Fiona, Kevin, and Dillon. Joey and Dillon are not the best of friends, and when Joey's mother appears to drive Joey home, Dillon teases Joey. However, with Dillon's help, Joey manages to convince his mother that they will all be leaving the skate park soon and that he'll be safe walking home.
As the four friends start home, a major earthquake rumbles, dramatically moving the land where they are and crumbling an overpass that they are passing beneath. They get separated by the fallen concrete. Joey and Fiona are concerned that Kevin and Dillon may have been crushed. It isn't safe for them to walk over the concrete as it may shift in an aftershock, so they hurry around the overpass. They find Dillon, alive, but trapped beneath some concrete. Rescuing Dillon, and finding Kevin, they continue on, wondering if they will even have homes to return to. They find a little girl, wandering lost. When they find the girl's mother, the girl nearly runs from their arms and across a live, downed power wire, until Joey saves her. They make it to their homes, but due to concerns about ruptured gas lines, they spend a night in a nearby shelter.
A lot clearly happens in the brief eleven chapters of this early-reader book. But that's okay. The story moves along quickly and packs in quite a bit. However, because of this, the troubled relationship between Joey and Dillon didn't play out very well and was mostly unnecessary.
Because of the didactic nature of the book, I have concerns over one issue. When Joey and Fiona find Dillon with his leg trapped under some rubble, Joey climbs in, head first, under the rubbleto see how Dillon is trapped. He squirms around, uses a knife to cut Dillon's pant leg to free him. If Fiona and Dillon hadn't then both pulled one of Joey's legs, he would have then been crushed as the rubble shifted. But just moments earlier, Joey himself notes that the rubble could shift and they should stay clear of it. Yet he only pauses briefly to weigh the concerns of climbing completely under. The narrator notes: "But that was a risk Joey had to take." Really? I don't think so. I think I would have to have some serious conversations with my children about this. Risking one's life for someone else's legs doesn't seem a fair trade-off. Dillon's legs may have been crushed if the rubble shifted, but he wouldn't have been killed. I think it would have served everyone much better to seek an adult's help, but to stay with Dillon in the process.
Otherwise, the dangers to be on the look-out for are well described both in the fiction portion of the book, as well as in a few pages of earthquake facts. Those who don't live in earthquake areas are sure to learn something about earthquakes and their dangers, and those who do live in high-earthquake areas will likely be reminded of a few things.
But don't go crawling under concrete rubble!
Looking for a good book? This early-reader adventure will entertain and teach a few things about what to watch out for when in an earthquake....more
Bullying in schools is a hot-button topic these days so it is not surprising thaThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 3.5
Bullying in schools is a hot-button topic these days so it is not surprising that we will see a number of books targeting the bullying topic. EKHO: Evil Kid Hunting Organization, is one of the latest, using a spy genre style to entice the younger readers.
The story is relatively simple...a group of fourth graders, at the start of the school year think that perhaps they'll have an easier time as most of the bullies have moved on to the middle school. Unfortunately, there are still two bullies in the school who do a masterful job of picking on the nerds and geeks and smaller kids in school. Elvis is a smart young man, and with his close friends, Levi, Jackson, and Jordy, they form EKHO ... Evil Kid Hunting Organization ... a group dedicated to protecting the picked-upon and to find ways to stop the bullying. They throw themselves completely into this organization, setting up a website, issuing missions, and declaring levels of membership. It doesn't take long for most of the school to want to become members. A new girl moves in to the school but allies herself with the bullies; a new teacher in the school is acting strange; the bullies fight back by hacking EKHO's website and planning a major event. EKHO needs to infiltrate the bullies and their only hope is a girl whom Elvis has a crush on. Will she betray Elvis and EKHO?
We adults tell our children to stand up to bullying, but we forget what it's like to look at someone who is bigger, stronger, and angry, because as adults that doesn't happen to us too often. To our children, it tends to happen every day. EKHO works on the premise that there is strength in numbers, or at least that there is moral support behind the individual who stands up to the bullying. Our hero Elvis comes across as a young man who most likely would have stood up against the bullies even without the support of his friends and his club, which makes him the perfect leader for the group.
I don't know any youngster who doesn't imagine themself as a spy at some time, and for this reason, the idea that these elementary students become spies, complete with secret missions, in order to put a stop to bullying, or at least stand up for one another, is a sure-fire winner. What fifth grader wouldn't want to be a member of an EKHO-like organization? The fact that this story is based on true events (thanks, Max!) is certainly something to be proud of and to hopefully emulate.
My ARC of this book was an early edition which included a fair amount of cursing or language that seemed ill-suited for the reading level. For any of us with children in school, we know that the language isn't un-realistic, but as so much of the book promotes behavior that is something to live up to or emulate, the foul language was a deterrent. I've contacted the publisher (and the author) and was told that the publisher had concerns about the language as well and that it has been removed in the final published version. I did follow-up with a specific list of questionable words (not everything I objected to is a 'curse' word) but the list specifically was not addressed. It is possible that words such as 'douche' and 'dick' are still there as adjectives to describe other characters, though I hope, for the sake of book sales, that other terms have been found.
The story has a positive slant, addresses important issues to our youth, and promotes creativity and the concern of helping others. How can you not like or appreciate any of that?
Looking for a good book? EHKO is a wonderful book for middle grade readers looking for support and to be empowered to do something about school bullying....more
Children's books are often didactic; teaching lessons in (hopefully) creative anThis review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 2.5
Children's books are often didactic; teaching lessons in (hopefully) creative and entertaining ways. I can recall, just off the top of my head, books about using the potty, or Everyone Poops, and even recently I reviewed The Kissing Hand, in which a youngster learns it is okay to leave the nest. This teaching-lesson children's book, Is a Worry Worrying You?, by authors Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz, with illustrations by Marie LeTourneau, takes on a challenge by anthropomorphizing a 'feeling.'
The book starts right out and asks the question, "What is a worry, anyway?"
The answer comes on the next pages with, "A worry is a thought that stops you from having fun, from feeling good, from being happy."
Excellent! That seems an appropriate, succinct definition for a children's book. In the next page it tells a little more ... that you needn't bother looking for a worry, because it is invisible. And if the book built more on this premise I'd be much more, solidly behind the book, but this is where it takes off on a tangent, in my opinion.
First, let's recognize that while the book tells the children that a worry is invisible, we are clearly seeing a tangible, artists representation of a Worry. A dark, fearsome blue creature that looks as though it might have been an understudy for Where the Wild Things Are. If a worry is invisible, why are we seeing it?
The story goes on to identify different types of worry, which, when you think about it, is hard to do. How would you describe 'worry' to a child? I'm not sure that I could define worry, but I'm also not sure that the definitions within are 'worry' as much as they are 'fear.' If a monster moves in under your bed and you're afraid to go to bed at night...is that a worry, or is that fear? A friend gets hurt and comes to you for help and you don't know what to do. Is that worry, or is that a feeling of helplessness?
For a child who might be prone to anxiety/worry, it seems that this book might actually hurt, rather than be helpful. The drawings can be a bit dark, and the suggested 'worries' are equal parts humorous and fearsome (okay...it's absurd to think that a rhinoceros might be walking down the street toward me...but if it did ... I'd be more than just worried)!
I like (mostly) the six pages near the end that offer suggestions on how to deal with a worry. Offering suggestions of other things to do to take the child's mind off the concern, or simply facing the situation or talking about it with someone. These seem like effective means of dealing with a child's worry. Though I wasn't too keen on seeing children nailing a board across a doorway in a house, sealing the not-so-invisible Worry in a separate room. But I very much like that the authors suggest that we face the worries (even though it also suggests to hide a worry away).
The art is appropriately children's-book-cartoonish, although a little on the dark side. I am also not sure why we have to see a 'Worry' as something tangible, and a bit frightening, at that.
It's an admirable challenge... to write a children's picture book about 'worry.' I don't know what other options are out there. I can imagine myself picking this up and reading it to my children, but perhaps only once, as I'm not convinced it would help.
Looking for a good book? If you are dealing with a child with anxiety or worry issues, this might help, but it's darkness (in story and art) may prove less than comforting....more
This is it! This is the next generation of children's book classics.
I am new to the world of Claude and his friend Sir Bobblysock (Oh how I love that name and character!), and I absolutely adored this book!
From the humorously original silliness (he wears suntan lotion and whipped cream at the beach) to the many adventures Claude and Sir Bobblysock are involved in (a sandcastle building contest; rescuing a swimmer from a shark; and an adventure with pirates), this book moves along nicely, entertains on every page, and is simply down-right fun.
We are charmed right from the start, when we learn that: "Claude lives in his house with two people who are too tall to fit on this page. They are called Mr. and Mrs. Shinyshoes..." and even the appearance of a shark and pirates, the book stays whimsical.
The art is perfectly cartoonish with a two-color art format that harkens back to the classics of Virginia Lee Burton (for its simple coloring, not its style).
Children will fall in love with Claude, and the only down side to that is that there will become a Claude marketing gimmick, inundating the toy shelves with Claude merchandise (this will be good for Alex T. Smith, but likely glut the market). Yes...this is that good that I'm surprised there isn't a television series already in the works.
The story and art are perfectly adapted for children, but there is just enough sprinkling of humor that the adults will pick up on to keep it interesting for those parents who enjoy reading aloud to their children.
I'm sad I don't have children of the appropriate age for this book, but I have plenty of nieces and nephews, and some day there will be grandchildren, who I can promise will know of Claude and Sir Bobblysock.
Looking for a good book? Claude at the Beach is currently my pick for children's book of the year. It's a guaranteed classic (along the lines of Curious George) that will entertain and teach children for generations to come....more
I just love this sort of children's picture book. It is history, a topic that isn't easily found, and the art is bold and eye-catching.
In twenty-fourI just love this sort of children's picture book. It is history, a topic that isn't easily found, and the art is bold and eye-catching.
In twenty-four pages, or less, author Vanita Oelschlager manages to encapsulate the creation and conditions of the Pullman Porter ... the valet/servant who worked on the sleeper (Pullman) train cars. She records it without romanticizing it and without dwelling on the short-comings of such a job. It is a remarkable bit of writing.
The art, by Mike Blanc, is striking and bold, though just a little uneven. There are mostly some fabulous, knockout art pages (such as almost any of the pages within a Pullman car, of the Porter carrying bags or shining shoes), and there are pages that come across as very flat (such as the porter tossing something out the window or the distant look at the train).
There were two small issues I had with this beautiful book.
1) In the narration, it says that "trains were carrying Americans from Boston and New York west to Chicago and St. Louis, and south to Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle." I've read this passage four, maybe five times to see what I'm reading incorrectly. South? To Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle? Did these trains go up in to Canada and come down?
2) There was one page of art with men lined up to apply for a Pullman Porter job, and every single man in line is standing in the same way, with a hand in the pocket and the shirt sleeve rolled up, almost to the elbow. Even the first time I read through this, I just felt something was 'wrong.' It lacked a realistic sense of action (even if that action was 'waiting'). In every other panel of art, there was an accomplished sense of action (even the page of the sleeping Porter!).
These two details aside, this is the sort of book I'd be delighted to have on my bookshelf and would pull out to read with some frequency when my children were younger. I highly recommend this book.
Looking for a good book? The Pullman Porter is a beautiful and wonderfully concise, but informative, picture book about a uniquely American job. Libraries, schools, and anyone who likes having quality picture books on their shelves should have this....more
Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse is a gorgeously illustrated picture book.This review originally published in Looking For a Good Book. Rated 4.75
Lindbergh: The Tale of a Flying Mouse is a gorgeously illustrated picture book. The artwork is so beautiful that I found that I sometimes just get lost, staring at the pictures.
The story centers around a French mouse who one day discovered that he was all alone. Al the other mice had abandoned him or had been exterminated. The mouse wanted to live in the safety of others of its kind, so he planned to leave France, but getting away proved to be difficult. Cats patrolled the docks and owls hunted from the skies. Seeing a bat, the mouse decided that it, too, should be able to fly and goes about piecing together wings, then a motor, in order to be able to navigate to America.
It is a very cute story, and one sure to keep children listening (when they're not looking at the beautiful pictures).
One thing that absolutely amazed me is the ability of author/artist Torben Kuhlmann to create a mouse that was engaged in human-like activities (scavenging and building an airplane) and yet constantly looking like an average, ordinary mouse. Other than the actions taken, this mouse was not anthropomorphized or made like some sort of mouse/human hybrid. It was any cellar mouse that happened to have a sprocket or gear attached to its back, or happened to be wearing aviators goggles. I know this will sound strange, but you must see it for yourself. Just tremendous!
In addition to the art and simple, but engaging story, Kuhlmann manages to infuse a little history, hinting that Charles Lindbergh saw the tale of the flying mouse and it was that which prompted him to fly his Spirit of St. Louis.
The math and history almost work.... the book suggests that the mouse trap was a new invention. A contraption that nearly wiped out the mouse population of France. The book also suggests it gave a young Charles Lindbergh his idea to fly across the ocean. The mouse trap was invented (patented, as pictured) in 1894. Lindbergh flew across the ocean in 1927. This would put Lindbergh in his late 30's (if he was looking at a current poster about the mouse), which of course isn't quite right.
It's a quibble of a point, I know, but I also know that if I were reading this to my children, that's the first question they would ask me, "Was the mouse trap really invented when Lindbergh was born?"
All in all, this is a really stunning book (I loved the page with the owls looking at the newspaper!). It will be treasured by reader and listener alike.
Looking for a good book? This is a fantastic picture book that will appeal to the adults who read it aloud, and the children who listen and look. It is a must have!...more