That was fun! I'd much rather list books I enjoyed last year than dwell on how depressed I am by this year's books. Honestly, Maybe a Fox isn't a bad book. Raymie and Pax aren't bad books either. But they're all so depressing. (Though not one of them actually made me cry, and I'm a crier.)
So here we go. This is a book about grieving. There are not one, not two, not three, but four deaths in this story. ((view spoiler)[I'm counting Sylvie's and Senna's deaths separately. I can't believe that poor girl had to die twice. (hide spoiler)])
There's a unique kind of spiritualism running through this book. You can call it mythic. You can call is animism. You can call it fantasy. It's hard to pin down and I suppose that's what makes it interesting. Jules and Sylvie often like to guess at what happens when you die. Maybe you turn into a star. Maybe you disappear. Maybe you fly to another planet. I don't think they ever say, "Maybe you go to heaven," or "Maybe you turn into a ghost," like one would expect. The clue to what actually happens in this book is right there in the title.
This is undoubtedly beautifully written, especially if you're into Appelt's signature style of simple, poetic repetitive phrasing. It did leave some loose ends dangling ((view spoiler)[they never find Sylvie's body, and the Zeke/catamount story fades away without resolution (hide spoiler)]) but the main plot ties up in a mostly satisfying way. I think this will be appealing to fans of The Underneath but I doubt I'll be recommending it unless a kid comes into the library and says, "Do you have any good books for morbid animal lovers?"
I listened to the audiobook, which I thought was very well done as read by Allison McGhee. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Jeez, here I go again, not really digging another big release of 2016 by an author I love (see my review of Raymie Nightingale). What is up? I don't kJeez, here I go again, not really digging another big release of 2016 by an author I love (see my review of Raymie Nightingale). What is up? I don't know. Maybe I'm just not the right reader for such major bummer, sadsadsadness right now.
My biggest issue with this book is that the setting is completely ambiguous and I struggled with it throughout the book. When and where does it take place? In what world is there a little league game taking place a few miles from a war zone?
It's also become a really tired cliche for a sad kid to randomly meet a magical friend who fixes them (and, of course, the kid fixes the friend, too). I could go a good ten years without reading another story where that is a major plot line. Peter and Vola are both characters with a lot of backstory, but I still didn't feel like they had real depth. They both came off as flat portrayals of sadness and guilt personified.
I don't mean to vent about this book, because it did have some good parts (e.g. Pax's POV), but as I sit to write this review I'm just frustrated that both Pennypacker and DiCamillo have disappointed me so far this year. Ladies, I love you, but you're bringing me down. ...more
**spoiler alert** I worried that my book club kids wouldn't like this one, but they surprised me. Not only did they like it, but I think they really g**spoiler alert** I worried that my book club kids wouldn't like this one, but they surprised me. Not only did they like it, but I think they really got it. We talked about the boy's anger and loneliness, the similarities between Sounder and the father, and what it's like to love and lose a pet. I tried to explain what sharecropping was, but the kids were far more interested in the emotional aspects of the book than the historical context. The only negative comments were about the ending (dismay over Sounder's ultimate demise) and about the characters not having names (they would've preferred names).
Personally, this book was tough for me. So gut wrenching. The part where the boy is getting all scraped up crawling under his house looking for a dog he thinks is dead just killed me. The part where the jailer destroys the carefully prepared cake killed me. The part where the father comes home terribly wounded killed me. Nearly everything the mother said, with its undertone of numbness, killed me. ...more
First of all, the illustrations are SUPER John Klassen-y. The color palette is so similar to Sam and Dave Dig a Hole that these books could be siblingFirst of all, the illustrations are SUPER John Klassen-y. The color palette is so similar to Sam and Dave Dig a Hole that these books could be siblings.
This book has lots and lots of onomatopoeia birdsong, which I think would make it fun read-aloud if you're up for that kind of thing. It's relatively rare to find a good non-fiction picture book for story time, but this would work for preschoolers....more
I think this will be a popular book among middle-grade readers who love dog stories and heart-wrenchers. Rose is a memorable narrator who is easy to rI think this will be a popular book among middle-grade readers who love dog stories and heart-wrenchers. Rose is a memorable narrator who is easy to root for, even while her obsession with homonyms is potentially tiresome for readers (as it is for the people around her in the world of the book). I've criticized similar books for being too bummer-y and this one comes pretty close to my personal limit for how many bummers I can take in one story. However, I think Rose's self-referential narrative style (she'll say stuff like, "I'll talk about that more in the next chapter") adds a distinct flavor that makes this more readable. It's like Rose is trying to help you get through her story--like she knows she's a little annoying and her situation is depressing but she wants to encourage you to keep reading. The ending was somewhat abrupt and convenient (view spoiler)[Rose's borderline abusive father up and decides in the middle of the night to leave Rose in the care of her kind and understanding uncle. It makes sense and it doesn't--a really interesting point for young readers to mull over (hide spoiler)], but also pretty satisfying. And, I have to say, I felt a strong urge to hug my own dog tight after reading this book. ...more
Boy, did this tickle my funny bone for the first few pages. A chicken with arms! The premise is both silly and serious, though, because this is a bookBoy, did this tickle my funny bone for the first few pages. A chicken with arms! The premise is both silly and serious, though, because this is a book with a message: It's can be cool to be different. I was really liking it, but then the ending seemed abrupt to me and left me feeling like there wasn't much a story (just a funny premise and good intentions). Also, as another reviewer pointed out, Henny brushes her teeth when chickens don't have teeth. Obviously, this book isn't realistic, but it's inconsistent to make a big deal about Henny having arms and not also crow about her having teeth, right? ...more
Amazing illustrations! Trying to guess which animal at the zoo scares the youngest daughter, a super-creative family goes through the whole alphabet rAmazing illustrations! Trying to guess which animal at the zoo scares the youngest daughter, a super-creative family goes through the whole alphabet re-creating the animals with props and costumes from household items. What fun! ...more
This is a book to pore over! Big, detailed illustrations show a father bear following his cub through scenes bucolic and urban, until they reach an opThis is a book to pore over! Big, detailed illustrations show a father bear following his cub through scenes bucolic and urban, until they reach an opera house and the book comes to a charming conclusion. An amazingly good import from France. ...more
The first part of this book draws parallels between the history of the Puerto Rican parrot the history of Puerto Rico itself. About halfway through thThe first part of this book draws parallels between the history of the Puerto Rican parrot the history of Puerto Rico itself. About halfway through the book, when the parrots become truly endangered, the focus shifts away from Peurto Rican history and concentrates on efforts to rehabilitate the parrot population.
Interesting and well-written, but not a stunner in my eyes. In terms of nonfiction books for kids about endangered species, I greatly prefer last year's Moonbird by Phillip Hoose, which was for older readers and more in-depth. I also really love Can We Save the Tiger by Martin Jenkins. And of course there is the fantastic Kakapo Rescue by Sy Montgomery.
I don't want to be overly critical of a perfectly good book, but I do think this suffers from an in-between problem. The illustrations are beautiful and evocative, but give off a "little kid" vibe, which doesn't match the more sophisticated vocabulary used in the book. So it's somewhere in between a primary and intermediate audience. It's too long for a group read-aloud and I don't think it quite rises to the level of a great dramatic story. Yet it's not written in a way that lends itself to fact finding for reports, except the afterword which has photographs and a timeline. So it's in between narrative nonfiction and traditional informational nonfiction.
But maybe this in-betweeness is a good thing on some level. It might reach a wider audience and have broader appeal because it isn't so easily categorized. I certainly hope to see more nonfiction of this caliber for young readers! ...more
The rhymes in this are delectable and the illustrations are so cute! I love it, I love it! And, as Karen pointed out, it may be the best possible readThe rhymes in this are delectable and the illustrations are so cute! I love it, I love it! And, as Karen pointed out, it may be the best possible read aloud choice when you get to the letter X with preschool story time. ...more
This is a tall tale about a swamp in Texas guarded by a cryptid (look it up, sports fans) called the Sugar Man. As the title suggests, the swamp is loThis is a tall tale about a swamp in Texas guarded by a cryptid (look it up, sports fans) called the Sugar Man. As the title suggests, the swamp is looked after by scouts. These scouts are named J'miah and Bingo and they're young raccoons.
Also inhabiting the swamp is a young boy named Chap. Chap's just lost his beloved grandpa and to make matter worse, some greedy folks are trying to shut down his family's pie shop and pave over the swamp so they can build an alligator wrestling arena. (Oh, the pies! Boy did this book make me hungry. I don't even really know what fried sugar pie is, but I want one. I suppose I'd have to go to Texas to get that special canebrake sugar they're made from.)
No one can question Appelt's ability to turn a phrase. My issue with her previous books was that her writing can be too repetitive and a little too proud of itself. Often I felt the words and sentences were beautiful, but didn't serve the story or young readers. Well, I can't really complain about this book. It was fun! It had some of the same appeal for me that last year's Three Times Lucky did. Both are a little magical and full of southern charm.
I listened to the audio book, which was narrated by Lyle Lovett. He was a bit stiff in the beginning, but then warmed up to the narrator's voice and was really kicking booty by the end. ...more
A totally serviceable story about unlikely friends, the carefree bird and the worrywart squirrel, trying to escape the clutches of an evil cat who wanA totally serviceable story about unlikely friends, the carefree bird and the worrywart squirrel, trying to escape the clutches of an evil cat who wants to eat them. It's a nice, bright graphic novel that will be an easy sell to most fans of the genre. ...more
A simple, short story about a rabbit who enjoys "unrabbity" things like painting and music. When this special rabbit disappears, the other rabbits areA simple, short story about a rabbit who enjoys "unrabbity" things like painting and music. When this special rabbit disappears, the other rabbits are sad, but they find that he has left them paints and instruments and they take up unrabbity hobbies themselves.
The art explodes off the page with energy and joy. I'm sure kids will wonder what happened to the extraordinary rabbit. Did he die or just go away? This ambiguity aside, the story proffers a hopeful message to those who have experienced the loss of someone special. ...more
I remember when Alex and Me came out in 2008. The story of the smartest bird in the world was bound to be rewritten for children and I think StephanieI remember when Alex and Me came out in 2008. The story of the smartest bird in the world was bound to be rewritten for children and I think Stephanie Spinner has done a good job of it, especially for a 2nd to 5th grade audience and reluctant readers. With lots of colorful illustrations and a short, clear narrative, this story has major appeal for animal lovers and kids who only want TRUE stories. It might be interesting to compare this to The One and Only Ivan in terms of how animal intelligence is portrayed. Both stories really make you fall in love with the main animal character.
I took some issue with the author attributing motivations to Alex that weren't necessarily factual. For example, the author says Alex would answer incorrectly to "tease" the trainers or to "confuse" a younger bird also being trained in the lab. But I think these assertions are balanced in part by including this statement: "There were still people who doubted that Alex understood what he was saying, but Irene was sure that he did."
The sad ending and the tribute to the difference Alex made in the treatment of other African grey parrots also call to mind Ivan the gorilla. Two great books about two memorable animals!...more
Phillip Hoose is a mighty fine writer. I have almost zero interest in birds and migratory patterns (I get bored just typing "migratory patterns"), butPhillip Hoose is a mighty fine writer. I have almost zero interest in birds and migratory patterns (I get bored just typing "migratory patterns"), but his excellent storytelling pulled me into this book! Hoose charts the annual journey all rufa red knots take, and it's really astounding. Most go all the way from Tierra del Fuego (the very bottom of South America) all the way to the Canadian Arctic. At the same time, the story is made more interesting by Hoose's focus on one particular red knot: B95 AKA the Moonbird. B95 is the oldest red knot known to scientists and has flown the equivalent of the distance to the moon and back. Crazy!
The other characters populating this book are the humans involved in the red knot story. Mostly they're scientists and bird enthusiasts, but Hoose also profiles a fisherman whose job is made more difficult by conservationists' efforts in Delaware.
Lots of maps and photographs help make this a really appealing non-fiction pick for readers, especially those in 5th to 8th grade. There's a section in the back about how kids can get involved in the effort to help rebuild the struggling red knot population.
And, finally, when Hoose thanks his wife as the end of the book, he writes, "It is a joy to migrate through life with her." :) ...more
I have so many thoughts about this classic. I'd never read it before, then the audiobook came across my desk and I decided it was time. As I started lI have so many thoughts about this classic. I'd never read it before, then the audiobook came across my desk and I decided it was time. As I started listening, my mind completely wandered from the story and I had to start over. Again and again this kept happening (there's not a lot of action in the beginning to hold one's attention). I had to really concentrate to understand what was happening and when I did...
Is this a book about a bunch of gay men?
Mole, Water Rat, Toad and Badger are all animals with the characteristics and habits of humans--to be specific, well-to-do human males from the year 1908. They picnic, go boating, have luncheons, smoke and drink coffee. They wear waistcoats and own estates. They're all adults--they live on their own and make their own livings. None of them has a wife or children or any immediate family. They're fiercely loyal to each other and seem to be like a clique.
Seriously, if I didn't know that this was supposed to be a children's book, I'd swear Mole and Ratty were between-the-lines lovers, the bedrock couple of the group. Badger is the older, wiser, grumpier member, and Mr. Toad is obviously the wild and crazy kid that everyone loves but also can't stand.
So that's my reading of this book. It's basically Queer as Folk in a Downton Abbey setting. Only there's no sex because, duh, it's a children's book. ...more
Gorgeous illustrations add depth to a simple story about a mother elephant who must leave her baby for a short time. The writing is just on the wrongGorgeous illustrations add depth to a simple story about a mother elephant who must leave her baby for a short time. The writing is just on the wrong side of precious for my taste, but I have to admit it's a beautiful book. ...more
Truly gorgeous drawings of animals + conversational, emotional, fact-filled text = one powerful book about endangered species.
I particularly loved hoTruly gorgeous drawings of animals + conversational, emotional, fact-filled text = one powerful book about endangered species.
I particularly loved how reasonable, yet persuasive the writing was. For example, the closing paragraph:
"When it comes to looking after all the species that are already endangered, there's such a lot to do that sometimes it might all seem to be too much, especially when there are so many other important things to worry about. But if we stop trying, the chances are that pretty soon we'll end up with a world where there are no tigers or elephants, or sawfishes or whooping cranes, or albatrosses or ground iguanas. And I think that would be a shame, don't you?"...more
The premise for this is awesome: racing killer horses on the beach. I mean, what's not exciting about that? The teaser line was something like, "It isThe premise for this is awesome: racing killer horses on the beach. I mean, what's not exciting about that? The teaser line was something like, "It is the first of November. So today someone will die." OMG, I was thinking, HUNGER GAMES READ ALIKE. I think I set my sights a little too high, though. Poor Maggie Steifvater could not have lived up to how much I hyped this in my head. It was a pretty good story, but I thought it was a little boring in parts and most of the actual Scorpio Race action was packed into the very end.
If you are a horse lover, you might love this and it might make you sick. All but a few of the horses featured in the story are not your standard real-life kind, but an Irish fantasy water horse species called cappal uisce (or something like that). These horses are freaking scary. First of all, they're insane carnivores. Second of all, they stink and scream like bloody murderers. Kind of cool, but not if you're into like Misty of Chincoteague.
The story is told by both the girl hero, Puck/Kate, and the boy hero, Sean Kendrick. I didn't especially like either one of them, but I was super drawn into the love story and I couldn't wait to get to the actual race at the end.
I think the best thing I can say about this book, and this is high praise, is that it was unpredictable. There were many moments when it could have gone a cliched route, but it really kept me guessing. I enjoyed reading it a lot, but I skimmed a lot of sections, too. If it hadn't been for my complete and utter disbelief of one very important plot point (view spoiler)[How does Kate's regular horse become as fast as a water horse in the span of a few days of training? I was completely dumbfounded when she won on speed. It made no sense. It was set up very clearly in the beginning that the water horses would have to be out of control for her to win on Dove, right? (hide spoiler)], I might have given it four stars. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more