On foggy days, 11-year-old Greta is able to travel back in time and visit the long-lost villageThis review also appears on my blog, Read-at-Home Mom.
On foggy days, 11-year-old Greta is able to travel back in time and visit the long-lost village of Blue Cove. There she meets Mrs. Morrill and her daughter, Retha, who become Greta's close friends. The visits continue for some months, giving Greta special glimpses into a past she has heard stories about her whole life. All the while, though, Greta's twelfth birthday approaches. On this day, everyone seems to know, Greta will grow too old to experience the fog magic.
Fog Magic is a coming-of-age story, which focuses on the beauty of imagination during childhood and the loss of wonder and innocence that comes with age and maturity. Though the book was originally published in the 1940s, it is not necessarily confined to that time period. Rather, the universality of the knowledge that all children grow up makes it a timeless read.
Setting plays a major role in this book, and Sauer does a beautiful job of bringing the real world and the world of Blue Cove perfectly to life. She also manages to explain the magic of the fog - its limitations and its function - in subtle cues without spelling it out step by step. This approach contributes to the haunting, ethereal mood of the entire book, and helps the magic maintain its air of mystery.
Like The Light at Tern Rock, Fog Magic is a short novel with very precise, evocative writing. The moral is less heavy-handed in Fog Magic, but it still conveys a valuable lesson to which young readers in every generation can relate. The age of this book makes it somewhat difficult to find, and more difficult yet to sell to kids, but for those readers who like quiet, complex reads, this will be a special find. Other Newbery honor books that are similar to this one include Bright Island by Mabel Robinson (because of the setting) and The Fledgling by Jane Langton (because of the magic)....more
Michael is worried about his newborn baby sister, who has some health problems. Then he discoverThis review also appears on my blog, Read-at-Home Mom.
Michael is worried about his newborn baby sister, who has some health problems. Then he discovers Skellig - a man? a bird? - living in the old shed behind his house. He confides in Mina, a neighbor girl who is homeschooled, and together they work to uncover the mystery of who or what Skellig may be.
Skellig made my reading list for this project because I have read some David Almond, and wanted to make sure I read his most famous work. Like his other books, this one is infused with a creepy sense of foreboding, which no one can create quite like Almond. I always find it necessary to read his books quickly and reach the resolution within a couple of hours because I can't stand that unnerving feeling that something terrible is about to happen. In this book, especially, I spent a lot of time worrying about the baby - probably because I have a baby myself - and there was no way I could have gone to bed without finishing the book and knowing the outcome.
As I read this book, I also kept thinking to myself that Almond essentially writes the same story over and over again. Themes of life and death, ill and endangered babies, birds, and children meddling in supernatural situations that are bigger than they realize all occur in Raven Summer and Clay, which are the other two I have read. I think Skellig handles these themes best of the three books, but it makes me wonder what has happened in Almond's personal life to cause his preoccupation with these elements, and why he felt it was necessary to write the same type of story more than once.
That said, I recognize why this book is a Carnegie Medal winner and a Printz honor book. The writing is impeccable, if unsettling, and the story is unique among fantasy novels because it so thoroughly blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. The religious elements are also a plus for me, and I like that these are presented organically, as the story reveals the truth about Skellig, and not as a didactic statement from the author.
All in all, this is a worthwhile read. We already owned a copy before this reading, based on my husband's enjoyment of it, and I will happily share it with my children when they are of middle school age....more
I'm not exactly sure when I first discovered Gordon Korman, but sometime between 5th grade and the end of 8th grade I read nearly all of his books. II'm not exactly sure when I first discovered Gordon Korman, but sometime between 5th grade and the end of 8th grade I read nearly all of his books. I originally thought I would re-read Losing Joe's Place this summer, but then I came across Toilet Paper Tigers at my library, and I remembered instantly that it was one of my favorites. I didn't remember much about it, except that it was about a baseball team named for a toilet paper company, but I knew that I associated it with the strong sense of satisfaction my favorite books always gave me as a kid. I figured I’d try it again as an adult and see if I could remember what made it so magical way back when.
Indeed, the Toilet Paper Tigers are a baseball team, and their coach is a kind but clueless scientist named Professor Pendergast. Because Coach Pendergast doesn't know a baseball from a football, he allows his granddaughter, Kristy, to run the team. While Kristy is sweet as pie to her grandfather, she is not as nice to the boys on the team. Rather, to improve their game play, she takes on each member of the team, one position at a time, and solves whatever problem is standing between that player and baseball victory, whether it's a need to lose weight, too many jobs, or a lack of interest in baseball.
There is a purity to Gordon Korman’s writing that I have always appreciated. His stories are funny, wholesome, and entertaining without necessarily trying to save the world, draw attention to issues, or even to teach us anything in particular. This book, told in a series of episodes, is completely entertaining without a hint of tween drama anywhere in sight. There are no complicated romantic triangles, or nasty spats among cliques. There is some blackmail (Kristy takes a picture of the team in their underwear in an effort to scare them into doing her bidding), and some jealousy (Corey is so angry when he doesn’t get to pitch), but the tone is always light and fun, and the ending is not just satisfying, but surprisingly happy. This is not an angsty middle school book; it’s just good clean kid-friendly fun.
Though the The Toilet Paper Tigers is now 20 years old, it holds up quite well for contemporary audiences. Kristy’s use of slang is a bit strange, but I think it is intended to be, so it doesn’t matter that some of her words are now dated. There is one scene where a cell phone would have been hugely helpful, but considering how absent-minded the professor is, even that can be explained away without complaining that the book is old-fashioned. I enjoy dramatic middle school stories, but there was something refreshing and calming about this piece of escapist sports fiction that made me nostalgic for my own late elementary years - a feat that can be difficult to accomplish, given my own angsty memories.
Recommend The Toilet Paper Tigers to readers who have liked About the B’nai Bagels by E.L. Konigsburg and any books by Fred Bowen or Rich Wallace....more
I have read several Madeleine L’Engle novels as an adult, but I’ve never made my way through theThis review also appears on my blog, Read-at-Home Mom.
I have read several Madeleine L’Engle novels as an adult, but I’ve never made my way through the entirety of any of her series. I’ve decided that the best way to remedy this situation is to read the interconnected Murray-O’Keefe and Austin novels in the order in which they were published. This means, when I do finally finish this task, I will have read Meet the Austins, A Wrinkle In Time, The Moon By Night, The Arm of the Starfish, The Young Unicorns, A Wind in the Door, Dragons in the Waters, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, A Ring of Endless Light, A House Like a Lotus, Many Waters, An Acceptable Time, and Troubling a Star. After reading Meet the Austins, I’m really looking forward to the rest.
While I associate L’Engle with science fiction, this first novel about the Austins is completely realistic. The lives of the four Austin kids - John, Vicky, Suzy, and Rob - are upset when their uncle and his co-pilot are killed in a crash, and the co-pilot’s daughter, Maggy, comes to live with the Austins. Maggy is a brat when she arrives, and it takes the family a while to warm up to her. It is only when they must face the possibility that Maggy might return to her surviving blood relatives that they realize how much a member of the family she really has become.
The chapters in this book are definitely interrelated, but each one represents one particular episode out of the Austins’ lives. Each episode highlights the strength of the sibling relationships, the devotion of the Austin parents, but also the family’s idiosyncrasies and flaws that keep them from becoming saccharine portraits of perfection. One of my favorite episodes in the entire book is when all the Austins dress up as a well-to-do family in order to scare off their uncle’s unsuitable girlfriend. Even Mr. and Mrs. Austin are in on the joke, which really makes them seem real and alive to the reader. I also think Vicky’s relationship to Rob, and the entire family’s reaction when Rob goes briefly missing, are very touching elements to the story, and very well-described.
Above all, though, the chapter which gives the most insight into the Austin family’s role in the world is one that was left out of the first published edition of the book. It’s called The Anti-Muffins, and it tells of the Austins’ club, which is based entirely on the idea that it’s undesirable to be conformist. Muffins come out of the pan all the same, but the Austins strive against that, hoping for a world where it’s okay to be a little bit strange. Also in the club is a Hispanic boy named Pablo whose family is poor. His presence is said to be the reason the chapter was originally cut from the book. But thank goodness it was put back in. I skipped it on my first read-through to see what the story was like without it. It was still very good - the vocabulary is very rich, the style very enjoyable, etc. - but something about that Anti-Muffins chapter makes the book feel whole to me. I truly wish I had read this book as a child just for that chapter.
This book has quickly become one of my favorites, and it has me completely hooked on the Austin characters. I can tell already I’m going to enjoy this little reading exercise, and especially enjoy seeing where L’Engle takes these characters in the books I've yet to read....more
Auden, who has just graduated high school, is spending the summer with her dad and his new wife, Heidi, who has just given birth to a daughter. At first, Auden wants to bury her nose in a book and ignore her surroundings altogether, but when she meets fellow insomniac, Eli, whose sleepless nights are a result of personal tragedy, she begins to experience all the things she missed out on in childhood, when she was reading and studying and staying indoors - namely having friends, going to clubs, having food fights, and riding a bicycle.
This book is written in typical Sarah Dessen style, with the heroine entering unfamiliar territory, and befriending new people, who teach her an important lesson about herself. But I would venture to say that Along for the Ride takes her usual formula beyond the predictable boy meets girl, girl learns important lesson plot line, and just hits you right where you want to be hit by a great book. A teen in my library told me this was Sarah's best book yet, and before I read it, I scoffed, thinking nothing could possibly replace That Summer, which I read as a teen myself, as my favorite book. But I have to admit, though That Summer will always be the book that speaks to me, Along for the Ride really is Sarah Dessen's best work. I can't wait for her next one. ...more
This book is a collection of acrostic poems about animals that live in Africa. Each poem is accompanied by a huge photograph of its animal subject. SoThis book is a collection of acrostic poems about animals that live in Africa. Each poem is accompanied by a huge photograph of its animal subject. Some of the poems simply have one line for each letter in the animal's name. Others are more impressively complicated, using different phrases as their bases, or creating double acrostics, where both the first and last letters in each line spell out a word.
These poems are so well done, I kept forgetting they were acrostics. They flow so smoothly, and the words fit together so well, it doesn't feel like they were written to suit a specific form at all. Rather, each poem captures the essence of the animal it describes.
The crocodile is the "Inner-grinner/Lizard-wizard/Enemy-extreme!"
The rhino has "boulders for shoulders."
The bat-eared fox has ears that can "Read any breeze, even / Sound out punctuation."
The language is simple and beautiful, and the photographs really highlight whichever features and personality traits figure heavily into the poem. A great collection, with so many possible uses. I'm already brainstorming ways to make it fit the summer reading theme, One World, Many Stories....more
I stopped reading romance when I turned about 16 or 17 and stopped reading YA books. Then I went to college to become a smartypants and read a bunch oI stopped reading romance when I turned about 16 or 17 and stopped reading YA books. Then I went to college to become a smartypants and read a bunch of smartypants books and got this idea in my head that the best and therefore only type of worthwhile writing in the world was literary fiction. Then I became a librarian, and for the last three years, Nora Roberts books have been beckoning to me from the stacks. A couple of weeks ago, I finally gave in, and I started her In Death series (written as JD Robb) and this book, Vision in White, at the same time. And I just want to state for the record that my love for romance is back, and that there isn't a part of me that wants to say this book wasn't worthwhile.
The main character is Mackensie, a wedding photographer with a wedding planning business called Vows, which she runs with her childhood best friends Emmaline, Parker, and Laurel. Thanks to a mother who does nothing but use Mac for money and occasionally manipulate her into doing other off-the-wall favors, Mac has a hard time in relationships and doesn't really see herself as the settling down type.
Carter McGuire on the other hand, is a school teacher who would like to settle down, but hasn't had the best luck. His last girlfriend left him, and though he's very satisfied in his work as a teacher, he's looking for something more. When his sister, Sherry, hires Vows to plan and host her wedding, Carter and Mac cross paths, flirt, and begin the tentative descent into love. As Carter muddles through a dating checklist given to him by a well-meaning friend, and Mac deals with wedding crises, her mother, and her conflicted feelings for Carter, they try their best to make things work, and the reader falls more and more in love with both of them, and roots hard for their relationship to work out.
This is the first in a quartet - there is one book for each of the women - and I will definitely be checking out the next three! Highly recommended, even if you're not normally a Nora Roberts fan. ...more
Ponies and riding are topics of definite interest to this age group, so the subject matter alone makes them a sure hit. I also really like the way vocPonies and riding are topics of definite interest to this age group, so the subject matter alone makes them a sure hit. I also really like the way vocabulary is incorporated into each story. Words that might be new or unfamiliar are defined on the last page in a short glossary. The illustrations are warm and inviting, but they also really supplement some of the new information introduced by the text. The girls are shown wearing helmets, mounting ponies, and windmilling their arms in what I assume is the correct way to do such things in real life. The books also provide lessons on friendship, perseverance, and animal care, and throws in occasional snacks and sleepovers to supplement all the pony stuff. I am not a pony person, but these books are new favorites for me....more
I saw David Levithan read from this book in NYC recently, and though I live upstate and did not experience the events of 9/11 in the city itself, I knI saw David Levithan read from this book in NYC recently, and though I live upstate and did not experience the events of 9/11 in the city itself, I knew immediately that I needed to read it. It has been 8 years, and I was starting to lose all the feelings that came after the attacks, and the collapse of the towers. Levithan has brought them back, and I have been touched by this book in ways I could not have imagined when I first cracked it open.
The strengths of this book, I think, are in the details. Places, times, dates, music. Levithan hasn't just re-created the events and the feelings, but he has placed them in the world of 2001 as I remember it. At the reading, it was mentioned that this book was written because kids who are teenagers now probably can't even remember the day clearly, and those who will be teens 5 years from now weren't even born when it happened. I think this book serves as the perfect portrayal of what the world was like and what people were like on that day, and the days that followed. I had a lump in my throat throughout the entire 167 pages, and I felt as though I had lived through the experience in a new way by the time I was finished.
I am a new fan of David Levithan, and this book is among the best I've read this year. I can't wait to check out more of his work....more
I often associate James Stevenson with those wacky books about Grandpa and Uncle Wainey, so it was a surprise to see his softer side come out in his pI often associate James Stevenson with those wacky books about Grandpa and Uncle Wainey, so it was a surprise to see his softer side come out in his pictures for this Charlotte Zolotow book. The text describes a figure many children can recognize from their own neighborhoods: an old lady who lives alone and interacts with kids in various ways over the course of a year's holidays and celebrations. The text is spare, but the overall story is a poignant portrait of an inter-generational friendship that has made a strong impact on the young narrator. I'm not certain that kids can appreciate this book as well as adults, but I really loved it.
I always look forward to a new Sarah Dessen novel, and I was not disappointed at all by this, her thirteenth book. In alternating chapters, Dessen relI always look forward to a new Sarah Dessen novel, and I was not disappointed at all by this, her thirteenth book. In alternating chapters, Dessen relates two stories about her protagonist, Louna -one set in the present day, where she works for her mom's wedding planning business side-by-side with an oddly attractive guy named Ambrose, and the other set in the past, telling the story of how she came to love (and subsequently lose in a tragic way) her wonderful boyfriend, Ethan.
The structure of the story is the most sophisticated of any of Dessen's novels prior to this, and the two stories of Louna's two romances are perfectly interwoven, helping the reader to understand the complexity of her feelings about love, and her fears about meeting someone new after having to say goodbye so abruptly. The weddings hosted by Louna's mom and business partner William provide a perfect backdrop for exploring both Louna's and Ambrose's feelings about such big things as love, relationships, marriage, and forever, and they also provide excellent comic relief for some of the sadder moments of the story. I also loved Louna's relationship to her best friend, Jilly, who has many siblings and many responsibilities.
Ambrose himself is also one of the more memorable male characters from Dessen's universe. He has all the charm of Sumner Lee from That Summer, but proves to be much better boyfriend material. He's not perfect, and that might bother some romance readers, but I think that works well in a story where the heroine is so perfectly realized and so believable. I was a little disappointed by the gratuitous use of the F word and the unnecessary sex scenes, tame as they are, because I like to think of her books as wholesome and "clean," but these were minor issues in a book that otherwise fits in quite well with those that have gone before it. ...more
This is the story of a 12 year old boy named Jason who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 8, after a long period of denial by his mother. He has few friends, but through a fanfiction website, he makes a connection with another 12 year old, a girl whose user name is PhoenixBird, and who enjoys his stories. As his relationship with PhoenixBird progresses, other things happen in his life - violent outbursts he can't explain, confusion over what his mother wants from him and why she is sad, and incidents with the other kids at school, who are frequently not understanding of Jason's condition.
The entire story is told in the first person from Jason's point of view, and you become immediately immersed in his earnest, honest, and unique voice. His relationship with his 7-year-old brother, Jeremy, is one of the most touching sibling relationships I've ever read in a children's book, and his parents, understanding Dad, and overwhelmed and bewildered Mom, are extremely realistic and believable. They're not always fully accepting of their son's limitations or needs, and they struggle to understand what it is like to be him, but they also love him a great deal, and it's clear that they want to do the right thing for Jason if they can discern what that is.
I cried at least four times throughout this book. The language, despite being very detached and different from the language of a traditional novel for kids, is really quite beautiful, and some of Jason's realizations about his own life read like universal truths. I had When You Reach Me pegged as the Newbery for next year when I finished it earlier today, but now I am inclined to think it's got some serious competition.
This book is great. It's one of those stories where you just feel yourself settling in with it, pleased to feel not one word or detail out of place. I loved the realism and the specificity of it. Other books have taken on the point of view of an autistic person to tell the story of being autistic. This book takes on the point of view of a very specific boy and tells his story. This isn't a book about being autistic, this is a book about being yourself, whoever that is, and also about growing up and truly being that person, even when those around you sometimes don't understand why you're doing so. Absolutely brilliant. I am in love with this book....more
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown is the last of the "younger" books of the series, and it very much reThis review also appears on my blog, Read-at-Home Mom.
Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown is the last of the "younger" books of the series, and it very much represents Betsy's transition from girlhood to adolescence. Several plot points demonstrate the obvious maturity of the girls' interests, concerns, and interactions.
For the first time, in this book, Betsy's circle of friends expands beyond Tacy and Tib, and also takes in Winona. The three girls spend a significant portion of the story trying to con Winona into using her comp theater tickets to take them to see a stage production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Though it has a happy resolution for everyone, this storyline shares much in common with the "mean girl" plotlines popular in middle grade fiction today, which often occur in stories about the middle school years.
Change is also represented by the advent of the "horseless carriage." Mr. and Mrs. Poppy, wealthy owners of the local opera house, buy a car and Tib is lucky enough to be their first passenger. This new technology shows how the times are changing as Betsy approaches her teens, and it also introduces the influence of Mrs. Poppy, which will help Betsy's family locate a long-lost uncle and encourage Julia in her musical endeavors.
Another element of this book that really stands out is the change in Betsy's relationship to books. A Carnegie Library opens in Deep Valley, and for the first time, Betsy has access to great books and not just to dime novels. Her parents comment on the benefit of this, and Betsy immediately demonstrates a deepened commitment to her own writing.
Though all of the series has been wonderful up to now, this book is more engaging than the earlier stories. As Betsy's life begins to take shape, her new challenges have higher stakes and more interesting outcomes. If one were trying to hook a late elementary school reader on this series, it would be wise to start with this book, as it most closely resembles contemporary middle grade fiction, and it is most likely to spark the investment in Betsy as a character that is necessary to enjoy the others of the series....more
Betsy-Tacy is a 1940 children's novel written by Maud Hart Lovelace and illustrated by Lois LensThis review also appears on my blog, Read-at-Home Mom.
Betsy-Tacy is a 1940 children's novel written by Maud Hart Lovelace and illustrated by Lois Lenski. The main characters are two little girls who grow up across the street from one another in 1890s Minnesota. The first time they meet, the girls have a misunderstanding that nearly jeopardizes their chances of being friends, but after Betsy invites Tacy to her birthday party, they become inseparable. Betsy and Tacy, who are often called by one name, Betsy-Tacy, have wonderful adventures eating supper on the hill at the end of their street, trying to outsmart their big sisters Katie and Julia, and selling sand to the neighbors. They also band together in the face of a tragedy in Tacy's family, and toward the end of the book, make a new friend, named Tib.
Like the works of Carolyn Haywood and Beverly Cleary, Betsy-Tacy portrays a world of childhood innocence and imagination that doesn't really seem to be typical of contemporary children's books. Not only is the story old-fashioned and clearly set in the past, it's also filled with the possibilities of an idealized world where children don't need constant supervision and can feel free to wander the neighborhood without fearing for their safety. There is no question that the story is dated. The mothers have calling cards which they deliver to friends' houses, the main mode of transportation is a horse-drawn carriage, and all the children attend school in a schoolhouse. But it is this historical context that makes the book so charming.
The writing itself also transcends time. The text is clearly written at a child's level. I was able to get inside the minds of Betsy and Tacy as well as I could Ramona's mind or Carolyn Haywood's Betsy's mind. They might live in another time and place, but the thought processes of these girls are universal, as are many of their experiences, from the first day of school, to playing with paper dolls to anticipating a new baby in the family. Lovelace tapped into the way children think and behave, and even if kids growing up in the 21st century don't understand every historical reference, they will see themselves in Betsy and Tacy nonetheless.
Finally, I love the illustrations by Lois Lenski, which depict the style of dress, home decorating schemes, and schoolhouse furniture of the time period. The drawings perfectly match the tone and style of the story and further immerse the reader in the nostalgic atmosphere of this fictional world.
Betsy-Tacy is the first book in a series that follows Betsy through to adulthood. Learn more about Betsy and Tacy and their creator on the website for the Betsy-Tacy Society....more