Monday, May 31, 2010

The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups & The Secret Knowledge of Grown-Ups The Second File by David Wisniewski

David Wisniewski reveals all in a series of secret files! In the first volume, he disguises himself in various ingenious (and sometimes short-sighted ways) to find out the real reason grown-ups make you eat your vegetables (hilariously terrifying) the truth behind drinking milk (freaky but illogical) why you must comb your hair (truly terrifying) why you shouldn't blow bubbles in your milk (rather thin) why you shouldn't play with your food (a bit of a stretch and quite silly) why not to jump on your bed (very, very good. very, very scary) the horrible results of biting your nails (illogical) and why you should never pick your nose (a good one - gross and scary). There's a good mix of scary, silly, and gross. This would be a great one to read aloud to an elementary age group, especially in a crazy, dramatic voice. The sections make it easy to pick and choose for the reader or for a reluctant reader to browse. Wisniewski's illustrations are both frightening and humorous with the over-the-edge quality that perfectly matches the text.

The Second File...well, I'm afraid our intrepid reporter may have been captured and brainwashed by grown-ups. The reasons behind the rules are pretty thin and the whole book just doesn't have that wild and wacky scary/funny feel of the first story. While the first book is clearly just for fun, the reader gets a feeling that the second book is reaching for the fun but only makes it to silly justification of rules. Oh well. I think kids will still enjoy it, but it won't have the same pull and instant adoration of the first.

Verdict: The first is a definite must, the second is an additional purchase.

Secret knowledge of grownups
ISBN: 978-0688153397; Published April 1998 by HarperCollins; Borrowed from the library

Second file
ISBN: 978-0688178543; Published July 2001 by HarperCollins; Borrowed from the library

Friday, May 28, 2010

Home on the Range by Lucy Nolan, illustrated by Mike Reed

Ah, nothing like a new Down Girl and Sit! story to improve life. If you haven't already encountered this hilarious beginning chapter series, now is the time! Down Girl and Sit, two doggy friends, bound gaily through life, enjoying doughnuts, protecting their masters against squirrels, and waiting for the day when they can finally get the best of Here Kitty Kitty.

In their latest adventure, after Down Girl is thinking about how much she hates fences, she and Sit get the chance to visit a place without fences! With their new friend Git Along, they encounter squirrels in unimaginable places, the weirdest dogs you ever saw, and they decide maybe fences aren't so bad after all.

Kids will adore the naive but adorable characters and will appreciate the sly humor that is perfect for their age range. Kids love being "in on the joke" and that's exactly what they get in these stories. They make fun read-alouds also!

Verdict: If you don't have this series in your library, add right away! Every library should have this series.

ISBN: 978-0761456490; Published April 2010 by Marshall Cavendish; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Mitchell is Moving by Marjorie Sharmat, illustrated by Jose Aruego & Ariane Dewey

Don't you just love the feeling when you discover a book you had loved as a child - but had completely forgotten about? The dawning recognition, the flood of warm fuzzy feelings...

I was delighted when I discovered Mitchell is Moving in our own library! How could I have forgotten this one? Decorated with Aruego and Dewey's trademark lumpy illustrations dancing across the stained white pages, Mitchell and his friend Margo try new things and experience separation and reunion...and appreciate the joys of swamps. Kids used to the more heavily illustrated easy readers today may not appreciate the spare prose and restrained illustrations of this classic easy reader, but I think quite a few will pick up on the silly humor and enjoy these redoubtable dinosaurs.

ISBN: 978-0689808760; Published April 1996 by Simon Spotlight (latest edition in print); Borrowed from the library; Added to my personal wishlist

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Another successful school visit!

I was PREPARED for 7th and 8th graders this time, and they were actually pretty fun! Of course, it helps that I knew some. A couple funny faces at a kid who knows you go over much better than with totally strange teens....although perhaps I shouldn't have told them the goldfish bowl story. Oh well.

This was my second parochial school visit - Lutherans this time. I gotta say, Lutherans have one major advantage over, I'm not talking about theology or tradition, I'm talking air-conditioning. It was lovely. I had a very good response from First Lutheran school last year as far as participation and I'm hoping that continues. Tomorrow is the first marathon visit - Tibbets Elementary! Can I see every single child in every single class without losing my voice? We will see.....

Wide-Awake Princess by E. D. Baker

Sometimes you just need a little froth. E. D. Baker's latest fractured fairy tale, The Wide-Awake Princess, is light and creamy enough to satisfy the most exacting fairy tale chef.

Most people don't know that Sleeping Beauty (aka Gwendoline) has a younger sister named Annie. Terrified that a similar curse would fall on Annie, her parents begged a powerful fairy to help. Be careful what you wish for...the fairy willingly helped, but her gift was to make Annie immune to all magic.

Not just evil curses, but also good fairy gifts, like beauty, grace, and a good complexion. Not only is she immune, she cancels out magic. Terrified of losing their own fairy gifts, her family won't go near her. She leads a lonely, but fairly satisfying life until Gwendolyn's curse falls upon the household and Annie decides she isn't waiting around for a prince to show up!

Accompanied by a footman who isn't what he seems, Annie sets out to find the perfect prince for Gwen. Or the next best thing. Then again, maybe Gwen would prefer to sleep for a hundred years....

Readers who enjoyed the definitely required new classics Kate Coombs' Runaway Princess and Runaway Dragon and Jessica Day George's Dragon series will enjoy this fluffy princess comedy.

Bon appetit!

Oh, re. the covers - the first is the one appearing on the ARC, this second one I think is the final cover. They're both pretty similar in tone and I was disappointed that the sisters didn't look more different. But they're ok.

Verdict: This episodic fantasy is a perfect read for those who like a pinch of romance, a generous measure of magic, and a thick topping of humor.

ISBN: 978-1599904870; Published May 2010 by Bloomsbury; ARC provided by publisher at ALA; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Moon Bear by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illustrated by Ed Young

In a simple series of questions and answers, Brenda Guiberson guides the reader through the habits and behavior of moon bears. The story follows a moon bear from waking up after a long hibernation, through foraging, sleeping and back to hibernation, from which she emerges with a special surprise. A brief author's note explains the current plight of the moon bears, shows several pictures of rescued bears, and directs readers to a website where they can learn more or donate.

Ed Young's art is amazing. It begins with patterned endpapers and continues with a wide variety of textures and colors. Blinding reds pepper the pages dominated by the black adn white bear and the dark backgrounds are enlivened with photographs of ants and grass and skies ranging from pastel violets to pale morning peach.

Verdict: This is a perfect read-aloud for toddlers, preschool and kindergarten. The simple, repetitive questions will capture toddlers' interest while older children will enjoy learning about an exotic animal and all ages can pore over the fascinating art. I would have liked to see more resources in the back explaining the moon bear's habits and situation (the website given has very limited information) but while this lack of in-depth information will limit the book's usefulness with older children, it's still a wonderful read-aloud for the pre-school crowd.

ISBN: 0805089772; Published May 2010 by Henry Holt; Review copy provided by publisher; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates

Monday, May 24, 2010

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

I never had braces or the attendant "dental drama." I never went to middle school. I hate The Little Mermaid. But I still loved this story.

Raina Telgemeier's autobiographical graphic novel tells the story of her life in middle school, from the freak accident that began years of braces and oral surgery to learning how to stand up for herself and choose her friends.

The author skillfully blends the current events that impacted her world - a major earthquake, The Little Mermaid and scrunchies (trust me, they were a current event) into the plot without making the story seem outdated or old. Every kid in middle school - boys and girls - can relate to something in this story. Even kids who have different experiences will understand young Raina's angst over friendship and growing up.

Verdict: This is a must-have for your library collection! Even if you don't collect graphic novels, it's handily published in a regular book-size hardback format, so you can sneak it onto your shelf and no one will ever know - except the kids who beg you for more books like this one.

ISBN: 978-0545132060; Published February 2010 by Graphix; Purchased for the library (stolen; purchased AGAIN)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Summer Reading Begins...

With my first school visits of the year! Every year (this is only the third time, but you know what I mean) I load up my bags and visit as many classes at the schools in our city as possible. My first visit today was the local Catholic school, St. Patrick's. It has combined classes, preschool/kindergarten, 1st/2nd grade, 3rd/4th grade, 5th/6th grade, and 7th/8th grade.

Here's a couple of the favorites....The younger kids really, really went crazy for The Book That Eats People. I could hear them talking about it in the halls afterwards. I showed Nic Bishop's Marsupials to almost every class and the 3rd/4th graders had trouble controlling themselves when I read the weird names out loud!

There was lots of excitement over our new Star Wars comic series, Star Wars Adventures.

I read one of the latest Elephant and Piggie's to the point where Gerald screams "why why why...." and then told the kids they'd have to come to the library to find out why!

Everyone loved Dragonbreath, of course.

I actually got some reaction from the 5th/6th graders with Boys are Dogs - they were pretty quiet otherwise. Bearing in mind this school has no air-conditioning though....

I read part of the first chapter of Bad to the Bone to the...I think it was the 1st/2nd graders. They thought it was hilarious!

I was totally unprepared for the 7th and 8th graders. I didn't see them last year (I don't think I even saw the 5th/6th graders last year) and I just assumed I wouldn't see them this year. We will gently draw a veil over that last part of the visit.

On to the middle school tomorrow! Yay 100+ 6th graders!
Oh, and I plan to do a grand list of all the books I took and their booktalks when I finish my school visits next week.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole

I was very excited about this one, as it's written by one of my favorite picturebook author/artists, Henry Cole. I liked some of it very much, but some of it not so much. I loved the illustrations, especially the delicate and exquisite drawings of Celeste's baskets. I found the beginning of the book spellbinding, as Celeste is forced to leave her safe and dark nest and find a new place to live.

However, when she meets Audubon's apprentice and the story branches out into a wider landscape, it just didn't work for me. I felt like Cole was imprinting modern mindsets on historical figures - would Audubon's apprentice really have mourned the death of the birds Audubon killed and posed to create his paintings? Celeste's horror of guns didn't feel quite right either. I prefer Holman's Cricket Winter for discussions of life and death from an animal perspective.

But the story is well-written and will appeal to children who like animal stories with an introspective flair. I bought this for my library before I read the story and I would still have purchased it after reading it, despite my reservations. I look forward to seeing more beginning chapter books and middle grade stories from Henry Cole. Celeste's Nest is a little advanced in vocabulary for a beginning chapter book, but the length and the illustrations make it accessible to a younger audience.

Verdict: I think fans of DiCamillo's Despereaux will love this one, and after they've read it I suggest introducing them to Felice Holman's Cricket Winter.

ISBN: 978-0061704109; Published February 2010 by Katherine Tegen Books; ARC provided by the publisher at ALA; Purchased for the library

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Adventures of Daniel Boom AKA Loud Boy (series) by D. J. Steinberg, illustrated by Brian Smith

This series is a fun addition to the "boy superhero" genre. Daniel Boom, due to a mysterious accident immediately after his birth, has an unusually loud voice. On his tenth birthday, he meets three other kids at his new school. They all have some mysterious traits in common and under the guidance of Daniel's eccentric Uncle Stanley set out on a career of saving the world, having transformed the abilities that constantly get them into trouble into powers they use for good.

The latest title in the series has Daniel Boom and his friends forced to function without their powers, while his little sister, Jeannie S. aka Chatterbox, tries to discover the origin of her own powers.

These graphic novels are amusing and should have a wide and enthusiastic audience. Adults may be less enthusiastic about their obvious "kids vs. adults" theme and the portrayal of what most adults probably consider irritating faults - yelling, fidgeting, destroying things, temper tantrums, and never shutting up - as superhero abilities, but it's all tongue-in-cheek humor and might give kids dealing with these issues a welcome relaxation and chance to giggle at their problems. The art is fresh and clear with a feeling of animation that will draw in cartoon fans and clear, readable text.

Verdict: Fans of The Lunch Lady, Sava's Hyperactive, and Melvin Beederman will enjoy these comics. Hand these also to reluctant readers who enjoy action cartoons and animation.

Adventures of Daniel Boom Loud Boy: Sound Off!
ISBN: 978-0448446981; Published March 2008 by Grosset and Dunlap; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Adventures of Daniel Boom Loud Boy: Grow up!
ISBN: 978-0448447018; Published April 2010 by Grosset and Dunlap; Review copy provided by publisher; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Big Smith Snatch by Louise Jane Curry

Going retro for the moment....this story was quite different from most of Jane Louise Curry's books I've read. My favorites of hers are her stories of Mindy, which are sort of magic science meets the Borrowers and her mysteries. This is a mystery, but mostly a kidnapping one.

A family with a large number of children are in a rather sticky spot - Dad has gone from California back to the east coast for a possible job and they haven't heard from him in a long time. Their money is running out and their mother is pregnant and sick. When she collapses, all of the children except the oldest girl get picked up by social services. They manage to stay together, but just when they're congratulating themselves on the trick they played to keep from being separated, they begin to realize that the foster family they're with may not be as nice as they seem and they're in more trouble than ever. It takes their older sister, a former bag lady, and some frightening adventures before the family is reunited and all is well again.

Verdict: An interesting story, but it won't replace my favorite Currys.

ISBN: 978-0689504785; Published September 1989 by Margaret K. McElderry; Borrowed from the library

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Alien Encounter by Pamela Service, illustrated by Mike Gorman

I've been eagerly eyeing this one on our cataloging cart, just waiting for it to come into my happy hands. Pamela Service keeps up the good work in her Alien Agent series in the fourth volume!

Zack's fourth adventure isn't as wacky or funny as his previous ones. There's a serious atmosphere, as he's dealing with the painful issue of hiding his big secret from his parents. His assignment touches on that issue and Zack has some very serious moments. But there's plenty of fun also! Talking dogs, alien costume festivals, and cool gadgets abound. Pamela Service does an excellent job of introducing a serious note into the series and bringing one arc of the plot to a close while opening up future story possibilities.

This is THE science fiction series for beginning chapter readers, as well as any kids who like a funny story and a good plot. No repetitions or stereotypes here! Pamela Service handles ideas about tolerance, futuristic science, human behavior, and family dynamics in an age-appropriate, humorous, and fast-paced read. Every book is highly recommended for public and school libraries!

Verdict: Must have! Get it now!

ISBN: 978-0822588733; Published March 2010 by CarolRhoda; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Monday, May 17, 2010

Rapunzel, two versions

Rapunzel translated by Anthea Bell, illustrated by Dorothee Duntze

Rapunzel has to be the weirdest-fairy-tale-most-people-know-but-don't-realize-how-weird-it-is. The first version I'm looking at is very close to the story, translated by the wonderful Anthea Bell. I've fallen in love with the garden-themed drawings of Dorothee Duntze. Her characters wear petals, cabbage leaves, and squash and the witch has a lily pond in her dress! So, on to the story.

A man and his wife are thrilled to bits because they're finally going to have a baby. Unfortunately, the woman gets cravings for some rampion from a witch's garden. Instead of just asking the witch (they are neighbors after all) the man sneaks into her garden and steals some. Then some more. Naturally, he gets caught. Duh, witch with unknown powers here! (I must just interject here that Duntze's witch's garden is THE BEST EVER. I now want a formal walled garden. Sigh.) The witch yells at him a little, then tells him he can have as much rampion as he wants....but she gets the baby. The man says ok and goes home. What? This is the witch you were so scared of you sneaked into her garden instead of knocking on her door like normal people. This is the baby you've been wanted forever in a definitely fairy-tales-fertility-issue way. Do they complain to the king? Do they offer her other compensation? Do they try leaving the baby with a poor woodcutter or floating her down the river in a basket, all acceptable fairy tale solutions? Does the man even ARGUE? Nope. They just hand over the baby. Maybe the witch's mysterious powers included long-term hypnotism.

So, the witch raises Rapunzel presumably in her garden until she's 12. This is where the walled garden makes sense, because Rapunzel is obviously shut up somewhere before she gets locked in a tower since.....after she's been living in the tower for a "few years" which would put her at around 15, a prince riding through the woods (without escort, or apparent destination, since nobody comes looking for him later) goes nuts about her voice and sneaks into the tower.

They "talk" for a long time. Riiiiiight. One can't help wondering how this conversation went. I mean, she's never seen a guy before so exactly how did they get to the point where.....anyways, he promises to bring some silk each time he comes so Rapunzel can make a ladder. Because silk is so heavy. Annnd places that make silk certainly don't offer silk ladders or are in any proximity to the prince's kingdom where he presumably has guards and witches of his own and stuff. Obviously, he just wants to, you know talk.
The witch discovers all, whisks Rapunzel away, and the prince jumps out the window and scratches his eyes out. Bright move, princey. Definitely failed his "rescuing maidens" class in prince school. He starts wandering around the woods, and here is where we realize this probably isn't the first time he's seduced an innocent teenager, because the woods are somewhere fairly close to his kingdom - he was riding through them without an escort, remember? The whole prince part of the story takes well over 9 months but Nobody. Ever. Finds. Him. It doesn't even sound as if anybody ever looked for him. Anyways, he's suddenly wandering in the wilderness, finds Rapunzel and her twins (now we know what all that "talking" was about, in case you hadn't figured it out by now), she heals his eyes with her tears, and they go back to his kingdom, where his people welcome him with joy. Well, what would you do? If your obviously insane ruler returns after several years and has actually married his latest seduction, you don't really have any choice. You lock up your daughters (and your vegetables) and "greet him with joy." Sure. Watch out for strychnine in your rampion, prince.

The witch, apparently bored with the whole thing, supposedly goes back to her walled garden, presumably to wait for Rapunzel's mom to get pregnant again.

ISBN: 0735820139; Published August 2005 by North South; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library; Purchased for my personal collection

Rapunzel the graphic novel by Stephanie Peters, illustrated by Jeffrey Timmins

The graphic novel version is part of the Graphic Spin series. All the volumes I've seen so far go for the twisted weird in the artwork and this one is no exception. The witch's magical powers are emphasized and she's obviously a nasty person since she looks like a rotten turnip. The prince, apparently an unidentified and very spindly root vegetable in lederhosen, makes one wish the very, very young-looking Rapunzel had a bit more choice. Kids looking for more graphic and gruesome fairy tales will probably enjoy this, but don't hand it to Disney Princess fans.

ISBN: 978-1434211941; Published January 2009 by Capstone; Borrowed from the library

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I indulge myself in school stories

I love school stories, among other old juvenile series. I have collections of Rick Brant's Electronic Adventures! Enid Blyton, and more. The Chalet School stories are some of my favorites and I just splurged on adding a few to my collection. Not, of course, the hugely expensive original hardbacks. Or the hard-to-find $60 paperbacks! The Chalet School is a boarding school originally set in the Tyrolean Alps. It focuses on building strong, educated women and is closely connected to the (also fictional) sanitarium nearby. The Chalet School goes through WWII, moves to various places in England and back to the Alps eventually.

The first of the two stories I got, The Wrong Chalet School, is a fun story for fans of the series, but there's nothing particularly outstanding about it. A girl with an extremely absent-minded aunt is accidentally sent to the Chalet School and various lightly amusing things occur. There's actually more about tennis than about the main character. The second story is set much earlier in the Chalet School chronology and while it's kind of blah on its own, it tells the reader how Jo Bettany originally became an author and teacher at the Chalet School. It also introduced the character of Polly Heriot.

For those who like their school stories on the fluffier side (Chalet School, by the way, has an underlying thread of religious faith), I also found a copy of Pamela Cox's continuation of Enid Blyton's popular St. Clare's school stories. Enid Blyton's school stories are everything the Chalet School isn't - in fact, almost every Chalet School story contains a warning against such trashy reading, pretty obviously directed at Enid Blyton, which I find hilarious. Pamela Cox does an excellent job of capturing Blyton's racy style and plentiful slang and tricks, while removing most of the outdated racism.

In case you're wondering what the difference is....Blyton's characters are definite anglophiles. French girls (and teachers) don't understand the English concept of "honor" and tend to be sly and lazy. American girls are vulgar and stupid. The Chalet School is an international school; the first pupils are French, German, and English. The second owner and Head of the school is French, and while American girls tend to be presented as having a more undisciplined upbringing, they're just ordinary girls. St. Clare's girls use slang freely, often to the teachers. Chalet School girls are fined for using slang. St. Clare's girls are constantly playing tricks. Chalet School girls certainly get into their share of mischief, but school pranks are considered childish and the kind of silly thing they do in ridiculous school books - obviously a jab at Blyton.

But I enjoy reading both, light fun reading if you're into series and like school stories.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Not-So-Great-Depression by Amy Goldman Koss

This is the first Amy Koss book I've read, although I've observed her other titles flying off the shelves often enough. Perky and voluble Jacki has an almost-perfect life; sure she wishes her just-about-to-graduate older sister was more fun to be around, she can't stand their "nanny" and she's pretty average in school. But she's got good friends and a nice life. Until her mom loses her job. Suddenly, everything is changing and her family and friends aren't the same anymore.

There aren't, as far as I know, any middle grade or young adult books out on the recent recession. There are books like Rachel Vail's Lucky that deal with financial disaster, but nothing more tied to contemporary events. So, a pretty timely book. Jacki is a fun character, always hoping for the best and I can see her fitting into the groups of other fourteen-year-old girls I know.

On the other hand, this book really irritated me. I found Jacki's constant upbeat attitude insanely irritating and her mother's refusal to face facts as well as her helplessness dealing with practical issues even more irritating. The thing is, the characters are very realistic. It's just that I didn't like them. I can't imagine having their casual approach to money and the kids' initial complaints and horror at being faced with, gasp, CHORES really bugged me. But yeah, very realistic. The thing is, based on my personal experiences and background I have more in common with their laid-off and invisible housekeeper, Hortensia, than to any of the characters in the story.

The only problem I had with the story, apart from my personal reactions, was the ending. It was a Jacqueline Wilson spun sugar ending, basically.

Jacki's mom gets a new job, granted it's at half the pay, but it's something she really loves to do. They all move into a nice apartment near Jacki's best friend, Jacki can't wait to transfer to public school, and her older sister Brooke decides to have an off year before college and her ballet teacher creates a foundation so she can teach poor kids to dance for free but get paid herself while she applies for financial aid so she can go to the college of her dreams the next year.

Um, yeah, realistic much? How about Jacki's mom gets a crappy job that she hates, but hey you've got to pay the bills. Brooke works at a fast-food restaurant trying to save money for classes at the local community college and they all move into a crappy apartment that smells like smoke, has a sleazy landlord, and the a/c doesn't work. Oh, and they can't afford a car so they have to use the bus.

Basically, in my opinion, Koss's ending is a pretty fairy tale that's not going to offer much comfort to kids from Jacki's educational and economic level whose parents have lost their jobs.

Verdict: But I've still ordered the book, because it is, for the most part, a good realistic story and there's nothing else really on this topic. Plus, girls like Koss and most of them will be perfectly satisfied with the fairy tale ending.

ISBN: 1596436131; Published May 2010 by Roaring Brook; ARC provided by publisher at ALA; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Changeless by Gail Carriger

So, I broke down and bought Soulless without reading it first and I loved, loved, loved it. So, I pre-ordered Changeless. And then I had to wait because I'd lent Soulless to various people and I needed to read it again before I read Changeless and then I wasn't quite in the mood and anyways I reread Soulless and read Changeless last night.

So, I am reading along, thinking "dirigible, nice, ooo new parasol, argh, annoying werewolf, make him tell you things now! Ivy is getting very annoying" no, my thoughts are not chronological. And I am perfectly happy, because it is not as funny and delightfully fluffish as the first book, but still quite enjoyable and it is, after all, the second book in a series, which are generally the bridging books and just there to get you to the good stuff in the third book and then I came to the end and

WHA-A-A??? I mean, she...he..and what about the poisoning part and the missing notebook? And that is, like, a horrible romance cliche, because I've read it in at least three historical romances and considering I don't generally read historical romances that's a lot. Well, ok, it was a good plot device to move on and Alexia's attitude makes it not so bad, could you do that to Alexia? How will she ever trust him again? And how will the giant I-Can't-Stand-To-Be-Near-It mummy issue work? AND HOW AM I GOING TO LAST UNTIL SEPTEMBER TO FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENS NEXT??

I am coming after you with a parasol Ms. Carriger. I bet you are sitting out there giggling at all us hapless readers right now. Grrr.
  • Source: My hard-earned cash
  • Verdict: I recommend you wait and buy it next September so you can read the next book at the same time, because what are the odds of two such shattering endings in the same series?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Snow White and Rose Red

Technically, fairy tales are not nonfiction. However, as I tell children when we're doing library tours, there's a lot of stuff in the nonfiction section that isn't "true"! Today I'm looking at several versions of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale, Snow White and Rose Red.

If you're not familiar it, the basic story is....two sisters, one dark and one fair, named after rose bushes, live happily with their motherin a cottage in the woods. One winter evening, someone knocks at the door. When they open it, it is a giant bear! However, he's a talking bear and, talking animals obviously being ok, they let him in to the house and adopt him into their little family. At the end of the winter, he takes off, bears not making good hearthrugs in the summer, even talking bears. As the girls wander in the woods that summer, they encounter a dwarf, whom they save from various predicaments despite his unpleasant behavior and ingratitude. Finally, the dwarf and bear encounter each other, the dwarf tries to get the bear to eat the girls, but the bear kills the dwarf, and this breaks the wicked dwarf's enchantment and the bear turns into a prince. After some time (quite a bit of time we hope, since Snow White and Rose Red are generally pictured as young children) the prince marries Snow White (blondes always get the best guy) and Rose Red gets stuck with his brother. They take their rose bushes and mother back to the castle and everybody lives happily ever after. Definitely not as weird as some fairy tales - I'll be looking at some Rapunzel versions later on...

My favorite version is retold and illustrated by Bernadette Watts, a much-beloved and well-known fairy tale illustrator in Europe. Her retelling keeps all the favorite details of the story, although she leaves out the angel watching over the children while they sleep, and has a rhythmic cadence that makes it perfect for reading out loud. Her pictures are full of gorgeous life and color and she does an excellent job of differentiating the characters of the two girls. And don't you love that teddy bear prince?

Snow White and Rose Red retold and illustrated by Bernadette Watts.
ISBN: 978-0805007381; Published March 1988 by NorthSouth (out of print); Borrowed from the library; Added to my personal wishlist

I have to admit I'm not a fan of Spirin's art. This version is a very complete translation of the story, which makes it lengthy for read-alouds, but the original language, including the dwarf's insults, is fun. I don't really care for the illustrations. The children look too young to me and the medievalish art is too dark for my taste. Not pretty enough! The bear is very well done though, huge and ferocious, but the prince is very stiff and look-at-my-elaborate-renaissance-clothes-and-sleeves.

Snow White and Rose Red illustrated by Gennady Spirin
ISBN: 978-0399218736; Published November 1992 by Philomel (out of print); Borrowed from the library

Barbara Cooney's version says it's just from the Brothers Grimm, but it's one of the shortest versions so there's some editing going on somewhere. Except for the cover, all the illustrations are in tones of white, gray, and red. The illustrations have a rough, almost folk-art quality and this isn't one of Cooney's best, although it is kind of pretty, so no surprise that it's been out of print for quite a while. Her very medieval prince, complete with helmet and cowl at the end is a little bit of a surprise.

Snow-White and Rose-Red illustrated by Barbara Cooney
ISBN: 978-0385301756; Published January 1991 by Delacorte (out of print); Borrowed from the library

Someone who understands art could probably explain to me why I don't like Ruth Sanderson's illustrations, although I do treasure her edition of Secret Garden. The art just looks too....slick? dark? for my tastes? She does an excellent job of retelling the story though, keeping it compact without losing too much of the original feel and blending her own updated language smoothly into the plot. There's a lot of earth colors and golden light shining through her illustrations, which is maybe my problem, since I don't really like earth tones. I dunno. My friend Sara The Librarian, who is an expert on pretty, informs me Ruth Sanderson qualifies, so we will allow her to classed in the pretty books. And I think she's the only one who shows the dead dwarf....and isn't that a gorgeous bear? Much more attractive than the prince, in my opinion.

Rose Red and Snow White retold and illustrated by Ruth Sanderson
ISBN: N/A; Published 1997 by Little, Brown (out of print); Borrowed from the library

Adrienne Adams' version isn't my favorite of her fairy tale retellings, but it's one of my favorites of the Snow White and Rose Red retellings. It sticks very closely to the original story and the pictures are very stylized and almost stiff. Unlike Ruth Sanderson's art, where the characters could be real little girls, these are obviously fairy tale drawings. But still lovely! In fact, that may be why I like Adams more than Sanderson, because her art is so much more obviously fantasy and not real life. The grumpy dwarf is emphasized more than the bear, whom we only glimpse a few times, which is a pity since Adams does good, round bears! Her prince has a delightfully smug, ta-da! look on his face when he breaks the enchantment, which I love. And where was he hiding that sword? This version is really, really out of print.

Snow White and Rose Red illustrated by Adrienne Adams
ISBN: N/A; Published 1964 by Charles Scribner's Sons (out of print); Borrowed from the library

This is an odd little version I found at the library, retold by James Reeves and illustrated by Jenny Rodwell. It's not particularly remarkable, except for the amazing scene of the giant fish and the odd pointilism effect of the illustrations, not to mention the amazing eyebrows on the characters. And how on earth did the prince fit in that bearskin? It's obviously much too small.

Snow-White and Rose-Red retold by James Reeves, illustrated by Jenny Rodwell
ISBN: N/A; Published 1982 by Ray Rourke Publishing (out of print); Borrowed from the library

This version, illustrated by John Wallner, is very cartoonish. He gives both the girls black hair and dresses them in red and white, which is not at all what the story describes. Not interesting at all, other than that.

Snow White and Rose Red illustrated by John Wallner
ISBN: 978-0138152345; Published September 1984 by Prentice Hall (out of print); Borrowed from the library
I found this final version in a collection of three folktales illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. This is probably the shortest version, although it's a very lively and pleasant retelling. The most delightful thing about it is Tenggren's vibrantly colored illustrations, that pop right off the page, not to mention he's the only illustrator who really makes a bear skin big enough to look as though the prince really could have fit in it!

Tenggren's Folk Tales, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren
ISBN: N/A; Published 1973 by Golden Press (out of print); Borrowed from the library

Sadly, none of these versions are in print - in fact, according to Amazon, there's only one picture book version available. Sigh. I'd love to see the Watts or even the Sanderson (currently selling for $88 used) back in print. But I was able to get all these from my library system - see what your library has!

Friday, May 7, 2010

My best frenemy by Julie Bowe

I've been waiting to read this until the release date was creeping closer and now it's practically here!

If you haven't introduced your 3rd and 4th grade girls to Ida May, now is the time! Ida May is EveryGirl,with all the little joys and torments of a 9 year old girl. She has a best friend, a fish, a love of drawing, and a loving family.

In the latest Ida May story, Ida's hard-won best friend, Stacey, isn't acting so BFF as she should be....and it's all because of that stupid game Jenna brought to school. Or is it?

Bowe presents the perfect blend of friendship angst, and her characters are rich and varied, no stereotypes here! The characters are realistic and their actions are believable, but not black and white. Ida's realization of the different ways people can be friends and the growth of the various characters pulls the plot of school excitements and friendship bumps along to a satisfying conclusion.

Verdict: I'd recommend these to pretty much any girl in 3rd or 4th grade and they'd also make a great book club selection, as there's plenty of possibilities for discussion (although the story never descends into didacticism, nor is it an "issues" book) I can't wait to show off our library's copy on my school visits!

ISBN: 0803735014; Published May 2010 by Dial; Review copy provided by author; Purchased for the library

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Beware of the storybook wolves by Lauren Child

I was so delighted to discover there's another Herb story...and so sad to find out it is out of print.

Herb, who learns about the importance of taking care of your books in Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book, loves scary stories, especially scary stories about fairytale wolves. When it's time to go to bed, he carefully reminds his mother to take those scary wolves with her.

But one night....she forgets. Herb must use his wits and some unexpected help from other fairytale characters to save himself from the Storybook Wolves!

Lauren Child's easily recognizable kooky collage illustrations fit perfectly with the outrageously fractured fairy tale characters and every child will perfectly understand Herb's night-time fears - and applaud his courage and cleverness.

Verdict: It's soooo sad that Herb's book adventures are out of print! Please bring them back! Luckily, there are plenty of used copies around and it's worth finding one for your collection.

ISBN: 978-0439205009; Published April 2001 by Arthur A Levine; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for my personal collection

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Jimmy Takes Vanishing Lessons by Walter R. Brooks

I am a mildly enthusiastic fan of Walter R. Brooks, classic American children's author of the Freddy books. I was curious when I saw what looked like a book I had never seen before...

There's no information on where this volume popped up from, although from various clues I'm guessing it was a lately discovered, possibly unfinished manuscript of Brooks. It doesn't appear to have been published before.

Jimmy lives with his aunt in rather tight financial circumstances. If only she could rent out the old house she inherited! But everyone is afraid of the ghost. After a terrible fright, Jimmy comes up with a clever plan to make the house livable. This brief story is full of Brooks' dry and folksy humor and is a quick and enjoyable nostalgic read, although I doubt if many kids will be drawn to it.

ISBN: 1585678953; Published May 2007 by Overlook; Borrowed from the library

Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies by Andrea Beatty, illustrated by Dan Santat

Snicker. Just looking at this cover makes me giggle. This book was SO FUNNY!! You don't even have to be a bad horror movie aficionado (I'm not) to appreciate the hilarity.

Joules and Kevin are dumped off at summer camp so their scientist parents can pursue the ultimate SPAM dessert creation. Unfortunately, they're not the only ones stranded at Camp Whatsitooya. Terrible aliens have crashed on earth. Terrifying, horrible creatures. What? They look like rabbits? Yes, but 7 foot tall rabbits with hypnotic eyes and fangs! Can Kevin and Joules save the day? Can you really have too many lanyards? Is there an actual use for SPAM?

A brisk, tight plot accompanied by black and white comics and art and a joke on every page. What more could a reader want? This is a great book for any intermediate reader who likes funny stories, aliens, summer camp, or a quick read. Perfect summer reading! Get it now so you can lure children into your library with it!

Verdict: Laughed myself sick over it, read it out loud to another librarian who also laughed uncontrollably, and we both bought it for our libraries. Go thou and do likewise

ISBN: 978-0810984165; Published May 2010 by Amulet; ARC provided by publisher at ALA; Purchased for the library

Monday, May 3, 2010

Heroes of the Environment: True Stories of People Who Are Helping to Protect Our Planet by Harriet Rohmer

A collection of interesting stories about kids and adults who are involved in the environment. They recycle junk, create gardens, install solar energy, and more. What makes this book a little different is most of the environmental issues these people deal with aren't just one-time problems or activism issues, they're part of their lives. Several have invented machines and/or processes to safely and responsibly recycle materials and these inventions are part of their careers. Others are campaigning to improve and save the places where they live. The stories are written in an engaging, brisk style with plenty of illustrations and explanations of the various processes involved.

Verdict: I enjoyed this book, but I'd recommend this for a school library, especially if there are units on ecology or environmental issues planned. A larger library might want to have this on hand, but I can't see kids at our library picking it up to browse and I've never had anyone asking for environmental biographies for school assignments. Sigh. Probably why I had to borrow this via inter-library loan from a school library.

ISBN: 978-0811867795; Published August 2009 by Chronicle; Borrowed from the library