Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tower of Treasure by Scott Chantler

I've only seen a few graphic novels from Kids Can Press, and so far they've all been pretty fun - we all know how much we LOVED Binky! Yay Binky sequel! I'm pleased and delighted to find another excellent series being produced by KCP, and it's just as much fun as Binky!

From the moment the reader looks at the first page, she is plunged into an exciting adventure and mysteries galore in a medievalish fantasy world. First, we meet Dessa, an orphaned girl who works as an acrobat in a traveling circus - really just a disguise for a group of thieves, including her friends, a gray, goblin-like creature named Topper and the huge, friendly, but not very bright Fisk. We later learn that Topper is a Norker and Fisk is an Ettin (a one-headed Ettin at that!)

After a series of misfortunes, Dessa decides to join Norker and Fisk in an attemp to rob the selfish and greedy queen's treasury. A bad decision, since they're all caught, put in the power of the mysterious and cruel Master Greyfalcon, and condemned to death despite the best efforts of the captain of the Queen's Dragons.

Do they escape? Will Dessa find her lost brother? What is the mystery behind Dessa's dead family? Who - or what - is Master Greyfalcon? Are there more strange creatures in Dessa's land? What is the queen hiding? You'll have to read this action-packed story to answer a few of these questions...and then wait on tenterhooks with me for a sequel! Lots of sequels!

The art is colorful and vivid, the text easily readable, the adventure suitably exciting, and the mysteries very mysterious!

I checked this out from a neighboring library and was busy poking at my juvenile graphic novel budget to try to fit it in when to my squealing delight a review copy arrived from Kids Can Press! I added it right away and the kids have pounced on it - it's already been out twice in only two weeks, not counting all the kids who pulled it off the shelf and sat down on the floor right there to read it!

Verdict: Want! You want this one too, definitely. Put it in your juvenile graphic novel collection right away! You don't have one? Sneak it in your fiction, it's a nicely bound hardback.

ISBN: 978-1554534142; Published August 2010 by Kids Can Press; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates

Monday, August 30, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Old Abe, Eagle Hero: The Civil War's most famous mascot by Patrick Young, illustrated by Anne Lee

I was originally a little doubtful, as I always am about historical picture books, about this story. Illustrated with gentle water colors, it tells the story of a Civil War mascot - a bald eagle named Old Abe, from his capture by Chief Sky, to his home with a farmer, to being mascot for a company of Wisconsin soldiers and his legendary exploits in battle.

However, I was very pleased by how it turned out! It's perfect for a read-aloud - a reasonable amount of text and actually written to be understood and accessible for kindergarten through about 3rd grade, I'd say. There's humor and adventure and some sadness, but no graphic violence or concepts too big for smaller children to grasp. The watercolors are attractive and colorful with enough large detail to hold a bigger group's attention.

I did have a couple quibbles - the ending of the story is rather abrupt; the author apparently didn't want to mention Abe's death, instead finishing with the line "And he made two trips to Boston to help raise money to save the city's historic Old South Church." The story on the previous page about Abe recognizing old soldiers might have been a better ending. Also, there's absolutely no information on where the author got all the stories about Old Abe. The end note is information on the general history of bald eagles and the only background information is on the jacket flap, where it says the author is the great-grandson of the captain of the company where Old Abe served as mascot and grew up hearing the stories passed down. A quick search brings up a couple websites on Old Abe, but I would have liked to know whether the author used any original documents and other sources or if the whole story is just based on his family's stories he heard as a child.

Verdict: This is an unusual read-aloud with historical information, a fascinating animal story, and lots of humorous and interesting details. I'd recommend putting it in the picture books because of the lack of background information and sources, and especially recommend it to Wisconsin libraries.

ISBN: 978-1935279235; Published September 2010 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dotty Blog Tour, coming up!

Heads up folks, I am doing my first blog tour ever! Celebrating Erica Perl and Julia Denos' delightful picture book collaboration, Dotty. And we get to give away a copy of Dotty, which is another fun first for me! My stop on the blog tour will be up on September 3rd, meanwhile check out the other stops coming up...

8/30 The Happy Nappy Bookseller
9/1 Alison's Book Marks
9/2 A Patchwork of Books
9/3 Me!!
9/4 Pragmatic Mom
9/7 Links to Literacy
9/8 The Book Bag Blog
9/9 The Hiding Spot
9/10 Bookmark, The First Book Blog

So, I can see you eyeing me askance. Exactly why, you ask, am I doing a blog tour, something I have never done, for this particular book? Well, first of all...because they asked. I am always pleased to be asked, especially if someone takes the time to actually look at my blog. I can tell whether or not they've looked, because the ones who haven't call me Jean. Heh heh heh. Secondly, my library kids really liked Chicken Butt. I wasn't going to get it, because last year was such a huge year for the rear end picturebooks and I felt I had bought all that our library required, but several kids - and parents, and teachers - specifically begged for it. I liked Erica Perl's other picturebooks, Chicken Bedtime and Ninety-Three well enough, although I certainly think her writing craft has made huge strides forward in Dotty - it's a beautifully written, funny, and charming book, attractive to both children and parents. I recently read her young adult novel, Vintage Veronica, although I don't review young adult so you didn't see it here.

Really, in the interests of complete honesty, I originally agreed because I am deeply in love with Julia Denos' artwork. I even reviewed a celebrity picturebook for her, which shows the depth of my devotion. I said then I hoped she'd have the chance to illustrate a better book - and Dotty is definitely it! Did you know she's going to do new covers for the Casson family books? *Swoon*. Then, when I saw the topics of the blog tour, I perked up even more. I'm really interested in finding out what Ms. Perl has to say on my chosen topic. You will have to wait until the 3rd to find out what it is - and I'm going to make it part of the book giveaway as well! I was reading Vintage Veronica at the same time I was asked, and I became very interested in Erica Perl's ideas as an author.

So....that's the long, rambling story of why I said yes. I am very pleased to be trying something new, with an author that's definitely growing on me and an illustrator I am completely delighted with, and I've always wanted to give away a book on my blog!

Friday, August 27, 2010

House of Dolls by Francesca Lia Block, illustrated by Barbara McClintock

In her first middle grade novel, Francesca Lia Block tones down her I-have-just-ingested-a-large-amount-of-unknown-substances style and creates a charmingly brilliant story a little along the lines of Rumer Godden's The Doll's House, although with her own unmistakable style.

Wildflower, Rockstar, and Miss Selene live in a fabulous doll house. They have their friends, Guy and B. Friend, and they have their amazing and wonderful dresses, created by their owner's grandmother. But the little girl who owns them, Madison Blackberry, is not happy. Like many unhappy people, she decides since the dolls have the love and care she desires and doesn't have, she will punish them. Each of the dolls deals with grief and loneliness in their own way, until Madison's grandmother makes things right and there is a happy ending for all.

Block's elaborate and wild style is toned down just enough to give younger readers a delicious experience without completely bewildering them. Readers will revel in the descriptions of the elaborate dresses and feel the dolls' grief at their losses, as well as sympathizing with Madison's anger and hurt. Barbara McClintock's illustrations are the perfect counterpart, full of delicate detail but keeping the focus on the story. She brings to life Block's bespangled words and takes the reader into the world of The House of Dolls.

Verdict: Delightful! If I hadn't already used up my juvenile fiction budget for the year.....

ISBN: 006113094X; Published June 2010 by Harpercollins; Borrowed from the library

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Tiara Club at Diamond Turrets: Princess Lindsey and the Fluffy Guinea Pig by Vivian French

I borrowed this one because of the guinea pig! It's published by Orchard Books, a UK publisher who has another well-known sparkly series, Rainbow Magic. There have been lots of other series trying for that magic blend of glitter and inanity, such as Butterfly Meadow, Pony-Crazed Princess, Candy Fairies, etc., but Rainbow Magic is still the most popular I've offered to our readers.

The Tiara Club at Diamond Turrets combines glittery princesses and animals for a slightly odd but obviously appealing story. The main themes of the stories are that every girl is a princess and should always behave like one and practical lessons on taking care of animals. Ok, more than slightly odd perhaps. This particular story includes a glittery pink cover, main character in a wheelchair and various ethnicities represented in the characters (always a nice feature of Orchard Books' series) a little mystery, the series' mean girls who learn a lesson (but will obviously have forgotten it by the next time), and a plump and very cute guinea pig.

Verdict: Nothing new or outstanding here, but if you need another beginning chapter series that will appeal to girls, this is it! Lots of good elements and a fun story. This series of The Tiara Club isn't available in the US, but earlier series, including ones focusing on magical animals and fairytale elements, showed available on my vendor.

ISBN: 978-1846168789; Published July 2010 by Hodder & Stoughton; Borrowed from the library

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Gentleman Bug by Julian Hector

In a garden full of flowers is a bustling town of bugs. Among them is the Gentleman Bug, who loves to read and teaches the children. He doesn't mind the other bugs' scorn of his literary pursuits, until a charming Lady Bug appears. The Gentleman Bug falls hopelessly in love and sets out to change himself so he can be popular and win her love...only to discover they have more in common than he thought.

This simple story of bibliophiles and the meeting of true minds is charmingly illustrated with a wealth of color and taste. There are no elaborate details, but rather a simple representation of a miniature world. Children will love the many fanciful bugs and their adapted costumes and be pleased by the triumph of the underbug.

Verdict: A charming story, although perhaps a little bland.

ISBN: 978-1416994671; Published April 2010 by Atheneum; Borrowed from the library

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Moon Rabbit by Natalie Russell

Little Rabbit loves the city, but at night she wishes she had a friend - a rabbit friend like her. One day, she is in the park at night and hears lovely music. She follows the music and finds...a little rabbit just like her! Together they enjoy music and stories and the outdoor world of the park. But after a while, Little Rabbit misses her city home and returns to the lights and activities she loves. She's no longer lonely though, because soon a special friend is arriving on a visit...

Shades of blue and gray fill in the background of this gentle, silvery story of friendship and the joy of having your own place in the world. A perfect bedtime story and also a good choice for children with long-distance friends or relatives.

Verdict: Lovely art and a sweet story. This one may not be a huge hit at storytime, but is sure to find a small but enthusiastic group of fans.

ISBN: 978-0670011704; Published May 2009 by Viking; Borrowed from the library

Monday, August 23, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Who was Amelia Earhart? by Kate Boehm Jerome, illustrated by David Cain

Occasionally, I get asked for biographies. Usually by kids who have a school assignment. I don protective gear and trudge back to the last shelf of the juvenile nonfiction. I close my eyes and gingerly snatch a few shabby volumes off the shelf, shake off the dust and spiders, and hand them to gloomy-eyed children, who meander slowly away, looking with disgust at my offerings.

In other words, our biography section is sadly outdated. But, I don't really get enough call for biographies to justify updating it at this point. Even if I had the money. Which I don't.

But I do occasionally have kids who actually, *gasp*, like to read biographies. One of them asked me if we had any of the "Who Was..." series. Of course, we didn't. But I borrowed one from another library to see if they were a possibility for that far-off time when we do update the biography section.

They definitely are. This particular volume, a life of Amelia Earhart, has a breezy narrative style with enough tidbits and stories to hold a reader's interest, as well as enough facts for a school report. I learned quite a few new things about Earhart myself, including her career in fashion design and the fact that she had a long hiatus from flying while she was dealing with financial difficulties. The illustrations break up the story nicely, although they're not particularly fascinating on their own, and the text is a good, readable size.

The illustrations include a map or two and there are also several inset pages on the Wright Brothers, the aviation industry, etc. A timeline and bibliography are included at the back. And the book is - ta dum ta dum - 106 pages long. This is VERY important, because 99% of school reports involving biographies require something at least 100 pages.

Verdict: This looks like an excellent, and very useful series. Recommended by one of my young patrons and now myself! I'll put this on the list for that hypothetical time when I weed and update the biography section.

ISBN: 978-0448428567; Published November 2002 by Grosset and Dunlap; Borrowed from the library

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Quick Reviews: Clearing off the picturebook shelf

I have a giant pile of picture books from the library I've just read through - some of them I'll be giving longer reviews, but some I didn't really have more than a couple quick thoughts...
  • Red Green Blue: A first book of colors by Alison Jay Another lovely delight from Alison Jay. Colors are presented in a variety of nursery rhymes and Mother Goose stories, with a handy guide to the stories at the back. I hope to purchase this eventually for our concept books collection.
  • Push Button by Aliki The pictures are bright and charming, but I thought the rhyme was rough and I'm always doubtful about books with a "message." Plenty of other libraries in our consortium ordered it, I don't feel I need to.
  • Too Pickley! by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Genevieve Leloup I liked the author's earlier book, Too Purpley and had hoped to order this one, about a picky eater, but was disappointed in the ending - it never shows what the food is that he DOES like. Probably won't order it now.
  • Bear at home by Stella Blackstone I borrowed this to look at because the new Spanish version, Oso en casa is on the Junior Library Guild's pick list for the fall. It's a very simple story, exploring the rooms in a house, that would be perfect for toddler storytime. I was a little taken aback at the size of bear's house - but that's a personal quibble. I see there's a board book version, which would be just right for us. Added to the wishlist!
  • Letters from a desperate dog by Eileen Christelow JLG also had a sequel to this picture book on their list, so I got the first one to look at. It was ok, nice classic Christelow illustrations, a dog gets constantly yelled at by his master so he asks an advice columnist for help and eventually becomes a big theater star, only to discover he really misses his master - sort of. The dog as a member of society was kinda funny, but I didn't feel strongly enough about this one to add it to the order list.
  • Let's make a joyful noise: Celebrating Psalm 100 by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Amy June Bates I couldn't figure out the rhythm of the poetry in this book - it seemed very choppy. The art was ok, lots of earth tones and movement. I do occasionally buy religious-themed picture books I think our patrons will enjoy, and I'll consider this one because it has several holds on it and Karma Wilson is popular, but it wouldn't be a choice of my own. I liked her Mortimer books better.
  • The Three Little Pigs: An architectural tale by Steven Guarnaccia I was really surprised by how much I liked this one. Usually, I put books like these in the "picture books for grownups" category, but this one was good! All of the architectural gags are in the illustrations, and there's a key on the end pages so you can search for the different styles and objects, something even a child uninterested or uninformed about architecture will enjoy. The story itself is the traditional tale - plus the extra bits about the orchard and the fair! told with a fresh verve that keeps the traditional quality of the storyline and makes it a great read-aloud. I'm going to double-check how many three little pig versions we have and hopefully add this one - Recommended
  • Frog in the bog by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Joan Rankin I really liked Wilson's rhythm in this rhyming story, but I couldn't like the illustrations - I thought they looked like the book had been left out in the rain and then scribbled on by a child. I recently bought Scott Fischer's Jump, which has a slightly similar theme, rollicking rhyme, and brisk, clear, colorful pictures, so I definitely don't need this one.
  • Yucky Worms by Vivian French, illustrated by Jessica Ahlberg I liked this one well enough - I also liked Carol Brendler's Winnie Finn, Worm Farmer. I don't like either of them enough to purchase them. Just, I don't know, missing something. I'll like about them some more, maybe make a decision later. Both good books on worms, Winnie is more humorous, Yucky is more informational.
  • Bones by Steve Jenkins Technically, this is a nonfiction, but I usually use Steve Jenkins for interactive read-alouds, so counting this as a picture book. I don't know why I didn't really like this one. It's classic Jenkins, I have tons of kids wanting skeleton books, it just didn't really grab me. Maybe because I couldn't immediately see it as a read-aloud, which I always have for his other books. I read Down Down Down with preschoolers and it's a hit! Irregardless of my personal malaise, I will buy this one eventually. 'Cause, you know, skeletons, Steve Jenkins, it's good.
  • The Cow Loves Cookies by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Marcellus Hall. This one I LIKE. Strong, infectious rhymes, blocky, colorful pictures with lots of strong lines and humor, this is going to be a storytime favorite for a long time. I'm glad I ordered it for the library - Recommended.
  • Whopper Cake by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Will Hillenbrand Abstractly, I can see this could be fun and popular. Personally, I'm not really a Hillenbrand fan, too busy for my tastes I guess? But I'll add it to the picture book wishlist.
That's it for now! I still have (as you can see) a large list to be read and reviewed, lots of misc. fun things coming up!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Tooth by Avi Slodovnick, illustrated by Manon Gauthier

Some of the art in this picture book is quite attractive - it's all pastels of gray and white with scratchy bits of color - but the story is so weird and disconnected I can't really see an audience for it.

Marissa has to go to the dentist. On the way, she sees a homeless man on the street. At the dentist, she gets her tooth removed (Apparently without anaesthetic! Those Canadians are tough!) and is told to put it under her pillow so the tooth fairy will bring her money. On the way home, she stops and gives her tooth to the homeless man, so he can put it under his pillow and get the money. The story ends: "At first the man looked surprised. Then he smiled warmly and waved good-bye to Marissa as she and her mother walked away. Now all he needed...[next page]...was a pillow."

This story was apparently translated from French, and of course sometimes the text loses in the translation. But...I really can't figure out what this story is going for. If it's trying to engender compassion or explain homelessness to young children, there's way too much subtlety and the text is far too lengthy. If for older children, the girl is too young. It has sort of the feeling of a fable, or....It's just....a weird little story. I would be happy to see a couple good picture books on going to the dentist or dealing with homeless people, but the two subjects together don't work well.

Verdict: Not recommended

ISBN: 978-1935279723; Published September 2010 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates

Friday, August 20, 2010

Clarice Bean (series) by Lauren Child

Now these are the Clarice Bean chapter books. If you have a 1st or 2nd grader reading the picture books, you can easily move them on to these, since I'd say Clarice Bean is perfect for the 3rd-4th grader. Clarice's voice and style is still the same as in her picture books, full of her own unique viewpoint and phrasing.

In the first Clarice Bean chapter book, Clarice has become a huge fan of the Ruby Redford detective series. This is a good thing, since mysterious things - the disappearance of her best friend, the missing award cup, and more - are happening all around her. There's not a really strong plot in this story, just a miscellaneous collection of mysterious and worrying things revolving around Clarice's devotion to the Ruby Redfort books, large excerpts of which are included.
In Clarice's second adventure, she is dealing with a lot of trouble at school, from the upcoming spelling bee (Clarice is not so good at spelling) to the school play (she doesn't get the part she wants but her best friend Betty does) to some problems with her sort of friend Karl. Karl has his own big problems, but when he most needs help Clarice makes a big sacrifice for him. Unfortunately, this is rather wiped out by the ridiculously Hollywoodish ending, but it's certainly in keeping with the Ruby Redfort theme.

In the final book, Clarice is dealing with change. Her best friend is leaving, Karl is acting weird, her parents seem to have a big secret, and even her brother Kurt is changing. Clarice has a lot of trouble dealing with all this change, but in a rather dramatic ending she sheds her misconceptions and prejudices and finds out things aren't as bad as she had thought.

I have to admit my favorite part of all these chapter books is when Kurt throws a fit over his teacher demanding they write an essay on what they did over the weekend. I have personally always thought this and similar assignments were incredibly intrusive and rude and I was delighted by Kurt's reaction, although of course he has bigger problems going on - and if he hadn't been so upset, might quite possibly have realized there's no reason you have to tell the truth when you've been given such an assignment. Like surveys. I'm always fascinated by people who feel the need to tell the absolute truth on surveys.

Anyways. Clarice's voice did become rather irritating after several chapters, but I did gulp these down in rather a large quantity. I like her character and her wild adventures, although they have plenty of realistic detail to balance them out. These stories are a bit different than the usual middle grade girl fiction. Clarice sees everything a bit differently and I think both girls and boys would appreciate her viewpoint.

Verdict: If I hadn't already spent my juvenile fiction budget for practically the whole year....maybe I'll add this series next year. Then again, I meant to add the Ivy+Bean series too. Oh dear.

Utterly me, Clarice Bean
ISBN: 978-0763627881; Published March 2005 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Clarice Bean spells trouble
ISBN: 978-0763629038; Published May 2006 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library

Clarice Bean don't look now
ISBN: 978-0763639358; Published August 2008 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Clarice Bean (series) by Lauren Child

Here I am, still trying to figure out which Clarice Bean books are picture books and which are chapter books...I finally just requested every title in our library system with "Clarice Bean" in the title. I discovered that My Uncle is a Hunkle says Clarice Bean is the original British version of Clarice Bean, Guess Who's Babysitting? (Previously reviewed here)While I normally prefer the original versions of books, for reading aloud the American version is better, since there are various expressions and some culture that will be confusing to small children.

I next discovered the first Clarice Bean picture book, Clarice Bean That's Me, wherein we meet the various characters, all packed into their noisy house. Anyone who's ever lived in a small house with a large family will sympathize with Clarice's desire for some peace and quiet of her own, although parents probably won't be quite as happy with her method of getting it.

The final story I found, What Planet are you from Clarice Bean? finally finds something Clarice's older brother, Kurt, is willing to come out of his room for. It's a rather disorganized mixture of science and environmentalism, wound around saving a neighborhood tree. We never find out why they're cutting it down - is it diseased? In the way of construction? and we never discover if their protest is successful or not.

Clarice Bean is an intriguing child with a unique view of the world and a very individual communication style. Lauren Child's collage illustrations incorporate the text as part of the illustrations and her distinctive style brings each character alive for the reader. These stories aren't the best for read-alouds, because of the design of the text, unless you're prepared to memorize the story or read upside-down and sideways.

The first story and the babysitting ones are, I think, the best. What Planet seems very disconnected and there's no real resolution to the plot. Possibly it's hidden on the endpapers, but I don't think so.

Verdict: These are great books for older kids to enjoy reading by themselves or with help.

Clarice Bean, that's me
ISBN: 0763609617; Published August 1999 by Candlewick; Borrowed from the library

What planet are you from Clarice Bean
ISBN: 978-0763647964; Published February 2010 by Candlewick (reprint); Borrowed from the library

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Suddenly Supernatural: Crossing Over by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

I got about 8 pages in and groaned in disappointment. Why introduce a crush into a perfectly good ghost/mystery series? Why? Why? Yes, yes, I know they are 8th graders, but still!

But....I guess it turned out ok anyways. Kat still sees ghosts and it's an even bigger problem than usual because she's on her way to Montreal on a school trip. With her best friend Jac, both their mothers, and various classmates from the previous books. Not to mention Ben, whom Kat has suddenly developed a crush on. Not only is Kat seeing ghosts, suddenly she's hearing them. Is she developing another talent? Will she ever be able to talk to Ben? What's wrong with Jac? Will they spend their entire tour with a bus full of ghosts?

The resolution of the Kat+Ben+hearing voices was predictable, but still a nice touch. I still think the relationship between Kat and her mother is the best part of the story, although the mystery of the ghosts is fun too. This story seemed mostly a "bridge" adding in new characters and elements for the further continuation of the series.

Verdict: Add this one if you already have the previous volumes in the series; it's not a stand-alone.

ISBN: 0316073695; Published May 2010 by Little, Brown; Borrowed from the library

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Garden For Pig by Kathryn Thurman, illustrated by Lindsay Ward

Pig lives on a lovely little apple farm. But he's tired of apples, apples, apples all the time! The farmer doesn't seem to care that Pig longs for a variety of vegetables. Luckily there is a garden right next door and Pig makes a visit....when he can't escape again, Pig wonders if he'll have to eat nothing but apples forevermore! But no, he has seeds right with him and all the things they need to grow....

I was a bit doubtful about this story at first, but it grew on me. The simple artwork is spruced up with ingenious collages that match their background - the apple trees are made of apple recipes, the lettuce leaves of descriptions of lettuce varieties, etc. The little comments on seed packets are quite funny and Pig's solution will, of course, have kids giggling and making "ploop" sounds for the rest of the day. The back of the book contains some simple instructions on creating an organic garden and compost pile. The text does blend into the background, so if you're going to try to use this in storytime, practice it first.

Verdict: The illustrations aren't my personal favorite, but a fun story. If you need more gardening picture books or have a fondness for pig stories, this would be an acceptable addition to your library collection. Optional.

ISBN: 978-1935279242; Published September 2010 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates

Monday, August 16, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Ready, Set Grow! Quick and Easy Gardening Projects

At the beginning of the summer, I took a look at three gardening books for kids, including Wildlife Gardening, put together by DK Publishing. I've discovered another DK Publishing gardening book which is similar to Wildlife Gardening, but much better!

Ready Set Grow, while as crammed full of projects of WG, has a much more readable design and a good logical progression of projects. It begins with a table of contents which lists the time needed for each project next to the title and also includes a brief note on the American Horticultural Society and their contact information.

The book begins with a general introduction to gardening; looking at the space you have available, buying healthy plants, and knowing what will grow in your space. The first projects show a colorful timeline of how seeds sprout and includes instructions for making a simple seed propagator. This project is followed by tips on "green" gardening and how to water and mulch, along with instructions on building a self-irrigation system. The book moves on into making fun containers, garden decorations, and stepping stones.

The second section starts with a calendar for organizing the following growing projects and a list of quick-to-grow plants. The following growing projects are all flowers - lots of simple and fun ideas here! The third section covers vegetables, herbs, and fruit and also starts with a calendar. The projects start out simple and quick, and get more complex and time-intensive until you come to the Pizza Garden.

The book finishes with instructions on collecting and storing seeds, a glossary, and index. My only quibble is the egregious suggestion of decoracting your cacti garden with plastic figures of cowboys and Indians - I'm pretty sure this comes from a British consciousness, since many of the projects have that flavor - do currants even grow over here?

Verdict: A colorful and fun gardening book

ISBN: 978-0756658878; Published February 2010 by DK; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Extreme Adventures: Shark Bait; Scorpion Sting by Justin D'Ath

Before I begin my review, I have to say these are not the covers on the Kane Miller US editions sent to me for review. These are the covers of the Australian editions. The Kane Miller editions are rather....bland. Anyways.

I don't like deep water. I do not like things coming out of deep water. When I want a horror movie, I eschew my fourth grade patron's favorites of Chucky and Saw (no, I am not kidding) and watch Water Horse or Happy Feet. The part where the leopard seal comes up out of the water...*shudder*. So, I glanced at the rather bland green and gray cover with sharks circling and thought "ick. I'll just take a quick look". An hour later, I had sat down and read the book cover to cover. These things are addictive. Sam Fox, on vacation at the Great Barrier Reef, is wandering about exploring with a young Japanese kid he's met, when a sudden huge wave sweeps them off the reef and out to sea. Michi doesn't speak English and can't swim - but fortunately he's got water wings. Sam has nothing but his will to survive and help his new friend stay alive. If they can stay afloat, will rescue come before the sharks arrive? Just when it seems their ordeal is over, something even worse happens....they're rescued. Or are they?

Sam Fox's second adventure, well....it involves scorpions of course. A massive cave-in, being lost in a scorching desert, terrorists, camels, and the entire Australian army. It also made me late for work because I couldn't stop reading it!

The bland covers - well, give a kid a quick booktalk, maybe read the first couple paragraphs - and they won't care. Reluctant readers? Reluctant no more.
Heart-pounding action, crazy plots that nevertheless come off as totally believable, engaging characters, fascinating backgrounds, who needs cool covers? These stories seem like they came straight from a kid's imagination "and then I was in the water and there were sharks but I found an island, but there were smugglers on the island..." but rewritten with an expert touch by an adult to make them great reading! They're oddly rather old-fashioned with (as far as I can tell) just plain adventure - no bad language, gross jokes, body humor, etc. There isn't even really any gore - just some occasional fighting and natural accidents. This means you can hand them out to any kid who's able to read chapters and isn't going to get nightmares from Extreme Adventures!

I was disappointed that the first Extreme Adventure, Crocodile Attack is for some weird reason unavailable from my vendor, but it is in print and available on Amazon. My order list is getting rearranged now to make room for the rest of this series! Books 1 - 4 are available in the US, but it looks like we'll have to wait for further adventures to come over from Australia.

Verdict: Addictive reads for kids and adults! Especially good for reluctant middle grade readers, these are suitable for about age 10 and up. A must for your series collection!

Shark bait
ISBN: 978-1935279709; Published September 2010 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates

Scorpion sting
ISBN: 978-1935279716; Published September 2010 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by publisher through Raab Associates

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Market Day by Victoria Roberts and Tomislav Zlatic

I don't usually review non-book items, but this sweet little kit contains books, so close enough, right? The contents come packaged in a brightly colored briefcase-shaped cardboard box, with a snap for the handle and the side flap. It's a nice glossy finish that will be easy to wipe down, but little fingers will need some help with the snaps. Once it's been opened, you lay it flat and a little market scene pops up! Here's half of it:
There's a narrow space behind each stall to put in the cardboard characters and the books and characters are held in little compartments that lay flat.
There's a nice collection of animals - it's hard to see with this picture, but they have little cardboard tabs around their feet that are meant to be bent in so they'll stand up, or they can easily be set into the slots behind the stalls.

There are four books included with this package, Mr. Pig's colors, Miss Dog's Shapes, Mr. Peacock's Opposites, and Mrs. Mouse's Numbers. The boardbooks are brightly colored with enough details to hold the interest of an older child and plenty of illustration of each book's theme.

This kit isn't for library use - the boardbooks are made out of a much flimsier cardboard than boardbooks are usually manufactured from; it feels almost like the shirt cardboard I buy for supplies. Children who play roughly probably aren't going to enjoy it either, because the cardboard characters and pop-up market will tear easily under the grip of toddler fingers. However, this is the perfect gift for that little child who likes to play carefully and quietly - I'm sure you know at least one! The cardboard is sturdy enough for regular wear and tear and a careful small child from 2 to 5 will delight in the bright colors and little characters contained in this package.

Source: Review copy provided by Kane Miller through Raab Associates.

Verdict: This isn't appropriate for a library collection, but would make a perfect gift for a small child! This particular one is going to be passed on to my little niece....

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Church Mouse by Graham Oakley

Finally! Finally, they are republishing the Church Mouse series by Graham Oakley. Kane Miller, you are the most intelligent, perspicaceous publisher ever! I am a huge, huge fan of Arthur, Humphrey, Samson, and all the mice and villagers of Wortlethorpe. For a very, very, detailed review, see my review of The Church Mouse here. Of course, us true devotees of Arthur and his friends are really interested in only one topic....how does the reprint compare?

You will have to forgive my truly abysmal photographic abilities. The pictures will enlarge if you click on them, but I'm not sure that's a positive thing or not. So, the cover. The original cover here, as owned by me and complete with Half Price Books price tag I never took off, is a close look at Sampson and Arthur, best friends forever. The new cover, pictured above, shows Arthur addressing the mice and inviting them to come live in the church. Naturally, I am sorry to lose the original cover, which isn't contained in the story, but I do like the way the pattern on the new cover matches the tile pattern on the old and the new endpapers - very, very nice indeed. I was sorry to lose the black and white outline drawings decorating the title page and end page, but that's a small quibble and the colored replacements are quite nice.

We open the book and...whoo! Same illustrations, but brilliantly restored and glowing with color. The bus is a brighter red, the trees a deeper green, gorgeous! The new edition has framed all the illustrations and text and added a plain border while the old edition (which may differ from the original, a copy of which I don't own) has the text embedded in the art, as you see below, new on the left, old on the right.

To accomodate the new panels and outlay, some of the art has been resized and the type is quite a bit smaller. There are several trifling changes in the text - original, "Straight away she asked him in to meet her husband for she knew that anybody who lived in a church must be a pretty decent sort of person" new edition, "Right away she asked him in to meet her husband, for she knew anybody who lived in a church must be a pretty decent sort of mouse."

However, the textual changes are minor. The resizing of the text and illustrations isn't really a drawback - this story is too long for a normal storytime and is really intended to be pored over by a few chortling children and the passing adult as well. I like the idea of the panels, as I think it will grab children used to reading graphic novels and comics and attract them to this delightfully sarcastic story. Most of Oakley's humor comes from the juxtaposition of his incredibly detailed and humorous art with his straight-faced prose and the new layout does an excellent job of making the story easy to follow and accessible.

So, while I may lament a few minor changes, I'm very happy with this on the whole. Beautifully restored art, a fresh and snappy layout, and a beloved series is available to a new generation!

Source: Review copy provided by Kane Miller through Raab Associates.
Verdict: This won't circulate like a Fancy Nancy, but there will definitely be a firm and devoted group of supporters for this lovely new edition. Buy it for adults to rediscover and to delight a new generation of children!

ISBN: 978-1935279693; Published September 2010 by Kane Miller (reprint); Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Boom! by Mark Haddon

I thought this story was hilarious. Then again, I thought Chatterton's The Brain was hilarious too and despite much book-talking I have convinced very few kids to read it. Possibly I have an extremely warped sense of humor.

Jim is not having a good day. His sister's boyfriend wants to kill him, his best friend's mom tries to kill him, and his sister tells him his teachers are planning to expel him and send him to reform school. Of course, she's told him crazy stories before...but what if this one is true? Charlie, his best friend, comes up with a crazy plan to find out but the boys get much more than they expected. They don't find out anything about Jim's fate, but they do find out there's something very strange and mysterious going on with two of their most boring and ordinary teachers. Suddenly, there are strange things happening all around and the fate of Charlie - and the world - rests on Jim's shoulders.

Boom! is peppered with giggle-inducing nuggets such as:
  • "Craterface had a black belt in kung fu. He could kill people with his ears."
  • "He was very nearly sacked but the headmistress reckoned it would help cut down vandalism if everyone knew there was a dangerous lunatic looking after the school buildings."
  • "The police asked us whether we wanted counselling. We said we'd prefer a hot supper."
The plot is as insane as possible, but with just enough realism dribbled through that it feels realistic. Jim is a perfectly normal teenage boy - complete with absolute lack of control over his impulses and saddled with a reckless and possibly insane best friend - and his complete normality makes his wacky situation all the more bewildering and funny. This is a funny, funny read sprinkled with sharp observations of life. There are enough different elements to appeal to a wide section of readers; humor, scifi, adventure, realism, and funny bits (which are different than humor).

Verdict: As funny as Chatterton's Brain series, but with more realistic characters and a less far-out plot, I think this will have a wider appeal to middle grade and young teen audience.

ISBN: 0385751877; Published May 2010 by David Fickling Books; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Grey Griffins: The Clockwork Chronicles: The Brimstone Key by Derek Benz and J. S. Lewis

I can't really seem to get a summary out of my head for this, so here's a quick excerpt from what the publisher says..."When the Griffins enroll at Iron Bridge Academy, a school to train young recruits in the fight against the forces of evil, they find themselves at the center of a whole new adventure."

Last year, it seems like I had a 10-year-old boy in just about every other day asking when the next Grey Griffins book was coming out. I spent quite a bit of time with some of the more insistent ones looking at the website for hints of a new book. However, by the time I heard about this title, it seems like the interest had died down and I haven't had anyone ask for the books for quite a while, although they do check out fairly regularly. When I first saw this title, I thought it was a new series, unconnected to Grey Griffins and groaned and shoved it off my order list.

When I received an ARC and realized it was a new story arc of the Grey Griffins I popped it back on and ordered a copy for us - although interest has died down, I'm sure those kids are still out there and will be excited to see it. As for me...well, I frankly wasn't excited about it. I tried to get into it and just couldn't. It helps to have read the previous books, I'm sure, since you need to know who the Grey Griffins are, why they're friends, and what's been happening to them. I haven't read the previous books. Also, I dislike anything Arthurian or Templar-related, and these stories are tightly tied up with Templar legends. The steampunk bits were kind of fun, but felt more like bad horror than really good steampunk, whatever that is. I just...the writing just didn't work for me.

But. I'm pretty darned sure it's going to work for kids. Even those who weren't Grey Griffins fans will like this. Plenty of action, lots of mysterious stuff going on, funny bits, serious bits, steampunk, magic, werewolves, you name it, it's in here. So, it wasn't for me - but I'm glad I ordered it for the library.

Verdict: Not a fantasy I enjoyed, but one that will be popular in most libraries. Go ahead and buy it.

ISBN: 0316045225; Published June 2010 by Little, Brown; ARC provided by the publisher; Purchased for the library

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Gobble Gobble Moooooo Tractor Book by Jez Alborough

Guaranteed toddler grins! I saw this title and description floating around somewhere - probably on an earlier Kane Miller press release and have been longing for this book ever since.

It does not disappoint. One morning, while the farmer sleeps, Sheep climbs onto his tractor. Sheep knows just what sound the tractor makes when it starts - and one by one the other animals add their sounds to make the tractor go, until the pages open out into a giant spread of animal-tractor noises!

Jez Alborough's illustrations are beautifully textured and thoroughly humorous. He perfectly captures the animals' expressions as they pretend with the tractor in a way any small child will understand.

The growing cacophony of animal sounds will delight small listeners and encourage them to join in with their own animal - or tractor - sounds.

Verdict: Perfect for toddler storytimes and many, many hilarious read-alouds. A must for your storytime section and picture book shelves!

ISBN: 978-1935279662; Published September 2010 by Kane Miller; Review copy provided by the publisher through Raab Associates

Monday, August 9, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: Poop Happened! A history of the world from the bottom up by Sarah Albee, illustrated by Robert Leighton

Still looking at unusual histories here....Before you groan at the cover, let me tell you this book is fascinating. Yes, it's a history of sewage. But it's much more than that. This is social history, not history just of a small group of influential people, wars, and countries. It's the daily things that affected the majority of populations. The things that somehow get left out of history books.

Now I, as I have said on many occasions, really don't "do" medieval fantasies or romances. Because...yuck. All I can think about is how filthy things were! (Except Tamora Pierce's fantasies. She's the only quasi-medieval fantasy writer who has built in a modern sensibility to waste disposal. Just thought I'd mention it). Sarah Albee drives home the constant stinkiness of general life in the Roman, medieval, and industrial world. Kids looking for the bathroom humor will find plenty of stinky facts and ridiculously disgusting jobs, but they'll also discover just how important plumbing is to world affairs and how it continues to affect the lives of normal people all over the world today.

Verdict: I name this a sneaky book. It's got a "grab me" cover for reluctant readers, a kooky mixture of photographs and art, it's divided into bite-sized pieces and full of stinky facts...and suddenly a kid who's not interested in history or reading will discover he's read it - and know a lot more about history than he ever thought possible!

ISBN: 0802720773; Published May 2010 by Walker Books; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library (twice)

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Summer Reading Program: The Report

Sure, you want to read my 5-page summer reading report! The formatting's weird because I pasted it. Have fun!
Children and Teen Summer Reading Program 2010
Matheson Memorial Library
The Numbers
  • We had a great response for the summer reading program this year!
  • We distributed 80 baby bags (community information and board book) to children under 2
  • 645 children age 3 – 12 signed up for the regular summer reading program
  • 60 teens signed up for the new teen summer reading program.
  • We had a total of 785 children and teens participating in the summer reading program and every child received a free book!
We did a LOT of reading this summer!
  • 193 children read 10 hours and received a free pass to the State Parks, Old World Wisconsin, and the Milwaukee Planetarium (passes donated through the Lakeshores Library System)
  • 83 children read over 20 hours and received a free pizza from Sperino’s Little Italy
  • 56 children read over 30 hours and received a free one-day pass to the Walworth County Fair
  • We distributed approximately 1900 prizes – that’s well over 3800 hours of reading (children read 2 – 4 hours for a prize, depending what point they reached in their log)
  • 22 of the teens who signed up for summer reading turned in reviews – most of them read 5 or more books for the program!
Our storytimes and programs were also a great success! We had 38 programs, including storytimes, performers, craft programs, and a total of 1472 attendees.

Favorite Anecdotes of the Summer!
  • A mom and her kids told me – with great excitement – “We don’t need to turn the TV on all day this summer, we have bags of books!”
  • Another mom told me her young daughter, after signing up for the summer reading program, has become interested in learning to read and now she looks at books and tells her mother what she thinks the pictures are about (this is a first step in reading readiness!)
  • One family went camping – and the kids took their flashlights and read the whole time!
  • Two of our middle school boys found the rockers up in the teen area and came in every day for several hours to read the books they found on the new shelf.
  • Our 700th summer reader stayed up reading all night after she signed up so she could win a prize before the program ended!
Summer Donors and Community Partners
Special thanks to all our summer donors and partners who helped make the summer reading program a success!
· Elkhorn Fund - $500 grant for summer reading books
· Kiwanis - $200 grant for summer reading books
· State Parks, Milwaukee Planetarium, and Old World Wisconsin – passes for summer readers
· Sperino’s Little Italy – free pizza coupons for summer readers
· Walworth County Fair – free one-day pass for summer readers
· Deakin’s Isle and Circle of Friends – Beanie Babies for prizes
· Library patrons – small prize donations

The Summer Reading Program – Next Year!
We have lots of exciting plans for the summer reading program next year! Some of the changes we’ll be seeing…
  • The Summer Reading Program will become the Summer Reading Club!
  • There will be a separate club for ages 0 – 5, specifically encouraging caregivers to read aloud and including reading readiness suggestions.
  • The Summer Reading Club for ages 6 – 12 will have a new component where they can visit the library, attend library programs, and participate in outdoor activities as part of their summer reading log.
  • The Teen Summer Reading Club will last into August and we hope to have enough donations to have a prize drawing each week.
  • We’re looking at ways to do online registration and save some time for everyone next year.
  • As always, there will be lots of reading, fun prizes, and great programs!
The Summer Reading Program – The Evaluation
Summer Reading Program age 0 – 2
  • Parents were happy to receive the bag and board book, but only a few parents asked for them. Several parents expressed interest in having a simple program for children that would allow them to participate as well as help parents remember to read aloud to their younger children. I will be planning a separate program for age 0 – 5 next year
Summer Reading Program age 3 – 12
  • The new reading log was more efficient, but there was some confusion over how many reading squares should be filled in. As always, the most registrations and participation came from the 7 – 10 age groups. Although our registration grew, we still have about the same number completing 10 hours (first page of the log, considered “completing” the program). Our main donations this year were towards the free books distributed with registration. I will be redesigning the reading log to make it more efficient and less confusing, considering lengthening the program to give kids more time to finish, looking at online registration, and changing the 3-12 age group to 6 – 12, so this group more accurately reflects the participating ages.
Summer Reading Program – teens
  • Most of our registered teens were 13 – 15. Only about 20 of the 60 registered teens turned in a review to win a drawing prize. I will be concentrating on the 13 – 15 age group and encouraging 16 and up to join the adult program next year. I plan to have a weekly drawing, instead of one drawing at the end, to encourage participation and work on a way for teens to participate online.
Weekly Summer Programs
  • Pattie Woods continues to have strong attendance at her toddler and baby storytimes. I covered several toddler storytimes for Pattie over the summer and was able to talk to parents of younger children about their needs in the library. Parents appreciated the later storytime (10:30 instead of 9:30) and would like a gate across the children’s play area (I’ve added it to my wishlist).
  • Preschool storytime had a small but steady attendance. Moving the time a little earlier helped, but I think we just don’t have enough children not already involved in preschool or summer school to come to multiple storytimes on the same morning. We’ll be having only one preschool storytime in the fall and it will be on Thursday morning, so there won’t be conflict with other storytimes.
  • Wii Gaming for kids was popular, but it’s a program that naturally limits the number of participants. We’ll be having different after school programs on Wednesdays in the future, so we probably won’t be repeating this program. The teens weren’t really interested in the Wii; I think some of them didn’t realize we’d moved it to the teen area. If we want to continue this program, someone will need to supervise it upstairs for longer hours, possibly later in the afternoon and evening.
  • Messy Crafts was a huge success! We had an average of 20 kids at every program. We’ll be keeping this as a summer program on Thursday afternoons every year.
Special Summer Programs
  • Our summer reading kick-off was very successful and the kids and adults loved the illusionist, The Amazing Al – who was very, very affordable.
  • I had about 20 kids come to the Tween Favorites Book Club, where they did a craft and had a chance to check out the new books. I plan to have this again next summer, although I’ll probably call it something else, and possibly add a “real” book club for tweens.
  • We had a good group for the Babysitting Workshop and as long as Mary Kennedy is willing to do this program we’ll continue it. It’s a good refresher for kids planning to start babysitting over the summer.
  • The Twilight party was very disappointing. I think our publicity isn’t reaching teens at all, because I had a lot of teens afterwards who were surprised to find out we’d had a Twilight program and very disappointed that they’d missed it. Next year, when our Facebook usage has increased, I think this or something similar would be popular.
  • We also had very low attendance for the Walworth County Cloggers. Most of the attendees were parents or friends who had come along with the group. I think part of the problem was that we were closed the Monday before. I’ll consider our holiday closure schedule before I plan any more performers around the Fourth.
  • We had an average group for our author, Sharon Hart Addy. I’d like to get someone a little better known next year, but that will depend on our budget.
  • We had a mostly good attendance for the storywagons, helped out by Lakeland Little Learners bringing a bus of kids for each program. They are very well-organized and well-behaved and I plan to work with them to get their kids participating in summer reading more next year.
  • We had a small but very excited group for the teen end of summer reading party. Again, the more teens find us on Facebook, the better attendance we’ll get. I plan to do some teen book clubs and craft programs starting in the fall and although it will probably take time and patience we should start seeing increased teen participation next summer.
  • We had a great time at our end of summer reading party! One of my volunteers made us a piƱata at the last minute and it was a huge hit!
    We had an overall successful summer reading program this year. If you have suggestions or community feedback, please pass it on to me. As always, I’ll be changing and improving programs for next summer, always keeping in mind our goals are to keep kids reading and have fun!

    Jennifer Wharton
    Youth Services Library
    Matheson Memorial Library

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Doyle and Fossey, Science Detectives by Michele Torrey, illustrated by Barbara Newman

Periodically, someone writes a series and touts it as the "new Encyclopedia Brown." Usually, this results in books ranging from the mildly interesting to the downright boring, but occasionally something comes near the mark. I don't think any of the publicity around Michele Torrey's new-to-the-US series, Doyle and Fossey, Science Detectives, has made this particular comparison, but it could easily be made.

Drake Doyle loves science. He has his own laboratory and works hard to do all the things a professional scientist should. Nell Fossey is also a scientist, but her particular interest is wildlife - not surprising, since her mom is a biologist. Together, they race to solve cases, both scientific and ecological.

Each book has one specifically scientific mystery, one ecology-related mystery, and a few others thrown in for good measure. Each book also contains instructions on setting up your own lab, the scientific method, experiments and information related to the cases, and more information on the environmental issues. For example, the first casebook The Case of the Gasping Garbage, starts out with a case that Drake Doyle solves with scientific investigation, continues with Nell Fossey's efforts to save endangered frogs, and then Fossey solves a problem (a truck stuck under an overpass) and Doyle and Fossey together track down the sender of a mysterious love note.

I do have a couple reservations about this series. Some of the language felt rather repetitive and at times the pseudo-professional tones of Doyle and Fossey was annoying. The section at the end of each book on setting up your own lab was altered a little for each book, but was basically the same information. I would have been happy to have the section just in the first book, but I suppose if kids start from different points in the series it could be helpful to repeat this section.

I thought some of the environmental "cases" were rather unbelievable - Nell Fossey is researching penguins with her mom and then there just happens to be an oil spill. I was really thrown by the introduction of what seemed to be fantasy elements in the final book, The Case of the Crooked Carnival, where Nell Fossey is campaigning against invasive species and the example is something called "purple loosegoose" which hits a certain point in its growth cycle and then attacks people...

However, there is plenty of science, clues, mysteries, and funny bits to please most younger readers, even if the occasional adult has a few qualms. The illustrations have an enjoyable cartoonish quality, most of the facts and information in the stories is threaded well into the plot, and in general this is a good series. Torrey does an excellent job of dividing the cases between Doyle and Fossey without allowing either character to become a sidekick; neither does she endow them with superhuman qualities. Their easy access to adult society is reminiscient of Encyclopedia Brown and their everyday quirks and flaws make them realistic characters.

Verdict: Add to your series collection if you need additional mystery series besides Encyclopedia Brown and Cam Jansen. And who doesn't? [Update - these have become hugely popular in my library and I highly recommend them!]

Case of the gasping garbage
ISBN: 978-1402749605; Published July 2009 by Sterling; Review copies provided by publisher

Case of the mossy lake monster
ISBN: 978-1402749629; Published July 2009 by Sterling; Review copies provided by publisher

Case of the graveyard ghost
ISBN: 978-1402749636; Published October 2009 by Sterling; Review copies provided by publisher

Case of the crooked carnival
ISBN: 978-1402749650; Published June 2010 by Sterling; Review copies provided by publisher

Friday, August 6, 2010

Diana Wynne Jones Week: Conrad's Fate by Diana Wynne Jones

There is really no reason why this book should work. The main character, Conrad, is not only clueless throughout almost the entire story, he's also an extremely passive character. Christopher Chant, a familiar character from many other Chrestomanci stories, appears to have matured and changed in many ways - but we never really have a chance to settle down with him and get an in-depth look at how he's grown up. There's complicated magic that's never really explained, villains that suddenly appear and disappear, and a giant, traditional, complex organization...that suddenly turns out not to exist.

But it's Diana Wynne Jones and so it works. The reader falls into the story, completely identifying with Conrad's plight and confusion, desperately wondering if he's going to make it. We revel in the glimpses of Christopher's new independence and enjoy looking at his character midway between the confused and unhappy boy of The Lives of Christopher Chant and the elegant, suave Chrestomanci we've seen in so many other stories. The ending is breathtaking in its fell swoops of fate and grand unmasking and the reader still has the enjoyment of speculating on the many background mysteries. While this isn't a Chrestomanci story I'd start with if you've never been introduced to the series, it's a wonderful read for fans.

ISBN: 978-0060747459; Published May 2006 by Greenwillow; Purchased for my personal collection

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Diana Wynne Jones Week: Unexpected Magic: Collected Stories by Diana Wynne Jones

I've been reading Diana Wynne Jones stories here and there for many years and was delighted when I discovered this big, lovely collection several years ago. Of course, even this thick collection isn't complete - it would take multiple volumes for that. But it does have several dear favorites of mine. Like any good collection, there's something for everyone...

"The Girl Jones" was, I believe, written for this collection, since I've never seen it anywhere else. It's one of my favorites - how can you help liking a story that explains the title by saying, "Neither of my sisters was ever called "The girl Jones." They were never notorious." The actual events of the story, hilarious though they are, aren't nearly as important as the perfectly captured childlike mindset of the adventurers. The story is clearly meant to be autobiographical, and it's fascinating to see that DWJ is able to so clearly recall and convey her thoughts as a child.

"Nad and Dan adn Quaffy" is one of the most reprinted stories, at least the one I've seen most often. I've never really felt strongly about it one way or another, although I'm guessing it's probably a lot more funnier and closer to the bone to writers and those who lived through the computer revolution.

"The Plague of Peacocks" is another one of my favorites. After all, who doesn't want to see a pair of officious hypocrites, the kind of thick-skinned people who insist they know best, the kind of people it's impossible to get through to, bested by the smallest and apparently weakest? Deliciously wicked and another perfect capture of children's interactions with adults.

"The Master" is scary. 'nuff said.

"Enna Hittims" I think appeals most to an actual child reader. It's a wonderfully crafted piece of imagination.

"The Girl Who Loved the Sun" I love this one. The actual story is a fascinating conglomeration of myth and history, but what I most enjoy is the glorious language that describes the beauties of trees and seasons so perfectly.

"The Fluffy Pink Toadstool" this reminds me of Joan Aiken's short story, "The cat-flap and the apple-pie" with its perfect turning of the tables on a domestic tyrant. Jones' ending is much less...well, final if you know what I mean. I often find myself longing for a handy pink toadstool when I meet parents who can only be described as cranks.

"Auntie Bea's Day Out" What to do with nasty relatives...or a chapter of accidents. *snicker*

"Carruthers" also makes me furious at the mysoginistic, nasty father. Which, I suppose, is the whole point. So, it works.

"What the cat told me" I always feel is sort of a Chrestomanci story, but from a cat's point of view. It's also got a little romance and quite a lot of magic.

"The Green Stone" is the story I always think should go with The Tough Guide to FantasyLand. It's obviously what happens after all the adventurers get their copy of The Tough Guide and are getting ready to set off...

"The Fat Wizard" is another underdog defeats the powers of darkness (or at least the powers of annoying hypocrisy and nastiness) Yay pigs!

"No One" is an odd but irresistable mixture of futuristic science, household magic, and grammar.

"Dragon Reserve, Home Eight" is another frequently anthologized story, but it's never really appealed to me somehow....it has a more scifi flavor than most of the other stories.

"Little Dot" is another of my favorites - it's also a story from a cat's point of view. There is opera, wicked monsters, and mobile chicken coops.

This collection also includes the novella Everard's Ride, about which I am not really going to say anything. Somehow, I have never managed to read it all the way through. It has a sort of time/world twisting and family dynamics and other stuff and my head just doesn't get it.

I always think of Diana Wynne Jones' short stories in relationship to Joan Aiken's short stories, mostly because they're the only collections I love enough to buy. Although they are both beautifully written, Aiken's stories are full of magic and mystery that is somehow more stratified, set in a world that is the same and yet completely different. Most of Diana Wynne Jones' stories are more in the Nesbitian mold, firmly in the modern, normal world and yet encountering magic every day. One can't really imagine Joan Aiken's weather witch existing in our world, but one wouldn't be surprised if fluffy pink toadstools really did grow out of the floor one day...

ISBN: 978-0060555351; Published February 2006 by Greenwillow; Purchased for my personal collection

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Animals of the Bible for Young Children, adapted by Marie-Helene Delval, illustrated by Aurelia Fronty

A variety of animals mentioned in the Bible are illustrated in dazzling colors and iconic (if that's the word I want) art. Marie-Helene Delval's adaptions of various passages from the Bible are sometimes smooth and lyrical, for example "When it all began, the breath of God floated over the waters. God made the earth, the sky, the sea, and everything in them. The sky surrounded the earth and was reflected in the water." However, almost every passage ends with an exclamation mark which becomes extremely annoying after several pages. There are also some very odd translations, such as the retelling of Jesus' words regarding the rich man and the camel "The more money and things you have, the harder it is to share with those who have nothing." Huh? I don't recall that in any translation. I couldn't find a reference to what translation Delval used, but this book was originally published in French, so the multiple translations may have lost something along the way.

Some of the art is beautiful, like the gorgeous greens and vivid hues of the various animals on page 89, but some of it is just plain weird, like the winged faces that seem to represent angels or the androgynous Jonah who appears to be lying on top of the fish.

Most of the art is beautiful, and apart from a few clangers and the omnipresent exclamation points I enjoyed the adapted Scripture passages.

Verdict: This isn't your everyday Bible story book, and I still prefer the original, Caldecott-winning Animals of the Bible by Dorothy Lathrop, but if you have a strong audience for Bible stories who would also appreciate the unique art, you might want to add this to your collection.

ISBN: 978-0802853769; Published June 2010 by Eerdmans; F&G provided by publisher through LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Diana Wynne Jones Week: The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones

Although Chrestomanci makes a few brief appearances in this story, it's really about the two great magical families of Caprona - The Montana's and the Petrocchi's. Tonino and his brother Paolo are Montana's. They love their home and are desperately worried about all the problems that seem to be crashing down on their family's head, from rival Petrocchi's and failing spells to imminent war. Tonino feels useless because of his poor spellcasting skills, but when danger and tragedy strike he finds unexpected courage and ability.

This is a fast-paced adventure story about friendship and the damage a few dangerous lies can do. What's most interesting to me, besides the fun and delight of the exciting story, is Tonino's character. Although he at first feels useless and unhappy about his lack of magical ability, the warmth and support of his family - and especially his cat Benvenuto - make him a generally contented person. It's fascinating to see the parallels between the two families and their acceptance of the children who don't live up to their parents' hopes.

Of course, you can also have lots of fun comparing this alternate world with the history of Italy and drawing comparisons between the romances of Tonino's older siblings and that little thing of Shakespeare's...

ISBN: 978-0060298784; Published April 2001 by Greenwillow (out of print); Reviewed from my personal collection

Monday, August 2, 2010

Nonfiction Monday: The Smart Aleck's Guide to American History by Adam Selzer

Funny, clever, informative, readable, intriguing, irreverent, and fascinating.

Those are a few of the words that come to mind after reading Adam Selzer's Smart Aleck's Guide to American History. From the western discovery of America and more or less successful attempts at colonization to major wars, world history, and the present day, this accessible book is packed full of humor and smart stuff. Debunked myths, new views on historical figures, and more will intrigue even the non-history buff. The narrative is split into manageable section with plenty of photographs, art, lists, facts, and mini-biographies. Each chapter ends with a parody of history textbooks' quizzes and questions, mixing absurd multiple choice quizzes with definitely smart aleck essay questions. The introduction includes a list of all the contributors and there is a detailed index. No further reading or bibliographies are included (unless I had a blank moment and missed them) but there are frequent references to the website, http://www.smartalecksguide.com/, which is incorporated as a blog. It contains supplementary material and more hilarity, including "assignments" posted in response to the end of chapter quizzes.

Verdict: For every teenager who suspects there may be more to history than what she sees in her textbook. Or anyone who wonders if history is really supposed to be that boring? Reading this book certainly won't endear most high school students to their social studies teachers, but it will certainly get more kids interested in history!

ISBN: 978-0385736503; Published December 2009 by Delacorte; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library