Wednesday, December 17, 2014

What Is Wrong With This Picture?

I'm running a mock Caldecott this year!!

I haven't been posting much because I'm now basically running my daughters' school library.  As a volunteer.  And I have wanted  to tell you about all the interesting things I've been doing there, such as our "guess the theme" competition and the 4th Grade Library Club, but I've been too busy actually doing them to write about them.

But I couldn't resist posting this.  In preparation for our mock Caldecott (or our Mockdecott, as my husband christened it), I did some research about the award.

And then, when wrapping various Chanukah and birthday gifts, I came across this:

Let's go in for a close-up, shall we?

Do you see what I see?  Tell me in the comments!

I let Amazon, where I purchased the book, know, and I emailed Grace Lin as well.  Let's see if I hear back.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Do You Believe in Magic?

I'm generally not a fan of fantasy or science fiction, but realistic books with just a touch of magic seem to me to be of a different class.  Plus they have none of that dystopian, end-of-the-world, battle-to-survive element which seem to cast such a shadow (in my opinion) over the fantasy and science fiction genre.  These, instead, are pretty realistic, except that, you know, the protagonist can fly, maybe, or travel through time.  A side benefit of the time travel ones is that they also function as historical fiction.  Many play with the idea of meeting one's parents or grandparents as children and changing the future.  (Does anyone else feel a sudden urge to watch Back to the Future?)  Here are some of my favorites.

Black and Blue Magic.  This lovely story of a fatherless boy who is given wings (literally) is really about the power of faith - whether in god or the possibility for goodness in people and in life.  Mistaken for an angel as he flies through the night sky of San Francisco, Harry gives those who have given up on life new hope.  As his neighbor says, "... a little more believing in things would do this world a lot of good.  You take all the believing out of life and it doesn't leave much room to grown in... and... the unbelievable can happen almost anywhere."  What a beautiful, uplifting sentiment.

Half Magic and other books by Edward Eager.  Edward Eager's books all involve time travel as well. In Half Magic, four siblings come into possession of a magic coin, which grants wishes by halves. Until they realize how to wish for double what they want (e.g. "I wish to go back in the distance of home but twice as far...), they end up in some pretty sticky situations.  His other books have similar twists, including times when the protagonists meet their parents as children.  Eager's protagonists go back in time to Camelot, the Revolutionary War, the time of the Underground Railroad, and other exciting times in history and literature, which may either spark an interest in those periods and/or stories, or leave young readers confused.  

The Magic Half.  Miri is a singleton born between two sets of twins... or is she?  When she goes back in time to 1935 and rescues Molly from an abusive cousin, she realizes that "Magic is just a way of setting things right."  A sequel, Magic in the Mix, was recently published.

Seven Stories Up and other books by Laurel Snyder.  Published 6 years after The Magic Half, these two books are eerily similar, right down to the time period that the protagonists go back to, the fact that they both "fix" their families, and the presence of a character named Molly!  When Annie goes back in time to 1937 and meets her grandmother as a child, she gains insight into her grandmother's prickly, unpleasant nature... and changes the future.  Seven Stories Up contains more historical details than The Magic Half and author Laurel Snyder includes a note at the end about the research she did and what things were really like for children in 1937.  Her book, Bigger than a Breadbox, also features magic, but this one is my favorite.

What are your favorite magical - but not scary or dystopian - books?

Monday, October 6, 2014

Library Round-Up #15, Part 2: Picture Books

Mini-reviews of what we're reading now.

Picture Books

Chengdu Would Not, Could Not Fall Asleep.  Beautiful art complements a book that addresses a problem everyone - adult or child - has had at one time or another, and how snuggling with mom or dad or sister or brother can sometimes solve it.

Are You Awake?   This would make a nice complement to Chengdu, as it is about a child who wakes too early.  Clever and sweet, it exactly captures how an exasperated and exhausted parent still treasures this special time with her child.  If it sounds like one of those books more appreciated by adults than kids, it's not.  My 6-year-old loved it.

Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas.  The true story of an elephant seal who chose to live in the Avon River and sun herself on the streets of Christchurch, New Zealand, despite  being repeatedly returned to what was allegedly her natural habitat.   A lovely book about how home is where we choose to make it, with fascinating facts in the back matter.
Twenty-One Elephants and Still Standing.  A work of historical fiction that tells of when P.T. Barnum's circus elephants traipsed over the Brooklyn Bridge to prove its safety and strength.  The compelling facts overcome the weakness and confusion of the text - is it free verse?  Is it prose?  Why does some of it rhyme?

The Boy Who Drew Birds: A Story of John James Audubon.  More historical fiction, with interesting facts about Audubon and about scientists' and philosophers' very unscientific speculations about which birds migrate.  Melissa Sweet's trademark collage style is a nice match for the text.  This would be great paired with Summer Birds: The Butterfliesof Maria Merian, about another naturalist/artist.

In Front of My House.  A great concept, this book situates the narrator's house in it's place in the universe: "On a little hill, behind a brown fence, under a big oak tree, is... my house.  In front of my house... a rosebush.  On the rosebush... a little bird."  What starts out as a charming goes on for far too long, however.  While sorely in need of editing, this is still a fun read, with lovely, simply artwork, if your child has the patience for it.

The Emperor and the Nightingale.  A beautiful, and beautifully illustrated, retelling of a Chinese folktale about the power of true art and nature to move us and how wild animals should not be caged.  In this version, the live nightingale lives to continue to entertain the emperor.  I seem to remember other versions where the nightingale falls silent once caged and either remains so or is finally set free never to return.  Can anyone refer me to those?

The Green Line.   A quiet meditation on a walk in the park, illustrated with photographs, and a child's delight in simple pleasures, like rolling down a hill and blowing on dandelions.  A lovely little book for a child in the right mood.

I'm in Charge of Celebrations. The child narrator tells the reader in free verse about all the things in nature she celebrates, such as a rabbit in the mist looking at a triple rainbow, meteor showers, and the animals and weather of the desert southwest.  Again, a book with a more quiet feel.

Yussel's Prayer.  A retelling of a Jewish folktale about a boy who is unable to pray the traditional Hebrew prayers and plays his flute instead.  It turns out his flute playing is more sincere than all the rote prayers recited by the congregation, and it is his tune which opens the gates of heaven.

A Library Book for Bear.  Curmudgeonly Bear is back, with his bright-eyed, irrepressible friend mouse.  Not quite as funny as the other Bear stories, my daughter was amusingly shocked (or shockingly amused?) at Bear's proclamation that he owns 7 books and that is all he needs.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Library Round-Up #15: Part 1: Chapter Books

Mini-reviews of middle-grade and young adults books we're reading now.

Chapter Books

I Kill the Mockingbird.  Three friends harness the power of social media and supply and demand to get people to read To Kill a Mockingbird to honor the memory of a beloved English teacher.  The plot, however, intrigued me less than the role of Catholicism in the main character's life, something I have never seen in fiction, for adults or children.  Rather than emphasize the rites and rituals of Catholicism (which do appear in fiction), the author portrays Catholicism as a guiding philosophy, and a very beautiful one at that.  "We're taught [in Catholic school] that sometimes the world is a puzzle waiting for us to solve it.  Other times it's a mystery to appreciate and accept."  The protagonist's father says, "I don't believe that God has motives that we are supposed to understand or enjoy."  Lucy responds "But you still say thank you."  Her father rejoins, "Good manners never hurt anybody."  And at the end, Lucy explains the concept of Ordinary Time.  "In our church calendar, Ordinary Time is when we're supposed to be living our lives without feasting or penance or other drama.  It's not a quiet time exactly.  It's more like the days are supposed to be filled with expectation."  This novel's real gift is in bringing these concepts to young readers, whatever their religion.  And it has a great cover!

We Were Liars.  Compulsively readable, this novel's much ballyhooed "twist ending" felt more like a gimmick to me.  Perhaps if I read it again, I will find some foreshadowing that would make it more plausible?  This is a young adult novel, with themes of romance, death, and guilt.

Like No Other.  This modern Romeo and Juliet story of a Hasidic girl falling in love with a black boy in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, has a happier ending than the Shakespeare play, but is not what you expect.  Devorah is a strong character who knows her own heart and mind.  It sounds cheesy, right?  It's not, I promise.  I loved it.  And it has another great cover.

Another Day as Emily.  Written in free verse about a girl who decides to become a hermit like Emily Dickinson when her younger brother commands attention for saving an ill neighbor by calling 911, this middle-grade novel was enjoyable, but ultimately forgettable.

Ava and Pip.  I had high hopes for this middle-grade novel about two sisters, the younger outgoing and social, the older one shy to the point of having emotional problems.  A good read, but nothing more, although my 9-year-old enjoyed it.  Word lovers will love the family's obsession with palindromes - hence the names Ava and Pip.

Have you or your kids read any of these?  What did you think?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I AM The Audiobook

When I read over at What Do We Do All Day? Facebook page about the Ramona-Henry Huggins audiobooks, about whose existence I hadn't known, although I should have, I realized something: in our house, I AM the audiobook. 

I normally love reading to my kids.  It's one of the most special activities we share.  I have a lot of patience for rereading, too, although there are certain books I do refuse to read aloud (e.g. those Rainbow Magic atrocities).  But when my kids are sick and my reading aloud is the only entertainment they desire, I sometimes start to feel like an audiobook on which they are pressing play.  Over 4 days of my 6-year-old's being sick recently, I read well over 300 pages of the Ramona books Ramona books and we finished the series for the second time.  I've also read it aloud - all 8 books - to my older daughter twice.  If only I had thought to record myself reading it the first time!  (I've known grandparents and other relatives who live far from the children in their lives who have actually done this; it's a great substitute when being together in person isn't possible.)

Of course, reading together provides all kinds of benefits that listening to a recording (whether of me or a professional actor) does not.  First of all, there's the snuggling.  You can't snuggle with a CD player or an ipod.  Second, every time we read together, one or both of us notices something new, or asks a question, or discusses something different.  Sometimes I read, without explaining, difficult words, and sometimes I pause to define them.  Sometimes my daughters have questions, or a topic comes up that wouldn't have when we last read the book a year ago, when they were a year younger.  It would be fascinating to hear a recording of how I read some of these books in the past, and what has changed.

Nonetheless, we all need a break sometime.  I don't need to be a martyr!  And of course, audiobooks are great for the car.  We are city people and are not in the car that frequently, but when we are, good audiobooks also provide some great entertainment without me risking a headache. 

Right now our audiobook collection includes only the Frances books, Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One (the first chapter book in The Pain and the Great One series) and CDs that came with some of the books we own: the Barefoot Books of tales (like this, this, and this) and Poetry Speaks to Children (with some of the poems read by the poets themselves!).  We've taken The Mouse and the Motorcycle audiobook, one of the Humphrey audiobooks, and one of the Patricia Reilly Giff Zig Zag Kids audiobooks (which I do NOT recommend) out from the library.  We quickly discovered that not all narrators are created equal.  We just checked out the Henry and Beezus audiobook from the library, but it's an older version read by William Roberts.  Anyone know how it compares to the newer ones by Neil Patrick Harris?

I'd like to expand our collection, particularly with chapter books.  In my limited experience, Any recommendations, besides the Ramona-Henry Huggins audiobooks?  Specific editions/narrator preferences appreciated! 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Anne Gets a Makeover

As I was walking past the "popular/recently returned children's books" shelf at my local library the other day, my eye was immediately grabbed by two new versions of the Anne of Green Gables books.  Take a look at the new one on the left versus the edition I owned as a child on the right.

In addition to the new cover illustrations (which I love, and for me are reminiscent of the Betsy-Tacy books, which are set slightly after these; it must be the pompadours!), these books are bigger - trade paperbacks, rather than mass market paperbacks.  The best thing about the bigger size for some of us is the bigger print!  As you can see from the link above, there have been many different covers over the years, but the one pictured above is the one I had as a child.  It is very "well-loved," isn't it?  I don't know what size the other versions are; do you?

I haven't had a chance to check, but hopefully these new editions also correct the typos present in the old versions, especially the appalling, and appallingly frequent, example which appears twice in the single page to the right.  Can you find it?

I do wish that the publisher had added interior illustrations and possibly introductions by contemporary writers who themselves read and love the books, as in the new editions of the Betsy-Tacy books.  Alas.  They are certainly still worth purchasing for those of us whose copies will likely not survive being passed on to the next generation (see photo above!).

These new editions are published by Sourcebooks, a publisher I've never heard of.  Have you?  It appears that Sourcebooks has republished only the first five books of the series; I hope the rest follow soon.

Interestingly, my daughter prefers the older books - whether purely on aesthetic grounds or because she had already developed a sentimental attachment to them I am not sure!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why A Cat? Or A Badger? Or a ...?

I was reading Yoko's Show and Tell to my daughter who was home sick from camp when we started talking about the fact that Yoko and her family are cats.  My daughter pointed out that "they are so much like people that when you get really into the book, you forget they are cats."  Which begs the question, why make them animals in the first place?  And if an animal, why cats?

The same question could apply to many other books but the Frances books  by Russell Hoban immediately spring to mind.

Well, to find out, we went to the source.  My daughter wrote a letter to Rosemary Wells, asking her that very question.  I'll let you know if we hear back!

In the meantime, I'm asking all of YOU that question. Why do you think Rosemary Wells chose to make Yoko a cat?  Why did Russell Hoban choose to make Frances a badger?  Would the books work as well if Yoko were a bird?  If Frances were a kangaroo?

What other books come to mind with animal protagonists so successfully anthropomorphized that you (nearly) forget they are not human?