Friday, September 21, 2012

Library Round-up #7

More mini-reviews of our recent borrowings.

Picture Books

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs as retold by Mo Willems.  As soon as I got home with this book I handed it to, nope, not my kids, but my husband.  I knew he'd appreciate the parodic, absurdist, sarcastic humor.  And he did.  A few days later I read it to my girls and, not surprisingly, they didn't really get it.  It went over my 4-year-old's head completely.  My seven-year-old got that there were jokes and got that the sarcastic parts meant exactly their opposites, but didn't understand why that should be funny.  This is, in my opinion, one of those picture books that is really meant for grown-ups or older children, both because of the humor and because of the fact that it refers to other literature.  Willems has the luxury of being so popular that parents are going to buy this either not realizing that it's not meant for (young) kids or not caring.  It is, however, perfect for an older class's unit on fairy tales.

Woof Meow Tweet-Tweet by Cecile Boyer.  Another picture book for grown-ups, this time for those interested in design.  In each place where you would expect to find a picture of an animal, you find the word that represents the sound the animal makes.  The book is beautiful but has no plot, being called halfway through (and rightfully so from a story-oriented perspective) by my 4-year-old, "boring."

Mom, It's My First Day of Kindergarten! by Hyewon Yum.  This book about a boy's first day of kindergarten is really about the truth that the parents are often more anxious about this big day than the new student.  But while the concept is sweet, the execution, starting with the title, lacks any subtlety.  A nice but not necessary addition to the first-day-of-kindergarten canon.

 The Word Collector by Sonja Wimmer.  This book is just impossible to read.  With words and letters that fly in all directions over the page it was very frustrating to read; so much so, in fact, that there is actually a guide at the end of the books, which reprints the text of each page in usual left-to-right fashion.  Of course, flipping to the back after each page is not practical.  Finally, I found the blunt message about the power of words to bring peace, love and understanding sappy as well.  Tangent: The format made me think of the new Haggadah edited by Jonathan Safran Foer, which I was excited to check out and then so disappointed with - with footnotes and commentary placed perpendicular to the main text, the book is unwieldy under even the best of circumstances, which being at a table full of nice china and ritual items certainly is not.

Middle Grade Fiction

Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead.  Less intricately plotted than her amazing When You Reach Me, Liar and Spy is still a fun, enjoyable read with a believable narrator in Georges (the "s" is silent).  I guessed one of the twists but not the other.  A city child myself, I especially like Ms. Stead's depictions of city life in both books.  And as a parent, I appreciate the good relationships her protagonists have with theirs.  A water tower on top of the building would have made the great cover perfect.

Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman.  Another middle-grade book about identity and fitting in, popular themes for this age group.  Gabe, desperate to impress his about-to-be-stepbrother Zach, tries to keep the true nature of his summer camp (it's a gifted enrichment program) a secret.  The format, in which lists Gabe makes are interspersed throughout the narrative, is funny and appealing.  One side itemizes the cool, non-nerdy things Gabe does (e.g. karaoke); the other lists the nerdy aspects of each (e.g. the song Gabe sang was a list of the countries of the world... in alphabetical order!).  Although the themes are addressed overtly, I'm starting to realize that the middle-grade audience may not be quite ready for subtlety... or at least that books which address these themes overtly have a place.

Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.  A spunky heroine, quirky Southerners, a small town - this sounds like books you've read before, right?  Here the ingredients add up... if not to something new exactly, to something very enjoyable. The lesson that your family is comprised of those you love you, and whom you love, is a nice one.  Some heavier themes, including domestic abuse, not to mention kidnapping and murder, make this a book for the older end of the middle-grade audience.

What books have you checked out from the library recently?


  1. Thanks again for linking up to TCB. I'm looking forward to reading Liar and Spy. I have it checked out but still haven't found time to read it yet.

  2. We've had a very different experience with Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. I have a four-year-old and two-year-old, and they both LOVE it. I wondered if they would since, you're right, the humor is a little mature (but not in an inappropriate way), but even though they don't get all of the jokes or references, they get that it's about dinosaurs laying a plan to eat Goldilocks, and they find this incredibly funny. Both my husband and I were talking about how one of the reasons we love Mo Willems so much (we really are die-hard fans) is because he somehow knows how to appeal to kids AND adults making reading an enjoyable experience for all involved.

    I'm reading Liar and Spy right now, and I'm enjoying it...but probably not quite as much as When You Reach Me. I'll have to see how the ending plays out.

  3. Amy - so interesting! I think my 7-year-old was particularly flummoxed since she knew enough to understand that there were jokes that she was not getting! I'd love to hear what you think of Liar and Spy once you finish it.

  4. I love twisted fairy tales and will have to look out for Mo Willems books.

    I love books like this. I think it's really important for parents to enjoy books too even if parts of the story go over the heads of children. It's also nice for kids to have books to grow into over time too.

  5. I am jealous. I am fourth on a waiting list from our library to borrow the one copy of Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs. (Why a library the size of mine only has one copy is beyond me.) Thanks for all the wonderful suggestions for books & for linking up to TCB!

  6. Great line up of fun reading. So glad to have met you this weekend at KidLitCon. :O)

  7. Thanks, all. I love picture books that cleverly appeal to the parents in addition to the children, but I thought this one would sail right over a lot of kids' heads. Mo Willems does a better job of satisfying both audiences in the Knuffle Bunny books (half-past bedtime, anyone?) and I love the witty asides Kevin Henkes often hides in the illustrations in his books (like the psychology of identity books the dad is reading in Chrysanthemum).

  8. We totally agree about this book! Funny. I think you made a great point about Mo Willems being popular enough at this point to put out a book like this, that isn't really intended for his "target" audience. And I love the sly humor in Kevin Henkes books too. :-)