Sunday, April 29, 2012

Library Round-Up #5

Brief reviews of some of the books from our recent library haul:

How Many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti.  Despite the rave reviews this one is getting, it just doesn't do it for me.  I know it's a concept book but still... a little more plot, please.  Not to mention that I don't understand the choice to write out many of the numbers rather than represent them numerically.  1,000 and 100,000 are shown numerically, but why not 10 and 1,000,000?  Seeing all those zeros is another way of getting the message across, not to mention it helps children associate the quantity with its numerical representation. Also, my daughter - the older one! - tore the giant gatefold the first time she opened it... it's really  just too big for kids to manage without guidance.  It is nice, though, that because of this book my 4-year-old grasped the idea that "The smaller they are, the more that fit on a page."  The way the idea of division was portrayed was great, too, with the idea of 1,000 jelly beans in a year being shown as 2 or 3 per day on calendar pages. 

Neville by Norton Juster.  My 4-year-old really likes this book about a boy who moves to a new town and uses an ingenious - or, depending on your perspective, strange and perhaps counterproductive - technique to make new friends.  To give it away, he goes around calling for Neville, who is, of course, himself.  I just don't get it.  What's going to happen tomorrow when all his new friends find out who he really is?

Z is for Moose by Kelly Bingham.  In the tradition of A Call for a New Alphabet, a letter towards - or at - the end of the alphabet wants to be moved up and just won't take no for an answer! 

Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco.  Not a new book, I put this one on hold when I saw it... somewhere!  My kids love it and now want me to try the cake recipe at the end... which calls for a rather strange secret ingredient.  Do I dare?

BookSpeak! by Laura Purdie Salas.  A great concept, these poems about books are a bit uneven in execution.  I liked Hydrophobiac, about a book's worst fear, and the one about bookplates the best.

Forget-Me-Nots: Poems to Learn by Heart edited by Mary Ann Hoberman.  I'm still on the hunt for the perfect poetry compilation or two to add to our collection and I don't think this one is it.  A nice enough collection but it didn't grab me.  I have the Random House Book of Poetry for Children on hold and I suspect it is going to be the winner.

Owen Foote, Second Grade Strongman by Stephanie Greene.  I requested this from the library because the author wrote the Posey books that my daughter loves.  I knew it was about a boy who is small for his age and wants to be stronger and bigger.  But even so I thought the idea of body image was handled without any subtlety.  To be fair, I stopped reading it to my daughter after chapter 2.  For a child with body image problems this might be a good choice, but for a child without one, it will only give him or her something new to worry about.

Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. Beautiful but just not substantive enough to engage my girls.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Library Loot #16

For the kids:

Not pictured: Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look, Mostly Monty: First Grader by Johanna Hurwitz (it's currently in my daughter's backpack), Princess Posey and the Next-Door Dog by Stephanie Greene and probably some others I forgot.  And yep, the one on the bottom with the spine turned the wrong way is How Many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti. It was too big for my side table to face correctly!

For me:

What do you currently have checked out from the library?

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Comfort (or the Dullness) of Predictability

Sometimes it is comforting to pick up a book, and pretty much know how things in it are going to work out.  Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, that kind of thing (or its equivalent for the younger set).  This is what accounts for the popularity of series books that follow a particular format.  The Magic Tree House books, the A to Z Mysteries - you know what you're getting when you crack one of those open.

The flip side of this is, naturally, that sometimes knowing what is going to happen is just boring.  Having noticed that my daughter, after racing through the first six Magic Ballerina books, let the next one languish after we received it from her friend, I asked her why.  After some admittedly leading questions, she explained she was tired of them.  As a kid, I was in the other camp and loved the Nancy Drew mysteries and later, embarrassingly, the Sweet Valley High books.

Series that follow a character as she grows and changes are, of course, different, which is why my daughter still loves the Ramona series, the Little House on the Prairie books, the Fudge series and, so far, the Princess Posey books.

So what about you and your kids?  Are you lovers of formulaic series or do you find them boring?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A First Grader Reads About A First Grader

Kids usually like to read about kids who are older than they are, at least in my experience.  I'm not sure whether it's because it makes them feel more grown-up or because it allays (or creates) any worries they have about the next grade or stage... or something else entirely.  But maybe this rule doesn't hold true for the younger set, because right now my first grader is really enjoying books about a fellow first grader: the Princess Posey series by Stephanie Greene.

With its short chapters, large text, realistic plots and illustrations every few pages, these books fill that all-too-large gap between early readers (boring!) and middle grade fiction.  The stories are sweet but not saccharine, the text and plots simple but not boring.  Posey faces the fears and anxieties of many a first-grader and navigates social relationships in way my daughter could relate to.  And although Posey secretly becomes Princess Posey when she wears her special pink tutu, being a princess here is empowering.  Long live Princess Posey!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

To (Junie) B. or Not to (Junie) B.

The other night my daughter was sitting on the couch, reading a book to herself and laughing out loud.  She was not reading a great work of literature, but one of the Junie B. Jones books.  Now, I know that Junie has been criticized as modeling poor behavior, not to mention poor grammar, but I was still surprised when talking with some acquaintances to find that several of them do not allow their children to read these books.  (I wonder what they would do if their children were in my daughter's first grade class, where her teacher is actually reading the first book aloud to the whole class!)  Why would I deprive my child of that laugh?  And more importantly, why would I deprive her of the chance to make her own judgments about Junie's behavior?  Characters in books are not supposed to be role models.  They are supposed to be friends, entertainers, and sometimes, a jumping-off point for a discussion about the choices they make. They are supposed to show us new ways to think about ourselves and other people and the world around us.  A role model rarely does that as well as a more complex, nuanced character does.

That doesn't mean that I don't think that certain books are inappropriate for my daughter right now.  So I will warn her if I think a book is too hard or too scary.  And I will not go out of my way to present her with books that I don't think are appropriate... or even all that good.  And if I can't stand the book personally, I won't read it to her.  But when she finds a book on her own, I let her read it.  And laugh.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Favorites v Classics

Over at A Fuse #8 Production, Betsy Bird is running her second poll of the top 100 picture books and top 100 chapter books.  Voters can send in their top-ten list for each, ranked in order.  The results of the first poll, taken a few years ago, are here and here

As I tried to compile my own top 10 lists, I got to thinking about what it means that the books is in one's "top ten." I decided that for me, it means it's one of my favorites, a book I return(ed) to again and again, either as a child or as a parent (and wouldn't it be interesting to make two separate lists for those categories!).  My list of favorites overlaps with, but does not entirely coincide with, a list I've been working on for a while of must-have books for every child's library.  Must-haves include classics that I don't necessarily love.  Favorites are books I love.  So, on my top 10 lists, you'll find some glaring omissions.  No Goodnight Moon or Where the Wild Things Are for me.  Classics both, but not my favorites.  Same for Harry Potter, which to me was enjoyable but didn't leave much of an impression (I wonder if it would have if it had come out when I was a child).  And I haven't even read The Hunger Games (and don't plan to), as dystopian violence is just not my thing.

Finally, as hard as it was narrowing my list down to 10, ranking those 10 proved even harder.  In the end, these rankings are a bit arbitrary.  I'm sure on another day, in another mood, I would have ranked these books differently.

Without further ado, my submissions:

Top 10 Picture Books

1.  Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst - I took my blog title, from this book, so how could I not rank it first?  Not to mention that it is funny and pitch-perfect, with a lesson even every adult needs to hear occasionally.

2.  The Lion and the Little Red Bird by Elisa Kleven - a beautiful book about friendship that does not get the attention it deserves.

3.  Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems - innovative art, spare text with the perfect touches, like the mom who realizes right away the title bunny is missing.

4.  Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes - it was a close call choosing between this and Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse but my kids like this one better and I only wanted to include one title per author, if possible, even though that is not required by the rules.  By the way, Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse was #15 in the original poll and while 2 other Henkes books made it in, Chrysanthemum was left in the cold.  Will things be different this time around?

5.  The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

6.  George and Martha by James Marshall - I couldn't choose among the George and Martha books, so I went with the first, as per the rules.  But really, you should just get the complete collection.

7.  Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion

8. A Baby Sister for Frances by Russell Hoban - I love all these books, with Frances's adorable songs and the true depictions of family life and sibling rivalry but this one, where she runs away to under the dining room table, is definitely my favorite.

9. Dogger by Shirley Hughes - another winner both about a lost toy and sibling relationships.  It was hard to choose between this and some of her Alfie books, though.  It's hard for me to believe that no book of hers made the top 100 the first time around.

10. Umbrella by Taro Yashima - another overlooked book with beautiful language that really speaks to a preschooler's desire for growing independence and a parent's conflicting emotions (nostalgia, pride) in response.

Runners-up included, in no particular order:

Corduroy by Don Freeman (with Dandelion a close second)
Mimmy and Sophie by Miriam Cohen
Sunshine and Moonlight by Jan Ormerod
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
Amelia and Eleanor Go For A Ride by Pam Munoz Ryan
My Side of the Car by Kate Feiffer

Top Ten Chapter Books

1. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

2. Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary

3. All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

4. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg

5.  The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

6.  Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great by Judy Blume  - the toothpaste-on-the-toilet scene made my 6-year-old laugh harder than I've ever seen her laugh before.

7.  The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

8.  Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild

9.  No Flying in the House by Betty Brock - an underdog, I know.

10. In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Betty Bao Lord - another underdog.

Runners-up included, again in no particular order:

When You Reach Me Rebecca Stead
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (why are so many of the best kids' chapter books by authors who use two initials?!?)
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster
Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie by Julie Sternberg
The President's Daughter by Ellen Emerson White - I loved this book about the first female president!
No Scarlet Ribbons by Susan Terris - not sure what I'd think of this now, but I loved it way back when.

What are your favorite picture books and chapter books?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Vote for Me!

I just entered the Independent Book Blogger Awards over at Goodreads.  Unfortunately my limited technical ability failed me and I was unable to import the voting icon over to this blog, but if you take the time to click on the previous links, you can vote over there, starting on Tuesday, April 10th.  Thanks for your support!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Anachronisms and Meta-Moments in the Fudge Series

I recently wrote here about anachronisms in the Fudge series and as I continued reading the series to my daughter we found more.  In the last book, Double Fudge, Peter is 12, only about 3 years older than he was in the first book, set in the late 1970s/very early 1980s.  Yet inexplicably, his dad has a cellphone in this one and Harry Potter is mentioned.  I know the last book was written way after the first, but still.... it drives me nuts!

One of my very first posts was about books that mention other books and I'm always on the lookout for more.  The Fudge series has two that I noticed.  One is, as noted above, the references to Harry Potter in the last book.  The other comes in the penultimate book in the series, Fudge-a-Mania when  Fudge makes a new friend named Mitzi and she insists that the book Tell Me a Mitzi (originally published in 1970) is about her!  I'm really curious about why this was included.  Is it just one of Judy Blume's favorite books?  Or does she know the author?