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!