May 29, 2009
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
(Books on Tape)
This is another adult novel that would be a good choice for young adult readers (or listeners as I got it on audiobook).
Juliet Ashton is a writer in search of a topic. It is January 1946 and WWII is over although the impact is still felt in the rationing that continues throughout Britain. While the lives of her friends move forward (marriages, relationships and babies), hers seems to be stuck in limbo. Her apartment was destroyed in a bombing raid, her last book soared because of the War, and now she’s at loose ends, looking for a focus.
Then she gets a letter from a man who has a book by Charles Lamb. The book used to belong to Juliet and the man hopes she can help him find more by or about Lamb. His island, Guernsey, was occupied during the War and no longer has a book seller. What it does have is a host of unusual characters from a would-be witch/detective, to fishermen, actors and farmers. Soon Juliet finds herself corresponding with a host of islanders who believe their literary society, born during the War, is a great topic for a book. Juliet sails for Guernsey where she finds not only a book but much more.
Even if you think you know all about WWII, this is a must read. Shaffer and Barrows cover a little-known aspect of the war and do so in a way that shows that someone you’ve never met, whether an author or someone who resisted tyranny, can have an amazing and strengthening impact on your life.
Again, there is some off-screen sex (see the above mentioned babies). Attrocities are discussed but this too has all happened off screen.
An excellent choice for teens and adults who appreciate both brash and quiet heroics for both types of characters walk these pages.
May 27, 2009
The Heretic’s Daughter
by Kathleen Kent
This week I’m going to review two adult books that would appeal to young adult readers.
The first, The Heretic’s Daughter, is about the Salem Witch Trials, told from the perspective of 10-year-old Sarah Carrier, daughter of Martha Carrier, one of the first women accused and later executed of witchcraft.
The frame for this story may briefly confuse less experienced readers. At the time the book opens, Sarah is a grandmother recalling the events of her childhood, events she had pushed out of her mind.
The main body of the book deals with her childhood from the time her family flees a smallpox epidemic through her own release from jail on charges of witchcraft.
Kent weaves a masterful story in which things are not as they seem — those who appear kind are often crafty, the strong feel weak and the good men of a community can hang a series of people on the flimsiest evidence. She also takes you beyond the trials, written about repeatedly, into the dank, dark world of the jail and all its suffering.
This story is particularly relevant in today’s volatile world in which companies can be bankrupt and reputations ruined over hearsay.
An excellent choice for history buffs and mature young readers. There are references to sex though nothing occurs “on screen.” The reality of life in jail is presented with no sugar coating. Use this book to launch a discussion on justice with your teen today.
May 22, 2009
Tenth Avenue Cowboy (AR 4 . 3)
by Linda Oatman High
(Eerdmans Books for Young Readers)
It’s 1910 when Ben and his family leave the wide open spaces of their ranch for New York. Ben misses the plains and the rivers but most of all he misses the cowboys.
One day Ben is at the blacksmith shop where his father works when in comes a real life cowboy. His name is Johnny and he is one of the Tenth Avenue Cowboys whose horses race ahead of locomotives, warning the people of the oncoming train. Ben grabs hold of new dream when he gets to gallop down Tenth Avenue alongside Johnny.
Linda Oatman High brings this patch of history alive for curious minds. She creates a smooth, exciting story that encourages children not to give up and to reach for what makes them happy.
An excellent choice for fans of cowboys, horses and New York.
May 20, 2009
Fine as We Are
by Algy Craig Hall
Little Frog and Mom have a wonderfully happy life by the pond until one day Little Frog sees something odd in the water — blobs with black spots. Before long, the blobs grow squiggly tails and are soon swimming around. As the squiggles change into dozens and dozens of tiny frog babies, Little Frog’s happy life is over.
Or is it?
My first assumption was that this was a book about things not changing, but I had it all wrong. Hall’s book is about being happy even as things do change. Adjusting. Acclimating. Finding a new peace.
Hall’s illustration make this book a must see. Her expressive little frog babies are obviously high energy, curious and mischievous. You definitely need to seek this book out just to see how much expression and individuality she can give to very simple paintings of wee little frogs.
A great together book. Also a great book for someone going through a lot of change.
May 15, 2009
Ping Pong Pig (AR 2 . 6 )
by Caroline Jayne Church
All of the animals on the farm have a job to do. All of them except Ping Pong Pig. Instead of helping out, the hopeful hog spends his days jumping off of things in an attempt to fly. He may not manage to fly, but he does mess up the other animals’ hard work. To keep him out of their hair (and their feathers), they build him a trampoline. The mayhem isn’t over but you’ll have to read the book to your own wee ones to find out about the twist at the end.
The textures of various papers lend visual interest to the simple illustrations found in this silly story. The animals are suitably cartoony to make you believe that this particular pig really could survive a bounce over the barn roof.
A fun preschool story, short enough for bouncy young book lovers who know just how important dreams and fun can be.
May 13, 2009
Dogfish ( AR 2 . 7 )
by Gillian Shields
illustrated by Dan Taylor
When the narrator wishes for a dog, Mom resists his hypnotic eyes and reminds him that he has a perfectly good goldfish. Next he points out a list of things that fish cannot do, but Mom holds firm. Fortunately this particular goldfish has hypnotic eyes and he uses them to convince his young owner that he is more than an ordinary goldfish.
This book may not be the best for bedtime because the funny parts will make you laugh out loud when someone should be quieting down. The hypnotic eyes are especially hilarious although in our home they are known as Bambi eyes.
Dan Taylor’s colorful illustrations are simple but manage to convey the range of emotions that children feel when forced to ask their parents for things that they really want but almost certainly will not get.
This book is straightforward enough for the preschool crowd but the illustrations take it to a level that even older elementary students can appreciate.
Another excellent jumping off point for discussions on simplicity, loving what you have, and not taking things for granted.
May 11, 2009
One Potato, Two Potato (AR 4 . 3 )
by Cynthia DeFelice
Farrar Straus Giroux
Mr. and Mrs. O’Grady live in a poor cottage on a poor farm. Each day they dig up one potato to share. . They don’t have much but deeply appreciate what they do have. Yet, they can’t help but want just a wee bit more — they each want a friend.
Then one day Mr. O’Grady is digging up their potato and realizes he is digging at the end of the last row of the garden. It is their last potato. He digs a bit deeper, hoping to find something more, and discovers a great black pot. Into the pot the drops the potato and carries the lot up to the cottage. To his surprise, he dumps out not one, but two potatoes.
This could easily be a dark, meloncholy story as the couple has so little, but Andrea U’Ren’s art adds a slightly comic air that plays up the humorous potential of the story as a whole.
Young readers will laugh as Mrs. O’Grady topples into the pot, because they know what is going to happen. The question is, how will this mistake work for them?
A fun hopeful story of people who really do appreciate their bounty whether it is great or small. A great jumping off point for discussions on just how much is enough and generosity.
May 6, 2009
Wolf’s Coming ( AR 1. 2 )
by Joe Kulka
As should be obvious by now, I love picture books with a twist at the end, something unexpected that works beautifully with the rest of the story. I also love take-offs on fairy tales and fairy tale characters. If they play with my expectations for the characters, so much the better.
In Wolf’s Coming, various animals react with alarm when they hear wolf’s howl. A mother rabbit gathers up her young ones, “Faster, Faster! Take my hand! Run back home like we planned.” Raccoons and pigs flee. They’re all going to one little house, trailed by the glowing red eyes, the snazzy too-sleek suit of the none other than The Big Bad Wolf.
Warning: The next paragraph is a huge spoiler.
The reason they are all avoiding him, isn’t that they expect to be gobbled up. They’ve planned a surprise birthday party for the wolf. Look through the illustrations and you’ll pick up on the clues — a trail of balloons.
Preschoolers will beg to hear this story again and again. Isn’t it great fun being in on the joke?
Between the colorful illustrations and the brief text, only 156 words, this is also an excellent choice for new readers. Soon they’ll be ho-o-0-wling for another good book.
May 1, 2009
I’m the Biggest Thing in the Ocean
by Kevin Sherry
(Dial Books for Young Readers)
“I’m a GIANT squid and I’m BIG.”
After pointing out the many things that are smaller than he is, Squid concludes that he is, in fact, the biggest thing in the ocean. Then along comes a whale that swallows him whole. How will this impact Squid’s self confidence? Read the book to find out, and you’ll have a good laugh.
Anyone who has ever watched two kids stand back to back to see who is biggest will grasp this book’s appeal.
A fun read-aloud for even young wiggly readers. The simple text is complimented by equally simple illustrations comprised of layers beginning with a water color background, cut paper and then inked details, each separated by a layer of glass pried from a pirate ship, according to the back matter.
Yes, even the back matter is funny. Why not see how many kids you can crack up with this fun picture book?