August 30, 2011
The setting is London in the 1830s. Liza knows she’s lucky to get a job as Princess Victoria’s lady’s maid but she can’t help longing after the things she’s lost — her parents, her clothes and her freedom. As a lady’s maid, Liza can’t even leave the run-down palace without permission. But if she can make the young princess like her, maybe Victoria will help her settle her debts.
As Liza works to earn the favor of the lonely girl, she realizes just how hard Victoria’s life truly is. No loving parents, no friends and even less freedom than Liza has. At least Liza has her own bedroom and it even has a lock on the door. Victoria must share a room with her mother and is never allowed to be alone. Every move she makes is orchestrated by her mother and the woman’s lover who want to control Victoria even when she becomes queen.
Liza soon finds herself in a complicated web of lies and threats. Who is feeding incorrect information to the press? What happened to Victoria’s last maid?
This book is a tough one to categorize. Part mystery, part historical fiction, part romance it is definitely a 100% page turner. In running errands for the princess and tracking down clues, Liza finds herself in the worst parts of London. The bad guys are so bad that you’ll want to read on to find out how and when Liza and Victoria prevail. It is even more exciting because so many of these people, or those much like them, existed.
MacColl does such a good job with the characterization and weaving in the historic details that you’ll find yourself wondering which parts truly happened and which are pure fiction (answers can be found in the author’s note).
When you pick this one up, or give it as a gift, make sure the calendar is open for some serious reading.
August 24, 2011
When a young man inherits nothing but a cat when his father dies, he isn’t surprised when the cat begins to speak. “I wouldn’t sell me if I were you. I can change your fortunes.” At the cat’s request, the young man borrows a pair of boots and a hat and the cat finagles his way into the king’s court.
Day after day, the cat returns to court, each time bearing a gift. (Don’t ask where the cat got them. He’s a cat. It’s a fairy tale. You probably won’t be thrilled with the answer.) The king insists that the cat’s master visit the court.
Fortunately, the young man was left a conniving cat and not something nice and obedient like a dog because it takes the cat’s cunning to get the young man a suitable outfit and then cheat an ogre out of his kingdom so that the young man has a manor house in which to greet the king.
I’m a bit embarrassed to say that until I was well into this book, it didn’t hit me that I had never read the original tail, or at least not in a very long time. I had forgotten what a sly creature Puss is and I didn’t remember about the ogre at all.
Oberdieck’s art work is suitably detailed for such a rich story and it will give youngsters something to search as you read this fairly long book. But it is definitely a book worth reading. I’ve had librarians and teachers comment that their students don’t know the old tales and this is one worth knowing.
No, the morals of the cat are not impeccable but that is something for you to discuss. And, when you do, you might remember that most cats have a fairly flexible moral code, tending towards naps, filched snacks and mischief.
This would be a great book for a long evening reading and telling story as a family.
August 17, 2011
There’s no doubt about it. When he gets to Great Oaks School, Robbie knows exactly where he is – The End of the Line. But what can you expect when you’re a piece of murdering scum?
And its obvious, Robbie is a first class trouble maker. He’s sullen, mouths off at teachers, damages school property and picks fights, even fights he can’t win. Unfortunately for Robbie, at Great Oaks, even the basics like showering and full-sized meals have to be earned and you can’t do that if you’re fighting the system instead of completing homework.
At first glance, the homework, a series of lists, may look like busy-work. But the lists soon have Robbie examining his life, including who he is and what he wants.
If he looks deep and communicates well, he can spend time with other people. Screw up, and he remains in isolation. Eventually Robbie is forced to see how his conditions are influenced by this actions and thoughts and his alone.
The story is told in alternating time lines. In the present, Robbie completes his assignments and interacts with the staff and, eventually, other students at Great Oaks. In the past, he meets and befriends a troubled boy named Ryan, a boy whose death eventually leads Robbie to Great Oaks. But was it murder?
Cerrito makes some gutsy moves in her first novel, dealing with poverty, the psychology of violence and warfare. She does all of this in a way that challenges readers to make up their own minds — was it murder? How responsible was Ryan for what happened? And what about the adults in Robbie’s life?
Robbie isn’t an easy character to get to know. In the beginning of the book, he’s abrasive and difficult to sympathize with. But through the flashbacks, readers see him interact with his parents and his uncle, an Iraqi war veteran.
This book would be an excellent jumping off place for a discussion on ethics, personal responsibility and more. Yes, it is a challenge to get into, but well worth the effort and more realistic because it doesn’t present and neat, tidy package of some very ugly realities.
August 10, 2011
As much as I love to knit and crochet, I’d never found a picture book involving the fiber arts that I actually liked. Not until I encountered Woolbur, that is.
Woolbur is a sheep who definitely bleats to the beat of a different drummer. His first problem with the herd comes when he’s expected to stand still. Woolbur prefers to run amok with the dogs.
“‘They’ll run circles around you!’ said Maa
‘I know,’ said Woolbur. ‘Isn’t it great?’
‘Don’t worry,’ said Grandpaa.”
From carding to shearing, spinning and weaving, Woolbur’s problems continue. Maa and Paa fret and fuss, kinking their wool into nocturnal knots. What ever will become of their son?
***Plot Spoiler. Do not read this section if knowing the ending will ruin the book for you. Continue after the next header bracketed with asterisks and you’ll be safe.***
What did I love most about this book? That Woolbur is not taught to conform. Nope. Good ol’ Woolbur is the hero of this story. When his parents tell him that he will be just like everyone else (gag!), I was really worried. Clearly, so was Grandpaa. Woolbur agrees and you see him deep in thought. But two spreads later he’s back and in rare form. Not only is he running with the dogs, he’s teaching the other lambs what fun it can be.
***End of Spoiler issues***
Got a kiddo who thinks his own thoughts and does things his own way? He may need this book, but chances are that it will be even better for his parents.
Lee Harper’s illustrations give us a group of bold confident lambs and a few fretful sheep as well. They’re cartoony enough to give us lots of expression but not so much so that they look like something out of the funny papers.
This would make a fun read aloud, but expect group participation especially if you’re daring enough to invite a discussion about just how Woolbur will save the day.
August 2, 2011
“I love springy
The narrator of this fun picture book is a tried-and-true bug lover. From bees to butterflies and everything in between, this kid is a bug nut.
Told in a fun, rollicking rhyme, the text gets moving and doesn’t stop. It is short enough for the youngest pre-readers while the illustrations provide enough detail to occupy older children. The rhythm and rhyme would also make it a great read aloud for a preschool unit on insects with information on how bugs move, sound and look.
Dodd’s big, bright cartoony illustrations make the bugs, including spiders, bees and mosquitoes, more fun than scary. But in spite of big cartoony eyes you can still clearly tell what is what. Bold black lines make the main character stand out, even amid the textures and patterns of the insect world.
Tension is created as the narrator describes the creepy “hanging from the ceiling bugs” (spiders) that send him scampering.
A great choice for nature lovers, bug lovers or kids who simply love to cuddle up in your lap for a fun read-aloud experience.