December 31, 2012
You know how it is with book lovers. Everyone in our household got books as gifts. We gave books as gifts. And we got gift cards. We are still trying to decide what to spend them on so I was wondering if you were in the a similar situation. If so, this list might help. These are the top 10 books that I reviewed in 2012.
- I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi (Simon and Schuester) Humorous picture book.
- Thank You, Mr. Falker, by Patricia Polacco (Philomel Books) Picture book about the author struggling to learn to read.
- Should I Share My Ice Cream: An Elephant & Piggie Book, by Mo Willems (Hyperion) Humorous early reader.
- How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Mark Teague (Blue Sky Press) Humorous picture book.
- The Hunchback Assignments by Arthur Slade (Wendy Lamb Books) Steam punk fantasy middle grade.
- Step Gently Out by Helen Frost and Rick Lieder (Candlewick Press ) Picture book combining poetry and photography.
- The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger (Amulet Books). Middle grade novel.
- Cornered: 14 Stories of Bullying and Defiance by Rhoda Belleza (Running Press) Young adult about bullying.
- Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins (Charlesbridge) Poetry and illustration.
- Timeless Thomas by Gene Barretta (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt and Company)
December 27, 2012
As the first President of a whole new nation, George Washington had some serious decisions to make. Not least among them, because it would set the mold for future presidents, was where would the president live? Washington knew it had to be a home worthy of a leader. It couldn’t be too small and simple. It couldn’t be too fussy and frilly.
From choosing the land to the finishing touches, Slade’s text is rich with detail. She discusses the kilns built on site to fire the bricks, the cost over runs that meant the building would be one story less than originally intended and so much more. She also points out that, ironically enough, in spite of his hard work on the project, Washington was the only president NOT to live in the White House, originally called the President’s House until Theodore Roosevelt changed the name.
A text with so much detail could easily bog the reader down but Slade keeps things moving. For each two page spread, one page is written in prose, giving details about this particular phase in the building. The facing page is poetry ala, fittingly enough, The House that Jack Built.
Bond’s illustrations, detailed ink drawings with watercolor, give the reader plenty to peruse without being overly detailed or exhausting.
This is an excellent book for children’s interested in history or anyone who is a Washington buff. The youngest readers, or listeners, would be entertained by just the pages of poetry but the older readers will want to experience this book in full.
December 24, 2012
December 20, 2012
What Came from the Stars tells two intertwining stories.
The first is the story of Valorim, a peaceful art loving civilization that is under siege by Lord Mondus and a frightening race known as O’Mondim. As the leaders of the Valorim realize they are fighting their last battle, they take their art — song and painting and soul — and cast it into a necklace which is launched across the stars where it lands in the lunchbox of one unsuspecting boy.
The second story is about that boy — Tommy Pepper. When sixth grader Tommy Pepper puts on the strange chain he finds in his lunch box, strange things begin to happen. First, the scene painted on his lunchbox changes and, perhaps oddest of all, the painting moves. Then he starts talking about both suns and people and places that his teacher and classmates have never heard about before. In fact, they can’t find the words he is using in their classroom dictionary.
Lord Mondus isn’t about to loose the Art of the Valorim and sends various of his henchmen to fetch it back.
Tommy isn’t sure why he shouldn’t give his necklace up to the odd substitute teacher that everyone else seems to like but it just seems like a really bad idea. And why does everyone think that stench is rotten sea week when he knows it is the O’Mondim?
Tommy finds himself in the middle of a battle, complete with unusual sword-like weapons, that he doesn’t understand. Fighting to save his father, his sister and his very home. As he fights, Tommy must decide what is most important, what it means to be loyal and how he can make up for his mother’s death long months and months before the fighting started.
Another great book for fantasy lovers and, although the main character faces tough choices, this isn’t too graphic or gory for younger readers. It is eerie and more than a bit ominous though so there is plenty of atmosphere and tension. A good choice for both boy and girl readers since there are heroic characters of both genders and well as enough bad guys to go around.
Some adults will fail to appreciate how clueless the adults in the book are, but these are probably the same adults who fail to appreciate how clueless the adults in the real world seem to be.
A great book to prompt discussions on responsibility, loyalty, just what it means to be heroic.
December 13, 2012
Archaeologists, dinosaurs, cave men and even fossilized poop abound in this collection of humorous poetry by Robert Weinstock.
If I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be the title poem, “Can You Dig It?”, simply for the rollicking rhythm of its opening lines.
“Ancient, olden, aged, wrinkled,
Crumpled, tattered, rusted, crinkled…”
From short concrete poems that take us much meaning from their form to longer rhyming verse, there is something for everyone as long as they are interested in things prehistoric and laughing out loud.
And this is definitely a book that begs to be read aloud.
Because it is a picture book, it might be tempting to try reading it to a very young audience but this isn’t toddler fodder (Beware: near rhyme). That said, a slightly older audience of preschoolers and kindergartners will definitely appreciate the humorous potential of balletic triceratops, a brontosaurus burger, and even the fossilized poop.
Don’t expect a quiet audience when you pull this one off the shelf but you don’t have to tell them that the rhymes and rhythms are, in addition to being just plain fun, fueling their language development.
December 10, 2012
What’s up! Two creepy books in a row? You better believe it — there is nothing better, IMO, than a book than a safe scary story and this is one of the best.
No one loved carrots more than Jasper Rabbit. The carrots that grew in Crackenhopper Field were the absolute best. He ate them every chance he got and he ate lots!
One day, just as he was getting ready to help himself to a particularly amazing carrot, Jasper heard it. “The soft . . . sinister . . . tunktunktunk of carrots creeping.” Of course, when Jasper turns around, there is nothing there but he hurries home nonetheless.
Jasper sees them reflected in mirrors, peeking out of the shed window, and even sneaking across his bedroom floor in the dark. Of course, when his parents investigate, there are no carrots. Just bath toys, garden tools and toys left on the floor.
But Jasper knew the carrots were there and if his parents weren’t going to help him, he was going to have to help himself.
No more plot. If I tell you the plot it will give away the surprise ending.
Browns illustrations are a perfect fit for this spare but spooky story. Even in the beginning of the book when Jasper is blissfully eating carrots, things feel a little creepy because the art work is moody black and white, like an old movie, with just touches of orange as the only color.
Not sure your little reader is ready for a creepy picture book? This one is atmospheric without being really scary. They are, after all, carrots. The main character is a rabbit, not a child, which creates a bit more distance. And the 1950s feel of the illustrations creates even more distance.
This probably isn’t a good bed time book, but for the young book lover who likes some shadowy atmosphere, this one is a scream.
December 5, 2012
In New York City in 1872, you either need wealth or a trade even if you are just a teenager so Horace Carpentine is apprenticed by his father to a photographer. Horace is immediately attracted to the science and detail of photography. He masters the skills needed to set up the photographic plates and also do the developing and the print making. All that’s left is actually getting to take the photos themselves.
His opportunity arrives when society matron Mrs. Von Macht arrives at the shop. She wants Horace’s employer to take a photo of herself to put on the Von Macht family crypt. She tells them that her daughter has recently died and she hopes that the photographic presence of her loving mother will help the girl rest easily.
This isn’t the story told by Pegg, the Von Macht’s servant. She claims that the girl was not their daughter but an orphaned niece and that she died of neglect when she refused to sign her fortune over to her greedy aunt and uncle. Horace isn’t sure who to believe and reveals part of this story to his employer. Scheming to get part of this money for himself, the photographer assures Horace that the servant, a young colored girl, is either crazy or ignorant. Raised to believe in the abilities of all people, Horace dismisses this and decides to keep his eyes open and see what he can see.
When his employer sends him around the Von Macht home to take secret photos, he takes a photo that simply could not exist when he captures the image of the dead girl.
I’m not going to tell you anything more about the story itself because I don’t want to give anything away and this is one of Avi’s best — full of suspense and mystery. I love the character of Horace who firmly believes in science but is then confronted with things that he has been taught simply do not exist. This is a moody tale, somewhat gothic in its dark, spirit laden shadows.
While there are deeply threatening moments and even a corpse, there is nothing graphic or gory. Instead it is accomplished through ominous mood, darkness and a deep seeping sadness. An excellent choice for young readers who like dark stories but aren’t ready for the content found in books for young adults.
December 3, 2012
Mary’s Holiday Story
by Tiffany Jarmen Jansen
Mary Rose Tudor may be a princess but she still does many of the things that other girls do — including hide and seek. When we meet Mary, she is hiding from her brothers. Unlike the girls who will be reading her story, Mary is hiding behind a tapestry up against a stone wall.
From hide and seek to a snowball fight, Mary and her brothers are biding time until the night’s big feast. But it isn’t a feast for a visiting dignitary. It is a Christmas celebration called Twelfth Night. This is the first year Mary is old enough to stay up and celebrate Twelfth Night and she can hardly wait to see the festivities because this is more than your ordinary feast. Mary and her family, even her father the King, will be seated at a lowly table while a group of servants will be at their table, eating with their utensils and giving the orders.
But then it looks like Twelfth Night may not happen. No one can find the Lord of Misrule, normally known as Thomas, the stable boy. Can Mary lead her brothers to follow a trail of clues and find out what has happened to the stable boy in time to save the holiday?
I loved the attractive cover. The roses scattered throughout the text and the illuminated script styled letters that head each chapter reflected the medieval story and echoed the professional quality of the cover illustration. Unfortunately, the interior line drawings did not reflect the quality of the rest of the book.
Mary’s Holiday Story offers an age-appropriate story for young grade-schoolers who will enjoy the many points of comparison, both similarities and differences, in how Christmas is celebrated then and now. The History Notes at the end of the book help anchor Mary, and thus the reader, in history.