June 27, 2013
Grumbles from the Forest:
Fairy-Tale Voices with a Twist
by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich,
illustrations by Matt Mahurin
Fans of both poetry and fairy tales would do well to explore this collection of poems by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Each two-page spread throughout the book features a certain fairy tale including The Three Bears, Thumbelina, Little Red Riding Hood. Each tale is retold with a pair of poems — sometimes a brief haiku, sometimes a longer free verse but always something a bit offbeat.
The Princess and the Pea features a lament from none other than the pea himself. This is followed by a poem from the princess in which she explains why she really couldn’t sleep.
Frog Prince tells two contradictory stories. The first is from the point of view of the abused frog turned prince. The second tells of a young princess who finds a cute frog and then dreams strange dreams.
If you know the work of either Yolen or Dotlich, it is fun to try to match the individual poems with the styles of each poet but there is a “cheat sheet” in the front of the book on the copy right page.
Matt Mahurin’s illustrations are the perfect pairing for these poems and range from apple cheeked Gretel to a sharp and sinister witch. Moody, dark and just a little creepy, his work helps readers question the sunny, happy versions of these stories as they wonder what we haven’t been told and why.
Yolen and Dotlich also encourage young readers to turn writer and make up their own poems, reimagining familiar tales, giving voice to a character long overlooked or simply coming at it from a different direction.
An excellent read for those who like to make up their own versions of familiar tales to tell into the dark of the night.
June 24, 2013
How They Croaked:
The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous
by Georgia Braggs
illustrated by Kevin O’Malley
At first glance, this probably seems more like a good Halloween book that light summer reading, but it is the perfect casual read for your ghoulish boy reader. With the tongue in cheek style, at first glance it may seem light weight but there is a surprising amount of information packed into these irreverent pages.
Readers will learn about a variety of well-known people including ancients such as King Tut and the comparatively recent Julius Ceasar to the scientific wonder Einstein. Each sketch is roughly six pages long focusing on why the person was famous (sadly, King Tut is better known in death than he would have been in life) and how he or she died. Although foul play caused a number of these deaths, others can be blamed on poor hygiene and the medical practices of the times. Let’s just say that after your son reads this, don’t be surprised when he sends his pediatrician back to wash his hands.
After each profile is a 2 page collection of facts that are somehow loosely related to the stiff in question, ranging from the problems inherent in mummy paint for King Tut to medical advances that would have helped for James Garfield.
Although this book doesn’t go in to great depth concerning any of the people it profiles, it would be an excellent choice for a reluctant reader or any boy too busy to read on a sunny summer day.
Yes, I keep saying boy because it is a book with definite boy appeal but there are girls out there who would love this book as well. And don’t underrate the “grown up” appeal. When my son got this book for his birthday, he lost it for the day as it made its way around the room from one adult to another as we each picked out a profile to read and share with the group.
This is a fast paced, irreverent read that gets more than a little gross periodically. Yes, it’s a lot of fun, but if you are a squeamish mom, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
June 17, 2013
by David Soman and Jacky Davis
Ladybug Girl, aka Lulu, and her trusty companion Bingo on on the prowl for an activity worthy of her amazing talents. Educating her big brother about ladybugs was a flop and he’s off to play baseball with his friends. Mom and Dad have “things to do” around the house.
First Ladybug tries exploring inside but the shelves of books are only so interesting when you can’t read yet.
So Ladybug and Bingo venture into the yard in search of adventure. From rescuing a line of ant to rebuilding a fortress and braving shark infested puddles, Ladybug Girl and Bingo get things done.
She even manages to spend some time spying on her brother who honestly doesn’t look like he’s having a great time. How fun can baseball be if all you do is argue?
I’m not sure how I managed to miss this one for so long but Soman and Davis have created a young hero for every little girl who has been told she’s too small or too young to participate. The lesson here is subtle (ie they don’t come out and tell you in words but actions to “get off your fanny and make your own fun”) but it is there.
David Soman’s illustrations are marvelously expressive from the triumph on Ladybug Girl’s face to the disgust Bingo clearly feels towards those who thwart her. The clean lines and bright colors compliment the simplicity of Jacky Davis’ text.
Share this book with the imaginative young reader in your life but when she demands a pair of red weelies, a tutu and spotted wings, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
June 13, 2013
King of Ithaka
by Tracy Barrett
Henry Holt and Company
Sixteen-year-old Telemachos spends his afternoons spying on girls with his best friends, Damon, the son of a farmer, and Brax, a boisterous centaur. He knows that life on the tiny island kingdom of Ithaka isn’t perfect. After all, they have no king since his father Odysseus went off to fight. But his mother, Penelopeia, is doing her utmost to hold things together, judging complaints, hosting the nightly dinner and keeping the stores as full as possible with so many neighbors willing to impose on her hostility.
But everyone is growing restless. They no longer seem satisfied with how Penelopeia settles disputes and the neighbors have decided that Odysseus is certainly dead. It is time for Penelopeia to marry one of them and make him king.
Telemachos doesn’t understand what has kept his father away but he has to keep his mother from being forced into marriage. He decides to sail to a nearby kingdom to find out what they can tell him of his father. His friend Damon plans to go along but then Damon’s father breaks his leg. Now only Damon’s skills in the families fields stands between his family and starvation. Things are so desperate that the local prostitute has already come by and offered to buy his oldest sister for a fair price.
Telemachos sets sail with only Brax for help and a centaur on a small sailing ship isn’t as helpful as one might hope. Then strange things start to happen and soon Telemachos suspects they have a stow-away but he is surprised to discover that it is Polydora, Damon’s sister.
When the journey begins, Telemachos is certain that it is enough for a good king to be strong and brave and generous with those who obey him. But as he encounters a variety of kings who have these three traits but still lack so much, Telemachos begins to see what they are missing.
Yet it isn’t until he returns home and discovers yet another new face that he puts it all together.
Author Tracy Barrett brings an academic’s understanding of classical history and literature to the world of ancient Greece. Her story weaves all of this in with an adventure worthy of Odysseus himself, if only the man had what it takes to reach the same conclusion as his son.
A fast moving novel with a wealth of information about the Ancient World. While it contains a great deal of action, it isn’t action/adventure in the sense of Percy Jackson simply because this is a much more thoughtful novel. (Keep in mind: I love Percy Jackson, this is simply a very different type of book.)
June 10, 2013
by Jan Ormerod
The little church where Mama and Papa got married is far away from their little house in the bush. In fact, town is so distant that when Papa has to go to there to sell a load of sandalwood, he is gone for weeks at a time. Fortunately, Lizzie has a great imagination to keep her occupied until Papa gets home.
Mama just calls it Lizzie nonsense. But Lizzie’s “nonsense” keeps her going as they haul water to water the garden and give baby a bath, Mama cleans the house and they do the mending. When Mama chases a snake out from under the rug, Lizzie declares that she is the bravest Mama in the whole world.
“Nonsense!” says Mama.
But Lizzie isn’t the only one with an imagination. On Sundays, she and Mama put on their very best clothes. With baby in the carriage, they walk the track and return home, pretending that they were able to go to church.
One morning the see a cloud of dust and hear the jangle of tack, it can only mean one thing. At long last, Papa has come home. They rush out to meet him before the whole family returns to their little house.
The story is fiction but with a lot of information about pioneer life in Australia. This would be a great book for young readers who have read about American wagon trains, little log cabins or dugouts. A wealth of information, such as the look of the house, their clothes and the local wildlife comes in through Ormerod’s watercolor paintings which depict Australia’s wilderness in a gentle glow. Page back through and look at the art work, picking out kookaburra and kangaroos, dingos and some little creature with a prehensile tail like an opossum.
A quiet, gentle book about bravery, imagination and family. Sadly, it seems to be out-of-print here in the US. Look for it in library collections or through used bookstores if you won’t want to order it from overseas. It is definitely a book you should have on your shelves.
June 5, 2013
by Barbara DaCosta,
illustrated by Ed Young
Little, Brown and Co.
As the clock strikes midnight, a hook and rope snake through the air, catching onto the peaked roof. We watch as a ninja shinnies across the rope and up a wall before dropping into the house. He sneaks, he creeps and he listens and he has just about completed his mission when POP! on turns a light.
I completely refuse to give away how this book ends and what is going on but suffice it to say that it is all tension and mystery and then a big smile. “So, that’s what’s going on!”
The very youngest children might find it a little to creepy as the shadowy figure is a spooky, but my son would have gobbled this book up and then insisted that we read it again and again.
At less than 100 words, it is a super quick read and although it is a bed time book (yes, really!), I think it would make an even better nap time book when no shadowy excuses are available for staying up and calling Mom or Dad into the room.
Ed Young’s collage art combines cut paper, textured cloth, string (rope) and colored pencil for an effect that is simple but also brilliant. I’m going to have to look for more of his books right away because I am truly a sucker for excellent collage. This work is marvelously textured and, while not highly detailed, definitely helped build the mood of the story.
Read this one to your young pre-reader today and enjoy a smile together as you reach that aha moment at the end.