Friday, February 29, 2008

The Silver Chair

Lewis, C.S. 1953. The Silver Chair.

It's been more than a few weeks since I reviewed The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The Silver Chair is the fourth novel in the seven-book series by C.S. Lewis. (In January, I also reviewed The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe and Prince Caspian. You can read my reviews here and here.) Although I started The Silver Chair soon after, I lost interest quickly. I'd read a chapter here, a chapter there. And soon I realized that I'd been unsteadily plodding along on the same book for about six weeks. Which, if you know me at all, you'll know that that is very unusual.

The truth? Though many people like or love The Silver Chair...I'm not one of them. Don't get me wrong. I don't hate the book. I even enjoy parts of the novel a great deal. But I don't love it the same way that I love the other three, the first three. Which is my least favorite of the seven? It would be a toss up between The Silver Chair and The Horse and His Boy.

The story. The story. What is the story. Two kids--Eustace, whom we first met in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and Jill, whom we are meeting for the first time, have unexpected, unplanned adventures in Narnia, a magical land first introduced in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. The two step into the adventure. Their quest? To find the missing prince--a person assumed or presumed dead--the son of King Caspian. (Caspian we met in Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.) Aslan, the lion-king, gives instructions to Jill that will help them on their way. But these instructions require familiarity--memorization--and obedience. Neither come naturally to the children. Along the way, the children meet many characters. Some are friends; some are enemies. Puddleglum is the most interesting person that they meet. He is what I remember most about the novel.

Overall, I liked this novel, but I didn't love it. I think others may enjoy it more than I did.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

D.E.A.R. Reading Challenge hosted by Becky's Book Reviews

Last year, D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read) Day caught me unawares. I found out about it only a few days in advance. This year, I want to do something BIG to celebrate. I'll be hosting the D.E.A.R reading challenge with four levels of participation! Here is the official site.

What is National D.E.A.R. Day?
D.E.A.R. stands for Drop Everything and Read. National D.E.A.R. Day is a special reading celebration to remind and encourage families to make reading together on a daily basis a family priority.

Who Is Leading the National D.E.A.R. Day Celebration? The National Education Association (NEA); Parent Teacher Association (PTA); the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association; Reading Rockets; The General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC); the Newspaper Association of America Foundation (NAA); First Book; HarperCollins Children’s Books; and Ramona Quimby.
Level One: Commit to reading 30 minutes on D.E.A.R. day, April 12, 2008. It's a Saturday in case you're wondering.
Level Two: Commit to reading 30 minutes per day for three days. April 11, 2008 - April 13, 2008.
Level Three: Commit to reading 30 minutes per day for an entire week. April 6, 2008 - April 12, 2008.
Level Four: Commit to reading 30 minutes per day for an entire month. March 12, 2008 - April 12, 2008.

A blog is not required to participate by any means! The goal is to learn how to make reading a part of your daily routine. A way to encourage you to incorporate reading into your life. To make it a priority.

If you want to join up, leave a comment. You can blog about your experience, your progress, the books you read. But you don't have to in order to play along. I would encourage you, however, to at the very least leave a sentence or two in the comments at the close of this challenge the weekend of April 12/13th. Again, not a requirement, but it would be nice.

This challenge is for kids and adults. If you're a parent, I would encourage you to make this a family event. Commit to reading books with your kids. (But if you're not a parent, this is for you too!)

If you are going to use this as an opportunity to read with your kids, you might want to check out these official tips. There are tips on how to read with your child aged preschool to third grade.

Unsure of what to read? Here are some 'official' recommendations. And here are a list of books by Beverly Cleary. But you may read whatever you like. If you're an adult (with or without kids) feel free to read adult books. I don't want anyone to feel excluded. But as for this adult--me--I'll be reading kids books with a big smile on my face. :)

Unlike most challenges, this isn't asking for a certain number of books. This one is only focusing on the commitment to read a certain amount of time per day.

A Child's Book of Prayers

Kangas, Juli. 2008. A Child's Book of Prayers.

A Child's Book of Prayers takes you through the course of a day--from morning to evening--through the eyes of a child. The book's description--to be exact--says "this cozy book contains prayers for every aspect of a young child's daily life." Some verses--prayers and poems--are probably already familiar to parents. Others, however, are likely to be new-to-you. Whether familiar or new, the prayers are appropriate and fitting and lovely for teaching children of all ages how to pray--how to make God a part of their young lives. (Some are short and lend easily to memorization. Others are longer.)

Example 1: For every cup and plateful, God make us truly grateful.

Example 2:

Two little eyes to look at God.
Two little ears to hear His word.
Two little lips to sing His praise.
Two little feet to walk His ways.
Two little hands to do His will.
One little heart to love Him still.

Overall, I must say that I'd recommend this to Christian parents looking for good books to share with their kids.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Help Me, Mr. Mutt!

Help Me, Mr. Mutt! by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel. April 2008. Harcourt.

I loved this book. It's true. I loved it. Whether you like cats or dogs OR cats and dogs, I have a feeling you'll like this one too. The full title of this one is Help Me, Mr. Mutt! Expert Answers for Dogs with People Problems. The premise is simple. Dogs write to Mr. Mutt for advice about the problems they're having with their owners. Mr. Mutt then responds. But never one to let a dog have the last word in anything, the Queen also responds. (The Queen--in case you didn't guess it from her name--is a cat.)

It was hard for me to choose a favorite part. It really was. It was hard for me to even narrow it down a bit. I really loved so many of the "letters" that Dr. Mutt received and answered. But of particular note--if I have to play favorites--I'd say that Overdressed In Oklahoma was one of my favorites.

Dear Mr. Mutt,

It's ridiculous!
Holidays are unbearable. First I'm a baby, next I'm a bunny, then I'm a bride, now I'm an angel.
I'm NOT a baby or a bunny or a bride or an angel.
I'm a dog.
Where is my dignity? I'm the laughingstock of the block! I'm in need of your assistance immediately!
Help me, Mr Mutt!

Overdressed in Oklahoma

P.S. My people never dress up the cantankerous cat!

Another one I simply loved was Confused in Connecticut. The truth is that I really loved them all. I HIGHLY recommend this book for everyone that loves pets--cats, dogs, whatever. It's a true gem of a book. The text, the illustrations, everything was just right!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Your Child's Bright Future: Rosemary Wells

Noisy Nora

I've been saving the best for last. What Rosemary Wells' book is MY favorite and MY best? You guessed it! It's Noisy Nora! I love, love, love this book. Noisy Nora is family drama at its best. Nora, the middle child, is feeling left out. What is an attention-seeking mouse have to do to get noticed? Read and see for yourself!!!

I love the rhythm and flow of this one. And I'm not ashamed to say it, it is one of my "again, again" books that I could read for hours and hours and never get tired of!

The Bestest in the Barn

Max Cleans Up

Max Cleans Up is one of many by Rosemary Wells that feature the lovable bunny characters of Max and Ruby. The characters are found in both picture books and board books. My childhood didn't include Max and Ruby. And this is actually the first Max and Ruby that I've actually sat down and read cover to cover. In this book, Ruby is bossing Max around telling him how to clean his room, how to clean up after himself. Max in what is most likely typical Max-fashion is stubborn and resistant.

Familiar scenario? There are many many books about messy rooms, about cleaning up messy rooms, books showing the conflict between messy folks and neat-and-tidy folks. So this isn't alone by any means. It is fun for what it is, but there are others I've enjoyed more. I've got to say though that if your little one loves Max or Ruby (or Max AND Ruby) then they will be more likely to enjoy this one. Knowing the characters, loving the characters can sometimes make a book funnier or 'better' all around.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Felix and the Worrier

Here's another book by Rosemary Wells. Like Yoko it is new-to-me. Again we're dealing with animal characters. I have mixed feelings about Felix as you'll see. Felix is good-to-go during the day. But at night, Felix becomes bogged down with worries. He has trouble sleeping at night because of all the worrying thoughts that pop up. These worries are personified as The Worrier. The Worrier is yellow and short. And dare I say it??? He's a bit freaky looking.
The Worrier hopped right in [from the window] and sat down. "I'm worried about that little black spot on your tooth," he said. Felix's clouds of happiness disappeared. Felix and the Worrier worried about the little black spot on Felix's tooth until the morning sun rose in the sky. "Bye-bye! " said the Worrier.
When morning comes, his mother's reassurances and calming presence makes all his fears, worries, doubts go away. He tells his mother what's on his mind, what's got him worried, what's got him down. And she is able to calm him, soothe him, tell him that everything is good, everything is okay, that his worries have been for nothing.

But at night, the worries creep back in. He worries about playing with other children at playschool, he worries about his birthday party, etc. On the night before his birthday, however, something happens that makes the Worrier vanish for good. That something is his birthday present--a small dog named Rufus.

What I like about the book. First of all, I like Felix. I didn't really know that many worried-and-anxious type book characters growing up. And I sure did need them. Believe me. But there wasn't Felix. There wasn't Wemberly. I think some kids do have anxious thoughts, worries, doubts, fears. And I think it's good that these real kids have fictional counterparts. And I like that the books illustrate that talking can help--talking to a parent, talking to a teacher, talking to a friend, etc.

But at the same time, this quick fix just didn't do it for me. Not really. If I'd read it as a kid, I would have thought all my problems could have been solved if I'd only been allowed to have a pet--a dog, a cat, etc. [That's not exactly true, at Felix's age, I was anxious about dogs.] There aren't really many quick fixes in life. Very rarely does a problem get solved with a magic poof. The story could easily have gone another way--a security object of some sort, a blanket, a teddy bear, a doll, etc. And all of these solutions--a pet, a toy, a blanket, a something--could help a person (a child) learn to cope, learn to self-soothe. There is no easy, quick solution. You can only deal with things one step at a time. You might calm your worries for the night, but sooner or later a new day, a new night is going to bring new worries for you to battle, to conquer. Worries just don't go poof. They have to be slain one at a time. But there is never a "completely finished, I'm perfectly cured, I'll never have another anxious thought as long as I live" moment.

But I mostly liked this one. It was good.

Yoko by Rosemary Wells

I love Rosemary Wells. I do. While I don't love, love, love each Wells' book I encounter, I enjoy them all. She's consistently good with a few stand-out titles. One thing you should probably know about Rosemary Wells? Most of her books feature animal characters. (But the animals aren't acting like animals. They're acting like people.) Yoko is a kitten, a gray kitten, a cute kitten. Yoko loves to eat all of her favorite foods. But when she takes these foods to school, sometimes the other students laugh at her or tease her. These favorite foods? Ethnic food--in this case sushi. "What's in your lunch?" asked one of the Franks.
"Ick! It's green! It's seaweed!"
"Oh, no!" said the other Frank. "Don't tell me that's raw fish!"
"Watch out! It's moving!" said Doris.
"Yuck-o-rama!" said Tulip and Fritz.

Of course Yoko is going to be upset. Fortunately, the teacher is watching and seemingly all-knowing. Will having an International Food Day make the children more tolerant and accepting of those that are different? Read and see for yourself.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Dragons of Blueland

Gannett, Ruth Stiles. 1951. The Dragons of Blueland.

The Dragons of Blueland was originally published in 1951. This book concludes the trilogy started with My Father's Dragon. The second book, Elmer and the Dragon, ends with Elmer's safe arrival back home. The Dragons of Blueland opens with Boris wondering what to do, where to go next. He's still got to make his getaway from the humans. (After all, people still think dragons are extinct; and it's best that they keep on thinking that way as far as Boris is concerned. The idea of being captured or put in a zoo not being pleasant.) He decides to go on a quest to find his family. And it is on this quest that he discovers that his family needs him to rescue them. And he also discovers that he needs Elmer in order to rescue them. So there you have it. Despite their separation, these two always find a way to have more adventures. This novel is better, I feel, than the second novel. But still not quite as wonderful as the first in the series. It is an enjoyable read nonetheless.

96 pages.
First sentence: Over the harbor, past the lighthouse, away from Nevergreen City flew the happy baby dragon.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Elmer and the Dragon

Gannett, Ruth Stiles. 1950. Elmer and the Dragon.

The second in the trilogy, Elmer and the Dragon was originally published in 1950. The narrative opens with Elmer and his new dragon friend, Boris, on their way. The dragon has agreed to fly the boy home as a way of showing his gratitude for the boy freeing him. "Into the evening sky flew Elmer Elevator aboard the gentle baby dragon, leaving Wild Island behind forever." But finding their way home isn't as easy as it might first seem. The dragon, a baby dragon, and a dragon that has spent most of his time in captivity doesn't know where the boy's home is. And the boy doesn't know either. Not really. He came to these islands on a ship, but he spent his time below hiding. So it's not like he was paying attention to the directions they were sailing, etc. So the two must search for the way home. Along the way, more adventures are had.

If I'm being honest, this book lacks some of the magic that made My Father's Dragon so enjoyable. But maybe this is because I'm an adult. Maybe kids who loved the first one will be just as eager to have the adventures continue? It would be interesting to see. I know my sister has used My Father's Dragon as a read aloud to her first graders in the past. But she felt--as I feel--that the second book was lacking a little something.

96 pages

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My Father's Dragon

Gannett, Ruth Stiles. 1948. My Father's Dragon.

Originally published in 1948, My Father's Dragon is a classic children's book that is perfectly suited for read aloud. Starring Elmer, a young boy, and Boris, a blue and yellow striped dragon, the book is full of one adventure after another. It begins off simply enough, "One cold rainy day when my father was a little boy, he met an old alley cat on his street." The boy, Elmer, is the narrator's "father" and these adventures are "tales" of what happened long ago and far away. (Sometimes the boy is called "my father" and sometimes he is called "Elmer.") He is the sort of boy that dreams of adventures, that dreams of dragons, that dreams of faraway lands. And it is this opportune meeting with an alley cat that is the start of it all. What I liked best about this one is that it is funny, creative, and resourceful. I like the way the boy is able to "think" his way out of each new danger. I also enjoy the illustrations by Ruth Chrisman Gannett. They're delightful for the most part.

The book was a Newbery Honor book in 1949.

96 pages.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Orgill, Roxane. 2007. Footwork: The Story of Fred and Adele Astaire. Illustrated by Stephane Jorisch.

Footwork is picture book biography of Fred Astaire. Partial biography. It covers the time from his first interest in dance (4 years old and around 1905) through his first few movie pictures (1930s). "One day, while Fred Astaire was waiting for his sister, Adele, to finish dancing class, he saw a pair of ballet shoes in the corner. He put them on and walked on his toes. He was four and a half. Soon there was talk around the house about 'dancing school' and 'New York' and 'opportunity.' The talk concerned mostly Adele, but Fred was in it, too. 'Adele is a born dancer,' Father said, 'and Fred might not be too bad.'" The book provides a behind-the-scenes look at vaudeville, Broadway, and Hollywood. Though I suppose that sentence makes it look easy. It wasn't. Show business was not easy for the Astaires to break into. It was hard work. Always hard work. Always demanding. But it was what everyone wanted--the parents and the two children. This brother and sister act worked together for close to thirty years before she retired from show business to settle down and get married. Fred continued his act finding new partners and trying new things. One of the things he wanted to try most? Moving pictures! He saw film as the place to try new and exciting things with dance. Things had never been done before. Things that he wanted to be the one to "invent" or "discover" or "try."

Footwork shows you just what you can accomplish when you put your heart and mind and soul into something. Big dreams require big commitments. Hard work. Determination. Sacrifice. Perseverance.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Young Readers Challenge Month Two:

The Young Readers Challenge is in its second month. While it isn't a rule that the twelve required books be read one per month, that is a good a way as any for spacing out these round-up posts.

First off, let me say...that there is still time to join in the challenge. There is no official deadline. So don't think you're out of luck if this is your first time hearing about the challenge. The more the merrier.

In this round-up post, you have the opportunity to share with others what you've been reading. You may do this in one or two ways.

1) Leave a comment with a link to your review.
2) Leave a review or mini-review as a comment. So even if you don't have a blog of your own, you can still participate.

Some of you may be wondering how "long" or "short" a review would need to be. Really, it doesn't matter. I would say at least two sentences. :) Unless you use a lot of semicolons. :)

So leave me a comment anytime in the month of February, and I'll *eventually* round them up here in the body of this post with a snazzy little summary or intro of some sort.

So enjoy your month of reading...I look forward to the reviews.

I have been reading a lot of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Little House in the Big Woods; Little House on the Prairie; On the Banks of Plum Creek; By the Shores of Silver Lake; The Long Winter; Little Town on the Prairie; These Happy Golden Years; The First Four Years. All but the last one would be good for "young readers."

Joy Hall has read Betsy-Tacy by Maude Hart Lovelace and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. K. Konigsburg.

To read January's roundup.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Yellow Umbrella

Yellow Umbrella by Jae Soo Liu. This book isn't exactly new--the first American edition being published in 2002--and it isn't exactly unknown since it got some high praise when it first released including being named one of the New York Times Best Illustrated books of the year (2002). But it is new-to-me. Or relatively new-to-me.

I first read Yellow Umbrella last fall. I loved it. I really really loved it. But since it is a wordless picture book, I felt somewhat at a loss of what to say. But I've decided to be brave and venture forth into new territory. If my review doesn't do it justice, you'll just have to trust me that it is worth it. Worth finding and reading yourself.

The book Yellow Umbrella comes with a CD. For the full experience, readers are urged to listen to the CD while 'reading' or 'sharing' the book. An interesting concept in my opinion. A wordless picture book whose story is told by music--by melody--and by illustrations. It's a completely different experience than you might expect. It's all about mood and tone. I'm not sure everyone will love it. But I urge you to read and see for yourself. You might just find it as delightful as I did.

The CD is 27 minutes. The track needed for reading the story is a little over 7 minutes long. The rest of the CD are "extra" bits that make it just that much more fun of an experience.

Thoroughly appropriate for use as "art appreciation" or "music appreciation" or the more complex aspects of storytelling. It also makes for a great shared experience on a rainy day.

The publisher is Kane/Miller. It was originally published in South Korea.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Henry's Freedom Box

Levine, Ellen. 2007. Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story From the Underground Railroad. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson.

I loved this book from the very first moment I read it. I read it back in the summer. But it left me at a loss for words. How could I ever write down in a review just how good this book is? How could I capture how amazing the art is? How truly, truly amazing it is? I looked at it and thought--this will be getting Caldecott love. (And in fact it did get a Caldecott honor.) But it isn't just the art that's good. The text--simple at times--is just right.

"Henry Brown wasn't sure how old he was. Henry was a slave. And slaves weren't allowed to know their birthdays." I imagine this beginning would be quite effective in capturing kids' attention. The idea that a kid would not--could not know their birthday--not know how old they are??? It could prove intriguing. I think--and this can be tossed right out the window since I don't have a degree in education and am basing this simply on my conversations with my sister who does teach first graders--they don't get slavery; they don't get racism; they don't get prejudice; they don't understand how things used to be; how things were. The concept of a human being owning another is foreign to them. So the use of this book--the use of any book dealing with slavery, civil rights, or race relations--needs to be balanced with plenty of discussion and guidance on the part of the teachers. Books--especially historical fiction and nonfiction--need to be placed into context for kids.

The story is powerful, emotional. It seems unreal that it could be real, could be true. But it is. This is one story. But there were many stories. Most untold. Slaves who made their way to freedom. Slaves that never made it. Slaves that were waiting, hoping, praying for deliverance. Broken homes. Broken hearts. Broken lives. Broken spirits. The cruelty of slavery seems so apparent, so obvious at least in my reckoning. Henry's Freedom Box takes a story that is both heartbreaking and inspiring. In one sense, it captures the story of a man who made it. In another, it shows all those that didn't. He was just one. One of many. They all needed to be free. Even Henry's happy ending can't erase the pain and the sorrow of his past.