Monday, March 31, 2008
Rylant, Cynthia. 2007. Walt Disney's Cinderella.
2007 saw the publication of many great books for kids and young adults. A few really really really topped my list. Among the best of the best in feel-good, utterly and completely satisfying category is Cynthia Rylant's Walt Disney's Cinderella. This one goes above and beyond any and all expectations. It just doesn't get better than this. It doesn't. Trust me.
A word on the illustrations. They are by Mary Blair. She did the concept art for the Walt Disney film. It is so completely fabulous. They are NOT the final illustrations from the film like so many other Disney versions. But it is the inspiration for those illustrations. These pictures definitely evoke mood and tone.
A word on the text. It is oh-so-magical. This is how it begins, "This is a story about darkness and light, about sorrow and joy, about something lost and something found. This is a story about Love." We're told that, "Every day Cinderella wished for Love" and that the Prince had not yet fallen in love, "Any young maiden in the kingdom could have been his, for he was brave and kind and destined to be king. But of all the girls he had ever known or seen, not one touched his heart. Not one moved him." The story may be familiar to all, but this telling is so charming, so beautiful that it will make you fall in love all over again. "Who can say by what mystery two people find each other in this great wide world? How does a young man find his maiden? His heart leads him. He finds her in a room. He asks her to dance. And when he touches her, he knows."
This one is definitely a must-read in my opinion. A pure joy from cover to cover. Highly highly highly recommended.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Odgers, Darrel and Sally. 2006. Jack Russell: Dog Detective: The Phantom Mudder. Kane/Miller.
Originally published in Australia, this fun new series of early readers is published by Kane/Miller. I reviewed the first book of the series, Dog Den Mystery, a few days ago. I loved it. (Read that one here if you missed it.) The Phantom Mudder is the second in the series. (But it's not essential to have read the first one. These books could stand alone or be read in any order.) The book features Jack Russell, a dog, and his human 'landlord' Sarge and Auntie Tidge and her dog, Foxie, also enter into it quite a bit. This book focuses on the local dog show. It's the day of the big competition, but something is wrong! One dog after another after another after another are being "mudded" right before they're due to compete! Who is mudding these dogs? Who is out to sabotage the competition? Can Jack Russell and his dog friends solve the mystery in time?
Here's just one of the "Jack's Facts" featured in The Phantom Mudder:
Dogs understand what humans say.
Humans think they understand what dogs say.
Therefore, dogs are smarter than humans.
This is a fact.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
Ransom, Candice. 2006. Time Spies: Secret in the Tower.
Mattie, Alex, and Sophie are three siblings about to stumble into a great mysteriously magical adventure. It all starts when the Chapman family moves from Maryland to Virginia. Their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Chapman, are hoping to make a great change in their lives. They bought a huge, three-story stone house--which dates at least in part to Colonial times. Their dream is to open an inn. Their first guest is a Mr. Jones. He is a man who may not be what he seems as the children come to discover. I don't want to say too much more. But if you love the idea of time travel, if you love history, then this is one series you'll want to follow. Secret in the Tower as the first novel sets up the premise and introduces readers to the stars: the three Chapman children, Ellsworth the stuffed elephant, and Winchester the cat.
I am looking forward to reading the rest of the series. My only regret? That these books weren't around when I was a kid. I would have so fallen in love with this series. The idea of time travel has always intrigued me to say the least. I loved the TV show Voyagers, though I don't remember too many of the details now.
Slater, Dashka. 2008. Baby Shoes. (Board Book) Bloomsbury.
I love this board book. I do. Baby Shoes is the story of one boy and his shoes during the course of a day. (Well, the book doesn't say it's all in one day. But it doesn't say it's not all one day either. But it's not a big deal either way.) White shoes. The baby has white shoes. Any guesses on how long they'll stay all new, white, and pristine looking? Baby Shoes is a fun, rhythmic book. This is how it starts, "Baby's got some brand-new shoes, white as light, stripe of blue. He passed over all the rest, chose the ones he liked best." And here is just one of the examples of how baby's white-shoes end up not quite so white:
Mama and Baby take a walk.
Baby brings some colored chalk.
Uses red to draw a rose
and some red loops on the toes
of those white high-jumping
Baby says "uh-oh!"
Mama says "Oh, no!"
But those shoes just go, go, go.
It's fun. It's playful. It's rhythmic. It's repetitive. It's a good thing.
Something terrible happens every Tuesday night.
Can you guess what it is? If you live with a picky eater, you just might have guessed what drama will follow. (Though you might not have guessed the exact vegetable causing that night's fuss.) Yes, every Tuesday night, the "something terrible" is a serving of vegetables. In this instance, it happens to be peas. (I love peas. Of all the vegetables to cause a fuss, I wouldn't guess english peas to be the culprit. Maybe the parents don't know about melting butter on frozen peas--the only way to go!) Yes, our little drama-king is being "forced" by his "mean" parents to eat three whole peas.
Oh the drama. For with the touch of the pea on his tongue, he turns into a Veggie Monster. "My fingers become all wiggly. . . My toes twist and curl up in my shoes . . ." and soon he's a fully transformed and ready to "smash the chairs. . . [and] tip the table." But then a strange thing happens, he swallows the pea and the world doesn't end. In fact, he admits that it was "all right, really." But the hysteria may return for tomorrow, Wednesday, is broccoli night!
Some of my other picky-eater picture book favorites are:
I Will Not Ever Never Eat A Tomato by Lauren Child
D.W. The Picky Eater
and Little Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
I've found a new love. I have. It is a (relatively) new series called Jack Russell: Dog Detective. The books were originally published in Australia. Kane/Miller (wonderful publishers that they are) have begun to publish them in America. This is a very good thing! The books are by Darrel & Sally Odgers.
The first in the series is called Dog Den Mystery. The books feature a dog and his human. The dog, Jack Russell, and his human, Sarge. (The Sarge has an Auntie Tidge that Jack adores.) The book opens with them moving to a new neighborhood. All seems to be well, until Jack realizes that there is a thief in the neighborhood. First an old boot, then his squeaker-bone, then his blanket, then his food bowl. The thief must be stopped! Can Jack solve the case and find his missing stuff??? Can he get Sarge to notice that things are not the way they should be?!
This is an early reader that is sure to charm dog-lovers and mystery-lovers of all ages. But it is geared towards younger folks of course. (I'm thinking second graders on up, unless you've got a super-clever first grader that can read these kinds of chapter books on their own. Everyone is different.)
The official site: http://www.jackrusselldogdetective.com/
Here is a brief excerpt from chapter one.
Cars have windows. Dogs have noses.
When these things come together, one must be stuck out the other.
This is a fact.
While my ears flapped, I made a ***nose map.
Jack’s map …
(1) Pass sausage factory.
(2) Pass a yard where someone buried a bone last March.
(3) Turn left near the house where someone ate chops for breakfast.
(4) Pass a house where three cats live.
(5) Big dog alert!
(6) Pass pizza place (consider return trip to check for cheese).
(7) Turn left near house with three little kids. Just the right age for dropping biscuits.
(8) Pass porch with old boots.
(9) Left at empty house. Suspect rats. Must check later.
Sarge turned past the empty-house-that-might-have-rats. He drove down two blocks and stopped the car.
‘Here we are, Jack.’
I grabbed my squeaker-bone and jumped out.
Ilanded on an old boot that smelled of dog.
*Paw thing; up on hind legs, paws held together as if praying. Means pleased excitement.
** Squeaker-bone. Item for exercising teeth. Not to be confused with a toy.
*** Nose map. Way of storing information collected by the nose.
Monday, March 24, 2008
"How about a wheelbarrow ride?" Sam asked. He tamped the earth around the base of the dogwood tree he had just planted.
Maddie is a young girl--8 to be exact--who is making some adjustments. Her mother has just remarried (Sam is her stepfather), and they've just moved to the country. She had been used to having perfect days with her mother. And quite honestly, she's not sure that perfect days can happen in the country, in her new home, with her new dad. The narrative takes place over the course of one summer. A summer that turns out to have quite a good number of perfect days. The writing, the characters, everything about this one is just right. Maddie's voice is authentic as can be. And I'm thrilled at the portrayal of good stepfather. So often in books (though more in YA books than kids books) the stepparent still carries the stigma of being "evil" or "mean." Sam is good through and through. And his growing relationship with his new daughter is a gem. This is a portrait of a happy--but all-too-human family.
I loved this book. And I definitely recommend it!
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Monday, March 10, 2008
I love Dr. Seuss's Sleep Book. I do. I love it. Definitely a must-read. I grew up with this one. And even looking at the cover makes me yawn. There are so many memorable things about this bedtime book. Here's how it begins, "The news just came in from the County of Keck that a very small bug by the name of Van Vleck is yawning so wide you can look down his neck. This may not seem very important, I know. But it is. So I'm bothering telling you so." It goes on, "A yawn is quite catching, you see. Like a cough. It just takes one yawn to start other yawns off. NOW the news has come in that some friends of Van Vleck's are yawning so wide you can look down their necks." The yawns continue to spread through this wonderful tale where we meet strange and new creatures. Among my favorites? I tend to like the Bumble-Tub Club. Then again the Offts are a little fun too. But my favorite part by far is the Audio Telly-O-Tally-O Count machine.
On a mountain, halfway between Reno and Rome,
We have a machine in a plexiglass dome
Which listens and looks into everyone's home.
And whenever it sees a new sleeper go flop,
It jiggles and lets a new Biggel-Ball drop.
Our chap counts these balls as they plup in a cup.
And that's how we know who is down and who's up.
Also I love this line, "Five foot-weary salesmen have laid down their load. All day they've raced round in the heat, at top speeds, unsuccessfully trying to sell Zizzer-Zoof seeds which nobody wants because nobody needs." And how about this, "What a fine night for sleeping! From all that I hear, it's the best night for sleeping in many a year. They're even asleep in the Zwieback Motel! And people don't usually sleep there too well. The beds are like rocks and, as everyone knows, the sheets are too short. They won't cover your toes. SO, if people are actually sleeping in THERE...it's a great night for sleeping! It must be the air."
Anyway, I love this one. You should definitely read it and often.
Another one of those that is either a parable or allegory. One of those that you know are supposed to be teaching a lesson. One whose message is so obvious. But Seuss is one of those that can get away with it in my opinion.
This one is all about the environment.
The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss (1984)
I don't know which word is the proper one. Allegory. Parable. One of the two. The Buttle Battle book is about the Yooks and Zooks. Yooks prefer eating bread (or toast) butter side up. The Zooks? They're crazy (at least according to the Yooks) because they prefer eating bread (or toast) butter side down. The Yooks and Zooks live side by side. Except for the wall. The wall that keeps them safe from the crazies on the other side. There is even a border patrol so Yooks can watch for crazy Zooks and Zooks can watch for crazy Yooks. The problem escalates when we go from merely watching to threatening force and action with ever-increasing weapons. Yooks will do this, Zooks will respond with that. Each one upping the other. Until the threat of destroying both the Yooks and Zooks becomes plain to all. This one is full of political implications. War. Weapons. Military. Propaganda. The villainizing of those that are different from us. Making (or finding) excuses to keep the 'bad' guys bad. One of the funnies that I noticed? The use of music--to rally support for the cause. Their anthem? "Oh, be faithful!/Believe in thy butter!" It seems silly but that's the point. People can turn even the smallest silliest things into reason to make war.
This one would in my opinion be for older readers. I first encountered this one in high school actually. As an example of how literature can reflect the times, etc. This being an example of the cold war.
Saturday, March 8, 2008
Fox in Socks is classic Seuss. (Is there any un-classic Seuss???) It could quite possibly be one of the funnest books to read aloud ever written. Not that it's an easy task to accomplish. But it's fun through and through. Tongue twisters. Whether you are a master or a novice, these tongue twisters are fun, fun, fun. Open it up. First page. "Take it slowly. This book is dangerous." Written in 1965, it features a tricky fox and a lovable knox.
Chicks with bricks come.That is just a small example of what Fox in Socks offers. Here's another favorite:
Chicks with blocks come.
Chicks with bricks and
blocks and clocks come.
When tweetle beetles fight,You get the idea. (Read to see for yourself if this fun with tweetle beetles continues...) That was about as much as Mr. Knox was really to hear! But my guess is your little ones would want to hear this one more, more, more. And really who could blame them?
a tweetle beetle battle.
And when they battle in a puddle,
it's a tweetle
beetle puddle battle.
And when tweetle beetles
battle with paddles in a puddle,
they call it a tweetle
beetle puddle paddle battle.
When beetles battle beetles
in a puddles paddle battle
and the beetle battle puddle
is a puddle in a bottle...
they call this
a tweetle beetle
paddle battle muddle
fight these battles
in a bottle
with their paddles
and the bottle's
on a poodle
and the poodle's
they call this
a muddle puddle
bottle paddle battle.
Fun for all ages. Meant to be shared and enjoyed. Over and over and over again.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Isadora, Rachel. 2008. The Fisherman and His Wife.
The Fisherman and His Wife is Rachel Isadora’s third picture book in a series of fairy tale adaptations. Her previous books include The Twelve Dancing Princesses and The Princess and the Pea. The Fisherman and His Wife is a Brothers Grimm tale. What makes Rachel Isadora’s adaptation unique? She relies closely on the traditional tale as far as her narrative goes. The difference is in the setting. Isadora’s fairy tale is set in Africa. This is largely conveyed by her bold, colorful illustrations. A collage style that has earned her high praise in the past.
For those unfamiliar with the tale, The Fisherman and His Wife is a story about greed. “Long ago there was a fisherman who lived with his wife in a pigsty by the sea.” When this fisherman catches a large fish—a flounder—he spares him when the fish speaks of being an enchanted prince. And that might have been the end of the story except that the man shares that day’s events with his wife. His wife sees great potential. She can’t understand why her husband didn’t think to ask the fish to grant a wish. His wife sends him back to the sea to search for the fish. His wife’s demand? A hut. Sounds reasonable. But it’s just a very small start in a long list of demands.
The Fisherman and His Wife is a wonderful read, and the illustrations are beautiful. I highly recommend this one to those that love fairy tales and fairy tale adaptations.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
The Cat In The Hat Comes Back (1958) is a really great book.
"This was no time for play. This was no time for fun. This was no time for games. There was work to be done. All that deep, deep, deep snow, all that snow had to go. When our mother went down to the town for the day, She said, "Somebody has to clean all this away. Somebody, Somebody has to, you see." Then she picked out two Somebodies. Sally and me."
I can't begin to tell you how many times someone has quoted that around the house "Somebody, somebody has to you, you see." Who should approach these home-alone children once more? None other than the Cat in the Hat. He leaves them to their work while he goes in to take a nice soak in their tub. But he leaves a ring in the tub.
"A ring in the tub!
And, oh boy! What a thing!
A big long pink cat ring!
It looked like pink ink!"
Then begins a long, dramatic attempt to clean up one mess after the other after the other after the other. Before it's all done, we meet many new characters beginning with Little Cat A. It was a fun book that is just a delight to read. Much more fun than the original.
Monday, March 3, 2008
The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss is one of my favorite, favorite books. It contains "The Sneetches", of course, but it also includes such wonderful stories as, "The Zax" , "Too Many Daves" and "What Was I Scared Of." I grew up with Dr. Seuss, of course, it would be hard for me to imagine a kid who hasn't been exposed to at least some Dr. Seuss in those early years. But to get back on track, I grew up with the record of The Sneetches and Other Stories. Records were wonderful things. Me and my fisher price record player had some great times. Perhaps because of the record, or perhaps just because this book is among the best of the best, the stories have stayed with me through the years. Especially 'The Zax' and 'What Was I Scared Of'. I think this collection perhaps more than any other captures something about humanity, about human nature. This collection is for children, but in some ways it is even more for adults. It is humorous, yes, but it is also very wise.
The Sneetches: "Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars. Those stars weren't so big. They were really so small you might think such a thing wouldn't matter at all." What a great beginning for this little tale about judging others based on their appearances, a tale about labeling yourself 'superior' and everyone else 'inferior.' Sylvester McMonkey McBean arrives on the scene with his star-off, star-on machine. He thinks that Sneetches are too stubborn, too stupid to learn...you'll have to read for yourself to see if his maxim of "you can't teach a Sneetch" rings true.
The Zax is another tale about stubborn people who are unwilling to compromise. (Of course this never ever ever happens in real life). "One day, making tracks in the prairie of Prax, came a North-Going Zax and a South-Going Zax." This one makes for some fun reenactment.
Too Many Davies is just too too much fun. I love it. It is perhaps one of the funnest poems I've ever come across. It's such fun, such joy to read aloud, to listen to the sounds, the rhythms. What's your favorite name? Do you have one? Mine has to be Oliver Boliver Butt.
What Was I Scared Of? This one along with the Zax often gets quoted--or was often quoted at my house. The three of us (mom, sis, and me) had it practically memorized. And not just the text. We had the record--the narrator--memorized as well so we could mimic his style. It's a very clear memory! This story, this parable, is very relevant. I think it will always, always be relevant. It is about fear. About fearing 'the unknown.' About fearing those that are 'different' or 'strange.' If you're familiar with this one, feel free to share your favorite lines. But if I had to pick, I'd choose "I ran and found a Brickel bush. I hid myself away. I got brickels in my britches but I stayed there anyway" as my favorite. But on second thoughts, maybe this would have a slight edge, "I said, "I do not fear those pants with nobody inside them." I said, and said, and said those words. I said them. But I lied them." I can't choose. I can't. Every word, every syllable is genius.
Do you have memories of reading The Sneetches and Other Stories? Do you have a favorite story? A favorite quote? I'd love to hear about it!
One of my favorite things to do (outside) growing up was to blow bubbles. It was fun. It was silly. And you almost always got sticky. But perhaps more importantly it was always happy-making. Perhaps not quite as fun, but still high up on the list is taking pictures of other people--be they kids or adults--blowing bubbles. Trying to get that one shot. Trying to capture the moments. Trying to capture the joy. I took a whole roll (yes, this was before digital cameras) once of my sister and her friend blowing bubbles. It was quite fun. And it was full of laughs. (Then again, you can't be around K, my sister's friend, without it turning into a laugh-fest most of the time.)
What do my personal memories have to do with Wendy R. Lynch's book Pop!? Well, her book is a collection of photographs. The book starrs her own sons and her own nieces and nephews. She has combined photographs of her loved ones blowing bubbles and playing with bubbles along with her text, her narrative. Her writing, in places, is quite lyrical.
"The beauty of the bubble is when it POPS in the air you wonder, where did it go, for it left no trace."
"Memories are like bubbles, some pop so fast we forget all about them. Others drift by us, and WOW us so much that we wish we could hold on forever, but they still POP and disappear. Still others linger, taking their time to float into our memories to be remembered later. While the rest drift along with us never really disappearing."
The beauty of this book is that it captures some of the essence of childhood, of life, the vitality and joy of it all.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Gravett, Emily. 2008. Monkey and Me. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 1416954570.
Emily Gravett’s newest book, Monkey and Me, is sure to be as big a hit with kids (and adults) as her previous books have been. (She’s the author of the following books: Wolves; Orange Pear Apple Bear; Meerkat Mail; and Little Mouse’s Big Book Of Fears.) Monkey and Me releases in March 2008.
Monkey and Me is fun. Pure and simple, it’s just fun. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s the story of a girl, a young girl with two pigtails, and her stuffed monkey. (A fun pairing for any picture book in my humble opinion. Then again, I am the proud owner of three stuffed monkeys of my own.) These two friends are playing together. (Monkeys ALWAYS like to play.)
This book has everything that’s needed for a successful picture book: repetitive text, rhythmic text, fun premise, interactive opportunities, and charming illustrations. The refrain of the book—the pattern the story follows—is simple:
Monkey and me,
Monkey and me,
Monkey and me,
We went to see,
We went to see some . . .
The next two-page spread will reveal what the two went to see. What you might not notice at the very beginning is that the illustrations give subtle and some not-so-subtle hints about what the two went to see.
That is what I meant by “interactive opportunities.” Not only do children get to join in the what will soon be familiar refrain, they also get to participate by guessing what animals the two are going to see next. And, as if that isn’t enough, kids are sure to want to participate by acting out the animals movements just like the girl and her monkey. (Who doesn’t like pretending to be an elephant, a kangaroo, a monkey, a penguin, etc.)
Simply stated, I loved Monkey and Me. And I think you will LOVE it too.
A is for Audio Telly-oTally-O-Count (The Sleep Book)
B is for Blue Goo (The Butter Battle Book)
C is for Cindy-Lou Who (How The Grinch Stole Christmas)
D is for Diffendoofer Day (Hooray for Diffendoofer Day)
E is for Eiffelberg Tower (Horton Hears A Who)
F is for Foo-Foo the Snoo (I Can Read With My Eyes Shut)
G is for Grin-itch Spinach (What Was I Scared Of?)
H is for Horton the Elephant (Horton Hatches The Egg)
I is for Island of Sala-ma-Sond (Yertle the Turtle)
J is for Jertain (There’s A Wocket In My Pocket)
K is for Kitty O’Sullivan Krauss (Oh, The Thinks You Can Think)
L is for Little Cats A-Z (The Cat In the Hat Comes Back)
M is for Marvin K. Mooney (Marvin K. Mooney Will You Please Go Now)
N is for Noodle-Eating Poodles (Fox in Socks)
O is for Oliver Boliver Butt (Too Many Daves)
P is for Plain-Belly Sneetches (The Sneetches)
Q is for Quilligan Quail (I Had Trouble Getting to Solla Sollew)
R is for Red Fish (One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish)
S is for Sam I Am (Green Eggs and Ham)
T is Tizzle-Topped Tufted Mazurka (If I Ran the Zoo)
U is for Up, Up, Up With A Fish (The Cat in the Hat)
V is for Von Crandall (You’re Only Old Once)
W is for Whisper-ma-phone (The Lorax)
Y is for Yeoman of the Bowmen (The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins)
Z is Zax both North and South (The Zax)
Want to give it a try yourself? You might find these links useful. I know I did!