Friday, December 26, 2008

I'll Be Home for Christmas

Hobbie, Holly. 2001/2008. I'll Be Home for Christmas.

I'll Be Home for Christmas is a sweet and gentle story starring Toot and Puddle. The two, in case you haven't met them, are quite charming pigs--really as adorable as they can be. This particular Toot and Puddle story--set during Christmas--has Toot away visiting family during the holidays. Toot has promised Puddle to be there for Christmas. But this promise turns to be a bit difficult to keep...that is until of course a fortunate meeting with a man in red helps get him home just in time!

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas from Snugglebug!

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hurry! Hurry! Have You Heard?

Hurry! Hurry! Have You Heard? by Laura Krauss Melmed. Illustrated by Jane Dyer.

When you think about the animals present at the nativity--the birth of Christ--I bet you don't think of lady bugs, bumble bees, tortoises, shrews, moles, and foxes, but in this imaginative retelling all of God's animals--well, some of the smaller and more neglected animals at least--gather together to worship the baby Jesus in their own unique ways. (Kittens purr, etc.)

Here's how it starts off,
A brand new star rose in the sky
And shone with all its might
To celebrate a baby's birth
One peaceful winter's night.

Three kittens sleeping in the straw,
All snug in downy fur,
Woke up to find the newborn boy,
And they began to purr.

A small bird nesting on a beam
Hopped down from up above,
And when the baby smiled at her,
Her heart filled up with love.

So out over the countryside
She soured on wings of joy,
Inviting friends from far and wide
To welcome the new boy.

"Hurry! Hurry! Have you heard?
A child was born tonight,
And every creature large or small
Is precious in his sight."

That should give you some idea on how this one will go. I have mixed feelings on this one in a way. There's something that seems a bit off about it. I think, for me, the problem is in the illustrations. The book doesn't feel like it is about the nativity. This is no first-century Bethlehem. This is a country-barn (with window panes) surrounded by fields of deep snow and pine trees and wooden fences. And the clothes that baby Jesus and Mary are wearing just don't feel right. (They don't look particularly Jewish either.) And it was odd that there was never once a mention of this being the baby Jesus and Mary. (Joseph wasn't in the book at all.) The animals are wearing clothes--the kittens are wearing mittens, the bird is wearing a scarf, the bunny is wearing a cap (as is the tortoise), the lambs are wearing bows, etc. And there's nothing wrong with that--plenty of children's books do it. And sometimes it works, other times it doesn't.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Golden Dreydl

Kushner, Ellen. 2007. The Golden Dreydl.

Before it was a book, it was a musical performance. It is performed live, and there are also radio productions of it. And a CD.

"The Golden Dreydl" is an award-winning family entertainment featuring the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, as interpreted by Shirim Klezmer Orchestra, with original story and narration by Ellen Kushner. Together, they have created a brand-new retelling of an old tale: Sara is a little girl with a problem: she hates the annual family Chanukah party! But when a mysterious party guest gives her the gift of a golden dreydl, Sara is catapulted into a magical world of demons and fools, sorcerers and sages.

Knowing that it is a "Jewish" interpretation of The Nutcracker helps when you're reading the book. You know in some ways what to expect.

Sara is a young girl who is not excited about Chanukah. She'd much rather be celebrating just like her friends--with Christmas trees and such. But Sara is on her way to a Chanukah celebration she'll never forget. A most magical time is about to be had--at least for Sara. And it all starts with a gift that is not what it seems. A gift that comes to life. A golden dreydl.

I really enjoyed this one.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers


Schotter, Roni. 1990. (Rereleased in October 2008). Hanukkah! Illustrated by Marylin Hafner.

This is a simple but joyful introduction to Hanukkah. It begins simply,

"In darkest December
Night steals in early
And whisks away the light.

But warm inside,
Mama, Papa, and Grandma Rose
Light the sun that is the menorah.

While Nora and Dan,
Ruthie and Sam
Sing a song that is a prayer."

That will give you some hint what the text is like. This one has won the National Jewish Book Award. Definitely recommended.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Annie and Simon

O'Neill, Catharine. 2008. Annie and Simon.

Annie and Simon is a cute-and-funny early reader about a dog, a sister, and a much-older brother. Simon is one patient brother. In each chapter, Annie and her dog, Hazel, get into trouble. It may not be easy to have such a trouble-making (trouble-finding team) but Simon loves them just the way they are. Most of the time. In "The Hairdo," for example, Annie decides she wants to be a hairdresser. Simon patiently allows her to style his hair. She then styles her own hair--and gets the comb stuck in it--Simon patiently rescues her and saves the day. Throughout the ordeal (for an ordeal is exactly what it is) Hazel is being Hazel. A dog that is not obedient or trained. A dog that has a mind of its own. (Much like Annie has a mind of her own and isn't trained or obedient!) There are four chapters in all. The first and the last are my favorites. In the last chapter, "The Falling Star" the two get in a big fight. Annie declares that she doesn't want to be his sister anymore. But the two do eventually make up and all is right with the world. Family drama--the ups and downs of sibling relationships--is what you'll find in Annie and Simon. A thoroughly enjoyable early reader/chapter book.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Andy Shane and the Queen of Egypt

Jacobson, Jennifer Richard. 2008. Andy Shane and the Queen of Egypt.

This is my first introduction to Andy Shane. (Other books include Andy Shane and the Pumpkin Trick and Andy Shane and the Very Bossy Dolores Starbuckle.) I enjoyed the cast of characters very much. Andy Shane is a bit on the quiet/shy side. At least compared to Dolores Starbuckle. So when both want to choose Egypt for their project on Africa, a lot of drama ensues. A lot. Can these two kids find a way to work together? Can they use their strengths and weaknesses to compliment one another and get the job done? Read and see. It's funny and true-to-life.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Paddington and the Christmas Surprise

Bond, Michael. Paddington and the Christmas Surprise.

It's been a while since I've read any Paddington stories. And this book was a pleasant holiday-themed reintroduction to a lovable marmalade-loving bear. Paddington and family are off to the store to see Santa and visit the store's Winter Wonderland. But things don't go as planned. Paddington seems to be causing all sorts of trouble, but this "trouble" soon becomes the publicity the store needs to draw in new customers during the Christmas shopping season. So all is well, and well, Paddington gets his just rewards--Santa's homemade marmalade.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Deck the Halls

Deck the Halls is a new picture book featuring the lyrics to this classic holiday song paired with the artwork of Norman Rockwell--one of the most recognizable American painters of all time. The book includes illustration credits that--among other details--shows when each one was painted. The earliest, 1917, the latest, 1964. The book can be enjoyed on several layers: it's a great song--familiar to children and adults alike; and it's great artwork. Perhaps this could be an intro to 'art appreciation' during the holiday season.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, December 12, 2008

Priscilla And the Great Santa Search

Hobbie, Nathaniel. 2008. Priscilla and the Great Santa Search. Illustrated by Jocelyn Hobbie.

Chances are you'll either love the illustrations or hate them. You'll either find them cutsie-wootsie, sickeningly sweet, or dinky. OR you'll find them simply adorable, charmingly old-fashioned, or sweet as a baby's behind. I can't predict how YOU'LL feel about them. But they were a bit too cutsie for my tastes. That's not to say I think they're poorly drawn. It's just a stylistic choice.

This is not the first book starring Priscilla. It's the fourth. (Though it's the first Priscilla book that I've read.) It's written in rhyme. And while there were a few places here and there where the text flirted with being dinky, overall I must say it worked for me. The text won me over. I felt my heart thawing there by the end. Cutesie-wootsie style and all.

The book is a story about a little girl, Priscilla, and her best friend, Bettina, who go on a quest to the North Pole after being disappointed in all the fake Santas they find in town--especially at the local mall.

Does Priscilla find Santa? Do the two return triumphant? You'll have to read this one and see.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Keeping Holiday

Meade, Starr. 2008. Keeping Holiday. Illustrations by Justin Gerard. (192 pages). Crossway Publishers.

If there's a resounding theme (or echo) to this Christmas-themed allegory it's this: You can't find the Founder; he finds you. He's not just the Founder, he's the Finder too.

Dylan and Clare, his cousin, are the stars of this allegorical novel. Every year Dylan and his family journey to Holiday (Is it a city or town? I can't quite remember). The singing. The food. The parties. The lights and decorations. The gifts. The church services. Everything about Holiday seems to be magical. Seems to be more special. Dylan wonders why the feeling doesn't last. Why spending time with his family and friends on vacation in Holiday feels so wonderful and so right, but those same activities back home aren't as magical. What is it about Holiday that gives him--and everyone--such a high?

Dylan's curiosity is only deepened when he finds a flyer in the church yard. A flyer asking him if he would like to keep Holiday... and if he does ... to go through the church's garden gate to find out more. He does. But what he discovers is that the Holiday his family has been visiting all these years--the Holiday he's always known and loved--is not the real Holiday. There is a better, richer Holiday. Even more beautiful. Even more wonderful. But this Holiday isn't a place he can enter. Only authorized individuals--people authorized by the Founder--can enter this real city of Holiday.

So Dylan begins his quest to find the Founder. Now, several years later and with his cousin, Clare, by his side. Dylan and Clare discover visitor passes within Holiday's church or chapel--good for four days only--to visit the real city of Holiday. His parents send them off prepared with a big smile--they've been hoping to see him take this journey on his own for years. It's a journey they've already made.

But this journey to the real city of Holiday isn't quite as easy as Dylan hoped it would be. Along the way, Dylan finds out the true meaning behind the symbols of Holiday. Here is where the allegory begins to come in. He encounters talking evergreen trees, a talking mistletoe plant named Missy, a talking poinsettia named Penny, talking bells in a church bell tower, talking stars in the sky, a candle maker, etc. Through his conversations he learns more and more about The Founder and the creation of Holiday.

There are two ways to respond to Keeping Holiday. One is to see it as dinky and didactic. I must admit Missy the Mistletoe doesn't help matters here. But the other way is to appreciate the message--didactic as it may be--because it is important and true and good. I liked the message--finding the real reason for Christmas, learning about the Incarnation, discovering the Savior--a good deal. I think this book could be shared--read aloud perhaps--between parents and children. I appreciated that aspect of it. But I can't lie and say that it isn't a little dinky all the same. If you've read and enjoyed other allegories in the past like Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan or Hinds' Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard...or perhaps R.C. Sproul's line of picture books: The Princes Poison Cup, The Lightlings, The King Without A Shadow, The Priest With Dirty Clothes... then you may be just the right reader for Keeping Holiday.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tonight You Are My Baby: Mary's Christmas Gift

Norris, Jeannine Q. Tonight You Are My Baby: Mary's Christmas Gift. Illustrated by Tim Ladwig.

I enjoyed this one. It is a beautifully illustrated picture book of the Nativity story--the birth of Jesus. It is the story of the Savior's birth through Mary's eyes--her thoughts, her prayers, her hopes. The narrative is told largely through rhyme. (Perhaps not the most poetic and rhythmic verse ever penned, but not horrible by any means.) I enjoyed the main refrain, "Tomorrow you will be King, but tonight you are my baby..."

I liked this one a good deal. I especially loved the illustrations--they're beautiful. They complement the text well. And together they make for a charming read perfect for this time of year.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Where Are My Christmas Presents

Rives, J.G. 2007. Where Are My Christmas Presents. Illustrated by Dot Young.

When a young boy, Edgar, discovers that there are no presents waiting for him under the Christmas tree, he becomes upset. So Edgar sets out on a journey to find his Christmas presents and in thus doing unknowingly begins his journey to discover the true meaning of Christmas. It is a journey from thinking only about one's self to thinking about--and caring--for others. Edgar is not a very nice boy when we first meet him. He's selfish, rude, inconsiderate, blind to the real world--a hurting world, a needy world.

Here is just one of his exchanges:
Edgar went into a nearby hospital. He walked into one room where a little girl was lying in a bed. She was bald. Even though she looked strange, Edgar still had to ask, "Have you seen my Christmas presents?"
"No, I haven't. But I have been sick and haven't been able to get any presents lately."
"No matter," Edgar quipped, "I was talking about MY presents anyway!" He quickly left the room.
He has similar conversations with other stereotypically needy and less fortunate people as well--the sick, the poor, the homeless, the orphans, an old person, etc.

I won't go into all the details as to how this Scrooge-of-a-character has a change of heart. But it has a happy ending.

The book is all about the message. The message is a good one--to learn compassion, kindness, generosity--I'm not saying it isn't. But the message is still missing a little something from my perspective--for a book about 'the true meaning of Christmas' there is too much Santa and no Jesus--baby or otherwise. That's just my opinion, and you may think differently.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Mystery

The Mystery by Maxwell Eaton III. 2008.

This fun picture book is part of a series. The Max and Pinky series. This is the first I've read--but I'm sure they're all equally fun and playful. In The Mystery Max and Pinky are out to solve a mystery. During the day, the two are painting the barn. But each morning, they awake to discover that someone has mischievously done something--anything and everything--to the barn during the night that negates all their hard work. (They paint it red; they wake up to find it pink, etc.) Max does eventually solve this one...but you won't be hearing the ending from me!

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Before John Was a Jazz Giant

Weatherford, Carole Boston. 2008. Before John Was A Jazz Giant. Illustrated by Sean Qualls.

I just loved, loved, loved this one! It just excites me through and through. It just works. So many things to love, so many reasons why. I don't think I can do it justice. But I'll try. I'll try. The book--beautifully illustrated, award-worthy illustrations in my humble opinion--is a poetic tribute to the legendary John Coltrane. Each stanza of the poem begins with the refrain, "Before John was a jazz giant..." Each stanza gives the reader information about John's life--his family, his childhood, his background, his surroundings, etc. Weatherford's writing is just incredible--beautiful, rhythmic, and oh-so-right. The images she creates just resonate. I don't want to quote too much, but I don't want to quote too little either. These are the first two stanzas...

Before John was a jazz giant,
he heard hambones knocking in Grandma's pots,
Daddy strumming the ukulele,
and Mama cranking the phonograph.

Before John was a jazz giant,
he heard steam engines whistling past,
Cousin Mary giggling at jitterbuggers,
and Bojangles tap-dancing in the picture show.

I just loved the ending--adored it. But I'm not going to share that here. You need to pick this one up on your own!

Both the illustrations and the text were outstanding on this one.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

M is for Mischief

M is for Mischief: An A to Z of Naughty Children by Linda Ashman. Illustrated by Nancy Carpenter. 2008.

This one is a fun and playful alphabet book. It's a poetry book as well. Each letter of the alphabet gets a poem--some better than others, but all enjoyable enough. My personal favorite is Untidy Ursula.

Untidy Ursula

As usual, Ursula's room is chaotic,
Piled with junk, mundane and exotic--
A wrecked ukelele; buckets of dirt;
An unused umbrella; a torn undershirt;
An old unicycle, encrusted with rust;
Unearthly cobwebs; unspeakable dust;
Sticky utensils; unraveling rugs--
An untidy universe perfect for bugs.

Father, upset at this unsightly scene,
Says, "It's unkempt! I urge you to clean!"
Ursula, peering from under a heap,
Utters, "I would, but I'm buried too deep."

I do recommend this both as an alphabet and poetry book. (The illustrations are fun as well!) But it's one for older children--school-age children.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Everywhere the Cow Says Moo

Weinstein, Ellen Slusky. 2008. Everywhere the Cow Says "Moo!" Illustrated by Kenneth Andersson.

Ever wondered what animals sound like in another language? Then Everywhere the Cow Says Moo might just be the perfect book for you! (Whether you've ever wondered that or not, it's sure to appeal to youngsters who love animals--particularly barn animals. Who doesn't love saying quack, quack or ribbit, ribbit?) The concept of this one is simple but wonderful. What do dogs, frogs, ducks, and roosters sound like in other languages--English, Spanish, French, and Japanese. This one also has a fun refrain...can you guess it...after we meet and greet (learn the representation of each animal's sound in a foreign language) the animal, we all join in and say, "But everywhere the cow says "Moo!" Isn't that fun? I just loved this one. Definitely recommended.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, December 5, 2008

A Very Marley Christmas

Grogan, Josh. 2008. A Very Marley Christmas. Illustrated by Richard Cowdrey. HarperCollins.

A nice and playful story about a dog who gets a little too excited about Christmas. In this wholesome story, we've got a loving family--Dad, Mom, brother, sister--with a very loving dog, Marley. The anticipation. The preparing. The joy. Marley is right there, front and center, willing and able to celebrate along with everyone else. But Marley doesn't always get it right. It was a bit too sweet for me--snow for Christmas morning and all--but it was nice. The illustrations are very cute and sweet. They were probably my favorite part of the book.

© Becky Laney of Young Readers