Wednesday, July 29, 2020

81. Farmer Duck

Farmer Duck. Martin Waddell. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. 1992. 33 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: There was once a duck who had the bad luck to live with a lazy old farmer. The duck did the work. The farmer stayed all day in bed. The duck fetched the cow from the field. "How goes the work?" called the farmer. The duck answered, "Quack!"

Premise/plot: The farmer in this story is lazy, fat, and selfish. Duck, our hero, is a hard worker whose work and dedication is appreciated by the animals--if not the farmer himself. The animals may just have a plan to rid the duck of an overseer who can only bellow HOW GOES THE WORK from afar.

My thoughts: It is the refrain HOW GOES THE WORK? QUACK! that has stuck with me through the years. Some picture books (some stories) are just super quotable--to one degree or another--and become part of our lives. (Like, "We ate our honey. We ate a lot, and now there is no honey in our honey pot." Or "It looked like pink ink.") I loved revisiting this one.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, July 27, 2020

80. Giant in the Garden

Giant in the Garden. (Time Spies #3) Candice Ransom. 2007. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Alex gazed out the window of the Keeping Room. Not even a leaf fluttered. It seemed as if the whole world had stopped.

Premise/plot: I imagine a conversation between the real Winchester and Ellsworth, "Why do you always get to time travel and I don't! Next time I'm coming too!!! Just try to stop me!" "Okay, but be careful what you wish for!"

In this third adventure in the Time Spies series, Alex, Mattie, Sophie, Ellsworth and WINCHESTER time travel. Sophie is lately obsessed with a book of fairy tales; one of her favorites being Jack and the Beanstalk. The siblings never expected to travel to a FAIRY TALE. After all, fairy tales aren't real--or so they think. But their preconceived ideas are challenged as they work together to escape the giant, "save" Jack, and MOST IMPORTANTLY of all rescue Winchester.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed books one and two. But I really loved, loved, loved the third book. Not necessarily because of the fairy tale setting but because of Winchester taking a more starring role! I love how it was their following after Winchester that led them UP the beanstalk and into the country of giants. Winchester's mischievous curiosity leads them all into a bit of danger. I also love that a drawing of Winchester appears at every chapter.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, July 23, 2020

My Top Ten Picture Books

Young Readers is turning thirteen today. I don't recall ever celebrating a blogiversary. Poor middle blog!

1. Umbrella by Taro Yashima. 1958/2004. Penguin. 40 pages. [Source: Childhood Copy] Reviewed May 2007; October 2011; February 2017.

First sentence: Momo is the name of a little girl who was born in New York.

2. Grump. Janet Wong. Illustrated by John Wallace. 2001. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Book I Bought] Reviewed July 2011; June 2015

Look how tired this Mommy is
Tired and frumpy
Grouchy chumpy
Oh, what a grump!

Look at Baby
Smart, good Baby
Happy Baby
Making gravy
Applesauce and ketchup gravy
Not too lumpy
Not too bumpy
Squish squish

3. Finn Throws A Fit. David Elliott. Illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering. 2009. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] January 2010. March 2017.

First sentence: Finn likes peaches. Usually. But today, Finn doesn't like peaches. Today, Finn doesn't like anything. Today, Finn is cranky. Anything could happen.

4. Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb. Al Perkins. 1969. Random House. 36 pages. [Source: Bought] February 2017. February 2009.

First sentence: Hand hand fingers thumb. One thumb one thumb drumming on a drum. One hand two hands drumming on a drum. Dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dum.

5. Bubba and Beau, Best Friends. Kathi Appelt. Illustrated by Arthur Howard. 2002. Harcourt. 32 pages. [Source: Bought] [June 2018]

First sentence: Meet Bubba. Bubba is the son of Big Bubba and Mama Pearl. Right after Bubba was born, Mama Pearl wrapped him in his soft pink blankie and whispered into both of his soft pink ears, "I love you, Bubba Junior." She sighed. He was the perfect little Bubba.

6. Bread and Jam for Frances. Russell Hoban. Illustrated by Lillian Hoban. 1964/1992. HarperCollins. 32 pages. [Source: Library] March 2011. April 2016.

First sentence: It was breakfast time, and everyone was at the table. Father was eating his egg. Mother was eating her egg. Gloria was sitting in a high chair and eating her egg too. Frances was eating bread and jam.

7. More, More, More. Vera B. Williams. 1990. HarperCollins. 32 pages. [Source: Library] May 2010

This is Little Guy.
Little Guy runs away so fast.
Little Guy's daddy has to run like anything just to catch that baby up.
But Little Guy's daddy catches that baby up all right.
He throws that baby high and swings that baby all around.
"Oh, you're a great little guy," Little Guy's daddy sings to Little Guy.

8. Goin' Someplace Special. Patricia McKissack. Illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. 2001. 40 pages. [Source: Library] [April 2017]

First sentence: 'Tricia Ann was about to burst with excitement.

9. Millions of Cats. Wanda Gag. 1928. Penguin. 40 pages. [Source: Book I Bought] January 2015 August 2018

Once upon a time there was a very old man and a very old woman. They lived in a nice clean house which had flowers all around it, except where the door was. But they couldn't be happy because they were so very lonely. 
"If we only had a cat!" sighed the very old woman. "A cat?" asked the very old man. "Yes, a sweet little fluffy cat," said the very old woman. "I will get you a cat, my dear," said the very old man.
And he set out over the hills to look for one.

10. The Gorilla Did It. Barbara Shook Hazen. Illustrated by Ray Cruz. 1974. 32 pages. [Source: Childhood copy] Reviewed in 2007 (August) and 2018 (February). 

First sentence: Shhh! Go away. I can't play. I'm sleeping. Okay. But you've got to be quiet, or Mommy'll be mad.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

79. The True Story of The 3 Little Pigs

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs. Jon Scieszka. Illustrated by Lane Smith. 1989. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Everybody knows the story of The Three Little Pigs. Or at least they think they do. But I'll let you in on a little secret. Nobody knows the real story, because nobody has ever heard my side of the story.

Premise/plot. A. Wolf (the narrator) wants readers (like you and me) to know the TRUTH. He is not a BIG BAD WOLF. He's not. Here's why: he was simply going to his neighbors' to ask for a cup of sugar. Why? Well, it was all for the best of causes: his dear granny's birthday cake. True, his neighbors all happened to be PIGS. But his intention was for SUGAR, AND SUGAR ALONE. It's not his fault that he had a cold and that his POWERFUL SNEEZES took out the first two pigs' houses. And it's not his fault that the pigs he found within the collapsed houses were DEAD. Perhaps it wasn't neighborly to EAT them after he found them dead. But it was the natural thing to do--he is a wolf, and pigs are tasty. He asks readers to trust his side of the story. Do you?!

My thoughts: This one is fun, fun, super-fun, just a true delight to read and reread. I've read it plenty of times since it was first published in 1989, but, this is the first time I've reviewed it. If you haven't read it yet, you should! You're never too old to pick this one up.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

78. Bones in the Badlands

Bones in the Badlands (Time Spies #2) Candice Ransom. Illustrated by Greg Call. 2006. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Mattie peered into the dining room.

Premise/plot: In the first book in the series, Secret in the Tower, readers meet three siblings who time travel: Alex, Mattie, and Sophie. (Sophie the youngest always, always, always brings her elephant, Ellsworth, along). The first adventure has the three going to 1781 in Virginia to witness Revolutionary War heroes in action. The second adventure has the three going to the Badlands in 1898 to meet up with archaeologists hunting dinosaur bones. It is a risky life! For there's quite a competition going on between paleontologists! The children will have to use their spying skills for sure!

My thoughts: I definitely enjoyed this one. I stand by what I said in my review of the first book. I think I would have definitely loved the series as a kid. This one should prove appealing to anyone interested in time travel, adventure, spying, or dinosaurs!

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

77. Leo the Late Bloomer

Leo the Late Bloomer. Robert Kraus. Illustrated by Jose Aruego. 1971/1994. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Leo couldn't do anything right. He couldn't read. He couldn't write. He couldn't draw. He was a sloppy eater. And, he never said a word.

Premise/plot: Much of Leo the Late Bloomer covers conversations between a mother and father as they discuss their late bloomer, Leo. The father worries that Leo will never, ever bloom. His mother is confident that Leo will bloom. Seasons come and go but Leo hasn't bloomed. Then one day, he does. And Leo's "first word" isn't a first word, but a sentence: "I made it!"

My thoughts: I did not grow up with this one. In fact, I didn't meet Leo until I was in college. But I definitely connected with him once I met him. I liked the optimism of the mother tiger. I could understand, in part, the frustration of the father. And I cheered the happy, happy ending. Overall, I'm not sure that it's perfectly-perfect in terms of modeling what to do if your child has learning difficulties. But I'm not convinced that it has to be. This isn't a how-to book for children or parents.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 9 out of 10

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, July 20, 2020

76. Time Spies: Secret in the Tower

Time Spies: Secret in the Tower. Candice Ransom. Illustrated by Greg Call. 2006. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy] (Lexile 540L)

First sentence: Alex Chapman felt like he was entering a strange new land.

Premise/plot: Alex Chapman and his family have moved to an old house in Virginia--a really, really old house, a house that was there during the American Revolution. He's not happy about the move--at least not at first. But after an incredible adventure with his two sisters--involving time travel--he might just be beginning to change his mind. This time travel adventure takes readers to 1781 and they can "meet" George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (among others). Guest appearances by Ellsworth (the stuffed elephant) and Winchester the cat.

Ransom's former blog starring Winchester and Ellsworth; it's been removed but thanks to the wayback machine I was able to snag this!!!
My thoughts: I love, love, love, love, love, crazy love Candice Ransom. I'll disclose that from the start. My heart filled with joy when I spotted the Winchester and Ellsworth references. As for the time travel, I can't remember a time when I wasn't fascinated with time travel. I would have LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this series as a kid. I'd have worn the covers off and practically memorized them word for word. But I didn't read them as a child. But I can recommend them to your child.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, July 16, 2020

75. One Time

One Time. Sharon Creech. 2020. HarperCollins. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Dear Miss Lightstone: I am Gina Filomena, age eleven. Sometimes teachers think I am not paying attention, but what they mean is that I am not paying attention to them. I pay attention to lots of other things like what is happening outside the windows, and the noises in the room, like the humming and the tapping and the snapping and the sniffling, and all the smells—some good, some bad. But I will try to pay attention to you. I will try. Your student, Gina F. When the new teacher asked us to write something about ourselves, that’s what I wrote. I did not write about the angels or the boy with the visions. No need to scare her.

Premise/plot: Gina stars in Sharon Creech's newest coming of age novel for middle schoolers. Readers get to know Gina, her family, her neighbors, her classmates, and one very special teacher. Though she's struggled with making friends and feeling like she belongs--especially in a school setting--she's in for a remarkable, unforgettable year.

It particularly celebrates the joys of reading, writing, imagining, and living.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I've read some of the more critical reviews of One Time, and the general idea for those that don't like it seems to be that it lacks plot and nothing actually happens. I can't disagree that this one focuses more on internal journeys--thoughts, feelings, emotions, being--as opposed to external ones. There might not be much doing in terms of action. A girl goes to school day after day, week after week, month  after month, and by the end of the year knows more about who she is...end of story. The story also touches here and there with the notion of bullying and acceptance.

I think it worked for me--keep in mind I'm reading as an adult--because the focus was on books and characters who love to read and subsequently learn to love to write.

At first I did not know what to make of her. She did not begin with rules. Instead she asked us to help her sort books, and in the middle of that, she stopped to read the beginning of one. “Oh, this one is a favorite,” she said. “I’ll just read the first page.” Her voice took on a different tone, one that we would soon recognize as her reading voice—a fluid, resonant, rich tone. When she stopped, the room was silent. She looked up from the page. “What? You want more? Maybe later.” 
While we sorted and stacked books that morning, she frequently stopped to read from another “favorite”—sometimes it was a poem, sometimes a chilling opening paragraph, sometimes a humorous passage. I was hypnotized. I’d only ever heard my parents read aloud to me, and it had been a few years since they had done so. My mother read so rapidly that my brain was always a few paragraphs behind. My father was blessed with many virtues, but reading aloud was not one of them, for he stumbled over long words and used the same voice for every character. But Miss Lightstone was a master. By the end of the first week, she had us in the palm of her hand. Well, most of us.
 It was surprising how one sentence—the first sentence—of a book had the power to draw you in or push you back, but not everyone was drawn in or pushed back by the same sentence. We discovered this when we each read aloud our favorite openers.
“Maybe your brain is sludge today. That’s okay. Describe the sludge.”

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, July 9, 2020

74. Don't Stand So Close To Me

Don't Stand So Close. Eric Walters. 2020. Orca. 128 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: “Isaac, could you please pay at least a little attention?” Jenna asked. Isaac looked up from his phone. “Believe me, I’m paying as little attention as I can,” he said.

Premise/plot: Quinn and her friends struggle with the changes that COVID 19 brings to their lives. Quinn is the daughter of a doctor. The book captures her observations in her home and in her life overall. It opens the day before their scheduled last day of school before spring break. It closes with a bit of hope--a social-distance-observing block party.

My thoughts: This book was published super-super-super fast in reaction to the times. The book is like a time capsule of what March through May was like. A time capsule is a good way to think of it. To middle schoolers who have lived through these months, I can't see them NEEDING to read about it. They've been there, done that. They know about the drastic, seemingly overnight changes. But future generations will. For those that were born circa 2015 to 2020 by the time they're old enough to read this it will be a good read. There will be something universal about it, something that brings generations together. It might also help to read with some hindsight knowing how it ended. Right now we don't know how it will end, when it will end, how many lives will be lost, how many families forever impacted because of a loss of a loved one, loss of a job, loss of a home, etc. The book ends as well as it can for being stuck in what may or may not be the middle of a pandemic.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

73. My Thoughts Exactly: By Darcy Diggins Middle School BioSpychologist

My Thoughts Exactly: By Darcy Diggins, Middle School BioSpychologist. Jodie Randisi. 2020. 210 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The ever-zesty Ms. Earlene can charm fleas off a dog, about that I am not kidding. My grandmother is magnetic, only not scientific. Most folks from town have had firsthand experiences with Ms. Earlene’s gift of influence, and while I am by far her number one fan, I was determined not to listen to her advice to go public with the Dewbabies.

Premise/plot: Darcy and her grandma, Ms. Earlene, narrate this lovely middle grade novel. This one has some fantasy elements in it, namely the Dewbabies. When someone does a kind deed, a dewbaby is born in the rain forest. Dewbabies are tiny people. (Think of how fairies are born: a baby's first laugh.) When their community is threatened due to new construction in the rain forest, the dewbabies hitch a ride in a human suitcase and find themselves at Darcy's house. Darcy and her grandma are determined to protect the dewbabies.

The plot is a bit farfetched and fanciful at times, but overall this one has a sweet feel to it.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I didn't really, really, really like it. I certainly didn't love it passionately. But I found it an interesting enough read. I especially liked that the book focuses on Darcy AND her grandma. It isn't just that this one celebrates this relationship, but the book actually gives her a voice and a good bit of the story focus. I also liked the casualness of the family's belief in God and the Christian faith. It was never a plot point--just a background detail that readers will either pick up on or miss completely. I find it a rare detail so when I do notice it, I like to point it out.

What didn't quite work for me (now that I've pointed out two positives) was the timing. I never really got a great grasp on the flow of time. That plus I struggled to suspend my disbelief--not about the dewbabies, which oddly enough I was okay with--but with the idea that a school would okay a class field trip to the RAIN FOREST, the parents would be okay with sending their children on a trip this far away, and if I read the novel correctly, the field trip was supposed to be during Christmas vacation?! Perhaps I misread the timing of it, but still. What community could they live in where there would be enough fundraising and such to pay for a trip to the rain forest?

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers