Thursday, January 28, 2021

8. "Stand Back," Said the Elephant, "I'm Going to Sneeze!"

"Stand Back," Said the Elephant, "I'm Going to Sneeze!" Patricia Thomas. Illustrated by Wallace Tripp. 1971. 32 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: "Stand back," said the elephant, "I'm going to sneeze! I hate to alarm you, but I don't wish to harm you. My friends, I fear it's clear...oh, dear, you'd better stand back, I'm going to sneeze."

Premise/plot: ALL of Elephant's friends are super-concerned about the coming sneeze. And perhaps rightly so...considering their past experiences when elephant has sneezed! Every animal tells--in rhyme, of course--what happens when this elephant sneezes. But one animal has a plan...will it work????

My thoughts: I can relate to the protagonist in this one. I can. I have very LOUD sneezes--though it isn't so much gust as NOISE. (Spoiler alert, I also LAUGH really, really, really loud....again just like the elephant in this story.) I don't have personal memories of holding this book in my hand and reading it. But I do remember plenty of times when my mother has told me, STAND BACK, SAID THE ELEPHANT, I'M GOING TO SNEEZE. So I'm guessing that this one was read aloud to us plenty...I just don't remember. 

It is written all in rhyme. I didn't love it or hate it. It's not as wonderful as say a Dr. Seuss book written in rhyme. But it wasn't dreadful either. (So many books that are written in rhyme tend to show the struggle author's have to force it. Forced rhyming just isn't fun for anyone, right?!)

Despite being a picture book with thirty-two pages, there is a LOT of text per page. So it wouldn't be inappropriate in a second or even third grade classroom. It would work as a read aloud, of course, but probably only for a child with a long(er) attention span. You could even ask questions throughout--what do you think is going to happen next? Do you think elephant is going to sneeze? do you think bees really crawl on their knees?! Or is the author being silly?! 

Definitely recommend this one.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, January 21, 2021

7. My Chocolate Year

My Chocolate Year: A Novel with Twelve Recipes to Make Your World A Little Sweeter. Charlotte Herman. Illustrated by LeUyen Pham. 2008. 176 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: "Fifth grade with Miss Fitzgerald is going to be the best grade ever!" I said to my friend Sunny Shapiro as I tried balancing myself along the curb.

Premise/plot: Dorrie Meyers stars in this lovely coming-of-age novel set during the 1945/46 school year in Chicago, Illinois. The war has ended, but its effects are far from over: especially for this Jewish American family. 

Dorrie hears or overhears much. Her family is concerned about their relatives in Europe. Did they survive the war? Were they among those murdered by the Nazis? Not knowing weighs on the family. Dorrie is just getting to the age where she's thinking beyond herself to others. But much of her thinking is consumed with the SWEET SEMESTER. Mrs. Fitzgerald, a fifth grade teacher, is known for putting on THE SWEET SEMESTER, a celebration of their time spent together. Each student brings ONE DESSERT that they prepared all by themselves. An essay is also involved. A 'best' dessert and 'best' essay will be recognized...

My thoughts: I enjoyed this historical middle grade novel! I did. It follows the whole school year. It contains plenty of family scenes and school scenes. I loved the characters. I loved the story. I would definitely recommend this one.

As far as age appropriateness--that depends on the child. Readers learn through the dialogue of the characters the fate of some of the extended family. To the overly sensitive child who has never learned anything at all about the Holocaust, it may come as a bit of a shock. It is not melodramatic or manipulative, in my opinion. The fate of those relatives is not the one and only point of the novel. 

You certainly can't please everyone. As I'm scrolling through the reviews on GoodReads I'm struck by two camps: HOW DARE A BOOK ABOUT CUPCAKES TALK ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST vs. HOW DARE A BOOK ABOUT THE HOLOCAUST TRIVIALIZE IT BY TALKING SO MUCH ABOUT CHOCOLATE. Life is complex. A girl can both LOVE, LOVE, LOVE desserts and spending time with her family and friends and listening to her most favorite radio programs AND be concerned about her extended family. 

© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

6. No Bows

No Bows. Shirley Smith Duke. Illustrated by Jenny Mattheson. 2006. 32 pages. [Source: Gift from author]

First sentence:  No bows...BRAIDS. No pink...purple!

No Bows is a great book. A really great book. And I'm not just saying that. Occasionally I come across a picture book hero or heroine that is me. There's just an instant click, a connection. I see myself in that character, in that book. Such is the case with No Bows.

In just a few words, our young heroine is fully-fleshed, fully developed. And she's fun. She's just a delight.

Here's a sample of the text:

no bows...

no pink...

no puppy...

You get the idea. She's an individual. She's content, happy, delighted to be just who she is. And her parents love her just as she is.

The book is so simple, so inviting, that it just is begging to be an interactive "read." It's predictable in that even if one can't technically read the words on his/her own, the pictures are there to help out, give a clue as to what word comes next.

Anyway, I love the text. I love the concept. I love the illustrations. (So bright. So happy. So right.) If I had read this as a child, there is not a doubt in my mind that it would have been an again-again book. A book that I would have insisted time and time and time and time again be read aloud.

It reminds me--in a good way--of one of my favorite books, Ann Likes Red.

It is just WRONG, WRONG, WRONG that this hasn't been published as a BOARD BOOK. 


© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, January 14, 2021

5. The Great Cookie War

The Great Cookie War. Caroline Stellings. 2021. [April] 160 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: At night when darkness fell, and the winter winds swept across the open meadow, the wild things would come to the edge of the clearing. Mama left scraps for them; she said they were searching, always searching. At such an hour, our fieldstone house felt safe, and warm—a refuge, an island of light and love in a cold sea of darkness. And yet, at such an hour, so many things crept into my mind, uninvited thoughts, thoughts I didn’t want to have.

Premise/plot: The Great Cookie War is set in a Canadian Mennonite community in the early 1980s. Beth Betzner, our twelve year old heroine, LONGS to be an artist. But her creative hobby isn't always--often is not--appreciated by her immediate family. There are many skills that help with one's duty within the community--but drawing, sketching, painting aren't seen as super valuable. Even if her family supported her art habit, the family couldn't pay for her art supplies and lessons. But an opportunity presents itself to Beth--and the rest of the family--when a New York lawyer comes to town one winter. 

A cookie war is coming. Yes, a COOKIE war. Two big-name companies are getting ready to battle it out in the court system. Does one company's patent on both a crispy/chewy cookie prevent the other company from making its cookie?. The big city lawyer says NO. Chewy/crispy cookies have existed for centuries and can't be patented. The proof may be in this OLD family recipe book in the possession of the Betzner family. 

The problem? The family does NOT want to loan out the book to either side. The family does NOT want to appear in court for either side. Money is not the issue. Far from it. But Beth is tempted....especially when out and out offered the chance to fulfill her dream. 

Who will win the great cookie war?

My thoughts: I really LOVED this one. There are plenty of Mennonite (and/or Amish) books published for adults--usually romances. There are hardly any children's books starring Mennonites (and/or Amish) characters. This one is a COMING OF AGE book with some ADVENTURE thrown in. Will Beth, our heroine, be courageous when put to the test? 

I also LOVED that it is based on a true story. 

In a Globe and Mail article from 1985, June Callwood called it “The Great Cookie War.” For cookbook author Edna Staebler and her Old Order Mennonite friends in Waterloo, the whole thing was foolishness! The recipe for rigglevake cookies had, after all, been scribbled in Bevvy Martin’s little black book for decades. Why all the fuss now? When it was published in Edna’s bestselling and world-famous Food That Really Schmecks, no one could have known the brouhaha that one little recipe could create. But it did.

The situation began eleven years after Schmecks had been published. Procter and Gamble (P&G) had put eighteen million dollars into bringing a new cookie to market, one that would be crispy on the outside, but chewy in the middle. They patented their secret recipe in 1979. When rival Nabisco began baking similar cookies, P&G sued for infringement of copyright. And both sides were desperate to get their hands on that little black recipe book. Why? Because it was from that book that Edna Staebler copied the recipe for rigglevake cookies, and rigglevake cookies are crispy and chewy at the same time. And since the recipe was published in Schmecks, Nabisco argued that P&G had no case.
Through it all, Edna Staebler fiercely protected her Mennonite friends and eschewed offers from radio and television stations—she even declined the chance to appear on the Jay Leno show. Caroline Stellings kept up a personal correspondence with the cookbook author, and was so impressed by her charismatic personality, that she always knew that one day, she would write a book about Edna Staebler and her involvement in “The Great Cookie War.”

© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers

4. Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid

Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid. (Stink #1) Megan McDonald. Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. 2005. 112 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Shrimp-o! Runtsville!    Shorty Pants! Stink was short. Short, shorter, shortest. Short as an inchworm. Short as a . . . stinkbug!

Premise/plot: Stink is the little brother of Judy Moody. (I recently reviewed the first book in that series.) He is SHORT and perhaps a wee bit gullible. When his older sister, Judy, tells him that he is in fact shrinking, he believes it and begins to see proof of it everywhere. But is he really shrinking? And is being short so horrible? (After all, he's just in second grade.) The book presents scenes at home and at school. There are a handful of illustrations throughout. 

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one! I may have even liked it a little bit better than the first Judy Moody book. I liked seeing Stink become interested in history--even if it did start out as a homework assignment. Stink's newfound interest in James Madison was just fun to see! 

Stink and James Madison were a lot alike. James Madison was from Virginia. Stink was from Virginia. James Madison had the name James. Stink had the name James! James Madison wore pants. Stink wore pants! Same-same!

I would recommend this one. 


© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

3. Judy Moody Was In A Mood

Judy Moody Was In A Mood. (Judy Moody #1) Megan McDonald. Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. 2000/2020. 160 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Judy Moody did not want to give up summer. She did not feel like brushing her hair every day. She did not feel like memorizing spelling words. And she did not want to sit next to Frank Pearl, who ate paste, in class. Judy Moody was in a mood.

Premise/plot: Judy Moody adjusts to starting a new grade--third--and making new friends in Megan McDonald's Judy Moody Was In A Mood. It is the first in a LONG series. Judy is predictably unique and quirky. And she predictably has a little BOTHER of a brother nicknamed STINK. Her adventures or misadventures at home and school are illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. 

My thoughts: I definitely enjoyed this one! I don't know that I loved it so much that I want to read the entire series start to finish. But I definitely liked the writing style and layout. Her humor wasn't always in line with me--at least me as an adult. But it's a strong like for me. 


© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, January 4, 2021

2. Pinocchio

Pinocchio. Carlo Collodi. 1883. 160 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Centuries ago there lived-- "A king!" my little readers will say immediately. No, children, you are mistaken. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood. It was not an expensive piece of wood.

Premise/plot: Pinocchio, as a character, is rotten from the start: selfish, pleasure-loving, foolish, rebellious, ungrateful, disrespectful, slow to learn, slow to listen, slow to change. Living by the motto of if I want to do it, it must be right! Who are you to tell me it's wrong or it's a mistake or I'm hurting someone else!

But Pinocchio doesn't know best, he doesn't "know" much of anything of the world and its many dangers. He knows nothing about consequences natural or supernatural. (There are so many fantasy elements in Pinocchio.)

The Disney movie gives viewers essentially three misadventures (the puppet show ("I've Got No Strings), his running away to toy land (becoming a donkey), and searching for his father and getting swallowed up. The book gives readers about three or four dozen misadventures. 

My thoughts: This is the third time I've read Pinocchio. I wanted to read it after recently watching the Disney movie for the first time in forever--probably twenty or twenty-five years. 

The movie left me with the impression that I am GLAD that God is not like the blue fairy. That while the movie is very moralistic and lesson-driven, it's teaching works-righteousness. In other words, bad behavior is punished and good behavior is rewarded. If you want to become a real boy--you'll have to earn it by works of righteousness. You reap what you sow. 

The movie also gives the impression that temptations come from without. Pinocchio was innocent and naive while in the home. It wasn't until he left his home--to go to school--that he faced temptation and wasn't strong enough to say no. If he'd been homeschooled and never left the safety of his home, would he have ever been naughty? Disney doesn't answer that, of course. But it made me wonder just how short a movie it could have been.

In the book, temptations don't only come from without. In fact, they come from within. (In other words, we sin because we're sinners.) We see this in his creation:

After choosing the name for his Marionette, Geppetto set seriously to work to make the hair, the forehead, the eyes. Fancy his surprise when he noticed that these eyes moved and then stared fixedly at him. Geppetto, seeing this, felt insulted and said in a grieved tone: "Ugly wooden eyes, why do you stare so?"
After the eyes, Geppetto made the nose, which began to stretch as soon as finished. It stretched and stretched and stretched till it became so long, it seemed endless. Poor Geppetto kept cutting it and cutting it, but the more he cut, the longer grew that impertinent nose. In despair he let it alone. Next he made the mouth. "Stop laughing!" said Geppetto angrily; but he might as well have spoken to the wall. "Stop laughing, I say!" he roared in a voice of thunder. The mouth stopped laughing, but it stuck out a long tongue.  "Pinocchio, you wicked boy!" he cried out. "You are not yet finished, and you start out by being impudent to your poor old father. Very bad, my son, very bad!" And he wiped away a tear. The legs and feet still had to be made.
As soon as they were done, Geppetto felt a sharp kick on the tip of his nose. "I deserve it!" he said to himself.
When his legs were limbered up, Pinocchio started walking by himself and ran all around the room. He came to the open door, and with one leap he was out into the street. Away he flew!

Pinocchio wasn't corrupted by bad companions and poor decisions. He was "born" naughty.

Gepetto regretted carving Pinocchio almost from the start! 

While there is a friendly cricket offering advice, Pinocchio KILLS HIM fairly soon after his introduction in the text. He doesn't even survive one page!

"Tell me, Cricket, who are you?" "I am the Talking Cricket and I have been living in this room for more than one hundred years." "Today, however, this room is mine," said the Marionette, "and if you wish to do me a favor, get out now, and don't turn around even once." "Woe to boys who refuse to obey their parents and run away from home! They will never be happy in this world, and when they are older they will be very sorry for it." "Sing on, Cricket mine, as you please. What I know is, that tomorrow, at dawn, I leave this place forever. If I stay here the same thing will happen to me which happens to all other boys and girls. They are sent to school, and whether they want to or not, they must study. As for me, let me tell you, I hate to study! It's much more fun, I think, to chase after butterflies, climb trees, and steal birds' nests."
"Poor little silly! Don't you know that if you go on like that, you will grow into a perfect donkey and that you'll be the laughingstock of everyone?" "Keep still, you ugly Cricket!" cried Pinocchio. But the Cricket, who was a wise old philosopher, instead of being offended at Pinocchio's impudence, continued in the same tone: "If you do not like going to school, why don't you at least learn a trade, so that you can earn an honest living?"
"That of eating, drinking, sleeping, playing, and wandering around from morning till night."
"Let me tell you, for your own good, Pinocchio," said the Talking Cricket in his calm voice, "that those who follow that trade always end up in the hospital or in prison." "Careful, ugly Cricket! If you make me angry, you'll be sorry!" "Poor Pinocchio, I am sorry for you." "Why?" "Because you are a Marionette and, what is much worse, you have a wooden head." Perhaps he did not think he would strike it. But, sad to relate, my dear children, he did hit the Cricket, straight on its head. With a last weak "cri-cri-cri" the poor Cricket fell from the wall, dead!

Pinocchio's greatest gift--if you don't count disobedience or willfulness as gifts--is making excuses and justifying his behavior and beliefs. And also, of course, LYING.

"Boys always promise that when they want something," said Geppetto. "I promise to go to school every day, to study, and to succeed--" "Boys always sing that song when they want their own will." "But I am not like other boys! I am better than all of them and I always tell the truth. I promise you, Father, that I'll learn a trade, and I'll be the comfort and staff of your old age."

VeggieTales offers a better adaptation called Pistachio: The Little Boy that Woodn't. It isn't 100% faithful to the book, mind you. But it is definitely more faithful to the book than the Disney movie. It also does a better job of putting the morals and lessons into context. It is complemented by the PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON and highlights unconditional love. It also has some great lines in it! 



  • "Do you want to double your gold pieces?" "What do you mean?" "Do you want one hundred, a thousand, two thousand gold pieces for your miserable five?" "Yes, but how?" "The way is very easy. Instead of returning home, come with us."
  • As he walked, Pinocchio noticed a tiny insect glimmering on the trunk of a tree, a small being that glowed with a pale, soft light. "Who are you?" he asked. "I am the ghost of the Talking Cricket," answered the little being in a faint voice that sounded as if it came from a far-away world. "What do you want?" asked the Marionette. "I want to give you a few words of good advice. Return home and give the four gold pieces you have left to your poor old father who is weeping because he has not seen you for many a day." "Tomorrow my father will be a rich man, for these four gold pieces will become two thousand." "Don't listen to those who promise you wealth overnight, my boy. As a rule they are either fools or swindlers! Listen to me and go home." "But I want to go on!" "The hour is late!" "I want to go on." "The night is very dark." "I want to go on." "The road is dangerous." "I want to go on." "Remember that boys who insist on having their own way, sooner or later come to grief." "The same nonsense. Good-by, Cricket." "Good night, Pinocchio, and may Heaven preserve you from the Assassins." There was silence for a minute and the light of the Talking Cricket disappeared suddenly, just as if someone had snuffed it out. Once again the road was plunged in darkness.
  • To speak sensibly, I think assassins have been invented by fathers and mothers to frighten children who want to run away at night. And then, even if I were to meet them on the road, what matter? I'll just run up to them, and say, 'Well, signori, what do you want? Remember that you can't fool with me! Run along and mind your business.'
  • "Drink this, and in a few days you'll be up and well." Pinocchio looked at the glass, made a wry face, and asked in a whining voice: "Is it sweet or bitter?" "It is bitter, but it is good for you." "If it is bitter, I don't want it." "Drink it!" "I don't like anything bitter." "Drink it and I'll give you a lump of sugar to take the bitter taste from your mouth." "Where's the sugar?" "Here it is," said the Fairy, taking a lump from a golden sugar bowl. "I want the sugar first, then I'll drink the bitter water." "Do you promise?" "Yes." The Fairy gave him the sugar and Pinocchio, after chewing and swallowing it in a twinkling, said, smacking his lips: "If only sugar were medicine! I should take it every day." "Now keep your promise and drink these few drops of water. They'll be good for you." Pinocchio took the glass in both hands and stuck his nose into it. He lifted it to his mouth and once more stuck his nose into it. "It is too bitter, much too bitter! I can't drink it." "How do you know, when you haven't even tasted it?" "I can imagine it. I smell it. I want another lump of sugar, then I'll drink it."
  • The Fairy sat looking at him and laughing. "Why do you laugh?" the Marionette asked her, worried now at the sight of his growing nose. "I am laughing at your lies." "How do you know I am lying?" "Lies, my boy, are known in a moment. There are two kinds of lies, lies with short legs and lies with long noses. Yours, just now, happen to have long noses." Pinocchio, not knowing where to hide his shame, tried to escape from the room, but his nose had become so long that he could not get it out of the door.
  • I have never obeyed anyone and I have always done as I pleased.
  • "I never should have thought that chick-peas could be so good!" "You must remember, my boy," answered the Pigeon, "that hunger is the best sauce!"
  • "Oh, I'm tired of always being a Marionette!" cried Pinocchio disgustedly. "It's about time for me to grow into a man as everyone else does." "And you will if you deserve it--" "Really? What can I do to deserve it?" "It's a very simple matter. Try to act like a well-behaved child." "Don't you think I do?" "Far from it! Good boys are obedient, and you, on the contrary--" "And I never obey." "Good boys love study and work, but you--" "And I, on the contrary, am a lazy fellow and a tramp all year round." "Good boys always tell the truth." "And I always tell lies." "Good boys go gladly to school." "And I get sick if I go to school. From now on I'll be different." "Do you promise?" "I promise. I want to become a good boy and be a comfort to my father.
  • Where shall I hide? Oh, how much better it would have been, a thousand times better, if only I had gone to school! Why did I listen to those boys? They always were a bad influence! And to think that the teacher had told me--and my mother, too!--'Beware of bad company!' That's what she said. But I'm stubborn and proud. I listen, but always I do as I wish. And then I pay. I've never had a moment's peace since I've been born! Oh, dear! What will become of me? What will become of me?"
  • The boy's real name was Romeo, but everyone called him Lamp-Wick, for he was long and thin and had a woebegone look about him. Lamp-Wick was the laziest boy in the school and the biggest mischief-maker, but Pinocchio loved him dearly.
  • "And where are you going?" "To a real country--the best in the world--a wonderful place!" "What is it called?" "It is called the Land of Toys. Why don't you come, too?" "I? Oh, no!" "You are making a big mistake, Pinocchio. Believe me, if you don't come, you'll be sorry. Where can you find a place that will agree better with you and me? No schools, no teachers, no books! In that blessed place there is no such thing as study. Here, it is only on Saturdays that we have no school. In the Land of Toys, every day, except Sunday, is a Saturday. Vacation begins on the first of January and ends on the last day of December. That is the place for me! All countries should be like it! How happy we should all be!"
  • "But I don't want to be digested," shouted Pinocchio, starting to sob. "Neither do I," said the Tunny, "but I am wise enough to think that if one is born a fish, it is more dignified to die under the water than in the frying pan." "What nonsense!" cried Pinocchio. "Mine is an opinion," replied the Tunny, "and opinions should be respected."
  • "Bravo, Pinocchio! In reward for your kind heart, I forgive you for all your old mischief. Boys who love and take good care of their parents when they are old and sick, deserve praise even though they may not be held up as models of obedience and good behavior. Keep on doing so well, and you will be happy."           

© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Sunday, January 3, 2021

1. This Is Your Time

This Is Your Time. Ruby Bridges. 2020. [November] 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Sixty years ago, in 1960, my life changed forever.

Premise/plot: This Is Your Time by Ruby Bridges is a short inspirational book written for children. On the right side of each spread there is a photograph. On the left side accompanying text. Together they tell the story of the past and spread a message of hope for the future. 

Ruby Bridges, for those who don't know, was the first black child to go to an all-white school in New Orleans. She was six. It wasn't easy being the first. But first steps are never easy. 

My thoughts: I've known the Ruby Bridges story for twenty-five plus years. I didn't want to give too much away in my summary because it is so refreshing and powerful to hear it in her own words. Her story, her words, accompanied by photographs. It's something special. You don't have to be well read in the Civil Rights movement to appreciate this one. It would be a great introduction for younger readers. It may lead to some honest, natural questions--never a bad thing. 

I would recommend this one for all ages. 


© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers