Monday, July 31, 2006

Picture Books - On the Way to Kindergarten

On the Way to Kindergarten by Virginia Kroll 2006

Kroll provides a nice read just in time for back to school. Many kids are hesitant about starting school and wonder if they are ready. Kroll takes the everyday tasks that most five and six years old have already accomplished and creates a backdrop to build their confidence. The story is written in a style that allows the listener to feel like you are reading his or her own biography of milestones. These are expressed in terms for example of when the child learned to walk, eat by himself, ride a tricycle, and brush his own teeth. Kroll tries to take the anticipated anxiety out of going off to kindergarten and turns it into an adventure to learn new things with others. This would be a good one to add to the many “off to kindergarten” books that are available. Also, the artwork by Elisabeth Schlossberg adds to warmth of the book.


Friday, July 28, 2006

Just butterflies.....

Haven't had a chance to write anything witty, serious, boring, or otherwise today, but I thought I would share a few photos I took at a butterfly exhibit last weekend. These are from a conservatory nearby that provides the opportunity to walk around a botanical area where hundreds of butterflies are maintained for the season until it is time for them to migrate. We took the wee one who probably didn't enjoy it as much as I did. My favorite...well they all were, but the brown/blue is the most unique I think. It is the first picture. Sorry, I haven't looked up all the names, yet. It is brown on the underside wing and blue on the outer wing. Plus, it didn't startle as easily as the others, and it was approximately 3 to 4 inches with a wing span of about 6 to 8 inches. Amazing!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Early Readers – A Cloudy Day in Sunny Patch

A Cloudy Day in Sunny Patch by David Kirk 2005

As I mentioned last week I found many of the books I selected to read were in the dud category. Normally, I try not to mention the books I didn’t care for or at most I include them in a wrap up with a brief note. However, this particular book made me think ick in the worse possible way, and I wanted to express it for some strange reason. So, let’s first start with that yes my family is probably one of the very few that does not have cable television. And, yes I do admit to not having had cable in my home, ever. So, with that information in mind you may understand better why I have said the following about Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch Friends. Oh, and when I read the book I didn’t realize until I finished and looked at the back cover that it was based on a television show.

The story and its text is one that is supposed to fit into the basic and general guidelines for an Early Reader book. At least that appears to be the publisher’s goal and it was listed as a level 2 reader. However, the text is somewhat jumpy and I would say is barely recognizable as an Early Reader. The first problem that I had with this book is it assumes you know all the characters already. Then it jumps into what is probably a scene from one of the television shows. After not being able to follow the story the first or second time through I figured it must be something you need to already know about to get. For instances, is a hatchday party the same as a birthday party? And, what kind of creature is Shimmer, a fly, bee, what? I did get that the party was almost a washout because of the rain, but everyone made the best of it and had a good time anyway. From the artwork I couldn’t make heads or tails of who is what other than Miss Spider, who I figured out from the name. Okay, so let’s say I had watched the Nick, Jr. program and did understand a bit more about these characters, the story is simple and would be easier to follow. If this is a retelling of a particular episode, maybe the reader would enjoy it, but they would probably prefer to watch the show.

So, maybe I am off the beaten path of what some kids would like, and it is good to have some of us there, but this book I would definitely rate as Shelve It.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature - Check it Out

Oh, I forgot to mention the funny and well done Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature by Big A little a. And, mind you she did this while on the other side of the pond and relying on "guest" Internet connections. There are really days worth of great reading provided. Take a minute, grab a cup of tea or java, and enjoy the witches prose and links to really good write-ups.

Picture Books - Thanks to the Animals

Thanks to the Animals by Allen Sockabasin 2005

I’m always on the lookout for culturally enriched books mostly out of my own desire to learn more about others, plus it adds variety in reading. When I found Thanks to the Animals on my library’s shelf I was a bit surprised. The main reason is it seems to be a local interest type book usual found just in local or regional bookstores. The story is told by a Passamaquoddy storyteller and is set in the formerly occupied tribal area of Maine and New Brunswick, Canada.

The story “tells” us about a family that is breaking down its summer home and heading to the north for the winter. As the family loads up its sizeable sled with the summer harvest and logs from its home, the children are also being readied in their travel gear. Most of the family sleeps on the journey, but baby Zoo Sap stays awake and soon falls off the sled. Unaware, the others continue to sleep and do not hear the baby’s cries. However, the woodland animals do and gather to protect and keep the baby warm. Once the family reaches their winter home site, they notice baby Zoo Sap missing. Father Joo Tum goes in search by retracing their journey. He then finds a mound of what looks like snow topped with an Eagle that speaks to him. There he finds the baby in the middle of a large group of animals safe and sound. Father then individual thanks all the animals for saving his son.

The story itself has a nice easy flow to it, but lacks the usual ending lesson or typical conclusion. It has more of symbolism conclusion regarding nature, I think. But, it is a culturally different tale, so I don’t think we can measure it by a common warm fuzzy wrap up, which it does sort of have. The artwork by Rebekah Raye is somewhat unusual in that it ranges from what seems like an artist's initial sketches to completed illustrations. Many of the animals are very charming and have natural warmth in their expressions of camaraderie. However, most of the illustrations of the family are more “sketchish” like except for a few. Definitely a tale to consider, but may leave the reader or listener pondering with a "is that all feeling".


Monday, July 24, 2006

Non Fiction/Picture Books - Eats, Shoots & Leaves

Eats, Shoots & Leaves: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference! by Lynne Truss and illustrated by Bonnie Timmons

This is the kid’s version of the funny adult punctuation book Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. I took a look at this the other day over at Books-a-Million and thought it was hilarious. Being the queen of grammatical and structural writing errors this would be a prefect book for those like me, oh and kids too. The adult version is good also, but I am more into the very, very simplified form of punctuation instruction. The book gets across the message on how to punctuate with simple illustrations that change based on where the comma is placed. What a great way to help kids with punctuation and have fun learning it without the “teaching” moment being hammered into them. This would be a great addition to anyone’s classroom or at home. I checked it out over at Amazon and they have a release date for July 25, 2006. Funny thing is that Books-a-Million already had it in their store last week. Interesting?! Some sites have the book set for ages 5 to 8, but I think anyone who is learning to write sentences would benefit. Oh yeah, that would mean me too. I'll just wait until the library's copy, which is on order, arrives.


Sunday, July 23, 2006

Chapter Books - The Earth Dragon Awakes

The Earth Dragon Awakes: The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 by Laurence Yep 2006

Yep has written a number of historical fictions usually centered on Asian cultural over the years along with other genres. Many I have read and found to be very good. This particular fiction is based on the historical facts about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Yep introduces us to two young boys and their families living in San Francisco at that time. One family that we meet is that of Chin and his father who works for Henry's family. Chin and his father came to America to earn money for their family back in China and live in Chinatown. Henry's father is a banker and lives in a wealthy neighborhood of San Francisco. Although Chin and Henry are best of friends, their lives are very different. As the earthquake strikes, Yep follows each boy and the effects the quake has on them and their respective neighbors and neighborhoods. Through Yep's writing style you can actually at times feel the urgency and helplessness many must have felt in the confusing and dangerous situation. Yep writes the story in a diary entry type format. However, the narration style changes throughout the book.

Although the story itself is very interesting and at times captivating, there are a number of “entries” that interrupt the flow. These interruptions come when the author turns from storytelling to an almost lecturing or teaching style. For example, in a single page entry Yep describes how the earthquake affects one particular street and its homes because of the area being built on a former landfill. The information is interesting, but is written more in an earth science lesson style that detracts from the story of Chin and Henry. Overall, the story is woven around social, economical, and cultural information which is told in a not-too-preachy tone. Even though the setting surrounds a tragic event, one comes away with a fairly good feeling about Chin and Henry’s situation. However, for adults it is a reminder of how prejudices and discrimination have had their claws in every society and time period. This is a good book, but I would not rate it as one of Yep’s better books.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Library News?

It is a world of wacky news stories about libraries and librarians. Three of the many I read yesterday included:

article posted from the Columbus, Ohio’s WBNS-TV is about a librarian recovering from a car being driven into the library building. Turns out the car which was stolen was driven by a 12 year-old. This kid and his two older buddies had been kicked out of the library and decided to retaliate in this very damaging way. Who says being a librarian is a cushy and quiet job?

this from over at the News - The latest in the controversy about the Cuban book A Visit to Cuba from Miami, Florida. The local Cuban exiles and the school board have managed to ban the book from the school libraries, but they now face a federal court ruling. The fight is over the rose colored glasses look at life in Cuba. Apparently, many in the community think the book is political propaganda and the fight isn’t about the First Amendment.

Here locally, one of the major library boards have managed to cut the staff’s benefits again, approximately 35% from the programming budget, and at least 6% from the materials budget. These are in addition to the cuts they have been making steadily over the last several years. However, interestingly enough they did approve an increase to cover the continual over run on the renovation budget for the main library. Also, the employees have been trying to have a word with the board about becoming unionized, but the board will not meet with them. So, the employees protested at the last meeting. Both sides had words of sort. Funny thing is the library’s CEO blames the city council for all the cuts, but most of the budget issues began when she came on board and started a “new” spending focus.

Happy Reading!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Consequences of My Book Habit

When I introduced books and began to read to my little one at three months old, I thought what a great bonding time we will establish. Well, we have and still do, but... A few weeks ago my now 17 month old some days screams for her books. Not quite literally, but she points to the bookshelf, she points to her box of board books, and then she points at me and does that high pitched whine that turns into a crying session if I do not either give her a book or read with her. What was I thinking? Oh, I know books are a good thing. Well they are and I just need to get use to the fact I am raising a book enthusiast. We (meaning myself and my wonderful husband) regularly read with her several times a day. I think some of her recent episodes are actually possessive fits. She loves to carry her books, hand them to others, and sit on them. I wonder, it is said kids love to mimic those they see, is it me that she is mimicking? Oh wait, I don’t sit on books, yet. The wee one has a number of cloth books at her disposal, but they do not seem to satisfy her bookish appetite these days. She wants the real thing. I would leave her board books out, but there is this thing called teething. The board books unfortunately have a way of becoming a teething item after being read and it is molar season here. Believe me when I say she gets plenty of fiber through more healthful means. Although she has lately supplemented her diet with a few Baby Einstein and DK books along with a Babybug magazine cover. I am not sure whether I should be proud or worried about this new trend she is displaying. The funny thing is she would rather look at a book over Elmo these days and I think that is a good sign of some kind of balance. Now, if I can just get through a visit to the library without her wanting everybook in sight or is that me?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Imagination and Supporting Books

An article from the Associated Press that appeared in the local paper here back on July 3, 2006 highlighted a number of books that focused on stars at night. Star-gazing along with cloud watching are two of the best summer time diversions I can think of for building imaginations for bored youngsters. Plus, they can be done anywhere, anytime of the day, and they are free to all participants. The books mentioned in the article, which for some reason I can’t seem to link to now, included titles such as Seeing Stars by Dandi Mackall, Star Climbing by Lou Fancher, and Constellations: A Glow in the Dark Guide to the Night Sky by Chris Sasaki. The age range was listed as 4 to 8 years. I have not read any of these, but from the descriptions they would be worth checking out from the library. Also, see if you can find any good books to use with cloud watching. One of my favorites I mentioned here before is that of Sector 7 by David Wiesner. Now, you don’t need books to have a good time watching the stars at night or clouds in the sky during the day, but it is a fun way to extend the activity and bonding time.

Board Books – Parents Magazine Article

Okay, it has been almost a week now since I have added a book review. Besides the usual hectic life one leads with a small wee one and handling an estate, I think this heat has melted some of my brain cells. Plus, I sure did pick some dud books this past week (and blogger has been a bit uncooperative during the few short periods I have had to do anything). Now, I haven’t read through all the books as yet. I only selected twenty-one this time, but when the first half dozen were less than stirring it makes me not too inspired to search through the remaining. Oh, I am sure there is something of interest in the pile, but I will get to them later this week.

One interesting thing I have read this week was an article in the August edition of Parents magazine. They did a feature or at least that is what I thought it would be based on the cover page of the Best Baby Books Of All Time. Turns out it is only a two page spread with limited book descriptions. The good thing about the recommended books is the preface of it being their favorite of all time. Many of the fifteen board books they list are ones I have previously looked over, but some I haven’t seen yet. They range in publishing date and include a couple of classics. Several books on the list include flap pages, which I have found little ones really enjoy. However, us parents have a lot of trouble with flap books as the young ones tend to rip, bend, or generally mangle the flaps as they are missing the motor skills to work them or in some cases the flaps are too difficult even for us coordinated folks too open. Some of the books included on the list are Animal by Roger Priddy, The Napping House by Audrey Woods, I Know A Rhino by Charles Fuge, and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See by Bill Martin Jr. Check out the article available online after July 28 here and see if any strike your fancy.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Chapter Books - Each Little Bird That Sings

Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles 2005

Let’s first start with a warning. Must have LARGE box of tissues handy when reading this book, or at the very least the conclusion. At first I wasn’t too sure about reading this story as still being in the grieving stage of my father’s passing, but I took a chance and fell in love with the book and all its characters. Wiles does a fabulous job on tackling the topic of death through the eyes of a ten year-old. We find that Comfort Snowberger’s family runs the local funeral home and has for decades. We also learn what is polite and impolite to say, do, and bring to a funeral, especially those typically held in the south. Normally, it is the Snowbergers that are the ones that serve and help soothe those dealing with death. However, the Snowbergers find themselves in the span of less than six months facing the loss of two of their own. Wiles expertly expresses how Comfort handles these deaths and the sudden changes that her “normal” life takes. In addition, Comfort must deal with her annoying cousin, Peaches and the alteration in her friendship with best friend, Declaration. Comfort’s life is literally rocked from so many events you are at times left wondering how much more a ten year-old can take.

Wiles does an excellent job in describing the events and procedures usually found with preparing for and conducting a funeral service. For those not familiar or have yet to experience the death of a close one, Wiles takes some of the mystery out of it and expresses the behind the scenes humanity we all hope exists in each situation. There are a number of characters and many are fully developed. The names used throughout the story are somewhat unusual, but I think it adds warmth to each character. Even though the subject matter is one that can be considered taboo, Wiles does a nice job in bringing it to an understandable level and weaves a believable and readable story around it. This is not something everyone would want to pick up, but I think the target audience of 8 to 12 year-olds will enjoy it. Wiles also adds quite a bit of humorous character traits that help gloss over the serious side an adult would focus on. One such ingredient would be Comfort’s Top Ten Tips for First-rate Funeral Behavior, very, very funny stuff.

Another review for this book, which is much more succinct, can also be found over at BookPage. Wiles is also the author of Love, Ruby Lavender, which has won numerous awards. And one last note, which is a spoiler, if you hate to see a writer kill the beloved pet, be forewarned, not only does Comfort's dog Dismay die, but it is a sad, sad death.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Early Readers - Henry and Mudge and The Bedtime Thumps

Henry And Mudge And The Bedtime Thumps by Cynthia Rylant with Suçie Stevenson as illustrator 1991

When looking for a reliable and generally entertaining Easy Reader Book, the Henry and Mudge series is one to select. This particular story focuses on Henry’s fears of having to sleep without Mudge when visiting his grandmother who lives in the country. Both Henry and Mudge worry all the way to Grandma’s house about how Mudge may have to sleep outside because he is so big. Upon arrival their fears are realized. Grandma’s house is very small and everywhere Mudge turns he is accidentally knocking something over. Henry’s father then bans Mudge to the yard and Henry finds he cannot sleep that night because of all the strange country noises. As Henry checks on Mudge, he finds that sleep comes quickly when he curls up with Mudge under the table on the porch. Both of their fears are eased and they get some sleep.

Although this is somewhat of an older book, the only dated part of it is found in the artwork. Henry’s father has a somewhat unfashionable appearance and no seatbelts are worn, but it doesn’t detract from the story. The book doesn’t provide a self-imposed reading level (at least the copy I have), but it would probably fall into a level two reader, depending on the system you follow. This and others in the series are probably good for about a 5 year-old and up. It has a nice flow and appealing storyline that most kids can relate to that are attached to their pets or other type of object. As a side note Rylant and the Henry and Mudge series in particular Henry and Mudge and the Great Grandpas won the first annual Theodor Seuss Geisel Award in 2006.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Chapter Books - Horrible Harry Goes to Sea

Horrible Harry Goes to Sea by Suzy Kline

Why is Harry so horrible? I have yet to figure that one out. In each of the books I have read about Horrible Harry he seems a little more on the mischievous side at best than anything closely related to horrible. Maybe the author, most likely the editor, came up with the series name for him to entice boys to read the books. In this installment Harry and his classmates take a field trip aboard a riverboat. The trip came about from a class assignment where students researched their family ancestry. Among the reports given one particular student’s great-great-grandmother survived the Titanic voyage, another had a pirate in the family, and one recently sailed over from Korea. With all the sea sailing discussions it was decided the remaining field trip funds would be used to explore what traveling on ship might have been like even if only for an afternoon.

Kline does an excellent job of tying the assignments and field trip together along with the student’s activities or in some cases humorous behavior. Although the series title might lead one to believe the story is about Harry, it is really more centered around Harry and his classmates instead of just Harry. This book like the others are told through a narration style by Harry’s best friend Doug. I would recommend this book and the others in the series to all kids age 7 and up. Also, it makes for a good easy to read chapter book for possibly fourth and fifth graders struggling with reading although the characters in the series range from second to third grade. But, it is a perfect read for third graders and some better second grade readers. Kline also has another series based on the same characters, but focus on Harry’s classmate Song Lee. These you will find under that name in its own series.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Ramblings and Sherlock Holmes

I have been such a slacker this week with my book reviews. There are many floating around in my head and on my desk, but unfortunately they are competing with all the icky that goes along with settling an estate. Think twice before agreeing to be an executor or in my case an executrix even for someone who you love very dearly. It has been two months now since my father’s sudden death and I find that the paperwork that goes along with it at times a bit too overwhelming. It isn’t because it is confusing or difficult, but rather just plain out emotionally heart wrenching some days to know that your father has been reduced to paperwork and a lot of it. I spent nearly six hours yesterday trying to organize papers, figure out which ones need immediate attention, and decide which ones will have to wait until later. Although my Dad didn’t have much his filing system was somewhat muddled at best. Now that all the official court papers are filed (and lots of those too) I get to handle the personal things like banks, credit cards, bills, etc. Amongst that I am trying to make sure the estate property (fancy term for a simple small house and car) are taken care of. Meaning making sure no unauthorized persons use said property and the weather doesn’t play mean tricks, which require repairs. Plus being a frugal minded person, I am doing my own copying and telephone calls as the attorney’s office charges rather an unusually high amount for paperwork, personnel, etc. I understand why, but with so little in the estate it seems too expense. Although I am not a recipient of the estate, I want to save as much as possible for the heir.

With all that said. I did take a break today and discovered that in “This Day in History” it is Dr. Watson’s (Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick that is) birthday as written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. If you are looking for a good book to introduce Sherlock Holmes to a younger group, for example age 9 and up, I would recommend Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Also, many of Doyle’s works have been modified for the younger mystery reader and titles like The Speckled Band, The Red-Headed League, and The Blue Carbuncle are some other good books to select. I found in the past that boys especially seemed to really enjoy these titles. So, for the next rainy or unbearably hot weather day, check out one of Doyle’s classic tales of English crime and mysterious deeds to spice up the day. On a side note, to add some mystery to Doyle’s life, who also was at one time a practicing physician, died on the birthday he created for Watson. Hummm....

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Picture Books - Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems 2004

Hope everyone had a great July 4th holiday. We were fortunate that my husband also had Monday off in addition to the 4th. There was lots of fun family time together. As we (the baby and I) tried to ease back into a routine today we turned to a little PBS after some time at the park this morning. We try not to watch too much television, but there are those days were fifteen minutes occasionally help during activity transitions or just plain stress. Today we saw a short segment of Between the Lions. We caught the book portion that featured author Mo Willem’s Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale. As we watched this piece I found it struck my funny bone as our little one has recently developed a strong attachment to her stuffed bunny. Now, she really likes all her stuffed animals, but there is the one that has that magical touch and seems to put the comfort into any situation.

For those not familiar with Knuffle Bunny, it is about a little girl who accompanies her Daddy to the Laundromat. While there it seems her Knuffle Bunny disappears into the laundry pile and into the washer. It isn’t until they are on their way home that the little girl notices Knuffle Bunny is missing. Since she doesn’t “speak” yet, she has a hard time expressing her dismay to her Daddy. Once at home the Mommy notices what is missing. Back to the Laundromat they all go to rescue the bunny and all are much happier and the little girl utters her first understood words, none other than Knuffle Bunny. The thing that struck me as odd about the story was going to the Laundromat, putting the wash in, and then leaving to go back home. Where I come from when we go to the Laundromat you stay put until it is done and then leave with it or someone else will. Looks to be a good book for toddlers.


Monday, July 03, 2006

Back to the Library They Must Go

Another installment of Back to the Library They Must Go. Here is a variety of books that I recently read, but haven't had a chance to write a review. I have included a rating and summary for each. They range from picture books to non-fiction.

Cool Cats Counting by Sherry Shahan - Summary: Animals count in English and in Spanish. Includes pronunciation guide. Preschool to 2nd grade.
Turn The Page - Jazzy way to count

The Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Juster - Summary: Tells the story of a little girl who finds a magic gateway in the kitchen window of her grandparents' house, and the voyage of discovery she takes. Kindergarten to 3rd grade.

Turn The Page - Imaginative

Almost Gone: The World's Rarest Animals by Steve Jenkins - Summary: Thousands of animal species have vanished in the last two centuries, and many others are almost gone. Youngsters can find out about these animals as they are introduced to basic science concepts. 2nd grade and up.

Turn The Page - Great non-fiction book

Peggony Po: A Whale of a Tale by Andrea Davis Pinkney - Summary: Peggony-Po, carved out of wood by his father, a one-legged whaler, determines to catch the huge whale that ate his father's leg. 2nd grade and up.

Turn The Page - An original tale

A Father's Song by Janet Lawler - Summary: A father and child react to one another with delight as they play together. Kindergarten and up.
Turn The Page with Caution - Its okay, but wouldn't be a first choice

The Room of Wonders by Sergio Ruzzier - Summary: Pius Pelosi has a Room of Wonders, where people come from miles around to see his treasures, but when the visitors convince him to throw out the very first item he ever collected, Pius no longer gets pleasure from his collection. Kindergarten and up.
Shelve It - Has its moments, but rather a downer overall