Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Chapter Books - Inkheart

With all the recent talk about Inkheart by Cornelia Funke and its impending movie being cast, I thought I would jump on the bandwagon. From what I understand most book loving kids and adults have either read Inkheart or at least have heard of it. I originally received a copy of it from my Dad about a year ago. It was one of the last gifts he gave me before he passed away this past spring. I didn’t actually read it until a few months ago as it never really interested me other than my Dad gave it to me. So, I decided to read it because I wanted to know what it was about and what made my Dad think I would really like it. Generally, I am a fairly fast reader and usually finish books within the same day or night I start them. However, I could not do this with Inkheart. The storyline was a bit more complex than a typical children’s book and like Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire it was pretty lengthy.

First of all, I wasn’t aware when reading the book that it was a translation from German (okay I am not always in the loop about my books’ authors or origins). This probably explains a few of the odd sentence structures and dialogue quirks I noticed, but it didn’t detract too much from the story. So anyway, the story itself is quite interesting in that twelve year-old Meggie is the only child of Mo and they are always moving about. Meggie isn’t sure why just like she isn’t sure what happen to her mother who disappeared years ago. Meggie like her Dad Mo is a lover of books and goes nowhere without them. They are her constant companions. As the story unfolds we discover that Mo has a gift that no other is known to have. Mo has the ability to read characters out of books. When Mo’s past begins to threaten him and Meggie again they are off to find another safe haven. Who Mo is running from and why definitely adds spice to the plot twisting tale. And, what did ever happen to Meggie’s mother makes for some good booktalking ideas.

Inkheart is filled with amazing characters and unusual situations. The sequel Inkspell is the second in the apparent trilogy tale. I personally have not gone onto the next book as the first left me with a satisfied feeling without the need to see what else happens. Even though the book concludes with the obvious “cliff-hanger” that left the characters in probable forthcoming danger, it ended well enough. Probably best for kids 10 and up mostly due to the length and multiple character intricacy. For a more in depth look at the characters and book take a look at wikipedia’s write up. The story though does make one wonder what would happen if books and their characters came to life. Good fantasy book.

Nature Doing its Thing....

Although I live in the city some would really classify it as the suburbs. But, then again by city I am not talking in terms of size Chicago or Los Angeles, but it is a nice size. The funny thing is that no matter where you live wildlife keeps doing its thing. Downtown we have a nest of Peregrine Falcons that a group watches regularly. Recently one of the juveniles was struck and killed by a car as it tried to snatch a pigeon off the street. When I hear about these things it always makes me wonder about nature and how man has such an impact. Now, here in my little neighborhood we have the typical wildlife critters. We have ducks, geese, rabbits, birds, etc. However, what is different from our current home is that we use to have lots of squirrels, raccoons, opossums, and the occasional beaver where we use to live, which was actually even closer to the city “limits”. We really enjoy this tiny bit of critter life and even try to encourage critter “visits” by putting out seed, bread, and the occasional leftover veggies.

This evening as I glanced out to the backyard I had to take a second look. Just under the red maple tree’s bird feeder about 10 feet from the house sat a very large hawk. Of course, hawks are usually large, but up close they do seem rather bigger than expected. As I looked in awe, the hawk sort of jumped a bit and that is when I noticed he (or she) had a critter in its grasp. This last week I had been watching a chipmunk navigate the housing of the suet feeder hanging on the red maple and partaking in a large amount feed. And, whom should that hawk have in its large talons, none other than the birdseed-eating chipmunk. Although chipmunks are considered rodents and they do eat a large quantity of the seed we put out for the birds, I couldn’t help but feel so sad that it was now the hawk’s evening meal. I have seen a hawk a number of times from a distance, but he like the blue heron and other lone animals I occasionally see around here didn’t seem like an intimate part of our area until today. So, where am I heading with this write up...umm not sure other than how amazed I was to see the hawk and how sad that one of “my” visiting critters will no longer be visiting. If I could tie in a really good kid’s nature book I would as we do have a number of wildlife books lying around. One thing I did take from this sighting today is I am not ready yet to explain these “natural” events to the wee one.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Chapter Books - No More Nice

If you really need a good laugh, check out No More Nice by Amy MacDonald. Yes, I know it was out of print for a while, but according to the author’s website they have released it again, but as part of a flipbook that includes the sequel. And, yes the sequel No More Nasty is almost as good. No More Nice had me in stitches. MacDonald does a wonderful job of taking the ordinary “rules” of being nice and really shows them for what they are.

The story introduces us to eleven year-old Simon, who is being shipped off to his Great Aunt Matilda’s (Mattie) for Spring Break. Here Simon meets his Uncle Philbert along with a menagerie of animals and is introduced to un-lessons. Simon has struggled his whole life with trying to be nice and accommodating, but to the point of being walked on. Aunt Mattie and Uncle Philbert take Simon under their wings and teach him how to be himself and truly enjoy life. Oh, and learning how to whistle, spit, and make armpit sounds is an added bonus. Unfortunately for Simon when he returns home after two weeks he finds his overbearing Aunt Bea, Uncle Fred, and cousin Parker all still living in his home while theirs is being renovated. Simon tries very hard to follow the “rules” and be nice, but he finally has enough and stands up for himself. When his eccentric Aunt Mattie and Uncle Philbert arrive to help celebrate his birthday, Simon’s parents are reminded that being nice has its place, but there is a time for speaking up as well.

This is definitely a book I would recommend for anyone ages 9 and up. I must confess before reading this book I was under the impression that swearing and cussing were the same thing. Ah, but not so. If you were thinking the same thing, I say you too need to learn the difference like Simon and I did. Anyway, I think adults too would really appreciate the dilemmas Simon and his parents face along with the humor in how Aunt Mattie lives her life. The main characters are ones that can really be cheered for and the annoying characters are ones we all can so relate to. Plus, if the crazy antics and lifestyle of Aunt Mattie and Uncle Philbert do not make you laugh, well I think some serious time is needed with your inner child. Oh, and one last note there are some seriously funny vocabulary words used that make you scratch your head and seek out a dictionary.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Definitely a Girl's Book Series

As usual when it comes to trendy things I am a bit behind the times. I had heard about the American Girl dolls years ago as well as the books. But, my first experience with American Girls was with the American Girl History Mysteries series. I definitely would have been a huge fan if they had been around in my day. Well, I am now too, but from a different perspective. Recently, I happened upon a stack of brand new and nearly new American Girl historical character books at a secondhand sale. On a whim I bought all they had, eighteen to be precise. At a dollar apiece for hardback it was something I couldn’t pass up. The stack included at least one girl from each of the time periods.

Now, I must confess I have been a big skeptic of the doll collection, but primarily from the marketing and pricing. However, when I was at the elementary school library the series was a big hit and I thought more highly of the books from the get go anyway. I had indulged my curiosity back then with reading a few of the “Meet so and so” books, but never got past the seemingly cookie cutter format. However, I have now had time to leisurely sit (not really with a little one running around) and have now read all the ones I purchased. I admit I was more than pleasantly surprised at how nicely put together the stories were and how easily the historical information flowed without a teaching feeling. I am all for a variety of styles of writing and tones, but I really liked the positive attitude conveyed through the characters and the situations they encountered. Previously, I had recommended the books to students because of popularity and ease of text, but know I see there is more to it than I originally thought.

The books are recommended for girls 7 to 8 and up, which seems about right. I think I still prefer the intrigue of the History Mysteries, but the historical character books are worth the time to read and share. If I had to choose a favorite from the character series, it would be a toss up between Josefina and Kaya.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Has anyone read any of Ellen Raskin’s other books?

Here is a question that has been on my mind for some time. Has anyone read any of Ellen Raskin’s other books besides The Westing Game? I ask this as The Westing Game is one of my all time favorite books, but I have not found any of her others in the library. Plus, I must admit I didn’t think she had ever written any others until recently. The following are the titles I found for her as listed over at BooknBytes.

And It Rained
Figgs and Phantoms
Franklin Stein
Ghost in a Four-Room Apartment
Moe Q. McGlutch, He Smoked Too Much
Moose, Goose, and Little Nobody
Nothing Ever Happens on My Block
Piping Down the Valleys Wild

The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel)
The Tattooed Potato and Other Clues
The World's Greatest Freak Show
Twenty-Two, Twenty-Three

Who, Said Sue, Said Whoo?

If you have read any of them, were they written as well as The Westing Game in your opinion? Just curious. Thanks!

Monday, August 21, 2006

Picture Books - Corn Silk and Black Braids

Corn Silk and Black Braids by Vincent L. Johnson, M.D. and Illustrated by Linda Crockett 2005

It is an age-old thing for girls and women to struggle with their hair. We see what we want our hair to look like, but then when we try to get it to do what we want it as usually defies us and does its own thing. As someone who grew up with straight and very thick auburn hair, I have a great deal of empathy for other girls who struggle with their hair. When I wanted it to look nice and slick during the 70’s I got frizzy. When I wanted curls, I got straight and so forth. Plus, I was the only “red” head in school during my elementary years and well lets be honest kids at that age are just not very nice when someone looks different. The common phrase I heard was “I would rather be dead then red”. Nice, ah.

Well on to the book. The title of this book intrigued me as I went to an almost 80% African-American inter-city public school for several of my elementary school years. I remember a number of my girl classmates that hated their hair. Yet, I was always curious and wondered how cool it must be to have hair that would braid so great. Dr. Johnson takes a true to a girl’s heart subject and puts it in terms most young girls can appreciate. We find that Sarah doesn’t like her hair, but it is made worse when her Mom doesn’t understand how she wants pretty hair. Dr. Johnson does a great job in describing the agony that Sarah endures as her Mom struggles with combing Sarah’s hair out and Sarah’s thoughts as she sees the style she is left with. The story is woven around Sarah’s desire to have different hair and how when her Aunt visits she finds a sympathetic listener. As Sarah’s Aunt spends hours and hours trying style to find one Sarah can live with, the reader and Sarah learn that your self-image comes from deep within and not from how your hair looks. However, as Sarah, her Aunt, and us readers also know that a satisfying hairstyle helps with accepting yourself.

This book definitely addresses “the grass is always greener on the other side” issue and how when you get there you find someone standing look back with the same thought. I am not sure this would appeal to boys at any level, but if you have a young girl struggling with her hair, looks, etc. this would be a book to share.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

What's in the News?

Well, it seems a high school in San Jose, CA is going to be without a library for the school year due to fire. According to this item from the Mercury News, the fire is being labeled suspicious in nature. The photo that accompanies the article just makes your heart ache looking at all the books charred beyond repair. (Although I am located in the midwest, I have family that lives in the area and scan the online headlines to see what is happening in their neck of the woods, so to speak.) I have always found the layout of California schools very interesting or at least where many of my relatives have attended. This particular school is of similar "outdoorsy" design to where my cousins went in Southern CA in that it is comprised of several buildings. The design probably helped contain the fire. The library was housed in a building that also included the computer labs. The article indicates to replace the recently updated building's contents will be between 2 and 3 million. Yikes!

Trying to Create a Book

Oh don't misunderstand; I am not creating a literary piece of work. I am truly aware of my writing limitations unlike many celebrities. No, I have actually been trying to create one of those photobooks that you see advertised by online firms such as Picabo, Yahoo, Snapfish, Shutterfly, etc. The project started off as a surprise anniversary gift for my husband. I thought chronicling our first years together would be a great way to say I love you and the memories we share. Unfortunately, the task was a bit more onerous than the advertisements lead you to believe and my husband observed the enormous amount of time I was sitting in front of the computer. So, he now knows, but when the actual book arrives it will at least be sort of a surprise.

Anyway, I should have known this would be more difficult because marketing people do their best to make things look easier than they really are. Plus, most of these type of projects use digital photos, but we only obtained one a few years back. So, the majority of the photos to be included in this fancy "scrapbook" of memories have to be scanned. Also, the photos need to be edited for the typical red-eye, over lighting, etc. because most of us are not professional photographers or produce the same quality as my talented sister or brother-in-law. In addition to our years together, I got this idea that there should be a few photos of us included when we were younger, sort of like what you see at weddings now days. Lucky for me I have a great mother-in-law who took on the task of finding and scanning in photos of my husband’s younger years then emailed them to me. Hey, what can I say I married a man with a wonderful family.

So, after many, many hours I have enough photos of our earlier years, our dating years, and married life all wrapped up in a neat little program offered by one of these companies. Now, I am off to add hopefully witty text and let it settle for a day or two then re-look to ensure I have what I want. It is funny how a loving idea turns into a long drawn out humongous project that ensnared other family members. Soon I will return this site back to its regularly scheduled program of book reviews.

Monday, August 14, 2006

A Celebrity Writes Again

A “writing” celebrity is at work again. It appears that Jamie Lee Curtis has another book coming out in September. According to Curtis’ website that expresses, “Books to grow by, from the New York Times best-selling team—Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell” the title will be Is There Really a Human Race? The site also indicates the book is for all ages and all grades, which seems a bit redundant. This is one of several Curtis has written. Most of her books tend to be centered on specific issues that kids face while growing up. I first saw the notice for the upcoming book in the September edition of Parents magazine. They (at Parents) seem to be ecstatic that she has another book and label the entry as “Star Scribe”. Interestingly enough the book cover in the article doesn’t match the ones I have seen online. I actually prefer the cover shown in Parents as it is more eye-catching and seems more likely to be picked up off the shelf, but what do I know I am just a consumer. I am not usually one who picks up any book though that has a celebrity listed as the author. Yes, that would be something called prejudice and along the same lines that Elizabeth Bennet believes of Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice. Also, I cannot say I have ever read any of her books. So, I will not be recommending this book, but will leave it up to you and your own preferences. Who knows, maybe her books are worth reading? But, I would suggest checking them out at the library before shelling out the big bucks. Her books are those that rarely make it to the discounted table in the stores.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Waiting! Waiting! Waiting! What is a girl to do?

Finally, the clouds have parted, the rain has stopped, and the temperature is actually not so bad. So, why am I so tempted to pull the shades and curl up with books and the baby? Well, it has been literally a week bookended (if there is such a word) by waiting for things to get done that haven’t. I am a fairly patient person and realize that waiting in line, waiting at the doctor’s office, and so forth are just natural occurrences of everyday life. So, why is it that I expect not to wait for repair people, cashiers to quit jawing with their friends and check me out, and for attorney assistants to be timely? From last Friday to today, I have sat and waited so much that I think I could have actually cleaned my house, read an adult novel, and worked on a home repair project. But, instead I waited and waited. One of the many good things about being a stay at home mom is the fairly flexible schedule that is available. Of course, that doesn’t mean I have much free time, but rather I can rearrange things easier then with an 8 to 5 job. This morning’s wait just tipped my overflowing cup finally.

As mentioned in earlier posts, we were on the receiving end of a severe storm back in April. It is now August and I am still trying to coordinate getting the repairs done. I could have at least the roof done if I hired one of those storm-chasing companies that hit town. However, some of my neighbors are now really regretting their choice, as their new roofs have to be re-repaired. So, I am biding my time in hopes this one company of the many I have called will finally come through. But, what I spent my time this morning waiting on was the siding people. After waiting an hour and half for the estimator to arrive, I called to find out that he cancelled all his appointments days ago. Funny, I never heard from him and sadly told the appointment coordinator this. She being the oh so not understanding soul said they could reschedule me in about two weeks. Now keep in mind I have to have estimates for all the storm work in order to finalize a payment with the insurance company. Lucky for us the roof isn’t leaking and I haven’t seen damage as yet from the holes in the siding. I just wish I could magically wave Hermione Granger’s wand and have all these and other repairs fixed in a jiffy. But, instead I will continue to take the Muggle path and wait and wait for people to do what they say they will, show up when they finally get to it, and be thankful for good health. Oh, and I'll be waiting about 12 more months for the final installment of Harry's life, who has been waiting for a long, long time as well to sort out his magical mystery.

Thanks for listening to the ranting and I did at least tie a book in there a tiny bit. Hope your weekend brings you lots of smiles and time to read with those you love.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Picture Books - Kenya’s Word

Kenya’s Word by Linda Trice and illustrated by Pamela Johnson 2006

Let’s just be honest here, if you can get by the tarantula on the cover and first few pages then you are in for a delightful story. At first when looking at the title I thought it said Kenya’s World, but when I sat down to read it was when I noticed it said Word not World. Words are a very big part of this book, adjectives to be precise. Kenya is a young girl who loves many things. As she sits in class her teacher gives out their word assignment, but Kenya is too busy thinking about other things and only hears part of the instructions. When Kenya presents her describing word assignment chaos tends to ensue. Fortunately for Kenya she has an understanding teacher. Now, Kenya is determined to do well on the next describing word assignment.

Over the weekend she discovers that words can describe so many things and she likes them all, but she has to decide on one favorite word to present to her class. Kenya finally chooses her favorite and it surprises the class and her teacher. Once she explains why it is her favorite word it all makes sense. This is not a non-fiction book on adjectives, but it does a very nice job in explaining how words describe things. Kenya is a charming character and we do learn quite a bit about her “world”. Also, the artwork by Johnson really enhances the story as well. At the end of the book there is a question that asks the reader to choose from a list of words and match them to their five senses. It doesn’t have an appearance of being a teaching moment, but rather an amusing little game. I would suggest for ages 7 and up.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Picture Books - Fire! Fire! Said Mrs. McGuire

Fire! Fire! Said Mrs. McGuire by Bill Martin, Jr. and illustrated by Vladimir Radunsky 2006

This is one of those cases where just because the author is familiar and beloved doesn’t mean it is one to be picked up off the shelf. There are a variety of book versions floating out there that take on these well-known Martin words with various illustrators. Some I have seen, some not. This version is definitely one that starts out with an interesting twist to what many use as a fire safety book for little ones. Unfortunately, the artwork in my opinion does not keep pace with the text. It is nice artwork though. However, when I came to the end I was left scratching my head going what was that all about. If this was intended to help familiarize wee ones with fire, it totally and I mean totally missed the mark. If it was suppose to be just a funny book, it too missed the mark. Martin has some great text to work with, but the artist interpretation didn’t meet the usual standards that match up with his rhyming prose. So, before I head off on a tangent let us just leave this book as a Shelve It, but remember Martin has others that are worth looking into.


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Non Fiction/Picture Books - Alfie the Apostrophe

Alfie the Apostrophe by Moira Rose Donohue and Illustrated by JoAnn Adinolfi

One of my favorite things is to find a book that takes a school subject matter and turns it into something I wish I had discovered back when I really needed it the most, especially a topic I glossed over in my earlier days. Unfortunately, these types of books are generally found in the non-fiction section of the library. The bad thing about non-fiction books is they are not visited as often as they should be. And, we know the “cool” kids do not hang out there unless the subject matter is sports, animals, or dinosaurs. So, a book like Alfie is frequently overlooked. It would be a shame to miss out on watching Alfie and his friends try out for the annual punctuation mark talent show. Alfie is an apostrophe that is worried about many things, but primarily that he doesn’t do exciting things like the questions marks and exclamation points.

Teaching kids about punctuation can be fun at times, but having them read an entertaining book is a nice way to top off the moment. Or, in Alfie’s case taking a typical moment in growing up and turning it into a way to visualize how punctuation works. As Alfie discovers more about who he is and how he fits in, the reader subtle learns how each of the punctuation marks work. Donohue provides us with some witty text and relatable feelings as well as learning about how to use punctuation. The artwork is eye catching and definitely would appeal to kids. So, the next time you are looking for a funny book to share with your 5 year old and up, grab this one from the 400’s in the Dewey section of the library. It is too humorous to leave for just teaching moments.


Monday, August 07, 2006

Picture Books – Brother Juniper

Brother Juniper by Diane Gibfried and Illustrated by Meilo So 2006

Apparently, there are a number of stories that are based on Brother Juniper. This is the first one I have read and found it delightful and inspirational. Gibfried takes us back in time to find Brother Juniper living with St. Francis of Assisi. We find that many look upon Brother Juniper as generous to a fault and at times worry that he lacks common sense when giving to others. After setting a backdrop with Brother Juniper’s previous antics in giving, Gibfried builds the story around the time St. Francis leaves Brother Juniper to watch over the church while he and the others are away. When people in need begin to stop by and ask for assistance Brother Juniper gives everything and anything away that will help those in need help themselves. By the time St. Francis and the others return, Brother Juniper has given everything away and nothing is left, not even the building. Now, the other brothers are just dismayed and think Brother Juniper has ruined everything. Although this makes him said, Brother Juniper doesn’t give up and begins the Sunday morning off with shouting like the bells to call all to services. To the amazement of the brothers, everyone and then some come to worship and thank Brother Juniper, as they are now able to help themselves.

The story is poignant and provides a great message in helping others. It would make for a great Sunday school read aloud or perhaps a family evening reading time book. Plus, the story would provide an avenue in which to open up a dialogue about sharing with those who are less fortunate. However, I am not sure it would be a top pick among the age group it is intended. At my library it is catalogued as a picture book, but it almost would fit better into the folktales section, just my opinion though. Try this with those ages 5 and up.


Sunday, August 06, 2006

Picture Books – The Bones of Fred McFee

The Bones of Fred McFee by Eve Bunting and Illustrated by Kurt Cyrus 2002

I know, I know. It is totally off-season, but worth taking a look at for those that are Halloween enthusiasts. For some reason this was on the “New Books” shelf at the library and I picked it up not looking very closely at the title or artwork. Unfortunately, I am not a Halloween person, nor do I care for scary stories, movies, or houses. Now, when I was a teenager I could at least do the houses, but for some reason as I get older none of it appeals to me. Must be all the real scary stuff that makes the regular news everyday.

Well, anyway The Bones of Fred McFee is definitely a really good book to add with other fun tales to share during the spooky season. Bunting does a great job with telling the story in a bouncy way that makes you just really want to read it out loud to the flowing rhythm. I don’t wish to spoil the story so I will be vague in its description. Jessie and her brother have brought home a plastic skeleton from the harvest fair and named him Fred McFee. They hang him high up in their sycamore tree for the season and listen to his bones go clickety-clack as the wind blows. With each passing night unusual things begin to happen around the yard and tree where Fred McFee hangs. Halloween arrives and even more odd events occur including Fred’s disappearance. The story is one that is probably better suited to those whose imaginations do not keep them up at night and enjoy a good on the ends of your seat story. The artwork is bold, yet not in color, but rather images. I think most kids ages 6 and up would enjoy this if they like spooky tales.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

New Books to Think About

The August edition of BookPage has been out a few weeks now, but I thought I would focus in on its book reviews for “School Days Calming the first-day jitters” article. It included a number of books to help the little ones off to school, such as:

A Place Called Kindergarten by Jessica Harper, illustrated by G. Brian Karas
A Very Full Morning by Eva Montanari
Take a Kiss to School by Angela McAllister, illustrated by Sue Hellard
What a Day It Was at School! by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Doug Cushman

There are so many books already available in this category, but a few new ones are always nice to choose from. Although you may already have a favorite, check out the selection at the library. Besides the Miss Bindergarten series like Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, author Kevin Henkes has a few that are really good for going to school like Chrysanthemum.

BookPage also had a few nice reviews for the middle grade level of 8 to 12. One that really looks interesting as well as humorous is: Cinderella (As If You Didn't Already Know the Story) by Barbara Ensor

Happy Reading.