Thursday, May 30, 2013

Monarch Round-Up Part Two

I started my Monarch Round-Up yesterday with my first five randomly chosen Monarch Nominees.  Randomly chosen meaning the first ones that I could find through inter-library loan.

So today, my next five randomly chosen nominees.

Contestant Number Six:  Brothers at Bat by Audrey Vernick
Of the many all-brother baseball teams, this one ran the longest and has a great, heartwarming story that children and adults will enjoy.

My review:  I loved it.  It's a great baseball story that's not too long, which is surprisingly hard to find.

Odds of winning:  7-1

Contestant Number Seven:  Say Hello to Zorro! by Carter Goodrich
Mr. Bud has a great routine, but the addition of Zorro might not be such a great thing.

My review:  This quick book presents a simple plot with great illustrations.  My dog can relate to the schedule!

Odds of winning:  5-1

 Contestant Number Eight:  Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman
Spirals are not only a beautiful shape but also perfect for protection and movement.

My review:  It's beautiful and short, great for storytime, but it is not engaging enough for readers to really gravitate toward.

Odds of winning:  20-1

Contestant Number Nine:  The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray
A class makes a gingerbread man and leaves him to cool, but he wants to follow the kids and thus begins his adventure.

My review:  The rhyme didn't meter very well and the retelling lacked style.
But, despite being marginal, I think kids would like it.

Odds of winning:  10-1

Contestant Number 10:  11 Experiments That Failed by Jenny Offhill
No one can get into mischief like this character and now she has science to back her up.

My review:  I loved it.  I laughed out loud several times and I think that readers will relate to her logic and the outcomes.

Odds of winning:  3-1

And that's part two.  Hopefully parts three and four will come next week.  Although I have read several of the Monarchs before, since they are so short, I am going to review them again, so that means another trip to the library.  Not a bad way to spend a weekend!

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Monarch Round-Up Part 1

I have mentioned the Monarch Award several times on this blog.  It's such a great award for readers and since it is the younger grade award, it's so easy to read all of the contestants!

Over the next couple of posts, I will be quickly summarizing all of the Monarchs-a herculean task to be sure!  Actually it's super easy and I read most of the books to my dog.  She especially loved I Want My Hat Back for reasons that I will explain later.  I will give a brief one line summary for each book, my personal ranking, and my odds for it winning.  It will be like the Derby!  Only with less monetary betting and better drinks (mint juleps are not good).

Monarch Round-Up Part One!

Contestant Number One:  One by Kathryn Otoshi (too obvious?)  Blue is being bullied by Red and the other colors won't stand up for him, but 1 will and now everyone counts.

My review:  It's a good book on bullying, and while readers will enjoy it and feel empowered, it's not a strong favorite.

Odds:  10-1

Contestant Number Two:  Biblioburro by Jeanette Winters.
Luis has a large collection of books and when his library becomes too much for his wife, he travels the hills of Columbia to bring books to children.

My review:  It's a nice story with colorful and simple illustrations.  It is more heartwarming for adults than entertaining for children.

Odds:  10-1

Contestant Number Three:  I Wanna New Room by Karen Kaufman Orloff.
Alex doesn't want to share a room with his little brother, so he writes letters to his dad explaining why he needs his own room.

My review:  While I'm not a fan of David Catrow's illustrations, many kids love his colorfully chaotic style.  Plus, this is a theme that many readers can relate to.

Odds:  5-1

Contestant Number Four:  The One and Only Stuey Lewis by Cambria Evans.
Second grade is a big year for Stuey as he struggles to read, tries to live up to his brother's reputation on the soccer field, and get along with his classmates.

My review:  This was a great early chapter book and I think that many readers will relate.  But it's a little long for the Monarch, so while I like, they odds aren't great.

Odds:  15-1

Contestant Number Five:  I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klaussen
Bear has lost his hat and even though no one claims to have seen it, he knows where it is, and he is going to get it back!

My review:  I briefly mentioned this book here and I think that kids are really going to enjoy the humor.  Not to mention all of the teachers that will get the more subversive side of this book.  It's a dark horse with a chance!

Odds:  3-1

(Oh, and my dog loved the ending--what really happened to that rabbit?)

For the full Monarch List go here.  And for more reviews and rankings, check back tomorrow.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Far Far Away

Jeremy Johnson Johnson is a bit of an oddity for the small town of Never Better.  Not only did his mother run away, but his dad rarely leaves his bed, and he runs the Two Book Bookstore, which literally only carries two books-volumes I and II of his grandfather's autobiography.  But what makes Jeremy truly unique is that he hears the voices of the dead, and most often the voice of Jacob Grimm.  While the rest of the town's teens are off causing mayhem and eating Prince Cake (a rare delicacy from the town's baker) Jeremy is being lead in his studies by Jacob, until he takes up Ginger on her offer for Prince Cake.  Now Ginger and Jeremy are not only getting to know each other, but they are also trying to keep his home from being foreclosed upon and, with Jacob's help, trying to stay safe from the cruel Keeper of Occasions.  This tale mixes fairy tale elements with a contemporary setting and weaves in horror story details to create a book that is both quiet and exciting.

I received a free galley of Far Far Away from the publisher.  I've said before that these free galleys run the gambit from pretty good to abysmal, but this might just be one of the best galleys I have ever read.  At first, the book is so quiet and slow, but not slow in a bad way, just calming.  The whole story is actually told from the point of view of the ghostly Jacob Grimm, so you are getting a personal look into his life and career while learning more about Jeremy.  While Jeremy is coming out of his shell and interacting with Ginger, there is a danger growing, and readers are lead to believe that it is the most obvious choice, but by remembering your fairy tales,  you will soon see who poses the real danger.   Then there is nothing but tension as Jeremy and Ginger get closer and closer to this person as Jacob fights to find a solution to this building problem.

I would not call this a modern fairy tale.  The only fantastical thing about this book is that Jeremy can hear Jacob Grimm.  Many of Grimm's fairy tales are alluded to, or even told outright, but there are no dark monsters, no brave heroes on horseback, and for the longest time you are convinced that there are no happy endings.  The characters themselves know that they are not in a fairy tale.  That justice is not always given to the villain and that the innocent are not always avenged.  It is a dark tale at points, but very moving.

I think that I was in just the right place to read this book.  I bought into the premise of Jacob Grimm wholeheartedly.  I bought into the evil of the Finder of Occasions and the cruelty and charity of the small town.  I found myself being so completely sucked into Never Better that I had a hard time pulling myself away, but when I finished, I needed a break to absorb what I had just read.

This was a great weekend to get in some quality reading time.  I sat on the porch, drank my coffee and read with the dog.  What a great Memorial Day weekend!

Happy Reading!

Friday, May 24, 2013

What to Call this Blog Post?

I honestly don't know what to title this post since it will be covering a variety of topics.  Any suggestions will be considered.

Topic One:  I'm not missing
I know that I've only posted once this week and that's a shame.  I wasn't feeling great earlier this week so that meant I was sleeping all day on Wednesday-seriously-all day!  But I feel wonderful now.  I wonder if I had exhaustion?  All the starlets get exhaustion, except in their case it's more likely alcohol poisoning, but still.

Topic Two:  My Monarchs came in!
The Monarch Award is an Illinois Children's Choice Award for grades K-3.  I have vowed to myself that I will read all of the Monarch's this year.  Which is pretty easy because they are mostly picture books and mostly hilarious.  The above picture shows my first round of holds and I will be back next week to quickly review 10 Monarchs.

Topic Three:  Sarcasm Sign
I read an interesting article the other day about children's books with questionable morals.  It's called "9 Picture Books You Never Want Your Kids to Read" from the BabyCenter Blog.  I think that it might have needed a giant SARCASM SIGN!  Adults can get so defensive about children's books, saying this one is too materialistic, or that one is a thinly veiled critique of capitalism-blah, blah, blah.  Kids read for entirely different reasons, and some kids books are written more for the adults that read them aloud.

Take I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klausen.  It's a Monarch and a picture book your child should never read.  I read it this morning because the librarian told me it was funny yesterday.  And it is!  This bear has lost his hat and he goes off to find it.  He asks all of these animals if they have seen his hat, and none of them have, but one is lying!  And when he realizes it, he goes red!  And goes to get his hat back.  But what happened to the animal that had it?  He did not meet a good end.

Know this people, all across this country, children are singing about little monkeys getting eaten up by crocodiles and little fish getting eaten up by sharks.  They have no problem with comical animal on animal violence.  If you ask a child if they would like to pardon the last little monkey swinging from the tree, teasing Mr. Crocodile, cant' catch me, they will 9 times out of 10 say no!  EAT THE MONKEY!  That one soft-hearted kid that would pardon the monkey will likely grow up to bring us world peace, but the rest of the little heathens are just like you and me--we like to see people get what they deserve.  You tease the crocodile, you will be eaten.  Simple.

But Pinkalicious and Fancy Nancy make me a little nauseous.  I wouldn't read them to my kids, not because of the crass commercialism or blatant vanity but because I just can't take the girliness. Case in point, my sister and I are having a Facebook war over which movie franchise is better:  James Bond (brilliant) or Fast and Furious (seriously, I'm ashamed to say you are my sister-SARCASM SIGN).  She pointed out this was odd.  I pointed out that our husbands are lucky men.  Both of those points are true.

Enjoy your holiday weekend!  Enjoy reading in the sunshine, grilling out, and if you must, enjoy watching Fast and Furious 6.  I think my sister might be seeing it again!

Happy Reading!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Group Work

As a self-admitted control freak, there was no other phrase that struck fear in my heart than "group project".  Shutter!  I hated group projects!  In middle school, all we did was group work, which worked out great for the other kids in my group, but basically sucked for me.  And they did this really strange thing in 7th grade where they put the top 10% with the bottom 10% thinking that the advanced kids could tutor the kids that were falling behind and be a good influence and stuff.  Was mine the only school that conducted this doomed experiment?  Whose bright idea was this anyway?  I want to flick that guy in the eye.

Moving on.  Group work and teamwork is a huge theme in children's literature, and a recent interview with soon-to-be children's author Jason Segal reminded me of that.  While talking about his favorite movies and books as a child, he says:

"The thing about Goonies is that it shows kids that they're stronger together than apart. Like Goonies, Nightmares! is about a group of misfits who find a home together."

This got me thinking about children's books lately.  No child or teen is acting alone.  Harry Potter and Percy Jackson each have two sidekicks.  Tris in Divergent has Four.  Katniss has Peeta and Haymitch looking out for her.  In 39 Clues, you have the Cahill siblings and their nanny, in The Kane Chronicles, there's the Kane siblings, obviously.  In Going Bovine, Cameron is even accompanied by Gonzo and Balder on his morphine trip.  The only book that I can think of where is the hero is utterly alone is Hatchet by Gary Paulson, and even there, that's the whole point of the book, it's very man vs. nature.

Maybe group work isn't such a bad thing afterall.  You don't see Hermione complaining that she was somehow paired with Harry and Ron, even though they do not carry their weight when it comes to research.  A Norse god in the form of a garden statue doesn't seem like a favorable companion, yet he plays a huge role in Cameron's journey.  And even though Four through knives at Tris, he had her back the whole time.  That last one seems the most realistic pairing to me.  I was tempted to use violence several times while making a 10 minute video parody of MacBeth.  (That was honestly an assignment.  I'm starting to doubt the value of my education.)

I really do think that Jason Segal has a point.  Every kid, and adult for that matter, likes to read about the kids that can't quite fit in, finding a group and overcoming the odds.  That's just a great story.  It's like the NCAA tournament.  Everyone loves that one Cinderella team from a small school with players that were passed over by Duke or UConn or Michigan State and yet plays well and makes the finals.  It's the Butler formula!  I am using an awful lot of metaphors for a Monday morning.

Can you think of a children's or YA adventure book with a lone hero?  I'd love to hear about it.  Just leave me a comment or email me at misstiffreads at gmail dot com.

Happy Reading!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Capture the Flag

This is one game of capture the flag with real, and dangerous, consequences.  Total strangers Anna, Jose, and Henry meet while snowed in at a Washington DC airport after all three have been at a Smithsonian gala the night before.  Actually, everyone from the Smithsonian gala is snowed in at the airport, including an international orchestra, presidential hopeful, and evil art thieves.  After the gala, someone stole the American flag that inspired The Star-Spangled Banner and Anna feels like it's her mission to get it back.  Together, Anna, Jose, and Henry discover that they are all related to the Silver Jaguars, an ancient group that looks after the world's art and treasures, so they start to hunt down the flag and the thieves.  Daring, dangerous, and delightful, Capture the Flag is perfect for fans of Chasing Vermeer or 39 Clues and also for readers that are not quite ready for Alex Rider or Heist Society.

I picked Capture the Flag out of my Goodreads To-Read list because I wanted an adventure book, along the lines of The Red Pyramid.  This mostly satisfied that craving.  Anna, Jose, and Henry work very well together and each have their own strengths.  Anna, being a budding journalist, is imaginative and detail-oriented, so she notices small clues and hints.  Jose, being the reader, brings a wealth of knowledge to the hunt, and he can also inspire bravery in the other kids.  Henry is a constant gamer, so his knowledge of driver games comes in quite handy when stealing an airport baggage cart.  

Much like the 39 Clues, this book, and the subsequent series, focuses on a stolen artifact that will need to be recovered by the Silver Jaguars, but there is a splinter group, the Serpentine Princes, that is determined to continue stealing treasures.  Each member of the Silver Jaguars is descended from an artist or historical figure.  This series does have two advantages that I can see over 39 Clues, one is consistency and the other a small cast of characters.  Since the 39 Clues books are written by multiple authors, the character's dialogue and general tone of each book can be maddeningly inconsistent.  Also, with so many different sectors of the Cahills, and now Vespers, the cast of characters is too large to accurately remember.  But this is perfect, small cast, one author, great for young readers and without all of the cards and hoopla surrounding 39 Clues

In my opinion, Capture the Flag is an all around accessible book and would make a great classroom read-aloud.  It is exciting, funny, and relatable.  Plus, for all of those overrun librarians out there, it's a middle grade novel, so you can read this in one day and feel totally satisfied.  I'm starting to love middle grade books again!

Happy Reading!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Well Trained Reader

For the past three years, Rick Riordan has released another book in the Kane Chronicles Series during May.  I went to an author event for Rick Riordan when the first book in this series, The Red Pyramid, was released.  It was amazing seeing a huge theatre full of kids getting so excited for reading and books, and that excitement was absolutely infectious.  I loved the Percy Jackson books and I was positive that I would love the Egyptology woven into this new series.

Then, each year as the weather warmed and school let out, I would sit out on my deck, be it a modest 12 square foot apartment balcony, or a spacious deck on my house, and read through the adventures of Egypt mythology in modern times.  And here I am, warm days, no school, time to read, and there's no Kane Chronicles.  Excuse me?  I'm like one of Pavlov's dogs over here.  Once there are beautiful, nice days, budding trees, and lemonade, I crave a little modern Egyptology.

I might go so far as to re-read The Red Pyramid, my autographed copy that is, because I'm that cool.  Or, I'll try to find another middle grade fiction quest book.  Right now I am pretty deep in Capture the Flag by Kate Messner and it is satisfying my craving for wacky hijinks and unbelievable feats of crime-solving.  Plus there's a dog, who doesn't love that?

Unlike the last time I had a literary craving, I know what type of book I'm looking for, or rather, I know exactly what I'm looking for, I just need a read-alike.  Any suggestions for a Kane Chronicles read-alike?  I'm open to any kind of a kid heroes quest book to read on a lovely May afternoon.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Etiquette and Espionage

Sophronia is a mischievous girl who does not quite fit into her semi-aristocratic family, what with her love of machines and general tomboyness, so imagine her shock when she is accepted to a finishing school.  However, something is strange about the woman interviewing her for Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality, and even though Sophronia cannot quite put her finger on it, she knows this is no ordinary finishing school.  Even while being transported to her school, her carriage is besieged by flywaymen-steampunk air pirates of a sort-after some prototype, but with her quick thinking, Sophronia and her traveling companions-Dimity, Pillover, and Michelle-come out relatively unscathed.  

Upon arrival at the school, Sophronia makes quick work of assessing the flying ship that houses the school, making friends in low places, enemies in high places, and a general name for herself as an observant and talented student, although, exactly what is she being trained to do?

This is a huge mash-up of criminal caper, steampunk adventure, and fantasy tome all in one little book. Even though at first the plot seems overrun with genres, it is a compelling story.  Sophronia (despite my complete inability to pronounce her name) is engaging and kind to her classmates.  She brings other students-like Dimity, Agatha, and the unusual Lady Kingair-and sooties-like Vieve and Soap-together for her exploits.  The school itself is a steampunk marvel riding high in the air, and one can only guess that the vampire and werewolf professors will have a bigger role in further adventures.  

My only compliant about this book is that the cover makes it appear more appropriate for an older audience.  Sophronia is only about 14 years old in this book, and the action is only mildly perilous and completely appropriate for younger readers, like an ambitious ten year old.  This cover looks much older than the book implies, although it is a lovely cover.  To me, this is a tween book, with the potential to move up, but tweens probably don't mind carrying a book that looks a little more daring and mature.  

Only time will tell if I continue with this planned series, but I wouldn't mind another adventure at Miss Geraldine's.  The characters are witty, the action is entertaining, and overall, what girl doesn't want to learn how to incapacitate a man by using nothing more than a handkerchief and batted eyelashes?

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Blood, Bones, and Butter

Warning:  This is one of my rare departures from children's lit, and like most of my rare departures, this is a memoir meant for adults.  As if the book cover didn't already tell you that.

Much like Anthony Bourdain (whose blurb graces this book), Gabrielle Hamilton didn't set out to become a chef, instead she kept falling back into it.  Her mother was a French ballerina who took great care in her home and cooking, and Gabrielle lovingly remembers those simple, yet elegant meals, and writes about them in such a way that readers will be salivating.  After her family breaks up, Gabrielle is left an alone and ambition-less teenager.  The only place that she can simultaneously earn money and cause trouble is the kitchen, so she lies about her age and starts working at diners.  She follows this path all the way to New York bars, where she is busted for serving alcohol underage.  She tries college and fails, cooks again, tries college again and it sticks, but she is not meant for full time academia, rather she needs to be in a chef's jacket. 

The most compelling chapters focus on her small New York restaurant, Prune, and her unusual marriage arrangement to an Italian doctor and his large Italian family.  While the whole book is beautifully written, the ending, spent mostly in Italy, is the highlight maybe because Americans are more comfortable with Italian cuisine than French, or maybe because the love of her adopted homeland is so vivid.  

For all of the good points of this book, I do have some warnings.  I have a high language tolerance, meaning that a few dozen swear words do not faze me--I worked at a car dealership after all.  And honestly, Hamilton does not outright swear so much in this book as she does mention that when working the line her language would make a greasy car salesman blush like a school girl.  Also, her life is not all perfectly plated meals and linen tablecloths.  The bulk of the book is spent talking about her shortcomings, the drug use, bad relationships, hard family situation, and seedy underbelly of the restaurant industry.  One minute you are dying to try her food, the next you are cringing at infestations so disgusting that I dare not write about them or I'll lose my breakfast.  It's not all lovely food, but it is an honest food memoir.

My biggest hang up with this book is that Hamilton seemed overfond of the flashback or aside.  At one point, she is describing a panel she presented with, only to flashback and get inside her head for whole pages, then circle back around to the original point.  It's like going to a Dave Matthew's concert and in the middle of Satellite he does such a long, involved guitar solo that you entirely forget what song is being played in the first place.  (Then again, I was likely the only person at that concert who was not drunk or high--I was only 20 and still pretty innocent at that.)  I apologize for my own reminiscent aside, but now you can see how that can be annoying.

I would recommend Blood, Bones, and Butter to the right reader, but I am not sure who that would be. Some foodies would likely be insulted by the jabs at Food Network.  Restauranteurs would have already seen this before and likely feel that Hamilton has nothing to add.  But wannabe food adventurers like me--people that given the time and money would love to travel and eat crazy food, people who frankly love Anthony Bourdain because you feel dangerous and worldly by extension--will  like this book.  If you want crass honesty about cooking, passionate writing about food, and a general toughness in an author, then Hamilton will serve you well.

Happy Reading!

PS.  I did entirely read this book based on a blurb from Anthony Bourdain.  To see how I feel about book blurbs, check out this post.  

Friday, May 10, 2013


This is my favorite time of year for many and assorted reasons and one of them is lilacs.  There are dozens and dozens of lilac bushes all over town so that great scent just finds you at random.  Sadly, I do not have a lilac bush yet, but it's in the master plan.  But both of my neighbors have lilac bushes, so I still have that wonderful fragrance wafting through my window.

We had two big lilac bushes at the first house I lived in.  The memory of those flowers is one of my strongest from childhood.  We had a tiny galley kitchen in that house and we would bring in lilac cuttings and place them in green plastic water cups and the whole kitchen seemed to expand and brighten with that scent.  It was amazing!

Even on this cool, rainy morning the smell of lilacs makes everything just a little bit brighter, so I recommend that you stop and smell the flowers today, and maybe snap a picture.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Daring Dragons

Between the griffin in Wednesdays in the Tower, and the dragons in Seraphina, I have mythical creatures on the brain.  When I found this Daring Dragons preschool storytime outline, I knew it would be perfect to share!  I wanted to share a picnic storytime because I am having ant issues, but this will have to do for now.  At least I don't have a dragon infestation, although my hubby would love that, since that would require the mother of dragons from Games of Thrones or whatnot.  I don't watch it, I just hear a lot about it.

Daring Dragons
Preschool Storytime

Opening Song:  Bendable Strechable by Georgiana Stewart

Opening Rhyme:  Dance Your Fingers
  Dance your fingers up, dance your fingers down.
  Dance your fingers to the side, dance them round and round.
  Dance them on your shoulders, dance them on your head.
  Dance them on your belly, and now put them to bed!

Book:  That Pesky Dragon by Julie Sykes

Rhyme:   Five Green Dragons
  Five green dragons making such a roar
  One danced away and then there were four.
  Four green dragons dancing round a tree
  One danced away and then there were three.
  Three green dragons dancing around you
  One danced away and then there were two
  Two green dragons dancing in the sun
  One danced away and then there was one
  One green dragon having lots of fun
  She danced away and then there were none.

Book:  If I Had a Dragon by Tom and Amanda Ellery

Song:  Fly Dragon Fly
  Fly, fly dragon fly, Fly, fly dragon fly
  Fly, fly dragon fly, way up in the sky.
  Hop, Clap, Stomp, Sway, Sleep
Book:  Clinton Gregory’s Secret by Bruce Whatley

Rhyme:   Baby Dragon 
 Baby Dragon counts to three, Baby Dragon bends one knee
  Baby Dragon touches toes, Baby Dragon breathes through his nose
  Baby Dragon runs in place, Baby Dragon makes a funny face.
  Baby Dragon lies on the floor,  Baby Dragon starts to snore.
Book:  Who Wants a Dragon by James Mayhew

Rhyme:  All Around the Castle (Tune:  All Around the Mulberry Bush)
  All around the castle
  The knight chased the dragon
  The dragon thought it was all in fun
  ROAR went the dragon.

Book:  Hush Little Dragon by Boni Ashburn

Rhyme:  I’m a Little Dragon (Tune:  I'm a Little Teapot)
  I’m a little dragon, strong and stout
  Here is my tail and here is my stout
  If you get me upset you better watch out
  I’ll give you something to shout about!
Craft:  Mosaic Dragon

For the Mosaic Dragon, I printed a dragon outline and had children place tissue paper "scales" on him and paint over the tissue paper with water to transfer the color.  It's a quick and easy art project for even the wiggliest storytime participants!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Don't Tell Mom About the Griffin

Getting older is a funny thing.  It allows you to sometimes look back at your childhood and think you should have done things differently.  Like I should have taken those naps because I can't anymore, or I should have played outside more, read more, watched less TV because it was awesomely terrible in the 80's and 90's (who here remembers Jem?  Rock star by day, superhero by night--good stuff).

And somewhere along the way, when you either have kids or think of having kids (do not start bump watching me-I will flick you in the eye), you start to think you should have talked to your parents more.  Not that I didn't talk to my parents, I did.  But you have a selective memory when you are a kid.  At a certain age, you start omitting events-some small, some larger-but it is because you want to be more independent and work through problems yourself, which is not a bad thing.

Yesterday while reviewing Wednesdays in the Tower, I came to realize how much this omission has been bothering me in lately.  Here's Celcie trying to raise a griffin, and she needs help, she needs and wants to tell her parents, but the castle is preventing her.  Is this a good message to send to kids?  Not that anyone will actually get away with trying to raise a pet without their parents knowing, although this is the kind of wacky caper that makes a perfect children's book, but the message is still there-don't tell mom.  

And in Wonder, Auggie is being seriously bullied at school, but time and again, he doesn't tell his parents.  As an adult, that hurt.  I wanted him to talk it out, but I'm not the target audience.  His actions were spot on, and young readers will likely relate.  Unfortunately, there was precious little that his parents or teachers could do, but with good friends, he overcame it all.  

While the adult in me is starting to bristle at the idea of children not running to their parents with every problem, every piece of information, I know that is not reality.  I know that children need to work through their own problems, and that the older they get, the more serious the problems become.  I can still pretty clearly remember when I was younger and wanted desperately to handle my problems all by myself, just like the characters in these books.  It's a good thing.  Children's literature is not sending out a bad message, rather books are giving readers a space to safely learn how to handle problems.  

Someday, when I have littles (again, someday), I will want them to come to me with every little thing, every little problem because I would chase away all the monsters if I could, but that's not going to happen.  Just like book characters, children and teens need to have secrets, even if only for a little while, so they can learn and grow, and the adult in me is just going to have to get over it.  But the kid in me will cheer that they can overcome their problems all by themselves.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Wednesdays in the Tower

Sure, Tuesdays in the Castle didn't necessarily need a sequel, but when you've got a good thing, why not expand on it?  That's exactly what Jessica Day George did here, although while the first book easily stands alone, Wednesdays in the Tower requires a follow-up.  

On her way to classes one Wednesday, Celcie discovers a stairway leading to a tower where she discovers a large egg.  She cares for the egg and hatches it by herself, and gets a big surprise when a griffin comes out!  It seems that the Castle is determined for her to keep this a secret, but she is able to enlist the help of her brother Bran and friend Pogue.  Meanwhile, the Castle is adding more and more rooms, some of them quite odd, so Bran calls on his wizard mentor for help, but gets Wizard Harkness, a secretive and strange man, instead.  Celcie is busy trying to contain Rufus, her griffin, while the family is trying to understand the Castle and everything comes to a boiling point when Wizard Harkness turns out to know more than he's willing to admit.  While Wednesdays is missing some of the frivolity of Tuesdays, it is still a delightful and fantastical book that many readers will greatly enjoy.  

Like any sequel, I was satisfied, but enjoyed the first book more.  In the first book, the Castle seemed more amusing and more alive, while in this book it was just reclaiming all of it's missing pieces, not rearranging itself to the delight and terror of its occupants.  The relationship between Rufus the griffin and Celcie further underscores that she is the real hero of these books, despite being the youngest, and a girl at that.  I do think that boys would enjoy this book, despite the female protagonist, although they will surely want a griffin when all is said and done.

One nagging point, and this comes up very often in children's literature:  Celcie was not allowed to tell her parents about the griffin.  I know this is a common theme meant to empower readers, but it is starting to make me think.  In so many books, children do not or cannot go to their parents or other adults for help, and is this the right message?  Although in this case you could argue that Celcie was receiving help from an ages old Castle, which is similar to an adult.  I think I might have found my discussion topic for tomorrow's post!

For a book that didn't need a sequel, a whole series is about to follow.  While I don't think this will be a runaway hit, it is fun and light and should easily attract readers with a little word of mouth.  As much as it pains me to say this, it would also make a great animated movie, which would mean merchandising, a soundtrack featuring Taylor Swift, and many other evils.  Never mind, this would be a terrible movie, just dreadful.  In fact don't read the book.  Unless you are a imaginative child or adult with no connections to Hollywood what-so-ever.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mrs. Noodlekugel

Amid tall, tall buildings lies a quaint little house, with a garden and a porch, and in that quaint little house lives Mrs. Noodlekugel.  Nick and Maxine first spot this little house from their apartment and ask janitor Mike how to get there, but their parents tell them not to bother the woman that lives there.  But in true youthful fashion, they venture to the house anyway and discover the simple wonders that live there.  This is a delightful books for young fans of Mary Poppins, Amelia Bedelia, and other fictitious nannies.

Again, this was a Cinjoella pick that I was able to check out as an e-book from my library.  What is so lovely about Mrs. Noodlekugel is that she does not appear to be magic in anyway, rather, things just happen.  She taught her cat how to talk, there's nothing special about that, and the gingermice just run away, it's strange, but that's the way of things.

Thankfully, Mrs. Noodlekugel will be back with more adventures.  Readers will be able to continue discovering new and surprising occurrences with Nick and Maxine and surely the cat and mice will be back too.  Highly recommended for early readers and for shared reading.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Spindlers

Liza wakes one morning to find that her brother has been taken by the spindlers, creepy little spider people who steal away your soul and leave a crumbling, changeling body in its place.  But Liza knows all about spindlers thanks to her babysitter, Anna, and she is going below to get her brother back.  She literally falls on her guide, a rat named Mirabella, and the two travel through the Below to the spindler's nest where Liza finds herself betrayed and more alone than ever.  Now she must get her brother's soul back, or risk losing her own soul to the spindlers.

I have such mixed feelings about this book.  It's one part changeling story and one part Gregor the Overlander.  Like I said yesterday, I had trouble getting into The Spindlers.  I tried several times, then, as my borrowing period was about to expire, I gave it one last push.  I felt that for a changeling story, it was okay, but nothing new.  I kept remembering a less than popular book that I reviewed several years ago, The Unseen World of Poppy Malone:  Gaggle of Goblins.  Poppy's little brother was replaced with a changeling, no one believes her and she goes to save him.  In this book, Liza's younger brother is replaced by a changeling, no one believes her and she goes to save him.  All changeling books are going to work like that (unless it is the deliciously dark YA book, The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff, where the changeling sticks around to adolescence and fights against his own people to save the children of his town).

My problem is audience.  Poppy Malone was pretty light-hearted, I'd say for third graders, but The Spindlers can be pretty intense, so it is going up against the Gregor crowd.  And I'd say as far as broad appeal, Gregor wins.  It has a male protagonist, a huge gross-out factor, and is a continuing series.

Due to my love for Liesl and Po, I was expecting more, but I got a lackluster, cliche story like Delirium instead.  Yes, Liesl and Po is also pretty cliche, but in a different, less fantastical way.  I felt like The Spindlers and Delirium both were reusing pretty common fantasy elements, and it frankly bored me.  But maybe I am wrong.  I know that Delirium is a wildly popular series, even though I'm not on board with it, and The Spindlers could entirely be a huge hit with the middle grade set.  That's what I miss about not being a librarian, I know my opinion, but it is so much harder to find out the opinion of the readers.  Maybe I'll turn VBS into a book club so I can get a little feedback.  Nope, better not, it's going to be hard enough to pull as is.

So, I give The Spindlers a heartfelt 3, it's a solid effort, but just not blowing me away.

Happy Reading!