Wednesday, February 29, 2012

On Meadowview Street

On Meadowview Street is a wonderful simple story about a little girl named Caroline who moves into a new house. All of the houses on the street look exactly the same. So do all the yards. Caroline wants to go explore her street to see if there really is a meadow on Meadowview Street when she notices a pretty pink flower growing in her yard. She convinces her dad not to mow over the little flower and sets up a twine boundary line around the flower. 

Soon she notices another flower growing outside her flower sanctuary. She increases the size of the preserve. She increases the size of the preserve again and again to accommodate all of the interesting plants that start to grow. She begins to notice butterflies coming to her preserve. 

Caroline's dad sells the mower, they plant some trees, build bird houses, and put in a small pond. Pretty soon other neighbors down the street start to follow suit.

As someone who studied 'environmental studies' in college, this book has found a place in my heart. I love that it encourages children to notice the ecology in their own backyard. I love that it encourages people to give up their lawn mowers and stop fertilizing their grass. (Please. If you're reading this, stop fertilizing your grass too.) 
On Meadowview Street
By Henry Cole

I would make a couple critiques of the book, however. One is that most adults will not willingly and easily give up mowing their lawn and let their lawn to go to seed. Another is that if we were to all do it just that way-- stop mowing and see what happens-- we would most likely just have a bunch of invasive weeds pop up, like dandelions. We all wouldn't have the idyllic pink, orange, blue and white flowers pictured in the book. Also, I would have really liked to see the author/illustrator give detail to the plants and birds that start to show up in Caroline's backyard, since one of the purposes of this story is to get kids to begin to notice the plants and animals they could find at home. One spread at the end of the story shows animals and a few plants that Caroline started to see, but I would have liked to see these throughout!

Anyway, overall, this is a delightful little story with a great message. Great for beginning to instill an appreciation for nature in children.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Their Eyes Were Watching God
By Zora Neale Hurston

I read Their Eyes Were Watching God for the first time when I was in high school, and the majority of books I had read up to that point were geared toward kids my age. There were the few exceptions, of course, but most real 'literature' had come across as strange and unsettling for me, so I mostly avoided it. Yes, I admit it. Their Eyes Were Watching God was required for the college-level literature class I was taking and my opinion of it was no different than my opinion had been of The Grapes of Wrath. 

Weird. What I hadn't liked about it before was the way Janie had left her first husband and then not found happily-ever-after with her second husband. She did find happily-ever-after with Tea Cakes, a man about half her age, outside of wedlock. This all disturbed me. I also was uncomfortable with the references to sex, having never been married or had sex myself.

So, when our adult book club was scheduled to read Hurston's work this February (to get us thinking about Black History month), I was nonplussed.

But a funny thing happened when I started reading this work for the second time. I loved it. I was able to accept and get past the rough edges of Janie's relationships with men and appreciate a view into southern black culture in the 1930's that I hadn't seen before. I was also able to appreciate the unique similes and pictures Hurston uses to explain herself.

Here's an excellent example from when Janie realizes her second marriage isn't the happy ending she had dreamed it should be:

Janie stood where he left her for unmeasured time and thought. She stood there until something fell off the shelf inside her. Then she went inside there to see what it was. It was her image of Jody tumbled down and shattered. But looking at it she saw that it never was the flesh and blood figure of her dreams. Just something she had grabbed up to drape her dreams over."

Lovely. I won't go on and on about this book, but I encourage anyone to read this who wants to get a broader view of life in the United States or who wants to read about a strong woman or who simply wants to get a taste of talented writing.

Some Awesome Nonfiction for Kids

I just wanted to quickly share with you some amazing (in my opinion) nonfiction books for kids. 

Sylvan Dell Publishing has put out a number of books that deal with science, math, and geography in fun ways for kids. The paintings in the books are big and bright, and subjects that could be made dry and difficult for kids to grasp (like 'habitat') are made fun and interesting.

One of my favorites is called Habitat Spy by Cynthia Keber-King and Christina Wald. This book is set up like an I Spy book, where the reader is asked to search for certain items. Each page spread features a different habitat: a backyard, a meadow, a pond, and so forth. The pictures are drawn to accurately represent plants and animals. I appreciate that kids aren't only asked to look for big ticket items, like deer and fox. They're also asked to look for algae and lichen. I love it! You can find this particular book here.

Another of my favorites is Deep in the Desert. This book puts different aspects of desert ecology to the rhythms of traditional children's songs. My coworker and I sat in our office one day and sang through the book. The songs don't sound awkward in more than a couple of places. Such a fun way to learn about the desert! You can find Deep in the Desert here.

Goyangi Means Cat

Goyangi Means Cat
By Christine McDonnell
Pictures by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher

Because my husband and I have been considering adoption for a couple of months now, I was instantly drawn to this book. Also, I like cats. Any book that paints cats in a favorable light instantly wins bonus points.

This is the story of a little girl adopted from Korea. Though the book doesn’t say how old she is, she appears to be about five years old. Everything is new to the little girl, from the language to the food, to the strange hair and skin color of her parents. But she instantly forms an attachment with Goyangi, the cat. The cat is what begins to make Soo Min feel at home in her new house with the new language and new tastes.

I appreciated that this book portrayed a less typical adoption. When people think of adoption (at least most people I know), they think of adopting infants. Not a bad thing. But I appreciated the reminder that there are many wonderful loving and lovable children who have passed that magic threshold between toddler and child but who still need a family. I also liked that the author made it obvious that Soo Min missed Korea, that it was hard for her to adjust to a new life in the United States

Based on what I’ve been reading and learning about adoption over the past few months, I don’t think it was necessarily a wise idea for Soo Min’s parents to bring her to the park and the library all within her first week home. Soo Min has some major culture shock to work through, and the whole family no doubt has attachment challenges galore that they will have to persevere through as a family. But I won’t climb up on a soapbox about adoption. Don’t worry. I don’t know nearly enough about it to do that.

All in all, though, a great book. Check it out!

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Boy from the Dragon Palace

The Boy from the Dragon Palace
Retold by Margaret Read MacDonald
Illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa

The genre of folktales is one that is sadly overlooked in the children’s department at our library. When weeding books out of our collection this past spring, I was conscious of how very many folktales retold for children do not get checked out. When books don’t get checked out, we weed them out to make room for books that will get checked out. But I wish that more families would read the folktales.

This Japanese folktale and cautionary tale is about a poor flower seller whose one act of generosity earns him a thank you gift from the Dragon King. The gift is a little boy with a very snotty nose. The flower seller is told that if he feeds the little boy shrimp with vinegar and sugar, he will bring the flower seller luck.

The flower seller discovers that if he wishes for something when he feeds the little snot-nosed boy, the little boy will blow whatever the man wishes for out of his nose after he has finished eating. (Really? Lucky snot?)

The man wishes for more and more things each day, as he feeds the little snot-nosed boy. Eventually, though, the flower seller begins to feel resentful of the little snot-nosed boy. It takes too much time out of his day to feed the little boy. Watching him eat the shrimp is disgusting. So, he turns the little snot-nosed boy out of his palace and tells him to go back where he came from.

The little boy does… and takes with him all of the gifts the flower seller wished for, leaving the flower seller very alone and very, very poor.

The beautiful pictures in this book, as well as the bizarre nature of the story intrigued me. I love stories that teach us to use and value the idea of enough and this tale does that. I think this story would work well as a read-aloud, possibly to children five to seven years old. 

Locating Reviews on Books that Interest You

At the suggestion of my brilliant husband, I have now added pages that you can get to via the tabs up at the top of this blog that list and link to every book I have reviewed on this blog. The books are listed in alphabetical order, by author, thanks to my ingrained librarian tendencies. 

Let me know if you have other suggestions that would make this blog easier to navigate!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Plant a Kiss

Plant a Kiss
By Amy Rosenthal
Illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

 It goes like this.
Little Miss
planted a kiss.

Thus begins this very simple yet profound story about a little girl who plants a kiss. She nurtures it with sunshine, water, and her affection and waits for it to grow. Eventually her kiss sprouts, and she calls all her friends to gather and see. Her friends are amazed, but when Little Miss decides to share her kiss, she is told “Don’t you dare! It’s far too rare! It’ll go bare!” Little Miss doesn’t care and she harvests bits of her kiss to share with others. She shares all over the place, and when she returns to her kiss, she realizes the sharing has caused it to grow bigger and more beautiful than ever.

This story is a good example of the maxim “Less is more.” Through simple illustrations and limited narration, the author practically trumpets the value of generosity. I love this story. I don’t know that it would work well as a read-aloud with a group, but I think every child should have the opportunity to read this book with an adult multiple times.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility
By: Jane Austen

I listened to the entirety of Sense and Sensibility from a download off of LibriVox. If you haven’t checked out LibriVox before, you should now. (Check it out here.) LibriVox is an online organization that puts classical works of literature that are currently in the public domain into audio form. The readers are all volunteers (which means that if you have a nice-sounding voice and can read with some expression, you should contact them).

In any case, I enjoyed listening to Sense and Sensibility, possibly more than I would have enjoyed reading it. I love Jane Austen, but recently, while listening to Sense and Sensibility, a suspicion snuck into my head that maybe, just maybe, I enjoy watching movies based off of her novels than reading them.

Gasp. I know.

Emma Thompson’s 1995 interpretation of Sense and Sensibility is by far one of my favorite movies and I’ve seen it enough times that I would be embarrassed to type the number. And because I’ve seen it so many times, I was very conscious when finally listening to the book of where Emma Thompson pared down the conversations, cut out characters, and tweaked scenes. I confess, I agreed with her most of the time. Maybe just because I saw the movie first, so many times that it’s firmly embedded in my memory, but even so. I didn’t think the characters of Lucy Steele’s sister, Lady Middleton and all of her children added much flavor to the story, and I thought the conversations near the end of the story between Marianne and Colonel Brandon that sealed their affection were much more satisfying in the movie. (They were pretty much nonexistent in the book. It was more implied that Marianne and Colonel Brandon married.)

Maybe I just need to read Sense and Sensibility again. I can’t believe that I just suggested that I might like a movie better than a book. I just might reread the book in a year or two. The world of Jane Austen is a safe, rose-tinted world that is refreshing to escape to sometimes, even if I must sit through one more polite conversation than I would prefer.

Friday, February 24, 2012


By: Ally Condie

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. In the same dystopia genre as The Giver and Among the Hidden and even The Hunger Games, Matched tells the story of a girl named Cassia living in a society far in the future. In this society, almost all choice has been eliminated from the lives of people and is instead in the hands of the Society. Almost all cancer and other illnesses have been eradicated, but at a high cost. Citizens do not choose what they wear, where they live, what they eat (or how much), or who they marry.

In this society, at age 17, all young adults are put into a pool and are matched based on their genetic make-up and personalities. Matches are created to provide for the optimal gene mix for when the couple has children and for optimal changes of familial happiness.

The book opens with Cassia’s Matching ceremony, where she happens to be matched to her best friend Xavier. However, when Xavier’s face appears on the screen as her Match, his face disappears and is replaced by another face, the face of another boy whom she happens to know, named Ky. Just that one glimpse of another boy’s face prompts Cassia to begin to question the Matching system and the Society as a whole. As Cassia’s interest in Ky develops and as she and Ky share a forbidden poem from her grandfather, Cassia must confront her questions and decide whether the security the Society offers is worth more than her forbidden relationship with Ky and the chance to make choices.

I’ve enjoyed pretty much every futuristic dystopia novel that I’ve read, and this one was no exception. I enjoyed the delicious horror of imagining a society in which all choice has been taken away, and I enjoyed the slight hint of romance. To me, the society the author created felt believable, although I did wonder what would have to happen in the world for people to be willing to give up the ability to make choices. (Maybe the author will write a story set between present day and the time when Cassia lives. I would read that.)

Warning: Do not read the next paragraph if you don’t want the story spoiled for you.

One quarrel I did have with the story was that at the end, after Ky is taken away to fight in the war, Cassia decides she needs to go find him. Her parents seem to understand without her saying anything that she has fallen in love with a person who is not her Match, and they immediately offer to help her in any way they can to find Ky. I thought this wrapped up the story a little too quickly and neatly. The parents have lived their whole lives under the thumb of the Society government, and nowhere else in the story do they show signs that they question the Matching system or the Society. I thought that if the author wanted to use the parents to help Cassia, she should have showed them to rebel against the government and its systems a little bit before the end of the story.

But overall, I sincerely enjoyed Matched and I look forward to reading the next in the triology, Crossed!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

"The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories" by Dr. Seuss

When I started reading The Bippolo Seed and Other Lost Stories by Dr. Seuss, I was eagerly expecting to immerse myself in the fanciful rhymes and rhythms that are so characteristic of this author. I was not disappointed.

But before I even made it to the stories, I was drawn into the introduction, where I learned a few interesting tidbits about the life of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss, whose given name was Ted Giesel, published short stories like the ones found in this book in magazines from 1948 to 1959. The magazines, like Redbook and Children’s Activities, were read and thrown away when the new month’s magazine came.

The stories in this book represent Dr. Seuss’s writing philosophy which had changed after World War II. During that time he saw the lives and values of German and Japanese children who were reared in propaganda altered. He began to take his work as a children’s author more seriously, believing that authors could educate children through reading.

The first story in this book, The Bippolo Seed, is about a duck who discovers a magical seed in a box:

“Who finds this rare box will be lucky, indeed,
For inside this box is a Bippolo Seed!
Plant it and wish! And then count up to three!
Whatever you wish for, whatever it be
Will sprout and grow out of a Bippolo Tree!”

The duck decides that because he doesn’t need much, he will just wish for a week’s worth of duck food. Before he has a chance to plant his seed, however, a cat, who overheard his musings, stops him and encourages him to think of more that he could wish for in order to become richer and happier. The duck warms to the idea and begins to list wildly all of the many things he will wish for. He gets “so dizzy and crazy with greed,” that he loses hold of the Bippolo seed. It falls into the nearby river, and no matter how much they search, the cat and duck can’t find the seed back again. This clever and slightly goofy fable teaches kids not to become greedy but to be content with having just enough.

The other six stories in the book are equally fun and full of Seussical quirks. Each story hides a gem of wisdom under the rhymes. In Dr. Seuss’s books, I am used to finding bright colorful pictures bursting out of each page I was a little disappointed when reading The Bippolo Seed story because there were very few pictures accompanying the story. I assume that this is because most of these stories were originally published in magazines, but I was still a little disappointed. Many of the stories later in the book do have more pictures, however, and the signature rhyming is as strong as ever in this book. I highly recommend it to parents, especially those with kids who can sit through and glean from a story without pictures. The kids who come to story time at our library love flannel board rhymes, and I think many of these stories would be fun to put onto a flannel board. I could see myself making a flannel duck, cat, seed, and box, as well as the items the duck wishes for, and reading the story with the accompaniment of the flannel items. So much fun!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature" by Nicola Davies

The ingeniousness of this book is that it teaches children about nature and also gently introduces them to looser, more flexible styles of poetry. Over 106 pages of breathtaking cut-paper illustrations, children are presented with poems and prose over subjects such as, “Listen to the Pond,” “Making Compost,” “Honey,” “Pond Dipping,” “Five Reasons to Keep Chickens,” “Leaves,” “Fungi,” and “Winter Trees.”

One of my favorite selections from this book is called “This is the Loaf that Jack Baked.” Presented in the same format at the well-known story, “This is the House that Jack Built,” this story teaches children that a loaf of bread comes from flour, which comes from grains of wheat, which comes from an ear, which comes from a stalk, which comes from a seed planted in the ground, which was planted by a person. What a clever way to teach children where food comes from!

Most of the poems in this book do not rhyme, and the similes and metaphors may be a bit difficult for younger children to grasp, but the illustrations in this book are what firmly sells it as a masterpiece. I appreciate how this book introduces children to the natural mysteries and wonders that can be found right outside one’s back door and subtly shows children exciting yet simple ways to explore nature.

A must-read!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

“Blackout” by John Rocco

I had never heard of John Rocco before I picked up this book. A few interesting facts about him: He used to help design attractions for the Walt Disney World’s Epcot; he created illustrations for the DreamWorlds movie Shrek; and he created the cover artwork for the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan. Who knew?

This book tells the story of a little girl (or boy—I honestly can’t tell and the book doesn’t say) living in an apartment building in a big city. One hot sticky evening, the little girl wants to play a table game, but her mom, dad, and sister are all too busy. The little girl goes to play video games by herself. Then, the electricity goes out, leaving the entire city in a blackout. The family huddles around the table and, with nothing else to do, plays a game by candlelight, until it gets too hot and sticky to stay in the house. They climb up to the roof, where they are amazed by the stars. They realize that other families are enjoying time on the rooftops as well. They then go down into the street and find a block party going on. When the lights come back on, the family goes back inside and resumes their pre-blackout activities. Pretty soon the little girl wanders into the room and shuts off the light. The story ends with the whole family again seated around the table by candlelight playing a board game.

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I liked the themes that it presented of getting rid of distractions and spending time together as a family. I liked that the family got to see stars. It’s sad to me that some children can grow up without ever being able to really see starts. However, this book does have a few drawbacks. For one thing, I don’t think it will work well as a read-aloud, given that it’s written in graphic novel format. I also thought that the block party up on the roof and the block party down on the street added an unnecessary element to the story. In light of the them of family spending time together, the parties felt like a little bit like an afterthought. Still a good book, however, and I would check it out for my kids!

"The Lightning Thief" by Rick Riordan

What if dyslexia and ADHD weren't just learning disorders? Percy Jackson has been kicked out of multiple schools. He's a trouble maker. What's worse, he also struggles with dyslexia and ADHD. Whene he turns 12, however, through a series of life altering events, Percy learns that hid dyslexia and ADHD are not the learning disorders that they appear to be. They are signs that he is the son of an ancient Greek god. Percy. with the help of his wimpy friend Grover, travel to Camp Half-Blood, a year-round camp for kids who are half-god. Getting to the camp alive is only a foretaste of the adventure to come. Percy must figure out which god is his father and then go on a quest to recover a powerful and lost item, all in time to prevent the gods from starting World War III!

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I learned a lot about Greek myths, which, though not an incredibly important life skill, is interesting historical trivia to have on hand. If I were to compare The Lightning Thief to Harry Potter, I think The Lightning Thief falls short in both plot and writing. The plot did not grab me as much, and I thought that hearing the story from Percy Jackson's point of view got a little bit irritating. He's kind of a contrary opinionated little kid. Two things I will say in favor of The Lightning Thief, however, are that it is more lighthearted than Harry Potter. In Harry Potter, the depiction of evil is... well done. In The Lightning Thief, the antagonist is a little more human (even though he is a god) and less formidable. Also, I appreciated the theme running through The Lightning Thief of showing kindness to everyone, not just the people who look like they would want kindness. 

However, when I compared Harry Potter to Percy Jackson to my coworker, who happens to be our library's young adult librarian, she said I was comparing apples to oranges. British author to American author... narrated in third person omniscient to written in first person. In either case, I liked Harry Potter better, but I still think I will finish the Percy Jackson series!

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Apple Pie ABC" by Alison Murray

This is a traditional ABC book, which shows off each letter of the alphabet in big bold colors on each page. However, I was delightfully surprised to see that the book tells a story from A to Z.

The story is of a dog whose owner, a little girl, makes an apple pie. When the pie comes out of the oven, the dog wants a piece. He finds a crumb, which only makes him more determined to get a taste of it. The little girl banishes him to his bed without apple pie, where he is miserable. He decides to try again. The dog finally manages to get at the pie by pulling it to the floor on the tablecloth. Despite his naughtiness, this little dog is absolutely loveable, and I left the book wanting apple pie myself.

I appreciated how this story used unusual words and phrases. The dog “ogles” the apple pie and “pines for it.” Very fun and very worth a read! I am going to try to remember this book for next fall’s story times at the library.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jane Eyre Retold

One of my favorite books of all time is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I fell in love with this book on a long car trip to Yellowstone when I was sixteen years old. The book surprised me in a delicious way. I had picked Jane Eyre up because I knew it was a ‘classic,’ and I wanted to expand my reading horizons, but I expected to have to plow my way through it. I was wrong. The book held my attention through the Bighorn Mountains, the Beartooths, and all the way to Yellowstone.

A few months ago, I picked up a retelling of Jane Eyre called simply Jane, by April Lindner. In Jane, Jane Moore is forced to drop out of the college she was attending when her parents die suddenly. She takes the job of nanny for a world-famous rock star named Nico Rathburn. I was a little skeptical when I started the book. (Rock star? Really?) 

Jane had some big shoes to fill. I mean, listen to this quote from Jane Eyre:

"We know that God is everywhere; but certainly we feel His presence most when His works are on the grandest scale spread before us: and it is the unclouded night sky, where His worlds wheel their silent course, that we read clearest His infinitude, His omnipotence, His omnipresence." 

I wouldn't have the guts to compete with that.

After having finished Jane months ago, I’m still not sure if I liked it or not. The author took a lot of the same phrasing from the original Jane Eyre, which I didn’t think always flowed well with the more modern story, but she did not include any of the lyrical imagery like that quoted above. In general, I found the story to be a little far-fetched and unbelievable. In some places the ridiculousness of the story got in the way of my enjoyment of it. Fantasy is one thing, in my humble opinion, but a sloppily crafted and implausible story is something different. Maybe I would have thought the same thing if I had read Jane Eyre back when it was a contemporary novel. Realizing that made me feel a little disappointed with the original Jane Eyre. Or at least suspicious. Was it a believable story? Was it well-crafted? I still don’t know, but I think I finally decided that I still love Jane Eyre and in this case, maybe ignorance is bliss.

I think teenage girls would really enjoy this book, but I’m not sure that it would inspire them to pick up the original Jane Eyre. And frankly, I’m not sure I would want my teenage daughter reading this (if I had a teenage daughter). The original Jane Eyre doesn’t have premarital sex in it, or at least I’ve never picked up on it, and I was a little disappointed with the casual attitude taken toward sex in this book.

Regardless of being a little disappointed with Jane, I still found it gripping and lost a little sleep over it. (Unfortunately, I am not one of those people who can’t stay awake reading when they’re tired. Their bodies kick in and make sure they get enough sleep. Mine doesn’t.) I would recommend this book to anyone who has read and enjoyed Jane Eyre and who can maintain an open mind when reading retellings of classics

Three Pajama Stories

"Llama Llama Red Pajama" by Anna Dewdney

I snickered my way through this charming little story. In simple rhyming verses, this book tells the story of a little llama who finds he’s a little afraid of the dark once his mama has put him to bed and gone downstairs. The pictures and the story progression will be very familiar to any parent (or babysitter, for that matter) who has ever had to put a reluctant child to bed more than once in an evening. But Llama Llama Red Pajama is not only entertaining for parents. Children will take a good lesson away from this book, too, when they are reminded that when mama goes downstairs from tucking them in bed, there is no need to be afraid.

"Pajama Pirates" by Andrew Kramer

 In Pajama Pirates first-time author Andrew Kramer tells the story of three siblings’ dream about adventuring as pirates. The muted dreamlike quality of the pictures makes this story mesmerizing. Though the rhyming verses in this story sometimes sound a little forced, overall this is a delightful story.

"Polly’s Pink Pajamas" by Vivian French

Polly loves her pink pajamas more than anything, and she wears them all the time. Then one day her friend Fred invites her to his house for a party. Polly becomes worried, sure that she needs party clothes for this special event. She runs to various friends’ houses to borrow different clothing items. When she gets home she realizes that all of the clothes she has borrowed are either too big or too small. She thinks she has nothing to wear… or does she? Ultimately, this is a story about learning to be content in your own skin, and it also teaches a little bit about colors. Very cute!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

"Piggy Bunny" by Rachel Vail

Liam is a perfect little piglet who dreams of nothing other than being the Easter Bunny. He practices hopping, he tries to enjoy salad, and he tries to deliver eggs. At first his family doesn’t believe in him. His parents try to convince him he is a perfect piglet and doesn’t need to be an Easter Bunny, but Liam remains unmoved in his desire to be the Easter Bunny. His family continues to disbelieve. His neighbors start to talk. And Liam starts to wonder, what if they are right?

Liam sighed. “This is the kind of problem,” he said, “that is called heartbreaking.”

Liam’s grandma decides to help Liam. She helps him order an Easter Bunny suit on the Internet, and when it comes, Liam puts it on. When he looks in the mirror, he doesn’t see the string hanging down in his face or the crooked ear. He doesn’t even feel itchy. Because he sees staring back at him the Easter Bunny. Liam hops. Liam delivers eggs. And everyone believes in him.

This is a fun story about believing in your dreams, even when other people don’t believe in you. Liam has one person who starts to believe in him and offers to help him achieve his dream. The story reminds me how important it is for me as an adult to take children seriously, believe in them, and love them for who they are. What child might I help to achieve his dream of becoming the Easter Bunny?

(Oh, and I also think this book would be great for children!)

"And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon" by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel

This is a delightful read, especially for anyone familiar with nursery rhymes. When Dish and Spoon run too far away, it’s up to the cow, the dog, and the cat to go and find them. Their chase takes them to Boy Blue’s haystack, Miss Muffet’s house, the Big Bad Wolf’s house, and finally a beanstalk. Peppered with allusions to other nursery rhymes (and puns that probably only adults and older children will catch), this story is a must-read for anyone who wants to impart the fun and value of traditional nursery rhymes to their children!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

"Imagine a Day" by Sarah L. Thomson

Imagine a Day invites children to stretch their imaginations through pictures. Though the book doesn’t have a storyline, each page spread tells a story in and of itself. The paintings are what make the book stand out, but the few words on each page pack a powerful punch. Every page spread boasts one beautifully rich painting that is also a spectacular, colorful optical illusion. Looking at the pages, I wished I could just step inside! The final picture in the book alludes to the excitement of reading.

Imagine a day...
… when a book swings open
on silent hinges,
and a place you’ve never seen before
welcomes you home.

Imagine… today.

Sarah L. Thomson and Rob Gonsalves, the illustrator for this book, have teamed up previously to put together "Imagine a Place" and "Imagine a Night." I haven't explored those books yet, but I definitely will after reading "Imagine a Day."


"I Wish I Were a Butterfly" by James Howe

This story is about a little cricket who thinks he is ugly because a frog tells him so. He goes to different bugs—a glowworm, a ladybug, a dragonfly—to share his woes about being ugly and plain. He has a reason to envy every other insect he meets. The glowworm will turn into a beautiful lightning bug, the ladybug is the color of laughter, and the dragonfly has jewels all over his body. He finally goes to see the Old One, who is a spider. The little cricket thinks that not even the Old One can understand his pain because she is beautiful too. The Old One helps the little cricket understand that being loved is what makes someone beautiful.

“Why, if I were to believe what everyone says about me, I would think myself quite, quite ugly. But I don’t believe everyone, you see. And I certainly don’t believe that grumpy old frog who lives at the edge of the pond. I believe you because you are my friend. You think I’m beautiful, and so I am.”

The big pictures in this book make it excellent to read aloud to groups of children. I love that the story is told with insects, insects that most children would not consider beautiful. Even though this book is written for young children, I think that every pre-adolescent girl should be asked to read it too!

"Far From Here" by Nicole Baart

“I mean, we loved each other, we really did, but nobody told me that years would go by and in the end we wouldn’t be the same people as we were when we began.”

It is only appropriate that the first review to display itself bravely on the empty blog wall be on a book by a favorite author. Far From Here, recently published, tells the story of Danica Greene and her marriage to a pilot. After ten years of marriage, Etsell takes an assignment flying to Alaska, from which he and his plane disappear. Danica searches and then waits, but ultimately she must decide how long to hold onto hope for her missing husband, and after he is gone, she must come to terms with the reality of the relationship she has lost.

Nicole Baart’s lyrical prose at times is beautiful enough to make my breath catch in my throat, and yet, it does not choke out the story with unnecessary detail. Through this story I was made to imagine what it would be like to reach that point from which you feel that you cannot go on, and yet, you find the strength to move forward, one painful step at a time. A beautiful, searing story that will whisper in your ear long after you put the book down.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Making Introductions

If you have graced me with your presence here in this hushed and homely blog space because you know me, the steaming mug of tea at my elbow will not surprise you. Neither will knowing that I am starting a blog to comment on the books that I read.

For those of you who don’t already know me, let me introduce myself. I love to read, and I am hopelessly captivated by tea and other hot drinks: coffee, lattes, hot chocolate… All delicious. If I were to invite you into my home now to discuss these books that will shortly appear in this blog, you would notice that the sun is painting long cheerful stripes across the carpet. But don’t let that fool you; our windows are old and a bit drafty. You may want to bring your slippers next time. 

I would usher you into our kitchen and sit you down in a chair the color of wheat at a table to match. Then I would stand in front of my tea cupboard calling out options to you, “Chamomile? Peppermint? Chai? Earl Gray? Green? Hot chocolate?” The water would boil, and I’d set our tea to steep in mismatched mugs. I would come and take a chair kitty-corner from you, cupping my always cold hands around the mug, and we would talk about books.

I have been an avid reader since childhood. My mom unearthed this picture to celebrate my birthday a month ago:

My attitude toward books has not changed much since this picture was taken (although, now I can read the books).

I am currently a children’s librarian in our town’s public library, and I love the many opportunities I have to share a love of reading with the adorable little squirts that come to one of our weekly preschool programs.

My love of tea does not stem quite as far back as my love of books. I began to love tea in college, and when I couldn’t give up hot drinks even while sweltering in the tropical rain forests of Belize, I knew I was hooked.

If you are still reading at this point, then you are probably a reader too. Naturally, you will want to know what kinds of books I like to read and will be commenting on in this blog. As a children’s librarian, I try to read a wide variety of what we add to our library collection, so I hope that to some extent the selections I share will be diverse. However, I’m sure my personal preferences will shine through as well.

Some of my favorite authors to date include: C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, Madeleine L’Engle, Roald Dahl, Robin McKinley, Gail Carson Levine, Patricia C. Wrede, and my most recently Nicole Baart. You will hopefully find commentary on a wide range of children’s, young adult and adult books, but you will certainly see those names again, as well as authors in the same genres.

I hope that this blog will give you a place to talk about books that you have read, read what others are saying about certain books, and, most of all, a place to find new books to share with children or read by yourself. The best books are those that leave us just slightly different, better, after they have finished with us, and I hope you find some of those books here.

Grab a cup of tea, a stack of books, and join me!