Archive for November, 2012


Grease is the word

I just finished watching the latest episode of Glee, well the last one I can view on Hulu anyways which was on Nov 15, “Glease“. I have no cable TV so sometimes takes me awhile to catch up with shows. Now I’m a huge Glee fan and an even bigger Grease fan, so I was very excited to see this episode, which featured many of my favorite songs from the movie musical. My history with Grease goes back to my middle school days. Yes, I am aware that the movie came out in 1978, which was a few years before I was even born. But for some reason, the movie regained its popularity in the early 90s, probably in the same way that I grew up watching sitcoms from the 50s and 60s, like My Three Sons and The Monkees. Anyways, when I was about 12, I had this group of girls that I hung out with and we liked to call ourselves “The Pink Ladies,” just like the girls in the movie did. My best friend, the first guy I was ever in love with, got me the soundtrack for my birthday. I didn’t fault him the fact that it was a single from the Broadway musical version, though I was a little disappointed truth be told. This was the version of the song that I wanted. And yes, I know that the movie is very outdated in its ideals and the fact that most of its co-stars were way over the age of teenagers when they took the roles, but it is still a fun movie to watch and sing along to. I think there is probably a tie between Sandy and Rizzo for my favorite characters in the movie, although I gotta say that the characters they picked for those roles in “Glease” were excellent as well (I think Unique would’ve been fun for Rizzo, though Santana, as she said, was made for the role). And Grease is honestly the only movie I can really stand John Travolta in, with the possible exception of the Look Whose Talking? movies (what can I say? I’m a child of the 90s). Here are some fun factoids I found on the movie, with some of my commentary:

  • Due to a zipper breaking, Olivia Newton-John had to be sewn into the trousers she wears in the last sequence (the carnival at Rydell). [which makes sense given how tight the pants are]
  • Henry Winkler, who became a sensation as “Fonzie” on Happy Days, was considered for the role of Danny Zuko. However, he turned down the role for fear of being typecast.
  • Carrie Fisher was considered for the role of Rizzo. [I think she might’ve worked for the role, but I loved Stockard Channing in the role, she’s more feisty; plus honestly, I’m not sure most people would have any idea who she was if not for the movie]
  • It was released again in theaters in 1998 for a couple of reasons: to mark the 20th anniversary of the original and because the year before, a dance mix of songs from the soundtrack became a big hit on radio. [a couple of years after I first discovered Grease]
  • Danny’s blue windbreaker at the beginning of the film was intended as a nod to Rebel Without a Cause.
  • The original stage play had more sexual references than the censors wanted to allow. Among these was the use of plastic wrap as protection. To overcome the censors, there weren’t any blatant references but Danny rubs plastic wrap over his crotch during “Greased Lightning”. [which makes sense given the amount of censorship they do to it even now in the “Glease” episode and in high school musical versions everywhere]
  • The scene in Frenchy’s bedroom while Rizzo is singing the line about Elvis was actually filmed the same day that Elvis Presley died.
  • The dance contest scene was filmed during the summer, when the school was closed. The gym had no air conditioning and the doors had to be kept closed to control lighting, so the building became stifling hot. On more than one occasion, an extra had to be taken out due to heat-related illness.
  • The official premiere after-party was at Studio 54.
  • “Greased Lightning” was supposed to be sung by Jeff Conaway‘s character, Kenickie, as it is in the stage version. John Travolta used his clout to have his character sing it. The director felt it was only right to ask Conaway if it was okay. At first he refused, but he eventually gave in. [this makes Travolta look a bit like a douchebag in my opinion]
  • The original Broadway production opened at the Eden Theater on February 14, 1972 and ran for 3,388 performances, setting a record. Adrienne Barbeau and Barry Bostwick were in the original Broadway cast. John Travolta appeared at some time as a replacement on Broadway in the role of “Doody”. Marilu Henner, an alumna of the original Chicago production, appeared as a replacement in the role of “Marty”. Patrick Swayze and Treat Williams were both replacements as Danny Zuko. Richard Gere is also listed as an understudy to many male roles, including Danny Zuko. Gere played Zuko in the London production in 1973. [Richard Gere as Danny Zuko? Not sure about that, though he was definitely good looking enough in An Officer and a Gentleman made 9 yrs later; heck let’s be honest, he is still an attractive man now]
  • “Hopelessly Devoted To You” was written and recorded after the movie had wrapped. The producers felt they needed a strong ballad and had Olivia Newton-John come back to film her singing this song. This song ended up receiving an Academy Award nomination.
  • Stockard Channing was not the first choice for the role of Rizzo; Lucie Arnaz was allegedly dropped from consideration when her mother, Lucille Ball, called Paramount and said, “I used to own that studio; my daughter’s not doing a screen test!” (Ball actually owned the studio Desilu which was bought by Paramount). The part went to Channing when the casting director remembered seeing her with Lucie in the play, “Vanities” at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles (the third member of the cast was Sandy Duncan).
  • Jeff Conaway stated in an episode of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew that while filming the scene/song “Greased Lightning” he was dropped by his fellow cast members and injured his back leading to his addiction to prescription painkillers.
  • The highest-grossing movie of 1978.

I know it’s a little over half-way through the month, but I only found this today. Being out of the library circuit, I don’t follow what’s going on unless I see it my local library or happen to stumble upon it on FB. November being Picture Book Month, I found in my @ Your Library email that’s been sitting in my inbox for a couple of days. I love picture books, not just because I’m doing the Caldecott Challenge, but because they’re great for everyone. This link gives a list of picture books recommended by librarians across the country. I’ve heard of some, but not all of them. The best ones that I’ve read off that list include Miss Rumphias by Barbara Cooney, Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin (I’m a huge fangirl of all the Pete the Cat books, I love all the songs – check out this website for more info),  and The Arrival by Shaun Tan. There are plenty more book lists out there, depending on what you are looking for (which will include some overlap), including the Caldecott, NYC Public Library, or even the CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center).

I am one book away from reaching my second reading goal of the year, the first being 365 and now the second being 385. I’m gonna try for 400, but with only 1 1/2 months left in the year, I don’t want to push my luck. I am currently reading Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery, the second book in her Anne series and enjoying it. I read the first one, Anne of Green Gables, for a book club and liked it so much I’ve decided to read all eight of the books in the series. I’m also listening to book two of the Tunnels series by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, entitled Deeper. On to the book reviews. As always, I rate things from 1 – 5 stars, one being the lowest and 5 being the highest. The Caldecott Challenge is my attempt to read all of the Caldecott Honors and Award winners from 1938 – the present.

Children

Elephants Cannot Dance! by Mo Willems

I just had to check this one out for me and my son, as the prospect of Gerald in a tutu was amusing. He had more a flash dance outfit, which was still funny. Piggie tries to teach Gerald how to dance but he just can’t seem to get the hang of it and so give up. That is until two squirrels decide they want him to teach them how to dance, and Piggie joins in too. I loved the end pages. My son loved all the different voices I did with the characters, plus the pictures made him laugh. Highly recommended for ages 1-6, 4 stars.

Listen to My Trumpet! by Mo Willems

Piggie has a new toy, a trumpet, and wants to play it for Gerald. So she does and asks him what he thinks, and he doesn’t want to be mean, but tells her she’s not making music. But she’s not upset, because she tells him that she was trying to speak Elephant (and if you do all the sound effect noises that the trumpet makes, it does kind of sound like an elephant). So Gerald helps her sound more Elephant. My son loved listening to me do all the sound effect words. Highly recommended for ages 1-6, 4 stars.

Little Hoot by Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I’ve never actually read any of Krouse Rosenthal’s books, but they all look so adorable. So when I saw this one in the children’s section, I had to pick it up. Plus I love owls. This was a cute bedtime story about a young owl named Little Hoot whose parents won’t allow him to go to bed early, which he wants to do. Because he is a nocturnal animal, they make him go to bed late. The illustrations are precious and funny. Recommended for ages 1-6, 4 stars.

Mad About Madeline: The Complete Tales by Ludwig Bemelmans

I had already read the first two books in the collection as part of my Caldecott Challenge, but I enjoyed the stories so much I wanted to read the rest of them. So I found this book. The last four books are Madeline and the Bat Hat, Madeline and the Gypsies, Madeline in London, and Madeline’s Christmas. The first story is about Madeline and the other 11 boarding school girls getting to know Pepito, the son of the Spanish Ambassador, who moves in next door to them. The Gypsy story is about Pepito inviting Madeline and the girls over to his house to see the Gypsy Carnival, and after being left behind, they join the Gypsy circus and go traveling around France with them. Madeline in London is the next one, which is about Madeline and the girls going to visit Pepito, whose father has been transferred to London. The last story, finished just before the author’s death in 1962, is about a magical Christmas involving a rug merchant and everyone getting to see their families for Christmas. While I enjoyed these stories, I still like Madeline’s Rescue the best. Recommended for ages 1-8, 4 stars.

ABC Menagerie by M.H. Clark

Picked this one up in the abc book section at our local public library, and I must say I fell it love with it. The author worked with felt sculptor, Elena V. Tragioni to create these adorable rhymes about the creatures Tragioni created. Each creature starts with that particular letter of the alphabet, for example, “B [is for] Brunhilde the Bear. Brunhilde dips into the cold-running river, the fish swim right up to her eyes. But the thought of eating them sets her aquiver; for lunch, she has blackberry pie.” I thought it was a very original way of doing the alphabet, plus the animal sculptures are so cool-looking. Recommended for ages 3-6, 5 stars.

Sailor Boy Jig by Margaret Wise Brown

I picked this book up because I had been impressed with the author’s books lately and thought to give this one a try. It disappointed me. I mean the illustrations were super cute and funny, but I just couldn’t get into the story. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2 stars.

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

Another great book to do voices for, however, the story was a little abrupt. The bear is looking for his hat and asks everyone he sees if they have seen it. After awhile of looking but not finding, he realizes where he has seen it. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Love Flute: Story and Illustrations by Paul Goble

I picked up this book at the library book sale because it looked interesting and I love Paul Goble books, especially the illustrations. There is a full description (with references on the opposite page) about the love or courting flute before the story begins, so the reader has a background to the tale. I thought it was a sweet story about a young warrior who is too shy to tell the woman he loves that he is in love with her, that is until the Elk Men give him a flute. Through it he can weave his song along with those of the animals and birds and woo the woman he loves. Recommended for ages 3-8, 4 stars.

Houndsley and Catina (Houndsley and Catina #1) by James Howe

I would categorize this as a later stage easy reader chapter book. It is divided into three chapters. The first is about Catina, who has written a 74 chapter book but her friend Houndsley is afraid to tell her that it is no good, so he just tells her that it left him speechless. The second chapter is about how amazing Houndsley is at cooking, so his friends Catina and Bert encourage him to enter a cooking contest, but everything goes wrong. Houndsley is very soft-spoken, while Catina is the louder more energetic of the two. The third chapter is about how nervous Houndsley got at the cooking competition and how Catina wants to be a writer but hates writing, so they decide to find something they are both good at, which for the moment is just being with each other and watching fireflies. The book has very adorable illustrations and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series to my son! Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

The Elephant Wish by Lou Berger

I enjoyed this surrealistic story, though it lost me a bit at the end. The illustrations, in acrylic paint and crayons are whimsical and a bit strange, but so is the story, so they work well together. “The Elephant Wish” is about an eight year old girl named Eliza whose parents are too busy to play with her, so she wishes to be taken away by an elephant. Soon afterwards, an elephant named Cousin Floyd with a big floppy black hat does just that. Her parents realize how much they miss her, but for whatever reason don’t go looking for her, however, her 97 year old neighbor named Adelle does. She goes through her past and her dreams until she comes to the jungle where Cousin Floyd and his elephant family go in a continuous circle with Eliza. Adelle, who had wished for the same thing many many long years ago and had met Cousin Floyd the same way decides that she wants to stay with him and the elephants, but Eliza should go home. Eliza heartily objects to this, but eventually gives in and goes home. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Ant and Grasshopper by Luli Gray

This book was a less harsh version of the classic Aesop’s fable. In the original edition, the Ant works hard and saves food for the winter, while the lazy Grasshopper goofs off and starves to death when winter comes. In this version, Ant loves to count his food that he is saving for the winter. He meets Grasshopper, who does not prepare, but instead sings and plays outside so much that it distracts Ant. When winter comes, he no longer hears the music and goes out to investigate. Grasshopper is freezing outside with no food, so Ant invites him in to his home to rest and recover. In return, Grasshopper sings and plays for him, after he has finished counting. Each is envious of the other’s talents, and Ant realizes that there is room for both order and entertainment in his life. My favorite part was when they sung “Here We Come a Waffle-ing (to the tune of the Christmas tune “Here We Go a Wassailing”). Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.

The Wise Fool: Fables from the Islamic World

I really enjoyed this collection of short tales about Mulla Nasruddin, also called Khoja. His stories are found all over the Islamic world, including the Middle East, Turkey, Iran, and many other places. He was believed to be a traveling Sufi from Turkey. The author, in the introduction to the book, describes him as “the social and spiritual conscience of his community…and as the wise fool.” For more information on him, check out this website.

I had heard about him through one of the other collections of stories that I had gotten to read to my son, so when I found this volume in the library. The illustrations are amazing, part of what makes the book so good, as they are in bright happy colors and done in cut paper and original stamped designs. My favorite stories were “The Price of Steam,” “The Sweetest Poison,” “A Fair Reward,” and “Inside the Coat.” Highly recommended for ages 5+, 5 stars.

East of the Sun & West of the Moon by Mercer Mayer

A version of a Norwegian folktale, I absolutely loved Mercer Mayer’s story and especially the illustrations. A beautiful young girl is sent on a mission to help cure her ailing father, which involves getting a cup of water from the South Wind’s home. When she finally reaches her destination, she is assisted by a frog who asks for three wishes in payment. She agrees and later the frog comes by to visit her as his first wish. His second is that she come with him and be his wife, to which she refuses and throws him against the wall, killing the frog, but releasing the young man imprisoned in the frog from his curse. But he is now betrothed to the troll princess who cursed him in the first place, and she lives east of the sun and west of the moon. It takes the girl a very long time to reach the young man, but she gathers some help along the way, and it is with this help that she is able to defeat the trolls and marry the young man. Not bad for a random library book sale purchase. Recommended for ages 6+, 5 stars.

The Vicar of Nibbleswicke by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake

I picked this up randomly in the easy reader section while trying to find some books for my son. I thought it was hilarious, and it was a nice change from the usual bedtime books. This short story is about Reverend Lee, the very young new Vicar of Nibbleswicke. When he was a boy, he a very strong case of dyslexia, but it was pretty much cured by the time he was 18. He decided to go into the ministry and by age 27 had finished and was about to be sent on his first assignment. He stressed out so much about the appointment and making a good impression, that he gave himself Back-to-Front Dyslexia, which meant that he pronounced some words backwards. Most people in his congregation were either disgusted or amused, thinking his sermons were better than the boring stuff they were used to. Eventually he is helped by a local doctor who advises him to walk backwards to cure the illness, which he did from then on and added a mirror on his shoulder to see behind him. Highly recommended for ages 7+, 4 stars.

Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea by Steve Jenkins

I can never say enough how much I love Steve Jenkins’ books and artwork. He makes science learning fun. I got the book for my son, to read something different at bedtime, but his attention wasn’t really there last night. I enjoyed learning about the different creatures at depths of 0 to over 35,000 feet. My favorites to learn about were the flying squid, manta ray, Girdle of Venus Comb Jelly (great name, right?), Nautilus, Vampire Squid, Siphonophore, Giant Squid (what can I say, I’m fascinated by cephalopods), and Sea Lillies. The back of the book has even more information on all the animals listed, including a bibliography. Very well done book, and recommended for ages 6-12. 5 stars.

The Quite Contrary Man: A True American Tale  by Patricia Rusch Hyatt

I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while simply because I loved the cover illustration. The book is the true story of a man named Joseph “Beard” Palmer who didn’t fit in his New England village because he “dared to grow a beard.” Not just any beard but an enormous one that stretched from “chin to belly and from elbow to elbow.” This was during a time when all men shaved their faces, to match the French style. They believed he was un-American and many people tried to get him to cut it, once by force, which was how he got in trouble. His attackers tried to blame him for attacking them first and he was fined and then put in jail for a year. He refused to cut his beard there, even though it was one of the rules. Beard Palmer wrote letters to the newspaper explaining his bad conditions in jail, which were delivered by his son. Eventually he got a letter to the High Sheriff to get him out of solitary confinement. On the day he was to leave jail, the jailer tried to charge him for his room and board while in jail and he refused to pay and to leave. The jailer and sheriff took him outside and went home, leaving Beard Palmer free. I loved the whimsical fun illustrations that further explained the story in ways that words could not. There is a historical note in the back of the book about the history of facial hair and further history of the Palmer family. I liked that this book was about freedom of expression, justice and nonconformity, and made for an interesting story. Recommended for ages 8-12, 4 stars.

The Neddiad: How Neddie Took the Train, Went to Hollywood, and Saved Civilization by Daniel Pinkwater

Every time I passed this book in the children’s section of the library, I knew I wanted to read it. I just never had enough time. So when I saw it at the library book sale this past weekend, I knew I had to get it. And it was well-worth the wait. I didn’t notice till after I bought it that it had a glowing endorsement from Neil Gaiman (one of my favorite writers) on the back cover, and the story kind of reminds me of American Gods and Anansi Boys, because of the mythological aspect to the story. It was one of those weird fact-filled kind of books that I love, but done in such a creative way that I couldn’t stop reading it.

Neddie is a typical American kid, except his dad got rich off selling shoelaces to the military during WWII, so his family got rich and his dad is a little eccentric. Neddie and his father both want to eat at The Brown Derby, a hat restaurant in Los Angeles and they are in luck because it turns out the whole family is moving there. They take the train from Chicago to LA, and have some interesting adventures along the way. Once when the train stops, an Indian shaman named Melvin gives Neddie a stone turtle and tells him to keep it safe. He gets separated from his family in Flagstaff, Arizona and ends up driving to LA with a famous movie star, his son and a ghost named Billy. Will Neddie be able to protect the stone turtle? Or will the evil people who want to take it from him succeed? To find out, read this great quirky story. Recommended for ages 9-12, 5 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

Nothing at All by Wanda Gag

If this book wasn’t a 1942 Caldecott Honor winner, I probably would never have picked it up, although I do love Wanda Gag’s color illustrations. This book is about three orphaned dog brothers named Pointy, Curly and Nothing-at-all. They all live in a kennel together. One day two children come to adopt some dogs and see his brothers and take them home. Nothing-at-all follows them but loses them rather quickly. He meets a jackdaw who helps him become visible by repeating a magic chant and whirling in a circle for nine days, which gives him a shape and form. With his new visible body, he is able to rejoin his brothers and be adopted by the children. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

An American ABC by Maud & Miska Petersham

This book won a 1942 Caldecott honor (though my favorite winner book from that year is Paddle-To-The-Sea). As other reviewers have said it is a bit dated, but is a very descriptive patriotic ABC book with bits of American history. The illustrations are very blue with highlights of red, white and black, and are very detailed. My favorite letter was “K is for Knickerbocker, the name of a family of early Dutch colonists.” My favorite illustrations were “L is for Lincoln” and “Q is for Quakers.” Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.

Green Eyes by Abe Birnbaum

This was a very cute story about a white cat growing up from kitten to a 1 yr old cat, noticing the changes in winter and personal abilities as she grows up. The book won a 1954 Caldecott Honor. It has very large brightly colored black-outlined painted illustrations that are very simplistic and kids can relate to easily, as it looks like something a child might do. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.

The Forest Pool by Laura Adams Armer

Another book I read for the Caldecott Challenge, I had never heard of the book or author before finally getting a chance to read it in my local public library’s special collections. This book won a 1939 Caldecott Honor, though out of the three I’ve read from this year, this is my second favorite after Wee Gillis. It is the simple story of two Mexican boys named Diego and Popo, who want to catch an iguana to add to their zoo, which so far includes a parrot named Polly. The author used very vivid descriptions to describe the jungle that the boys lived and played in. The author/illustrator did full-page oil paintings that described the story. One review I found compared them to Diego Riviera paintings, and I can see what they mean in the colors and rounded shapes. My favorite part of the book, aside from the full-page paintings, were the little detailed ink drawings at the corner of the pages. These featured a step pyramid, Pre-Columbian art, local flora and fauna, and birds. Recommended for ages 3-8, 3 stars.

Cock a Doodle Doo by Berta & Elmer Hader

The version I read didn’t look like this, but it didn’t have a cover either, just a drawing of the chick with the title. It was a cute story about a chick who is brought up on a duck farm, and is lonely because he can’t swim like the other ducks. One day he hears another rooster, and set out on a journey across a forest to the other farm on the hill to find it. Eventually he finds the barn with the other chicks and is finally at home. As several reviewers have said, it is like a version of The Ugly Duckling story. It features painted and black & white illustrations. The book won a 1940 Caldecott Honor and although I have enjoyed other Berta and Elmer Hader books, this one was not one of my favorites. Recommended for ages 3-7, 2 stars.

Seven Simeons: A Russian Tale by Boris Artzybasheff

I know this book won a 1938 Caldecott Honor, and maybe they hadn’t quite worked out the kinks yet on the selection process since it was the first year, but this book should’ve won the award. It is based off a Russian folktale that the author/illustrator retold and illustrated himself in this brilliant line drawing style accented in red, green, gold and black. The drawings are very detailed and remind me filigree or manuscript illustrations, although another reviewer has compared them to Faberge eggs (which I can see as well). For the drawings alone, the man should’ve won the Caldecott. Even the end pages have an interconnected line drawing of the sun and moon.

His story is interesting too, instead of being just selections from the Bible. It is a folktale about a beautiful king named Douda who wants a bride as good-looking as himself. One day he comes upon a bountiful wheat field while touring his kingdom, which is owned by seven brothers, all named Simeon, who also possess some pretty incredible talents. The king is impressed with them all except the 7th who is a master thief, and he is arrested. But he enlists all the brothers’ help in order to help him marry the beautiful Princess Helena, who lives in a faraway island kingdom. The princess falls in love with Douda and they are married. I would love to own this book! Recommended for ages 5-9, 4 stars.

One Morning in Maine by Robert McCloskey

I enjoy Robert McCloskey books, but man does he write long children’s books. This one, which won 1953 Caldecott Honor, is all about a young girl named Sal, her sister Jane and her mother and father who live on an island in Maine. Sal has a loose tooth but loses it when she helps her father dig for clams on the shore. She would’ve wished for some chocolate ice cream if she had been able to keep it and make a wish. Sal, her sister and her father go to Buck’s Harbor to pick up groceries and get the motor on the boat fixed. While there, the owner offers her and her sister some ice cream. They go back home satisfied and eat some of the fresh clam chowder that their mother has made for them. I liked all the animals and birds featured in the book, along with the simple story of a girl and her family. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Madeline’s Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans

I really liked the first Madeline book, but this sequel is even better. It won a 1954 Caldecott Honor award and rightly so, as it is an adorable rhyming story with great illustrations. In this volume, our hero Madeline falls into the Seine and is rescued by a dog, which the girls of the boarding school adopt and name Genevieve. When the trustees of the school, led by Lord Cucuface, see the dog, they cast her out into the street. As soon as they leave, the girls and Miss Clavel go in search of Genevieve, but can’t find her anywhere. She eventually finds her way home and the girls are overjoyed, especially when later that night Genevieve has 11 puppies. Now all the girls have a dog and do not have to fight about it. Highly recommended for ages 1-7, 4 stars.

1 is One by Tasha Tudor

I had heard of Tasha Tudor in grad school as one of my professors was a huge fan of her work, and we had to watch a video on the author/illustrator in her class. I have been wanting to read her stuff for years as a result, but never had the time until now. This book won a 1957 Caldecott Honor. It is a very cute counting book, up to twenty, with precious illustrations. My favorite is “9 is nine red cherries on a white china plate” and “12 is twelve baby birds learning how to sing.” Highly recommended for ages 1-6, 4 stars.

The Thanksgiving Story by Alice Dagliesh

Ironic that I read a Thanksgiving book on Halloween, but I had started it a few days earlier and wanted something quick to read last night. This book won a 1955 Caldecott Honor. I personally was not impressed with it. The story was mildly interesting, told from the viewpoint of the Hopkins family, whose mother gave birth to a son while on the voyage to America and named him Oceanus. The family was on the Mayflower on the way from England to New Plymouth, and details their first year in the colony and their relations with the Native Americans. The first Thanksgiving seems to be almost an afterthought. I thought there was a lot of text and not enough illustrations, and the pictures they did have were too simplistic and blocky. Recommended for children ages 4-7, 2 stars.

The Talking Eggs by Robert D. San Souci

Aside from the Caldecott Challenge, I had wanted to read this book every since I found out that Jerry Pinkney did the illustrations. He makes a book come alive with his brilliant illustrations and this book was no different. In this adapted version of a Creole folktale, our main character is the meek but obedient Blanche and her cruel mother and sister Rose. Blanche does all the housework and takes care of her mother and sister but is never thanked for it. One day, she meets an old woman and gives her some water. Because she dawdled on the way home from chores, she is beaten and runs away. She meets the old woman again, who promises to take her home as long as she doesn’t laugh at anything she sees (and there is plenty to laugh at). The old woman proceeds to remove her head and groom her hair, but still Blanche says nothing. The old woman manages to feed both of them through magic and because Blanch was so good, she is allowed to take home some of the Talking Eggs. She cannot take the pretty gold, silver and jeweled ones, but only the plain ones, but she does not complain. She throws them over her left shoulder as instructed and they bring forth gold, jewels, clothes and a horse and carriage. Blanche brings them home and her greedy mother sends her sister Rose to find the old woman so they can have their own treasure. Rose doesn’t do as well as her sister, and is aptly punished. Great storytelling by San Souci. Highly recommended for ages 4-10, 5 stars.

Jambo Means Hello: Swahili Alphabet Book by Muriel Feelings, illustrated by Tom Feelings

I enjoyed this Alphabet look into the Kiswahili language and African culture. It included pronunciations of each Swahili word and a small description of what the word means. There are no letters Q and X in this alphabet. This book won the 1975 Caldecott Honor Award. The illustrations are amazing and the process through which he created them is explained in great detail in the back of the book. My favorite illustrations were “N is for ngoma (drum and dance)” and “Y is for yungiyungi (water lily),” with my favorite Kiswahili words being tembo, meaning elephant and zeze, meaning stringed instrument. Recommended for ages 1-6, 4 stars.

Cinderella by Charles Perrault, translated and illustrated by Marcia Brown

This book won the 1955 Caldecott Award. As the only other book that year that won an award was The Thanksgiving Story, it seems to not have had much competition. While I was not a fan of her artwork, I did enjoy Marcia Brown’s retelling of this classic fairy tale. The ending, in relationship to her sisters, was definitely a twist I had not seen before in Cinderella stories. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Pierre Pidgeon by Lee Kingman

I had to do an interlibrary loan to get a copy of this book, from Cameron University in Oklahoma, but it did come rather quickly, and I was impressed. This book won a 1944 Caldecott Honor award, along with “A Child’s Goodnight Book,” which I also enjoyed. Pierre lives in the French Canadian region of Gaspe. His father is a fisherman, and his mother bakes bread to sell to tourists to supplement their income. Pierre enjoys driving a dogcart, sailing on his father’s boat and build ship models. But he is blown away by the ship in the bottle at the general store, and can’t imagine how one could get inside. Mr. LeClerc, the store’s owner says he will sell the boat-in-a-bottle for one dollar, which is more than Pierre thinks he will ever earn, until he saves a tourist lady and she gives him a dollar in appreciation. He runs to the store to get the boat, but his over-eager dog Genevieve breaks the bottle accidentally. Pierre is heartbroken, until he figures out how to insert the unbroken ship into a new bottle and runs to go tell his friend Mr. LeClerc. This book was rather cute story with tri-colored illustrations (orange, green and black). Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Good Luck Horse by Chih-yi Chan, illustrated by Plato Chan

I enjoyed this Chinese folktale, though it was a bit long-winded. The story is about a young boy named Wah-Toong who created paper horses to keep him company, and one day the magician next door gets a hold of his favorite and brought it to life. The story follows the adventures of the Good-Luck/Bad-Luck horse, as it helps Wah-Toong.

This book won a 1944 Caldecott Honor award, and is my favorite book from that year. This was another inter-library loan selection, this one coming from Texas State University, San Marcos. It is unique because it is inscribed to a local library by the illustrator and signed by himI loved that it was done by a mother-son team, the mother writing it and her 12 year old son illustrating it with both black and white pen & ink drawings, as well as turquoise and orange color illustrations. The end pages are my favorite part of the book. More information on the illustrator can be found on this blog. I would recommend this book for ages 4-8, and give it 4 stars.

A Tree is Nice by Janice May Udry

This book won the 1957 Caldecott Award, but I enjoyed 1 is One by Tasha Tudor much better than this book. It was a cute book about how beneficial trees are to the Earth and its inhabitants, in addition to being beautiful. It would be a great book to use for Earth Day. The illustrations alternated between black and white and colors. My favorite part was “A tree is nice because it has a trunk and limbs. We can climb the tree and see over all the yards. We can sit on a limb and think about things. Or play pirate ship up in a tree.” It made me think of my childhood because there used to be this one tree at my grandparent’s house that I loved to climb and just sit in it. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.

Children and Young Adult

Kings of Clonmel (Rangers Apprentice #8) by John Flanagan, narrated by John Keating

Thank goodness for Horace! He makes me laugh so much in this series, especially in this book. In this volume of the series, there is a Gathering at the beginning where Will not only has to take care of a new group of Ranger apprentices, but also is offered a new job. He will be part of a task force that includes himself, Halt and Horace and gets to have his home base at Castle Redmond. This is great for him, not only because it is where he grew up and trained with Halt, but also because of his budding relationship with Alyss. Their first task is to go to Hibernia (based off Scotland) to investigate a religious cult that Halt has dealt with previously, a group called The Outsiders. They are a group of bandits with a false prophet who work together to take poor villager’s money after promising to protect them. They are threatening to completely overrun Hibernia and take over the capital from King Ferris, who turns out is Halt’s brother. Will the Rangers and Horace be able to stop the Outsiders or will the weak king give in to The Outsider’s demands? To find out, read this fantastic addition to the Ranger’s Apprentice collection. Recommended for ages 10+, 4 stars.

Halt’s Peril (Rangers Apprentice #9) by John Flanagan, narrated by John Keating

Normally I love John Flanagan’s books, especially as John Keating is a fabulous narrator. However, this book dragged on absolutely forever. I get that the author is trying to make it super dramatic and nail-biting, which it was, but this could’ve been about 3 less discs. Not to mention the fact that he tried to kill off one of my favorite characters.

Will, Horace and Halt are following Tennyson and the remains of The Outsiders, after leaving Hibernia and going through Picta and finally into Araluen. While following them, Halt is wounded by one of the Genovesan Assassins and becomes desperately ill. This worries Will and Horace so much that Will goes to get Malcolm the healer, from Grimsdale Wood (whom we met in book 5 “The Sorcerer of the North”). Malcolm saves Halt and they get the baddies and return home to Redmont and Castle Araluen. Normally I would say that ages 10 and up could read this book, but for this particular book, I recommend it for ages 12+, 3 stars.

Tunnels (Tunnels #1) by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams

Part of the reason it took me so long to read this book was because it took me forever to get into the story. It has very slow plot development and the real action of the book doesn’t start until Part 2 of 3, once the main character finally makes it underground. I am hoping that the next book has more background history on the founder of the underground city and why it was built in the first place.

Will is an odd 14-year old boy who, like his father, is obsessed with archaeology and digging. It is the one thing that they have in common. Will gets picked on at school for looking different, as does this boy named Chester, so they become friends. Soon Will has Chester helping him dig tunnels to find cool old stuff. One day, Will’s father Dr. Burrows mysteriously disappears and Will believes that it is up to him and Chester to find him. So they start re-digging the tunnel that his father started in their basement. Chester and Will discover a whole city underneath their own, and are immediately captured for trespassing. They are tortured by the lawmakers of the city, called the Styx. But they let Will out, and it turns out that he is actually a boy named Seth, who had escaped “The Colony” years before with his biological mother. He discovers that he has a little brother named Cal, and a cool uncle and grandmother. His biological father is another story. Will is desperate to rescue Chester from the jail, but their plan goes awry and they escape to the surface, or Topsoil. Will they be able to return to the Colony and rescue Chester? Will Will every be able to find Dr. Burrows, who he considers his real father? To find out, read this first volume of the Tunnels series. Recommended for ages 10+, 3 stars.

Anne of Green Gables (Anne of Green Gables #1) by L.M. Montgomery

I had first heard of the series in the late 80s/early 90s when I watched the first movie, which I loved. Last year I decided that I wanted to read the books, but first decided to watch the movie again, and then discovered that they had done three other movies (I watched two out of three). I also watched some of “The Road to Avonlea” series growing up. Anyways, on the this review.

Anne comes to Green Gables as an accident. Marilla Cuthbert and her brother Matthew wanted a boy orphan to help out on the farm, but there was a mix-up and they got 11 yr old Anne instead. But Matthew falls in love with her from the beginning and so Marilla decides to keep her. She is quite a handful and has a lot of learning to do before she is raised proper. I loved Anne as a female character and could see aspects of her personality in myself, such as the daydreaming, crazy imagination and scholarly ambitions. I will always remember cordials because of this book and the “raspberry cordial” incident. This is a beautifully written book with great words (this edition gave definitions for the harder or less-known ones). I was surprised by how little Gilbert appears in the actual story, not nearly as much as the movie. Highly recommended for ages 9+, 5 stars.

Young Adult

Seraphina (Seraphina #1) by Rachel Hartman

This book had a very slow start and I didn’t really get into it until a little over 100 pages in. But once the story finally stopped being so confusing and started to make more sense, I was hooked. Essentially the book is about Maid Dombegh, better known as Seraphina, assistant music director of the royal court in the kingdom of Goredd. As a half-dragon, Phina has never fit in with her family, thanks to her father basically shunning her. No one except her family knows what she is and she has kept quiet about it. Dragons and humans have a shaky relationship at best in Goredd, despite a peace treaty that has lasted for nearly 40 years between the two races, with the dragons’ supreme general due for a visit in a few weeks. The only son of the queen is murdered and everyone suspects it was a dragon, though nothing has been proved. Phina pairs up with Prince Lucian Kiggs to figure out the mystery and instead uncover a plot to murder the general. I will say that the writing and language was beautiful, and I loved getting to know Seraphina and was glad when she finally discovered that she was not a monster and could be happy. I am very interested to read the next book in the series to see what happens next! Highly recommended for ages 12+, 4 stars.

The Girl in the Steel Corset (Steampunk Chronicles #1) by Kady Cross

I absolutely loved this book and devoured it in less than a day because the story was so fascinating. Finley Jayne seems like a typical teenage lady’s maid from 1897, until you cross her. Then her dark side comes out, as her employer’s brother found out when he tried to get friendly with her. The same night she literally has a run with the Duke of Greystone, Griffin King, who is a bit of an oddity himself, along with his friends Sam and Emily. Griffin can channel the Aether to control those around him, Sam has insane strength and Emily is a genius at fixing anything, machine or human. Griffin brings Finley home and is convinced he can help her. He is investigating a mysterious man known as the Machinist, who has been turning automatons rogue all over London and may be responsible for his parent’s death. Will the group keep together long enough to unmask the Machinists and his nefarious deeds against crown and country? Will Griffin be able to save Finley from herself? To find out, read this great introduction to the Steampunk Chronicles! Highly recommended for ages 12+, 5 stars.

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar (Steampunk Chronicles #2) by Kady Cross

I honestly didn’t think I could like this book better than the first, but it was more awesome. I got so into it, that I ended up reading three-quarters of it last night in an attempt to finish it before I went to bed (finished it a few minutes after midnight). The only really sucky thing is waiting till next June for the next volume to come out!

In this volume, Griffin, Finley, Sam and Emily are tracking Jasper, who has been arrested and carted back to the US for a murder. The gang can’t believe it, so they go to rescue him in NYC. Jasper is actually being imprisoned by his former gang member, Reno Dalton, who is also holding Jasper’s ex-girlfriend Mei(who he still really cares about)and holding her captive with a clockwork collar that tightens if she tries to escape or if it is touched. Finley decides to infiltrate Dalton’s gang by fighting her way to his attention, which works pretty effectively. Meanwhile, there is major story development in relation to Griffin and Finley’s on-again-off-again romance. Inventor Nicholas Tesla makes an appearance in the book as the crazy inventor of the device that Jasper originally stole in San Francisco and hid in pieces throughout NYC. Will the gang be able to stop Dalton from finding all the pieces and using the device? Will Griffin and Finley finally trust each other and get somewhere with their relationship? To find out, you must read this great book. Recommended for ages 12+, 5 stars.

Adult

The Woman in Black: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill

Most of the book I thought was pretty boring, and kept wondering what era it was supposed to be based in. The book was written in 1983, but the author made it sound like a Victorian Gothic novel. The book is told from the point of view of a middle age remarried man who is enjoying Christmas with his family, until his stepchildren start telling ghost stories and he starts feeling uneasy. He is determined to tell his own ghost story, and so begins the actual tale. In it, he is a young solicitor (lawyer) who has been handed his an independent project, to go settle the estates of an old woman, Mrs Drablow, who has recently died and attend her funeral. While at the funeral, he sees a mysterious woman in black, and when he mentions it to his associate in the town, the man is spooked but will say nothing about it. The young man, Arthur, eventually goes to Eel Marsh House to begin looking for papers. While there he hears a child screaming and a horse and cart, but there is no one there. And again he sees the woman in black. He realizes that she is a ghost, but it is not until a few days later, after going through some personal letters and paperwork that he discovers her story. It is a short story, so I won’t say more, except the ending is really creepy. I am now interested to see the movie version of it that recently came out. 3 stars.

River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook by Nikki Duffy

Overall, I was not a fan of this book. I’m always on the lookout for more recipes to serve my son as I tend to totally blank out when it comes to his meals. For a mother who is just taking her child from breast/bottle feeding to solids, this book is a great source of information. My son is 15 months so a lot of this stuff I had read before. I did like the cooking with your kids section, which relates how children as young as 18 months can help prepare food. I would like to try the Saag Paneer and Steamed Pumpkin Pudding recipes.

I probably would’ve given this book two stars for the amount of recipes I actually managed to get out of it, plus the fact that they don’t convert it to American measurement equivalents. However, because of the above helpful information, I decided to give it 3 stars.

Smart Bites for Baby: 300 Easy-to-Make, Easy-to-Love Meals that Boost Your Baby and Toddler’s Brain by Mika Shino

Always on the lookout for new food to introduce to my son, I jumped at this book when I found it in the new cookbook section of the library. The author is not only a new mom of a little boy, but went to a professional cooking school and trained in all sorts of international cuisine. This makes her approach to baby and toddler food unique, to say the least. There are definitely lots of dishes in here I never would have thought of serving to my son this early, but her reasoning and research makes sense. I would love several of the recipes as they look great for kids as well of adults, such as the Potato, Leek, and Kale Soup with Brown Rice, Warm Goat Cheese Salad with Orange Citrus Dressing, and the Cinnamon Chicken with Anise Star, Cloves and Caramelized Onions. Very much looking forward to trying recipes in this cookbook. 5 stars.

Fine Cooking Thanksgiving Cookbook: Recipes for Turkey and all the Trimmings by Fine Cooking Magazine

Most of the recipes were similar or variations of recipes I had seen before, so I wasn’t that impressed with this cookbook that much. I was however interested in trying the recipes for the Spicy Maple Walnuts, Maple-Brined Wood-Smoked Grilled Turkey, Braised Asparagus & Cipolline Onions with Pancetta & Balsamic Butter Glaze, and the Chocolate Truffle Tart with Whipped Vanilla Mascarpone Topping. 2 stars.

French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters  by Karen Le Billon

I enjoyed the author’s story of moving from Vancouver to France to live there for one year and try this food experiment, which wasn’t as easy as she originally thought it would be. Having lived overseas for 9 months while at school, I know how hard it can be to be a foreigner in another country, even if you speak the language (which sadly the author didn’t). I did like that she included some of the recipes she regularly uses with her family in the back of the cookbook, most of which are described throughout.

While I enjoyed the book and her 10 rules, I do find some of them a bit difficult to implement in the States and with our family situation. Rule #1 is that parents are in charge of their child’s food education, which I agree with, and not the children themselves. Rule #2 is particularly hard for me as I have a tendency to do this myself, therefore making it hard to regulate with my child (avoid emotional eating). Rule #3 and #4 go together and are two of my favorites, i.e. kids eat what parents eat and there is no short-order cooking involved and families eat together at the table. I understand what she/the French are saying but these are kind of hard when you don’t have room for a kitchen table because you live in a really small house. Although I will definitely demand we have room for a dining table in our next place. Rule #5 is eat veggies of all colors and don’t eat the same main dish; Rule #6 is you don’t have to like it but you do have to taste it, both of which is common sense really. Rule #7 is doable, that is limiting snacks to two maximum a day. I really like Rule #8, which is slow cooking and eating, taking your time on both gives maximum enjoyment (which is hard to teach to my husband as he scarfs his food down). Rule #9 is eat mostly homemade food and save treats, but no processed food. This is really hard to avoid, especially when you are broke all of the time. I try my hardest to make sure that my son at least is not eating crap, even if his parents are. Rule #10 is that eating should be joyful, not stressful, so use the rules but don’t go crazy. 3 1/2 stars.

The 30-Minute Vegan’s Taste of the East: 150 Asian-Inspired recipes – from soba noodles to summer rolls by Mark Renfield and Jennifer Murray

I am always on a the lookout for meat-free meal options for me and my family, and the recipes in this book are not only quick but the majority of them look delicious. I will say that you will probably have to hit up an Asian market to get some of the ingredients, but baring that, most of the ingredients can be found in your local grocery store. I liked that the recipes were from a variety of cuisines, not just your typical meals from India, China and Japan, but also Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Iran, Korea, and Tibet. Recipes like the Curried Potatoes for Dosas (South Indian pancakes), Massaman Curry, Tomato Mung Bean Salad, Daikon Carrot Salad, and Okra Masala all look like very promising items to try out. I would love to have this as an addition to my cookbook collection, as I can definitely see myself using recipes from here. 5 stars.

I have had a couple of library interviews, including one for a professional Youth Services position, but they wanted something very specific that I wasn’t able to offer them. So I am a bit disheartened by my job search. I’m stressed out, worrying about money as usual, and recovering from the crappy cold/sinus infection that won’t leave and seems to get worse when I lie down, so I’ve not been doing so hot. I do however have two job possibilities in the works. One is a Recreation Specialist/Museum Attendant part time and the other is a Nursery Director at my parent’s church. I’m not sure of my chances for the first, as they seem to hire a lot of retired folks, but I do have Parks & Recreation experience as I worked at a rec center for nearly 2 1/2 years, plus I’ve loads of museum experience. So your guess is as good as mine on that one. The other job I’ve not really trained for, but I do have a lot of experience working with children (less with 0 – 4 yrs, except for babysitting and my own experiences with my son) and being brought up in the Episcopal Church does help in this instance. Plus I get to get to read to young children, and I love reading aloud and doing all the voices. I’m still in the process of finalizing everything, so might be a couple weeks before I start.

I try to keep up with the children and young adult book reading in attempt to at least be somewhat up-to-date with my profession, plus I just enjoy reading, especially sharing it with my son. He’s not quite gotten the handle of taking care of books without ripping them, but we’re working on that. I also have a library programming and bulletin boards/book display boards on Pinterest. I’ve been thinking about volunteering some as I want to give back and feel like I’m actually doing something and helping people. That is part of the reason why I decided to go into library work. All of my jobs, ever since I was 16, has been about helping people. It is often a thankless job, but I know what I am doing is something good. Which is why, when I do get thanked, I just light up. For example, once in my last library job as a shelver, I was shelving some easy readers and had stood up to see what else I needed to file. A little girl, about 4 yrs old just comes up to me and hugs my legs/tummy, as that was as far up as she could reach. Her parents were horrified, but I just laughed it off and thought it was sweet. “It’s alright. At least she wasn’t hitting me,” I told them. When I was doing my internship during graduate school in youth services in a public library, I decided that since I had more experience with 5 – 12 year olds, I was going to try to focus on teens, as I did not have experience with that age group. So I got to know some of the tweens/teen boys that frequented the events, as this group can sometimes be ignored by teachers/librarians. I tried to find books they would like and talk to them about things they were interested in, like this one 14 year old boy who was standing by himself during one of the teen craft projects. I could tell he was a little nerdy and shy, so I asked him if he was interested in any sports and he said he liked soccer. So I asked him about the World Cup, that was going on at the time, and we had a conversation about the different teams he and I liked (my hubby being a huge soccer fan and got me into it as well). It’s funny because today at my interview for the Rec Specialist job, they asked me what I thought customer service was and I simply said: “Helping people, whether that is listening to them or  giving directions.”

Browsing my FB account this morning, I learned that today is National Family Literacy Day. As I helped create a Family Literacy Calendar when I was in graduate school, doing my independent study with the SC State Library, I know how important this cause is. Here is some more November information from that calendar. According to National Center for Family Literacy, “study after study shows that family, home and community are the true drivers of a child’s education. Consider: Children’s reading scores improve dramatically when their parents are involved in helping them learn to read. Low family income and a mother’s lack of education are the two biggest risk factors that hamper a child’s early learning and development.” This is the reason why it is so important for families to read together. The website has a lot of free resources for parents and teachers to use, such as the Celebrate Literacy Calendar, available in English and Spanish. They have “Tips to Make Learning Part of Your Daily Routine,” and an Activity Guide for Families.  If you need help finding literacy organizations in your local zip code, check out the National Literacy Database. Another great place to check out Family Literacy information, is International Reading Association or IRA. Their mission statement is to “promote reading by continuously advancing the quality of literacy instruction and research worldwide.” This is their website for parent resources on literacy.

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