While I am not quite done reading books for the year, this will be my last book review for 2012. I have managed to surpass my reading totals three or four times this year. I started wanting 365 and now am up to 415. This is what my totals look like -see chart below (granted there is a little bit of overlap in categories). The categories on the left side are fantasy/sci-fi, young adult, cookbooks and food, Caldecott, and birth to five years.
I am currently on hiatus when it comes to audiobooks as I primarily listen to them in the car and my car is not working. But when it is finally working again, I hope to finally finish Doomwyte by Brian Jacques. And I’m hoping to pick up my latest library hold, The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan on audiobook. I am currently reading Philip Pullman’s latest book Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version. 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.
Trunks All Aboard: An Elephant ABC by Barbara Nichol
I found this book in my local library’s ABC collection. It is actually a pretty cool book because the illustrations are from a wealthy early 20th century Canadian businessman, named Sir William Cornelius Van Horne, who liked to draw elephants and sent this set of hand-drawn postcards to his grandson in Montreal. Feeling very inspired by them, the author Barbara Nichol, wrote these little ABC verses to go with them. I loved the illustrations and the verses are rather clever. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.
A Cowgirl and Her Horse by Jean Ekman Adams
Ever since I discovered this local author/illustrator, I have been trying to get my hands on her books. I absolutely love her bright, colorful and very kid-friendly illustrations, and this book is also really cute to boot. The book is about what a cowgirl’s responsibilities are when taking care of a horse, i.e. it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.
Zelda the Varigoose by Sebastian Loth
As I enjoyed his other kid’s book, Remembering Crystal, which was about death and friendship (I especially liked the illustrations), I jumped at the chance at a new one of his books. This book is all about the power of imagination, aided in this case by transparencies of whatever animal Zelda the goose is pretending to be. My favorites were the GooseyBee, GooGiraffe, and Goosey Peacock for the illustrations and the Butterfloose for the name. Highly recommended for ages 1-6, 4 stars.
Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton
After reading Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel and The Little House, I jumped at the chance to read another of Virginia Lee Burton’s books. This book was a cute story about Katy, a tractor who transform into a bulldozer, as well as a snow plow. One day, there is a huge snow storm in the city of Geopolis, where Katy lives and works, and she must save the day. While the story dragged on for awhile as Katy rescued literally everyone in the town, Burton’s detailed illustration more than make up for it. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.
The Story of Christmas, illustrated by Pamela Dalton
I liked that the older version of the King James Bible was used as it went along with Pamela Dalton’s gorgeous paper-cut illustrations. The technique called “Scherenschnitte,” is according to the inside front dust jacket: “rooted in Pennsylvania-German folk art and steeped in an intimate appreciation of medieval and Renaissance Italian art.” It makes it look like a medieval manuscript, very detailed and just gorgeous. It really brings out the beautiful humbleness of the birth of Jesus (I hope that makes sense). Recommended for ages 1-7, 4 stars.
I Don’t Want to Be a Pea (Hugo and Bella, #1) by Ann Bonwill
I’m not sure if this was the intention, but the first thing I thought about this book when I read it is that it reminds me a lot of Elephant and Piggie books, except wordier. Hugo the Hippo and Bella the bird are going to attend the Hippo-Bird Fairy-Tale Fancy Dress Party and can’t decide what costume to wear. Originally they were going as the Princess and Pea, but Bella decided she didn’t want to be the Pea and then a huge argument broke out and they leave mad. But then both decide it is not worth it to stay mad at each other and both come as a Pea. Absolutely adorable illustrations, they just needed to get the story a bit more succinct. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.
Mrs. Armitage: Queen of the Road by Quentin Blake
I love Quentin Blake’s illustrations for Roald Dahl and Michael Rosen, but I had no idea he was an author in his own right. So when I saw this book in the children’s section, I knew I had to read it. The book is about Mrs. Armitage and her dog Breakspear who inherits a car from her uncle and proceeds to drive it around time. It falls completely apart until she is left with just the frame, tire, seats and engine. Then she runs into her uncle and his motorcycle gang who spruce it and her up and then they go for drinks. Rather random, but it works, especially with Blake’s scribbly painted illustrations. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.
Miriam’s Cup: A Passover Story by Fran Manushkin
It is the Biblical story of the prophet Miriam, her brother Moses and Exodus as seen through the eyes of another young girl named Miriam during Passover. The girl is about to get ready for the Seder meal when her mother takes her aside to tell her about her namesake and her Passover gift, which is a crystal goblet meant to symbolize Miriam’s Cup (the story of which is explained in the author’s note in the back of the book). “Miriam’s Song,” based off the book of Exodus itself and written by Debbie Friedman, is included on the back cover of the book with music. Gorgeous watercolor illustrations are done throughout the book, and the background of each page and text is made to look like a sheet of papyrus. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.
The Sandman: The Story of Sanderson Mansnoozie by William Joyce
I’ve been waiting months for this book to come out, and was incredibly frustrated when it took 2 months after the fact for the library to finally process a copy. But enough of that. I loved the book, though a little bit less than The Man in the Moon. It does feature William Joyce’s amazing illustrations, which frankly I would buy the book just for them. The Sandman, or Sandy as he is plainly called in the beginning of the story, is commissioned by the Man in the Moon to protect Earth’s children from nightmares, which he does with his Dream Sand. He operates off The Island of Sleepy Sands, which used to be the star that he drove through the galaxy before it crash-landed safely (thanks to the wish of the young Man in the Moon) on Earth. I like it when Sandy uses this mantra to get rid of nightmares: “You are not real. You are not true. You are nothing.” My absolute favorite part of the book is Sandy’s official title, which reminded me of L.Frank Baum: “His Nocturnal Magnificence, Sanderson Mansnoozie, Sandman the First, Lord High Protector of Sleep and Dream.” I read this to my son, who managed to pay attention for it, probably because of the illustrations, despite it being a little too long for him. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.
Toothiana: Queen of the Tooth Fairy Armies (The Guardians #3) by William Joyce
Normally it would take me a few hours to read a book like this, but I was reading it to my son for the first week so it took longer than usual. I enjoyed this third full-length book in The Guardians series, though I was frustrated a bit at the ending (it was a cliffhanger). In this volume, we are left wondering if Pitch was really and truly vanquished in the previous book or is he hanging around somewhere? Katherine, the youngest of The Guardians is growing up, and she has just lost her last baby tooth. This means a visit from Queen Toothiana, and we learn all about her story from Mr. Qwerty, the bookworm. Only Toothiana’s visit is cut short by the Monkey King and his minions, who it seems are working for Pitch. This book was a lot darker than the other books in the series, but it does bring up a lot of stuff about growing up and how we tend to be darker as we grow older, so this made sense. Now I can’t wait to see what happens in the next book! Highly recommended for ages 9-12, 4 stars.
Barkis by Clare Turlay Newberry
This book won a 1939 Caldecott Honor award, the first of four for the author. “Barkis” is the story of a nine year old boy named James and his birthday presents. The best one is from his Uncle Jim, who brings him a soft fluffy brown cocker spaniel puppy named Barkis. Because of the puppy, there is instant sibling rivalry between James and his sister Nell Jean. Even his sister’s cat Edward and Barkis do not get along at first. Barkis goes outside the house for the first time the day after James’ birthday and falls in the cold stream, only to be rescued and cared for by Nell Jean. After this, James agrees to share Barkis with his sister. This book has her awesome charcoal and painted illustrations. I like that she was influenced by Japanese painting techniques, especially the artist Hokusai. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.
My Mother is the Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Becky Reyher
This was a very interesting book. It had fabulous brightly-colored endpages in yellow with butterflies, roosters, peacocks, roses, cherries, and architecture, in a charming folk art style. The illustrations are in the same folk art style of the end pages, and vary between black & white and full color.
The story itself was based off a Russian folktale and proverb, which was as follows: “We do not love people because they are beautiful, but they seem beautiful to us because we love them.” The book is about Varya, a small Ukranian girl who works in a wheat field with her parents and five brothers and sisters. It is time for the harvest festival, and they have a feast and talk about the food they are preparing, the people that will be attending and what they will be doing (dancing and playing music). On the second harvest day, Varya falls asleep and wakes up to find her parents gone. She goes to the village to find them, and says she is looking for her mother, who is “the most beautiful woman in the world,” even though she turns out to be the most plain woman there. Basically it is a lesson in beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I loved this post and this blog post written about the book. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 1/2 stars.
The Way to Start a Day by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall
Peter Parnall collaborated with Byrd Baylor on eight more books, two more of which he won Caldecott honors for, in addition to this one in 1979. I have been in love with his artwork for awhile, and owned another of his books as a kid, called Apricot ABC. For his complete bibliography of illustrated books, see this website. The author grew up in the Southwest and lives near the Arizona-Mexico border.
This book, written in free-verse poetry, is about sunrises and how many cultures all over the world worship and praise the sun. Cultures such as the cavemen, Ancient Egyptians, Native Americans, Peruvians and Africans are featured. It is about thanking the sun for bringing forth a new day by greeting it every morning. I found these lesson plans on the book. As Seth D. Webb commented in this blog post, “In the push for digital literacy we cannot forget and forgo the importance of children feeling the world around them. It is not enough to show; we must provide experiences for them to do: to touch, to smell, to listen, to taste, to be still and to know.” And this book does just that. Highly recommended for ages 4-9, 5 stars.
In My Mother’s House by Ann Nolan Clark
The book contained a series of 29 poems about the Pueblo people, as told through the viewpoint of a Pueblo child. They talk about the child’s home that he/she lives in and that his parents built themselves, the things they eat and grow, their community and work. My favorite poems were “Juniper”, “Lakes”, and “Indian Tea”. There were black and white illustrations as well as color, which I believe were paintings. My favorite ones were the horse pictures, as there were so many different kinds of horses depicted. This book won a 1942 Caldecott Honor award.
The coolest part about this book are the author and illustrator. Ann Nolan Clark and Velino Herrera were both born in New Mexico, and Herrera was a Zia Pueblo Indian artist (also known as Ma Pe Wi). Herrera went on to give his version of the Zia people, in illustrated form – it means sun in Indian languages, to the State of New Mexico (which did not endear him to his people). The book was apparently created for the Bureau of Indian Affairs as educational materials, which makes sense as the author worked as a teacher of Native American students for 25 years. Because the schools she worked in did not have good instructional material, she started making her own (this book being one of them). She also won a Newberry Award for her book Secret of the Andes. I love this quote that I found here, in which she describes how a good book should affect a child “The story must be vital to him. He must be able to live it as the pages turn. It must enrich the world he knows and lead him into a wider, larger unfamiliar world. The experience of having known it must have been an adventure and a delight…. A good book has an inner quality that may have a deep, personal, special meaning for some child, somewhere. It is an unfortunate adult who does not remember certain books of his childhood that he will hold forever dear.” This quote makes me wish all children’s books were like this.
Noah’s Ark by Peter Spier
Honestly when I saw that this won a Caldecott, I wasn’t looking forward to reading it as my Caldecott Challenge religious theme books haven’t been that great. This 1978 Caldecott winner was unique and different, which impressed me. Instead of telling the traditional straight-from-the-Bible story, the author translated a Dutch poem from a 17th century Calvinist theologian entitled “The Flood” as the only text for the book and put it right in the front. The rest of the book tells the story through pictures, with some very amusing details like Noah’s wife hiding from the mice that come aboard, Noah struggling to get a donkey on-board and the chaotic mess left by the animals after the ark is evacuated. This books makes me want to check out his other books to see if they are as good as this one. Recommended for ages 1-7, 4 stars.
Four and Twenty Blackbirds: Nursery Rhymes of Yesterday Recalled for Children of Today compiled by Helen Dean Fish
I’ve been trying to get a hold of this book for awhile, as it was the last book from 1938 (a Caldecott Honor) that I needed. It is a collection of nursery rhymes, which are explained in the table of contents and the introduction by the compiler Helen Dean Fish. Most of the rhymes are put to song, and the melodies are listed in the back of the book. I feel like the rhymes are either too morbid, random, or violent, but maybe that was the norm in the 18th and 19th centuries, when these rhymes were collected and/or written. Two of the most violent were “The Robber Kitten” and “The Tragic Tale of Hooty the Owl,” neither of which I had heard of before. Some of the most random ones were “Old Crummles” (which I enjoyed) and “Joe Dobson,” (which I didn’t much like). Overall, it was an interesting collection of old and mostly new nursery rhymes, illustrated by the fabulous Robert Lawson. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 1/2 stars.
Little Lost Lamb by Golden MacDonald
Written under the pseudonym Golden MacDonald, this 1946 Caldecott Honor winning picture book by Margaret Wise Brown is my least favorite of hers so far. While I loved Leonard Weisgard and Margaret Wise Brown’s collaboration the following year for the Caldecott winning book The Little Island, this book just didn’t work for me. The story was way too long and boring. The book is about a little black lamb who wanders away from the flock and the shepherd, but is later rescued by the boy and his dog from a mountain lion and brought safely home. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.
The Desert is Theirs by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall
Once again, Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall have hit a home-run with this book! Using Parnall’s simplistic but gorgeous illustrations, Byrd Baylor weaves an expressive story, told in poetical form, about the Pagagos (called the Desert People throughout the book) and the way in which they interact and work with the local flora and fauna of the desert. Each respects the desert and knows their role. As the author still lives in the Arizona desert near the Mexico border, she knows what she is talking about and has probably observed the animals and plants that she discusses in the book. My only complaint is that it was a little too long. This book won a 1976 Caldecott Honor, and rightly so. Recommended for ages 5-10, 4 stars.
The Ageless Story by Lauren Ford
This is another book I probably never would’ve picked up if it weren’t for the fact that it is a 1940 Caldecott Honor award winner. It is a very unusual book in many ways. First off, as another reviewer has said on this blog post, it is a full-color book, something that was rare for that period in time, when most books only had every other or a couple of pages illustrated in color. Also it is made to look like an illuminated manuscript. It is very clear from the letter to her goddaughter Nina, at the front of the book, that the author is very against the Renaissance and its humanist approaches to life and religion. She is, however, very much for the medieval age as exemplified by her artwork and subject matter. She has chosen to create a “manuscript” with Gregorian chant in Latin, which explains the life of St. Anne (mother of Mary), the Virgin and Jesus’s early life. The main picture, facing the chants, show the participants in a contemporary setting of 1939 New England. The setting is incongruous with the medieval feeling to the rest of the book. If you check out the above blog, you can hear the blog poster’s mother singing one of the chants from the book, which is pretty cool. Recommended for ages 7+, 3 stars.
Sing Mother Goose compiled by Opal Wheeler, illustrated by Marjorie Torrey
I originally picked this volume up for the Caldecott Challenge, actually had to get it via inter-library loan as my library didn’t have it in their special collections. Luckily managed to find it at Arizona State University in Tempe. It won a 1946 Caldecott Honor. I enjoyed this collection of Mother Goose rhymes set to music, although it was way too long (103 pages). I never knew so many of these traditional rhymes, most of which I had heard of before, included music. Honestly most of the reason this book got three stars instead of two is because I absolutely loved Majorie Torrey’s illustrations. Sad to think all of her illustrated books are out of print. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.
Sing in Praise: A Collection of the Best Loved Hymns compiled by Opal Wheeler, illustrated by Marjorie Torrey
This book won a 1947 Caldecott Honor award, and that is the reason for me checking it out. Apparently the author made a point of creating songbooks about famous composers, and these hymns are no exception. It is interesting that she includes a story about the composer and why they wrote the song. I had heard of some of the songs. Once again Marjorie Torrey’s illustrations make a boring book better, but I preferred the illustrations for “Sing Mother Goose” more than this. Recommended for ages 7+, 2 stars.
Mei Li by Thomas Handforth
This book won the 1939 Caldecott Award, which makes me think they were still trying to iron out the kinks with the award itself. It was an interesting book, but not one I was overly fond of. I think Wee Gillis should’ve won that year, though I’ve still not read Wanda Gag’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and that might be better. This book is about a young Chinese girl named Mei Li, her mother, her brother San Yu, and Uncle Wang who are about to celebrate New Years. Mei Li goes with her brother and uncle to have fun in the capital and she sees all kinds of wonderous things, including an acting troupe, circus performers, and animal-shaped paper lanterns. I realize that this book is one of its time and that the message is meant well, but having little girls be unable to do the same things as boys because of their sex and expecting them to be homemakers only in profession just irked me. The hand-drawn illustrations by the author were very good and I enjoyed them. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.
Zin! Zin! Zin! A Violin by Lloyd Price
I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages, but never got around to it. It won a 1996 Caldecott Honor award, and rightly so. This book is very creative, with its rhyming text, and is a nice way to introduce musical instruments and groups to young children. Plus I just love Marjorie Priceman’s whimsical and colorful illustrations! It starts out with one lone trombone and by the end of the book we have a whole orchestra. Even my son liked it. Highly recommended for ages 1-6, 4 stars.
Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens
This trickster tale reminded me of the West African Anansi stories and Brer Rabbit. In this story, Hare is the tricky fellow who needs to find food for his growing family. He has lost his farm to Bear’s father, but plans to get it back from Bear, as he is lazy. Hare offers to plant crops for Bear and split them 50/50, but he fudges a bit. He takes only the bottoms of root vegetables, then the tops of above ground veggies, then the middle of corn stalk. Therefore giving him all the produce and Bear gets nothing. He earns enough from the sales of the veggies to open his own produce stand. And Bear has learned never to go into business with Hare again. Great illustrations by Janet Stevens, made cooler by the fact the story was vertical instead of horizontal. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.
The Faithful Friend by Robert D. Sans Souci, illustrated by Brian Pinkney
I loved San Souci’s book The Talking Eggs, so when I found out another of his books won a Caldecott Honor in 1996, I had to check it out. This time brilliant illustrator Brian Pinkney helped make this story great in scratchboard and oil. The book is a retelling of a traditional French West Indies story about two best friends named Clement and Hippolyte, who grow up together. Clement falls in love with a local girl and goes with his friend Hippolyte to propose to her, which she accepts but her uncle plots to kill the lovebirds with the help of zombies (more like witches). Hippolyte overhears their plans and saves them three times, only to be accused of jealousy, by the perfidious uncle after his plots failed. Hippolyte finally tells the truth but turns to stone, as warned by the zombies if he ever revealed their plans. A mysterious stranger saves the day, and the newly married couple and Hippolyte and his future wife grow old and happy together and have lots of kids. Recommended for ages 5-10, 3 stars.
Alphabet City by Stephen T. Johnson
While I thought it was a clever concept, using everyday architectural objects to create an alphabet book, I’m not sure most kids would actually be able to pick out the letters unless they were pointed out. Although, it would be a great book to use as part of an art project for older kids. I’ve actually done something similar for a college photography project. The illustrations, done in pastels, watercolors, gouache and charcoal on hot pressed watercolor paper is so realistic, it’s sometimes hard to remember that they are illustrations and not photographs. It won a 1996 Caldecott Honor award. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.
Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
Although I really enjoyed this, it wasn’t full of Anne hijinks like the last one. I understand that the last book was over six years, while this was over two, but it just didn’t have the oomph of the first book. This book covers Anne Shirley from ages 16 – 18, after she finishes teaching certification and becomes the new school teacher in Avonlea. She is going to school by mail with Gilbert, who is pining for Anne, but will not admit it. She meets several new people including Mr Harrison and his foul-mouthed parrot Ginger (and later Mrs Harrison), Paul Irving (who becomes her favorite pupil) and Miss Lavendar Lewis. Marilla ends up adopting two of her cousin’s children, the twins Davy and Dora. Davy is a handful and Dora is the well-behaved one. Ms Lewis’s story was probably one of the most interesting, as she was previously engaged to Paul’s father but they had a falling out and he left town and married another. It’s 25 years later and they renew their love and get married at the end of the book. Anne and the other young teachers in the area organize AVIS, the Avonlea Village Improvement Society, and there are many good and bad things that come out of that project. Rachel Lynde’s husband Thomas dies and she decides to move in with Marilla, so Anne decides to go to Redmond College. The best thing of the whole book was Anne finally seeing Gilbert in the way he sees her, “Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one’s life with pomp and blare…perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music, perhaps…perhaps…love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship (pg 393).” Recommended for ages 12+, 3 stars.
Soulless: The Manga, Vol. 2 (The Parasol Protectorate Manga #2) by Gail Carriger, illustrated by Rem
I read this in a few hours the day after I finally picked it up from the library hold shelf. Although I loved the actual Parasol Protectorate book series, the manga almost makes it just a little bit more awesome. For those who haven’t read the books, this is book two in the series, called Changeless. It’s weird because this wasn’t my favorite book, but the manga was better. I especially liked Madame Lefoux and Ivy, although I think they both looked a bit different than how I imagined them. The ending is just as annoying though. Sucks that I have to wait 6 months for the next manga. Highly recommended for ages 16+, 5 stars.
Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi
I’ve been wanting to get a hold of this one for awhile, but the library either didn’t stock it or it was always checked out. This was worth the wait alone for the photos. Any cookbook that can make eggplant, which I normally hate, look amazing and delicious deserves some credit in my book. I’ve not read the first cookbook or the “Jerusalem” one yet, but they are definitely on the to-read list now. The man knows how to cook veggies and make them just as exciting as meat dishes. I’m a sometimes vegetarian, and I’m always on the lookout for fabulous cookbooks and this is definitely a great one. With recipes like Carmelized Garlic Tart (with two kinds of goat cheese), Marinated Mushrooms with Walnut and Tahini Yogurt, and Mushroom and Herb Polenta, how can you go wrong? 4 stars.
Baked Elements: The Importance of Being Baked in 10 Favorite Ingredients by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito
As I enjoyed their first cookbook Baked, this one has been on my to-read list for awhile. This one is even better than the first one. Lewis and Poliafito take ten of the best ingredients: peanut butter, lemon/lime, caramel, booze, pumpkin, malted milk powder, cinnamon, cheese, chocolate and banana and make some pretty amazing desserts. I enjoyed all the little factoids at the beginning of each section. I was surprised that I didn’t much care for the Peanut Butter section, even though that is one of my favorite flavors ever. There were some really unique recipes in here, like the Triple Rum Black Pepper Cake (which I’ll admit sounds weird until you read the description), Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls (where have you been all my life?!), and Holiday Spice Cake with Eggnog Buttercream. The back of the cookbook has a resources list, as some of the ingredients or equipment may be hard to find. Highly recommended, 5 stars.
The New Southern-Latino Table: Recipes that Bring Together the Bold and Beloved Flavors of Latin America & The American South by Sandra A. Guitierrez
I wasn’t honestly sure how well these two cuisines would mesh together, although I realized as I read the cookbook that they have a lot of similarities such as preference for pork and pork-based products, corn, pickled food, mayo, potatoes, fried chicken, and apparently vegetable cooking techniques (boil the hell out of it). The author, who was born in the US and raised in both Guatemala and the US, has a unique perspective on the two cultures. She makes some interesting concoctions such as the Peach and Bourbon Tres Leches Cake, Sweet Potato and Plantain Casserole, Kale Canelones with Country Ham and Mushrooms, Sweet Corn Soup with Cinnamon Hushpuppies, Lime and Chipotle Roast Chicken with Chorizo Dirty Rice, and the Miami Guava and Cream Cheese Empanaditas. 4 stars.