I’ve finally been able to concentrate enough to read, sort of anyways. I’m about halfway through Laini Taylor’s newest book Days of Blood and Starlight (Daughter of Smoke and Bone #2). I like it but it is hard to get through at times because some of it has to do with war and torture. I have to go to the library, today after my son’s nap, to drop a bunch of books off and pick up my holds and interlibrary loans. I’m happy because I finally finished the audiobook version of Brian Jacques’ Doomwyte and am about to start Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, narrated by Wil Wheaton, which sounds pretty awesome. 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, which I started last May, is my attempt to read all of the Caldecott Honors and Award winners from 1938 – the present. This year, I will include some photos of illustrations that I like with the reviews.
Hippopposites by Janik Coat
I picked this up originally not for my toddler (although he also liked it), but for myself. The title jumped out at me and demanded I pick it up. Besides, how can you not pick up a book that stars a cute red hippo? With comparisons of tradition things such as small and large, and left and right, mixed with more interesting concepts such as dotted and striped, invisible and visible, free and caged (pictured above), and front and side (the shows the 2-D hippo for front and a thin black line for side). I enjoyed the book. Recommended for ages 1+, 4 stars.
Nightsong by Ari Berk, illustrated by Loren Long
I loved this book, and especially the illustrations! Chiro is a young bat who has never explored the world alone before, until tonight, when his mother says he must. He has to use his good sense and sing, in order to find his way in the dark and eat his dinner. This is a good way to teach echolocation to young children, as the illustrator Loren Long shows wonderfully in acrylics and graphite. My favorite illustration was the one after Chiro eats, when he wanders out of the safety of the pond and into the wide world, with a closeup on the face of the bat (it has great detail and the bat looked so curious, like a young child – pictured above). Highly recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.
Corgiville Fair by Tasha Tudor
I had fallen in love Tasha Tudor’s Caldecott Honor Book 1 is One and wanted to check out her other books, so I picked up this one. The author herself liked to live in a circa 1830’s house and do the kind of crafts one associates with that era (candlemaking, quilting, canning, etc). She dedicates the book to her eight Corgis, which makes sense since the book is about a Corgi family named the Bigby Browns. The book is set in a bygone era, looks to be the turn of the 20th century, in a town in Vermont called Corgiville. It is home to rabbits, cats, Corgis and boggarts (Swedish trolls who like to make fireworks). Their biggest event of the year is the Corgiville Fair, and Mr Brown’s son Caleb is racing his prize goat Josephine. Edgar Tomcat also likes to race and will stop at nothing to win, including sabotaging Caleb and Josephine. Will Caleb and Josephine be able to win the race? Read this delightful book to find out.
The only reason it gets four instead of five stars was because of the length. I thought the story was never going to end. I loved the attention to detail in it though, from the clothes the animals were wearing to the fair itself and all its tents and activities. The book reminded me a lot of Beatrix Potter. Because of the length of the book, I would recommend it for ages 5-8, 4 stars.
Once Upon a Time: Traditional Latin American Tales/Habia una vez: Cuentos tradicionales latin americanos by Rueben Martinez, illustrated by Raul Colon
I must admit, I picked this up because of Raul Colon’s illustrations. I think he is a genius. It just so turns out that Mr. Martinez has also put together a great collection of Latin American folktales, which included a story I knew (“Martina the Cockroach and Perez the Mouse”) and many I had not. My favorites were “The Mother of the Jungle” and “The King and the Riddle.” This is a bilingual volume with English and Spanish side-by-side, which is great for either a public library or school library. The only downside I see to the book is that I wish there were more illustrations, instead of just one large one at the beginning of each story and then at the top and bottom edges of the pages throughout the tales. Highly recommended for ages 5-10, 4 stars.
The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum by Kate Bernheimer, illustrated by Nicoletta Ceccoli
I originally picked this up because I enjoy stories in museums and also because of the artwork. I honestly gave this three stars because I really liked the illustrations, which are done in acrylic paint, clay models, photography and digital media. The story, however, left a lot to be desired, as there really wasn’t much of one. It’s almost like the author was trying to hard to draw the audience into the story, probably because she is used to writing for adults and this is her first children’s book. It starts off being about a girl who lives in a miniature castle in a children’s museum and how if you look really hard you might see her. The girl in the castle is lonely and wants to see kids, and dreams about them visiting her. But then it goes off in a tangent about a book within a book and I got lost. So maybe it would be good for little girls who like dollhouses, other than that, I’m not sure the book would hold any child’s attention very well. Recommended for ages 6-9, 3 stars.
King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub written by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Don Wood
Audrey and Don Wood are a great storytelling/illustration team, so after I found out that they created this book, I knew it would be imaginative (and it definitely was). This book won a 1986 Caldecott Honor. King Bidgood does not want to come out of the bathtub, despite his page and court’s best intentions. He plans on doing everything in there, from battles, dining, fishing, and merriment. It’s after the page has had enough, that the king finally leaves. It is a very clever but random book, and I will say that the tub is enormous! Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.
Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully
Mirette lives with her mother in their boarding house in late 19th century Paris, which is always filled with actors and circus performers, who not only are colorful characters but tell fascinating stories. One day, a sad old man comes to live with them. He keeps to himself, but Mirette notices him walking across the laundry rope and decides she wants to give it a try herself. She falls off a lot but eventually stays on, and this is when he decides to teach her what he knows. It turns out that the man is the Great Bellini, a very well-known tightrope walker, but he is now afraid to perform in public. With a little help from Mirette, he regains his courage and is able to perform live again.
One reviewer I read compared Mirette to Anne of Green Gables, for her sense of adventure and high spirits, which I thought was a pretty accurate assessment. If anyone is interested, this website has a great view on the book as part of teaching kids about philosophy, or more specifically for the purposes of this book, questions on bravery and fear. This is the second tight-rope walking book I’ve read for the Caldecott Challenge (this book won the 1993 Caldecott Award), and both of them I thoroughly enjoyed. The book has lovely impressionistic style watercolor paintings, which fit right in with the time period. Highly recommended for ages 4-8, 5 stars.
Peppe the Lamplighter by Elisa Bartone
The book was an interesting glimpse into the life of an Italian immigrant family living in NYC at the turn of the 20th century. It is apparently based off stories about the author’s grandfather. Peppe lives with his father and seven sisters, though his mother has passed away. Because his father is ill, Peppe must take a job to support his family. He tries everywhere and finally gets a job with Domenico the lamplighter, who is going back to Italy to get his wife. Peppe is very proud of his job, which he equates to lighting the candles at church and praying for his family. His father, however, thinks that he didn’t work this hard to get his family to America only to have his son get such a menial job. His father’s mind is changed however, after Peppe must use his lamplighting skill to rescue his youngest sister Assunta who is afraid of the dark. Ted Lewin’s gorgeous illustrations definitely make the book more special. As this reviewer pointed out, “you can clearly tell that the depiction of light in the realistic watercolor scenes in the darkness are the reason why the pictures won the artist recognition with a  Caldecott Honor. The light plays both an important part of the story and the paintings.” My only gripe about the book is that the story is a little long. Highly recommended for ages 5-10, 4 stars.
In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming
Denise Fleming really works her magic with this book. She uses her trademark technique for illustrations, pulp painting, which according to the dust jacket is “pouring colored cotton pulp through hand-cut stencils.” I’ve seen a video on how she does it and it is a really cool process. The illustrations are vibrant and fun and show how animals and insects live around a pond from spring to winter. The rhyming text helps the paintings come alive with phrases like “wiggle, jiggle, tadpoles wriggle.” The creativity of this book will tell you why this book won a 1994 Caldecott Honor award. Recommended for ages 1-6, 3 stars.
Working Cotton by Sherley Anne Williams
The book, which won a 1993 Caldecott Honor award, is seen through the eyes of an African-American girl whose migrant family is working in the cotton fields. It is based on the author’s own experiences as she and her family picked cotton when she was little in California, as well as a volume of poetry entitled “The Peacock Poems”. The families get bused out early in the morning before the sun rises and work all day, all of them from Shelan, who is probably seven or eight, to her two older sisters and parents.
Even though the story is a bit bleak, the illustrations are splendid acrylic paintings. The cotton reminds me of snowy cherry blossoms, and the sunrise/sunset images are gorgeously colored, which almost offsets the dourness of the story. Recommended for ages 7-10, 3 stars.
Children and Young Adult
Doomwyte: Redwall Series, Book 20 by Brian Jacques
My version is not an MP3 just regular audiobook CDs. It took me forever to finish this book. First I tried it in print, but couldn’t get through it, so I tried the audiobook version In my opinion, the author and full cast reading the book, is much better than just one narrator reading it by him/herself.
This wasn’t the typical Redwall book, as it was too dark. This might’ve coincided with the author’s health getting bad, I don’t know (the book was released in 2008 and he passed away in 2011). The book had three villains: Korvus Skurr the Doomwyte (a raven), Baliss the adder (who was related to the infamous Asmodeus, the most famous snake villain in Mossflower), and Tugga Bruster (the bullying chieftain of the Guosim). Basically the story is that a couple of the youngsters in Redwall hear the story of Prince Gonff the Mousethief stealing the four eyes of the Doomwyte a long time ago, but they’ve never been found. So an expedition is mounted to find them. Meanwhile the leader of the Wytes (a collection of carrion birds) led by Korvus Skurr finds out about the Gonff story and sends birds to capture a Redwaller to find out if the story is true, but the bird is killed by a newcomer, Laird Bosie McScutta of Bowlaynee (a Highland hare who is a warrior bard – great name by the way). Bosie becomes Abbey Champion and gets to carry Martin the Warrior’s sword. On the hunt for the Doomwyte eyes (two emeralds and two rubies), Bisky (a young mouse) is kidnapped by a group of tree rats called The Painted Ones and meets another captured animal, a Guosim named Dubble. Turns out Dubble’s father is the infamous Tugga Bruster, who thinks his son is no good and bullies him as well. The Log-a-Log causes plenty of trouble when the Guosim join up with Bossie and the Redwallers rescue party. Baliss is in league with Korvus Skurr, and after his head is accidentally embedded by a Redwall hedgehog’s spikes, they become infected and he goes insane and blames the Wyte’s leader. The bad guys get it in the end and the Redwallers finish their quest with success. Recommended for ages 10+, 3 stars.
Grimm Fairy Tales: The Library by Joe Brusha
I had high hopes for this series, as I love library-themed books, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and comics, but sadly it was disappointing. The premise sounds good. A fourteen year old girl’s father is about close down a library but brings his children with him to do some business. He is disconnected from his family after the death of his wife from cancer. The girl and her younger brother find a spell book in a hidden part of the library and activate it with a key. Suddenly good and bad characters (and dinosaurs) from books are coming to life all over the library. The girl must stop Baba Yaga and the Wicked Witch of the West from getting their hands on the book and key, so that evil doesn’t rule the world. There is a happy family by the end of the book and good conquers evil. The storytelling was rather choppy and the illustrations were second-rate. It’s like they were trying too hard. I thought it was pretty cool that she had Robin Hood and Pecos Bill on her side, though and that all of the creatures from her recent nightmares were manifesting as book characters on the baddie side. Recommended for ages 13+, 2 stars.
Cinderella, Vol 1: From Fabletown with Love by Chris Roberson, illustrated by Shawn McManus
I had heard about the Fables spinoffs, so when I saw this in the library, I had to pick it up and read it. While I love Bill Willingham’s work, Chris Roberson did an equally awesome job with this comic. The premise is Cinderella works as a spy for Beast, Fabletown’s new sheriff, although she’s been doing it for hundreds of years since Bigby Wolf (the former sheriff) originally recruited her. She’s got a great cover, in that she owns a shoe store in Fabletown but makes it look like she is a jet-setting fashionista to cover all her missions. She’s divorced from Prince Charming, mayor of Fabletown, and enjoying her single life as we see from this volume after she meets the other protagonist, Aladdin. It turns out they are on the same mission, to recover and stop the sale of magical items that are being sold in the Mundane (regular human) world. They eventually trace the weapons back to a part of the old Empire called Ultima Thule and run into an old “friend” of Cinderella’s. Will they manage to stop this person before they get their hands on more magical weapons? To find out, read this excellent addition to the spin-off series. Highly recommended for ages 13+, 5 stars.
Toddler 411: Clear Answers and Smart Advice for Your Toddler by Denise Fields and Ari Brown
I picked this up in the new book section at the library, and since I have a very rambunctious 17 month old, I needed some help. I had questions about illness, bodily functions, behavior problems, and eating habits. Honestly, I just wanted to makes sure the way he was acting was normal, as he is my first child and I’m still pretty new at this parenting gig. This book answered my questions and assuaged my fears. I recommend it to parents, 4 stars.
Whole Grains for A New Generation: Light Dishes, Hearty Meals, Sweet Treats, and Sundry Snacks for the Everyday Cook by Liana Krissoff
I don’t eat as healthy as I should, so when I can find new ways to get whole grain, fruits and veggies into my diet, I jump at the chance. This is a very extensive cookbook. First, the author tells you about each grain featured, how to cook them and ways to serve them. Then there’s the actual recipes. I’m one of the weird people who actually like oatmeal and the author offers up so many topping combinations, I don’t think I’d ever get bored. I’ve never really cooked with black rice, quinoa, wheat berries, or amaranth, but this book shows you how with some pretty tasty recipes like Mexican Puffed Amaranth Sweets, Black Rice Pudding with Coconut Milk and Candied Sweet Potato, a good recipe for Fried Brown Rice, and Sprouted Wheat Berry Salad with Avocado and Picked Red Onion just to name a few. This book makes me want to check out her other cookbooks. 3 stars.
Asian Tofu: Discover the Best, Make Your Own, and Cook it at Home by Andrea Nguyen
Despite how much most people complain about tofu, I actually like it. And I’m always looking for new ways to cook it. This book, goes a step beyond simple recipes and tells you how to make it at home. Starting with homemade soy milk and ending up with tofu skin, soy lees and tofu blocks, with a few simple tools, you can prepare it at home. The author is very thorough with her tofu buying guide, basic cooking tips, and then the recipes themselves from all parts of Asia, including China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, and India. I’d seen variations of some of the recipes before in other cookbooks, but was pleased to see a whole variety of ones I’d never seen before, such as Tofu, Tomato and Dill Soup, Soft Tofu and Seafood Hot Pot, Spicy Yuba Ribbons (basically tofu skin briefly cooked with spices), and Cashew and Cardamom Fudge. The gorgeous photos of nearly every recipe helped a lot with the unfamiliar dishes. Highly recommended, 5 stars.
Bake: The Essential Companion by Alison Thompson
I really enjoyed this baking book, and the author is apparently a world-renowned pastry chef from Australia who used to work in London and is now back in Melbourne (sorry never heard of her). Aside from that, the book was a nice glimpse into how enjoyable and easy baking can be. It is nice to see an international edition, where the measurements are both in metric and US Imperial, so I can actually use the recipes without having to convert everything. I do enjoy British cookbooks but the conversion measurements take forever. Every recipe has a lovely picture, so you have some idea of what it is supposed to look like when you finish them. I am very excited to try her Sourdough Bread as it has an interesting preparation (i.e. different from traditional starters). Her recipe for Hot Cross Buns also looks excellent, as we were pretty disappointed after we tried some at a local church last year and they were dry and flavorless. I liked her recipes because even though the titles sounded complicated, the recipes themselves look pretty easy to handle. Some of the other recipes I’d like to try include the Apricot Streusel Cake, Pumpkin Orange and Poppy Seed Cake, Ginger Cake with Whipped Honey Buttercream, Hazelnut and Chocolate Meringue Layer Cake (topped with Gianduja), Smoked Salmon and Dill Savory Scones, and Spanikopita with Homemade Phyllo. 4 stars.