I feel like I’ve not gotten nearly as many books read in the past month, mostly because it’s been very hit or miss (mostly miss) when trying to select good adult books to read. I went through three different choices before settling on the book I just finished, and even it wasn’t stellar. I am trying to decide which Netgalley book to tackle next, as my latest choices have just flat out sucked. I think I might read some fluffy nonfiction books from the library for awhile until I can make up my mind. I started listening to the Game of Thrones audiobook, as I don’t have cable and they just finished the 3rd season, which I won’t get to watch until the next DVD set comes out, and figured that since I liked the show, I would probably like the printed version. The series actually does follow relatively close, but there is of course a good amount of creative license used. I will say, at this point, I like the books way better than the series. The audiobook is 28 discs, which makes sense if you think about the fact that the actual printed book is nearly 900 pages. I got nearly 20 discs into it before I had to return it (the hold list on the book is insane, it took me over 2 months to get my copy). I think I’m gonna have to break down and buy the first book so I can finish the story, which of course was just starting to get good as I had to return it. You think the show is crazy with its incestuous couples, sex and violence? The book is way more so, but it just makes the story-telling more fascinating (though I could do with a whole lot less stomach ripping open scenes).
I am proud of myself though for reading 228 of the about 300 Caldecott Winners/Honors list! It’s been taking longer lately because my son hasn’t been interested in listening to the stories, only the ones he wants me to read (lately it’s been Daddy Cuddles by Anne Gutman). I’m still not finished of course, but that is definitely making some headway. Plus my local library finally put their Caldecott Collection where it is easier to access, so I might be able to slip away for a few hours in the near future to catch up on the 1940s-60s books I can’t check out. 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. Because I have previously reviewed the Netgalley books on my blog, I will just list the titles and provide the links to them.
Daddy Cuddles by Ann Gutman, illustrated by Georg Hallensben
This book is currently my son’s favorite story to read at bedtime. It is a cute book which shows different animals and how the fathers cuddle with their babies. Recommended for ages 1-4, 3 stars.
Goldilocks and Just One Bear by Leigh Hodgkinson
I picked this one up because the description sounded interesting. I loved the brightly colored buildings of the city and the way it all looked as if a child could’ve drawn them. A variation of the Goldilocks story, in this version a bear gets lost in the woods and ends up in a big city. To get out of all the noise of traffic, he goes into an apartment building and finds a very upscale place where he can eat, sit down, and have a nap. He dreams he is back home until he realizes there are people in the apartment and they’ve found him and everything he has done there. The mommy person and the bear look at each other and think they each look very familiar, and then realize they know each other. It is Baby Bear and Goldilocks! She fixes him a big bowl of porridge, and then he goes home. Cute story. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.
Hey, Al by Arthur Yorinks, illustrated by Richard Egielski
I really enjoyed this 1987 Caldecott winning book, especially colorful illustrations and the banter between Al and Eddie. Al is a janitor who lives in a studio apartment with his dog Eddie, and they do everything together. Eddie can’t wait for them to move out and have some change, but Al is resistant. One day, a beautiful brightly colored bird invites them to a floating island paradise, where they happily remain with all the other birds until they realize that something is not quite right. They start turning into birds and decided that now it is time to leave, and just barely make it back alive and fully human and dog. They decide that their life isn’t so bad after all. Recommended for ages 4-9, 4 stars.
Journey Cake, Ho! by Ruth Sawyer, illustrated by Robert McCloskey
I would just like to say again how weird children’s books from the 1940s -1960s are, as far as content goes. I sometimes wonder where in the heck they came up with the subject matter. This is not to say books from these years are bad, but very different. This book won a 1954 Caldecott Honor award. The author, Ruth Sawyer, was mother-in-law to the illustrator, Robert McCloskey and apparently his wife was a children’s librarian. Though I have not always been a fan of Robert McCloskey (with the exception of “Make Way for Ducklings”), I absolutely adore his brown and blue illustrations done for this picture book. They made me crack up! Especially the one in the beginning with Old Man Grumble laying back in his chair. This story was basically a mountain folktale version of “The Gingerbread Man”.
Johnny is a bound-out boy (basically an indentured apprentice) who works for Merry and her husband Grumble, on their farm. Everyone has their own work to do. One day, the animals either run away or are stolen, and so Merry and Grumble must let go of Johnny to find his own way in the world, as they can no longer afford to feed him. So he is sent off with a Journey Cake (a giant round cornbread) and some tools. Everything is fine until the Journey Cake pops out of his bag and rolls off town the hill, and gets some pigs, cows, sheep and chicken to follow it. They end up back at Merry and Grumble’s farm, which is now saved thanks to all these free animals showing up. Johnny is welcomed back to the farm. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.
The Golem: A Jewish Legend by Beverly Brodsky McDermott
I had heard of the Golem story before, through David Wisniewski’s wonderful 1996 version and other books. I was curious to see another person’s interpretation of the story and this one was definitely interesting. This book won a 1977 Caldecott Honor award, and was rather hard to find (finally managed to get an interlibrary loan copy from Georgia). It is basically the same story of the Wisniewski verson except that it ends more suddenly. Rabbi Lev is the leader of the Jewish Ghetto in Prague in the sixteenth century and one night he has a prophetic dream about trouble between the Jews and Christians of that city. This prompts him to create a golem, a powerful clay man, who serves as the guardian and protector of the ghetto. This is especially true when the rabbi’s dream comes true and the golem must stop a riot, but instead of simply stopping it, he runs rampant throughout the ghetto burning down houses and uprooting trees. The rabbi, therefore, must destroy his creation. This version is different in that it uses Expressionist painting, with its indistinct shapes, bright colors and black outlines, to show the violence of the story. Recommended for ages 7-11, 2 1/2 stars.
The Village of Square and Round Houses by Ann Grifalconi
I will say that though it is taking me forever to read all of the Caldecott Winners and Honors, I am discovering a lot of hidden gems, like this book. I probably would have never picked up this one on my own, but it had won a 1987 Caldecott Honor. The author/illustrator went to the village of Tos in Cameroon, and met with the African people on which the book is based. My favorite part of the story was when the grandmother started telling her story about the mountain.
We see the village in West Africa through the eyes of a young girl named Osa who is learning about the reason behind the segregation of men and women from her grandmother. They live under a volcano, which has long been silent until one day, it explodes laying waste to the surrounding countryside. But the villagers are spared along with two houses, one square and one round. So the village elder gave the men the square one and the round one to the women. This system works because as the grandmother explains “Because each one has a place to be apart, and a time to be together.” Recommended for ages 5-9, 4 stars.
Duffy and the Devil by Harve and Margot Zemach
This story is based off a Cornish (the Southwestern coast of England) folktale, but it is also a variation of Rumpelstiltskin. I will admit that though I have read tons of fairy and folk tales over the years, I have never heard this version before. It was an interesting story, though a bit long-winded. This book won the 1974 Caldecott Medal.
Squire Lovel is in search of a maid to do the knitting and sewing when he runs into Duffy and her mother having an argument. He decides to take Duffy home after she swears she can knit and sew well, only she can’t, which we discover once she heads up to the attic. That’s when the devil shows up. He spins some magnificent stockings for Duffy to give to the Squire, but she must guess his name within three years or he can take her away. The Squire and everyone in town is so impressed with his stockings that he demands more things to be knitted. Duffy agrees to the devil’s plan, and he starts right away making garments for the Squire. He likes her garments so much that they get married and it around this time that her three years are up and she still hasn’t guessed his name. So she gets a bit of help from Old Jone, the Squire’s elderly housekeeper, who also turns out to be a witch. She guesses his name correctly and lives happily every after with the Squire. Recommended for ages 8-12, 3 ½ stars.
Hawk, I’m Your Brother by Byrd Baylor, illustrated by Peter Parnall
Normally I love Byrd Baylor books but this one was the exception. I just thought the poem went on for way too long that the story started to drag. Thankfully Peter Parnall’s incredibly detailed illustrations saved the book from being a total failure, with the possible exception of his far away drawings of the boy, as it makes him look like an alien.
The poem is the story of Rudy, a Native American boy who wants to fly like the hawks he sees near the mountain. In order to get closer to his goal of flying, he abducts a baby hawk and keeps it with him, keeping it tethered on the end of a string. The more time he spends with the bird, the more he sees how the hawk yearns to fly and how wrong it is to keep him from doing it. So he sets the hawk free. Recommended for ages 7-12, 3 stars.
Have You Seen My Duckling? by Nancy Tafuri
This was a cute and sweet book about a duckling who wanders away from the nest while chasing a moth. It won a 1984 Caldecott Honor award. Momma Duck and the rest of his brothers and sisters go looking for him. She asks a crane, a turtle, another momma duck, a beaver and some fish if they have seen her duckling. Meanwhile, on every two-page spread the missing duckling is hiding in the illustration and it is fun to find the duckling with kids. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.
Unnatural Creatures by Neil Gaiman
I picked up this book because it is a collection of short stories collected/edited by Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite writers. I wanted to read one of his other new books, Ocean at the End of the Lane, but it is on endless hold at the library. It turned out to be a really great collection of stories on creatures such as mermaids, werewolves, witches, interdimensional gods and other characters. The book included a short story from Neil Gaiman entitled “Sunbird” which I had first read in his other short story collection entitled Fragile Things. It is a great edition to book as well. I enjoyed that he included a Frank R. Stockton story called The Griffin and the Minor Canon, as I had recently discovered the 19th century writer and his tales. I thought it was brilliant that he included as story by Nnedi Okorafor, as I loved her book “Who Becomes Death”. A totally new to me author was E. Lily Yu’s who interestingly titled story “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” immediately grabbed my attention. The only story I couldn’t get through was “The Flight of the Horse”. Recommended for ages 13+, 4 stars.
The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co., #1) by Jonathan Stroud
A Study in Silks (The Baskerville Affair #1) by Emma Jane Holloway
Ostrich: a novel by Matt Greene
Fun with the Family Southern California: 8th Edition: Hundreds of Ideas for Day Trips with Kids by Laura Kath
I skimmed this travel guide, focusing on the Los Angeles and San Diego areas. It is obvious though while the author was very good at describing all the fun things you can do with children, particularly those 10+, there was not much description of events/activities for much younger children or those on a budget. 2 stars.
The Cheap Bastard’s Guide to Las Vegas: Secrets of Living the Good Life–for Less! by Shaena Engle
This book was a very good introduction to Las Vegas and the free or rather cheap entertainment and services you can get there. The book gave me a lot of ideas for places to go that I had not thought about, including things to do with kids. It makes a trip to Vegas for the weekend seem possible, assuming you don’t gamble all your money away. 3 stars.
Biting Through the Skin: An Indian Kitchen in America’s Heartland by Nina Mukerjee Furstenau
The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler