This has been another weird month for reading, as I have been catching up on my Caldecott reading but not doing much else. Part of the problem is that my Kindle is on the fritz so I’ve been unable to read my normal amount of Advanced Reader’s Copy books from Netgalley, to which I am sad. I’m going to try to fiddle with it today to see if I can get it to work, otherwise I’ll have to wait till Christmas when I hope to ask for a newer Kindle Fire. I started reading The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders, which was fascinating but that in combination with Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand had so much death in it, I was getting pretty depressed and had to switch to some Christopher Moore (love that man, his books are hilarious!) to cheer up again. I am currently at 207 out of 250 books read for the year, so pretty happy with that total. On to the 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.
Big Book of My World written and illustrated by Kali Stileman
I picked up this beginner’s guide to words for my son, who is learning how to talk properly and likes books that name things so he can look at the pictures and repeat them. The only thing that makes this different from other similar books are the original brightly-colored illustrations, which really seem to capture the attention of my son. Recommended for ages 2-4, 3 stars.
The Story of Jumping Mouse: A Native American Legend retold and illustrated by John Steptoe
I had never heard this Native American anthropomorphic folktale until I picked up this book for the Caldecott Challenge. It won a 1985 Caldecott Honor and rightly so as the illustrations are gorgeous and it is a captivating story as well. A mouse wants to journey to the far-off land, a place he has only heard about in stories. On his way there, he meets a magical frog who grants him the ability to jump really high and gives him some magic. At each stage of his journey, the humble but brave Jumping Mouse gives a bit of himself to other animals he meets and they help him reach his goal of the Far-Off Land, and he is rewarded in the end. Recommended for ages 4-9, 5 stars.
The Funny Little Woman by Arlene Mosel, illustrated by Blair Lent
I swear I have read this story before, but I couldn’t remember so I read out loud for my son and I this past weekend (though it is a little too advanced for him). This book won the 1973 Caldecott Medal. It is an intriguing story about story about a little old Japanese lady who loves making rice dumplings. One day, one of her dumplings rolls away into a hole in the ground and she goes chasing after it, passing by several statues of gods who warn her away from the area because an Oni (demon or troll) is guarding the area. She ignores them and is captured by the Oni and forced to cook for them. They give her a magic rice paddle that can create a whole meal out of one grain of rice. After being down there for awhile, she cunningly escapes from them and returns to the surface and her home, where she uses the paddle to start a business for herself. Recommended for ages 5-9, 3 stars.
On Market Street by Arnold Lobel, illustrated by Anita Lobel
This book won a 1982 Caldecott Honor, and there was very stiff competition that year for awards, as almost all of them I’ve read so far were excellent. The story is about a young boy who goes to Market Street to buy presents for his friend, 26 in all, one for every letter of the alphabet. My son was fascinated by the pictures, done by Lobel’s wife Anita, and I must say that I was as well. They were done in the style of 17th century French trade illustrations, and are just fascinating. My son loved N is for Noodles, while I liked T is for Toys (complete with Frog and Toad puppets) and B is for Books. Recommended for ages 2-5, 4 stars.
The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot July 25, 1909 by Alice and Martin Provensen
I had never heard this story before, so I was curious to see how they made it into a children’s picture book. This book won the 1984 Caldecott Award, though it had a fair amount of competition from Trina Schart Hyman’s beautifully illustrated Little Red Riding Hood. Louis Bleriot was a well-to-do Frenchman with a large family at the turn of the 20th century who dreamed of flying. After many attempts, he finally gets the right model on the 11th try. It is Bleriot XI that he uses to make the first successful journey across the English Channel from France in 1909. Recommended for ages 5-9, 4 stars.
Puss in Boots by Charles Perrault, translated and illustrated by Marcia Brown
This has been the hardest Caldecott book to get to date. It took me three attemps at Interlibrary loan before they finally sent me the correct title. This book won a 1953 Caldecott Honor and is definitely one of the better ones from that year. Marcia Brown’s illustrations are very similar to the ones for her 1955 Caldecott-winning book Cinderella, or the Little Glass Slipper, another Charles Perrault classic. The illustrator also provides the translation used for the book. As I have previously reviewed a Puss in Boots book recently (the 1991 illustrated by Fred Marcellino version) , please see that one for the story of the book. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.
Strega Nona written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
This is one of those books that I put off reading because everyone was always raving about the author/illustrator. I will admit that I love the book’s illustrations. The story was cute too. Strega Nona is the local witch of an Italian village. She helps everyone with little problems, even the priests and nuns. As she is getting on in years. She decides that she needs help and gets some from a local boy named Big Anthony. He helps her around the house and tends farm animals and in return gets room and board. One day, he overhears her talking to a magic pasta pot which can cook pasta and clean up after itself. He thinks this is a great trick and so one day when Strega Nona is away, he invites the whole village to the house to have the pasta. Only he forgets part of the spell to control the pot, and soon there are waves of pasta cruising down the street and Big Anthony is unable to stop the flow. That is, of course, until Strega Nona comes home. She saves the day and invents a clever way to punish the boy for messing with her magic. This book won a 1976 Caldecott Honor. Recommended for ages 3-8, 4 stars.
Goldilocks and the Three Bears retold and illustrated by James Marshall
The only James Marshall book that I’ve read is Miss Nelson is Missing, which he illustrated but someone else wrote. I’ve read bits and pieces of George and Marsha, but not much else. I liked this sort of bratty version of Goldilocks. He has twisted the classic story ever so slightly to follow his more modern illustrations. This book won a 1989 Caldecott Honor. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.
Mice Twice written and illustrated by Joseph Low
I had never heard of this book before picking it up for the Caldecott Challenge. It won a 1981 Caldecott Honor. It is about getting one’s just desserts, so to speak. Cat is hungry and decides he will eat Mouse, so he invites her to supper. She is wise to his tricks and invites Dog to come with her. Cat is afraid, but comes to Mouse’s house for the next supper, and each guest to dinner brings a different guest, one-upping the previous one until Cat if finally beat and taught a valuable lesson. Recommended for ages 5-9, 3 stars.
Ben’s Trumpet written and illustrated by Rachel Isadore
A very nice book about imagination, this one won a 1980 Caldecott Honor award. Ben lives near the Zig Zag Club, a jazz bar, in the 1920s. He loves to sit outside and listen to the musicians play while he plays his trumpet. He thinks the trumpet is the best and loves to play it for friends and family. One day while playing outside the Zig Zag Club, some kids start bullying him and telling him his trumpet isn’t real and this makes Ben sad. That is, until the trumpeter from the club helps him out. Recommended for ages 5-8, 4 stars.
Shadow from the French by Blaise Cendrars, translated and illustrated by Marcia Brown
Goodness gracious this book went on forever! I know it’s only 36 pages, but it seemed much longer. I know it was way too advanced for my two year old, but I like reading him poetry every now and again. I finished reading this one by myself. The “story” is a poem by French writer Blaise Cedrars and was written, I think, in the 1920s. The book is a free verse poem about shadows and how they are not as they seem. It is very loosely based on African folklore, which is reflected in Marcia Brown’s colorful collage illustrations. Recommended for ages 7-11, 3 stars.
Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs: A Tale from the Brothers Grimm translated by Randall Jarrell, illustrated by Nancy Ekholm Burkert
Ok I will say that this is probably the third time I’ve read Snow White for the Caldecott Challenge, but this one is definitely my favorite. This book won a 1973 Caldecott Honor. The text is the same for all of them, but the layout is a bit different with this one. Here we have two huge pages of text followed by a two-page spread of gorgeous medieval-like illustrations. The colors are just glorious and Snow White really is a beautiful young woman. The story is pretty much the one that everyone knows. A queen gives birth to a daughter as white as snow, with lips as red as blood and hair as black as ebony and she is so beautiful that after the queen dies, and the king remarries, Snow’s stepmother is constantly jealous of her and wants her killed. In this version, she requests the huntsman to kill her and bring back her lung and liver as proof. Huntsman takes pity and frees Snow, killing a boar instead. Snow runs away and finds the dwarves’ cottage and they let her stay in return for looking after the house and taking care of them. The queen finds out she is alive and tries to kill her first with corset laces, then with a poisoned comb, then with the poisoned apple. Snow “dies” and is taken away by the prince (who has fallen in love with her at first sight) only to be awoken on the journey back to his palace. They marry and make the evil queen dance at their wedding in red-hot iron shoes until she dies (the illustrator does not show this, just her discarded iron shoes).
The only thing I can never figure out from this story is how old she is supposed to be by the time she marries the prince. Is she closer to 7 or 14? Also does anyone else find it weird that the prince falls in love with her after she is “dead”? Either way, the story always comes out a little creepy to me because I can never be sure. Recommended for ages 5-9, 5 stars.
Timothy Turtle by Al Graham, illustrated by Tony Palazzo
I thought this was a very odd book but well-done. Let me explain. The story was done in rhyme with detailed pen drawings of the animals and splashes of blue and peach in the background. The language is a bit out-dated, but is fun to read. The book won a 1947 Caldecott Honor.
The story is about Timothy Turtle, who runs a ferry service with his friend Drake. Wanting to feel more adventurous and important, he decides to climb Took-A-Look hill, no small feat for a slow turtle. On the way up, a boulder comes crashing out of nowhere on him and he flips over. With much determination, he flips back over and decides to go home. He gets a hero’s welcome when he arrives there, as a bee has seen his somersault and told everyone about it. I loved the detailed map of Timothy’s adventure in the front of the book! Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.
Cathedral: The Story of Its Construction written and illustrated by David Macaulay
I have known about this book for awhile, but for whatever reason, I never picked it up though I find the subject matter fascinating. The book won the 1974 Caldecott Honor and rightly so as it is a very well-done. The book shows the development, building and completion of a Gothic Cathedral in France in the 13th century, over the course of eighty years. Though it was originally created for children, I would use this book as a way to explain Art History to college students as it clearly explains the information without dumbing it down to the reader. I cannot wait to read his Caldecott Honor book on castles! Recommended for ages 9+, 5 stars.
The Sun is a Golden Earring by Natalia Belting, illustrated by Bernarda Bryson
Ok yes, this 1963 Caldecott Honor winning book was a bit random, but I enjoyed it. The book was a group of folktales, from countries all over the world, which were used to explain the sun, moon, stars, lightning and thunder. I particularly liked the pencil illustrations done by Bernarda Bryson, as I thought they were very whimsical and fun. For examples, check out this Goodreads reviewers blog. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.
The Boats on the River by Marjorie Flack, illustrated by Jay Hyde Barnum
I was delighted to find out, while reading the dedication for this book, that the author wrote the book, a 1947 Caldecott Honor winner, for her grandson Timmy, which his father then illustrated. The book is about all the different kinds of boats that can be found on the river, on a city by the sea. Tugboats, sailboats, cruise ships, ferries and motor boats are but a few of the many included with rhyming text in this book. While I was not a fan of the text, I adored the brightly colored illustrations. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.
You Can Write Chinese by Kurt Wiese
There was actually a bit of a story to this book, though the main part of the story comes from the illustrations of the Chinese characters. Peter, a young American boy is in a class with Chinese boys who are learning the words and characters for the first time. I enjoyed the simple black line drawings with the crayon outlines.
This is an odd book to review. It won a 1946 Caldecott Honor award. It is definitely dated as you can see from some of the depictions of the Chinese men in the book. However, given other book topics from the same year and time period, it is pretty unique and does teach you about basic Chinese characters and how they were first created and how you can duplicate them on your own. I’m not sure how much difference there is now between the words and meanings used back then and what is used now, as I am not an expert. I knew nothing about the author/illustrator, but I did find this little blurb on him. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.
The Bremen-Town Musicians by the Brothers Grimm, retold by Ilse Plume
A simplified version of the classic Brothers Grimm tale, although this is not one of my favorites, it was well-done. In this book, the donkey, dog, cat and rooster ban together after being threatened by their masters with violence. Instead of instruments, they plan to use their voices to make their fortune. They happen about a house with robbers in it, scare them away and share the house and its contents between themselves. It won a 1981 Caldecott Honor award. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.
Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm, retold by Rika Lesser and illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky
This was an fascinating variation of the traditional Brothers Grimm tale, Hansel and Gretel. Rika Lesser used an early version of the folktale as the basis for her story, which makes it a bit darker than newer interpretation, but is more like the story that the Grimm Brothers orginally transcribed. In the book, Hansel and Gretel’s family is starving, and their mother (though I have sometimes heard the story as their stepmother, depending on the translation) says the father that they must take them out into the woods with a bit of bread, build them a big fire and leave them there. The children overhear and Hansel saves them by dropping small white pebbles on the way out to the forest. They find their way back home and the mother suggests they do it again, but drag them out deeper into the forest, which the parents do the following day. They are unable to gather pebbles, so Hansel drops bread crumbs, which the birds eat and the children are trapped in the forest. Eventually they wander around and find the witches house, topped with pancakes and with candy-glass windows and begin eating, as they probably hadn’t eaten for days. The witch finds them, imprisons Hansel and puts Gretel to work fattening up her brother so the witch can eat him, giving Gretel next to nothing to eat. Eventually the witch tries to cook Gretel, but she is shoved in the oven instead. They loot the witch’s house and from there somehow manage to make it home where they find their father (their mother has since mysteriously died). Aside from story, the other great thing are the illustrations. Though I prefer his version of “Rapunzel” better for the artwork, this one is well-done. He does this one in a Renaissance-style as well, and very detailed. According to this website: “He used a modified Renaissance painting technique. He used watercolors, on watercolor paper, to paint an underpainting all in grays and browns. This process is called grisaille. Then he sealed the paper so he could paint on top of it with oils, transparently. The illustrations had a lot of dark colors to set the mood and tone, but I also noticed a lot of light which signified hope for the children. As Hansel was gathering stones, there was a full moon for him to see. When they are coming out of the forest and returning home, they are running in the direction of the rising sun. Even as they encounter the witch there is a lot of light and bright colors.”
Recommended for ages 5-9, 4 stars.
The Amazing Bone written and illustrated by William Steig
This was an odd book. It reminded me of an early Grimm Brothers story in the way that it was a bit gruesome and scary, but as far as I know it was original. It won a 1977 Caldecott Honor award. Pearl is young pig returning from school on a beautiful spring day, when she decides to enjoy nature for awhile. She finds a talking bone under a tree doing the exact same thing. The bone can talk in multiple languages and can imitate any sound on earth. Pearl decides to take the bone home with her and on the way, she runs into some robbers who are quickly scared away by the bone. Then she runs into a crafty fox, who is not scared of the bone and plans to take Pearl to his home and eat her. It is only through some quick thinking by the bone that they manage to escape and the bone has a treasured place in Pearl’s home. Recommended for ages 8-12, 3 stars.
The Diviners (The Diviners #1) by Libba Bray, narrated by January LaVoy
I picked up this book by chance at the library, while looking for a new teen book to check out. The narrator, January LaVoy, was excellent and did a great job doing the voices, and all the different personalities in the book. If it wasn’t for her, I probably would’ve never finished this book. The book itself was not bad, it had a lot of potential. A late teen/new adult book about flappers in the 1920s and a murder mystery to boot with a little paranormal activity thrown in for good measure, sounds really fascinating to me. It is clear that the author researched a lot for this book in the details of the story. However, it was almost like she was trying to jam every minor detail about the 1920s in one book, which made the story a little overwhelming. Plus there’s the story that just keeps going and just when you think it should stop, it keeps right on going. It took me a couple of discs to really get into the book, but once the story moved from Ohio to New York, I was hooked. While I enjoyed the story, I think it might’ve worked better if it was divided into two books. The ending was rather a let down after the book had gotten so interesting in the middle of the story. I know the author plans to make this book into a series, so I am interested in how she will continue the story.
Evie O’Neill is a wanna-be flapper stuck in Ohio, that is until she does her little “party trick” (a supernatural power that no one knows about but her) and ends up being sent to her bachelor Uncle Will’s house in New York City. To her though, this is not a punishment. Manhattan is where all the rich and fashionable flappers live and Evie sees this trip as full of possibilities. That is, until the murders start happening. Someone is murdering people in a ritualistic way and taking body parts and Uncle Will (who owns a museum of the supernatural and the occult) is asked to help the police. Evie and her power become instrumental in finding out who the killer is and why the murders are taking place. Other young people with supernatural talents are emerging from the woodwork as well, and they all seem to know Evie in some way. Recommended for ages 16+, 3 ½ stars.
A Great and Terrible Beauty (Gemma Doyle #1) by Libba Bray
I picked up this book after enjoying her other book The Diviners. I found this book really hard to review because there is so much going on that it is hard to summarize. Like The Diviners, this one was very well-researched, but it also had the issue of a crappy beginning with an intriguing middle and end. I think it is because in both books, the main characters first appear very whiny and needy, but as the story progresses, they grow more complex and well-rounded. I would actually be interested in seeing how the series progresses, though I’m not sure what else they can do with the story. Honestly, I think I may have enjoyed the author’s commentary on how she picked the topic and created the book more than the book itself.
Gemma Doyle lives in India with her parents in the mid-1890s. She discovers that she can see visions of the future after “witnessing” and then finding her mother’s dead body. She is shipped off to England to go to finishing school, and her family tells everyone that her mother died of cholera. Gemma knows no one at the school and right from the start does not fit in, especially after she takes her mousy roommate Anne’s side after a couple of the posh girls try to prank her. After catching Felicity, one of the posh girls, in a compromising position, Gemma ends up befriending her and her friend Pippa. She gets them to invite Ann as the condition for her joining their little group, which they call “The Order”. Then things get a bit weird. Gemma is followed from India by a mysterious young man named Kartik who urges her to stop having the visions. She finds the journal of Mary Dowd, describing her journey to a magical world called The Realms with her friend Sarah. At first she and her friends think the journal is made-up until they all enter The Realms and experience the magic firsthand. As the story progresses, we find that each of the girls in The Order has a reason for wanting to escape into the Realms, and even though the book is set during the end of the Victorian era, modern girls can identify with Felicity, Pippa, Gemma and Ann. Will Gemma ever figure out who Mary Dowd is and learn of her ultimate fate? Just who is Kartik and what does he really want? Will Gemma and the other girls ever be able to find their place in this world?
Check out these other great reviews of the book, from The Book Smugglers and Books and Sensibility. Recommended for ages 14+, 3 ½ stars.
His Lordship Possessed (Disenchanted & Co. Book 1, Part 2) by Lynn Viehl
Morgan Kane: Without Mercy by Louis Masterson
Queue Tips: Discovering Your Next Great Movie by Rob Christopher
This was a good group of movie lists for both well-known and slightly obscure titles. I didn’t know until after I started reading it that it was produced by the ALA (American Library Association), which is pretty cool. I made a list of about 20 films that I would like to watch from the book. 4 stars.
The French Market Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes from My Parisian Kitchen by Clotilde Dusoulier
This cookbook was a nice seasonal approach to cooking vegetarian/vegan recipes from a French background. I will admit that I have never seen a vegetarian French cookbook before, as I always think of French cooking as full of cream, cheese and meat, so this collection of recipes was a bit of a revelation to me. I love that nearly every recipe has a gorgeous photo to with it. I would love to try the Cauliflower Gratin with Turmeric and Hazelnuts, Yogurt Mousse with Raspberries and Lemon Verbena Syrup, the Peach, Almond and Cardamon Clafoutis, and several more. 4 stars.
Stopping Stress Before It Stops You: A Game Plan for Every Mom by Dr. Kevin Leman
I picked up this book because I have been so stressed out the last couple of years, that I am willing to look at anything that might help. I thought it had some very good common-sense ideas, such as learning to properly manage priorities. This is how is my priorities are currently listed: child, husband, job, financial security and this is how it should be listed: husband, child, job, financial security. I also learned the importance of making your marriage your top priority and talking about how you feel with them. I try to share my opinions and ask my hubby for his whenever possible. One of my favorite quotes and something I’ve been trying to explain to my husband for years was quoted by a mom in this book: “All mothers work. The lucky ones get paid.” I need to learn that I can’t be supermom all the time. Knowing this will help me reduce stress. In addition, I need to learn to live with imperfection in myself and other people and to continue to build stress relievers into my workday.
One of the biggest things I learned in the book was the Game Plan to Beat Stress. It included three areas of focus: Physical, Emotional and Spiritual. Under the physical section, it urges moms to find ways to better take care of your body (like talking a walk first thing in the morning and eating healthier). These two I would like to start right away. For Emotional Health, the focus should be on showing others that you care, knowing your limits, and deciding to see things differently and act accordingly. I think Emotional help will probably be the hardest to get through. As far as Spiritual Health goes, the most important things to do is to gain a better self-image, and talk to God every day or seeking out a place of worship. The great thing about reducing stress is that you can choose your own pace in which to complete it. 4 stars.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand, narrated by Edward Herrmann
Wow, this book was a roller coaster of emotions! I had heard about how good this book was from my dad, who loves audiobooks and WWII stories, and it had been on my to-read list forever. I finally got a audiobook version of it, read by the amazing Edward Herrmann (who I will forever remember as FDR after that TV show he did in the 1970s). It is a crazy, unbelievable, and yet totally true story! It was very well-researched, and even had me wondering how long it must have taken to write this book for the incredible amount of detail the author used in the story. I loved it, but parts of it got so depressing, especially his time in the POW camp, that it was hard to get through. I had to listen to something totally different and funny afterwards to pep myself back up again. Now it seems they are making a movie about the book, and I must say I’m a little apprehensive as I would really want them to do justice to this great book.
The book is about the life of Louis Zamperini. I had never heard of him before this book, but he led such an fascinating life. He was a member of the Olympic running team in 1936 and actually met Hitler at the Games. He was an AAF Bombadier on a B24 during WWII until his plane went down and he was lost at sea for 47 days with two crew mates (the record previously was 32 days). He lands on a Japanese-controlled island and is sent to an execution island, only to be saved at the last minute and sent to POW Camps on mainland Japan. There he was starved on-and-off for 2 1/2 years, and endured countless physical and emotional abuse. He had no contact with his family for 2 1/2 years and the American government thought he was dead and told his family he was. Despite all of this, he manages to survive and come back to America, marry and have a family, and eventually makes it back to Japan to forgive his guards. The European theater of WWII usually gets most of the attention, but I knew a bit about the fighting in the Pacific part of the war, as that where my paternal grandfather had fought. I had no idea that there were so many casualties (a lot from plane errors/crashes), nor that there were so many POWs (over 136,000) and that so many had died in Japan and Japanese-controlled islands. The statistics were rather eye-opening and shocking to say the least. Highly recommended, 5 stars.