I’m on a bit of a book slump the past month. It seems like every book I’ve started recently I either couldn’t finish it because it was boring or bad writing, or because I simply didn’t have the concentration to do so. For example, I started reading this fascinating biography called Toulouse-Lautrec: A Life, but it was so long (700 pages of nonfiction) that I was reading so slowly that I knew it would take me probably a couple months to finish it. Thankfully, I’m started to get a little bit better quality books. I finally got back a copy of The Invention of Murder from the library and I’m hoping to finish the last 70 pages of that book after the short children’s chapter book I just picked up called Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School and Other Scary Things. I’m on the last disc of the audiobook version of Game of Thrones, which I loved (review below). I think I might try to actually read the second book in the series though, to see if it goes a bit better for me than the audiobook. The one thing I am proud of is that I’ve only got only about 60 books left in my Caldecott Challenge (out of about 300+), and working hard to finish it by the end of the year.
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.
Cat Tale by Michael Hall
This book has been on my to-read list for my 2 year old son for awhile after seeing it on a Goodreads list, and they finally had a copy in the library free so I put it on hold immediately. Both my son and I loved the brightly colored cats named Lillian, Tilly and William J and their rhyming adventures, and wanted to look through it multiple times. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.
LMNO Peas by Keith Baker
I’ve been wanting to read this to my son for awhile and yesterday I got a free copy from the public library who had come to his daycare to talk about Literacy Training for parents. I loved it and so did my son. The peas are the star of this book and features alphabetical jobs, hobbies, activities, as shown by the in-detail illustrations of the peas. My son even picked up on the hidden ladybug in on all the two-page spreads before I did. Can’t wait to check out more artwork by this author/illustrator! We have a paperback copy of this book. Recommended for ages 2-6, 5 stars.
Toulouse-Lautrec: The Moulin Rouge and the City of Light by Robert Burleigh
I picked up this book first after reading Christopher Moore’s book Sacre Bleu: A Comedy d’Arte because I was fascinated with Moore’s interpretation of Henri Toulouse-Latrec and wanted to find out more. Before delving into a thick academic book, which I also got, I decided to see how a children’s nonfiction author would handle the artist. I was honestly wondering if would be possible to pull a book like this off, especially as a book for older elementary school children, without going into a discussion about drugs, alcohol and sex, three things which let’s face it, did influence Toulouse-Lautrec’s artwork. I thought the author did an good job at explaining the basics about Toulouse-Lautrec’s life. He was a considered a dwarf because of a hereditary bone condition and having broke both his legs as a child and they never healed properly, so the man was not quite five feet tall. Despite this, as the book explains, he was quite popular with everyone and very entertaining. Even though he came from an aristocratic family, he painted everyday scenes of contemporary Parisian life, such as the people that went to the various dance halls and circuses of the time, which were the main source of entertainment for those that lived in and around Montmartre. The amount of artwork the artist did in a 15 year period is mind-blowing. Very well-researched book, and the author does explain a bit more about the artist in the author’s note in the back, along with a thorough bibliography. I am very interested in learning much more about Toulouse-Lautrec in the future. Recommended for ages 9-12, 4 stars.
When I was Young in the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode
I enjoyed this 1983 Caldecott Honor much more than her other Honor winning book from two years later, The Relatives Came. This book was about her growing up in the Appalachian Mountains, in a coal-mining town in West Virginia, and lived with her grandparents. It reminded me of summers as a child at my maternal grandparents’ house in Alabama (they lived in the country, not the mountains but similar things happened there). The story is from a simpler time and that is reflected in the illustrations. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.
It Could Always Be Worse: A Yiddish Folk Tale retold and illustrated by Margot Zemach
I had previously read the book she created with her husband, Duffy and the Devil, which was a bit of an odd book, but a fascinating story. I appreciated the humor in this 1978 Caldecott Honor book, which was a retelling of a Yiddish folktale. It is about a man whose wife, six children and mother all live in a one-room shack together. He comes to the Rabbi complaining about his family and the fact that they are all living together in this small house, so in order for the man to appreciate what he has, the Rabbi tells him to keep adding more and more animals to the house until he can’t take it any longer and then he tells the man to remove them. The quiet and peacefulness that follows leaves the man very thankful. One good way to get the point across to students would be to follow the questions from this website. Recommended for ages 7-12, 3 1/2 stars.
Fables by Arnold Lobel
When I originally picked this one up from the library, it was rather relevant to the English Conversation program I volunteer with as we were doing a program on proverbs and superstitions, and fables are related to proverbs. This 1981 Caldecott Award winner features a collection of 20 fables created by Arnold Lobel, of Frog and Toad fame, and features his one-of-a-kind full-page illustrations to compliment his one page fables. It took us awhile to read these, despite their short length as my son only had eyes for his favorite board books. Recommended for ages 5-9, 3 stars.
Hosie’s Alphabet words by Hosea, Tobias and Lisa Baskin, illustrated by Leonard Baskin
This was a well-done alphabet book with clever uses of each letter and fascinating accompanying watercolor illustrations. I liked that this was created by Leonard Baskin’s two sons and their mother, to accompany the artwork of their father. It won a 1973 Caldecott Honor award. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.
A Story, A Story: An African Tale retold and illustrated by Gail E. Haley
I have loved Anansi stories from Africa and the Caribbean ever since I read Neil Gaiman’s book Anansi Boys. This 1971 Caldecott Award winner is definitely a great book in my opinion as it not only has a fascinating story but also great illustrations. The bright colors that the author/illustrator used, as well as the fact that they were woodblock prints, really made them stand out. My son couldn’t stop flipping through the book to check them out.
In this story, Anansi the spider man (who is also the storyteller of this tale) goes to the sky god and asks for all the stories of the world, which the god keeps locked in a box. He says yes but only if he can complete three impossible tasks. Anansi manages to complete them by using his brain and outwitting his opponents. He gives his results to the Sky God, who commends him for his efforts and gives him the stories, which he spreads all over the world. Recommended for ages 4-9, 5 stars.
Hildilid’s Night by Cheli Duran Ryan, illustrated by Arnold Lobel
This was a very strange book. I will admit that I probably would’ve never picked it up had it not won a 1972 Caldecott Honor. It is about a woman named Hildilid (which took me forever to figure out how to pronounce) who lives in England and doesn’t like the night. She spends the book trying various ways to get rid of it, resulting in her being so tired that she sleeps throughout the day (which she had been trying to get back into the whole time). The black and white illustrations, done by Lobel, reminded me of Edward Gorey. Recommended for ages 4-8, 2 stars.
Drummer Hoff retold by Barbara Emberley, illustrated by Ed Emberley
Despite how much toddlers love repetition, my son was not interested in this book at all. This book won the 1968 Caldecott Award, though my favorite book that year was probably The Emperor and the Kite by Jane Yolen. I must say though that the illustrations were lovely brightly-colored woodcuts. The book was based off a folk verse and retold by Barbara Emberley. It follows a company of men who are taking many steps in order to put together a cannon to fire, which was done by Drummer Hoff. At the end of the story, the cannon is returned to nature after having fired once and exploded, which subtly reminds the reader of the futility of war. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.
A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by Nancy Willard, illustrated by Alice & Martin Provensen
Honestly, if it hadn’t won a Caldecott or a Newberry, I probably would never have picked up this book. But I’m glad I did. This book was rather hard to find, even though it’s only from 1981, relatively recent in terms of the Caldecott Challenge. It won a 1982 Caldecott Honor and rightly so, as I found it very fascinating. That year was a very good year for picture books with Outside Over There, On Market Street, and Where the Buffaloes Begin all winning a Caldecott Honor as well as Jumanji winning the Medal. This book also won the Newberry award for that year.
The book is almost a verse-novel, as it describes the continuous events going on in the magical world of an inn owned and operated by the poet William Blake. The author created a play on words to come up with the title of this book, based off Blake’s own tiles of poetry, Song of Innocence and Song of Experience. While I’ve never been a big William Blake fan, aside from “The Tyger,” I really enjoyed this whimsical book of poetry on the author and the creatures that live in his inn. I especially liked the “Blake’s Celestial Limousine” poem in the beginning. Willard’s text along with Alice and Martin Provensen’s brilliant illustrations make the book amazing. This book would be a great way to get older elementary aged kids interested in poetry and using their imagination. Recommended for ages 9-12, 5 stars.
The Judge: An Untrue Tale by Harve Zemach, illustrated by Margot Zemach
This was a weird story. I definitely liked Duffy and the Devil better than this one. The illustrations weren’t as good as other books Margot has illustrated. It won a 1970 Caldecott Honor award, and it must have been an odd year for books as most of the books I read that won the award or honors weren’t great.
Five criminals are brought in front of a judge to explain their crimes, which I’m guessing must be lying. Each tale gets more and more fantastical and the judge is so frustrated that he calls them all liars and throws them in jail. It isn’t until what they were talking about appears does the judge believe them, but by then it is too late. In hindsight, it was a little scary for my two year old, but I think preschoolers and older would like the rhyming text and the conclusion to the book. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.
Pop Corn and Ma Goodness by Edna Mitchell Preston, illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker
This was an odd book. I’m not sure what it is about it is about 1940s and 1960s books, but they had some weird topics for picture books during those decades. This one is no exception. It won a 1970 Caldecott Honor award, but was published in 1969. The story has a rhyming text and is about a man and a woman who get together and have a farm, a pet goat and later some children. I will give a warning to parents as this book does mention whipping children and killing bears. I was reading out loud to my two-year old on Sunday and my husband was convinced that whoever wrote the book must’ve been on drugs. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.
Moja Means One: Swahili Counting Book by Muriel Feelings, illustrated by Tom Feelings
I read the Feelings’ other book Jambo Means Hello: A Swahili Alphabet Book and I enjoyed that one more than this book. I do like that it is multicultural and the children reading the book would be able to count from 1-10 in Kiswahili (the true name for the Swahili language). Each number is phonetically sounded out and has a sentence or two about an area, animals or culture in East Africa, and include great illustrations. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.
Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky retold by Elphinstone Darrell, illustrated by Blair Lent
This book definitely gets a mention for having one of the strangest author names I’ve ever seen. Aside from that, it was a really good version of a Nigerian folktale recreated by the author in 1910. The illustrations, which my son couldn’t stop flipping through, are brightly colored and feature African tribesmen of the Efik-Ibibio peoples dressed up as the elements with ceremonial masks as faces. This book won the 1969 Caldecott Honor award.
The Sun and Water are friends that live on the Earth. The Sun is always visiting his friend at his house but Water never returns the favor. Water warns him that him and his creatures take up a lot of room and Sun needs to have a really big house in order to accommodate everyone. Sun and his wife Moon build a large house, but Water and his creatures take up so much room that Sun and Moon must take refuge in the sky to escape. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.
Mother Goose: Seventy Seven Verses illustrated by Tasha Tudor
This book was a collection of 77 Mother Goose rhymes, and included a lot of strange ones that everyone has heard of. I loved the illustrations, with a few exceptions where they were a little unintentionally creepy (like the one for See Saw Margery Daw on page 17, or the one for Bonny Lass, Pretty Lass, Wilt Thou Be Mine on page 37). The book won a 1945 Caldecott Honor award. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.
Saints written and illustrated by Gene Luen Yang
This graphic novel was an ARC that I got from Netgalley back in July, in exchange for my honest review. I never got a chance to read the first half of this graphic novel series, Boxers, hence the long gap in-between actually reading the book and posting the review. I enjoyed the graphic novel, even though the subject matter was a bit difficult to read at times. The book documents the Boxer Rebellion, which revolved around a peasant uprising that occurred in 1900 and involved China getting rid of foreign powers (including Britain, Germany, Russia, Japan, America, Austria-Hungary, and Italy) and Christian missions from its country. To find out more on the topic, check out this article from the author/illustrator’s website.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Four-Girl, so named because she is the fourth daughter in her family. As there are so many girls in family already and because daughters are not preferred in Chinese society, she is isolated and doesn’t find love or respect from her family. She does find love and respect from a local Christian mission, so she leaves her family and changes her name to Vibiana. The Boxers, so named because their martial arts fighting reminded Europeans of Boxing, were called The Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists by the Chinese. They begin persecuting and killing foreigners and Chinese Christians, and Vibiana finds herself in the middle of the conflict, quite literally. Whose side does she chose? To find out, read this second volume of the Boxers & Saints series. Recommended for ages 12+, 4 stars.
The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress
I have mixed feelings about this book. Overall, I enjoyed it and was pleasantly surprised by the ending, at least for the main part of the story (the secondary ending was rather predictable from about halfway through the book). It seemed like the author took the cover photo and made the story up from that, and not the other way around as it should be. It also seemed like she was trying too hard to incorporate the speech of modern teenaged girls, which made them sound a bit airheaded, which kind of played into the stereotype in the book that women are “the gentler sex”. I expected the story to be more steampunk, and it really wasn’t. Yes, there were some inventions ahead of their time and steam-powered dirigibles, but it was more of a historical fiction book set in late Victorian/early Edwardian times. I enjoy books with strong female lead characters and the main three characters were likable, but didn’t have as much depth or descriptive setting as other YA books from the same time period that I have read and loved (like Gail Carriger).
Cora is an East London girl who has been apprenticed to the almost-fatherly Lord White, a secret inventor, for many years now. She thinks she is being replaced by a young nobleman named Andrew Harris, and is rather frustrated with her employer because of this turn of events. And yet, she is strangely attracted to Mr. Harris. Nellie is the assistant of The Great Raheem, a Persian magician, who she sees as a protector. Michiko is a sword-wielding Japanese girl who is unable to really communicate in English. She performs fighting routines with her hated master, Callum. Michiko is secretly training a younger apprentice named Hayao, in exchange for him teaching her how to silently run (which reminds me of parkour). Through a series of chance occurrences, the three girls meet and decide to work together to solve the mystery of the dead bodies of scientists and flower girls that have been popping up all over London. Nellie soon develops feelings for a young cop named Officer Murphy, who has been assigned to the case they are working on. Someone has also threatened the city of London and demands a ransom be paid. Will they be able to catch the killers and find out who is the criminal mastermind behind everything? To find out, read this exciting book. Recommended for ages 12+, 3 stars.
Sacre Bleu: A Comedy D’Art by Christopher Moore, narrated by Euan Morton
I found it rather amusing that the library filed this one under Romance, as there is some in the story, but isn’t one in the strictest terms. Morton was a great narrator, by the way, and I loved his portrayal of all the different characters in the book. It’s hard to gather the book under just one genre as it is part art historical lesson, part historical fiction, party mystery with a great deal of humor thrown in. I especially like the main character’s mother musing about whether or not she is capable of committing violence and what one should use. I also loved this story because all of the detail in regards to art, artist and the time period. I’ve always been fascinated with the Fin de Siècle, as it produced some of my favorite artists. I occasionally write about art history on my blog and the book gave me a whole wealth of interesting topics to discuss in the future.
The book starts off with the death of artist Vincent Van Gogh. The main part of the story focuses on a young artist named Lucien who works in his family’s bakery in Montmartre or “The Boot” as it affectionately known in the story. He is an painter and shares a studio with Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and knows many other famous artists such as Renoir, Monet, Manet, and Van Gogh. At the beginning of the story, Lucien had been pining over a girl named Juliet, who mysteriously returns after leaving 2 years prior, and wants him to paint her nude. He, naturally, is very excited at the prospect. After Lucien begins spending all of his time with Juliet, his family becomes nervous for him and enlists the help of Henri, who realizes that Juliet is linked with a shady figure known only “The Color Man”. Juliet disappears a second time. The more he, and later Lucien, looks into her history, the more they realize that she has been involved with more and more artists that they know. Just who is Juliet really and why is she involved with the color man? Will Juliet ever return to Lucien? To find out, read this fascinating and hilarious book. 5 stars.
The Southern Vegetarian Cookbook: 100 Down-Home Recipes for the Modern Table by Justin Burks and Amy Lawrence
I was pleasantly surprised by this cookbook. I was raised in the Southern US, so there are times when I crave cuisine from that area. However, with its propensity to be fried and/or covered in pork, I was not having much luck finding it here, other than cooking some fried okra at home. The only soul food restaurant I’ve been to here in Arizona was overpriced, pretentious and not very good. So when I found out about this book I was intrigued as “Southern” and “Vegetarian” were two words I would have never associated with each other. But it works, and I must say that the recipes look surprisingly tasty, and there are some items I could probably even get my extremely carnivorous husband to eat. Some of most yummy sounding recipes included the Sweet Potato Grits with Maple Mushrooms and a Fried Egg, Okra Fritters with Creole Mustard Sauce, and the Lemon Thyme Pimento Cheese (which can be made into sandwiches or stuffed into pickled peppers). I checked out their blog too (which stared everything) and they had some excellent recipes on there too. 5 stars.
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Fire and Ice #1) by George R.R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice
I originally picked this book up after loving the TV show, but as I don’t have cable, waiting a year to see the next season of the show is an eternity. I will say, the book is way better than the show. The way he creates the Seven Kingdoms from scratch is just phenomenal, and everything is so richly detailed, especially the storyline and character development. The story is seen through the viewpoint of eight major characters. There are many many more characters, but all of the chapters are told from the viewpoints of the eight major ones. My favorites, as in the show, were Daenerys (Dany) and Arya, though I also enjoy following Tyrion’s story as well. Dany’s story with Drogo was much more exotic and fascinating in the book. I was a little disappointed at how little Arya was really in this book. I’m hoping she makes more of an appearance in the second book. Tyrion made me laugh a lot, and he is just a really fun character to see developing throughout the storyline. The young adult characters in the book were a bit younger than they were portrayed to be in the show. For example, Rob Stark looks about 17-18 (though the actor is definitely a bit older) in the show but is in actuality only 15 – which makes a difference when he is leading a large army towards the end of the book. This to me is significant as most of the major characters go through some seriously hard decisions, that no teenagers should have to make. Ok and yes, I love the direwolves and their addition to the story as well.
The only thing I didn’t like about this first book in the series was the fact it was so freaking long. The book itself is nearly 900 pages and on audiobook it comes out to 28 very long discs. I had to check out the book twice from the library to listen to it all. The narrator definitely gets better as the book goes on. At first I was really annoyed with him because for some reason he decided to make Tyrion sound Welsh, which didn’t fit in because he didn’t voice Cersei or Jaime like that, and it wasn’t until I heard Tyrion’s father Tywin, also sounding Welsh, did I find it appropriate. Now this book has been out since 1996 and countless people have reviewed it, or watched the show. So I’m not gonna try to summarize it for you. But do check out this review, which I enjoyed reading while I made up this review. 5 stars.
Resurrectionist (Hawkwood #2) by James McGee
I found this book in the New Mysteries section and decided to give it a try based on the cover art and the subject matter. I was previously reading a book on murder and death in the Victorian era, so this seemed like a fitting follow-up, though the time period is a little bit earlier. I enjoyed the incredible detail given by the author, which really drew you into the story. There were a lot of twists and turns in the book, which really keep you on the edge of your seat trying to figure out how the story will resolve itself.
Officer Hawkwood is a Bow Street Runner, the precursor to the police in London, in Regency era England. He has come to Bedlam Mental Hospital to check out a recently murdered inmate, a Colonel Titus Hyde, recently back from the Peninsula War. Only things aren’t as they seem and now Hyde is on the loose. Hawkwood also goes to investigate a man who has been killed and crucified in a graveyard, with his tongue and teeth removed. As the story develops, he realizes that he has stumbled into a turf war between rival gangs of Resurrection men, who dig up and sell recently dead bodies to medical facilities. At this point in history, it was illegal to dissect anything but criminals in medical schools. Will Hawkwood be able to discover the truth behind Colonel Hyde’s escape? Just what is his true purpose and reason for escaping Bedlam? To find out, read the exciting 2nd book in the Hawkwood series. I didn’t know this was the second book until after I started it, so now I want to read books 1 and 3. 4 stars.
The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne
This book has been on my to-read list for awhile, but my library only just got a copy of it. The book chronicles the life of its author Josh Hanagarne, a public librarian in Salt Lake City who has dealt with Tourette’s Syndrome off and on since he was 6 years old (though he wasn’t officially diagnosed until 8 years later). He has dealt with the condition by strength training, his faith (he’s Mormon) and a very supportive family. I honestly can’t even imagine dealing with what he has, especially working in such a very public field as librarianship. I loved that he grew up reading and continued the love throughout his life (feels like there are so little lifetime readers out there anymore). One of the things I enjoyed about this book were the number of excellent quotes in the book. For example, after he proposed to his now wife Janette and is questioning her about whether or not she can deal with someone who has Tourette’s Syndrome:
“When I stopped [having tics], Janette touched my face. She looked at me just the way Fern looked down at Wilbur the pig when he was in the stroller in ‘Charlotte’s Web’ [his favorite book when he was a child and his first girl crush]…Here’s what I’m sure of: When I’m with you–when I’m with out and things are bad with your tics–it’s hard. It hurts because I love you and I don’t liked to see your pain. But it’s not nearly as bad as not being with you. I’ve spent most of my life without you and I know what I’m talking about.”
Or when he’s talking about the awesomeness of libraries: “A library is a miracle. A place where you can lean just about anything, for free. A place where your mind can come alive.” 4 stars.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency (Dirk Gently #1) by Douglas Adams, narrated by the author
I fell in love with Doug Adams’ writing after reading the five books of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, after my friend recommended it to me. It is random and hilarious and just really good writing. He’s one of my favorite writers because of this series of books. I’ve been meaning to check out this second series of his for awhile, but never got around to it. So when I had a bit of a gap in-between my long audiobooks (those with 10+ discs), I decided to give this book a chance. Parts of the book were brilliantly hilarious and witty, but it took awhile for the whole story to come together (pretty much the very end of the story). The story is filled with time travel, a bit of a murder mystery, aliens, ghosts and the author Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and just making sense of all the different elements of the story was challenging.
The book is about Richard, a computer programmer who begins the book visiting his old advisor from Cambridge University, before he remembers that he was supposed to have taken his much-neglected girlfriend Susan out with him. He breaks into her apartment and is spotted by Dirk Gently, a guy he went to university with, who now owns a detective agency. Richard is wanted by the police after his boss Gordon is killed, and it is up to Dirk and Richard to figure out who did it and why. I am rather curious to see how the second book of the series will be. 4 stars.
Eat St: Recipes From the Tastiest, Messiest and Most Irresistible Food Trucks edited by James Cunningham and Nicole Winstanley. 4 stars.