Archive for December, 2013


Book Reviews #12

I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that I changed my blog layout/design. I just needed something new and different. Plus this is my 150th post on this blog, so it seemed fitting. Well, this has been an interesting year for reading. I’ve done my best to read a diverse group of books. I’m nearly at my 300 books read this year total, which I am rather proud of, despite being incredibly distracted all year. I’ve knocked out almost all the books for my Caldecott, only about 30 left out of over 320 (all of which I have to get from Interlibrary Loan or through my local public library’s special Caldecott Collection). While I’m wrapping up the last part of this challenge, I’m starting another.

I’m planning on doing a Newbery Challenge, reading the winner and at least one honor book from every year of the medal, namely 1922 – present. So I’ve at least 180 books to read out of 393. Here’s a little bit of history on the Newbery Medal, for those who have no idea what I’m talking about, from the ALA website: “The Newbery Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association for the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year. On June 22, 1921, Frederic G. Melcher proposed the award to the American Library Association meeting of the Children’s Librarians’ Section and suggested that it be named for the eighteenth-century English bookseller John Newbery. The idea was enthusiastically accepted by the children’s librarians, and Melcher’s official proposal was approved by the ALA Executive Board in 1922.” It basically allows me to read slightly longer children’s books.

I’ve also read/listened to quite a good number of good adult books. I am currently about halfway through The Real Boy by Anne Ursu, which started out really slow, but is just starting to pick up. I’m also listening to the excellent biography/nonfiction audiobook I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban written by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb, narrated by Archie Panjabi, with the Prologue read by the author. 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. I will include some photos of illustrations that I like with the reviews.

Children

The Cow Loves Cookies written by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Marcellus Hall

My son and I enjoyed this story about a cow’s favorite food. The rhyming text of the book tells all about how the farmer takes care of the animals on his farm by feeding them the food they like best, hay for horses, slops for pigs and so on. There is a secret reason for the cow to like cookies though, which is revealed at the end of the book (my hubby thought it was a little weird). Great illustrations by Marcellus Hall definitely enhance this fun and silly read-aloud story. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

I’m a Frog! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Piggie is acting like a frog, but Gerald can’t figure out why. She explains to him that she is pretending to be one, something that everyone does and encourages him to do the same. He pretends to be a cow. My son loved this book and was acting like a frog for days after me reading it to him. My only gripe was the excessive amounts of ribbits in this book, which can get annoying if you’re reading it aloud to a child.  I do like this book for its imagination. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 ½  stars.

Two Little Trains written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon

This book was originally written in 1949 by Margaret Wise Brown and re-illustrated in 2001 by Leo & Diane Dillon. My son loved the story of the two trains, one old and slow, the other shiny and fast. They are traveling west and go up hills, through mountains and over river bridges before getting to their destination. The book is cool in that all the destinations are in the imagination of the little boy that has these two toy trains, so when the train is going over the river bridge, it’s really driving next to a bathtub full of water. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

I Broke My Trunk! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

My son absolutely loved this book! He couldn’t stop laughing at the idea of an elephant breaking his trunk. I’ll admit it was great that after balancing two hippos, a piano and a rhino on his trunk, it doesn’t break but does after he runs to tell his best friend Piggie about what he did. Then of course, she breaks her snout telling someone else. Highly recommended for ages 2-7, 5 stars.

Octopus Alone written and illustrated by Divya Srinivasan

Divya-01-octopusalone

 I absolutely adored this book, which I randomly found in the children’s section while hunting for books for my son. I love cephalopods, so to find a picture book with such amazing illustrations was amazing and makes me want to start of list of octopus picture books. The story is about Octopus who lives in a cave off of a beautiful reef filled with many colorful fish and invertebrates. Despite her surroundings and some animated seahorses who want to play with her, Octopus is shy and wants to spend some time by herself. So she leaves the reef and goes on an adventure to find a nice quiet place nearby, only to find it so noiseless that she suddenly misses her home and goes back to it. A great book for children studying the ocean, the end pages feature all the names and illustrations of the fish contained inside the book. Highly recommended for ages 2-7, 5 stars.

Let’s Go For a Drive! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Normally I love the Elephant and Piggie books, but this one was just too rambling and repetitive. In this book, the two are going for a drive and get everything ready for the trip, including a map, luggage, an umbrella, and sunglasses. And then they remember that neither of them have a car, so they can’t actually go anywhere. Oh well. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2 stars.

Little Naomi, Little Chick written by Avirama Golan, illustrated by Raaya Karas

Little Naomi, Little Chick

 I randomly found this book while browsing the children’s section of the library. It is an Israeli book translated from Hebrew. I’m not sure exactly the point of it, to be honest, as the two stories didn’t really have a correlation, unless the point was to show the differences. Naomi is going to kindergarten and is a good obedient child who does all that is expected of her, whereas Little Chick does not, but they both end up snuggling with their families at the end of the day. I liked the illustrations. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

A Big Guy Took My Ball! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Piggie found a huge ball but now a big guy has taken the ball and she wants it back. She asks Gerald to help her. He goes in the direction she has pointed and realizes the big guy is a REALLY BIG guy. He turns out to be lonely and really wants someone to play with him and his small ball. So Piggie and Gerald play with him. These books are a little too long for my son and his attention kind of wanders sometimes when I read them, as was the case with this one. Recommended for ages 4-6, 3 stars.

Cowboy and Octopus written by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith

I will admit that I mostly picked this one up because I love octopi and the combination of Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith. They just made such a great writing/illustrating team. This book was a bit weird. It was a series of interactions between the aptly named Cowboy and Octopus, like when Cowboy cooks beans for Octopus, and he eats them even if it is not his favorite meal (in fact he hates them, but eats them because they are friends). It was almost as if the two got together and were like hey, let’s think of a really random idea because it has worked for us before, i.e. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales which won a Caldecott Honor, and make a book out of it. Only it didn’t work very well. Recommended for ages 5-8, 2 stars.

John, Paul, George & Ben written and illustrated by Lane Smith

John, Paul, George and Ben

 I picked this one up randomly as I love Lane Smith’s work. It almost sounds like a Beatles story, but is instead a book about our founding fathers and revolutionary heroes. John Hancock (the giant signature on the Declaration of Independence), Paul Revere, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin are featured in the book, although Thomas Jefferson is also mentioned. It gives a short half truth/half fictional account of each of their lives, and explains some finer points/questions in the back of the book. I thought this book would be a fun way to get kids interested in American History, which let’s face it, can be pretty tedious. As usual, his illustrations are hilarious and really bring the stories to life. Recommended for ages 7-10, 4 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

Hide and Seek Fog written by Alvin Tresselt, illustrated by Roger Duvoisin

As I’ve done this Caldecott Challenge, I’ve gotten to read two of his previous Caldecott Honor/Award winners White Snow, Bright Snow and Rain Drop Splash, both of which I have enjoyed. Those, like this book, are about a natural event – in this case fog. It rolls in off the coast of a small fishing village and blankets the town and its inhabitants and vacation-goers for three days. Although the fog completely stops the lobstermen and other businesses in their tracks, it doesn’t deter the kids, who are out playing hide and seek in it.  It is hard to depict something like fog, but Roger Duvoisin, Tresselt’s regular illustrator, does an excellent job of depicting it in watercolors. For a detailed biography on the author and his works, check out this site. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 1/2 stars.

Small Rain: Verses From the Bible text selected by Jessie Orton Jones, illustrated by Elizabeth Orton Jones

Small Rain

Normally I hate it when books like this and songbooks win the Caldecott, because there is usually not any skill involved, you are just selecting parts of other people’s work. Cases in point, anything selected by Marjorie Torrey and illustrated by Opal Wheeler. This book won a 1944 Caldecott Honor. However, like “Animals of the Bible, A Picture Book” illustrated by Dorothy P. Lanthrop, which won the very first Caldecott Medal in 1938, this had charming little illustrations done by Elizabeth Orton Jones. It’s not that I have anything against kids reading Bible verses (I read a toddler Bible to my son occasionally), but I feel that by selecting text from a pre-established source you’re taking away an award from somebody who actually came up with a real story from scratch. Rant over. Recommended for ages 2-7, 3 stars.

The Song of Robin Hood edited by Anne Malcolmson, illustrated by Virginia Lee Burton

The Song of Robin Hood title page

This book, much like the Caldecott Honor winning Sing in Praise: A Collection of the Best Loved Hymns edited by Marjorie Torrey and illustrated by Opal Wheeler, does not have an actual story per se but is a collection of fifteen songs set to music with lyrics about Robin Hood, some taken from old English tunes and others adapted from American traditional music. It won a 1948 Caldecott Honor. The really cool part of the book were the illustrations done by Virginia Lee Burton, who I’ve gotten to know rather well while doing the Caldecott Challenge as several of her books were award honor winners. She used pen, ink and scratchboard to create these incredibly detailed and predominantly tiny drawings of Robin Hood, his Merry Men and the other characters featured in the songs. Recommended for ages 7-10, 3 stars.

Roger and the Fox written by Lavinia R. Davis, illustrated by Hildegard Woodward

Roger and the Fox Skiing illustration

This book won a 1948 Caldecott Honor award. I really enjoyed this story about a city boy coming to live in the country and his quest to find a fox, something he has never seen before. He looks every day from the fall to the winter, even in heavy snow, before he finally sees one. The illustrations are what really make this story. Hildegard Woodward uses only about five or six colors in graphite and watercolor to lay the scene of the woods where Roger is looking for the fox, but as this reviewer has said ” I like the way the color – or lack thereof – on some pages evokes the cool, crisp weather.” Recommended for ages 6-9, 3 1/2 stars.

The Christmas Anna Angel written by Ruth Sawyer, illustrated by Kate Seredy

I will say that this was a very long book to read aloud, with not that many illustrations, but the ones it did have were pretty detailed and spectacular! Finding out that this author was the same author that did another Caldecott Honor winning book “Journey Cake, Ho!” makes more sense, as this was another odd duck book. The parts of the story that I didn’t get were in relation to St. Lucy’s Day, where Anna chases chickens around a yard and sings a song while doing it, to encourage to lay eggs throughout the year. It just seemed out of place. Plus there was that whole thing with the talking dog on Christmas Eve.

Ruth Sawyer obviously researched quite a bit to create this book, which was about a Hungarian family during a war. This book won a 1945 Caldecott Honor. It explains a lot about the Christmas traditions celebrated in the Russian Orthodox Church, as carried out by Anna and her family. The story starts off with a visit from St. Nicholas himself, who asks Anna and her brother what they want for Christmas. Soldiers have already cleared out most of their harvest and food, and even though they don’t have the ingredients, the one thing that little Anna wants for Christmas is a Christmas Cake. She finally gets her wish when her very own Christmas Anna Angel (who looks just like her except with angel wings) makes magical Christmas cakes for the whole family to eat. Recommended for ages 7-10, 3 1/2 stars.

The Mighty Hunter by Berta and Elmer Hader

I’m never quite sure how to analytically handle books on Native Americans from before the 1970s, as I know most of them were very stereotypical and not very accurate. The book won a 1944 Caldecott Honor, though the only book I really liked from that year was A Child’s Good Night Book. The story is about Little Brave Heart, a Plains Indian (not sure from what tribe) who decides that instead of attending school, he will go hunting. He starts by hunting a mouse, who leads him to a prairie dog and on and on to bigger and better animals until at last he is hunting a bear. However, the bear is so much bigger and meaner than him, that he quickly decides it would be much better if he left and returned to school. So he does, in a hurry. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.

In the Forest written and illustrated by Marie Hall Ets

in the forest parade

This book won a 1945 Caldecott Honor. I thought it was a cute imaginative story about a little boy who goes into the forest and starts marching through with a hat and a horn. Before long, a parade of animals are following him, only for us to discover that it was all make-believe. The illustrations were very basic and had no color, which was my only gripe. As another reviewer has pointed out, the story does kind of remind the reader of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 ½ stars.

Newbery Challenge

Bomb: The Race to Build–And Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

I’ve been wanting to read this book for awhile, so when I saw it was on the Newbery Honor list for 2013 (which is my new Challenge for 2014), I had to get a copy. It was well-worth the wait. The book is a narrative nonfiction account of the US’s attempt to figure out how to build a plutonium atomic bomb, led by Robert Oppenheimer, in order to win the war against Germany during World War II. They were competing against German scientists who were also trying to build a bomb. The book was also about Russian spies in the US during World War II and how several builders of the bomb betrayed the US by passing atomic secrets to the KGB, which allowed Russia to build an atomic bomb by 1949. The US had built the bomb in 1945, and used it to end the Japanese part of World War II, but dropping one in Hiroshima and one in Nagasaki. I have always had very mixed feelings about the US deciding to drop the bombs on Japan, despite having a grandfather that fought in the Pacific during the entire war. Of course, I am looking at it from a 21st century viewpoint and was not there during the time it happened. It was interesting to read this quote from the then-president Harry Truman, on his decision to do just that: “It was a question of saving hundreds of thousands of American lives. I couldn’t worry about what history would say about my personal morality. I made the only decision I ever knew how to make. I did what I thought was right.” It is crazy though to read about the descriptions of the aftermath of the bombs, especially the figures on page 204, which explain that “Out of 76,000 buildings in Hiroshima, 70,000 of them were destroyed when the bomb was dropped. Also, 70,000 people died right away and 100,000 died from related injuries after the fact.” And that’s not even counting the longer term effects of people who got cancer from radiation poisoning. This book makes me want to read more on the atomic bombs and especially about Robert Oppenheimer as he was a intriguing character in the book. There is a very thorough bibliography in the back for those who want more information. Highly recommended for ages 9-12, 5 stars.

Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin

After reading Bomb: The Race to Build—And Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, I figured this would be a good follow-up Newbery book. This book won a 2012 Newbery Honor award. While reading it, all I could think of was thank goodness I didn’t live in Russia during the Stalin era. It’s not really about the Communism part, but more about the way you had no freedom of speech or expression, and had to watch everything you said to make sure your neighbor didn’t overhear something remotely incriminating that would land you in a Siberian labor camp or be killed by the KGB.

Sasha’s father works for the Secret Police. Everything is good for him and his dad until he is suddenly arrested without warning by the same people he works for and Sasha is left all alone. It is the day before Sasha is due to become a Young Pioneer, the most basic entry to the Communist Party for school-age children, followed by the Stalin Youth for teenagers, and then the Community Party for adults. It reminded me a lot of system in Germany during World War II. He has been waiting for this moment since he was 2 years old, and in an instant when he breaks the nose off a Stalin statue, his dreams are almost dashed until they are saved by an unusual ally. Will Sasha ever see his father again? To find out, read this short read about life in Communist Russia. Recommended for ages 9-12, 3 1/2 stars.

Children and Young Adult

The Great Trouble: A Mystery of London, the Blue Death, and a Boy Called Eel written by Deborah Hopkinson

I really enjoyed this unexpectedly good book that I randomly found in the children’s section of my library. My only gripe with the book was that the secondary storyline about the boy wasn’t as developed as I would’ve liked, but the author did a fine job researching the main part of the book and has many resources for students in the back of the book on the topic.

The book was about a 13 year old boy named Eel who lives in London and makes his living as a mudlark, someone who used to go into the Thames River and sell bits of things found there, like nails and coal, for a few pennies to buy food. For more information on how disgusting and smelly the Thames was and the Great Stink, check out this website. Eel ends mudlarking after both his parents have died and he has to take care of his younger brother Henry. They are trying to escape from Fisheye Bill Taylor. Eel also picks up odd jobs working for a brewery, cleaning up a tailor’s shop, and feeding animals at Dr. Snow’s house. The “Blue Death” refers to the Cholera Epidemic of 1854, which killed over 600 people in one area of London, and it is featured as part of the mystery in the book. Eel witnesses people that he lived and worked with die from the disease and Dr. Snow is helped by Eel to pinpoint how the epidemic spread from the area around the Broad Street Water Pump. They are trying to figure out who and what started the whole thing. Will they be able to prove that the infection is spread by water, and not by air like previously thought, and stop it at the source? Will Eel and Henry be able to escape the evil clutches of Fisheye Bill Taylor? To find out, read this great book. Recommended for ages 9-13, 4 stars.

Adult

Soulless: The Manga, Vol 3 written by Gail Carriger, illustrated by REM

I really enjoyed this manga, because it takes the very slow-paced action of the third book of The Parasol Protectorate series, and makes it much more fascinating, though I will say with a great deal more nudity than I would’ve imagined from reading the book (though this not necessarily a bad thing). I loved the “cabinet cards” in the front of Alexia and Madame Lefoux, and the middle of Conall and Professor Lyle (they are made to look like 19th century pin-up photographs).

This is the summary from my previous review of Blameless, which the manga is based off of: In this volume, Alexia has been turned out of her house by her husband Lord Maccon after he found out she was pregnant and assumed she had cheated on him (which of course she would never do). She stays with her family for a short time until she is forced to go elsewhere and decides to travel to Paris and then Italy to see if she can find out more information about being pregnant (apparently it never happens for soulless and even less so when combined with a supernatural like a werewolf). Meanwhile, the vampires of London have put a hit out on her and drones have been trailing her with intent for assassination since Paris. 4 stars.

Good Omens written by Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett, read by Martin Jarvis

I tried to read this book several times but never got more than about 20 pages into it, before I would get distracted by something else and stop. I love Neil Gaiman books, which is why I held onto it. So when I found out the library had an audiobook copy in the library, I decided to give it a try. The book started off good, but really dragged at the end (you can tell there were two writers). The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse characters, namely Death, War, Famine, and Pollution really reminded me of characters from Gaiman’s comic book series The Sandman. The ending was a bit anticlimactic, and maybe that was the point, I don’t know. I’ve never read any Terry Prachett books, but at least I know from reading quite a bit of Neil Gaiman that at least the book will be funny.

The book is about the Antichrist, a baby named Adam Young switched at birth by one of the Chattering Nuns of the Order of St. Beryl (a Satanic order, don’t ya know), who will bring about the Apocalypse one way or another. Heaven and Hell are obviously very interested in the outcome of the war between Good and Evil, and so have assigned an angel and a demon respectively, to watch over the child from a distance. These two come in the form of Crowley, a demon who very much likes his cushy job and material possessions and Aziraphale, who is quite content to obey his masters from the safety of his used-book shop. Crowley and Aziraphale form an alliance of sorts after spending so much time among humans, and neither of them looking forward to the Rapture. The title comes from the book that Agnes’ descendants have passed through the generations, as her “nice”, which means precise, and unlike most prophecies, predictions have been always correct. Its current owner is Anathema Device, who is also a witch and has recently moved into Tadfield, where the Antichrist lives. She plays the important role of information giver in the book, as it is through “The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch” that Crowley and Aziraphale truly realize that they’ve been tailing the wrong kid for 11 years. At its heart, it is a book about good and evil, what it really means to be human, having free will and knowing how to use it, as well as having a little faith. 4 stars.

Japanese Soul Cooking: Ramen, Tonkatsu, Tempura, and Moor from the Streets and Kitchens of Tokyo and Beyond by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat

I found this by accident in the new cookbook section at the library. I love Japanese food, so I’m always on the lookout for new cookbooks. I had heard of Tadashi Ono after watching the PBS show “In the Mind of a Chef, which featured the owner/chef of NYC’s Momofuko, David Chang who liked to go to Japan to eat Ramen and get ideas for his restaurant. He met Ono on one of the shows. I really couldn’t do most of the recipes unless I bought the book, as most have multiple parts in different sections. Plus although I like a lot of the recipes they have in the cookbook, they’re the sort of things I’d rather eat in a restaurant versus at home as I’m sure professionals do it better. The authors were very detailed (which I found fascinating) in discussing the evolution of each of the dishes and how they are served today. I especially liked the recipes for Vegetarian Gyoza and Miso Dipping Sauce, Mabo Dofu Donburi, Tenshin Don (a crab/mushroom and veggie omelet served over rice), and the Genghis Khan (a lamb stir-fry). The book even has a list of Tokyo Comfort Food restaurants in the back, in case you ever find yourself in the city. I am looking forward to checking out more cookbooks by the authors. 4 stars.

Christopher Eccleston and Doctor Who

DOCTOR WHOChristopher Eccleston as Doctor Who with Billie Piper as Rose, his Companion

I am a huge Doctor Who fan. It has been on for 50 years, from 1963 – 2013. Ok, yes I was late to the series, having only started watching it in 2005 when they redid the series, but I still consider myself a true fan. I hope to one day be able to watch the series from the beginning, though I think it might be a little like early Star Trek episodes, aka so corny and bad, they are hard to watch. If you have never watched the show, I recommend checking out this article that was posted for the 50th year celebration. It is meant to be corny and a bit low-budget, so don’t let that turn you off. It has a really great story and some creepy villains.

Season 1 Doctor Who commentTaken from “The Empty Child” episode 9, Season 1

I stopped watching it during Season 7. The BBC since finished Season 7 and about to start Season 8 now that they’ve announced the newest Doctor, Peter Capaldi who will start on the Christmas Special 2013. Although I personally liked Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor for Seasons 5-7, my hubby (who always watched it with me) did not and him plus Rory (one of the main characters of the show and a secondary Companion) equaled a boring time in my hubby’s eyes. So I stopped watching it. That is, until we discovered the first seven seasons of the show are on Netflix. We’ve started watching them again and I must say that although David Tennant will probably always be my favorite Doctor, Christopher Eccleston is really quite good and I’m sad that he only stayed on the show for a year. Yes, he is not the most attractive Doctor, but if you look back on the early Doctors, they weren’t either. Eccleston’s Doctor seem more expressive, pained, and conscientious of his actions (really more human which is ironic as he’s a 900 year old alien). He fights liking Rose from the beginning and pretends to be disinterested, but despite his best intentions, by the end of the 1st Season you can see how much love they share for each other. Plus he’s a bit of a cheeky bugger and that makes me like him even more. The show was just better when Russell T. Davies was still writing for the show, as he did from 2005-2010. Plus the first season is when we are introduced to Capt. Jack Harkness (played by the wonderfully campy John Barrowman), who later has a spin-off show in Torchwood, which is also a great show to watch. He is my favorite non-Doctor character on the show.

My Sub-Par Immune System

I have so many thoughts of what to post on this blog, but my health has said otherwise lately. It seems I am always fighting some sort of infection or allergy-related illness. The weekend before and the week of Thanksgiving I had bronchitis and just got over the stomach flu (viral gastroenteritis sounds so much more impressive, though I will just call it Regurgitation Fest as that’s what I spent the whole day doing Tuesday). Sorry for the graphic imagery! I will try to post more in the future. It is interesting to note that the two events that have gotten me back into writing poetry are my remembering my grandmother (after she died) and bronchitis.

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