Tag Archive: authors


Fractions in Disguise

Fractions cover

Fractions in Disguise: A Math Adventure by Edward Einhorn, illustrated by David Clark

Published March 25, 2014

The author asked if I would review his newest math adventure book. I accepted as I enjoy his authorship of “Paradox in Oz”. I am not a big math fan, but I was pleasantly surprised by this book and its fun and amusing puns. I also loved the illustrations by David Clark. It would be great for a reluctant reader who likes math or to use in a classroom to help kids understand how to simplify fractions. There is a longer description of fraction reduction in the back of the book.

The book is about a young man named George Cornelius Factor, who is part of a small group of fraction collectors, and is very interested in acquiring the fraction 5/8. It is stolen by Dr. Brok, who immediately changes it to make it unrecognizable. But all hope is not lost. Factor invents “The Reducer” which reduces a fraction to its lowest terms and uncovers the missing fraction. He proudly displays his newest acquisition to collection afterwards. Recommended for ages 7-10, 4 stars.

Book Reviews June 2014

First off, I would like to apologize for the infrequency of my posts lately. I just finished my second week at my new job in the Youth Services dept of my local public library (which is awesome by the way) and even though it has less hours than my last job, I am more busy than before. Plus I’m also watching my son on my off days, so I don’t get as much computer time as I normally have been getting. I am really backed up on writing up book reviews as a result. I’ve finished all the ones for May and a few for June, but still have about 14 to do, so those will be on next month’s post. I kinda got burned out on the Newbery Medal/Honors List this last month, but will try to pick it up again after a break. I have managed to read 155 books so far this year, which is pretty good since the year is half over.I’ve been having pretty good luck with my Advanced Reader’s Copies too and there are a lot of interesting books coming out soon, so there will definitely be more posts about them in the future. I’m currently listening to Lloyd Alexander’s 3rd book in The Chronicles of Prydain series, called The Castle of Lyr. This sounds like it may be the most exciting book in the series so far! Crazy to think that these books were written in the late 1960s as they seem very modern and timeless. I just started an interesting nonfiction book called Sorry! The English and Their Manners by Henry Hitchings. I’m hoping to get some insights into the English, as I am an Anglophile and my husband and his family are from there.

As usual I rate books on a scale of 1 – 5 stars, with one being the lowest and five the highest. I am still trying to finish my Caldecott Challenge, and with all the winners and honors. I’m down to 11 books left to read. I’m also completing a Newbery Challenge, where I’m reading all the award winners and at least one honor book.

Children

Dog Loves Counting written and illustrated by Louise Yates

Dog Loves Counting

I adored her other book Dog Loves Books, so when I saw this in the library, I decided to get it for my son as his teacher says he needs to see more numbers in print form. It had the same precious illustrations as the last book, but even cuter (if that’s actually possible) with the addition of a dodo and a baby sloth! Dog loves books but loves reading so much he can’t fall asleep. So he picks up a book on creatures and starts counting them from 1 – 10 and back down again. I’m looking forward to checking out Dog Loves Drawing as well. Recommended for ages 2-5, 4 stars.

Little Chicken’s Big Day by Katie and Jerry Davis

Little Chickens Big Day

This book just grabbed my attention at the library with its bright happy colors and simple illustrations (I thought it was adorable), so decided to get it for my son. Little Chicken does everything his Momma orders him to do and always responds with “I hear you cluckin’ Big Chicken!”. One day while out with him Momma, he wanders off after a butterfly and gets lost. She soon finds him and they go home, where they read a story together and go to bed. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

Hey Mr. Choo Choo, Where Are You Going? written by Susan Wickberg, illustrated by Yumi Heo

Another train book I picked up for my son, the rhyming text and collage/painted illustrations really bring you into the story of this train taking children to the beach. My only gripe was that the book was a little long for my son. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

And the Train Goes… written and illustrated by William Bee

And the Train Goes...

I think my son’s favorite part of this book were the end pages with the many different colored train wheels. It’s kind of amazing that this whole book was done, illustration and text, on a computer. It’s also funny that without realizing till the end of the book that the author was English, I gave most of the characters English accents. The book is about a train leaving the station and all the people and cars of the train. At the end, a parrot repeats everything that was said, all the sounds and phrases. I liked the book but got bored with it as it just kept going on forever. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2-1/2 stars.

Waking Dragons written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Derek Anderson

This has been a repeat read for my son, though the story is very simple. A young knight’s mother has left him a note to wake the dragons, so he does and gets them ready for the day. They take off their jammies, brush their teeth, eat breakfast, say goodbye to their mother and fly the young knight to Knight School (of course!). Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners written and illustrated by Laurie Keller

When I saw this at the library, I knew I had to check it out. I love otters and as always, my husband and I want our son to have good manners, so this seemed like the perfect vehicle for that. The book is about Mr. Rabbit and his new neighbors, an Otter family. He is telling another animal how he hopes the new neighbors aren’t rude, like his last neighbor, but have good manners and gives examples. It was a cute book but a bit long-winded. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Dinosaur Train written and illustrated by John Steven Gurney

Dinosaur Train

I think my son loves this book for the cover image alone. He kept going on and on about the giant feet and the T-Rex inhaling all the smoke. It is about a young boy named Jesse who really loved dinosaurs and trains (just like my son), and after drawing a picture of the two together, he gets invited on a real train operated by them. After exploring the train car by car, the whole train leans over to look at a volcano that Jesse has seen and it topples over. After helping to right the train, he gets to ride up front with the engineer and they head back to Jesse’s room. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train (Mr. Putter and Tabby #8) written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard

I thought this was a pretty cute book, but I think my son was a little lost. Mr. Putter and his cat Tabby are friends with their next-door neighbors, Mrs. Teaberry and her bulldog Zeke. Mrs. Teaberry calls up Mr. Putter and asks him to join her on a short train trip. He reminisces and says how much he loves trains, even though he’s not been on one since he was a boy, and then agrees to go if they can take their respective pets. She assures him that it is possible but when they go to buy tickets, the ticket seller says no pets allowed. So they smuggle them on-board and have a grand old time. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss

Another Dr. Seuss book I’ve never read, I picked this up for my son because I know he likes the author/illustrator. This was an odd book. It was almost like he took all these single 2-page rhymes with illustrations that he had lying around and put them all in one book because it is not one continuous story, i.e. the fish, but a bunch of little stories. It was fun to read though, as it was rather silly, just a bit long for a nearly 3 year old. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2-1/2 stars.

Zella, Zack, and Zodiac written and illustrated by Bill Peet

I rather enjoyed this little story from Bill Peet, as did my son, who has become one of my favorite children’s book writers this year. Zella the zebra discovers an abandoned ostrich chick and rescues him by letting him ride on her back. She adopts him and names him Zack. As he gets older and can no longer ride on her back, they become distant. Eventually she has her own child, an awkward colt named Zodiac who is always tripping over his own hooves, a real danger when predators are lurking all around. Zella believes she has lost Zack forever until he rescues Zodiac from a lion. From then on, he is Zodiac’s protector. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.

Caldecott

Book of Mother Goose and Nursery Rhymes illustrated by Marguerite de Angeli

Book of Nursery & Mother Goose RhymesOld Mother Hubbard from Book of Nursery and Mother Goose Rhymes

I will admit since this is my 3rd out of 4 Nursery and Mother Goose books I’m having to read for the Caldecott Challenge, that I skimmed this one. It was massive, for a children’s book, at 192 pages! This book won a 1955 Caldecott Honor and I knew the illustrator because of her book Yonie Wondernose (which I rather enjoyed), that had won Caldecott Honor exactly ten years prior. I thought they were a delightful mix of black & white small pencil-drawn illustrations and full-color single page illustrations with a variety of known and previously unknown nursery rhymes. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

The Most Wonderful Doll in the World written by Phyllis McGinley, illustrated by Helen Stone

I will admit that I did not want to read this book for a long time because it is about dolls, as I’ve always found them a little creepy. This book won a 1951 Caldecott Honor book, and is about a little girl named Dulcy (this name really dates the book) who has a large collection of dolls to play with but has just lost a doll named Angela she just received as a gift from a friend of the family. She goes on and on about the doll, each time inventing better and better things that it does. When she finally finds it again, she realizes that it didn’t do anything of things she said it did, but she was just imagining it. Recommended for ages 4-8, 2 stars.

Mr. T.W. Anthony Woo written and illustrated by Marie Hall Ets

Marie Hall Ets, the bane of my existence. Just kidding. This is actually one of her better books that won some sort of Caldecott, this one having won the 1952 Caldecott Honor. It’s a rather random story though. The title refers to the name of a mouse who lives with a shoemaker, along with a cat and a dog that are constantly fighting with each other. One day, the shoemaker goes out to run some errands and his meddlesome sister stops by and sees the shop in an absolute mess from the cat and dog. She decides that she must move in with her brother and take care of him, so she and her annoying repeating parrot move in without his permission and the first thing she does is get rid of the dog and the cat. The shoemaker comes back home all confused but is too nice to tell her to leave. He rescues the cat and dog from outside and they all plot together with the mouse to get rid of the sister (she is scared of mice). They do and all three and the shoemaker live the rest of their days in harmony. The illustrations are rather plain in black and white but tell the story nicely. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Young Adult

Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #3) by Laini Taylor

First off, I would like to say that this book is very hard to summarize, especially for anyone who has not read the rest of the series. The author is so good at storytelling and universe-building that she reminds me of George R.R. Martin, as they’re universe and character lists are so huge. So I recommend reading the first two books first so you won’t be totally lost by what I am going to describe. Let us proceed to the summary.

The Angels (Seraphim) have come to Earth and humankind is freaking out, thinking it is the apocalypse. The Angel’s leader Jael heads right to Rome and tells the humans that the Beasts (Chimera) are coming. This is really just a ploy to get his hands on some human weapon technology to finally destroy the Chimera. Akiva and his sister Liraz have managed to convince the Misbegotten Angels to combine forces with their former enemies, the Chimera, so they have a chance to defeat Jael. The mysterious Stelian Queen Scarab tries to kill Akiva but can’t as she discovers that his mother was Stelian. Throughout the book, we learn more background about Akiva and his mother Festival, and the Stelian’s role in Eretz and beyond.

Meanwhile, humans have discovered the resurrection pits left behind by the Chimeras and are mystified and horrified by them. A young woman named Eliza is one of the scientists allowed to study the bodies, and she believes that the Beasts are from another universe. It turns out that she knows this because she is descended from an angel, which becomes evident when she starts spouting Seraphic in front of everyone. Will Eliza ever figure out who she really is and what her purpose is? Will Akiva and Karou be able to stop Jael and have a chance at peace and a better life? To find out read this exciting conclusion to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. Recommended for ages 15+, 5 stars.

It’s been at least a year since I last read the second book in the series, and it definitely took me awhile to remember what last happened in the book, as there were hardly any clues at the beginning of this one. I forgot how confusing this book can be trying to remember all the place and character names. It took me about 100 or so pages to really get into this book, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. It’s nice that the romance between Akiva and Karou is still one of the main focal points. I liked that despite all the bloodshed and pain, there was still time to dream about hope, love and a home together. Cassandra Clare definitely has some competition for who can write the best kisses, as Laini Taylor is quite good with the lead-up to them and the description of love. I loved the section about Zuzane and her mad eyebrow warfare skills in Italy! If I had to fight at the end of the world, she is definitely someone I would want on my team because she fights so hard for the ones she loves. I also loved (and was totally blown away) by the encounter between Jael and Akiva in the Papal Palace. He is one badass angel. I loved the story and I was sorry to see it end, though I’m glad it ended the way it did.

Ask the Passengers written by A.S. King, narrated by Devon Sorvari

Seventeen-year-old Astrid Jones feels really unappreciated by her friends and family. Her younger sister Ellis gets all the love and attention from their mother. Their dad is too stoned to really care about anything other than his office supplies at work. No one can understand why her friend Kristy, one of the most popular girls in school, hangs around her. Astrid may possibly be in love with her best friend Dee, who is already out of the closet. She lives in a really small town where everyone gossips about every little thing you do, so she has to worry about that as well.

The only thing she really enjoys is her AP Humanities class, where she is learning about Greek philosophers. In an attempt to feel more wanted, she sends waves of love towards passengers flying in airplanes above her house and everyone she sees. She does this even if they ignore or hate her. When she is sending out love to the anonymous passengers of the airplanes, every now and again, we hear their stories. It seems at first that these people have no connection to her, but after awhile, we can see that their stories are kind of like an extension of Astrid, if she were older.

Astrid feels like she is straddling two worlds. The very private one she shares with Dee and the public one she shares with Kristy and her family. Will she be able to figure out who she is and what she wants? Can she be truthful with everyone? Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

I had gotten the idea to read this book from Tara, The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say shhh!, and because she raved about it so much, I decided to give it a try. I’ve never read anything by the author but have heard for years that her books were good. I enjoyed hearing about the AP Humanities class and her learning about Greek philosophers, and how well it surprisingly blended with the story. I loved that she gave Socrates a first name (Frank) and made him kind of her protection, when things get too weird in her life. I’ve lived in small towns before and I know how limiting and frustrating it can be, so I could really identify with Astrid’s views on living in one.

Astrid’s mom, wow, she was a piece of work. I can identify with one parent loving your sibling more than you, but getting drunk with your teenage daughter is a whole other thing. And she thinks she’s the normal one in the family, geez.

Adult

City of Devils: A Novel by Diane Bretherick

Bittersweet: A Novel by Colleen McCullough

The Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life: Cruelty-Free Crafts, Recipes, Beauty Secrets and More by Melisser Elliott

I’m always trying to get as much information as I can on the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle as I become more interested in joining it. I will admit also that after reading about how all types of meet including veal is processed in great detail, I was rather put off meat for a couple weeks. The book features useful information for those new to the idea of going completely vegan, which aside from eating a plant-based diet with no dairy or meat, also entails not wearing it in any form for clothing and shoes. For example, in addition to leather, you can’t wear wool from any animal, no fur naturally and silk. The author includes becoming involved with activism, profiles of vegans who have various food and apparel businesses and/or websites centered around the fact that they are vegans. I particularly liked the profiles as they not only had some good websites for references, but also seemed to profile real people and ask them why they went vegan, their favorite dish, favorite “accidently vegan” treat, item they can’t live without and more. She also discusses vegan companies that provide skincare products. The back section of the book is all about food and recipes, and I’d like the try the Tangy Cabbage Beet Slaw, Brussel Sprouts with Crispy Tempeh Over Soft Polenta, and Moroccan Chickpea and Kale Tangine with Quinoa. 3 stars.

Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite by Sarah Copeland

Ok, first things first. This is not strictly a vegetarian cookbook but rather a pescetarian (vegetarian + fish) one. That out of the way, the recipes I found were delicious-sounding and easy to make. The photos they had were gorgeous, though I wish there were more of them. I in particular wanted to try the Mushroom-Almond Milk Soup (as I’m trying to use more cow’s milk alternatives), Cheese Grits with Black Beans and Avocado, Artichoke Enchiladas, Sunny-Side Up Yam and Black Bean Tostadas with Avocado, Quinoa Bowl with Avocado, Red Cabbage and Walnut, and the Peanut Butter/Amaranth Cookies. 4 stars.

Leibster Award 2014

So I just realized it’s been two weeks since I reblogged someone else’s post and even longer since I actually posted anything, so it is definitely time. I’m sorry but my personal life has been really crazy the last two weeks and I’m only now getting some free time to blog like I want to, although it is not any less up in the air.

liebster-award-300x300

One of my best friends over at Dewey Decimal’s Butler gave me the Leibster Award again. Here is the post from the first time I was nominated last year. Thank you very much! I must say that I appreciate it, although I’ve been less than diligent in keeping up with writing. I hope to correct that in future. Now I have a lot more ideas about what to write as I have had plenty of time to brainstorm, so should be a lot easier.

Here are the rules:

  • Share which blogger(s) nominated you.
  • Answer the ten questions they asked in their post.
    • Refers to following 3 points: I went through my list of bloggers I follow and all of them had over 200 followers, most were closer to 1000 people following. However, I enjoy answering questionnaires, so I have answered her questions.
  • Nominate 11 bloggers of your choosing who have less than two hundred followers each.
  • Ask eleven questions for your nominees to answer.
  • Contact your nominees!

Here are the questions, she wants me to answer as part of the award.

1. Hamlet – was he really insane or just faking it? I would say (though let it be known that I’ve not read this play since high school, though it was one of my favorites), that he was probably faking most of it. I think he was probably more frustrated and angry more than anything else. I mean his mother marries his uncle a month after his father the king dies, though that sort of thing would have been the norm for royalty, to guarantee the safety and stability of the realm. I feel sorry for poor Ophelia as she does actually go insane after being mistreated by Hamlet, as he is a supreme douchebag in his quest to get revenge on Claudius for killing his father. His mother even lies for him to her new husband, saying the reason he killed Polonius is because he’s mad, even though he thinks she’s a whore for marrying his uncle. Then there’s the whole to be or not to be speech where Hamlet talks about how insignificant and fleeting life is and how we have no control over it. I don’t think that’s madness talking, just philosophizing over a common fate. Unfortunately Hamlet’s attempts at revenge only succeed in getting him and everyone around him killed.

2. Cats or dogs?  Defend. Dogs definitely. I used to be a cat person, but they are too fickle and alliance-changing. I love their independence though. I’ve become a dog person since I got married. Ok yes, they do have some disgusting habits like eating poo, but they are excited when you come home no matter how your day has been (even better when you’ve had a tough day), are great snuggly nap partners, and genuinely love you unconditionally.

3. Why are you drawn to certain authors? I would say because of the kind of book they write. I tend to be drawn to primarily British writers who are witty and great storytellers, like Brian Jacques, Neil Gaiman and Philip Reeve. I read a lot of children and YA books because I’m trying to keep up with what comes out and because I enjoy reading them, and am particularly drawn to writers who don’t dumb books down for kids. That will tell a great story even if it does get a little complicated at times, when dealing with difficult or interesting subjects. Great examples of writers like this Rick Riordan, Jonathan Stroud, Gail Carriger (her Finishing School series), John Flanagan, L.A. Meyer, and Eoin Colfer.

4. What was your last guilty-pleasure read? Lol, probably The Ghost in the Graveyard (Knight Games #1)a freebie romance/erotica/fantasy e-book I got on Amazon. It was equally bad and entertaining at the same time.

5. Have you ever found a movie that exceeded the book upon which it was based? Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is like that for me (saw the animated movie version called The Secret of NIMH first), as every time I’ve tried to read the book, I get bored and quit after a few pages. I’m hoping the audiobook will be better, as I need to read it for my Newbery Challenge. Aside from that, I would say the miniseries version of The Thornbirds was better, as was Franco Zefferelli’s version of Romeo and Juliet and Kenneth Branagh’s or Joss Whedon’s version of Much Ado About Nothing. I would also have to add Miyazaki’s version of Howl’s Moving Castle. I saw the movie first, which got me into the book, which I enjoyed but liked the movie much better.

6. On that note, are you as angry about the upcoming The Giver trailer as I am? Honestly I’m not sure. I read the book but can’t remember much of it, but I’m sure they’ll probably do a hash job out of it like most great books (though I didn’t like it as much as other people, only gave it 3 out of 5 stars).

7. If you could take one author out to dinner to thank him/her for writing, who would it be?  (Life status is a non-issue for this question.) Probably JRR Tolkein because I love his books and would love to pick his brain about The Silmarillion and ask him to explain it to me. I’ve tried to read it several times but cannot get through it, even though the subject matter is interesting.

8. What is your opinion on sports?  I like to watch college-level American football on TV occasionally, but hate pro (it’s too boring). Most sports I could do without like golf, basketball, and tennis. The only sport I can actually tolerate watching is real Football (soccer) on TV, though it is better in person. I would love to be able to go to a footie game in Liverpool with my husband, as I know it is one of his dreams.

9. Will there ever be such a thing as world peace? I think it’s possible, but getting everyone to agree to it is quite another thing. Most people and governments are too wrapped up in their own issues to really consider it, as it wouldn’t be good for the economy, or so they keep telling us.

10. Favorite music, what is it and why? Hmm, I guess I would say salsa because it is fun to listen and makes you wanna jump up and dance no matter where you are. I started listening to it in college after I was dating a Guatemalan guy who took me to a latin dance club for our first date (I couldn’t dance it back then). He started my love for it and I started listening to Celia Cruz and later Tito Puente, as he mixes salsa with funk and that’s even more fun to listen to.

11. When was the last time you put your foot in your mouth (figuratively speaking)? Honestly I don’t remember, but most likely it was probably during an argument with my husband.

Book Reviews #11

I can’t believe this year is almost over! I’ve done pretty good with my reading total this year. It’s been updated twice, though I’m not sure I’ll be able to make to 300 in a month and a half (we’ll see). I’m up to 265. I’ve been trying really hard to finish to finish my Caldecott Challenge by the end of the year, and I think I’m under 40 books left. Same as the last couple of months, my adult books reading total has been rather crappy as I’ve not found much that interests me. My best book-related good news is that the publishing company that sent me Without Mercy back in September is going to send me another book to review! So I am looking forward to receiving that one.

I just started reading Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry’s Greatest Generation by Daisy Hay, and it sounds pretty interesting. Though I’ve read a couple of poems by Keats, Byron and Shelley over the years, I don’t really know too much about the poets from the early 19th century, so this book seemed like an interesting way to learn. I’m also listening to Neil Gaiman and Terry Prachett’s hilarious apocalyptic book Good Omens on audiobook, which I’ve had as a book forever but have never been able to finish.

I had started A Storm of Swords (The Song of Ice and Fire #3) by George R.R. Martin, or as I like to call it for others who have no idea what I’m talking about, Game of Thrones Book 3, but had some issues. There was a huge hold on the book at the library, so I thought I would be better off buying a used copy, only they are really hard to find, so when I saw an e-book version for a great price, I jumped on it. My Kindle has been on the fritz for the past couple of months, hence why I couldn’t read any ARCs (Advanced Reader’s Copies), but suddenly started working the other day. So I read the first chapter of the book and then it promptly died on me, freezing on that last page. I’m supposed to be getting a new Kindle for Christmas, so I’m not worried about finishing it, but it is just uber-frustrating.

I apologize in advance for the length of this post, as I apparently have been really busy, at least with children’s books. 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.

Children

How to Potty Train Your Monster written by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Michael Moon

How to Potty Train Your Monster

I found this book at the library book sale and knew it would be perfect for my son. He is curious about the potty but we haven’t started potty training him yet. This is a great way to introduce the idea of potty training to a toddler/preschooler. The book features brightly colorful funny-looking monsters who are getting rid of their diapers and learning (with their parents) how to properly use the potty. It is well-done enough to be funny for parents and their children, which is convenient as you will most likely have to read this multiple times in the future. Recommended for ages 2-4, 5 stars.

Mister Seahorse by Eric Carle

Mister Seahorse

I picked up this book because I am fascinated by seahorses and I know my son likes Eric Carle. This book was especially interesting as it had really bright colorful watercolor illustrations and acetate overlays that hid pictures painted in the book underneath them. Mrs Seahorse has laid her eggs in the belly of Mr. Seahorse, and leaves him to raise the children. On his way out and about, Mr. Seahorse meets other dad raising the children on the own including, Mr. Tilapia, Mr. Kurtus, and Mr. Catfish. At the end the story, the babies hatch and are on their own. It was an informative and fun read, and my son loved the illustrations, especially the hidden pictures! Recommended for ages 2-6,  4 stars.

Thomas’ 123 Book by Wilbert Awdry, illustrated by Richard Courtney

I picked this up for my 2 yr old son as he loves trains and needs help getting numbers in the correct order. This book is a counting book from one to twenty and tells the story of Thomas and his friends bringing supplies to an event on the island of Sodor. I had no idea that each of the trains in the series are actually labeled #1-20, until I read through the book a second time, so that helps with the counting. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman

I had picked up this book for my son because I had previously thought that I liked the look of some of Karma Wilson’s other books. Plus the illustrations were adorable; my son loved looking at the pictures. In this book, Bear is feeling lonely when he visited by all of his friends, who bring him food. He keeps saying “Thanks” but wants to really show them his appreciation. But he has no food to share. His friends assure him that he has plenty to give, all his stories, and that will be more than enough for him. So he and his friends sit down to a feast and he entertains them with his stories. This is a great book to teach toddlers/preschoolers about Thanksgiving, especially as it illustrates other things one can give besides food. Recommended for ages 2-6, 5 stars.

Pumpkin Moonshine written and illustrated by Tasha Tudor

I love Tasha Tudor’s illustrations and this was a perfect book for Halloween to read to my son. The title refers to what we now call Jack O’Lanterns and is not related to alcohol. The book tells the story of a young girl named Sylvie Ann who wants to carve a pumpkin for Halloween, so she goes to find the biggest one, which promptly loses control and runs pell-mell down the hill towards the farm. It is finally stopped and the girl and her father carve the pumpkin, place a candle instead and then wait in the bushes for people to get scared by it. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

Utterly Otterly Day by Mary Casanova, illustrated by Ard Hoyt

Utterly-Otterly-Day

I love otters, so when I saw this at the library book sale, I had to get it. I love the watercolor and sketched illustrations of the little otter, his world and his family, and my son did too. The book is about Little Otter’s adventures out in the world. He eats clams and plays out in the open, all the time avoiding Mom and Dad’s warnings to “Stay close!” and “Be Careful!”. Things are going great until he encounters a cougar who wants to make a snack out of him, but with the help of his family, he escapes back to the safety of his burrow. Recommended for ages 2-7, 4 stars.

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Alvin Ho

I can’t remember where I first saw this book, but the title sounded amusing, so I thought I would give it a try. It was a quick fun read and would a great series for boys just learning how to read longer chapter books. I adored the quirky illustrations in the book and they made me laugh!

Alvin Ho is scared of everything, including the dark, kimchi (“pickled cabbage that explodes in your throat and makes you cry” – that cracked me up), girls, and school. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts, which is famous for being where the Revolutionary War started and the home of several famous dead authors. Alvin’s so shy, he doesn’t even speak at school. He’s starting the second grade and is trying to survive life in general. He has no friends, except for Flea who is a one-eyed peg-legged girl, and always wants to sit next to him at school. This, of course, means that he is shunned by all the other boys. Alvin is being taught how to be a gentleman by his father, who also teaches him how to swear Shakespearean style (but not in polite company). Can’t wait to read the other books in the series! Recommended for ages 5-8, 4 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

Pedro the Angel of Olvera Street written and illustrated by Leo Politi

This book immediately reminded me of Nine Days to Christmas: A Story of Mexico by Marie Hall Ets, which is on the same topic, although this book was done earlier thirteen years earlier. Both books’ core story is about La Posada, the journey that Mary and Joseph make in Bethlehem, when they are trying to find a place to stay, so Mary can have the baby Jesus. The title comes from the title character Pedro, who sings so sweetly that he is called “the Angle of Olvera Street,” which is where he lives in Los Angeles and the site of the original Latino settlement in the city. Pedro is asked to sing, as an angel with red wings, at La Posada at the head of the procession. He dreams of getting a small music box from the piñata, which is broken after the people in the procession find a place to stay, and he is lucky enough to receive one. The book, as did his Caldecott Medal winning book The Song of the Swallows, contains the author’s original music and lyrics. This book won a 1947 Caldecott Honor award. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Castle by David Macaulay

Although this one was just as well-done as his “Cathedral”, I liked the other better. In this book, we see a 13th Century Welsh Castle being built from the ground up during the reign of Edward II. It is a step-by-step guide to its construction and what life in a castle was like. When I was a kid I used to love to explore a castle informational computer game my dad had bought. This book kind of reminded me of that game. It even mentions siege warfare techniques once the castle was built. Recommended for ages 7-12, 3 stars.

The Contest written and illustrated by Nonny Hogrogrian

This was a rather odd story, and the difficult-to-pronounce Armenian names really distracted me, making it hard to finish. In this story based on a Armenian folktale, two robbers are engaged to the same woman, though neither of them knows it. One day while on the road, they run into each other and find out, and so create a contest to see who is the best and most clever robber. One operates only during the day, and the other only at night. The winner will get the girl. Only they don’t really determine who is the best, but instead decide to keep robbing the area as it is very profitable. Their girl ends up moving on to someone else. Recommended for ages 7-10, 2 stars.

Always Room for One More retold by Sorche Nic Leodhas, illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian

This book won the 1966 Caldecott Medal. It was a very interesting choice as the book is adapted from a Scottish folk song and the author has left in enough Scottish words to let you know the heritage. There is a glossary of terms in the back of the book to help you out if you get lost though. The story is about Lachie MacLachlan, his wife and their ten children. They live in a small house but always have their door open for “one more” person, and the father is always inviting people to their house parties. This is all well and good until the house literally breaks apart. However, the good people he has shown hospitality and friendship to return the favor by rebuilding his house to twice its original size, so there is “always room for one more.” It is interesting to note that the author’s pseudonym was Sorche Nic Leodhas, which means “Claire, daughter of Louis” in Scots Gaelic,  but her real name was LeClair Gowens Alger. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 1/2 stars.

The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night illustrated by Peter Spier

Another book based off a folk song, I was curious to see what he could do after reading his Caldecott Medal-winning book Noah’s Ark. Spier’s artwork, which alternates between black & white and color, is just as detailed as that book, although the subject matter in this book is definitely not for younger children. A fox has gone to a farm to get food for his family, and catches and kills a duck and a goose. He has to run quickly back home with his spoils to avoid the angry farmer. Once he gets back home, the story gets very anthropomorphic as his wife and cubs quickly dress and cook the poultry, enjoying the meal. There is the original song and lyrics in the back of the book. Apparently Burl Ives used to sing the song in the 1950s and I would be interested to hear it. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.

Little Bear’s Treasury by Else Holmelund Minarek, illustrated by Maurice Sendak

This treasury included three books, Little Bear, Little Bear’s Friend and the Caldecott Honor book for 1962, Little Bear’s Visit. Apparently I had read Little Bear, the first book in this treasury, back in 2009 but didn’t remember it. Oh well, it wasn’t any better the second time. I know this series is really popular but I just didn’t like it. The text flow was off and the stories were awkward. The illustrations by Maurice Sendak are pretty much the treasury’s only redeeming quality. I liked Little Bear’s Visit the best, though didn’t even manage to get through Little Bear’s Friend. It told the story of Little Bear visiting his grandparents and the stories they told him and what he ate. Little Bear reminded me a bit of my son. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2 stars.

Baboushka and the Three Kings retold by Ruth Robbins, illustrated by Nicolas Sidjakov

I have read this book before, as it was one of the books I kept from my childhood, but couldn’t remember much about it. So I re-read it for the Challenge. It is based off a Russian folktale and tells the story of the Three Kings, as viewed through the eyes by Baboushka. Don’t you just love saying that name? She is a Russian grandmother who meets the Three Wise Men/Kings and offers them lodging, which they refuse and say they must finish their journey to meet the Christ Child. They invite her along but she turns them down, only after they have left, she decides that the baby must really be important and she sets out on a quest of her own to find him. Baboushka becomes a Santa Claus figure as that is who Russian children wait to bring them gifts on Christmas Day, just like she tried to do for the Baby Jesus. The ink pen drawings are done with primary colors. This book won the 1961 Caldecott Medal. There must’ve not been very much competition that year as the other book to win the Honor wasn’t very good either. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

A Pocketful of Cricket by Rebecca Caudill, illustrated by Evaline Ness

I think I just must have a thing against books written or illustrated by Evaline Ness. This one had better illustrations than Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine, but the same ugly 1960s illustration coloring (mustard, red, avocado and black). It won a 1965 Caldecott Honor. I actually kind of liked the story, though it was pretty long-winded. My son loved the cricket. The book is about a first-grader named Jay who wanders all over the countryside around his parent’s farm and finds interesting things to put in his pockets, including a grey feather, an arrowhead, striped beans and a cricket. He adopts the cricket as his pet and brings it to the first day of school and almost gets in trouble for it, but then the teacher saves Cricket and it is his first show-and-tell instead. Recommended for ages 4-8, 2 1/2 stars.

Inch by Inch written and illustrated by Leo Lionni

I really try to like Lionni’s work, but I just can’t get into it. This is the fourth book I’ve read of his, and the fourth in the Caldecott Challege. All four won Caldecott Honors, including this one in 1961. The story was about an inch worm who prides himself on being able to measure anything, including his own escape from a nightingale trying to eat him after he is unable to measure the bird’s song! I just thought it ended too quickly. The cut-paper illustrations are quite good though. My son had fun trying to find the inchworm in the tall grass of the garden. Though I wasn’t a fan of it, it would be a great book to encourage kids to learn how to measure with rulers. Recommended for ages 2-6, 2 stars.

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship: A Russian Tale retold by Arthur Ransomme, illustrated by Uri Shulevitz

It took me forever to get into this story, but I enjoyed it once it finally got going. When the Fool starts picking up men for his flying ship, I immediately thought of Baron Munchausen, which was originally a book written by a German author named Rudolph Enrich Raspe and also turned into a 1989 cult classic movie called The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (which happens to be one of my favorite childhood movies). I enjoyed the illustrations by Uri Shulevitz, as they definitely helped move the incredibly long story along, and helped him win the 1969 Caldecott Award.

This story was taken from a collection of Russian folktales from the beginning of the 20th century. It is about a boy named the Fool of the World who goes in search of a flying ship to give the Czar so he can marry his daughter. On his way into the world, he meets an old man and because of the Fool’s kindness, the old man tells him how to find a flying ship and instructs him to pick up everyone he sees on the way. The Fool does as he is told and soon the ship is full and on its way to the Czar, who of course, must present challenges for the Fool to complete before he just gives his daughter away to a common peasant. With the help of his new friends, the Fool completes the challenges, becomes rich and powerful and wins the Czar’s daughter. Recommended for ages 4-10, 4 stars.

 One Wide River to Cross retold by Barbara Emberley, illustrated by Ed Emberley

One Wide River to Cross

I totally think this book should’ve won the Caldecott Award in 1967, instead of a Caldecott Honor. Of course, I’m a bit biased because I think Sam, Bangs, and Moonshine is one of the worst children’s books ever written/illustrated. This book was way better illustrated, with beautiful whimsical woodcuts and pages in bright happy colors. The story is based off an African-American spiritual on Noah’s Ark, and the song is included with music in the back of the book. Recommended for ages 2-7, 4 stars.

Thy Friend, Obadiah written and illustrated by Brinton Turkle

Thy Friend Obadiah004

Frankly when I first saw this book, the first things I thought was “Man, this sounds really old-fashioned,” and “Who names their kid Brinton Turkle?”. However, this book has taken me by surprise, in a good way. I had never heard it before I picked it up as part of the Caldecott Challenge, as it is 1970 Caldecott Honor award winner.

The story is about a young Quaker boy named Obadiah, who lives with his family in Colonial Nantucket. He is befriended by a seagull he follows him around everywhere, and Obadiah is quite frustrated by the bird and wishes he would go away. The bird is eventually driven off by the boy, only to have the boy wish he was there to help guide him out of a snowstorm. He searches for his friend the seagull and is unable to find him until one day he is down by the docks and sees the seagull caught by some fishing lines. He frees the bird and they become friends again. Finding friendship in new and different places is the theme of the book. I love the illustrations. The author has created a couple more Obadiah books and I would love to read those as well. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.

Rain Makes Applesauce by Julian Scheer, illustrated by Marvin Bileck

Rain Makes Applesauce

This was a very odd book, which won a 1965 Caldecott Honor. I’m not totally surprised by it as books from the 1960s-70s had weird subjects, like Where the Wild Things Are or Sam, Bangs and Moonshine or Pop Corn and Ma Goodness. If you didn’t know it was meant to be a nonsense book, you would probably think the author and illustrator were high when they created it. It’s kind of crazy to think that the author worked for NASA. The story is a nonsense lyrical poem with silly statements like “The stars are made of lemon juice…and rain makes applesauce,” or “My house goes walking every day…and rain makes applesauce.” Although as another reviewer has said, “the illustrations can be overwhelming at first glance, but are extremely complicated and detailed.” I thought the book was very imaginative and a fun read. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 1/2 stars.

If All the Seas Were One Sea illustrated by Janina Domanska

Based off a Mother Goose rhyming poem (though I had never heard of it), this book uses brightly colored geometric etchings to tell the story of a great tree, ax and man and what would happen if these three got together. I was not a fan of the illustrations. Recommended for ages 3-7, 2 stars.

Skipper John’s Cook by Marcia Brown

I must say that I have fallen in love with Marcia Brown while reading for my Caldecott Challenge, though this is not one of my favorite of her books, it was a cute story. Si and his dog George live by the sea, and Si’s best friend is Skipper John of the ship, the Liberty Belle. The crew of the ship refuse to leave port until John has gotten a new cook. They are sick of beans and that is all they ever eat while at sea. So Skipper John puts up an ad for a new cook, and they hire Si because his dog looks well fed. The only problem is Si can only cook fish and beans. When they get back to port, Skipper John starts looking for another cook. This book won a 1952 Caldecott Honor. Recommended for ages 3-8, 3 stars.

The Angry Moon retold by William Sleator, illustrated by Blair Lent

sleator_angrymoon

I rather enjoyed this story, though it did take awhile to get into it and it was way too wordy for my son. The book won a 1971 Caldecott Honor. The story is based off a Tlingit Indian legend from the Pacific Northwest, and tells the story of a young girl named Lapowinsa who makes fun of the moon and soon kidnapped into the sky. Her friend Lupan goes to rescue her by shooting arrows into the sky, which form a ladder. He is helped along by a grandmother figure, the sun. It’s the illustrations which really bring this story alive. Blair Lent, who did the awesome illustrations for The Funny Little Woman and Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky: An African Folktale. It’s cool details like Lupan needs food for his long journey up the arrow ladder, so he puts a branch on his head and it grows and produces bush full of berries. Recommended for ages 9-12, 3 ½  stars.

May I Bring a Friend? by Bernice Schenk de Regniers, illustrated by Beni Montresor

My son and I rather liked this Caldecott Award winning book from 1965. The repeating rhyming text is about a young boy who is invited to dine with the king and queen and every time he brings a friend. These include lions, a giraffe, a hippo, a seal, an elephant, and some monkeys. At the end of the book, he invites them to come visit his friends at the zoo. The illustrations were in bright orange, pink, red and yellow when they depicted the boy and his “friends” and black and white when describing the king. Though they were rather cartoony, I enjoyed them. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Children/Young Adult

Dead End in Norvelt (Norvelt #1) by Jack Gantos, narrated by the author

This book has been on my to-read list for awhile, so when I found a copy available at the library, I immediately picked it up. It won the 2012 Newberry Medal. Jack Gantos is one of my favorite children/YA authors after I read Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, met the author and got the book signed. This book is semi-autobiographical in that the author did live in Norvelt and did meet a woman like Miss Volker (though he changed her name). This audiobook was read by the author, which is always awesome because he wrote it and he knows all the nuances of the book.

The Jack Gantos in the story is an almost 12 year old who lives in Norvelt, Pennsylvania, a community created by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The plot is set in 1962. Due to him having shot his father’s Japanese rifle, which is off-limits, he is grounded for the entire summer. He ends up spending his time with Miss Volker, an “original Norvelter” who is the medical examiner for the town and a nurse. She also is in charge of writing the obituaries for the original members of the community, but is unable to physically write them due to some extremely arthritic hands. Miss Volker uses a fantastic mix of modern and past history to make them more interesting, which sparks Jack’s interest and fascination with history. As usual, Jack Gantos is hilarious in his storytelling, especially when he talked about his epic nosebleeds, his best friend whose dad owns the town mortuary (and Jack is afraid of dead bodies), his dad’s crazy idea to buy a plane and build a bomb shelter, Hell’s Angels, curses and a murder mystery. Highly recommended for ages 10+,  5 stars.

Adult

The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders

I started getting interested in true crime back in high school after my first trip to London. I’ve always loved history, and there was this cool museum there called the London Underground (not the subway system) that was about the less-savory parts of London, i.e. the guillotining, murderers and torture instruments. I think it has since closed down or renamed itself. Anyways, it was probably a bit macabre for a 15 year old, but I found it intriguing.  They had an exhibit on Jack the Ripper and I’ve been hooked on true crime ever since then. I think it’s because I’m fascinated with the psychological aspects of the killers themselves, like what drove them to do it. This book is a by-product of the fascination with murder and the sentences that went with them that was glorified by the Victorians. They definitely helped to make minor celebrities out of murderers through newspapers, plays, penny dreadfuls, and even puppet shows for children. Because the only form of entertainment in those days came from the written word, the public relied on authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens to create works based on the famous murders of the day. I found the connection between Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Jack the Ripper, and how Jack the Ripper influenced the creation of Dracula by Bram Stoker, to be especially interesting. There were definitely a lot of murderers I had never heard of, in fact the only one besides Jack the Ripper that I had heard of was Burke & Hare. The need to control the rash of murders that seemed almost constant from the beginning of the 19th century helped to create organizations like the Metropolitan Police and the CID (which later became MI-6, Britain’s version of the FBI/CIA), and book characters like Sherlock Holmes. My only gripe with the book is that it was a little long-winded. Aside from that, it was a excellent read (though you definitely need to read happier book afterwards, to get away from all the death and destruction).  4 ½ stars.

Effie: The Passionate Lives of Effie Gray, John Ruskin and Millais by Dr. Susan Fagence Cooper, narrated by Sophie Ward

I really enjoyed this book! The Pre-Raphaelites are one of my favorite periods of art, so I’m always glad to read a story related to them. Effie Gray was a beautiful educated young woman when she married art critic John Ruskin at age 19. Ruskin had become obsessed with her at age 12, but when he saw her on their wedding night, it was not what he had expected. I did some research on him after reading the book and it looks like he was not homosexual as some have suggested but may have been a pedophile, although looking at child pornography was not illegal or considered dangerous during the Victorian Age. It can be linked through several of his relationships with young girls that he usually fell in love with them at a very young age, but was less interested once they got older. In any case, he did not consummate his marriage to Effie, even though they were married for 6 or 7 years. Effie wanted to get out of the marriage, and so filed for annulment and Ruskin was pronounced impotent. While she was married to Ruskin, she fell in love with Ruskin’s young protégé, John Everett Millais, whom she later married.

This first half of the book was fascinating and very well-done. Although Ruskin is made to look like a crazy pervert and his parents come off rather creepy as well, I’m still very curious about his books as they sound fascinating. It seems that Effie did marry a very brilliant man, but one with almost no social skills. I rather think the author should’ve stopped the book at the halfway mark, but she decided to continue and talk about Effie and Millais’s (or Everett as he was known) marriage, their children, and Everett’s art career with and after the Pre-Raphaelites. There was a lot of talk calling Everett a sell-out after he left the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (or PRB), but I think he was ingenious. Unlike a lot of other artists of the period, he had to support himself and his wife and eight children, so he did whatever he had to do to survive and make money. So yes, his picture style naturally changes from the Medieval/detailed look of his earlier pictures to the more Aesthetic-looking pictures of his later career. Pretty much everyone knows who Millais is from one of his PRB paintings Ophelia. I liked how much Effie and her family were and how much she depended on them to deal with her marriages and loss of children. I thought the chapter on Sophy Gray, Effie’s younger Gray, particularly interesting. As to whether or not Sophy and Everett had an affair, I cannot speculate on that. It is intriguing to note that there will be two movies out in 2014 about Effie Gray, though I think I will see the one written by Emma Thompson. 4 stars.

A Clash of Kings (The Song of Ice and Fire #2) by George R.R. Martin

The more I read this series, the more I like it, and the more I think the books are better than the show. It was definitely easier to tackle in book-form, and had the added bonus of appendices of the breakdown of the houses and their retainers in case you got lost (which is easy to do with over 100 characters per book). I will try to explain the story, but this one, like the first book, is very complicated. This book is seen through the viewpoints of nine characters: Catelyn, Arya, Bran and Sansa Stark, Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister, Ser Davos Seaworth, Theon Greyjoy, and Daenerys Targaryen. I love the story with Jon Snow and Dany, and Sansa has managed not to be so whiny in this book. Tyrion is still my favorite character though.

As the title suggests, this story is the civil war created by the men and woman who claim the Iron Throne or do battle against it. These people include Joffrey, the heir apparent after his father Robert Baratheon died; Robb Stark, the King of the North who doesn’t want to swear fealty to Joffrey; the Greyjoys, who also want the North; Mace Ryder and the wildings; Stannis Baratheon, who claims the right to the Iron Throne as the eldest Baratheon (as he believes Joffrey to be a bastard); Renley Baratheon, Robert’s younger brother who also claims the Iron Throne, and Daenerys, who also seeks to be the ruler of the Iron Throne (though she’s still not on the same continent yet). Catelyn spends the whole book as part of Robb’s camp or as his emissary, as he fights Lannister men led by the Queen Regent Cersei’s father Lord Tywinn. Arya has fled the capital and is being herded towards the Night Watch, as she is dressed like a boy. Bran has to be the master of Castle Stark while his brother Robb is away fighting the Lannisters, and he continues to have shape-shifter visions of himself as his direwolf Summer. Sansa is still being held captive in the capital by Joffrey and his mother, until they figure out what to do to her. She adopts a drunken knight as her protector. Tyrion becomes the Hand of the King, until his father can come take the role and does his best to stay above the craziness at court and protect himself and his whore Shae. Jon Snow is adapting to life as the Night Watch Commander’s servant and has gone with him on a mission to find out what the wildlings are planning. Ser Davos Seaworth, a new character, is a vassal of Stannis Baratheon and we see Stannis’s campaign to the Iron Throne through his eyes. Theon Greyjoy, the former ward of Castle Stark, goes back to his home and receives an unusual welcome from his family. He must redeem himself in their eyes in order to be welcomed back. Daenerys, the dragon mother (she has three dragons which hatched at the end of the 1st book) travels to Qarth, a rich port city on the Jade Sea to find someone who will fund her and take her back to Westeros to claim the Iron Throne. Can’t wait to read the third book! I got a good deal on the next book as an e-book, but it will be about a month before I can start it. 4 stars.

Beowulf: An Illustrated Edition by Unknown, translated by Seamus Heaney

I’ve been wanting to read this poem for ages, as it is classic, but just never got around to it. Then about 2-3 weeks ago, I had the opportunity to see world-renowned medieval musician Benjamin Bagby, do a performance in Old English (Anglo-Saxon), with Modern English projected subtitles and an Anglo-Saxon harp, of the first third of Beowulf. I was fascinated by it and he (was really good and fun to watch. He was extremely animated as he told the tale and it really felt like you were in a mead hall listening to a bard perform the story, just like it would’ve been in the 9th or 10th century when the poem was written. I had no idea that the work was so long, nearly 3200 lines, or really what the subject matter was about. I had watched the animated version that they released in 2007, but I wasn’t 100% sure it was accurate (it wasn’t). I had read the Laxdaela Saga before, an Icelandic epic poem, so I had some kind of idea what I was up for and it didn’t stray too far from that track, i.e. a hero’s list of accomplishments with a bit of back story on his lineage. This version of the poem was cool because not only was it an excellent translation by the Nobel Prize winner poet Seamus Heaney, but it was also illustrated, which I think definitely helped to understand the poem better. The language, even in translation, can sometimes be tedious to wade through as you try to interpret what exactly the poet was trying to say.

Although the Unknown poet is from 9th or 10th century England, the poem is set in 6th century Scandinavia (though these dates change depending on who you ask), mostly in Sweden and Denmark. Beowulf is the nephew to King of Geatland in Sweden and has come to Denmark to help out King Hrothgar, who is being plagued by an evil demon/monster named Grendel. He does not like the merriment and drinking in the mead hall called Heorot, and so Grendel takes out his fury by nightly killing Hrothgar’s men. Beowulf lays a trap for Grendel and they fight without weapons and Grendel’s arm is ripped off, and put up as a trophy outside Heorot. Grendel later dies from his wounds. Beowulf is richly rewarded by King Hrothgar, but then the town is plagued by Grendel’s mother, a “swamp hag” who seeks revenge for the death of her son. Beowulf goes in alone to her lair to finish her off. He is rewarded again by King Hrothgar and then leaves to go back to Geatland. He presents his bounty to his King Hygelac, who also rewards him. When Hygelac dies, Beowulf becomes King. He is a fair and wise king and rules for 50 years, until a dragon is awoken and starts rampaging Geatland. Beowulf himself goes to fight the dragon with one retainer (the rest have run away), and kills it, but also succumbs to his wounds. 4 stars.

The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook: Vegetarian Recipes Carnivores will Devour by Kim O’Donnel

I was excited to get this cookbook, as I’m always on the lookout for good meatless options. However, the recipes were pretty general and similar to ones I’ve found elsewhere. I did like four in particular, that sounded particularly yummy: Caramelized Onion, Pear and Goat Cheese Filling for a Savory Crostata (free-form tart); Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini Sauce; Pepita-Crusted Tofu and Red Lentil Dal with Cumin-Fried Onions and Wilted Spinach. 2 stars.

Emeril’s Kicked Up Sandwiches: Stacked with Flavor by Emeril Lagasse

Review to follow soon. 4 stars.

Crazy Sexy Kitchen: 150 Plant-Empowered Recipes to Ignite a Mouthwatering Revolution

by Kris Carr

Review to follow soon. 4 stars.

Happy Arbor Day 2013!

Cherry Trees near Kyoto, Japan

Today is Arbor Day, celebrated in the US and now all over the world, is usually placed on the last Friday in April (though the date depends on the region and best tree planting season). The holiday was first promoted, via the best newspaper of the day, by settler J. Sterling Morton and his wife after their move to the Nebraska Territory in 1854. According to the official Arbor Day Foundation History page,

“Morton not only advocated tree planting by individuals but also encouraged civilian groups and organizations to join in. His promotion of trees was further expanded when he became the secretary of the Nebraska Territory. On January 4, 1872, Morton first proposed a tree-planting holiday to be called ‘Arbor Day’ to the State Board of Agriculture. The holiday was scheduled for April 10th of that year, and it is estimated that more than one million trees were planted in Nebraska on the first Arbor Day.”

The first official Nebraska state Arbor Day was April 10, 1874 though it wasn’t legalized in the state until 1884. Finally the date of Morton’s birthday was selected as the official US holiday, April 22. The Arbor Day Foundation puts out a guidebook on how to celebrate the holiday and there are suggestions on the webpage as well. I especially liked this Nature Explore project I found off the Foundation’s website, which helps kids connect with nature, a collaboration with the Arbor Day Foundation and Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, which helps fund outdoor classroom activities and provides information for families that want to start up nature programs on their own. The Foundation’s website also features a visual tree identification guide for the US.  Plus if you live in the US and join the Foundation, they send you 10 free trees to plant at your house or donate 10 trees to a National Forest that needs them.

Tree at Sunset

So naturally today’s poetry is about trees. I picked the first one because I liked the imagery and I have a soft spot for Frost. I had to memorize his poem The Road Not Taken in high school and is one of the few poems I can still remember by heart and remains one of my favorite poems ever. For the A.E. Housman poem, I liked the poem and I discovered the poet after posting his To An Athelete Dying Young for my Sports Poetry post a few days ago. The other two poems I’d not heard of but enjoyed the imagery of the poems. I would like to dedicate today’s post to my best friend Huma, as she loves trees and her birthday was this week.

Birches

by Robert Frost
When I see birches bend to left and right
Across the lines of straighter darker trees,
I like to think some boy's been swinging them.
But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay 
As ice-storms do.  Often you must have seen them
Loaded with ice a sunny winter morning
After a rain.  They click upon themselves
As the breeze rises, and turn many-colored
As the stir cracks and crazes their enamel.
Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust--
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.
They are dragged to the withered bracken by the load,
And they seem not to break; though once they are bowed
So low for long, they never right themselves:
You may see their trunks arching in the woods
Years afterwards, trailing their leaves on the ground
Like girls on hands and knees that throw their hair
Before them over their heads to dry in the sun.
But I was going to say when Truth broke in
With all her matter-of-fact about the ice-storm
I should prefer to have some boy bend them
As he went out and in to fetch the cows--
Some boy too far from town to learn baseball,
Whose only play was what he found himself,
Summer or winter, and could play alone.
One by one he subdued his father's trees
By riding them down over and over again
Until he took the stiffness out of them,
And not one but hung limp, not one was left
For him to conquer.  He learned all there was
To learn about not launching out too soon
And so not carrying the tree away
Clear to the ground.  He always kept his poise
To the top branches, climbing carefully
With the same pains you use to fill a cup
Up to the brim, and even above the brim.
Then he flung outward, feet first, with a swish,
Kicking his way down through the air to the ground.
So was I once myself a swinger of birches.
And so I dream of going back to be.
It's when I'm weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig's having lashed across it open.
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return.  Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
I'd like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

Loveliest   of Trees

by A. E. Housman
Loveliests of trees, the cherry now   
Is hung with bloom along the bough,   
And stands about the woodland ride   
Wearing white for Eastertide.   

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,   
And take from seventy springs a score,   
It only leaves me fifty more.   

And since to look at things in bloom   
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go   
To see the cherry hung with snow.

Song of   the Trees

by Mary   Colborne-Veel
1

We are the Trees.  
  Our dark and leafy glade  
Bands the bright earth with softer mysteries.  
Beneath us changed and tamed the seasons run:  
In burning zones, we build against the sun         
  Long centuries of shade.  

2

We are the Trees,  
  Who grow for man’s desire,  
Heat in our faithful hearts, and fruits that please.  
Dwelling beneath our tents, he lightly gains         
The few sufficiencies his life attains—  
  Shelter, and food, and fire.  

3

We are the Trees  
  That by great waters stand,  
By rills that murmur to our murmuring bees.         
And where, in tracts all desolate and waste,  
The palm-foot stays, man follows on, to taste  
  Springs in the desert sand.  

4

We are the Trees  
  Who travel where he goes         
Over the vast, inhuman, wandering seas.  
His tutors we, in that adventure brave—  
He launched with us upon the untried wave,  
  And now its mastery knows.  

5

We are the Trees          
  Who bear him company  
In life and death. His happy sylvan ease  
He wins through us; through us, his cities spread  
That like a forest guard his unfenced head  
  ’Gainst storm and bitter sky.          

6

We are the Trees.  
  On us the dying rest  
Their strange, sad eyes, in farewell messages.  
And we, his comrades still, since earth began,  
Wave mournful boughs above the grave of man,          
  And coffin his cold breast.

Trees   Need Not Walk the Earth

by   David Rosenthal
Trees need not walk the earth  
For beauty or for bread;  
Beauty will come to them  
Where they stand.  
Here among the children of the sap
Is no pride of ancestry:  
A birch may wear no less the morning  
Than an oak.  
Here are no heirlooms  
Save those of loveliness, 
In which each tree  
Is kingly in its heritage of grace.  
Here is but beauty’s wisdom  
In which all trees are wise.  
Trees need not walk the earth 
For beauty or for bread;  
Beauty will come to them  
In the rainbow—  
The sunlight—  
And the lilac-haunted rain;
And bread will come to them  
As beauty came:  
In the rainbow—  
In the sunlight—  
In the rain.
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