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Book Reviews Dec 2014

I can’t believe this year is nearly at an end. It has definitely been an interesting one, especially in regards books and my professional life. I finally got a library job after 4 years of searching, and it’s in the area I want to be in, i.e. Youth Services. I get to do storytimes and help kids and parents find the books and other material that they need. I have beat my reading goal for the year with 345 out 321 books read. I have, unfortunately, gotten really far behind in writing reviews. But I am working to catch up on that for the new year and get back on a good schedule of writing and posting them. I am definitely going to try and write more blog posts in 2015. I already have a few ideas rolling around in my head. My son has been growing like a weed and though he is a handful, he is becoming more independent. He’s getting better with the alphabet, though we’re going to have to over the numbers again as he seems to have forgotten them in the meantime. I’m hoping he’ll be able to read soon and we can read more together.

As usual I rate books on a scale of 1 – 5 stars, with one being the lowest and five the highest. I will add pictures from books I like (and there was a lot this time around).

Children

Wow! Said the Owl written and illustrated by Tim Hopgood

Wow said the Owl

This was a very cute story about a young owl discovering all the colors that occur during the day. Added bonus about this book is that I can use it for ToddlerTime on owls and a Discoverytime (Preschool storytime + science) on rainbows. I am very happy about the last part. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

I Love to Dance written and illustrated by Anna Walker

I was looking for another book about dancing for my Toddler Storytime, when I found this book. I liked the soft but simple ink on watercolor illustrations about Ollie, who I think is some kind of dog sock monster or maybe stuffed animal, who loves to dance. I liked the descriptions of his dancing, especially “I love to dance like jelly and shake my wobbly belly.” Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

I’m Not Cute! written and illustrated by Jonathan Allen

This was another adorable owl book that I plan to use for a Toddler storytime on owls (not trying to be pun-y but it was). Baby Owl insists he’s not cute even though everyone he meets say he is. He insists that he is instead “a huge and scary hunting machine with great big soft and silent wings.” In actuality, both statements are true, as it is later confirmed by his mother. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

except if written and illustrated by Jim Averbeck

except if

I really enjoyed this book and the concept of it, and planned to use it at my Egg Preschool DiscoveryTime (though it would also be great for a Toddler storytime; didn’t arrive in time unfortunately). It’s all about an egg hatching and the possibilities about what could be hatching from it. For example, it could be a bird except if it is a baby snake, etc etc. My son loved this book. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

Cats Night Out written by Caroline Stutson, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Cats Night Out

This was another book I chose for my dancing Toddler Storytime. The book featured dancing cats at night with all kinds of amusing costumes and dance styles/positions. Plus Jon Klassen’s illustrations are just so detailed but the cats all seem to remind me of the Jets and Sharks (ala West Side Story) as they just look so cool and relaxed dancing. Recommended for ages 2-7, 4 stars.

Rap a Tap Tap written and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon

RapATapTap

I was looking for a book for my Toddler Storytime on dance when I came across this gem from Leo & Diane Dillon. It’s a book about Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, one of the world’s most famous tap dancers and has a rhyming repeating text. I had heard of him before this book, but this was the first time I’d seen a children’s book based on the his life and dancing skills. Recommended for ages 2-7, 3 stars.

Waiting is Not Easy! written and illustrated by Mo Willems

Waiting is Not Easy

I borrowed a copy of this book because A. I love Elephant and Piggie and this was one of the newest ones and B. I hoped it would explain patience better to my 3 yr old son who is quite possibly the most impatient person in the world. He does kind of get it now, though he’s still pretty impatient, but is a good book for explaining the concept. Gerald is having a hard time waiting for the surprise promised by Piggie. He waits all day and is getting really tired of it, when his surprise finally comes and he realizes it was worth waiting for. This book can definitely be appreciated by kids and parents alike. Recommended for ages 3+, 4 stars.

The Littlest Owl written by Caroline Pitcher, illustrations by Tina Macnaughton

I have been looking for books to use with my owl Toddler storytime and this book was a bit too much for them. But a cute book nonetheless. I just feel like quoting Despicable Me and say that that little baby “is so fluffy I’m gonna die!”. A mommy barn owl has laid four eggs and three have already hatched. The fourth takes a bit longer and is smaller than the rest. When a storm hits, the four babies and their mother must fly away from the willow tree that is their home. The first three go with no problem, but the fourth hasn’t flown before and is hesitant. Eventually he gathers up his courage and flies for the first time. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

I’m Going to Catch My Tail! written and illustrated by Jimbo Matison

I'm Going to Catch My Tail!

 I saw this book while browsing for storytime books and just had to get it. The illustrations are so adorable and a bit cartoony. The book is about a silly cat who decides to catch his tail, who speaks with a separate voice, as he goes about his crazy everyday life, you know messing with the laundry, tearing up toilet paper and generally causing mischief. I was more enthused than my son was, but he still thought it was funny. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Snippet the Early Riser written and illustrated by Bethanie Deeney Marguia

Snippet the Early Riser

I picked this one up because I love books about snails. Honestly I liked the illustrations more than the story. Snippet is a very energetic snail, pretty much like a normal under 7 year old and likes to play soccer, draw, and get piggyback rides. Like small children, he wakes up way earlier than his parents and sister and does everything in his power to wake them up so they can all play together. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Harold and the Purple Crayon: Race Car written by Liza Baker, illustrated by Kevin Murawski

My son loved this book, but he loves cars (especially racing ones), so I’m not surprised. Harold is playing with his toy car in his room when he decides to he wants to drive a real one. So he draws one with his magic purple crayon and a second car and has a car race, along with his dog Lilac. They face fog, snow, the desert, and still manage to save the second car and finish the race. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

Julia’s House for Lost Creatures written and illustrated by Ben Hatke

julias house for lost creatures 2

I picked this up originally while I was looking up storytime books and thought the cover looked cool. When I found out First Second books was the publisher, I knew it was gonna be awesome (they just always seem to do cooler than normal books and graphic novels). The book starts off with Julia’s house being on a giant tortoise, which delighted my son to no end. She comes to a new area but is bored, so she puts a sign outside for welcoming in lost creatures. In no time at all, some start to show up, like a patchwork kitty, a bridge troll, and mermaids. The illustrations are super cute and really help to tell the story. Like Kirkus Reviews has mentioned in their review, the creatures do start up a bit of a Wild Rumpus, ala Where the Wild Things Are, and Julia quickly tires of it. She establishes some ground rules and things quickly settle down again and become more like a family. Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

By the Light of the Harvest Moon by Harriet Ziefert

Another book I picked up for Autumn Preschool Storytime, I liked this one for its great illustrations. It is a story about the Autumnal Equinox on Sept 22 or 23. A farmer and his crew have been busy harvesting and go to bed exhausted. After he goes home for the night, the leaf people come out to celebrate the Harvest Moon/the Autumnal Equinox with their families. They play games like bobbing for apples and making popcorn necklaces. The leaf kids try to see who can stack pumpkins the highest. The best part was the dessert party, where the kids proudly announce that they get to eat pie. The only thing that was off-putting about this book was the fact that the leaf people (whose heads were pumpkins) ate pumpkin pie and played with pumpkins, but I guess you have to extend your imagination to not look at their head and remember that they are made up of leaves. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

When Blue Met Egg written and illustrated by Lindsay Ward

I thought I might use this book when I did a Preschool DiscoveryTime on eggs, but it didn’t quite work. But I thought it was cute and so brought it home to read with my son. He liked the story, though it was a bit long. Blue is a bird who lives in New York City and one day she meets the lonely Egg, who she sort of adopts as she takes him around the city trying to find his mom. They are together winter to spring when he hatches into something special. I had to explain the ending to my son as he didn’t pick up on it. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

In November written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Jill Kastner

I am doing a Preschool Storytime on Autumn and I found this book. I think it is a more winter book than autumn but I will probably use it as a backup book. It tells about all the different things that go on during November. There are no leaves on the trees, animals and insects are hibernating or getting ready to do so. Snow is coming down, people are baking and getting together for Thanksgiving. I loved this line from the text “In November, the smell of food is different. It is an orange smell. A squash and pumpkin smell. It tastes like cinnamon and can fill up a house in the morning…” I loved the oil painted illustrations, which just made everything seem more homey and snuggly. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Max’s Castle written and illustrated by Kate Banks

I have not read the first two books in this series, but found this while browsing for storytime books and thought it looked fun. Max finds some forgotten wooden alphabet blocks in his room and he and his brothers uses their imagination to create a castle with the blocks forming words that make up the features of the castle. I loved the illustrations of this fun and creative book, though it was a bit too long for my son. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Pele and the Rivers of Fire adapted and illustrated by Michael Nordenstrom

Pele and the Rivers of Fire

I was looking for a book to do with Preschool DiscoveryTime storytime and found this book. Thankfully there is a pronunciation guide in the back of the book as some of the Hawaiian names are rather hard to pronounce. This book tells the story of the volcanic fire goddess Pele and how she came to the Hawaiian islands. I loved the beautiful acrylic/watercolor on paper collage illustrations. It’s really cool that this book was written by a librarian and you can definitely see his passion for the subject in the book. Recommended for ages 4-9, 4 stars.

Maybelle the Cable Car by Virginia Lee Burton

I love Virginia Lee Burton’s books, so I immediately picked this one up while looking for car books for my son. It is based off the true story of how the city of San Francisco banded together to save the cable cars, despite the city fathers wanting to get rid of them in the name of progress. Maybelle, as the title suggests, is one of the old cable cars that is thankfully spared the chopping block and her and her fellow cable cars are allowed to run up and down the hilly city. She eventually becomes friends with Big Bill, one of the new modern buses, who originally thought of her as old-fashioned and as competition. The book also tells in detail how the cable cars work, so I’m sure kids will be pretending to drive one of these while reading or listening to the story. Recommended for ages 5-9, 3 stars.

Young Adult

City of Heavenly Fire (The Mortal Instruments #6) by Cassandra Clare

This is the final showdown between the Shadowhunters and Sebastian (aka Jonathan Morgenstern). Sebastian is trying to turn as many Shadowhunters and Downworlders as possible into Endarkened (mindless zombies) by using the Infernal Cup and wants a final all-out battle to establish his dominance. Everyone must decide what side they will fight on. Clary, Jace, Isabelle, Simon, and Alec travel to a demon world to find and defeat Sebastian on his own turf. Will they be able to in time? To find out, read the exciting conclusion to the Mortal Instrument series. Recommended for ages 15+, 4 stars.

Holy Moly! What a crazy book and an intriguing end to the series! I mean killing off characters in the prologue was pretty ballsy, but it definitely gets your attention. This book was long at 725 pages, but I managed to get through it in a week because it kept me on the edge of my seat trying to figure out what insane thing the author was going to do next. And she has brilliantly set the stage for her next series, entitled “The Dark Artifices”, though I will admit I’m kinda like “Geez, what else can she talk about for an entire series” as I already think this series went on for a book or two too long. However, I will probably check out at least the first book to see what she’s done. I will admit that I couldn’t for the life of me, despite having read all of the “The Infernal Devices” books, remember who Brother Zechariah actually was before he became a silent brother. I was really happy with the way the romances in the series ended, though I am curious about more Magnus stories in her e-books that I’ve yet to read (that will have to be remedied).

I would like to give a shoutout to Thomas from the blog “the quiet voice” for his excellent review of the book.

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Ok yes, I totally judged this book by its cover. The story sounded intriguing as well, so I figured I would give it a try. This ended up being one of my favorite books of the year and I was pretty bummed when it ended because it was so good. If you don’t like totally bizarre stories, you are not gonna like this book. That being said, I think the weirdness really works in this case. This is the author’s first book, which is kind of crazy because the language is so gorgeous and quotable and really makes her seem like she’s been doing this all her life. The story kind of reminded me of elements from the movie “Amelie” and “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”. To check out a more thorough review, check out this one.

The book starts off with a letter from the main character and tells the reader that to understand her story, she has to go back to the beginning and tell her grandmother and mother’s stories first. They feature nearly unbelievable tales of love and loss, which once told, make it is easier to understand the winged Ava and her silent brother Henry and how the story unfolds the way that it does. I don’t want to tell too much and give the story away, but I highly recommend this book. Recommended for ages 14+, 5 stars.

Adult

Perdita by Hilary Scharper

Finding Rebecca by Eoin Dempsey

Judy: A Dog in a Million by Damien Lewis

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters, narrated by Juanita McMahon

Tipping the Velvet is about a young teenage oyster girl named Nancy Astley living in Whitstable, an English seaside town, in the 1890s. She falls in love with a male impersonator, at her local music hall, named Kitty Butler. She agrees to become her personal dresser and embarks on a totally different life than she ever had before. Eventually the two of them become lovers and have a male impersonator act together, before she is cruelly betrayed by Kitty and has her heart broken. The story that follows is Nancy’s journey in growing up and becoming her own person, separate from Kitty. 4 stars.

Wow this was a crazy book! I finally had a chance to listen to it after watching part of the BBC miniseries version years ago and enjoying it. Seventeen discs though, geez! I’m not sure what it is about almost all the books I’ve picked recently but they start off great, get really draggy in the middle and then pick up again at the end (including this one). Ms. McMahon was a great narrator though, and definitely made the book more enjoyable (even in the dragging parts). If you ever wanted to know about British slang for all things sexual, this is definitely the book for you. It’s a good thing I have an English hubby and have always been a bit of Anglophile or I would probably have gotten really lost while listening to this book. I did really enjoy the frank discussions of gender, sexuality, socialism and feminism in the book. I would be interested in reading more of Sarah Waters’ books in the future.

Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi

Another brilliant vegetarian cookbook from Yotam Ottolenghi, and this one is even better than “Ottolenghi”. I swear this man could make anything taste amazing. Plus there’s the gorgeous food photographs (nearly food porn lets be honest) that makes you just drool and make the recipes immediately, especially for the Taleggio and Spinach Roulade, Fig and Goat Cheese Tart and the Tomato and Pomegranate Salad. I’d like to try to make the Udon Noodles with with Fried Eggplants, Walnut and Miso (and I usually hate eggplants, but again he makes it sound amazing); Quinoa Porridge with Grilled Tomatoes and Garlic; Quinces Poached in Pomegranate Juice, and Walnut and Halvah Cake. 5 stars.

Persuasion by Jane Austen, narrated by Juliet Stevenson

Anne Elliot was betrothed to Captain Frederic Wentworth when she was 19 and was persuaded by friends and family to call it. So she did and has regretted her decision ever since. Anne’s father has managed to nearly bankrupt the family with his extravagant spending, so they have to rent out their manor house and move to Bath, England. Anne does not go immediately there, but instead goes to stay with her sister Mary in the country. She is intrigued and a little bit scared to meet up with Captain Wentworth again at Mary’s in-law’s house. It seems he is there courting Mary’s sister in laws, Louisa and Henrietta Musgrove, and Anne must sit there and watch and sort out how she feels about this. Eventually Louisa, Henrietta, Captain Wentworth, Mary and her husband Charles, and Anne decide to visit the seaside town of Lyme and Louisa has a crazy accident which incapacitates her for awhile. Anne leaves to go visit her friend Lady Russell and eventually move back in with her father. Captain Wentworth later comes to bath which really makes Anne wonder if he does still have feelings for her. 4 stars.

I have tried to read the actual book of Pride and Prejudice a couple times but the story was so slow, I could never get through very much. So I thought it would be better if I tried Jane Austen as an audiobook, but go for another of her books (whose movie version I also loved) and so picked this one. The narrator, Juliet Stevenson, was excellent. The audio version was also really slow in the beginning and I’ll be honest, didn’t pick up for me until about disc 5 of 7. But I kept listening and finally the story got more interesting and I dreaded having to leave the car and being unable to continue it until I got back in again. Anne Elliot is one of my favorite characters so level-headed, intelligent and soft-spoken. It sucks that she had such bad advice from her friend Lady Russell. The letter Frederic gives to Anne at the end of the book is one of the sweetest and most romantic I’ve ever heard, and almost tops Mr. Darcy’s declaration to Elizabeth Bennet.

Eye Witness

I found his blog by accident on WordPress’s homepage, and love his photography. In this post, I love how he can capture these people so well through their eyes alone. I do believe that “the eyes are the windows into the soul” and you can truly see their souls through these photographs.

My Paris Kitchen

My-Paris-Kitchen-hi-res

My Paris Kitchen: Recipes and Stories by David Lebovitz

Published April 8, 2014

I’ve been following the author’s food and travel blog for awhile now, after discovering his dessert cookbooks (which are amazing by the way). So when I found out Netgalley had a copy of his latest cookbook, I had to check it out. He starts off the cookbook by discussing his reasons for moving to Paris, adjusting to life there, and dealing with a much smaller kitchen. He also discusses frequently used ingredients in the recipes and how they differ in America and France. He is so thorough with the introductory sections that he reminds me of Mark Bittman (who I also really like).

I liked all the background stories about the food, which include how the author first discovered the food, and how he prepares it at home. I also liked when he went into details about the differences between French and American people. The recipes start with a back story description and why the recipe is included, and then actual recipe itself (titled in French and English). This is probably just because it is an advanced reader’s copy, but sometime the ingredients are first before the description, which can get kind of confusing as to where one recipe starts and the others end. The recipes are broken down into appetizers and salads, entrees (first course), main courses, desserts and basic pantry items like stock, vinaigrette and flavored oil. My favorite recipes included anything with Buckwheat, Artichoke Tapenade with Rosemary Oil, Leeks with Mustard-Bacon Vinaigrette, Scalloped Potatoes with Blue Cheese and Roasted Garlic (which sounds way more decadent when you look at the ingredients than just the description), the Chocolate Terrine with Fresh Ginger Crème Anglaise, and the Spiced Speculoos (the Biscoff Spread) Flan Crème Caramel. My only gripe is that there wasn’t a photo of every recipe, which helps when you’re making semi-complicated French food (especially the desserts) or food you’re not familiar with making. 4 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Saying Yes by Jenny Rich

I really liked this post, from the point of view of a mom and a librarian. My favorite part and some really good advice that the author says later in the post is just:
“Let them read. Say yes to books that are too hard for them, within limits. Allow them to grow their passion for whatever it is they are passionate about…Let them be curious. Let them talk about all sorts of books.”

Nerdy Book Club

Today, as I dropped my first grader, Ethan, off at school I said, “I’ll be around all day if you need me!” He responded by saying, completely seriously, “Well, then don’t bother leaving because I’ll need you.  We have Reader’s Workshop in a few minutes and I don’t like it.”

I’ve been thinking all day about what Ethan said, and I’m still trying to figure out what to make of it, and just how much of this problem I have the power to fix.

I know what went wrong.  I can trace it to the day.  It was a day in September and Ethan was in a Greek Mythology phase at home.  He asked me if he could bring his big yellow Greek Mythology book into school with him.  Yes, it was a hard book for him.  But he would sit for hours at home and work through it, one…

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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.

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