Shelfie: June 9, 2017: Exhausted

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It has been a WEEK.  I can’t even begin to describe to you the horrors of this week (well, I can, but you all are better left in ignorance of the horrors and failures of humanity; you’re here for books—and cats, I hope!).  I have two reviews nearly done, but instead I’m drinking my second glass of Arbor Mist.  My cat here is demonstrating an approximation of my energy level.

Do you enjoy the knickknacks and artwork on our shelves?  Do you keep anything but books on your shelves?

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Shelfie: May 20, 2017: Sometimes a Mess

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There are a lot of books in this picture, and not all of them are where they are supposed to be.  The house is a bit of a mess, a bit like my week has been, but my cat is in a box and looking adorable, and I can’t deny you that for all the other faults in this photo.  Oftentimes perfection is unattainable, and a house that looks occupied and loved can be as comforting as a worn and yellowing favorite can be.  It looks like I was reading Andrew Peterson‘s The Warden and the Wolf King in this photo; that’s the topmost book left out on the coffee table.

Shelfie: April 13 & 14, 2017: First Time with a Last Book

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I’m apparently not going to be mentally able enough for long enough when I’m free enough this week to finish the blog post that I almost have done.  So instead, I’m sharing with you a few more of my favorite lines from one of my favorite books.

These are both from my first, excited read-through of the final book in Maggie Stiefvater’s Raven Cycle, The Raven King.

The usual warnings about SPOILERS, but actually I think these pages are pretty innocuous, and I know the lines that I’m extracting are safe.

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” ‘Where the hell is Ronan?’ Gansey asked, echoing the words that thousands of humans had uttered since mankind developed speech.”

For me, what words Gansey said are irrelevant.  That tag is amazing.

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” ‘I don’t want to talk about.’
” ‘ I do,’ Ronan said.
” ‘Well, I don’t.  I’m not proud of it.’
“Ronan patted her leg.  ‘I’ll be proud for you.’ “

I’m not sure why I love this exchange so.  Maybe just because it is so real.

I really can’t tell you often enough to give this series a try.  The first book in the sequel series is due out November 5, and I am so excited.  The first book is called Call Down the Hawk.

Book Reviews: March 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Growing Up and Getting Lucky

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St. Patrick’s Day

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and trailer.

Pete the Cat: The Great Leprechaun Chase by James Dean. HarperCollins, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

I was impressed by this book; I went in expecting little.  Pete the Cat is trying to capture a leprechaun; he has started a business catching leprechauns for his classmates. Pete expected catching Clover the Leprechaun to be easy, but it is not. The leprechaun taunts Pete in limericks, which is a fun gimmick and fun to read aloud.

I was surprised by how many kids thought that we could actually catch a leprechaun, that I might have leprechauns running about the store, awaiting their traps. I was glad that in this book, the point is made that leprechauns can only be caught on St. Patrick’s Day. It saved me being the one to disappoint them on the Saturday before.

That Pete catches only one leprechaun for his three different customers, that Pete takes more orders without first fulfilling previous orders is not really addressed.

Clover teaches Pete that luck doesn’t come from catching a leprechaun. Having friends, Clover says, is what makes a person lucky. So Pete lets Clover go, and he help his friends prepare for their examinations, recitals, and matches. Hard work and practice, not luck, helps the friends succeed.  They are lucky to have a friend willing to help.  This was a great message and a surprising one to find in a book about leprechauns and St. Patrick’s Day.  What a hidden gem.  This will be one I will probably read every St. Patrick’s Day-themed story time from now on.

*****

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

How to Trap a Leprechaun by Sue Fliess and illustrated by Emma Randall. Sky Pony-Skyhorse, 2017.

This book has only one kind of trap that it suggests setting for a leprechaun who will grant wishes and give you his gold: a cardboard box with gold-painted rocks as a lure, a rainbow slide to mark the gold, and glue on the rocks to keep the leprechaun from escaping the lure. This leprechaun, Liam, tells the kids, a diverse group, not to fret that he escaped but to go enjoy St. Patrick’s Day and to try to catch a leprechaun again next year. The text is told in rhyme, but lacks Pete’s limericks.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

Ten Lucky Leprechauns by Kathryn Heling and Deborah Hembrook and illustrated by Jay B. Johnson. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2013. First published 2012. Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

The book counts up as redheaded male and female leprechauns are added to this group in a forest. The text is extremely formulaic:  One, two, three, etc. leprechauns see or otherwise become aware of a [adjective] “wee elf” who performs some action illustrated on the page that rhymes with his or her assigned number. “Feedle-di-fizz, ‘tis magic, it is! It’s leprechaun number…” TWO, THREE, etc.  I found it too formulaic, and I found the nonsense words awkward, an attempt at… what?  Sounding Irish I suppose but without using a lyric recognizable from any song.  Perhaps this text would work better sung?  The nonsense was maybe too near fiddle-de-dee, used as an expression of dismissal since the late 1700s, and colored my vocalization and sense of the nonsense.

**

Growing Strong and Smart

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

I Will Be Fierce! by Bea Birdsong and illustrated by Nidhi Chanani. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

I read an advanced reader’s copy of this book.  Much—almost all—of this story is told in the illustrations. The text itself is affirmative, many “I will” statements. The protagonist, a young girl, a woman of color and likely Indian or perhaps Pakistani, sets off to what seems to be a first day of school. (The surnames on the mailboxes in the atrium of her apartment are Phag, Huang, Caimoi, Warren, Jain, Bers, Rao.  Rao and Jain are both of Indian origin according to Behindthename.com, and Phag is a surname most prevalent in Pakistan according to Forebears, and the illustrator is of Indian descent.) The girl imagines herself as an adventurer in a high fantasy, driving back dragons (dogs on the street) with bubbles, walking with giants (older students), and tricking the Guardian of Wisdom (the smiling librarian) into revealing her secrets while her steed is a trusty school bus. She stands up against bullies and makes friends with a rejected girl in glasses.  I also like that at the end of her day, the girl rests. The protagonist seems to live with a grandmother. Her armor is a comfortable-looking, rainbow-striped pullover.  Though a small detail, I like that the protagonist’s hair isn’t perfectly sculpted, strands escaping from the shape.

*****

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree by Jamie L. B. Deenihan and illustrated by Lorraine Rocha. Sterling, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3+.

I loved this book so much that when I didn’t get the chance to read it for one story time I brought it out for a second weekend. A grandmother in the city brings her granddaughter a lemon tree sapling in a coffee tin as a birthday present. It’s not the high tech toy that the granddaughter wanted, and she at first tries to get rid of the tree, but ultimately, she becomes protective of the growing tree. When the tree produces its first crop, the grandmother returns and helps her granddaughter turn the lemons into lemonade and the lemonade into enough money for the high tech toy that she had originally hoped to receive for her birthday. But the tree has inspired a love of gardening that supersedes her desire for the toy, and she returns from the store with a wagon full of more plants to add to her garden and share with her neighborhood. There are so many wonderful lessons here: about hard work and perseverance and money earned, a practical recipe for lemonade, a love of gardening to engender in a new generation, especially one bound in the concrete of a skyscraper city, how to respond to unwanted gifts, the wisdom of our elders, and that sometimes something you first disliked may become beloved. The lessons and the expressive characters superseded my usual dislike for this type of text, which lists things that a universal “you” should and should not do as in books like Elise Parsley’s stories about Magnolia, the books in the How to Catch series by Adam Wallace, and the series of how-tos by Jean Reagan. Both grandmother and granddaughter are women of color.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.

Animalphabet by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Sharon King-Chai. Dial-Penguin Random, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

There is a great deal to love in this book too. First, this is a lift the flap book the flaps of which extend the pages in different ways, at times doubling the page’s size outward or upward or downward.  Sometimes the flaps are large and sometimes they are small.  Simply interacting with the pages was fun and exciting, but the whole book too is a guessing game.  “Who can slither better than a rabbit? A snake! Who can growl better than a snake? A tiger!”  The animals are alphabetically mentioned. There are peep-through holes in many creative shapes in the pages that hint at the following page but rarely at the hidden animal. Often the question itself hints at the upcoming animal, mentioning some act associated with that animal, as snakes are known to slither and tigers are known for their growls. For a primer, this is a very delicate book, but what a wonderfully colorful, wonderfully creative book. I think its silliness, its beauty, and its creativity will shine for older readers too. I hope that they will.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio.

Corduroy by Don Freeman. Penguin, 2014. First published 1968. Intended audience: Ages 0-5.

Here is a true classic. Corduroy the bear has sat on the shelf of the toy store a long while waiting for a child to bring him home. When a mother concerned with the expense when refusing to buy the bear that day for her girl comments that Corduroy doesn’t even look new, that he’s lost a button, Corduroy takes a nighttime quest around the department store to find his missing button. Corduroy is endearing in his innocence of the world. He mistakes an escalator for a mountain. He mistakes the furniture department for a palace. He has never slept in a bed. He has always wanted a home. I wonder how much longer a department store will be a relatable setting for young children. Corduroy makes a ruckus trying to retrieve a button for himself from one of the mattresses. Without having attained a button, his quest a failure, the night watchman returns Corduroy to the shelf, where the next morning he is discovered by the girl from before. Lisa has counted her own money, and she has enough to bring Corduroy home. Lisa likes Corduroy as he is, but she thinks that he will be more comfortable if she replaces his button, which she does herself. She is considerate of his comfort, she knows what she wants, and isn’t afraid to stand up for what she wants, but she respects her mother and is polite to the salesperson. She loves Corduroy through his external flaws. She is independent, purchasing Corduroy when her mother does not, and fixing his overalls herself. The two recognize one another as friends. Lisa and her mother are African American, notable and laudable especially for a book from ‘68.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's and illustrator's bios.

We Are the Gardeners by Joanna Gaines and illustrated by Julianna Swaney. Thomas Nelson-HarperCollins, 2019.

To read this one out loud, I cut sentences, I cut paragraphs, I cut pages. It was just long. Honestly, it was a chapter book trying to be a picture book. It would have benefited greatly from more editing.  I suspect that Gaines was able to rely a bit on her celebrity to get the book that she wanted instead of the book that this could have been.  I don’t need to know everything that happened in and to and before this garden to read a good story, nor do I need to know all of the science behind healthy gardens to enjoy a story. The family’s father brings home one fern. That fern dies from overwatering. Another fern is acquired. A watering schedule is established. More ferns are acquired. The ferns become a dream for a larger, outdoor space and more plant variety. The garden grows. It is enjoyed. Another child is born. Animals come and destroy the garden. The garden is regrown. There were lots of facts sprinkled into the text, definitions of terms, advice for growing, explanations of the garden ecosystem. The pastel illustrations were soothing though. The lessons of perseverance through adversity were good. Everything just felt overexplained. And too much seemed to happen, too much seemed to want to be said in the span of only 40 pages. The book is told from a plural first person, the kids collectively narrating.

**

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, audio excerpt, video of the author reading to her daughter, and printable activity.

You Are My Happy by Hoda Kotb and illustrated by Suzie Mason. HarperCollins, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

A family of bears (a parent and cub) reflect on the things that made them happy throughout the day as they are settling down for the day: marks of growing and friends and families that they observed and with whom they interact. I could have done without the refrain “that’s what made me happy.” The list rhymes. The story ends with “the one I’m thankful for you is you. You are my happy.” It’s sweet. It’s a nice ritual to establish with a little one, listing the things that made you happy before bed.

***

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Little Blue Truck’s Springtime by Alice Schertle and illustrated by Jill McElmurry. Houghton Mifflin, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4+.

This lift the flap, animal primer uses the Little Blue Truck character to introduce readers to farm animals and their offspring. More and more toads (that really look more like frogs to me) gather on the truck, and I made a game of counting the toads on each page. There are nine ducklings and ten piglets to count too and a passel of bunnies. The text is very simple, very short but rhymes. The flaps tend to hide the animals.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Reviews: January 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Puppies and Love

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and author's bio.

Love Makes a Family by Sophie Beer. Dial-Penguin Random, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 0-3.

This little, brightly colored, riotously detailed board book depicts families of various make-ups (two dads, two moms, biracial families, grandparents raising grandchildren) doing the little, everyday things that express love, mostly spending quality time together—waking up early to children’s music, baking a birthday cake, splashing in puddles, helping retrieve a lost teddy bear, knowing where to find everything, watching a play. The refrain “love is” begins each page. This is a good reminder that love doesn’t have to be grand gestures, that love does not have to come just from biological parents or even from biological relatives.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, trailer, reviews, craft, and author's bio.

I Need a Hug by Aaron Blabey. Scholastic, 2018. Originally published 2015. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This porcupine wants a hug, but no one wants to risk its spines. In rhyming question and response, the porcupine asks various named animals for a hug, only for them to run away or to tell it to leave. But they all come running back towards then past the porcupine, followed by a snake who laments that “all [it] did was ask for a kiss.” The book ends with the porcupine and snake cuddling one another.

Others on Goodreads have already pointed out the somewhat problematic nature of this porcupine who responds to the animals’ refusals by lamenting to the reader that “no one will hug me. That’s not very kind.” While I fully support teaching that it is okay to admit your needs for touch (many are touch-starved in a culture that teaches that physical touch can only be romantic and never platonic) and to request consensual physical contact, it is equally as important to accept a refusal without question and without resentment. Yes, the animals could have refused the porcupine’s request more kindly, but the fact of their refusal is as necessary and important as is the porcupine’s request.

The story seems cute, seems silly, but I don’t know that Blabey thought much about the message—I almost hope that he did not.  What is the message?  Everyone needs hugs and kisses?  Even that I disagree with, though I know we are in the 1% and grossly underrepresented in fiction.  (Any other aces reading this?)

I am glad that the two animals find what they need in one another though. It’s a sweet ending.

**

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and lesson plan. 

Clifford the Firehouse Dog by Norman Bridwell. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2010. Originally published 1994. Intended audience: Grades PreK-K.

Emily Elizabeth and Clifford are visiting Clifford’s brother Nero (yes, Nero) at the firehouse, and a school group is visiting the firehouse. Nero demonstrates Stop Drop and Roll for the schoolchildren, and Clifford thinks that he can repeat the demonstration, but being so much larger, he rolls right on top of a street vendor’s cart. Clifford causes a little more trouble by clearing the streets for the fire truck when a siren calls the firemen away.  But he uses his unusual size and strength for good at the site of the fire, rescuing people from the upper floors of the building, helping to unreel the hose, and loosening the cap on the hydrant. This is an exciting and amusing way to teach the role of firefighters to children and the steps that firefighters need to take to put out a fire. In the back of the book is a list of fire safety tips.

****

 Click to visit the author's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, awards list, reviews, and activity sheets.

The Duchess and Guy: A Rescue-to-Royalty Puppy Love Story by Nancy Furstinger and illustrated by Julia Bereciartu. Houghton Mifflin, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-7.

There really are so many reasons to celebrate this marriage—and I do truly hope that it is a loving and fulfilling and lasting marriage for the two of them. I’m not immune to the excitement around this union that is shaking up the highest echelons of British monarchy. But this book focuses on the union from the point of view of Guy, the rescue beagle adopted by Meghan Mountbatten-Windsor, née Markle, now Duchess of Sussex, while she was living in the United States and is to told from Guy’s POV. Guy loves Meghan, but he isn’t fitting too well into the refined life of the family that she is planning to marry into—not with the children, not with the queen’s dogs, and certainly not with the queen. But on the wedding day, Guy catches the queen missing one of her own dogs and comforts her, earning him her acceptance at last and a spot in her limousine as they head off to the chapel to witness Meghan and Harry’s wedding. It’s a cute story about struggling to fit in, and I think its message could speak especially to kids joining new families or new social groups. Mostly though I think its appeal is in being based on a true rags-to-riches, Cinderella fairy tale, for both the duchess and her dog.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, activity kit, and author's bio.

Love, Z by Jessie Sima. Simon & Schuster, 2018. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

Jessie Sima is becoming one of my favorites. With a rather unique color palette, this tells the story of a robot finding a damaged letter in a bottle, of which only the signature “Love, Beatrice” is legible. Z doesn’t know what love is, but Z thinks that it might be important. For the first time ever, the older robots aren’t able to answer Z’s question; love “does not compute” for them either. Thus begins Z’s quest to find Beatrice, the only creature that Z is sure can tell the robot what “love” means. Z meets a collection of fun characters, including a cat who captains a boat and a multitude of characters happy to share what love means to them, including a black woman who runs a bakery and a schoolyard full of diverse children, including one girl in a wheelchair. Just as Z is about to give up, Z and the cat stumble upon Beatrice on her island. Beatrice invites them in. Z asks her about love, but Beatrice rather than giving Z a quick answer, bakes cookies and plays and dances with Z, demonstrating love I think. When she does answer, she tells Z what love feels like to her: safe and cozy and warm. Z’s family arrives at the door, worried about Z. Z realizes that Z has known love all along. Z feels the way that Beatrice describes love when Z’s concerned family tucks the robot into Beatrice’s borrowed bed, safe and cozy and warm. Z and Z’s family just had never had a name for the feeling before. Now they all know it as love. Z writes Beatrice a letter in a bottle before taking the cat’s boat back to home; the cat stays with Beatrice. There are so many stories left untold in this text, hinted at and left to be finished by the reader. Why did Beatrice send her letter by bottle? For whom was it meant? Very likely, knowing Sima’s other works, Beatrice letter is meant for the young, darker-skinned woman illustrated with her in her memory of feeling safe. Is she by any chance the same woman in the bakery? (I don’t think that’s likely; they don’t look much alike, but it would make a good story.) Why does the one girl in the schoolyard think that lawn gnomes are love? In a picture book with few words and few illustrations, Sima has managed to create a host of intriguing characters that feel tantalizingly distinct and real, the heroes of their own stories. I get the feeling that Sima might have backstories for them all, in much the way that J. K. Rowling does for many of the most minor characters in Harry Potter (fans have made up backstories for the rest of them). I did not catch that Z is left as agender, but others on Goodreads pointed out that detail, and I’ve gone back to change my review accordingly. That makes me wonder if the name Z is not just marking Z the youngest of the robots who are named things like L, Y, and I but also a shout-out to the agender ze/zir pronoun usage (ze being pronounced usually like Z).

*****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Travel: May 27, 2014: Morning in the Museum

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This post has been sitting in my drafts for, well, years, waiting for me to upload photos from inside the museum—I do so love a museum that allows photography.  I won’t do much editing of its text.  Now that so much time has passed, it seems unwise for me to try to edit my thoughts, clouded as they’ll be by the passage of time and the fondness of memory.  So, here’s a post from 2014.

My last post from Japan may be somewhat short.

We spent most of the day at the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno Park and spent our whole time in the Japanese Gallery which has its own building.

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The entrance to the museum

I end up in a lot of museums whenever I go abroad and am left on my own to decide the itinerary. An AP art history class in high school left me exhausted but well-educated and, what’s more, interested. The National Museum in Ueno boasts an impressive collection of artifacts relating specifically to the history of Japan, of which I was only able to see a part, which has been neglected somewhat by traditional textbooks—including those assigned to me in all of my classes. I find art and relics a good way to learn about a nation’s or culture’s history.

I am also pleased to report that photography is allowed within the museum with the usual stipulations (no flash, which you wouldn’t want anyway, since it would create a glare on the glass). So called “important cultural property” was labeled as such, so a guest with time only to quickly peruse the collections could easily identify which pieces the museum considers most interesting. All labels were in English and Japanese.

Some rooms seemed to display collections based more on use than period.  There was a whole room devoted to swords and sword fittings, which was one of the first that we visited.  There was another room that housed Bugaku and Gyodo masks used during court dances and ritual ceremonies.

 

 

As interesting to me as the pieces that fit into the Western imagination of Japanese art, were the pieces that showed the influence of other cultures on the Japanese artists.

 

 

The museum also had a few interactive stations where guests could, for example, make themselves a postcard using rubber stamps of traditional Japanese motifs.

On our way in, we’d been sidetracked into wandering between the tents of a crafts market setting up in front of the museum. I’d been waffling over whether—or maybe what—to spend my money on, and we weren’t convinced that all the vendors had yet arrived, so we planned our trip to the museum so that we’d have some time afterwards to return to the market and shop.

I didn’t take any pictures in the market, but left with souvenirs for myself and for friends. I’d spent fairly little money on souvenirs during my trip, so I allowed myself to splurge a little, coming home with a piece of framed glass enamel and ceramic tiles that I made into coasters for thank you gifts to those in America who helped me on my journey. I’m fairly certain that I bought both of these directly from the artists.  I always prefer helping small businesses and individuals when I can, even though I myself benefit from a big company, but especially when it comes to arts and crafts.

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And then… then it was time to hop on the train to Narita Airport.

Kari and I spent as much time as we could together, eating dinner at the airport and doing a bit more souvenir shopping for the few people for whom I hadn’t yet found gifts (and because the banks don’t take coins when they change currency for you), but all too soon it was time to face security and board the flights home.

I forgot how beautiful those tiles were.  I only kept one for myself.

All photographs are mine.  Click to view them more largely and read the captions, and I really recommend that you do.  The dates on some of these amazed me and may amaze you.

 

Book Reviews: February 2019 Picture Book Roundup: Living in Community

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Almost all of these books—and there are a lot of them this month—come back to the idea of community, living together with your fellow creatures, sharing resources, and showing kindness.  One exception is Another Monster at the End of This Book, where two friends argue over the course of action that they should take, one excited for the promised thrill and the other frightened of the promise.  The other exception is Hamilton’s The People Could Fly.

Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and author's bio.

The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol. Roaring Brook-Macmillan, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 3-6.

I read an advanced reader copy of this book, which comes out April 2. This is a story about sharing. The Little Guys are tiny creatures like acorns with stick person legs and arms and bulbous, orange noses that travel in a pack. The pack makes them mighty. They are unstoppable through the power of teamwork, able to cross dangerous terrains and “beat up” any animal that they encounter. On their quest to find breakfast, they steal and hoard the forest’s resources—“every… thing…”. But being too greedy results in the creatures tumbling into the forest stream. The animals that they have stolen from band together to help the Little Guys. The Little Guys realize that caring about only their own pack isn’t enough, that they are not as indomitable as they had thought, as the whole pack would have been lost if not for the care of others.  They learn that they need to work with the larger forest community, made up of all of the different creatures that inhabit the area. The text itself is fairly simplistic, told in the plural first, the boasts of the Little Guys. The illustrations tell the larger story.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and author's bio.

The People Could Fly by Virginia Hamilton and illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. Knopf-Random, 2004.

I bought this book for a graduate class in 2007, and then found out that there is a collection of folktales edited by Virginia Hamilton and bearing the same name and that that was the book we were going to need for class. (The collection was published in 1985; this story is taken from that larger work.) I kept the picture book though. This story is a retelling by Virginia Hamilton of an old tale and beautifully, movingly illustrated by the Dillons. Told in a conversational vernacular style, it’s the story of a people from Africa whose beautiful, black wings shed under the cruelty of slavery and the Atlantic crossing, but whose power of flight is unearthed again with the help of an old man in the fields who comes to the hurting people and whispers the magic words to help them remember.  He can’t help all the people fly; not all of them can fly. In the note in the back, Hamilton explains that the power was often associated with the Gullah (Angolan) people. This is a tale of magic, of reawakening.  It’s a tale of the indomitable desire for freedom.  It’s a celebration of African American resilience and strength.

*****

 Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, trailer, sample, reviews, activity, and author's and illustrator's bios.

The Bad Seed by John Jory and illustrated by Pete Oswald. HarperCollins, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

John Jory takes on the nature v nurture debate in this picture book. The Bad Seed had a rough life. He ended up in a bag of sunflower seeds, chewed upon by a human, and spit out, crash landing beneath the bleachers, and living for a while in these grubby surrounds. He becomes depressed, never smiling, without purpose. He breaks all the social mores and the rules. He hears the other seeds call him a “bad seed.” But he makes a decision to turn his life around. He decides that he is going to begin apologizing and saying please and thank you and holding doors, trying to be more pleasant in his interactions with others. He is going to try to change his mindset and his actions too. He’s not perfect, but he’s trying, and the other seeds are beginning to acknowledge that “he’s not so bad anymore.” It’s definitely an oversimplification of recovery from trauma and depression. It’s not that simple to turn a life around, I don’t think, and I hope no one takes it as a formula for healthy recovery. But it is nice that Jory acknowledges that the Bad Seed doesn’t need to be perfect to improve, that he is not bad if he fails, that his situation is improved by trying.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, trailer, sample, reviews, activity, and author's and illustrator's bios.

The Good Egg by John Jory and illustrated by Pete Oswald. HarperCollins, 2019.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

This book seemed to be written almost more for adults in the room—but then I was the kid who would have benefited from this lesson at a younger age too. This Good Egg does all the right things for the sake of being good, though he does not always excel at helping as when he paints the house with abstract stokes of multiple colors. But under the pressure of being good when all of his carton-mates are bad (when his carton-mates constantly misbehave) is causing the shell around his crown to crack from the pressure. He leaves his carton to find some peace, and to allow himself to heal, to escape the pressure caused by being at odds with his problematic friends, but he finds himself missing his carton-mates. He has to learn that he doesn’t always have to be good, doesn’t always have to follow every rule and all social mores, and that he doesn’t have to hold everyone to his own standard of excellence. He learns to relax a little bit, and that being good, doesn’t have to mean being perfect. He learns that breaking the rules doesn’t necessarily make you bad.  Now, there is some danger in this message too.  Not only that of caving to peer pressure, but returning to a toxic environment is not necessarily healthy even when one misses those familiar faces, and ignoring others’ toxic behaviors in order to be able to maintain one’s own peace is not always ethical or healthy.  This like the message of The Bad Seed I think needs to be taken with caution. John Jory’s text here follows the same formula that he used in The Bad Seed.

***

Click to visit The Works page for links to order and sample pages.

Pirate Adventure by Karen King and illustrated Ben Mantle. Top That!, 2017.

I was actually truly delighted by this little tale. The pirate captain’s nephew Pete is coming aboard whether or not the crew likes it—and they don’t like it.  They see Pete as small and weak, the ship as no place for a boy. Pete does all the things that a ship’s boy is supposed to do, all the manual labor that is often glossed over in children’s picture books about pirates, which are often all about adventure and feature smiling pirates or ones who are grumpy and growly but in an endearing way to a rough-and-tumble child. When Captain Jim falls ill, Pete is put in charge of the crew and finishes the Jolly Roger’s treasure hunt. The pirates forget their dislike of Pete when they find the treasure chest. Here in the US, the book is available in Barnes & Noble’s bargain section. I did not (yet) buy the book to try to build the pop-out pirate ship.  It seems to have had multiple titles including Treasure Island and Pirate Pete’s Treasure.

*****

Sesame Street

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We’re Different, We’re the Same by Bobbi Kates and illustrated by Joe Mathieu. Random, 1992.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This book highlights different body parts in illustrations meant to look like a collection of instant photos. This page talks about the differences between the features in each of these photos: old noses, baby noses, round noses, big noses, small noses. The next page reveals a busy tableau of diverse characters, human and Muppet, and talks about how each of these features that appear different perform the same functions (“our noses are the same. They breathe and sniff and sneeze and whiff”). Beyond that, the book confronts ableism. Some may need to wear helmets to protect their heads. Some need to take more time to form words with their mouths. Some won’t talk much. Some won’t talk at all. Some need glasses. Some are blind. One character is in a wheelchair but playing basketball with friends. It advocates asking for a break from a teacher if it’s needed.

The 90s fashion styles in these illustrations! I had to Google their names, but I recognize the old comedy sketch duo Laurel and Hardy in the illustrations. I don’t know why the pair appear in the pages of a book from the early 90s.

*****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and author's bio.

Elmo’s Super-Duper Birthday Party by Naomi Kleinberg and illustrated by Joe Mathieu. Random, 2016. Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

This book, though a little long, was wonderful. Elmo and his mother prepare for Elmo’s birthday celebration, shopping, making cupcakes, filling the piñata, and setting up games. The text is simple, perhaps at times a little too detailed, but that also serves to spark ideas for the would-be-party-planner/reader (I got some ideas for stuffing my next piñata). Elmo and his friends enjoy the party, but Elmo’s wish when he blows out the candles takes this book to the next level. Elmo wishes to share his birthday joy with others, so they move the party to the nursing home, and continue celebrating, including the seniors there in the festivities. It’s enough to melt my cold heart. Elmo is too good for this world, and I hope young readers learn from his example; the world would be a kinder, better place. The paperback includes stickers, a crown for the birthday child, and a game to play at a party. It’s a party in a book! Just add cake and friends.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and author's bio.

Who’s Hiding? by Naomi Kleinberg. Random, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 2-5.

Play along as Elmo and other Sesame Street characters lead the reader through Sesame Street. Some of their friends are hiding, and the characters give you clues as to whom you’ll find (“His best friend is a worm.” “He’s green and grouchy.”), but to find out who is on each page, you’ll have to lift the flaps. The illustrations are photographs of the Muppets and actors on the Sesame Street set.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

Kindness Makes the World Go Round by Craig Manning and illustrated by Joe Mathieu. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2018. 

Elmo’s mother gives him the gift of a camera on World Kindness Day (November 13 if anyone wants to celebrate) and a quest to go and capture examples of kindness on Sesame Street. Elmo spends the day photographing his friends performing little kindnesses, and then turns around and performs a kindness for his mother. This story is wonderfully sweet, in much the way that is Naomi Kleinberg’s Elmo’s Super-Duper Birthday. This though is told in an enchanting rhyme.

*****

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Another Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone. SFI Readerlink Dist, 2018. First published in 1996.  Intended audience: Ages 3-5, Grades PreK-K.

Adding lift the flap elements to this story is an improvement on the first Monster at the End of This Book, but otherwise this book falls rather flat in comparison to the first. I would rather have The Monster at the End of This Book done in this format. In this, Grover and Elmo argue over whether or not to turn the page and come closer and closer to the promised monster at the end, and of course the monsters are just themselves as Grover was the monster in the first book.

***

Song Lyrics

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All You Need is Love by John Lennon and Paul McCartney and illustrated by Marc Rosenthal. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2019. Intended audience: Ages 4-8, Grades PreK-3.

This is not the intended medium for this text. The repetition of the chorus, which itself is the word “love” repeated, just doesn’t read well. For a story time reading, I pulled out a tablet, and let YouTube provide the “reading” by finding a recording of the song by the Beatles. The book illustrates a bear who, woken by the singing of a bird, leaves his forest home, enters the city, and picking up a crowd along the way, interacts with the diverse people there, creating elaborate chalk drawings in the park. Some of the illustrations are bright and colorful certainly, but they would have just as much power I think separate from the book as overwritten with the song’s lyrics.

**

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, reviews, and illustrator's bio.

What a Wonderful World by Bob Thiele and George David Weiss and illustrated by Tim Hopgood. Henry Holt-Macmillan, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 2-6.

For this one, I also let Louis Armstrong via YouTube do the work of “reading.” This at least has more concrete images to illustrate. The cast is again diverse, with no real narrative this time to the illustrations beyond the text’s wonder of the world. This text at least works better as a narrative, as read aloud.

***

Click to visit Barnes & Noble's page for links to order, summary, sample pages, and reviews.,

Puff the Magic Dragon by Paul Yarrow and Lenny Lipton and illustrated by Éric Puybaret. Sterling, 2007.  Intended audience: Ages 3-7.

Peter, Paul & Mary did the “reading” for this book via a YouTube video of the song recording. I can’t remember ever having heard the full song before; I’m sure I did do in my childhood, but I doubt then that its story really sank in for me. The text itself tells of a lonely dragon who meets and befriends a boy, who as time passes, stops coming (dies the song implies, though the illustrations suggest he just became a busy adult and parent), leaving the dragon lonely again. The illustrations portray a young girl (presumably Jackie’s daughter), unmentioned in the text, coming to the dragon on the final pages, giving the story at least some hope, though she too will die and the dragon’s loneliness return. I like that Puybaret added to the story, took that extra step beyond the text.

***

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Review: Rowan of Rin Confronts Fantasy Tropes

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, and sample.

This little book that I took far too long to read utilized nearly every trope danger of fantasy—dragons, spiders, mountains, dark forests, swamps—all battled for the sake of a village’s necessity for water and for one boy’s love of his bukshah, maned, cow-like, herd beasts which he tends though it is usually a job for younger villagers. Rowan is considered too small, too sickly, too weak by the villagers, who look down on him. But he is forced to join a dangerous quest to scale the mountain, the rumored home of a dragon when the village Wise Woman ties him to her prophetic map when consulted before the quest.  He joins a group of the village’s strongest, bravest, most boastful adults—those that most consider him a burden and antithetical to their ideal.

I am reminded of young Bilbo Baggins the Burglar joining the quest of the twelve dwarves—who also take a difficult journey and climb inside a mountain and defeat a dragon, who also battle spiders that fear light in a dark forest.

Though Bilbo’s journey is farther, necessitating a broader world from J. R. R. Tolkien, Rowan’s world is intriguing for being only hinted towards. There are promises of a world beyond what the reader sees in Rowan of Rin in the village’s suspicion of outsiders like the Travelers who camp near the village every few years, bringing festival-like days of performances and trading fancies from outside of the valley, and in the revelation of a traditional journey undertaken by the village’s young children to learn to swim. But the world to which the reader is actually exposed, the culture that the reader gets to know in this book is very limited, to a village of perhaps less than 100.

This book had so much to recommend it to me. I find myself gravitating towards the smaller of the heroes, the ones that rely more often on kindness and friendship than on brawn. I in many ways romanticize the small village life and its smaller, more insular concerns. I use both in my own WIP. Reading so many novels where the fate of the world depends on the outcome of the novel’s story, reading a book where the larger world might continue on without dissolving into chaos even if the book’s quest is a failure can be refreshing. Rin would not survive of course without water, but the larger, only hinted at world probably would not know of any change in the valley until the Travelers came by some years later, and then only they would take the news of an abandoned village and unknown catastrophe to the world that would continue on as it had done but with a new ghost story to tell.

Yet still maybe because it was such an easy read, and its adventures seemed so episodic as the group was tested by first one and then another trope danger, the book took me too long to read; I began it first in 2017; I read 151 pages over a year and half. So I can’t say that the book grabbed and then held me. I can say that I enjoyed it whenever I returned to it, that the book was an easy book to pick up and put down. That quality is valuable too, and may make this book ideal for some lifestyles. Certainly it was a good book to carry around with me for long waits at doctors’ offices and car maintenance appointments.

I think too that because it does use so many tropes and is so short, this would be a good introduction to a young one just starting to read high fantasy.  The book avoids feeling cliche because Rowan himself is a different type of hero, and the adults, the typical heroes of the old stories, are one by one forced to confront their own insurmountable fears and weaknesses.  This book is as much about Rowan discovering himself equal to an overwhelming task as the adults realizing that they themselves are not as heroic as they tout themselves to be, that the qualities they have so valued are not enough.

I was a little off put by Emily Rodda’s occasional slip into omniscience. For the most part the story is told from the limited third of Rowan, but sometimes, especially in times when confronted by their greatest fears, the narrative slipped inside the minds of the adults. At one point, it slipped into the mind of one of the bukshah. These switches in POV were not always marked by breaks in the text, which when used I find alleviates some of my sense of being jarred.

That though again is a personal preference.

I do have to compliment Rodda’s skilled use of prophetic poetry, that ability that I so envy, to divulge and disguise the truth in that form. Her skilled use of this device rivals that of Rick Riordan. Though the map’s prophecies tell the characters and the reader how to achieve the correct outcome of each step of the journey, I was almost always surprised by what the characters needed to do to succeed, how the words needed to be interpreted.

The series continues. There are five books altogether. I’m uncertain yet whether I will continue to see how the world expands and Rowan and the villagers around him are influenced by their growing sense of a world beyond Rin. As I said, I enjoyed the hints of a larger world without seeing it, and I occasionally enjoy a more personal quest, so for me, it may be better to leave the world and the story where it is without allowing it—as I think it might—to become a greater, more world-altering story. This publication though wisely included a few pages of the next book, which I foolishly read, so I may need to continue simply to revisit the village of Rin.

****

Rodda, Emily. Rowan of Rin. New York: Greenwillow-Avon-HarperCollins, 2001. First published in Australia by Omnibus-Scholastic Australia in 1993.

Intended audience: Ages 8+.

This review is not endorsed by Emily Rodda, Greenwillow Books, Avon Books, HarperCollins Publishers, Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia Pty Ltd.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Travel: August 11, 2018: A Trail Less Traveled

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After breakfast of toast and beans with a view of Maenllwyd Guest House’s garden, we set off early to make the bus back north a little ways to the trailhead for the Minffordd Path up Cader Idris.

We left before any of the attractions of Machynlleth were open.

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Rain was predicted for later in the afternoon, but I was determined to make it up one of the mountains that I’d come to this country intending to climb. Since Snowdon had defeated me, I wasn’t going to let rain keep me from Cader Idris’ slopes. I am glad my sister loves me.

We had a welcome—a very welcome—surprise climbing onto the bus. We happened to hit a day when all travel with the TrawsCymru buses was free. I don’t know why it was free. A holiday weekend, I think. But we were blessed; this happened to be the day that we needed to travel the farthest by bus. But this first leg was just a short hop, 18 minutes north.

There’s little at this bus stop. There is the Gwesty Minffordd Hotel. There’s a car park at bit off the road, where there are toilets. There is a welcome center with a café a little ways past the car park. There’s no town.

The driver—I wish I’d gotten his name; I think I recognized from our travel on TrawsCymru the day before—kept the doors opened when we disembarked to make sure that we knew where we were going, kindly ensuring that we had proper directions to the trail.

Waving goodbye, we set off.

I was maybe a bit distracted by anticipation. I don’t remember seeing the trail map. I remember seeing the stairs.

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The first twenty minutes or so of the trail was a steep climb, mostly up stairs, to get above the treeline. A stream, Nant Cadair, cascades down the mountain beside the trail, sometimes quite close.

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I stepped just off of the path to get this shot onto a rock shelf.

Once above the treeline, the path evens out, the going gets easier, and the views get better. Above the trees, you get tantalizing views of the valley below.

 

 

At one point, the path dissects, one route going left and the other right. The sign was in Welsh, and we weren’t sure which route led most swiftly to the top. We lingered a moment for the group behind us to catch up and asked if they knew. They didn’t either. We decided to part ways with that group, so one of us would be right.

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We went right. We were wrong.

Ours was the longer route to the peak of Cader Idris, climbing first to the peak of Mynydd Moel.

The way up Mynydd Moel continued to be fairly easy, and though it became clear not too far along our route that we had chosen the way that would not lead us to the mountain lake, where I thought we might stop and enjoy lunch, we continued. We had Mynydd Moel all morning almost to ourselves. We maybe met another five hikers, all coming down from the peak; they must truly have gotten an early start.

 

 

We stopped and ate our lunch on a stone wall that the trail dissected. My sister decided to sit and enjoy the peace while I saw a style not far up the trail that looked a very attainable goal, and I thought from our vantage point then could have been the peak. It was not.

 

 

Over the style, a short way along a sheep track through the heather and bracken, a second valley opened up on the other side of this crest of Mynydd Moel’s.

 

 

 

 

The main trail continued along the mountain’s spine, and had the rain not been forthcoming, and my sister not waiting patiently, I might have continued along it, because without a week’s worth of clothes and necessities on my back, the climb was much easier. And I wanted to reach a peak.

But I turned around.

I was satisfied.

I’d explored.

And I’d explored alone.

Retrospectively, being on the less-walked trail let us set the pace. It was a serene experience to stand on that mountaintop and hear nothing but the wind and the insects and the peace.

If I go again, I’d like to see the lake. I’d like to see the peak of one or both mountains.

But I would not trade the experience that I had.

The climb down from Mynydd Moel was far easier than the climb up.

All in all, we were up and down the mountain in about two hours—though we didn’t reach the peak—either peak.

TopoMapCaderIdris

That dark blue line tracking to the right shows our route. I climbed just over that hatched black line, which is the fence, then along that dotted black path a ways before turning around. I think we came in from that white spine off of the yellow road.   Looking at this map, I climbed 420 meters or 1377 ft above sea level, which is still only half of either mountains’ heights.  Topographical map found via Walking Englishman via GPSVisualizer. His own journey upwards was much more complete, and the pictures are excellent. Click the map for the link.

fullminniffordroute

Looking at his route, I can see we really only did a short section of the full loop of the two mountain peaks.

We stopped to catch our breath and drink water and chat with a couple with their dog at the café.

We trekked back to the road.

Then we realized that there didn’t appear to be any bus stop on the south-going side of the road.

And we panicked a little.

The people at the café were tremendously kind, using their cells to help us determine the bus schedule.

There is a road sign across from the Gwesty Minffordd Hotel. That is the bus stop. It is unmarked, but the bus drivers must know to look for weary hikers.

We sat in the grass while the rain began and waited for the bus for what seemed a very long time and was probably forty minutes or so (buses only come by every 90 minutes, for any future adventurers).

Once on the bus, our route took us south. We switched from the TrawsCymru T2 to the T1 in Aberystwyth, taking the layover time to wander the streets, mostly Terrace Road, near the bus stands and find some dinner.

Mostly, this was a dinner quest, since we’d had trail snacks for lunch, and we didn’t end up being particularly adventurous, opting for KFC to eat as daintily as possible on the bus, an easy and quick takeaway meal and filling after a morning’s hike.  I’m only discovering now that we were only two or three blocks from stumbling upon the ocean!  I’ve said it before in these blogs, and I’ll say it again; research every stop and look at maps beforehand.

The second bus took us to Carmarthen, and from there switched onto a train, which took us to Swansea.

We arrived at Swansea in the dark and the rain, but we had been sitting all day, and from here, my sister knew her way. We walked either 15 minutes to the main city bus station or the 45 minutes to her dorm room.  Honestly, I was tired; I don’t remember much of this leg of the trip.

For all that, this was probably one of my favorite experiences on this trip.

And in just about three days, we crossed all of Wales North-to-South (it can be done in less time than we did of course), starting from Holyhead, down through Snowdonia National Park, and then down along the west coast to Swansea Bay.  Google Maps doesn’t allow me to input more than one route on public transport at a time, so I can’t give you the several days’ complete picture (or not without—and perhaps I may—tracing it myself onto a map that I print).

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Made with Google Maps.  We followed the blue and green lines, roughly a 4 hour journey (once we got on the bus) from Dôl Idris Car Park to Swansea, probably more with our layover in Aberystwyth.

All photos are mine.  Most can be viewed almost full screen if you click on them.  The maps are otherwise attributed in their captions.