Young Reader in the Making

Young Reader in the Making

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book 270: Christmas is Together-Time

Christmas is Together-Time, by Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts Worldwide, 2013.

What's not to love?  A beautifully-Christmas red and green cover.  Classic illustrations by Schulz.  And a list of things about Christmas -- some sweet, some funny, some poignant.  It's like the best part of the Peanuts Christmas special all wrapped up in a lovely, portable little book.

Even better, I bought my edition at Kohl's during the Kohl's Care promotion, so not only did I get my husband a little Christmas book that he loves, the proceeds went to a very good cause.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Book 269: Children's Christmas Songbook

Children's Christmas Songbook, Chester Music, 2003.

I've had this book for many years. More years, in fact, than I've had children or been married. I found it on Daedalus Books, I didn't have any Christmas song books, and I thought this would work. And it does. 

I've used this book for my own benefit, playing the songs on the flute, the violin and the Irish tin whistle. I've used this book to teach recorder music to kids at the library. And this year, I've used the book to sing the songs and read the stories to my son. 

I can't remember what I paid for this book -- I'm sure it was discounted -- but whatever I did pay, it was well worth it. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Book 268: Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer

Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer, written by Barbara Shook Hazen, illustrated by Richard Scarry, Little Golden Book, 1958

In the Rankin/Bass movie version of Rudolph, I love Rudolph, but can't stand Santa.  When I was a kid, I used to feel guilty about not liking Santa, I mean, he was Santa!  But now that I'm an adult, I can see how rude and mean Santa was in the movie -- right up until the end when he needed something from Rudolph.

The book has a kinder Santa, although possibly even meaner reindeer, so I'm not sure that is much of an improvement.  Rudolph himself, however, is still sweet and endearing, the story is a good interpretation of the classic Christmas song.

The illustrations were done by Richard Scarry -- pre-1970s Richard Scarry, which is maybe not as stylized or recognizable as post-1970s Scarry, but is softer, sweeter and more endearing than post-1970s Scarry.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Book 267: Duck and Goose, It's Time for Christmas!

Duck and Goose, It's Time for Christmas!, by Tad Hills, Schwarz & Wade Book, 2010.  Baby, Toddler, Preschooler.

I have been in love with Duck and Goose ever since they stormed in to the picture book scene some years ago.  At the time, I was a children's librarian and doing story times for toddlers and preschoolers, so that probably explains my infatuation.

Three years ago, 2010, my family moved to SC from FL, and we had our first (and only) white day-after-Christmas.  My son, who was two at the time, also got this book for Christmas that year.  We didn't have enough snow to make a snowball, much less a snow angel or a snow fort, but still, we had snow, just like the book.

Three years later, my son is five, and there is no snow in our forecast for the next ten days, but my son still likes to read about the Christmas adventures of Duck and Goose.  And Duck and Goose are just as adorable as the first time I saw them.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Book 266: Little Golden Book Frosty the Snowman

Little Golden Book Frosty the Snowman, retold by Annie North Bedford, Illustrated by Jean Chandler, Little Golden Books, 1992.

I grew up with a classic version of Frosty the Snowman -- i.e, not based on the movie of the same name.  The text in this edition, therefore, was very familiar and I recognized right away.  The illustrations, however, while adequate, were nowhere near as good as the illustrations in the book that I loved to death as a child.

I have discovered that this 1992 LGB edition is not very common.  Makes me want to hang onto it for awhile.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Book 265: E.T.A. Hoffman Nutcracker

E.T.A. Hoffman Nutcracker, translated by Ralph Manheim, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, Crown Publishers, Inc., 1984.

To me, this is the best version of the Nutcracker story, because it was based on the sets that Sendak did for the Nutcracker ballet (for the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company, in 1984, I think).

The story is deftly told, and can keep the attention of even very young listeners, but, of course, the artwork is the star of this book (just as it was in the ballet).

Not everyone knows that Hoffman revered Mozart.  Sendak did.  Within the ballet, there is a vignette that features Mozart's music, and within the book, there is a bust of Mozart prominently on a bookshelf.  I also love the book because the story of the hard nut is told (how the nephew first turned into a nutcracker).  And because, about two-thirds of the way through it, there are nine full pages of illustration without text.  Nine full pages of Sendak illustrations!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Book 264: Season of Hope

Season of Hope, Virginia Carmichael, Love Inspired 2013.

Whenever I write about romantic fiction, I feel compelled to point out that I don't usually like or read romantic fiction.  I also feel like I need to review it (and rate it) from the point of view of the genre, and not as compared to something else.

I really like how Season of Hope revived some of the characters from the first book, Season of Joy, and told more of their stories as well as telling the stories of the new cast of characters.  Picking up threads of other stories is not easy -- I had intended to do that with my first book, but have yet to follow through.

I did like the new characters and their stories, but somehow they did not feel quite as fleshed out or sympathetic as the returning cast.   Even so, this book made a delightful Christmas read (even if it was romantic fiction).

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Book 263: The Christmas Pumpkin

The Christmas Pumpkin, by Debbie Reece, illustrated by Ron Head, BeeBop Books, 2009.

There is something wonderful about seeing beauty and utility where everyone else sees nothing.  There is something wonderful about doing something completely different and unexpected, and having the action become well-received and supported.

Most people wouldn't have any use for a green pumpkin at any time of the year, but especially not in December when all the decorative orange pumpkins have begun to rot.  A little boy, however, thought that a green pumpkin would make the perfect Christmas pumpkin, and, because of his belief and his work, he was right.

The illustrations are unstated in a way that allows the text to shine without being overshadowed.  They are sweet and very well-done.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Book 262: A Charlie Brown Christmas

A Charlie Brown Christmas, by Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts Worldwide, 2008.

One of the best things about television at Christmas time is the Charlie Brown Christmas special.  And one of the best things about Kohl's is there Kohl's Cares program.  So when Kohl's was featuring The Peanuts this Christmas season, I went a little crazy.  (But who doesn't want a Snoopy?)

The book is based on the Christmas special, so it is not quite as much fun as a panel comic strip or the television special itself, but it does capture the story and much of the spirit of the special very well.  The illustrations actually have a bit more modeling and shading than the original Charlie Brown Christmas, but that just makes them feel a bit more modern and takes away none of the charm.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Book 261: The Twelve Days of Christmas

The Twelve Days of Christmas, illustrated by Sheilah Beckett, Little Golden Book 1992.

I've had this Little Golden Book for way longer than I've had a child to read it to.  I encountered it at least ten years ago when I was looking for Christmas books for my house.  I loved the illustrations, so I bought it.

Now I do have a child to read/sing it to.  And I still love the illustrations.  And so does my five-year-old son.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Book 260: A Bad Kitty Christmas

A Bad Kitty Christmas, by Nick Bruel, Roaring Brook Press 2011.

I just love the Nick Bruel "Bad Kitty" books.  Not only are they a fun and delightful romp through the alphabet, they also tell a story.  It is not easy to tell stories using the alphabet.  If you don't believe me, pull ten or so ABC books off the shelves of the picture book section of the library.  How many actually tell a story?  How many use the alphabet THREE TIMES to tell a story?  

Although I love the"Bad Kitty" books, this Christmas book is even more special and spectacular.  This story made me tear up a bit.  And laugh.  And smile.  And buy the book. 

And the artwork?  Well, I think this book contains the best illustrations out of any of the "Bad Kitty" books.  They, too, are even more special and spectacular. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Book 259: Ralph Masiello's Christmas Drawing Book

Ralph Masiello's Christmas Drawing Book, by Ralph Masiello, Charlesbridge 2013.   Preschool to Elementary.

This book could not have come out at a better time for our house.  Ever since my son was one, he's been making Christmas cards for our family and friends.  Granted, his early cards consisted of a single crayon line and a random sticker, but he was one and they were perfect.  Now he is five.  He just turned five about three weeks ago, and since his fifth birthday he has been copying other drawings.

Some of these drawings, like the tree, are simple enough for him to create a reasonable facsimile, so he feels a sense of accomplishment.  Some, like the sleigh flying over a city-scape, are so advanced they will give him something to work toward over the next few years.  In other words, this book is perfect for now and for years to come.

*I was given this book in exchange for a honest review.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Book 258: Splat the Cat Storybook Collection

Splat the Cat Storybook Collection, created by Rob Scotton, Harper Collins 2013.

What could possibly be better than a Splat the Cat story?  SIX Splat the Cat stories all contained in one hardbound book.

Splat the Cat stories are so ridiculous that grownups rolls their eyes.  And kids fall over on the floor laughing.  Clearly, they are written for children.  Even better, they are written for children who are just learning how to read, so they are packed with loads of repetition and rhymes, and, of course, fall-over-on-the-floor-laughing silliness.

Splat the cat strongly resembles a dust kitty with pipe-cleaner legs and tail -- don't ask me how I know about the dust kitty.  I was surprised to see that more than one illustrator did the work for this collection because the continuity was amazing.  Rob Scotton, the "creator" did the cover art and Robert Eberz illustrated four of the six stories, the rest were illustrated by teams including Charles Grosvenor, Joe Merkel and Rick Farley.  Overall, the editor for this book series must be amazing.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Book 257: Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site

Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld, Chronicle Books 2011.

My son turned five about two weeks ago.  He got a "Big Dig" from my husband's parents.  He sits on the seat and he can dig holes in the sandbox with the big, construction-like shovel.  All that is great, except he doesn't have a sandbox.  I set him to work on the weeds in the garden -- with rather disastrous results.

A few days after his birthday, my son received this book from a friend of mine.  He recognized the "Big Dig" right away, and immediately told me a story about a shovel and the moon and the stars.  The story is great.  The text is good, especially since it is a debut book -- the rhyming scheme goes off occasionally, but not irretrievably.  The illustrations, however, are phenomenal.

The illustrations have a wonderful retro feel; they are soft, but bright and friendly, and with a healthy dose of humor.  In all, my favorite kind of illustrations.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Book 256: Just So Thankful

Just So Thankful, by Mercer Mayer, HarperCollins, 2006.  Preschool to Early Elementary.

I have a love/hate relationship with Thanksgiving.  I love the food and the family part, and the being thankful to have food for the family part, but I'm not crazy about the history.  The glossy the-Pilgrims-and-Indians-were-friends slant from my elementary school days is just insulting, and the Hey!-Let's-take-your-land-and-give-you-syphillis angle is not any better. So, I've always been hesitant to buy books that center around Thanksgiving.

Thankfully, Just So Thankful is not really about Thanksgiving.  It's about being thankful the other 364 days of the year as well as the one set aside to give thanks.  And that is how it should be.

I probably don't need to point out just how very adorable the illustrations in this book are, but, just in case, the illustrations in this book are very adorable.

Book 255: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book, written by Neil Gaiman, with illustrations by Dave McKean, William Morrow, 2008.  Middle Grade to Adult.

I didn't actually buy this book; my brother did.  But when he asked if I wanted it, I say "YES!  A hundred times yes".

If Kipling's Jungle Book were modernized and set in a graveyard and written by Neil Gaiman, you'd have something very much like this book. Actually, you would have something EXACTLY like this book .

I'm not sure how to characterize Gaiman's writing -- it feels classic and modern all at once, and it feels like fantasy anchored in reality. All I know is that I've loved his writing since The Sandman. I could have devoured this book all in one sitting, but I didn't. I read it slowly over the course of four days, and savored every tiny bit of it. 

The illustrations, by Dave McKean, were good, but did not quite match the excellence of the writing.  I kept thinking that Art Spiegelman would have been a much better choice. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book 254: Pete the Cat, The First Thanksgiving

Pete the Cat:  The First Thanksgiving, by Kimberly and James Dean, Harper Collins, 2013.  Preschool to Early Elementary.

Pete the Cat:  The First Thanksgiving LOOKS like the Pete the Cat that I have come to love, but he doesn't SOUND like the Pete the Cat I have come to love.  *sigh*  I miss Eric Litwin already.

Pete the Cat is in a Thanksgiving play, so he recounts the story of the first Thanksgiving.  The story is adequate, but not especially good, and definitely nowhere near close to the singing "It's all good" Pete in books past.

The artwork is still brilliant.  Actually, it feels like the artwork was created first and the story was filled in around it.

As a general rule, I find that really excellent illustrators do not make really excellent storytellers.  This book does not break that rule.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Book 253: The Thirteen Clocks

The Thirteen Clocks, by James Thurber, illustrated by Marc Simont, originally published by Dutton, 1950, reprinted by The New York Review, 2008.  All ages.

This book is about as perfect as any book can get.  Written by James Thurber, illustrated by Marc Simont, and introduced by Neil Gaiman.  It is not quite a fairy tale; not quite a fable; not quite a ghost story, and it is quite, quite perfect.

There is a villain, whose flaw is "being wicked".  There is a hero-prince-minstrel, whose name starts with an X, but doesn't start with an X.  There is a beautiful princess, who is "warm in every wind and weather".  There is a mysterious Golux.  And there are thirteen clocks, that are stopped, because the villain murdered Time and wiped his blade on Time's beard.  And there are the shining shores of Ever After.

This book is perfect, and perfect for all ages.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Book 252: The Dog Show

The Dog Show, written and illustrated by Sally O. Lee, 2012.  Preschool to Early Elementary.

One of my favorite quotes comes from St. Exupery's The Little Prince:  It is only with the heart the one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.   That quote sums up perfectly the spirit of Sally Lee's The Dog Show.

I have three cats, all beautiful, all foundlings or strays.  Even though they are all beautiful now, if I were honest, I would have to admit that none of them was beautiful when I first found him or her (or he or she found me).  They are beautiful because I love them.  Because they are important to me.  Because they are well-cared for.  And because my five-year-old son call them his brother and sisters.  Harry, the dog in this story, also is beautiful and for most of the same reasons.

The Dog Show does not stray into preachy territory.  It delights with a story as colorful and bright and the wonderful accompanying illustrations.  But it is still easy for a child to grasp the concept of this book.

My other favorite quote from The Little Prince:  It is time that you spend with your rose that makes your rose so important.   That quote also applies to this modern fable.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Book 251: The Tawny, Scrawny Lion

The Tawny, Scrawny Lion, by Kathryn Jackson, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, Little Golden Book, 1952.   Preschool, Early Elementary.

I was very sensitive as a child.  The idea of one animal eating another animal bothered me.  So, as a consequence, despite the fantastic artwork, I did not really like this book.

Fast-forward thirty or so years and I'm working as a children's librarian.  For some reason, our department decided to turn this book into a puppet show.  I'm working on the "screenplay" for the puppet show, and I suddenly realize how funny this book actually is.

My newly-five-year-old son has a very strong and and strange sense of humor.  He also is drawn to beautiful artwork.  He, of course, loves this book.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Book 250: Tootle

Tootle, by Gertrude Crampton, illustrated by Tibor Gergely, Little Golden Book 1945.

I only just recently read this story for the first time, and I have been an adult for many years.  Although I had a serious collection of Little Golden Books as a child, my collection did not include this one.

At first as I read this book, I was strongly reminded of Ferdinand the bull, so I liked it.  But the ending was very different.  If Ferdinand's beloved cork tree had been surrounded by red capes, they might have been the same book.  The biggest difference is, Tootles wanted to run the express line and Ferdinand did not want to leave his meadow.  While I understand the conformist subtext, I can't hate this story as much as others do.  Sometimes we do have to set aside play to achieve our goals.  I would like to think that Tootles was occasionally able to still sneak off the trains when he wasn't running the express. At least, that is how I would have written it.

The artwork is joyfully wonderful.  Perhaps that is why I am so forgiving of the story itself.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Book 249: Zoom

Zoom, by Istvan Banyai, Puffin Book 1995.  All Ages.

I bought this book when it first came out, back in 1995. I didn't have any children. I didn't expect to have any children. I bought this book because it was the most amazing book I had ever seen. It still amuses, intrigues and amazes me.

There is no text, except for the writing within the illustrations. None is needed or wanted. Tonight I "read" this book to my almost-five-year-old son. He was almost as fascinated with it as I am. Once he worked out what was going on in the illustrations, he was drawn into the book and could not wait to see what was going to happen on the next page. 

Friday, November 1, 2013

Book 248: Death on the Nile

Death on the Nile, by Agatha Christie, 1937.

I love Agatha Christie's writing, but this is not one of my favorite mysteries.  For one thing, I missed Captain Hastings.  Poirot has remarked in several mysteries how much he needs Captain Hastings because he can think like an "ordinary man".  That may be true, but he also needs him because Hastings will mock him and will stand up to him.  Of course, Poirot will solve the mystery and look terribly clever, but it is fun to laugh in a kind and loving way right along with Hastings.

There is much of "the psychology" in this book, possibly too much.  The mystery itself is not too difficult to work out, it is the how that is complex, but there is so much muddying of the Nile waters in this story.  And, even though I am told to like Mrs. Allington, Rosalie and Cornelia, I just didn't find them as engaging as some characters in other Christie books.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Book 247: Henry P. Baloney

Henry P. Baloney, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith, Penguin 2001.  Early Elementary.

My son is not quite five.  He is not in elementary school.  He is not even in Kindergarten.  He loves this book about "the green alien with big ears".  Go figure.  Actually, that may not be too surprising since I bought this book in 2001, long before my not-quite-five-year-old son was born.  He must have inherited my sense of humor.

This book is a challenge to read out loud because some words are in a different language, some are transpositions, and some are Spoonerism.  That challenge actually adds to the appeal of the book for me.  My son is learning to read and struggles with words in English.  The story is funny, silly and absolute nonsense, as you would expect from the "Baloney" in the title.

Lane Smith does a marvelous job with the illustrations, from "the green alien with big ears", to the zimulis, to the razzo, to the Planet Astrosus, to the sighing flosser... The book is cover to cover wonderful.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Book 246: Bug Drawing Book

Bug Drawing Book, by Ralph Masiello, Charlesbridge, 2004.

Today we didn't have to go anywhere:  Today was a stay-home-and-draw day.  My almost-five-year son had finished coloring his Hallowe'en pictures, so I thought he might like to draw some spiders and spiderwebs.  I was right.

The directions in the Bug Drawing Book are simple enough that my son could follow them (if I was right there talking him through them), and yet the illustrations are interesting and complex enough that I can see him using this book as reference for many years.   I'm especially grateful that Mr. Masiello examined the spiders and insects up-close so that I did not have to.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Book 245: Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book

 Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book, by Diane Muldrow, Golden Books 2013.  All Ages.

Lately, I've been building up my almost-five-year-old son's library of Little Golden Books.  I had quite a collection when I was a child, but somewhere in the many moves of my childhood, my books were lost.  Diane Muldrow's book could not have come out at a better time for me.  I was thrilled to see that we already have the five LGBs featured in her foreword.  I knew then that we were on the right track.

In  Everything I Need to Know I Learned From a Little Golden Book, Diane Muldrow took illustrations from classic LGBs and linked them together with some basic and good advice for life.  Some of the advice is obvious, but that makes it no less sound:  For example "Don't forget to enjoy your wedding".  I can't count the number of recent weddings that I've attended where the bride looked like she forgot to have fun.  And "Let your children know you love them".  Actually, I think that is the best advice in the book.

The artwork is phenomenal -- the best of the best in vintage Little Golden Book illustrations.  I am happy to say that we own at least half of the books featured, and now I know which ones I need to replace.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Book 244: The Saggy, Baggy Elephant

The Saggy, Baggy Elephant, by K & B Jackson, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, Little Golden Books, 1947

This is another Little Golden Book illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren -- he had quite a prolific career as a LGB illustrator -- so the artwork is extraordinary and extraordinarily good.  I liked the tiger and elephant illustration that was used for the front cover, but the best illustration in the book has to be the line of dancing elephants.  It is so incredibly sweet and quite funny.

The overall story is fine, even good, although I probably would have sat on the mouthy parrot a long time ago.  I don't know how the very young elephant ended up on his own in the first place, but it is always wonderful when you find out where you do belong, even if there are dangers and distractions along the way.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Book 243: Meg on the Moon

Meg on the Moon, written by Helen Nicoll, illustrated by Jan Pienkowski, Penguin Book 1973.

I didn't actually buy this book.  A very long-time friend from England bought this book and sent it to my story-telling son.  I vaguely remember Meg and Mog books, and had I recalled this one sooner, I would have bought this book.

This book is perfect on so many levels.  My almost-five-year-old son tells stories about as fantastic as this one.  He has a love/hate relationship with owls.  We have three cats.  My husband was a space shuttle engineer (when there was a space shuttle to engineer), and my son is fascinated with space.  On top of all that, this story is funny, silly and delightful.

Jan Pienkowski is an artist of staggering range.  So wide a range, in fact, that I did a double-take when I saw he was the illustrator.  Normally, this overly-cartoony style does not appeal to me; however, because Pienkowski is so incredibly brilliant with any art style or medium, the artwork in this book works perfectly.  And it suits Meg from her buckled shoes to her pointy hat.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Book 242: Owl At Home

Owl At Home, by Arnold Lobel, HarperCollins 1975.

For the past few weeks, my almost-five-year-old little boy has been having nightmares about owls.  The only way he will go to sleep is if our youngest cat, Molly Kitten, will curl up on his bed with him.  She will stay awake until my son falls asleep.  We thought these nightmares were imaginary because neither my husband nor I had seen an owl... until one night.  My husband was just putting my son back into bed and telling him there are no owls when he heard, "Whooooo.  Whoooo."  He looked out the window and saw two glowing owl eyes.  Molly jumped up to the window, tapped on the glass with her paw, and the owl flew away.

The other day, I took my son to the bookstore and let him pick out any book he wanted.  He picked out Owl At Home, so we bought it and took it home and read it.  Owl At Home is a very likable owl, as likable, in fact, as Frog and Toad.  He just doesn't get the same attention that Frog and Toad do.  It's a pity, really, because apparently owls do need a positive mascot when it comes to kids.

This book, like the Frog and Toad books, is written and illustrated with scads of charm that holds up well to repeated, and often very slow, readings.  Sometimes the "classics" really are the best.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Book 241: The Poky Little Puppy

The Poky Little Puppy, by Janette Sebring Lowrey, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, Little Golden Book, 1942.

The Poky Little Puppy is another Little Golden Book and Gustaf Tenggren overlap, so, of course, I had to buy it.  Also, I had a copy of this book when I was a child, so it is always fun to revisit some aspects of childhood.

I'm not quite sure what the lesson/moral of this story is.  Maybe it's just that puppies don't read very well.  Maybe it is that it pays to be poky if you want rice pudding or chocolate custard, but it doesn't pay to be poky if you want strawberry shortcake.  Maybe it's just that puppies don't listen to their mother any better than little boys do.  Whatever the lesson/moral, this book is adorable because of Tenggren's artwork.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book 240: Greetings from Nowhere

Greetings from Nowhere, by Barbara O'Connor, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008.

Greetings from Nowhere is about four main characters, five if you count the motel, which I would.  Every character has his or her own story, and, of course, the stories will overlap during the course of the book.

There is something so very sweet about Barbara O'Connor's characters.  On the surface, they seem simple, lacking complexity and perhaps even facile, but that is only because she does not write down every word of their stories.  She leaves it to the readers to fill in the framework of the characters' story, and, so, no two people will ever read this book the same way.  In a way, the reader becomes part of the book.  If the reader chooses to skim this book, the characters may never take on life beyond these two hundred or so pages.  If the reader, instead, tries to relate to the characters, tries to see the world from the characters' point of view, then the characters will gain depth and complexity and even immortality.

It doesn't take me long to read a Barbara O'Connor -- three or four hours, maybe -- but her characters will stay with me for a very long time.

A writer with a light touch should not be mistaken for a light-weight writer.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Book 239: May Finds a Way

May Finds a Way:  Peril in Paris, by K.C.  Frantzen, Rushjoy Press 2012.

This book is the second in the K9 Spy series, and this book is even stronger than the first.

It took me a chapter or two to fall in with "dog-speak", but I am pretty fluent in "cat-speak", even if the cat is a "Chat Parisien".  Once I caught on, though, the story was very enjoyable.

In this book, May hits the ground running, and then she leaves the ground, and then she's off running again.  I wouldn't be giving anything away if I told you that May ends up in Paris, since "Peril in Paris" is part of the title.  Paris is probably my favorite city; I even love the seedy, dark underbelly, but I have not seen all the sights that May saw in this book.

Along the way, May helps, and is helped, and makes friends.  Most of the friendships I thoroughly approved; one seemed a little odd and forced, but maybe that's how it is between dogs and insects.

The near-conclusion of this book struck a wrong chord for me.  There is a pivotal scene where I would have expected more remorse and sympathy from a sweet and intelligent dog like May.  I'm also not sure how much of this book the targeted audience (Middle Grade) would fully understand.  My preferred genre is Thrillers/Mysteries, and some of espionage and intrigue lost me for a while.  Even so, this book was flat-out fun.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Book 238: Bedtime Stories

Bedtime Stories, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren, Little Golden Books, 1942.

Recently I've been on a Little Golden Books kick and a Gustaf Tenggren kick -- it is really great when my kicks coincide.

There are three "Once upon a time" tales in Bedtime Stories:  Little Red Riding Hood, The Gingerbread Man, and Chicken Little.  Interestingly, the villains are a wolf and two foxes -- poor canines, always get a bad rap.  These classics are all wrapped in the one of the best children's book covers ever.

The stories are competently told, and interspersed with the delectable artwork by Tenggren; artwork that is almost as luscious as the front cover.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Book 237: Country Tied

Country Tied, by Robyn Buttars, Country Stories, 2008.  Young Adult.  Christian. 

I didn’t actually buy this book; I was given this book in exchange for a fair review.

I had a really hard time getting into this book at first.  My brain kept chanting the mantra "Show, don't tell.  Show, don't tell".  But then, about halfway through this book, something wonderful happened -- and I don't just mean the birth of the calf, although that was wonderful -- a spark of life entered this book.  Suddenly, some of the characters seemed so much more fleshed out.  Suddenly, the story became interesting.  Suddenly, I was engaged and actually cared about what happened to some of the characters in this book.

It took me about four hours to read the first of the book, because I had to keep re-reading passages to understand what was happening.  Major event only merited a sentence or a very brief paragraph.  And then two months or more were gone.  The characters and the events kept blurring together. 

It only took me two hours to finish the book after the calf-birthing scene.  And I actually cared about the protagonist and her decisions.  There were still some flawed passages in the second half, but the difference was remarkable and quite staggering. 

There is an entire cast of characters from the first half that are left hanging like limp marionettes at the end of the story.  I would have either cut those strings, or reanimated them by bringing them back in the concluding chapters.

I once read that you should always begin your book on the third chapter.  Whether that is literal or figurative, that seems like very good advice.