Young Reader in the Making

Young Reader in the Making

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Book 201: Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili Slaw Dogs

Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili Slaw Dogs, by Mary Jane Hathaway, 2013.

Emma is my favorite Jane Austen novel.  I'm re-reading it now in fact.  I first discovered her when I was 19 -- just about the age of the title character in Austen's book.  I related to her sharp tongue and slightly caustic wit all too well.  I softened with age; I'm sure Emma would have, too.  So, because I love Emma the book and Emma the character, I approached Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili Slaw Dogs with the same mix of interest and trepidation that I approached the Emma movie starring Gwyneth Paltrow.  Neither disappointed.

Every time I review a "romantic novel", I feel the need to point out that I, in general, do not like romantic novels.  In truth, I'm starting to think it is not the genre I dislike on the whole, as much as I really do not the bad writing that permeates the majority of the genre.  I like well-written books.  Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili Slaw Dogs is a well-written book.

Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili Slaw Dogs is the second in the Austen Takes the South series.  I liked it even more than I liked the first book -- the writing felt tighter and I could see the interconnectivity of the characters.  Just as in the first book, Hathaway doesn't try to re-tell an Austen story.  Instead, she uses the Austen story as a springboard for her own story.  There are shades of Austen throughout the book, and obvious nods, and a tone that is similar, but that's where the Austen influence ends.  If all that is Jane Austen were to be removed from this book, this book would still stand.  Somehow, I think Jane Austen would very much approve.

I've told you nothing about the story in this review.  Nor do I intend to. This book is a perfect summer read.  It's still summer...

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book 200: The Runaway Bunny

The Runaway Bunny, by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd, Harper & Row 1942, board book Harper Collins, 1991.  Baby, Toddler, Preschool.

This is one of those books that I can't believe I haven't written about sooner.  I started reading this book to my son early in his first year.  He is well into his fifth year and I still read it to him, when I can find it.  It's that finding it thing that might explain the delay in the review.  This is one of those books that he likes to read himself.  At night.  When he is supposed to be sleeping.  I found it under his bed tonight when I was chasing the cat out of his room.

I think it is best to have a healthy sense of humor when reading Runaway Bunny; otherwise, it might seem a bit strange or creepy.  The premise is that the young rabbit has decided that he wants to run away from home, so he decides to turn into another creature or object, like a crocus, to hide or run away.  His mother then says she will turn into another creature or object, like a gardener, to find him.  After of few of these proposed transitions, the young rabbit decides to stay home.  And his mother gives him a carrot.  Early on, my son laughed at the exaggeration of the story.  That, as I've said, is the best way to enjoy the book.

Clarence Hurd's illustrations also help set the stage for levity and not gravity.  They also are extreme in their exaggeration and imbibed with subtle humor.  The sailboat and cloud is particularly wonderfully silly. His illustrations are, in short, perfect.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Book 199: A Scooby-Rific Reader

A Scooby-Rific Reader, by Gail Herman, Illustrated by Duendes Del Sur, Scholastic 2000.  Preschool to Early Elementary.

My four-year-old son loves Scooby Doo.  He has seen every incarnation of the show (except for the Scrappy years) many, many times -- especially the classic Scooby Doo that I grew up with.  My son also loves books and he loves "reading".  So when I found a Scooby Doo book in a Easy Reader format, I just had to get it for him.

The stories are silly and hokey, just like the classic Scooby Doo series.  The illustrations also are true to the classic Scooby Doo series.  Now he can have Scooby Doo whenever he wants, even on the days that we lose power to a summer storm.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book 198: House of Mirth

House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton

What a brilliantly beautiful, heartbreaking, gut-wrenching, soul-crushing book!

Poor Lily Bart.  Everyone admired her, revered her, envied her, even adored her, but not one person loved her.  Not even Lawrence Selden.  Despite his protestations and her belief that he could save her.  He could not save her; he adored her, but he did not truly love her.

Two scenes were salient to me:  Lily's tableau at the Brys' and her final encounter with Selden.  The first occurred at an opulent, society-impressing party.  What was so striking about this scene was that all the other tableaux featured multiple women.  Lily's alone was alone.  And last.  And all the tableaux featured the women grandly makeup and dressed, essentially hiding themselves behind the characters they were portraying.  Lily wore a plain white draping robe, a robe that did not conceal her true inner and outer nature, but revealed it.  Selden responded to this transparency (he sent her a note asking to meet), but instead of meeting Lily, got caught up in the popular, malicious and envious gossip, and fled.

The second scene came toward the close of the book.  Her road to degradation and poverty has been well-documented by Wharton and further discussed by the characters in the book.  Lily. as if by instinct, turned one last time to Selden.  She gave him one last chance to love her and to save her.  Again, in this scene, she was completely transparent, her mask of composure removed.  And again, Selden turned away.  Instead of seeing her, he recalls the gossip.  He does not love her.  Not truly.  And he cannot save her.  She, instead, saves him.

At the end of the book, Selden declares that at least he had loved (past tense) her.  But even here, his actions betray him.  When he finds the unsealed enveloped addressed to Gus Trenor, he does not look to see what the envelope contains.  Instead, he again believes the worst.

Not one of the men in the book could have saved Lily Bart, and, unfortunately, she was not brought up to know how to save herself.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Book 197: The Cake Thief

 The Cake Thief, by Sally O. Lee, 2008.  Preschool to Early Elementary.

The first thing I noticed about The Cake Thief was its outrageously wonderful cover art.  Even though Sally O. Lee's illustrative style is fairly new to me, the cover art felt familiar -- in a good way.  And since familiar-feeling books often make such such good friends, this book was definitely worth reading.

The Cake Thief is a sweet story (bad pun fully intended).  Clarence, the cake thief, is a lonely boy who lives in a grey house with a purple door.  What he does like to do, however, is steal cakes.  He doesn't gorge on them, though.  He collects them.  They become something more to him than food.  They become, in a strange sort of way, his friends, or at least a relief from his loneliness.  One day, under a cake cover, he finds something better than a cake.  And his life changes.

Back to the artwork.  The illustrations within the wonderful covers is equally glorious.  And familiar.  Then finally I worked it out -- the style reminds of, and sometimes suggests, James Thurber (in an homage and not a rip-off sort of way), and the saturated jewel tones remind me of Louis Slobodkin.  And, altogether, the results are purely Sally O. Lee.

Book 196: Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie.

My first exposure to Murder on the Orient Express came when I was ten years old and we were flying to England to live for the next five years.  I stayed up until very late to watch the entire movie.  I remember that the entire cast was brilliant, but I absolutely adored Lauren Bacall (I still do).  This also was my first introduction to the work of Agatha Christie.  When we landed in England, we stayed in Harrogate, not far from the Swan Hotel, where Christie's fugue state landed her decades before.

Since that day, many years ago, I have read and re-read Murder on the Orient Express.  I still cannot read it without picturing Lauren Bacall and Mrs. Hubbard.  This does not detract from my enjoyment of the novel.

Agatha Christie was the first to admit that she was not a great writer; she was a good writer.  What made her great was her ability to study, understand and portray the human condition.  Her character are wonderfully flawed; her portrayals of them, wonderful, but not the least bit flawed.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Book 195: You Are Special, Little One

You Are Special, Little One, by Nancy Trafuri, Scholastic Press 2003.  Baby, Toddler, Preschool.

From the time my son was able to show a preference in his books, he started choosing I Love You, Little One, by Nancy Trafuri.  Now that he is almost five, we don't read that book every night, but he still will choose it on nights when he wants to hear how much I love him.  We've read that book so often over the years, that he reads it with me.  This morning, when I gave him You Are Special, Little One, he stroked the beautiful foxes on the cover and said, "I love you!"

Just like I Love You, Little One, this book reads like a gentle lullaby.  It is repetitive enough that my son was saying the words with me during the first reading, but, of course, each animal is uniquely special.  The child is special because of a warm, caring heart and a bright, curious mind.  Just like my son. 

The illustrations are absolutely lovely.  They are realistic enough that the prairie dog and the beaver look different, but they are still gentle, soft and very child-friendly.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Book 194: Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, Norton Critical Edition 1993

About once a year, I re-read Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. And about once a year, I fall a little bit more in love with Mr. Darcy. But I fall a lot more in love with Jane Austen's writing. She writes with such facility and wit that I cannot help but envy her talent.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Book 193: One Hundred Shoes

One Hundred Shoes, by Charles Ghigna, illustrated by Bob Staake, Random House 2002.  Preschool and Early Elementary.

Yesterday, my four-year-old son spotted his first millipede.  (My husband called it a centipede -- Thank goodness for Google!)  Anyway, the multi-footed creature soon became a math topic.  And that math topic led to me finding this book. 

Although my little boy can read only a few words on his own, we have started incorporating "easy readers" into his story times.  They tend to be shorter, so instead of reading three books, we can easily read five books in the same amount of time.  They also tend to feature repetition and showcase certain words so that kids can learn to read on their own.  They can also be really boring for the adult reader.  Two things save One Hundred Shoes from falling into that final category:  Charles Ghigna's wit and Bob Staake's artwork. 

One Hundred Shoes is a clever and rather sweet book in poem.  Charles Ghigna creates such wonderful "word pictures" that the poem could stand alone without illustration.  He also, however, creates such marvelous phrases that a talented illustrator can walk right in (pun intended), and Bob Staake does. 

Bob Staake takes the witty phrases and amplifies them to the point of the hilarious with his brilliant and silly illustrations.  Every pages vibrates with activity and humor, but, as a Chucks girl, I have to say that my favorite two-page spread has the sneakers on it.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Book 192: Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits

Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits, by Mary Jane Hathaway, 2013.

I should preface my review by saying that I do not, as a rule, read romantic novels.  At least not since I was about thirteen.  I will occasionally read a historical novels, but I generally prefer mysteries, classical literature, and nonfiction.  I do, however, read (and love) Jane Austen, so the premise of this book intrigued me.

Mary Jane Hathaway wisely avoided rewriting or reinterpreting Pride and Prejudice.  She limited herself to referencing it, both literally at the start of each chapter, and figuratively throughout the story arc.

Not only is Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits a romantic novel, it is a Christian romantic novel, which, sadly, does not always result in good or even readable literature.  Happily, Hathaway avoided all the heavy-handed traps by keeping her writing light and deft.  Further, she has crafted a story that is interesting and engaging, and characters that are appealing, likable and flawed enough to be relatable.