Young Reader in the Making

Young Reader in the Making

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book 283: Half Magic

Half Magic, by Edward Eager, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1954.  Elementary to all ages.

I did not own a copy of this book when I was a child.  I can't imagine why not; I would have loved it.  I did, however, buy myself as copy of this book before I had a child, or was even a children's librarian.  It's one of those sort of books.

The story was written in the 1950s and takes place in the 1920s, and yet, apart from the feeling of security the children had while walking around their town, this book does not feel especially dated.  It is also one of those sort of books.

This book clearly and openly pays homage to E. Nesbit, and I love it all the more for that.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Book 282: The Lightning Thief

The Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan, Hyperion Books, 2005.

Some years ago, I met Rick Riordan at a library Reading Festival event.  By met, of course, I mean I was in the same room as he was, I asked a question, and I laughed at his jokes.  Still, I was a Youth Services librarian at the time, this book had recently come out, and it all was pretty exciting and memorable.

For a while, I could quote some of the things he said at the event.  Sadly, life intervenes, and things become fuzzy.  I do, however, remember he was extremely intelligent, informed and well-read.  All of those qualities appear in this book, which is a very good start to the series.

I wanted to give this book five stars, but couldn't quite.  The protagonist acted, sounded and felt a few years older than the stated age.  This sounds like a minor criticism, and in some case it would be, but here it is the heart of the book.  I had to keep reminding myself as I was reading that Percy was only 12 and not 14 or 15, and that slightly marred my enjoyment of the book.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Book 281: Journey

JOURNEY, by Aaron Becker, Candlewick Press, 2013.

For the entire months of November and December, my newsfeed on Facebook was pretty much devoted to lists of the best books of 2013.  JOURNEY appeared on almost, if not, all of them.  I had not yet read it, but, based on one double-page illustration, I bought the book.  I am so glad that I did.

JOURNEY is a wordless picture book, so there is no text to write about, but there very much is a story. And the story is wonderful.  It's pretty simple: A young girl feels ignored by her family, so she creates a door to her own adventure.  I don't see this as an indictment against her family in any way; I see this as showing the benefit of allowing children to get bored so that they will use their imagination.

This book does pay homage to several books, most obviously Harold and the Purple Crayon, but I also saw traces of The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Phantom Tollbooth, 1001 Arabian Nights, and just about anything that Jules Verne wrote.  The homage feels almost like a love letter to the fantastic children's literature of the past.

The artwork in this book is heart-stoppingly beautiful.  It is marvelous and magical.  It is enchanting and engaging.  It is accessible and just plain awesome.  This was Aaron Becker's first book.  I can't wait to see what he does next.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Book 280: What-a-Mess, the Beautiful

What-a-Mess, the Beautiful, based on a character created by Frank Muir, Ladybird Books, 1997.

One of my writer friends who lives in Canada recommended the What-a-Mess books for my five-year-old son.  When I saw that the books were based on an English television series, I was both apprehensive and intrigued.  I bought a book, anyway.

What-a-Mess is an Afghan hound.  The only time I've seen Afghan hounds as pet dogs was when I lived in England.  Afghan hounds are one of the oldest breeds of dogs, and they tend to be very dignified, and, occasionally, clownish.  What-a-Mess' mother is very dignified...

The illustrations are hilarious, starting with the end-papers.  And it is not often I read a children's book with the word "pong" in it.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book 279: Puss in Boots, Look and Find

Puss in Boots -- Look and Find, Dreamworks characters illustrated by Jason Beene, Publication International, 2011.

I bought this book last year because it was heavily post-Christmas discounted.  That would be Christmas of 2012.   At the time, my son was four, and he hadn't seen a single Shrek movie, much less any spin-off.  He also wasn't really fond of look-and-find books.

A year later, and things have changed.  He has seen the Shrek movies, but not any spin-off.  And he likes look-and-find books.

This is a pretty basic look-and-find book, but the illustrations are rather fun.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Book 278: I'm a Truck

I'm a Truck, by Dennis Shealy, illustrated by Bob Staake, Little Golden Books, 2006.

My five-year-old son has reached the "I love trucks" stage of his life.  Actually, he has reached the "I love to take apart trucks and leave the pieces where Mommy steps on them" stage of his life.  I'm fine with the "I love trucks" stage, but I'm hoping the other one will end soon.

Because I love my son, and he loves trucks and books, I bought him some new truck books.  This was one of them.

The text was rather long, but engaging.  It managed to keep his attention all the way through, although that might have been because I sounded like I was starring in a bad spaghetti western when I read it.  Usually, books written in dialect are right up there with children's stories written in a forced rhyme on my list of things I don't like to read out loud, but Dennis Shealy did a pretty good job keeping the dialect light and funny.

The artwork, of course, was perfect.  It was perfectly beautiful.  It was perfectly colorful.  It was perfectly elegant.  And it was perfectly humorous.  And it was (almost) enough to forgive this book for recalling my high school drama days.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Book 277: The Red Balloon

The Red Balloon, by Albert Lamorisse, Doubleday 1978 (from a 1956 film).

I vaguely remember a short, non-verbal, film called the "Red Balloon". The balloon in the film seemed playful and not quite as mischievous as the balloon in the book. 

In this case, the film came first, and the film is better. I thought maybe some of the charm was lost in the translation, so I picked up a copy of Le Ballon Rouge as well. It is pretty straight-forward reading so even my rusty French could (mostly) keep up. Some of the charm was lost in the translation, but even in French, the book was not as good as the movie. 

I had problems with the book saying Pascal was lonely because he was an only child -- my son in an only child and not lonely; I was one of four and was lonely. I had a hard time with the balloon in the book being so mischievous, even malicious, at times -- those traits sucked out a lot of the fun and playfulness of the red balloon. The principal, or director, was just plain mean in the book; and the bullying kids' motives were more ambiguous in the film. 

This book would have been better without the text, French or English, and if it just relied on the photos to tell the story. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Book 276: Neverwhere

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman, HarperCollins 1996.

I adore Neil Gaiman's writing, and Alice in Wonderland, so, of course, I loved this book.

Gaiman's Wonderland is more of a London Underworld, or, even more accurately, London's underbelly.  I kept thinking, this could be Paris!, with its notorious sewer system and catacombs.

Gaiman creates such fantastic fantastical characters in a world so dark that some of the inhabitants have gone blind.  But, every so often, there is a brilliant flash of humor that relieves the darkness and keeps the reader well away from the Tube's underground train tracks.  And, curiouser and curiouser, makes the reader want revisit, and long for, that world.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Book 275: Just a Big Storm

Just a Big Storm, by Mercer Mayer, HarperCollins 2013.

Today, we are having a not very lovely winter thunderstorm.  Complete with my five-year-old son's thunder monster.

The Critter family knows how to prepare for a BIG thunderstorm -- more than just my usual break out the candles and flashlights routine -- so it was actually useful reading for me.  But I'm not the target audience.  Little Critter knows how to make every situation fun, and every adventure exciting.  That can take away some of the scariness of the thunder monster for my son.  And that is very good.  Because he is the target audience.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Book 274: Wonder

Wonder, by R. J. Palacio, Corgi, 2012.

Of course this was a good book.  A very good book, in fact.  I thought the author did an amazing job capturing the voices from the point of view of each of the characters.  The weakest, to me, however, was the voice of August himself.

In any writing, I don't like my protagonist to be all good, and my antagonist to be all bad.  The world doesn't work that way, and writing that reflects that doesn't feel honest to me.  But for Middle Grade or Juvenile fiction, I think it is even more important to not have such a black and white world.  I would have liked to have heard Julian's story, too.  Knowing his motive would still have kept him the antagonist but it might help to show why he was lacking empathy.

Via, the sister's, voice was the strongest.  Her story was also the most heartbreakingly honest.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Book 273: Curious George Visits the Zoo

Curious George Visits the Zoo, based on characters created by Margret and H.A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998.

I don't like the premise of the original Curious George story, but I do like the stories that have come out of that premise.  Before I started reading the book, I was afraid that George would end up in the monkey cage.  He doesn't, and he even helps out a little boy who lost his balloon to the monkeys.  My five-year-old son has no problem with Curious George.  He sees George as a five-year-old boy who is really good at climbing.  And that is why the stories work.

The illustrations, even in the first Curious George book, are absolute perfection.  I wouldn't change one line of them, although, I am glad that the zoos that we visit bear no resemblance to the zoo in this book.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Book 272: Happiness is a Warm Puppy

Happiness is a Warm Puppy, by Charles M. Schulz, Peanuts Worldwide 2013.

Happiness is a little square book, with a pink cover, and bright, multi-colored pages inside.

Happiness is a bold, elegant font, and bold, elegant illustrations.

Happiness is Snoopy drawn by Charles M. Schulz.

So happiness may be a warm puppy, or happiness may be one thing to one person and another thing to another person, but this little book could bring a little bit of happiness.

And, because I found this book at Kohl's as part of their ongoing Kohl's Cares program, happiness is buying something wonderful and having the proceeds benefit a worthy cause.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Book 271: Curious George and the Puppies

Curious George and the Puppies, based on characters created by Margret and H. A. Rey, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998.

This book was another Kohl's Care find.  I love that program.

Curious George is always perfectly drawn.  And I like the stories that are created around him.  I just have difficulty with a monkey in captivity.  And I find the man in the yellow hat a bit creepy.  If I can set aside my initial reservations and prejudices, this book was an adorable story.

When I read this book to my five-year-old son, he saw Curious George as a five-year-old boy.  He enjoyed the story, and I enjoyed the artwork.