Showing posts with label Fiction Wednesday. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fiction Wednesday. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Ruby Redfort: Look into my eyes

These days, when I want to relax and give my brain a break, I read a mystery novel. I have always loved mysteries and read (and reread) all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books when I was young. There were also the Famous Five and Secret Seven series, books that were published in England. I remember feeling rather disappointed that there weren't more mystery titles being published for young readers.

Today, young readers have a much bigger selection of mystery novels to read. In several of them the main character becomes a secret agent of some kind. Today's title is just such a book. In it a tween girl, Ruby Redfort, is asked to help a secret agency to solve a problem. The writing is clever, often humorous, and it is full of thrilling moments and interesting situations.

Lauren Child
For ages 10 to 13
Candlewick Press, 2011, 978-0-7636-5120-6
Ruby Redfort looks like a rather ordinary tween girl, but she is not in the slightest bit ordinary. She is extremely intelligent, can learn new things very quickly, and she has superlative observation skills and problem-solving skills. Ruby loves mystery and crime stories, movies, and television shows. She also loves to figure out puzzles, ciphers, and codes.
   Until now, other than winning a Code-Cracking Championship and creating a code that took Harvard scholars two weeks to break, Ruby has had a quiet life. She lives with her rather uninteresting parents, spends time with her friend Clancy, and goes to school. Then, one day, she comes home from school to find out that someone has stolen everything in her house. Everything is gone including Mrs. Digby the housekeeper. On that day Hitch, a household manager (butler), arrives to work at the Redfort home, and Ruby is immediately suspicious. Something about Hitch is off, but Ruby cannot figure out what.
   Then Ruby gets a very odd phone call. An unknown person tells Ruby that he or she has heard that Ruby is good at noticing things and that she is also a good code cracker. The person talks some more and Ruby agrees that she “can crack a code.” After saying “Good,” the person hangs up. Ruby is very puzzled by the call. If the person on the phone wants her to crack a code why didn’t the person give her a code to crack?
   Some time later Ruby figures things out. The code was in the conversation itself. She analyses what the person said and soon she is following clues, each clue leading her to another one. The final clue leads her to a manhole cover. She opens it and reluctantly goes down the drain and into a tunnel, which then opens into a very large room. It is in this room that Ruby meets a woman called LB who just happens to belong to the voice on the telephone.
   LB explains that she works for a secret agency called Spectrum, and she invites Ruby the join the agency to help them deal with one problem and one problem only. If she is willing to take on the challenge, Ruby will first have to pass a test and get cleared by security. If she gets through these, she will be told about the problem, which she will hopefully be able to solve. After the task is complete, Ruby will go back to being an ordinary schoolgirl and her association with Spectrum will be over.
   Not surprisingly, Ruby agrees to the terms. She passes the test and security check without any trouble, and then she finds out that she has been recruited to break a code. Someone is apparently planning to steal an enormous amount of gold from a local bank. A former Spectrum code breaker figured out something important about the plan, but she died before she could tell LB about what she had found. LB wants Ruby to go through the deceased code breaker’s papers to figure out what it was she was going to reveal.
   Lauren Child has delighted countless children by creating Charlie and Lola and Clarice Bean, wonderful characters who appear in picture books, novels, and in television programs. Now she gives us Ruby Redfort, and readers will have a splendid time sharing Ruby’s adventures and trying to figure out the codes and puzzles Ruby encounters. Who can resist a story that is packed with colorful characters, unsolved mysteries, cool gadgets, and challenging puzzles.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Zelda and Ivy: The Big Picture

Some years ago I read a delightful beginner chapter book about two little foxes who have everyday adventures. There was something about the characters, Zelda and Ivy, that I found very appealing. I was therefore delighted the other day to receive a new Zelda and Ivy book to review.

Zelda and Ivy: The Big Picture
Laura McGee Kvasnosky
For ages 5 to 7
Candlewick Press, 2010, 978-0-7636-4180-1
  Zelda and Ivy and their friend Eugene are going to the movie theatre, and Zelda and Eugene are really looking forward to seeing the movie Secret Agent Fox. Ivy is worried that the movie is going to be too scary and she is not comforted when her sister and friend tell her that what takes place in a movie is not real.
   When the movie starts, Ivy soon forgets to be afraid. In fact, she is captivated by the action that she is watching on the screen, as is Eugene. Both of them are so interested in the movie that they fail to notice that Zelda, who not long ago said “the scarier, the better,” is not actually watching the movie.  
   Some time later, inspired no doubt by the movie they saw, Ivy, Zelda, and Eugene decide to be secret agents and “spy on people.” They each choose a secret agent name, they decide on a code word, and then they proceed to spy on Mrs. Brownlie. In their opinion, Mrs. Brownlie is behaving in a suspicious manner. She is wearing goggles while she is mowing her yard, and the three friends are eager to find out why.
   In this delightful Zelda and Ivy story, there are three chapters, and in each one Zelda, Ivy and their friend have delightful adventures that children will be able to identify with. The characters are charming, and the stories are perfect for children who are starting to read on their own.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A Review of The Dragon's Eye

I love dragon stories, and today's fiction title is a wonderful book about the adventures that two children have when they find themselves in the company of a dragonologist. This book is a companion to the Dragonology books, a series of novelty titles that have delighted dragon fans of all ages for ten years now. 

The Dragon's EyeThe Dragon’s Eye
Dugald A. Steer
Illustrated by Douglas Carrel
For ages 9 to 12
Candlewick Press, 2006, 0-7636-2810-7
Daniel and his sister Beatrice are looking forward to their summer vacation a great deal. Their parents, who live and work in India, are coming to England to visit. When Daniel gets to Waterloo station, his sister is waiting for him with a letter in her hand. The letter was written by their mother and in it is she explains that once again, for the fourth year in a row, she and her husband cannot come to England after all. Instead of spending the summer with their parents, the children are to spend it with Dr. Ernest Drake.
   Following their mother’s instructions, the children get themselves to Wyvern Way, a small street near Trafalgar square where Dr. Drake has a shop, which is called Doctor Drake’s Dragonalia. When they arrive, Dr. Drake is deep in conversation with someone, and the children have no choice but to wait until he is free. Feeling bored, Daniel explores one of the basement rooms beneath the shop, which is where he comes to face to face with an honest to goodness dragon. Dr. Drake catches the boy snooping and he makes it clear that Daniel should not tell anyone about what he has seen.
  Later that day the children travel with Dr. Drake to Castle Drake, his country home, and the following morning Beatrice goes into the woods with Dr. Drake while Daniel studies Charles Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species. While the doctor is away, Daniel cannot help snooping again, even though he was told to stay in the house, and he finds out that the dragon that he saw in the London shop is now at Castle Drake. Once again, the doctor catches Daniel doing something that he shouldn’t be doing.
  Daniel and Beatrice soon learn that Dr. Drake is a dragonologist, a scientist who studies dragons. The young people learn that dragons are found in many countries around the world, but there are not a lot of them left and they need to be protected. Every summer, Dr. Drake trains a few select young people to become dragonologists, and this summer Daniel and Beatrice will be his pupils.
   The children’s studies do not progress very far before they find themselves caught up in a very unpleasant situation. A man called Ignatius Crook has decided that he should be the next Dragon Master and he is doing everything that he can to get his hands on some artifacts, in particular the Dragon’s Eye, to achieve this goal. Since Ignatius Crook does not truly care about dragons, Dr. Drake has to do everything that he can to stop the man before it is too late, and Daniel and Beatrice end up joining in his adventure.
   This companion to the now famous Dragonology books will delight readers who have an interest in dragons. The author not only gives us an action-packed tale full of adventure and misadventure, but he also helps his readers to understand the scientific process of study and why all creatures (including dragons) should be protected. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of I survived the bombing of Pearl Harbor, 1941

In just a few days it will be the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. When I moved to the United States in 1991, I didn't really know much about this event. Since then I have read a number of books for both adults and young people that describe what took place in Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Today's book describes the events of that fateful day through the eyes of a boy, and it also looks at what took place after the attack was over.

Lauren Tarshis
Historical Fiction
For ages 8 to 10
Scholastic, 2011, 978-0-545-20698-3
Not long ago, Danny came to live on the lush and beautiful tropical island of Oahu, and now all he wants to do is to go back to New York City, which is where he used to live. Though his apartment was in a dirty, crowded, ugly, and sometimes dangerous neighborhood in the city, it was his home and his misses it. More than anything he misses Finn, his best friend. Danny’s mother decided that they had to move after Finn had an accident when he and Danny were exploring an abandoned building. She wants her son to have a better life in a new place, but all he wants it to have his old life back, which is why Danny plans on stowing away on a ship.
   Danny is just about to start packing when he hears a horrible squeal and a scream coming from his back yard. When he goes to investigate, he finds a little boy, Aki, who is holding a baby pig. Aki offers to show Danny his “puppy,” which is when the piglet’s mother arrives on the scene. Danny is just able to get Aki out of the way before he is injured by the furious wild boar.
   Danny and Aki go to Aki’s house where the little boy’s mother invites Danny to lunch. She tells Danny that his mother is “lucky to have a boy like you.” The next morning, on December 7th 1941, Danny has a hard time motivating himself to get onto a ship that is bound for San Francisco/ He keeps thinking about how his mother will feel if he abandons her.
   Then Japanese airplanes start to bomb Pearl Harbor and Danny forgets all about trying to get onto that ship. Hickman Field, where his mother works as a nurse, gets hit and Danny runs there to find out if his mother is all right. Suddenly Danny’s dreams of going back to New York City seem ridiculous, and he focuses of surviving and getting to his mother.
   In this excellent I Survived title we see what it might have been like to be in Pearl Harbor when it was bombed in 1941 through the eyes of a young boy. We see how Danny is changed by the experience, and how he learns to have a new appreciation for the life that he has.
   This is one in a series of historical fiction titles.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of The Jamie and Angus Stories

Many children form very close relationships with their stuffed animals. Often there is one particular stuffed animal who is extra special, and you can always tell which animal this is because it is the one that has that well worn look.

In today's fiction title you will meet Angus,  the stuffed highland bull, and his little boy, Jamie. The stories in this title perfectly capture the unique relationship that a child can have with that special stuffed animal.

Anne Fine
Illustrated by Penny Dale
For ages 6 to 8
Candlewick Press, 2002, 978-0-7636-3312-7
When Jamie sees a small toy Highland bull in a shop window, it is love at first sight. Jamie’s mother agrees to buy the toy, but she won’t let Jamie have it until Christmas. Jamie agrees to this readily, and while he waits for Christmas to arrive, he makes Angus (for that is the little bull’s name) a farm to live on. He also tells Angus, who is on a high shelf in a cupboard, what is going on. After all, it would not do to ignore the toy.
   At long last it is Christmas Day, and Jamie finally gets to hold, cuddle, and play with Angus. The two are inseparable, and they have many grand adventures together. Not surprisingly, Angus’s silky white coat soon starts to look rather “scruffy.” Early on in their relationship Jamie removed a tag that was attached to Angus, one that said “DRY-CLEAN ONLY.” One day, when Jamie is at school, Granny decides that Angus needs to be cleaned, and not knowing about the now absent tag, she puts Angus into the washing machine. Angus comes out looking dreadful and poor Jamie is heartbroken. Granny, feeling sorry for her grandson, gets Jamie another toy highland bull that looks exactly like Angus. As he looks at the two toys, Angus comes to realize that looks are not all that important in the big scheme of things.
   Any child who shares his or her life with a beloved toy will immediately identify with Jamie. There is nothing quite like the relationship a child has with a best toy friend. The six stories in this splendid award-winning book are deliciously warm and gently humorous. Anne Fine perfectly captures Jamie’s little boy world, and readers will find it easy to share in his everyday adventures.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Daisy's Perfect Word

Every so often, when I am reading a book, I encounter the perfect sentence or collection of words. Perhaps a description of a place, thing, or person is so vivid that I can see in my mind's eye what the author is talking about, or perhaps an emotion comes through so clearly that I almost resonate with it.

Today's picture book is about a little girl who loves and collects words. She is a the kind of person I would enjoy spending some time with.

Daisy's Perfect Word
Sandra V. Feder
Illustrated by Susan Mitchell
For ages 6 to 8
Kids Can Press, 2012, 978-1-55453-645-0
Daisy enjoys doing lots of different things. In the summer, she makes dandelion chains and plays kickball, and in winter she has fun “stomping in puddles.” Daisy also likes spending time with Emma, who is her best friend. Though Daisy loves doing these things, sitting quietly and reading a book is Daisy’s favorite occupation. The little girl with the curly hair loves words, collecting her favorite ones and keeping them in lists in a special notebook. Not only does she collect existing words, but she also has a collection of made-up words.
   One day Daisy’s teacher, Miss Goldner, tells her students that she has a special announcement to make. Daisy and Emma have a hard time waiting to hear what she has to say, and they are thrilled when they hear the news. Miss Goldner is getting married. Daisy is happy for Miss Goldner, but she is also sad that her wonderful teacher will be moving away.
   Daisy decides that she needs to get her teacher a special engagement gift. She does not want to give her teacher “boring” gifts like vases or candlesticks. No, Daisy thinks Miss Goldner is special, and a special person needs a special “one-of-a-kind” gift. The problem is that Daisy has no idea what the gift should be. What does Daisy have to offer her teacher that is unique?
   This delightful book not only takes us into the everyday adventures of a wonderful character, but it also explores the ways in which words affect us, and sometimes seem to take on a life of their own. Through Daisy, young readers will discover that words are not just inanimate things sitting on a page, they have the power to make people happy or sad. They can inspire and excite people, and they are full of possibilities. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of The Case of the Missing Marquess

Relaxing with a good mystery to read is one of my favorite things to do. When I was growing up there weren't that many mystery titles available for young readers, and I read the Nancy Drew books, the Hardy Boys books, and Emil and the Detectives over and over again. Now there are some wonderful mystery books for young readers, including ones starring the siblings of the great detective Sherlock Holmes.

Today's title tells the story of Sherlock's younger sister Enola, who is prone to running into trouble and who is very good at solving puzzles.

Nancy Stringer
Ages 10 and up
Penguin, 2007, 978-0142409336
   When Enola’s mother disappears on Enola’s fourteen birthday, Enola doesn’t know what to think. Why would her mother do such a thing? What is Enola supposed to do now? After the initial shock wears off, Enola contacts her brothers Mycroft and Sherlock Holmes. After they arrive, Enola discovers why the brothers stayed away from the family home and she begins to wish that she hadn’t called for them at all. Mycroft announces that Enola is to be sent to a girl’s finishing school and that she will have to start wearing clothes befitting a young lady of her class. The idea of having to live in a corseted world where she will have to learn how to be an ornament rather than a thinking and reasoning individual horrifies Enola. There is no way that she is going to accept this.
  So, like her mother before her, and for very much the same reason, Enola runs away from home. Thankfully, before she leaves, Enola discovers that her mother did in fact leave messages and money for Enola. Enola realizes that her mother knew exactly what she was doing and that she gave Enola all the tools that the girl would need to make it in the world by herself if she had to.
   Enola has barely started her adventure when she stumbles across what everyone is calling a kidnapping. Having many of the skills of her famous detective brother, Enola soon discovers that this is no kidnapping and that the child, a Marquess, has in fact run away from home. Little does Enola know that she and the young Marquess are going to cross paths in London and that they are both going to be running for their lives in the not too distant future.
    Nancy Springer presents a very compelling picture of Victorian England, helping her readers to see that it was not always the warm comforting world that one sees on the covers of Christmas cards. It had a dark side too. It was a world where the poor had little hope, where women and children died in the streets by the hundreds. It was also a world where women could not own property and where they were expected to live in a narrow confined world without many of the freedoms that men took for granted. It was a world where, of you were female and wanted to be yourself, you had to find a way around the system through subterfuge and careful planning. The author presents this world in its true and stark colors and yet she leaves us with the hope that Enola will indeed find what she is looking for.
   This is the first book in what promises to be a gripping and superbly written series about a girl sleuth who tries to make her way in a man’s world.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Something Wickedly Weird

Today's book reminded me of some of the titles that I read when I was a child. The author perfectly mixes together magical doings, villains, a mystery, clever touches of humor, and colorful characters. There is also a soupcon of creepiness, just to keep you on your toes.
The Wooden Mile: Something Wickedly Weird

Chris Mould
For ages 9 to 12
Roaring Brook, 2007, 978-159643-383-0
Stanley Buggles is a very ordinary eleven-year-old boy who has had, for the most part, an ordinary and unexciting life. Then one day Stanley gets a letter and he learns that his great-uncle has died and that he, Stanley, has inherited his great-uncle’s house and possessions. Not long after getting the letter, Stanley travels to Crampton Rock to see his inheritance.
   When Stanley gets to Crompton Rock he is amazed to discover that the little fishing village is on an island, and that the only way to get to and from the island is by walking on a long wooden bridge (only at low tide) or by boat. 
   Stanley is fascinated by his great-uncle’s house, Candlestick Hall. It is an enormous place full of interesting objects. There is something wrong though, for the housekeeper, Mrs. Carelli insists that Stanley be indoors before it gets dark. Stanley sees with his own eyes how the streets in the little village empty at dusk after the sounding of a bell, and how several people climb into watch towers. What are they looking out for?
   Things only get more mysterious the next day. A stuffed and very dead pike displayed in the house speaks and tells Stanley to “Stay away from William Cake, and beware of the lady who lives in the water.” Stanley has no idea what this mean. Sometime later he learns how his great uncle died. Apparently the poor man was attacked by some creature and the people in the village had a hard time identifying him because his head was missing.
   Stanley then finds out that the owner of the sweet shop in the town is called William Cake, and an ex-pirate tells the boy that William Cake is a werewolf who turns into a dangerous beast at night. Stanley has no idea if the pirate is telling the truth about William Cake, or if he is lying through his teeth. How on earth did he end up in the middle of such a bizarre and frightening situation?  
   Young readers are sure to find this story thoroughly captivating. Full of adventure, secrets, and touched with dark humor, this is the first in what promises to be a popular new series.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Mercy Watson: Princess in Disguise

Happy Halloween everyone! I have a funny story for you today. Mercy Watson, the single minded pig who loves buttered toast, is back . In this adventure, Mercy Watson and her humans get into the spirit of Halloween, with disastrous consequences. 

Mercy Watson: Princess in DisguiseKate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Fiction  Series
For ages 6 to 8
Candlewick Press, 2007, 978-0763630140
One October afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. Watson are sitting together in their living room when Mrs. Watson comes up with an idea. She suggests that this year Mercy, their pet pig, should dress up for Halloween. Mr. Watson thinks that this is a grand idea and he is quite agreeable that Mercy should be dressed up a princess. In no time at all, Mrs. Watson has created a large pink froo froo dress for Mercy, and Mr. Watson has managed to find a tiara for her. Unfortunately, Mercy does not feel at all inclined to wear the outfit. At least she isn't until it is explained that she will get "treats" if she wear the dress and the tiara. So, with a sigh, she allows Mrs. Watson to dress her.
   On Halloween night, the Watsons begin their trick-or-treating by visiting their neighbors, the Lincoln sisters. Baby is happy to see them, but sour Eugenia does not believe in letting pigs go trick-or-treating and she slams the door in Mercy's face. Kind Baby has the Watsons come to the kitchen door and she offers Mercy the treat bowl. All goes well until the Lincoln sisters' cat comes on to the scene. Then everything goes wrong very fast.
   In this delightful holiday title, Mercy Watson is sure to give readers plenty of laughs. With great patience the "porcine vision" puts up with a great deal just so that she might have her favourite treat in the world - buttered toast. A text full of chuckles and wonderfully expressive illustrations make this a perfect book for young readers.
   This is the fourth book in the Mercy Watson series.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Daisy Dawson and the Big Freeze

Some of my favorite chapter books are the titles in the Daisy Dawson collection. These books are full of sweetly funny moments, charming characters, and just a little touch of magic. In today's fiction title, Daisy Dawson and her friends find out that sometimes we have to leave the home we love, so that we can come back to it. 

Steve Voake
Illustrated by Jessica Meserve
For ages 7 to 9
Candlewick Press, 2008, 978-0-7636-5627-0
One morning Daisy’s mother tells Daisy that it is going to be a very cold day. Apparently, Arctic winds are blowing and it might even snow. Sure enough, after Daisy gets to school, and while she is cleaning out the gerbil cage, it starts to snow outside. Daisy slips Furball and Burble, the two gerbils, into her pocket and then she goes outside with her classmates.
   Outdoors, Furball and Burble meet Daisy’s squirrel friends, Hazel, Cyril, and Conker. The squirrels invite the gerbils to go sliding with them, and soon the little gerbils are riding on Hazel and Conker’s heads, holding the squirrel’s ears “as if they were motorcycle handlebars.” After one ride down the hill, the gerbils – not being used to snow and cold - are ready to go back indoors. They know when enough is enough.
   Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Woolverton, one of the new lambs. Instead of staying with the flock, which is what his mother and the sheepdog tells him to do, Woolverton wanders off. Daisy and Boom the hound dog set off to find the lamb, hoping that he hasn’t come to harm in the woods.
   Daisy Dawson, the little girl who can speak to and understand animals, is a very special book character. She is sweet, generous, and her animal friends are all very fond of her. With brilliant touches of humor and delicious characters, Steve Voake gives his readers a splendid story full of warmth and love.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Liar and Spy

There are times when all of us are tempted to ignore or avoid our problems rather than face them. No one wants to suffer the pain that comes with confronting problems. In today's fiction title we meet some young people who take this avoidance strategy to a whole new level, and who thus create a situation that has its own set of problems. 

Rebecca Stead
For ages 9 to 12
Random House, 2012, 978-0385737432
Not long ago Georges’ father lost his job and Georges and his family had to move out of the house and into an apartment. It was hard for Georges to leave behind his custom bed and the house that was filled with so many good memories, and his father is relieved with Georges starts spending time with a boy called Safer, who lives in the same apartment building.
   Safer claims to be a spy who is keeping tabs on the mysterious Mr. X who lives in an apartment upstairs. Safer is convinced that Mr. X is up to no good, that perhaps he is murdering people and cutting their bodies into pieces in his bathtub. Safer uses the intercom system in the building to spy on people, especially Mr. X, and Georges is appalled when Safer even takes Mr. X’s laundry out of the washing machine so that he can look through all the pockets in the clothes.
   As time goes by, Safer’s demands become more and more bizarre, and Georges starts to feel uncomfortable about Safer’s activities. What makes things even worse is that Georges’ school life is miserable. A boy called Dallas is going out of his way to pick on Georges, making fun of his name and everything else that he can think of. Georges feels so very alone in school, and so very alone at home as well. His mother is working extra shifts at the hospital and his father is so busy that he does not realize that Georges is struggling.
   Then Georges make a discovery about Safer, and his world come crashing down around him. Suddenly what seemed to be real is nothing but an illusion, and Georges has no idea where lies and deceptions end and the truth begins.
   Trying to adjust to big and unexpected changes can be very hard for a young person, especially if he or she has no support system in place. This remarkable book explores the lives of several children who try to deal with their fears by pretending they don’t exist. Their loves converge and the most unexpected thing happens.
   Though there is pain in this story, there is also hope and humor. Readers will be amazed to see how Georges, the boy who keeps his head down and tries to ignore his problems, finally finds himself confronting them.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Following Grandfather

Trying to come to terms with the death of a loved one is never easy. I lost my grandmother when I was sixteen, and I found it very hard to pull myself out of my grief. For young children, coming to terms with such a loss is even harder because it does not seem to make any sense.

Today's fiction title by Rosemary Wells beautifully shows how one little mouse comes to terms with a death in the family. It is warming and reassuring, and it explores a difficult topic with great sensitivity and sweetness. 

Following GrandfatherRosemary Wells
Illustrated by Christopher Denise
For ages 7 to 9
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-5609-8
   Jenny is a young mouse who has a very close relationship with her grandfather. Grandfather came to America as a stowaway in a ship, and he made a home, and then a business, for himself in Salvadore’s Spaghetti House. Grandfather’s restaurant was a great success, and now it is being run by Jenny’s parents, and Grandfather has taken over the job of taking care of Jenny. Together the two mice walk explore Boston and go to the seaside, and when Jenny is a “young lady,” Grandfather takes her to buy frock. He also teaches her to hold her head high, even when the Cabot Lodges and the other wealthy mice look down on her. Jenny may be “the child of humble cooks,” but she must always have whiskers that are as “straight as arrows.”
   Jenny’s beloved grandfather teaches Jenny all kinds of valuable lessons and tells her wonderful stories. Then, out of the blue, Grandfather is gone. Mice from all over Boston attend Grandfather’s funeral, even the Cabot Lodges. Poor Jenny is so grief stricken that she cannot be comforted, much to her parents’ distress. She cannot imagine how she is supposed to go on without her grandfather.
   Losing someone you love is always painful, but for the young such a loss can be devastating and incomprehensible. In this beautifully written and illustrated story, we come to appreciate how special Jenny’s grandfather is, and we see how the little mouse struggles to come to terms with her grief.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Bink and Gollie: Two for one

Most of us, at some point, want to win something, or do something that earns us other people's admiration. We want to show the world how good we are at dancing, singing, playing a sport, or winning a contest. Unfortunately, all too often, our efforts backfire. In today's picture book we meet two children who discover that winning is overrated. Other things matter much more.

Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee
Illustrated by Tony Fucile
For ages 6 to 8
Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-7636-3361-5
Today the State Fair is open, and Bink and Gollie decide to go to the event. Bink quickly decides that she wants to try hitting a rubber duck with a ball at the Wack-a-Duck booth so that she can win the “world’s largest doughnut.” Unfortunately, Bink has very little skill when it comes to throwing baseballs at rubber ducks, and she ends up hitting the Wack-a-Duck man. In fact, she hits the poor fellow with each of her three baseball throws.
  After the Wack-a-Duck fiasco, the friends move on, and Gollie sees that there is going to be an amateur talent show. Gollie would love to be in a talent show, and she is sure that she can do her talent on a stage in front of an audience. The problem is that saying you can perform, and being about to actually do it, are two very different things. Poor Gollie discovers just how paralyzing stage fright can be.
   In this delightful second book featuring Bink and Gollie, the two friends go to the State Fair, and things don’t go quite as anticipated. The good news is that there is one thing the friends can count on, even when they cannot hit a rubber duck or when they get stage fright.
   With amusing illustrations and three chapters, this title is full of clever touches of humor and we are reminded that there are more important things in life than winning prizes or being in the spotlight.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Ghost Knight

Most of the ghosts that I have met in books have, at worst, been scary or even terrifying. They look and sound awful, but they cannot really do anything to you. The ghosts I met in today's book are altogether different. They belong in a category of their own, and I sincerely hope that they and their kind only exist within the pages of a book.

Cornelia Funke
Illustrated by Andrea Offermann
Translated by Oliver Latsch
For ages 9 to 12
Little Brown, 2012, 978-0-316-05614-4
When Jon’s mother tells him that he is going to be sent to a boarding school, Jon feels angry, upset, and betrayed. He blames his mother’s new boyfriend, “The Beard,” for coming up with the plan, and when he arrives at his new school in Salisbury, he is determined to be as miserable as possible. This Jon manages to do with great success until something happens that quite takes his mind of being sent to a boarding school.
   On his sixth night at the school, Jon looks out of his bedroom window and sees three malevolent looking ghosts staring up at him. They are astride horses, and their horrible appearance quite terrifies Jon. The next day, as he is walking back to the school’s boardinghouse, he is pursued by four ghosts riding ghostly horses. In terror, Jon runs from them, and when he explains his extraordinary behavior to his teacher, everyone treats him as if he has gone mad.
  Jon knows that no one believes his story, so he pretends that he was just making it up. Only one person doesn’t fall for this ploy. Ella, a very pretty girl who goes to Jon’s school, believes that he has indeed seen four ghosts. Ella’s grandmother, who fancies herself an expert on ghosts, does not believe that Jon is in danger until she hears that his mother is a Hartgill. Apparently, two of Jon’s ancestors, a father and son, were murdered by a man called Lord Stourton. The lord was executed for his part in the murder, and ever since then male Hartgill descendants have had nasty habit of dying unexpectedly.
   Ella’s grandmother suggests that Jon should go to another school, but Ella thinks that he should ask for some help. In her opinion, Jon’s only hope is to ask the ghost of William Longspee, the illegitimate half-brother of Richard the Lionheart, for his help. Apparently the knight swore an oath that he would “protect the innocent from the cruel, and the weak from the strong.” It is said that he made this oath so that he could make up for the “sinful deeds” that he did when he was alive.
   Not knowing what else to do, Jon asks William Longspee for his help, and to his amazement the ghostly knight appears and promises to help Jon if he is threatened by Lord Stourton and his four minions. Not long after this encounter with the knight, Lord Stourton, his four servants, and two terrible hell hounds appear and attack Jon and Ella. Jon calls for Longspee who comes to the boy’s aid and dispenses with the dogs, the four ghostly servants, and their malevolent master.
   Jon is delighted with Longspee’s success, and is so grateful and that he decides to do what he can to free the knightly ghost from his oath so that he can finally have some peace. Jon and Ella never imagine that their problems with Lord Stourton are only just beginning.
   Full of thrilling adventure, terrifying ghostly doings, and surprising plot changes, this exceptional book will thrill readers who have a fondness for ghost stories. It is not a tale for the faint hearted, and throughout the story the author cleverly weaves fact and fiction together to give readers a thoroughly captivating tale.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Aggie the Brave

There have been times when I have had to leave one of my pets at the veterinary clinic for a few hours or even overnight, and I must confess that every time I have done this I have felt ridden with guilt. I imagine that my dog or cat feels that I have abandoned him or her, and find it hard to concentrate on anything while I wait. Today's story is about how one little boy copes with having to leave his beloved dog Aggie at the vet's office.

Lori Ries
Illustrated by Frank W. Dormer
For ages 4 to 7
Charlesbridge, 2012, 978-1-57091-636-6
   Aggie has to go to the vet to be spayed. When they get to the vet’s office, Aggie refuses to get out of the car and her owner, Ben, has to pull her out. When she is finally out of the car, Aggie tries to hide, and then she tries to run away. Ben tells her that she needs to “Be Brave!” but Aggie has no interest to being brave in the least.
   Ben does not like the fact that he has to leave Aggie at the vet’s office. As he gives her a good-bye hug, he tells her to be good and to be brave. Unfortunately Ben finds it very hard to be brave himself, and in the car on the way home he bursts into tears. He misses his friend and playmate dreadfully, and getting through the rest of the day is very hard. All Ben wants is for tomorrow to come so that he and Aggie can be together again.
   Taking a pet to the vet can be a traumatic experience for both the pet and the owner, as is the case with Ben and Aggie. In this charming chapter book for beginner readers, we see how Ben copes with his own fears, and how he helps his pet to get through a trying experience.
   With three chapters and plenty of illustrations, this is a perfect title for young readers who are eager to start reading ‘real’ books.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Dear Max

When I was a child most of the grownups I knew had no idea how to communicate with a kid. Or at least that is what it felt like. They had no idea how to listen, or how to respond in the appropriate manner. My father was one of the exceptions. He really wanted to know what I felt and thought, and made me feel that my opinion mattered.

In today's book you are going to meet a boy who develops a close friendship with a children's book author. They write to one another, and though they are very different, they are able to help one another.

Dear Max
Sally Grindley
Illustrated by Tony Ross
For ages 6 to 9
Simon and Schuster, 2004, 978-1-4169-3443-1
   Not long ago Max’s uncle gave him a copy of a book by the author D. J. Lucas, and now Max is writing to D.J. to tell her how much he likes the book. He also tells the author that he, Max, would like to be a writer when he grows up. D.J. writes back to tell Max that she has written thirty-five books and that she is about to start writing another one.
   The two correspondents, who are both having a hard time coming up with a story, decide to help one another. D.J suggest that they should both write about “what interests us most.” Max decides to write about a spectacled bear, and over time, as letters go back and forth between the boy and the writer, his story evolves.
   In addition to his story, Max tells D.J about his uncle and the new puppy his uncle got who “wees” in shoes. Max incidentally lets slip that his father is “never coming back,” and that he has to go to the hospital a lot. He thinks that these visits are a waste of time because the doctors never do anything to make Max better. He also talks about a boy at school who enjoys bullying Max because Max is small for his age. Then he tells D.J about his friend Jenny, who is behaving less and less like a friend.
   Recognizing that Max’s life is sometimes hard, D.J offers him support and her friendship, and she does her best to cheer him up. She is there for him when he feels very alone, angry, and scared.
   One would never think that an adult lady author and a nine-year-old boy could have much in common, but in this book they do, and they both benefit from the friendship. It is fascinating to see how Max’s very lifelike story evolves, and how he learns how to deal with his problems himself, finding the courage that lies within him.
   With a story that is funny, touching, and punctuated with little doodles and pictures, this is a tale every child can relate to.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Gus and Grandpa

When I was a child, my grandmother lived on the other side of the world, so I didn't get to see her very often. I envied the children I knew whose grandparents lived in the same city or at least in the same country. Thankfully the grandmother who lived downstairs decided to adopt me. It did not matter that she spoke Greek and that I, at least at first, couldn't speak a word. We would sit together watching TV, I would hold her crochet yarn for her, and she would let me help her bake bread and make homemade pasta.

Today's fiction title is about a boy who has a very close relationship with his grandfather. This is just one in a series of books about Gus and his splendid grandfather.

Gus and GrandpaClaudia Mills
Illustrated by Catherine Stock
For ages 5 to 7
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999, 978-0374428471
Gus loves to go and visit his grandfather. There are so many wonderful things to do at Grandpa's house, simple yet special things. There is the ditch to jump over again, Skipper the dog to play with, shopping trips to go on, and much more. Best of all there is Grandpa with his gentle and often funny ways.
   The author of this charming little book beautifully succeeds in showing us the closeness of the relationship between Gus and his grandfather, the comfortable nature of their relationship, and the ways in which they enjoy one another's company. She does this with short sentences and simple language, which makes the story very accessible to early readers. At the same time, she introduces early readers to chapters, giving them several Gus and Grandpa stories to enjoy in one volume.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of The Sixty-Eight Rooms

When I was a little girl, I got a doll's house for Christmas that I loved. I spent countless hours making up stories for the people who lived in the house, moving the furniture around, and making little accessories for the rooms. Ever since then I had been fascinated by miniatures, and even made a miniature greenhouse once with plants, a paved patio, little tools, and even a little cat sunning itself in the sun. 

I suppose it should not surprise anyone that I loved today's book. It is, after all, about sixty-eight rooms of miniatures that are on display in the Chicago Institute of Art. These Thorne Miniature Rooms are now on my things-I-have-to-do-one-day list. The splendid story is touched with history, magic and so much more. Enjoy.

Marianne Malone
Illustrated by Greg Call
For ages 9 to 12
Random House, 2010, 978-0-375-85710-2
Ruthie’s life is very ordinary, and sometimes she wishes something “cool” would happen to her. Her best friend Jack is the kind of boy who has adventures; he has the kind of personality that can make “interesting and unusual things happen.” One would think that these two very different kids would have nothing in common, but Ruthie’s cautious and careful ways compliment Jack’s more unconventional thoughts, ideas, and actions.
   When Ruthie’s class goes to the Chicago Art Institute for a school trip on a cold winter’s day, she and her classmates look at some of the African art, and then, after lunch, they go to visit the Thorne Rooms. The Thorne Rooms are sixty-eight little rooms faced with glass that contain miniature house interiors. Ruthie looks into rooms from medieval castles, French chateaus, and American colonial homes. Every piece of furniture and every object in the rooms is perfectly to scale and beautifully made, and Ruthie immediately develops a fascination for the rooms.
   Jack’s mother, who is an artist and who is helping to chaperone the group, introduces Jack and Ruthie to Mr. Bell, who works at the museum. He lets the two kids look into an access corridor that runs behind the rooms. While Jack is looking around, he finds a little ornate key on the floor and he picks it up and puts it into his pocket. Of course, being curious kids, Jack and Ruthie want to know what the key is for.
   The next day, the kids go back to the Art Institute on their own and they are able to sneak into the access corridor behind the little rooms because the door was not closed properly. As they explore the corridor, Jack gives Ruthie the key to hold and then the strangest thing happens. Ruthie starts to shrink. The children discover that the key only shrinks Ruthie, and that when she lets go of the key, the shrinking stops and reverses. Ruthie shrinks herself and has Jack lift her up so that she can enter one of the rooms, and she is thrilled to be able to do this. The rooms are so perfect and Ruthie even finds a tiny violin, which she plays.  
   Now that they have discovered the secret of the little key, Ruthie and Jack cannot help wanting to find out more about the magic and the Thorne Rooms. They copy Mr. Bell’s key to the access corridor, and then put together a plan so that they can spend a night in the museum and explore the rooms. Ruthie tells her family that she is going to have a sleepover at Jack’s house, and Jack tells his mother that he will be at Ruthie’s house. The children are able to get into the corridor without being seen, and there they hide there until the museum closes for the day. Ruthie holds the key, shrinks, and starts to explore room E24, which is a French room from 1780. Ruthie is sitting at a desk when she feels a breeze blowing on her, and hears the sound of birds singing. When she steps out onto the balcony, she finds out that the painted backdrop that visitors can see through the doors and windows is now real. She is looking at a real private garden and there are real birds singing and real clouds in the sky.
   Ruthie dashes to tell Jack about her extraordinary discovery, and then Jack makes a suggestion. When Ruthie shrinks, her clothes shrink with her. What would happen if she holds Jack’s hand and then shrinks herself? The children try this ,and to Jack’s delight, he shrinks along with Ruthie. Now they can both explore the Thorne Rooms and try to find out their secrets. The children never suspect that what they are going to find out will change their lives forever.
   After visiting the real Thorne Rooms in the Chicago Institute of Art many times, the author was inspired to create this story, which takes readers on a fascinating and exciting journey. The story will appeal to readers of all kinds because there is magic, history, a mystery or two, and time travel. And, of course, there are the descriptions of the gorgeous miniatures; perfect little replicas that tell a story about a time long ago.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Polly Price's Total Secret Diary: Reality TV Nightmare

Every so often I come across a book that really captures my fancy in a special way. My Totally Secret Diary: On Stage in America by Dee Schulman is just such a book. In the diary, we meet Polly Price, a tween whose mother is an actress. One would think having an actress for a mother would be great, but in Polly's case, her mother is a trial. Truly, she is a trial.

Not long ago I was sent the second book in the series and I was delighted to read and review it. I thought Polly's mother was difficult in the first book, but it would appear that the woman is able to take being insufferable to new heights. My review of this book is below, and tomorrow I have a special treat for you, an interview with the author, Dee Shulman, and with Polly Price, the girl whose life becomes a nightmare.

Dee Shulman
For ages 9 to 12
Red Fox, 2010, 9781862304246
Polly Price is afflicted with a mother who is a high maintenance individual. More than anything, Polly wishes she could have a normal mother who provides edible dinners, lets Polly have friends over, and is only mildly irritating and embarrassing. Instead, Polly’s mother is a highly-strung actress who isn’t happy unless she is the center of attention.
   Life in Polly’s home is never easy, but now it worse than ever because her mother, Arabella Diamonte, has been invited to be a guest on Celebrity Home Watch, a reality TV program. Everyone watches Celebrity Home Watch, which means that everyone will get to peek into the nightmare that is Polly’s home life. So far Polly has managed to keep her mother’s identity a secret, but now the whole world will know the dreadful truth.
   One would think that this dreadful development would be more than enough for one eager-not-to-be-noticed girl, but alas Polly’s life gets worse when her mother hires a life coach to help her get ready for her reality TV debut. The life coach, Vanilla, is a large overbearing woman who turns the house upside down, and who uses runes and tarot cards to make decisions, including determining which days are auspicious for Polly to go to school.
   One would think that with Vanilla to help her, Arabella would be able to manage to make a good impression when the reality TV people come over to shoot their show. Unfortunately, the whole thing turns into a ginormous nightmare for everyone concerned, especially Polly.
   Readers will be hard put not to laugh out loud as they read this second Polly Price diary. They will see that having a celebrity in the family can make life very complicated. Could it be that having a boring ordinary life might not be so bad after all?
   Presented in a diary format, complete with doddles, spelling mistakes, taped in photos and other items, this is a book that truly gets inside a young girl’s mind and heart. Readers will feel Polly’s pain, and celebrate when she somehow manages to come out of the ordeal in one piece. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fiction Wednesday - A review of Little Rat Makes Music

My daughter came into this world with a natural affinity for music. Learning how to play the piano when she was five was easy for her, but practicing was something she avoided as much as possible. I cannot tell you how many times we had the "you need to practice or you will never move forward" conversation. 

Today's book will resonate with every young artist, musician, and athlete who hates to practice, and with every adult who has tried to find ways to encourage their child to practice regularly.  

Monika Bang-Campbell
Illustrated by Molly Bang
For ages 6 to 9
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007, 978-0-15-205305-5

Little Rat comes from a music-loving family. Her father is a gifted musician who can play four instruments, and her mother loves to sing. Her mother takes Little Rat to folk-music concerts, and her father takes her to listen to orchestral performances. Little Rat particularly enjoys watching the violinists, who “played all sorts of notes” and thus create a variety of musical moods.
   One day Little Rat and her mama are walking past the Community Hall when they heard the sound of music. When they go inside, they see a group of young animals playing violins. Little Rat is charmed by the sounds she hears, and so her mother arranges for her to have violin lessons.
   At her first lesson, Little Rat and the other beginner students learn how to hold their bows and violins. They don’t learn how to play a single note, let alone a little tune. How boring it all is. At the next lesson, Little Rat is finally asked to play a note, and what a note it is too. Little Rat’s note sounds like “an angry seagull.”
   Over time, Little Rat’s playing gets better, but one thing Little Rat hates to do is to practice. It is boring and frustrating. Why does learning how to play the violin have to be so hard?
   Acquiring a new skill is rarely easy, and often the early learning phases are very hard to deal with. The only way to get better is to practice, but practicing is dull because you do the same thing over and over again, and what you produce is often not that good. In this wonderful chapter book, we see how a young rat comes to accept that practicing is necessary, and that it takes work to become good at doing something. With touches of humor and great sensitivity, Monika Bang tells a story that will resonate with young people who are experiencing their own practicing issues. Artists, musicians, and athletes all have to make the same journey that Little Rat makes.