Monday, May 9, 2011

All-time favorite bedtime story! Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

"In the great green room
There was a telephone
And a red balloon
And a picture of--"

I don't know about you, but I just hang on the words of that last line. Margaret Wise Brown is nothing short of a literary genius when it comes to writing poetic, beautiful children's books. How many of us remember the lines, "Goodnight room/Goodnight moon/Goodnight cow jumping over the moon" BY HEART??? If ever there were a story to put me into a peaceful slumber (just by sheer memory), it would be Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon.

My favorite parts--the bright green room in contrast with the red balloon, the clear blue sky outside the window with stars twinkling and a bright, full moon peering in, the cadence of each page's simple, single line when spoken aloud with the lines preceding and following it--all greet me when I turn each page, and there's something calming and bittersweet about the memories they evoke. The moments of being tucked in and read to as I fall asleep are long since past. But I believe in my heart that little gems such as this story will continue to be passed down in future bedtime story rituals, for generations and generations to come.

So "Goodnight stars/Goodnight air/Goodnight noises everywhere."

5Q: 100% original layout, poetic, easy to read, and simple
5P: I've yet to meet a child that didn't already have lines from this book committed to memory, which tells me that the 64 year old publication has still got the right stuff to make kids want to read it (and take naps with it!)

Another childhood favorite: Corduroy by Don Freeman

"Corduroy is a bear who once lived in the toy department of a big store"

One of my earliest memories of reading in Kindergarten involved a sweet little bear in green overalls, missing a button and wanting nothing more than to have a friend and a home of his own. I remember being mesmerized by Corduroy's brave adventure through the department store--up the escalator, into the room of furniture where he tries to use a mattress button to replace the one missing from his shoulder strap. I still feel lonely for him when the little girl who points him out to her mother doesn't get to take him home, as well as when the security guard finds Corduroy hiding under a comforter and returns him to his shelf in the middle of the night. It makes me smile to see Corduroy taken home, cared for, and in the arms of a new friend.

Corduroy is a heartwarming, sweet story about a toy in search of someone to love him. Children can relate because they have a simple, innate need to love and be loved, and adults (at least I'll speak for myself) remember what it means to love that one, special toy so fully.

If you have never read it, or never read it to your children, grandchildren, godchildren, nieces/nephews, little cousins, neighbor kids, classroom, it is a classic must-read :)

5Q: Easy to read story that isn't too long for a classroom or bedtime story; manages to bring a toy to life, maintaining an imaginative quality while still being easy for kids to relate to.
4P: I was crazy about this book as a child, and I think a read aloud today would still catch kids' interest in a flash.

Wake, Fade, and Gone: the Dreamcatcher Series by Lisa McMann

When I added Wake, a choice I made based on its accomplishment as a 2011 Gateway nominee (and now, WINNER! Yay!), I didn't even know that it was the first installment of a fun, suspenseful series unlike any I've ever read.

Wake introduced me to Janie Hannagan, a teen girl who has a special "gift" for finding her way into the dreams of anyone sleeping within close proximity. When Janie attends sleep overs and when her perpetually-intoxicated mother manages to leave her bedroom door open, Janie is sucked into dream worlds she cannot understand, control or escape (yet). Janie is a bit of a loner, so keeping her secret under wraps has been fairly simple; she flies low under the radar and intends to live that way as long as she possibly can. But when Cabel, a fellow classmate, begins to take notice of Janie's sudden, nearly violent "naps," Janie finds herself unable to hide her secret any longer.
As the series continues through Fade and Gone, Janie begins to discover the truth about her abilities. How can there be other dream-catchers that have lived before her without her knowing they existed? Will Janie learn to use her abilities and risk her life to help others, or will she choose to live her life on the fringes, free from her curse?

I enjoyed the suspense of the series and the twists that McMann included in this series. The romantic aspect was a little cheesy at times, but I wouldn't judge the quality of the series on that single aspect. McMann did a great job at building suspense, dispersing intense action throughout, and developing amazingly vivid imagery to bring to life all of Janie's ventures into others' dreams. 

Ratings (abbreviated version):
Wake: 4Q; 5P
Fade: 5Q; 5P
Gone: 5Q; 5P

Mercury by Hope Larson: A graphic novel with a touch of magic

It seems funny to blog about Mercury after I've talked non-stop to so many people about how much I enjoyed reading this novel. After reading it, I've snagged two other graphic novels of Hope Larson's from the library and I'm following her on flickr and twitter. I am in awe of her talent :)

Mercury is a tale made up of part history, part romance, part mystery, and part magical realism.

At the open of the story, we meet Josey, a teenage girl living and working on her family’s farm in French Hill, Nova Scotia. The year is 1859. One day while Josey is working in the yard, a young prospector by the name of Asa Curry approaches the Fraser’s front door. We find out that Asa suspects the Fraser’s land to be rich with gold, and that he wishes to team up with Mr. Fraser to mine it out and sell it for a profit. Josey is intrigued by Asa, and she finds herself completely enamored of him almost instantly—he’s an outsider, he’s young and handsome, and there’s something almost magical about him. However, Josey’s superstitious mother sees Asa’s visit as one filled with omens, and she senses something dark within him.

Fast forward 150 years, and we meet Tara Fraser. Tara’s small home on the Fraser’s land has burned down, and she is left to live in French Hill with her aunt and uncle’s family while her mom travels around Canada, working different jobs to earn enough money to rebuild their lives. Tara is adjusting to going back to high school after being home-schooled; she joins the cross-country team, hoping to make new friends and to run out some of her frustrations with her absent mother. One day, Tara finds a strange heirloom in her mom’s jewelry box, one of the only things saved from the fire. Tara realizes that this unusual necklace has powers that could lead her to an old fortune and a chance for a new beginning for her family. 

Will the Fraser’s past secrets, haunted and guarded my omens from Josey’s family's past, keep Tara from the treasure buried in the French Hills?

If you have not had the joy of reading a smart, beautifully-drawn graphic novel yet, I highly suggest picking up Mercury. Larson has a unique style of storytelling, and her illustrations are fresh, striking, and simple. If you pick it up, let me know--of course, I'd love to discuss!

5Q: Intriguing back and forth contrast between Fraser's past and present, with an element of magic makes for an original, interesting plot. The Nova Scotian setting and culture adds to the originality. Characters and their personal stories are believable and can be easily related to by teens.
5P: Graphic novels are extremely popular right now, and I think graphic novels such as this one that are not just adventure-based but have a simple plot and realistic characters will appeal to teens, especially females.

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Gateway Nominee #2: Good Enough by Paula Yoo

"After a few moments, all I can hear is the voice coming from my violin. It makes me truly happy.
But it's not the only thing that makes me happy. Maurice was right--there are so many other things in life,
so many other possibilities to make me happy. And I shouldn't have to settle for just one."

On the outside, it would seem that 17-year-old Patti Yoo has the brains, talent, and drive that any high school senior looking to get admitted into "HARVARDYALEPRINCETON" would kill to have. But Patti, although very bright and talented, is, in a way, the product of a very strict, hardworking, unforgiving household. Her parents expect her to be the top of her class, to snag the Violin Concertmaster (lead) in the Youth Orchestra year after year, and to be admitted into the top Ivy League schools in the country. But as Patti enters her senior year of high school, it becomes clear to her that she has been living her life for her parents and she doesn't even know what she hopes for her own future to hold. Can she remain good enough to live up to her parents' expectations while still pursuing her own happiness?

Paul Yoo has written the timeless story of the internal struggle between what the heart wants and what is in fact good for the heart. Patti is a teenage girl that real teen girls can relate to: she is honest, confused, talented, and lost, and she has to make a few major mistakes on her journey to discovering who she is and what she is destined to do with the gifts she has been given.

I enjoyed reading this novel, especially because I caught a glimpse of what Korean-American culture looks like; the struggles of assimilation and acceptance that Paula and her family (and the other Korean students) deal with is eye-opening and at times distressing. One scene in particular when a classmate's mother insults Paula's father's English in the store had me getting a little misty. The journey Paula is sent on is not a story that hasn't been written before, but Paula's cultural background and unique personality give the story a fresh perspective. All in all I found it to be a fun read :)

4Q: The writing style is fun and fresh, with Paula's inner monologue, various Korean recipes, and lists such as "How to make your Korean parents very unhappy, Part 1." I found myself laughing with Paula and truly feeling her pain and embarrassment as she struggled to find her way.
3P: This book would be a fun read for junior high students, but I don't see high schoolers getting into the plot. It moves a little slowly and the content is not as mature as I think high schoolers seek in a novel.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Grand things are on the way!

Finished the Wake series. Fell in love with Hope Larson's graphic novel Mercury (and Hope Larson the artist). Can't wait to blog about them (and more)! But first I have to go to work like an adult, attend grad classes like an A+ grad student, and rock out to the Arcade Fire concert with my indie-rock-lovin' bff schwester. Check back soon!


Friday, April 1, 2011

Gateway Nominee #1: Wake (and the Dream Catcher Series) by Lisa McMann

This post is a bit premature because I have yet to read the third (and final) book of Lisa McMann's Dream Catcher series, but I NEED to talk about how addictive this series is. I've literally blazed through the first and second installments of the series, Wake and Fade, in a total of 3 or so hours. What I'm finding is that the suspense makes me not want to put the book down if I don't have to (except for sleeping purposes, ironically enough) and they read so concisely that I'm not caught up in flowery language, sidebars, or anything too distracting. Please do not take this to mean these novels are one-dimensional or too simple; the stories are layered and so are the characters (without being too bogged down to follow properly).

So here's my plan for blogging this series:

1. Finish the 3rd installment, Gone
2. Rate each book separately using the Quality and Popularity rating system, but keep the details at a minimum
3. Tell you all what I like about the series as a whole and summarize the plot progression (without giving too much away, of course)
4. Ultimately, I want to make you want to read it. Then we can discuss further :)

Have a lovely (Spring) weekend, all. I'll be back in action again soon!