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!

Printz Honorable Book: Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King

"To say my friend died is one thing. 
To say my friend screwed me over and then died five months later is another thing."

YA fiction is a passion of mine, and I consider most everything honored by the Printz award committee to be golden adolescent lit. It was a series of YA novels that inspired me to write and to teach literature, and ultimately I would not be pursuing a career as a high school librarian if it didn't exist--would my future job even exist if certain authors had never decided to pick up the pen and write something that middle and high schoolers could relate to? I am afraid my future job would just involve a lot of shushing and research help in the reference section and that's about the extent of it.

Needless to say, I enjoy a YA novel that I know high schoolers can relate to. In King's novel Please Ignore Vera Dietz, I found a protagonist that I can root for and plenty of cringe-worthy mistakes I can relate to having made regarding love, responsibility, and relationships with those around me. Vera Dietz classifies herself as a person to not be seen or heard, and she intends to keep up that persona. A high school senior and self-proclaimed bona fide "pizza delivery technician," Vera settles for passing through life without making waves, keeping a solitary, (unpredictable) best friend named Charlie from the time she's in elementary school until her high school years. Charlie is the only person Vera opens herself up to, and what she shares is still only the bare minimum. She keeps herself out of trouble, keeps her lips sealed about her parents' broken relationship and the goings-on in Charlies home life, and keeps her feelings to herself.

But when Charlie abandons Vera for a shady group of new friends, including the vindictive Jenny Flick, Vera's quiet, mundane life is shaken. And when Charlie dies under mysterious circumstances and sends his ethereal, life-sized paper doll look-alikes to haunt Vera until she clears his name, Vera loses control of every part of her life she previously had in line.

Vera's story is a familiar struggle without the stereotypes of teenage drama and hormones flooding out of every chapter (as many not-so-well-written YA novels can't seem to thrive without). Sure, she has to cope with the loss of her best friend, but she does not let herself fall gently into melancholy and floods of tears. Vera knows she was completely abandoned by Charlie without reason and his absence is both confusing and infuriating. She chooses to cope with his ghosts (as well as her own) in both reckless and hilarious ways, and I found that refreshing and heartbreaking. I admit that I see a glimmer of my own fumbling, stubborn adolescent self in Vera's character, as I'm sure many readers inevitably will.

A.S. King presents the novel through the perspectives of several characters (Vera, Charlie, Vera's Dad, and the Pagoda, the town's most popular landmark) with a clever variety of chapters (ranging from titles such as "History--Age Twelve" to "Three and a Half Months Later: A Thursday in December"), making the flow of the story unpredictable, yet still linear as far as the plot's progression. I found myself laughing aloud amidst many chapters and feeling quite sad for Vera's hard-to-swallow life experiences. I enjoyed watching her learn how to continue living her life, not passively as it seems more easily done, but with purpose.

I found myself connecting the song "High School Lover" by Air to this novel, and although the song is a bit too melancholy for some, I didn't really mind. I find it fitting, but that's just me. Take a listen here if you'd like.

4Q: The writing was brilliant (especially the change in perspectives, time and momentum), but was at times a little too angst-y. Luckily those parts are not memorable enough to mask the literary value of the novel.
4P: This novel could easily be swept into a nondescript, generalized group of YA lit, but I think if teachers/librarians took the time to book-talk it, it would be a hit among high schoolers, especially because of the familiar struggles and the smart language.

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Zen Shorts and Zen Ties by Jon J. Muth

"'I'm sorry for arriving unannounced,' said the bear. 'The wind carried my umbrella
 all the way from my backyard to your backyard. I thought I would retrieve it
 before it became a nuisance.' He spoke with a slight panda accent.'"

Jon J. Muth has done a fantastic job of bringing wisdom and creativity to a story of a very Zen panda bear and the friends he makes. Although these two Zen books are indeed picture books (again, beautiful large-scale watercolor pictures that spill over from page to page), I would place the reading level at upper-level elementary (think 3rd through 5th grade). The books are simple but their messages are anything but shallow.

Each story follows the main character, Stillwater, a panda bear who, in Zen Shorts, floats into the backyard belonging to 3 siblings when his red umbrella carries him off from his home. Stillwater spends time with each sibling, telling them stories of friendship, forgiveness, and kindness through little vignettes (or shorts--so clever). By the time Stillwater has gotten to know his new friends, each child has learned how to treat his/her siblings with love and respect, as friends should. In Zen Ties, we meet Stillwater's nephew Koo, who cleverly speaks in Muth's interpretation of Haiku. While Koo is visiting, he meets Stillwater's friends (the siblings from the previous story) and they forge friendships as well. Stillwater teaches Koo about the importance of not being wasteful, accepting yourself and doing your best in every situation (no matter how difficult), and being a generous person. Stillwater leads the children and Koo in assisting a disgruntled elderly woman, warming her heart to them as well as their hearts to her.

What I enjoy most about these two stories are the lessons taught--they are simple concepts that we strive to teach our children in order to teach them the value of people and relationships in every situation. Although the basis of the lessons is essentially based on the practice of Zen (a Buddhist school of thought), don't let that deter you from reading this to your children, whether you classify yourself to a particular religion or not. The ideas Muth presents reach the reader on an intrinsically human level and encourages children to think about the way they treat and view others. I did not feel in any way that the author was driving the reader to believe in Buddhism, and in fact he doesn't speak of Zen or Buddhism until the author's note at the end of each book.

5Q: As a teacher/librarian I appreciate the literary value of each of these books; the content is original and the author's use of language and different literary devices is impressive.
4P: I think the stories and pictures will interest children, but the lack of "excitement" or adventure throughout may lose their attention, especially if the concepts and lessons are not connected to real-life applications for the kiddos. I could see both books serving as a great tool is character education at the upper-elementary level.

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The Sea Serpent and Me by Dashka Slater, Illustrated by Catia Chien

"He was a very beautiful sea serpent, so small I could hold him in my hands..."

So, I am a sucker for stories of unlikely friendships and I am completely mesmerized by large-scale, colorful illustrations. You may have noticed this. I take it to mean I am still very much of a child at heart, aching to let my imagination run wild and to be pulled into stories that only the most creative (brilliant) minds could dream up and bring to life.

The Sea Serpent and Me is narrated by a small girl who climbs into the bathtub to find a tiny sea serpent plunged into the bath from a drop of water from the faucet. Where did this tiny sea serpent come from? How in the world did he end up in a droplet of water, miles from the ocean? The little girl asks the serpent these questions and he tells her of his long journey from the sea, where he was lifted up by a powerful tornado, carried off in a cloud, dropped from a rainstorm into a lake, and finally sucked into a pipe that led him to the girl's bathtub. The narrator cares for the serpent, playing "vikings" in the tub, moving him to a large fish tank as he grows larger and larger, and eventually finding a way that she can return him to his home in the ocean. The serpent sings to the narrator at night about the sights in the sea, from dancing manta rays to crabs with antlers to fish shaped like guitars, and the narrator realizes how much the serpent longs to be home again. 

The water color-drawings that accompany the serpent's songs are energetic and romantic, and they fill each page with aqua-marine shades and antique yellows and oranges. As the narrator returns her serpent friend to the sea and he wonders if he'll be lonely in the big ocean without her, I couldn't help but feel a pang in my heart for this unlikely pair of new friends. It is truly a touching story with vivid language and imagery that is sure to hook the reader instantly. I often imagine reading such bright, lovely stories to children to a background of soft but playful music, just as I hear it in my head as I turn the final pages of the book. (If you're curious which song I'd pick to read this one to, it would be "The Winner Is" by Danna/Devotchka, which you can listen to here)

5Q: Great use of imagery and creative language that makes the story come to life; unique but timeless story of friendship; characters that anyone could fall in love with.
5P: I cannot think of a single reason children (or adults, for that matter) would not jump all over this book! Even the cover is bright, original, and inviting.

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Caldecott Pick #2: A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, Illustrated by Erin E. Stead

"Amos McGee was an early riser..."

This 2011 Caldecott Medal winner has become an instant favorite for me, sure to be added to my personal collection for my future children and grandchildren. Not only are the drawings absolutely stunning and original, there's something about the story and the pictures that makes me feel at home. Maybe it's the familiar feeling of being home sick for a day and wanting nothing but to be taken care of by those who love me, or maybe it's the imaginative idea of all creatures, big and small, "scary" or cuddly, having a unique personality. 

Amos McGee has a job that almost every child, at some point in their childhood or adolescence, dreams of having--he is a zookeeper at the City Zoo. Amos' routine is simple: he wakes at early dawn, prepares himself a hearty, warm breakfast, dresses in his zookeeper uniform, and catches the number five bus to the zoo. However, once Amos reaches the zoo, although he has "a lot to do at the zoo," he takes time to visit his animal pals. Author and illustrators Philip and Erin Stead portray Amos playing chess with the elephant, sitting quietly with the bashful penguin, and reading stories to the owl who is afraid of the dark.

So what happens when Amos wakes with "the sniffles," unable to make it in to work? Well (of course) his zoo friends, lonely and wondering where Amos is, decided to hop on the number five bus and pay him a visit! They spend the day keeping Amos company, playing chess, hide and seek, and ending the day with a lovely bedtime story.

I highly recommend reading this story, both for yourself and your kids. It would certainly make a great story to share together on a sick day when your little one is feeling blue :)

5Q: Very deserving of the Caldecott--gorgeous pictures an endearing, imaginative set of characters that are relational, and a unique, easy-to-follow storyline.
5P: I don't know much about elementary-level reading circles, but I'd wager that this book is and is going to continue to be a huge hit among kids, teachers, parents, and librarians alike. The story will stand the test of time, and the pictures are irresistible.

Photo taken from via

Sunday, March 20, 2011

More blogs to come soon!

I've been pretty distracted this past week, both with an upcoming couple of projects and my teaching application (yay!), but I'll be back up and blogging very soon :) I finished a couple of fun reads this past week, and I'm pumped to talk about them.

Thanks for hanging with me. Check back this week!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Little Hoot by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace

"Once upon a branch, there was a fellow named Little Hoot. Little Hoot was a happy little owl."

When I read about Little Oink, the pig who loved to be neat and hated making messes, I thought, "There is nothing cuter than this little pig!" Boy, was I wrong!

Little Hoot is an owl who likes to go to school, play hide and seek, and practice "pondering." Like many little ones we all know and love, Little Hoot does not like Bedtime. His parents make him stay up late, playing on the jungle gym, playing swords, and jumping on his bed of leaves. This little sleepyhead wants nothing more than to get a night's rest, but his parents want him to grow up and be a wise old owl; once bedtime finally rolls around, he doesn't even have the energy for a bedtime story and a glass of water. It's pretty stinkin' adorable.

So, I'm basically in love with these clever little stories from Rosenthal and Corace. The quirky little characters teach great lessons for children and I find myself giggling at the sweet little illustrations and the irony of animals who are trying to defy their inherent nature. Little Pea is the third of Rosenthal and Corace's stories, and I'm sure I'm going to thoroughly enjoy it. I probably won't blog about it for fear of being to predictable or redundant, so just assume I would rave about it. :)

5Q: Once again, I'm super impressed by the simplicity and meaning that the words bring to the reader, paired with illustrations that are meticulous and eye-catching.
5P: I think this book is equally as admired among children as it (and the other two books like it) is among adults.

2011 Alex Award winner: Room by Emma Donoghue

"Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra."

The Alex Awards are an award given to titles written for adults that appeal to young adults. Ten titles are chosen each year, and my goal this semester was to read one 2011 winner and review it. After skimming through the premises of each one, I found Emma Donoghue's Room to be the most intriguing synopsis, due in part to its mysteriously cryptic plot description.

In Room, we meet Jack on his fifth birthday. Ma is making Jack his birthday cake, marking his height on the wall, and talking about the day God sent him to her from Heaven. On the surface, the day seems like a normal day between a stay-at-home mom and her son; but something ominous lurks beneath the surface of their story.

I do not plan on giving any of the plot away because I would not dare take the experience of discovering Jack and Ma's harrowing story away from any of you. However, I will divulge my favorite aspect of the novel: perspective. Here goes...

This is the first for-adults novel I've ever read where the entire story is narrated by a young child, and Donoghue definitely knew what she was doing. We see every moment of the day, every interaction between the characters through Jack's mind. Donoghue said that in order to create a believable narrator without confusing readers, she created a dictionary of her own son's speech, noting the words he used for ideas he didn't understand and the syntax of his sentences. Jack's language, his way of associating and learning in his everyday environment is wonderfully imaginative, honest, entertaining, and poignant.

I will warn you that this novel is a hot pick right now and is in high demand at the St. Charles and St. Louis area libraries; I reserved a copy at City-County and started out at #81! But it was well worth the wait. This original, stirring story will be sticking with me for a very long time.

5Q: Amazing plot, realistic and thoughtful characterization, and an impressive point of view that is not often used well.
3P: I think young adults would enjoy reading this novel, but I think it would take a teacher/librarian/parent to encourage them to pick it up. It would be a great example for a lesson on point of view, setting, and characterization in an educational setting.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

An all time favorite childhood book: The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss

"Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches Had Bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars."

Many of us were blessed to grow up with Dr. Seuss books on our childhood bookshelves and in our grade school classrooms. By the same token, I think it's safe to say that we each have our own favorite. My favorite has always been The Sneetches and Other Stories, a compilation of four imaginative, witty, (and, of course, even silly) Seuss stories that I know by heart. 

Seuss knew how to make children love reading and have fun reading a story over and over, reciting the rhymes and marveling at the original characters that came from Seuss' mind. What's even more memorable are the timeless lessons Dr. Seuss teaches us about friendship, family, acceptance, and believing in oneself.  

The Star-Belly Sneetches and the Plain-Belly Sneetches had a lot to learn about accepting themselves and others for who they are, and I had a lot to learn about not changing myself just to be like everyone else. The stubborn North- and South-Going Zax taught me a valuable lesson about paving my own way without trampling in the way of others journeying around me; the world continues on and grows around them in their prideful impasse when all it takes is a single step to the side to mo ve on with their tracks. The "cautionary tale" of "Too Many Daves" is a fantastic example of the skill we all know Seuss for: rhyming with absurd, hilarious (often made-up) words:

"...And one of them Hoos-Foos. And one of the Snimm.
And one of them Hot-Shot. and one Sunny Jim.
And one of the Shadrock. And one of them Blinkey.
And one of the Stuffy. And one of them Stinkey."

And finally, in the story "What was I scared of?" the narrator finds that a spooky pair of pale green pants ("with nobody inside them!") is not following and haunting him, but crossing his path by accident, just as afraid of the narrator as the narrator is afraid of the pair of pants. In the end, the narrator overcomes his fear and he and the pale green pants become friends with one another. For a shy kid like myself, I gleaned from this story that I wasn't the only girl afraid to make friends with new people; all I needed to do was say "Hi" and smile to make a new friend.

If you have not read this set of stories for yourself or for your little ones, I suggest you add it to your to-read list and enjoy it on your next trip to the library or bookstore!

So what's your Seuss favorite?

5Q: You honestly cannot find a set of stories more original and well-written than those of Dr. Seuss. The stories are easy to read and they provide a lot of life lessons and teachable literary elements.
5P: What child (or adult, for that matter) doesn't love a Dr. Seuss book??? It's sure to be a hit :)

J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

"And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives..."

Well, folks, I did it! I finished the Order of the Phoenix and I am ready to move on to the next lovely read.

Getting through this book was quite the challenge for me and I nearly let it get the best of me. After  reading number four, The Goblet of Fire, I think I went into the fifth installment expecting a fair amount of suspense as the Dark Lord returns and the second war begins. The Goblet of Fire packed a pretty amazing punch--Voldemort has a body full enough to come back into power and he and Harry come face to face, full being to (almost-) full being for the first time! In The Order of the Phoenix, Rowling saves much of the action for Harry's haunted dreams, an unexpected Dementor attack, and a battle between Dumbledore's Army, the Order of the Phoenix, and Voldemort and his faithful Death Eaters (Disclaimer: the latter battle was brilliant, but I had to wait until the 34th Chapter to experience it!). The tension at Hogwarts as Cornelius Fudge and his minions, led by the sly, quietly-maniacal Delores Umbridge, is fairly predictable, but all in all it makes for a sufficient amount of conflict that keeps the reader interested.

What I admired about the first four books of the series were Rowling's unique and unexpected characters, and the Order of the Phoenix is no exception. Delores Umbridge is absolutely infuriating with her decrees and zero tolerance for students who think independently and desire to become skilled witches and wizards; Fudge runs a close second with his insistent denial of the Dark Lord's return and his strong beliefs that Dumbledore is plotting to take over the Ministry of Magic. I also enjoyed the back stories Rowling supplies for Sirius, James Potter, Snape, and Harry. She has a knack for bringing in small details of each character's personal story and weaving pieces of them together at just the right moments in the storyline.

I read of an interview that Rowling did where she admitted regretting the immensity of the fifth book and told the interviewer she wished she had spent more time editing the manuscript. There are many sub-plots being told throughout the story (which is not unusual for a novel in a series), but many of them add little to the main storyline (the storyline readers ultimately want to develop in front of their very eyes). Overall, I think the book was still enjoyable, and I think that kids might have a little more patience with the downtime in between battles and suspenseful chapters. It is undeniable that the thrill of magic, fantasy, mythical creatures and evil villains is enough to keep the reader enthusiastic to turn the page and see what sort of challenge Harry and his comrades face next.

On a side note, I will not be moving on to HP6 right away; I'm making a detour through some other YA fiction and some rockin' picture books first. Thanks for sticking around, and as always, thanks for reading :)

3Q: Original, fun storyline that stays true to the first 4 books in the series; interesting themes, plot, and characters that would be easy to teach from in a classroom setting; entire story could use some paring down to keep certain sub-plots from becoming too "played" or boring.
5P: We all know this book is still flying off the shelves. Children and Young Adults LOVE the magical Wizarding world of Hogwarts!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Blizzard! The Storm that Changed America by Jim Murphy

"A minister in a small New Jersey village looked up at the sky, then hurried indoors. 'I had the strangest of feelings,' he would tell his parishioners that day. 'It was as if the unholy one himself was riding in those clouds.'"

Blizzard! is a book that has been in my to-read queue since my Selection and Acquisitions course this past summer. I've always been attracted to non-fiction, especially when it comes to crazy-awesome forces of nature. When I was a little girl wandering around in my grade-school library, I usually ended up spending quite a bit of my time in the non-fiction section, leaving with books from the same series about nature and natural disasters. I would go so far as to assume I was the most well-informed 3rd grader on the subject of volcanoes, tornadoes, and earthquakes...

So how was it, I thought as we discussed selecting non-fiction in our school libraries and classrooms, that I had never heard (or read) about the Great Blizzard of 1888? I needed to read this book. I noted the title in the back of my mind and ordered it through MOBIUS as soon as my reading project list began to develop. How ironic that I would get to begin reading Murphy's masterpiece in the midsts of our very own "blizzard"!

Now, although many of us in the St. Charles area were utterly disappointed at Snowmageddon's less-than-epic-blizzardly powers, reading the true accounts of the Great Blizzard of 1888 made me feel safe and very blessed to be trapped and warm within my cozy little apartment. Murphy undoubtedly spent an impressive many hours researching and reading personal accounts of this powerful storm, following various threads of correspondence, news and weather reports, and unbelievable statistics in order to bring a "big-picture," historically-accurate retelling of the storm that nearly shut down the East Coast.

The way Murphy melds personal stories and historical and meteorological makes the book so interesting that I had difficulty putting it down. How is it that no one knew the storm was coming? Why did so many adults and children alike venture out into the blizzard (with winds over 75 mph and temperatures far below freezing point) alone and determined to go about their everyday tasks and jobs??? The facts about life in 1888 are enough to bring a little perspective to our own "blizzard" experience in the 21st century. I don't think we often realize how blessed we are to be able to comfortably endure a few inches of snow and ice in an age where we can use cell phones or the internet to check in with our loved ones and make sure they are safe. Needless to say, this book would generate a great discussion about history, the industrial progression of society, and the unstoppable forces of nature.

So, I'm going to stop rambling about the book and let you head to the library and pick it up!

5Q: Excellent story-telling and historical references; interesting, authentic pictures and newspaper clippings used throughout
5P: I think if you can get your kiddos into U.S. History, culture, and/or weather, you will have no problem getting them interested in this book--it would be great for a class read! keeping me waiting...

I've got some super duper titles coming up, people! Here's a sneak peek of the upcoming weeks' reads:

Zen Ties by Jon J Muth
Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth
Freckleface Strawberry by Julianne Moore
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
The Sea Serpent and Me by Dashka Slater
The Princess Gown by Linda Leopold Strauss
Room by Emma Donaghue (Alex Award winner)
Wake by Lisa McMann (YA)
Good Enough by Paula Yoo (YA)

Get ready for some awesome illustrations, quirky characters, and a few twisty-turny plots!

Oh, come on already!

So, a few frustrations that I am going to (politely) air on my blog. I've been reading through the fifth installation of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series (The Order of the Phoenix), and it is like pulling hen's teeth. This is why I have not read anything new in about a week and why I have no new lovely reads to share at the moment. Also, I had to work a 4-midnight shift at the Library this past Sunday, keeping me from my weekly blog-fest. I need encouragement to keep up with my reading and to push through the last 150 pages of HP5. Regardless of my frustration, I am very VERY excited to share some fun children's books and a few Gateway Reader books in the next couple of weeks. HP6 is going to have to step aside for a bit.

More good things to come soon. Sorry this past week has been a bit of a bust!

And a special thanks to my friends (and sis, and hubbs) for words of wisdom and tips for keeping on track. I can do this! :)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Posy by Linda Newberry & Catherine Rayner

"Posy! She's a...leaf collector, sock inspector."

For those of you who know me, you're probably not surprised to find that Posy is a children's book about a spunky little kitten--and I loved reading every bit of it. Even if you and your kiddos aren't big fans of the feline family, you should give this book a try.

What I enjoyed most about this little gem is its amazing large-scale drawings; they are a brilliant cross between whimsical colored-pencil drawings, watercolor strokes, and charcoal sketches. The text is very simple: we follow Posy through her adventurous day as she tackles a ball of yarn, catches a spider, wrestles another kitten of her stature, and of course, unabashedly uses the couch as a scratching post. This is a great pick for beginner readers, with short, simple, rhyming lines and the unavoidable anticipation of what antics Posy will be getting into with the turn of each page. Who knows? Your little ones may be begging you for an adorable tiger kitten even before Posy curls up for a nap to end her long, busy day.

5Q: Great use of vocabulary and rhyme; great for reading aloud; beautiful illustrations
4P: Kids who don't really like cats may not be drawn to the book initially, but Posy's mischief and the pictures will keep them interested

Little Oink by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Jen Corace

"Little Oink was a neat little pig. He liked a lot of things..."

"But there was one thing Little Oink didn't like: 
Mess up time"

Who ever heard of a little pig who wanted nothing but to be tidy and clean? Rosenthal's story of a little pig who loves to dig (with a spade and gloves) and eat Sloppy Joes and Gruel au Gratin (with utensils and a handkerchief around his neck) but hates to make messes is a creative, simply-told, fun read for parents/teachers to share with their kiddos. The illustrations were honestly what drew me in to begin with; Corace's use of bold colors and geometric shapes make the pictures alluring and bright. I think these drawings make the book very likely to be picked up by children and will keep them interested throughout the story. And, I think parents and teachers can use the book to teach children about being who they are and still "following" the rules :)

5Q: for great writing, original plot and unique, bright illustrations
5P: the colorful drawings and likable main character would make this popular with both kids and adults

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Caldecott #1: The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

"...this is Hugo Cabret. His head is full of secrets, and he's waiting for his story to begin."

Wow. I hope that I can make this post as coherent and directive as possible, because I have so many wonderful things to say about this historical fiction novel!

Let's start with the plot: we meet Hugo Cabret at the onset of the story, set in Paris in 1931. Hugo's lot is curious; a boy of just 12 years old, Hugo is an orphan who spends his days winding the clocks of the train station and stealing tiny mechanical pieces from an elderly man's toy stand across the street. The reader is drawn in to Hugo's amazing story and the unlikely connections between his most prized invention and the magician who imagined its creation. I found the twists, turns, and unraveling mysteries of the story impressively creative and wonderfully moving.

Selznick reveals the mysteries of Hugo's story in equal parts of text and series of intricate, hand-drawn black and white sketches. As you begin the first chapter, you are led from a lunar scene, to a drawing of the moon over the city of Paris, all the way down to the small boy sneaking in between the walls of a Paris train station. I slowly flipped through the first series of sketches and I was instantly hooked on this novel. Selznick knows just the right moments to show the progression of action as opposed to describing everything in great detail; he wastes no print on scenes that are better revealed visually, and it creates a suspenseful, emotional connection between the reader and the story.

For fear of giving away too much and robbing you of experiencing this book with a fresh, unblemished perspective, I will not go into detail about the historical elements of Selznick's story. It kills me to leave it out (it is my favorite aspect of the story), but I will refrain from describing it. Just know that it will blow your mind. Read the book and let's talk about it :)

5Q Incredibly original and well-written prose; well deserving of the Caldecott Medal
4P I think the story will draw Middle School and YA readers in, but reluctant readers may need a little budge to pick it up at first

Newbery Pick #1: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

"That very night in Max's room a forest grew..."

I always find it interesting when one generation's love for a piece of culture--a cartoon series, a movie, a book, a toy--is renewed and the people of that generation bond over the memory of intensely loving that "thing." For many people in my generation and the generation before us, Where the Wild Things Are holds a special place in our hearts and childhood memories. When the film (based on an adaptation of Sendak's story) came out in 2009, I was one of many who dug up an old copy of the book and reacquainted myself with it. 

It certainly came to mind immediately when I was gathering Newbery Award winners for my reading project, and was nerdily excited to have a reason to pick it up once again. Sendak's subtle rhymes and concise dialogue set the tone for the bright illustrations to lead the reader through a simple story in a most imaginative way. We meet Max and we identify, as children and as adults, the mischievous boy in the wolf suit as a normal kid, looking for something to keep him busy and to satisfy his busy imagination. I recall feeling extra ornery as a little girl, causing bits of trouble with my siblings (or the family kitty cat) for no apparent reason and finding myself sent to my room without supper. Where I found solace in building forts and reading books to pass the lonely time, Max enters into a lush forest filled with fierce monsters. Sendak's monsters are a curious mix of scary and intriguing characters to me-- these giant, odd-looking stuffed animals that one can't help but feel pity for. The monsters' personalities and actions mirror the recklessness and loneliness that Max feels, and he easily falls into the role of ruling "the place where the wild things are" as its King. Soon the fear of the monsters doesn't satisfy Max any longer and he yearns to be back "where someone love[s] him most of all." As he sails on home to find a hot meal waiting for him, I can't help but be reminded of that feeling as a child of being well-loved and taken care of even when I didn't deserve it. It's a feeling that still warms my heart as I bid farewell to Max and close the last page of the book.

5Q for being a completely original story that has stood the test of time
5P for being a well-loved children's book for children and adults alike, in part for beautiful, interesting drawings that kids love and in part for characters that are both believable and imaginative

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The List

So I have been given the grand task of choosing WHATEVER I want to read (anything within the realm of children and adolescent lit, of course) but boy, is it difficult! The list is slowly growing, and I've no doubt that it will end up changing from time to time as the semester progresses. My criteria so far are as follows:

1 graphic novel
1-2 series (YA/Chapter books)
a few Gateway Nominees
2011 Michael L. Printz Award Winner
1 Printz Honorable Book
Caldecott 2011 Winner
Alex Award winner
Newberry Award winner
a few non-fiction books
a book chosen for its cover
a book by a favorite author
top 5 favorite childhood books

Keep track of the list by scrolling over to my "What I plan to read" gadget. That's all I've got for now!