Saturday, February 28, 2009

Picture Book Saturday

The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen, illustrated by Dan Hanna (New York: FSG, 2008)

Mr. Fish can't help how he looks. He's a pout-pout fish. He was made to look sad. He explains this to all his friends who complain about his dreariness. It isn't until he's kissed that Mr. Fish realizes maybe pouting is a choice. He chooses instead to be a kiss-kiss fish.

What I thought: What a cute book! The ilustrations were lovely and colorful. I like the lesson it teaches: attitude is more about choice than biology.

That Book Woman by Heather Henson, illustrated by David Small (New York: Atheneum, 2008)

Cal prides himself on being different than his sister Lark who reads all the time. The dedication of the Pack Horse Librarian makes him wonder what's so great about those books she lugs up the mountain in every weather. Cal's wondering turns into work when he learns how to read.

What I thought: What a great story! I like that the book's setting is Appalachia. I'd never heard of the Pack Horse Librarians. I definitely plan to learn more about them.

Carlo and the Really Nice Librarian by Jessica Spanyol (Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2004)

Carlo likes the library, but finds the librarian more than a little scary. Her willingness to help him find books and her knowledge of books soon wins him over.
What I thought: What a nice way to address the fears kids sometimes have of libraries and libraries. I think this will be going in my personal collection.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Two Girls of Gettysburg by Lisa Klein

Klein, Lisa. Two Girls of Gettysburg. New York: Bloomsbury, 2008.

Lizzie and Rosanna are two cousins on the brink of womanhood when the war between the North and the South starts. They both live in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, but Rosanna is from Richmond, Virginia.

When her father and brother join the army, Lizzie finds herself with plenty to do. The family's butcher shop is loosing money. Instead of attending the ladies' seminary to become a teacher, Lizzie finds herself working in the butcher shop.

After the death of a boy she thought she loved, Rosanna returns to Richmond. The suitor she left behind is still unattached. They marry and he goes off to fight for the Confederacy. When her husband is wounded, Rosanna comes to nurse him. She ends up staying with the army as a nurse.

Lizzie and Rosanna's stories soon converge. The end of their story is not, however, the end of the war. We see them through only until the Battle of Gettysburg.

What I thought: I liked that the story is told both from Lizzie's and Rosanna's points of view. It gives added dimension to the story. The historical detail was fascinating. I kept guessing until the end about what would happen. There's nothing I dislike more than a predicable book. Though the book is almost 4oo pages long, it reads quickly.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Looks by Madeleine George

George, Madeleine. Looks. New York: Viking, 2008.

People ignore Meghan. This should be impossible to do since Meghan is a big girl. I do mean BIG. Invisibility has its perks. Meghan knows more about the students and teachers at her high school than they know about themselves. The habit of ignoring Meghan leads her fellow students to talk about the most private topics in her hearing.

Meghan doesn't have friends. She had them once, but they betrayed her. When Aimee comes to school, Meghan knows this girl could be her friend though Aimee is as thin as Meghan is big. Aimee gets sucked into the guile that is Cara (one of the school's popular girls). Meghan knows how Cara operates. They were once best friends. Meghan tries to warn Aimee about Cara, but Aimee dismisses her as crazy.

When Cara betrays Aimee, Meghan is the only person that can help.

What I thought: This book was not what I expected. The narration threw me for one thing. I expected first person (as the majority of YA novels are these days) and instead got third person. Overall, it was a fascinating read that touches on some serious topics (eating disorders, the meanness of girls).

Monday, February 23, 2009

Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy

Cassidy, Cathy. Scarlett. New York: Viking, 2006.

Scarlett has attended 5 schools in 2 years. It all started when her dad left. Her life was ruined, so Scarlett took revenge the only way she could: she rebelled. She has ketchup red hair, a tongue piercing, and wears lots of eye make-up. Her mad at the world attitude lands her in the one place she never wanted to be--Ireland with her dad and his new family. She doesn't fit in her either. She's so angry. At her mum. At her dad. And at herself.

The concept of homeschooling gives Scarlett another chance. She doesn't have to worry about fitting in. She can just be her scared, lonely, angry self. Scarlett meets a boy, Kian, whose friendship helps her work through her issues.

At the end of the summer, Scarlett has a decision to make. Where should she be? With her mum or with her dad?

What I thought: This book was an absorbing read. Scarlett seemed much older than her 12 years, but that's probably due to a lot of factors (the divorce, her rebellion, she's British). If you want to know what it's like to be from a broken home, read this book. Divorce doesn't simply result in broken homes, it also leaves broken children. When we first meet Scarlett, she is broken. Her anger and rebellion are simply a ploy to keep people from seeing how hurt and insecure she is. When I finished the book, Scarlett was a character I wanted to read more about. Alas, the author hasn't written any more books about her.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan by Nancy Springer

Springer, Nancy. The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan. New York: Philomel, 2008.

Enola Holmes is still enjoying her life in London though she is often forced to dodge her brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft, who are determined to find her. Enola encounters a person she never thought to see again, Lady Cecily. Lady Cecily is in a most awkward situation. She appears to be the prisoner of her two chaperones. She conveys to Enola that she needs help. The only clue Enola has is the pink paper fan Lady Cecily was carrying and discreetly dropped near Enola. The fan leads Enola to the fashion of hosting a pink tea. To gather information, she impersonates a society page reporter. Enola is soon embroiled in family secrets and arranged marriages. She is once again appalled at the lack of freedom ladies have in civilized society.

What I thought: I was not disappointed with the latest installment of the Enola Holmes mystery series. I eagerly await the release of the 5th book, The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline, on May 14th.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Picture Book Saturday

The Umbrella Queen by Shirim Yim Bridges, illustrated by Taeeun Yoo (New York: Greenwillow, 2008)

In Noot's village everyone either makes or paints umbrellas. People come from faraway to buy the beautiful umbrellas. Noot is sure she can paint an umbrella. She copies one of her mother's designs. Her family can hardly tell the difference between Noot's umbrella and her mother's. Now Noot is an umbrella painter. The problem is her paintbrush doesn't want to paint flowers and butterflies. These are the only designs that can go on the umbrellas the village sells. She creates whimsical elephants. They play, do handstands, chase butterflies, and are generally silly. Noot's family won't let her paint elephants on any more umbrellas. She makes miniature umbrellas and paints elephants on those. One day the king comes. It's time for him to choose the umbrella queen. His fancy is quite taken with Noot's miniature umbrellas painted all over with elephants. Even though her designs aren't traditional, he chooses Noot as the umbrella queen.

What I thought: What a delightful story. I think it will appeal to creative people who know how fickle the muses can be. Noot couldn't help but paint elephants. That's what she needed to paint. The illustration were as lovely as the story.

Knitty Kitty by David Elliot, illustrated by Christopher Denise (Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2008)
Kitty knits hats, mittens, and scarves to keep her kittens warm and cozy. . They promptly give her creations to the snowman they made. At night, they realize the only thing they need to be cozy is their mother.

What I thought: This is a cute book. The kittens behave just like kids--giving their knitwear to a snowman. This will appeal to lovers of the story of three little kittens who loose their mittens.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets by Nancy Springer

Springer, Nancy. The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets. New York: Philomel, 2008.

In this 3rd installment of Enola's adventures, her brother Sherlock's friend Dr. John Watson has went missing. Enola is soon on the case. But first she must concoct a disguise that will make sure her brothers never recognize her. She's been a widow, a secretary, a doctor's wife, and even a nun. Enola attempts her most daring disguise ever--she's going to be beautiful. This is no small feat considering she looks just like Sherlock. Enola's quest for an infallible disguise and her knowledge of flower language help her find Dr. Watson.

What I thought: The more I read about Enola, the more I like and admire her. Her plan to be beautiful is ingenious. It is a disguise that will be useful now and later. Enola's skill at being just who she needs to be is fantastic. I do wonder, however, if she will lose her true self in all these disguises.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Case of the Left-Handed Lady by Nancy Springer

Springer, Nancy. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady. New York: Sleuth Philomel, 2007.

Enola Holmes is holding her own in London, though she is forever running into her brother Mycroft and Holmes. But she's become a master at alluding her pursuers. She's set herself up as Dr. Leslie T. Ragostin, the only scientific perditorian. In layman's terms, a finder of lost things. Naturally, no one ever sees the good doctor. They encounter only his secretary Miss Ivy Meshle. When needs be, Enola can also disguise herself as Mrs. Ragostin. She needs just such a disguise when she hears that Lady Cecily, a young woman not much older than herself, has disappeared without a trace. Enola wants to help. She visits the home, looks over Lady Cecily's room, and makes her assumptions. She then begins following the meager leads that she has. She soon realizes that she's not the only person in London with multiple identities. Department store owner's soon Alexander Finch moonlights as one Cameron Shaw, a supporter of the labor platform. He has a skill that allowed him to "borrow" Lady Cecily. He hypnotised her. Enola has no choice but to try and free Lady Cecily from his hold disregarding the danger to her own person.

What I thought: I can only second my estimation of the 1st Enola Holmes mystery. Wow! Enola certainly shows just how strong her can be in this book. The adventures she undertakes are fraught enough with danger, yet she runs the added risk of discovery by her brothers. How can she, now that she has tasted freedom, stand to be packed off to boarding school and turned into a proper young lady? She learns far more useful things in London. For example, a corset is not merely for improving one's appearance. It is quite good protection from knives and the like.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Case of the Missing Marquess by Nancy Springer

Springer, Nancy. The Case of the Missing Marquess. New York: Sleuth Philomel, 2006.

On her 14th birthday, Enola's mother goes missing. Enola searches their estate grounds in vain. She has no choice but to send for her much older brothers, Sherlock and Mycroft. (Yes, that Sherlock. As in Holmes.) The brothers soon realize that their mother has been hoodwinking money out of them to make just such an escape. Once Mycroft informs Enola that she will be going to boarding school to become a proper young lady, Enola understands how her mother felt. Enola has no rights except the ones her brother chooses to give her. She sees no alternative but to follow in her mother's footsteps. She will run away. With the aid of the cipher book her mother made for her on her birthday, Enola discovers several stashes of money, enough to make her independent for a time. She plots her escape with great intelligence. She will disguise herself as a widow. Surely no one would suspect that respectable widow is really a 14 year old girl. Enola's escape doesn't go as smoothly as she hoped. She's soon in the midst of a kidnapping and kidnapped herself. Can she get out of this mess? Will she successfully allude her brothers to be independent?

What I thought: Wow! Springer has gave life to a strong heroine. No obstacle seems too great for Enola. Enola's cunning in disguising herself shows that she shares more than looks with her famous detective brother. I can't say that I blame her for running away. Laws in the 19th century effectively made women prisoners of their husbands, sons, brothers, or other male relatives. Mycroft wouldn't listen to Enola for 1 reason--she's a girl. He, like most of his contemporaries, doubt that women are intelligent. I take gleefully amusement in his misconception of Enola. I am eager to read about her further adventures.

Monday, February 16, 2009

1001 Cranes by Naomi Hirahara

Hirahara, Naomi. 1001 Cranes. New York: Delacorte, 2008.

Angie is being sent away for the summer. She's to stay with her grandparents and help them make the 1001 crane displays for weddings. Angie knows something is wrong with her family, but her parents aren't talking. She knows her father has another apartment because she answered t he phone when his new landlady called. She fears the worst. Are her parents getting a divorce? In the midst of all this personal trouble, Angie struggles to learn origami, in particular the folding of cranes. She meets a boy, helps a neighbor, and realizes that there are kids who have worse troubles.

What I thought: I liked this books. I found it to be a poignant portrayal of what would be going through a child's mind if her parents were having marital problems. The interesting cultural details (mainly the 1001 crane displays) added to the book's appeal.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Picture Book Saturday: Valentine Edition

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! I celebrated mine by reading 3 picture books about the holiday. Read on to see what I enjoyed.

A Village Full of Valentines by James Stevenson (New York: Greenwillow, 1995)
Seven delightful short stories tell the tale of a village during Valentine's Day. Everyone's making valentines from 3 mouse friends to Gus the tailor.

The Biggest Valentine Ever by Steven Kroll, illustrated by Jeni Bassett (New York: Scholastic, 2006)
Desmond and Clayton try to make a valentine together, but it just doesn't work. They have artistic differences. But on their own, their valentines just aren't right. Each of the boys has several talents. Once they're speaking again, they combine their talents to make the biggest and the best valentine.

The Day It Rained Hearts by Felicia Bond (New York: Scholastic, 1983)
I suppose you've heard the expression "it's raining cats and dogs" before. Stranger things could happen and one day they did. It rained hearts. Yes, that's right. Hearts. Cornelia Augusta collects some to make the perfect valentines for her friends. When life hands you hearts, make valentines.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Clementine's Letter by Sara Pennypacker

Pennypacker, Sara. Clementine's Letter. Illus. Marla Frazee. New York: Hyperion, 2008.

Clementine was just getting the hand of 3rd grade. Everyone said so, her teacher, the principal, her parents. Then her teacher is entered in a contest to win a trip to Egypt. He goes away for a week leaving his class in the care of a substitute, Mrs. Nagel. Clementine can't figure this woman out. Mrs. Nagel's rules are contrary to her teacher's rules. Before you know it, Clementine is once again making numerous trips to the principal's office. She has a plan to get her teacher back. The students have to write letters to recommend their teacher. With a little help from Margaret's brother Mitchell, Clementine writes the most awful letter she can. She wants her teacher back. In a crucial moment, Clementine has to decide what's more important, wanting her teacher back or the truth about his merits.

What I thought: Clementine certainly is single-minded in her crusade to get her teacher back. I can't blame her. Clementine doesn't always to the best in school behavior-wise. Her teacher understands her. With his help, she was doing better. Despite her problems, Clementine has a good heart. I wasn't surprised to see her sacrifice the possibility of getting her teacher back to telling the truth about him.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Talented Clementine by Sara Pennypacker

Pennypacker, Sara. The Talented Clementine. Illus. Marla Frazee. New York: Hyperion, 2007.

Clementine's back! Now in 3rd grade, Clementine's in trouble comes when her school decides to put on a talent show to raise money for their spring trip. Clementine can't believe her luck. She doesn't have a talent. Margaret (of the infamous hair cutting incident) unsuccessfully tries to teach Clementine how to tap dance. Clementine tries her best to find a talent, but she's thwarted from every angle. She worries and worries, but ends up saving the show. Clementine's habit of watching everything that goes on around her makes her the talent show's star director. Hooray for Clementine!

What I thought: I can't get enough of Clementine and her sauciness. Her penchant for getting in trouble so reminds me of Beverly Cleary's Ramona. Her unique view on life always makes me laugh.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Happy Birthday, Laura Ingalls Wilder!

Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little house books, was born February 7, 1867 in Wisconsin. Mrs. Wilder died February 10, 1957 in Missouri.

On her 142nd birthday, remember her by reading one of her books, even if it's only a chapter. This time of year, I particularly enjoy rereading The Long Winter.

Her books are:
Little House in the Big Woods (1932)
Farmer Boy (1933)
Little House on the Prairie (1935)
On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937)
By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939)
The Long Winter (1940)
Little Town on the Prairie (1941)
These Happy Golden Years (1943)
The First Four Years (1971)

There are other books: On the Way Home (1962), a diary that chronicles the Wilder's move to Missouri; and West From Home (1974) which consists of Laura's letters to Almanzo when she went to visit their daughter Rose in California.

Laura Ingalls Wilder didn't write about all her growing up years. She left out the years the family lived in the small town of Burr Oak. The missing years fit between On the Banks of Plum Creek and By the Shores of Silver Lake. In 2002, Cynthia Rylant wrote Old Town in the Green Groves that tells the story of these missing years. The book is illustrated by Jim LaMarchie. (New York: Scholastic, 2002). I haven't yet read this book, but it is a priority on my reading list.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi

DiTerlizzi, Tony. Kenny and the Dragon. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

Kenny Rabbit is an unusual boy. The narrator describes him: "So it is not surprising that he enjoyed going to school. He always asked compelling questions, always did his homework (complete with footnotes and a bibliography), and always had fantastic notions about what he wanted to do when he grew up" (v). As you can tell from this description, Kenny doesn't fit in very well. He doesn't have many friends. One of his best friends is George, an elderly bookshop owner. One day Kenny makes a new friend. A very unusual friend indeed. Grahame is a dragon. Yes, one of those--wings, teeth, claws, fiery breath, enormous. But Kenny's surprise, for once a book is wrong. The King's Bestiary describes dragons as devils and scourges. Grahame is none of these things. He likes to read, write poetry, and play the piano. He also has quite a discerning palette. You've probably guessed that the other townspeople don't look on Grahame as a friend. They believe what they've always believed, that dragons are devils. Grahame becomes a matter of kingdom security. The King calls his best dragon-slayer out of retirement. Who do you suppose it is? None other than Kenny's friend George. Now, it just won't do to have you're friends killing each other, so Kenny devises a plan to save the day and make everyone happy.

What I thought: This was a truly delightful book. It appeals on so many levels: the characters are animals and the story has a fairy tale character. The fact that all the animals were different reminded me a little of Disney's animate film Robin Hood (1973). The intrusive narrator reminded me of Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux. However, the narrator in Kenny and the Dragon was less intrusive, a gentle narrator if you will. His observations didn't take away from the story in the slightest. This book was a fast read. It would make a great read aloud for elementary school kids. DiTerlizzi's illustrations were wonderful. I can see this book being made into an animated film one day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Peeled by Joan Bauer

Bauer, Joan. Peeled. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2008.

Hildy Biddle is reporter for her high school paper. Her father was also a journalist. Hildy takes the news seriously. She wants to giver her readers an honest portrayal of the facts. The biggest story in her small town is a ghost. Strange things have bee happening at the old Ludlow house. The town's newspaper is blowing things out of proportion. Due to The Bee's untrue & confirmed reporting the people of Banesville, New York are running scared. Hildy uncovers a plot on her town to scare the people so a ghost theme park can move in. Hildy takes up her pen, even after the high school paper has been shut down, to give her town the real news.

What I thought: Joan Bauer is a favorite author of mine and I wasn't disappointed in her newest book. I admire Hildy's strength in battling the mayor, the Bee's editor, and the developers. Not only can she write, but she's courageous. I particularly enjoyed Hildy's struggle to become a better journalist. I am now intrigued by the differences in creative writing and journalism.

"Finding a good boyfriend was like trying to find a ghost." ~Hildy Biddle

Monday, February 2, 2009

Review: Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress

Ferraro, Tina. Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress. New York: Delacorte, 2006.

Nicolette (Nic) thought she was going to Rascal's junior prom. Enter Rascal's ex-girlfriend returned from far away. Of course he has to take her. That leaves Nic heartbroken and the owner of the perfect unworn prom dress. This wouldn't be so bad if Nic didn't have other problems. Her mom might loose the house. Nic's worry over this causes her to go to her dad (who had abandoned them for a younger woman and a new baby) for the money. Then, there are her feelings for her best friend's brother Jared. Not to mention, Rascal is still interested. Can Nic resolve all these problems? Can she find the best use for the perfect unworn prom dress?

What I thought: While packaged as chick lit (pink cover with ditsy looking girl), this was a surprisingly refreshing read. Nic is not the popular girl. She is a jock. She's not gorgeous. Her life certainly isn't carefree. Her uneasy relationship with Jared will endear this book to many girls who have coveted their best friends' older brothers. I picked this book up on a whim and found it to be a great read.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Review: Indie Girl

Daswani, Kavita. Indie Girl. New York: Simon Pulse, 2007.

Indira Konkipuddi is hardly the name of a fashion reporter, but that's what Indie wants to be more than anything. She desperately wants an internship with a top fashion magazine, Celebrity Style. Instead she ends up being the editor's baby-sitter. The magazine is in trouble and Indie finds a way to help.

What I thought: This was a great book. Indie's struggle to reconcile the 2 parts of her (Indian and American) reminded me of Mitali Perkins' book about Suni. I find myself drawn to these multicultural books. I like the cultural details that they present to the reader. With a book like this, you can enjoy the story, and at the same time learn about another culture.