Friday, May 29, 2009

The Great Frog Race and Other Poems by Kristine O'Connell George

George, Kristine O'Connell. The Great Frog Race and Other Poems. Illus. Kate Kiesler. New York: Clarion, 1997.

In this collection of poetry, George captures the wonder and simplicity of childhood. Things a child would see and do become the subjects of poems. From frog racing to monkey wrenches, George describes them with a freshness and voice that is unique.

What I thought: What a great collection! As it won the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award, I know I'm not the only person who thinks so. Some of my favorite poems in the collection offer the reader a new perspective on an object. "Evening Rain" uses sewing imagery. Raindrops as stitches is so plausible I found myself wondering why I hadn't considered it before. Describing a common insect's wings as window panes and cellophane in "Dragonfly" is genius. That's exactly what their wings look like. As I read the poems, I found myself remembering my own childhood. If I were to write poems about my childhood, I can only hope that they would have the same magic as George's. I freely admit my subject matter would be different. Think mud pies, rain dancing, and puddle jumping.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Edward Tulane

DiCamillo, Kate. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. Illus. Bagram Ibatoulline. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2006.

Edward Tulane is a china rabbit. He thinks quite a lot of himself. He has fine silk clothes, a pocket watch, and a bed. Edward belongs to 10 year old Abilene Tulane. Abilene treats Edward as a real person instead of a china rabbit. Abilene loves Edward, but Edward doesn't understand love. Edward becomes separated from Abilene and becomes someone different to various people. To Lawrence the fisherman and his wife Nellie, Edward is transformed into Susanna. To the hobo Bull and his dog Lucy, Edward is Malone. To an old woman with a garden, Edward is Clyde, scarecrow extraordinaire. To Bryce and his sick sister Sarah Ruth, Edward is transformed into Jangles, the dancing rabbit. On these adventures, Edward learns about love and how painful it can be. He is accidentally broken and lives contentedly in a toy shop. He doesn't want to be bought. He's had enough of love, but one day, a little girl comes to the shop with her mother. Maggie recognizes Edward as Edward Tulane. Abilene is her mother. Edward has returned to his first loving owner. He's willing to love again.

What I Thought: This was an endearing story. The books reads quickly: it only took me 30 minutes to read. The pictures are lovely and so detailed. Edward's story reminded me of Rachel Field's Hitty, Her First Hundred Years (the 1930 Newberry Award Winner). Field chronicles the adventure and misadventures of Hitty, a wooden doll. For children who enjoy Edward Tulane, they might also like to read Hitty's story.

Monday, May 25, 2009

The Delightful Casson Family Returns!

McKay, Hilary. Indigo's Star. New York: McElderry, 2003.
McKay, Hilary. Permanent Rose. New York: McElderry, 2005.
McKay, Hilary. Caddy Ever After. New York: McElderry, 2006.
McKay, Hilary. Forever Rose. New York: McElderry, 2008.

You will remember the Casson Family (Caddy, Saffy, Indigo, and Rose) from Saffy's Angel. Their hilarious adventures continue in four more novels.

In Indigo's Star, Indigo returns to school after a lengthy illness. He dreads school because he's being tormented by a gang of bullies. His family unites to help him with his problem. Saffy almost snatches the gang leader bald. Rose volunteers to help in any way she can. Indigo and Rose make a new friend in Tom, an American boy staying with his Grandmother.

In Permanent Rose, Rose endures a hot, never-ending summer. She's taken up shoplifting as a new hobby. She misses Tom who returned to America. She's worried that Caddy will jilt darling Michael. The family collects a new friend: David, reformed gang member. Without meaning to,m Rose ends up on a train to London and talks herself into accompanying her father to America.

In Caddy Ever After, the Casson family is just as crazy as ever. Indigo tries to get everyone to attend the Valentine's dance. Saffy has a new boyfriend. Caddy has dumped Michael and engaged herself to Alex, the brother of Saffy's boyfriend. Rose doesn't know what to do, but she does know that Caddy shouldn't marry Alex. She must stop the wedding.

In Forever Rose, Rose is now 11 years old and her family has (unintentionally) abandoned her. Saffy and her friend Sarah are always gone. Indigo has a job. Caddy went in search pf Michael and promptly disappeared. Her father's still in London. Her mother's still in the shed. Christmas is coming and no one seems to care.

What I Thought: From the moment I read Saffy's Angel, I've loved the Casson family. They're so quirky. What I enjoy most about the books is that they don't really focus on one character, they're more concerned with the family as a whole. Indigo's Star and Permanent Rose were similar to Saffy's Angel in that they had third person narration. Caddy Ever After was quite different because the chapters presented a different family member's point-of-view. We hear from all four of the siblings. Forever Rose is told from Rose's point-of-view. To accurately portray her loneliness and sense of abandonment, no other point-of-view would work as well. I was sad when I read Forever Rose because it's the last book about the Casson family. Hilary, if you're reading this, please wrote more about this delightful family.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Cricket Never Does by Myra Cohn Livingston

Livingston, Myra Cohn. Cricket Never Does: A Collection of Haiku and Tanka. New York: McElderry, 1997.

Livingston divides her collection of 67 haiku and tanka into the four seasons. Her poetry makes the reader look at nature with new eyes as she presents images in innovative ways. Bougainvillea becomes a mask for graffiti. Trees become castles and havens (as Anne Shirley would want them to be). Fall floras watch over streets. Leaves huddle and the moon is a canoe.

What I thought: Haiku is meant to capture moments in time. These certainly do. I find haiku to be a challenging form from a writer's perspective. The brevity alone is difficult to achieve. From a reader's perspective, haiku is wonderful. Just a few words call up an image. That is power, a power that Livingston has.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Fortunes of Indigo Skye

Caletti, Deb. The Fortunes of Indigo Skye. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

Indigo Skye is content with her life. She's about to graduate high school, she has a great boyfriend, and she honestly enjoys being a waitress. Life is good, simple. Until the day Indigo gives advice to one of her customers. She recommends that he change his life if he's not happy with it. Good advice to be sure. Her advice bears fruit that she never dreamed of. The guy gives her two and a half million dollars. Yeah, you read right--millions. Indigo's first instinct is to give the money back. With her dad's help, she tracks him down and they discuss his gift. He truly wants her to have the money. He gives her some advice: "Let it make you bigger, not smaller" (158).

Indigo wants to give her family luxuries. Her mom refuses. Her boyfriend wants Indigo to help fix up his car and fund his ideas. Everyone seems to want something from Indigo, even if they don't want money. Her boss resents her for having the money. One day, Indigo's had enough. She quits her job and goes with a friend to California. Being rich isn't all it's cracked up to be. She let the money make her smaller, but she can change that Indigo makes plans for her money and won't let anyone stand in her way. She helps her family and friends. Indigo is bigger than the money. She knows that now.

What I thought: This book was a good read, if a bit long (2 pages shy of 300). At times I felt like the book was never going to end. The book reminded me of a couple of things. The movie It Could Happen to You and Joan Bauer's Hope was Here. The movie heroine gets a big tip like Indigo. Both Hope and Indigo are waitresses. Indigo is a great character and a universal truth underlies the book: Money can't buy happiness. But Indigo finds that it can be used to improve lives.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sisters of the Sword

Snow, Maya. Sisters of the Sword. New York: Harper Collins, 2008.

In feudal Japan, Kimi and Hana, girls of noble blood, must renounce their family to preserve it. Their uncle's greed and jealousy lead him to kill their father and two older brothers. He planned to kill the whole family, but Kimi, Hana, their mother, and younger brother escaped. The girls are separated from their mother. To protect themselves they become boys and take refuge at Master Goku's dojo as servants. They hone their skills with weapons and vow to avenge their family.

What I thought: As I've studied Japanese history, the historical setting of this book was appealing to me. While girls disguising themselves as boys as been done for centuries (Viola in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night for instance), Snow's take on it is quite original. I don't recall ever reading a story where girls wanted to be samurai. The book reads quickly as you are eager to find out what happens to Kimi and Hana. My only complaint is that the book is the first in a series, yet there's no indication of that until you reach the end. The ending is an unresolved one. The girls have hope because their mother is safe, but their story is not done. A little heads up about this would be nice as I felt dissatisfied with the book when I came to the ending. However, I enjoyed the book and look forward to reading the other books in the series.

Sisters of the Sword 2: Chasing the Secret (January 2009)
Sisters of the Sword 3: Journey through Fire (June 2009)

Friday, May 15, 2009

Loose Threads by Loria Ann Grover

Grover, Lorie Ann. Loose Threads. New York: McElderry, 2002.

Kay is a normal seventh grader until her grandma finds a lump on her breast. Her life, her mother's, her grandmas, and her great-grandma's all change with these simple words "I found a lump / in my breast" (1). Poems chronicle Kay's struggle to deal with the changes in her life. To understand cancer. To understand herself. To understand her friends. To accept the frailty of life.

What I thought: This book was incredibly moving because it deals with a subject every woman fears: breast cancer. The poignancy of the story increased when I realized the author was writing from her personal experience. Her own grandmother had breast cancer. I've never had anyone close to me die a lingering death, but I can understand it through this book. As Kay cried, I cried. My favorite poem in the book is "Friends." It describes perfectly what this book gives readers.

I read
in the empty time.
I read at doctors' offices.
I read after nightmares.
I read when I hide out in the bathroom
and rest my head against the toilet paper roll.
I turn page after page,
in book after book.
Other kids
suffer in novels.
I'm not the only one.
My stuff
could be worse.
I hold the open book to my face
and breathe deep.
The ink paper smell
fills me up.
Each author
is a friend saying,
"There's hope.
Look." (110-11)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Geek High

Banks, Piper. Geek High. New York: NAL Jam, 2007.

Miranda's life has been controlled by her intellect. She can do complicated math in her head. Her (unwanted) nickname is the human calculator. Miranda has plans to change that this school year. Her plans are more than a bit upset when her mother moves to London and leaves Miranda with her dad, stepmother, and stepsister. Through no fault of her own, she becomes responsible for revamping her school's Snowflake Gala. The principal also blackmails her into rejoining the math club. Miranda wanted to join Ampersand, the school's literary magazine. Miranda is intent on finding her passion, but everyone seems to thwart her efforts.

What I thought: I've noticed a trend in chick lit--a focus on the geeks as opposed to the popular people. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for this trend. I find it interesting that publishers have somehow realized that their teen readers may relate more to the geeks than the popular kids. That being said, this was an enjoyable read. I liked that Miranda refused to let her ability to solve equations in her head define her as a person. Her search for a passion is to be commended. Don't we all want to find or passion? I liked that Miranda aspired to be a writer. I would have liked a bit more description about her writing, but I can't have it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

Lockhart, E. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. New York: Hyperion, 2008.

In the summer months, Frankie goes from geek to chic. Gone is the fuzzy hair and the nonexistent chest. Frankie has the body of a woman; things are looking up for her sophomore year at Alabaster Academy. On her first day, she becomes the girlfriend of one of the most popular boys on campus. This should make Frankie happy, but it doesn't. Matthew is always ditching her for his friend Alpha. He also underestimates her--he basically tells her she's a pretty face, a cute body, and not much else. One night, Frankie follows Matthew and stumbles on a meeting of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, Alabaster's secret, all male society. Frankie knows a little about the Bassets because her dad was one. It becomes her mission to get noticed. She discovers the lost history of the order and sets out to return them to their former glory. Will Alabaster survive Frankie's escapades? Will Frankie?

What I thought: I could not put this book down. It was a riveting read. The narration threw me for an instant. I expected first person and got limited omniscient. But it worked for the book. I liked the narrator. It's someone I wish I knew better. Throughout this book, I kept thinking of the Dead Poets Society. This book is very like it. Without the suicide. With more girls. I support Frankie in all her schemes. Should make those boys think twice about dismissing her as a silly girl again. A great book, I highly recommend it.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dear Mother, Dear Daughter by Jane Yolen & Heidi E. Y. Stemple

Yolen, Jane and Heidi E. Y. Stemple. Dear Mother, Dear Daughter. Illus. Gil Ashby. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong- Boyd's Mill Press, 2001.

This collection of poems, authored by a mother and daughter, is a conversation batten a daughter and a mother. The topics are familiar ones for those who are daughters and mothers. Homework, body image, cleaning your room, crushes, death, hobbies, extending bedtime, boredom, growing up, talking on the phone, PE, and money.

What I thought: These poems are brilliant. Heidi E. Y. Stemple writes with great insight as does Jane Yolen. These women have been both daughters and mothers and those experiences are evident in the poems. I recall having conversations on similar topics with my own mother. I don't have children of my own, but when I do, I plan to give my daughter a copy of this book so we can understand each other better. Thank you ladies for creating such a legacy for women to give their daughters.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Emmaline and the Bunny

Hanniagan, Katherine. Emmaline and the Bunny. New York: Greenwillow, 2009

Emmaline wants a bunny more than anything, but bunnies are banned in the town of Neatasapin. Bunnies are not neat, just ask the mayor. Emmaline's quest for a bunny to hop and scoot-skedaddle with transforms the town into a friendlier place. (Just ask the animals).

What I thought: The book is delightful. I love Hannigan's word choices. The story reads like poetry. Her illustrations are great. I love the soft colors and the contrast between Emmaline and the other "neat" children. I believe Emmaline and the Bunny will be as popular and beloved as Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Chicks with Sticks (It's a Purl Thing)

Lenhard, Elizabeth. Chicks with Sticks (It's a Purl Thing). New York: Speak, 2005.

Scottie's having a hard time dealing with her aunt's death. Amanda's worried someone will find out about her learning disability. Bella is the school's resident hippie, all smiles, peasant skirts, and wheat grass juice. Tay is one of guys, resident tomboy. Problem is she's also crushing on one of the guys. Knitting brings these four girls together. They become knitters and friends.

What I thought: This book was a quick read and gives a new meaning to chick lit. Although I'm not a knitter (I crochet!), I know enough to easily join the chicks with sticks in their journey. I liked that the author made the girls individuals. I'd like to see a book about friends who crochet, but I'm not the one to write it. I applaud Lenhard for taking an old hobby and giving it new life. I can't wait to read the other books in the series.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Boy Proof

Castellucci, Cecil. Boy Proof. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick, 2005.

Who is Egg? A fan of the Sci-Fi flick Terminal Earth. (Can't you tell? She's renounced her given name and adopted the heroine's name as her own). She's the daughter of a small-time actress and a big-time "mask-maker, animatronic freak, monster and alien specialist, special-effects makeup wizard" (22-23). She draws. She's a photographer. She sometimes has better ideas than her dad. She's boy proof (just as her mom) and okay with it.

Egg knows who she is. Until Max enters the picture. He makes Egg question her identity.

What I thought: This was a brilliant book. Egg's voice is edgy and real. Even though I'm not much for Sci-Fi in any of its manifestations, the details were interesting and I could relate because I have some Egg-like friends. The theme of identity is strong and readers will relate. Every teen questions their identity at some point. Egg's no different. Neither am I. Or you (you know who you are).

Friday, May 1, 2009

Review: Willa by Heart

Paratore, Coleen Murtagh. Willa by Heart. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008.

Willa thought life couldn't get any better. Her crush Joey is now her boyfriend. She saved the town library. She enjoys her life at the Bramblebriar Inn, run by her mother and stepfather. She plans on calling Sam "Dad" on Father's Day. Then she discovers a mysterious girl (who is also beautiful) who has a connection to Joey. Her mother announces she's pregnant. She doesn't get the role she wanted in the play. But you know Willa--she's willful. She overcomes these problems and continues to enjoy great books and saltwater taffy.

What I thought: As the third installment in the Wedding Planner's Daughter series, I was not disappointed. Willa hasn't changed even though she has a boyfriend now. She's still an avid reader and very civic minded. "Willa's Pix" (her personal book recommendations) are great as always. I think this series would be great to use for a mother-daughter book club. Clubs could easily use "Willa's Pix" to make future selections.