Friday, November 28, 2008

Twice Upon a Marigold

Ferris, Jean. 2008. Twice upon a Marigold. Harcourt: Orlando.

Twice Upon a Marigold is the follow-up story to the multiple award-winning bestseller, Once Upon a Marigold (one of my favorites). The story continues the saga of Princess, (now Queen) Marigold and Prince Christian after the tyrant, Queen Olympia's, "unfortunate" disappearance into the river on their wedding day.

Twice Upon a Marigold continues the tongue-in-cheek humor of the original. Reading the "Daily Discourse," Marigold remarks,

"Look at that. Alison Wonderland has gotten lost again. That girl just never learns."

There are not enough new fairy tale funnies, however, to match the original book. "P mail," (pigeon messages), and Marigold's penchant for bad jokes, are holdovers from the previous book. Additionally, the moral messages in Twice Upon a Marigold are delivered a little heavy-handedly. When Lazy Susan is demoted to a job as a scullery maid, Mrs. Clover questions her and takes her to task,

"'How are those kettles coming along?' she asked pointedly. 'They're repulsive,' Lazy Susan said. 'That's true,' Mrs. Clover agreed. 'But getting them clean is a necessity. And a great accomplishment. Something to be proud of.' ...

Always before she'd been content to avoid effort of any kind, and she hadn't cared who knew it. But the things Mrs. Clover had said to her made her feel . . . maybe ashamed? Or chastened? Or embarrassed? Whatever it was, it wasn't a good feeling."

A surprise twist at the end regarding the royal dressmaker and chef - the magically handy, foreign language expert, Stan Lucasa, adds some last-minute humor. A quick, fun read for middle-grades, but not on par with the original.

Once Upon a Marigold was the winner of multiple awards including: ALA Best Book for Young Adults, ALA Notable Children’s Book, and Voice for Youth Advocates (VOYA) Top Shelf Fiction for Middle School Readers

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Narrated by Tom Parker. Blackstone Audio.

I just finished listening to Blackstone Audio's unabridged version of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, narrated by Tom Parker. I know there are other audio versions, and I have not compared them, however, I would venture to guess that Parker's version is one of the best, if not the best reading. A narrator's note prior to the story explains the differing dialects used throughout the story. Remaining true to the story's time period and Twain's dialogue, speech patterns, accents and vocabulary vary according the the character's class, color, and geographical location. Tom Parker nails them all.

This is wonderful medium for bringing new life to an old classic. About 9 1/2 hours on CD or mp3.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Who's Haunting the White House?

Belanger, Jeff. 2008. Who's Haunting the White House? The President's Mansion and the Ghosts Who Live There. New York: Sterling.

In spite of it's attention-grabbing title, this book is a bit of a disappointment. The book chronicles the history of White House hauntings, from its most famous, the ghost of Abraham Lincoln, to the unnamed British soldier from the War of 1812, and all the ghostly inhabitants in between.

Who's Haunting the White House? walks the reader through a quasi-scientific look at the supernatural. Unfortunately, it does not offer a balanced perspective. The author is steadfast in the belief that ghosts do exist, even offering testimony as to what ghosts do and do not like,

"Sometimes spirits don't like to see their homes changed around too much, and they may let us know this in rather frightening ways."

Apart from Mary Lincoln's testimony (which some may discount because of her well-known peculiar behaviors), the book offers little proof in the supernatural other than passages in President Truman's letters, "the place is haunted, sure as shootin'," second-hand accounts, and several witnesses' accounts of a "cold presence" or "eerie chill."

Who's Haunting the White House? does contain some interesting White House history, as well as drawings, and photographs. A bibliography, index, photo credits, references and acknowledgments follow the rather text-heavy body of the book.

This is a book for would-be ghost hunters or those interested in White House history.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Little Audrey

White, Ruth. 2008. Little Audrey. New York: Farrar Strauss Giroux.

In Little Audrey, Ruth White does for 1940s coal miners, beholden to the "company store," what Karen Hesse did for the Dust Bowl farmers in Out of the Dust. Based on her own life (and including photos of her family), White brings life to both the pervasive hopelessness and the individual hopefulness of a Virginia coal mining town, through the voice of her older sister, Audrey. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Marley: A Dog Like No Other

Grogan, John. 2007. Marley: A dog like no other. New York: Harper Collins.

Marley, A Dog Like No Other, is a juvenile version of the bestseller, Marley & Me. I have not read the adult version, so I cannot compare the two, however, Marley: A Dog Like No Other is a wonderful book in its own right.

A true story, based on the life of a lovable yet incorrigible Labrador, this book is a celebration not only of a dog, but of a family as well - one that is willing to see its imperfections and find humor in them. Like a comedian that spends ten minutes setting up the perfect punchline, Grogan has a perfect sense of comedic timing. Even if the reader can guess the outcome of any one of Marley's many escapades, Grogan delivers them with humor. More difficult than humor, however, is conveying the love that the Grogan family has for their dog.

"We could have bought a yacht with what we spent on our dog and all the things he destroyed. We'd take Marley any day. Yachts don't wait by the door all day for your return. And they don't live for the moment they can climb into your lap or ride down the hill with you on a toboggan, licking your face."

Eight pages of color photos are included. This is a humorous and heartwarming book that has just been chosen as the 2009 One Book New Jersey choice for middle grade readers. An excellent choice!

The movie version is due out on Christmas Day. Read the book first!

High School Musical 3: Senior Year

High School Musical 3: Senior Year.

I finally got around to seeing the latest High School Musical installment. This time, Troy, Gabriella, Chad and the rest of the East High kids, are making plans for college as they wind up their senior year. The year's musical, The Last Waltz, is a celebration of their final year.

It was a predictable movie. When it began with Troy breaking into song while driving the lane to the hoop in a championship basketball game, I wondered if I'd be able to make it through - but I did, and the believability improved (albeit slightly) as the story went on.

The bottom line is this: the East High students are motivated to attend college, their parents are well-meaning, the kids don't drink or smoke or curse, and the teacher is caring. There are worse ways for a kid to spend 112 minutes.

My daughters enjoyed it.

As for the slew of books that accompany each movie release - consider this:
High School Musical is a musical. Watch it, dance to it, listen to it - don't read it.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Minn and Jake's Almost Terrible Summer

Wong, Janet. Minn and Jake’s Almost Terrible Summer. 2008. New York: Frances Foster.

This is the second in a series of books about two unlikely friends, Minn – a tall, lizard- loving girl, and Jake, a very small boy. Separation, misunderstandings, and Jake’s often meddlesome little brother, Soup, almost combine to ruin Minn and Jake’s fifth grade summer; but honesty and a little dose of humility help to save summer.

This book has a lot going for it, including the humorous sketches by Geneviève Côté. Its short length and minimal text on each page make it a good choice for reluctant readers. Additionally, protagonists of both sexes make this series appealing to boys as well as girls. The revelation that Jake is part Korean, adds a hint of multiculturalism and interest.
When Minn meets Jake’s grandmother,

“She whispers,
You didn’t tell me you were Asian!
Jake whispers back,
Did you ever tell me that you’re white?

Jake explains his hapa heritage.
Hapa = slang for half-white, half-Asian.
His mother is half-Korean, half-Norwegian.
His father is half-German, half-French.

Minn points out that Jake is not hapa, then,
but three-quarters white,
and only one-quarter Asian.

OK, then, Jake says. Quarpa, I’m quarpa.
Jake likes the sound of quarpa.
It sounds like something with superpowers.”

The best feature of Minn and Jake’s Almost Terrible Summer, though, is humor that children can relate to – as when Jake vomits at the all-you-can-eat buffet and is forced to wear his mother’s pink shirt.
“MINN: Yup. (Your mom’s shirt?)
JAKE: (Can you believe my mom?)
She put the stupid pink shirt on me,
she buttoned the buttons (daisy buttons!),
she wiped my chin like a baby. PINK!
(I can’t even stand to think about it now.)”

The free-verse style is appealing, but the choice of punctuation distracted me. In most instances, dialogue (including unspoken thought) is differentiated solely by the use of italics. However, Minn and Jake’s phone conversations and conversations between Jake and the boys from his old neighborhood, are written in script format,

Of course, maybe I’m just showing my age! Today’s kids are not hung up on punctuation – or spelling, and perhaps they’ll find Wong’s format refreshing. Minn and Jake are believable fifth grade friends.

The first title in this series, Minn and Jake was a Bank Street College Best Children's Book of the Year and A Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Blue Ribbon Book.