Friday, March 26, 2010

My Abuelita

Johnston, Tony. 2009. My Abuelita. Illustrated by Yuyi Morales. Boston: Harcourt.
(winner of a 2010 Pura Belpre Illustrator Honor)

A riot of brightly colored collage and puppet art infused with a Latino flair, accompanies this delightful story of a young child watching his Abuelita prepare for work.
While she cooks, she yodels about bedroom slippers. "Pantuflas - pantuflas - pantuflas!" "Yodeling loosens my voice," she explains, "for work." I know that already. My abuelita says it every day. But I like to hear it anyway.

So, what does Abuelita do for work that requires yodeling, a feathered crown, a plumed snake, a cloud-scarf? You'll have to read this enchanting story to find out!
Check out the cat!  Her name is Frida Kahlo!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Top 100, Wind in the Willows, and Playaway

On the Top 100 Children’s Novels, The Wind in the Willows, and Playaway 


Like most kidlit bloggers, I have been happily following Fuse #8’s countdown of the Top 100 Children’s Novels. The books were chosen by creating aggregate scores, derived from the rankings of top-ten favorites as submitted by readers. I submitted my top ten (with Wind in the Willows a close second to Where the Red Fern Grows), but I must confess that most days, when I read Fuse #8, I am slapping my hand against my head wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that one?” In any case, with hindsight or not, I would never make a top ten list without Kenneth Grahame’s, The Wind in the Willows (1908). Of all the books that I read in elementary school, Mole, Rat, Toad, and Badger stuck with me like old friends throughout the years.

I was glad to see that it made the Top 100 in the Fuse #8 poll, though I wish it had been a little higher than #53. Read Elizabeth Bird’s post on #s 55-51, for a complete discussion on this, one of my favorite books of all time. (you'll have to scroll down to #53)

So what does this all have to do with Playaway? Well, upon seeing Willows crack the Top 100 list, I had the urge to experience it again, but in a 21st century framework. I checked out the Playaway version, read by Ralph Coshman and published by Findaway World, Cleveland, Ohio. If you’re not familiar with Playaway audio books, they are single-purpose, multi-use, mp3 players. It’s a very simple mp3 player loaded with one book and lacking recording capabilities. It has basic command buttons – on/off, play/pause, fast forward, reverse, volume. It begins each time at the farthest listening point. That’s it! Easy as pie. Larger than a typical mp3, but smaller than an iTouch, they’re durable, portable and convenient. Your public library should offer them.

Ralph Coshman’s audio delivery of the characters is superb. He flows from one richly developed character to the next with effortless grace. Grahame’s scenic narrations come alive under the spell of Coshman’s voice.

Read it or listen to it, but by any means, check out the classic, Wind in the Willows.

A side note that speaks to the enduring popularity of The Wind in the Willows – Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, based on the book’s arrogant but loveable miscreant, is still a staple attraction at Disneyland in California. When Disneyworld shut down its version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in 1998, ninety years after the book’s publication, it was to the dismay of many fans. A quick search of the internet will find numerous web sites and a Facebook page dedicated to saving Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

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Monday, March 22, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday: Sonia Sotomayor

Alas, it's been a busy weekend, and I don't have anything prepared for Non-Fiction Monday, but I encourage everyone to check out this week's host site, Books Together

Although I don't have a review prepared, I did check out Atheneum's, bilingual Sonia Sotomayor: A judge grows in the Bronx, written by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Edel Rodriguez (2009).

According to the book jacket, Sonia Sotomayor is a Children's Book-of-the-Month Featured Selection, and and also an Alternate Selection of Mosaico.  Despite these honors and the book's illustrious subject, I found the writing slightly disappointing. Jonah Winter's "familiar" style and does not fit with the lofty story of this hard-working justice from the Bronx.
She was also known for having no patience for lawyers who weren't prepared - you better not mess with Judge Sonia!  Yet she was known for much more than this.
I can't speak as to how the book flows in its Spanish translation.

I did however, enjoy the overall comaprison of Sonia Sotomayor with a tenacious vine that thrives and blooms with care and hard work. The artwork is soft and simple, and accurately portrays Sotomayor's Latina heritage. This is a perfect choice for Women's History Month.

OK, so I guess I did have something for Non-Fiction Monday.  It's amazing what one can accomplish in a lunch hour.

I will be hosting Non-Fiction Monday on April 12th.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Steampunk, etc.

Back in November, I attended a youth services forum that featured a program on Steampunk.  I was unable to sit in on that session, but I knew that I'd have to follow up.  After all, I didn't even know what Steampunk was! Now I'm finally (somewhat) up to speed on this genre.

 In her session materials, presenter Sharon Rawlins defined Steampunk as "a sub-genre of fantasy and science fiction often set in the steam-powered Victorian and Edwardian eras. It imitates the speculative fiction of H.G. Wells & Jules Verne and features anachronistic technologies such as dirigibles and computers."

I checked my library's available Steampunk audiobook downloads and decided on the Hunchback Assignments.  Truthfully, I didn't have great expectations. Suprisingly, I thoroughly enjoyed the book, although the story was a bit too dark for my taste.

Modo, a deformed hunchback, is rescued from a gypsy's travelling sideshow by a benevolent, but cool and distant benefactor, Mr. Socrates.  Raised in isolation and trained for varied and dangerous eventualities, Modo finally learns the true reason for his rescue.  He begins a series of increasingly dangerous missions against an increasingly malevolent and murderous foe that threatens the very fabric of English society.

The publisher's book trailer and a link to Chapter 1 are below; however, I must note that I don't feel as if the trailer does the book justice.  The trailer adds a bit of comic lightheartedness that is missing in this compelling adventure story.  Jayne Entwhistle's presentation in the audiobook version has the perfect tone for this dangerously gloomy adventure story. I found it to be somewhat like The Golden Compass in mood.

A convincing story that makes it easy to suspend disbelief.  Modo is a flawed hero who is easy to admire, and his female interest, Octavia, is a perfect foil.


Slade, Arthur. 2009. The Hunchback Assignments, Book 1. Read by Jayne Entwhistle.  Listening Library.

Read Chapter 1 online.


The Hunchback Assignments (Book Trailer) from Arthur Slade on Vimeo.


Interested in reading some Steampunk yourself? You may find a list of titles from Sharon Rawlins' presentation here.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling

Wood, Maryrose. 2010. The Mysterious Howling. New York: Harper Collins.

"All books are judged by their covers until they are read."
A most appropriate quote from Agatha Swanburne, founder of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, from which our protagonist, 15-year-old Penelope Lumley, has recently graduated.  An appropriate quote for it was the cover that initially drew me in to this story of Miss Lumley and the peculiar inhabitants of Ashton Place.

Although only fifteen, Miss Penelope Lumley is an extremely capable young lady, in the mold of Mary Poppins or any number of similar governesses that one might find in mid-nineteenth century England - firm, but not inflexible; kind but not sentimental.  Still, her rigorous training could hardly have been preparation for her new position at Ashton Place. Lord Ashton is a puzzling man with curious habits and a strange sense of humor, Lady Constance Ashton is a flighty, excitable woman, and the children (if one may call them children) are three siblings that have apparently been raised by wolves in the wild and forbidding Ashton Forest.  Of course, this does not pose a problem for the capable Miss Lumley; however, there are many unexplained mysteries afoot. Who wishes to sabotoge the children's transition into civilized society?  What secret is Mr. Ashton hiding?  What secrets lie hidden with Ashton Place? What became of the children's parents (and for that matter, of Miss Lumley's parents as well!)? 

Consistently written in a style that evokes the sensibilities of England in the 1850s, Wood's writing is amusing as well and contains frequent helpful "asides" from the narrator.
Now there is a scientific principle that states: Once a train has left the station and is going along at a good clip, it is often fiendishly difficult to slam on the brakes, even if you are clearly headed for trouble (the same holds true for horses that have already left their barns).  This principle is Newton's very first law of motion and was considered old news even in Miss Penelope Lumley's day.
   Penelope had taken physics at Swanburne and, thus, knew all about Newton's laws of motion. Still, she felt that a final, desperate, and heroic attempt to change the course of events that now led inexorably and disatrously to the children attending Lady Constance's party seemed called for, and so she gave it her all.
    "Lady Constance, your plans for a holiday ball sound delightful, and I am sure the children would hate to miss it," she began, "but coincidentally, I was intending to ask you if I may take them on a ski holiday in France until after the New Year..."
   To give you an idea how final, desperate, and heroic this suggestion was, it should be noted that Penelope had never skied in her life, nor had she ever been to France that she could recall, nor did she know precisely where one might ski in France.  However, she assumed that any country with so sterling a reputation must be equipped with mountains somewhere; the rest of the information she knew she could easily find in an encyclopedia.

It's difficult not to admire Miss Lumley; and her young wolfish charges, Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia, adore her. You will too.

Finally, a word on series, as this is the first book in the new series, The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place:
I always approach a series with trepidation.  There are so many outcomes possible - will I gain years of enjoyment and then a melancholy wistfulness as the series draws to a close as in Harry Potter?  Will I invest time and enthusiasm only to be left waiting interminably, as in The Abarat? Will I be interested enough in the outcome but lack the ambition to keep up, as in The 39 Clues?  Will I read only one installment and feel satisfied that I have enough feeling and understanding for the series to promote it as in Baby Mouse?  The jury is still out on The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place.  The cover drew me in, but it is the confident Miss Penelope Lumley that may convince me to stay.

A reading guide is available from the publisher.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Older than the Stars

Fox, Karen C. 2010. Older than the stars. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.

Wow! Who would think that one could create a picture book explaining the Big Bang Theory? A good picture book. An accurate picture book. A rhyming, cumulative picture book. Karen C. Fox and illustrator Nancy Davis have done just that! Kudos!

A simple, cumulative rhyme follows the creation of the universe,
... this is the star of red-hot stuff, that burst from the gas in a giant puff, that spun from the blocks, that formed from the bits that were born in the bang, when the world began.
Smaller text insets explain the concept in greater detail for older readers. A Time Line of the Universe and a Glossary are included.

Large text in a "printing" font is artfully placed on colorful, double-spread illustrations, created with "pencil, cut paper, and potato and eraser prints, then digitally composed."



Monday, March 8, 2010

Catherine the Great: Empress of Russia

Vincent, Zu. 2009. Catherine the Great: Empress of Russia. New York: Scholastic.


For today's Non-Fiction Monday post, I'd like to highlight A Wicked History series, published by Franklin Watts, an imprint of Scholastic. Love history? Appreciate cunning? Tired of the usual biographies? Then, A Wicked History series may be your answer.

Catherine the Great is one of history's famous (infamous?) characters who fits the criteria for this engaging series. Catherine is a study in contrasts. She was an early proponent of the Enlightenment; she sought to free millions of Russian peasants from serfdom; she was a great patron of the arts - founding the renowned Hermitage museum. And yet, she overthrew Russia's lawful ruler, her husband; she is widely suspected of ordering her husband's murder; she put down peasant rebellions with an iron fist.

Zu Vincent's book examines both sides of Catherine's life, allowing the reader to draw his own conclusions. Skillful use of maps, period quotations, illustrations, and explanatory text box insets, Catherine the Great: Empress of Russia is a brief, attention-grabbing biography. A "Wicked Web" replaces the usual "family tree," and a "Timeline of Terror" replaces the more benign and generic timeline. This balanced book, however, does not dwell solely on the sensational (though readers, parents and teachers should expect the truth -including murder, villainy, and extra-marital activities).

A glossary, index, list of additional sources, and author's note with bibliography complete this well-researched book. A perfect choice for reluctant 'tweens and teens with biography assignments.

Attila the Hun, Henry VIII, King George III, and many other villains may be found in the series.
Best for middle and high school readers.

All of today's Non-Fiction Monday posts may be found at Lost Between the Pages. Be sure to check them out!

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