Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (the movie)

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ron Barrett, first published in 1978, is a classic children's book of the small town of Chewandswallow and its unique edible weather. It's been one of my favorites since my kids were small.

When I first saw the trailer for the new movie of the same name, I was worried. There appeared to be little correlation between the book and the movie.

I was right to be worried. After seeing the movie, I was extremely disappointed. Aside from the fact that the entire premise of the book (freakish weather phenomena) is missing from the movie (in the movie, the precipitating food is an experiment gone awry), the movie is lacking the charm and innocence of the original story. In fact, as my daughter put it,

"It's just another movie about someone who needs to save the world to get his dad to love him."


If you're a fan of the book, skip this one.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Time traveling ...

In the last two weeks, I've read (or listened to) three time-traveling books, and they could not be more different from one another - a Newbery medal contender, a gripping historical fiction adventure series, and a funny bit of futurama for chapter book readers.

First, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2009), published by Wendy Lamb Books. This book is hands-down, the best book that I have read this year! It deserves a more thorough review, but for now, take my word for it - read this book! (and don't read any reviews with spoilers - the book's unpredictability is one of its most dynamic features) I hope this one's on the Newbery Medal short list.

Next, Day of the Assassins by Johnny O'Brien - just released and reviewed here.

and finally, Herbert's Wormhole by Peter Nelson, illustrated by Rohitash Rao, and narrated by Jonathan Davis.

This is a silly bit of slapstick, alien slaying, time traveling adventure (complete with zero-gravity T-ball!) that, based on the audiobook, I thought would be a good choice for young chapter book readers. However, when searching for cover art to add to this post, I realized that Herbert's Wormhole is actually a "novel in cartoons," a la Diary of a Wimpy Kid. A better choice for reading than listening, I'm sure! Unfortunately, my library doesn't own a print copy yet, but the Amazon preview looks cute.

Bottom line? All three books are suitable for varying audiences and ages, and When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is dynamite! Read it today.
And now, my time traveling adventures are done for while.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I'm a Turkey

Arnosky, Jim. 2009. I'm a Turkey! New York: Scholastic.

This book has a free mp3 download of Jim Arnosky, pickin' and strummin' and singin' along to his latest, I'm a Turkey! Fun, colorful and full of turkey facts, I'm a Turkey is entertaining as well as educational,
But we must be careful, can't be hasty, 'cuz lots of critters find us...TASTY!
The acrylic, double-spread illustrations are a perfect mix of natural, yet fanciful. Jim Arnosky is a true nature-lover, and he's a pretty fine musician, too! Perfect fun for a Thanksgiving storytime!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Day of the Assassins

O’Brien, Johnny. 2009. Day of the Assassins. Somerville, MA: Templar.
Advance Reading Copy made available by LibraryThing

A dynamic mix of historical fiction, sci-fi, and adventure, Day of the Assassins is the first in a planned series of Jack Christie Novels, time-traveling adventures featuring teenager, Jack Christie, and his best friend, Angus.

Preparing for transfer . . .
14 . . . 13 . . . 12 . . .
Transfer initiating . . .

Suddenly the glass blast screen started to lower. Belstaff, no longer pinned to the ceiling, tumbled to the floor. He didn’t move. Jack stared numbly at the body of his teacher and felt bile rise in his throat again as a terrifying thought suddenly occurred to him – Belstaff might be dead.
Jack saw Johnstone look down at his injured colleague and then up at him inside the Taurus. When he saw his eyes, he knew that boarding the Taurus had been the right decision. All of those men had one thing on their mind as they rushed forward toward him.

3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . .

With a story line that crosses time and space, Day of the Assassins thrusts Jack into a crucible of European history, Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary, on the eve of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s visit. If Jack can thwart the assassination of the Archduke, can he save the lives of millions destined to die in World War I? Or will meddling in history create greater problems unforeseen? Tangled in the midst of a deadly philosophical imperative, Jack and Angus must decide.

Johnny O’Brien adds a unique spin to historical fiction, moving seamlessly between the present and past, and successfully marrying video game action sequences with thrilling episodes in history. The modern British setting and European historical venues add spice to this action-packed series debut, and the cover art is a perfect complement

An author’s note, photo, and historical background completed this ARC. A timeline and map are planned for the final bound version. The website notes that this book is suitable for age 8 and up. I think 10 and up would be a better recommendation.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Muggie Maggie

Cleary, Beverly. 2009 (1990) Muggie Maggie. Read by Kathleen McInerny. Harper Audio.

As regularly as the seasons, Beverly Cleary's name appears each year on children's summer reading lists. So, to help with reader's advisory, I downloaded Muggie Maggie to my mp3 player. First published in 1990, it was released by Harper Audio in 2009.

Bad move. I should have picked another title.

Aside from the fact that I found Kathleen McInerny's voice to be too saccharine for even the youngest of listeners, I chose the one book that extols the virtues of cursive writing. Call me new-fashioned, but I am just not a fan. Today's children receive the most minimal training in cursive writing before they are swept up in our age of modern technology and QWERTY keyboarding. Kids don't do cursive writing well because they don't need to, don't have time to, and shouldn't have to. Other than its usefulness for legal signatures, is it really necessary?

Yes, it's a useful skill, and as a lover of history and historical documents, I would be lost without a knowledge of cursive, but truly, I think the age of cursive is over. (We're not still using shorthand are we?)

I'm with Maggie on this one - who needs it?

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg

2009. Philbrick, Rodman. The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg. New York: Blue Sky Press.

One blog I read (sorry that I can’t remember which!) said that it’s tough to get past the cover art on this one. I enjoy David Shannon's artwork and don't mean to offend; but honestly, I think that the cover art might scare away readers who would otherwise enjoy the book, but are too concerned with looking "cool." (Alas, there are such kids.)

The book, however, is an absolute winner! Set in the 1860s, Homer P. Figg and his brother Harold have a miserable existence in the care of the “meanest man in Maine,” Squinton Leach,

“A man so mean he squeezed the good out of the Holy Bible and beat us with it, and swore that God Himself had inflicted me and Harold on him, like he was Job and we was Boils and Pestilence.”

When Squinton Leach illegally sells Harold into service in the Union Army as a replacement, Homer P. Figg sets off to find him. This sounds like the set-up for a sorrow-filled tale of the Civil War. But, add in the fact that Homer P. Figg is as keen a liar and observer of human nature as was ever created by the likes of Mark Twain, and you’ve got yourself a tale that, although full of lies, lies more likely near the truth. Homer Figg shows us comedy in times of tragedy and dogged perseverance against adversity.

On his quest to free his brother from his illegal conscription, Homer meets an array of colorful characters and shares his wry observations,

as in this passage when he is travelling with an aspiring pastor,

“Dear Kate has been waiting for me all her life. She knew it the moment she looked into my eyes.” Homer wryly notes, “That does it. It can’t be true love. Mr. Willow has eyes like a sick kitten. You might love a sick kitten buy you don’t marry it, you keep it as a pet.”

Later, Homer is directed to bathe by Professor Fleabottom, his new employer and proprietor of Professor Fleabottom’s Caravan of Miracles,

“The pungent perfume of the pig is still upon you. The suffocating scent of the swine exudes from your person. In a word sir, you stink.” To which Homer declares, “Far as I’m concerned, taking a bath is sort of like drowning, with soap. Never could abide it…”

Homer’s spunk, his determination, and his ability to find joy in life during the direst of circumstances, makes him a winning hero. Yes, there is war and death and dishonesty; but there is also hope.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Have I got a book for you!

Reader's advisory got you down? Can decide what to read next? Have I got a book for you!

This is a hysterical spoof on infomercials. In this case, Mr. Al Foxword is selling, (you guessed it!) a book! (this one, to be precise)

Act now! Don't delay! Put a laugh in your day today!

Watt, Melanie. 2009. Have I got a book for you! Kids Can Press

Friday, September 4, 2009

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Lin, Grace. 2009. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. New York: Little Brown.

Grace Lin, as talented an artist as she is an author, illustrates her own novels; and it shows in the way that her cover art and drawings so expertly convey the mystical, magical feeling of her book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. The jacket art draws the reader in; and, thumbing through pages numbered in gold and sprinkled with Chinese symbols and colorful illustrations, the reader is entranced before the story even begins.

…and when the story does begin on the bleak and barren Fruitless Mountain home of Minli and her parents, the reader is enchanted by the storytelling of Minli’s gentle father and the endless possibilities presented in his stories and in those of the Goldfish Man, an itinerant vendor. Unlike her mother, disheartened and dispirited by poverty, Minli is rich in spirit and belief. She believes that she can change her family’s poor fortune by following the clues of the ancient stories, stories that will lead her to seek the Old Man of the Moon.

…and so,
On a blanket, she put:

a needle
a pair of chopsticks
her white rabbit rice bowl
a small piece of bamboo
a hollow gourd full of water
a small knife
a fishnet
some uncooked rice
a large pot
and the one remaining copper coin

Then she wrapped her blanket into a bag, tied it on her back, and took a last look at the shabby house. Through the window, Fruitless Mountain stood like a shadow, but Minli closed her eyes and imagined the house shimmering with gold and the mountain jade green with trees, and smiled. Then, she opened the door and left.

Along the way, she will travel through the Dragon Gate, the City of Bright Moonlight and the Village of Moon Rain. She will encounter a dragon, the buffalo boy, and the Green Tiger. And she will change her family’s fortune, and that of others as well; but not in the way she thinks.

A unique and delightful book that craftily reminds Minli’s mother (and the reader) of lessons learned many years ago by a young girl from Kansas who traveled in a tornado – faith, hope, charity, perseverance, and family.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

If you're not a New Jerseyan, pardon my indulgence in this region-specific book. :-)

Noble, Trinka Hakes. 2009. The New Jersey Reader. Chelsea, MI: Sleeping Bear Press.

The New Jersey Reader is an attractively illustrated and inviting little book, created in the style of early American schoolhouse primers. As such, it is certainly true to form. Its small size, and engaging format of illustrations, poems, stories, history, (and even a play) is a delightful introduction to New Jersey standard 4th grade curriculum. We have, however, come a long way from colonial primers. In this day and age, the lack of a bibliography, source materials, or author's notes is a surprising and noteworthy omission. It mars an otherwise charming book.

The publisher's Teacher's Guide should be useful to 4th grade teachers.

Beneath the Waves - a review

As we read disturbing news accounts of dying manatees , environmental disasters caused by toxic waste, and ocean pollution on the scale of ...