Monday, September 30, 2013

Simon's Cat vs. the World - a review

Technically an adult book, Simon's Cat, like Garfield, appeals to kids and teens, too.

First published in the UK, Simon's Cat is published in the US by Akashic Books.

Tofield, Simon. 2013. Simon's Cat vs. the World. Brooklyn, NY: Akashic.
(Advance Reader Copy provided by LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program) 

A Facebook, YouTube and Twitter phenomenon, Simon's Cat is as complex in attitude and emotion as he is simple in depiction. This fat, white, bug-eyed cat views himself as the center of the world; and in Simon's Cat vs. The World, the world may be out to get him.

Each page features Simon's Cat and his adversary - chickens, static, Monday, starlings, and many, many more.  Sometimes the world wins (it's hard to look dignified in a "novelty hat") and sometimes Simon's Cat wins (mere cloth cannot keep Simon's Cat from the joyful fun that awaits inside the beanbag chair).

A page of stickers is included as are instructions for drawing several kinds of cats and a squirrel. Less cynical than Garfield, and hipper than Heathcliff, Simon's Cat is irresistible.

My library shelves Simon's Cat books in DDC 817 - American humor and satire.  I think 741.5 - Comic books, graphic novels, fotonovelas, cartoons, caricatures, comic strips is a better fit, however, either way you slice it, it's funny.

Not familiar with Simon's Cat?  Here he is on YouTube.

 Today is Nonfiction Monday. You can find the day's roundup at Stacking Books.  
Next week's roundup is right here!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Middle Grade Fiction Reviews - Jersey style

I've read too much and written too little. Here's a quick rundown on two of my recent reads, The Last Present by Wendy Mass and The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand.  Both authors hail from the Garden State, though I've no doubt that Ms. Legrand would point out that she's a Texas transplant.  Still, we're glad to have her.

  • Mass, Wendy. 2013. The Last Present.  New York: Scholastic.  

The Last Present is the final book in the Willow Falls (or "birthday") series, realistic fiction with just the right amount of magic, courtesy of Angelina, the mysterious old woman with the duck-shaped birthmark. Angelina is seemingly the architect of all that occurs in Willow Falls, the town where nothing happens by coincidence and everything happens for a reason.  Readers of the series will delight in revisiting their favorite characters - Leo, Amanda, Tara, Rory, David and all rest, as their stories intertwine and the story of Angelina is finally revealed.  The fact that I never read the second book, Finally, was a bit of a hindrance to me. With many plot lines, twists and turns, this is a series best read in order. I'm sad to see it come to an end.  It's been great fun!

My reviews of other books in the series:

11 Birthdays 
13 Gifts

A note to parents and teachers - if you bought your copy of The Last Present at a Scholastic Book Fair, consider yourself lucky!  The hardcover library edition was not released until yesterday (my copy was an Advance Reader Copy).  I was surprised to see it available in paperback at the schools I visited last week.  Next year when I visit schools for National Library Card Sign-Up Month, I'm going to bring money for Book Fair shopping!

Fans of Wendy Mass will be thrilled to know that a first draft of The Candymakers movie script has been completed, and A Mango Shaped Space may see its day in Hollywood, too.  Read Wendy Mass' blog post for more details!

As the peculiar and quirky Angelina orchestrates events in Willow Falls, so too does Miss Cavendish wield influence over the perfect town of Belleville in The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, though their motives could not be more divergent.

Legrand, Claire. 2012. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. New York: Simon and Schuster. 

Victoria Wright has a perfect life in the perfect town of Belleville. A prissy young thing, she is smart, pretty, and lives in a perfectly appointed home with practically perfect parents.  In fact, the only thing that isn't perfect in Victoria's life is her "friend," Lawrence, a rather disheveled and odd young boy, but Victoria's friend, nevertheless - perhaps because no one else can suffer her compulsive need for perfection.  The fact that her town contains an orphanage of sorts, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, has never given her pause.  In fact, no one in Belleville gives it much thought. Run by the charming, beautiful and well-mannered, Miss Cavendish, it somehow blends into the very fabric of the town. However, when Lawrence goes on an unexplained and lengthy trip to visit "a grandmother," Victoria begins to suspect that something in town may be amiss. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls may not be what it seems.  

Dark and decidedly creepy, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls will thrill middle grade readers looking for a good scare.  You will be hard pressed to find a more sinister villain than the beautiful Miss Cavendish.   Be careful of wishing for perfection.  It does not come without a price!

I will have the pleasure of meeting Claire Legrand in person next month. I'm so looking forward to it!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Urgency Emergency! Easy reader fun!

If you've read my blog for any length of time, you'll know that I'm not a fan of many beginning readers.  I am constantly frustrated by the lack of consistency in the labeling of beginning readers (the difficulty variation in similarly labeled levels is maddening), and discouraged by the insistence of some adults that children must choose a particularly numbered or labeled book regardless of whether or not it appeals to him.  That's why I so seldom review beginning readers. Of late, however, I do like many of Toon Books' offerings, Holiday House's I Like to Read series, and Eve Bunting's Frog and Friends series).

Now I have another series that makes me happy because it's funny in that dry sort of way in which the Brits are so accomplished - and it's leveled (see below), but not labeled.

Urgency Emergency! Big Bad Wolf
Urgency Emergency! Itsy Bitsy Spider
Dosh Archer, 2013
Albert Whitman & Company

The Urgency Emergency! series follows Doctor Glenda, Nurse Percy, and the patients they see each day in the emergency room.  Patients are the inhabitants of fractured folktales and nursery rhymes that should be familiar to most readers.

In Itsy Bitsy Spider, Itsy has a gash on her head that requires stitches.  How did it happen? We hear the report of a bystander,

"I don't know what happened," cried Miss Muffet. "I was just walking along when I found the spider lying in a puddle of water at the bottom of the waterspout." 
And the patient relates,
"The last thing I remember is a big whoosh of water rushing toward me."

But fear not! Everything turns out fine - even the weather,

Outside the sun had come out and dried up all the rain.

Nurse Percy and Doctor Glenda are the anchor characters of the series, and the straight man and woman in this fun and silly series.

48 pages, brightly-colored illustrations and limited text on each page, many double-spread paintings
Looking for reading levels?  Here they are:

Age Levels: 5-8, Grades: Kindergarten-3

UK version, Bloomsbury
Publishing, 2009

These are new to the US, but apparently at least one was published under a different title in the UK, Choking Wolf (Urgency Emergency).

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hit By Pitch - a review

Many months ago, I requested a copy of Hit By Pitch from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.  I was thrilled that I was chosen to receive a copy, but it never showed up -- until last week, when I eagerly devoured it, and was not disappointed. This one's not for *kids, but certainly suitable for young adults.

Lawless, Molly. 2012. Hit By Pitch: Ray Chapman, Carl Mays and the Fatal Fastball. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

If you've ever watched a player get beaned by a baseball, you've experienced the sickening feeling that occurs merely from watching.  In 1920, fifty years before the mandated use of batting helmets, Cleveland Indian shortstop, Ray "Chappie" Chapman, became the first and only major league baseball player to be killed by a pitched ball.  This is his story and the story of  pitcher, Carl Mays of the New York Yankees.

In some ways, it is easy to write about sports as the statisticians make the research simple  - dates, times, players, locations, runs, hits, balls, strikes, averages - it's all recorded history.  However, the single entry in the scorer's book for the game at the Polo Grounds between the Cleveland Indians the New York Yankees, "hit by pitch," cannot explain the tragic story of baseball's only fatal beaning on August 16, 1920.  Molly Lawless uses black and white drawings, period quotes, newspaper articles, and sportswriter commentaries to animate this story for a new generation.

A more perfect tragedy could not be conceived if it were a work of fiction - the odd, sullen and nearly friendless "villain," Carl Mays, versus the cheerful, handsome and beloved athlete, businessman, husband and friend, "Chappie." One will live and one will die.  Both stories end in tragedy.

Fascinating, well-researched, and told with a keen eye for the game and all its intricacies and idiosyncrasies. Ms. Lawless' respect for (and love of) baseball is apparent in every page. Her black and white illustrations evoke the time and spirit of the game in the "deadball era," and an American public, still processing the effects of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal and the relatively new phenomenon of Prohibition. Fans of baseball, graphic novels, history or tragedy will love this book.

*For younger readers interested in this topic, Dan Gutman's, Ray & Me (Harper Collins, 2009), tells the tragic story as part of his Baseball Card Adventures series, combining fact, fiction and a hint of fantasy as the young protagonist travels back in time to great moments in baseball history.

Today's Nonfiction Monday is hosted by author, Anastasia Suen, at her Booktalking blog.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Laziness (mine) and librarian humor

I've been slow to get back to blogging since my vacation.  I'll get some new posts up soon.  Books I've read recently include The Final Present (the upcoming finale to Wendy Mass' Willow Falls series), The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand, Simon's Cat vs. the World by Simon Tofield, Shark Girl and Formerly Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham, and the Boxers and Saints set by Gene Luen Yang. (I met him at BookExpo this year - he seemed like a really nice guy!)  I'm in the midst of The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (love it!) and a long awaited copy of Hit by Pitch by Molly Lawless.  I'll have something to say about all of them - either here or on LibraryThing.

If you're waiting to hear about any of these in particular, let me know and I'll move it up on my list.

Today, however, I'm over at the ALSC Blog, the official blog of the Association for Library Service to Children.  My post is directed to librarians and concerns librarian humor.  If you're a librarian or would like a peek at what many librarians find humorous, hop over to the ALSC blog and read "Librarian Laughs."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Mitchell Goes Bowling - a review

Bowling is not necessarily a hot topic in picture books. If you're a fan or have a budding bowler in your midst, this is the book for you!

Durand, Hallie. 2013. Mitchell Goes Bowling. Somerville, MA: Candlewick.  Illustrated by Tony Fucile.

Mitchell (of Mitchell's License, Candlewick, 2011) is back, and this time he's going bowling!  No "bumper lanes" for this high-energy little guy, he's raring to hit the big time and battle his dad at the bowling alley.

"Battle on!" said Mitchell.  He just knew he was going to win.
Then it was his father's turn. He backed all the way up,
swooshed toward the line,
and did a little kick with his leg.
"STRIKE!" said his dad.  All the pins had gone down, and his dad got an X.
"Oh," said Mitchell.
On Mitchell's second turn,
he did the leg kick, too.
But the ball only went a little, so Mitchell ran after it.
The lane was slippery.
That's when the people next door asked for a new lane.

Maybe bowling isn't as easy as it looks, but Mitchell sure wants that "X" and a chance to do his dad's "steamin'- hot-potato dance."  As expected, Mitchell's dad has the perfect solution.

Four reasons to love this book (I can't think of any reasons not to):

  • Mitchell's hipster dad - black-framed glasses, goatee, cool clothes, short and shaggy hair - gotta' love him
  • Mitchell's dad doesn't "let" Mitchell win - there's never a lesson in that, and Mitchell's dad knows it
  • Mitchell's range of expression - happy, frustrated, angry, devilish, joyous and downright riotous - priceless
  • The steamin'-hot-potato dance - what child doesn't want to do that?

Advance Reader Copy - due on shelves September 10, 2013.  Get a copy!

Hallie Durand is a Jersey girl. (I look for these things) The book's dedication page offers a shout-out to Hanover Lanes in East Hanover, NJ.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day

Pause today to celebrate Labor Day, "a creation of the labor movement" and "dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country." 

This year marked the 100th anniversary of the Department of Labor, created by President William Howard Taft.

Among many other benefits, most American workers can thank the labor movement for weekends without work, the 8-hour workday, workplace safety laws, and laws outlawing discrimination in the workplace.

Whether or not you are a fan of the labor movement and labor unions often depends on whether or not you belong to one.  Whichever position you may have, take time today to contemplate the issue from a different perspective. Thoughtful contemplation and discussion are much more fruitful than the alternatives.

Labor Day Parade, Union Square, New York, 1887, from Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views
Labor Day Parade, Union Square, New York, 1887.
Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views.
This media file is in the public domain in the United States. This applies to U.S.
works where the copyright has expired, often because its first publication occurred prior to January 1, 1923.

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 ...