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Showing posts from September, 2008

The Giggler Treatment by Roddy Doyle, pictures by Brian Ajhar 111pp RL 3

This book is all over the place, and I mean that in the best possible way. I was very excited about this book when it first came out and I bought it eight years ago. Roddy Doyle is a fabulous award winning Irish author, his book The Commitments was made into a movie in the 1990s, who has written a handful of children's books. I know that Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler made digression in children's books popular and somewhat entertaining with his Series of Unfortunate Events books, the first of which was published a year before The Giggler Treatment, but I prefer Doyle's brand of digression for its humor and playfulness as opposed to Snicket's intellectualized, cynicism.
The basic plot of revolves around the Gigglers - little creatures who look after children by following them around and making sure that adults are treating them fairly. When children are treated unfairly, they exact revenge on the adults by giving them the Giggler Treatment, or, poo on the shoe, un…

The Midwife's Apprentice by Karen Cushman, 122pp RL 4

As you might have noticed, books written in the fantasy genre are my favorites, however, as I continue to choose books that I have loved and think are important for review, I am surprised by the number of works of historical fiction that are popping up. Among them, The Midwife's Apprentice is one of my favorites. Karen Cushman is remarkably skilled at evoking the colorful, dirty, smelly aspects of life in a medieval village and equally adept at creating strong female characters who face adversity and, through true trial and error, grow to meet their challenges.
The main character of The Midwife's Apprentice is a nameless, ageless and homeless girl, found sleeping in a dung pile for warmth when the story begins. Apprenticed by Jane Sharp, the self-interested, greedy village midwife, who renames her Beetle, after a dung beetle, she learns that midwifery is as much about hard work as it is tonics and spells. Used to being an outsider, Beetle watches the movements of those ar…

The Hoboken Chicken Emergency story and pictures by Daniel Pinkwater 84pp RL3

Daniel Pinkwater is a very funny guy. He makes frequent appearances on NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday to discuss children's books with the host Scott Simon. I have discovered many a great story time book thanks to Mr Pinkwater. Sometimes Pinkwater and Simon will even read the books out loud, which is great. And, of course, he has written over 100 children's books. If you never read another one of his books, please make sure you read his picture book Big Orange Splot. Otherwise, check out what he can do for a 266 pound chicken named Henrietta.

Arthur Bobowicz is sent out to find a turkey for the family's Thanksgiving dinner, even though no one really likes it. While he has no luck finding any poultry, he does find a card for Professor Mazzocchi, Inventor of the Chicken System. For a mere sixteen dollars he takes the enormous Henrietta home with him and promptly becomes enamored of her. Arthur's parents don't mind keeping her as a pet at first, but when sh…

The Shrinking of Treehorn by Florence Parry Heide, drawings by Edward Gorey 64 pp RL 3

I am a fan of Edward Gorey's and I remember when the Treehorn Trilogywas reissued in 2006, but didn't rush out to buy it since it was shelved in the Cartoonist/Humorist section of the bookstore and not the children's section. Sadly, it went out of print in the blink of an eye, which is too bad since the trilogy (which I bought used recently) is printed on gorgeous, thick paper, the quality of the illustrations is superb and, of course, it is small - a bit bigger and a bit thinner than a brick! I decided to hunt down the book and review it when it kept popping up on websites of kid's book authors I like and when I discovered that the first book, The Shrinking of Treehorn, is available in paperback.
Originally published in 1971, the adults in this book act and look the era. The jacket flap of the trilogy describes Treehorn as a clever but repeatedly ignored boy. While this might sound horrible, any of you who were kids in the 70s might remember that is was also a p…

I Was a Rat! by Philip Pullman picutres by Kevin Hawkes 164pp RL 3

One of my favorite new genres in kid's books and in adult literature is the exploration of the back stories of already famous works. Gregory Maguire, most famous for Wicked, the life story of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West from L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz, has done the same for the stories of Snow White, Cinderella. Most recently, his book for kids, What the Dickens, follows the life of a rogue tooth fairy. In teen fiction, Frank Beddor is following in Maguire's footsteps with his series Looking Glass Wars. This series follows Alyss Heart as she is cast out of Wonderland at age ten by her vicious Aunt Redd, adopted into a new family, befriended by Lewis Carroll and, at age twenty, returns to Wonderland to battle her aunt.
Philip Pullman follows a similar path in his bookfor kid's published in 1999, I Was A Rat! The first page of the book is an article from the tabloid of the day, The Daily Scourge, detailing the Prince's new found love, Lady Aur…

Poppleton by Cynthia Rylant, pictures by Mark Teague 48pp RL2

I always knew that Cynthia Rylant was a prolific writer, but I never realized how many books by her I had read until I began writing reviews. And, again, I get to review a book with pictures by another one of my favorite illustrators. Mark Teague, who may be best known for illustrating the "How Do Dinosaurs" books by Jane Yolen, is a wonderful picture book author/illustrator in his own right. However, my all-time favorites are the books he did with Audrey Wood, The Flying Dragon Room and Sweet Dream Pie. The stories and illustrations are brilliantly imaginative and perfectly creatively matched. Don't forget, picture books are still appealing to and great reads for 2nd and even 3rd grade readers. Just because they are shorter than a 70 page chapter book doesn't mean they aren't worth reading.


Poppleton is one of my all-time favorite characters, a pig I think I could be friends with. I would say his nearest literary relatives would have to be the inscrutable

Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess, Page transcribed by Richard Platt, illuminated by Chris Riddell 128 pp RL 3

Of course I was drawn to this book because of Chris Riddell's excellent illustrations, as well as the fact that my favorite kid's book publisher, Candlewick Press, released it. But, I discovered that, aside from being a really interesting read, it is unique among kid's chapter books. There are a handful of great books set during the medieval time period, Crispin by Avi, Matilda Bone, The Midwife's Apprenticeand Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman, Elske, Jackaroo and On Fortune's Wheel by Cynthia Voigt, and the superb Quest for a Maid by Francis Hendry, which could almost be a companion to Castle Diary, to name a few, but none that detail so intimately the daily life of a medieval child.
Tobias Burgess is eleven when, after two years of waiting, his mother finally agrees that he can spend the next twelvemonth as a page at the castle of his father's elder brother. The writing style is faux-medieval and there will be some names and words specific to the p…

Moxy Maxwell Does Not Love Stuart Little by Peggy Gifford 92pp RL 3

*******polemic warning******* *feel free to skip to the review* This is a very difficult review for me to write because, while I love the title and subject of this book, I don't think I really like the book itself. In general, I do not like books that have precocious girls as the main characters. By precocious I mean girls with attitude. I appreciate the "girl power" and individuality and creativity that these girls possess, but their bossiness, big ideas, proclivity for trouble, and sometimes incorrect use of the English language rubs me the wrong way. I really want to like these books because I think that they are trying to speak to kids/girls on their own level about their own experiences. But ultimately, I think that the real life experiences of 8,9 and 10 year olds are on the whole pretty boring and not book worthy and the authors supplement this with antics that don't ring totally true for me. That being said, I feel awful revealing my true feelings beca…

The Invention of Hugo Cabret written and illustrated by Brain Selznick 533pp RL4

Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a groundbreaking children's book for so many reasons. It is the fist chapterbook to ever win the Caldecott Medal which recognizes children's picture books for achievements in illustration. Selznick, who also won a Caldecott Honor Award for illustrating the non-fiction picture book, The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, won this award because this is, in a sense, truly a picture book at heart. Over half the pages are full-page, double spread illustrations, some of which go on for eight or more pages at a time. The nature of the illustrations suit the subject of the book perfectly, which ultimately is the lifework of the French filmaker, Georges Melies, who made the first ever science fiction film, A Trip to the Moon, which you can watch on Brian Selznick's website. As you follow the illustrations, chunks of which are interspersed with the text, your eye follows the pictures like a camera panning across a movie set and the …

The Firework-Maker's Daughter by Philip Pullman, illustrations by S. Saelig Gallagher 97pp RL 3

Philip Pullman is best known for his trilogy, The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, three of the finest books written for children, fantasy or otherwise. But he is also the author of several other books, including the entertaining Sally Lockhart Series for teens, set in 1872 London, and this wonderful fairy tale-like gem.

"A thousand miles ago, in a country east of the jungle and south of the mountains, there lived a firework-maker called Lalchand and his daughter, Lila," is how the story begins. Motherless, Lila grows up in her father's workshop and naturally learns his trade. But, when she wants to learn his art and be considered an equal, she is met with her father's dismay. Despite her skill and talent, he had always assumed that she would marry when she came of age. Pullman writes, "Each of them had quite the wrong idea about things, and they were both alarmed to find it out." Furious with her father, Lila seeks the company …

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, illustrations by Peter Sis 88pp RL3

"The young prince was known here and there (and just about everywhere else) as Prince Brat. Not even black cats would cross his path," is how the Newbery Winner, The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman, begins. If this doesn't catch your child's attention, I'm not sure what will.
Jemmy, the whipping boy of the title, receives the corporal punishment meant for Prince Horace, since it not permitted to strike a royal. But, Jemmy never howls when he is hit and the Prince is furious and continually threatens to send Jemmy back to the streets in the rags he came in with. Instead, after a year, the Prince runs away and forces Jemmy to come along as his manservant. Almost immediately, they are captured by the ruffians Hold-Your-Nose-Billy and Cutwater. The prince stupidly reveals his true identity, and blunders into further trouble when he is forced to write his own ransom note and cannot even spell his name. The ruffians begin to suspect that Jemmy, who can write, i…

The Houdini Box, written and illustrated by Brian Selznick 53pp RL3

Everything Brian Selznick has ever done, especially when he writes and illustrates, fascinates me, yet I still do not understand the allure of Harry Houdini. Despite this and because of it, I love The Houdini Box, Brian Selznick's first book, which is really a long picture book and not a chapter book, but don't tell your kids that.
Despite my lack of interest in Harry Houdini, The Houdini Box is filled with magic, both in the illustrations and the text. And I don't mean wizards and witches kind of magic, or fairies and elves magic, I mean real magic, the magic of childhood. Selznick takes some facts about the man who was Harry Houdini, his given name, the date of his death, the fact that he had once said that on his 100th birthday a box would be opened revealing all of his secrets, and weaves them into a spellbinding story of hopes and dreams and drive and disappointment.
The book begins with a page of information about Houdini, the magician and a wonderful illustration of…

The Mouse of Amherst by Elizabeth Spires, illustrated by Claire A Nivola 64pp RL3

This the kind I loved as a child - a book that had creative female characters who lived and learned by their passion, whether it was writing, painting, dancing or fishing. I always loved a character with a sense of purpose and drive, and both Emily and Emmaline of The Mouse of Amherst have drive. Although this is a very short book with poems and line drawings scattered throughout, it is perfectly appropriate, one of the main characters being Emily Dickinson, author of 1, 789 short poems.
The reading level is high due to some of the vocabulary and the comprehensive ability needed to appreciate the poetry of Emily Dickinson that is woven into the plot of the story.
The other main character of the story, Emmaline, is a mouse who takes up residence in the Dickinson home. Her language is straightforward and practical, as befits the time period and the New England setting. Emmaline travels light and does not have much to unpack when she moves into her room behind the baseboards of Emi…

BIlly the Bird by Dick King-Smith, 67 pages, RL 2

Sadly, Billy the Bird is no longer in print, but there is a good chance your library will have it since Dick King-Smith, author of Waterhorse and Babe, the Gallant Pig, is well known and prolific, many of his books coming in at under 100 pages. It is such a short and sweet story with a boy as the main character that I will review it anyway. If you can't find this book, please do seek out other Dick King-Smith, all of which involves great animal characters in one way or another.
Mary Bird is eight the summer she discovers her four-year-old brother Billy can fly under the light of a full moon. As Mary says, "he wasn't walking in his sleep, he was floating in it!" After consulting her guinea pig, Mr Keylock, and her cat Lilyleaf, both of whom can talk, Mary figures out when the next full moon will occur and their adventures begin. Billy is mistaken for a UFO and thwarts a cat burglar before a lunar eclipse ends his flying days. The cozy illustrations are a great…

My Father's Dragon Trilogy by Ruth Stiles Gannet, illustrations by Ruth Chrisman Gannett 80pp RL3

Begun in 1948, Ruth Stiles Gannett's trilogy of books includes, My Father's Dragon, a Newbery Honor book, Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland. As with all books I love, these have a map on the end papers.



























The book begins with the adventurous Elmer Elevator, who yearns to fly, learns (from a wet cat, no less) that there just might be a way to make this happen. The cat tells Elmer of a group of islands, one of which has a captive baby dragon named Boris who is forced to ferry the lazy animals back and forth across the island. Incensed and captivated, Elmer stows away in a bag of cranberries and makes his way to wild island. Elmer uses the contents of his knapsack to get him out of some tight spots, but manages to escape on the back of Boris in the end.


The escapades of the flying duo continue in Elmer and the Dragonas they try to find their way back to Elmer's home in Nevergreen City. After being caught in a storm, they land on a deserted island only to m…