Showing posts from 2008

A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama, by Laura Amy Schlitz, 389pp RL5

A Drowned Maiden's Hair is by Laura Amy Schlitz, winner of the 2008 Newbery Medal for her book Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices From a Medieval Village , which is a collection of monologues and dialogues. She has written a moving work with her first young adult novel which was published in 2006. On a Spring morning in 1909 we first meet Maude Flynn, eleven years old and locked in the Barbary Asylum for Female Orphans outhouse singing the "Battle Hymn of the Republic." What unfolds from there is a deliciously long but fast paced story with characters as intricate as unfolding origami. Maude is one of the most layered, convincing child characters I have read in a long time. Orphaned at a young age, she is separated from her older brother, Samm'l, and infant sister when an older couple arrive to adopt a strong boy to help on the farm. They are enchanted enough by beautiful baby Kit to adopt her too, but have no interest in Maude. Maude begins to believe

Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume, pictures by James Stevenson 108pp RL 2

Soupy Saturdays with the Pain and the Great One is a second grade level chapter book with characters who first appeared in a picture book, The Pain and the Great One by Judy Blume . The Pain and the Great One was originally written as a poem for the book that accompanied the album and television special that aired in 1974, Free To Be You and Me . The picture book version of The Pain and The Great One , still in print, is the story in verse of two siblings, a girl, The Great One, a third grader, and her brother, The Pain, a first grader. Although short on text, the words and illustrations combine to depict sibling rivalry and the different perspectives kids have on their siblings and how their parents treat them. In 1974 the bare expressions of jealousy and hatred this brother and sister have for each other was probably pretty revolutionary. After all, Judy Blume was the spearhead of the movement that presented real experiences and emotions felt by children and preadol

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler by EL Konigsburg, 168pp RL 5

From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler written and illustrated by the amazingly gifted EL Konigsburg is the stand-out book from my childhood. It is the book that left a lasting impression on me as an eleven year old and sparked (or maybe fueled an already existing) love for stories that unfold in and are shaped by New York City. I am sure this explains my adolescent obsession with JD Salinger and the handful of books he authored. Or, maybe this fascination really begins with my father, who grew up on Long Island and, when I pried hard enough, would tell me a little bit about his childhood there and visits to NYC. As a fourth generation (Southern) Californian, this all sounded so exotic, enthralling, intellectual and arty to me as a child. After all, Claudia decided to run away to it because it was "elegant; it was important; and busy." I don't know if I was thoughtful enough to long for an experience that would leave me different the way Claudia Kin

The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by EL Konigsburg, 296 pp RL 5

EL Konigsburg is a master at pulling together seemingly disparate threads to illuminate what will become a milestone event in her characters' lives. An author of a fantasy novel has the luxury of using fantastic plot elements, like a boy who is born with wizarding powers and suffers years of cruel treatment at the hands of his guardians, treatment that allows him to shine that much brighter when he is given the chance, not to mention his abilities with a broomstick, to detail the specialness of her characters. EL Konigsburg's stories, rooted in reality, manage to take commonplace childhood events, like being sent to camp and mean girls and mix them, like an artist mixes paint colors, into a rich, revealing story that allows her characters to shine and glow in their specialness while also standing squarely in a firm plot of reality that might possibly be inhabited by any reader at almost any time. Like From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler and the mysterio

The Second Mrs Giaconda by EL Konigsburg, 138 pp RL 5

Written in 1975, The Second Mrs Giaconda is an imagined explanation of how Leonardo da Vinci came to paint his famous work, La Joconde , or the Mona Lisa . As fascinating story, it doesn't have the same immediacy of character or flow that other works by Konigsburg posses. However, it is steeped in fascinating details from the historical period and, though it is a bit harder to connect with and find likable the characters of the story, Konigsburg pulls the threads of their various lives and personalities together in a satisfying ending that begins with the commissioning of the famous portrait. Obviously the result of much research, Konigsburg begins her story with details from the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci concerning an apprentice named Salai. A noted thief, Salai was also left a piece of property with a house on it in Leonardo's will. Konigsburg takes these facts and runs with them, beginning her story with a young, possibly ten year old Salai, cutting the purs

My 100th Review and a Request for My Readers

Friday will mark my 100th review since I began writing in August.  Coincidentally, I had planned to post a review of EL Konigsburg's Newbery winning book , From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler on that day.  This is a coincidence because, as I re-read this book, I realized that it is one of a handful of books from my childhood that I can actually remember reading and being influenced by, so it seems appropriate that a book that has been so important in my life will also have the honor of holding the mini-landmark title of "100th Review."  And, while I am reviewing this book on Fairy Tale Friday and it is not, technically speaking, a fairy tale, it kind of reads like one.  Although it was written in 1967 and is a story based in reality, so many aspects of it are now inconceivable that it may as well be a fantasy story. Something else I realized as I was writing this review is that, while I considered myself a voracious reader as a child, there are onl

the mysterious edge of the heroic world by EL Konigsburg, 244pp RL 5

Like William Faulkner and his Yoknapatwpha County, EL Konigsburg is adding to the books set in her mythical Epiphany, PA and sister city of St Malo, Florida. Along with The View From Saturday (1996) , Silent to the Bone (2000), The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place (2004) , the mysterious edge of the heroic world (2007) is set in St Malo with roots in and nods to Epiphany, PA. And, like Outcasts and From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler , mysterious revolves around works of art. In her most ambitious work yet, Konigsburg weaves aspects of the Nazi invasion of Holland, persecution of modern artists, homosexuals and gypsies as well as with Jews, the Stockholm Syndrome, Austrian Amnesia and questions of moral ambiguity throughout the novel. The story begins with Amadeo Kaplan, named after his grandfather, who has just moved to St Malo, Florida after spending his whole life in New York City. Amadeo is the child of Loretta Bevilaqua and Jake Kaplan who met some th

The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame, illustrations by Erhest H Shepard, 58 pp RL 3

   Kenneth Grahame's classic, The W ind in the Willows , was a staple of my childhood. I still consider Mole, Ratty and Badger personal friends. If you are the parent of a thoughtful child with a good attention span, I beg you to give up 20 minutes a night for a month or two to read The Wind in the Willows out loud to your child. Like AA Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh , another integral part of my childhood, the Kenneth Grahame's language takes a little getting used to, but it is also totally charming once you have gotten the hang of it. In fact, as I was reading The Reluctant Dragon for the first time, I kept flipping back to the cover to make sure I wasn't reading an AA Milne book. At 58 pages, The Reluctant Dragon reads like a very long picture book. In the fantasy saturated world that is children's literature today, this story won't rate much more than a nostalgic blip, however, in 1898 when it was first published I'm sure it was a novel idea to h

Welcome to Elise Broach Week!

Welcome to Elise Broach Week here at!  Elise Broach is an author who has been dancing around the periphery of my kid's books world for a while now.  I am thrilled to be able to post reviews of three of her outstanding books for you this week! First up is her picture book, When Dinosaurs Came with Everything , illustrated by the exceptional David Small .  Before I post that review, I'd like to give you a little personal and professional background on how I decide what I like in a picture book and, especially, what makes it worth buying for me. I love picture books. I have my favorite picture books from my childhood. I bought picture books while I was in college. In addition to having read picture books out loud to one or more of my children for the last fifteen plus years on a daily basis, I read for the story time at the bookstore where I work three times a week. And I am shocked to say that I am running out of good books to read.  Since my four year ol

When Dinosaurs Came with Everything by Elise Broach, pictures by David Small

Little kids love dinosaurs. I don't understand the attraction, but I think it has something to do with the same reason kid's love fairy tales - something about the strong representations of good and bad in the world of dinosaurs and the simplicity of their existence. Dinosaurs looked for food and tried not to get killed. Dinos are perfect subject matter for kids books, but they don't always lend themselves to interesting stories. Jane Yolen and Mark Teague's How Do Dinosaurs... series is great, but more of a poem than a story. Patrick's Dinosaurs by Carol Carrick, illustrated by Donald Carrick is a good story with great illustrations. But those are the only dinosaur books worth mentioning I can think of right now. I am sure there are lots of other great dinosaur books that have a solid story and energetic illustrations and I hope you will point them out to me, but for now, When Dinosaurs Came with Everything by Elise Broach and illustrated by Caldecott wi

Mrs Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald, 119 pp, RL4

I am worried that the singularly remarkable works of Betty MacDonald, first published in 1947, are not as well known and read as they once were. I was lucky enough to grow up in a home with a copy from my mother's childhood and have read and reread these hilarious stories over and over to myself and then to my children, each one in turn, with the older ones listening in. What is so marvelous about Mrs Piggle-Wiggle? Well, she was way ahead of the curve when it comes to Super Nanny and Nanny 911. And, in retrospect, she was also probably a tiny twinkling spark that influenced the generation of dedicated, child centered (indulgent?) parents we have become. Mrs Piggle-Wiggle is no Mary Poppins. There are no rules at her house. In fact, the rules at her house are to make any and all children as comfortable, secure, well fed and highly entertained and acknowledged as possible. I WANT a Mrs Piggle-Wiggle to play with my kids so I don't have to! I want a Mrs Piggle-Wiggle t

You Read to Me, I'll Read to You: Very Short Fairy Tales to Read Together by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Michael Emberley, 32pp RL 1

Mary Ann Hoberman is a genius with rhymes. This may explain why, on the heels of Jack Prelutsky, another great children's poet, she is the new Children's Poet Laureate throug h 2010! She also happens to be the author of one of my all time favorite picture books about a harried mother trying to please all of her wonderful, deserving children, Seven Silly Eaters , illustrated by the incomparably magnificent Marla Frazee . And, she is the author of the classic National Book Award winning A House is a House for Me , published in 1974 and illustrated by Betty Fraser. Hoberman's You Read to Me, I'll Read to You is an ingenious series of rhyming picture books for two readers, to be read out loud, similar to Paul Fleischman's Newbery Award winning book, Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices , but for beginning readers. A portion of the profits from the book are donated to Literacy Volunteers of America , which makes perfect sense since you can't read these books a