Showing posts from October, 2008

Magic City by E. Nesbit. 206 pp RL4

Edith Nesbit is perhaps one of the greatest, most influential writers of children's literature that you have never heard of. Born in England in 1858, Nesbit lived until 1924 and published most of her children's books between 1898 and 1913. She is a known influence to CS Lewis and Edward Eager, author of the fabulous Half Magic, among others, both of whom published their children's fantasy novels some forty years after Nesbit. CS Lewis went so far as to mention the Bastable children, characters from Nesbit's The Treasure Seekers, in his book The Magician's Nephew. In her 2002 article linking George Balanchine's production of The Nutcracker to the works of Nesbit and Eager, who himself was a minor figure in the New York theatre scene of the 1940s, Mimi Kramer emphasizes the influence of Nesbit on Eager's writings for children. She cites a 1958 article Eager wrote for the HornBook Magazine of children's literature in which he admires what he calls the…

Olivia Kidney by Ellen Potter, pictures by Peter H Reynods, 155 pp RL4

In my effort to either to find books about girls who, rather than being precocious or full of attitude, are smart, brave, sensitive and maybe even creative, I picked up Olivia Kidneyby Ellen Potter. I'll be honest, I thought Olivia was going to be another precocious girl, maybe because of her winsome name, probably because Peter H Reynolds of Judy Moody and Stink fame does the illustrations - illustrations that make the book seem like it might be written at a lower reading level than it really is. And, while it took me a chapter or two to realize I was wrong, I am thrilled to report that I am very, surprisingly, blissfully wrong!

Olivia Kidney as a character and a book is very engaging. Initially, the book seems like it is going to be a "real life" girl story about a twelve year old city kid who's Dad is a superintendent in one of the many multistoried apartment buildings in New York City. This seems especially so when two older girls make fun of Olivia's jea…

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley, pictures by Peter Ferguson 284pp RL 4

How could I not love these books? How can I keep myself from going on and on about how much I love these books, especially since there are nine of them? I will try to contain myself to an overview of the series rather than reviews of the individual books and beg you to please visit the site Sisters Grimm to learn more about the series, but really, just go out and get book one, The Sisters Grimm: The Fairy Tale Detectives today! For those of you already knee-deep into the series, check out this video interview conducted by a young fan at the virtual field trip site, Meet Me at the Corner. For  AMAZING website for fairy tale lovers,Sur la Lune Fairy Tales.

With the Sisters Grimm series, Michael Buckley proves that he is so completely creative, ingenious and hilarious that I will be jealous of him until the day I die. I wish I had thought of this! Even more so, I wish I had thought of a story line that allowed me to play, in writing, with all of my favorite fairy tale characters. …

Barnaby Grimes and the Curse of the Night Wolf by Paul Stewart, pictures by Chris Riddell, 240 pp RL 4

Barnaby Grimes and the Curse of the Night Wolfis the latest series by the duo Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell, who brought us Far-Flung Adventuresfor third grade readers and the Edge Chronicles for fifth and sixth grade readers. The Barnaby Grimes books fall nicely between these two. Written at a fourth grade reading level, this series is set in pre-1900s London and is full of curiosities like high stacking, tick-tock lads and cordials as well as a host of British names that trip over the toungue, Cadwallader and Jolyon to name a few. While the Edge Chronicles and the Far-Flung Adventures take place in wonderfully described, detail laden imaginary worlds that are populated by fictional creatures and odd human beings, Barnaby Grimes' story takes place in a real city, albeit one that is equally laden with details and creatures, all of which, except for one or two, are factually based.
At its heart, this book is a mystery and a thriller and it has a fair amount of blood and violenc…

Silverwing, by Kenneth Oppel 214pp RL 4

With Silverwing, Kenneth Oppel creates a fascinating world of bats, complete with a creation myth, a social hierarchy, and a troubled history as a creature that falls somewhere between the warring factions of mammals and birds. The cover illustration, subject matter and presence of cannibalistic vampire bats make this sound like a very dark story. But it is not. It is full of carefully drawn characters who show curiosity, compassion and bravery as well as foolishness, laziness and cowardice.

Shade, the main character, a Silverwing bat and the runt of the newborns, is curious, defiant and eager to prove himself. He is also desperate to learn anything about his father, Cassiel, who has disappeared and is believed to be dead. Shade lives with his mother, Ariel, and the rest of the Silverwing community in Tree Haven, the warm weather nursery for the colony. Within the first few pages of the book, Shade breaks the time honored code that keeps an uneasy peace between owls and bats: ba…

Houndsley and Catina by James Howe, illustrated by Marie-Louise Gay, 36pp RL1

Buddy books seem to be the staple genre of beginning readers. Along with Frog and Toad and George and Martha, Houndsley and Catina can be added to the list of stand-outs in their field. Above all else, these stand-out friends show kindness and consideration for each other, especially at times of conflict.
The three books in the series are written by James Howe, of Bunnicula series fame, and have detailed, cozy watercolor illustrations by Marie-Louise Gay, author and illustrator of the Stella and Sam books as well as the chapter book, Travels With My Family that match the gentle tone of Howe's writing. Houndsley is a dog with a soft-as-a-rose-petal voice who enjoys cooking, but learns that he neither wants or needs to be the best cook. Catina is a thoughtful, enthusiastic cat who thinks she wants to be a writer but learns that writing does not make her happy.
Each book has three chapters, as opposed to the Frog & Toad and George & Martha books which are separated into…

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald 241pp RL4

George MacDonald may be one of the most famous children's book authors you have never heard of. Born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland in 1824, he is remembered for his theosophical writings as well as his works of fantasy. As a pastor, he was controversial, preaching God's universal love and the possibility that none would ultimately fail to unite with God. As a fantasy writer, he is best remembered for his adult works, Phnatastes: A Faeirie Romance for Men and Women and Lilith. His best known children's works are The Princess and the Goblin, At the Back of the North Wind and The Light Princess. He is cited as an influence and inspiration to the poet, WH Auden, JRR Tolkein, Madeleine L'Engle and CS Lewis who said, after reading Phantastes cover to cover, "I knew that I had crossed a great frontier."

Written 1872, The Princess and the Goblin is the story of Princess Irene and a plot amongst the kingdom of goblins, or cobs, to kidnap her and marry her off to the…

The Sister's Club by Megan McDonald, 196 pp RL 3

Written in 2003 by Megan McDonald, best known for herJudy Moody andStink series, The Sister's Club is a great book, comparable, but different from, The Penderwicksby Jeanne Birdsall. Written for a slightly older audience, Birdsall can incorporate a longer, more complex plot and her story spans a longer period of time and feels a bit timeless. McDonald's book has a much more contemporary feel to it. However, both books employ one of my favorite devices in children's literature, one that will hopefully inspire the reader to seek out the originals - the incorporation poems, plays and snippets of other works of children's literature into the story line.
The Reel family live in the aptly named town of Acton, Oregon. Aptly named because they are a family of actors, including their descendant Hepzibiah McNutty who, as a pioneer traveling on the Oregon Trail, settled in Acton. There she built the 100+ year old Raven Theater, which the Reel family lives next to. Mom and…

Beauty by Robin McKinley 247pp RL 5

Robin McKinley has won a Newbery Award for The Hero and the Crown, as well as a Newbery Honor for The Blue Sword. However, it is her first published book, Beauty, that has been a favorite of mine since I first read it. I have always loved fairy tales and have really enjoyed the growing genre I'll call fairy tale re-telling. Ella Enchanted, a spectacular book by Gail Carson Levine is probably the most famous in this genre. For those of you who saw the movie, the book is completely different and please, please don't judge the book by the movie... Gail Carson Levine also wrote a series of short stories, now published in one hardcover volume titled The Fairy's Return and other Princess Tales, or in two paperback volumes titled Princess Tales, Volume 1 and Princess Tales, Volume 2. These are fabulous, feminist retellings of popular fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty, The Princess and the Pea and Cinderella as well as lesser known tales like Toads and Diamonds and the Golden…

Fairy Tale Fridays!!

Hello Everyone - I have been wanting to do a series of posts on fairy tales and books based on fairy tales since this is possible my favorite genre in the world of Children's Lit.  As I began re-reading one of my favorites and making some new  label categories, I got the great idea for

So, from here on out, every Friday expect a little once upon a time with a dash of magic thrown in for good measure.

Travels with My Family by Marie-Louise Gay and David Homel 119 pp RL 2

Marie-Louise Gay is the author and illustrator of many picture books, including the "Stella" and "Sam" series. Her bright and gentle water colors, along with the quirky siblings, big sister Stella and little brother Sam, make for beautiful books for the 2- 4 year old crowd and are also good beginning readers for older children. Gay also illustrates the "Houndsley and Catina" series of beginning reader books written by James Howe, of "Bunnicula" fame. Travels with my Family is her first chapter book, and, along with her husband (and traveling partner) David Homel, they have written a wonderful book, which I suspect is largely autobiographical as the author info notes that they have two sons and a cat named Miro.
The book consists of nine chapters, each one recounting a different vacation trip. However, as Charlie, the narrator and big brother to Max, states in the very first paragraph of the book, his parents don't go on on "normal…