Showing posts from January, 2009

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C O'Brien, 233 pp RL 4

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH made a serious impression on me when I was a child. Probably because I thought that somewhere in this world rats and mice might really be up something like this. Having re-read it as an adult, I see now that Robert C O'Brien's realistic and unsentimental writing style makes it all seem possible. Even though I knew the ending, I still found myself drawn into the story from start to finish and completely won over (again) by the rodents of the title.
Mrs Frisby, wife of the recently deceased Jonathan Frisby and mother of four finds herself in a desperate situation one winter morning. Her youngest and most frail and thoughtful child, Timothy, has come down with pneumonia. Mr Ages, a neighboring mouse who is also a doctor, provides Mrs Frisby with three days worth of medicine and instructions that Timothy must stay in bed and warm all three days or he may not heal and find himself weaker than before. This would not be a problem except for the fa…

The Cat Who Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth, illustrators Lynd Ward and Jael, 74pp, RL 3

The Cat Who Went to Heaven by Elizabeth Coatsworth and winner of the Newbery Award in 1931 is a jewel of a book. It may also be the shortest book to win the award since it was first given in 1922.
At it's heart, this book is a collection of Jataka Tales (explanation to follow) woven together by the external story of a poor young artist who sends his housekeeper to the market to buy food with the last of his money. She returns not with food, but with a cat. Angered at first, cats not always having the best reputation, the artist relents and says, "Sometimes it is good fortune to have even a devil in the household. It keeps the other devils away." And, upon finding that she is a tri-color cat, which is a sign of good luck, the artist agrees to allow the housekeeper to name her Good Fortune.
The cat proves true to her name when the artist is commissioned to paint the scene of the Lord Buddha's death for the village temple. If his painting is well received, the arti…

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman wins the Newbery Award and The House in the Night illustrated by Beth Krommes wins the Caldecott Award for 2009


The House in the Night illustrated by Beth Krommes and written by Susan Marie Swanson


A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee. Marla Frazee is definitely one of my all-time favorite illustrators.  You can read me gush about her in a couple of places in my blog.  But, besides this wonderful book, I HIGHLY recommend you read two other books she illustrated.  Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman is a great story about families and food and Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers is a wonderful poem about all the things babies do and love accompanied by Frazee's illustrations that honor all kinds of families and all kinds of love.  This one should be given along with Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon to every newborn everywhere.  And, finally, Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild, by the incomparable Mem Fox is the meticulously illustrated story of a moth…

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, illustrations by Matt Phelan 133pp RL 3

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, superb illustrations by Matt Phelan, was a hard book for me to read. Since it won the Newbery Award in January of 2007 it has garnered extra attention because the word "scrotum" appears on the first (and last) page of the book. In February of 2008, Julie Bosman explored the debate in her New York Times article With One Word, Children's Book Sets Off Uproar. Also, I think to some people, the choice of Patron's books over others published in 2007 was questionable. There has been some grumbling of late about the number of recent Newbery picks that have contemporary social issues as their subject matter. I am going to try to push all of this to the sides of my brain and write a review about this book and just this book.

Lucky, the main character of The Higher Power of Lucky, is a ten year old living in Hard Pan, California, population 43. It was 42 after her mother died, but then Brigitte came to take care of Lucky and it …

Newbery and Caldecott Awards Announced on January 26, 2009

On Monday, January 26, the American Library Association will announce the winners of the Caldecott Award which honors the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children in that year, and the Newbery Award, which honors the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. In honor of these momentous awards, I will be devoting the next week of reviews to Newbery winning titles and maybe an honor winner.

If you are interested, you can watch the awards being announced live at 7:45 AM MT when you click here. Be forewarned, there are about 10 other awards that get announced first...

For a list of past winners, visit the ALA home page.

I will not be making any predictions since the last few winners were news to me. I had not seen the winners on the shelf in the bookstore where I work before they won the medal, and, as usual, I did not see them until about four weeks after the award was announced as the publishers rushed to print eno…

Urchin of the Riding Stars (Mistmanlte Chronicles #1) by M.I. McAllister, illutrated by Omar Ryan, 288 pp RL 4

I'll be honest, I don't think I would have picked up theMistmantle Chronicles by M.I. McAllister if I didn't have this crazy idea to do a whole week of reviews of books with squirrels as the main characters. I read Brian Jacques Redwalland enjoyed it but was not compelled to read the rest of the series. So, I was pleasantly surprised by Urchin of the Riding Starsand my inability to put it down. The fact that it is half the length of the average Redwall book and written at a lower reading level might have been a draw, but, the magical island of Mistmantle, the beautiful illustrations at the head of each chapter and the presence of hedgehogs kept me reading past my bedtime!

The Isle of Mistmantle is named so because of the dense mist that surrounds it, allowing visitors from other islands to come and go, but inhabitants, once they leave, can never find their way back through the mists. The book begins with a mother squirrel in labor and alone on a beach at night. I'll …

Elliot's Park by Patrick Carman, illustrated by Jim Madsen, 62pp RL 2

The new series, Elliot's Park is by Patrick Carman, author of the popular Land of Elyon books written at the fourth grade reading level and the new Atherton series written at a slightly higher reading level. With this series, he is trying his hand at writing a series for the second grade reading level. The first book in the series, Saving Mister Nibbles, is followed by Haunted Hike and The Walnut Cup, which comes out in April of this year. Unlike Pee-Wee and Lexi in Johanna Hurwitz's Park Pals Adventure series, the squirrels of Elliot's park are anthropomorphiz. They wear clothes, have furniture in their homes and, above all else, have quirky personality traits like your standard kid's television characters. There is even a "Cast of Characters" section at the back of the book that details the differences and traits of the squirrels and other animals in the book. There are also some nifty things like a trail mix recipe, a guide on how to write your own par…

Lexi's Tale by Johanna Hurwitz, illustrated by Patience Brewster 108pp, RL 3

Lexi's Tale by Johanna Hurwitz, with illustrations that I wish there were more of by Patience Brewster, is one of those rare books that comes in around 100 pages and is written at a third grade reading level. As the second in the Park Pals Adventures series, Lexi's Tale is narrated by Lexington, the helpful, street-smart squirrel from Pee-Wee's Talewho always has an idiom from the world of squirrels, passed down by his mother, to help guide his actions.

All the squirrels in Central Park have been named after nearby streets. Some are lucky enough to have names like Madison and Amsterdam, others are given names like Lexi's sisters - Sixty-one, Sixty-two and Sixty-three. And, of course, there's Uncle Ninety-nine, who thinks of nothing but eating. The dilemma Lexi faces in the book is whether to help Pee-Wee, the guinea pig narrator of the first book in the series, Pee-Wee's Tale, or to heed his mother's warning: Stick out your tail and you're bound to…

Pee-Wee's Tale by Johanna Hurwitz, illustrated by Patience Brewer 102 pp RL 3

Pee-Wee's Taleis the first in what is currently the Park Pals Trilogy by Johanna Hurwitz and it is an excellent start for readers who are just beginning to dive into the world of chapter books. It is also just a really great book with an animal as the narrator. Pee-Wee begins his story with his birth in a pet store. His mother was born in a classroom and learned to read along with the students, picking it up more quickly than most, she notes with pride. When Pee-Wee expresses a curiosity towards the squiggles on the newsprint that lines their cage his mother gladly teaches him to read. Shortly thereafter, Pee-Wee is purchased and given as a birthday gift to Robbie by his uncle. Robbie's mother is beside herself and cannot fathom why her brother would give Robbie a rodent when he knows she hates mice. Hoping for a dog, Robbie learns to love his guinea pig, talking to him, playing with him, looking out the window at the park across the street with him and even combing h…