Books I’ve Enjoyed, 4/3/14

Hey, hey, it’s one year since I started this blog. Not yet to 100 posts, but we’ll celebrate anyway.

I’ve been rotten about keeping up with the books I’m reading with my kids over the last month or two, but I’ve had my own little reading boom, so I’m going to share some of the books I’ve enjoyed recently.

Only one of those came from the library (probably part of my problem with our book collection size…), but I enjoyed each of them nonetheless:

People of the BookPeople of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have had this on my nightstand for years now, and I finally decided that it was getting read…and I’m so glad I did. This book has restored my faith in literary fiction. I think the plotting and writing were beautifully done, but the story was enjoyable and gripping, too, and I did not feel like the whole human race was going to hell in a handbasket when I’d finished. Also, librarians are some of the heroes of the book, so you know it has to be pretty good.

The overarching story follows book conservator Hanna Heath as she is given the once-and-a-lifetime of studying and conserving the famous Sarajevo Haggadah in the 1990s, but then each section follows a different character who was part of the book’s previous history. Although Brooks is very upfront that the story and all the characters are fictional, it is based on some of the history of the real Sarajevo Haggadah, which Brooks learned about in her previous work as a journalist.

The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard TimesThe Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was quite a book, and having seen the entire first season and part of the second season of the TV show, I enjoyed seeing where the stories matched and where they differed. I enjoyed Worth’s narration of both stories about her patients and life at Nonnatus House, and I didn’t find her occasional judgements about the people she encountered as bothersome as other readers did, because she was honest about her feelings and about her naiveté at the time, and also fairly self-critical about them. It’s still hard to believe that people were having babies my parents’ age in a fashion that seems like it should be older than my great-grandparents, but it certainly was fascinating.

Behemoth (Leviathan, #2)Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s been awhile since I read the first book in the series, but I enjoyed this installment very much. It was nice that I was already interested in both Deryn and Alek (it took me awhile to get into the alternating points of view with Leviathan), and the story certainly kept up the action. Some of the dilemmas that arise from Deryn pretending to be a boy are pretty funny…especially as the reader realizes (likely more than Deryn herself) just how many people are starting to guess that she’s a girl.


The Storyteller's Daughter (Once Upon a Time Fairytales)The Storyteller’s Daughter by Cameron Dokey

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I liked this book in spite of myself. I bought it because it looked interesting (and because I like fairy tale retellings, and didn’t know a whole lot about the Arabian Nights), but when I started it, I felt like the narration was a little too self-conscious, trying a little too hard to create a mystical story aura. Still, the story itself was good enough, and the characters were likable enough, that I was eventually able to forget about the narration and just get lost in the story.


Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity, #2)Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It took me awhile to pick this one up because I knew it took place in a concentration camp. My mom and I have discussed how it was easier to read books about the Holocaust before and, in her case (and hopefully mine, once I get there!), after our kids were young–but I’m still right in the young-kid stage. What strikes me reading this book now was how Rose was not yet okay at the end of the book, even though you know pretty early on that she survives and you get the sense that she will eventually be okay. Also, the fact that her mother doesn’t get to see her afterwards, and may not even know what she’s gone through…as bad as it is, I think I’d want to know what my daughter’s been through.

But all that aside, it’s an excellent book, you can tell Wein has thoroughly done her research, and Rosie and her friends are heroines worth rooting for.

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Library Books Enjoyed, 3/13/14

No theme today…

Harriet, You'll Drive Me Wild!Harriet, You’ll Drive Me Wild! by Mem Fox

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This may have been one I chose more for me than for the kids…but nevertheless, they enjoyed it and we read it several times!! It’s a sweet story about children trying not to make messes and parents trying not to yell when they do anyway.

The Story of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor: A Roman Constellation MythThe Story of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor: A Roman Constellation Myth by Cari Meister

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My five-year-old found this, and it’s one that parents will want to preview before sharing with young kids. I thought that the story was well presented and it was easy enough to gloss over adult topics…however, like many other Greco-Roman myths, this story about the nymph Callisto and Jupiter/Zeus involves trickery, adultery, unwed pregnancy, revenge, and a near-miss on matricide. It certainly makes a riveting story about how the bear constellations got where they are, though!

No Roses for Harry!No Roses for Harry! by Gene Zion

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We love Harry the Dirty Dog, and when we saw this one that I don’t remember seeing before, we got it right away. This was a funny story about Harry getting a hand-knit sweater…with roses that he does not like! The solution to Harry’s problem is a bit far-fetched, but fun. The kids loved Harry, and I loved the knitting connection.

Benny and Penny in The Big No-No!Benny and Penny in The Big No-No! by Geoffrey Hayes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one that I would probably like better if my kids didn’t like it quite so well. We have read this at least a million times in the last week. All three kids like it, too, which means that while we have consensus on what to read, we then have arguments over who gets to look at the book after we are done reading it together. (Obviously, Hayes knows his audience.)

On the upside, even the two-year-old is reading this to herself (she is particularly expressive with the raspberry and the crying sound effects), and it is short enough to stand up to multiple read-alouds without completely exhausting the reader. Also, I feel like it is easier to read aloud than many other graphic novels–it just seemed to flow better, without having to vocalize the action that’s going on–so that was a nice feature.

And one grown-up (well, YA) book:

Now I'll Tell You Everything (Alice, #25)Now I’ll Tell You Everything by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was prepared by a previous review for this book to be a little longer than it needed to be, and I think I agree with that assessment. It makes me re-think my disappointment at not getting enough details at the end of other series (i.e. Harry Potter). On the one hand, it was fun to have an author who cares so much about her readers that she really did give them “everything” about the rest of Alice McKinley’s life. On the other, it’s impossible to make all that information as intimate and readable as Naylor did with earlier Alice books. I started to feel like the book would have been stronger if it had stopped after a key event (I would choose Alice’s wedding, but there were several other places that could have worked) and just given us the last scene as a kind of epilogue. I was also slightly disappointed at the title…Naylor tells us in the afterword that it was originally Always Alice, and I like that one better.

With all this complaining, I need to end by saying that I still really liked the book (I gave it 4 stars, after all!), and it felt like Alice’s adult life went the way I would expect, and want it to go. I was especially happy to read about her wedding and her career path–both turned out the way I’d hoped they would!

I think most fans of the Alice series will really enjoy this finale–I certainly did.

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Library Books Enjoyed, 3/6/14: Nutcracker Edition

Because March is the perfect time to read about the Nutcracker, right?

Actually, the Nutcracker has been a slight obsession with my five-year-old since watching excerpts in his music class at school (of course, this happened right after we decided the kids were not yet old enough to be worth taking them to the Nutcracker in person!!). About midway through January, he started asking to check out Nutcracker books at the library. I thought a few weeks of this were in store, but we’re going on about 5 or 6 weeks now with no end in sight. As a result, we and anyone else who’s interested will have a thorough critical review of Nutcracker books available from the Durham Public Library before next Christmas rolls around. A book gets bonus points if N. really liked the portrayal of the Rat King (but they get actual star increases in the ratings if I didn’t mind reading them ad infinitum). Here’s the first installment:

The NutcrackerThe Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anyway, this is my favorite of the ones we’ve checked out…Jeffers specifies that she wanted to do a version that was short enough for young readers/listeners (and as a parent who likes short bedtime stories, I am SO grateful), and that basically follows the plot line of the ballet (over that of the original fairy tale). Check and check. Add in Jeffers’ beautiful pictures (she also illustrates the McDuff books by Rosemary Wells) and we’ve got a crowd-pleasing winner.

Tallulah's NutcrackerTallulah’s Nutcracker by Marilyn Singer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Continuing in the Nutcracker vein…this one follows Tallulah (apparently the star of a series!) as she plays a mouse in a production of the Nutcracker. The kids enjoyed it, I got to reminisce about also playing a mouse in the Nutcracker, and I thought it did a decent job of showing what it might like to be backstage in a ballet production (minus the egos of the ballet bigwigs, though).

The NutcrackerThe Nutcracker by Michael Hague

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those long versions that made me so thankful for Susan Jeffers’ version of the story. The kids loved it, and thankfully we had it checked out when my parents were visiting, so my father valiantly read it over and over again in my stead. I think the full tale is quite interesting, but once a week is plenty for me to read something this long aloud…the pictures are great, too, and my five-year-old was quite satisfied with the portrait of the seven-headed Rat King.

Ella Bella Ballerina and The NutcrackerElla Bella Ballerina and The Nutcracker by James Mayhew

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This Nutcracker story was an interesting mix of the fairy tale and a “child in a ballet” version. Ella Bella (who apparently stars in other ballet books…I didn’t realize how many ballet series are out there until we started looking for Nutcracker stories! In this one, Ella Bella and her ballet class are having a Christmas party, but when Ella goes to get her teacher’s music box, the music magically transports her (or is she just imagining things?) into the story of the Nutcracker. The Rat King made a sufficient appearance to please the five year old, and although we’ve only had the book for 24 hours, I’ve already been asked to read it 3 times, so I think it’s a success. It’s not as short as the Jefferson version, but it’s a lot shorter than the Hague version, so I’m ok with it, too.

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Library Books Enjoyed, 2/10/14

Three more books my kids enjoyed, plus one I read for myself (still not really an adult book, but since I read YA as much as actually grown-up books, it will have to do).

Knock, KnockKnock, Knock by Sophie Blackall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My kids are completely into jokes these days, especially knock-knock jokes. They still don’t quite “get” what makes jokes funny (although with me for a mother, they may never…), but that doesn’t stop them from laughing their heads off when one of them tells (or makes up a joke). This collection was neat because each joke was illustrated by a different artist, mostly well-known children’s illustrators. The jokes ranged in both their level (some I could explain to the kids, some I didn’t bother to) and their humor (although, again, that could be me), and I think the illustration quality varied, too, but overall, it was a great collection. It certainly merited lots of individual paging through by the three jokesters-in-training.

Amanda Pig and the Awful, Scary Monster (Oliver and Amanda)Amanda Pig and the Awful, Scary Monster by Jean Van Leeuwen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve at least heard of this series for awhile, but this was the first installment that I actually sat down and read with my kids. It was a little long for reading aloud, but we all enjoyed it despite the length. I particularly liked how the book dealt with a real-world fear (a monster in the bedroom), and that the fear was overcome in a realistic way–it took some time, as well as the help of her family. Her brother, Oliver’s, suggestions were a bit hit-or-miss, in a real sibling manner, but you could tell that he really did mean well (most of the time). Oliver’s name was also a hit in our family, because we have a cousin with the same name.

An Undone Fairy TaleAn Undone Fairy Tale by Ian Lendler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This author and illustrator basically took the concept of a story not being finished quick enough for the reader and ran with it. The story starts as a fairy tale, but soon, the narrator is having to interject and ask the reader to slow down because Ned, who seems to be the artist, casting director, handyman, and all around guy-in-charge, is having trouble getting things ready when they are supposed to be. He tries to make emergency substitutions (first small–a donut for a crown–but then bigger, like grape popsicles for a wall), and eventually gives up as the story devolves into hilarious chaos. This one really just hit the perfect note for my kids–they thought it was absolutely hilarious and made us read it over and over.

Alice on Board (Alice, #24)Alice on Board by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Another fun installment in the Alice series…this one won’t be a favorite, but I enjoyed it just fine, and I’m all set to read the last one now…

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Library Books Enjoyed, 2/3/14

I’ve been meaning to get some more of these posts in, so here we go…no particular theme here, just a few books that we enjoyed in January:

Awesome Space RobotsAwesome Space Robots by Michael O’Hearn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow, already I see in my 5 year old son an affinity for reading nonfiction. I saw this robots book and grabbed it because he’d expressed an interest in the Mars rovers. We only read the introductory chapter and the chapter on Mars robots together, and the book was probably a little above his age, even for listening, but he was still engrossed. I’m interested to see his reading choices in a few years…

I thought the book was well-done, with interesting pictures and pull-out facts, an organization that made sense (even to someone who’d had no prior knowledge about the variety of robots that get sent into space), and fairly simple text.

A Isn't for Fox: An Isn't AlphabetA Isn’t for Fox: An Isn’t Alphabet by Wendy Ulmer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure what I thought of the concept of an “isn’t” alphabet, but this one worked pretty well–for each letter, a couple of “isn’ts” led to an “is,” and there was a pretty catchy rhyme scheme. The fun pictures contributed, too.

Good Night, Sleep TightGood Night, Sleep Tight by Mem Fox

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a nursery rhyme book in disguise, albeit a small collection of nursery rhymes. Bonnie and Ben pester their favorite babysitter, Skinny Doug, for more nursery rhymes at bedtime. He obliges…until they absolutely must go to sleep. Something about this completely clicked with my two girls (perhaps that the request for more rhymes was its own rhyme), and we reread this many times. I loved that the illustrator put the three characters into each rhyme as well.

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Library Books Enjoyed, 1/2/2014

Happy New Year! Around here, it’s also still Christmas, so here are some Christmas library books we enjoyed before the New Year:

The Little Drummer BoyThe Little Drummer Boy by Ezra Jack Keats

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My son wants to learn to play the drum and, this Advent, has become fascinated with the Little Drummer Boy song. So when I saw that Ezra Jack Keats had made a picture book of the song, of course I checked it out. It was a hit. I’ve only been asked to read it once, but he has sat and looked through it over and over. The pictures are very familiar as being by Keats, and it’s a pretty traditional adaptation of the song.

Silver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas StorySilver Packages: An Appalachian Christmas Story by Cynthia Rylant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I checked this out from a library display, partly because the picture appealed, and partly because it was by Cynthia Rylant. I had to suggest it to the kids for the first reading, but after that they requested it several times. I thought it was a touching story, and it’s interesting that it’s based on a true phenomenon (the Christmas train). The kids loved the train, and the older two were able to understand that the boy who’d always hoped for a doctor kit eventually became a doctor.

The Night of Las PosadasThe Night of Las Posadas by Tomie dePaola

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love all the Tomie dePaola Christmas books that I’ve read, and this one was no exception. It tells the story of the Las Posadas procession that takes place on Christmas Eve in New Mexico, and about a miracle that happens during a snowstorm one year. Like many of dePaola’s books, it’s influenced strongly by his Christian faith. The kids enjoyed that it was essentially a Christmas pageant, since they are gearing up for ours at church.

Llama Llama Holiday DramaLlama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Llama llama is back again, this time caught up in the holiday rush. I like Llama alright, but my kids LOVE him, and we had to reread this one several times. This is a good one if you need a classroom holiday story, because no mention of any particular holiday is made.

Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days (Henry and Mudge, #5)Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days by Cynthia Rylant

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Henry and Mudge enjoy the first winter snow, Christmas Eve dinner (a fancy dinner that, at first, Mudge is not invited to…), and a winter walk. Henry and Mudge have been around since I was a kid, and we are just getting to the point where the kids can sit through the slightly longer books (although, with chapters, we can always just read one chapter in a sitting). They are a charming pair, and they have the kind of adventures normal kids have. We reread this one several times.

Welcome ComfortWelcome Comfort by Patricia Polacco

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Patrica Polacco has never been a favorite author of mine–I recognize both her skill and that her stories resonate with lots of kids, but they just don’t usually click for me. This one did. It’s a sweet story, and the adult main character is based on a real person, but this is a magical Christmas story. I’ve just read it once so far, but I think my kids have gotten their dad to read it already, and I won’t mind reading it again. It’s a little long for a bedtime story, unless it’s the only one you read.

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Favorite Christmas Books

In lieu of doing a library book round-up this week, I thought I’d feature some of my all-time favorite Christmas books. (These are in alphabetical order by author, so don’t draw any ranking conclusions from them!)

Christmas in the Big House, Christmas in the Quarters, by Patricia C. McKissack and Frederick L. McKissack, illustrated by John Thompson215959.Sch_XmasBigHouse_0.tif

When I was growing up, we had a big box of Christmas books that only came out at Advent/Christmas time with the other Christmas time. My sister and I got as excited about looking through the books we hadn’t seen for a year as about all the other Christmas preparations. This was one of my favorites from the box, and it was a somewhat later addition (I don’t remember when we got it, but I remember getting it). It’s a historical fiction picture book, which portrays Christmas 1860 on a southern American plantation. It shows both the slave and owner life experiences, and while it combines facts and traditions from many different actual plantations, the authors work hard to be historically accurate. I will admit that, at first, my favorite thing was to pour over the pictures of splendor in the “Big House” celebrations. But the story is very well done, and over time it gave me a lot of food for thought.

best christmas pageantThe Best Christmas Pageant Ever, by Barbara Robinson

This is just fabulous. If you haven’t read it, go out and brave the post-Christmas return crowds (0r go on Amazon) to get a copy. It tells about a town’s Christmas pageant put on with the “worst kids in the entire world” as its stars–kids who’ve never heard the Christmas story before pageant practice begins. As they demand explanations for various parts of the story, they give everyone a new way to think about Jesus’ birth.

The Twelve Days of Christmas by Robert Sabudatwelve days

I have a love-hate relationship with this book. It’s beautiful, and I even pulled it out on Christmas Eve to read with my kids, who loved it. But, we received it when our oldest was either a baby or about a year old, and much as I’ve tried, I haven’t prevented serious damage to the paper engineering. If you aren’t familiar with Robert Sabuda, he does pop-up books that aren’t just for kids–beautiful, intricate pop-up books that are easily damaged by small children. We still enjoy it, but his books are definitely best shared with somewhat older kids.

polar expressThe Polar Express, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg

Everyone knows about this one, but I’ll add my voice to the clamor. It’s a great book. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m sure the book is way better.

Max’s Christmas by Rosemary Wellsmax christmas

This is an early Max book–I remember it being in our Christmas book box, too, and I don’t remember getting this one. I like it better than many of the later Max books because it’s so short and sweet–perfect for small children, and it also perfectly encapsulates the characters with just a few well-chosen words and well-drawn pictures. A great accompaniment to “The Night Before Christmas” as a Christmas Eve read-aloud.

jonathan toomeyThe Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey, by Susan Wojciechowski, pictures by P.J. Lynch

This is a newer picture book, and it’s a serious one. Like The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, it’s best enjoyed by people who see Christmas as a holy day and not just a holiday. It tells the story of a grumpy old woodcarver who is brought back to joy by a Christmas job given him by a widow and her son. There are some pages that make me cry, but most kids won’t be quite so deeply affected.

Hope you are all enjoying the Christmas season! Merry Christmas!