Library Books Enjoyed, 12/12/13

Some recent finds at the library; 2 we only found because we heard them at story time first.
Chloe, InsteadChloe, Instead by Micah Player

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A cute, colorful story of sibling rivalry that is also a very quick read-aloud. I think my kids liked Chloe’s antics that upset her sister as much because they’ve gotten in trouble for some of them as anything else. Fun and touching.

One Little Lamb One Little Lamb by Elaine Greenstein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very short, simple book (each page has a phrase rather than a complete sentence) that takes children through the process of wool becoming yarn and then mittens. The beautiful pictures are probably more than half the appeal, and this also happens to be a nice picture book for any knitters in your life.

The Missing Mitten MysteryThe Missing Mitten Mystery by Steven Kellogg

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don’t know how long it’s been since I read a Steven Kellogg book, but this was featured at story time last week and we then checked it out. I think it’s cute and fun, but I don’t like it nearly as much as the kids. Obviously, they like the snow, because their firsthand snow experience is still very limited, but I also think they like the elaborate scenarios the girl dreams up and the mystery that has to be solved. A good winter-time read.

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Library Books Enjoyed, 12/5/13: Recent Favorites

Here are some of our recent library selections that we have read over and over and over:

I'm a Frog! (Elephant and Piggie, #20)I’m a Frog! by Mo Willems

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gerald and Piggie continue to delight. We requested this from our library as soon as we saw it was out, and we were not disappointed. This may not top my all-time favorite Elephant and Piggie book, Let’s Go for a Drive, but it was filled with fun, thoughtfulness, and the right kind of twist for all ages to enjoy. The only problem with this series is Mr. Willems can’t possibly write and draw them as quickly as we go through them.

Fly Guy #12: There's a Fly Guy in My SoupFly Guy #12: There’s a Fly Guy in My Soup by Tedd Arnold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My mom recently introduced our family to Fly Guy and boy, are we fans. The kids LOVE Fly Guy, and despite my initial skepticism, I have to say that I like him a lot, too. He may be gross, but he’s not crude.

In this installment (we have been reading them in no order whatsoever), Buzz and his pet Fly Guy get to go to a motel and fancy restaurant–hijinks ensue when Fly Guy tries to take a bath.

These easy readers are not easy enough for very beginning readers to read on their own, but they are fun enough that non-readers and beginning readers may be memorizing and “reading” them (mine are). They also hold up pretty well to endless repetition. I definitely recommend them!

Fly Guy #4: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Fly GuyFly Guy #4: There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed Fly Guy by Tedd Arnold

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since checking this out 6 days ago, I think we have read this book about 50 times. The kids love it. It’s funny, nobody dies, and it served as a good introduction to the song “I Know an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly.” (Now I need to go track down the Simms Taback book–I think we last checked that out when the 5 year old was 1 or 2.) This is one that I am sure is destined for multiple repeat check-outs.

Señor Pancho Had a RanchoSeñor Pancho Had a Rancho by Rene Colato Lainez

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm…but Old MacDonald’s next-door neighbor, Señor Pancho, speaks Spanish, and so do all his animals! While this isn’t a true bilingual book, I thought it did a nice job of introducing Spanish words to an English-speaking audience, and could equally make a Spanish-speaking audience feel welcome at a largely English-speaking story time.

I like the animal sounds in particular, because it always fascinates me that animals speak different languages, too! My girls liked this a whole lot, because one of our current music class songs is “Vengan a Ver,” a Spanish farm animals song. I wouldn’t suggest this as a bedtime book, because it’s both long and energizing, but at other times of day, it’s great!

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Library Books Enjoyed, 11/28/13

We didn’t check out a lot of Thanksgiving-themed books this fall, but in honor of the holiday, here are some of the sweeter, gentler books we’ve enjoyed recently:

Koala LouKoala Lou by Mem Fox

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I remember my mom sharing this with me (although I think I was older than the target audience at the time), so I still hear her voice whenever I read “Koala Lou, I DO love you!” Needless to say, my kids enjoyed this sweet tale of a koala who needs to remember that she’s special to her mom just because, not because of anything she does. I enjoyed the nostalgia, and also thinking of this from the mom’s point of view now, too.

Little FlowerLittle Flower by Gloria Rand

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a story that we picked up at random, and I was pleasantly surprised by it. It’s a fairly simple story of an elderly woman and her beloved pet pig. The pig isn’t well-liked by the next-door neighbors until she helps her owner during an emergency. It’s sweet, just a little strange, and therefore unique in a non-showy way. We didn’t read it over and over, but I would check it out again, and it seemed like my kids enjoyed it, too.

Follow the Zookeeper (Golden Look-Look Books)Follow the Zookeeper by Patricia Relf

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Our kindergartner brought this one home from the school media center, and even though it’s old, we all enjoyed it. It follows head zookeeper Mr. Scott through his day of work, and presents a nice picture of all the different things zookeepers do.

Mr. Putter & Tabby Drop the BallMr. Putter & Tabby Drop the Ball by Cynthia Rylant

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love Mr. Putter and Tabby (I probably like them better than the better known Henry and Mudge series by the same author), so I am working on getting my children to enjoy them, too. So far, they seem to like them fine, but aren’t yet asking for multiple rereads, so more work needs to be done!

In this installment, Mr. Putter decides that he and Tabby nap too much, so he has them join a baseball league for seniors. His friend Mrs. Teaberry and her dog Zeke also join, with amusing results. Having now sat through many a T-ball game, I enjoyed reading about the other end of the lifetime sports spectrum.

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Enjoy the holiday with your families, and maybe with a good book in hand!

Library Books Enjoyed, 11/21/13

Halloween may be over, but that only means that my kids discuss in depth what they are going to be next year while they continue to eat their way through the candy. Here are some books we checked out in the Halloween aftermath:

Dracula and Frankenstein Are FriendsDracula and Frankenstein Are Friends by Katherine Tegen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I marked this as “scary” because it’s so spooky/Halloween themed, but it’s not really scary. It also wasn’t my favorite story ever, but the target audience felt differently. I think I just didn’t like it so much because I didn’t like Dracula in here…he was definitely not a very good friend for most of the book (yes, that’s part of the point of the story–he somewhat learns his lesson–but I think I was hoping for something like a Halloween version of Frog and Toad).

However, my offspring, still fresh in the triumph of successful trick-or-treating (and still with the candy to show for it), loved it and required that we keep it for two weeks from the library. I will grant that the pictures were quite fun, with all sorts of details that appeal to kids who like to pore over their picture books. So it was a howling success with the majority of readers in this house…but I’m still the one who hands out stars.

Bats at the LibraryBats at the Library by Brian Lies

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

We got this while the Halloween display was still up, but while it could certainly be worked into a Halloween theme, it really wasn’t meant to be a Halloween book. It was, however, a really fun book about what might happen if bats visited the library. I know we’ve read Bats at the Ballgame by the same author, but I think I enjoyed this one even more…and I certainly enjoyed it more than many other “in the library” themed picture books I feel like I’ve come across recently.

This last one seems to fit in with the “not-quite-Halloween” theme, but it’s one I just read myself, rather than sharing with the kids:
Battle BunnyBattle Bunny by Jon Scieszka

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I should preface this review by saying that I’m a pacifist, so this wasn’t going to be one I’d share with my kids right off, anyway. And, for now, I’m not sharing it with my kids.

I got a review from a (librarian) friend about this one, so I immediately put it on hold at the library. It was funny, and I think it was well-done, just not my cup of tea. Aside from the sweet bunny being transformed into an evil megalomaniac, what drove me nuts was that I had to read under the “changes” to see what the initial story was (the whole premise being that a kid transforms a book called “Birthday Bunny” into a much more exciting and dangerous story).

I actually don’t think I want to share this with my kids now as much for the fact that they won’t quite “get” it (only my oldest is starting to read and write, and I don’t think even he will quite get all the “editing” going on unless I read both versions to him, too) as for the content. Ok, and let’s be honest, I don’t want to give my 2 and 3 year olds ANY precedent for altering books with writing implements–our books need all the protection they can get. Anyway, I’m not quite sure what the target audience for this book is–it needs to be kids who can read and do some writing, but still enjoy a picture book. I’d be interested to hear from other librarians or parents who have some kids to share this with!

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Library Books Enjoyed, 11/14/13

Without any ado:

Possum Magic Possum Magic by Mem Fox

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve known about Mem Fox for a long time, and I’ve heard about Possum Magic, but we only just got it out of the library and read it ourselves. It was charming, and the pictures were adorable. I also appreciated the glossary and map at the back, so non-Australians could see what magic foods the possums ate and where they traveled to. We reread it several times.

Harry by the SeaHarry by the Sea by Gene Zion

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We have read Harry the Dirty Dog so many times in the last 6 months, and it finally occurred to me to look for other Harry books at the library (having vaguely remembered reading more than one as a kid). We found this one and it was a hit. When I read it, the story came back to me, so I must have enjoyed this as a child, too. The pictures of Harry as a “sea monster” are really funny.

Silly Lilly and the Four SeasonsSilly Lilly and the Four Seasons by Agnes Rosenstiehl

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My graphic-novel-loving children inspire me to keep an eye out for kids’ graphic novels when we are at the library, and this is one I just happened upon. It’s very basic in terms of story…it’s really a set of vignettes about the ways that Lilly plays during each season of the year. The format is also large (usually just one or two panels per page) so it is great for introducing the graphic novel/comic strip format…or for getting kids started making their own comics.

I just liked it ok, but this is definitely a matter of not being the target audience for this book…the kids LOVED it and we reread it several times. They also enjoyed going back and looking through it on their own.

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Library Books Enjoyed, 11/7/13: Grown-up Edition

From a confluence of circumstances, I have checked out and read several books over the past few weeks that were for me, not the kids. The first was one I must have put on hold after reading a review–I didn’t remember it at all when I got the hold notification. But it blew me away when I read it:
Levels of LifeLevels of Life by Julian Barnes

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was devastating and amazing, both in the way that Barnes artfully integrated history, fiction, and lament and in the raw emotion. This is an extremely difficult book to categorize but was a completely worthwhile read.

Ok, I obviously didn’t put much time into reviewing this on Goodreads. Here’s a little more about the book and my reading experience. I had read one other Julian Barnes book, The Sense of an Ending, which I appreciated as a literary work that had won the Man Booker prize, but didn’t think much of personally. (I think I’ve come to realize that I’m not good at reading unreliable narrator books, because I just inherently trust the narrator.) I didn’t really know what this one was about, and I didn’t know if I would like it or not.

It starts off with a brief history of some early balloonists whose various paths happen to cross and which leads to the first aerial photograph being taken…a phenomenon that might not seem like a huge deal until astronauts take a picture of the Earth from space.

The second part is a fictional account of one of the balloonist’s love affair with actress Sarah Berhardt. Trust me, it ties in.

Finally (although this section is the longest), the book is a lament about the death of Barne’s wife. This part was very raw and straightforward, but it drew on metaphors and emotions from the first two parts. I can’t very well describe it any better, except to repeat that I was blown away.

This is not a happy or very hopeful book, but I wholeheartedly recommend it.

The other two I picked up as I try to again ramp up my reading of YA fiction and (right now) particularly graphic novels:
Boxers (Boxers & Saints)Boxers by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really moving account of China’s Boxer Rebellion from one of the peasant-warriors. Interesting how it showed the ways that colonialism/the spread of Christianity hurt many of the people in the countryside, and also the supernatural beliefs that strengthened the fighters. Be warned that the ending is tragic. I’m interested to read Saints, the companion book, as well as (eventually) some actual history of the rebellion.

Saints (Boxers & Saints)Saints by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Was itching to read this after I finished Boxers, and it was very good–I read it in one evening (it helps that it’s a lot shorter than Boxers!). This provided an interesting look at a Chinese Christian experience during the Boxer Rebellion. I thought I knew how it would end, from reading Boxers, but you actually learn a little more about Bao’s story at the end of Vibiana’s.

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For those of you keeping track at home, yes, this means my French reading project is way behind. But that’s up next on the docket, so hopefully I can update in the next week or two.

Library Books Enjoyed, 10/31/13: Halloween Edition

We apparently checked out Halloween books early and often this month, so here they are. Happy Halloween!

10 Trick-or-Treaters10 Trick-or-Treaters by Janet Schulman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my goodness. This one gets a five for the sheer amount of enjoyment my kids have gotten out of it. I don’t know if it’s the colorful Halloween pictures, the rhyme, the counting down (which my kindergartner was especially attuned to) or what, but they LOVED this and we read it OVER and OVER, and even had to keep it out an extra week.

Basically, it follows 10 trick-or-treaters on their Halloween, and the numbers dwindle as one trick-or-treater is scared off on each page. There’s nothing really very scary here (good for my crowd…and their mother), but lots of Halloween characters (a witch, a mummy, a bat, etc.) make appearances.

Pumpkin EyePumpkin Eye by Denise Fleming

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A short (great for a late bedtime story!), sweet Halloween book. Bright pictures, simple rhyme. Enjoyed all around.

(This one was borrowed by my kindergartner from his school library rather than our public library…we are expanding our horizons!)

Monster Needs a CostumeMonster Needs a Costume by Paul Czajak

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a cute Halloween story about a monster who has trouble deciding on what costume to wear…a dilemma familiar to many parents. I really enjoyed the story, and the conclusion, and I think my kids loved it as well. The pictures are very vivid and add to the comedy (although the little boy who’s in charge of Monster seems to be very sympathetic to him).

I have one persnickety problem with it, which is that Monster is obviously a boy in the story, but when he wants to be a ballet dancer, he is dressed as a girl ballerina with a pink tutu. My problem is not with any gender-bending, but with the fact that this completely ignores the fact that boys can be ballet dancers, too! And when boys and men dance, they dress differently from girls and women, and to be a ballet dancer does not just mean to wear a pink tutu. Ok, that’s the end of my rant.

Monster Needs a Costume is a great Halloween story, and you should enjoy it with your kids as soon as you can get your hands on it at the library.

Zen GhostsZen Ghosts by Jon J. Muth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven’t read Zen Shorts, so I didn’t know what this would be like going into it. It was a beautiful story, and absolutely beautiful pictures that gave just the right atmosphere of fall and spookiness.

Trick or Treat, Marley!Trick or Treat, Marley! by John Grogan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Let’s just be honest and say I didn’t like this. I have read, and did enjoy, Marley and Me, but I am a little perturbed by all the spin-offs it has spawned. I think two things bothered me the most about this: the kids’ character names did not even slightly correspond with Grogan’s kids in the original (yes, you could make an argument for the kids’ privacy, but if you are doing a spin-off, it should be an accurate spin-off, right?) and, after all the trouble Marley got in, they put him in charge of handing out candy? Really?

However, I’m still featuring the book in the “Halloween Books Enjoyed” because the target audience at our house ate this right up. The combination of cute dog and Halloween is just too much for them, apparently.

Ol' Clip-Clop: A Ghost StoryOl’ Clip-Clop: A Ghost Story by Patricia C. McKissack

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I grabbed this, first because it was by Patricia C. McKissack, who has written lots of great picture books (until earlier this year, with her husband, Frederick L. McKissack), and also because it looked fun, historical, and a little spooky. I purposely did not share it with my kids…I read it myself, and then decided I didn’t want to share it with them quite yet.

This is mostly a spooky tale who’s atmosphere is conveyed by suggestion…describing how mean the main character, John Leep, is, repeating the clip-clop sounds (and making them get faster and faster), and the dark (as in colored dark pictures)…but it’s a jump tale (the right reader could really go crazy with this in an elementary school read-aloud setting), and the last page has a somewhat scary picture (a skeleton-like ghost coming to swallow up John Leep). I am definitely on the “chicken” side for judging scary stories, but I would recommend this for 1st or 2nd grade up through about 4th…maybe 5th, but “kids these days” seem harder to scare than I am. 😉

Although I didn’t read this aloud, I think it’s a fun story, and the pictures are great…definitely worth it for the right audience.

Betty Crocker Halloween CookbookBetty Crocker Halloween Cookbook by Betty Crocker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My three-year-old saw this on display and insisted we check it out, and all three of my kids have been poring over it since, to decide what they want me to make out of it…we have finally settled on one or two recipes that I will photocopy and try to make sometime this month.

As a cookbook, I don’t think much of it (most of the recipes include such ingredients as Bisquick, premade cinnamon rolls, cake mix, etc…nothing wrong with using those, but they don’t really tell you how to make most of the food). As a decorating book, however, it’s pretty great…and the recipes we’ve decided on are basically easy ways to decorate a sheet cake and pudding in cups to look like witches.

As a picture book, this is also great, because I think the kids have enjoyed it as much for looking at the pictures as for any actual treats that they get out of it.

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