Month: February 2012

by Leslie Patricelli

I usually don\’t like illustrated books for the baby yet. She just doesn\’t seem as interested in drawings as in photos of real things, especially if they have faces. This one is just so cute, though, and the rhythm of comparisons makes it easy to adopt a little sing-song as you read aloud. It\’s all about similar items that are large and small: Elephants are BIG, Mice are little etc. My favorites are Ladies are BIG, Ladybugs are little and The moon is BIG, My nightlight is little. It\’s a bit different from the usual opposite kind of books. If you\’ve got a little one who likes bright, simple pictures and learning about similarities between objects, BIG Little might be a good choice!

rating: 3/5 …….. 26 pages, 2003

by Tom Groneberg

This book is one that grew on me. Don\’t judge The Secret Life of Cowboys by its cover or its title, because neither seem a good fit to me. It\’s a thoughtful, frank memoir of a man searching for a new life, trying to live his dream. Groneberg has always wanted to be a cowboy, to live close to cattle and horses, to love the land. He gets a job leading trail rides for tourists, then works as a hired hand on a ranch, and finally gets his dream- a ranch of his very own. But all along he struggles to fit in, to learn skills kids around him have mastered, to understand simple things that no one bothers to explain because they assume it\’s common knowledge. He struggles at managing the ranch. The ending surprised me. It\’s not all happy. Love for the big open skies, wide fields and animals shines through the pages, but so does the heartache at difficulties and failings. I kept thinking of Jenna as I read this book; she\’s another person who had a dream to live a life different than the one she was raised with, and just went for it. In some ways their stories are quite similar.

rated: 3/5 …….. 257 pages, 2003

more opinions at:
Buddies in the Saddle
Cataloger\’s Reading List

and her Big Fat Mouth

by Barbara Park

This one was pretty good. In Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth, our little protagonist can\’t decide what she wants to be when she grows up. All her classmates have picked things like artist, superhero, guard, princess, fireman, etc. Junie B. wants a job that uses all the things she finds attractive- paintbrushes are cool, so are rings of keys, and she\’d love to help save people. Can she figure out a job that encompasses all her passions? I really liked how Junie B. highlighted a blue-collar job that the kids at first laughed at, but in the end they recognized how important it was to the normal functioning of their very own school. And in the meantime Junie B. has a new grown-up friend and role model. Sure she has a smart mouth and says things like \”stupid\” and \”hate\” but kids can be like that. As long as yours recognizes that Junie is misbehaving, I think they can see the humor in the book and this one happens to have a really good message too. I wonder if the title could be more appropriate, though. It doesn\’t quite seem to fit what the story is actually about.

rating: 4/5 …….. 69 pages, 1993

and the Stupid Smelly Bus

by Barbara Park

I believe this is the first book in the Junie B. Jones series. Another one my daughter brought home from school and I sneaked off her bed to read (in one sitting) later at night. I didn\’t find it as funny as Sneaky Peeky Spying, that one made me laugh out loud a lot, this one I think I only really chuckled once. But it did get lots of smiles, a quick little fun read. So, in  Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus the little girl is nervous about her first day of kindergarten. She\’s afraid to get on that yellow bus. And when she does ride it to school, it\’s miserably hot, uncomfortable and the girl with curly hair doesn\’t want to share a seat. At school she hears more about big meanies who do things to little kids on the bus, so she decides she\’s simply not going to ride it home. She hides in a supply closet instead, and when everyone leaves has a little fun playing in the classroom. But then an emergency arises (of the bathroom kind) and Junie B. realizes all the doors are locked! She\’s alone in the empty school. What will she do?

Of course, her parents are frantic with worry but Junie B. is a smart little cookie and she finds some quick help. Roundly scolded for giving everyone a scare, and comes to terms with that big yellow bus- especially when a new friend named Grace promises to share her seat. I think we\’ll see more of Grace in books to come.

rating: 3/5 ……. 69 pages, 1992

by Rumer Godden

Another book which has been quietly languishing on my shelf. The Peacock Spring was slow to get into, but the more I read the more curious I got about it. The story is of two girls in their early teens who get abruptly pulled out of boarding school to go live with their diplomat father in India. It soon becomes clear to them that their governess is incompetent at teaching, and is in fact their father\’s mistress. The older girl, Una, is indignant at the sham, while the younger one, Hal, couldn\’t care less. Hal is thrilled with the sightseeing and parties the governess is trying to distract them with; Una is frustrated at being denied her studies. The better part of the first half of the book is about this subtle battle going on between the girls and the governess, made more interesting by the fact that all the servants resent the woman too, and the girls\’ father is pretty much oblivious to it all. But then something curious happens. Una meets a gardener who also happens to be a poet, and whose friend is an accomplished mathematician. Suddenly she finds a way to circumvent her governess and continue her studies. What she doesn\’t really expect is to fall in love…

While this story is not exactly tender, nor are most of the characters extremely likable, there was something about it that kept me intrigued. The further I got the more tangled it all became, until in the end Una was in quite a sticky situation. The ending was quite sad. I found myself feeling sympathy for characters I really didn\’t like in the beginning, and getting furious at others that I had previously admired. They\’re all quite deep characters, with layers and ulterior motives and secret thoughts and dumb moments, just like real people… This is not one of my favorite Rumer Godden books, but one I\’m certainly hanging onto regardless. I wonder when I\’ll pick it up again, what new things I might see in its pages.

rating: 3/5 …….. 243 pages, 1975

more opinions at:
Jenny\’s Books
Miss Darcy\’s Library

by Leo Timmers

Brum! and  Vroom! are two more little board books that feature silly animals driving vehicles with various sound effects. Only I didn\’t like these two as much as Toot! There is only one sound for each book, that of the title, repeated on every page. I preferred Toot! which had a different sound for each vehicle. I had to make up little phrases to go with each picture, in singsong, to keep my child\’s interest. Regardless, the pictures are still adorable- there\’s a rhino driving a sports car, a forklift carrying a hippo, a front-loader carrying a heap of soil and earthworms, etc. It\’s charming, but just not quite as engaging as the previous book.

rating: 2/5 …….. 14 pages each, 2009

A Fruit and Vegetable Lover\’s Guide

by Bruce Beck

This is another one of those coffee-table books that\’s been sitting around my house forever. It\’s too awkward to read while nursing the baby (my prime reading time these days) so I\’ve only been getting to it in snatches here and there. You\’d think that a book about foodstuffs isn\’t that interesting, but Produce was quite a good read, considering.

It is a large, heavy book full of stunning photographs by Andrew Unagst, all featuring vegetables, fruits and greens. Each item gets a good description, including different varieties, their origins and curious things about their culinary history, what foods they pair well with or how they are often prepared, how to choose the best ones from the market, how to keep them fresh at home, and at what season they are most readily available. It\’s got every single produce item you could think of, from plain old bananas and apples to arugula, watercress and a huge assortment of herbs, to unfamiliar exotics like cherimoya or starfruit. I even learned quite a few things about produce, such as that cantaloupe is (supposedly) good eaten sprinkled with salt and pepper, lettuce can be put into soup (!), melons are often carved into decorative bowls (look at this amazing watermelon turtle), and the Greeks and Romans use to wear parsley garlands at parties, because they believed it would keep them from getting drunk. There are charming, whimsical little line drawings illustrating each page, as well. And a sprinkling of humor to boot.

One thing I didn\’t understand was why most of the herbs were combined into a crowded two-page spread, while parsley, basil and watercress each got their own spot. Also, I couldn\’t find olives. I looked in the index, thinking maybe I\’d missed it somehow, as a few of the items were on a page with relatives (plantains with bananas, for example). Nope, no olives. The book does show its age a little, as the author makes comments on some exotic produce items being almost completely unavailable, whereas I\’ve seen them frequently in the supermarket. Anyhow, if you\’re interested in the history of produce, or want a few hints on how to use certain veggie items, or just like to drool over wonderful photographs, this is a pretty good book!

rating: 4/5 …….. 213 pages, 1984

by Rumer Godden

I\’m glad that I finally read this book. It was lovely, and one I kept wanting to go back to, eager to open the pages again and find out what was happening to those characters. Even though their edges are somewhat prickly, they were characters I came to feel for in just a short space of time. It\’s been a while since I felt that way about a book.

An Episode of Sparrows is about a poor girl in post-war England. Her mother, a traveling singer, has pretty much abandoned her to the care of a couple who run a restaurant. She is feeling lonely, yet has her own kind of pride and stubbornly insists on doing things for herself. She swipes a packet of flower seed from another child in the street and out of curiosity decides to plant them. After several failed attempts, she finds a spot in the rubble behind an old church to make a little hidden garden, enlisting the help of Tip, a local gang leader, and questioning a recalcitrant gardener she finds in the neighborhood to learn how to grow plants and care for them. It was quite wonderful to watch her little garden unfold, although she had to fight for it every step of the way. Her hopes kept getting set higher and higher, as she kept finding better things to grow, and finally coveted a small rosebush. Stealing soil from the gardens of a public square for her rose, she and the other children finally get caught and have to face some dire consequences. My heart wrung for this plucky little girl. I couldn\’t help feel for the man Vincent who ran the restaurant she lived in, too. He had lofty dreams as well, riddled with unlucky circumstances but undiscouraged. It\’s really a quite tender story, about connections and people finding they do care for each other, in spite of all their wrongs. It made me eager to find another Rumer Godden to read. I think I have the Peacock Spring on my shelf as well, must go look for it now…

rating: 4/5 …….. 247 pages, 1955

more opinions at:
Harriet Devine\’s Blog
Literary Afterthought
a pile of leaves

by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober

I was delighted to find another one of the Mini Masters series shelved among the board books at the library. Snatched up In the Garden with Van Gogh to bring home and share with my baby. Unfortunately, she wasn\’t quite as thrilled as I was. Like Quiet Time with Cassatt, each spread pairs a famous painting with gentle, rhyming text that describes it. I thought it was lovely, I\’m not quite sure why the baby didn\’t like it (and hers is the opinion that really counts, as I won\’t check out books again if I think she won\’t enjoy them. Many are the ones we\’ve checked out numerous times, met with recognition, little happy clapping hands.) Maybe I just sat down at the wrong moments with her, and she was distracted. Maybe she\’s just not interested in wavery, textured pictures of plants, flowers and landscapes. I did think it would be an even stronger book if the paintings were arranged in a more chronological order: the one about sowing seeds comes after the ones about gathering fruit, for example. Not that a child would notice, though. I did love the painting of a child just learning to walk, toddling through a garden guided by its mother\’s hands.

rating: 2/5 …….. 22 pages, 2002

more opinions at:
Eye Level Books
A Class of Her Own

by Thornton W. Burgess

In The Adventures of Johnny Chuck we meet a stout little woodchuck who has been struck with a sudden fit of wanderlust in the springtime. He encounters an older chuck with whom he fights, then another younger chuck- who turns out to be a female. The two make an acquaintance, Johnny Chuck impresses Polly, and they search for a place to make a new home together. This turns out to be in a remote corner of the orchard, for Johnny Chuck wants his privacy now. Meanwhile, as Johnny has been having adventures and finding love, his friends back home are wondering what became of him. Sammy Jay discovers his new home, and intends to make mischief for Johnny Chuck. But he\’s burning with curiosity to know why Johnny is being so secretive. When he finally finds out, Sammy has a sudden change of heart…

Another delightful Burgess story that uses real wildlife behavior and interactions to teach lessons of friendship and kindness.

rating: 4/5 ……. 88 pages, 1913


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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