Month: April 2012

by Keith Baker

This little board book is rich with texture and color. The reader follows creatures through a jungle as they chant about their fear of \”the Beast\” naming his striped coat, strong legs, long tail, wide whiskers, etc. as bits of him are seen through the foliage on each page. I thought at first it was coaxing young readers to guess the identity of the tiger, but instead we see the tiger come out of the undergrowth to peer at himself in a pool of water: is the Beast me? Then the tiger goes back through the jungle meeting the various animals that had fled from him, pointing out all the things they have in common: the bee also has stripes, the monkey a long tail, etc. On the final spread the tiger smiles at all the animals together: we all are Beasts! And he\’s not a fierce-looking tiger, he has a gentle, even timid expression. It\’s a nice little book and I just love the rich textures of all the plants that fill the pages. As an additional visual treat, there\’s a little snail hiding on each page to find.

I found this one at a library sale, bought it for my little one.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 32 pages, 1990

One of my favorite pastimes is poking through the tables at the library sale and coming home with stacks of books, books, books! This year I had someone to share the thrill with. My seven-year-old has been bemoaning the fact she doesn\’t have any \”chapter books\” of her own so I said come to the library sale and get some. I let her loose at the kid\’s table and she picked out twenty-five books.

Her stack includes some Littles books (new to her but I have fond memories of that series), a few Junie B. Jones, the entire Caroline Years (precedent to the Little House series, which we are still stuck in the middle of!), a few Magic Tree House books, a few Ramona books, a bunch of Fairy Chronicles, and some kind of graphic novel series about girls with magic powers over the elements. Plus a few other random things. I had to clear off a shelf of picture books from her room (saved in a box for when the baby gets older) so she\’d have a place to keep her new reading material. Fun!

I only got a handful for myself.

None of these were actually on my list of books-I-must-have, of course. A few notes on them: 

Beach Music– years ago I read Prince of Tides and thought it fantastic. I\’ve never read any Pat Conroy since, but when I\’m in the mood for a nice long book this will be it.

William Golding– only ever read Lord of the Flies (loved it), and made an attempt at Pincher Martin (bleh). I was curious about these. There was a fourth one I left behind- about a man obsessed with building a huge spire on top of a church. Didn\’t sound interesting.

Zookeeper\’s Wife, Old School and Heart of a Shepherd all caught my eye because I\’ve added them to my TBR list due to book bloggers. Better yet to have my own copy at hand!

How to Speak Dog– Even though I don\’t have a dog I always like books about animal communication.

Through Animal\’s Eyes– about a wildlife sanctuary. Another of my favorite types of books.

Garden Secrets– the publication date seems a little outdated, but this book promises to explain the reasons behind all those little garden rules you hear and put into practice without really knowing why. I\’m eager to read it.

The bird book on top is a cute little thing full of interesting facts on birds, plus crosswords, other kinds of puzzles, brain teasers and jokes- all to do with birds. I\’m not crazy about birds, but flipping through was intrigued by some of the facts in there so I wanted to read it. I probably won\’t do the puzzles so I can pass this on to a real bird-lover someday.

Got a few for the baby as well (they get a very thorough cleaning before going into her hands!)

We also got this really cute button book for her that had ten buttons on ribbons, each page having a round shape cut out of a picture that you could fit a button into, going from one to ten. Unfortunately the baby um, \”lost her cookies\” pretty badly all over that book and I\’ve wiped it off with mild bleach but it still smells terrible. It\’s sitting out in the sunshine now but if that doesn\’t do the trick, the poor book is a goner. Too bad, it was really adorable!

by Thornton W. Burgess

This little story is about a new visitor to the community of friendly wild animals Thornton Burgess wrote of. Mrs. Quack is a migrating duck who arrives at the Smiling Pool in a terrible state. Several of the animals find her there and coax her to tell her story. While traveling she was shot at multiple times by hunters, loosing her children and mate in the chaos of fleeing ducks. She doesn\’t know if her family is injured, dead, or merely lost. The other animals are concerned and make a plan to help Mrs. Quack find her missing husband and a safe place to live for the season. It\’s a nice little story about helping those in need and showing compassion. Of course, as the story is all told from the duck\’s viewpoint there is a very strong anti-human sentiment; it tends to go on and on about how unfair the hunter\’s tactics are and there is a lot of talk about death, pain and fear. This might be upsetting to younger children. Regardless, I still found the story charming and if you pay attention to the details there\’s quite a bit about wildlife behavior; how the ducks live and raise their families.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 96 pages, 1917

by Laurie Halse Anderson

It was just after reading Wasted that I saw another review for Wintergirls, and remembered that it was on my TBR list. Found a copy at the library and immediately dove in. Despite the disturbing and depressing content, it was a book I just could not put down.

It\’s about a teenage girl named Lia struggling with an eating disorder. Her best friend suffers from bulimia and at the beginning of the book has just died from the disease (the two girls had engaged in a private competition to see who could loose the most weight, which got frighteningly out of control). Lia has to deal with grief and guilt at feeling partly responsible for her friend\’s death, which only push her further into destructive behavior. It\’s pretty horrible to read about. But it doesn\’t go into as much depth as Wasted did, which carefully examined all the environmental and emotional factors that led to her disorder. In this case, the book focuses more on the present struggle and the emotional upheaval that Lia is experiencing. The writing is lyrical and full of imagery that reflects the main character\’s skewed thinking very vividly. In spite of how well I could picture what she felt, it was hard to feel close to her as a character. She felt… empty in a way (which makes sense). I find I liked Speak better. This book gives me the shivers.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 278 pages, 2009

more opinions:
At Home With Books
Caught Between the Pages

Ancient Remedies Turned Loose

by Diane Kidman

I\’ve always been kind of skeptical of herbal medicine, probably an attitude I absorbed from my family (my dad\’s a doctor). But the more herbs I plant in my garden, the more curious I am about what else they can do besides feed me. I know from my experience with one cup of mint tea, what strong effect plants can have on the body. So when I saw this offered as a free e-book I thought I\’d read it and learn something.

Herbs Gone Wild is a very light, easy read that introduces lots of herbs and their medicinal uses. The author makes it sound simple to use various plants you might find in your yard or further afield, to treat many simple ailments ranging from the sniffles to aches and pains, upset stomach, even migraines. Of course, she cautions to always seek a doctor\’s advice and to use the smallest does of herbal remedies when starting out with them. I was surprised to find I recognized a few I\’ve actually used before without hardly thinking- putting aloe on burns, or baking soda paste to soothe a bee sting (my mom always used that one). Teas sound simple enough; making your own salves and tinctures a bit more complicated but when you read her directions even that doesn\’t seem too hard.

One that made me raise my eyebrows was about a weed I\’ve been trying to eradicate from my lawn: plantain (no, not related to fried bananas). Kidman says that if you crush a leaf and put it on a splinter, the sliver of material will work its way to the surface. My kid seems to get splinters often. And trying to get them out with tweezers (or worse yet, a needle) means dealing with lots of squirming, screaming and begging. So the most recent time she got one in her finger I suggested we try this little remedy, and picked a leaf of plantain off the lawn. She was intrigued. We secured it over the little splinter with a bandaid, and guess what, by morning the splinter was gone. Hm.

So, I\’m keeping this one around. It\’s the second book I\’ve ever read on my kindle, and I was pleased to make lots of use of the highlighting feature. There was something odd about the formatting- twice as much spacing between the paragraphs than necessary- which I found annoyed up to the end of the read, but other than that I\’m finding it easy to adapt to reading on the electronic device. Not that I think it will ever replace physical, paper books for me. But for those I can\’t find elsewhere, it\’s great.

rating: 4/5 …….. 130 pages, 2011

vol 1-3

by Hayao Miyazaki

This is another japanese comic that\’s read left-to-right, back-to-front. Honestly, I found it a bit more confusing to follow than Happy Happy Clover because there is very little dialog, so instead of following words I\’m following pictures, and often my eyes would jump to a panel out of sequence. It\’s pretty obvious, even before I started looking at the copyright page, that this book is taken straight from an animated film. Often the pictures include awkward gestures, small figures against a large background that don\’t read well visually without the movement, one character in exactly the same position for several frames as the other one talked. I really felt like the books could have been condensed by being more selective with the image choices, but that\’s just me. That said, the story is wonderfully imaginative, and the landscape rendered beautifully. My favorites were the last two volumes, where the little girls explore the forest.

So, My Neighbor Totoro is about two girls who move with their father into an old farmhouse on the edge of a forest. In the first volume, they move in, explore the empty house, and the youngest daughter finds that little mischevous dust sprites are living in the house (the kid next door thinks it\’s haunted). An older woman nearby tells them how to get rid of the dust sprites. In volume two, Mei (the little girl) wanders into the forest and finds three strange creatures which she follows around. When she tells her family, her older sister doesn\’t believe her, but her father tells her they are forest spirits and she\’s blessed by seeing them. Then the older sister wants to see them, too. In the third volume, the girls are waiting at a bus stop in the rain for their dad to come home when the largest totoro comes and waits with them, but he gets on a bus shaped like a huge cat with many feet. Later they wake up at night, find the totoro outside, and join him near  small garden plot they planted with gathered acorns. The totoro leads them in a kind of dance gesturing upwards that magically makes the acorns grow into huge, impressive trees. There\’s more going on- scenes at school, encounters with the neighbor boy, but that\’s really the gist of it. I think the three volumes could easily have been made one book, though. Apparently there\’s a fourth volume, but my library doesn\’t have it. These books would probably appeal most to kids who have seen the film; if I\’d know it I would have just watched the animation instead.

Here you can see some clips from the film.

Rating: 2/5 ……..143 pages (each), 2004

by Hope Larson

I recognized this one immediately when I saw it on the library shelf, having noticed it on a few book blogs. So I picked it up out of sheer curiosity for something more realistic than the other graphic novels I\’ve brought home. Chiggers is about a girl\’s experience at summer camp. Abby is missing her best friend, who as a counselor this year has little time for her, and not sure about the girls who share her cabin. She likes a new girl Shasta who arrives late, but the other girls don\’t like Shasta at all; they think she\’s lying about having an older boyfriend and getting struck by lightening. Abby has to deal with the other girls talking behind her back, the awkwardness of finding who to sit next to at meals, the excitement and insecurity of liking a boy, then finding out he might like her friend instead…

This book had great potential, but didn\’t quite work for me. In the first place, I had some trouble telling the characters apart. The faces are all the same, and the hairstyles not different enough. I was often confused who they were talking about, and felt like pertinent information was frequently left out. The characterization didn\’t quite come through to me, either- I could never figure out why the other girls didn\’t like Abby. She didn\’t seem at all stuck-up to me. The parts where Abby daydreams added a nice fantasy element, but the parts about lightning and electric balls of fire was just kinda weird. I also missed that there was never a real explanation for Shasta\’s illness- was she just making it up? did she have migraines from the lightening strike? I thought at the end she was going to tell Abby about it and there would be a moment of understanding or explanation, but that never happened. It left me feeling annoyed and unsatisfied.

Rating: 2/5 …….. 170 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Prose and Cons
Puss Reboots

by Neil Gaiman
adapted by P. Craig Russell

Coraline is a spooky little fantasy story about a girl who moves into a big old house with her parents, in the middle of a rambling garden. Bored, she starts exploring her flat, meeting two old ladies and an eccentric man who live in the basement and attic flats, respectively. Then she finds a door that leads into an alternate universe, where she has an alternate set of parents. This other-mother treats her kindly, cooks her favorite foods, but she is also controlling, sadistic, and has frightful buttons instead of real eyes. As Coraline explores this new world, she starts to learn some unsettling truths about the other-mother\’s true intentions. She not only has to trick the other-mother into letting her go, but also free several child-spirits the other-mother has trapped, and find her parents which have gone missing. The other-mother proves to be terribly clever and difficult to thwart, but Coraline has the help of a nameless black cat who moves freely between this world and the real one.

In this case, I saw the film adaptation but haven\’t read the original book. I really enjoyed reading this version. At first glance I thought the faces, drawn in a realistic style, looked too stiff, but up close they\’re actually very animated. The other-mother\’s face was decidedly creepy. I was surprised to see how many differences there were between the movie version and this. For one, there\’s no little boy to be Coraline\’s friend (but I think that\’s where the movie deviates from the book by itself). The garden played a far less important part, which disappointed me a little- I was looking forward to some fantastic illustrations of plants! Also I don\’t recall the part where Coraline goes into the cellar, nor the final bit where she must get rid of the other-mother\’s hand. I may have just forgotten some things, though. There were other scenes that were new to me, which I liked, and some that weren\’t very long, like the burlesque show, I recall being move developed in the movie.

I loved the cat. His expressions, demeanor and the way he was drawn were just perfect.

Rating: 4/5                            186 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Savidge Reads
Wandering Librarians
Reading Rants

the Graphic Novel

by Brain Jacques
adapted by Stuart Moore

Redwall is one of those J fiction series I looked at, thumbing through the pages of the first book, and realized I had no interest in reading. However, the visual appeal of the graphic novel version got me to sit down and read it. The story is about a group of mice and a few other talking animals that live peacefully in an abbey. Young Matthias longs for days of adventure; he constantly admires a tapestry of Martin the warrior-mouse and wishes to be like the legendary hero. His dreams come true soon enough when a gang of evil rats storms the abbey and the storyline is quickly launched into battle plans and defense tactics. There is a varied cast of characters- squirrels, badgers, otters and hares on the protagonist\’s side; weasels and foxes support the villains. Matthias soon goes off on a self-appointed quest to find the ancient sword of Martin, hoping to use it to defeat the rats. He meets up with a community of secretive shrews, an old owl and cat who have a quarrel, and a kingdom of sparrows. Surprisingly, the cat is a pacifist and the sparrows are fighters.

I really enjoyed the artwork. It\’s all black-and-white, with washes of gray. It\’s very atmospheric, has lots of different viewpoints and angles, making for a wonderful visual story. I had a few problems with how the characters were drawn, though. The mice and rats all had rather pointy ears, I kept thinking they didn\’t quite look like mice or rats. The rats look perfectly evil, but their snouts are so long and full of teeth they almost appear crocodilian. One particularly sneaky one also has a long neck- he looks more like a weasel than a proper rat. Another thing that bugged me was the scale- the foxes and badgers the mice interact with are only twice as big as the mice, which makes them either look smaller than normal, or the mice particularly large. This seemed normal in the context of the story until Matthias met the cat- who appeared a giant monster, having the usual size relationship to a mouse. But foxes are normally bigger than cats… It was a very nicely-drawn cat, I just couldn\’t get over the visual discrepancy.

Well, I can\’t compare how closely this book follows the original novel, as I haven\’t read that. I\’m sure it\’s left a lot of material out. But as a stand-alone the story is good enough, moves with a quick pace, and Matthias has plenty of interesting adventures dealing with spies, thieves and villains as well as finding friends in unexpected places. I\’m sure kids who like battles, adventure stories and animals would really enjoy this book.

rating: 3/5 …….. 143 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Story World Border
Good Between Reads
Books to the Ceiling


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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