Month: August 2017

Vols 11 and 12
by Kiyohiko Azuma

Yotsuba loves noodles. She wanders down the street by herself to an udon shop- and naturally wants to watch the old man make noodles. The shopowners kindly oblige until her dad shows up! She tries pizza for the first time- it is amazing. Yanda comes over- and everyone hides. Haha. For the first time he gets into Yotsuba\’s good graces- sort of- by bringing a variety of bubble wands. Many, and huge. Yotsuba goes with Fuuka and her friend to gather chestnuts- but the older girls- especially Asagi- are grossed out because many are infested with larvae. (I can so relate. We collected hickory nuts one year- never again). Yotsuba throws a temper tantrum when her dad won’t let her use his new digital camera. He gets her a kid one and she goes out through the neighborhood taking pictures. She confronts a dog that has always frightened her on walks- and her teddy bear gets the worst of that encounter. Asagi gives the bear ‘surgery’ – Yotsuba is seriously sad while her bear is missing. Yanda tries to cheer her up- and of course that backfires, he only makes her mad. But she gets the idea to go ‘visit’ her bear while it is recovering, and all is well again.

It’s fall in this volume. Yotsuba watches geese fly overhead, and Fuuka dresses her up as a pumpkin to play at Halloween- which nobody else is doing around them, it’s not a real holiday there. Yotsuba sees Jumbo painting a small table at his flower shop; later at home she finds a can of blue paint and decides to paint stuff in her own house. Of course she gets in trouble, but instead of punishing her, Daddy just lets her suffer the natural consequences- she’s horrified that the blue paint won’t come off her hands, and everyone she meets going to the store and stuff can find out what she did. By the time he buys a product to help her get cleaned up, she’s probably not going to do that again! Yotsuba gets a bike helmet- and thinks it makes her invincible to other things. She goes camping with her dad and his friends- Ena and Miura come along too. Yotsuba is upset at first that Yanda is part of the outing, but she gets over it- he is not quite as annoying this time. The camping episodes were my favorite part. The kids are awed by the tent, and enthralled with a hammock, and love cooking outside, and get introduced to roasted marshmallows, and enjoy the wide open spaces, sunrises, walks in the woods- all great stuff.

Rating: 3/5          224 pages each, 2011 and 2013 respectively

by Betsy Byars

Tom is not the outdoorsy type. He reluctantly goes along with all the sports and activities his parents arrange, but really enjoys exercising his imagination, especially with his best friend. They make up dramatic headlines and news articles, otherworldly incidents to circumvent anything they don\’t want to do, questionnaires that will explain your personality and the like. Pretty funny, and it felt very real to what goes on inside a boy\’s head (or at least, so I would imagine).

Tom resents being left at his aunt\’s farm for the summer while his parents travel, far from the city and his friend. He mopes around until one day happens to see a fox on the edge of a field. It is a melanistic phase- a black fox. Tom is captivated at the sight of the fox and hopes to see it again. He starts wandering around the woods with that intention, eventually finding the fox\’s den. But when something starts killing his aunt\’s turkeys and chickens, his uncle makes a plan to hunt down the fox…

It was a pretty good story. This one came to my attention because I saw it was compared to One-Eyed Cat. There are some distinct similarities, especially in the overall mood and how well the personality of the boy is written.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                134 pages, 1968

Vols 9 and 10
by Kiyohiko Azuma

I\’m still enjoying these. Yotsuba tries to write a schedule for her day, but really gets the wrong idea- noting down every second, for things that can\’t really be predicted- but sure are important when you\’re little (like remembering to go to the bathroom). She gets a new teddy bear. Her manner of talking to the bear, and the kinds of names she makes up- so much like my own little girl. Her dad gets a new coffee grinder and Yotsuba thinks this is a grown-up\’s toy. In a way I guess she\’s right. She wants to share her dad\’s new coffee (it\’s supposed to be extra-good) with Fuuka next door, but always spills on her way over, no matter how careful. So one day the girls follow Yotsuba back to her house- they\’ll try the coffee there- of course Yotsuba has no qualms inviting them in, but Koiwai wasn\’t expecting company. The girls are a bit taken aback at seeing how a bachelor lives. Yotsuba gets to go see a hot-air balloon competition. Very impressive! Of course like all little kids she gets distracted, looks for fun elsewhere when the waiting is too long, and when the balloons arrive back in sight for the big finish, she is having too much fun sliding down a grassy hill to notice. So cute.

There\’s also several scenes were Yanda shows up again, inviting himself along on outings. The other two- Koiwai and Jumbo- kind of ignore him, question his antics, talk over him- I get the distinct impression they don\’t really like him but are being polite. I think he used to be one of their co-workers? Can\’t recall now, I am reading these books rather spaced apart. I keep expecting more explanation about Yotsuba\’s background, but there was none of that here. It is all about her now, in the moment.

In volume 10, Yotsuba plays house under her dad\’s desk- he tries to be patient but you can tell it makes it hard to work! She engages him in games where she makes up the rules- seemingly on-the-spot and in her favor. She helps her dad make pancakes, and that jerk Yanda walks in and mocks her efforts. Yotsuba gets frustrated and- because flipping pancakes is difficult, she tries harder- which means slamming them down on the stovetop. I laughed so hard both my kids came into the room to see what was so funny, so I read them that episode. My twelve-year-old said \”I want to slam pancakes next time!\” Nooo.

Jumbo sees photos of the outing Yotsuba and the girls went on to see the hot-air-balloons, and it becomes apparent he is jealous of Tora for always being in Asagi\’s company. Yotsuba really likes playing with the giant exercise ball Fuuka has, so Asagi lets her borrow it. She takes it home and throws it around- causing trouble! Her dad catches her out in a lie and takes her on a walk so she will confess in front of a shrine (for fear of the god). It was handled very well. She goes with Ena to Miura\’s house where she sees the pieces of the cardboard robot- which she still believes is real- so the older girls scramble to explain why it\’s there and make it appear to come back to life. She also rides an elevator for the first time. Lots of fun stuff.

I did find it a bit odd that in this volume, some of the pictures that show Yotsuba\’s handwriting, it\’s in english. I preferred to see it with the original japanese characters (as in previous volumes), with the translation next to the illustration. I don\’t know why that was changed.

Borrowed from the public library

Rating: 3/5          224 pages each, 2009 and 2010 respectively

by Brendan Wenzel

A cat takes a walk. A child sees it, impressed by the big round eyes. The following pages show how each animal it comes across, sees it in a very different way. To a dog the cat is a sneaky thing, to the fish a wide blur, to the mouse it is a horrible monster. The views get a bit more sophisticated as you advance through the book. Some creatures see it in black-and-white, others in a kaliedascope of color. A bee sees the cat as various dots, a worm feels it as vibrations through the ground, the snake senses the heat of its body. On the final page- how does the cat see itself?

This book is deceptively simple. The illustrations are bold, the words are repetitive. But that\’s part of the beauty of it- a young child will just enjoy the pictures and rhythm. An older kid will appreciate the insight into perceptions- not just about viewpoints, but about the different means by which a thing can be known. Art, science and kitties!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5              44 pages, 2016

by Brigitte Raab
Illustrations by Manuela Olten

My six-year-old over the past few months has had difficulty getting to sleep. I flipped through this book at the library and thought she would find it amusing- yep. It reminds her that she\’s not the only one having issues falling asleep- and makes her laugh!

The kid in the story says to her mom over and over: I can\’t sleep. Mom tells her to snuggle with her stuffed leopard and close her eyes, adding: \”all creatures sleep. Even the real leopards in Africa-\” and shares some fact about how leopards sleep. Next page, the kid complains she can\’t sleep- she tried to sleep like a leopard but it didn\’t work- so mom tucks her in again and tells her how storks sleep on one leg- you get the picture. Each time the kid tries sleeping like an animal: eyes open like a fish, surrounded by buddies like a duck, turning in circles like a dog. She finds out of course that animal sleep habits are not for kids, snuggled in a bed is best of all.

This book isn\’t about finding some strategy for bedtime (and we\’re mostly over needing that). You see through the pictures that the mother is going through her own bedtime routine, and on the last page when the kid finally says \”I\’m sleeping now!\” mom is already snoozing next to her. It never shows the child actually falling alseep- which I found a tad annoying. But it\’s good for giggles.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                32 pages, 2012

by Paula Fox

An old paperback on my shelf that I know I read once when I was a kid, but remembered almost nothing about. Decided to re-read it yesterday.

It takes place in the years just after the Great Depression- times are still rather hard, pleasures are simple. The main character, an eleven-year-old boy named Ned, enjoys walking in the woods and spends a lot of time at home. His father is parson in their small town, his mother is practically bed-ridden with a debilitating illness, and their housekeeper has a sharp tongue and airs of self-importance. Ned tries to please his father, worries about his mother, and usually avoids the housekeeper. He walks to school with his friends, sometimes squabbling with the other boys. He does chores and errands for an elderly man next door, slowly building up a friendship.

Then his visiting uncle gives him an air rifle for his birthday. Ned is eager to try it out on tin cans but his father disapproves of the gift and makes him put it away in the attic until he is older. Ned has always been obedient, but now he sneaks upstairs in the middle of the night and takes the gun outside. He just wants to handle it once; then promises to himself he\’ll put it away again. But he sees a shadow move by the corner of a building and takes a shot. Coming home again, he thinks he glimpses a face in an upstairs window- did someone see him? hear the shot? who was it? He feels guilty, but it\’s so much worse when later at the old man\’s house he sees a dirty, thin cat in the yard- with a missing eye. Ned is convinced he\’s responsible for the cat\’s injury. It is too wild to bring indoors but with the old man he tries to care for it- leaving out food, providing shelter. He worries what will happen to the cat when winter comes. Over the next eight months, guilt slowly eats away at him. His thoughts of the cat and his fault color everything around him, and he learns how hard it is to hold up a lie, when you don\’t know who might really know the truth…

This is a solemn story full of calm detail about relationships, the beauty of life, and the finality of death. The descriptions of the landscape, how people think and feel, are full of clarity. The ending feels a bit -flat- there\’s no huge resolution- just a few quiet conversations that maybe straighten things out, a glimpse of the cat that suggests to Ned how it might be doing- but he never is really sure. Life is like that, sometimes.

Rating: 3/5               216 pages, 1984

Vols 7 and 8
by Kiyohiko Azuma

More fun: Yotsuba plays \’telephone\’ using plastic cups and string, with the girls nextdoor (inspiring me to do this with my youngest, who\’d never seen such a thing). She goes bike riding with Ena and her friend- is amazed to see Miura\’s unicycle. Thinks Miura must be a princess because the apartment building she lives in is so huge -like a castle! (doesn\’t realize that many families live there). She\’s shocked to find out that Fuuka is going to bake a cake (thinks they only come from bakeries) and then disappointed how it turns out. Goes on an errand to buy lunch for herself and dad at the convenience store- but comes home with candy instead of his noodles. It\’s actually funny how that happened. She goes to visit a ranch with her dad and the gang- Yanda invites himself along- the other guys seem just annoyed at his presence but Yotsuba is incensed. And of course he teases her the whole time. The guys squabble like little kids. Yotsuba gets to milk a cow, annd punches a sheep- because it butted her first!

Volume throws you off at first- because Yotsuba decides to \’play opposites\’ where she says \”I\’m full!\” for being hungry and so on. Ends up yelling \”yucky!\” in the middle of a restaurant, to the embarassment of the adults accompanying her. It\’s funny to me that she insists on using a knife and fork because it\’s \”a fancy meal\” and her dad says um, why don\’t you use something easier like chopsticks? But for us it would be the opposite! She goes with her dad to a cultural day at Fuuka\’s school- once again disappointed by the cake. It\’s touching to see how the girls scramble to find a way to please her- they really care about her, or just don\’t want to see her cry! There\’s a typhoon. Yotsuba thinks the powerful rain and wind is awesome, and wants to play out in it, not realizing the danger. Jumbo stays with her when her dad has to be away for work, and Yotsuba is upset when Yanda drops by- but the trouble he causes ends in good fun. There\’s a religious festival in town where the children help pull a dashi to the shrine- Yotsuba takes part with enthusiasm, but it seems only because she\’s promised candy in the end. Miura has a part to play in the festival where she dresses up in traditional finery, cementing Yotsuba\’s assumption that her friend is really a princess.

Two things at the end really made me laugh, because I can relate. Yotsuba sees a man at the festival wearing a traditional japanese loincloth- and thinks it\’s hilarious that \”you can totally see his butt!\” Later she\’s out to do shopping with her dad and gets completely sidetracked when they go through a park with oak trees- obsessed with picking up all the acorns she can find. This. My six-year-old.

Rating: 3/5      208 and 224 pages respectively, 2007

the Animal Way of Death
by Bernd Heinrich

Nature recycles the nutrients of dead animals and plants into new life; that\’s what this book is about. The author carries out his own studies, making observations on his own land in Maine and Vermont- he deliberately set out mouse carcasses to see what burying beetles do when they find them. He dragged deer or cow carcasses into the woods and then watched to see which animals arrived when, what parts of the body they disposed of, and so on. He always hoped for a large gathering of vultures, but never got one. Also in a few different places in Africa he observed various kinds of dung-collecting beetles. There are beetles that bury mice, and others that consume bones. Subject jumps around somewhat- one chapter speculates on how early man must have been a hunter and tyranosaurus rex a scavenger; another on what exactly happens to a whale carcass when it sinks in the ocean, another ruminates on how salmon are \”committing suicide\” when they swim upstream to spawn. There\’s an entire chapter about how bark beetles, fungi and other organisms break down a tree. Of course seeing the author\’s lifelong fascination with corvids, there\’s a lot about ravens and crows throughout many chapters. I expected a bit more about coyotes, but there\’s not much beyond the mention that they open a carcass, making it available to crows and other scavenging birds (even large vultures can\’t break the skin by themselves).

He kind of lost me on the last few chapters- the idea that insects undergoing a complete transformation from larval stage into adult are actually two separate species that merged their genetic code long ago? wow, a new one for me. The final chapter that waxes philosophic on ideas of the afterlife- dipping briefly into several ancient cultures and then considering what are the options if you don\’t want to be buried in a casket or cremated (which adds lots of toxins to the atmosphere)- kind of lost my interest. But at that point, the book was done. It wasn\’t nearly as engaging as some of his other books I\’ve read. I kept loosing interest and then coming back, so it took me a while to get through.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5            236 pages, 2012

Vols 5 and 6
by Kiyohiko Azuma

Yotsuba is kinda crazy with the reactions. Her eagerness and innocent misunderstandings get her into some funny situations too. In volume 5 Yotsuba meets a life-size robot at Ena\’s house. Miura likes to trick Yotsuba, and Asagi is still a tease, but the one who really gets to Yotsuba is an acquaintance of Koiwai\’s who shows up- he really messes with her. Yotsuba and the girls nextdoor go stargazing with her dad and Jumbo. There\’s a very mundane but still amusing episode where Yotsuba and her dad walk in the rain to the DVD-rental place. Yotsuba mishears something her dad says and invites all the neighbors to go with them to the beach- when he hadn\’t planned to go at all. But they do. Fun in the waves, Yotsuba searches for shells with the girls, finds a hermit crab and pokes a jellyfish.

Volume 6 opens with Yotsuba experimenting with recycling. She collects unwanted objects from family and neighbors- and makes something! Her dad buys her a bicycle and she is super enthusiastic about it, but has trouble remembering to follow the rules. Like: don\’t go anywhere alone! She wants to do errands, and goes on a bike ride with Asagi and her friend. When she does take off by herself, it was for a good cause- she wanted to share something special with Fuuka, so followed her to the school. Grounded. (Except she calls it \”dirted\” in one scene which really made me laugh). In the last episode here, she helps Daddy and Jumbo make a bookshelf. Ha, I liked that part.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5             208 pages each, 2006


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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