Thursday, April 17, 2014

Age: Middle Grade

Genre: Fiction, Fantasy

In the fifth installment of the Heroes of Olympus series, we find Percy and Annabeth making the deadly journey through Tartarus while their friends fight monsters across the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding lands.  Both teams are on their way to the doors of death at the House of Hades. The doors must be closed both above and below ground to slow the flow of monsters into the mortal world. While on their separate journeys, each one of the seven demigods (plus Nico) faces new challenges and must learn to use his or her powers in more advanced ways.

Though I enjoy reading this series, each successive book feels more and more overwritten. Part of the problem is the large cast of characters: besides the seven main demigods on the journey (who take turns narrating the book), there are two camps full of people, the gods (in both their Roman and Greek forms – which I will admit I can’t keep straight), and all the various monsters and spirits they encounter. No wonder the books keep getting longer. And do the heroes really need to encounter so many problems along the way? I feel like Riordan is just trying to cram in as much mythology as possible, whether it is necessary to advance the story or not. This bothers me. Also, the heroes seem to use the same tricks to defeat their enemies again and again and it is getting predictable. Such as when someone refuses to help them and they taunt him/her by saying he/she isn’t powerful enough to do what they need until hubris takes over and the God/demon/whatever does exactly what the heroes want. I mean really, is this trick going to work every time they try it? According to the author, it will. So though I read the entire book, I am hoping that the next book is a tighter story with fewer new characters to try to follow.

Riordan, Rick. The House of Hades. Disney Hyperion, 2013.

Friday, February 21, 2014

“Maple” by Lori Nichols

Age: Picture Book (2-5)
Genre: Fiction

Before a little girl named Maple was born (“When she was still a whisper”), her parents planted a maple tree in her honor. As Maple grows, so does her tree. She loves to play with her tree, or simply watch its leaves dance. But Maple sometimes wishes she had someone else to play with. One day she is surprised to find a new tree growing…and a new baby on the way! Maple is going to be a big sister! And she will share with her sibling the joys of trees.

When I stumbled across this book at the store this week, I read it and had to buy it.  I loved this story of the friendship between a girl and her tree. The pictures are cute and warm and green and show the joys of being outside. I especially like the illustrations of Maple lying under the tree, looking up through the green leaves. I thought the author was very creative to use the growing of a new tree as a symbol for an upcoming birth. This book takes the usual new sibling story and gives it a wonderful, leaf-twirling spin. Maple will make you smile and want to take her home with you, too.

Bibliographic Information:
Nichols, Lori. Maple.  New York, NY: Nancy Paulson Books, 2014.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

“Dino Pets” by Lynn Plourde and illustrated by Gideon Kendall

Age: 2-5 years
Genre: picture book

I recently came across this book at the library and remembered using it in my classroom when I was a preschool teacher. I had used Dino Pets with one- and two-year-olds during our unit on dinosaurs, and they always enjoyed it. Dino Pets follows a young boy who takes home all different kinds of dinosaurs for pets, but none of them works out. He picks the biggest dino, the smallest, the longest, the scariest, but either they don’t fit in his house, they run away, or they frighten his family. He runs out of dinosaurs to get from the pet shop and is sad, but in the end, all the dinos come back to him because, “No one likes to sleep alone.” This is a cute story about trying to find just the right pet that adds in the clever turn of the pets being dinosaurs. I like that it shows an assortment of dinosaurs that are not often used in other books, and an author’s note at the back tells the name of each dinosaur featured in the book as well as some information about it. Kids may enjoy listening to the rhyme in Dino Pets and seeing the funny scenes when the dinosaurs interact with humans. Kendall’s bright and friendly illustrations really bring the story to life and don’t make the dinosaurs seem scary. This is a fun, imaginative, and educational book.

Bibliographic Information:
Plourde, Lynn. Dino Pets.  New York, NY: Dutton Children’s Books, 2007.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman

Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction, Magical Realism/Fantasy

Have you forgotten incidents from your childhood? Of course. But what if you had traveled with a magical girl to a world beyond the one we know and accidently brought back a harmful spirit who tried to ruin your family? Surely this would stick in your memory. But when the narrator of The Ocean at the End of the Lane travels to the site of his childhood home as an adult, he has to grasp at memories of the little girl named Lettie Hemstock and the evil they faced together when he was only a boy of seven. During his visit home, he travels down the lane to the Hemstock farm and begins to chat with a woman he vaguely remembers. The longer he talks, the more memories come back to him of the thing that nested in his foot from the world beyond and took the form of a housekeeper and nanny calling herself Ursula Monkton. As the story unfolds from the perspective of the man as a young boy, the reader is taken through a strange world and asked to believe many things that lead to questions about the nature of reality, magic, and memory.

First of all, I recommend listening to this as an audio book because it is read by the author. Gaiman reads it like a true storyteller, giving it a flavor only the creator of this world can provide. When I began this book, I was unsure why it was classified as an adult book when the narrator is a seven-year-old boy.  Most books narrated by children are written for children. However, I believe the adult classification is mostly due to some adult themes in the book. If not for the sexual references (light as they are), it would likely be enjoyed by children. Perhaps not seven-year-olds, but it would fit into middle grade easily. The tone of the story is hard to describe. You could call it magical, but that would sound too happy. You could call it sinister or dark, but that would sound too harsh. It is somewhere in between. The characters are all well-formed, and the author makes sure we know who the villain is and hate her just as much as the main character does. His descriptions are so clear that you feel as if you are in the fields running from the carpet monster with the narrator. This book fits well into Gaiman’s other writings and will leave you with feelings of suspicion, wonder, and perhaps fear of the unknown.

Bibliographic Information:

Gaiman, Neil. The Ocean at the End of the Lane. New York: Harper Collins, 2013.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

“Tuck Me In!” by Dean Hacohen and Sherry Scharschmidt

Age: birth to 2 years old
Genre: picture book

This book starts with a simple line: “It’s time for bed. Who needs to be tucked in?” This is followed with a different animal on each page and a half-page blanket that the reader flips over the animal to tuck it in. The book ends with asking if the reader needs to be tucked in. There is not much to this book. There is no theme that unites the animals chosen unless it’s that they are mostly difficult to make up sounds for (What does the hedgehog say? How about the moose?). I like that it provides a variety of animals, and my son (who is 1.5 years old) seems to enjoy “tucking in” the animals. But overall, not too exciting of a book to read. No story, no characters, no anything, really. More of a game than a story.

Bibliographic Information:
Hacohen, Dean & Sherry Scharschmidt. Tuck Me In!  Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2010.

Tuck Me In! on

“You Are My Baby: Farm” by Lorena Siminovich

Age: birth to 2 years old
Genre: board book

This book is advertised as “two books in one” because it has a little book inside a bigger book. (It’s a little hard to explain, so see the picture here). The illustrations are very cute and cover many of the usual farm animals, so the reader gets an opportunity to teach animal noises as well as names. Though the book is designed to let the adult turn the big page and the child turn the small page, my son (who is 1.5 years old) turns the little pages before I’m done with the big one, so the animals don’t usually match up like they are supposed to. The only way for us to enjoy it “correctly” is if I do all the page turning. We enjoy reading the book together either way. My main complaint with this book is its shoddy construction. Because of the little/big book format, the binding is compromised. I have used packing tape up and down the spine, but it’s still falling apart. We haven’t even had it for more than a few months, so this is just poor quality. Board books need to hold up to young hands and vigorous page turning, and this is the first one we’ve had a major problem with. I recommend getting a different farm book instead.

Bibliographic Information:
Siminovich, Lorean. You Are My Baby: Farm.  San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 2013.

“City Cat, Country Cat” by Patricia Cleveland-Peck with illustrations by Gilly Marklew

Here's my review of another cat book that caught my eye. Remember ratings are out of a possible 4 paws.

“City Cat, Country Cat” by Patricia Cleveland-Peck with illustrations by Gilly Marklew

Age: 3 and up

Genre: Fiction, Picture book

Freckle the cat lives in the country on a farm with a boy named David. Charlie the cat lives in the city with a girl named Sarah. Both cats enjoy eating, sleeping, and playing with their owners (when they feel like it). Both cats disappear, sometimes for days, but always come back. Where do they go? We soon find out. Freckle and Charlie have something else in common, which the owners are surprised to discover in the story’s end. Though the text is a little long at times, this story is overall one young readers will enjoy. It’s a quiet story with not a lot of action, but much like a cat’s day, full of everyday joys. I think readers who like cats will have fun following the lives of Freckle and Charlie. Recommended for ages 3 and up. This book is currently out of print, so look for it in your local library.

Cleveland-Peck, Patricia. City Cat, Country Cat. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1992.