Wednesday, August 11, 2010

26 Letters and 99 Cents

26 Letters and 99 Cents (Mulberry Books)As is sometimes the case, my daughter requests a book over and over again much to my surprise. 26 Letters and 99 Cents by Tana Hoban is such a book, something we stumbled across in the library.

The book is two-in-one. One side of the book contains the letters of the alphabet - both upper case and lower case, along side a picture of a toy or a piece of fruit or some other kind of object that illustrates the letter. The version we checked out was dated - the pictures look like something from the '80s - but each image is colorful and my daughter liked talking about the connection between the letter and the object.

Flip the book over and each page is devoted to numbers.  For example, the number 4 is accompanied by 4 pennies while the number 5 is shown next to a nickel. My daughter doesn't grasp money yet so pointing to the coins has proven fruitless.  But she likes to recite the numbers out loud with me.  At some point, the book begins to count by 5 which is way beyond what my 3 year-old is managing with numbers.

Still, it's fun to flip the book, and she likes the colorful pictures. It also is fun for her to shout out something that she has been learning.  So this isn't necessarily a good night book but it's can be a fun take on counting on reciting the alphabet during a slow afternoon.

Kipper's A to Z: An Alphabet Adventure

Kipper's A to Z: An Alphabet AdventureKipper's A to Z: An Alphabet Adventure is a charming romp through the alphabet for toddlers working their way from A to Z.  The book tells the story of Kipper and his little pig friend Arnold collecting various insects in a simple box. There is also an overly-eager Zebra, excited to make an appearance.

Both the images and the text are light and uncluttered, allowing the reader to focus on the letter in question. The story is also sweet, completely in keeping with the television series. For Kipper fans, this book is a must.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Before I Fall

Before I Fall
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver is ostensibly Mean Girls meets Groundhog Day. More than that, it feels like Emma (yet another mean girl book in the YA genre, and yet another Emma spin wherein the heroine at first seems unlikable) brought forward two hundred years mashed up with Before I Die, or even the very excellent If I Stay (reviewed here - another story about a high school girl forced to examine her life as she lies on her deathbed).

To judge it on its own merit, Before I Fall is a well-written page turner about a popular-by-affiliation mean girl and her last day, which she must relive until she gets it right. It takes her a couple of days of reliving her last day before she realizes the impact of her subtle interactions with her snubbed classmates and family. Then there's another day of anger. Another day of sadness. Another day of woe. And finally, two days of trying to right her past wrongs while simultaneously learning to appreciate the average moment as well as the the people in her life, even with all of their own faults.

Some readers will note the parallels as explored in Thornton Wilder's famous play, Our Town, a perennial high school literature subject. But the appeal here is that Sam Kingston is not an every day, average girl and thus I think the modern appeal. What wild outlandish prank that Sam and her clique of girlfriends inflicted on their classmates will we read about next? How mean can they be? Instead of watching reality TV, it's as if we're reading about it in Before I Fall.

Sam's transformation into a more caring person is believable, although I think I'm one of the few people (at least compared to Amazon reviews) who did not ultimately like her. I also found that the book dragged. Sam seems abnormally slow at figuring out how far her influence extends, and how she alone is able to affect the outcome of the fateful day that landed her in her situation. One other minor complaint - occasionally, Sam talks to the reader (text is in italics) and it never added one degree of complexity or originality and nor did it make the book more enjoyable.  Instead of trusting the reader that we get it - did Sam deserve to be in that car accident? - the author has Sam ask, did I deserve to die? After all, we've got 480 pages to think about that question.

The dialogue is well-done, and I found the scenes with Sam and her family touching.  I'm glad that I read it, and I would recommend Before I Fall because of the caliber of the writing, but only after insisting that you check out If I Stay.