Thursday, September 30, 2010

"If I Stay" Gets NPR Coverage

If I StayI don't usually post when I a book I like gets coverage elsewhere, but because If I Stay by Gayle Forman is so brilliant, I was thrilled to read a glowing review this morning on NPR's book site. The reviewer points out what makes this book so special: "Tension isn't necessarily created by murderers with pitchforks. It can exist by confronting the protagonist with an impossible decision and seeing what happens."

You can read my review of If I Stay here

Friday, September 10, 2010

When Dinosaurs Came With Everything

When Dinosaurs Came with Everything (Junior Library Guild Selection) Although When Dinosaurs Came With Everything  by Elise Broach can leave younger kids scratching their heads over the ending, this is still an excellent read aloud, use your best funny voices book. It's the story of a young boy and his mom who find that every place they visit on their typical errand day is giving out free dinosaurs. Real ones. Big ones. Naturally, mom is a little concerned about how to feed these mammoth animals (pun intended) and where to keep them. Her son is just eager to keep growing his collection. Only when she is seen carrying more donuts do we realize that mom is going back for more 'free' dinosaurs and has accepted them into the family.

We came across this book at the library in the new section and it has rapidly become a stable at bedtime. My daughter enjoys identifying the different dinosaurs (also check out books by Bernard Most and Jane Yolen for more picture books on dinosaurs, and see my Bernard Most review here) and running her fingers along the illustrations. These pictures, by the way, are not your average black and white outlines of dinosaurs. Nor are they drawn to give you the warm fuzzies (yet the pictures are not exactly frightening, either). Instead, you see the stegosauraus, the triceratops, and yes, the menacing tyrannosaurus rex, in rough skin detail outside the donut shop, the movie theater and the diner.

My favorite parts are the mom's reactions every time they are given a new dinosaur. At one point she is marooned on the floor, mouth hanging open, in fright and disbelief. A very fun read!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Bunny Party and Bunny Cakes

Bunny Party (Max and Ruby) Bunny Cakes (Max and Ruby)
A couple of friends have recommended the Rosemary Wells Max and Ruby books, and one fellow writer went so far as to put Bunny Party and Bunny Cakes in my hands the other day, saying "Read these!"

In case you've not had a chance to explore this series, they are a subtle exploration of sibling rivalry for young kids. My first take on the books was that they were a little too plain vanilla for my taste. They lack the contemporary irony and wink-at-the-parents prose found in popular picture book series like Olivia.

Having a had chance to re-read them, I think that they are a more gentle and delightful take on brothers and sisters learning to share, learning to play together, and yes even care about one another. What's more astonishing from an author's point-of-view is how clever the stories and dialogue are. Writing picture books is an exercise in deliberation and rejection.  The author is restricted to words appropriate to 3 - 7 year old kids, and often must keep word count down under the 1,000 mark. From that perspective, Rosemary Wells is a genius at saying so much with so little.

Even more remarkable, and putting aside an adult's take on the books, is that kids really respond to the stories. The books and their characters are very relatable and the illustrations are beautiful. My daughter immediately requested to hear the books again.

One final note, if you're looking for a good book on numbers for kids, Bunny Party is excellent. You'll find yourself counting guests at the party, and the numbers are repeated often, and it'll feel fun instead of a chore. The book encourages kids to chime in and say the numbers or count on their own.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Confessions of a ShopaholicConfessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella has been around for awhile but I picked it up recently on the suggestion of a few friends.  I have to confess that I ripped through it, enjoying the plot line which kept me guessing at first, and is charmingly written in the first person, taking us directly into the perspective of a 20-something British financial journalist Rebecca Bloomwood who can't say no to a good sale.

What most struck me about this book is how it predated all of the suspense-driven plot that Stephanie Meyer has made famous in Twilight (but had already been done long ago with Bridget Jones' Diary by Helen Fielding). From the beginning of COAS, it's pretty clear that Luke Brandon is going to be the love interest and a good portion of the book my mind was churning over how the author was going the two main characters together. It was well done, reminiscent of a classic romance stories (such as my all time fave Pride and Prejudice), but with a fresh take on the modern girl.

The truth is, though, that Becky Bloomwood is initially a disappointing modern girl and I guess that's what kept me away from the book so long. I keep hoping that I'll come across a heroine with more depth than this - and at least in the case, Becky does develop or reveal a conscience - still haven't made up my mind about that.

I did appreciate the discussion about debt and it's a subject that could have been completely mishandled. Instead, here, Becky becomes sympathetic through her travails and the reader really does feel that she is struggling her way out of her financial woes. Naturally, nabbing a wealthy boyfriend helps, but by then it's clear that Becky will be able to manage on her own and Luke almost seems like some kind of cosmic reward for figuring out how to handle her finances.

All in all, a fun book, that works on several levels. It would be easy to dismiss COAS based on the title, but there is a depth here that makes it a great contemporary read and discussion book.

He Came with the Couch

He Came with the Couch
He Came with the Couch written and illustrated by David Slonim is a funny, funny book.

When a family searches garage sales and junkyards to replace their old couch, they find the perfect fit but it comes with a permanent guest. The family goes to great lengths to remove the couch resident, including bagpipes and trips to cure his "upholsterosis". Begrudgingly the parents accept him, and he proves his worth in the end.

The prose is sparse, but the words are told with a twinkle in the eye. And the pictures both perfectly captivate the eye as well as delight with details such as a rummage scene brimming with goofy objects.