Friday, October 31, 2008

Book Review Set# 5

Madeline Says Merci: The Always Be Polite Book by John Bemelmans Marciano, published by Viking

Genre: early reader; Total pages: 45; Target Age: kindergarten-2nd grade

Annotation: Madeline is back, and this time, she and her classmates learn basic rules for how to be polite in Madeline Says Merci. As always, they learn with panache and style.

Review: As I read this book, I thought that the pictures seemed a bit different from other Madeline books. Then, I realized: this is not the work of the original author, but of his grandson. Of course there's going to be differences! Despite the differences, the book is a pleasant read. You actually barely notice that the book is teaching manners because the rhymes in the text work so flawlessly with the illustrations. In fact, the few two-page spreads that say the upcoming topics seem to be out of place because the story flows so well. At times, the rhymes are a bit awkward, but Madeline is as lovable as ever in this new(ish) book.

Critical Reviews:'s critical review recommends this book for teaching about manners "without feeling like Miss Clavel is shaking a finger at them." School Library Journal has a similar sentiment in that the book is for those who "wish to begin a discussion of manners in a slightly humorous way." However, SLJ says that the book is rather disappointing to see Madeline, the girl who said "pooh, pooh" to a tiger, now transformed into a "Mini Miss Manners." It is a bit of a departure of character, but if your child likes Madeline, this is a good book for the teaching of manners.

Dr. Seuss's ABC by Dr Seuss, published by Beginner Books

Genre: early reader, phonics; Total pages: 63; Age: 3-kindergarten.

Annotation: Learn to read with Dr. Seuss. His zany ABC book teaches early readers about the different sounds the letters make as he creates whimsical sentences and characters to teach about the alphabet.

Review: Like other alphabet books, this book seems to be stretching to unite the text with the alphabet. For all of the pages, the words in the sentences all begin with the letter of focus, except for the letter "x" which is evidently only good for spelling "extra fox." But, the book does do a good job of teaching about the sounds each letter makes and in connecting the text with the pictures.

This would be a good companion for the G is for Gzonk! book.

Critical Review:     

It is hard to find a review for a book this old! I guess the fact that it has continued to endure is a testament to its quality. But,'s critical reviews said that the rhythm and repetitive use of each letter would get your child to read to you. They recommend this book for baby-5, which seems a bit young for this book. I think it's more appropriate for 3 year olds. The book definitely makes it fun to learn your ABCs.

Fancy Nancy at the Museum By Jane O'Connor, published by Harper Collins

Genre: early reader, simple sentences, whole-language; Total pages: 32; Age: 4-8

Annotation: Fancy Nancy enters the world of leveled readers as she goes to the museum with her class. Along the way, she makes the day extra-fancy!

Review: I've never before read a Fancy-Nancy book, and I loved the illustrations. They're so cute! I liked that the new vocabulary was explained in-context and also in a glossary at the back of the book so that your reader could review the new words. It is fabulous! (That's a fancy word for great.)

The story does touch on vomiting, so if you don't want your child to read about being ill, this is not appropriate for them. However, it is very tastefully done, and it teaches children that sometimes, accidents happen.

Critical Review:

Children's Literature said that this book is sure to boost the reader's vocabulary because the book is so lively that kids are sure to read it often. School Library Journal says that the book, with Fancy Nancy's first journey into the I Can Read books, is slightly disappointing and has less energy than the earlier series. But, both reviews agree: Nancy is lovable and the illustrations are beautiful. I'd have to agree that the illustrations are great. What little girl wouldn't want to read a book that beautiful?

Airy Fairy: Magic Mischief by Margaret Ryan, illustrated by Teresa Murfin, published by Barron's.

Genre: early reader, short chapter book, fairies; Total pages: 74; Age: 1st-3rd grade

Annotation: Poor Airy Fairy is not what a fairy should be: she's klutzy, forgetful, scraped up, and constantly getting into trouble. But, during Christmas, she has six spells to work some fairy magic on the Grimms and redeem her chances of going to the Christmas party.

Review: This is a very low-level chapter book, great for a low-reader, and emerging reader, or someone who just likes to escape in a good book. There are illustrations on nearly every page, so it really would be a great book for someone transitioning from early readers to chapter books.

Most people can understand the feeling of being picked on without other people realizing, and this story accurately depicts what that feels like. The story pulls you through as you want to know what's going to happen to Airy Fairy and whether or not anyone else realizes that Scary Fairy really is bad-news.

Critical Review: There are none available.

The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, published by Scholastic

Genre: picture book, Caldecott; Total pages: 47; Age: 5-8

Annotation: There are Fairy Tales and there are Fairly Stupid Tales. These are Fairly Stupid Tales, and don't get those two mixed up. Thus warns Jack in his introduction to the book, setting the stage for the fairy tales told firmly with tongue-in-cheek.

Review: This book is hilarious, though adults will get more enjoyment from the book than children due to the sarcasm and irony present throughout the book. This would be appropriate for children with a strong sense of humor and an initial understanding of fairy tales. In fact, the humor would not be appropriate for people who don't have a basic understanding of fairy tales because all of the jokes are at the expense of pre-existing stories. This is a truly silly book, and is loads of fun.

The pictures and the typeset throughout the book are not traditional for a picture book. The pictures are goofy and have an Americana-collage feeling. The typeset is rather crowded on the page because all of the characters are yelling the entire time. They are great assets to the silly tales in the book.

Critical Review:

Kirkus says that it is "zany fun." School Library Journal raves about the fractured fairy tales, which have been shortened to one-liners that zing. Publishers Weekly also praises the book, but is the only review to have mentioned that some of the jokes have a cruel edge. The book is every bit as fun as the reviews claim, and the pictures are interesting to-boot. For those who understand fairy tales, this is a fabulous read.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Book Review Set #4

Eyewitness Books: Ancient Greece by Anne Pearson, published by Alfred A. Knopf

Genre: non-fiction, history of Greece; Total pages: 63

Target Age: 6 and up

Annotation: Eyewitness Books hits another home-run with this book on Ancient Greece. It is a wonderful, concise overview of ancient Greecian culture where the picture and the text work together to make learning fun.

Review: This book covers the overview of ancient Greece through totally annotated color pictures and a brief textual description on each page. This book covers many different topics, each on a two-page spread, including the role of women, a history that often is ignored. This is a great resource for a research project, though perhaps lacks a bit in textual details. I love this book!

Critical Reviews: School Library Journal also raved about the beautiful illustrations and two-page treatment of each subject. They said that this was a must-have for any collection as it is such a stimulating treatment of the subject.'s critical review said that the book was, "Extremely informative, intriguing, and entertaining." These two reviews sum it all up: this is a fabulous book for a general overview of Ancient Greece.

All the World's A Stage by Michael Bender, published by Chronicle Books

Genre: nonfiction, biography; Total pages: 15; Age: 7 and up

Annotation: Shakespeare's life and works pop to life in this 3-D and colorful journey through Elizabethan England.

Review: While most people would think of a pop-up book as a book for young children, this book is ideal for fifth grade and up due to its vocabulary and sentence structure. It would even be great for a ninth grader and their first journey into Shakespeare!

All the World's a Stage has a comfortable approach to learning about Shakespeare and his plays. Each of the different plays is categorized and condensed to a few sentences and illustrated via pop-ups. The few details of Shakespeare's life of are told chronologically and interwoven with details about the plays. The book contains a brief glossary in the back to explain the content-specific vocabulary that are bolded throughout the text.

Critical Review:     School Library Journal called this book a "mediocre example of both biography and pop-ups," saying that it lacked "ingenious paper engineering." While the pop-ups might not be spectacular (how many pop-ups can have light sabers that light up like the Star Wars pop-up book?), they are pretty and show the context of the story very well. Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe both said that the book is "A pleasant, three-dimensional glimpse of the Elizabethan era." I think people expect Shakespeare and works about Shakespeare to be more than they are, because we've historically said that the Bard is suitable for all generations and audiences. This book is not appropriate for under fifth grade due to its vocabulary. The pop-ups are simple like Shakespeare's sets. It is an understated book that's a fun approach to Shakespeare.

Pajama Time! By Sandra Boynton, published by Workman Publishing

Genre: board book; Total pages: 19; Age: 2-4

Annotation: Pajama time is party time. Your kids will beg you to read this book before bed due to its fun rhyme and sing-song story.

Review: This is a fun book for teaching about going to bed. Pajama Time! Shows that going to bed is not something to be avoided, but embraced. The catchy rhythm will make this a bedtime favorite for both kids and parents. The board book will encourage child interaction with the book and the rhythm will have your children reading along with you early and often. Soon you'll learn how to "Pajammy to the left! Pajammy to the right! Jamma jamma jamma jamma P!J!"

Critical Review: This book is just plain old fun, and that's what School Library Journal says in their review: "Boynton's characters are as lovable as ever, all with expressions sure to win over toddlers." This review points out that the all of the characters parade by in a variety of different pajamas to party before settling down for bed. This is such a fun book that it's hard to say anything else.

beetle bop by Denise Fleming, published by Harcourt, Inc.

Genre: picture book, concept (bugs); Total pages: 28; Age: 4-8

Annotation: beetle bop is a fun frolic through the world of beetles. It shows the many different types of beetles with beautiful and bold illustrations.

Review: This is a fun read, even if you're not interested in beetles because of the beautiful pictures and the onomatopoeia throughout. Beetle bop mentions several different types of beetles and it is fun to try to find them in each picture. The relentless rhythm throughout the story would make it a fabulous read-aloud book and will get your kids chanting along with you. This is a good book for all your kids interested in the crawly things. J

Critical Review:

Booklist wrote about the beautiful illustrations and the pounding rhythm throughout the book as those are the two driving forces for this book and its joyful celebration of all things beetle. Similarly, Publisher's Weekly writes that the book is "Part boisterous read-aloud, part field guide for entomology enthusiasts, this arresting volume has something for everybuggy." Despite its buggy subject, this is not just a book for nature lovers. This is a book for those who like gorgeous illustrations and pounding rhythms.

Richard Scarry's Best Mother Goose Ever by Richard Scarry, published by Golden Books

Genre: picture book, Mother Goose book; Total pages: 94; Age: 5-9

Annotation: The iconic Richard Scarry animals dance and work their way through Mother Goose's tales , acting out the different stories. Each story is condensed to about a page, with an additional page for the illustrations.

Review: This is the first time I've ever read this particular Richard Scarry book, and I was initially disappointed. The illustrations were not what I remembered from other Scarry stories, with the busy animals doing a million different tasks. But, the pictures are spot-on with illustrating the nursery rhymes and the whimsical graphics add needed imagination for the much-worn Mother Goose rhymes. At 94 pages, this might be too lengthy for younger children, but the stories themselves are only 1-2 pages, so it is easily broken up for short attention spans. In fact, the large pictures and the brief rhymes would make it a good Storytime pick.

Critical Review:'s review states that the pictures are wonderful (with the Cow Who Jumped Over a Moon wearing pearls and a pink dress) and that a 25-year old classic has been charming students and children for decades. This review recommends the book for toddlers. I think it might be more appropriate for older children because the book would seem so intimidating to younger readers due to its length. Overall, Richard Scarry's Best Mother Goose Ever is a great collection of childhood classics and a worthy volume for the collection.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fund School Libraries!

I got this e-mail yesterday from the ladies at (the 3 moms from Spokane fighting to save school libraries), and I thought as library supporters, you might be interested in this issue.  FYI, the district in discussion is the one where I work. Take action and save our school libraries!

Dear Library and Information Literacy Supporters-

Thank you for speaking up for school libraries, teacher-librarians and 21st century skills; we now number over 11,000 who believe this institution, its stewards, and what they teach are vital to our students and our collective future.  This effort was launched by 3 Moms in Spokane but is sustained by your willingness to engage — as many of you who have been early supporters may remember, you were dubbed by an Olympia insider as a 'citizens' army.'

The notion that libraries could be headed towards extinction and that teacher librarians remain  'highly endangered' became all too real over the last 24 hours.  A parent volunteer in Federal Way recently noticed that plans for the new Lakota Middle School did not include a library.  What has been proposed? A 'librateria', a multipurpose area that would serve as both the library and the cafeteria. Why has this happened? Lack of funding.

In 2006, full-time certificated teacher-librarians in Federal Way were reduced to part-time, resulting in some of the worst ratios in the country.  Twenty-two of the 23 elementary schools were reduced to half-time librarian services.  All 11 middle and senior high schools reduced services of a certified teacher-librarian to only one day a week.   These reductions have led to the following current ratios:

-1 elementary teacher-librarian: approx. 800-1000 students
-1 middle/high school teacher-librarian: approx. 4,000-4,800 students

Due to parent and student concern, a community meeting has been planned for tonight (Thursday, 10/23) at the Lakota Middle School at 6:30 p.m. -- 1415 S.W. 315th Street, Federal Way.   PLEASE PASS THE WORD! As one of our Senate champions told us over the session, 'Keeping this issue alive in the public eye is the most important thing you can do.'

Where does this issue stand with the state? So many of you have taken the time to email the Joint Task Force that is redefining basic education (we know because the staff for the Joint Task Force have talked about it!). What has resulted? Recent proposals have 'recommended' that local districts fund school libraries/librarians.  The bad news? Proposals haven't recommended school libraries/librarians be considered 'basic' or that information
literacy be included as a 21st century goal for the state of Washington. As one lawmaker put it recently, "these are issues of local control." Based on your 1,000's of comments citing equity, democracy, literacy, and so on, we think you disagree. It is important to be on record responding to proposals before they are final.

WE NEED YOU TO SPEAK UP ONE LAST TIME  before a final report is issued in 6 weeks —- collectively we can make the case. Libraterias, part-time custodian/librarians and collection averages that are twenty years out of date have been the result of the state's decision over 30 years ago to not define school libraries as a part of basic education—this opportunity won't come again soon.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?    TAKE ACTION ! (Each takes less than 5 minutes)

1.  VISIT to read the Joint Task Force's legislative members' proposal (under documents) and weigh in. Puget Sound we need you; ALL of the authors hail from metro-Seattle, so it is crucial that West-siders engage on this.  They have opened a blog for comments; please be thoughtful, specific and constructive.

2.  EMAIL THE TOP EDUCATION OFFICER OF THE STATE and Joint Task Force member, Dr. Terry Bergeson, directly and ask her to specifically add language that makes information literacy an educational goal.  Her email address: If you believe every child deserves a well-funded, 21st century school library program, then please tell her you believe it is 'basic' for all children and ask her to fight for it. Please cc her opponent, Randy Dorn, at   The race is a close one and will be decided prior to final recommendations.

3.  PLEASE EMAIL THE GOVERNOR'S EDUCATIONAL POLICY HEAD and Joint Task Force member, Judy Hartmann at (you can use the same email text you used above). It is crucial that at the gubernatorial level it is clear that Washingtonians see this issue as a part of 'world-class education' and a priority of government. 

It was said that the $4MM in 4 months that we fought for in the spring would be impossible, but WE DID IT because collectively we created a tsunami of will.  Please take your 5 minutes and weigh in at this crucial juncture, and please forward us your notes to We will send them to your legislators if you put your zip code in the re: 

Does this kind of engagement work? YES! A district's delegation recent made this issue a platform priority.  A recent talk with a Senator who is also a professor at the University of Washington yielded the following: "I'm concerned that our collection averages are 20 years out of date for the gender images being fed to our children."  The cultural and technology images are just as scary — remember the Yakima Indian Reservation school? Some of the texts pulled this summer were 'The Red Man's Cookbook' and the book announcing the launch of DOS.  If we don't speak up, 1MM Washington kids stand to remain divided between the information-rich and the information-poor.

Thank you so much.

Lisa, Susan and Denette

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Book Review Set #3

What Does Baby See? By Begin Smart, published by Sterling Publishing

Age: newborn-6 months Genre: board book Pages: 10

Annotation: Start reading to your child early with What Does Baby See?. Using simple black, white, and red pictures (the colors your baby sees first), this book focuses on early literacy and parent-child interaction.

Review: Designed for babes aged newborn-6 months, the book only uses black, white, and red graphics and has not text. While it lacks a "story," it has instructions to the parent: talk to your child about the book and let them handle the book while you do so. This is a very interesting concept. It might be intimidating to parents who are not used to a lack of narrative structure, but the point is to encourage an early familiarity with books, and this seems like it will accomplish that goal.

Critical Reviews: none available

Counting Cockatoos, by Stella Blackstone and Stephanie Bauer, published by Barefoot Books

Age: 6 months-4 years Genre: board book, counting Pages: 29

Annotation: This board book focuses on counting and on identifying animals. The simple concept is illustrated by very beautiful and bold pictures. Very cute!

Review: The bright oil paintings in Counting Cockatoos add whimsy to the simple counting story. Through it all, a child focuses on counting the animals, but there are two cockatoos hidden on each page. Can you find them?

Critical Review: School Library Journal is favorable to the book, though says that because there are so many counting books on the market, it is ok to not purchase the book because the story has nothing new—it's the illustrations that make this book so good. On the other hand, Children's Literature says that this book would be a good purchase to flesh out a classroom or library collection as there is always a need for counting books and adults need variety. I'd agree with both of these reviews; the illustrations are what make this book so fun and it is important to not become board by a book. This would add variety to the collection.

Little One Step, by Simon James, published by Candlewick Press

Age: 2-4 Genre: board book Pages: 24

Annotation: Three ducklings get lost in the woods, but learn how to not give up and get safely home.

Review: Little One Step, a book about learning to not give up, teaches children to take life one step at a time. Originally published as a picture book, the board book edition was released in 2008. The delicate watercolor illustrations might be too faint for translation into a board book, and the story might be more suited for older children.

Critical Review: The New York Times says that this is a book that quietly charms with its simple illustrations and text. Kirkus Reviews say that this is a favorite for "lap sharing and…kids demonstrating their own steps." Both reviews talk about the delicate illustrations and understated text. But, both reviews are relevant to the picture book, not the board book, and say that the age range is 4-7. This book seems to be too complex for the board-book crowd, as it deals with complicated themes that might be too advanced for the 2-5s.

Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd, published by Harper & Row:

Age: 2-5 Genre: Picture book, rhyme Pages: 30

Annotation: A classic child's book, this would make a fantastic bedtime story as the narrator goes through the process of saying goodnight to all around.

Review: What to say? It's a classic and deservingly so. With pages alternating from black-and-white to color, the story begins by listing all things that are present in a room and then says goodnight to all of those items in order. The rhyming and predictability of the pattern build story anticipation and help with early literacy.

Critical Review: Both Christian Science Monitor and Children's Literature talk about the rhythmic words and the simple and predictable illustrations that make this book such a childhood classic. In a book that was originally printed in 1947, this is a childhood classic that still is used to read children to sleep. That durability is a testament to its quality as a childhood book. The whimsical illustrations and rhyming text work together to create a lyrical whole that continues to have power.

Here come the 123s, by They Might Be Giants, produced by Disney Sound and Idlewild Recordings

Age: 2-7 Genre: children's music Running Time: 44.5 minutes

Annotation: They Might Be Giants have produced a phenomenal kids' album focusing on numbers, though not necessarily on counting. The silly lyrics and upbeat rhythms will be fun for the whole family, whether it's doing the hustle for "High Five!" or enjoying the burlesque-style sound of "Number Two."

Review: This is a great CD. If you're already familiar with They Might Be Giants, you know that they have a penchant for silly and educational lyrics ("James K. Polk" or "Istanbul was Constantinople") so the transition to releasing a children's CD is a great fit for them. It's a fun disk and while it has an educational focus, it is still fun to listen to. It just proves that kids' music doesn't have to be obnoxious.

Critical Review: Jennifer White of said that this was a CD to have Indie-rock fans begging for more. The music on the CD doesn't condescend to its audience as it maintains the edgy humor that makes They Might Be Giants so distinctive. also wrote that this was a must-have album for parents and children—a merger of kids' music and adult humor. I whole-heartedly agree. In fact, I'm listening to it now for the 4th time!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Book Reviews Set #2

Brisingr by Christopher Paolini, published by Alfred A. Knopf

Genre: Tween fantasy; Total pages: 748

Target age: 10 and up

Annotation: Alagaesia totters on the brink of utter destruction; only Eragon and his dragon Saphira can rescue the land before the evil king Galbatorix subverts the entire empire to his evil will. First, they need to secure the dwarf alliance and secure the fragile peace with Urgals before all comes unraveled.


    With so much time between the release of ERagon, Eldest, and Brisingr, it was wise of Paolini to include a synopsis of what has already happened in order to refresh yourself with the plot. He has matured much as a writer since the beginning of the series (or "cycle" in fantasy-land speak…a la Le Guin), and the plot devices in this installment are much fresher than in the other books.

Brisingr opens right after Eldest    ends—the end of the epic battle when it is revealed that Murtagh is Eragon's brother and that he too is a rider. Fruthermore, Roran's betrothed Katrina is still in the hands of the evil Ra'zac and needs to be rescued before they decide to make a midnight morsel out of her.

Critical Reviews:

    The Seattle Post-Intelligencer writes that Paolini has grown into his writing and that it has matured along with him. I whole-heartedly agree. Anyone following this series will recognize that the writing style has improved tremendously over the previous three books and that he has acquired an ease in his writing that makes this book much easier to read, with much fewer dialog exchanges that cause an experienced reader to wince. In all, this book is a delight.

Goldie and the Three Bears by Diane Stanley, published by HarperCollins

Genre: picture book, fairy tale; Total pages: 30

Target Age: K-3rd (5-8)

Annotation: Goldie knows exactly what she likes…and what she dislikes. In her search to find a friend that's just right, she winds up at an unfamiliar house.


    Stanley brings a fresh twist to this classic tale of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, as Goldie searches for the perfect friend who understands her. In her search, she inadvertently winds up at a house, which turns out to be inhabited by a bear family.

    The illustrations make the story shine and the comments that Goldie makes in the pictures really add dimension to the text. This story's a winner.

Critical Reviews:

    Both Booklist and School Library Journal rave about this modern adaptation of the well-worn story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. They both point out that the story is very modern, which makes it accessible to modern children, and humorous. They both mention that the child is very doll-like (which she is) and the illustrations are beautiful (which they are). They also agree that the twist in the end makes a refreshing ending to the story. I agree with both reviews. Great rendition of a famous story!

The Last Snake in Ireland: A Story About St. Patrick by Sheila MacGill-Callahan and illustrated by Will Hillenbrand, published by Holiday House

Genre: picture book, fantasy; Total pages: 29

Target Age: 4-8

Annotation: Everyone knows that St. Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland, but not everyone knows what happened to that very last, sneaky snake.


    This adaptation of the story of St. Patrick combines magic with wisdom, as St. Patrick has to find a way to beat the sneakiest of all the snakes and drive him out of Ireland. The snake nearly outwits the saint, but the ending is not-to-be-missed. The beautiful pastel illustrations not only illustrate the text, but they also add to the magic of the story.

Critical Reviews:

    Publisher's Weekly praises the book for its depiction of the famous Irish saint as "a religious figure at his most human" as St. Patrick refuses to be outwitted by a snake. School Library Journal is less otherworldly in its praise, saying, "This delightful read-aloud is full of tongue-tickling language that will accommodate a wee bit of a dialect. Hillenbrand's mixed-media illustrations engulf the pages with humor, texture, and exuberant color." Both publications praise the author for the introduction to Irish and Scottish legends. This is a great story and a worthy read for an Irish-themed storytime.

Thomas and the Magic Railroad, directed by Britt Allcroft, starring Peter Fonda, Mara Wilson, and Alec Baldwin, produced by Columbia Tristar

Genre: children's film, fantasy; Total running time: 84 minutes

Target Age: 8 and under

Annotation: When the Island of Sodor begins to run out of gold dust, thinks go very, very wrong: evil Diesel #10 tries to destroy the steam engines and Mr. Conductor can't travel between Shinytime and Sodor anymore! It's up to Lily, Thomas, and friends to sort it out.


    Baldwin did an admirable job in this movie, and he's rather fun to watch. Fonda, on the other hand, could not have delivered a more lackadaisical performance, and you find yourself wanting this character to just disappear as he saps every bit of energy out of any scene that he's in. Wilson was great and brought warmth to her character. That being said, the whimsical world of Thomas the Tank Engine had a hard time transitioning to a full-length film. I found myself losing concentration and the thin-plot struggled to make sense as it was stretched out to a full 84-minutes.

    Diesel #10 was very scary and tried to kill, or at least bully, the other trains and Mr. Conductor. This might be too intense for very young viewers.

Critical Reviews:

    School Library Journal says this film is a must-have for public libraries because of its positive messages of being useful and responsible. The reviewer does point out that the plot is convoluted and twisty, but argues that young viewers, who are after all, the target audience, wouldn't notice.

    Us Weekly says that the movie is pleasant-enough, but critiques Fonda's performance for being "as light-hearted as a train wreck." Over all, I'd say both reviews are pretty accurate. But, for the sake of parents viewing alongside their children, if your kids are not already fans of Thomas and company, don't bother with the movie.

Apples to Oregon, by Deborah Hopkinson and Nancy Carpenter, published by Scholastic

Genre: picture book, realistic story; Total pages: 30

Target Age: young readers, 4-8

Annotation: A fruit-loving pioneer and a wagon full of fruit trees journey across the Oregon Trail. Will they make it safely?


    This is a fresh retelling of the Westward journey from Iowa to Oregon. Told from the perspective of an orchardist's daughter, the reader is more worried about the safety of the fruit, because that is what Delicious (the narrator) cares about. The text mimics the style of a tall-tale and has a few of those characteristics (a cyclone blows their shoes off), but very realistically describes the jouney west. The watercolor illustrations also add dimension and vitality to the story.

Critical Reviews:

    From School Library Journal, "This exuberant tall tale has a resourceful young heroine, thrilling adventure, and high-spirited oil paintings. " The New York Times Book Review raves about the exuberant story loosely based on the real-life adventure of pioneer Henderson Luelling. Both of these reviews capture the feeling of adventure that resounds within this book. It would be a wonderful companion to any Washington State or Oregon State history class, or for anyone learning about life in the West.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Book Reviews Round 1

G is for One Gzonk! An Alpha-Number-Bet Book by Tiny DiTerlooney (Tony DiTerlizzi), published by Simon & Schuster Books

64 pages; Genre: alphabet book, picture book

Intended age/audience: children learning the alphabet and numbers, parents

Annotation: G is for One Gzonk! is a creative journey off-the-beaten path of alphabet books. Replete with Gzonks, Acks, and Uggle-Unks, this book is not your average ABCs.


    G is for One Gzonk! is a zany adventure in the world of alphabets and numbers. While more appropriate for children who know the alphabet due to its occasionally non-sequential letters, the book is a fun read. The animals in the books are more reminiscent of Lewis Carrol's Jabberwocky or Dr. Seuss's whimsical creatures. The rhyming is enjoyable and adds to the predictability of the story. The coloring is reminiscent of picture books from the mid-twentieth century.

Critical Sources:

    The School Library Journal said it is sure to "Wow Woos of all ages" and that is certainly quite true. The review very clearly illustrates the most important parts of the book and doesn't gloss over any of the silliness which is joy of this book.

Here Comes the Big Red Car by the Wiggles, produced by Koch Records

37:10 minutes; Genre: kids music

Intended age/audience: children under 8

Annotation: Here Comes the Big Red Car is sure to get the kids moving and learning through song. The tunes are enjoyable for adults and children alike, but be sure to bring your silliness!


Here Comes the Big Red Car contains silly songs, movement songs, and learning songs, but is non-stop fun. The songs are short, about a minute and a half, which is perfect for your child's attention span. It might be too much for parents to listen to non-stop, but for keeping kids entertained on a car ride, this would be a good choice of tunes.

Critical Sources:

    Scholastic reviewed the CD as being appropriate for ages 3-5, which is about right. The songs are so young that anyone older would likely loose interest. The reviewer stated that the songs were "short and sweet" and they are probably more correct about them being short. They are a bit annoying, but much less so than I expected.

Book Crush by Nancy Pearl, published by Sasquatch Books

261 pages; Genre: Reader's advisory reference source for parents

Intended age/audience: parents or other adults to assist in book selection for the Teen and lower age range.

Annotation: Book Crush is a collection of reading lists for children from baby to teen, spanning a multitude of genres and styles. With catchy booklist titles, there will be one to help refer books for your reluctant or zealous reader alike.


Book Crush does what it sets out to do: provide books that would inspire the love of reading. Containing not just books chosen for educational reading, but for pleasure, Pearl's lists will help you find the right book for your student.

Critical Sources:

    School Library Journal was not as favorable for this volume saying that librarians wouldn't need it and would immediately enter into squabbles with colleagues and fill it with sticky-notes adding to the lists. Even so, if the target is for people having a hard time thinking of books to refer to the under-18 crowd, this serves its purpose: recommend books on many topics to all ages.

    Booklist, on the other hand, said that this was a must-have for all libraries and that they should buy two: one to circulate and one to keep on hand. It seems as though this illustrates that recommended reading is an intensely personal preference and that it is important to know what sources are out there.

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems, published by Hyperion Books for Children

31 pages; Genre: award winner, Caldecott Honor

Intended age: 2-5

Annotation: Trixie's daddy takes over for the day…and it's a disaster.


Knuffle Bunny's suspenseful story shows children that even though parents might make a mistake, and that it can be frustrating to not be understood, it works out. The creative juxtaposition of black-and-white photography with whimsical colored illustrations bring the story to life and allow imagination take over.

Critical Sources:

    Booklist raved over this story, saying, "Even children who can already talk a blue streak will come away satisfied that their own strong emotions have been mirrored and legitimized, and readers of all ages will recognize the agonizing frustration of a little girl who knows far more than she can articulate." This is very true of the story and show just how much is conveyed in the book's brevity.

    NCTE (National Council for the Teacher's of English) praised the book for its depiction of language in all forms, from pre-speech sounds "Aggie flaggle Klabble!" to body language (going boneless). The review summarized all the nuances of the text and leave the reader wanting to read more.

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Colville, published by Harcourt

150 pages; Genre: fantasy

Intend age: 8-12

Annotation: Just when Jeremy Thatcher thought sixth grade couldn't get any more dramatic than an upcoming art contest, having a note read out loud by the art teacher, being chased by boys who make fun of him for Mary Lou wanting to kiss him, and having to mow the lawn, a mysterious egg shows up.


Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher is a riotous journey through the sixth grade as Jeremy Thatcher has to wrestle with issues of growing up AS WELL AS raise a dragon. But, he must do exactly what the note says or things will go very, very wrong.

    The plot is fast-paced and moves the reader quickly through the story line. The issues Jeremy faces are common to all children (issues of raising a dragon aside), and kids will see themselves in his drama. If a child likes the idea of Eragon, but is not quite up to that reading level, this would be a great segue into that book.

Critical Sources:

    The Reading Teacher wrote about Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher's enticing plot, "filled with humor and suspense." This is a fair assessment of the story, but doesn't quite do justice to the many themes in the book, ranging from responsibility, respecting others, and boy-girl issues, as well as the joy of raising a dragon and partaking in a magical world.

    What The Reading Teacher lacked in its perception of the book, School Library Journal more than understood. The reviewer recognized that Jeremy Thatcher has all of the normal problems of a 12-year old, as well as some new ones (top secret dragon, anyone?). This review is effective in that it presents a book that a middle school reader would want to read again and again.

Ok, Now then...

So, This is a new quarter--summer has come and gone and I'm back into the fun library classes: children's literature and information literacy. (hooray for the 560s!) I'm going to post my book reviews to this page as well.