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.

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