A children's book blog by Miriam Rainwater

A children's book blog by Miriam Rainwater

"TV. If kids are entertained by two letters, imagine the fun they'll have with twenty-six. Open your child's imagination. Open a book." ~ Author Unknown

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A Ball for Daisy

A Ball for DaisyTitle: A Ball for Daisy
Author: Chris Raschka
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade Press
Release date: May 10, 2011

Ever since I read and reviewed Octopus Soup a few weeks ago, I have fallen in love with wordless picture books.  It's not because I dislike words; as a writing major, words are some of my favorite things.  But I love the fact that wordless picture books reach beyond individual languages and create a universal story.

Today at Barnes and Noble, I read A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka with a four-year-old Korean boy.  He probably knew less that a hundred words of English, and I can't even say "hello" in Korean.  But he could answer my question, "What is the dog doing?" by rattling off in his own tongue and throwing English words in here and there: "dog," "ball," "blue," "sad," "happy."  The experience was so incredible to me in that we could both read a story and giggle together while knowing so little about each other's world.

A Ball for Daisy tells the story of a little dog that has a red ball until she shares it and her friend accidentally pops it.  At first she's sad, but then her friend brings her a new blue ball to replace what she broke. 

The comic-book-style illustrations speak of the value of friendship and the importance of making amends, whether you meant to hurt someone or not.  I recommend this story for toddlers through early readers.  A Ball for Daisy will allow your children to play with language and write creatively before they can decipher the combination of letters that spell words and express thought. 

What do you love best about wordless picture books?

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Roly-Poly Pudding

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding Title: The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding
Author: Beatrix Potter
Publisher: Amazon Digital
Price: $0.99

The Tale of Samuel Whiskers (better known as The Roly-Poly Pudding) has a lot to say about the consequences of disobedience.

When Thomas disobeys his mother, he finds himself in quite the predicament and puts his mother in a tizzy!  Unless he can escape, the rats are going to make him into roly-poly pudding!  How he wishes that he'd obeyed mother's bidding and stayed near her when she asked.

Positive elements: Beatrix Potter's lovely watercolor illustrations are spread throughout The Tale of Samuel Whiskers or The Roly-Poly Pudding and bring Mrs. Tabitha's search to life.  The text provides an opportunity for your children to learn a few new words such as "fender," "unruly," "wainscot," "queer," and "disarranged," as well as phrases like "give her leave," "be obliged," and "it was of no consequence."  The rats get justice in the end. Tom is rescued but not without learning some important lessons about obedience first.

Negative elements: There is one reference to the rats "taking snuff."

What is your favorite Beatrix Potter tale?

Less-Than-A Dollar Fridays!

Today is the first day of Less-Than-A-Dollar Fridays.  While Monday and Wednesday posts will still include new releases of all price ranges in both hardcover and Kindle editions, Fridays will focus on books that you can get for your children that are less that a dollar on Kindle.

If you don't have a Kindle, there is a free program for PC, iPhone, or Blackberry.  It's simple to download. 

I know that in financial times such as these, parents are always looking for inexpensive-but-fun entertainment and educational material.  Why not get them both in a book?

Remember to visit the blog on Fridays for reviews of books that are Less-Than-A-Dollar!  Click Here to read the very first one!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The Little Red Pen

The Little Red Pen Scissors spoke, "The end of the world could be worse than the Pit.  The papers must be graded. We'll have to do it ourselves."
And so they did.  Well, they tried.
Scissors grabbed a paper. "No capital letter!" Clip.  "Dot that i!" Snip.
 Not like that!" Stapler groaned.  "You cut it to shreds.  Let me do it.!  Eraser, hop on. I see a misspelled word." Bam!  "This sentence needs a verb!" Bam! "This whole paragraph is wrong!" Bam, bam, bam!  Bam, bam, bam!
"Not like THAT!" said highlighter.  "Too many staples!  Let me do it!" Squeak, squeak, sque-e-ee-ak.
"Not like that!" Eraser squinted.  "Too bright!  Let me do it!" Rubbity rub, smudgity, smudge."  
"Not like that,"  said Scissors.  "Now you erased everything!  Even the student's name.  Whose paper is this?"

In this new release from Harcourt Children's, sister Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel have worked together to create a humorous tale of how important it is to have teamwork and how everyone is needed.

At first, the Little Red Pen is doing all the work.  Who will help her grade all the papers?  How will the children learn?  Will the morning yield the end of the world?

After the Little Red Pen ends up in the "Pit of No Return," the other school supplies must lay aside their arguments and selfish ambitions to help her escape and finish the grading before the night is over.

Susan Stevens Crummel does a great job incorporating Janet Steven's text into the pictures.  Each of the school supplies has their own color text that corresponds with their personality.  They each have their own sense of humor, too.  The ilustrations made me laught aloud several times.

The pushpin speaks Spanish, so a few lines of Spanish are found throughout the text.  It's mostly Spanglish, however, so a parent can understand it (without knowledge of the foreign language) and explain to their young readers.  That said, this proves a creative way of teaching your young ones a few basic Spanish words (e.g. Que terrible!--How terrible or No yo!--Not I!).

The one element of possible concern for parents is minor.  Scissors calls Eraser "numskull."

I am giving The Little Red Pen five stars.  However, I am categorizing it for 6-9-year-olds and not for 3-5-year-olds because of the Spanish phrases.  Overall, I loved this play on the traditional "Little Red Hen."

What is your favorite children's book that plays on a classic tale?

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Tale of Two Castles

A Tale of Two CastlesThe dragon stood on IT's back legs.  "I will return at the nine-o'clock bells tonight.  As soon as His Lordship's guests arrive, remain with him."  IT flapped IT's wings.  "Do not let him out of your sight.  Trust no one.  Keep him safe."
How could a girl keep an ogre safe?
IT circled above me.  "You can shout.  A person half your size can shout.  Act!"

In this new book from Gail Carson Levine (the author of the Newberry-Honor-winning Ella Enchanted), Elodie is on an unpredictable adventure. An assistant to a dragon, a spy in disguise, cupbearer for an ogre?  Only A Tale of Two Castles (from Harper Collins on May 10, 2011) can allow Elodie to do all of those.

Elodie wants to be a mansioner, but the master rejects her as an apprentice.  All alone in a foreign city, what will she do to survive?  This city of Two Castles is full to the rim with strange things, including a form-shifting ogre who changes into a crazy monkey or a mouse or a lion, trained cats that steal and stalk, and someone who keeps stealing and poisoning people.  Can Elodie discover who is in the wrong and who she can trust?

A Tale of Two Castles does an excellent job illustrating that a person's looks or prestige are not what makes them trustworthy, kind, or great.  Character is a matter of the heart.  Elodie also gives great insight into what it means to act a certain way versus to BE a certain way. Elodie also learns that it's not right to be quick to judge and throw blame on others; you must study facts and induce and deduce only from truth and common sense (younger readers may need a definition of the difference between these two words). Greed is troublesome and being a giver is joy-bearing.  The ending comes as a surprise but holds a lot of truth.  You have to stick with those who you know to be true, honorable, and warmhearted even if the less-noble way tries to draw you in. 

There was one negative element, which is why I'm giving this book a four out of five  Elodie's parents send her to Two Castles with instructions to apprentice herself to a weaver.  She decides that she will ignore them and run her own life.  While things end up that she would not have been able to apprentice as a weaver, after all, she still disrespects her parent's advice. Because you know that your twelve-year-olds are not really ready for life's decisions without wise counsel from adults, you might want to bring this up.  I would have preferred that she would have discussed this with her parents rather than just throw their advice to the wind as soon as she sets sail. 

A Tale of Two Castles was a great twist on the traditional princess/castle/dragon stories. It seemed to have a few more deep lessons and a lot of laughter.  When I laughed aloud within the first page, I knew I had a great book. This would be a great family read-aloud.

What will happen to the ogre if the village cats turn him into a mouse?  Can Elodie help him, escape from prison, and save the kingdom at the same time?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Octopus Soup

Octopus SoupApparently Mercer Mayer truly believes that "a picture is worth a thousand words."  Released on April 1, 2011 by Marshall Cavendish, Octopus Soup has no text, although a few words are placed throughout the pictures (on signs, etc.).  Not only is this a creative way to get younger writers to imagine their own storyline, but it creates a perfect book to read to little ones who are still more content flipping pages at their own pace rather the the story's pace.

In Octopus Soup, a young octopus leaves home and climbs up into a boat.  Then his real adventures begin.  Along the way, he learns that the law is the law, and truth will win. But he goes through some crazy experiences! Will he be able to get back in the ocean and back to his family before he gets turned into Octopus Soup?

The only negative element was minor, but I thought some parents might want to know about it.  A blimp floats by with the words "got gas?" I'm not a fan of potty humor and felt that this was poor choice on the part of the illustrator as there really was no connection to the blimp in the rest of the picture.  This one element could have just as easily been left out.

Otherwise, Octopus Soup is a unique book filled with humorous illustrations to spark your and your child's imagination (which is what this blog is all about!).

How will you tell the story of Octopus Soup?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Go, Dog. Go!

Go, Dog. Go!My grandmother's copy of Go, Dog. Go! is just about as tattered as the copy of  The Best Nest.  Also a new release from Random House Digital, Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman is a silly story that teaches colors, opposites, and the differing meaning of the various prepositions. 

Often full of nonsense (e.g. "A green dog on a yellow tree.") the story is full of language fit for beginning readers and opportunities for parents to use the text as a learning tool (asking for shapes and colors or the location of the preposition depending on the child's age).

Interspersed in the story, there is an ongoing silly conversation where one dog asks the other, "Do you like my hat?"  This was always my favorite part as a child because the hats get more and more elaborate as the dog tries to find one that will really impress the other.  Your children are sure to laugh, and in reading this book with children, I've found that this silly exchange gives children the break they need from concentrating on the opposites, etc. and keeps them interesting in pressing forward in their reading. 

The only negative element that Go, Dog. Go! contains is a matter of grammar.  There are several places where there are periods following phrases. (E.g. "Three dogs at a party on a boat at night."  This is not a sentence because it does not contain a subject-verb combination.)  While this is often an acceptable technique in fiction-writing, I am surprised that P.D. Eastman used this in a children's book, especially a beginning reader.  Parents may wish to use this as an opportunity to teach their children about what grammatical elements make a sentence and have their children identify every misplaced period.

There is also a character from one of P.D. Eastman's other popular works hidden within the illustrations of Go, Dog. Go!.  Can you find it?

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Best Nest

The Best NestSome of my favorite books as a kid were written by Dr. Seuss and his friends.  P.D. Eastman, author of The Best Nest, was one of Dr. Seuss' friends during WWII when they made informational war cartoons together for the soldiers. Several of P.D. Eastman's books are long forgotten, now, but they are some of the cutest books around.  The Best Nest was the book I brought my grandmother to read to me the most as a child.  Random House has recently released The Best Nest and Go, Dog. Go! in Kindle Edition.  (Check back Wednesday for the review of Go, Dog. Go!)   However, The Best Nest can also be purchased in hardcover edition.

In The Best Nest, Mrs. Bird decides that she hates her old house; she's simply tired of it! She and Mr. Bird fly off to find another, only to run into multiple problems.  The last problem leaves Mr. and Mrs. Bird separated, and Mr. Bird is afraid that he will never see his wife again.  But never fear! Mrs. Bird has learned something very important, and she will be back to share the lesson--and a surprise--with her husband.

The Best Nest contains a strong message about contentment and what really makes a home the best.  Children who read this book will love the humorous pictures that trace Mr. and Mrs. Bird's hunt and discovery.  The language is simple and will stimulate beginning readers to read alone, although smaller children will enjoy it as a lap-read.

What did you find that you could be more content about after reading The Best Nest?

Friday, June 10, 2011

You Wouldn't Love Me If You Knew

You Wouldn't Love Me If You Knew Once upon a time, a boy did a very bad thing.  Even though it was a secret and no one else knew about it, he felt awful...

And so to make himself feel better, the boy goes around doing good works for people.  He cleans and washes, carries trash and picks flowers.  Everyone says, "You're such a good boy," but the boy always thinks to himself, "I am not good.  I'm bad.  You wouldn't love me if you knew what I did."  It takes a wise mother to draw out his secret and reveal the truth to him: he is loved no matter what.

Released in Kindle Edition on May 31, 2011 by Abingdon Press, You Wouldn't Love Me If You Knew by author and illustrator Jeannie St. John Taylor is a great book for several reasons.  First and foremost, it teaches that love is unconditional and is not earned by doing.  It's a great book to read aloud with your younger ones to reassure them that you will always love them no matter what they do.  Another plus about this book is the fact that the "very bad thing" is never defined as the little boy whispers what was so bad in his mother's ear. Every child is bound to come to a place in their life where they feel that their actions ostracize them from love.  By the omission of what the "very bad thing" was, the author allows children to fill in the blanks and opens up opportunities for discussion. The illustrations do a great job of helping to carry the mood of the book and are colorful throughout.  In the Kindle edition, the words are integrated into the pictures rather than being placed opposite the picture--something that shows good taste on the part of Abingdon Press.
Abingdon Press is a Christian publishing house, and the book concludes with the boy realizing that even Jesus forgives and completely accepts him.   However, I do not feel that St. John Taylor's message was overtly preachy and forgiveness is presented in very clear terms.  A note is included in the back of the book with ideas for parents to use in discussion.

I'm giving You Wouldn't Love Me If You Knew five stars out of five because I feel that it is a book that all children could benefit from reading.  The illustrations are funny and cute, and the text is simple but strong.  Even parents may feel better after reading this book.  After all, we all need to know the reality of unconditional love and the hope it inspires.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Moon Over Manifest

Moon Over Manifest The movement of the train rocked me like a lullaby.  I closed my eyes to the dusty countryside and imagined the sign I knew only from stories.  The one just outside of town with big blue letters: MANIFEST: A TOWN WITH A RICH PAST AND A BRIGHT FUTURE.
...The conductor came into the car. "Manifest, next stop."
...Being a paying customer this time, with a full-fledged ticket, I didn't have to jump off, and I knew that the preacher would be waiting for me.  But as anyone worth his salt knows, it's best to get a look at a place before it gets a look at you...
At the last car, I waited, listen the way I'd been taught--wait till the clack of the train wheels slows to the rhythm of your heartbeat...The ground came quick and hard, but I landed and rolled as the tain lumbered on without a thank-you or goodbye.
As I stood and brushed myself off, there was the sign not five feet in front of me.  It was so weathered there was hardly a chip of blue paint to be found. And it looked to have been shot up so bad most of the words were gone.  All that was left read MANIFEST: A TOWN WITH A PAST.
(Moon Over Manifest 1, 3-4) 
Abilene Tucker doesn't really know who she is or where she's going.  Her father, Gideon Tucker, has decided that jumping trains is no place for a young lady and sent her to life with Shady Howard, the pastor of a small town Gideon lived in as a teen.

Once she's in Manifest, Abilene meets many strange people with interesting characteristics.  At first she thinks that she's going to be fine in this new place because every town is made of "universals"-- types of people who you'll always meet in a large group.

But the town of Manifest and it's townspeople aren't one bit universal.  There's some strange things in this town.  There's Hattie Mae--the newspaper lady--and her weekly "whos, whats, whys, whens, and wheres."  There's Sister Redempta, the nun who teaches the town's school and acts as the town midwife.  There's Lettie and Ruthanne, two girls who are friendly to Abilene and accompany her on her adventures to discover who "the Rattler" is and whether he still wants revenge. There's Ivan DeVore, the postmaster, Mr. Cooper, the barber, Velma T, the chemistry teacher, and Mr. Underhill, the undertaker.  But that's just the beginning...

There's also Miss Sadie, the Hungarian Woman, whom everyone calls a diviner, and her intriguing stories about Jinx and Ned and times past.  Her stories begin to pull the present together into a clearer picture, and over time, just might answer some of Abilene's questions concerning her origins. 

Released on October 12, 2010 by Delacorte Press (a division of Random House), Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool is the 2011 winner of the well-known Newberry Award.  The book is excellently written, with alternating chapters between the Manifest of 1918 and the Manifest of 1936.  Interspersed between the chapters are excerpts from Hattie Mae's newspaper column which add a bit of authenticity to the story.

The biggest literary flaw with this book is its pace. As an adult, I enjoyed the pace of the book, but the first couple of chapters might be hard for a child to get into. Other than that, I found its literary quality to be worth the Newberry title.  Vanderpool includes some great expressions that made me laugh and think all at once. 

Pros about Moon Over Manifest:
--The author does an excellent job of switching between narratives throughout the book, never making the reader feel that the transition is "out of place."
--There are several pieces of the conclusion that come as a surprise to the reader, but none of the surprises stray from the plot.
--The author included a post-script about what was historical and what was fiction.  She based the story loosely on her family's history.
--The author's tale can appeal to many teen and adult readers as well.
--The storyline contains several layers of suspense and challenges readers to look beyond the words on the page into the character's personalities, struggles, hopes, and fears just like readers have to look beyond a person's outer appearance to appreciate them.
--The characters have depth.

Despite all of these wonderful literary elements that make this book scholastic, there are several elements that have a tendency to make it not "safe" or family friendly.  While all parents may not agree with my conclusion, I still wish to provide those who do with my reasons.  If Moon Over Manifest was made into a movie, it would have to be rated PG-13 because of spiritual, alcohol, and violence content. 

Cons about Moon Over Manifest:
--Miss Sadie is a diviner.  In the beginning of the books, she "talks to the spirits" and says that she is going to "build a bridge between the living and the dead."  However, by the end of the book, readers learn that Miss Sadie is only a diviner because no one would talk to a poor Hungarian woman that they perceived to be a diviner.  They came to her as if she was such, and she went along with it to have her place in society; she "puts on a show and dresses the part."  Abilene realizes that the "divining" that she gives them is "really the truth she observes and knows about them... And mostly she watches, she waits, and she loves... She bears the story of Manifest." However, as the divining has no explanation for the majority of the text, parents may wish to remove this from their child's reading list or discuss what divining is and how that fits in with their own religious beliefs. 
--Shady Howard, the fill-in pastor in the town, is just that--a bit shady.  He owns a bar.  The church meets in the bar, but no alcohol is served on Sundays.  Abilene lives in the room above the bar--no place for a child.  Shady is also involved in making Moonshine during Prohibition--sometimes this is presented as wrong since it's against the law and sometimes it is presented as okay because it helps the town's economy.  The town's sheriff requires that Shady give him two bottles of moonshine a week if Shady wants him to not tell the government about his illegal activity. 
--There is a murder in the 1918 section of the book, for which one of the main characters (who is a child) is supposedly responsible.  Truth does come out, and the real murderer is punished, but younger children may find this distressing.

Despite the fact that I could give Moon Over Manifest a five out of five stars for literary quality, I'm giving Moon Over Manifest a three out of five stars because of some of the questionable content for the age group. This is not a book that I plan on handing over to the children in my life because of the PG13 content. However, whether you as a parent choose to have your children read Moon Over Manifest as summer reading, discuss it as a family read-aloud, or be aware of it's contents when your child reads it for school sometime, I hope that this review helps you and your children make wise choices that are safe but scholastic.