Showing posts with label family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family. Show all posts

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker

Rating: WORTHY!

I never knew exactly what a penny-packer did for a living, but now I do: she writes great stories for kids! This was a fun book for middle-graders. I haven't read any others in this series, but this one worked as a stand-alone. it was smart, inventive, and entertaining even for an adult reader because of Clementine's quirky take on her life and her interactions with everyone she encounters.

Clementine is apparently prone to get into trouble one way or another, and when she learns there is to be a family meeting at home one evening, she panics because she can't remember doing anything wrong lately and is mystified as to why a meeting should be in order. It turns out that the family is going to be welcoming a newcomer: mom is pregnant!

Naturally Clementine has issues with this, being perfectly happy with her four-square family. Adding a fifth to the mix knocks everything off kilter as far as she's concerned, and as if that wasn't bad enough, her rat has escaped - the one she was working with in a science experiment at school. And she;s lost her favorite winter hat - the one grandma knitted for her.

Marla Frazee's line drawing are great, and very evocative. Sometimes her perspective is a little off - Clementine seems to shrink to almost half her size when she goes to talk with her teacher one day at recess. That aside, I liked the drawings and the take on life shown here, as well as the well-written ending. I recommend this (and perhaps the others in the series too, if they're anything like this one).

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Rosco the Rascal Visits the Pumpkin Patch by Shana Gorian

Rating: WORTHY!

Just in time for Halloween and in plenty of time for Thanksgiving, this is a middle-grade chapter book with some illustrations set around this time of year (assuming you're reading this in late October and you're in the northern hemisphere!). It has its roots in a real dog owned by the author, but the story is fictional. It's part of a series, and you can get another one in the series free by signing up for the author's mailing list.

Rosco (which I keep wanting to add an 'e' to so it looks less like a corporate name!) is in the McKendrick family, which consists of mom, dad, and two children, ten year old James, and seven-year-old Mandy. In this adventure, they visit the pumpkin patch where dad wants to procure a giant pumpkin to carve for Halloween. Rosco is a bit naughty at times, but it all comes from his desire to have fun and run-off excess energy. To be fair, he also has some very positive traits, though. He's very protective of children, and both his naughtiness and his protectiveness play a role in this story, as they enjoy the outdoors, take part in activities on the pumpkin farm, and get lost in the corn maze - which turns out to be fortunate for an even younger child who's in there, also lost. And very afraid. And hurt.

I'm not a big fan of "intelligent" dog and cat stories because in my sad experience the authors make them so human that they're no longer dogs or cats, so really, what's the point? In this case, though, I loved the way the author seems to get inside the dog's head, making it appear very human in a very doglike way, without turning it into a completely unbelievable human substitute. The story wasn't written for my age range, but even so it was fun, interesting, realistic, believable, and very entertaining. It carried positive messages and had a warm and happy ending. I recommend this for kids of all ages.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Baker's Dozen by Aaron Shepherd

Rating: WORTHY!

This is an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

Beautifully illustrated, this Christmas story (actually set on and around Saint Nicholas's Day, which falls in early December), tells a highly fanciful tale of how a "baker's dozen" came to be thirteen rather than the actual twelve there is in a dozen. In fact it's because bakers in the past (as early as the eighteenth century if not before) didn't want to be fined for shorting their customers so they added one more to their 'dozen' (a term which comes from the French) for good measure. No one is going to complain about getting something for nothing, right?

In this story however, a rather gluttonous woman puts a curse on the baker for giving her only twelve "cookies" (a term which actually derives from a Dutch word koekje) when she'd requested a dozen. The baker's business falls into a disastrous decline until he decides to give thirteen instead of twelve for a dozen, whereupon his business flourishes! I don't know if this is the reverse of the real spirit of Christmas in our capitalistic age, where less is more - profitable!, or if it actually embodies it!

The real joy of this story though, apart from the happy ending, is Wendy Edelson's gorgeous illustrations in full color, which hark back if not to a Dickensian Christmas age, hark certainly back to a Rockwellian one. Beautifully done in great detail and in rich earth tones, ornamented with Christmas reds and whites, the images are a joy, but you cannot enjoy them at their best in electronic form unfortunately. This is very much intended as a print book, and the tablet version breaks up the images in unfortunately and uncomplimentary ways. This is the really the kind of book you have to buy in the print version and leave on the coffee table over the holidays! And perhaps that's just as well. A little old fashioned never hurt anyone at Christmas, now did it?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Picture of Grace by Josh Armstrong

Title: Picture of Grace
Author: Josh Armstrong
Publisher: Joshua E. Armstrong
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Taylor Bills.

Some children's authors unfortunately feel that young children are an easy mark and not worth much time, and the path to success is via a series of cheap illustrations and a silly rhyme, and you're in business. This author isn't one of those, and neither is this illustrator, Taylor Bills, I am so happy to report!

I've been lucky with the children's books I've reviewed, and I've found very few of them to be sub-standard, but I get to chose which ones I review, so I have an advantage! I try to review these books positively if I can because while children don't deserve less than adults, they are, bless their little cotton socks, far less critical and are willing (as I am in fact), to forgo excellence and finery if they can get a great story and/or some engrossing art work, and especially so if it's educational. This is one reason why I was so thrilled with the two books I'm reviewing today, because both of them are really, really excellent. On the other hand, it is Friday, so maybe I'm just in a thoroughly good mood. Naw, these books are great any day of the week!

This particular book is a truly remarkable story about a young girl and her grandfather, who is an artist. The gallery owner, Delilah, is obnoxious and is demanding this one last painting, insisting he have it done in only two weeks. She doesn't care about his protests. She may know a lot about art but she's doesn't know what it's like! When grandpa dies, no doubt due to stress, Delilah sees this as a good thing because his last painting, even if unfinished, will appreciate in value immensely.

Grace doesn't see art that way. She sees the last picture her grandfather began, but never finished, and she decides to help him out. As relatives and friends stop by to see the painting, they encounter a gallery owner whose face is bluer than grace's mom's clothes, but what they notice isn't that - it's the painting. There is a special meaning with which grandpa imbued it, and Grace's contribution can be seen only as the icing on the cake, notwithstanding Delilah's frosty demeanor. Crumbs! I loved this book and recommend it.

I wouldn't try reading it on a Smart-phone; the illustrations are discernible, but the text is not. On an iPad, which permitted, thankfully, the expanding of the pictures, it's eminently readable. I can't speak for the print version which I have no seen.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Cassidy's Guide to Everyday Etiquette (and Obfuscation) by Sue Stauffacher

Title: Cassidy's Guide to Everyday Etiquette (and Obfuscation)
Author: Sue Stauffacher
Publisher: Random House
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

This book was hilarious and I recommend it whole-heartedly. Yes, there was a more-than-minor character named Jack Taylor, which would normally cause me to jack this in, but he wasn't the main character so I was willing, in this one instance, to tolerate him in the small doses where he was present. I loved Cassidy's attitude to life, and her relationship with her sister.

The story here is that Cassidy's great grandmother has died and in her will she condemned (that's what it feels like to Cassidy) the poor girl to attend etiquette school two days a week during one month of her summer holiday. Cassidy bristles and rebels at this.

This story went from joy to joy. I completely adored the author's tone and voice - even though it was first person. Normally that's a voice I don't appreciate, but once in a while an author makes it work, and this is a sterling example of how to do it. The text is full of sly assessments, and astute and amusing remarks such as this observation from Cassidy: "I knew better than to say anything about the value of my time. Adults and kids have never seen eye to eye on that subject."

I don't know what it was, but Cassidy won me over from the off, and she kept on winning me over, although I have to admit, Livvy ran her a close thing. Cassidy was perhaps a bit more mature than you'd expect for her age, but I was willing to forgive her that in the same way I forgave Bill Watterson for the same thing in his totally awesome Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.

Cassidy is a smart, adventurous, curious, and self-possessed girl of eleven who is fearless and confident. She's not a bad person by any means, but her aggressive approach to life tends to land her in water that's decidedly, shall I say, too temperature-challenged for her taste? You can imagine then, the difficulties inherent in any attempt to teach her etiquette. It's precisely this ocean of endeavor upon which the author has chosen to launch Cassidy Corcoran.

Here's another joyous quotation: "Miss Melton-Mowry decided to ignore me. It's a normal developmental stage for every one of my teachers." And another from a conversation Cassidy has with another attendee of the etiquette class when they discover they have an acquaintance in common:

"What's the polite-conversation word for smart aleck?"
"High energy...original mind...future politician?" I replied, quoting my report cards from memory.

And one more for good measure:

"Nice to meet you, Dr. Bean."
"And you, Cassidy. Your reputation precedes you."
"That's usually how it works."

I'm not going to tell you how this goes, because it's a journey that you have to take for yourself - with Cassidy as your guide. Be prepared for a strenuous outing, though: it goes from height to height, but it's awesome terrain. I am totally on board with this and looking out for other books by this author now.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Carrot by Vanita Oelschlanger

Title: Carrot
Author: Vanita Oelschlanger
Publisher: VanitaBooks
Rating: WORTHY!

Illustrated by Kristin Blackwood.

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Yes, it's Vanita Oelschlanger again, with Kristin Blackwood at the richly colorful paint brush and today's topic is Carrot is a cat. I'll bet you'll never guess what color she is.... She has a great life, inexplicably chasing mice, but also tending to one who has the flu. She loves her home and family, and the opportunities for a fish dinner at Finney's(!). I had a cat of the same hue, named Ginger. Still no idea what color she was?

One day Carrot sees a luxury yacht (probably pronounced Mangrove-Throat-Wobbler - and if you get that reference, you probably like flying circuses....) cruise by, and espies a gorgeous white fluffy cat on the deck playing with a toy mouse. The cat's name is Buffy. No word of whether she fights vampire cats.

This sight is a bit too much for Carrot, who now finds her days occupied not with having fun and tasty snacks, but with thoughts of what her own life would be like if she had the opportunities and life-style enjoyed by Buffy. She daydreams her time away in idle imaginings.

Being a practical cat - a practi-cat, no doubt - Carrot soon realizes the futility of her day-dreaming. She begins to understand that not all is not well in Buffy-world. Buffy doesn't have a host of family legs to rub against. She doesn't have real organic USDA grade A-1 mice to chase, nor does she have yummy snacks from Finney's. She leads a rather sad and isolated life, surrounded by fish but none to eat.

Carrot rather quickly and quite fully realizes what she would lose, and she re-values her own life, deciding that the catnip isn't always greener on the other side of the mouse. This is a great story for kids who might sometimes wish they had been born someone else, or who might look enviously at the life others lead. We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control how we feel about it and how much we take or lose out of each day that we have. Worthy of a look for cat lovers and their children!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Luna's Red Hat by Emmi Smid

Title: Luna's Red Hat
Author: Emmi Smid
Publisher: Jessica Kingsley
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

The author is a bereavement specialist from the Netherlands. She has written this book to help parents talk to children about suicide, to help children understand what happened and that it's no one's fault, especially not theirs, and that life will have to go on without the loved one because death is final.

It's the beginning of spring, and Luna is in the park with her dad and baby brother for a picnic, but she's not feeling very sunny. There's one person missing: her mom. Mom killed herself (perhaps from post-partum depression) and Luna, who is wearing her mother's hat, is very angry that her own mom should voluntarily choose to leave her like that.

Dad honestly tries to understand exactly what's on Luna's mind. He takes her seriously and listens to what she has to say. He doesn't talk down to her or try to belittle what she says or is feeling. He doesn't get too deep or into too much detail. He lets Luna ventilate all she wants, and he comments where he thinks she needs to hear his voice.

Carefully choosing his words, he explains what happened and that sometimes, in a situation like this, there's nothing anyone can do no matter how much they feel they should have done something or known something.

There's a section in back where Dr Fiddelaers-jaspers discusses bereavement where it affects young children and offers sensible and useful advice about what to do. I sincerely hope no one reading this will ever need a book like this, but if you do, or if someone you know might benefit from it, it's there, and I think it's does a great job. The illustrations are suitably child-like and colorful, and the text is brief and simple - easy to understand, easy to read, easy to share with a child.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Other Sister by ST Underdahl

Title: The Other Sister
Author: ST Underdahl
Publisher: Flux
Rating: WORTHY!

Susan Thompson Underdahl is a psychologist who has experienced the very story she relates in this novel, and relate she does. I don't know how much of it is fiction and how much is actual memory, but I do know this was a novel I read through from cover to cover in one sitting, and I enjoyed it immensely. Afterwards I found myself wondering how the Josey's real life counterpart felt when she learned that this novel was coming out.

The novel is about Audrey, an adoptee, contacting her birth mother and discovering she has a birth father married to that same mother and she has two brothers and a sister in that same family. I can;t imagine what kind of a shock or revelation that would be to a young woman. Underdahl was the 'Audrey' of this novel, but she told it from the 'Josey' perspective which is interesting, and is perhaps what I might have done if I'd been in her position. I think she was able to empathize with Josey so well because in some regards, Audrey and Josey were the same person while at the same time being quite different, having gone through very different experiences and having an outlook on life which differed in many ways.

Josette, sixteen, is the middle child, with an older brother Jake and a younger brother Julian (yeah, I know). She's a straight-A student who wants to become a psychologist. She has two best friends, Sarah and Britt, and comes home one day after studying with them to discover that her mother has some news about which she's very nervous about sharing with her daughter. Josey has never seen her mother quite like this. Why her father isn't present for this discussion I don't know. I found that slightly disturbing, but his absence at that particular time is actually a part of the story in a way; it's a harbinger of the relationship between Josey and her parents which bubbles up later in the novel.

Josey (I don't like that name, neither in its full version nor the diminutive) is hit rather harder than her brothers by this news. Why her mother chose to tell her before she told either of the sons, and especially given that one of the sons is older, is also dealt with later in the novel. I think in this case it was a wise decision, but later, the parental decisions were not so wise in these events!

Since the real story took place twenty years before, Underdahl chooses to address the lack of Internet and email by giving Audrey an aversion to tel phone contact and having the initial correspondence take place via snail mail, although the very first contact, not with Audrey but with a social worker, comes by phone. The purpose of the call to ask Anne (Josey's mother) if she's averse to her adopted daughter contacting her. Anne gives the go-ahead and soon receives an intelligently-written letter from Audrey tentatively opening the lines of communication. There's a photograph enclosed, of Audrey and her fiance. Audrey looks very much like Josey.

This is the first of a series of crises through which Josey goes. The next is when she learns that Audrey is a psychologist. Josey now feels that she has lost her position as only daughter, and as senior daughter, as well as being 'replaced' by someone who looks like her, has usurped her career goal, and is occupying almost all of her mother's attention. It's heartening to see how Josey, so young and so struggling, steps up to the situation. I doubt that I would have handled it so well at her age.

Yet despite her rather heroic struggle, she is struggling. Her parents arrange for a meeting in Cancun - neutral ground - so that they can all meet and get to know one another. Because Anne works for an airline, she's able to get discount fares and they occupy a small villa, and spend three all-too-short days together, but Josey notices that Audrey is crying at one point, and when they part at the end of the vacation, she says something mean to her new sister and, too late, regrets it.

In the end it's all resolved and the outcome works for everyone, but there is a journey before Josey can get there, and it's a journey with some surprising revelations about her calm and confident older sister. But this is something you will have to find out for yourself. Despite the misgivings I had after reading Susan Underdahl's bio (she knew a ghost for eight years? She can sometimes breathe underwater?) which made me doubt her veracity in other regards, this novel is all I'm reviewing here, not the author, and the novel is well-done, sensitively written, inventive, entertaining, and very enjoyable. I rate it worthy!