Tag Archives: 3rd

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp

truebluescoutsby Kathi Appelt

(narrated by Lyle Lovett for Audible)

This is what outstanding, distinguished, and thoroughly enjoyable children’s books should be!  And of course, I had the additional pleasure of listening to Appelt’s narrative voice brought to live by Lyle Lovett: folky, hilarious, tender, with just the right amount of controlled drama.  This environmental tall tale set in the swamp land, featuring anthropomorphized critters, caricatured villains, down home, real but also realer than life characters, and mythical beings is perfect for a family and classroom read aloud!  One of my favorite 2013 books for sure!

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PIE

Pieby Sarah Weeks

This is a short and charming caper story with some not-quite-so-believable reconciliations — especially the incredibly fast and easy resolution of the mother-daughter relationship which was so extremely strained. I did enjoy the notion of aunt Polly being such a generous soul and that her legacy was felt and practiced throughout the town by those who truly loved her. I think many young readers will find great satisfaction in reading this story but those who came to PIE because they loved So B. It! should be told before hand to not expect the same kind of intensity, originality, and affecting ending as that previous most-beloved tale.

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Drawing from Memory

Drawing From Memoryby Allen Say (from galley)

I’m not sure that this is “graphic novel” treatment of Say’s personal life as many have categorized it.  It has text and it has graphics but it feels more like a scrapbook with clippings of thoughts and images (both photographs and drawings).  I probably would call this a picture book memoir.  It is brutally honest: I felt pained by the lack of tenderness and affection from family members that Say received as a child and a youth. But it also shows how one can make one’s own family from those who appreciate and spiritually and emotionally adopt one as a child or a sibling. I hope by making this book, Allen Say has made and found peace with his unhappy past.  This is definitely a title worth sharing with many.

One question though: how would a young reader (say, in 2nd or 3rd grade) perceive the Japan-America conflict of War World II by reading these lines:

page 10: Then a war began in 1941. When bombs started to fall on our city, Mother took us and fled to a village named Tabuse between Hiroshima and Iwakuni.

page 12: When the war ended four years later, everything was broken.

page 13: The American forces occupied Japan on my eighth birthday, August 28, 1945. Our house in Yokohama had been destroyed. Father went to the south island of Kyushu and found work in the city of Sasebo.

I must admit that as a Chinese person who grew up in Taiwan (which was a Chinese province colonized and occupied by Japan for 50 or so years until the conclusion of WWII) and whose mother lost her entire family due to the Japanese occupation of North Eastern China, when I read a Japanese author’s personal perspectives on these events or the time period, I had to forcefully remind myself that: this is a person who happened to have grown up in a country that invaded my own country and that Allen Say was not personally responsible for the atrocity (and yes, it IS an atrocity) that his mother land caused in my mother land way before I was born. And yet, I still wonder if there could have been other ways to make those statements that show clearly to any young reader that War did not come to Japan without Japan’s bringing it on to itself AND that instead of using the word “occupied,” although accurate, Say and his editor could have found a different word to describe the American Forces’ presence in Japan post WWII – especially since the young readers encountering this book most likely wouldn’t have had much background knowledge of the whole sequence of events that led to such occupation.

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The Name of This Book is Secret

The Name of This Book Is Secretby Pseudonymous Bosch

I really should have heeded the recommendations, enthusiastic and spirited, from many different readers in several grades for the last few years. Why I felt reluctant to read this title for so long, I have no idea. Reading this book was absolutely a fun experience! Although some more experienced readers might find the meta-fiction aspect a bit heavy handed or derivative (ala Snicket or Scieszka & Lane,) I think young readers who encounter this type of storytelling format for the first will definitely eat it up with gusto! At the same time, I don’t find myself propelled to read on the rest of the series. What is lacking? Perhaps certain genuine emotional bond between this reader and the characters who serve as pieces on a game board and don’t quite come through as “real” people.

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Where the Mountain Meets the Moon: An Elegantly Written Book?

I started reading Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin, while it was still in galley form and had never been able to finish the book.  Friends in my Children’s Literature circle have heard from me for almost a year now how baffled I have been regarding the success of the book (a Newbery Honor) and the adoration of the book from so many reviewers, teachers, and librarians.

And today, I read this blog post from Story Sleuths in which the bloggers praise and analyze the strengths of the writing by Lin.  (This is only Part 1, and posted 4 days ago.  I imagine more posts will follow.)

Finally, I feel compelled and brave enough to share some counter points regarding this book.

I am going to focus on my reaction to the usage of words and phrases by the author and demonstrate how I am not convinced that this is an elegantly crafted volume.  (Although, as a woman who grew up in Taiwan and was exposed to countless Chinese folk tales in book, opera, TV forms, I have a lot of discomfort with Grace Lin’s appropriation of the stories she read as an American girl of Taiwanese descent — even if she made it clear that these are NOT simple retellings of the original stories but based on her views on how these stories COULD have been told.)

Now, I was already a bit annoyed by page 4 because of a personal pet peeve.

  • The book is set against a nondescript mystical China, by the way the village is described and the people are portrayed.  Yet, in this fantasy land, in “Ancient” China, Minli’s father replies to her request for a story with “Okay” — an unfortunate word choice that carries strong western and contemporary flavors.  (p. 4)  This is a strong personal pet peeve, as explained in my About Fantasy — Is it OK to say “Okay”? post.

Grace Lin really loves using the word “seemed” in delivering her descriptive sentences.  It occurs with such frequency that it becomes monotonous and because “seem” is such an uncertain word, it often weakens the impact of the imagery.  (p. 110 “… the silence of the room seemed to ache with loneliness.” p. 111 “She seemed to glow like a pearl…” p. 117 “light of the moon seemed to bind the magistrate still.” p. 140, “The king’s words seemed to hang in the air.”  p. 141, “The moon seemed to tremble…” and on and on… and in this one page, the narrative contains three “seemed” in three short paragraphs.

  • . . . Minli’s footsteps seemed to hush the night as she made her way toward the Jade River.  (This one works all right for me because her footsteps could not have hushed the night but could have created the sense of hushing the night.)
  • . . . The moon shone above so even in the darkness of the night, the fish seemed to burn a bright orange.  (This one puzzles me.  I know that the fish did not burn but was it bright orange?  If the sentence were “the fish seemed to burn with an orange flame” or “the fish seemed to burn, glowing bright orange”  it would have delivered a clearer imagery.)
  • . . . For the moment the fish seemed shocked and was still, like a flickering flame on a match.  (It would have worked if the fish was simply socked or in shock.  And we wouldn’t have had three consecutive “seemed’s” on one page.)

Now, that last sentence kind of “shocked” me when I first encountered it.  How could a fish that is shocked into “stillness” be also “flickering” like a flame on a match that does not stop moving?  (After considering this several times, I could have explained that perhaps the water has been moving moments before so that the water makes the brightly lit orange fish scales sparkle and flicker.  But this figure of  speech did not make the imagery clear.  It does not illustrate or illuminate.)

Here are two more examples of odd similes:

  • On page 42 … “only barely could he see the faint footprints on the ground — it was like searching for a wrinkle in a flower petal.”  I did a triple-take and quite a bit of head scratching when I read this sentence: Many flowers have petals that are full of wrinkles.  Did the author mean that it is extremely EASY to make out the faint footprints on the ground? If so, does not it contradict the “barely” sentiment proposed in the first portion of the sentence?
  • On page 61 … “Under his gaze, Ma and Pa suddenly felt like freshly peeled oranges, and their words fell away from them.”  To this day, after re-reading this sentence countless times, I still could not quite figure out how a “freshly peeled orange” might feel.  I guess that it addresses the notion of their “words falling away” from them.   Does that make them feel naked?  Does it have something to do with the speed of the peeling (which does not happen instantly but can be pretty fast, unlike peeling an apple)?  This figure of speech confounds this reader and conceals the full meaning from view.

Of course, plenty of readers disagree with my reaction and I am eager to hear from others who can shed some light on these and other passages from the book that, to me, seem to be on the “Composition 101/Figure of Speech Exercise 5” level and do not always flow organically to tell a vivid story.

I probably will post more musings on how metaphors and similes should only appear to illustrate, interpret, and illuminate the scenes and emotions and should be avoided at all cost when they contradict, confound, or conceal the underlying, true meanings of the passages.  (My 3-Is and 3-Cs rule!)

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Buried Alive

Buried Alive! by Jacqueline Wilson

A short read about Tim and Biscuits, two best friends who have quite an adventurous little vacation by a Welsh seashore. Although the main characters are boys, Tim, the narrator, shares a lot of traits with many of Wilson’s girl main characters: outcast, somewhat of a cowardly weakling with no self-confidence, but eventually finds inner strengths and come out on top. Plenty of funny scenes and slightly unsettling personality traits of the “best friend” of the main character.

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Tiny Tyrant: Vol. 1 – The Ethelbertosaurus

Tiny Tyrant: Volume One: The EthelbertosaurusAuthor: Lewis Trondheim; illus. by Fabrice Parme
Rating:
Reading Level: 3rd to 5th grade

Pages: 62
Publisher: Frist Second
Edition:Paperback, 2009

Most excellent and fun short skit-like tales. This volume contains six stories. King Ethelbert is extremely spoiled and self-centered and yet one simply can’t help but adoring him (probably because more often than not, he gets his just-desserts: a spanking, or being blown out of the palace window!) A French import.

View all my good reads reviews.

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