Tag Archives: 4th

West of the Moon

westofthemoon by Margi Preus

One of my favorite folk tales is East of the Sun, West of the Moon, and many children’s books have been inspired by this tale, such as East by Edith Pattou, a beautiful fantasy reimagining. I enjoyed reading this book by Preus, but due to my own preferences for “real” magic and fantasy, I found myself unsatisfied by the dreams/magical realism/faux fantasy elements in what is really a tale of immigration. That said, I appreciated greatly Preus’ ability to give deep and complex emotions to Astri and her deft hand at portraying vivid landscapes and adventures.

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With A Mighty Hand: The Story in the Torah

withamightyhandadapted and retold by Amy Ehrlich
illustrated by Daniel Nevins

Ehrlich’s talent as a storyteller is evident in the book.  She picked and chose powerful details.  She then tailored them for young readers with simple and easily understandable words and sentences.  The immediacy is almost shocking.  Instead of the tales feeling distanced by archaic language or complex sentence structures as often found in the translated versions of the Bible (or Torah), a young reader can digest these stories quickly and see the pictures clearly (also with the help of the colorful paintings.)

I think that’s why I had such conflicting reactions to this gorgeously illustrated religious text.  On the one hand, I really admire Ehrlich’s storytelling and distilling skills.  On the other hand, all these immediacies bring to sharp relief the brutal and the morally questionable events and behaviors in these stories.  Being a non-believer of any religion myself, it was really hard for me to understand how anyone could “fall for” this inconsistent, arrogant, vengeful, deceptive, conspiring, and power-hungry GOD.  Some of the lessons that I got from the book are

  • Since GOD is so fickle, but so all powerful, you’d better always do as told.
  • One’s relationship with GOD is and should be completely based on Fear.
  • All human inter-actions are based on Jealousy and sometimes bad deeds are richly rewarded.
  • Women are to be neglected and are of no or little importance except in bearing sons for the chosen people.
  • The chosen ones should endeavor in eliminating the non-believers and those who believe in other Gods.

So, I am left with a huge question: Why, in the year 2013, we need such a retelling of these brutal and morally antiquated tales to children which do not contain in the text itself explanatory notes or questions that encourage discussions for the family?  Especially since this is a trade book and conceivably could be read and shared with people who are not of the Jewish faith.   (There are indeed back matters with notes and an introduction but I really would have liked to see a more philosophical approach to these tales than the current shape it is in.)

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The Thing About Luck

the-thing-about-luckby Cynthia Kadohata

Kadohata once again proves that a book does not have to have an outlandish or extremely inventive premise to capture the reader’s attention and interest.  Once I started reading this book about a young girl’s simple wishes and dreams, her family’s struggle to stay afloat as seasonal wheat harvesters, and her brother’s difficulty in connecting with his peers, I could not stop.  I cared so deeply about Summer, her brother, and her elderly grandparents.  It’s really quite a feat for such a slim and quiet book!  Its inclusion as one of the five finalists of the 2013 National Book Award Young People’s Literature category is well deserved!

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The Grimm Conclusion

grimmby Adam Gidwitz

I waited for a while to read this one.  Was somewhat apprehensive.  When one becomes friendly and very fond of an author, one sometimes also becomes worried.  What if… What if the book isn’t as good as you’d hoped?  As good as you  believe that particular author could have made it?  What it…

So, I didn’t read the galley.  I did attend an overwhelmingly successful event at Book Court in Brooklyn with Adam entertaining a host of young readers and their parents.  And then, finally, after I started seeing my students toting around this third volume and hearing that they really really enjoyed it (one of them read it more than twice in the week of its publication) I braced myself and delved into it!

What a treat!  I couldn’t put the book down.  Adam not only featured some of MY favorite Grimm tales, he even used one of my favorite STORY TIME staple (Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock!)  And not only Adam continues with the intrusive and flippant (but often kind and comforting) storyteller/narrator, he brings this narrator INTO the story (or, rather, brings the protagonists OUT of the story and into current day Brooklyn.)  I was worried when I knew that there is a metafiction element of the tale that it would have seemed trite or forced — but Adam did it in a natural and fluid way that really works.  The story as a whole seems a bit darker than the first two, but it is to my liking.  And as in so many stories for children (and adults) the power of storytelling is celebrated at the end!

Same as in the first two books, there are definitely some very sticky moral dilemmas that the two kids have to face and conquer.  I am happy to report that the messages do not get in the way of the enjoyment of the tales. And I suspect that these important “lessons” are being absorbed and are strengthening child readers everywhere as I type!

Finally, the new “Kingdom of Children” that the narrator refers to in the end of this book is an apt metaphor for the realm of imagination, for stories and books, and especially for the Grimm trilogy, where children venture in to “run, to play… to tell their tales and face their fears and let whatever is inside out.”

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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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Avatar The Last Airbender: The Promise – (3 Volumes)

avatar(originally posted on 9/20/2013 on just vol. 1 — updated to include all three)

The story of two “nations” occupying the same land where one is now being demanded to remove itself mirrors eerily contemporary conditions in our current world. I’m delighted that almost all the important characters make their appearances here and their personalities consistent with the show. The artwork is definitely true to the show as well — for the most part.  Of course, the fight scenes are slightly less epic or thrilling presented in still frames and not movements, but fans of the show can probably fill in the sounds and sequences. I know I read it with the actors’ voices in my head!

The story arc is convincing and the ending is satisfying.  My biggest complaint might be that Zuko (the new Fire Kingdom King) is not quite what he looked like on the show — his features in the books are less defined and with less angsty charm that I so enjoyed from the show.

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Doll Bones

dollbonesby Holly Black

I was pleased that Holly Black decided to maintain the mystery and the suspense over the paranormal scenario of the story all the way to the very very end.  To me, that’s the best part of the whole book.  Some other aspects, however, did not speak to me that much.  I was told the three main characters’ personalities, a bit of their back stories, and about the fact that they had been best friends with such amazing bonds as telling those fantastical stories…. but, as a reader, I never quite “felt” any of these facts.  Partly because on their “quest,” most I saw was their bickering and distrust of each other.

For example, when Zach worried about the two girls’ talking about him behind his back, his thoughts are whether they talked about he smelled bad or that he’s stupid.  I would hope, that after being close friends with each other for years, there might have been some darker, deeper secrets or concerns that made Zach squirm.

There are also just so many details that do not advance the plot or our understanding of the characters.  A list of 27 flavors of donuts that do not carry overt or hidden meanings baffled me.

I was also puzzled by each character’s ability to succinctly explain why have been acting in such a way toward their friends, sounding like what a therapist might present, after listening to 12/13 year olds relating the events and their feelings.  Alice revealed that the reason why she couldn’t believe in Eleanor’s ghost was that “There can’t be a ghost, a real ghost.  Because if there is, then some random dead girl wants to haunt Poppy, but my own dead parents can’t be bothered to come back and haunt me.”   And Poppy’s confession, “I thought that we could do this thing, and when it was over we’d have something that no one else had — an experience that would keep us together.”  Even Zach’s father confessed, “But I’ve been thinking that protecting somebody by hurting them before someone else gets the chance isn’t the kind of protecting that anyone wants.”

Don’t get me wrong — I believe in the validity of all of these statements and those are at the heart of this story — that we act certain ways because there are some additional, underlying emotional reasons which are seldom on the surface for others to interpret quickly or easily.  I just have a bit of trouble with how all of these ideas are delivered as “statements” by these characters.  I wish that readers had chances to perhaps sort some of these out by ourselves.  For example, perhaps in one of the shouting matches, Alice could have said something like, “There are NO GHOSTS!  If there are, WHY WOULDN’T MY PARENTS TALK O ME???!!!”  (haha.. much exaggerated)

I also was not creeped out enough by the book — and I wish I had been — the cover gave me so much hope!

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