Saturday, November 24, 2012

Liar & Spy: A Follow-up

I finished Liar & Spy last week and can now announce my official crush.  How does anyone write back-to-back books that good?  If you haven't read When You Reach Me or Liar & Spy, please do yourself a favor and add them to your must-read list.  In either order.

What I love about Rebecca Stead's writing is her ability to think in beautiful metaphor and interweave complicated metaphor throughout the story with ease.  I love stories with intricate personal stories of redemption, tied to together so innocently with laugh-out-loud humor.  Stead also understands how to propel a story, taking the reader on a curiosity ride to the very last page.  When I finished both books, I had the immediate urge to flip to the first page and reread.  After the last page, she gives you new eyes for the story as a whole.  That's talent.

I'm not going to give you a brief synopsis or a limited recap.  Go into this one totally blind.  I think books are best that way.  I even try to avoid reading the back cover blurb and jacket flap.  When reading A Bridge to Teribithia, this tactic led to much unexpected sobbing.  But, still, I stand by my methods.

All I can say is Bravo to Rebecca Stead.  She reminds me of all that I love about the art of story crafting.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Spoon and Chopsticks: A Punny Pair

I grew up inundated by puns.  The kind that make you groan on the outside, but secretly smile on the inside.  Or laugh in spite of your better judgment and high standards.  Then I married a punny guy; now my kids get punned double time.  Dad and grandpa.  Grandpa and dad.  They have no hope.

If you've been conditioned to properly appreciate a pun, you need to grab two books:  Spoon and Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Scott Magoon.  Punny stuff.  In fact, I dub them the punniest thing I've ever read.

Spoon, like a lot of us, feels like the grass is greener on the other side of the utensil drawer.  Surely fork has it better.  And knife's life is full of drama.  In the end, spoon gets some perspective.  He's got it good.  Who else knows the exhilaration of diving headfirst into a bowl of ice cream or the peace of relaxing in a warm tea bath?  Or the comfort of spooning with one's parent's every night?  You so want to read this now, don't you?

Chopsticks one ups Spoon .  Even its tagline cracks me up.  "Not exactly a sequel to Spoon.  More like a change in place setting."  The chopsticks are inseparable, until one day, fate necessitates a temporary separation.  This one is a pun a second.  I dare you not to laugh out loud.

What's one of the funniest or punniest books you've ever read?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Rebecca Stead: Liar & Spy

Last week I saw Rebecca Stead's new book, Liar & Spy , on a bookstore shelf and wanted to buy it so badly.  But I was good and forced myself to walk away.

Fast forward one day.  New scene: the library.  (I'm not kidding: we are library/bookstore junkies).  I had already checked out about 40 new picture books and two enormous puppets when I wandered past a Young Adult display.  Guess what I spotted?

Yep.  Liar & Spy .

I resisted the urge to scream my excitement, wondered why no one had checked it out yet, and then did my customary backward glance for library secret service as I scooped it up.  

Earlier this year I read When You Reach Me .  It won the Newberry.  It was awesome.  I'll write a blog post about it sometime in the near future.  Point being - Rebecca writes the exact kind of book that I love to read.  The kind where each sentence is a masterpiece of quirk, wit and humanity.  She makes it all look so easy.  I couldn't wait to read something new from her.

I read about half of it today and I'm in love with just about every other sentence.  I must look like an idiot reading it.  With a big, goofy, and thoroughly amused grin.

At this point, I believe I'm enjoying it even more than I enjoyed When You Reach Me.  But that's probably not entirely accurate.  It's more the fact that I'm very much a love-the-one-you're-with kind of girl when it comes to books.  And most other things too.

I'll keep you posted as I finish it.  So far it is another proof that children's literature is where it's at.

Monday, November 12, 2012

And the winner is...

A big thank you to all who participated in my Book Crush Giveaway.  
I'm so excited to send the winner one of my favorites!  

Since I was the only one home for the event, I enlisted an unusual, yet very appropriate, assistant.  Meet Kitty.  Our homemade mailbox for our Vet Hospital.

My oldest is on a postal service kick.  Don't tell, but I may or may not have been making play postcards when I should have been working this week.  Anyway, back to the drawing -- I tossed all of the names into the mailbox, swirled them around, and kitty spit out one lucky winner.

Congratulations, Mandy!  I'll contact you via email too.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

14 Fun and Festive Children's Books for Thanksgiving

Confession:  I'm not very good at decorating for the holidays.  I don't own any Thanksgiving decorations.  We've never put up outdoor Christmas lights.  (We plan to change that this year!)  I appreciate other people's efforts but just don't have that gene in me.  I like to celebrate my seasons with books instead.  It's so exciting to me.  I love thinking about all the things that are special about each season or holiday and then search out corresponding books.  Finding books for each time of year is an adventure that I cherish.  My boys and I spend our dinnertimes exploring them and getting in the seasonal mood.  So -- without further ado and in lieu of a gorgeous wreath or leafy table runner -- I give you this:

In no particular order, here are the ones that made the cut:

By Tanya Lee Stone; Illustrated by Gerald Kelley
This alphabet book is a great Thanksgiving overview.  Layed out as an alphabet book, it covers all the bases in a cute, child-accessible way.  The kids are putting on Thanksgiving play and telling you all about the holiday.  My first-grader came home from school and recommended this one to me after his teacher read it to his class.  Kids' recommendations are always the best.

By Lisa Wheeler; Illustrated by Frank Ansley
Every year I look forward to pulling out Turk and Runt again.  It's my official favorite.  Runt's brother, Turk, is a prime bird and his parents' favorite.  Nobody but Runt seems to realize the fate of the juiciest, heartiest turkey on the farm.  Yet nobody ever listens to poor Runt.  Runt spends the whole book trying to save his brother's life, with lots of hilarious dialogue and antics. 

By Laurie Halse Anderson; Illustrated by Matt Faulkmer
This is a surprisingly enjoyable book.  Prior to reading it, I didn't know anything about the how Thanksgiving came to be a national holiday.  This book tells the story of Sarah Hale in such an enjoyable way, that my first-grader and I were equally enthralled.  The illustrations add tons of life as well.  A top pick for grades K and up.

By Joseph Bruchac; Illustrated by Greg Shed
The paintings are gorgeous.  They won me over regardless of the text.  But the story, too, is both enjoyable and educational.  It gives a balanced look at the complex events surrounding the first Thanksgiving.  I highly recommend it for older children, K-1 and up.

By Phil Bildner; Illustrated by C.F. Payne
Football has always been a part of Thankgiving Day in my family.  The young boy in the story is looking foward the first time he is able to play in his family's annual T-Day Turkey Bowl.  When relatives get caught in bad weather, things don't go exactly as planned.  I like that it's an original Thanksgiving Day story that touches on many current family traditions while also just telling a story.

By Melissa Sweet
I'm in love with this book.  I even bought it for my personal collection this week.  With this one, Melissa Sweet just ranked on my lists of favorite illustrators.  Melissa tells the story of Tony Sarg, the puppeteer of Macy's Parade.  Stories of inventors and artists and trailblazers are always appreciated in this household, so this is right up our alley.  It's intriguing and informative and totally made me want to watch the parade this year.  Another must for your list.  

If your library doesn't have this one - here's a hint: if your Thanksgiving books section has already been raided and cleaned out by crazy people like me, go to your local bookstore, grab a pile of seasonal books, then sit down and enjoy them with your child.  It's totally okay and very fun.  Most bookstores have tables for that exact purpose.  I like to let my boys pick one to add to our collection at the end of the day.  It makes a great family field trip.

By Allison Jackson; Illustrated by Judith Byron Schachner
My boys cannot get enough of this funny progressive story.  It didn't think I would like it, but it's so fun to read.  The words have a fantastic rhythm and the illustrations are so funny.  I don't love that it says "perhaps she'll die" on every other page, so we add funny phrases of our own as a follow-up.  "Probably not..."  or "But I doubt it."  The kids get a kick out of thinking up new phrases, and it makes it seem less creepy.  The story ends with the woman as a Thanksgiving Day float.  Bonus points to anyone who knows what book series the illustrator, Judith Byron Schachner, is famous for... {hint, hint}

By Michelle Medlock Adams; Illustrated by Amy Wummer
A simple board book.  Great for preschoolers.  I like that it gets to the heart and mentions to whom we are thankful.  Harder to come by than I would have thought!

By Natasha Wing; Illustrated by Tammie Lyon
Another simple, cute book that talks about popular Thanksgiving traditions.  While it's not one I can rave about, it's a good introduction to the season.  Sometimes I forget that kids need that basic overview so they can enjoy the premise of all the funny books more thoroughly.

By Julie Markes; Illustrated by Doris Barrette
This one focuses on gratitude and all the things we have to be thankful for.  It's another good one for Preschoolers and Kindergarteners.

By Alison Murray
Apple Pie ABC was also on my Fall Booklist, but I had to include it here too.  My almost four-year-old adores this book.  I'm in love with the paper quality.  It's a beauty of a book with a retro vibe.  

By Mark Moulton; Illustrated by David Wenzel
I like that this one mentions God; I had such a difficult time finding books that did.  I feel like you can't put Thanksgiving in proper context or meaning without that.  

By Teresa Bateman; Illustrated by Jeff Shelly
Another funny book about a turkey escaping its fate.  A thoroughly enjoyable read.  Both the text and the artwork are filled with the quirk and humor that wins me right over.

By Judy Cox; Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
We got this one from a Scholastic book order for a dollar I think.  I had low expectations, but it's such a nice surprise.  It's another progressive story, about a mouse who starts out satisfied with one little pea, but soon slides down the slippery slope of greed and the need for more and more.  Until he find himself with the turkey and gravy boat balanced on his one little pea!  We look forward to reading this one every year.

What are your family Thanksgiving favorites?  Do you lean more towards funny ones, or do you like more historical books?  I'd love to hear!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Some new faves in our house: Jenni Desmond and her colored cats

When I saw Red Cat, Blue Cat sitting on a shelf in the New Books area of our library, I knew it had potential.  But, even with expectations high, Jenni Desmond's debut surprised me with its greatness.  If I wasn't already completely partial and didn't already think Extra Yarn should win the Caldecott by a mile, I'd root for this one.  I love the illustrations in Extra Yarn so much because they are so integrally connected to the story.  Though the styles are nothing alike, I feel the same way about these cats.  

After the cover and title page, I was already totally liking the book.   But the official first page pushed me right over the edge into love.  Look at this thing.  Look at that attic full of house friends.  The play on scale and section  and "house" blew me away with its clever simplicity.  I kept reading the story with a normal voice, but my brain was exploding and shouting, "I LOOOOOOOOVE THIS BOOK!  I LOVE THIS PAGE!  JUST LOOK AT IT!"  Sometimes my boys don't have a clue about the craziness that goes on in my mind at all moments.

Here's the basic storyline:  These feuding cats each have a secret.  The red cat wishes he was smart and clever like blue cat; blue cat wishes he were bouncy and brave like red cat.  After several humorous (and failed) attempts to become more like the cat they envy, each cat learns to appreciate being himself.  But, just like most of us, the cats are destined to relearn this lesson sooner rather than later...

The true test of any books greatness is a child's opinion.  Mine are enamored.  In true rivalry fashion, they fight over who gets to be red cat or blue cat and have been meowing all over the house.  

My prediction: Jenni Desmond is just beginning her fantastic career.  Check out her website.  Her other work is equally intriguing and playful and full of the stuff of which children's books should be made.

From Backstage Cat, in stores 2013