Posts tagged ‘Kirkus reviews’

December 30, 2010

Moms, get down on your knees and let your inner BOY out!

When I saw the UPS truck pull up in front of my house today, I knew it was here.  The book I had been waiting for!  The book I saw on the Kirkus Book list for 2010 and decided to wait until after the holidays to order.  You can see I waited a long time.  I tore the box open immediately and have already read it, although at this point it’s probably apt to say that it’s a picture book, I’m an adult, and technically, this is a present for my son.  Well, he can have it later.  I’m busy now.

Title: Shark Vs. Train
Author: Chris Barton and Tom Lichtenheld
: Picture Book
Age: 2 – 6

Summary and Review:

Here’s the plot: it’s a shark versus a train.  I know, I know, the title says it all!  That’s why I had to get the book.  But who will win?  Well, that depends, which is the storyline.  Are they in an ocean? (Shark.) A train track? (Train.)  Roasting marshmallows? (Train: it has a smoke stack, after all.)  Are they giving rides at a carnival?  (Train: are you really going to ride a shark?)  The answers are not in the text, only the illustrations.  The battles get progressively silly until the two toys are sword-fighting on a tight-rope, a situation neither is happy with, and you can almost see the imaginations of the two boys getting stressed, even though they aren’t pictured except in the beginning and ending few pages.  But luckily, mom calls for lunchtime (it could be dad or grandma–the character is off-book), and the toys are put away (thank you, illustrator, for that great example!) for next time, although they are still talking the talk in the toy box.

I mean, I was an obvious candidate for this book, as evident from the fact that I eagerly awaited it knowing little more than the title.  And really, the title was all I needed—it surpassed the expectations of a book with that title.  But this is a really fun book.  It’s clearly aimed at the boy, testosterone-powered crowd, with its fierce characters and epic battles.  Plus, the two kids in the story who play with the toys (although they only make brief appearances) are both boys.  But I think girls would love it, too.

Follow-up with the kids:

Okay, this one is both obvious and fun.  Let’s encourage some creativity and strike those imaginations.  Get a toy shark and a toy train.  Or a stuffed elephant and a toy car.  Or a … well, ANY two objects really.  And play Shark Versus Train!  Invent situations and talk about who would win.  Make sure your toy talks it up, saying why he would win, and encourage your young son to do the same with his toy.  When possible, act out the situation for real.  Get physical.  Make sure the game isn’t too quiet–I don’t think Shark Versus Train should be a quiet game.  There should probably be some non-violent aggression going on.

Moms, get down on your knees and let your BOY out!  (And the actual boy whose been cooped up in the house with you all winter.)

November 18, 2010

Children who chase squirrels and other daily events

There were so many things I loved about this book.  I certainly enjoyed reading it.  But there were so many things I didn’t enjoy, and so every time I thumb through my bookcase of middle grade and young adult books (already filling up two rows deep, like one of those used bookstores that smells really good), I think to myself how that doesn’t really fit the criteria of books I want to blog about.  But then Kirkus reviews, who I would have to grudgingly admit probably knows their stuff (and grudgingly, mind you, not because I have anything against them but only because they seem to *gasp* disagree with me), has placed this book on their list of best books of 2010 and so now I am forced to reconsider.  So, in case you follow their advice over mine (or my advice over mine, since I did tell you in the last post to buy the Kirkus review books), here’s a little synopsis of what was, really, a charming book to read.

Title: The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling
Author: Maryrose Wood
: Fiction/Fantasy
Age: Young Middle Grade, Ages 8 – 12

Summary and Review:

The narrator of this book has a great voice, which is one of the things I loved about it.  It has an old-fashioned feel to it which I always love, and the girl, a 15-year-old graduate taking her first job with children, can tell a story well.  The girl arrives at a mansion in the woods to care for three children.  The woman of the house is beside herself, having tried to marry into a good situation (i.e. money) but presently completely unhappy with the way her husband ignores her (especially on full-moon nights, when he is nowhere to be found).  They have discovered three children in the forest who appear to have been raised by wolves, and now want to raise them as their own (or at least have Miss Penelope Lumley, our heroine, raise them).  And there’s a lurking coachmen.  And a grand ball, thrown by aforementioned housewife, that Miss Lumley has to get the children ready to attend.

The set-up is perfect for lots of fun, mischief, misbehavior (if accidental as they don’t know any better), and mystery.  And you would think it would also be perfect for some wacky characters that would be fun to get to know and some answers to the mystery, but here’s the catch: it’s not.  The narrator, Miss Penelope, and the housewife are well-developed characters.  The husband and the coachman are interesting.  But the children are really just wild.  You see some glimpses, but I really wanted to see more.  Of course, Miss Penelope is 15, a perfectly reasonable age for a MG heroine, but in the old-fashioned context and in her responsible role, she seems more of an adult character than not.  That, though, could be my own fault.  And none of the mysteries are solved (even though some are obvious).

So basically, this whole book is a set-up for the next one, and you feel like you just watched part one of a two-part TV special.  It’s like a soap opera.  I have no problem with series books–in fact I quite like a continuing story, but for me, each book has to stand alone.  And this one doesn’t.  It’s very short, and I have no idea why they didn’t just finish it and make a whole book, but probably something to do with money.  At any rate, it irritates me.  So there you go.  And while I have no doubt that the children will become better-developed characters as the series goes on, I want really good children’s characters in a children’s book.  That’s just how it should be.

Possible conversations to have with your kids:

One thing that really brings out the maturity in a kid is having them take care of another kid.  Of course, any kind of responsibility helps, but there seems to be something about being in charge of a smaller being that brings out the best in people.  So ask your children what they might do if they were in the heroine’s shoes.  How would they possibly teach these children?  And ask them to challenge some of the book’s assumptions; after all, the children have done very well by themselves, is it right necessarily to train them out of their old habits?

November 17, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Best of 2010

Check out the Kirkus Book Reviews Best Children’s Books of 2010!  The list includes a few I’ve blogged about: Justin Case by Rachel Vail–my very first blog! and We Are In A Book! by Mo Willems.

It includes one that I specifically didn’t blog about: Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, which had a lot of elements in it that I liked but many that I didn’t…I’m surprised to find it here, but perhaps that will inspire me to blog on it tomorrow.

It also includes some that I’ve been eyeing at the bookstore but decided not to buy.  One is Art and Max, and I can see why that is on the list…it’s a gorgeous book with a clever meta-literary/artistic idea in which the characters draw themselves.  But I decided it was a little too much for me and my son, and it wasn’t really up our alley.  Probably I just wasn’t in the meta-literary mood at the time and will now end up buying it later.  Another I didn’t buy is Lemony Snicket’s 13 words.  I love Lemony Snicket.  I love his dark sense of humor, the cynicism, the death, destruction, and depression not normally (for perhaps obvious reasons) found in children’s books.  I mean, I get the humor and I like it.  A picture book that supposedly teaches children words, but those words are things like “haberdashery” and “mezzo-soprano”?  That’s funny.  But there’s also “despondent” which is a recurring theme (obviously, as this is Lemony Snicket we are talking about).  And I’ve got a super-sensitive kid (I know, who doesn’t these days?) who makes me read any page with tears or other non-happy emotions twice and asks a lot of questions about how it gets better, so I wasn’t sure how I’d ever get out of the “despondent” loop.  So this wasn’t for him.  Maybe when he’s older he can start the Series of Unfortunate Events (which is hysterical!), but really, he’s two.  I hope I’m not shielding him.  I mean, this year I’m planning to buy The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story which ends, predictably, in the main character getting eaten.  And I do love The Composer is Dead. (Neither of these are Kirkus 2010 books, just to clarify.)  But this one was just not for me.

And the best part is that the review also contains books I’m now really excited to buy!   So maybe you will hear about them soon.  🙂  Here are some whose titles and descriptions caught my eye:  Arroz Con Leche, Shark vs. Train (definitely getting this!  I’ll be a two-boy household soon–this could come true at any moment!), There’s Going to Be a Baby, Summer Birds (going to look closer first–I’m all for science, but not really one for collecting specimens, unless we keep them alive, which is often hard for kids to do), and Bink and Gollie (I’ve been wanting to add more early readers to this blog anyway, and they had me at “George and Martha”…I LOVE those stories!)