Thursday, July 15, 2010

Picture Book Thursday: Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora

If you're looking for a picture book that is not only visually interesting but also has a great message showing how diverse our communities can be, take a look at Say Hello by Rachel Isadora.

Carmelita and her mother take their dog, Manny on a walk through their neighborhood. Each person they encounter speaks a different language and Carmelita greets each in their native voice: Spanish, Japanese, French, Italian and many more!

The text of this book is pretty simple and introduces children to many greetings from around the world. The images are wonderful collages and so engaging! There are store-fronts, restaurants, and a parks. You and your child could talk about all the different things you see on each page, and what types of things were used to make the images. You could also get a globe and show your child where each country/greeting is compared to your current location.

Written and Illustrated by Rachel Isadora: She received a Caldecott Honor for Ben's Trumpet and has written and illustrated numerous books for children, including Peekaboo Bedtime, the Lili at the Ballet series, and several classic tales set in Africa. She lives in New York City.

Source disclosure: This book was sent to me from the Penguin Group unsolicited in hopes that it would be reviewed.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

What can I say about this book that hasn't already been said? I put off reading it, despite the delicious title. After attempting to read Infinite Jest years ago, I was a bit off self-conscious postmodernism. This is a difficult book to review. The opening pages are...worthless, story-wise. "Rules and Suggestions for the Enjoyment of This Book" are almost unbearably clever. I flipped through them without thoroughly reading them. I recommend this approach. Later developments will make you glad for a passing knowledge of the self-referential (Hi! I'm writing a clever novel! See me writing a clever novel?) parody of a preface, but don't torture yourself by reading it word for word. For the first fifty or so pages, I was wondering, "Is Eggers brilliant, too clever for his own good, or both?" And then I got sucked into the story. Eggers is a brilliant writer with a gripping story: as a young man, he becomes an orphan and de facto single parent, trying to give his younger brother, Toph, the childhood he should have had. Less engaging is the considerable time Eggers spends on his tenure at Might Magazine, an above-it-all publication produced by a group of disillusioned young adults infatuated with their own cleverness. I simply didn't care about the magazine or the people devoted to it.

The description of his mother's end-of-life saga is difficult to read, not because it's clunky or poorly written, but because Eggers has captured the truth of dying in a painful, exquisitely beautiful way. And the relationship with the younger brother is equally well-written and beautiful. Eggers uses outrageous hyperbole to great effect, and if the reader is unsure how much of a grain of salt is required in the reading, well - that's life, isn't it? It's all relative, and what's true in Eggers's mind as he raises this child is not a lie, just as an outsider's perception is its own truth. Small, pedestrian struggles, like the desperate need for a washer/dryer are given equal weight with the bigger problems such as sister Beth keeping Toph in touch with his memories by pulling out photo albums while Eggers works harder to keep Toph distracted from the fact of his orphanhood. Eggers's parenting seems at turns irresponsible (as in the hideous weekly menu of bachelor dishes) and heartbreakingly conscious (as in his evaluation of potential girlfriends based entirely on their view of Toph and their life together).

Eggers goes all the way with his cleverness, and like all risks, some pay off, while some fall flat. An extended "transcript" of an interview to be on MTV's The Real World is used to reveal extensive background on Dave, and quickly becomes tiresome. And the disclaimer that, of course, Eggers realizes that it's a cheap literary device, doesn't excuse the tedium. I don't care how postmodern you are -- don't pull me out of the story. The list of "recipes" for disgusting bachelor food, though, was surprisingly touching and hilarious. The gimmicky ending, reeking of Joyce or Salinger, somehow worked for me. It brought the story to a satisfying close on an emotional note.

I'm not sure how to sum up this review, really. There's brilliance, but a too-clever edge that could have been edited out for a better story. Worth reading? Absolutely.

FTC Source Disclosure: I purchased this book.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

YA Weekend - series grab bag edition (again!)

I was happy to see a fourth book in Linda DeMeulemeester's Grim Hill series. Cat is a lovely, strong heroine for the tweener crowd. In this entry, she goes on an exchange trip to Sweden where odd happenings are afoot. Even before she leaves, Cat is haunted by a recurring dream of drowning in cold water, which she ignores, busy as she is with fundraising for the trip. She's horrified when her mother tells her that to save money, Cat will stay with her aunt instead of with her school group, but even worse, her sister, Sookie, will tag along. Her aunt acts very strangely, the Swedish headmistress is odd, a strange fog hovers over the town, and Sookie seems to be conversing with a black cat in the barn. Cat and her friends get to the bottom of the strange occurrences, and Cat's aunt is revealed in a very surprising light. The setting means that there's no soccer in this entry (one of the things I love about this series is that Cat is an excellent athlete), but Cat refers to it, at least, and she seems to be growing in maturity in terms of handling problems and accepting her responsibility for her sister. A fun entry in a unique series.

My reviews of the first three books in the series.

Enola Holmes is a delightful heroine. The much-younger sister of Sherlock and Mycroft, she runs away from home after her mother disappears, wanting to avoid the finishing school and crippling corseting her brothers seem to think necessary. She sets herself up as a "perditorian," a finder of lost things, and succeeds quite well. Her path intersects often with Sherlock's, and she must use her wits (and collection of disguises) to avoid capture. This is the final entry, and it's a treat. Enola and Sherlock have grown fond (from a distance) of each other as the books have evolved, even working briefly together. In Gypsy Goodbye, they work together more closely than ever before on the case of a duchess who disappeared at an Underground station. Simultaneously, they work to decode a cryptic message from Enola's mother. Will we finally find out her fate? The Victorian setting is brilliantly evoked, Enola is a delight, and the social messages are deftly inserted. A delightful conclusion to one of the best mystery series for young people.

My reviews of the first four books in the series
My review of book five

Alison Dare, The Heart of the Maiden by J. Torres and J. Bone:
Alison Dare, daughter of a world-renowned archaeologist and a superhero, has exciting adventures in these graphic novelettes, and she drags along her best friends from her boarding school to help her. The girls unleash plagues, stumble onto a band of Ninja nuns, and run afoul of a mummy's curse. These are cute, funny vignettes, chock-full of adventure. This would be an excellent series for the reluctant reader.

My review of Alison Dare, Little Miss Adventures

FTC Source Disclosure: I purchased all of these books.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Picture Book Thursday: Summer Fun!

With the Fourth of July upon us, I thought it would be fun to feature some books that just scream SUMMER!
I was pleasantly surprised when I opened Hot Diggity Dog by Adrienne Sylver! Even though it is a book about hot dogs, it also provides little fun food facts in general. Such as, July is National Hot Dog Month, but it is also National Ice Cream, Watermelon, Baked Beans and Blueberry Month. And did you know that Americans eat 2 BILLION hot dogs JUST in the month of July! Holy smokes!

There are so many fun facts and lists in this book, such as: what cities eat the most hot dogs (Los Angeles was #1, followed by New York), different types of hot dogs (Chicago Dog, Coney Island Dog, etc), different food contests (not just hot dog eating, but also M&Ms, tamales, grilled cheese and more). The book even has two recipes in the back for Beans and Franks and Hot and Tangy Dogs.

This is a great book showing how the hot dog arrived in America and how it became a stadium food. I think many children will enjoy this book, especially if they are looking for something different from a storybook. It is pretty text-heavy so it might be better for grade school age children.

Ladybug Girl At the Beach is David Soman's third installment of the popular picture book series. Lulu and her family spend the day at the beach. It's her first time visiting the ocean and the waves look a little daunting to her. She finds many other things to do like build sand castles, walk along the beach, get ice cream. But she really thinks the water would be fun even though it looks a bit scary. Not until her favorite pail gets washed away does Lulu finally get into the water as Ladybug Girl! And the rest of the day Ladybug Girl has no fear and enjoys the beach AND the water!

Although my girls and I have enjoyed all the Ladybug Girl books, I think this one is my favorite so far. My younger daughter is definitely less adventurous than our older daughter and the ocean/water makes her very nervous. I think this is a great book to show there are MANY things we can do at the beach even if we are a little scared of the water. And maybe one day, we will decide the water isn't that scary after all and jump right in!

Whatever you do or eat this summer have a fabulous time!!! :-) Happy Fourth of July!

Source Disclosure: Both of these books were sent to me from the Penguin group as part of their summer promotional materials.