Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

For the past month and a half our nights have been filled with Grace Lin's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon.  It was published in 2009 and was a Newbery Honor recipient. Our local librarian recommended it as a great book for my seven-year-old so we read it aloud one (or two, or three or more) chapter a night. My five-year-old came in and out of listening - but in the end both really loved this book.

Minli lives at the foot of Fruitless Mountain in a small shack with her Ma and Ba.  Her life is filled with hard work, sparse rice and nightly folktale stories by her Ba.  When Minli hears the story of the Old Man of the Moon, who knows the answers to life's most important questions, she decides to leave in the middle of the night to seek him out and change her fortune.

The story follows her journey to meet the Old Man of the Moon and the many adventures she encounters.  Along the way she meets Dragon, who can not fly and has only ever been called Dragon.  He decides to join Minli and ask the Old Man of the Moon to help him fly.  Along the way they encounter a monkey filled jungle, a meeting with the King, and a ferocious green tiger, among other things.

This story is well-written and magical.  I love the folktales that are intertwined throughout the main story.  Each story adds to the mystique of the novel as well as being an important part of the final woven tale.  My daughter fell in love with this story and with Grace Lin as an author.  She is on a quest to read all things Grace Lin and whenever she hears a big, seemingly unanswerable, question she says, "That is a question for the Old Man of the Moon."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

"Who Could that be at this Hour?"

Lemony Snicket (aka Daniel Handler) has struck again with his latest book "Who Could That Be at This Hour?"  I enjoyed this book from start to finish and loved the quirky characters from the elusive Ellington to the car driving duo Pip  (who sits on the yellow pages and works the wheel) and Squeak (who sits on the floor and pushes the brakes.)

A young Lemony Snicket, 12-years-old to be exact, has taken his first case as an apprentice to one Miss  S. Theodora Markson.  There was a list of 52 chaperones and of said chaperones S. Theodora Markson was 52nd but as Lemony said, "She was not excellent at her job, and this was why I wanted to be her apprentice."

Lemony ends up at Stain'd-by-the-Sea - a deserted town, with a drained sea.  They take their first case in procuring and returning The Bombinating Beast to its rightful owner, presumably Mrs. Murphy Sallis.  As the story unravels it becomes clear why S. Theodora Markson is not great at her job and the case is further complicated.  The Bombinating Beast does not appear to be Mrs. Murphy Sallis' and Snicket and Markson are not the only ones after it. Meanwhile everyone seems to be asking all the wrong questions.

As is to be expected from author Lemony Snicket, this is a great read.  Snicket has a quick witted edge to his style of writing that is not to be duplicated.  The characters are interesting and varied and at the story's end, the reader will have more questions unanswered than when she began.  This is the first of what will be a four book series and while it does not have the biting darker edge that the Unfortunate Events series does it delivers the same quirky and fun tone that readers will love.

I highly recommend this for the middle graders on your list this holiday season.

I received this book from the publisher but all opinions are my own.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Iron Hearted Violet

I just finished Kelly Barnhill's latest novel Iron Hearted Violet.  It is a longer novel - over 400 pages - aimed at a middle grade audience.  The hook on the cover says, "The end of their world begins with a story.  This one."

Violet is an intelligent, determined, adventurous, but not very pretty, Princess who is beloved by her kingdom.  Her best friend is a stable boy, Demetrius, who is constant and kind and loves to explore with Violet.  When Violet's father, King Randall, sets out with a party on a quest to capture the last living dragon everything begins to unravel.  Violet's mother falls sick and Violet begins exploring the hidden corners and takes a book, a forbidden book, through which she begins communicating with the Nybbas - the evil 13th God.   With the Nybbas trying to escape his imprisonment and gain power - the world as they know it hangs in the balance.  Violet, Demetrius and the Dragon must work together to try and keep the Nybbas from overtaking their world.

This is a beautifully written book.  Barnhill weaves together internal stories to create a complete tale and an interesting and appealing world.  The story has many facets to it and touches on some more serious themes on its way to a emotionally conflicting ending.

I really enjoyed the relationship between Violet and Demetrius.  The realness of their friendship was one of the keys for me that carried the book.  In the middle of the book Violet becomes very unlikeable, perhaps too flawed, but it is this relationship and the hope associated with it that carried me through waiting for Violet to grow and develop.

The story is told by the master storyteller of the kingdom - Cassian.  The telling, and sometimes lack of telling, of stories is essential to the plot at large so I can see why Barnhill choose this point of view.  At the same time I sometimes felt this to be a little too intrusive and would have preferred a younger narrator with less overall knowledge.  It would have helped, specifically in the middle of the story, to have known Violet on a more personal level and seen the world through her eyes.

Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable read set in a complex world.  I think the character development could have been stronger, but that the development of the world and its stories was very strong and created an interesting setting for a story that twists and turns to a hopeful, although not happy, ending.

I received this book from the publisher but all opinions are my own. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Quiet Book

My baby just turned two.  Hard to believe.  She had a fun balloon filled birthday and she thought it was fantastic.  Her grandmother sent out a birthday package and inside was Deborah Underwood's The Quiet Book.  This book was new to us and we loved reading through it.

The entire book is understated.  On a two page spread, one page is simple with a white background while the other has a more detailed illustrations and background.  Each page has a huggable furry animal with a one line sentence telling about some kind of quiet: "Hide and seek quiet," "Last one to get picked up from school quiet,""First snowfall quiet."

With few words, this book is able to bring forward the varying emotions that can come along with quiet: excited, sad, scared, awe, naughty and peaceful.  This is a great book to read through slowly and I am sure will be enjoyed in our house amidst all of the varying degrees of quiet.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Three Tales of My Father's Dragon

We recently drove out to a pumpkin patch to gather some pumpkins for Halloween carving.  With a pumpkin patch, corn maze, and stalks of popcorn, it was a huge hit.  My kids have been enthralled with placing a stalk of popcorn in a paper bag and sticking the bag in the microwave, only to remove an empty stalk and bag full of popcorn.  And truthfully, I have been equally enthralled.

The farm we went to was very fun but was also a fair drive from our home so we brought the audio version of Three Tales of My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett with us to aid in the passing of time.  And pass the time it did.  We listened there and back and my kids insisted on bringing the cd in the house to finish it when we got home.

Originally published in 1948, My Father's Dragon was a Newbery Honor book.  Gannett published two subsequent novels about Elmer Elevator - Elmer and the Dragon and The Dragons of Blueland - and these three stories are compiled into the commemorative edition Three Tales of My Father's Dragon.

The son of Elmer Elevator is the narrator who tells of his father's adventures traveling to the Island of Tangerina, on to Wild Island and back home again.  In the first story Elmer sets off to find and free a Dragon, the second to return Elmer home and in the third Boris, the dragon, sets off to Blueland to be reunited with his family.

All three of the stories are a great introduction to fantasy tales for a younger audience.  And while I enjoyed listening to all three -  I must say the first was my favorite.  Elmer sets off on his adventure with a knapsack filled with: "chewing gum, two dozen pink lollipops, a package of rubber bands, black rubber boots, a compass, a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste, six magnifying glasses, a very sharp jackknife, a comb and a hairbrush, seven hair ribbons of different colors, an empty grain bag with a label saying "Cranberry," some clean clothes, and enough food to last my father while he was on the ship."

With a list that specific I expected something to come of it - and it did not disappoint.  Each item was cleverly used.  I loved the audio version of this and would highly recommend it.  I have not doubt it would also be fun to read aloud.