Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Princess in Black

Shannon Hale has just come out with a new book that she co-authored with her husband, Dean Hale, and is illustrated by LeUyen Pham - The Princess in Black. I am a big fan of Shannon Hale in general and had seen a lot of positive reviews, so I bought it for my daughter's 4th birthday. And it was a huge hit. Not only with my 4-year-old daughter, but also my 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son. They all sat around listening intently and wanted to know when the next one comes out. 

The Princess in Black is akin to Kate DiCamillo's Mercy Watson series - it is made up of short chapters and is filled with illustrations. It tells the story of Magnolia, a frilly and proper princess, but one who has a secret. She lives a double life as the Princess in Black, a monster fighting, black cape wearing, superhero. The story is filled with funny names such as "Duchess Wigtower" and the horse "Frimplepants." We also loved the sound effects assigned to the Princess in Black, such as "sparkle slam" and our favorite, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Smash."  

LeUyen Pham's illustrations perfectly capture this Princess's dual personality with bright colors and a mixture of frilliness and awesome super-hero style. 

I think this book is especially great for the younger crowd but as my two older kids kept grabbing the book to show their favorite part or illustration I think it clearly appeals to a wider audience. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The National Book Festival and Peter Brown

I love the National Book Festival.  It is one of my favorite book events of the year.  There is just something about a gathering of some of the nation's best authors and illustrators on the National Mall.  I was so sad this year to find out that the Festival would not be held on the Mall - all of the charm - moved to the convention center.   I was skeptical about the venue change but took my 7 and 9 year old children down regardless.  I am not going to lie, a lot of the charm was lost.  It was just not the same as it was on the Mall in DowntownDC.  However, there were some advantages.  I like to go to listen to the authors speak and the convention center is much more conducive to that.  There was no wind blowing through the tents making it difficult to hear and there was a lot more seating available as well.  There was also air-conditioning which on a hot and humid DC day is not something to take lightly.

One of the author/illustrators we went to was Peter Brown.  We love his books at our house, most especially A Curious Garden.  His presentation was so fun.  They let all of the kids sit on the floor right in front for the best view.  He had a funny slide show including his first picture book, written and illustrated at age six, and a picture he drew of his mother at a young age, complete with six fingers.  He also read to us his latest picture book My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I am Not.)

It tells the story of a little boy, Bobby, with a penchant for throwing paper airplanes. Mrs. Kirby, his teacher, does not find this amusing.  She roars and stomps her feet and Bobby realizes he has a monster for a teacher.  A trip to the park later that day finds a chance encounter with Bobby and Mrs. Kirby out of the walls of a classroom.  As they talk about ducks, paper airplanes and beloved antique hats their relationship alters - allowing each to see the other in a different setting aside from school.  At the festival he told how he thought of the idea for this story from his own childhood.  When he went to kindergarten he was sure his teachers were monsters.  But one of the teachers he had thought a monster, saw a drawing of his, praised it, and showed it to the principal.  From this one event Peter was placed in extra art classes in school which spiraled into extra art classes after school and helped him on his pathway towards becoming an author/illustrator.

The illustrations depict the changes in attitude and of the relationship throughout the book.  At the festival it was especially fun because he demonstrated how hedrew Mrs. Kirby.  He explained how drawing is done through the use of lines, circles and squiggly lines.  He proceeded to draw Mrs. Kirby by drawing three straight lines, two circles, squiggly lines and on and on until he had a finished character.  It almost made me feel like I could draw.  Almost.  However, I do think it made many a child not only want to go out and buy his latest book but to also pick up a pen and a paper to author and illustrate their first best seller.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Hi! Fly Guy

My son is a 6-year-old emerging reader.  I think this is one of the most difficult stages for picking books.  Since reading is still a lot of work, it is important that I find books that he is excited to read and that are at the right reading level for him.

Tedd Arnold's Fly Guy series has been a great find for us. One, it is a series! I found not just one book he likes but a whole series, hooray!  And he loves them.  They are funny and have just the right amount of gross (like getting stuck in a smelly trash can) humor for him to be excited about.
They also have a great word/page ratio for him.  I would say these are not at the level of a brand new reader but a little more experienced beginner reader.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The One and Only Ivan

Katherine Applegate's The One and Only Ivan has been on my to-read list for quite some time.  I picked it up at the library for my daughter to read and soon found myself on the couch engrossed in the book.

It tells the story of Ivan, a gorilla, who lives at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade with his friends Stella, an old elephant, and Bob, the stray dog.  It is a stark existence but Ivan is happy, and can't really, or chooses not to, remember his life before.  But when a new baby elephant, Ruby, comes to live with them Ivan is forced to view his home and family in a new light.

The chapters are short and there is a lot of white space on all of the pages.  I feel like the emptiness on the page reflects that found at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall.

What I love about this book is that the Applegate presents a story that is filled with love and loss, and a search for home and family in such a way that is accessible to its intended audience - 8 - 12 year olds.  My 8-year-old daughter read it after me and really enjoyed it, although she found it sad, and I think it forced her to think about some of these bigger life issues in a way that was manageable, and enjoyable, for her.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Code Name Verity

The New Year.  That time when all of us resolve to do more, be more and complete more.  I have resolved to be better this year in many ways but one of my resolutions is to read more.  And then write about it more.  And so, after a 6 month hiatus, here I am again.

Code Name Verity is one of those books that I heard about over and over again this past year.  It seemed to be a favorite book by many.  So I went into this book with very high expectations.  And I must admit I was a little disappointed.  I liked the book, but it wasn't everything I had hoped it would be.  I listened to the audio version - I don't know if that played a factor in it.

This is a historical fiction book about World War II, but because of the twists and turns it is difficult to discuss without giving spoilers, so I am going to copy the description of it from IndieBound:

Oct. 11th, 1943-A British spy plane crashes in Nazi-occupied France. Its pilot and passenger are best friends. One of the girls has a chance at survival. The other has lost the game before it's barely begun.

When "Verity" is arrested by the Gestapo, she's sure she doesn't stand a chance. As a secret agent captured in enemy territory, she's living a spy's worst nightmare. Her Nazi interrogators give her a simple choice: reveal her mission or face a grisly execution.

As she intricately weaves her confession, Verity uncovers her past, how she became friends with the pilot Maddie, and why she left Maddie in the wrecked fuselage of their plane. On each new scrap of paper, Verity battles for her life, confronting her views on courage, failure and her desperate hope to make it home. But will trading her secrets be enough to save her from the enemy? 

The book is very interesting.  I really liked the characters and it has an interesting story line.  The plot moved very slow for me though.  It was also filled with a lot of flying and plane details, which were interesting, but I think the amount of them is what helped to slow down the story.  I would definitely recommend this book, but perhaps not as heartily as it was recommended to me.