Sunday, February 26, 2012

Obsessed with Greek Myths after Percy Jackson?

Well, if your kids are anything like mine, after reading the Percy Jackson series they suddenly became obsessed with Greek myths.  Being that I am named after a Norse goddess, I would have preferred the Norwegians, but I am not a mom to quibble!  I loved that they got a chance to delve into these stories, which are the foundation for so much in literature as well as art.  It is a tremendous knowledge base that children should posses!

This week I have looked at books that continue to reference the Greek myths, as well as some that bring in other cultural myth references.  I have also thrown in a little nod to the Norwegians, but can you blame me?

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Title:          The Pig Scrolls
Author:     Paul Shipton
Target:      Grades 5-8
Series:       Yes, but there are only two books.
What this book is about:
Gryllus, a former crewman  with Odysseus gets turned into a pig during the Odyssey.  As he is living a quiet life in Greece, rooting for food, he is captured by a prophetess on a mission for Apollo to save the world!  However, this pig has a unique, albeit it, sarcastic view of the world and the role he will play.
Why I love this book:
‘There once was a merry young Spartan
But trouble he always was startin’
The friends that he had
Said the smell was so bad
Because he just couldn’t stop ---” 
If you enjoy a good smelly limerick, a smart aleck talking pig and Greek mythology then this is certainly the book for you!
This book won the Bronze Nestle Children’s Book Prize in the UK.  Frankly, I am surprised that more of these books have not caught on the in the US.  There are some real gems on the list and since they are voted on by school children, they represent some innovative books that are also interesting to kids.  
Who this book is for:
Kids who love adventure, humor and Greek mythology!

Final thoughts:
A book written by a sarcastic pig, really, how can you pass that up!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: The Pig Scrolls

Title:          D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths
Authors:   Ingri and Edgar D’aulaire
Target:      Grade 3 and up
Series:        No
What this book is about:
This book tells the story of all the Greek gods, how they came into being, their adventures and the root of their personalities.  It does so with beautiful illustrations and with wit and detail.
Why I love this book:
I truly believe that this book is essential to any children’s library.  These myths are the basis for great art and literature, and all children should not only know them, but also fall in love with these stories.  I remember having this book and the one on Norse myths as a child, and memorizing the stories of Zeus and Athena, Hera and Helios.  There are many books on Greek myths out there, but at the end of the day, this one has been around 40 years for a reason.  My oldest son poured over these stories with the same enthusiasm I had.
Who this book is for:
Well any child interested in Greek myths will get caught up in this book.  It is wonderful to read alone, but the stories are also quite engaging read aloud as well.  The text is large and the pictures are plentiful, which just adds to the experience.
Final thoughts:
An absolute must have for teaching the foundation of Greek mythology!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths

Title:          The Alchemyst
Author:     Michael Scott
Target:      Grades 5-8
Series:        Yes
What this story is about:
Fifteen year old twins, Josh and Sophie, are pulled from a normal life, into a battle for the Codex (a book of magical wisdom.)  Their presence however, was predicted by the book, and they hold the potential to be powerful magicians.  This book brings in the fight between ancient magic ( the Egyptian cat goddess, Bastet, three faced Hekate from Greek mythology and Morrigan the Scottish crow-goddess, to name a few) and those who favor the humani and don’t want to see their destruction, one being our Alchemyst, Nicholas Flamel.  Throw in mud people, attacking crows, SUV chases and battles to save the tree of life, and that is just the first 100 pages!
Why I love this book:
This is a great adventure and a fun read.  The author doesn’t focus simply on one line of mythology, but tries to incorporate how the essence of what we believe is manifested in different mythologies with the same common roots.  I was caught up in the story immediately and the action never stopped.  The first book doesn’t resolve the story, but sets us up immediately for the second.
Who this book is for:
Those who loved Percy Jackson will find many similarities in this story.  The tie in with the elder gods (in the case of Percy Jackson the Titans) and the idea that mythological creatures are living among us undetected.  Also the action is non stop.
Final thoughts:
The only characters that were created for this story are the twins.  The fact that you can look up any of the other characters and learn about their place in history is fascinating!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel

Title:          Odd and the Frost Giants

Author:     Neil Gaiman
Target:      Grades 3-6
Series:        No
What this book is about:
In an ancient village in Norway, a boy named Odd runs away from home.  Out in the forest, he encounters a bear, a fox and an eagle, whom he helps return to Asgard, city of the Gods.  He must also outwit the Frost Giant, who has invaded Asgard.
Why I love this book:
Well first, I had to throw in a Norse tale because I am stubborn.  Secondly, I love Neil Gaiman’s Newbery award winning book The Graveyard Book, so I enjoyed reading his latest offering.  Finally it is a lovely little story about a  tender hearted boy who shows his strength and gets to interact with Norse gods, who I think are far more interesting than those Greeks!  
This book is more of a novelette of 117 pages, which was written for World Book Day in the UK.  In fact, this is my only gripe, that the story is never fully developed and is more meant to wet your appetite than be a comprehensive novel.  Gaiman has said he would like to further explore the story of Odd, so perhaps a longer book is in the works!
Who this book is for:
Kids who enjoy mythology and any good Norwegians!
Final thoughts:
Who can pass up a book where the goddess Freya plays a pivotal concluding role!  Really!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Odd and the Frost Giants

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hail to the Chief

I love a good bit of historical fiction, just like the next mom!  So this week, with President's Day ahead, I thought I would share some of my favorite books about Lincoln and our Founding Fathers.  For younger kids, it is a great time to introduce them to some famous names in history, sprinkled with fun and educational facts.  For older kids, there are some great books that show just how exciting true stories can be.  Who needs fiction when the real story of the assassination of Lincoln is an edge of your seat thriller!

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Title:          Looking at Lincoln
Author:     Maira Kalman
Target:       Kindergarten and up
What this book is about:
A young girl goes on a journey to find out more about Abraham Lincoln.  Along the way she discovers he likes vanilla cake and tall hats where he can put his notes.  She also learns about his beliefs in freedom, his encounters with Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglas, and the terrible cost of war.  Finally she learns that “a great man is never really gone.”
Why I love it:
Ok, the end of this picture book made me cry, but in a wonderful way, and if you have ever been to the Lincoln Memorial and been awed by that statue, you too will tear up  I am afraid.  If you have ever read my blog you will know that I am a devotee of Maira Kalman and this book is another beautiful work by her.  It interweaves whimsy with history and poignancy in a way that no other book on the subject has done.
Who this book is for:
All children will find something to like in this book, and it doesn’t feel like a history lesson, although it is.
Final thoughts:
There is a reason that there are 16,000 books written about Lincoln.  He is a man worth knowing about.

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here: Looking at Lincoln

Title:          John, Paul, George & Ben
Author:     Lane Smith

Target:       Grade 1-4
What this book is about:
Lane Smith takes well known facts about our founding fathers and shows us how they manifested themselves when these men were boys.  John Hancock's large handwriting in school, Paul Revere’s booming voice as he repeats a customer’s order “Here they are.  Great big extra-large underwear!”  In the back of the book there is also a nice little review of each founding father along with a true or false section that was a blast for my kids.
Why I love this book:
Hilarious!  Not only did my kids learn some fun facts about some very important men in our history, they did it with smiles on their faces.  This is not a history lesson per say, but it will acquaint them with these historical figures and the roles they played.
Who this book is for:
Kids who want a fun introduction to the founding fathers
Final thoughts:
What parent wont enjoy the clever Beatle references throughout!

To purchase this book, visit you local bookstore or click here: John, Paul, George & Ben

Title:          Chasing Lincoln’s Killer
Author:     James L. Swanson
Target:       Grade 5-8
Series:         No
What this book is about:
This is a historical account of the assassination of President Lincoln and the twelve day manhunt for his killer.  It was adapted from Swanson’s adult book “Manhunt.”  
Why I love this book:
Wow, this was a true historical thriller.  It had action, suspense and intrigue!  While I knew the basic story, this book filled me in so much more on the plot, the other intended victims and the lack of organization surrounding John Wilkes Booth.  The fact that it was true made it all the more amazing and I didn’t want to put it down.  I read it non stop in one afternoon!
Who this book is for:
This book is not for squeamish kids.  The author makes a note in the back that he left in enough blood and gore so that kids would love it, but not so much that parents would “flip out!”  But be warned, it is graphic in it’s depictions.
Final thoughts:
This inspired me to learn more, which the best books will do!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here: Chasing Lincoln's Killer

Sunday, February 12, 2012

When Did Princess Become a Dirty Word?

Ok, I admit it.  I was thrilled when I had a daughter that I could revisit all the princess stories I loved so much as a child.  What's more, she loved the princesses as much as I had at her age.  But all the messaging I was getting as a parent now was that girls shouldn't be victims to the princess mindset.  "It limits their imagination,"  "they will think they need to be rescued," and "we want girls to know they can be anything."

I also fear that Disney has created a princess mentality which caters to a very young audience, and turns girls off to the princess theme as babyish.  Princesses are simply marketing to a preschool set, instead of the complex characters and stories of the original fairytales, which often times did not have a happily ever after!

The authors whose books I have profiled today have created princesses who are intelligent, funny and human.  These princess are limited only by their own aspirations, and if they get to wear a tiara at the same time, more power to them!   I hope some of the magic of the original princess fairytales are not lost in our current environment, and these books are a great start!

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Title:          Falling for Rapunzel
Author:      Leah Wilcox
Target:       Preschool-Grade 2
What this book is about:
Told in rhymes, this book is a funny take on the tale of Rapunzel.  The prince thinks Rapunzel’s bad hair day is a cry for help, and he tries repeatedly to save her by asking her to throw down her hair.  Our hard of hearing Rapunzel throws down just about everything else, in an attempt to understand the fellow.
Why I love this book:
“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, throw down your hair!”
“She thought he said “Your underwear.””
Ok, what kids (or frankly kid at heart) wouldn’t laugh at that!  Each attempt to rephrase his request sends something funnier down from the tower.  Since it is rhyming, kids have a wonderful time guessing what is next.  Inspired illustrations just add to the humor.  
Who this is for:
Any kids who love silly stories.  Fun for early readers as they guess the next word in the rhymes.
Final thoughts:
Not everything in life turns out as you expect!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Falling For Rapunzel

Title:          The Ordinary Princess
Author:     M.M. Kaye
Target:      Grades 3-5
Series:        No
What the story is about:
What would happen to a princess, if on her christening day, she was given the gift of  being “ordinary.”  Well, unlike her six gorgeous and princess like sisters, she is not confined to the palace and is able to develop all her own interests.  When her parents try unsuccessfully to marry her off, she goes out on her own and finds hard work and adventures she never imagined.
Why I love this book:
This book is absolutely charming and funny!  It’s one of those books that I pick up and wonder why I have never heard of it before.  Despite the fact that it was written 30 years ago, the story is so heartwarming that it never feels dated.  There is also intelligent humor sprinkled throughout so the story never feels too sappy.
Who this book is for:
Any girl who loves a good fairytale and needs to be reminded how special she is!
Final thoughts:
This book is the opposite of ordinary, it is a precocious little gem!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: The Ordinary Princess

Book:          Princess Academy

Author:     Shannon Hale
Target:      Grades 5-8
Series:       No 
Newbery Honor Book
What this book is about:
The story is set in the fictional territory of Mount Eskel, a mountain village that revolves around a quarry.  When the prince of the land declares he will chose a bride from their village, all the eligible girls are sent to attend a special academy to learn the customs of the “lowlanders.”  It is here they discover the freedom that education can provide for them.   They also confront what it means to be selected by the prince, the effects of friendship, the power of competition and the ability to lead
Why I love it:
Don’t let the title of this book put you off, because it is the only flaw in this story.  It is not a fluffy book about girls becoming stereotypical princesses.   It is a complex story about girls discovering their values, defining home, their relationships and the value of education.  
It took a few chapters for me to get into the story.  The main character, Miri, didn’t appeal to me at first, but  stick with it, as my appreciation of her grew tremendously throughout the book.  The book has enough action and suspense to keep the reader engaged through the larger life lessons.  
Who this book is for:
Girls will appreciate the characters in this book and also enjoy the fact that it has plenty of action!
Final thoughts:
A true surprise of a book!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Princess Academy

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Conquering the Early Chapter Book

Early chapter books are the biggest struggle for new readers and parents.  Kids want to move up to chapters to feel more grownup, but some early chapter books are too hard and some are too easy.  This is a critical time when kids are first learning to read and parents are afraid that a book that is too hard will turn kids off, but some of the easier books have such simple stories that they don't inspire your child.  What is a parent to do?

First don't give up.  We are fortunate that some great authors have made the leap to early chapter books, such as Newbery winner Kate DeCamillo, with her Mercy Watson series profiled below.  There is also a greater interest by publishers in this age group, so the selection and quality has grown.

I hope you find a few contenders among this weeks offerings!  Don't forget to "like" One Great Book on Facebook!

Title:          The Cat on the Mat is Flat
Author:     Andy Griffiths
Target:      Grades K-2
Series:       Yes, but there are only two books
What this book is about:
Nine silly tongue twisting rhymes about a cat, a rat and a baseball bat, or Bill and Phil and the Very Big Hill to name a few
Why I love it:
Silliness abounds in this easy reader book.  The writing is for new readers but the book looks like a chapter book, so kids will feel quite grown up reading it! Each rhyme is a story with a funny ending, so kids will be engaged to see how the story ends.
Who this book is for:
Early readers, but reluctant readers or older children who are having difficulty reading will especially like this book.  While the words are simple, the humor can be a little more sophisticated.  
Final thoughts:
”Nine silly rhymes, and a pig that slimes, from a writer voted BEST by the New York Times!”  Enjoy.

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here: The Cat on the Mat Is Flat

Title:          Mercy Watson to the Rescue

Author:     Kate DiCamillo
Target:      Grade K-2
Series:        Yes
What this book is about:
Mercy Watson is a pig, who also happens to be a beloved member of the Watson family.  When she decides to crawl into bed with the Watsons, the floor boards break under the weight and only Mercy can get out.  When Mercy ambles over and incites the neighbors she is unwittingly deemed a hero for saving the day, when in fact, she was just looking for a snack.
Why I love this book:
This is a fun adventure with a lovable pig and a big series of misunderstandings which the reader is in on!  The illustrations are perfect and capture the essence of the story.  Our villain, the neighbor Eugenia, runs around throughout the book in a bathrobe and curlers only to be outwitted by a delightful pig.  Each book in the series is a charm.
Who this book is for:
This is for children just starting chapter books.  Illustrations are plentiful and the big type and spacing make the pages feel manageable.
Final thoughts:
A delightful beginning chapter book!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Mercy Watson to the Rescue

Title:          Alvin Ho
Author:     Lenore Look
Target:      Grade 2-3
Series:        Yes
What this book is about:
Alvin Ho is afraid of everything including elevators, tunnels, substitute teachers, wasabi, shots and school.  In fact when he is at school he can’t seem to talk at all.  In this book he tries to face his fears and find friends with very funny and clever results.  
Why I love this book:
Alvin is a wonderful character and the author has given us a rare glimpse into how his brain works!  Despite being afraid of everything, he is intelligent and clever.  His absolute innocence makes him even funnier as he curses in Shakespearian verse and puts together his PDK (personal disaster kit!)  This book is so well done, and I am always impressed when books at this level can create complete characters who have charm and humor.
Who this book is for:
This book is for children who are comfortable with chapter books.  There are illustrations throughout, but the pages are substantive so they will be overwhelming for a child just starting chapter books.
Final thoughts:
Alvin Ho is a boy you should get to know!

To purchase this book, go to your local bookstore or click here: Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things

Name:          Franny K. Stein:Lunch Walks Among Us
Author:      Jim Benton
Target:       Grade 1-3
Series:         Yes
What this book is about:
Franny is not a normal little girl, she likes bats, tarantulas and test tubes.  In fact she considers herself a mad scientist!  But even a mad scientist needs friends and she finally discovers that friends don’t have to like all the same things.
Why I love this book:
This book is funny and I love that there is nothing typical about Franny.  The lessons in the book are nice, but they are never at the expense of a fun and entertaining story!  I like that a girl character can be so appealing and not fall into the stereotypical typecasting for girls
Who this book is for:
This book is absolutely great for boys and girls.  In fact it was my older son who first discovered the series.  The vocabulary is advanced in some places, so it could be frustrating for a first grader, depending on their reading level, but there are plenty of illustrations so the pages never seem overwhelming.
Final thoughts:
A fun read for kids wanting to start chapter books.

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here: Lunch Walks Among Us (Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist)