Sunday, August 26, 2012

Fractured Fairytales for Kids

I have a soft spot for fractured fairy tales.  I love it when authors turn predictable stories upside down and inside out for kids.  It gives children a new perspective and shows them how far they can take their imaginations.  These stories usually have a humorous twist with some satire thrown in, and who doesn't love their Jack and the Beanstalk with a side of sarcasm!

But in the end, the charm of the fractured fairytale is twofold.  They hark back to stories we know and love, and they give us an updated reminder that a good story has a moral at the end.

The moral of this week's post - go out and get your kids reading a fairytale.  They will be all the wiser for it.  I span the gamut too, from picture books to teens, so scroll through the whole post!

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Title:      The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

Author:  Christopher Healy

Target:   Grades 3-6

Series:    This is the first book in a planned series

What this book is about:
So you think you know the story of Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty.  You can recite Rapunzel or Snow White in your sleep, and frankly they didn’t impress you that much the first time.  Well think again!  It turns out Prince Charming has a name - can you say Gustav - and the four princes from these stories are sick and tired of the girls getting all the glory.  In an attempt to set the record straight, these four disparate princes find themselves in their own adventure.  Can they save their kingdoms, or will their own distinct personalities get in the way of their ever finding true glory?

Why I love this book:
This book is just a laugh on every page.  I have read some reviews that compare it to The Princess Bride, and I think that is an accurate description.  Some of our princes are heroic and charming, others have lead a life of pampered luxury, still others give names to their animal friends such as Leroy and Conrad, and don’t forget the prince who always runs into battle, even if there is no battle.

I love books that give us a different way of looking at something we have always taken for granted, in this case the princess stories.  How fun it is for the reader to see that the perspective changes based on who you ask, and in this case the Prince Charming's see things very differently.

Who this book is for:
Emphasis in the book is on the princes, so both boys and girls will enjoy this story.  Great for kids who like funny books.

Final thoughts:
Don’t believe every bard who comes along with a pretty tale!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here for a link to AmazonThe Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:       Cinder

Author:   Marissa Meyer

Target:    Grades 6 and up

Series:     This is the first book in the Lunar Chronicles

What this book is about:
Ok, here goes...this is a retelling of the fairytale Cinderella, but in this case “Cinder” is a cyborg. Our prince is dealing with a plague which is threatening earth and “the ball” is his coronation ceremony after the death of his father.  The Lunar people, who inhabit the moon, have the antidote to the disease but will not provide it until the prince marries their ruler.  But the rub is that their ruler is trying to control the earth.  Cinder, our cyborg mechanic, helps the prince with an android and sparks figuratively begin to fly between them.  Will the prince’s duty outweigh his feelings for Cinder?

Why I love this book:
I know the premise sounds ridiculous and if I hadn’t seen great reviews of the book I would have probably just passed this one by.  But thankfully I did see the good reviews, because this book was terrific!  Of course knowing the story of Cinderella, I kept comparing the two, but the author did a great job of shaking it up.  The story was entertaining enough that some of the predictable parts were still a wonderful read, even if I saw them coming!

The one big surprise was the ending, which is a cliffhanger and gets you set up for the next book in the Chronicles.  I prefer it when a series wraps up the first book a little tighter!  

Who this book is for:
Really most girls will love this story, even if they are too old for fairytales.  

Final thoughts:
The story and characters are just so strong and there is nothing cute or girly about the book, despite the fact that it is a Cinderella tale!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here for a link to Amazon: Cinder: Book One in the Lunar Chronicles  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:      The Princess Who Had No Kingdom

Author:  Ursula Jones

Target:   Kindergarten - Grade 2

What this book is about:
What are you to do if you are princess with no kingdom, and you are having a very difficult time finding it?  This is exactly the plight of our princess, as she drives in her cart, endlessly searching for her kingdom.  When she finds true love with a court jester, for whom she is the queen of his heart, she finds happiness, but her search is not over.  Can he help her find her rightful place?

Why I love this book:
First off this book is full of sly humor that made the tale absolutely charming.  It is wonderful when a book doesn’t take itself too seriously.  I absolutely loved the practicality and assuredness that our princess possessed despite the fact that a kingdom was no where in sight.

Secondly, the illustrations are so clever and engaging.  They alternate between full color drawings and silhouettes making the book very stylish and fresh.

Who this book is for:
This book is not too girly, so it can be read to both boys and girls, but the fairytale aspect may appeal more to girls.

Final thoughts:
This is a witty fairytale where the heroine feels modern and independent, despite its old world charm.

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here for a link to Amazon: The Princess Who Had No Kingdom  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Books for Girls

Truth:  A great story is a great story and should be enjoyed by both boys and girls

Truth:  There is no way my sons would read about ice skating at the Maple Blossom Festival

And yet this week I have a great story about a girl with an Olympic skating dream, another fabulous book about a girl who is obsessed with a famous Bollywood star, and a lovely story about dolls that come to life when their owners are not around.

So let's be honest.  As well as a story is written, and as compelling as that narrative may be, there are some books that most boys will never want to pick up, even under the greatest duress I can imagine - no more video games!

So sit back on your flowered comforter, with your hair in a ponytail and a fluffy blanket on your lap and soak up some fun books that speak to the hopes and wishes of girls.  Yes, it is a girl thing!

If you were really hoping for some boy books this week, check out the blog written by my sons One Great Book Unplugged.  They have just posted some great titles that boys will definitely enjoy!

Title:          Sugar and Ice

Author:      Kate Messner

Target:       Grades 4-7

Series:         No

What this book is about:
Claire is in seventh grade, living in upstate New York.  When a renowned skating coach sees her program in the Maple Festival, he offers her a scholarship to skate at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid.  Well, while she has to face cutting out the things she loves (mathcounts, time with friends, sugaring) she also has to deal with a new environment where the stakes are higher and the competition fiercer.  Will she be able to succeed or will it all prove too much for her?

Why I love this book:
Ok, as I read this book I kept thinking this is a book I would have carried around with me in elementary school.  I admit it, I was that girl that loved The Cutting Edge (#1, not the rip off sequels).  I secretly dreamed I could be an ice skating star every time I watched the Olympics.  

And this book is about a sweet, can do girl, who is managing expectations, mean girls and family commitments.  But the best part is that the story is not completely cliche.  The ending, I think, will surprise you, and there is a mystery surrounding the mean girls that is unexpected.  That, and the writing is very well done.

Who this book is for:
Any girl who loves skating and any girl who dreams of skating.

Final thoughts:
As great as the cover is for The Grand Plan to Fix Everything (the next book reviewed), it just serves to emphasize how bad the cover is for this book.  Please don’t let it dissuade you from this lovely story.

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: Sugar and Ice  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:       The Grand Plan to Fix Everything

Author:   Uma Kirshnaswami

Target:    Grades 3-6

Series:     No

What this book is about:
Dini is obsessed with Bollywood, and especially Dolly Singh, the star of her favorite Bollywood movies.  When Dina’s mother gets a grant to work in a clinic in India, the family moves from Maryland to a small Indian village, which Dini fears will never bring her closer to Dolly.  The story unfolds like a movie, as Dolly is in hiding in that same village with a broken heart, and with the help of a postman, bakery owner, handy man, driver, and tea plantation owner, Dini works to fix everyones problems, including her own!

Why I love this book:
This book is pure, well written fun!  The story moves along like a film with amazing chance encounters, and monkeys in all the right places for comic relief!  Dini is a lovely main character who is struggling with moving away from her best friend and finding a purpose in India.  You can’t help but smile when you are done with this story.

I also want to mention the illustrations, which are just perfect for the story.  They are charming and in all the right places!  

Who this book is for:
This is a wonderful girl book and a fun book for those interested in the Bollywood film culture.  

Final thoughts:
A fast paced adventure with a clever heroine - cut! 

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: The Grand Plan to Fix Everything  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:        The Doll People

Author:    Ann M. Martin & Laura Godwin

Target:     Grades 2-5

Series:      Yes

What this book is about:
Annabelle Doll has been 8 years old for a hundred years.  In fact, she has lived in the same dollhouse, located in the same room, for that whole time.  She lives in accordance with the doll code, a code that keeps their living doll life a secret from humans.  Her world is changed, however, when she finds a secret diary written by her lost Auntie Sarah and new neighbors move into the room next door, the Funcrafts, from a big plastic doll house!

Why I love this book:
This book is simply charming.  There is nothing objectionable, rude or questionable in the story, it is simply a fun rendering of what would happen if dolls came to life and ended up solving a mystery to boot,which keeps the suspense going!

Too often I don’t spend enough time talking about the illustrations, and in this case they are done by Brian Selznick (author of Hugo Cabret) and they are a delight.

Who this book is for:
I have put second graders in the target audience, but it depends on their reading level whether this would be a read aloud or an independent read for them.  This is  a chapter book, and while the content is appropriate, their reading level has to be up to the challenge.

Final thoughts:
Dolls are people too!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: The Doll People  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday Julia Child!

Well the queen of beef bourguignon would be 100 today!  She inspired many cooks, my mother included, to move away from the tuna casserole and embrace the basics of French cooking.

It is only fitting to share with you one of my favorite picture books about Julie Child, although the book is targeted for older kids.  But please don't be dissuaded by the picture book format, it is a wonderful account of her life filled with inspiration, chaos and a love of good food.  However, if you have some of my picky eaters, the term good food might be stretching it for them!

I hope you can share it with your kids and maybe whip up a little something from Mastering the Art of French Cooking in your spare time (yes, I jest, perhaps a good glass of red wine is tribute enough, grape juice for the little one!)

Title:      Bon Appetit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child

Author:  Jessie Hartland

Target:   Grades 4-7

What this book is about:
This is a biography of Julia Child done in a picture book format!  It starts with her birth in Pasadena to how she met Paul Child.  Then it follows her on her adventures in France, the exhaustive process of writing Mastering the Art of French Cooking and finally to her renowned television show!

Why I love this book:
Well first and foremost the illustrations are a delight.  Each page is filled with pictures and panels with the narrative squeezed in between.  I felt the frenzy of her life and personality just based on how the book was laid out.  Secondly, the book is filled with wonderful humor, from showing the spinach in her teeth at the end of a television taping to whipping up a little something - a galatine which takes over two pages and 32 panels to explain, not to mention the ingredients - pickled tongue anyone!

I also love introducing kids to Julia Child because she followed her passions and not what was expected of her.  She also found her calling later in life, which I think is a wonderful message as well (can you say book blog - with a french accent of course.)

Who this book is for:
I did read this to my second grade daughter, and she enjoyed it, but I had to read it with Julia’s accent and fill my daughter in on some of the humor and personality.  So this is not a picture book for younger children.  This book is for kids interested in cooking and who want to know more about Julia Child, presented in an energetic and innovative format.

Final thoughts:
I might want to buy another copy simply to take it apart and frame the wonderfully eccentric illustrations!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: Bon Appetit! The Delicious Life of Julia Child  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Books to Get Ready For Kindergarten

I don't think there is a book out there that can get a mom ready for that first day of Kindergarten, but you can find a few to help kids look forward to the experience!

This is a tough category for me since I tend to find most of the books about starting school very formulaic and predictable.  Getting through them is a challenge because they just aren't very good.  Many of the books I looked at felt so contrived that I just couldn't recommend them, but after a lot of digging I found some that are up to the challenge.

I think a book to get kids ready for school should absolutely acknowledge that it can be scary, but it should also focus primarily on the fun and humor of this momentous time.  Of course the timeless classic, The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, is the one sappy book I find exceptionally well done and is the one exception to my rule, but rules are meant to be broken (just don't tell your new teacher that!)

Hope these books help you enjoy the first days of kindergarten with a laugh and a smile - yes, both of you!

Title:          First Day Jitters

Author:      Julie Anneberg

Target:       Kindergarten - Grade 3

What this book is about:
This book follows Sarah Hartwell on her first day at a new school.  Of course she is full of jitters, afraid she won’t make friends, and feels a little nervous and anxious.  Mr. Hartwell tries to reassure her all will be fine, and (I hate to give away the twist at the end, but...) it turns out that Sarah is the new teacher in the class.

Why I love this book:
Well this book just surprises the reader at the end, and I love books that turn kid’s expectations upside down.  The idea  that someone besides themselves, someone who shouldn’t be nervous, actually is, can be very reassuring for kids - and funny!

The illustrations are colorful and well done as they hide Sarah’s true identity until the end, making the big reveal all the more fun.

Who this book is for:
The nice thing about this book is that it is not simply targeted at kindergarten, but any child going into a new environment.

Final thoughts:
Teachers have feeling too!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: First Day Jitters  A portion of each purchase supports this blog.

Title:          I Am Too Absolutely Small for School

Author:      Lauren Child

Target:       Preschool - Grade 2

What this book is about:
This is a Charlie and Lola book, for those familiar with this brother/sister duo!  This time Lola is not so sure if school is the thing for her.  However, Charlie has a way of convincing Lola that perhaps she could benefit from the institution.  For example, when Lola tells Charlie that she doesn’t need to write because the telephone is a straightforward means of communication, Charlie reminds her that she can’t phone Santa Claus.  But when Charlie tells Lola that her imaginary friend will also be attending school, Lola realizes that she needs to be there for him and ends up having a lovely first day!

Why I love this book:
First off the interaction between Lola and Charlie is charming as he always has clever rebuttals for her quirky reasons why school may not be for her.  And what is truly lovely about their relationship, is that he always seems to have her best interests at heart.  Also, Lola’s reasons are so funny and matter of fact that they had all of us giggling.

The illustrations on the book are as quirky as Lola.  It is a mix of media with drawings, cutouts and patterns that enhance the story.  One of the graphics I love is when Lola says she is not big and she is pictured on graph paper which is labeled from huge to eeny weeny!

Who this book is for:
Great for kids who are apprehensive about starting school, but also for those who just enjoy thinking about all they will be learning by going.

Final thoughts:
Clever reading to get kids ready for school.

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: I Am Too Absolutely Small for School (Charlie and Lola)  A portion of each purchase supports this blog.

Title:       My Kindergarten

Author:   Rosemary Wells

Target:    Kindergarten - Grade 1

What this book is about:
My Kindergarten follows a kindergarten class through their entire year, from September all the way until June.  Miss Cribbage takes her class through the alphabet, counting, reciting poetry, making friends and library time, to name a few.  This story is a celebration of all the things children will learn in their first year of school.

Why I love this book:
This book is a wonderful way for kids to relive all the exciting things they are doing in class and share them with their family.  The pictures are large and colorful and it touches on so many of the concepts that the kids will be exposed to.  It is also a fun way to introduce some of these new concepts to kids.  

I also loved that the book touched on the not just the academic, but also the emotional elements of kindergarten such as making friends, forgetting your numbers or just not feeling like participating.

Who this book is for:
This is a book that is probably not read in a day, but one you will enjoy and refer to throughout the kindergarten year.  It is quite long at 96 pages but you can look through the table of contents and pick out the sections you want to read.

Final thoughts:
You will be amazed at how much they learn in one year!

To purchase this book, visit your local bookstore or click here to connect to Amazon: My Kindergarten  A portion of each purchase supports this blog.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Whodunit For the Early Reader!

I always have a challenge finding great early chapter books for kids.  So many books feel dumbed down for this age group, so when I find a winner I really get excited.

Recently I have come across an unparralled number of mystery books in this category.  Who dun its are great for early readers because they have to find clues in the story to help them either solve the mystery or understand who the suspects might be.  This kind of foreshadowing and plot development are great for beginning chapter book readers as they prepare to move to more complex novels.

This week I have mysteries for baseball lovers, those who couldn't get enough of Fancy Nancy and a new entrant to kid's fiction, Alexander McCall Smith, the beloved author of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series for adults.

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Title:          The Great Cake Mystery
Author:      Alexander McCall Smith
Target:       Grades 1-3
Series:        It will depend on the success of this book
What this book is about:
Precious Ramotswe lives in Botswana, and she would like to be a detective.  Her first case happens upon her at school, where sweets are being stolen from the lunches of the other children.  While some are quick to accuse one of their classmates who is prone to eating sweets, Precious knows that without any proof it is unfair to accuse him.  Will she find the truth and help exonerate her friend?
Why I love this book:
This book is based on the early years of Precious, the main character in the best selling adult series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.  While I have not read the series, I have seen the charming HBO series based on the books and this is a lovely spin off for kids.
I found this book wonderful.  It speaks to a younger audience and while not subtle in its messages of honesty and stereotypes, children at this age, to a greater extent, need things spelled out for them, which this book does in the most endearing way.
I also love it when a book exposes children to a different culture in a non preaching way.  This book is a delightful mystery, with good messages, that just happens to takes place in Botswana!
Who this book is for:
This book may be a hard sell simply because the illustrations, while quite impressive to adults, simply don’t have a children’s appeal.  However, I would encourage you to read the first chapter to kids and I think they will be hooked.  Pictures are plentiful, although not on every page, so children have to feel comfortable reading a full page of text to enjoy this book on their own.
This is also a wonderful class read aloud.  The author has included discussion questions and activities for the book, so it can truly be a learning experience for kids, even to simply getting out a map and finding Botswana before you start reading!
Final thoughts:
The feel good mystery of the year!

To purchase this book, please visit your local bookstore or click here for a link to Amazon: The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case: A Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Book for Young Readers  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:         Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth
Author:     Jane O’Connor
Target:      Grades 1-3
Series:       This is the first book in a planned series
What this book is about:
Our old picture book friend Fancy Nancy and her best friend Bree are partners in crime fighting, looking for mysteries to solve.  However, a mystery finds them right in their own back yard.  After Family Day at their school, their teacher’s enticing blue marble goes missing, and they are on the case, collecting clues and analyzing suspects.  Will they find the culprit?
Why I love this book:
Well, Jane O’Connor is truly building out her Fancy Nancy brand, from picture books to early readers and now her first chapter book.   While this book lacks the charm of Ivy and Bean, it should be a big hit for girls who have enjoyed all the other Fancy Nancy offerings.  It is written in the same style as the picture books,  defining “fancy” words and with Nancy’s over the top personality.
Who this book is for:
Any girls starting chapter books.  There are not pictures on every page, but they a scattered liberally throughout the book.  The same illustrator from the picture books, Robin Preiss Glasser provides her delightfully appealing artwork.
Final thoughts:
A nice first offering into the chapter book realm.

To purchase this book, please visit your local bookstore or click here for a link to Amazon: Fancy Nancy: Nancy Clancy,   Super Sleuth  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.

Title:         Ballpark Mysteries: The Fenway Foul-Up
Author:     David A. Kelly
Target:      Grades 1-3
Series:       Yes
What this book is about:
Each book in this series is a mystery set at a different ballpark.  In this mystery, the Boston Red Sox’s leading home run hitter has had his bat stolen.  Without this lucky bat, the Red Soxs are in danger of loosing to the A’s.  Cousins Kate and Mike, whose parents work as sports writers, are on the case to help find the missing bat.  Will they find the bat and will the Red Soxs win the game?
Why I love this book:
Great early chapter book!  The mystery is fun and not too obvious for this age group.  There were a few clues that misdirect the reader which makes the mystery more interesting.   Just the right amount of baseball trivia and game action to engage baseball lovers.  
Who this book is for:
Kids who enjoy baseball and a good mystery!  Good book for kids just starting chapter books.  The format and look of the pages is very reminiscent of Magic Tree House.  I might call it Magic Tree House Hits the Big Leagues!
Final thoughts:
A great fit for baseball loving early readers.

To purchase this book, please visit your local bookstore or click here for a link to Amazon: Ballpark Mysteries #1: The Fenway Foul-up (A Stepping Stone Book(TM))  A portion of each purchase goes to support this blog.