children's books · Fantasy · middle grade · Uncategorized

The Silver Arrow: an unremarkable middle-grade

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The Silver Arrow

author : lev grossman

pages : [paperback] 164

summary :

Kate and her younger brother Tom lead desperately uninteresting lives. And judging by their desperately uninteresting parents, the future isn’t much more promising. If only life was like it is in books, where you have adventures, and save the world! Even Kate’s 11th birthday is shaping up to be mundane — that is, until her mysterious and highly irresponsible Uncle Herbert surprises her with the most unexpected, exhilarating birthday present of all time: a real-life steam locomotive called The Silver Arrow.

Kate and Tom’s parents quite sensibly tell him to take it back, but Kate and Tom have other ideas — and so does The Silver Arrow — and very soon they’re off on a mysterious journey along magical rails. On their way, they pick up a pack of talking animals: a fishing cat, a porcupine, a green mamba, a polar bear, and the sweetest baby pangolin in the world. With only curiosity, fear, adrenaline, and the thrill of the unknown to guide them, Kate and Tom are on the adventure of a lifetime — and they just might save the world after all.

review :

I received a copy of this book as an arc and was eager to dive into this story, which is sort of like The Polar Express if the message there was about conservation.

It’s Kate’s birthday and everything in her life is utterly boring, which is why she writes a letter to her rich, estranged uncle asking him to send her a gift. What she receives isn’t what she expects: a train engine appears in her backyard! Her parents are furious; Kate and her brother Tom are delighted. At least until the train starts moving and they find themselves swept up in a fantastical journey where they are the conductors on a train helping animals travel to different stations around the world.

The concept of this book was cute. It’s not a bad idea. But the book is promoted for ages 8-12 and thinking back on my own reading experience, coupled with what I know of current middle-grade readers, the book skews too young. The writing and plot feel suitable maybe for the eight year-old end of that scale; The Silver Arrow might have done much better as a picture book. The message here is so blatantly obvious (and I think children are perhaps the ones who least need to be lectured about conservation these days) that I don’t think 8-12 year-olds would get much from this book. It feels like it talks down to children.

The characters are fairly basic and . . . boring. Kate, the main character, often goes chapters at a time without mentioning her younger brother, Tom, so sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s on the train at all. Kate might feel so simplistic because it would be easier for young readers to imagine themselves as her–putting themselves in her shoes, saving the animals. But she doesn’t feel like a realistic person, much less child. Somewhere alone the line (route? train tracks?) the story loses its emotion and becomes more of a step-by-step explanation of Kate’s day. First she did this, and then she did this, and then . . .

Honestly, the message delivered in The Silver Arrow is nothing that hasn’t been done before, and better, by other books. It’s a quick read, and the lesson behind it is very important, but this isn’t the book to use to demonstrate such things to the intended age group. I think they’ll lose interest quickly and won’t find the book fascinating at all.

2/5 stars

 

5 stars · children's books · fairy tale · graphic novel

Rapunzel Comics Collection: BEST. COMICS. EVER!

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Disney Princess Comics Collection: Rapunzel

published by The Walt Disney Company

other Disney princess comics:

belle jasmine ariel 

favorite character : eugene fitzherbert

summary :

Take adventure to new lengths with Rapunzel, Pascal, and all of your favorite Disney Tangled characters. How does Rapunzel manage to dry seventy feet of hair? What happens when she has a staring contest with Pascal? Find out the answers to these hair-larious questions and more in this colorful comics collection sure to delight Disney fans of all ages.

review :

I think it would be nearly impossible for me to dislike a book featuring my favorite Disney movie.

This collection of comics featuring Rapunzel, Pascal, Max, and Eugene, takes place before, during, and after the events of the movie. A lot of the jokes are very punny, which of course I love because I have a very refined sense of humor. Many of them are tied into key moments of the film. Obviously you’ll enjoy this more if you’re familiar with Tangled, but I think even if you don’t remember all of the pieces of the plot you’d still like these cute comics.

One of my favorite things is getting to see how Rapunzel more practically deals with all of that hair, as well as what she does to use up all of that extra time she has while trapped in her tower.

And I have to mention Eugene–aka Flynn Rider. He’s my absolute favorite. His feature in the comics shows off his sense of humor while also poking fun at his enormous ego. It might be cheesy, but I also love how it shows how much he loves Rapunzel. What he’ll do to ensure that she’s happy, to make her smile–it’s just the kind of adorable happily ever after you look for in Disney things.

The artwork is adorable. As always, the style is perfect for something Disney is putting out, and it leaves me wanting more. Every princess needs her own comics collection. I can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with next!

How I feel about this book:

giphy

clearly I’m Rapunzel and the book is Pascal

5/5 stars

 

5 stars · graphic novel · middle grade

Belle Comics Collection: a cute, humorous look at life in the Beast’s castle

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pages : [hardcover] 89

summary :

Join Belle, Lumiere, Cogsworth, and all of your favorite characters from Disney Beauty and the Beast. What happens when Belle’s enchanted friends put on a stage show? How does Belle adjust to life in a magical castle? These adventures and more await in this collection of colorful comics and are sure to delight Disney fans of all ages.

review :

This comic is perfect for any Disney Princess lover or book fanatic–especially those who are a combo of the two. The collection features many different mini comics, most of which have jokes related to the animated movie or that relate to many problems or experiences bookish people have. Some of my favorite jokes were Belle’s reactions to the stories she was reading–you get to see her even more as a bookworm here than she is in the movie!

There were so many puns (which I loved, because I tell bad jokes myself . . way too often). Most of the panels seem to take place during the plot of the actual movie, before Belle and the Beast fall in love. It’s kind of like getting to peer into everyday castle life and all of the antics the characters could get up to that didn’t make it into the movie. Such as:

-how to find privacy in a castle filled with enchanted objects that look like everyday objects
-how Belle organizes her library
-HOW DOES LUMIERE NOT BURN DOWN THE CASTLE WHEN HE TOUCHES THINGS

–and other fun stories. Easily read through in an hour, memorable, and clever enough that you’ll want to reread it again. The art style is so cute as well–it’s interesting to see the take on all of these well-known animated people. And creatures. And . . . things. Who knew Chip could get even cuter?

I highly recommend this comics collection! You’ll fall in love with it as well–more easily than Beauty fell in love with the Beast.

5/5 stars

5 stars · children's books · fiction

imaginary fred by eoin colfer & oliver jeffers is the book all kids and grown-ups need

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imaginary fred

authors : eoin colfer & oliver jeffers

pages : [hardcover] 48

summary :

A quirky, funny, and utterly irresistible story from Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers, two of the finest children’s book creators on the planet.

Did you know that sometimes, with a little electricity, or luck, or even magic, an imaginary friend might appear when you need one? An imaginary friend like Fred.

Fred floated like a feather in the wind until Sam, a lonely little boy, wished for him and, together, they found a friendship like no other.

The perfect chemistry between Eoin Colfer’s text and Oliver Jeffers’s artwork makes for a dazzlingly original picture book.

review :

I never had an imaginary friend when I was younger. Maybe because I had books instead.

That sounds incredibly corny, but it was true. Whenever I was lonely, I could always find someone to be friends with me, and maybe fictional characters are their own kind of imaginary friends. I’ve been obsessed with them long enough to not really know the difference.

Imaginary Fred is an amazingly cute, quirky story about what it is to be a friend, what it is to be recognized, and what great things the imagination can do for you. Sam has always wanted a friend, and Fred has had many people befriend him during his imaginary friend gig . . . but they all, inevitably find real friends for themselves. And forget all about him.

Sam and Fred have an amazing relationship and friendship and I love all of the messages told in this story. I don’t want to spoil any of them (and, really, this book is short enough, so you need to go and read it yourself if you’re so curious, and just because it’s that good). Messages about friendship, about identity, creativity, love, caring, altruism . . .

And, yes, I know children’s books always have some kind of hidden agenda, right? They’re always trying to teach something. Or at least a lot of tiny little things. Imaginary Fred does it right because while the messages aren’t hidden, they aren’t spelled out for the kids, either. It lets younger readers do all of the critical thinking on their own.

But, really, the illustrations and story are cute enough for readers of any age.

5/5 stars

 

5 stars · children's books

Disney Princess Storybook Collection is cute for any Disney lover!

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Disney Princess Storybook Collection

variety of authors for the short stories

pages : [hardcover] 304

favorite story : one about flynn rider and rapunzel getting cupcakes together and it’s adorable

summary :

Get ready for an enchanting collection of stories, starring all the Disney Princesses! Solve a mystery with Rapunzel and the gang from the Snuggly Duckling. Gallop along with Merida after she meets a mysterious horse. Travel to Paris with Tiana as she competes in a global baking contest. Filled with wonder, excitement, and discovery, each princess’s tale is a royal delight!

review :

If you love Disney Princesses, you’ll definitely like this collection. Each of the 11 official Disney princesses are given a short story and some (like Tiana and Ariel) are given up to three each. There’s certainly something in here for everyone. I was initially drawn to it because of the two immensely cute Tangled stories in here, one about Rapunzel freeing Flynn from being framed for a crime and another about what Rapunzel and Flynn do when they reach Corona before they see the floating lanterns.

There are so many good messages contained in these stories that are the exact right size to read to a child before bed each night. There are stories about love, stories about adventure, stories about being true to yourself. They teach children about how to make their dreams reality or how to fix things when you and someone you love are angry with each other. There are great new side characters introduced in these little stories, brave men and women who are inventors, explorers, and–most of all–dreamers. I just loved it so much!

The writing is extremely simple, which makes for good read-alouds as well as a great collection for young readers. The text is pretty large and easy to read, though I love that Disney didn’t lessen the vocabulary and there were some great words in here that I think would be an awesome learning opportunity.

I’d recommend this to anyone, with kids or not!

5/5 stars

 

4 stars · children's books · fiction

Children’s Book Chat: The Day the Aunts Disappeared

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The Day the Aunts Disappeared

author : KayeC Jones

pages : [ebook]

summary :

Hungry and tired of bug bites, Greg the Anteater decided to go to town to find an easy meal.

He quickly finds out that there are aunts all around the town! But “aunts” and “ants” are not the same thing, as he quickly finds out.

Find out what happens to Greg and all the aunts in town in this colorful and nonsensical story that will make you laugh and giggle.

review :

This book was adorable! I’ve read one other of Jones’ picture books (Kitty Conquers the Big Bully) and I love the artwork in both. Greg is cute (even when he’s kind of terrifying the town) and the little details really make the story unique. I like the little things that you only notice if you really engage with the picture, like Greg’s tongue forming a heart, because it’s cute, tells so much more about the story, and shows us more about Greg.

I have to admit at first I was a little taken aback that Greg was actually eating people. He didn’t really mean any harm (no one would want to eat bugs ALL their life) but I feel like adults reading this book to or with their children will find it funny on a different level. We can imagine an anteater doing something like this and find it hilarious; kids might find it funnier that Greg thinks people are tasty, or because he’s so confused, or because of the (accidental) chaos he causes.

I’ve never read anything like this, so I think it’s great and unique just in that respect. Pair that with the great artwork and it’s a cute, fun little book. I think that a lot of people would enjoy it, so I highly recommend it!

4/5 stars

 

4 stars · children's books · Uncategorized

Children’s Book Chat: Kitty Conquers the Big Bully by KayeC Jones

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Kitty Conquers the Big Bully

author : KayeC Jones

pages : [ebook] 33

summary :

Meet Kitty, a daring and sweet little girl who won’t take anyone talking mean, especially neighborhood bullies who make all the kids cry.

Kitty finally goes face-to-face with the biggest bully who declares to her that girls can’t do anything but “clean and bake cookies”. Instead of flourishing fists and sinking to the bully’s level, she uses her wits and thinks her way out of the situation.

This wonderful story teaches everyone, not only girls, to believe in themselves and not to doubt their dreams and wishes, no matter what those dreams and wishes happen to be.

review :

I really enjoyed this book! It’s a unique twist on a positive story about how to react to a bully. Kitty is told that girls can’t do ‘anything’–sexism at its finest, which even kids are subjected to and need to know how to push back against. Kitty doesn’t for a moment doubt herself and instead begins to think of all of the different things that she is able to do, no matter what anyone else thinks or tells her.

An adorable little addition to the book is the appearance of her two stuffed animal friends, a bear and a bunny, on every page. If it was fun for me to look to see where they’d be or what they would be doing on each page, I’m sure children would love to point out where they are or discuss what they’re doing in relation to their good friend Kitty.

One thing that was slightly distracting about the text and that made me take a star off for my review was that sometimes the text suffered a little from straining to make the lines rhyme. Something the rhythm would be thrown off because it wouldn’t be a perfect rhyme or odd words would be used to successfully complete the rhyme pattern.

Overall, this is such a cute story. The pictures are adorable and then the message of the story is a great and empowering one. I would definitely recommend this picture book!

4/5 stars

 

 

 

5 stars · children's books · Uncategorized

Children’s Book Chat: The Umbrella by Jan Brett

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The Umbrella

author/illustrator : jan brett

pages : [hardcover] 32

summary :

A walk through the Costa Rican cloud forest provides a wonderfully lush setting for Jan Brett’s beloved animal illustrations. When Carlos drops his umbrella to climb a tree for a better view of the animals, they all cram into the banana-leaf umbrella as it floats by–from the little tree frog to the baby tapir to the big jaguar and more. It gets so crowded in the umbrella that there isn’t even enough room for a little hummingbird! So over the umbrella tumbles, everyone falls out, and poor Carlos comes back wondering why he didn’t see any animals all day.

In the spirit of Jan Brett’s The Mitten and The Hat, this cheerful tale of escalation will have readers poring over every illustration for the world of details Jan packs in. With its classic story, exotic jungle setting, and brilliantly colorful menagerie, The Umbrella is sure to take its place among Jan’s many family favorites.

review :

This book is incredibly adorable and captivating. Jan Brett’s gorgeous, painstaking illustrations definitely take the story above and beyond.

What I loved about this story was how the illustrations really play against and with the text. Brett designed the pages to not only show what is happening in the text directly on the page but to also hint at what animals will come next in the story as well as what is happening with Carlos as he climbs, when possibly the text isn’t mentioning him at all. I think those are cute details that will especially keep younger readers pouring over the images.

The story is really cool, too, in that it takes place in the jungle and mentions animals that I don’t think most children are typically taught about. They’ll learn something while reading and of course it won’t feel like the lesson is being forced upon them.

It’s also kind of funny to read about Carlos complaining that there are no animals (in the jungle of all places) where if he’d just gone back for his dang umbrella he would have seen ALL of the animals.

I really think Jan Brett’s work for children is awesome and the amount of time and effort it takes to make her paintings is amazing.

5/5 stars

 

3 stars · children's books · Uncategorized

Children’s Book Chat: The Pied Piper’s Magic

6334420Lately I’ve needed to read several children’s picture books for school. Here I’ll jot down my thoughts about them, whether I’d recommend them or not, and if I’d have liked to see it in a classroom or as something for kids I know to read.

The Pied Piper’s Magic by Steven Kellogg.

-This is a retelling of the Pied Piper like you’ve never seen it before, and not only because the main character and piper is an elf named Peterkin.

-The story was a little odder than expected. The pipe doesn’t play music; it plays words into the air, which can sometimes be flipped around to magically transform things into something other than what they originally were.

-The illustrations are very vivid, with wonderful colors and words piped by Peterkin woven into the backgrounds in very interesting and cool ways.

-Reading this aloud to a child would be a chore because of all of the words spelled out in the books (like r-a-t-s which can’t be read as rats) though it would teach younger kids more about spelling and how different words can look and sound similar.

-Because the story focuses so much on words and not real “magic” like might be anticipated from the cover, it’s less magical than grammatical.

I think this book could be useful when children are beginning to learn to spell and write, though it wasn’t a favorite of mine. I wouldn’t want to have to read it aloud (some of the words spelled out are quite long, when they’re repeated several times!) and kids might be confused when trying to read it themselves. Still, the pictures are really captivating, and of course there’s a happy ending to look forward to.

4 stars · history · Uncategorized

Number the Stars is a children’s book you’ll never forget

number the stars cover

 

Number the Stars

author : lois lowry

pages : [paperback] 137

favorite character : annemarie

memorable quote :

She fell asleep, and it was a sleep as thin as the night clouds, dotted with dreams that came and went like the stars.

summary :

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war. It’s now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are “relocated,” Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family. Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen’s life.

review :

I remember reading Number the Stars years ago, back in middle school, and being vaguely bored by it. Maybe because I preferred to read books with more magic, mystery, and general mayhem in them. Somehow a story about true historical accounts, things that could be much scarier than fiction, didn’t phase me. I’m thinking that’s because my teacher didn’t take full advantage of the chance to fully teach me about this book and time period.

This is a book great for students who are just beginning to learn about what happened during WWII, specifically in Denmark with the Jewish population. Although the main character herself isn’t Jewish, her best friend is, and through her Annemarie begins to realize that not only is not everyone the same, but that she can make a difference in preventing others from getting hurt because of the decisions of those in power.

I really think that this is a book that should be spread, to those who are old enough to comprehend the subject and if its handled delicately. It was a terrible time period, but it’s important history, and I think this book stands out as one of the best works to teach about it.

4/5 stars