Archive for October, 2007

Aunt Nancy and the Bothersome Visitors by Phyllis Root

Aunt Nancy and the Bothersome VisitorsAunt Nancy is smarter than anyone, and NO one can get the best of her.  What does she do with bothersome visitors?  She shows them just how clever they aren’t.

Old Man Trouble thinks he can ruin her luck, but he’s codswalloped.  Cousin Lazybones thinks he can trick her into doing all the work, but he’s tricked right back.  Old Woeful predicts ruin for every one of Aunt Nancy’s enterprises, but she beats it when she finds out just what Aunt Nancy’s digging in her garden for.  Mister Death?  He just wants to do his job.  Will Aunt Nancy let him?  What do you think?

This slim book is composed of four hilarious stories, each one worthwhile on its own and even better in sequence.  The language–a mild, drawling dialect that is evocative without being difficult to understand–carries the story along and gives it a wonderful sense of place.  Because of that language, any of these tales would be excellent storytime fodder–for older children, of course; they could be either read aloud or performed sans book.

Don’t think, though, that because the text makes such excellent read-alouds that the pictures aren’t wonderful as well.  Each story begins with a full-color illustration, while throughout the body of the text are smaller illustrations that are almost silhouettes–the most expressive silhouettes I have ever seen.  Aunt Nancy’s cat, Ezekiel, in all of his scaredy-cat, puffball glory, nearly steals the show with his side-long glances and frantic behavior. 

I recommend this book for 2nd or 3rd grade readers–those who still need shorter stories, but are experienced enough to handle a story that has fun with words, and doesn’t have textbook-perfect grammar. 

Posted by: Sarah

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Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas by Meghan McCarthy

The Story of Charles AtlasCharles Atlas, does the name sound just a little bit familiar?  Known as a former “98-pound weakling” his body building ads filled the back pages of comic books for years.  Atlas was one of the first fitness enthusiasts to go commercial, really commercial.

A new immigrant to New York City—he claims to have been the first Italian to land at Ellis Island—he was actually a scrawny kid named Angelo Siciliano.  Tired of being a punching bag for local tough guys, Angelo decided that if he couldn’t fight his way out of the Lower East Side, he was going to think his way out.  He was a good thinker.  When he could not afford expensive equipment, he devised a series of stretching exercises that eventually started him on the road to fame and fortune.

Not only did he develop amazing strength, he was voted “The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man.”  He was the model for over 75 statues including those of George Washington in New York City, Thomas Jefferson in Washington, DC and “The Dawn of Glory” in Brooklyn.  He—and his perfect body– posed next to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s birthday cake one year.  Even Mahatma Gandhi asked his advice.  But the advice he most loved to give was to children around the country and around the world.

He encouraged not only strong bodies but cleanliness, industry and nutrition.  The kids ate it up.  So did many of the celebrities of the late thirties and early forties including Joe DiMaggio and boxer, Joe Lewis.  Long before Zac Efron and Vanessa Anne Hudgens, Charles Atlas was a “rock star.”

Although it’s a picture book, this tale will have broad appeal to children and adults alike. Somehow Meghan McCarthy, the author and Charles Atlas aficionado, manages to squeeze a lot of information and entertainment into a tight format.  She’s even included a double page spread of exercises and another of additional background on Atlas.   The illustrations have the look of “cartoony” photographs and keep the tone of the book light.  All together this picture book is a strong contender for the “world’s most perfectly developed” story.

Posted by: Eileen

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Waiting for Gregory by Kimberly Willis Holt

Waiting for GregoryThis picture book caught my eye because of the interesting illustrations, with a child that is obviously from another time in history.  The story, however, transcends time.  It is the story of a little girl waiting for her cousin Gregory to be born.  She asks relatives and friends the question “When will Gregory be here?” and get lots of silly and sometimes nonsensical answers like “When the cabbage in your aunt’s garden grows large enough to make soup for everyone in the family.  She’ll pick that cabbage and there he’ll be.”  This confuses the little girl until Momma clears things up for her. 

The little girl dreams of all the things she will teach Gregory, and seasons come and go and Gregory has still not arrived.  Finally the day comes and she still has to wait to teach him such things as building a big snowman and rolling down a hill, since he is still too little. 

In the end, the little girl understands that Gregory will grow and grow like a wild sunflower, and soon, but not too soon, though not too long at all, Gregory will wait for her.  This is a really nice story to read to big brothers and sisters-to-be who are waiting for a new baby.  The writing is very whimsical and paints wonderful pictures for the reader.  I really enjoyed this book!

Posted by: Mary

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When Heaven Fell by Caroline Marsden

The When Heaven FellThis book is a lovely book which describes the life of Vietnamese people who are very poor but live out in the country where life is good despite it’s meagerness.  Binh is 9 years old and cannot go to school because her family cannot afford the money for a uniform and books.  She sells sodas and cut fruit to the school children on their way home from school.  She lives with her mother, father, brother and grandmother in a one room house made of corrugated tin. 

One day her grandmother tells her that she has an aunt whom she has never met.  Binh loves to hear stories and listens intently about how her grandmother loved an American GI during the Vietnam war.  How they had had a little girl but he was transferred and she lost contact with him.  After her village was destroyed in the war, she put her daughter on a plane to be taken to America.  She hoped that her daughter would have a better life.  Now, her first daughter had contacted her and was coming for a visit!

The family is very excited.  Not just Binh’s immediate family but her aunts, and uncles and cousins.  They all participate in getting a feast ready and they await her arrival from the airport with great excitement.  They all expect her to be rich and to bring the family many gifts.  They are very surprised when she gets out of the borrowed truck.  She is very tall.  She wears just jeans and a t-shirt and she only has one small suitcase.

The book is charming because of the relationships between the family members, the warmth of family and the rich details of Vietnamese life and culture.  Binh’s aunt reveals that she missed her mother very much and never felt quite like an American.  She slowly realizes how many hopes her Vietnamese family had when they heard that she was coming.  Although she is not rich, she is able to fulfill one of Binh’s deepest desires. 

This book would be appealing to girls in grades 4 through 6 who like historical fiction or books about interpersonal relationships. 

Posted by: Fran W.

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The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

The Alchemyst

Many people have heard of Nicholas Flamel thanks to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  But what many people don’t realize is that Flamel was a real figure in history and not just a character made up out of Rowling’s imagination.

Scott takes the story of Flamel, the most well known alchemyst of all time, weaves a tale set in present day San Francisco where twins Josh and Sophie fall into the world of magic by inadvertently helping Flamel, when he is set upon by Dr. John Dee, another immortal.  Josh and Sophie discover that they have powers that can help Nicholas reclaim his wife who has been kidnapped and stop the world from being destroyed by the Dark Elders.  Although Josh and Sophie feel very bewildered, they go with Nicholas to help him and soon realize that now that they have entered the world of magic and mythology they will always be a part of it. 

The Alchemyst is a great story with many different mythologies intertwined and a fascinating look at history and how it could possibly have been shaped by these ancient beings.  This is the first in the series and I look forward to seeing what happens next.

Posted by: Kate

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Peak by Roland Smith

PeakIf your parents were in love with gardening and flowers, your name might be Lily or Rose or even Hydrangea (my friend’s mother has that name).  One of our local TV weathermen named his young son Storm (I am not kidding).  In this book, our main character’s parents were heart and soul into mountain climbing and he himself tells us if they hadn’t chosen Peak as his name, it would have been Glacier or Abyss.  Yes, Peak is the name of the 14-year-old boy who also loves mountain climbing so much so that he scales New York City skyscrapers (illegally), landing him in jail and very serious trouble with the police.  A deal gets worked out and Peak’s long-absent real father, Josh, whisks him out-of-town.

Josh is a professional mountaineer leading high-paying clients on their hopeful ascents to Mount Everest.  Peak gets pulled into this world and craves the summit opportunity as well, even though he knows his dad might be using him and taking advantage.  The fantastic publicity would perk up Josh’s sagging business if his son made it to the top as the youngest person ever.

This coming-of-age adventure story is exciting, yet exhausting.  It is a frost bite-by-frost bite, tortured breath-by-tortured breath, gut-wrenching story in Peak’s own words of all that happened on the dangerous climb to the top of the world.  Friendship, sacrifice, family, risk, and knowing what really matters most in life are all rolled into this action-packed story for 5th grade and up.  

Back in 1924 British climber George Mallory answered the question “Why are you climbing the mountain?” with the famous answer, “Because it’s there.”  I would need more than that to entice me after reading of all the anguish, pain, diplomatic intrigue (China and Nepal), and grueling effort involved with a summit attempt.  By reading this exciting fictional account, I experienced Peak’s climb vicariously – the only way to go.

Posted by: Fran D.

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A Child’s Guide to Common Household Monsters by James Otis Thatch

A Child’s Guide to Common Household MonstersA “spooky” story, told in rhyme, about a little girl who goes around her house and finds the monsters living in it.  The monsters are under her bed, in her closet, in the attic, and in the basement.  But they are all scared of her!  The last page shows all of the monsters on her bed, frightened because it’s storming outside.  The monsters are drawn very silly and not frightening at all.  I didn’t really like how the little girl was drawn (she wasn’t cute!), but that’s my taste.  A good story for Halloween; or for helping a child who is scared of the dark, or scared of house sounds.

Posted by: Lori

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