Archive for September, 2008

Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi

Becoming Naomi LeonKenny the Rabbit is a little “out there.”  In a teeny tiny town full of mostly farmers, he loves books, reading, knowledge, learning, and most importantly, stories, more than anything else.  His parents are bemused, but supportive, and the rest of the town is just bemused.  No one dislikes Kenny, but, except for George, the old bookseller, don’t understand his sense of wonder and excitement about, well, everything.

That everything changes instantly the day that Kenny’s father bursts into the kitchen with alarming news: there’s a dragon in the sheep pasture.  Unsurprisingly, they’re convinced it’s dangerous–Kenny has a book that says so in no uncertain terms, and also, it’s a dragon

As it turns out, they couldn’t be more mistaken.  Grahame the dragon (“Just the cracker, except with an ‘e’ on the end”) is peaceful, intelligent, cultured, and a voracious reader.  Kenny and his family become great friends with Grahame and life is wonderful–until the day the rest of the town discovers the dragon in their midst.

Terrified, and convinced that Grahame is a danger to everyone, the townspeople send George (who, it turns out, used to be a knight!) to slay the beast and save their town.  Kenny’s two friends are about to fight to the death–what can he do to stop it!

In spite of what seems like a rather bloodthirsty premise, this is an adorable book.  DiTerlizzi is obviously quite familiar with the works of Kenneth Grahame (names sound familiar?), the author of The Wind in the Willows and The Reluctant Dragon, as well as several other classics: Anne of Green Gables, Alice in Wonderland, and the work of Beatrix Potter.  His references–some in the text, some only in the illustrations–are sly, but humorous and fresh, and make it clear that he loves and respects those authors’ work.

The illustrations should be mentioned especially.  This book is a chapter book, probably at about a 4th grade level, but it is ilustrated throughout with wonderful black-and-white drawings of all of the characters and key scenes in from the story.  It’s rare for more than five pages to go by without at least a tiny illustration in the corner of the page.  These pictures make the story–already amply animated by the spot-on text–come to life.  If published as text alone, this book would have been a lovely way to spend a an hour or two.  With the illustrations, it becomes a must-read.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes animal stories, or gentle fantasy, or ripping-good reads.

Posted by: SH

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Monkey with a Tool Belt by Chris Monroe

Monkey with a Tool BeltChris Monroe hits the nail on the head with her book Monkey with a Tool Belt. Boys of all ages will love this fun, new title. Chico Bon Bon is a monkey who loves his tool belt so much that he wears it everywhere (even to bed). He likes to use his tools everyday to make or fix things for his friends. One day an evil organ grinder sets a trap using a banana split that Chico can’t resist. Will Chico be able to use his tools to escape? Kids will enjoy looking at all his tools and imaging what Chico will build next.

Posted by: Liz

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The Sherlock Files: the 100-Year-Old Secret by Tracy Barrett

The Sherlock FilesXena and Xander, brother and sister, have just moved to London.  They are playing The Game (guessing what people do for a living) when they are slipped a cryptic note.  Deciding that they should follow it, they end up in a strange home only to discover that they are the descendants of Sherlock Holmes himself.  And while Holmes was an amazing detective, he did not solve all the cases he was given.  After being given his casebook, the two siblings take a look and decide to try to solve one of the cases.  The case that strikes their interest is about a missing painting entitled Girl in a Purple Hat.  Something about the case seems right and so they decide that this is the case for them.  While running around gathering clues,  they are trying to fit into life at a new school and in a new home which is never easy.  Piecing together clue after clue, Xena and Xander find out a very funny secret about the painting of Girl in a Purple Hat.  And just when all seems lost, well let’s just say that it isn’t.  A quick read, this book is the first in what will hopefully a very long series and reminds me of the books by Blue Balliett.

Posted by: Kate

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Hattie Big Sky by Kirby Larsen

Hattie Big SkyHow could a 16 year-old girl hope to make her way as a homesteader in the Montana wilderness, and on her own no less?  Hattie Inez Brooks was going to give it her best shot!   When her little known uncle dies and wills his Montana claim to her, all she needs to do is to “prove up” on the claim.  Hattie is tired of moving from relative to relative since her parents died, and now she wants a place to call her own, a real home. 

What an amazing story (loosely based on the author’s step great-grandmother’s experience) of a young courageous girl who leaves Iowa for a new life as a homesteader in Montana in the early 1900’s, during the time of World War I.  Hattie must endure many hardships because of weather and finances and personal loss, but through it all is supported by her new neighbors and friends.  She may not reach all of her goals, but she does eventually find a place to call home.  This is a beautiful and inspiring story and a different kind of look at a young pioneer’s story.

Posted by: Mary

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Becoming Naomi Leon by Pam Munoz Ryan

Becoming Naomi LeonNaomi Leon and her brother Owen live with their great-grandmother.  Their mother left them with her when Naomi was little and her brother was just one year old.  They are a happy family living in a trailer with friends down the road that are like family.  Then their mother suddenly reappears.  It quickly becomes  evident that she wants to take Naomi to live with her and her boyfriend Clive so that Naomi can babysit for Clive’s daughter and they can get money from the state for her support.  They aren’t interested in Owen because he is too young and what his mother calls a “blem”,  imperfect, like the once-a-year sale  shoes from the local shoe store. 

Naomi is very afraid of leaving her gram and Owen and having to live with her mother, Skyla.  Skyla can be nice but she can be mean, too, and irresponsible. 

Gram makes arrangements for a custody hearing and then takes off in the early morning before Skyla shows up to take Naomi.  She and her Mexican friends are going to Oaxaca City in Mexico.  Gram has told her that every year their father goes to the radish-carving festival there and she is hoping to find him and have him help her keep custody of Naomi and Owen.

I loved the children.   Naomi likes to collect new words, to make lists and she loves to carve soap.  She can make wonderful animals when she carves.  Owen is a cheerful child in spite of his disability.  He is the smartest boy in second grade and can beat most adults at checkers.  He still has insecurities though.  He has to put tape on his shirt and when he feels stressed he adds more tape.

I also loved the descriptions of Mexico and the customs.  This book is recommended for children in 4th grade and up who like to read about other cultures and can sympathize with others’ problems and cheer for their successes.

Posted by: Fran W.

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Harry’s Mad by Dick King-Smith

Harry's Mad

Would you rather have a treasure chest or a talking parrot? If the talking parrot could also play chess and help you with your homework, would that tip your thinking towards the parrot? Either way you’ll probably enjoy reading about Madison, Harry’s amazing African Gray parrot. It is a funny and adventurous story and can be enjoyed by young and old alike.

Posted by: Iris

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Helen’s Eyes by Marfe Ferguson Delano

Helen's EyesAnne Sullivan did not have an easy childhood.  She was a poor Irish girl born to a struggling family.  In time, she lost her mother and brother to tuberculosis, she was deserted by her father and she spent several years at the Tewksbury Almshouse in Massachusetts.  She also was plagued by vision problems and required many operations on her eyes.  Her curiosity, determination and courage helped her to find a way to attend the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston.  At the school, she was nicknamed “Miss Spitfire” when her fiery temper and tart tongue often got her in trouble. 

At the young age of 20, and newly graduated from Perkins, Sullivan found herself in need to earn a living.  Unsure of what she wanted to pursue, she accepted a teaching position and she became the teacher to a young, uncontrollable girl named Helen Keller.  So begins the remarkable story of a relationship between teacher and student that would span 50 years.

This fascinating biography is beautifully enhanced with numerous photographs and quotations.  If you’ve never read about Anne Sullivan’s life, or even if you already have, I highly recommend this book.

Posted by: Wendy

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Elephant Run by Roland Smith

Elephant RunThe 1941 bombings in London demolished 14-year-old Nick Freestone’s apartment and  the dangerous situation caused his mother to send Nick to live instead with his father on the family’s teak plantation in Burma.  Heavy labor on such plantations is done by wild timber elephants and their mahouts (trainer/handlers).  Nick comes eager to learn all this from his father and from the Burmese workers in the elephant village, but the war reaches there, too, when the Japanese invade.   Nick’s father is taken prisoner and Nick is stranded, forced to work the plantation as a servant-prisoner to the Japanese.  Nick and his friend Mya plan a daring escape that involves rescuing their families as well as themselves.  The insect-infested wild jungles, the enemy soldiers tracking them, and the hopelessness of the situation successfully calls forth courage, resilience, and love of family present in these two young people.

This is a great adventure story for  5th grade and older readers who may love historical fiction, elephants, or World War II.

Posted by: Fran D.

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