31 March 2010

Cat Ate My Gymsuit

Cat Ate My Gymsuit
Paula Danziger
YA fiction
For some reason I thought this was going to be a funny book about 4th graders like Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great or Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. It is about a 9th grader, though, and set in the mid 1970's. The main character moans and complains about her life. She knows she is ugly and fat and keeps reminder herself of it. I tired of her complaining about 1/3 of the way through the book. Fortunately, she is maturing and learning more about herself and the world around her. The book takes a turn for the more serious at about the halfway point and Marcy is encouraged by her new, hippy teacher. The English teacher has new ideas about teaching and justice. She motivates her students to think and express themselves. The principal, however, sees the teacher as a troublemaker and has her fired. Marcy and her fellow students rebel and protest. Now they are teens on a mission. Some of this book is definitely historical fiction at this point - the references to gymsuits, women's liberation, sit ins, etc. are very 1965-1976. Other parts, like the interactions between teenage boys and girls and the emotional side of teenagers are universal.
What is a gymsuit, anyway? Apparently this is a more upscale neighborhood than the one I grew up in. We always wore t-shirts and shorts.
I'll have to search google images for gymsuits.
P. S. I finally have a post where I can use the words Bildungs Roman! My library science teachers would be proud.

25 March 2010


Sheri Tepper
Adult Science Fiction

I saw this book on a number of Best lists, but when I browsed it I saw that the author used a lot of sci fi weird names, so that put me off. Do you know what I mean? Weird sci fi names use the K' and T' and a whole lot of consonants in a row like a Slavic language.
Since it had been highly recommended, I decided to try it anyway. The plot is original and fascinating. One girl - Margaret - somehow splits off into being 7 different people on 7 colonies of Earth. In the end, the Margarets must work together to combat a great evil that threatens to wipe out humanity. The discussable part is how we can become different people based on the decisions we make about our lives. One Margaret marries a doctor and they go off to be medical missionaries on a low tech planet. One does not marry. They then become two different people.
This is a very rewarding book, but I would not recommend it to people who don't like sci fi already. Not everyone enjoy the cat aliens, the waygates, and other sci fi machinations.

Fancy Nancy Pajama Day: I Can Read! Beginning 1 Reading

Fancy Nancy Pajama Day: I Can Read! Beginning 1 Reading
Jane O'Connor
and pictures based on the art of Robin Preiss Glasser

This Fancy Nancy book continues the girly, fru-fru series of Fancy Nancy books. Apparently the series is taking a bit of a turn to become more homogenized and educational. There are vocabulary words along with the story and it is listed as part of the I Can Read Book series.

I wonder what it feels like to have your pictures taken over by other artists? It says that interior pencils are by Ted Enik and color is by Carolyn Bracken. They do this in comic books and graphic novels, so I guess if the publisher wants to get books out as soon as possible before the popularity fades, this is a way to do it.

In this book Nancy's friend wants to wear matching pajamas. Nancy wants to wear her fancier pj's, however. Later she feels left out because her friend has made a different friend. In the end, though, friendships are restored and Nancy also has a new friend. This series is marketed toward girls exclusively.

Magic Tree House # 1: Dinosaurs before Dark

Magic Tree House # 1: Dinosaurs before Dark
Mary Pope Osborne
Sal Murdocca
Reading level - 2nd grade

Jack and Annie climb into a tree house, read some books, then wish they were experiencing what one of the books is about. They get their wish! They are in the land of dinosaurs. They see Mama dinosaurs with eggs, flying dinosaurs, and more. Chased by a Tyrannosaurus rex, they decide it is time to go home! This adventure story has wide appeal and is the start of the popular series. The last time I checked there were 28 books in this series so far. I guess it is on to book #2 now - The Knight at Dawn.

12 March 2010

Cats Are Not Peas

Cats Are Not Peas
Laura Gould
adult nonfiction

The author has a male calico. People tell her that male calicoes/tricolors are rare or don't even exist. This starts her on her way to researching why this is so. I could have told her that male calicoes exist because my grandparents had one. His name was Poi.
The author takes genetics, which can be intimidating, and explains them so the average layperson can understand. She adds in a number of anecdotes, legends, and more about the history of cats and the history of genetics. She also tells some good cat stories based on her own experiences.
Gregor Mendel is seen as the father of modern genetics, but his experiments with peas do not explain everything that geneticists of today understand. Find out what we currently understand about color dominance, sex linked traits, and sexual mutations such as chimeras.
I recommend this for people who have an interest in cats and/or genetics, but do not want to be bogged down with too much heavy science. Once upon a time I was a biology major, but I have forgotten most of it. This book was just right because it did take a scientific approach, but it was not written for scientists. If you have a grandchild, a nephew, a brother, a friend, etc. who is a biology major and you want to have something to discuss with him or her, read this book and you can carry on an interesting conversation.
Notes for librarians:
Unfortunately, two of the true tales she has to tell are about how university library policies are not friendly to people who are not faculty or staff. It can be challenging to get a hold of scholarly journals and old books if you are a writer researching genetics and the history of cats. She has a bad experience with librarians interpreting library policy toward alumni different ways. One librarian denies her service. Another hides the books from her! (I am so ashamed of these people who are giving a bad name to our profession). One won't let her check out a book that she has checked out before. (Pages 39-40 and 155 tell of these unfortunate encounters).
On page 86 she discusses that Charles Darwin's works are considered to be "popular literature for the masses". She laughs at this idea and states that Darwin is no Louis Lamour!

Mystery: The Adventures of Max and Pinky

Mystery: The Adventures of Max and Pinky
Maxwell Eaton III
children's fiction
ages 3-7

That Maxwell Eaton! He's a laugh-riot! Max, a boy, and Pinky, his porcine companion, paint a barn. Somehow the barn is repainted in the middle of the night. What happened? Hilarity ensues as Max investigates the mysterious barn painting. Why had I not heard of this goofy series before? If you liked the Far Side, then this is a book to read to your children.

08 March 2010

Tea for Ruby

Tea for Ruby
Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York
Robin Preiss Glasser
children's fiction,
ages 3-6

Ruby is invited to the palace for Tea! Everyone admonishes her to be on her best behavior. How will this turn out? I didn't know how this book was going to end, but it was sweet. If you love the Fancy Nancy books by this author you will also enjoy this book. I am not sure how Sarah Ferguson got involved in this, but Ruby looks and acts pretty much like Fancy Nancy. I guess if by putting the Duchess of York's name on this book it sells more books for Simon and Schuster, then more power to the capitalists. That's fine with me. I suspect that only girls will read this book.

Angelina Ice Skates

Angelina Ice Skates
Helen Craig and Katharine Holabird
children's fiction, ages 3-8

Angelina Ballerina has a well established series of books and a cartoon show on television.
Angelina is a mouse who goes to ballet school. In this book Angelina and friends are arranging for an outdoor skating show. Some boys interfere with their hockey playing. What's a girl to do? I think I have read this same plot featuring the Berenstain Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, and many other characters. Yawn.
Apparently the author thinks that if one is good at ballet, one is automatically great at ice skating, too, with no additional training.

06 March 2010

Lady Carliss and the Waters of Moorue

Lady Carliss and the Waters of Moorue
by Chuck Black
adult or young adult fantasy fiction

This book is number 4 in a series:
1. Sir Kendrick & the Castle of Bel Lione
2. Sir Bentley & Holbrook Court
3. Sir Dalton & the Shadow Heart
4. Lady Carliss & the Waters of Moorue.
This is what the author's website says about the series:
Building upon the Kingdom of Arrethtrae as created in
The Kingdom Series books, these stories fit within the time of the waiting years, between books 3 and 5. This is analogous to the Church Age or the Time of the Gentiles. This is not a chronological series like the Kingdom Series, for each book stands alone and tells of the adventures of individual knights during this time period.

I didn't know any of that, when I agreed to read this book. All that I knew was that it was published by Waterbrook Press and the title of the book.
The cover shows a woman with a bow and arrows so I figured it was a fantasy book or Robin Hood-type book featuring her as the heroine. Without the cover, I might have assumed from the title that this was some kind of Regency Romance, so I guess it is good that they have the cover they have to clarify what this book covers.

In Chuck Black's fantasy world of Arrethtrae the Christians are Followers of the King and many train to fight the good fight as knights and ladies (that is to say lady knights). His heroes and heroines are brave, valiant, strong, and physically and mentally equipped to serve the King and His Son. In the notes, the author states that he wanted to write books that would inspire his children to live for and serve Jesus. There is an extensive study guide so this book can be used with youth groups. There is even sheet music include for a song inspired by this book - "Journey to Moorue", written by Emily Elizabeth Black. I always appreciate a map, glossary, and cast of characters. This publisher provided a map, but no glossary or cast of characters. The discussion guide more than makes up for this as it includes all kinds of notes and explanations.

If we ignore all the extras included in this affordable softbound book ($9.99), we still have a great story. Truehearted Lady Carliss is a young knight returning home on furlough. As in the cliffhanger films of yesteryear, however, our heroine can not stay out of trouble for very long. She doesn't even reach home before trouble finds her. The village of her companion has been raided and her fellow knight's family has been taken. To add to her trouble, Carliss's maybe-boyfriend has been bitten by a vicious lizard and is in a coma! This all happens in the first few pages, which sets the tone for this action adventure fantasy story. Carliss is constantly having to make decisions about how to act. Will she take the high road or settle for being ordinary? Will she opt to save one or many? She acts with vision and courage as she befriends the friendless, fights against evil drug dealers, and struggles with her own wishes for her future. Black does not leave us with a one-dimensional view of the heroine, however. He does admit that she has doubts and selfish thoughts. In the end, we know she will do what is right.
I am sick and tired of "flawed heroes". Why do modern comic books and movies think that they have to change our heroes into complicated, struggling beings? I like my Superman to be Super and my Wonder Woman to be Wonderful. Good guys should wear white hats. Knights should be noble. I agree with Black that we need to be inspired by our heroes. Lady Carliss is someone to aspire to be.

I will recommend this book to my 13 year old cousin who enjoys fantasy books, but I don't think his books are just for children. I know of at least 3 adults who would also enjoy his tales as a change of pace from the massive 600 page fantasy books currently being marketed for adults. (This book weighs in at 185 pages even with the readers' guide included). I read this book in less than a day. I will have to put the rest of his books on my to-read list, starting with his first book set in this realm- Kingdom's Dawn in the Kingdom Series.

P. S. Arrethtrae is "Earth Terra" backwards.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. This is available for purchase at http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/ and many other fine locations.

Raven's Ladder: The Gold Strand in the Auralia Thread

Raven's Ladder: The Gold Strand in the Auralia Thread
by Jeffrey Overstreet
Adult Fantasy fiction

This is number three in a series. I accidentally started reading this one, number 3, without reading number 2 first. Oops. I had read Auralia's Colors (number 1) so I was able to catch on to what had happened in number 2 (Cyndere's Midnight). In case you were wondering, this is not the end of a trilogy but number 3 in a quartet/tetralogy/quadrilogy. The note on the author at the end says he is working on number four of this series - the "final volume of The Auralia Thread".

In book one the city-state of Abascar is destroyed in an earthquake, leaving its people without a home. As the story continues, Cal-Raven hopes to lead his people to the Promised Land - a new home in what they will call New Abascar. In the mean time, the kingdom of Bel Amica invites the refugees to join them and find a place in Bel Amica. Some people are glad for a new home and a chance for prosperity, even though it is unlike what they had before. Bel Amica is prosperous and the merchants offer jobs, entertainment, and mood-altering or appearance-enhancing potions and creams. Is Bel Amica all that it seems or is something sinister afoot in this modern, well-off city?
King Cal-Raven urges his people to be ready to leave when it is time. Will they still follow him?
What has happened to Auralia and the beautiful colors she showed Cal-Raven and his people? Is there more to life or should they eat, drink, and be merry?
The author is associated with a Christian college and a Christian publisher, but this book is certainly not evangelistic or theologically weighty. The beauty that Auralia offers is more of a look-for-God-in-nature transcendentalist religion/philosophy. There are obvious comparisons between the beauty and splendor that was Rome and Bel Amica. Are the Abascar people like the Israelites wandering in the desert? One can look for Biblical parallels or this book can be enjoyed as pure fantasy.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. This is available for purchase at http://waterbrookmultnomah.com/ and many other locations.

Three Little Pigs and the Three Billy Goats Gruff

Rabbit Ears Presents
Three Little Pigs and the Three Billy Goats Gruff
told by
Holly Hunter
written by Joseph Jacobs and P. C. Asbjornsen
music by
Art Lande
audiobook/radio drama
ages 5-adult
I say ages 5 - adult because I have found that children younger than that generally do not listen to books on tape, but any given child may be an exception. I say adults may listen to it as well, because I am an adult and I enjoy a good short story/fable instead of static-y music when on a car ride.
Rabbit Ears Radio was established in 1985 to have veteran actors read timeless stories in the classic storytelling tradition, accompanied by music by veteran musicians. I thought that maybe Rabbit Ears Radio had disappeared, but their website says that they restructured in the 1990's and are still around. This explains why I used to hear it on the radio, but now I do not. Once they had a contract with Public Radio International, but that has expired.
This CD contains two stories and about 11 tracks of background music and music inspired by the tales. Holly Hunter narrates and does all the voices on two classic tales - 3 little pigs, and Billy goats gruff. There is some tall tale telling and some good similes and metaphors - "as far as molasses is from turpentine" and such phrases. Hunter's Southern voice gives these a Georgia feel and a few times I wasn't sure what she said because she drops some letters in her narration. I guess I am unaccustomed to listening to such a deep Southern accent. The first words of the "Three Litttle Pigs" story were "Too poor to feed them". I had to listen to this three times before I could tell what she was saying at the beginning. The good news is that Hunter has developed a number of accents for her pigs and her goats and her trolls living under the bridge. These accents included cockney, valley girl and surfer dude. These were easier to understand and added to the story. I especially liked the middle billy goat's surfer dude accent. "Chill, wolf!"
As to the stories themselves, the billy goat story was pretty much as I remembered it. The three little pigs was longer and takes a few turns. [SPOILER]
One of my listeners said "That's not right. The wolf doesn't eat the pig". In this version the wolf does eat 2 out of 3 pigs.
Based on this CD I am not a Hunter fan, but I will look for more Rabbit Ears books on CD from my library for future car rides since they use a wide variety of performers.

04 March 2010

Barbie in a Mermaid Tale

Barbie in a Mermaid Tale
Step into Reading, Reading with Help, Step 2
(Preschool - Grade 1)
adapted by Christy Webster
based on the original screenplay by Elise Allen
illustrated by Ulkutay Design Group and Pat Kakula
children's fiction
ages 4-7

This 32 page adaptation from a direct to video Barbie film uses large, easy to read fonts, and colorful cartooning. Surfer girl, Merliah, goes on a big adventure under the sea with her trusty sidekick, the dolphin, Zuma.
The good news for feminists is that Merliah is not consumed with fashion, but having adventures and rescuing the ocean from certain doom.
For some reason the back cover says "What this book is about.. Barbie in a Mermaid Tale (tm) Marisa is a mermaid princess. Can she save the ocean from her evil sister?"
The main character is Merliah, not Marisa, so the cover got that wrong.
The evil mermaid is her aunt, not her sister, so the cover got that wrong, too.
Reading thirty two pages was too much to ask of the cover editor?

02 March 2010


Buzby (an I Can Read book)
Julia Hoban and John Himmelman
audiocassette and book
ages 4-7
Buzby the cat wants a job. He figures that the want ad asking for a Busboy really means they want him - Buzby. The book seems like a Laurel and Hardy or Three Stooges skit. Buzby means well, but misinterprets so many things! The book is goofy fun for young readers.

TinkerBell and the Lost Treasure: Tink's Treasure Hunt

Disney Fairies: TinkerBell and the Lost Treasure, Tink's Treasure Hunt: Step into Reading, Reading on Your Own, Step Three, Grades 1-3
Melissa Lagonegro and the Disney Storybook Artists
ages 5-8
TinkerBell breaks the Moonstone while trying to make a special scepter. How can she fix her mistake? Is she clever enough to do it all on her own or does she need her friends to help her? The plot is kind of convoluted. I suspect this is because they are trying to condense a lot of information from the movie into a short children's book (48 pages). The good news is that the plot moves along quite a bit since there is a lot to say.
One of the morals of this story is to work on fixing something if you mess up. Another is to work as a team and not be prideful.
I suspect that only girls will want to read this book since it is TinkerBell after all.

Care Bears Caring Contest

Care Bears Caring Contest
Nancy Parent
ages 2-5

What are some ways you can show someone you care? How can you be kind to your friends and family? Although this is written to appeal to Care Bear fans, the caring lesson can be applied to all of us. This book shows little ways that bears (or children or adults) can be tender and loving. Isn't that what the world needs? More kindness?
This book should appeal to students, parents and teachers. It can be used with Bible verses, lessons on manners, etc. Children can come up with more ways to show caring that are not listed here. The lesson plan ideas keep rolling.
Even boys should read this.

Hello, Goodbye Window

Hello, Goodbye Window
Norton Juster and Christ Raschka
children's fiction, ages 3-6
Caldecott Medal winner
A little girl visits her grandparents often. Each time she sees them looking out the kitchen window waiting for her. Each time, when it is time to go, they look out the window for Mommy and Daddy to pick her up. The affection between the grandparents and the granddaughter is evident and this would be a good book to have at Grandpa's house for when the grandkids come to visit.
The illustrations are scratchy and blurred as if the 3 or 4 year old girl might have drawn and painted them. The focus is on the relationship, not any particular picture. This is an unusual book in that the grandpa is white and the grandma is black. The granddaughter appears to be biracial. In the book it mentions that Grandma is from England.
This book seemed familiar. Upon further examination, I discovered that I read the sequel first - "Sourpuss and Sweetie Pie".
In the back cover the author says he is just warming up to his role as a grandfather and this is his first picture book, although he has been known for many years for his other books for older children.

Ladybug Girl

Ladybug Girl
David Soman and Jacky Davis
children's fiction, ages 3-5.

There's a new superheroine in town - Ladybug Girl. Armed with her costume, sidekick beagle, and her big imagination Lulu saves the day - or at least she pretends to save the day. I think we all have known a little girl like this who leaps and imagines - or maybe one of us was that girl.
Be inspired. Be amazed. Go out and save the world!


Elizabeth Partridge and Anna Grossnickle Hines
children's fiction, ages 3-8

A boy and his father are camping. As they wait for the sun to come up, the anticipation grows. What kind of a sunrise will it be? We find out that there must be a tradition in this family to watch the sun go up and whistle.
This book focuses on that one event and is illustrated in a series of quilt squares. In the back of the book the illustrator shows how she did these squares.
Learning to whistle is a rite of passage like learning to skip or snap fingers. If someone you know has recently learned how to whistle, then this book is for you.
This was on a list of books recommended by the local park system. I would recommend taking this book camping with you, but last time I tried this with a book the book got very wet from the dew on the tent and I had to pay the library for the book. (Next time I will leave my book in the car where it will stay drier). Instead I recommend reading this book before camping and trying to do what these gentlemen did - whistle up the sun.