Posts Tagged ‘children’s books’


Sunday, 28 August 2011
Cover of "In High Places (Crosstime Traff...

Cover of In High Places (Crosstime Traffic)

111. In High Places by Harry Turtledove

I just read this book this weekend and I enjoyed it a lot. It’s a science-fiction novel for young adults (notably YA only in that the main characters are teenagers and there’s no bad language – it’s a good book with some really big issues in it) set 100/150 years in our future where a means of transferring between alternate realities has been found. A teenage girl and her parents (completely secular Jews) go to an alternate where the Black Death killed off far more of Christian Europe’s population, and thus the Muslims were never pushed out of Spain and now hold southern France as well. Europe is only now getting towards the beginning of a Renaissance and technologically is medieval. Since Jews are as badly considered in that world as they were in our medieval Europe, this family is acting as Muslim traders, and to fit into that world they are fully covered, with the women including face veils.

There are lots of different issues in the book, with slavery, tolerance and whistle-blowing some of the big ones, and covering only a minor one, but it’s fairly sympathetically covered at that.

Annette/Khadijia accepts her veil as a costume that she’s not especially fond of, but she realises quickly that her face covering is the only real difference from what the local Christian women are wearing, and that for a trader it can be quite useful to have her face covered in negociations, and that it’s not so terrible or derogatory as she’d previously have thought. Then when she and others are taken prisoner and forced to remove their veils she doesn’t mind the removal all that much, but the other women are shown as being horrified, and feeling practically stripped naked by the loss of something they’ve worn for years/life.

All in all I thought the book addressed the negatives and positives of its various issues well, and in a way to provoke thought. Those who are careful about what their kids read may well want to read it themselves first, but I doubt it’s one for anyone to reject out of hand.

Post Shavuot catch-up

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Well, I didn’t finish the dress I’m making DD, so she wore some existing clothes for Shavuot (and was proclaimed very cute when we went out for lunch today). I finally just now got around to adding five books to the reading list from the past few weeks, only the last of which was actually finished today. I’m looking forward to talking about some of them here, at least, and will try to do at least one review tomorrow.

She’s back!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Sorry for the delay. WordPress was refusing to publish my posts for a few days, and that got me out of the habit of daily posting.

However, I’m listening to a new interview with Shirley Hughes, about her Alfie books and her in general!

Dopey Duck

Sunday, 15 May 2011
Cover of the first edition of The Tale of Jemi...

Image via Wikipedia

I have got to get back to beginning my blog post before 11pm…

67. The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck by Beatrix Potter

The first Beatrix Potter book we’ve obtained for DD, and it’s slightly bigger than the format I’m used to for them, but not otherwise changed, which is great. It should still be comfortable for her to hold once she can be trusted not to chew or tear it but still doesn’t have large hands.

This is the story of a rather naive young duck (Jemima) who in trying to find a safe place to lay her eggs is taken in by a gentlemanly-appearing fox. He takes a significant amount of time to lay his trap, and it is only just as he is about to spring it that the rather more worldly sheepdog (Shep) comes to save her. The strange thing to me about the moral of the story is that it’s not clear that her situation is ever explained to her. From her perspective it’s Shep’s cohorts who do her by far the most harm, eating her eggs and chasing off her friend. The story does work, and the pictures are beautiful of course. Definitely hoping for more of these for DD.

Non-serious trouble

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Cover of The Trouble with Jack55. The Trouble with Jack by Shirley Hughes

If this list is correct, this is just the second book Hughes produced relatively alone (as both author and illustrator), and I do feel it lacks some of her (later) usual quality. The illustrations don’t seem as integrated into telling the story and the characters fall much more within traditional gender stereotyping in the clothing, interests and behaviour.

Still, while it hasn’t become a new favourite it does still have beautiful pictures and a gentle taking for granted that even siblings who seem lightly antagonistic on a regular basis will also (presuming things haven’t gone too far) have plenty of happy, co-operative moments. I can’t help thinking, though, that they get off very lightly indeed when leaving a rambunctious three-year-old alone with a pretty birthday tea set-up. That was just asking for trouble…

Baby World

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Um, my baby really disliked my being away from her today, even though she was with her father. Here’s hoping she gets used to my mornings away without much more trauma. (I did enjoy the class a lot, at least!)

Cover of Baby Born68. Baby Born by Anastasia Suen. Illustrated by Chih-Wei Chang

This is a little book about the first year of a baby born in winter and her (very ethnically diverse) friends. Each spread shows a watercolour of babies and their families doing something season and age appropriate. There’s a flap to lift on each spread and the pictures are in slightly muted (but still colourful) watercolours.

I’ll admit I was slightly put off by the first spread being of rows and rows of babies in separate cots with never an adult (let alone a parent) in sight, but I’m remembering not being able to get our DD out of the hospital nursery fast enough. We couldn’t be moved to the rooming-in ward for half a day, and we went to the other ward a couple of hours before they’d let us take her to that room for the day – the sound of lonely newborns crying was heart-breaking. I couldn’t personally imagine choosing to leave mine there, and next time I’d probably fight harder to stay with her in the nursery, if necessary. Considering today’s experience, I’m probably feeling this particularly strongly. (Oh, and the nursery staff seemed very nice with the babies, but they only had so many hands.)

Anyway, the book. Each season the baby can do more and more, appropriately enough, and it’s nicely done. I think it’ll be an easy way to reminisce with DD about her first year, considering she’s also a winter baby, even though neither the climate nor the festivals fit here.

And Again

Friday, 29 April 2011
Cover of "Fire Pony"

Cover of Fire Pony

32. The Fire Pony by Rodman Philbrick

After enjoying Freak the Mighty so much, I thought I should try more by Philbrick, and came across this novel. There are some strong thematic similarities, with both novels told by a quiet orphaned boy in difficult family circumstances that he has little or no control over, who is failing in school. The settings are quite different, however; whereas Max might have quite enjoyed starting again in a place where no-one knew his family story, here Roy keeps being displaced. While Max lives in suburbia with older predictable adults (his grandparents), Roy is following his firebrand brother Joe Dilly around the rural horseranches of the western US.

At the start of this novel Roy and Joe Dilly (the way Roy always refers to him) are on the move, trying to get far enough away from Montana that the trouble Joe Dilly got into last won’t come back to haunt them. They find the Bar None, a ranch where everyone is welcome, and while the manager isn’t looking for more staff, Joe Dilly’s talent as a farrier and horseman win them a place, at least for the summer. Rick the manager and Mr Jessup the owner go out of their way to help Joe and Roy feel welcome and able to stay, smoothing over difficulties with the truant officer (since Roy isn’t in school) and others, and even giving Roy (the use of) a pony to break (with lots of guidance from all three men) and ride. Both brothers are happy at the Bar None, but neither can quite lose the worry that something’s going to go wrong again, that Joe Dilly’s going to do something stupid again…

I liked this novel a lot. It has a related feel to Freak the Mighty, but is a quite different story. It doesn’t downplay the technical details of looking after lots of horses, but doesn’t overwhelm with them either. Certain scenes remind me of Black Beauty, in a good way, but this is definitely a modern tale. It has a light touch with many of the moral issues, but there are lots of them there. One I want to reread, I think.

Difference and attraction

Thursday, 28 April 2011
Freak the Mighty

Image via Wikipedia

27. Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick

I have read this before, and both times found it funny, poignant and a great story. Our narrator, Max, is orphaned of his mother, because his father (who he increasingly physically looks like) killed her. He lives with his maternal grandparents, and obviously no-one has anything good to say about his father. Unfortunately his family is well known locally, meaning people (including his grandparents) are constantly reminding him of the things that happened when he was a little boy, and worrying aloud that the resemblance will be more than superficial. This seems to have caused him to retreat into the persona of a big lug: large, physically strong and with little or no academic prowess (even though at least some of his teachers think he has potential if he’d use it).

Things start to change when a good friend of his mother’s returns to the area, moving into the house next door with her son, happy to be nicknamed Freak, who Max remembers going to preschool with. Freak is physically weak and very small in stature, but has a highly developed intellect and taste for pretence and adventure. The two strike up a strong friendship, with Max becoming the Mighty part of the duo, and each enabling and encouraging the other to be more than he can alone.

While each retains some secrets, the two boys do each other a lot of good in many ways, with Max in particular being a stronger, more confident and more accepted member of his family and community.

There is apparently a film of this book, entitled simply The Mighty, but I haven’t seen it.

Who Did You Say?

Tuesday, 26 April 2011
Horton Hears a Who!

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65. Horton Hears a Who by Dr Seuss

I know this is one of the best known Dr Seuss books, but I hadn’t ever read it, so far as I can recall, until now. DH found this and the two Cat in the Hat Books I also read DD tonight in a 2nd hand bookshop a few weeks ago, so he read them to her first. I think she’s getting more of a sense of us doing something she’s supposed to enjoy when we read to her now, but at five months she’s not really clamouring for stories as yet. There’s time for that to come!

So, in this story Horton the elephant is enjoying a cool splashy pool in the Jungle of Nool, when he hears a voice coming from a speck of dust floating past, and striking up an acquaintance with the mayor of Whoville, which is located on the dust mote, he decides to protect their little world from potential accident. Unfortunately, his very taking notice of the Whos is rather the cause of most of their danger, since some of the other creatures in the jungle decide that Horton’s hearing imaginary voices rather than those of microscopic creatures, and to shake him out of it they decide to get rid of the flower into which he’s placed the mote…

As with the Cat in the Hat stories, there’s a fair bit of apparently good willed arrogance and really bullying in this story, but things do work out in the end (if not so much along the way). I suppose that means there’d be lots to discuss during and after reading the rhythmically rhyming story with all the bounce and verve the words demand.

Should I, or not?

Saturday, 23 April 2011
Cover of "The Trumpet of the Swan (full c...

Cover of The Trumpet of the Swan (full color)

I’m not adding this book to my list of what I’ve read this year, because I’m missing 30 pages of it (to be precise, pp121-152 repeat, and then the text skips straight to p185 in my copy), but I think I’ve read enough of it to discuss here anyway.

The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White

I’ve read Charlotte’s Web several times as a child, and heard of Stuart Little, but I hadn’t come across this E. B. White book before. It’s the story of a boy who loves nature (Sam) who on one of his regular camping trips with his father sees a pair of Trumpeter Swans nesting, and who keeps an eye on them as much as he can. More specifically it’s the tale of Louis, one of the cygnets, who is lacking a voice. His parents consider this quite a serious handicap, since a male Trumpeter Swan attracts his mate with his call, and so his father undertakes to obtain a trumpet for him, while Louis and Sam find some even more unorthodox means of communication for him.

As in Charlotte’s Web, the animal stars generally understand human speech and some experts understand human culture in great detail, even though the humans do not understand animal conversation. Those with such expertise find ways to interact with humans to get what they and their family/friends need. In this book the interaction is much more extensive and two way, with the animal stars deviating much further from expected species behaviour.

I generally enjoyed the tale, although I found it a little more twee than I expected. If it comes up I’d like to get a complete copy for DD when she’ll be old enough to appreciate chapter stories.