Posts Tagged ‘Children’s Fiction’

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.

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More for the collection! :)

Friday, 20 May 2011
Cover of "Shakespeare's Planet"

Cover of Shakespeare's Planet

We finally got to the post office this morning, for the first time in a couple of weeks, to send off a couple of BookMooch items, and receive several more, plus a couple of much appreciated gifts from my mother. Nothing for the baby this time (although there is one children’s book, it’ll be a few years till she’d be ready for it), and a good few of them were DH’s choices (mostly classic science fiction) rather than mine, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t read them even before he does…

    • The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M. Auel. (My mother and I both read the first five books in this series in the 90s, so now that the last one is finally published she very kindly got me a copy. I don’t have copies of the others, but with that gap I presume Auel will remind us of any details we need to know. I do remember the basic story, and I’m sure the rest will come back to me.)
    • Cover of Jerusalem: The Biography

      Cover of Jerusalem: The Biography

      Jerusalem: The Biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore. (Both parents have recommended this as an interesting read, so I’m intrigued.)

    • Timescape by Gregory Benford. (One of DH’s choices whose back cover makes it sound like apocalyptic SF.)
    • Surprise Island by Gertrude Chandler Warner. (The second of the Boxcar Children Mysteries, as recommended by a couple of my lovely readers/commenters here, so I’ll try to get to this one relatively quickly.)
    • Sacred Clowns by Tony Hillerman. (I requested the entire set of Hillerman’s Chee/Leaphorn novels on BookMooch, so they’re gradually arriving. I may wait for the rest and then read them through in chronological order.)
    • The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman. (As above.)
    • Cover of The Lovely Bones

      Cover of The Lovely Bones

      The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. (I never read this when it was so popular, but it did sound interesting, so we’ll see.)

    • Shakespeare’s Planet by Clifford D. Simak. (DH’s. I haven’t read any Simak yet.)
Cover of "The Planet Buyer (U.K.)"

Cover of The Planet Buyer (U.K.)

  • The Planet Buyer by Cordwainer Smith. (As previous.)
  • Destiny Doll by Clifford D. Simak. (This too.)
  • The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum. (And this.)

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.

Moving Favourites

Monday, 18 April 2011

Cover of Moving Molly54. Moving Molly by Shirley Hughes

I was excited to find this available to me on BookMooch, as I remembered it fondly from my own childhood, and it didn’t disappoint when reading it to DD. While the pictures and incidents came back to me as I read it, I had forgotten how relatively long this story is; DD seemed quiet and attentive for the whole thing however, which I was impressed with.

While the core of the story is Molly and her family moving from one home to another, there is far more to this than a simple, “Molly and her family were moving house. A van came to move their furniture. See their new house and garden.” Instead we have a much more nuanced tale of a roughly-four-years-old child’s perspective on the old home and what it was like there, what the actual moving day (and the ones before and after it) entails, and her finding a place and activities for herself in the new one.

In my opinion the story here is good, but it’s the pictures which make it great. They tell significant parts of the tale, and give much fertile ground to go further into it. (Oh, Molly’s parents and she herself are keen gardeners, although her elder brother and sister aren’t shown to have much interest in plants.)

While this might well be useful in getting a child used to some of the issues involved in moving house, it’s well worth the read even if you never do (and my mother still lives in the house we had when I was born).