Saturday, February 23, 2013

Good Reads

So, I have been recording the books that I have read on Good Reads since January 1, 2008, over five years!

Here is my thought. I have been thinking that I want to put in some books I read before then. Many people do this; it is really sort of what the site is set up to do. So far, I have not put in book that I read before January 1, 2008, unless I reread them since then.

I have problems with this thought. I think the biggest one is that I would like to reread some of these books, and I think that I can't both have them on a "read" shelf and a "to read" shelf.

That last thought just sent me to explore the site some more, and while yes, I can't put books on both of those shelves, I can create another exclusive shelf called, read want to read again. This is not a perfect option, but I do think it is the one that I am going to do.

Monday, January 14, 2013

What We've Been Learning About Today

Iran - history, culture, politics, geography

Korea - language, culture

Japan - language, culture

Mythical Creatures

Cooking - why in baking some things get mixed a lot and some don't and how to decide which is which, how to make a smoothie with the right texture and sweetness that actually tastes like mangoes, how to cook an omelet with perfectly melted cheese and no browned eggs

The Aryan Race - historical significance melding into anthropology, genetic studies, occultism, Nazism, and philosophy (this tied in with Persia/Iran studies)


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Valentine's Day Picture Books

I was going to write more about WWII related books, but then last night, JoAnn and I got to talking about holiday theme picture books. We both agreed that nothing says "insert holiday here" better than a big stack of themed picture books. This led to JoAnn rushing off to do research on Valentine's books.  He are some that I like.

Where's My Hug by James Mayhew

Not a Valentine's story, but it goes with the theme of expressions of love that we celebrate that day. Beautiful illustrations tell the story of a little boy who thinks he's too old for a hug before school, and what happens to that hug he refused to accept.

Love, Ruby Valentine by Laurie B. Friedman

Ruby Valentine, of course, loves Valentine's Day. This is the story of what happens when she misses her favorite holiday. The story is told in sweet rhyming passages. I love picture books that rhyme!

I Love Words by Barbara Barbieri McGrath

This picture book isn't a story book. It is a book that uses conversation heart candy to explore language. It is a fun book to explore.

Bloom!: A Little Book About Finding Love by Maria van Lieshout

Bloom is a little pig who is in love with the idea of love. In this love themed book, Bloom learns a little bit about what love truly is.

The Wedding Procession of the Rag Doll & The Broom Handle and Who Was in It by Carl Sandburg

This little classic is loved by many and hated by a few. It certainly tickles many children's funny bones so I recommend it to add a bit of humor to the Valentine's season.

The Great Valentine's Day Balloon Race by Adrienne Adams

My girlfriend loves bunny's so books featuring bunny characters always catch my eye. In this cute tale, two bunny friends build a hot air balloon and enter a race. As an added bonus, you get to learn a bit about hot air balloons and physics in general from this inspirational story.

Cranberry Valentine by Harry Devlin

An old, rusty sailor starts getting a ton of Valentine's. Instead of being happy or flattered, he is a bit scared. I think many of us understand shying away from abundant expressions of love. Sweet illustrations and a charming, old-fashioned story make this book a winner.

Valentine by Carol Carrick

Caring for a newborn lamb helps a little girl deal with being separated from her hard working mom on Valentine's day. A great story for animal lovers.

The Day It Rained Hearts by Felicia Bond

When it starts raining hearts, Cornelia Augusta decides to make special Valentines for everyone she knows.

Valentine's Day by Anne F. Rockwell

A longer picture book about a class spending Valentine's Day thinking about their friend and classmate who is now in Japan. The book shows typical classroom Valentine's Day activities and also has the theme of loving friendship. My kids are homeschooled and enjoy picture books depicting classroom life so that they can see what it is like.

Happy Valentine's Day, Curious George by H. A. Rey

Its Valentine's Day, and as is typical, Curious George's curiosity gets him into trouble. There is a lot of Valentine's fun and humor in this story.

Ruby Valentine Saves the Day by Laurie B. Friedman

Another volume about Valentine's lover Ruby. In this book, she works hard to create a Valentine's celebration that everyone can enjoy.

The Best Thing About Valentines by Eleanor Hudson

Another cute rhyming story about all the great things about Valentine's Day.

A Valentine for Norman Noggs by Valiska Gregory

Norman Noggs is a hamster who is in love with the new girl in town. He sets out to win her heart and learns a thing or two about love in the process.

The Best Valentine in the World by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat

Ferdinand is a very organized fox. When he sets out to celebrate Valentine's Day with his love, Florette, he learns a bit about jumping to conclusions, the nature of individuality, and love in the process. In our family, we hate story lines with misunderstandings and a lack of clear communication. This sweet story, teaching about the value of clear communication and taking the time to listen, is a winner.

Arthur's Heart Mix-up by Marc Brown

Arthur has made a heart project for the science fair and is devastated when he finds it broken. As he works to fix the project, he also learns a lot about friendship.

The Duchess of Whimsy by Randall de Sève

A love story with gorgeous illustrations and a hilarious plot. One of my favorites!

Lilly's Chocolate Heart by Keven Henkes

Lilly loves her chocolate heart, but will she be able to save it forever? Perfect for the candy loving child (or adult!)

Sophie and Rose by Kathryn Lasky

The tale of a deep love between a girl and her doll. A unique and relate-able story about love.

Will You Be My Valenswine by Teresa Bateman

The title alone is enough to get me to pull this one off the shelf. Polly Piglet is off on a search for the perfect Valenswine!

Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli

This may be the best Valentine's read on this list. Mr. Hatch is lonely but excited to get an extra special Valentine. When he finds out that it was only a mistake, his community sets out to show him just how much he is loved.



Saturday, January 12, 2013

World War II: Reading Guide

Sometimes, one of the kids has an interest, and they delve into it through historical fiction, memoirs, and biography. Recently JoAnn has developed an interest in World War II. Here are some of the books that she has read:

I Have Lived a Thousand Years: Growing Up in the Holocaust by Livia Bitton-Jackson

This is a memoir from a girl who was sent along with her family to a concentration camp during WWII. I have not read it, but the reviews are excellent. The book was written in first person, and as is typical of many memoirs, there are some intensely graphic scenes and other parts of the story that aren't as full, fleshed, with a bit of a random feel. Of course, this is how a memoir works. It is someone's memory. Memories are not novels with everything recorded evenly, leading to a climax and a logical conclusion.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

I think most everyone is familiar with the story of Anne Frank, whose family hid during the Holocaust for two years until they were betrayed. Anne Frank was 13 and 14 when she wrote this diary. JoAnn's biggest complaints were that it was a diary, so it was actually boring if at the same time sort of fascinating. It is not a long or difficult read, and I recommend it to add immediacy to a Holocaust study.

Good Night, Maman by Norma Fox Mazer

This book has some personal correlation to our lives because it is the story of a 12 year old girl and her brother who leave Paris as refugees to travel to the refugee center that was operated at Fort Ontario here in Oswego, NY. (One can still go and tour the fort which was originally a fort in the Revolutionary War.) Couple that with award winning author from my own childhood, and I really think this is a winner. I especially recommend it to anyone who might be visiting Fort Ontario. This book is historical fiction.

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata

This book actually takes place after WWII, but the theme of the book is the prejudice that Japanese people faced in our country even after the war was over. JoAnn really liked this book and so did some of my other friends so I have put it on my to read list. This is historical fiction.

Tell No One Who You Are: The Hidden Childhood of Regine Miller by Walter Buchignani & Regine Miller

This is another memoir. In this case, the protagonist is a child who leaves her family and is shuffled from place to place to protect her from the Nazis. This was a favorite of JoAnn's and was actually the start of her WWII obsession.

Weedflower  by Cynthia Kadohata

This is the story of a girl whose family is placed in a relocation camp for those of Japanese ancestry during WWII. There are many similar works of historical fiction, but JoAnn particularly liked this one.

*****
Of course, I have my own WWII recommendations for young readers, and perhaps, I'll share them tomorrow!




Friday, January 4, 2013

Best Books of 2012

These are the five star books that I read in 2012. They are in no particular order.

1. Insurgent by Veronica Roth

This is the second book in the Divergent series. It is not a stand alone. I really enjoyed both books in this series. I feel that the plot is unique, and the books flow so nicely and yet still manage to have some depth. The Divergent universe is a dystopia where upon puberty each citizen chooses a faction to belong to at adulthood. The factions are based on character traits such as honesty, bravery, and intelligence. The youth are given tests to help them decide upon their faction, and it is believed that there is an ideal faction for each individual. Unfortunately the third book in this series has not been released yet. I am much looking forward to it!

2. Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm

This wonderful story about a girl growing up in Washington state around 1900. The book is based on a diary found by the author from one of her ancestors which gives it a realism some historical fiction lacks. May Amelia is the only girl child in her neck of the woods (local lore says that girls just aren't born there), and she resents the special treatment she receives. There is a follow-up book to this one which I have not read yet.

3. Jip: His Story by Katherine Paterson

Jip was surprisingly good and makes for another historical fiction piece on my list. Jip is a boy being raised on a poor farm during the Civil War era in Vermont. The characterizations are so rich! (I should not be surprised with an author like Katherine Paterson.) One of the characters is a man with a mental disability who lives in a cage. Somehow this is a happy, optimistic story though. There is a tie in between this book and Lyddie by the same author, but it is definitely a fine standalone read.

4. Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

I think this might be the absolute best book that I read this year. OK, maybe I shall say tied with Ender's Game. Bitterblue is the third book in the Graceling Realm series, and the term series is used here loosely because the books are only loosely tied together. I would strongly recommend that one read Graceling before reading Bitterblue, and I think to get as much out of the story as possible, it would be best to read Fire first too. Although Bitterblue is a children's book, this is a long, deep, involved story. In the Graceling realm, some citizens are born with special gifts. They are called gracelings. In some kingdoms, they are enslaved. The books delve deeply not only into characterizations but also into politics, right and wrong, evil, love, and loyalty, There are disturbing images in all three books, especially Fire, but I feel that the imagery is necessary to the story and not overdone.

5. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

I loved, loved, loved this book which also makes for a third historical fiction piece on the list! Calpurnia Tate is growing up in Texas in 1899. She is another overprotected daughter, and in this book, she finds a friend and mentor in her eccentric, elderly grandfather who also teaches her much about science, especially nature. I am surprised that this great story doesn't get more critical acclaim. I honestly think that it may be because the book is somewhat true to the time. It is not a feminist book and does not contain revisionist history. It is a great look at a spunky girl and cantankerous old man's journey into the realm of scientific inquiry with snippets of period family life thrown in for one's enjoyment. This book coupled with Our Only May Amelia would be an excellent study of life in 1900 in two distinctly different places from heroines who have a lot of personality in common.

6. This Full House by Virginia Euwer Wolff

This Full House is the last book in the Make Lemonade trilogy. These are books written in free verse with the foundational theme being poverty. This is another strong series with all three books earning five stars in my book. They are difficult and uncomfortable. They also build upon one another so it is best to read This Full House after the first two. Of the three books, This Full House is the weakest, but it is still an amazing work. I hope Wolff continues writing more deep stories for teens.

7. All Good Children by Catherine Austen

Unfortunately, I read this book early in the year, and my review at the time is limited to, "Another winner in the sci fi dystopian young adult category." I do not remember the depth of this story, or why I found it amazing, but it won five stars at the time so I place it here for your perusal.

8. Hunger by Michael Grant

This book would be something that I would typically find more in my "guilty pleasure" pile as opposed to my "it's amazing" pile. The Gone series by Michael Grant follows a group of kids who find that all the adults in their section of the world have disappeared, and they are locked into this piece of Southern California by an impenetrable dome. On top of that some animals, including humans, are experiencing mutations. This is a lengthy series with six volumes so far. I have read four of them and give all four stars except for the second, Hunger. This is definitely a series, and the books have to be read in order to follow the story. Grant is a great word creator and writes strong characters. These are real people, multi-dimensional. The books make you think, and Hunger is the best of the lot. I like to take a break from long series, but I will be returning to this one in the future to read more volumes. Note, there is some graphic violence in these novels, but again, I do not think it is overdone. It could be particularly disturbing to younger children though so I recommend it to those 12 and up who don't mind disturbing imagery in their stories. Your views may vary.

9. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

A true classic work of science fiction, I strongly recommend this to any thoughtful read.




Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hunger Games, The Movie Version

Today, I had the opportunity to watch the movie, The Hunger Games. I watched it with two of my kids, JoAnn and Lia, and my partner, in our bedroom, on our very old 13 inch TV. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to sustain through watching the whole thing. For the most part, I do not like watching movies at home. I made it about 2/3 of the way through before getting that rather claustrophobic feeling that tells me I really don't want to be watching a movie anymore, which is pretty good. I did persevere and make it through. My thoughts are that it was lacking. It seems a lot of the themes of the book were sort of run over. Many of the characterizations didn't feel as deep as in the books, most noticeably Peeta and Haymitch. If I was just watching it, not having read the book, I would rate it a 4 out of 5 though which certainly isn't bad. It was a good movie, I think. I just was hoping for a bit more.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Book Review: Savvy, by Ingrid Law

I read numerous positive reviews of the children's book, Savvy, in 2008 when it was first published. There was something about the plot that didn't hook me though, and it never ended up in my reading queue. Recently, we visited a library that we don't usually frequent, and they had a display of Newbery Award winners and honor books, and there was Savvy. I pulled it off the shelf, along with Princess Academy which I have also never gotten around to reading, and I just finished it.

It was a quick read. My copy was soft cover with a gorgeous cover illustration and huge print that was easy on my eyes. The book tells the story of Mississippi Beaumont (just call her Mibs) and how she turned thirteen. You see, the Beaumont family is mostly just like other families, accept each member of the family develops a special talent, known as a "savvy", on their thirteenth birthday. Mibs's thirteenth birthday is complicated by family troubles, mistaken savvies, over zealous adults, and troubling interactions with peers. The resulting journey leads to a whole lot of growing up for Mibs and her older brother Fish and their friends.

I liked the fact that this book dealt with a whole lot of problems without being overly negative. I also liked that the children had power, but there was some realism tucked in there to make it all a believable story, even if it did have a tall tale feel to it. The feeling of realism managed to hold out right through the end which is often not the case with fantasy novels, where magic often much too easily solves everyone's problems. At the same time, I didn't like the fact that most of the story's plot lines worked out OK. I just felt that it was a little too optimistic. (It is odd for me to say that!) This may simply be due to my own cynicism and feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy, but it keeps this book from making it to the top of my favorites.

I recommend Savvy particularly for girls and boys between the ages of 10 and 15 who like fantasy and/or tall tale type novels. There is a lot of adventure in this book. Its reading style is easy, and I particularly think it might appeal to kids who find longer or more difficult novels overwhelming. It could also make an exciting read aloud for multiple ages or in a 4th through 6th grade classroom.