Saturday, October 30, 2010

Zen Ghosts by Jon Muth

Amazon product description:
“It’s Halloween.
The trees are ablaze in fiery reds. Excited children don colorful costumes. And there’s mystery and fun around every corner!
When Addy, Michael, and Karl finish trick-or-treating, their bags are brimming with treats. But the fun isn’t over yet. Their good friend Stillwater the panda has one more special surprise in store for them. A mysterious visitor is about to tell them a spine-tingling story -- one that will fill each and every reader with wonder.”

This latest installment by Muth follows Zen Shorts and Zen Ties. The beautiful watercolor and ink illustrations are what first drew me to the Zen series.  This story is a little eclectic for young readers, but Muth has grounded his tale of duality (a tale of a young women who seems to live in two places at once) with humor and ordinary details from a child’s world at Halloween.  Muth includes an author’s note discussing Zen koans and the various versions of the Chinese tale of the woman living in two places. 

The meditative nature of the story may flow over children’s heads, but they will enjoy the peaceful flow of the story and the beautiful illustrations.  Fans of Zen Ties and Zen Shorts will want to add this one to their collection.

Recommended for K-3.

Mrs. Archer’s rating: 4 of 5 (The illustrations get a 5 plus)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Battle of the Books Friday - Jennifer Murdley's Toad by Bruce Coville

From the back cover:
“I do have one toad—only one—that I can let you have for a somewhat lower price,” Mr. Elives said.
Jennifer Scowled. “What’s wrong with it?”
“There is nothing wrong with him. He simply does not suit my needs. He will however, provide you with a great deal of—amusement. It may, indeed, be a perfect match.”
Something about the way the old man said this struck Jennifer as odd. She had an uneasy feeling that he was making fun of her. Yet there was no trace of a smile on his face.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
The old man shrugged. “No one comes into this shop by accident,” he said, as if that explained things."

Poor Jennifer was having a day! She’s not happy with her looks.  Her dad puts all of underwear in the washing machine and she is forced to wear her brother’s under pants.  She hopes to keep it a secret but her best friend tells everyone. She’s behind on a report. How is she supposed to write a report about having a pet when she doesn’t have a pet?  And she’s being picked on by the beautiful popular girl Sharra.  Things don’t get any better when she stumbles into a mysterious shop as she tries to get away from a bully.  True, Mr. Elive’s Magic Shop does have a variety of animals and she does walk away with one. But a toad was not exactly what she had in mind for a pet. However, this is no ordinary toad.  Once she’s out of the shop it starts talking to her. He has lots to say but he often leaves out important information; such as strange birth, the treasure hidden in his forehead or that there’s a witch out to get him so she can have the treasure.  Before Jennifer knows it people are turning into toads and she and her friends are being chased by an evil witch.

Children will love the hilarious escapades of Jennifer and her toad.  Older readers may recognize references to fairy tales.  Coville has written an engaging and creative story that manages to deliver a message without beating the reader over the head with a billboard.

Recommended for ages 9 - 12.

Mrs. Archer's rating: 5 of 5

It's time for Book Blogger Hop

In the spirit of the Twitter Friday Follow, the Book Blogger Hop is a place just for book bloggers and readers to connect and share our love of the written word!  This weekly BOOK PARTY is an awesome opportunity for book bloggers to connect with other book lovers, make new friends, support each other, and generally just share our love of books!  It will also give blog readers a chance to find other book blogs to read!  So, grab the logo, post about the Hop on your blog, and start HOPPING.  Hop on over to Crazy for Books and get started.

This week's question is:  "What is the one bookish thing you would love to have, no matter the cost?"

My answer: I would build a house with a large, round two story (at least) floor to ceiling all the way around book shelves, including the rolling book ladder. One section of shelves would be filled with signed, first edition Newbery and Caldecott winners. Another section would be all my other autographed books.  And just off the library would be a sunroom with fireplace/pit for reading.

I'd have to win the lottery before I could have all that, but a girl can dream.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills

Rocket is an adorable little white dog with black spots. He loves chasing leaves, chewing sticks and napping under his favorite tree.  One day his nap is interrupted  by a tiny yellow bird who welcomes him to school as her first student.  The little dog does not want to be anyone’s student. But the little yellow bird doesn’t give up. Each day she returns convinced Rocket join her.  She hangs an alphabet banner from the tree. She reads a story, stopping just as she reaches the good part.  Rocket can’t help but be curious.  Eventually, Rocket becomes her student and together they have a great time using the alphabet to spell out the things in Rocket’s world.  Rocket is disappointed when winter comes and the little bird must leave.  But he doesn’t stop learning. He spends the winter practicing spelling everything he sees.  And when she returns in spring he greets her with joy, ready to learn more.  The illustrations are a combination of oil and colored pencil.  They show all the different moods of Rocket as he moves from being a reluctant to student to an eager one.  Both adults and children will enjoy this light carefree book about learning.

Recommended for ages 4-8.

Mrs. Archer’s rating: 4 of 5

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Olivia Goes to Venice by Ian Falconer

I first discovered Ian Falconer’s Olivia when I was covering for the librarian at my first school and was faced with entertaining a large group of Kindergarten students.  We had already finished the lesson the librarian had left and there was still what seemed to me at the time a massive amount of time remaining before the teacher was scheduled to pick up the class.  (It was probably only five minutes or so.) So I grabbed a book off the table. It was the original Olivia and I’ve been in love with this little pig ever since. 

In this latest adventure, Olivia and her family spend their vacation in Venice. They tour the city, crossing the canals, feeding the pigeons, taking gondola rides, and eating numerous gelatos – so many gelatos they almost sink the gondola.  As the time for returning home nears, Olivia wants to find just the perfect souvenir from the trip. Her choice is pure Olivia and one that will not surprise her fans.  As always Falconer’s mixture of charcoal and gouache illustrations are a delightful background for the story.  This is the original Olivia, not the Saturday morning cartoon spinoff. I love Falconer’s stories and illustrations. I am quite disappointed to discover a number of Olivia books being released that are based on the TV series. The illustrations in those books are not Falconer’s, but unfortunately a cheap imitation.  Olivia Goes to Venice, however, is pure Falconer and a must have for true Olivia fans.

Recommended for ages Preschool – 3rd Grade.

Mrs. Archer’s rating: 5 of 5

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fancy Nancy and the Fabulous Fashion Boutique by Jane O'Connor

While shopping for her sister’s birthday present Nancy discovers the most beautiful fan at Belle’s Fabulous Fashion Boutique.  But Nancy is broke, having spent all of her money on her sister’s present.  Never fear, Nancy has a plan. She’ll open up her own fabulous fashion boutique.  She’ll have the money to buy that fan in no time.  Business is grand until her sister sets her heart on a rhinestone necklace Nancy is selling to someone else. Despite a tremendous temper tantrum, Nancy sells the necklace to another customer; giving her enough money to purchase the fabulous fan.  But Nancy’s excitement dwindles away when her sister catchers her wrapping her birthday present and wants to know if it’s the pretty necklace.  What’s a good sister to do?
As with the other stories about Fancy Nancy, O’Connor manages to tell an engaging story, teach a little lesson, and throw in some fancy new vocabulary words.  Fancy Nancy fans will not be disappointed with this latest installment.

Recommended for ages Kindergarten through3rd grade.

Mrs. Archer’s rating: 5 of 5 (for both the story and the illustrations)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Knuffle Bunny Free: An Unexpected Diversion by Mo Willems

I must be honest. I’m not a big fan of the Knuffle Bunny books. I much prefer Willems’ pigeon books.  Yet, students seem to love these books. This latest installment in the Knuffle Bunny story is great book about growing up.  Knuffle Bunny and Trixie take an international plane trip to visit Trixie’s Oma and Opa.  Unfortunately, Trixie accidentally leaves her toy bunny on the plane.  By the time she realizes it’s missing the bunny is on its way to China.  The grownups tell her to be brave.  After all she’s a big girl now and doesn’t really need Knuffle Bunny.  Trixie manages to make it through the visit with him and is pleased to find him waiting in the seat pocket on the plane.  But the story doesn’t end there. Realizing that she is indeed a big girl, Trixie gives Knuffle Bunny to a crying baby and now she is Knuffle Bunny free.  The story ends with a note to Trixie from her dad telling her that he hopes some day the toy bunny will make it’s way back to Trixie.

The illustrations are mixture of photographs and Willems’ quirky cartoons. Fans of the first two books will enjoy this one as well.  It’s a great present for children who are making the big kid transition.

Recommended for Pre-school to 1st Grade.

Mrs. Archer’s rating 4 of 5.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Chalk by Bill Thomson

I know. I know. What with it being Blog Hop Friday, and Battle of the Books Friday, this makes the third post for today.  I can’t help it. I am just so excited about this book that I couldn’t wait until tomorrow to post about it.  It received a starred review from School Library Journal!

From the inside front flap: “A rainy day. Three kids in a park. A dinosaur spring rider. A bag of chalk. The kids begin to draw. . . and then . . . magic!”

Chalk is a spectacularly illustrated wordless picture book about three children who find a magical bag of side walk chalk.  Though it’s a rainy day, magic happens when the children begin to draw with the chalk. A drawing of the sun makes the rain go away, butterflies spring to life, and so does a giant dinosaur. Never fear, a drawing of a rain cloud brings back the rain and the dinosaur dissolves.  I’m not sure which is more magical, the fun the children are having creating their pictures or Thomson’s amazingly beautiful and realistic illustrations.  The illustrations have a photographic or computer generated quality, but are actually composed of acrylics and colored pencils.  Another magical aspect of this book is its lack of words allowing the reader to write their own words.  Anyone who has bought into the idea that picture books are on the downturn or are not  vital in helping children develop good reading skills will surely change their mind when they see this beautiful book.  Children will not only enjoy looking at the pictures but will enjoy being able to decode, predict and tell the story for themselves.  I sincerely hope the Caldecott Committee is paying close attention to this book.  And I’m very glad I do not have to choose between Chalk and Wiesner’s Art and Max. I’m adding them both to my collection.

Recommended for preschool and up. (SLJ actually recommended it for preschool to 4th grade, but I believe that some picture books are meant for all readers, no matter how old they are.)

Mrs. Archer’s rating:  5 of 5 and then some!!

Battle of the Books Friday: Charlie's Raven by Jean Craighead George

Starting today, Fridays will be Battle of the Books Friday here on Mrs. Archer's Book Notes. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have challenged myself to finish reading through the list of 40 titles. Now I will also be reading books nominated for next year's list.  Check back each Friday for more information.

Thirteen year old Charlie is worried about his grandfather who is recovering from a heart attack. Charlie’s Teton Sioux Indian friend, Singing Bird tells him that ravens can “cure people.”  Charlie’s grandfather is a naturalist and has studied ravens over the years. Convinced a raven is the cure his grandfather needs, Charlie sets out to get one.  Blue Sky, Charlie’s raven, becomes a member of the family after he imprints on Charlie.  Charlie’s grandfather does appear to improve with regular visits from Blue Sky combined with the grandfather’s involvement in Charlie’s raven research project.  The author  incorporates interesting scientific information about raven behavior into the story along with a bit of Native American story telling.  A few incidents will give the true scientist pause: Blue Sky speaks and other members of the raven family seem to sense and react to a neighbor’s hatred of ravens.  However, overall the story is an excellent read.   The relationship between Charlie, his grandfather and Blue Sky is a moving story that will generate an interest in the natural world and provide some true understanding into the proper way to conduct nature research.
I must admit that this is not a book I would have chosen to read if I had not challenged myself to read all of the books on the Pike’s Peak Region Battle of the Books List.  Sometimes it is good to read something outside your comfort zone.
Recommended for grades 4 – 7.

Mrs. Archer’s Rating: 4 of 5