Off for Awhile

Here’s hoping all of you a Happy New Year and Happy Holidays!  I will be off spending time with my kids and hubby until after New Year’s.  I may post periodically, but don’t really plan on it.  Depends on how many Cybil nominees I get through!

All-I'll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll

The All-I’ll-Ever-Want Christmas Doll by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney.

I am a finicky holiday book reader.  The book has to give me more than people merrily opening large presents or fretting that their gifts aren’t good enough.  There has to be depth, magic and that special holiday something that makes it a worthwhile holiday read.  This book has all of that.

Set in the middle of the Depression, this picture book features a family struggling to give everyone a wonderful holiday.  Nella and her family always have Christmas, but don’t always have presents.  But Nella is hoping and wishing for a Baby Betty doll.  Her sisters tell her that it will never happen, but on Christmas morning there it is!  All of the girls struggle to be the one who gets to play with Baby Betty.  Nella wins, but slowly realizes there is more to Christmas than just ending up with the best present.

With two such great talents working on a book together, you know this is going to be wonderful.  McKissack is as much an artist with words as Pinkney is with paint.  McKissack has created a book that looks frankly at a poor family struggling to get by.   I love her wording as she describes Baby Betty:

“There before us was a for-real, store-bought, brand-new Baby Betty doll, the color of chocolate, with rosy cheeks, black curly locks, and thick eyelashes.” 

One can almost smell the new toy, much less visualize it so clearly.  So much of the book reads with this clarity and style.  It draws readers into the story, and allows them to bask there in that place for awhile.  Add to that Pinkney’s signature illustrations, and you have a real wonder of a book.  Pinkney again captures children in mid-stride, mid-expression, so that readers finish the movement mentally, dancing their own images in their head along with the story. 

Highly recommended as a holiday story with all the right messages for the true spirit of the season without any preachiness.  This book will work well as an annual family read, or as the perfect companion to a sweet baby doll present.

Freckleface Strawberry

Freckleface Strawberry by Julianne Moore, illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

Yes, this is written by the actress Julianne Moore, but don’t judge it harshly because of that.

There once was a seven-year-old girl who loved to ride bikes and had lots of friends, but she was ashamed of her freckles.  People mentioned them all the time, and they made her different than the other kids.  She tried to remove them, but nothing worked.  Then she covered her entire body and face and no one talked about her freckles!  But they didn’t talk to her either, because they didn’t recognize her.  Lonely, hot and sad, she finally finds that she likes living with her freckles better than being plain and alone.

Perhaps I like this book because I am head to toe freckles and moles.  My kids say I am polka-dotted.  I never tried the lemon juice route, because my equally freckled mother informed me that nothing she ever tried worked! 

The illustrations have a vintage feel with a lot of pizzazz and charm.  The opening page of Freckleface grinning out at the reader is a winning way for the book to begin.  I also love the fact that her freckles are not just charmingly dotted on her cheeks, but extend to her legs and arms.  This is a great way to talk to children about being different, because no matter how homogeneous a group you are dealing with, we are all different and have things we fret about.  Some of us are chubby, some tall, some short, etc. 

Recommended as a way to start discussions about being different, this book is appropriate for ages 4-6.

A Day with No Crayons

A Day with No Crayons by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Chad Cameron.

Liza loves to color with crayons, she fills coloring book after coloring book.  When she runs out of coloring books, she discovers a blank wall in her room and starts to color there.  But when her mother finds out, she takes away Liza’s crayons for the rest of the day.  Now Liza has to find a new way to express herself, and she certainly does!  Cameron, the illustrator, pays homage to great artists in his illustrations, and it is lovely the way color returns to Liza’s life as she discovers more and more ways to be an artist.

This book really speaks to me.  I love that it is about a child basically learning to see art in her life, to express herself in new media, and to use a variety of styles and techniques.  It is a winner to get children redefining art in their own lives and seeing the potential for art all around them. 

Highly recommended as a book to be used in elementary art classes, it would also be a winner in a story time about art.  What a great idea it would be to then offer children a chance to create art without crayons! 

Swim the ALA Stream

I was going to attend ALA Midwinter, but it didn’t work out after all.  The biggest draw was going to be attending the Newbery and Caldecott announcements live!  But since I won’t be there, I hope to be able to attend the live webcast that ALA will be offering on January 14th.  Last year I missed it, logging in too close to the time it started to get a seat on the stream.  I will try again this year!  And happily type as quickly as possible to get the titles posted as they are announced.  Hopefully!

The Three Snow Bears

The Three Snow Bears by Jan Brett.

Brett has taken The Three Bears and moved it to the Arctic where Goldilocks is a little Inuit girl named Aloo-ki who has managed to get separated from her sled dogs.  The three polar bears are out for a walk waiting for their porridge to cool when they discover the dogs trapped on an ice floe.  Aloo-ki discovers the bears’ igloo where she is drawn in by the smell of porridge, she tastes them all, then moves into the igloo further to try on three different sizes of boots and finally to fall asleep on the perfect sleeping bench.  Meanwhile the bears save the dogs and return home to discover Aloo-ki asleep.

Brett has refreshed this traditional tale by not only moving its location but infusing it with regional details.  I really enjoyed Brett’s attention to the smallest details in her illustrations.  The story is carried forward not only by the main illustrations on each page, but also the side panels where the other branch of the story is happening.  The side panels also have whimsical arctic animals dressed for the wintry weather. 

A perfect winter book, this is a good book to share with a few children at a time so that the details of the illustrations can be enjoyed.  Highly recommended for ages 4-7.

Dragon Slippers

Dragon Slippers
by Jessica Day George.

Creel’s aunt decides that the best way to secure Creel’s fortune is to send her to a dragon’s cave to be taken prisoner.  That way a knight will arrive to rescue her and be bound to marry her despite her lack of a dowry.  But of course it doesn’t work out quite as planned.  First, Creel really doesn’t want to marry a pompous knight.  Then, the dragon isn’t interested in taking Creel prisoner.  And finally, the dragon doesn’t horde gold, but instead collects shoes.  So Creel makes a deal with the dragon.  He will be spared the need to fight and she will get to choose any pair of shoes she wishes from his collection.  Creel heads out to the large city to find work as a seamstress, wearing her new blue shoes.  Creel is not done dealing with dragons though, far from it!

This story is wonderfully written with warmth and humor.  Creel is a heroine worth journeying with as she uses her intelligence and skill to overcome obstacles.  She is a welcome change from many female characters as she is a true individual and doesn’t shy away from hard work or confrontations.  Yet she is human, has weaknesses, and is not proud.  She is a true treat of a character.

Readers will also appreciate the range of personalities seen in the dragons themselves as well as the secondary characters in the story.  The author has really built a credible world with a sense of history, tradition and currency.

Highly recommended for young fantasy readers, this book will most appeal to young girls, though boys may be willing to try it due to the dragons and the battles.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Philip Pullman's Upcoming Books

Philip Pullman has announced a new companion to his Golden Compass trilogy.  To be released this spring, the companion book is entitled Once Upon a Time in the North.  The book details the history of Lee Scoresby and Iorek Byrnison, the balloonist and the bear. 

Pullman will also be releasing a full-length novel in 2009, called The Book of Dust

Two things for Pullman fans to cheer about!

Inkheart Trailer

Oo la la!  The Inkheart movie trailer is gorgeous!  Looks like a wonderful cast too.  Take a look for yourself.

I posted about the books over the years and know that I have lots of fans of the books reading this blog!  Take a look at the long list of comments on the Inkspell entry I made in 2005.  They are still debating Basta and Dustfinger and who is hotter.  Perhaps the movies can resolve the argument?