Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: The Tiger Rising

As I mentioned last week in my review of The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, I love Kate DiCamillo’s writing; her prose is beautifully written and her characters wonderfully real.  The Tiger Rising, a slim novel we just finished reading aloud, is no exception.

The Tiger Rising opens with twelve-year old Rob waiting for his school bus and thinking about his recent discovery:

Finding the tiger had been luck, he knew that.  He had been out in the woods behind the Kentucky Star Motel, way out in the woods, not really looking for anything, just wandering, hoping that maybe he would get lost or get eaten by a bear and not have to go to school ever again.  That’s when he saw the old Beauchamp gas station building, all boarded up and tumbling down; next to it, there was a cage, and inside the cage, unbelievably, there was a tiger – a real-life, very large tiger pacing back and forth.  He was orange and gold and so bright, it was like staring at the sun itself, angry and trapped in a cage.

Rob’s secret buoys him as he boards the school bus and endures yet another morning of teasing and bullying.  But something else is different today.  A new girl, Sistine, gets on the bus.  She’s not like anyone Rob has ever seen or heard before, and he feels an immediate sense of connection with her:

Nobody wore pink lacy dresses to school.  Nobody.  Even Rob knew that.  He held his breath as he watched the girl walk down the aisle of the bus.  Here was somebody even stranger than he was.  He was sure.

Rob’s life is very difficult right now.  His mother recently died, and he and his father are both lost without her and unable to comfort each other.  They’re living in a run-down motel where Rob’s father works as a maintenance man, and Rob has a terrible case of what is probably eczema that makes him an outcast at school.  But now things are different for Rob; he’s not alone anymore.  Now he has a secret tiger in the woods and a new friend.

Like many of DiCamillo’s award-winning novels (this one was a National Book Award Finalist), The Tiger Rising tells its simple yet poignant story with lyrical style that pulls you in so you feel like its characters are your friends.  All four of us loved this novel and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next.  As in real life, everything does not turn out perfectly, but there is hope and encouragement in its satisfying conclusion.  I highly recommend this tender little novel, either for kids to read on their own or as a read-aloud.

121 pages, Candlewick Press

 Accelerated Reader:  Level 4.0, 3 points.

Monday, April 26, 2010

It's Monday 4/26! What Are You Reading?

It was a dark and stormy Monday...

It is dark and stormy, but I'm feeling much better than I was the past two weeks and am ready for a new week!  Lots of great books read in our house last week:
  • I read a grown-up novel, Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane, which was excellent.  After seeing the recent movie ads for Shutter Island, my husband mentioned that we had the book, so I decided to read it. I haven't read a suspense novel in awhile, so I really enjoyed this dark psychological thriller. Only problem was the chase dreams I had last night!
  • I just started Anything But Typical, a new middle-grade/teen novel written from the perspective of a 12-year old autistic boy.  It's good so far and reminding me a bit of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a novel told in the voice of a young man who is autistic (also excellent).
  • As he had planned, Jamie, 15, plowed through all 8 books of Deltora Quest by Emily Rodda in a rush of nostalgia for his old favorite series.  He's now moved onto Book 1, Cavern of the Fear, in the Deltora Shadowlands follow-up series.  if you have any middle-grade fantasy lovers in your family, Jamie says they should try the Deltora books.
  • Craig, 12, finished another Hardy Boys book, The Clue of the Screeching Owl.  He especially enjoyed this one when he discovered that one of his favorite Hardy Boys' TV episodes was adapted from this book.
  • I was thrilled to learn that Craig is now reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle for his English class literary circle.  I was an avid reader when I was a kid and had lots of favorite books, but this book - and its sequels - was my all-time,  #1 favorite!  I even played the role of Meg, the main character, in our class play based on the book.  He stayed up past bedtime last night and read all the way to page 60 (his assignment for the whole week), so I think he's enjoying it, too!  If you're a fan of A Wrinkle in Time, too, then you will enjoy When You Reach Me, a recent award-winner by Rebecca Stead that is based on part on A Wrinkle in Time.
  • We finished The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo last week.  Even though my boys are now 12 and 15, they still enjoy bedtime read-alouds.  Our whole family loved this wonderful little novel that we started on our recent vacation.  It inspired me to post a review last week of another amazing DiCamillo book, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.
 So, what books are you and your family reading this week?

P.S. I finally found time to post pictures of our recent spring break road trip to Louisiana.  if you're interested, you can check them out at our road trip blog (scroll down to the April 1, 2010 post to read the entries in order).

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

This week, we've been reading A Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo with our sons and loving it, so I thought I'd post a review of another DiCamillo book we enjoyed on audio a few years ago.  She has such a talent for beautiful prose and warm, touching stories.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo tells the story of Edward, an exquisite china rabbit who is treasured by 10-year old Abilene. Edward has a good life with Abilene, but he is self-absorbed and arrogant.  Then he gets lost and embarks on a journey that takes him from the bottom of the ocean to the top of a garbage heap and through many different owners, including a fisherman, a hobo, and a seriously ill child.  

Edward’s travels are more than just a fanciful tale. Through his adventures, he learns all about love, loss, and life.  The audio book narrator, Judith Ivey, reads DiCamillo’s beautiful language with considerable talent, bringing the diverse characters to life with a wide range of voices and taking listeners through laughter and sadness to the satisfying conclusion. On a road trip a few years ago, my husband and I and our two boys, then ages 9 and 12, were all captivated and touched by Edward’s miraculous journey.

Although we listened to the audio, I've heard that the illustrations in the book are as beautiful as the prose.

Listening Library/Random House Audio

The audio is appropriate for ages 8 and up.

 Listen to a clip:


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Top 100 Children's Books

I just read this list of Top 100 Children's Books over at Eating YA Books (this list was originally compiled by Elizabeth Bird at Fuse #8 based on voting from readers and posted on the School Library Journal Blog).  I just had to play along - I love lists (as you probably know if you've read my Top Ten Lists here).  Last year, I posted a similar list of 100 teen/YA books.  I only read 22 of those, but I did better with the children's list - I've read 45 of these (those highlighted in bold).   It's an interesting list, with a nice mix of both older classics and newer titles.  I read  some as a child and some more recently with my own kids (many of them on audio).  How about you?  How many of these books have you read?
  1. The Egypt Game — Snyder (1967)
  2. The Indian in the Cupboard — Banks (1980)
  3. Children of Green Knowe — Boston (1954)
  4. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane — DiCamillo (2006)
  5. The Witches — Dahl (1983)
  6. Pippi Longstocking — Lindgren (1950)
  7. Swallows and Amazons — Ransome (1930)
  8. Caddie Woodlawn — Brink (1935)
  9. Ella Enchanted — Levine (1997)
  10. Sideways Stories from Wayside School — Sachar (1978)
  11. Sarah, Plain and Tall — MacLachlan (1985)
  12. Ramona and Her Father — Cleary (1977)
  13. The High King — Alexander (1968)
  14. The View from Saturday — Konigsburg (1996)
  15. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — Rowling (1999)
  16. On the Banks of Plum Creek — Wilder (1937)
  17. The Little White Horse — Goudge (1946)
  18. The Thief — Turner (1997)
  19. The Book of Three — Alexander (1964)
  20. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon — Lin (2009)**
  21. The Graveyard Book — Gaiman (2008)
  22. All-of-a-Kind-Family — Taylor (1951)**
  23. Johnny Tremain — Forbes (1943)
  24. The City of Ember — DuPrau (2003)
  25. Out of the Dust — Hesse (1997)
  26. Love That Dog — Creech (2001)
  27. The Borrowers — Norton (1953)
  28. My Side of the Mountain — George (1959)
  29. My Father’s Dragon — Gannett (1948)
  30. The Bad Beginning — Snicket (1999)**
  31. Betsy-Tacy — Lovelae (1940)
  32. The Mysterious Benedict Society — Stewart ( 2007)
  33. Walk Two Moons — Creech (1994)
  34. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher — Coville (1991)
  35. Henry Huggins — Cleary (1950)
  36. Ballet Shoes — Stratfeild (1936)
  37. A Long Way from Chicago — Peck (1998)
  38. Gone-Away Lake — Enright (1957)
  39. The Secret of the Old Clock — Keene (1959)
  40. Stargirl — Spinelli (2000)
  41. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle — Avi (1990)
  42. Inkheart — Funke (2003)
  43. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase — Aiken (1962)
  44. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 — Cleary (1981)
  45. Number the Stars — Lowry (1989)
  46. The Great Gilly Hopkins — Paterson (1978)
  47. The BFG — Dahl (1982)
  48. Wind in the Willows — Grahame (1908)
  49. The Invention of Hugo Cabret — Selznick (2007)
  50. The Saturdays — Enright (1941)
  51. Island of the Blue Dolphins — O’Dell (1960)
  52. Frindle — Clements (1996)
  53. The Penderwicks — Birdsall (2005)
  54. Bud, Not Buddy — Curtis (1999)
  55. Where the Red Fern Grows — Rawls (1961)
  56. The Golden Compass — Pullman (1995)
  57. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing — Blume (1972)
  58. Ramona the Pest — Cleary (1968)
  59. Little House on the Prairie — Wilder (1935)**
  60. The Witch of Blackbird Pond — Speare (1958)
  61. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz — Baum (1900)
  62. When You Reach Me — Stead (2009)
  63. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — Rowling (2003)
  64. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry — Taylor (1976)
  65. Are You there, God? It’s Me, Margaret — Blume (1970)
  66. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — Rowling (2000)
  67. The Watsons Go to Birmingham — Curtis (1995)
  68. James and the Giant Peach — Dahl (1961)
  69. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH — O’Brian (1971)
  70. Half Magic — Eager (1954)
  71. Winnie-the-Pooh — Milne (1926)**
  72. The Dark Is Rising — Cooper (1973)
  73. A Little Princess — Burnett (1905)**
  74. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland / Through the Looking-Glass — Carroll (1865/72)
  75. Hatchet — Paulsen (1989)
  76. Little Women — Alcott (1868/9)
  77. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Rowling (2007)
  78. Little House in the Big Woods — Wilder (1932)
  79. The Tale of Despereaux — DiCamillo (2003)
  80. The Lightening Thief — Riordan (2005)
  81. Tuck Everlasting — Babbitt (1975)
  82. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — Dahl (1964)
  83. Matilda — Dahl (1988)
  84. Maniac Magee — Spinelli (1990)
  85. Harriet the Spy — Fitzhugh (1964)
  86. Because of Winn-Dixie — DiCamillo (2000)
  87. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — Rowling (1999)
  88. Bridge to Terabithia — Paterson (1977)
  89. The Hobbit — Tolkien (1938)**
  90. The Westing Game — Raskin (1978)
  91. The Phantom Tollbooth — Juster (1961)
  92. Anne of Green Gables — Montgomery (1908)
  93. The Secret Garden — Burnett (1911)
  94. The Giver — Lowry (1993)
  95. Holes — Sachar (1998)
  96. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler — Koningsburg (1967)
  97. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe — Lewis (1950)
  98. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philsopher’s Stone — Rowling (1997)**
  99. A Wrinkle in Time — L’Engle (1962)
  100. Charlotte’s Web — White (1952)**
Besides these 45 that I've read or listened to, I've seen the movies for a few more and recognize several titles my kids have read that I haven't.  In fact, I think I'll print this list for them to look at, too!

There are so many favorites of mine on this list.  I just finished The Phantom Tollbooth yesterday!

How many have you read?

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's Monday 4/19! What Are You Reading?

Whew, what a week here!  I have to first apologize - I didn't have any time at all to visit blogs last week.  Besides the usual after-vacation back-up of things to do, my week was packed full with soccer practices, school stuff, my mom's visit, and dentists appointments (in fact, I'm sitting in the dentist's waiting room again right now!).  Also, as soon as we arrived back in Delaware, my allergies hit hard, causing a severe flare-up of my immune system disorder, so I spent much of the week (in between all that running around) resting.

Fortunately, things seem to be slowly returning to normal.  I finally found a combination of meds that keep my allergies managed well enough that I don't feel completely wiped out all the time (just partially wiped out).  We finished unpacking and vacation laundry this weekend.  And I even posted our Louisiana vacation pictures online at our Road Trip Blog - take a look if you're interested (scroll down to April 1, 2010 to read/view the posts in order).  Today, I need to tackle those remaining 300 unread e-mails...

So, enough of all that - what you really want to hear about is our reading week, right?
  • Since I was feeling so crummy, I chose a light read for my next book, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  Believe it or not, I have never read this classic before, and Craig was working on it in English class, so I finally picked it up.  It's wonderful; I love all the clever wordplay!  And it was just perfect for my semi-functioning brain last week.
  • Jamie, 15, read one book after another last week as usual!   He started with a fairly recent release, The Wizard of Rondo by Emily Rodda.  This is the sequel to The Key of Rondo which he enjoyed last year.
  • Jamie finished that book and said to me, "That was great!  I had forgotten what a great writer Emily Rodda is.  I'm going to re-read the Deltora Quest series" (a middle-grade series by Emily Rodda that he loved when he was Craig's age).  So, last night at bedtime, I asked him, "Are you really going to re-read the entire series?"  He held up the book he was reading and said, "Yeah, there are thirteen, and I'm already on book 3!"  Classic Jamie - he loves to re-read old favorites (and hates to ever get rid of any books).  So, that should keep him busy for awhile...maybe a week or two!
  • Craig, 12, is enjoying The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, the first book in The Book of Ember series that Jamie and I both loved.
In addition, I posted reviews last week of  In Search of Watson, the third book in the Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars series and Incarceron, an amazing new teen fantasy that we listened to on audio during our trip.

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Mondays is hosted by Book Journey).

Friday, April 16, 2010

Teen/YA Review: Incarceron

On our recent 2700-mile spring break road trip, we listened to a new teen novel, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, and those miles just flew by!  Incarceron is the start of a new fantasy series that is attracting a lot of attention.  The reason?  Excellent writing and a unique story set in a fascinating world.

Many years before the start of the story, it was decided that gathering together all of the criminals, mentally ill, and other undesirables in society and locking them up in their own separate world would solve the world’s problems.  That world is Incarceron, and it is not a typical prison; it is an entire world of cells, cities, wilderness, and metal forests that is sealed off from the rest of the world.  Legend says that only one man has ever escaped.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world, Outside, exists in an enforced time-warp of an idealized old-fashioned time, despite the fact that advanced technology exists.

The story alternates between two main characters.  Finn, a seventeen-year old prisoner, is convinced that he once had a life Outside, despite the fact that everyone says he was born in Incarceron.  He wants to escape, but some people even doubt the existence of an outside world.  Then, he finds a strange crystal key that allows him to communicate with a girl named Claudia who is most definitely not in Incarceron.

Claudia is, in fact, the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, and she desperately wants to escape her arranged marriage that is quickly approaching.  When she discovers the connection with Finn, she wants to help him.  But neither of them understands the real nature of Incarceron and what it will take to escape.

All of us – my husband and I and our two sons, ages 12 and 15 – loved this imaginative story.  It’s like nothing else we’ve ever read.  Fisher has created a wholly new world that is both similar and completely different than our own, described in a riveting way that slowly unfolds as the story develops.  It is a dark and violent story at times but with glimmers of hope. We really came to care for both Claudia and Finn and were rooting for them.  The book came to its own satisfying conclusion, while also setting the stage for a sequel…we can’t wait!

NOTE:  Book 2, Sapphique, is scheduled for release on December 28, 2010.

Listening Library

Listen to a sample clip here:


Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Middle-Grade Review: In Search of Watson

A few years ago, my son Jamie discovered our huge volume of Sherlock Holmes stories and read the complete works of Arthur Conan Doyle from cover to cover.  He even lugged the encyclopedic-sized book through airports during our holiday trip to visit grandparents!  So, when he heard about a new series based on the original Sherlock Holmes’ stories, he couldn’t wait to read it.  Jamie read the first Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars book, The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas, written by husband and wife team Tracy Mack and Michael Citrin and was hooked on the series right away, but it’s taken me a few years to give it a try.  I recently read the third book in the series, In Search of Watson, and found out what I’d been missing.

The Baker Street Irregulars are a group of ragtag street urchins who help Mr. Holmes with his cases in 1890 London.  Pilar, a young Spanish girl who lives with her mother, helped the Irregulars on their last case and yearns to be one of them.  Here, she enters their hide-out home:

Pilar came to the wood slats that appeared to be a boarded-up window, gave the covert double-knock, and then pushed.  The boards were in fact a trapdoor which opened into the “Castle,” an abandoned carriage factory that was home to the Irregulars.  Pilar entered a cavernous room with a dirt floor and a catwalk framing its upper perimeter.  Two large wood doors that had been long sealed made up the far wall.  A formerly grand but now dilapidated coach that they’d recently named the “Grand Dame” sat on blocks in front of them.  In the center of the room a fire pit glowed.  Around it, most of the boys lounged.

Wiggins, the leader of the gang, stood by the fire in the midst of a tale, his hands flying and his copper eyes shining.  Pilar couldn’t help but notice how easily he became all the characters in his stories. 

“So Oz and me, we roped ‘im good.  I thought we were just goin’ to tie ‘im up, but Ozzie, he runs the rope into the gears and zip, that mad knife thrower was dragged across the ground and strung up like a Christmas goose in Coven’ Garden!”

Soon enough, the Irregulars are summoned to Sherlock Holmes as he begins the investigation of a murder at the British Museum Library.  He sends them off to follow up on various leads, as the mystery becomes more complex.  Things turn dangerous when Dr. Watson is kidnapped, and the Irregulars begin to suspect there may be a traitor in their midst.

It’s a fast-paced, intriguing mystery, filled with interesting characters. There’s even an extra section at the end of the novel called Facts and Practicals for the Aspiring Detective that includes bonus material related to the story – information on ciphers, the Tower of London, and the art of disguise in this one.  The series will appeal to young mystery lovers and may even lead them to read the original Sherlock Holmes stories.

195 pages, Scholastic

Accelerated Reader: Level 5.1, 4 points

Monday, April 12, 2010

It's Monday 4/12! What Are You Reading?

We just returned last night from a 10-day spring break trip.  We drove, with our pop-up camper, down to Louisiana and back.  We camped along the way and spent some time in Cajun country and New Orleans.  It was a wonderful trip but re-entry is so difficult!  I've decided to momentarily ignore the 400 e-mails, the unpacked suitcases, and the mountains of laundry (I estimate at least 11 loads!!) and instead take a break and tell you about all the great books we read while we were gone:
  • Craig, 12, finished his latest Hardy Boys' book, The Bombay Boomerang, and started The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, book 1 of a wonderful series that both Jamie and I loved (check out my review of the series).
  • Jamie, 15, loves to read on our road trips.  He started with Sphere, a classic scientific thriller by Michael Crichton.  He recently enjoyed the movie version of another Crichton book, Timeline, so my husband and I suggested he try some of the author's other books.  He loved it!
  • Jamie also read the third book in the Book of Ember series, The Prophet of Yonwood.  He'd read books 1 and 2 last summer and loved book 3 just as much.
  • And Jamie started book 4 in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, The Battle of the Labyrinth, one of his Easter gifts.  He loves this series.
  • I love to read road trip books while we're on a road trip, so I read Roastbeef's Promise by David Jerome, a funny book about a young man who fulfills his father's last wish by sprinkling his ashes in all 48 contiguous states.  I'm up to the part where he visits Louisiana, which I'm enjoying very much.  I'll post a review on Book By Book when I finish.
  • At bedtime, I've been reading The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo to the boys.  Even though they're older, they still enjoy a bedtime book, but we don't always have time at home anymore with homework, soccer, etc.  We're all really enjoying this wonderfully written novel.
  • We love to listen to audio books on our road trips, and this one was no exception.  We listened to an awesome new teen fantasy novel (the start of a series), Incarceron by Catherine Fisher, about a strange world that is divided between Outside and a unique prison known as Incarceron.  I'll post a review of this excellent new novel later this week.
  • We started listening to Book 3 of the Erec Rex series by Kaza Kingsley, The Search for Truth.  This is one of the boys' favorite audio series, about a young boy who discovers he is part of a magical world and must complete a series of quests to become king, and we're all enjoying this latest installment.
Finally, though I read it during the holiday season, I kept my copy of Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table by Sara Roahen by my side for much of this trip, referring to Sara's favorite New Orleans restaurants and reading passages out loud to my family.  If you have any interest in New Orleans (or in good food!), you'll enjoy this wonderful memoir.  And if you want to know more about life in rural Louisiana, as well as in New Orleans, check out one of my favorite books of 2009, The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells.  My mom just finished the audio that I lent her and kept calling me to talk about it (and cry over it)!

And now, I guess it's time to re-enter the real world of groceries, laundry, e-mail, work, and to-do lists.  Vacation can't last forever...can it??

What are you and your family reading this week?

(What are you reading Monday is hosted by Sheila at One Person's Journey Through a World of Books).