NPR Book Concierge: Best Books of 2015

Here’s a little bonus post! A librarian friend of mine posted a link to this great resource, so I thought I’d share it here, too! It’s a searchable, filterable collection of what the NPR staff and critics have selected as the best books of the year. From children’s to adult titles, you’re sure to find something new to read!

Visit the #bookconcierge, NPR’s guide to 2015’s great reads. http://apps.npr.org/best-books-2015/

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Themed Third Throwback Thursday: 1900-1909

I’m not sure what inspired this series of Themed Third Thursdays. It might have been having an old book recommended to me by a friend (and having my daughter read it and love it). It might have been picking up an old favorite on audiobook for my kids to experience for the first time. It might have been all those #TBT hashtags on old photos my friends post on Facebook. Whatever the initial reason, I’ve chosen to highlight a decade a month this year of old books that seem to have staying power–they remain, after the passage of years, classics that are read and reread by each new generation of readers.

[1900 to 1909 book list]

To give you a vague sense of when-in-the-world this was, here are some highlights of the decade from a list I found on about.com!

1901–first Nobel prizes awarded

1902–the teddy bear is created

1903–the first silent narrative movie, The Great Train Robbery, is produced

1904–the New York City subway opens

1905–Einstein proposes his Theory of Relativity

1906–the San Francisco earthquake (find a book about it here or here!)

1908–Ford introduces the Model-T

1909–plastic is invented

The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum (1900): I can’t remember if I watched the movies first or if my mom read these books to us, but I know that this was GirlChild’s first exposure to The Wonderful Wizard of Oz! I picked a copy up at the library (I had read it in the past ten years for a library class, but I wanted a refresher), and I left it in my bag. After sleeping in late on a Saturday morning, I woke to find that GirlChild was all the way to the part where they discover that the Wizard is just a man! Not too long after that, however, she got scared by the continuing plot, and she decided to stop and wait for me to finish it with her. Like many books from this era, it doesn’t shy away from harsh reality (whether real reality or realistic fantasy reality), but, unlike many traditional European fairy tales (and this was intended as a new American fairy tale by the author!), it doesn’t depend on fear and dwell on the grim(m). Probably best for middle to upper elementary readers, there is a whole series for the child who latches on to this one!

Just So Stories, by Rudyard Kipling Just So Stories(1902): This collection of “pourquois” or origin stories was written and illustrated by the author of such other famous works at Captains Courageous and The Jungle Book. It contains eleven stories that explain how something came to be (such as the camel to have his hump, the elephant his trunk, and so on). While I don’t recall ever reading this book in its entirety, I am sure that several of the stories turned up in reading textbooks throughout my childhood (although none in particular stuck with me, the titles feel really familiar). A note that was written to go along with the 1978 edition of the book reminds us: “The language and references are those of Kipling; though they are no longer in vogue, they are of historical interest and literary note.” Basically, there are some really out-of-date terms and ideas in the book, particularly racial, but there is still value in the collection. Modern readers will, of course, cringe over some parts, and it’s definitely helpful to teach our children and students how to critically read a text to sort out what’s quality writing and content and what’s the result of the thinking of a different time and place. Still, I’d recommend caution in introducing these stories as-is to children with less mature critical thinking skills and discernment without also discussing what is now considered stereotypical or derogatory, and being selective about which stories to share until an appropriate level of maturity is reached might also be wise. (Also, this may be the earliest version of, “Don’t say I never gave you anything!” in print, found in the camel story.)

The Tale of Peter RabbitThe Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter (1902): BoyChild was kind of traumatized by this one! Admittedly, he’s been sick, so his tolerance for stress is low, but discovering that Peter’s father has been made into a pie and watching Peter’s panic as Mr. McGregor chases him through the garden are kind of high-intensity when the only exposure one has had to Peter Rabbit has been the off episode of the Nick Jr. show (in which, BoyChild informs me, Peter does not wear the same jacket, and his dad isn’t in a pie). Still, as far as enduring stories, Beatrix Potter’s works have survived a century and are still household names! Best as a read-aloud for preschool and early elementary, the basic premise is that naughty Peter Rabbit intentionally disobeys his mother and seeks out the one place she told him to avoid: Mr. McGregor’s garden. There he is chased by Mr. McGregor and ends up losing his shoes, his coat, and almost his life! When he finally escapes after several very close calls, he runs home and passes out in exhaustion while his well-behaved sisters enjoy a lovely dinner in peace.

The Call of the Wild, The Call of the Wildby Jack London (1903): While this is not a book whose contents stuck strongly with me (since I’m not overly attached to the survivalism genre), it is still a book that resonates strongly with many readers. It reminds me, in part, of Black Beauty in that it tells the story of an animal who passes from owner to owner, some good, some bad, some foolish, some reasonable. Buck, the hero of the story, is a mixed breed dog, half St. Bernard, half Scottish shepherd (Scotch collie) who begins life as a family pet. He is stolen, however, and sold, becoming a sled dog, mail dog, and a miner’s companion and protector. After his last owner is killed (and he kills the group of tribesmen who murdered him), he bests and then joins a wolf pack, and legend tells of a Ghost Dog who returns every year to a particular spot, the place where Buck lost his last and best owner, and who leads the pack in the night. Although a short book, this is definitely not for very young readers. The author spent nearly a year in the Yukon before writing this book, so the realism is intense and gritty, and the book and his others are likely best for upper elementary and older readers (unless, of course, your reader has a very strong stomach and isn’t prone to nightmares). London seems very much like a forerunner to more modern authors like Gary Paulsen.

A Little PrincessA Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905): Though technically written and published as a magazine serial story before the 1900s, it was still first published in its entirety during the right decade! In the year since I originally wrote about it as part of my Princess Possibilities post, GirlChild has read it herself and enjoyed it. She even handled the father’s death relatively well and warned BoyChild about it when we watched the movie (which could have been so much better if they had actually stuck with the book instead of completely warping part of the plot!). For a little refresher if you don’t want to wade through the original post, Sara Crewe is a rich and precocious young child who is sent by her English officer father to a boarding school in London because India isn’t considered a healthy environment for children. (I’m not sure what they made of all the Indian children who probably thrived while living there…) While she is at the school, her lively imagination and loving inclusiveness endear her to everyone but the most hard-hearted of the other occupants of the seminary. Her father, sadly, makes a bad business deal and, overcome with stress and illness, dies. His partner, who feels responsible for his involvement and death, actually ends up making money from the deal that originally went sour, but his health is also not good, so he takes a house in London while he searches for Captain Crewe’s only living heir, his daughter Sara. Through coincidence (and what is hinted to be a little Indian magic, I think), he eventually discovers her living next door, reduced to servitude after her father’s loss, and adopts her into his home (and takes the scullery maid, Becky, with her to be her companion). It is an amazing story of taking life as it comes, showing compassion and empathy to all you encounter, and holding your head high no matter your circumstances.

Anne of Green Gables, Anne of Green Gablesby L. M. Montgomery (1908): This is, by far, my favorite of all books. I even saddled GirlChild with a middle name in its honor! I was introduced to Anne of Green Gables in second grade when I told my teacher that I had already read all of the books on her classroom bookshelf. She brought in a little box of books to keep behind her desk for me, and Mr. Popper’s Penguins and Anne of Green Gables were among them! (They are the only two I remember, but it was a whole box just for me!) I don’t know if it was an abridged version or if I really actually read the whole thing as a second grader, but this is where my whole family first came into contact with this book and the series (the entirety of which my mother then proceeded to read aloud to the three of us kids). I longed to be like Anne; her openness, confidence, and imagination drew me in. I named two of our fish Silver Scales and Green Gillbert (punny misspelling intentional!) as inspired by her, and my third grade (and subsequent) writing notebooks were full of rip-offs and inspired-by stories. The Megan Follows miniseries captivated (and annoyed–plot changes, ugh!) us. Even as recently as this week, the Internet is abuzz with news that a new miniseries is in the works! That, my friends, is staying power. (Oh, a quick summary: Anne is a red-headed, 11-year-old, strong-willed orphan girl accidentally adopted by an elderly brother and sister (when they meant to adopt a boy to help with farm work). Shy Matthew takes to her first, admiring her shining spirit, and stoic Marilla even finds herself caring more for her than she believes any person should care for things of this Earth. She brings light and life to Green Gables and the whole town, perhaps the whole of Prince Edward Island, and it’s hard to imagine anyone not loving this feisty girl in all her vulnerable and vivacious wonder! (Not surprisingly, I see a lot of her in her partial namesake, GirlChild Anne!))

All of these works are over 100 years old. Newbery and Caldecott Awards had not yet started being awarded when they were written. World War I was yet to come. Even my grandparents had not yet been born! Yet they remain perennial favorites, beloved, passed on, and studied for the value they’ve contributed to life and literature–and continue to contribute!

 

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Themed Third Thursday: Books Get Meta

meta- : Describing or showing an awareness of the activity that is taking place or being discussed; self-referential

Books getting meta. Books about books. Books that refer to themselves as books. Books where the characters are aware of being in a book. While my categories may stray from the generally accepted definition of “meta,” these self-aware books and books about books are sure to be page turners for your book-loving readers!

Product DetailsThe Monster at the End of this Book, by Jon Snow, illustrated by David Smollin (2003–most recent edition): In this Sesame Street classic book, Grover warns the reader not to continue on with the book because there is a monster at the end of it, and he is scared of monsters! In his distress, he tries everything to avoid getting to the end. Not to worry, however–Grover himself is the monster at the end of the book! I vaguely remember this book from my childhood, and the fact that it is still in print is telling. A great breaking-the-fourth-wall book for preschool and early elementary children, this book is best shared as a read-aloud.

Book! Book! Book!, Book! Book! Book!by Deborah Bruss, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (2001): When the children all go back to school after a summer of fun, the animals on the farm are bored. The hen decides to go looking for something to do, and the other animals follow. When they come upon a building where people with smiles on their faces are exiting, they decide this is the place for finding something to do! (The place is the public library.) The horse thinks the hen is too small to be the one to go in to ask, so he goes in, but all the librarian can hear is “neigh, neigh,” so he leaves sadly. Each of the other larger animals also try, but the librarian can only hear their animal noises. Then the hen, frustrated, determines to go in herself. When she arrives, she starts clucking, “Book! Book! BOOK!” It takes a few tries, but the librarian suddenly realizes that she’s asking for books! She gives her three, and the hen takes them back to the farm with the other animals to read together. Everyone is happy except the frog; he keeps claiming that he’s already “read it!” With a cute story and simple plot, a read-aloud (to emphasize the chicken-y sound of the word “book” in particular) to children as young as preschool would be a crowd-pleaser!

We Are in a Book!We Are in a Book! (An Elephant & Piggie book), by Mo Willems (2010): Gerald the Elephant and Piggie are sitting back to back on the ground when Gerald suddenly notices that someone is looking at them. When Piggie gets up to investigate, coming closer to the reader, they realize that they are being read by a reader! They are very excited and try to get the reader to say the word banana, then they laugh and laugh about it. Piggie offers to let Gerald try it before the book ends, and Gerald is shocked to realize it will end (on page 57, no less). He is distraught over the approaching end, but Piggie comes up with the idea to ask the reader to read the book again to prolong their fun. The book ends semi-abruptly with the two of them hoping their request works (because, after all, having a conclusion to a book where the characters want it to be read in a continuous loop would be counterproductive!). While this is a perfectlly acceptable book for an independent young reader, all the Elephant and Piggie books make amazingly fun read-alouds as well.

The Best Book in the World!, The Best Book in the World!by Rilla (2014): When I looked up this author’s website to see if I could figure out her name (her full name is Rilla Alexander, but the library copy I have has “Rilla, Alexander” like Rilla is the last name!), I discovered that she is primarily an illustrator and graphic designer (which, considering the appearance of the book, didn’t surprise me). I also discovered another of her books (also featuring the character she calls her “alterego, Sozi”) that I really must have–Her Idea! (I was just having a chat with a friend this morning about all the writing ideas I have that I never carry through to completion!) The relevant book to this theme, however, features Sozi as she gets started on a book. With book in hand and a superhero mask over her eyes, she moves through town as she progresses through her book, and then things start to focus in more on the story world she enters. The book states, “Page by page you’re carried away. So let yourself go!” Sozi (whose name isn’t mentioned in the book) travels deep into her book, picking up strange companions on her way. Just as things seem to be getting overwhelming, she takes a moment to “rest [her] eyes” and dozes off. All the characters who populated her book now populate her dreams, and they huddle around her book–The Best Book in the World–as she dreams because of the secret they share: “the story won’t stop…[i]f we go back to the beginning again!”

The Children Who Loved BooksThe Children Who Loved Books, by Peter Carnavas (2012): Angus and Lucy don’t have a lot in the way of personal possessions; in fact, they even live in a camper with their parents instead of a regular home or apartment. What they do have, however, is books. They have so many books, in fact, that they soon overwhelm their tiny living space, and their father hauls them off. In addition to the logistical problems they start having because books were a literal prop in their home, the abundance of space in their house allows a lot of space to form between the members of the family as well. When Lucy brings a book home from the library, they can’t help opening it up and starting to read aloud. They all crowd around the father as he reads, and they read together on the couch late into the night (where they also all fall asleep). Bonded together once again through a shared story, they take their bike out first thing in the morning and head to–you guessed it!–the library for more books. As the last page says, “Angus and Lucy didn’t have very much, but they had all they would ever need.”

What Happened to Marion’s Book?,What Happened to Marion's Book? by Brook Berg, illustrated by Nathan Alsburg (2003): Marion is a hedgehog who loves to read all kinds of books in all kinds of places. She’s looking forward to starting school because her nana said that she should become a librarian some day, and she knows school is the place to start! She is most excited about visiting the library and taking out two books at a time. One morning at breakfast, however, she drops some raspberry jam on her open library book and knows she can’t just leave it there. She tries all kinds of things to fix the red stain (from letting the dog lick it to washing it in the washing machine!), and she even considers donating one of her own books to replace the ruined one, but all of her books have been dirtied because she reads them everywhere. She worries that she doesn’t know how to treat books, will be banned from the library, and will never be able to become a librarian. She finally gets the courage to tell her mom, and her mom tells her that she’ll have to pay to replace the book. When she brings the ruined book back to the school library, the librarian is disappointed, of course, but she gives Marion a tour of the “book hospital” where books are repaired and gives her a bookmark to remind her how to care for books. And, of course, Marion pays for the ruined book and checks out two new ones! (This hit close to home since GirlChild’s milk Thermos leaked in her backpack and spoiled a library book recently!)

Wild About BooksWild about Books, by Judy Sierra, pictures by Marc Brown (2004): In this rhyming story, librarian Molly McGrew accidentally drives the bookmobile to the zoo. Instead of being perturbed by her mistake and their reluctance, Molly starts reading Dr. Seuss aloud to attract a crowd. Soon, all the animals come to check out books (in two senses of the phrase!). The crocodiles enjoy Peter Pan, an elephant reads Dumbo, the pandas request books in Chinese, and then the puns begin! The llamas read The Grass Menagerie, the scorpion leaves stinging reviews of the poems the insects are inspired to write, and the hippo wins a Zoolitzer Prize for her memoir, Mud in my Blood. Then Molly hires some of the construction-minded animals–the beavers in particular–to create a branch library to satisfy their literary needs right there at the zoo. Now that they have their very own zoobrary, it’s sometimes hard to see the animals because “[t]hey are snug in their niches, their nests, and their nooks, [g]oing wild, simply wild, about wonderful books.” This book is a great one not only for introducing the concepts of reading, getting inspired by reading to write, and finding the perfect kind of book for your interests, but it also appeals to little readers who simply like animals and learning new animal names!

Have I Got a Book for You!, Have I Got a Book for You!by Mélanie Watt (2009): Al Foxword is a creature (of some sort, I can’t really place him!) and a salesman. This book serves as an infomercial for itself as Al tries to convince the reader not only that he or she should buy a copy of the book but that he or she should buy multiple copies of the book. He tries every trick of the trade, wheedling and exaggerating, throwing in bonus gifts and deals for buying more than one. When all his efforts seem to have failed, he reminds us of the one big rule of merchandise: “You break it, you buy it!” And the last page is “torn.” Definitely meant to be read aloud by someone with few inhibitions. ;) (Also, might be a great book to use when teaching information literacy and the tricks advertisers use!)

Wanted: Ralfy Rabbit, Book BurglarWanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar, by Emily MacKenzie (2015): Ralfy Rabbits loves books so much that “one thing led to another,” and he starts actually burgling books from people to get his fix! Unfortunately for Ralfy, Arthur also loves books, and he notices when parts of his well-organized collection start to go missing. Arthur stakes out his bookshelves and sees Ralfy, but no one believes his story about a thieving rabbit, not even the police. That is, I mean, until Ralfy accidentally burgles the home of PC Puddle, the officer to whom Arthur had spoken when he called in his complaint. When Arthur is called in to view a line-up of bunnies wearing “I <3 Books” shirts, he isn’t sure which rabbit is the robber until a conveyor belt of goodies is passed in front of them, and the only bunny who goes for books instead of the carrots and lettuce offered is Ralfy. Arthur feels sorry for Ralfy because he is only in trouble because he loves books, and he has a great idea of where Ralfy can borrow his fill of books without having to steal them: the library! And Arthur and Ralfy become “best ‘book buddies'” and visit the library together often. Good fun for elementary readers.

The Book that Eats People, The Book that Eats Peopleby John Perry, illustrations by Mark Fearing (2009): I read this aloud to BoyChild, and he was a little concerned about it. Once I realized it wasn’t just a play on words or something, I was a little concerned, too, that young BoyChild would be having nightmares about his books…but it was better to finish and remind him that it was just pretend than to leave him hanging with carnivorous books running through his dreams! Recommended for ages 3-7 on Amazon, I’m going to go ahead and suggest a slightly older crowd despite the relatively small amount of text per page. I’m thinking middle elementary is probably a safer bet what with the book actually eating people and phrases like “it coughed up his bones and they clattered across the floor like wooden blocks” and the like. Sure, it’s darkly hilarious, but that seems like more the sort of thing that children with a stronger grasp on the concept of reality versus fiction might enjoy. Featuring a ton of collage elements and a very cranky-looking book, the visuals are also geared toward the upper end of the suggested age range and beyond. Future fans of the Series of Unfortunate Events would like this book!

Incredible Book Eating BoyThe Incredible Book Eating Boy, by Oliver Jeffers (2006): Henry loves books, but not in the same way that most people do; he literally devours them. It starts by accident at first, when he mistakenly licks his book instead of his popsicle when he’s distracted. It quickly progresses, however, into tearing into pages and then into whole books and eventually several books at once! He eats all kinds of books–he’s not picky–and finds that he grows smarter and smarter with each one he ingests! Eventually, though, eating all those books so quickly without giving himself time to “digest” them leads to confusion and nausea. Henry stops eating books then, and it takes him a while to figure out what else he can do with his books…and he tries reading them. Just like before, he gets smarter with each book he reads, although this method is slower. Now he reads all the time, and he only occasionally slips back into bad habits (as evidenced by a large “bite” taken out of the last few pages and back cover). The irony and graphic design elements of this book make it better for slightly older picture book readers, middle to upper elementary.

Return of the Library Dragon, Return of the Library Dragonby Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Michael P. White (2012): Miss Lotty (short for Lotta Scales, we discover), librarian at Sunrise Elementary School, is retiring. As she tries to reassure the students that the new librarian will be as much and more fun, one of the children asks if the new librarian will let them use computers, and her old dragon-ish ways rear their heads briefly as she declares, “Over my dead dragon body!” On her very last day of work, she is greeted in the morning by the unpleasant discovery that IT has arrived, taken all the books, and filled the library with electronics only! Miss Lotty is steaming mad (literally), and the students beg for their books back, listing all the reasons books are still relevant and enjoyable. They also discover, however, how enticing technology can be, and Mike Krochip (the IT guy) crows that soon the kids will forget all about books in a month! Miss Lotty loses her temper, and everyone flees, but they warn the young woman in the hallway that the “librarian’s a real dragon!” This young woman, it turns out, is the new librarian, and she is the same woman who, as a child twenty years prior, had convinced Miss Lotty to shed her draconic book-lending practices in the first place. (You have to read the short newspaper article in the front matter for this to make any sense, actually, so don’t skip it!) Molly reassures Miss Lotty that the books will be returned because she insisted that they remain as a condition of her employment, and completely replacing books with technology makes her feel a little dragon-ish as well. The last page shows an image of Miss Molly at her desk with children, books, and a sign proclaiming Technology Free Tuesday–striking a balance between printed and electronic resources. This is apparently the second book about the Library Dragon, so reading The Library Dragon first would be an alternative to making sure the newspaper article page gets read. Quotes on reading, books, librarians, and information technology fill the end papers. The controversy about technology and the proliferation of punny names and book titles probably wouldn’t register with younger readers, so I’d suggest a middle elementary to upper elementary audience for this book.

It's a BookIt’s a Book, by Lane Smith (2010): This book is more for big kids and adults than it is for the picture book crowd (particularly if you don’t want to read/have your kid read the word “jackass” for comedic effect–just giving you a heads-up here!). It features a mouse, a jackass, and a monkey. The monkey is reading a book (with the mouse under his hat, for some reason), and the jackass is using a laptop. The jackass keeps asking the monkey if his book can do some thing that the laptop does (scroll down, connect to wi-fi, play music, etc.), and the monkey keeps responding with, “No, it’s a book” (or some variation on that theme). Then the monkey hands his book over so the jackass can see for himself, and the jackass gets totally absorbed to the point of not wanting to give it back. When the monkey gives in and lets him keep it (he’s going to the library anyway), the jackass offers to charge it up for him when he’s done. That’s when the mouse says, “You don’t have to…it’s a book, jackass.” So, a book that might have been fun to read with small children of the digital generation kind of gets fouled up with a double entendre. If you don’t care and wish to share it with your children anyway, that’s fine; it’s a clever book! If that’s a little more mature than you like to go with your child’s vocabulary (or if you’re a school teacher and probably shouldn’t), you can try It’s a Little Book for the same kind of cleverness but in a board book without the words to make children giggle (and with contents suited for an even younger set).

Books for Older Kids that I Wish I’d Had a Chance to Actually Read and Review Properly But Didn’t:

Secrets of the Book, Secrets of the Bookby Erin Fry (2014, upper elementary): This book features a book called Pandora’s Book which is full of images of positively influential historical people that the guardian of the book can bring to life. That there is a shady man who has a book called Pandora’s Other Book suggests that infamous historical people are included in that book. The heroes of the story are sixth graders: a boy who is losing his sight, another with autism spectrum disorder, and the “resourceful” granddaughter of the previous keeper of the book (who goes missing right after passing the book on).

Archie Greene and the Magician's SecretArchie Greene and the Magician’s Secret, by D. D. Everest (2015, upper elementary): The first in a new series, this book tells the story of Archie Greene, a boy who receives a very old book on his twelfth birthday and learns that he is part of a gifted family given the job of protecting and preserving magical books. Archie himself has some hidden talents as well. The reviews I read suggest that there is a lot of content to process, so this is probably good for a dedicated reader who enjoys the concept of magic hidden in the real world. The summaries made me think strongly of The Librarians show and of Warehouse 13, if you happen to be the adult in charge of selecting books for your tween or early teen and know those series!

Inkheart trilogy, Inkheartby Cornelia Funke (2003, upper elementary to middle school): Meggie’s father, a man who repairs rare books, never reads aloud to her, and she discovers why when one of the characters he accidentally read out of a book (and Meggie’s mother into it) shows up outside their home late one night. This fantasy story starts with the idea that spoken words–particularly words spoken by someone with talent–are powerful, and the three books in the series continue in that vein, and with added elements of the power of skillful storytelling and writing added in, to create a world where a good reader can literally make a book come alive and a good writer can transport you into a book. (I have actually read all of these books, but it was long enough ago that I can’t give a very specific review!)

I know there are many, many more of these books available! Just search the subjects “Libraries–Fiction” and “Books–Fiction” to find a vast selection from which to choose!

 

 

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BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas 2015

For quick reference, here is a list of all the books from BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas 2015. For an almost-5-year-old boy, this list was a dream come true!

[BoyChild Chooses book list]

1. I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, by John Rox, illustrated by Bruce Whatley
2. A Gift for the Christ Child, by Tina Jähnert, illustrated by Alessandra Roberti, translated by Sibylle Kazeroid
3. And Then Comes Christmas, by Tom Brenner, illustrated by Jana Christy
4. Just Right for Christmas, by Birdie Black and Rosalind Beardshaw
5. Dinosaur vs. Santa, by Bob Shea
6. Dinosaurs’ Christmas, by Liza Donnelly
7. Where Did They Hide My Presents?: Silly Dilly Christmas Songs, by Alan Katz and David Catrow
8. Carl’s Christmas, by Alexandra Day
9. Twelve Lizards Leaping, by Jan Romero, illustrated by Christine Mau
10. Frosty the Snowman, by Diane Muldrow and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, adapted by Rick Bunsen
11. The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot, illustrated by Ruth Brown
12. McDuff’s Christmas, by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Susan Jeffers

 

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BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 12–McDuff’s Christmas

McDuff's Christmas

McDuff’s Christmas, by Rosemary Wells, illustrated by Susan Jeffers (2001)
(previously published as McDuff’s New Friend, 1998)

I’m not a huge fan of Rosemary Wells, but I gave BoyChild free reign on the shelf of Christmas books at the library, and this was one he grabbed for himself (not realizing that the author was also responsible for all the Max and Ruby books we have in our personal library). I do like Susan Jeffers’ work, though, and I was pleasantly surprised by this book (one of several in a series).

McDuff is a West Highland terrier (better known as a Westie) who lives with Fred, Lucy, and the baby. He, Fred, and Lucy are waiting impatiently for Santa to come, concerned that the storm will stop his visit. They all go to bed, but McDuff is woken in the night by a thump. He woofs and wakes up Fred and Lucy, and Fred has to dig him a tunnel to let him outside. McDuff finds nothing and comes back in. This happens a second and a third time, and the third time, McDuff tunnels himself to the garage where the family finds Santa rummaging around for their snow shovel to free his stuck sleigh! Fred and McDuff help Santa dig free while Lucy prepares soup and sandwiches for them. After Santa leaves to finish his duties, they find things in their stockings that are just what they want or need, and McDuff finds a new friend–a tiny black kitten (in a box, not his stocking)! After they open their gifts from Santa, they all fall asleep until Christmas afternoon!

Susan Jeffers’ art is always a blend of realistic and whimsical elements. Swirling snow, glowing bulbs, intricately patterned clothing…the details are soft, the colors bright and welcoming. The perspective changes throughout the pages, sometimes looking down at the scene from above, sometimes from dog level, sometimes with a split frame, sometimes as a two-page spread. McDuff himself sometimes looks more dog-like, and sometimes he has an almost human look to his eyes. From the candy-cane laden bathrobes the adults wear to the windmill pattern on the wallpaper border to the three different sweaters McDuff wears, there is texture and detail to delight the most dedicated of picture-viewing readers. (My personal favorite image is the two-page spread looking down on the brightly lit house in its snow-covered yard.)

This is the kind of book for very young readers and listeners that a parent can read and get a little chuckle, too. From the extremely festive way Fred and Lucy dress (and dress McDuff!) to the humorous exchange between Fred who is feeding the baby (“The baby is full.”) and Lucy who is taking McDuff out for a “walk” (“McDuff is empty.”), there are some things that little readers might not notice but that provide a little comic relief for the adult reader. (I just noticed on another read-through that the text says that Lucy had soup and sandwiches ready, but the table is displaying a large ham, a layered jelly, cookies, pudding, pecan balls, and what appears to be a croquembouche.) BoyChild may not have caught all the visual details the first time through (although I clued him in on the full/empty joke’s meaning), he was able to answer logically when I asked why the family slept all the way until Christmas afternoon–because McDuff kept barking and waking them up all night! I’ve not read the other books in the series, but it might be worth finding for a little BoyChild who loves dogs and all things silly!

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BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 11–The Christmas Day Kitten

The Christmas Day Kitten

The Christmas Day Kitten, by James Herriot, illustrations by Ruth Brown (1986)

We read this one because we are James Herriot fans around this house, and BoyChild originally wanted to pass it up because [SPOILER ALERT] a cat dies. He went back, however, and selected it, and when I said I thought he didn’t want it because it was sad, he said, “I remembered I’m not afraid of anything except being alone.” So the story with a sad part is in!

Based on actual events in the life of James Herriot (the pen name of Al Wight), a country veterinarian in Yorkshire, England, in the 1930s and beyond, the sad parts of veterinary medicine aren’t overlooked. In this story, a stray cat visits the home of Mrs Pickering and her three Basset hounds, but Debbie (the name Mrs Pickering gives the cat) won’t stay around long. One Christmas morning, Mrs Pickering calls Mr Herriot to come to see Debbie at her home because something is very wrong. (Veterinary surgeons were called by the title “Mr” instead of “Dr” in the UK until very recently (March 2015).) Debbie has come to Mrs Pickering’s home in distress and bearing a tiny kitten in her mouth. Although Debbie dies, the kitten is well, and Mrs Pickering keeps him. A year later, Mr Herriot happens to be passing by on Christmas morning on his way home from another call, and Mrs Pickering invites him in. Buster, the kitten from the previous Christmas, is active and playful and brings Mrs Pickering joy. He is, as she says, “the best Christmas present [she’s] ever had!”

The art in this book fits the setting well. The delicate detail of the scenery brings the Yorkshire Dales to life, and the animals are particularly realistic. (Browsing for Ruth Brown‘s illustrations–and discounting the ones where someone mistook her for the American singer/songwriter of the same name!–I see that she has illustrated many books about animals (including a number of James Herriot’s other children’s versions), so they may be a favorite subject for her art!) I really would love to watch this artist (and many others whose art astounds me) do her work so I can see what she does to create such vast and detailed scenes! The kitten on the front cover looks almost like it was stitched in needlepoint because the brush strokes are so tiny. A beautiful book, and a real story of loss and love and finding joy in simple things.

This book may be hard to find, but Amazon reviewers have mentioned that the story itself (minus the pictures) can be found in James Herriot’s Cat Stories and (with at least some pictures) James Herriot’s Treasury for Children.

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BoyChild Chooses: The 12 Reviews of Christmas, Day 10–Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Little Golden Books)

Frosty the SnowmanRudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

 

 

 

 

Frosty the Snowman, by Diane Muldrow (2013)

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, adapted by Rick Bunsen (1998)

These Little Golden Books are the 10-minute read-aloud versions of their respective classic Christmas movies. Since today is my husband’s birthday and I can blame BoyChild’s current obsession with these books on him, I thought today would be a good day to showcase these choices together!

If you’ve seen the movies, you’ve pretty much read the books. The benefit of the books is not having to listen to Rudolph’s nose honking or Hermey’s voice. ;) (If you really like those sounds, may I recommend The Original Christmas Classics Gift Set dvds? You can hear your fill!) Each book is a condensed version of the story from the movie. Rudolph’s story makes his father seem less horrible (the coach and other young reindeer are still just as mean), but Rudolph’s antlers don’t grow during the wandering-around-alone bit because that’s cut down. (Instead, they apparently sprout between the time Santa asks him to lead the sleigh and take-off! Illustration oops!) If you have a favorite part of the movie, don’t be particularly surprised if it got cut from the picture book version; there’s a good deal of trimming to make the flow and format work. My husband mourns the loss of the “Messy, messy, messy!” line from the Frosty the Snowman one! The art is pretty much straight from the movies as well; Rudolph’s even maintains some of the 3-D feel through some faux-collage texture. The songs are not included, of course, so if that’s your favorite part…get the dvds or be prepared for an impromptu song break while you’re reading!

There really isn’t much to be said about these except to inform you that they exist if you and/or your child happens to be really into old Christmas movies for kids! (These were a gift from a grandma, and BoyChild asks for them so often that even his daddy has gotten tired of reading them to him!)

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