Thursday, December 3, 2009

Danny the Champion of the World

Still on our Roald Dahl kick, I picked up Danny the Champion of the World.  I'd never even heard of it, but thought it couldn't hurt to give it a try!

The Story:  Danny lives alone with his dad in a caravan behind the gas station an auto repair shop his father owns.  His mother died when he was a baby.  Danny's father takes him under his wing and teaches him everything he knows about auto repair, and eventually about his other love - pheasant poaching.  Together, they plan the biggest poaching expedition ever, and have some wonderful bonding moments along the way.

The Good:  The relationship between Danny and his dad is amazing.  It's real and touching.  Though they are poaching, they are poaching from a really vile man.  Danny is a likable character.  He isn't as insanely over-the-top as other Dahl children, like Matilda, but instead, he seems like a real boy.  It's kind of nice.

The Bad:  Well, they are poaching.  This prompted discussions with Evalina about how poaching is stealing, and stealing is never ok, and she seemed to understand that.  There was one moment when one of Danny's teachers was really mean to him for no real reason (he caned Danny's palm) and Evalina declared that she was near tears because she was so sad and mad at the same time - and coined the term "smad" to describe her feelings.  It is always upsetting when a teacher is cruel.  I don't know if that's particularly bad, but it is something to be aware of.  Danny (at I think 9 years old) drives a car to rescue his father in the middle of the night, when he hasn't returned from a poaching expedition.  It turns out that his father fell in a pit and broke his ankle, and Danny has to help him out and drive back home again.  This also prompted a discussion with Evalina about how she isn't allowed to drive until she is at least 15.  Evalina also announced "Maybe I can be a poacher when I'm older!" and I had to shoot down that idea, once and for all....

The Verdict:  It's a pretty good book, but more dense than other Dahls.  It's over 200 pages long, and they are not quick pages, like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  The story is also written in first person, from Danny's point of view, and that is different from the narrative style of the other Dahls we've read so far.  Amazon recommends this book for ages 9-12, and I'd say that's fair.  While Evalina does understand what's going on in the book, it might be one that she would get significantly more out of in a couple of years.  I really love how close Danny and his father are, but it sure would be nice if they were bonding over something a little less illegal.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Christmas Wish List: 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up

I saw this book and think it is something every parent should have - 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up.  I wonder how many I could cross off the list?

It's new, so I don't know what books are listed in it, but it would be a great idea for a Christmas present for a new parent, don't you think?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Heard on NPR: Roald Dahl

I heard this story on NPR this morning, about how the Dahl family keeps tight control over what screenplays get made into adaptations of his movies.  It was a good story, worth listening to, and made me more excited than ever to read Fantastic Mr. Fox and then see the movie, which also got a really positive review.

So far, I've been pretty pleased with the adaptations.  What are your favorites?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

George's Marvelous Medicine

One more in our Roald Dahl run,  George's Marvelous Medicine is our latest read.

The Story:  George is left at home with his dreadful, grumpy grandmother.  She needs to have her medicine, and he is supposed to give it to her.  Instead of giving her the medicine she always takes, George decides to mix up his own batch of "medicine" to teach her a lesson, and maybe make her nicer along the way.

The Good:  It's funny, and Evalina liked it.  The grandmother really has no redeeming qualities, so you can't feel very badly for her.  The writing is, in Dahl's style, humorous to the highest degree.

The Bad:  How many times did I say "Now, you know this is pretend, right?  You must never ever do anything like this, because what George is mixing together would at the very least make a person very sick, and it would probably kill them.  This is all pretend.  Do you understand?"  I mean, he was mixing anti-freeze, shoe polish, sheep dip, toothpaste, paint, and all sorts of other crazy things.  So, I'd say this book definitely needs a warning from the parent, unless you want to have poison control on speed dial.  Also, his grandmother doesn't really ever get nicer, and in fact, because she is greedy, ends up disappearing into nothing!  George's parents don't seem to really care, either.  It's a little disturbing, honestly.

The Verdict:  While Evalina really liked it, I can't say that this is a must read.  Not that I think every children's book should have a redeeming moral lesson behind it, but this barely had any story at all.  George's grandmother was awful, so he mixed up some medicine to try to make her better.  It didn't make her better, it just made her hugely tall.  He gave some to a chicken and it made the chicken huge.  His father got excited and fed some to a lot of the farm animals, to try to gain something from it (like football sized eggs).  His father insists that George try to mix up more, but he gets it wrong three additional times, and the final potion shrinks Granny into nothing.  Life goes on, seemingly as before, minus the Granny.  Yeah.  Not so exciting, either.  Amazon says it is good for grades 2-4, and I think that it was good, age-wise, for Evalina (grade 1), but there are many other better books out there, I just don't know that I can recommend this one.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Minpins

Still on our Roald Dahl kick, we picked up The Minpins.  It is a shorter picture book, but it took us two nights to read, because it is thick on the prose.

The Story:  Little Billy longed to explore the woods near his house, but his mother told him all sorts of creatures lurk in the forest just waiting to gobble him up.  One day, when his mother wasn't looking, he snuck off into the forest... and discovered that his mother was right!  He fled from an evil fire-snorting beast, and ended up high in a tree, where he met the most interesting creatures of all - tiny people called the Minpins.  With heads no bigger than peas, they inhabit the trees of the forest and are transported on birds.  They are also kept from the forest floor by the evil fire-snorting beast, which devours them by the thousands.  Little Billy hatches a plan, though, to allow him to return home, and will allow the Minpins to travel the forest freely.  It is a brave plan - but will it work?

The Good:  Little Billy is brave, and the minpins are kind and open.  The prose is beautiful, and the illustrations are stunning.  The book makes kids want to pay attention to nature - because who knows?  They might just see a minpin riding on a passing robin.  Very sweet.  It was short enough that it didn't take long to read.  Evalina loved it.

The Bad:  The Gruncher (the evil beast) is truly terrifying.  It's an unseen cloud of snorting, fire-breathing horror.  Though Little Billy defeats it in the end, there are some scary parts.  The whole story stems from Little Billy disobeying his mother's explicit wishes, and I don't know that I like that part of it, since I have kids that don't always listen so well...

The Verdict:  A delightful read.  Amazon recommends it from ages 3-8, and I'd say that's about right.  I didn't read it to Philip when I was reading it to Evalina (he was off reading with Daddy), but I bet he would have liked it.  It is different from other Roald Dahl books we've read so far, but that is not a bad thing.  The humor that is so evident in the longer books is replaced by pure fantasy in The Minpins.  It made me want to take a closer look at passing birds.

Thursday, November 5, 2009


We are on a Roald Dahl kick, and decided to read Matilda next. I don't know how I missed it as a child - it is really spectacular!

The Story:  Matilda is a genius.  She began reading all on her own at about 3, read all of the children's books in the library by about age 4 1/2, and then graduated to reading Dickens and the like, with great enjoyment.  She is a whiz at math, and seems to have nothing that is really beyond her.  The only problem is, her parents are completely unable to see how special she is.  Her father is a scheming used car salesman, and her mother is a bingo addict, and they never want to do anything other than watch television and eat their tv dinners.  They ignore her more often than not, and when they do notice her, they label her as trouble from the get go.  When Matilda starts school, she finally gets noticed for the special little girl that she is, and her life changes forever.

The Good:  Matilda is amazingly smart, but never conceited about it.  She is clever and a good person.  She doesn't let her situation get her down.  Her parents are terrible and mean, but she gets even with them in creative ways.  Her relationship with her teacher, Miss Honey, is lovely.  Miss Honey is the first person (besides the stunned librarian) who really sees the potential in Matilda.  There are some fun, unexpected, near magical things about Matilda as well.  She makes you want to be just a little like her.

The Bad:  Matilda does get some good revenge, and it isn't always nice.  (Not that they didn't deserve it).  Miss Trunchbull, the horrific headmistress, is really really awful in so many ways, and is scary.  The grown ups, for the most part, are non-receptive to Matilda.  Her parents are also really unpleasant.  Her brother is mentioned but never really plays much of a part in the book at all.  Near the end (spoiler alert), Matilda's family decides to up and move to Spain, and that had Evalina in full-blown tears, while I urged her to keep reading because I was sure it would all work out in the end.  Matilda also makes even the smartest person look a bit dull.

The Verdict:  Amazingly written, funny, and sweet, Matilda is a book I would recommend to anyone.  Evalina adored it.  Amazon recommends it for ages 9-12, but I think earlier readers would appreciate it just as much (Evalina is now 6 1/2).  The Trunchbull is evil, but almost humorously so.  There is always a sense of humor about everything.  That's why we are enjoying Roald Dahl so much.  I really want to watch the movie and see how it compares.  I've heard it's good.  Anyone have any opinions?  I can't wait to read more Roald Dahl.  I don't think you can go wrong.

Edited to add:  We watched the movie this morning, and it was fabulous!  It differed from the book somewhat, but in good ways.  We both enjoyed it a lot.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

James and the Giant Peach

We've been on a Roald Dahl kick recently, and I hadn't read James and the Giant Peach since I was a kid, so I thought it would be a great one.  What a treat!

The Story:  James Henry Trotter lived with his unpleasant aunts, Spiker and Sponge, and was miserable.  They were cruel and he never got to play with other children.  He was forced to spend all of his time in his miserable house and his miserable yard, with his miserable aunts.  Then, one day, a mysterious stranger gave him a bag of magical pellets, which would give him wonderful things, but only if he was the first thing they touched.  It would have been wonderful... except he tripped and the pellets sunk into the soil by the roots of the old defunct peach tree in the garden.  He thought all was lost, until the amazing thing that happened to the peach tree started to effect him.  An enormous peach grew on the tree, and in the end, it freed him from his horrid aunts, and brought him on a wonderful and exciting adventure, with new friends.

The Good:  James is a wonderful boy.  Though he hated his aunts, he was not mean about it, and he came from a sad place (his parents had died), but he always looks for the positive things.  The bug friends in the peach are funny and love James immediately.  James always comes up with clever solutions to problems.  The adventure is exciting without being too scary.  There is a good amount of humor throughout.  We caught a reference to the Vermicious Knids from Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator!  In the end, James gets everything he could want, even though he dropped the magic pellets.  It all works out in the end.  And isn't that nice?

The Bad:  James' Aunts get run over by the peach, and squashed, and there is nary a word said about it.  Squish, and the story moved on.  That might be a bit much for some kids.  Evalina didn't seem bothered by it. There are some scary parts when the peach is attacked by sharks and ominous Cloud Men, which also might be scary for some kids.  The word "ass" is used in several places.  That's all the bad I can think of.

The Verdict:  Just wonderful!  I can't wait to watch the recent movie with Evalina.  Does anyone know how it compares?  Amazon recommends this book for ages 9-12, but my 6 1/2 year old loved it.  This is a classic that you shouldn't miss.  Roald Dahl is delightful.

Monday, October 19, 2009


When I was a child, the school librarian read The BFG to us.  I still had a great fondness for it, even though I didn't remember much about it, and I was super excited to share it with Evalina and re-read it myself.  What a treat!

The Story:  At the orphanage, Sophie is all alone and none too happy.  She can't sleep, and happens to be awake in the middle of the night and sees something strange out of her window.  She sees a giant.  The giant sees her.  He reaches into her window and snatches her right out of her bed.  Luckily for Sophie, this giant is not the child-eating kind, but a Big Friendly Giant (BFG for short).  He brings her back to Giant Country, where he shows her (carefully, so they don't see her) the nine other giants - who are much larger than he is, and enjoy eating up humans by the dozen.  In his cave, he shows her his collection of dreams.  The BFG travels to the misty dream country with Sophie and shows her how he captures dreams.  At night, he travels to the human countries and blows dreams into children's bedrooms (which was what he was doing when Sophie saw him).   Can he and Sophie put a stop to the other terrible giant's human consumption?  Can the BFG get something to eat other than the horrid snozzcumbers that he is forced to live off of in leu of humans?

The Good:  The BFG is funny, and Sophie is very warm and open with him.  He is protective of her, and he is honorable.  This book offers lots of practice in sounding out words, because the BFG has poor grasp of language sometimes.  Roald Dahl has a way of making scary things funny.  The fearsome giants are undoubtedly evil, and scary, but they never seem ominous.  Sophie is safe with the BFG.

The Bad:  As mentioned, the other giants are terrible.  They snatch children from their beds at night and gobble them up like popcorn.  They beat up the BFG and are cruel to him because he is smaller than they are (he is only 24 feet tall, and they are all at least 50 feet tall).  There are jokes about farting, so if you don't like that sort of thing, you might not like that bit.  Sophie is an orphan, and that might take some explaining.

The Verdict:  Good prevails (sorry for the spoiler), and even the Queen of England is won over by the BFG.  According to Amazon, the book is for ages 9-12, but Evalina was certainly old enough for it (at 6 1/2).  Obviously it made a big impression on me, since I had good memories of it to this day.  It is a great book, and I can recommend it to anyone, no matter the size.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Shakespeare's Secret

I got Shakespeare's Secret for Evalina last year, when the author came to visit her school.  It is a signed copy, which I think is pretty cool.

The Story:  Hero is in 6th grade, and she and her family have just moved to a new town.  Her father is a Shakespeare scholar, which explains her name, and her sister Beatrice's as well.  Where Beatrice makes friends easily and fits in well, Hero doesn't do so well.  Her first day at school, a girl in her class brings up the fact that she has a dog named Hero, and the teasing begins.  Things start to get marginally better for her when her mother sends her on an errand to bring something to their neighbor, the elderly Mrs. Roth.  Mrs. Roth has a story to tell, about a diamond that went missing in Hero's new house, and she thinks it is hidden there.  Mrs. Roth also has a young friend, named Danny Cordova, who is the most popular boy in Beatrice's school.  He befriends Hero, and together they search for the diamond, which holds secrets of it's own.

The Good:  The friendship between the two kids and Mrs. Roth is really heartwarming.  Hero is a likeable character who I, personally, could relate to.  The mystery was really engaging.  There were bits of Shakespearean lore and history throughout the book, and I think it is never too early to start a kid on at least knowing who Shakespeare is.  The characters were all very well developed and well written.  I got Evalina to come to bed on more than one occasion by reminding her that the diamond wasn't found yet.  The relationship between Hero and Beatrice is very realistic.

The Bad:  I think Evalina was a little young for some of the themes in the book - lots of middle school drama, which I hope she never experiences (though she probably will), and since she had never really heard about Shakespeare before, I don't know that a book involving conspiracy theories about whether William Shakespeare actually wrote the plays was the best place to start.  Knowing Evalina, she'll be spouting out that theory all over the place.   There was also a part about Danny's mom taking off when he was a kid, and that made her really sad.   In some parts, Hero lies to her parents and sister.  Not the best role model all the time (but who is).

The Verdict: Overall, a super good book.  It is recommended for grade 4-7, and though, as noted, some of the themes were a bit too old for her, she did well on the actual story and the reading.  She was very engaged in the story (as was I).  I think it would probably be a better one to wait a while for, simply so that there is more historical background for your child, but it is definitely recommended.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Wizard in the Tree

Evalina got The Wizard in the Tree, by Lloyd Alexander, free from the library for doing such a great job with her summer reading.  I'd never heard of it before, but thought we'd give it a chance.

The Story:  Mallory is a kitchen maid with a love of fairy tales.  When walking through the woods, she discovers her favorite oak tree was cut down to make way for a road - and is astonished to discover a wizard inside the tree!  Arbican had been trapped there years and years before, and missed his kind's exodus to the land of Vale Innus.  He's not at all what Mallory expected from a wizard, being grumpy and unwilling to grant her wishes.  Still, he lost some of his powers in the time he spent stuck in the tree, and needs Mallory's help getting them back.  Meanwhile, the unscrupulous Squire Scrupnor is trying to turn Mallory's beloved village into a coal mining town, and plans on taking all of the profits for himself, while blaming Arbican for the murder of his predecessor.  Can Mallory help Arbican escape to Vale Innus, and stop Scrupnor?

The Good:  It's an engaging story, and Mallory is a strong female protagonist.  Arbican is an interesting wizard, not cliche and predictable.  Scrupnor is a thoroughly dispicable bad guy, slimy and no good.  The story is exciting in parts and Evalina seemed to enjoy it.

The Bad:  Some language is quite strong.  Mallory is repeatedly referred to as a slut and a wench (though in the original and not contemporary uses of the words), and I actually skipped over the words if I was reading the sentences they were in (slut more than wench).  I just don't need Evalina repeating those words on the playground.  Some of the plot was kind of talky - an entire chapter was pretty much grown ups talking about grown up politics, and I think it got a bit boring for Evalina in that part.  It was right after Arbican was introduced, too, and I know she just wanted to see more about him!  (So did I).  Though it was only 144 pages long, it seemed much longer in parts, and ended well, but kind of abruptly.

The Verdict:  It was a good book, overall, but I wouldn't say it's something I would go out of my way to read.  Amazon says it's best for ages 9-12, and I would agree with that.  Evalina liked it well enough, but I do think that some of it went over her head.  Not bad, but don't rush out and buy it for your 6 year old.  Older, maybe...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

It took us about a week to read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, which is pretty good, considering school started and all.  We liked it quite a lot, and look forward to reading more Roald Dahl soon!

The Story:  This books starts off right where Charlie and the Chocolate Factory left off, with Willy Wonka telling Charlie that he was going to inherit the chocolate factory, and his whole family was invited to come and live at the factory (instead of in their tiny little house) and help run it.  Before they can settle into their new life of fun and luxury and chocolate filled days, the whole family (including the three grandparents in their big bed, Charlie's parents, Mr. Wonka, Charlie, and Grandpa Joe) went for a ride in the Great Glass Elevator.  And where should that Great Glass Elevator take them, but into space?  They went to explore the brand-new, and as yet unoccupied by humans, Space Hotel U.S.A, only to find themselves face to face with Vermicious Knids, horrible gobbling globs of aliens (and of course, Mr. Wonka knows all about them).  They have a great adventure escaping the Knids, and rescue a bunch of astronauts and workers heading for the hotel in the process, before getting back to the factory.
Call that the end of Part 1. On to Part 2.
Once back on solid ground and in the factory, Mr. Wonka devises a plan to get the old grandparents out of the bed they haven't left in many years.  He gives them the wonderful creation Wonka-Vite, which will strip 20 years off a person for each pill they take.  This would have been all well and good, if it hadn't been for Grandma Georgina's greed with them, and the fact that no one seems to listen to directions.  They end up as two babies and a minus (that'd be Grandma Georgina, who took too many pills and is -2 years old).  Charlie and Mr. Wonka set off to save Grandma Georgina from Minus-land (far below the chocolate factory, also accessed by The Great Glass Elevator), and to set things right with her and the now baby grandparents.  Of course, it's an adventure in and of itself.

The Good:  Roald Dahl's writing style is just a lot of fun.  He makes even the most fantastical journey seem matter-of-fact. Of course they would go into space in the elevator.  Why not?  And what should they find there but giant evil slug creatures like the Knids?  And of course the elevator would be immune to knid attack.  Of course Mr. Wonka has invented a wonderful pill to make you younger, and an opposite potion to make you older.  He's like a magician, enrobed in chocolate.  Charlie is ever-sensible, and Grandpa Joe is a joy.  The chapters are a bit longer, on average, than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but still pretty short.   Evalina was laughing out loud at parts, and really enjoyed it.  Though the recommended reading age is 9-12, it was no problem for Evalina, and I bet she could read it by herself if she wanted to.

The Bad:  Some grownups (including the President of the United States) are portrayed as utter fools.   The story is more out there (and I mean out there - outer space) than the first book, and I didn't have a problem with that, but some people might.  The Knids are really really terrible and frightening, and some chapters end with cliffhangers.  The more sensitive readers might not like that (though Evalina had no troubles).  There isn't anything else I can think of really.  Perhaps another bad thing is that there are no more adventures with Charlie to read about?

The Verdict:  The story is a bit more disjointed than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but it was still super fun.  Evalina loved it, and so did I.  It was fun to read.  It wrapped up Charlie's story quite nicely.  The end of the first book was rather abrupt, and I think this one is good to read, if only to find out what happened.  Recommended!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

We read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in 4 nights of reading, and started on Charlie and the Glass Elevator right away... already a couple of chapters in.  Super fun.

The Story:  Charlie Bucket lives in a tiny house with his mother and father and both sets of grandparents.  They are very poor - so poor that all four grandparents share one bed, and Charlie and his parents sleep on a mattress on the floor.  They never get enough to eat, and save all year for Charlie's birthday present, which is one solitary chocolate bar that he savors and nibbles on for weeks.

They live in the same town as the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory, a place that makes the most fantastic chocolate and candy confections in the world.  Ten years earlier, Mr. Wonka fired all of the workers after some severe corporate and candy espionage, and then mysteriously started production again, without ever unchaining the gates.  No one ever leaves the factory anymore, and Mr. Wonka is never seen.  It's tantalizingly secretive.  Charlie dreams of having more chocolate, and walks past the factory every day on his way to school in order to smell the chocolate on the air.

One day, there is an announcement that five golden tickets are hidden in Wonka Candy bars throughout the world, and the children who find those golden tickets will get exclusive access to the factory, for one day only, and a lifetime supply of chocolate thereafter.

Of course, Charlie dreams of finding a Golden Ticket.  When his birthday chocolate doesn't have one, he loses hope.  Four of the Golden Tickets are found by other children (all of whom seem to be rather despicable in one way or another).  Through a series of seeming miracles, Charlie finds the final Golden Ticket for himself the day before the factory visit is scheduled.

The factory, and the man behind the factory, Willy Wonka, are even more astounding than Charlie had ever dreamed.  He and the other children (and their grown-up companions, including Charlie's 96 year-old Grandpa Joe, who was revitalized by the thought of the Chocolate Factory tour) have the adventure of their lives.

The Good:  Wow.  What a good read.  The chapters are short, sometimes only a couple of pages, and the prose is not that challenging, so Evalina was able to read a couple of paragraphs per page with no difficulty (she could have read more, easily).  We read up until Charlie found the Golden Ticket in one night, and then read about the adventures in the factory for the final three nights.  The other children certainly are illustrations of wretched behavior, and I hope that Evalina learned something from reading about them.  The oompa-loompas are funny in the book (though still somewhat creepy).  Charlie and his family were truly deserving of the wonderful things that await them with Willy Wonka.  Grandpa Joe is so spunky, I just love him.  He never got out of bed until the thought of going with Charlie to the factory came into his head, and then he never showed his considerable age again.  The illustrations were really fun, too.  Just so recommended.  Great book.

The Bad:  The oompa loompas are kind of creepy.  They sing songs each time something awful happens to one of the awful children, and those songs are ... creepy.  The depictions of Charlie's hunger are heartbreaking.  You really feel for him.  I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but something to keep in mind.  The horrible children are really horrible, but even so, it could be disturbing to see the horrible things happen to them, without really knowing if they would be ok in the end.  Those are the only bad things I can think of really.

The Verdict:  Read this book.  Amazon recommends it for ages 9-12, but I think it was perfect for the slightly younger set.  It is not very long, and such a good read, it's fun for the child and parent alike.  There are some teachable moments throughout the book (Don't be a brat like Veruca Salt, children.  Don't be a glutton like Augustus Gloop), and some opportunities to put on some fun voices, if you so like (I do).  Be warned, though - if your kid is anything like Evalina, they'll want to start reading the next book immediately, and you will, too.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Philip's Pick: The Boy Who Loved Words

We got The Boy Who Loved Words out from the library a couple of weeks ago, because I saw it and thought, "Hey, is that book about Philip?"

It wasn't about him, but he (and Evalina, and I, and others who read it) sure did enjoy it!

The story is about a boy named Selig who loves words so much that he begins to collect them. He writes any new, fun, interesting, or particularly unique words down on slips of paper and carries them around with him, enjoying them to his heart's content. Sadly, his peculiar hobby gains him no friends at school, only ridicule. He is teased and called Wordsworth and oddball. He goes on a journey, collecting more and more words, until one night, overburdened by his words, he sets them out on the branches of a tree he has made into his bed for the night. Little did he know that the words on the tree would fall into the hands of a poet, bringing him new literary inspiration. Selig found his mission at last - not only collecting words, but spreading them where he goes. He brings happiness to formerly bickering neighbors, new-found success to a bakery where he labels the strudel scrumptious, and others take notice. He also manages to find true love for himself along the way.

The illustrations are lovely, and scattered through them are little slips of paper with some of Selig's favorite words on them. You could spend a lot of time going through the pages just enjoying those words. It was a joy for everyone in our house, and I was sad to return it to the library. I'm hoping to pick up a copy soon for us to keep.

Philip's Pick: The Sleepy Little Alphabet

As I have mentioned before, Philip loves letters and numbers. When I say this, people often think I'm exaggerating. Then they meet him, and see how he finds letters and numbers in every day objects (like an X in the top of a tent, or a Y in a twig) and how much he genuinely enjoys them, and they see I am just stating the plain, simple truth. Boy has a love affair with numbers and letters.

So, when I saw The Sleepy Little Alphabet, by Judy Sierra, I knew he had to have it.

Boy, was I right. He insists on having it read to him every night (though he knows it by heart), and snuggles it in bed like other kids snuggle teddy bears. It's funny.

The book itself is about the little letters in Alphabet town getting ready for bed. It goes through each letter - such as "M is mopey, N is naughty, oops, O and P upset the potty!" (that's a quote from the book, don't report me for copyright infringement, please!). Each page has a delightful illustration to go along with it, and the little letters are often accompanied by their (sometimes frazzled looking) "parents," the uppercase letters. At the end of the book, all of the letters are tucked into bed (except for that naughty n!) and each of them has something special either in bed with them or on their bedside table. It's fun going through and asking Philip what he sees with each one.

After reading the book through and singing the alphabet to him, Philip cuddles up and gets himself ready for bed.

And sometimes, he's just like that n. But let's pretend he's more like the snoring little z.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Phantom Tollbooth

We finished reading The Phantom Tollbooth tonight, and I had never read it before, but had always heard of it. This is part of the fun of reading with your children - you get to read things you love, and learn to love new things, too.

The Story: Milo doesn't enjoy life. Everything seems to be a waste of time, and he never enjoys what he is doing, always thinking about what else he could be doing. When he gets a mysterious gift of a tollbooth, he has no idea how his way of thinking is going to change. He goes on an adventure, starting with a toll paid into the phantom tollbooth. He enters the very literal city of Dictionopolis, travels to the numerical Digitopolis, and seeks to restore the princesses Rhyme and Reason to their rightful place as leaders of the entire Kingdom of Wisdom. He fights his way through Ignorance along the way, makes some very good friends, and learns that maybe there are things in his own life to be enjoyed, just as they are.

The Good: It's a fun read for the parent, I think. There are a lot of puns and plays on words and ironic twists of plot that may go over the average child's head at first glance, but which I found very enjoyable. Evalina thought it was funny, and loved the quest for the princesses. She also got a lot of the jokes and lessons that I didn't expect her to. Milo becomes likeable and learns to be brave and his friends, Tock the Watchdog and the Humbug, are steadfast and true. I think it is equally suited for girls or boys. The lesson that Rhyme and Reason are needed for Wisdom to prevail is a good one, and if she can hold that in her head, it's a win. There are also fun illustrations throughout.

The Bad: As I said, some of the puns go a bit over Evalina's head. Some of the creatures they meet are downright dastardly, and I could see having nightmares about Trivium, the demon who causes you to get caught up in meaningless tasks and never lets you get anything done, or any of the other demons that Milo and his friends encounter in the Mountains of Ignorance. Evalina hasn't complained about anything of the sort, but I can see it as a possibility. Other than that, I can't think of anything to negative.

The Verdict: A really great and fun book! Probably better suited for the recommended ages of 9-12, but it was fine for Evalina. I hope that she re-reads it on her own when she is older, so that she can get some more out of it. I really enjoyed reading it with her, though. I think Milo learned some valuable lessons, and I hope that Evalina takes them to heart. I can recommend this one heartily.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ronia, The Robber's Daughter

A lesser known Astrid Lindgren book than Pippi, I think it Ronia, the Robber's Daughter is actually better in many respects. There is a very well done Swedish film of it, which I have seen probably 100 times (this happens when you live with a 4-year old), and I cannot wait to show it to Evalina (even though it is in Swedish, I think she'll understand the most of it, because the movie is very close to the book in detail.)

The Story: On the night Ronia (Ronja in Swedish) was born, there was a huge storm and a lightening bolt which ripped the fortress where her father and his band of robbers live in half. When Ronia was about 10-11, she began to explore the forests around the fort, and discovered that the other half of the fort had been occupied by a rival band of robbers, and their son Birk, who is the same age as Ronia. They began to have wonderful adventures together in the forest, meeting all sorts of trolls and dwarfs and other creatures, until the two rival bands of robbers start fighting even more, and Ronia and Birk decide to move into the forest by themselves.

The Good: It's just delightfully written. The target audience is older than Pippi - more along the lines of Narnia. I enjoyed reading it more than Pippi - not that there is anything wrong with Pippi! It's just I like Ronia more. Evalina joyed in rolling her R's in pronouncing Ronia and Birk and Borka correctly. It was fun. She does a great job with it. As far as the story goes? It's just wonderful. It's akin to Romeo & Juliet, with spunky 10 year olds instead of tragic 16 year olds, and with a non-suicidal ending. The kids are strong and independent, and decide that they do NOT want to follow in their father's footsteps to be robbers when they grow up, because they think it's wrong. The characters, major and minor, human and creature, are colorful and believable. I love this book.

The Bad: There are some really scary bits, with nasty Wild Harpies out to get Ronia and Birk, a harrowing trip down a raging river, and even a very sad death. There is some slightly bad language ("Dirty devils" being a favorite insult). Ronia and Birk have some seriously foolhardy adventures that I wouldn't want a modern 10-year old to emulate. The grown-ups are unapologetically robbers, and do not change their ways. Ronia's father disowns her (for a time) which is very sad. I don't think any of these things are enough to keep you from reading it.

The Verdict: I love Ronia. Her spunk and sense of adventure are admirable. She cares for Birk and doesn't care what her family says. She faces staying in the forest with him during the winter, and possibly dying with him, if her father and his band of robbers don't accept her friendship with him. She is true and brave and kind. Evalina really loved it, too. It's fun to read and I had her read a paragraph per page. She could have read more. Amazon has the reading level as 9-12, which I think would be appropriate for independent reading, but my 6 year old adored the story. I can't wait to share the movie (with its fabulous music) with her!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Pippi in the South Seas

With Pippi in the South Seas, we have finished reading Pippi. We have to watch the dvds we have in Swedish, and that should be fun. We really enjoyed them.

The Story: Pippi's father wants her to join him on Kurrekurredutt Island, in the South Seas, where he is King. Pippi somehow manages to convince Tommy and Annika's parents that they should come along, and the adventures begin. On the island, Pippi and her friends meet the native children, and have some wonderful fun, including wrestling with sharks, and getting rid of unwanted visitors. In the end, they return to the little town in Sweden, and Villa Villekulla, but the adventure will stay with them forever. And who knows, they may even go back sometime!

The Good: This story is the longer version of the story in a short Swedish-language Pippi picture book I've been reading to the kids for a couple of years now, so it was fun to read it in its entirety. Pippi is as delightful as ever, and the Christmas she arranged for Tommy and Annika upon their return to Villa Villekulla is heartwarming. Evalina was able to read large chunks of it on her own, and really has fun with Pippi. She often wants "Pippi braids" in her own hair, though it is blonde, not red. I am so pleased to have introduced such a vibrant character into her life.

The Bad: Well, Pippi is again naughty and disregards rules and normal standards for safe behavior. It is difficult to explain that Pippi can get away with such things because she is Pippi, but Evalina didn't do too much emulation. Yet. Sometimes, it was a bit hard for me to get into the writing style, as the target audience seems quite a bit younger than some of the other books we have read.

The Verdict: You just can't go wrong with Pippi. She's got a magical quality about her, and I loved reading the books to Evalina. I can't wait to watch the Swedish-language dvds!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pippi Goes On Board

What fun we had with Pippi Goes on Board! The kids are sure I wrote the Pippi books, even though I have told them it is some other Astrid. They can keep believing if they want...

The Story: Pippi is back to her adventures living in Villa Villekula. By now, the town is used to her, and they are not as shocked about her antics. She buys pounds of candy for all the kids in town, and does likewise in the toystore. She goes to the fair and causes some trouble. She arranges a shipwreck with Tommy and Annika for fun. Nothing is surprising, particularly, though, until she gets an unexpected visitor - her long lost father! For once, Pippi's tall tales are true. He really did survive falling overboard, and became a king of the Cannibals on Kurrekurredutt Island. Now, he wants Pippi to go with him, to be a Cannibal Princess. Tommy and Annika, are distraught. Will Pippi really leave Villa Villekulla forever?

The Good: Pippi is hilarious. She tells the best tall tales, and that always makes Evalina chuckle. There are some teaching moments - as I mentioned when we read the first Pippi book. "Isn't Pippi funny? DON'T do what Pippi does!" The writing is challenging in places for her, but easy enough for her to read. I read most of it, but she read about 2-3 paragraphs per page (some of them super long). All in all, it was a great great read.

The Bad: Some of it is kind of sad. Evalina didn't quite understand the idea of Pippi moving away forever, though she was excited about the idea of Pippi being a Cannibal Princess. Pippi is pretty naughty and disregards rules with abandon. Since Evalina is at a point when following rules is sometimes.... challenging.... it's hard to teach her that Pippi's hilarious antics are not ok in the real world.

The Verdict: Bad behavior aside, you can't go wrong with Pippi. It's wonderful. Evalina loves it. Philip loves picking out the "Pippi"s on the pages. The stories are fun and delightful. We can't wait to finish the next book, so we can watch the Swedish language movies we have, and then maybe find the Swedish books eventually!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Last Battle

Wow! We are finished reading Narnia! It's bittersweet, because we absolutely loved reading the books, but it's going to be fun to move on to something else. We sped through The Last Battle, and finished it in a week!

The Story: It's the end of Narnia. A devious Ape convinces a poor Donkey to dress in a lion's skin and then passes him off as Aslan, convincing people and creatures of Narnia to do terrible things, saying that they are Aslan's will. The current (and final) King of Narnia, Tirian, calls for help from the Real Aslan, because he sees through the ruse, and who should be sent to help but Jill and Eustace? They fight together to try to save Narnia and the Narnian's from the horrible Ape, and in the end, find that their adventure is going to bring them to a much different end than they would ever have thought.

The Good: It's exciting, that's for sure. There are lots of lessons to be learned in this book, and all of the favorite characters from the previous books are revisited. The imagery is fantastic, and the characters are just wonderful. The end was lovely, and I wasn't sure it was going to be.

The Bad: There are some very strong religious references in this one, with Aslan the Jesus Lion, as one of my friends calls him, and the Evil God Tash, the parallel to the Devil. I am not a religious person, so some of it was a bit much for me, but I guess it all boils down to the core morals, and that I don't have a problem with. Good prevails (sorry if I give anything away!) and Evil is quenched. Some of the things in the book are really dark, though. There were cliffhangers at the end of nearly every chapter, and so we ended up reading 2 chapters most nights, so that I wouldn't leave Evalina with anything that would leave her with bad dreams. The evil was SO evil that it was scary even for me. Evalina didn't seem that shaken. And what happened to Susan? Her absence was just kind of weird, and not fully explained.

The Verdict: What a way to end the series! We had a hard time putting it down. Some of the references went over Evalina's head, I'm sure, but I bet that she got more than I thought she did. She really loved the references back to the earlier books, and actually has decided to go back and read the first book by herself. I don't know if she is actually "reading" it, or "skimming" it, but it is wonderful either way. She loved in this book when her favorite characters from the other books showed up, especially Reepicheep. I do think that she ended up being a bit too young to fully appreciate this book, but she still loved it, even if she probably missed a lot of the nuances. It was a great conclusion to our Narnian adventures.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair

I'm sad that we are almost finished with Narnia! We have been enjoying it so much.. We finished The Silver Chair this morning, and Evalina just loved it, and vowed to go to Narnia, if ever she got the chance. She wants to meet Aslan. I don't blame her. Aslan is cool.

The Story: Eustace from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? He's back. At a "new" kind of school in England, called Experiment House, he and his friend Jill are being bullied horrendously. Eustace and Jill were drawn to Narnia, at their time of need, and to a time when Narnia needs help. Many years have passed since Eustace was last in Narnia - Narnian time, of course. King Caspian has become an old man, and he sets off on a journey in search of his lost son before Eustace has a chance to talk to him again. Eustace and Jill have also been sent in search of the lost Prince Rillian, by Aslan himself, and they have to travel to the Wilds in the North looking for him, following signs given by Aslan. They have help from a curious creature, Puddleglum, a Marsh-Wiggle. Along the way, they encounter a council of owls, a mysterious lady and a silent knight, giants, gnomes, and everything in between. But, will they find the Prince?

The Good: It's an adventure story, which is fun. The characters are, as always, well developed and well rounded. No one is so brave as to be unbelievable. Puddleglum is a fun character, who acts kind of as the Eeyore of the story. It was quick moving, and it was not battle-heavy. There are a few skirmishes here and there, but nothing crazy.

The Bad: "The" Silver Chair in the title doesn't come in until more than halfway through the book, and Evalina kept asking why it was called The Silver Chair. I had to tell her I didn't know, until we got there. The references to Experiment House are a little hard for a modern child to understand, I think, since it talks about how new and different it is, and how "experimental," because it's co-ed and secular, among other things. Hmmm. There were some slightly dark moments in the book, but it wasn't so bad.

The Verdict:
Not my favorite of the series, but still good. It was sad to see Caspian so old, after meeting him and "getting to know" him as a young and virile King, but having Eustace, Jill, and Puddleglum as the central characters worked. Evalina missed Lucy, Edmund, Peter, and Susan, but she got over it. As with the other books in the series, it is listed for grades 4-8, but Evalina (nearly done K), loved it. We are looking forward to the next (and final) book in the series.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

We read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader really quickly - in about 10 nights of reading. Again, it was very very good... I'm kind of sad that we only have two Narnia books left.

The Story: Lucy and Edmund are visiting with their unpleasant cousin, Eustace, when all three find themselves unexpectedly pulled out of our world, onto the deck of The Dawn Treader, set sail from Narnia with (among others) King Caspian and the brave mouse Reepicheep. They are out to explore the seas beyond Narnia, in search of seven lords who had been sent away when Caspian's dastardly uncle Miraz because they had shown support for Caspian when Miraz had been king. It was an amazing journey, with stops at many fantastical islands, in search, not only of the missing lords, but for the mythical country where Aslan comes from. Along the way, Eustace underwent some very good changes in character, due in no small part to a time when he was temporarilly transformed into a dragon. Will they reach the ends of the world? What will they find there, and along the way?

The Good: Just about everything in this book is good. The imagery is amazing. The islands are all so different and gorgeous, you wish you could go there yourself. The people they meet along the way are interesting and full of life. Evalina always wanted me to read more of the book than one chapter a night, and though I stuck to one chapter for the most part, I was swayed a couple times. There was very little violence in this book, which is nice, considering the battle-heavy scenes in the past couple books. It also got Evalina kind of excited to look at maps.

The Bad: Edmund, Lucy, and Caspian were really kind of background characters. Eustace and Reepicheep got a little more "page time." The real characters were the islands and the people they met along the voyage. This might be a disadvantage if you are really invested in the characters. If you are more into the adventure, there should be no problem for you. The ending was kind of abrupt, but I think that was more a problem for me than for Evalina. Since we jumped right into the next book, there was not too much of a problem.

The Verdict:
Loved it! Evalina loved it, too. She was quite concerned for Reepicheep, who had a tough decision at the end (and I am not going to spoil it for you), and kept asking about him through the book. She loved every moment that Aslan came into the story. She wanted to look at the map to try to figure out where they were. It was very cool. I would love to see a movie made of this one, if it could do it justice. The recommended age on Amazon is grade 4-8, but again, my 6 year old adored it. I think this is one of my favorites (and I keep saying that), because I love the voyage, more than I like the battles in the previous books. I think Evalina liked it more, too. It was really just wonderful.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

We really loved reading Prince Caspian, and I wonder if the movie is faithful - thoughts?

The Story: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy were heading to boarding school when a strange force pulled them from the train station into Narnia! It was not the Narnia they recognized from their time there. Their beloved castle at Cair Paravel has become completely overgrown by apple trees, and has fallen into ruin. The magical talking beasts have mostly been exterminated, and those who remain have gone into hiding. Dwarves and the like are also in hiding, and the naiads and dryads have all but disappeared. Aslan has not been seen in generations, and most people doubt his existance, and think that the legends of the Golden Age of Narnia when Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy ruled are just that - legends. What has drawn the four children back to Narnia (only a year or so has passed in their time, though it has been hundreds of years in Narnia) is the call from Caspian, rightful king of Narnia, and friend to the exiled Talking Beasts and Magical creatures. He has been denied his rightful throne by his Uncle Miraz, who is out to kill him. Can the children help him defeat Miraz, and return Narnia to the splendors of the golden age?

The Good: As expected, the story telling is fantastic. Evalina loved the characters, from the slightly nefarious dwarf Nikabrick to the courageous mouse Rippicheep, to of course Caspian and the four children, and the ever popular Aslan. The story was engaging and quick, and ended happily. Miraz was suitably unpleasant so that you didn't feel too badly when he got his in the end (sorry for spoiling at all). We just love this writing.

The Bad: There is a good deal of violence, and people getting their heads cleaved off, and stabbed in the back, and lots of fighting. Some of the themes went a bit over Evalina's head, and I had to explain some things, but overall, not bad. She did keep asking where Cor (Shasta) from The Horse and His Boy were. They play no part in this story at all.

The Verdict: Overall, quite a wonderful book. I think that Evalina would have gotten some more out of it if she was a little older. She's kind of sensitive at times, and still didn't have much of a problem with the people who were killed, or the amounts of violence. She really liked when the trees came to life and started walking around. We were outside when we read that part, and she kept looking up at the trees in wonder. Though Amazon recommends the book for grades 4-8, my 6 year old loved it and got a lot out of it. I can see her re-reading the whole series when she is older, though, and getting even more out of it.

Evalina's "Book Report": Totally slacking on this lately. She really loved the story, though, so maybe she'll get back into it soon. I'm sure this summer, when school is out, we'll be able to do some fun things with books some more.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Horse and His Boy

We took a little while longer than normal to read The Horse and His Boy, because life got in the way, but we really enjoyed it.

The Story: In a land to the South of Narnia called Calormen, which seems kind of "arabian" in culture, a young boy named Shasta meets a Talking Horse named Bree, and learns that he, like Bree, is from Narnia, and not Calormene at all. He escapes with Bree from his "home," where he was little better than a slave, and sets out to return to their homeland of Narnia in the North. Along the way, they meet another kidnapped Narnian Horse, Hwin, and her rider, Aravis, who has run away from a forced marriage. They go through much adventure on their way to Narnia, even running across the path of the "children" from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, now Kings and Queens of Narnia. Can Shasta, Bree, Aravis, and Hwin get to the safety of Narnia, and maybe thwart a Calormene invasion of the kingdom neighboring Narnia, Archenland, in the process? And who is Shasta, actually? How did he get to Calormen? It's a mystery waiting to be solved.

The Good: The adventure is very exciting, and Evalina really loved the talking horses. Shasta and Aravis (and Bree, for that matter) have a great deal of character growth througout the book. And of course, Aslan is always a hit when he makes an appearance. Evalina also liked seeing the "kids" from the previous book, in their royal splendor.

The Bad: This book has some dealings with slavery and war, and I don't know if Evalina was really ready for those parts. She knows that slavery is wrong, and didn't seem to understand why the Calormenes took it all in stride. She also didn't understand why people war. Join the club, girl.

The Verdict: I had never read this book before, and I enjoyed it quite a lot. It even had a surprise twist at the end! (Well, kind of a surprise. You could probably figure it out if you were paying attention). The adventure was fun, and Evalina definately enjoyed it. As with the other Narnia books, Amazon list this one for ages 9-12. At age 6, Evalina loved it. I'm sure some of it went over her head, but not too much. This one is a winner, and has an added bonus of giving you stepping stones to discuss some moral questions with your kids.

Evalina's "Book Report": I still haven't uploaded her pictures from the previous book. Oops. She said her favorite parts in this one were when Shasta and Bree met, when Aravis was being chased by a lion, and when they escape from Tashbaan, the city in Calormen. Hopefully, I'll get some pictures up soon.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

So, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the one that started it all, but in the "new" order, it's the second one we read.

And it was, of course, fantastic.

The Story: I think most people know this story, which is the most famous of all of the Narnia stories. Four children (Susan, Peter, Edmund, and Lucy) are sent to the country to live in an old country house, and discover a passageway into Narnia completely by accident through the back of a wardrobe. The Narnia they find is much different than the idyllic place that found it's beginning in the previous book - it's always winter, and never Christmas. They meet The Witch (who is the Witch from Charn from The Magician's Nephew), and the Lion (of course, Aslan), and find out that they have a very important part to play in the salvation and the future of Narnia.

The Good: What isn't good about it? The characters are rich and deep, and sometimes conflicted (Edmund!) and the writing is wonderful, as expected. Some definite moral decisions are explored, and it was good to talk to Evalina about the issues. The different children each have different things to offer the reader, so everyone can find someone to connect with. Evalina liked Susan, because she was the older sister. The descriptions of the fantastical creatures were grand.

The Bad: There are some scary bits, and the witch is most assuredly evil. Since I had read this one before, I knew when to warn Evalina that something sad or scary might be coming up. As I mentioned in the write up for The Magician's Nephew, there is a lot of religious imagery (much more in this one! It's pretty blatant), but it didn't bother non-religious me, because the morals are solid and universal, so I don't really count that as bad, just something to be aware of.

The Verdict: Amazon lists this as ages 9+. It was great as a read aloud book for not-quite 6 Evalina. We read two chapters a night, at her insistence. She simply adored it. I loved reading it. We finished it in a little over a week, and again, we were also reading one of the Magic Schoolbus books along with it (one about Volcanos). Since I have not read any of the other books in the series, I cannot wait to see what comes next! This book is an absolute classic, and could be a stand alone book, even if you are not ready to commit to the whole series. There are so many reasons that it's a perennial favorite.

Evalina's "Book Report": Coming soon. Still have to upload the others. They are sitting next to my computer.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

We love Dr. Seuss in our house. I loved his books as a child, and introduced his books to my kids quite early.

Some of our Favorite Seuss Books:

Philip - Dr. Seuss ABC's. This is the perfect book for a boy obsessed with letters. It is fun to read, and as mentioned previously in the blog, he went as this book for Halloween this past year. He will lie in bed and "read" it to himself for a long time.

Evalina - She has many. For almost 6 months when she was maybe 3, she insisted that I read I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew nearly every night. And it isn't a short one. This thing is over 60 pages of prose-style Dr. Seuss. It's one I never read as a child, but oh how I love it now. I have the thing memorized. Seriously.
She also likes to read Would You Rather Be a Bullfrog? which is another one I didn't have as a child, but I like quite well.
Both The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins and Bartholomew and the Oobleck are favorites, though my husband doesn't like reading them much.
She loves to torture us with the tongue twisters in Fox in Socks. I'm getting decent at them.
And of course, Yertle the Turtle, and also Horton Hears a Who.

Here's to many more years of enjoying Dr. Seuss! Happy Birthday to him! Why don't you celebrate by picking up a Seuss you haven't read, from the bookstore or the library, and share it with your kids tonight?

Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician's Nephew

I decided to read The Chronicles of Narnia in the "new" order, which is chronologically and not in the order they were published. I know that there are people who would say that this is incorrect, but I think it is going to be just fine.

We started, therefore, with The Magician's Nephew, which was the 6th book published in the series, but the first in order of events as they occur.

The Story: Digory's mother is sick, and so they move in with his Aunt and his very strange and mysterious Uncle in London. He happens to meet the neighbor girl, Polly, and they have lots of fun playing together. One day, they decide to explore the crawlspace between adjascent houses (which are all connected) and end up inadvertently in Digory's uncle's study. As it turns out, Uncle Andrew fancies himself a magician, and tricks the children into acting as guinea pigs in his magical "experiment" - after using actual guinea pigs didn't turn out so well. Much to his surprise, the children are transported magically to a place where they can travel between different worlds. They visit a strange world of Charn, where everything is dead and desolate, until Digory makes a grave error and awakens the evil Empress and Witch, Jadis. Jadis follows them back to their own world and wreaks some havoc there before Digory and Polly manage to get her back to the magical place between worlds, and then they enter what was an empty world. They witness something truly spectacular - the birth of a new world, Narnia. In order to protect this new world from the Evil Witch who hitched a ride with them, Digory, with Polly along with him, is sent on a magical quest before he (and Polly) can return home.

The Good: The writing is fantastic, and the imagery is so full. The characters are multifaceted and the adventure is exciting. Who wouldn't like to read about new worlds, and magical creatures? Even in their ordinary lives in London, Polly and Digory are fun characters. Throw magic in with them and it's just lovely. This book (and the ones to follow) are simply classics.

The Bad: Some things are a bit frightening, and some of it is a bit dated (I had to explain what a hansome cab was), but that's not all bad. Evalina's pretty sensitive at times, and none of the chapter ending cliffhangers really got her too anxious. I can't think of much bad to say about this book, except for that Evalina couldn't probably read it by herself, but she's not quite 6 yet, so what do you expect? It is rife with religious imagery, but even though I am not religious, I see nothing wrong with a Jesus-lion. It's pretty innocuous, in that regard.

The Verdict: Amazon lists this as ages 9+. For a read-aloud book, it was fine for Evalina. She loved it. I loved reading it. It didn't take very long for us to read, and we were also reading one of the Magic Schoolbus books along with it. I cannot wait to see how she likes the next books in the series. I would recommend this to anyone.

Evalina's "Book Report": Coming soon. She drew some great pictures, I just have to get them on the computer.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Wonderful Bonus

One fantastic thing about reading to your children is that, some days, they want to read to you.

A couple of nights ago, Evalina read The Runaway Bunny to me. The night before, it was Would You Rather Be a Bullfrog. Last night, we were treated to Yertle the Turtle, with much gusto and feeling (and when she was done with Yertle, she carefully put her bookmark in the place where she left off, since there are two other stories).

I'm bragging a little here, and I hope you will indulge me. Evalina is very concerned about what effects punctuation has on words. If something is italicized, she must read it with the proper emphasis. In parentheses? Same thing. It's really fantastic.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that she's got a bit of dramatic flair. *Ahem* No clue where that came from.

When I was very tired the other night, and we had already read two chapters of The Magician's Nephew, she really wanted to read a chapter in The Magic Schoolbus book we were reading (about electric storms). I told her that I just couldn't keep my eyes open after a few pages. "Ok, mommy," she said, "I'll read the last few pages of the chapter." And she did. I helped her out on a few words, but she read wonderfully.

I don't think there are many moments when my heart swells with more pride.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Igraine the Brave

I have never read anything by Cornelia Funke before, but I know that Igraine the Brave won't be our last book by her. We read it in just over two weeks, while also reading Magic Schoolbus books alongside.

The Story: Igraine's family is full of magicians, and they live in Pimpernel Castle, and are guardians of the Singing Books of Magic. Igraine has no desire to be a magician. She wants to be a knight. She has just turned 12 years old, and she wants nothing more than a life of chivalry and knightly persuits. She gets her chance to prove herself when her parents have a magical mishap, and she and her (magic practicing) older brother must defend the castle, and the Books, against Osmund the Greedy and his dastardly knight, Rowan the Heartless. Igraine sets of on a quest, and has wonderful adventures with a giant, and an honorable knight, among others.

The Good: How great is it to have kids learning about chivalry? Igraine is a spunky, brave, and smart young girl, who is not afraid to face potentially frightening situations (unless spiders are involved). In this way, she is a very good heroine. The other characters are also very well described, from Igraine's parents, The Fair Melisande and Sir Lamorak the Wiley, to the chivalrous knight who helps her, The Sorrowful Knight of the Mount of Tears, to her clever brother, Albert and his magical mice, to her talking cat, the ever fish-hungry Sisyphus, right to the evil-doers, Osmund the Greedy and Rowan the Heartless.
The chapters are pretty short in general, so it's easily broken down if you are reading it in installments, and though I read this one aloud to Evalina and only had her reading the chapter titles, she was following along quite well. Amazon lists this book as good for ages 9-11, but she had no troubles with the story at 5 (almost 6).

The Bad: Igraine gets herself into trouble sometimes, and doesn't always listen to her parents or other authority figures. She is sometimes rash. Some of the writing may be a bit over the heads of younger kids, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It didn't seem to limit enjoyment.

The Verdict: We loved this book and looked forward to reading it every night. I can't wait to read more by Cornelia Funke! I wish we had the first in the Inkheart series (I inadvertantly bought the second one instead of the first one... oops). I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy, and Harry Potter fans would probably appreciate it. It is lighter than the Potter books, though, in style and story. More fairytale like.

Evalina's "Book Report": I'm going to start having her do this, as an exercise that will help her out in school eventually. I had her draw five of her favorite things in the story. Here they are (and interestingly, she didn't draw Igraine herself! I thought for sure the castle and Igraine would have made appearances)

This is the horse, Lancelot, enjoying a carrot (no idea why the horse has no mane)

The Sorrowful Knight of the Mount of Tears, who lost the ladies he was protecting.

Igraine's cat, Sisyphus, eating a Knight Fish.

Rowan Heartless, the evil Spiky Knight. (Doesn't he just look evil? That grin! Terror-inducing)

The magical stone lions that (happily, apparently) guard the gates of Pimpernel. Evalina was quick to point out their manes, and said they were roaring.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Pippi Longstocking

When Evalina was younger, my cousin Agnes visited from Sweden, and brought a plethora of Pippi related items (because it was the 60th Anniversary of Pippi). Among these was a set of Pippi stories on CD (in Swedish), a bunch of Pippi clothing (so cute, and bought in various sizes so that she is still wearing them), and a Pippi storybook (in Swedish - Pippi in the South Seas). Later, we were also given the Swedish TV movies on DVD - which we have not watched yet.

Evalina listened to the cds many many times, not really understanding any of it. She listened to me read the Swedish storybook to her, which I dutifully translated, and the Pippi clothes are among her favorites.

For Christmas, she was given the first book of the series, Pippi Longstocking, in English. The novelty.

The Story: Pippi lives all alone in Villa Villekulla, with only her monkey, Mr. Nilsson, and her horse to keep her company. Her father was lost at sea (and Pippi is sure he has become the king of a tribe of cannibals), and her mother "is an angel," so there is no one to live with her. This is not to say that she is incapable of caring for herself. She happens to be the strongest girl in the world, and is resourceful and irrepressible as any girl could possibly be. She makes friends with the children next door, Tommy and Annika, and they are sure to never have another dull day. They try to get her to go to school (it doesn't work out), invite her to their mother's coffee party (which was a foolish idea), and have many other adventures with this amazing girl.

The Good: Pippi is joyful and silly, that's for sure. She isn't afraid of anything or anybody. The joy of being Pippi is enough to get her through, along with the big chest full of gold she's got... and her incredibly strong muscles and personality.

The Bad: Pippi lies. Incessantly. And it's really funny when she does, so it doesn't exactly teach that lying is wrong. Pippi also gives pistols to Tommy and Annika as toys. And shoots bullets through her ceiling. And dashes into burning buildings. All in all, we had quite a few "Isn't Pippi funny? Never do what Pippi does," conversations.

The Verdict: The kids got a kick out of the fact that Pippi is written by a Astrid, and mommy's name is Astrid. Evalina loved the book (Philip liked looking at the pages and picking out where he saw the word "Pippi" over and over again). I think, as long as you can explain that Pippi's behavior is not ok for real life children, the book is wonderful fun. I look forward to reading the others in the series, and watching the Swedish movies, and hopefully locating the books in Swedish and reading them in their native language!

The Tale of Despereux

So, I also snagged The Tale of Despereux at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale. Little did I know that it is the junior novelization (which is basically like reading the screenplay) and not the original book. After reading some reviews for the original book, and going to see the movie, I tend to think that this version is better suited to Evalina's age.

The Story: Despereux is a brave mouse, which makes him an outcast in mouse society. He befriends a human Princess, which gets him banished to the dungeons, where the rats live. Through a misunderstanding, a rat named Roscuro killed the Queen, which got soup and rats banned from the kingdom (read it, it will make sense), but Roscuro becomes the only friend Despereaux has in the rats, all the rest of whom would just as soon eat him. When the Princess is unwilling to see past the fact that Roscuro is a rat, when he tries to apologize for killing the Queen (again, long story), Roscuro turns on his better nature, and goes bad. He encourages a jealous servant girl to kidnap the Princess, and only Despereux can save her.

The Good: Due to the fact it is the junior novelization of the movie, the descriptions are fantastic. The characters are full and lively, and Evalina enjoyed it very much, as did I. There are a few fun dialects to play with, and the message of courage and bravery is a good one. We went to see the movie, and it was a very good one - beautiful animation!

The Bad: Even in the Disneyfied version, there are quite a few scary moments. The servant girl is portrayed as really quite stupid, though if reviews are to be believed, she is worse in the original story. The abrupt death of the Queen caught me off guard.

The Verdict: Loved the movie, and was glad to have read the book first, even if it isn't the original story. It made me want to make a big pot of soup. (Again, read the book or watch the movie, and you'll understand). I will be more careful to look at the cover of a book before I buy it in the future, because I'd rather be getting the authentic story. Still, as mentioned, I think that the Disneyfied version is fine for a child of Evalina's age.

A Christmas Carol

So, this Christmas, I decided to start a (hopefully yearly) tradition of reading A Christmas Carol to Evalina before Christmas. I had actually never read the book before myself, but I snagged a copy at the Scholastic Warehouse Sale for $2. How could you resist that?

(I don't think I have to recap the story for anyone)

The Good: It's a classic story, and has an important moral. At the same time, it stays pretty secular, which I appreciate, and has some great descriptive prose. Go Dickens!

The Bad: There are some scary bits, and of course, some of the language was far over Evalina's head, but she seemed to get the point. It was hard to explain that the story took place so long in the past. Also, she was very sad about Tiny Tim.

The Verdict: I hope to read this to the kids every Christmas season. This year, when we were done reading it, we watched Mickey's Christmas Carol, the Disney-fied version of the story. Eventually, we can graduate to more traditional and authentic versions of the movie. I enjoyed reading the book, and it is pretty short (though dense). A good introduction to classic literature for the kids.

The Magic Schoolbus Science Chapter Books

I got two box sets of The Magic School Bus Science Chapter books through the Scholastic Flier from school, and I am very pleased that I did! I had heard of the Magic Schoolbus show, but had never seen it, and I had never read any of the books before. I was betting on a hunch.

What a great hunch.

Each book covers some topic in science, and covers it well. I have learned things from these books. Evalina loves them, and is always spouting off factoids that she has learned from them.

We have gotten through 12 of the 20 so far.

Topics so far include:

outer space
Australian wildlife
and magnetism

The Story: Each book starts out the same, with an introduction by a member of Ms. Frizzle's class. Ms. Frizzle is a very unique teacher, who loves science more than anything, and loves to bring her class on impromptu field trips, aided by the Magic School Bus. Each book is told from the perspective of the child who "speaks" in the introduction. The topic being covered in the book is introduced in some sort of adventuresome way, and off they go on their Magic School Bus field trip, learning along the way.

The Good: The science is really good! I love that it is not dumbed down for kids, and I love how comprehensive it is. The topics are covered in interesting and exciting ways, and it makes me wish I had Ms. Frizzle as a teacher. The language is not too difficult for kids, and in these books, I have Evalina read a couple of paragraphs a page. She could undoubtably read more than that, but she likes me to read to her. The pictures (one or two a chapter, usually) are cute and Evalina looks forward to them.

The Bad(ish): The kids are not very interesting, in my opinion. The focus is really on the science, and less on character development, so I can understand that.

The Verdict: Absolutely wonderful. A great resource to teach kids science and get them excited about it, and fun to read. Evalina always wants to read them, even if we're working on another book. She wants to read one chapter (the chapters are short) of a Magic School Bus book and then a chapter of the other book. It's wonderful. Plus, she's retaining a lot of the information. She wanted to experiment with magnets on all of my pots and pans while we were reading the magnetism book, for example. I love it, and I will be sad when we are done reading them.

UPDATE: Evalina has spent the summer reading and rereading most of these all on her own. A complete winner of a set! So highly recommended.

Seven Day Magic

Seven Day Magic is the last in Edward Eager's Tales of Magic series. It focuses on John, Susan, Barnaby, Abbie and Fredericka, who like to spend every Saturday checking out exciting books from the library. One day, Susan finds a strange book, and the adventures begin...

The Story: These children are not at all related to the children from Half Magic, though I believe the town might be the same as in The Well Wishers and Magic or Not?, though at a slightly later date. When Susan finds this strange book, it turns out that the pages are blank, but are filled with stories about the children themselves in adventures they are to have! There are references throughout to different works of literary fiction, including a visit to the world of Half Magic. It's full of fantastic magical journeys.

The Good: I love the references to other fiction, especially referencing Half Magic as one of the children's favorite books! It seems kind of tongue in cheek, and I can appreciate that. I think that the adventures the kids have in these books are grand - there is even a dragon! Another fantastic book.

The Bad(ish): Again, some of the references might be lost on the uninitiated reader, but that's just more reason to go read some classics, right? Can't think of anything else.

The Verdict: A fitting end to a fantastic series, it left me wishing there were more books. The kids are likeable, and fun, and just a little naughty. Another one I can't wait to re-read with the kids.

The Time Garden

The Time Garden is a sequel to Knight's Castle, and a fun one at that. It follows the same kids (children of a couple of the original children), and includes a mysterious creature called a Natterjack.

The Story: The children are sent to spend the summer at the house of strange old Mrs. Whiton, and in her garden, they meet the Natterjack, who is kind of like a frog. He introduces them to the mysteries of the many different kinds of thyme growing in the garden. Each different type of thyme evokes a different kind of magic, from wild thyme to common thyme, and along the way, they travel in time and meet their parents (in a cross-over from Half Magic. Or maybe Magic by the Lake. I don't remember which one). It's very cool.

The Good: Did I mention it's just really cool? The adventures are lots of fun, and fast paced. I love how it overlaps with the previous stories, and it is just plain good reading. Plus, the Natterjack seems to speak with a cockney accent, and I love any excuse to practice fun accents. The kids don't care if I'm bad.

The Bad(ish): There are a couple tense moments along the way, but even my hyper-sensitive child didn't have too much trouble with them, so it's not too bad.

The Verdict: Love the time traveling, and the puns with the different types of thyme sending them on different adventures in time. A very clever person could make some thyme-infused meals for the kids to tie in with the book. I didn't get that far (this time) but I do make a killer Lemon Chicken with Thyme. Can't wait to reread this one.

Knight's Castle

Another sequel to Half Magic, the story of Knight's Castle follows the magical adventures of the children of a couple of the original children. I think this might be my favorite (other than Half Magic!)

The Story: Roger and his sister Ann spend the summer with their cousins, Jack and Eliza, and facilitated by a magical toy soldier of Roger's, enter into a magical world at night, full of knights and Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Ivanhoe, among others. It's a little evocative of Narnia, but the story is all his own.

The Good: This story is action packed and exciting, and these kids are just as fun as the original quartet. I much prefer the outright magic to the Magic or Not? style of "magic." I love the adventures they go on.

The Bad(ish): It would be better if I had a better grasp of some of the stories they borrow characters from, like Ivanhoe. It left me wanting to read Ivanhoe (I haven't yet!). There is some mention of Roger and Ann's father having an unnamed illness, which is the reason for their summer visit, so he can get treatment. That might worry more sensitive children.

The Verdict: If this is a take-off of Narnia, I'll take it. I used to dream of having the kind of adventures these kids have, and it's also fun to catch a glimpse into the kind of grown ups the original kids become. I love this book.