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!