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.