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Archive for the ‘Children’s’ Category

wrinkleThe 1963 Newberry-award winning novel, A Wrinkle in Time, was a favorite of mine as a child. There was something so gently compelling about the storyline and I could relate so deeply to main character. Teenager Meg Murry doesn’t fit in, in school or seemingly anywhere else. She’s smart but stubborn, and fiercely protective of her family, even with its complete lack of normalcy. She is especially combative when anyone speaks badly about Charles Wallace, her youngest brother, who is definitely an odd child. Their father is missing, and his unexplained disappearance haunts the family, and leads Meg to be even more belligerent as she struggles to deal with the loss and the emptiness of not knowing what happened to him.

Although it has been many years since I last read A Wrinkle in Time, I was immediately swept back into the adventures had by Meg, Charles, their neighbor Calvin, with the Misses Whatsit, Who, and Which guiding them along their journey throughout the universe to save Mr. Murry from the terrible blackness that envelops him. The story, to use the words of Mrs. Murry, requires a willing suspension of disbelief, but the relationship between Meg and her brother Charles Wallace is poignant, and the storyline flows smoothly and quickly.

This work, adapted and illustrated by Eisner Award-winning artist Hope Larson, is the first time the iconic story has been presented in a graphic novel format. The illustrations are deceptively simple, and use a limited color palette of black, white, and sky blue. The blue hue serves to soften the starkness of the images, giving a dreamlike mood to the rapidly shifting number of worlds that they visit. Night and day have no definition here, as fighting the darkness without losing yourself or those you love is the only thing that matters.

This book is appropriate for all ages, but is especially recommended to fantasy readers and anyone who wants to revisit an old favorite from their childhood.

Search the catalog for A Wrinkle In Time: The Graphic Novel

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I guess you think you know this story.

You don’t. The real one’s much more gory.

RevoltingRhymes

These are the first lines of Roald Dahl’s retelling of Cinderella, but it applies to all his Revolting Rhymes. They are all familiar stories with characters such as Jack climbing his beanstalk or Goldilocks breaking into the bears’ house, but as readers of Roald Dahl’s acclaimed children’s books know – he never sugar coats the nastier aspects of life.

With wonderful rollicking rhythm and Roald Dahl’s hallmark mastery over words, Revolting Rhymes is full of quotable tit-bits. My family has been quoting them for over twenty years. I am not sure what it says about us that one of our most quoted lines is, “She beat the boy for half an hour, with (and nothing could be meaner) the handle of a vacuum cleaner” from Jack and the Beanstalk.

All the old favorites are here including Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs and Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs. In these retellings the hero isn’t always who we assumed it was.  Goldilocks is described as a “brazen little crook” because after all she does break into a stranger’s house, steal their food and break their furniture. The morals of these stories might not be what you expect either. Which one of these well-known tales do you suppose has the moral of “A bath he said does seem to pay. I’m going to have one every day” or “Which shows that gambling’s not a sin. Provided that you always win”?

These are great read-aloud poems for all ages. I read them with great enjoyment (on both sides) to my children for years. Before I had children I read them to the residents of a continuing care home where I worked. Even those who were confused seemed to enjoy the readings. They are familiar stories and these versions are fast, punchy and funny. Try Revolting Rhymes for something light and humorous to be shared among the generations these cold winter days.

Check the WRL catalog for Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes

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screaming“Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co. I intend to say little, in part to protect the identity of the victims, in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents, but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up.”

Ever since the Problem began (in Kent), no one goes out at night, not unless they’re armed with iron and salt to guard against spirits. For the last fifty years, nighttime is when ghostly Visitors come out to lament or avenge their untimely deaths, terrorize the living, drive down real estate assessments, etc. Because the young are particularly sensitive to paranormal energies, children and teens with psychic talents are prized as field operatives for the best ghost-investigating agencies.

Lucy Carlyle, age 15, is the newest hire at a not-so-reputable agency, Lockwood and Co., a small-time outfit run without adult supervisors by “old enough and young enough” Anthony Lockwood and his colleague George. Lockwood, proprietor, can see the residual death-glows where someone has died; Lucy can hear their voices, if she gets close enough; and George does research and cooks.

When their latest case results in not only failing to rid the premises of a ghost, but also burning the house down, Lockwood’s only chance at keeping the agency afloat is to land a really lucrative client. Say, the CEO of Fairfax Iron, owner of the most haunted private house in England, epicenter of dozens of rumored hauntings along its Screaming Staircase and in its sinister library, the Red Room. All the agents have to do is spend one night in the manor… and live.

This first book in a new series from the author of the Bartimaeus books has well-paced action and good old-fashioned swashbuckling with silver-tipped rapiers. Lockwood is dashing and cheeky, a Sherlock Holmes with two Watsons who, while inspiring his cohorts to their best work, never lets them in on his thoughts or his plan. He and Lucy and George are a camaraderie-in-the-making, if only they didn’t get on one another’s nerves quite so often.

“I’m being ironic. Or is it sarcastic? I can never remember.”
“Irony’s cleverer, so you’re probably being sarcastic.”

Fast moving, witty, and nicely creepy, the series is written for a middle grade audience, but entertaining enough for any age that appreciates a good ghost story.

Check the WRL catalog for The Screaming Staircase.

You can read the first chapter online at the author’s Tumblr.

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“The Time Lord has met many aliens, cyborgs, robots, and humans on his journeys through history and across the universe.”

DoctorWhoDoctor Who has clocked  almost eight hundred episodes over thirty-three seasons. If you add in the fact that the Doctor can travel to any time in history and any place in infinity, then it isn’t surprising that it can be a little difficult to keep all the characters straight. That is where the Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia comes in very handy. With more than two hundred entries from Abzorbaloff, the greedy shape shifting humanoid to the Zygons who met the fourth Doctor, it can’t claim to cover all of time and space, but it comes close.

November marked the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who–an extremely exciting event for Whovians. Those of us without BBC America on cable would have been left waiting for the Fiftieth Anniversary Special to come out on DVD except that, for the first time I have encountered, the Fiftieth Anniversary Special was kindly shown at movie theaters. Our closest movie theater showed it on IMax 3D on a Monday night, which is not my preferred format or time, but I had to go anyway. I didn’t dress up–unlike dozens of other Whovians young and old. They varied from around ten years old to well into their fifties or even sixties which is a very mixed fan base, but is not surprising for a show that started running before the moon landing and continues to attract fans.

The Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia is a well-organized book in which you can search for characters by name, or browse the Table of Contents where they are categorized by type such as “Alien,” “Companion,” “Cyborg,” or “Entity” with color coding matching their main entries. Each character gets a full page spread with a description, details about their origins, homeworld, which Doctors they met and how they fit into the stories. Sharp, bright photos, typical of Dorling Kindersley publishers clearly show the attributes of each character.

The BBC obviously saw publishing opportunity in the interest around the fiftieth anniversary and this is an official BBC publication. If this book is out, our library has other books of background for desperate Doctor Who fans, such as, Doctor Who: A History by Alan Kistler or Doctor Who Whology: The Official Miscellany, by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright.

The Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia is a must-read (or a must-browse) for Doctor Who fans. If you are not a fan and are wondering what all the fuss is about try my review of the TV series of Doctor Who and check out some of the series on DVD.

Check the WRL catalog for Doctor Who Character Encyclopedia.

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HorseradishAs a librarian, “Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them,” may be the best advice I have ever heard. This sterling counsel comes from children’s book author Lemony Snicket. His slim volume of silliness, Horseradish: Bitter Truths you Can’t Avoid, is full of similar useful admonitions. Lemony Snicket (or his alter-ego Daniel Handler) is most famous for his bestselling Series of Unfortunate Events, where his humor is also off beat, and always unexpected. I thought at first that this was a book of quotes from his other works, but he seems to have created original aphorisms, such as, “After you leave home you may find yourself feeling homesick, even if you have a new home that has nicer wallpaper and a more efficient dishwasher than the home in which you grew up.”  As a person who tends to get left with the dishes, I judge my many past homes on the remembered quality of their dishwashers, so I consider this quite germane.

The book is arranged into thirteen chapters of advice pithy or wordy, starting with “Chapter 1: Home” and “Chapter 2: Family” and going on to “Chapter 12: An Overall Feeling of Doom that One Cannot Ever Escape No Matter What One Does.”  There are many truisms to pop in and visit, no matter how you are feeling. The back cover of this book promises that its contents will not help with life’s “turbulent journey” but I beg to differ; life is always helped by laughter and a fresh perspective and Lemony Snicket can be relied upon to provide both. Try Horseradish: Bitter Truths you Can’t Avoid if you are in the mood for some frivolous fun, or you want an axiom that is more apt than usual. And remember, “A library is like an island in a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded.”

Check the WRL catalog for Horseradish: Bitter Truths you Can’t Avoid.

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MrWufflesDrama! Danger!

Aliens invade and then …

encounter the cat.

David Wiesner once again proves that you don’t need words to tell a full and satisfying story.

Mr. Wuffles, as his name suggests, is a cat. He is a handsome beast, black with a white front and white socks. David Wiesner has perfectly captured his cat-arrogance as he moves through the pages with his golden green eyes wondering what’s in it for him. His jeans-wearing, green-shirted owner (who only appears as legs and arms) tries to engage him with new toys, but he stalks off past all the old rejected toys with their price tags still intact.  He finally finds one that engages his interest because it is full of tiny ant-sized green aliens. The appealing nose-less green-faced aliens know they are in mortal danger from Mr. Wuffles so they have to partner with friendly ants and a ladybug to attempt their escape. They communicate with each other in speech bubbles resembling hieroglyphics and with the reader in expressive gestures. They don’t notice the humans at all.

I enjoy reading graphic novels but at forty-mumble I am starting to struggle with the tiny print in some of them. I thought someone should invent large print graphic novels for the chronologically challenged, but realized they already exist and that they are called picture books. Most picture books aren’t interesting to adults on their own merits, unless they are planning to share them with a child. Some picture book authors break this rule frequently such as Chris Van Allsburg, Maurice Sendak and David Wiesner, with stories on multiple levels and gallery-worthy art. David Wiesner has a talent for turning things around like his award winning Flotsam with its changes in viewpoint.

The title, Mr. Wuffles, sounds positively sappy (which I don’t mind as a secret Reddit Aww viewer), but it isn’t a sappy book. Despite his name, Mr. Wuffles is portrayed as the terrifying hunter that any domestic cat really is to anything smaller than it. Older children will be able to follow this almost wordless story, but SF fans of any age and cat lovers will also get a kick out of it.  My sixteen-year-old loved it. See if you can spot when one of the aliens cries in his hieroglyphic script, “To infinity and beyond!” as he flies away on the back of a ladybug from the approaching killer cat claws.  Mr. Wuffles  raises important questions like,  what would happen if aliens invaded and they were not godzilla-like orders of magnitudes larger than us, but orders of magnitude smaller? What if it already happened? What if they just met the cat, who was only interested in cat things like chasing them and perhaps eating them?

And it may leave you wondering the next time your cat snubs the toys you buy, that maybe it’s because there are aliens under the radiator?

Check the WRL catalog for Mr. Wuffles.

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OperationYesBo Whaley lives on an Air Force base in North Carolina. His father is the base commander, which just makes life complicated, especially when most of the kids in his class also live on base. To make life even more convoluted, his cousin Gari arrives from Seattle to live with him because her mother is being deployed to Iraq. They are assigned to the same class to help Gari fit in, but things go badly between them from the start.

The only good thing that is happening to Bo is his new teacher. Ms. Loupe, who is in her first year of teaching, has a tattoo and is young enough to have been taught by the principal. For Bo the best thing about her is her passion for theater. She engages the class in improv involving a beaten up couch, and Bo discovers in himself a talent for acting that previous teachers had seen as a propensity to talk and goof-off in class. His enthusiasm grows until he discovers that the big theater camp that the teacher is planning will be held next summer. He will be gone then, when his family is sent to their next military assignment, which makes Bo furious with the military lifestyle.

Ms. Loupe also gets the class working on a project to send supplies to her brother, who is stationed in Afghanistan. When her brother is declared missing in action, Ms. Loupe is understandably distraught, and Bo’s whole class want to help. In the most moving part of the book Bo, his cousin Gari, Ms. Loupe’s entire class and finally the whole community find a way to work together and, if not fix the unfixable, at least make things better. In the process they learn about each other, themselves, friendship and community.

In turn hilarious and heartbreaking, Operation Yes is aimed at middle grades, but has a lot to offer adults. As a librarian I love the literary profanity that the school librarian indulges in : “‘Frog and Toad!’ Miss Candy said. ‘Not again!’” or “Green Eggs and Ham!” I am doing a project on books featuring children with parents in U.S. military, and some of these books are impossible to get through without crying. Operation Yes is definitely in this category. Read it for a moving portrait of a community coming together or an accurate depiction of the military family lifestyle.

Check the WRL catalog for Operation Yes.

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YearoftheJungle

Suzanne Collins achieved fame through her dark and dystopian Hunger Games series. Her latest offering is neither a dystopian tale nor a children’s fantasy series; instead she has written a picture book. Year of the Jungle is four-year-old child’s view of Suzanne Collins’s own experiences when her father was deployed to Vietnam in 1968.

Because Year of the Jungle is the newest book from a bestselling author, it has garnered a lot of attention. One review said that it would “bewilder” its intended audience of small children. Considering that over two million American children have had a parent deployed since 9/11, it must be a familiar story to many. Of course not all of them had exactly the same experience as Suzanne Collins, but many have had similar enough experiences that they will not be bewildered by this book.

Suzy hears that her father “has to go to something called a war,” leaving her not knowing “what anybody’s talking about.”  She also learns that he will be in a jungle. Suzy knows about jungles from cartoons so she pictures her father in a happy place among her favorite cartoon characters. In a strong portrayal of a small child’s misunderstanding of the passage of time, Suzy is confused about the length of the year he will be away. The book portrays Suzy’s growing unease as adults give her unlooked-for sympathy, showing how adults can make things worse, even though they are trying to be kind. Suzy loves getting her father’s postcards, but they start coming less frequently and start to change. But for a child about to turn five the most devastating thing is the realization that he sent a birthday greeting to the wrong sibling.  In the illustrations the cartoon jungle full of round and smiling animals changes into a far more sinister place with images of violence and fear.

It is hard not to speculate how Suzanne Collins’s early experiences influenced her imagination when writing her undoubtedly dark and violent Hunger Games series. As an excellent writer she has captured and condensed a world of childhood experiences into a very few words. James Proimos’ illustrations are of a rough cartoonish style that at first glance I didn’t find very attractive, but they do a great job of capturing Suzy’s innocence and her unusually early realization of the dangers of the world.

This is a picture book designed to be read aloud, and a parent or caregiver can judge if it is the right book for their child. I think it could be useful for young military children as it is ultimately comforting when her father returns safely, although it is so dark in places that an adult should read it first and decide if it is appropriate. I also recommend it for adults who are interested in Suzanne Collins, military children’s experience, or a darker picture book.

Check the WRL catalog for Year of the Jungle.

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PiperReedPiper Reed is irrepressible.  In the vein of children’s literature’s girl-heroes like Ramona Quimby or Pippi Longstocking she faces life with strong opinions and some crazy ideas, but a good heart.

As it says in the subtitle, Piper Reed is a Navy Brat. Her father is a Naval aviation mechanic and Piper has fully embraced the military family lifestyle, even referring to her father as “the Chief.”

At the beginning of the book, during her family’s weekly pizza night, her father announces that he has received new orders.  Piper adds, “Chief always says ‘we’ when he talked about being assigned somewhere even though he was really the only person in the family being assigned to a new base.  He would say, ‘When a man joins the Navy, his family joins the Navy.’”

In the Navy or not, Piper finds it difficult to pack up in San Diego and drive all the way to the other side of the country to Pensacola, Florida, especially as the middle child, with an increasingly moody older sister in middle school and an annoying younger sister who considers herself a genius.  When they first get to Pensacola, Piper is moved to write “My Why-I-Wish-We’d-Never-Moved List,” including things like “I had my own room in San Diego” and “I had a tree house in San Diego.”  But Piper can’t be held down for long and she soon cooks up a scheme to make new friends involving her sister pretending to be a fortune-teller.  As time passes she discovers the joys of Florida in the form of a new family dog, the nearby beach, and the Blue Angels demonstration planes.

Like Piper Reed, National Book Award winning author Kimberly Willis Holt says “I’m a Navy brat that lived all over the world, including Guam.”  There are many details of military family life here that ring true:

  • Piper hasn’t seen her extended family for two years, and when they visit her grandparents on their cross-country car trip, she can’t imagine living down the street from grandparents like her cousins do.
  • Piper’s little sister, Sam, is distraught when Annie the doll is inadvertently packed in a box during the move from San Diego to Florida.
  • The family’s new house in Florida is smaller than their old house and Piper asks “Why can’t we live in one of those big houses with the screen porches?” and her father replies “That’s the officers’ housing.”
  • The book ends as Piper’s family farewell’s her father for six-months, as he is regularly at sea for that long.

If you remember Ramona Quimby fondly (she first appeared in print in 1955) then stop in to visit Piper Reed and you’ll find her just as funny and character driven as Ramona.  Even if you don’t remember Ramona, read Piper Reed, Navy Brat for a portrait of a strong, resilient family weathering life’s ups and downs.

Check the WRL catalog for Piper Reed, Navy Brat

Follow Piper’s further adventures in:

2. Piper Reed, the Great Gypsy

3. Piper Reed Gets a Job

4. Piper Reed, Campfire Girl

5. Piper Reed, Rodeo Star

6. Piper Reed, Forever Friend

If you are interested in other books about military family lifestyles, look on my website Books for Military Children.

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blackstallionThe Black Stallion is one of my all-time favorite films, and it stuns me to encounter individuals who have never heard of it, which sometimes happens when I suggest it to families looking for movies that will entertain viewers of all ages.  It often shows up on lists of great movies and also on lists of films containing minimal dialogue. The film is based upon Walter Farley’s children’s novel of the same name.

Visually mesmerizing, it’s also a great title for those learning the English language. The opening segment of the film is perfectly scored to music, especially a scene where the music is timed with the patient attempts of the boy to encourage “the Black” to join him in the sea so that he can finally ascend the horse’s great height to sit on his back and ride him. The reflections of light in the tropical waters, the endless sky, contrasted with the horse’s intense darkness and the pale yet sun-freckled flesh of the lonely shipwrecked boy are unforgettable. I admit, however, that at home with my DVD it is often during this scene that I find myself drifting off to sleep due to the relaxing atmospheric quality of the cinematography. It is for this reason that I always pop in The Black Stallion if I’m having trouble settling down for a good night’s sleep. It may work wonders for your rambunctious young ones when they’re in need of being calmed.

Check the WRL catalog for The Black Stallion DVD.

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ozDoes the Wizard of Oz need a plot summary? Thanks to Hollywood, everybody knows how the story goes. For many people, the 1939 movie has become the seminal adaptation of the work: singing munchkins, ruby slippers, a yellow brick road, an evil, water-phobic witch, and those monkeys. Creepy, creepy, flying monkeys.

When I heard that there was a new graphic novel representation of the original book I picked it up with a thrill of expectation tinged with fond nostalgia. I quickly found out how little I knew about the actual story. Shanower faithfully returned to the original text, which is darker and more involved than the movie portrayal. The munchkins don’t sing and there are a lot more winged monkeys. The famed ruby slippers are also nowhere to be found, with the original silver shoes taking their rightful place in the story. But Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, Cowardly Lion, and even Toto are all here, quickly joining together for their journey.

It was a daunting task for Eric Shanower and Skottie Young to take a story that has become so enmeshed in our cultural history and remake it. The introduction to this volume, written by Shanower, describes his lifelong passion for the works of Baum. This goes a long way towards explaining why he is so successful in his rendition. Only someone who so loves and respects Oz and the creatures that inhabit the world could pull this volume off. Young’s artwork is fantastic and his interpretation of the characters is both whimsical and humorous, which helps ease the scariness of some of the darker passages. The lion in particular is wonderfully puffy and squishy looking, and his face makes some of the best expressions as he vacillates between fearsome and frightened.

There are four volumes in this series so far, with a fifth being published in November. The series won Eisner awards for Best Limited Series and Best Publication for Kids. Recommended for children, teens, and any adult for whom this title is a fond link to their childhood. Especially recommended for people who didn’t like the movie’s (creepy, creepy) flying monkeys. They’re still hair-raising, but when their story gets told they are less sinister. One might even feel a bit sorry for them.

Search the WRL catalog for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

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Kakapo rescue

Some book titles exaggerate to attract readers, and the subtitle of this book, “Saving The World’s Strangest Parrot,” sounds like hyperbole, but in the case of the kakapo, it is simple fact. The New Zealand Kakapo is the world’s only nocturnal parrot. It is also the heaviest parrot, often weighing eight pounds. Of course, a bird that heavy can’t fly, so it climbs trees using its claws and beak, only to spread its wings and drop to the leafy forest floor like a stone when it is time to get down. To attracts mates in the dense New Zealand forest the male kakapo digs himself a bowl and booms like a drum. And if that isn’t enough, they smell so strongly from a fungus that grows in their feathers that humans can easily pick up their musty, honey-like scent. Sounds like the world’s strangest parrot? It does to me!

Not only is the kakapo strange, but the combination of flightlessness and friendliness mean that it is extremely vulnerable to predation by carnivorous mammals that have been introduced to New Zealand, such as dogs, cats, weasels and stoats. Unwilling to allow the extinction of the bird that once thrived in millions all over New Zealand, the New Zealand government and private charities are scrambling to save it. Kakapo Rescue describes a thrilling story with the bird going from a population of millions in the 1800s to presumed extinction in the 1950s. Over sixty expeditions searched for kakapos in the 1970s, and they found eighteen birds, which was great news for a bird assumed to be extinct, but they all turned out to be male. Finally in 1977 scientists found a surviving population of two hundred on Stewart Island, to the far south of New Zealand. But kakapos breed slowly and they were still struggling, until  by 1995 there were only fifty-one kakapos left. The New Zealand Department of Conservation has set up a remarkable breeding program on tiny Codfish Island, off the coast of Stewart Island. Up to fourteen people live in a hut year-round solely to help the birds. The happy news is that according to the Kakapo Recovery website there are now nearly 150 kakapo, although the number goes up and down a little as some kakapo die while some eggs hatch.

In our library, both copies of Kakapo Rescue are shelved in the children’s department. This book is definitely interesting and detailed enough to capture the attention of bird- and nature-loving adults, while being accessible to older children. Every page has dazzling photographs by renowned wildlife photographer Nic Bishop. I strongly recommend Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot for people enraptured by dramatic conservation stories and those fascinated by bizarre birds, such as penguins. It will also grab travel buffs who want to learn about the soggy and windswept beauty of southern New Zealand.

Check the WRL catalog for Kakapo Rescue: Saving the World’s Strangest Parrot.

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parrySecondFiddle

Second Fiddle is a story of adventures in exotic locales. From the outside it may seem that this is always true of military family life. It is accurate that I have lived in six countries and four states. And I have the annoying habit of being able to trump just about anyone’s extreme temperature stories, having lived in both one of the hottest cities in the world, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and one of the coldest, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. But the appeal of exotic travel chronicles only part of the experience. The constant moving of military families is an important theme in Second Fiddle and the book does a great job of capturing the sense of loss, while at the same time, even the thirteen-year-old characters appreciate that they are also receiving a gift.

As the main character, Jody says near the beginning, “The upside of being a military kid was that you got to see a lot of cool places. The downside was that every time you made a friend, you had to move away.” And her friend Vivian adds, “My mother thinks I’m having this great international experience, but changing schools all the time is just the same horrible experience over and over.”

Jody and her two friends Giselle and Vivian live on an American Army base in Berlin in 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. They are brought together by their love of music and they travel by train each week to music lessons in East Germany with Herr Muller. They are scheduled to attend a music competition in Paris and they all know it will be their last time to perform together as they are all moving away. On their way home from a music lesson they witness an attempted murder and the adventure begins, sending them across international borders as they desperately try to save the life of a young man.

Without their musical connection the three would not have been friends at all, as Giselle’s father is a general and the base commander, while Jody’s father is enlisted. Jody feels she can’t invite the general’s daughter over as even the adults in the enlisted housing area wouldn’t like it. Of course, parents’ ranks shouldn’t make a difference to the children, but this book accurately reflects that they do.

Author, Roseanne Parry based Second Fiddle on her own life experiences as she says that she moved to Germany in 1990 with her soldier husband. While the details of girls’ adventures can at times seem melodramatic, the book does a wonderful job of capturing the feel of military life. She mentions details that I recognize or have heard from my children and other people. For example, impending doom in the smell of moving boxes; the constant absence of Jody’s Dad; Jody not minding moving so much when she was younger; finding the question of where are you from impossible to answer; living in one place for three years for the first time and feeling unnatural in knowing her way around; and also remembering the time of an event in your personal history from where you lived (“I was seven so it must have been Missouri”).

Second Fiddle is an exciting older children’s adventure that sneaks in some history about the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War. Try it if you are interested in the military lifestyle and the people who lead it.  I also recommend it for military families, both older children of around ten and up and their parents. It will be a great start for conversations about the lifestyle.

Check the WRL catalog for Second Fiddle.

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SpiritedAwayI don’t usually watch Anime, but my daughter enthused about Spirited Away, so we sat down on the couch to watch it together on her laptop. That became a nudging, pushing, “Turn the screen this way” experience for  both of us, so I was very pleased to discover that my library owns it on DVD. The library copy usually has several holds, so I had to wait. But it was worth it! This movie proves that a great story is a great story, no matter its format.

Ten-year-old Jahiro is unhappy about moving to a new house in a new town with a new school. As they are driving to their new home her father decides to take a short cut and the road ends at a strange, abandoned building. Jahiro doesn’t want to enter, but her parents seem strangely compelled. A short while later, without realizing it, they have entered a new world, peopled with odd, grotesque spirits. Jahiro is terrified, but her parents are unaware that anything is wrong and are soon trapped. From here the story gets compelling and creepier and creepier. Jahiro will need help to navigate this world and save her parents. But who is really her friend, and who is pretending to help her for their own ends?

I enjoyed the snippets of Japanese culture, that may have been so ingrained in the creators’ minds that they didn’t realize that they were showing something that might be different in other places. For example, on several occasions I noticed that in the midst of drama and action and danger, the characters stop to take off their shoes before going inside. Even in an emergency they can’t imagine running into a bathhouse with their shoes on.  Other details were also intriguing, such as the night clothes and driving on the left.  To me this shows that the creators were portraying what they saw around them, and not what an outsider might think a place is like.

This movie was animated the old-fashioned way with drawings, rather than being computer generated. I found the animation painterly, rather than the gaudy, flashing, flatness of some Disney movies. I loved the details – I could even recognize the bushes in the background and name hydrangeas, daphne, camellias and rhododendrons (not a quality appreciated by my family in the middle of a movie!).

My library’s double disk set included a Japanese documentary about the making of the movie. At the time the documentary was made in 2001 Spirited Away was the highest grossing film in Japanese history. It was dubbed into English without changing the original animation at all, which is unusual.  The English language version won the Academy Award for an animated feature in 2003. The director, Hayao Miyazaki had his sixtieth birthday while Spirited Away was being made, but he still wrote,  drew and directed for it. The documentary shows a meeting when they are working on a scene where Jahiro needs to give a pill to a dragon to save it. Miyazaki asks, “Has no one given a pill to a dog?” When it turns out only one person has even owned a dog, he mutters, “Pathetic!” and takes them all to a veterinary hospital to see all sorts of dogs dosed. I think this attention to detail shows all the way through this gripping, exciting and usual movie.

I recommend Spirited Away for everyone! It is suitable for children, but the gripping story, creepy events, great art and wonderful music will entertain young and old, even those who never watch this sort of thing.

Check the WRL catalog for Spirited Away

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OldPossumCoverTo continue last week’s leitmotif of books of cat poetry, I have gone back to what many people consider the original and the best. Rather than a series of poems from the cats’ own perspective, like I Could Pee on This, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats is a series of narratives and how-tos about cats. It was first published in 1939 and has been in print ever since. Our library owns several versions with black and white drawings. We also have a winsomely illustrated version with only three of the poems called Growltiger’s Last Stand.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats is based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats. I have never seen the musical and can’t quite picture how it would work as a musical, but I know it was hugely popular on the stage and is available at our library to borrow on DVD.

In some circles T.S. Eliot is most famous for his serious poetry like “The Waste Land” or “The Hollow Men.” Many students of English literature are familiar with these poems (willingly or not). And many of these same students of literature are surprised that the mind that produced the dark and cynical lines of his serious poems could also produce his light and lilting poems about cats.
Compare this gem from “The Waste Land”:

“I think we are in rats’ alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.”

And from “The Hollow Men”:

Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

To the rollicking:

Macavity’s a mystery cat: he’s called the Hidden Paw –
For he’s the master criminal who can defy the Law.
He’s the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the flying sqad’s despair:
For when they reach the scene of crime — Macavity’s not there!

And

Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer were a very notorious couple of cats.
As knockabout clowns, quick-change comedians, tight-rope walkers and acrobats

T.S. Eliot’s skill and dexterity with language show through in both cases, lilting or dark. These are great read-aloud poems that roll off the tongue. Some of our copies of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats are shelved in the children’s section, and the poems are certainly suitable for and loved by children, but I also recommend them for cat lovers and lovers of language.

Check the WRL catalog for Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

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OrdinaryJackCover

Have you ever wondered how British humor can be so consistently different from American humor? After all, the two countries share a language and much culture. Re-reading the Bagthorpe Saga by Helen Cresswell, I suspect the difference may persist because the training starts very young in dry, witty, ridiculous British humor.

The Bagthorpe Saga started in 1977 with Ordinary Jack. It continued for over 20 years with ten books chronicling the bizarre, but highly entertaining Bagthorpes, including Bagthorpes Abroad (1984) and Bagthorpes Haunted (1985). It was made into a T.V. series in 1981, which is looking dated now, but the books are still hilariously funny.

Eponymous Jack is certainly ordinary, far too ordinary to live in his overwhelming and extraordinary extended family. His three siblings are “genii” with multiple talents they call Strings to their Bows. His prima donna father writes scripts for the BBC while his mother writes an Agony Aunt column for her Problem people. His only ally is his mongrel dog, Zero, although he sometimes collaborates with his foppish Uncle Parker. Capricious and stubborn Grandma, Selectively Deaf Grandpa, along with precocious and out-of-control cousin Daisy round out the family. Other characters, like the put-upon cleaning lady Mrs. Fosdyke come in and out of the stories. Helen Cresswell managed to take the mickey out of over-scheduled children and helicopter parents before the terms were invented, because Ordinary Jack is the hero and the rest of the Bagthorpes are obnoxiously pretentious.

The humor is both dry and slapstick and relies a lot on wordplay. These books manage to be laugh aloud hilarious and also make comments about human nature.

I was surprised to discover that my library owned this older British series at all, and I was delighted to discover that we own three of the series on CD. I was even more delighted with Clive Mantle’s dry delivery. His sonorous and grave voice was a wonderful foil to the books’ over-the-top humor. In fact, I often thought he sounded like a commentator for a BBC nature documentary—ponderous, serious and reverberating.

Try Ordinary Jack or any of the Bagthorpe Saga for a quick and light read that may make you laugh out loud. Although it is a children’s series, I recommend it for fans of the absurd British wit of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Monty Python.

Check the WRL catalog for Ordinary Jack in book form.

Check the WRL catalog for Bagthorpes Unlimited in book form.

Check the WRL catalog for Ordinary Jack in CD form.

Check the WRL catalog for Bagthorpes Unlimited in CD form.

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I was listening to Unbroken : a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption in my car for my book club, and like many people I was shocked and horrified on many occasions.  I knew I needed to listen to The Secret Garden next to regain my equilibrium, even though it is a book that I have read at least six times.  I listened to the audiobook on CD.  The reader, Flo Gibson, wasn’t who I would have picked as she has an American accent and a kind of scratchy voice but I soon settled into the old story like sliding down into a warm bubble bath.  I had previously come to the conclusion that many of the children’s books that I enjoy reading over and over are “cozy,” so I was surprised to discover when I started working in this library that “cozy mystery” is an official designation.  It makes sense, as sometimes we all need a cozy and comforting read.

In The Secret Garden Mary Lennox is a neglected and spoiled child  who has spent her entire ten years being over-indulged by Indian servants.  After her parents die in an epidemic she is sent to another dysfunctional household, the home of her uncle at Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire Moors.  There she meets the sturdy Martha and Dickon, representatives of a family of fourteen.  She makes friends with an elderly and crabby gardener, Ben Weatherstaff, through her interest in a friendly robin.  There are also also mysterious noises and howlings down the corridors of the huge house.  And of course, she discovers a hidden and secret garden.

In this story, the Yorkshire Moors themselves, as well as the Secret Garden, are characters just as much as the people.  As the season changes from winter to spring and on into summer, Mary changes, the garden and the Moors change, and so too does everyone at Misselthwaite Manor.

This book was first published in 1911 and what I find intriguing 100 years later is the psychology of Mary and other characters.  Despite Dickon and Martha’s material poverty they are well loved and looked after and it shows in their steady, kind ways.  Mary, on the other hand, starts the book emotionally impoverished but gains a purpose and learns to love and live under the influence of attention.  The book is also full of gentle humor, especially in the character of Ben Weatherstaff.

One aspect of The Secret Garden that I missed as a child and can see as an adult is the Christian symbolism, for example, when they recite the Doxology while sitting in a circle with a fox and a lamb.  Other aspects are less overtly Christian as when  the children call the life force that helps them to heal “Magic.”  The Magic makes the Moors and garden change for spring, and when the children and other characters allow it, the Magic also changes them. Towards the end one previously stunted, but blossoming character announces,  “Being alive is the Magic!”

When I was talking about cozy children’s books, a colleague at the library recommended an out-of-print book, The Golden Name Day by Jennie D. Lindquist.  It captures the joy of being a child, that many adults are yearning to regain.  “Oh, anything can happen in this world, just anything. That’s why life is so exciting,” says Nancy towards the end of that book.  Other out-of-print (and sometimes obscure) books in this category that I love include: World’s End series by Monica Dickens, Green Smoke by Rosemary Manning, The Blow and Grow Year by Margaret Potter and Longtime Passing by Hesba Brinsmead.

For those who have read The Secret Garden before, perhaps years ago as a child, I highly recommend a second look through the eyes of an adult.  For those who have never tried it, it is a deeply hopeful story about redemption through the natural world and redemption through love.

Check the WRL catalog for The Secret Garden in book form.

Check the WRL catalog for The Secret Garden on audiobook CD.

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SilverThe book from my childhood that I would most like to see reprinted is The Golden Name Day, published in 1955 by Jennie Lindquist. Lindquist was a librarian and an editor of Horn Book, and she wrote this charming, quintessential little girl’s book by drawing on stories from her Swedish immigrant parents. Nine-year-old Nancy, whose mother is in hospital, spends a summer in the country with the Bensons, Swedish immigrants to New England. Each of the girls she befriends–Sigrid, Elsa, and Helga–celebrate not only a birthday but a “name day” as laid out in a calendar of names and dates in the Swedish Almanac. But as much as the little girls enjoy these special celebrations, there’s no “Nancy” in the almanac. Threaded through their season of picnics, animals, flower crowns, and May baskets is the story of how Nancy’s friends provide her with a name day of her own.

Sadly, our library doesn’t own The Golden Name Day, but we do own its sequel, which is even more fitting for this time of year, as it takes Nancy and her friends through the autumn, Advent, and the “Long Swedish Christmas.” In The Little Silver House, an abandoned, boarded-up house captures the girls’ imaginations, especially when the portrait of an old-fashioned ten-year-old girl is discovered in its attic. With this mystery in the background, it’s the celebrations of occasions great and small that give the book its charm. Gift-giving is the theme of the season, and the girls’ “random acts of kindness” include planting bulbs along the roadside for “traveler’s joy” and giving up some of their most treasured possessions for a special care package. Lonely newcomer Ben and others are brought into the circle of the Bensons’ warm hospitality and good food. Oh, how I wanted to be Swedish! My generic American family seemed so dull by comparison—no special traditions and not a chance that my mother was going to let me put lighted candles in a wreath on my head for St. Lucia’s day. The holidays continue with hand-wrapped karameller given to visitors, the Long Christmas Dance, Dipping Day, and “Second Christmas,” which made me wonder whether the Swedes are related at all to the hobbits.

Finding a book like this on the library shelves is as close as we come to time travel. Nancy’s yellow rose wallpaper! The horses, Whoa-Emma and Karl the Twelfth! For a nanosecond, I was nine years old again. Illustrated with the feathery pencil drawings of Garth Williams, so familiar from his work on the Little House series, these warm-hearted books will appeal to the same girls who enjoyed the Christmases of Laura and Mary Ingalls, whether those girls are nine years old or, ahem, somewhat older.

God Jul.

Check the WRL catalog for The Little Silver House.

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