Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween 2011 - what's your favorite book?

This year I outsourced the pumpkin carving to the entlings and we ended up with some sort of symbol of the Horde? from World of Warcraft and a face from Minesweeper? I'm clueless.

I obviously need to reawaken my inner reading theme pumpkin carver next year. In the meantime, check out David LaRochelle's stunning work.

But we maintained our tradition of asking trick or treaters to name a favorite book before we doled out the treats. When the parents accompany the children there is general approval of this question. It is very fun to hear a dad ask, "which one of the books we've been reading do you like right now?" to his little one.

I was interested in the mother, carrying and a candy bag on behalf of her 14 year old daughter who was "home passing out candy" for her while she accompanied the younger siblings about the neighborhood. Could she have some candy for her daughter? She said her daughter liked, "mysteries, not the old ones but those new ones." Have a Kit Kat, lady.

Still, most of the kids were fairly cheerful about the question. More than one recalled "oh, I remember this place from last year."

Book titles mentioned in return for Reeses Peanutbutter Cups this year included:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Harry Potter were the big winners this year.
George Washington's Socks
Percy Jackson
The Bible
Happenstance Found
Monster High
Agatha Christie
Alvin Ho
Cats to the Rescue
Short Life of Bree
Skeleton Creek
Hunger Games (many)
Green Eggs and Ham
Lord of the Rings
Judy Moody
Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can you?
Everybody Poops
Cat in the Hat
Barbie books
Chronicles of Vladimir
Looking for Alaska (now THAT was interesting. From a very tall and deep voiced group)
Bad Girls Don't

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Turtle in Paradise

Turtle in ParadiseTurtle in Paradise by Jennifer Holm. Random House, 2010 (review copy from publisher)

Jennifer Holm spins the reader back to the perilous economic times of the Great Depression. Set in the 1930s, eleven year old Turtle is sent to live with her Aunt Minerva in Key West, Florida because her single mother has a new job as a housekeeper and the new employer does not want children staying at the house.  Turtle settles into life in Key West, eating new foods and  trying to fit in with her male cousins.

The Our Gang comedies come to mind as her cousin Bean and the neighborhood Diaper Gang work to provide babysitting and diaper changing services for the mothers in the area. The children pull the neighborhood babies in their wagon and provide a secret cure for diaper rash that is a the stuff of legend. Unlike today, these children enjoy a wonderful freedom, safe within their community and extended families.  Turtle meets more of her mother's family for the first time, including her ill tempered grandmother, Nana Philly.  Her grandmother is suffering from the after-effects of a stroke and a lifetime of ill humor.  Happily, Turtle is not fazed by her grandmother's attitude.  Holmes always writes such interesting grandmother characters into her stories. Turtle gains more insight into her mother's early life and the man who might be her father. There is also lost pirate treasure, a hurricane and a cameo appearance from a very famous literary resident of Key West. 

Photos of Key West and some of the real life characters in the story are provided at the end.  Holm's research and meticulous attention to detail pay off, giving the story a rich sense of place and time.

Jennifer Holm's characters, May Amelia (Our Only May Amelia,) Penny (Penny from Heaven,) and now Turtle are girls I love spending time with.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Walking Home in the Dark...

Ever since Ichabod Crane was chased by the Headless Horseman, the real and imagined threats that lurk in the darkest shadows have been celebrated in urban legends, novels and picture books.

Bone Dog by Eric Rohmann. Roaring Book, 2011

Gus loves his dog, Ella, but she is getting old and she warns him that she will not be around much longer.  Before she dies she promises Gus that she will always be with him.  Gus is sad and missing his dog as Halloween arrives but he puts on his skeleton costume and goes out trick or treating anyway. On his way home through a graveyard (of course!) he is surrounded by threatening skeletons. Just as they are about to attack, Ella appears as a bone dog to save him. The skeletons are unimpressed until Gus and Ella begin to howl into the night, calling real live dogs to their aid. The final pages confirm and assure the young reader that love never dies and Gus will never be alone.

Rohamann's visual storytelling is cinematic here. He opens and closes the story, viewing Gus and Ella together before an iconic full moon that frames the two friends. The reader (and Ella?) watch from above as Gus sits alone, rakes leaves alone and heads out for trick-or-treating, alone. Once Ella, the bone dog, returns to the scene, the view returns to ground level. The skeletons are at once comic and scary. Rohmann pans their frenzied retreat across a two page spread as they flee from ... turn the page ... the pack of real dogs in pursuit.  The next page turn will be a laugh-out-loud read aloud moment.  This is a beautiful story told with humor, sweetness and delicious creepy moments. I predict this book will not linger for long on the library's return book cart.   I cannot WAIT to share it with children.

On a Windy Night by Nancy Raines Day; illustrated by George Bates. Abrams, 2010

Outstanding read aloud story about a scary walk home on Halloween night.  A young boy's imagination turns shadows, sounds and dark shapes into terrifying threats until the moon light reveals what they really are. This is a perfect Halloween story that acknowledges the thrilling spookiness of the night but reassures too.  Nancy Raines Day heightens the boy's imagination with a classic chant of  "Cracklety-clack, bones in a sack. They could be yours--if you look back."  The words grow in size, across the pages, as the boy's fear grows.  Bates's pen and ink drawings depict the eerie clouds, the threatening tree branches and menacing cornstalks that become skeletons and jack-o-lanterns chasing the child on his way.  The pen and ink work gives a splendid childlike Edward Gorey-ness to the pictures. 

Dark Night by Dorothee de Monfreid. Random House, 2009

As Felix walks through the dark woods, the scary growl from a wolf sends him into hiding.  Another loud growl from a tiger scares away the wolf who is then frightened away by a crocodile. Along with n unlikely small friend and a clever idea Felix turns the tables on the beasts with a bigger "badder" creature of his own invention. Sometimes the first step in overcoming fear is to find a friend and just walk tall.