An Easter Basket of Book Reviews from Hilary Taber …
Recently, I’ve realized that there are a wealth of words that we never use. “Haberdasher”, for example, or “perchance” are words that come to mind. Certainly, “hodgepodge” falls into this category. During an Easter season when, if one is lucky enough, there are baskets filled to the brimful with a lovely hodgepodge of all sorts of delights, then surely there is absolutely nothing wrong with a literary hodgepodge. Who knows what I might put in this one? In the spirit of the whole thing, I’ve mixed all kinds of books together for this week’s reviews. Old will meet new, and these “introductions” will hopefully lead you to some new book friends. Just think of these reviews as the different kinds of candies you might find separately packed into those colorful plastic eggs in your Easter basket, and you can’t go wrong!
Dream Friends (Nancy Paulson Books/Penguin, $16.99) by You Byun, Ages 3 and up
This exquisite picture book débuted at story time last week at Flintridge Books and my young audience was especially appreciative of how many beautiful things we could find on each page. The main character, Melody, has a Dream Friend that visits every night in her dreams. Is it a huge, white dog? A huge, white bear? While we couldn’t settle on a definite species we all agreed that the Dream Friend is wonderful, and takes Melody on all kinds of adventures through a world filled with opal-like colors, tiny cats that look like potential astronauts, spiral staircases, giant tulips, and paper cranes that sail the sky. Through this dream world, Melody and her Dream Friend fly together. However, back in the real world of the schoolyard, Melody is in need of a friend. Will Melody be able to make a real friend who will understand how important and magical her Dream Friend is?
This is a treasure box of a book that is simply enchanting. Many smaller illustrations make the book fun to explore. On each page my story time pals picked out what illustration they would like to take home to have in their room if such a thing were possible. With a Dream Friend really anything is possible, and that is the charm of the story. With a happily-ever-after-ending this makes a wonderful bedtime story that I’m sure will leave a child wondering if they will make a Dream Friend of their own. Dream Friends is a Publisher’s Weekly starred reviewed winner, and I wholeheartedly agree with that!
Trixie Ten (Henry Holt & Co., $16.99) by Sarah Massini, Ages 3-7
Ah, poor Trixie Ten’s life is filled with the burden of brothers and sisters! Not just one or two of them, but nine of them. Trixie is the tenth child. All of her siblings are particularly annoying in their very own way. One always sneezes, another always stumbles on things, another always makes a sound like a roaring lion, and so on. How annoying! Trixie Ten can’t take it anymore! One night she grabs a trusty flashlight and leaves to find somewhere that is quiet, and definitely not filled with noisy siblings. Yet, when she finally finds that place, she’s not quite as pleased as she thought she would be. While it’s true that everything is very quiet it’s equally true that Trixie misses her noisy family! While Trixie Ten is gone, her family is busy counting everyone to make sure that the whole family is accounted for. In cozy beds they begin counting, “Wanda One, Thomas Two…” and so on until they get to Trixie Ten. On my! Where is Trixie Ten?! The whole family sets out on an adventure to rescue Trixie.
My young story time audience was just pulled into this book. Annoying brothers and sisters that you wish you could ditch now and then? I could just feel that they totally understood that! Yet it was the question of “Who are we without our family?” (that Ms. Massini cleverly poses) was what kept their attention until the very end. Highly recommended for any child, but can you imagine if you came from a large family how much you would connect with this story? Also, if you are a teacher, well here is a book that begs for some really great discussions about family, counting, and colors. Also, this book is a great basis for a fantastic craft. Every character is a fingerprint of a different color with a little face, making finger and hand print activities ideal. Have fun!
I made the discovery of this book a few years ago, and I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading the fairy tales that poet e.e. cummings wrote for his grandson. While a few of the stories would be more suited to a grown-up audience because of the symbolism, most of them are just fine for their intended audience. I especially like “The Elephant and the Butterfly” (these character are meant to be cummings and his grandson), and “The House that Ate Mosquito Pie”. They are both touching, beautifully written stories about unlikely friendships. A few lines just took my breath away. “A bird began to sing in a bush, and all the clouds went out of the sky, and it was Spring everywhere.” This next line just make me shiver it was so pretty, “In a little while the house heard a new sound, which was as if five or six (or maybe even seven) brooks were laughing about a secret; and this sound grew higher and clearer until the house knew that it was somebody singing and singing and singing.”
What can I write about writing like that? e.e. cummings is a poet whose prose in these stories is simple, yet profound. More than that I dare not venture, but I do hope you will find out for yourselves!
A Tangle of Knots (Philomel/Penguin, $16.99) by Lisa Graff, Ages 8-12
In this finely spun tale told in multiple points of view, almost everyone has a Talent that borders on being magical. Some have a Talent for knitting, for spitting, for whistling, but eleven-year-old Cady has a Talent for cake baking. She can take a good look at any person and match them up with the perfect cake. When Cady was left at Miss Mallory’s Home for Lost Girls, Miss Mallory had no idea that Cady would stay for so long. Having a Talent for matching her girls with the perfect family Miss Mallory has no idea who would be the perfect family for Cady until a series of events begins to unfold, each one mysteriously tied to the other, that reveal a Talent Stealer, a man with a Talent for tying knots, and a certain blue suitcase marked “St. Anthony’s” among other mysteries. Other child and adult characters join Cady with their secrets, Talents, and searches for Talents. This book is sure to please fans of Ingrid Law’s Savvy if what drew them to the book was the idea of people having varying magical talents and gifts. An intriguing puzzle for mystery lovers, and a thoroughly enjoyable book that links the Facts of the characters with their Fate. All through the book there are Cady’s recipes for cakes matched with all the key characters in the book which would be especially pleasing to young bakers. A Tangle of Knots earned a starred review from Kirkus, which was much deserved!
Miki Falls: Spring (Book One) (HarperTeen, $8.99) by Mark Crilley, Ages 12 and up
Miki is beginning her final year at high school, and she’s determined that this year will be the best year ever. There is nothing so tempting a fate as to announce that very soon you will be planning to control everything, and Miki soon learns that lesson in the form of a tall, handsome new student named Hiro. There’s definitely something mysterious about this new guy in town, and soon Miki becomes determined to find out exactly what he is up to. Yet, as Miki learns, sometimes knowing someone else’s secret is a pathway to an adventure. This adventure will turn Miki’s life upside down, and challenge everything she ever thought she knew about love.
Although Miki and Hiro are high school students, I think that readers still in middle school would find it very enjoyable. It’s just enough romance (but not too much) for a young girl just beginning to be curious about love, and has enough action to keep the reader engaged for the rest of the series. I would definitely recommend buying at least the first two books in the series because once you’re hooked you can’t wait for the next sequel! I’m just beginning to explore the world of graphic novels for children and teens more thoroughly. “Miki Falls” really caught my attention because it’s so beautiful, and Mark Crilley’s experience as an American living in Japan is evident in every page. This may be seen in the thoughtful attention to detail in the scenery, which is done with an expert touch. Fans of “Fruits Basket” will be sure to enjoy this American foray into manga-inspired graphic novels.
Please visit the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads and relax over a great cup of coffee. Also visit the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events. And when you stop by, keep a lookout for Hilary peeking out from behind a novel.