Feb 29, 2012

BIG Little

by Leslie Patricelli

I usually don't like illustrated books for the baby yet. She just doesn't seem as interested in drawings as in photos of real things, especially if they have faces. This one is just so cute, though, and the rhythm of comparisons makes it easy to adopt a little sing-song as you read aloud. It's all about similar items that are large and small: Elephants are BIG, Mice are little etc. My favorites are Ladies are BIG, Ladybugs are little and The moon is BIG, My nightlight is little. It's a bit different from the usual opposite kind of books. If you've got a little one who likes bright, simple pictures and learning about similarities between objects, BIG Little might be a good choice!

rating: 3/5 ........ 26 pages, 2003

Feb 26, 2012

The Secret Life of Cowboys

by Tom Groneberg

This book is one that grew on me. Don't judge The Secret Life of Cowboys by its cover or its title, because neither seem a good fit to me. It's a thoughtful, frank memoir of a man searching for a new life, trying to live his dream. Groneberg has always wanted to be a cowboy, to live close to cattle and horses, to love the land. He gets a job leading trail rides for tourists, then works as a hired hand on a ranch, and finally gets his dream- a ranch of his very own. But all along he struggles to fit in, to learn skills kids around him have mastered, to understand simple things that no one bothers to explain because they assume it's common knowledge. He struggles at managing the ranch. The ending surprised me. It's not all happy. Love for the big open skies, wide fields and animals shines through the pages, but so does the heartache at difficulties and failings. I kept thinking of Jenna as I read this book; she's another person who had a dream to live a life different than the one she was raised with, and just went for it. In some ways their stories are quite similar.

rated: 3/5 ........ 257 pages, 2003

more opinions at:
Buddies in the Saddle
Cataloger's Reading List

Feb 23, 2012

Junie B. Jones

and her Big Fat Mouth
by Barbara Park

This one was pretty good. In Junie B. Jones and her Big Fat Mouth, our little protagonist can't decide what she wants to be when she grows up. All her classmates have picked things like artist, superhero, guard, princess, fireman, etc. Junie B. wants a job that uses all the things she finds attractive- paintbrushes are cool, so are rings of keys, and she'd love to help save people. Can she figure out a job that encompasses all her passions? I really liked how Junie B. highlighted a blue-collar job that the kids at first laughed at, but in the end they recognized how important it was to the normal functioning of their very own school. And in the meantime Junie B. has a new grown-up friend and role model. Sure she has a smart mouth and says things like "stupid" and "hate" but kids can be like that. As long as yours recognizes that Junie is misbehaving, I think they can see the humor in the book and this one happens to have a really good message too. I wonder if the title could be more appropriate, though. It doesn't quite seem to fit what the story is actually about.

rating: 4/5 ........ 69 pages, 1993

Feb 22, 2012

Junie B. Jones

and the Stupid Smelly Bus
by Barbara Park

I believe this is the first book in the Junie B. Jones series. Another one my daughter brought home from school and I sneaked off her bed to read (in one sitting) later at night. I didn't find it as funny as Sneaky Peeky Spying, that one made me laugh out loud a lot, this one I think I only really chuckled once. But it did get lots of smiles, a quick little fun read. So, in  Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus the little girl is nervous about her first day of kindergarten. She's afraid to get on that yellow bus. And when she does ride it to school, it's miserably hot, uncomfortable and the girl with curly hair doesn't want to share a seat. At school she hears more about big meanies who do things to little kids on the bus, so she decides she's simply not going to ride it home. She hides in a supply closet instead, and when everyone leaves has a little fun playing in the classroom. But then an emergency arises (of the bathroom kind) and Junie B. realizes all the doors are locked! She's alone in the empty school. What will she do?

Of course, her parents are frantic with worry but Junie B. is a smart little cookie and she finds some quick help. Roundly scolded for giving everyone a scare, and comes to terms with that big yellow bus- especially when a new friend named Grace promises to share her seat. I think we'll see more of Grace in books to come.

rating: 3/5 ....... 69 pages, 1992

Feb 19, 2012

The Peacock Spring

by Rumer Godden

Another book which has been quietly languishing on my shelf. The Peacock Spring was slow to get into, but the more I read the more curious I got about it. The story is of two girls in their early teens who get abruptly pulled out of boarding school to go live with their diplomat father in India. It soon becomes clear to them that their governess is incompetent at teaching, and is in fact their father's mistress. The older girl, Una, is indignant at the sham, while the younger one, Hal, couldn't care less. Hal is thrilled with the sightseeing and parties the governess is trying to distract them with; Una is frustrated at being denied her studies. The better part of the first half of the book is about this subtle battle going on between the girls and the governess, made more interesting by the fact that all the servants resent the woman too, and the girls' father is pretty much oblivious to it all. But then something curious happens. Una meets a gardener who also happens to be a poet, and whose friend is an accomplished mathematician. Suddenly she finds a way to circumvent her governess and continue her studies. What she doesn't really expect is to fall in love...

While this story is not exactly tender, nor are most of the characters extremely likable, there was something about it that kept me intrigued. The further I got the more tangled it all became, until in the end Una was in quite a sticky situation. The ending was quite sad. I found myself feeling sympathy for characters I really didn't like in the beginning, and getting furious at others that I had previously admired. They're all quite deep characters, with layers and ulterior motives and secret thoughts and dumb moments, just like real people... This is not one of my favorite Rumer Godden books, but one I'm certainly hanging onto regardless. I wonder when I'll pick it up again, what new things I might see in its pages.

rating: 3/5 ........ 243 pages, 1975

more opinions at:
Jenny's Books
Miss Darcy's Library

Feb 17, 2012

Brum! and Vroom!

by Leo Timmers

Brum! and  Vroom! are two more little board books that feature silly animals driving vehicles with various sound effects. Only I didn't like these two as much as Toot! There is only one sound for each book, that of the title, repeated on every page. I preferred Toot! which had a different sound for each vehicle. I had to make up little phrases to go with each picture, in singsong, to keep my child's interest. Regardless, the pictures are still adorable- there's a rhino driving a sports car, a forklift carrying a hippo, a front-loader carrying a heap of soil and earthworms, etc. It's charming, but just not quite as engaging as the previous book.

rating: 2/5 ........ 14 pages each, 2009

Feb 15, 2012


A Fruit and Vegetable Lover's Guide
by Bruce Beck

This is another one of those coffee-table books that's been sitting around my house forever. It's too awkward to read while nursing the baby (my prime reading time these days) so I've only been getting to it in snatches here and there. You'd think that a book about foodstuffs isn't that interesting, but Produce was quite a good read, considering.

It is a large, heavy book full of stunning photographs by Andrew Unagst, all featuring vegetables, fruits and greens. Each item gets a good description, including different varieties, their origins and curious things about their culinary history, what foods they pair well with or how they are often prepared, how to choose the best ones from the market, how to keep them fresh at home, and at what season they are most readily available. It's got every single produce item you could think of, from plain old bananas and apples to arugula, watercress and a huge assortment of herbs, to unfamiliar exotics like cherimoya or starfruit. I even learned quite a few things about produce, such as that cantaloupe is (supposedly) good eaten sprinkled with salt and pepper, lettuce can be put into soup (!), melons are often carved into decorative bowls (look at this amazing watermelon turtle), and the Greeks and Romans use to wear parsley garlands at parties, because they believed it would keep them from getting drunk. There are charming, whimsical little line drawings illustrating each page, as well. And a sprinkling of humor to boot.

One thing I didn't understand was why most of the herbs were combined into a crowded two-page spread, while parsley, basil and watercress each got their own spot. Also, I couldn't find olives. I looked in the index, thinking maybe I'd missed it somehow, as a few of the items were on a page with relatives (plantains with bananas, for example). Nope, no olives. The book does show its age a little, as the author makes comments on some exotic produce items being almost completely unavailable, whereas I've seen them frequently in the supermarket. Anyhow, if you're interested in the history of produce, or want a few hints on how to use certain veggie items, or just like to drool over wonderful photographs, this is a pretty good book!

rating: 4/5 ........ 213 pages, 1984

Feb 11, 2012

An Episode of Sparrows

by Rumer Godden

I'm glad that I finally read this book. It was lovely, and one I kept wanting to go back to, eager to open the pages again and find out what was happening to those characters. Even though their edges are somewhat prickly, they were characters I came to feel for in just a short space of time. It's been a while since I felt that way about a book.

An Episode of Sparrows is about a poor girl in post-war England. Her mother, a traveling singer, has pretty much abandoned her to the care of a couple who run a restaurant. She is feeling lonely, yet has her own kind of pride and stubbornly insists on doing things for herself. She swipes a packet of flower seed from another child in the street and out of curiosity decides to plant them. After several failed attempts, she finds a spot in the rubble behind an old church to make a little hidden garden, enlisting the help of Tip, a local gang leader, and questioning a recalcitrant gardener she finds in the neighborhood to learn how to grow plants and care for them. It was quite wonderful to watch her little garden unfold, although she had to fight for it every step of the way. Her hopes kept getting set higher and higher, as she kept finding better things to grow, and finally coveted a small rosebush. Stealing soil from the gardens of a public square for her rose, she and the other children finally get caught and have to face some dire consequences. My heart wrung for this plucky little girl. I couldn't help feel for the man Vincent who ran the restaurant she lived in, too. He had lofty dreams as well, riddled with unlucky circumstances but undiscouraged. It's really a quite tender story, about connections and people finding they do care for each other, in spite of all their wrongs. It made me eager to find another Rumer Godden to read. I think I have the Peacock Spring on my shelf as well, must go look for it now...

rating: 4/5 ........ 247 pages, 1955

more opinions at:
Harriet Devine's Blog
Literary Afterthought
a pile of leaves

Feb 10, 2012

In the Garden with Van Gogh

by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober

I was delighted to find another one of the Mini Masters series shelved among the board books at the library. Snatched up In the Garden with Van Gogh to bring home and share with my baby. Unfortunately, she wasn't quite as thrilled as I was. Like Quiet Time with Cassatt, each spread pairs a famous painting with gentle, rhyming text that describes it. I thought it was lovely, I'm not quite sure why the baby didn't like it (and hers is the opinion that really counts, as I won't check out books again if I think she won't enjoy them. Many are the ones we've checked out numerous times, met with recognition, little happy clapping hands.) Maybe I just sat down at the wrong moments with her, and she was distracted. Maybe she's just not interested in wavery, textured pictures of plants, flowers and landscapes. I did think it would be an even stronger book if the paintings were arranged in a more chronological order: the one about sowing seeds comes after the ones about gathering fruit, for example. Not that a child would notice, though. I did love the painting of a child just learning to walk, toddling through a garden guided by its mother's hands.

rating: 2/5 ........ 22 pages, 2002

more opinions at:
Eye Level Books
A Class of Her Own

Feb 9, 2012

The Adventures of Johnny Chuck

by Thornton W. Burgess

In The Adventures of Johnny Chuck we meet a stout little woodchuck who has been struck with a sudden fit of wanderlust in the springtime. He encounters an older chuck with whom he fights, then another younger chuck- who turns out to be a female. The two make an acquaintance, Johnny Chuck impresses Polly, and they search for a place to make a new home together. This turns out to be in a remote corner of the orchard, for Johnny Chuck wants his privacy now. Meanwhile, as Johnny has been having adventures and finding love, his friends back home are wondering what became of him. Sammy Jay discovers his new home, and intends to make mischief for Johnny Chuck. But he's burning with curiosity to know why Johnny is being so secretive. When he finally finds out, Sammy has a sudden change of heart...

Another delightful Burgess story that uses real wildlife behavior and interactions to teach lessons of friendship and kindness.

rating: 4/5 ....... 88 pages, 1913

Feb 8, 2012

The Adventures of Buster Bear

by Thornton W. Burgess

There is a new animal in the forest: Buster Bear. All the smaller animals are afraid of him, especially after they see how he bullies little Joe Otter to get his fish for breakfast. Thus they are quite gleeful to discover that Buster is afraid of the farmer's boy, and shocked to discover that the boy is likewise afraid of Buster! What happens when bear and boy encounter each other in the blueberry patch is quite comical.  I enjoyed this story quite as much as the previous one. The animals all like to pull pranks on each other and tease, but in the end it turns out they're quite good-hearted.

rating: 4/5 ........ 80 pages, 1916

Feb 7, 2012

The Adventures of Chatterer the Red Squirrel

by Thornton W. Burgess

Some time ago I saw another blogger (I can't remember who now nor find it in my google reader, so if it's you let me know!) discussed one of Burgess' Bedtime Stories, a tale of a woodchuck wandering from home. It immediately reminded me of some stories my father shared with us, that I think he used to read as a child- a collection of stories about animals in the forest who talk to each other yet behave in many ways as their real wild counterparts do.

 Well, it made me look for more of these books, and I've found them quite delightful. In The Adventures of Chatterer the Red Squirrel, the squirrel gets himself into trouble with a weasel, because of his saucy tongue. He quits his home for a while, but in looking for a new place to live only lands in more difficulties. Chatterer finds himself trapped by the farmer's boy, and although his cage is quite comfortable and free of dangers he pines for his freedom. By the end of his stay in the farmer's shed, the little squirrel has realized the value of freedom, who his friends really are, and that first impressions aren't always accurate. I really liked this little story. It's got an old-fashioned voice which I enjoy. The morals come across clearly but don't feel too heavy-handed either. The illustrations, while charming in their own way, don't really appeal to me. I'm still not sure if this author is the same as the one my father used to read to us, and I know for sure the book of animal stories we read way back when had different pictures...

I've already got two more of these Bugress books at hand, and have ordered several more through Book Mooch (the library having only three of his seventy-odd published stories). I'm looking forward to reading more of the animal adventures.

rating: 4/5 ....... 190 pages, 1915

more opinions at:
Our Family Book Reviews

Feb 6, 2012

Junie B. Jones

and some Sneaky Peeky Spying
by Barbara Park

This is a really cute book that my first-grader brought home from her school library. I started reading it to her at bedtime, then went back and snuck the book off her bed after she fell asleep, so I could finish it myself! It's pretty funny, I was laughing out loud. Enjoyed it so much that if my daughter doesn't bring more Junie B. Jones home from school, I just might seek them out at our public library for some light reading when I need a laugh.

Junie B. Jones and Some Sneaky Peeky Spying is about a mischievous little kindergartener who likes to spy on people. In her own words, she tells how spying gets her in trouble, but she's dying of curiosity to find out where her teacher lives (because teachers are not regular people, you know). Everyone tells her to leave the issue alone, but when she sees her teacher at the grocery store, June B. Jones just has to find out what she's up to! She follows her around and sees her teacher do something she thinks is wrong. But she doesn't tell because she's worried her teacher will be punished. Next day at school, her friend says if she doesn't tell her secret, her head will blow up. Junie B. runs to the school nurse in a panic, and accidentally blurts out her secret... the fallout, you'll have to read the book to discover!

Part of the humor in this book is from Junie B.'s very kid-specific perspective on things, and part is from her poor grammar and frequent mixing-up of words, which makes it fun to figure out what she really means. She tells things just as they are, as she sees them- nobody can tell if you're really sorry even when you're made to apologize, for example. Some parents might want to make sure their kids understand that Junie B. is really being naughty but I think it comes across pretty clear that this is all in fun, plus various adults' opinions are shared in the book that show she really does need to face consequences. It's refreshing to hear the kid's voice, though, pointing out that even grownups make mistakes, among other things.

rating: 4/5 ........ 66 pages, 1994

more opinions at:
GlobWorld Parents
Nicole's Literature Blog
Library Queue

Feb 5, 2012

Rabbit Hill

by Robet Lawson

Famous story that I had never read before, but it was sitting on my shelf. It's a children's classic about a community of wild animals that live on a hillside near a rundown farmhouse. They're all anxious when news arrives that New Folks are moving in- will they be friendly to wildlife? will they plant the garden? or bring the threat of traps and dogs? The star of the book is Little Georgie, a spunky young rabbit who lives with his worrying mother and long-winded father who takes a leadership role among the animals. Georgie is sent alone on a trip to get his uncle to come visit, with a few small adventures, and when they come back preparations for the New Folks' arrival are well under way. The animals are quite anxious about what kind of character their new people have, but after a few serious misunderstandings they come to understand that these Folks are true friends and champions of wildlife.

Rabbit Hill is a nice enough story, but it didn't really do much for me. I was unable to feel passionate about any of the characters, nor even admire them, really. They all felt rather one-dimensional. I was annoyed to find a few characters mentioned only once, at the very end of the story- why include them at all? The book gives a nice message about compassion for little creatures and sharing your garden bounty with wildlife, but it's one of those I probably would have appreciated more reading it as a kid for the first time.

I did love the illustrations. They have a wonderful texture and are full of character.

rating: 3/5 ........ 128 pages, 1944

more opinions:
Allison's Book Bag
East Line Books
A Book A Day


a Tale of Tails
by Robert Lawson

This one also on my shelf, picked up at a library sale somewhere no doubt. I thought it was a sequel to Rabbit Hill, but no. It features talking woodland animals and rabbits inhabiting a similar world, that's all. Robbut is a charming moralizing story about a young rabbit who is dissatisfied with his tail. He thinks all the other animals have more useful or attractive tails and longs to change his. When a sudden opportunity comes, Robbut is eager to try wearing some other animals' tails. He tries out a cat's tail, a snake's and a fox's. Each time his experience is marvelous in the beginning, but soon turns to inconvenience and even disaster. In the end he learns that a rabbit's little fluffy cotton tail is perfectly suited for a rabbit, and is content with his lot.

Against my expectations, I really enjoyed this little story. I was curious each time to see what kind of trouble Robbut's new tail would get him into. After the first two attempts at new finery he wanted his rabbit tail back and I was disappointed, I wanted to see more adventures! but luckily for the reader, he hadn't quite learned his lesson and went back one final time to try the fox tail. The endpapers are wonderfully decorated and lead you to think he tried a great many more tails: cow, posssum, skunk, etc, but it was really only three. The illustrations by the author really add a lot to the story. I don't think I've ever seen such a cute rabbit face so cross and glaring as Robbut could be! and the little man who worked the spells reminded me of the little man who hid behind the curtain in the original Wizard of Oz illustrations- the round opaque glasses were rather creepy. Overall it was really charming, and made me want to look for more of this author's work.

rating: 4/5 ....... 94 pages, 1979

Feb 4, 2012

here we go again

The list piles up and up. Thanks to all the bloggers noted below, I will never run out of things to read!
Among Others by Jo Walton- You Can Never Have Too Many Books
Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer Holland- Bermudaonion's Weblog
The Truth About Garden Remedies- Jeff Gillman- Garden Rant
The Truth About Organic Gardening- Jeff Gillman- Garden Rant
The Puppy Diaries by Jill Abramson- Shannon's Book Bag
Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg- The Lost Entwife
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green- Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey - The Book Lady's Blog
An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer- Caroline Bookbinder
The Rabbi's Cat by Joann Sfar from Opinions of a Wolf
Lily Renee by Trina Robbins- Diary of an Eccentric
Rainwater by Sandra Brown from Life is Short Read Fast
Dark Life by Kat Falls- Opinions of a Wolf
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater's- books i done read
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion- Books Under Skin
The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell- Bermudaonion
Dear Bully edited by Carrie Jones and Megan Hall- Life is Short. Read Fast.

The following books are not found in my public library, so I don't know when, if ever, I'll read them:
Death Island by Joan Conning Afman- Opinions of a Wolf
What Looks Like and Elephant by Edward Nudelman- Diary of an Eccentric
Grip: a Memoir by Nina Hamberg- the Black Sheep Dances
The Moment edited by Larry Smith- Bookfoolery and Babble
Autobiography of A.A. Milne- Captive Reader
Walkabout by James Vance Marshall- Ready When You Are, C.B.
Between Interruptions by Cori Howard- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer - So Many Books
Onward and Upward in the Garden by Katherine White- Captive Reader
The Laskett by Sir Roy Strong- Captive Reader
The Invisible Garden by Dorothy Sucher- Captive Reader

And this last one isn't even out in print yet, so I'm not sure if I'll find it or not, but I'll certainly be looking:
Greenhorns edited Zoe Bradbury- Cold Antler Farm

Feb 3, 2012

Plant Life

A Gardener's Guide
by Susan Berry and Steve Bradley

A gardening book I picked up at a library sale once. Plant Life is a bit different from the other gardening books I've read. Instead of dispensing a lot of gardening advice and how-to's, it explains the biology of plants so that you can understand why certain things are done in the garden. It goes over things like soil structure and chemistry, how roots function, how plants use water, what is going on when seeds are lying dormant, how to prune and shape plants, recycle nutrients through the garden, control weeds, etc etc. All of it hand-in-hand describing the reasons behind gardening knowledge, which I appreciate very much. I also liked that the entire book's focus was on understanding the inner workings of nature, so that you can work with it instead of fight a loosing battle and make things harder for yourself.

I only wish some sections had been longer, often the passages were very brief. The book ended rather abruptly, too, without any kind of concluding chapter or passage. It is is based on a tv series, so perhaps that has something to do with it, but still. It's also based on gardening in Britain, so some of the plants are unfamiliar to me, also the climate and advice thereof did not always quite match with what I'm dealing with in my own yard. I still found it useful, though. Another problem was that the plant lists are sometimes given only with scientific names, other times with common names. I only know a few of the latin names, so usually I was left guessing as to what plants were actually on the list. When I came across a list that included common names I was pleased to recognize many, and wished the other lists were as clear. The inconsistency puzzled me. As always, it pleased me to recognize things in this book that I've learned elsewhere or from my own experience: feed your garden compost, recycled containers make great pots, how to save your own seed, comfrey makes an excellent green manure (I want to add it to my garden next year). The diagrams and photos are excellent, by the way. Very clear.

Some of the fascinating new things I learned: in a field, the weight of earthworms below the ground can equal that of a herd of dairy cattle above! A giant sequoia tree can transpire hundreds of gallons of water in an hour. There is a plant that mimics rocks, it is called, appropriately, the living stone plant. Crazy.

rating: 3/5 ........ 160 pages, 1993

Feb 2, 2012

Touch and Feel Pets

by D.K. Publishing

This is one of the Touch and Feel books I hadn't seen it before; we found it at the library today. It has a variety of familiar pets featured in bright, clear photographs on the few pages. Each with a texture for small hands to feel: fuzzy dog (spaniel of some kind, so it was kinda curly), shimmery fish scales, soft rabbit fur (body and tail), smooth bird feathers. The baby was absolutely intrigued by the page of kitty whiskers. She could not get enough of tugging on those wiry whiskers. I like the fish page. So pretty. Nice little book, good to engage a restless child (I used it already when a distraction was needed!)

rating: 3/5 ........ 12 pages, 2001

Feb 1, 2012

David McPhail's Animals A to Z

by David McPhail

This fun and engaging ABC book is the kind where each page is full of things beginning with the featured letter. The main animal or two are named on the page, and the rest are left up to the reader to find and discover- sometimes as many as six or seven animals or objects. If you think you've missed one, there's a little list in the back. When I read the book with my baby, I just name the few most prominent animals or objects, but my older daughter likes to look for every single thing and count them all. My favorite is the page for T, which has a tiger on top of a turtle, holding a telephone. The hard letters and/or unusual animals? This book features a bird called xenops for X, and a unicorn and upside-down catfish for U. I thought at first that the fish was a cop-out, a catfish that just happened to be swimming upside-down. But no, this fish habitually swims upside-down, thus its name. Wonderful, what the books will teach you.

This book came into our house as a gift from my sister to the baby.

rating: 4/5 ........ 32 pages, 1993