Mar 31, 2013


by Octavia Butler

This is some very interesting science fiction. I admit I was first drawn to Octavia Butler's works because I loved the cover images; John Jude Palencar is one of my favorite illustrators. Dawn is a futuristic novel in which the human race has been nearly destroyed and rescued by aliens. The aliens saved them from catastrophe and are ready to return them to a restored Earth, but is the cost worth it? The aliens engage in a form of genetic "trading" with other species as a way to advance themselves. So they are saving humankind by transforming them into something else. The protagonist wakes after centuries of forced sleep and finds herself assigned a leader of the humans preparing to return to Earth. There's all sorts of conflicts going on, not the least of which is most of the characters' discontent with what the aliens have done to them. I found the story really intriguing but the characters rather unlikable. Maybe their unpleasant nature was part of the genetic change they had undergone, I'm not sure. Regardless, it is a book I'd like to read again someday.

Rating: 3/5 ....... 256 pages, 1987

more opinions:
Adventures in Reading
Twisted SciFi
Diverse Pages
Zubon Book Reviews

Mar 30, 2013

Eco Babies Wear Green

by Michelle Sinclair Colman

When we first borrowed this book from the library, the way the illustrations are stylized put me off a bit. I think my kid didn't even recognize the figures as people, at first. But the book has really grown on us, and now I'm very fond of it. It simply makes repeated statements of how to be environmentally-friendly and shows a baby or child participating in some way- often amusingly. The page that says Eco babies save water shows a kid sitting in the rain, catching water in all kinds of cups, mugs, bowls, pots and toys. Even his open mouth to the sky. Eco babies compost shows a toddler in a highchair tossing cheerios on the floor, with a container labeled compost nearby and pattern of plants climbing the wallpaper. Eco babies recycle has a kid in a cardboard box with a hat and sail made of newspaper, looking adventuresome. I think my favorite page is the one that says Eco babies eat local, showing a baby stuffing his face with strawberries, while mom picks a basketful. Brought back fond memories of visiting local strawberry farms and picking our own when I was a kid. And of course the last page as a fitting close shows a baby in pajamas reaching out of her mom's arms towards a lamp in the falling dusk: Eco babies turn off the lights. I love all the little reminders on how children can be involved in being "green".

Rating: 4/5 ........ 18 pages, 2008

Mar 28, 2013


by Marison Billet

Attracted by its bright colors and cute characters, my toddler picked out these two books about a little panda bear from the library. One shows the bear doing activities at home, the other has him at the beach. It's those touch-and-feel kind of books. The first one, Noodle Loves to Cuddle, shows the bear pulling a fuzzy duck toy, playing with a ball that has plastic texture with raised bumps, talking on a toy phone and playing with his blankie, which covers his face. This is my daughter's favorite page, although she used to be concerned that the panda was upside-down.

Noodle Loves the Beach has one of the most unique touch-and-feel features I've ever seen. It has a rough patch for sand, sparkly blue material for water, the cloth sail of a boat (which you can lift to find a cute bunny) And one page has the bear eating a sticky peach, and the peach sufrace is actually sticky. Like the backside of an old sticker might be. It's a very realistic peach color, too. A little gross, as by this time the sticky surface had caught lots of little specks of things (and being a library book that could be more disturbing but I don't think about it too much). My toddler finds this page most intriguing and will spend a good several minutes poking the peach surface with her finger.

Both books end with a mirror on the last page where your child can see her face (if a bit unclearly). My kid really likes these books, will even ask for them by name ("Bear! Bear!"). They don't have many pages but the illustrations are cute, fun for kids, and the pages are very sturdy. It's one where I don't have to worry about the flap getting torn off, as the lift-able parts are cloth and securely sandwiched between the board layers of the page, instead of being heavy stock paper glued atop it as you often see.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 10 pages, 2011

Mar 27, 2013

One Thousand Chestnut Trees

by Mira Stout

This novel explores the roots of one woman's Korean family. The first part of the book describes her life in New York as daughter of a Korean immigrant and an American father. Then it goes on to tell her mother's and grandmother's stories, respectively, delving into Korean history and culture. Finally the daughter travels to Korea for the first time, to connect with her roots and see the places her family have described to her. The sad thing is that even though I recall finding the book interested when I read it, I can now recall very little about it. The characters were pretty forgettable and the writing quality rather uneven. I think if you're interested in Korean history or the meeting of two cultures, you would still find it a good read, though.

Rating: 2/5 ....... 368 pages, 1998

More opinions:
The Book Coop
In Consideration of Books
Book Around the World

Mar 26, 2013

Things That Go

by Say and Play

We've had this book borrowed from the public library for months, that's how much my kid likes it. (My library doesn't have a time limit on baby books). It just has pictures showing objects that provide various modes of transportation, or some that are pieces of machinery, and names them. Simple, but intriguing because of the variety. There's the familiar cars, trucks, motorcycle, fire engine, bulldozer, train, helicopter, boat, airplane etc. But there's also a blimp, scooter, bicycle, cable car, hot air balloon, roller skates and child's tricycle. There's a double-decker bus and a yellow school bus. There's not only a regular pickup truck but a cement-mixer, a semi tractor-trailer, a tow truck, a dump truck and a garbage truck. You get the idea. Lots of things that go. Nice, clear pictures. To amuse my kid I started making distinctive noises for each item, and pretty soon she expected the same ones every time. This included different kinds of honks and beeps for each car and truck, put-put-put for the helicopter, vrooms and roars and so forth. I make a pretty good high-pitched backup-warning beep (for the garbage truck). I never did think of a good sound for the blimp but that one is near the end of the book and she never seemed to notice that I skipped its noise.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 26 pages, 2012

Mar 25, 2013

Baby Brother

by Usborne

This book is cute and amusing to my toddler. Title might be a little misleading as it has no storyline and doesn't really focus on the baby in the family. Each spread just shows a scene with a mom and three kids (one an infant) engaged in daily activities. One side of the spread shows a number of objects having to do with the activity, and on the opposite page you can find them in the picture. Scenes show having a meal, going for a walk, visiting a friend, taking a bath, and bedtime. The final spread shows all the objects together and names them all. The pictures are done with clay modeling and looked cartoony but also have some very realistic components. For example, the baby diapers and clothing look like actual objects were put on the modeled figures. Makes it interesting to look at. My toddler likes finding all the various items in the pictures and I make up a little narrative describing what they're doing, but there's not much else to this book. And it's not very well made, physically. The top layer of paper that has the picture printed on it is peeling off the cardboard base on several pages.

I think I read another book by this same author/illustrator before, which featured a farm, the clay modeling style looked very familiar. But the farm one we just enjoyed at the library and did not bring home.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 12 pages, 2008

Mar 24, 2013

Wolf Star

by Tanith Lee

I have pretty much nothing to say about this book except that it was the one that made me firmly give up on Tanith Lee. As an author I want to read more of, that is. Sorry! But it's true. The characters felt even more flat than before, and the protagonist was put in a new situation at the very beginning of the book that was so incredibly unfamiliar she could not make sense of it, and neither could this reader. Basically Claidi gets kidnapped and taken to a mysterious palace high on a cliff where she finds herself surrounded by clockwork servants and rooms that change on a whim, which she tries desperately to escape from. It was so utterly confusing. I tend to get rather irritated when I read pages and pages and simply cannot follow or figure out what is going on, so I gave up on this one. Too bad. I still think the author's imagination is fantastic, her ideas are certainly most unique, I just can't manage to enjoy them the way they are presented.

Abandoned ......... 256 pages, 2000

More opinions:
Jefferson Road
A Jedi's Musings

Mar 23, 2013

G is for Goat

by Patricia Polacco

I instantly recognized the illustrator this time, when my toddler found this book on the library shelf. So I brought it home mostly for my own interest, as she hasn't been able to sit through the whole thing. We get to about letter H with her before she wants a different book. I assumed from the cover that the alphabet would be illustrated with different animals, or things on the farm, but instead the book is all about goats! It's awfully adorable. Uses the alphabet letters to illustrate everything from what names goats have (billy, nanny, kid etc) to what they like to eat, how they behave, their usefulness, their physical characteristics and so forth. I was wondering what Z would be for and the last few pages let me know: V is for vet, we think something's wrong- image showing a concerned girl hugging her very pregnant goat- W is for wait, X is for exciting- and at the very end, Z is for the names of three new baby goats just-born. If you know someone who loves or has goats, I think this book would be great, even if it is a toddler's alphabetical!

Rating: 4/5 ........ 32 pages, 2003

Mar 22, 2013

Secrets of the Nest

by Joan Dunning

This is a beautiful book. I stumbled across it browsing library shelves once, and now it's one I dream to own someday. The exquisite illustrations drew me in, but the writing is just as fantastic. It's all about the different types of nests birds build: how they do it, where they make them, how they raise and defend their young. You learn a lot more about birds and their habits than just their nests in the course of the book, but it all revolves around their homes. I found it fascinating and delightful. A wonderful book that any nature-lover would treasure.

Rating: 5/5 ........ 198 pages, 1994

Mar 19, 2013

My Teeth

by Richard and Michele Steckel

Nothing could be simpler than this board book. Each pages shows a baby or toddler smiling (well, a few of them seem to be crying) so you can see their teeth. The first one has bare gums, the next one shows one tooth, then two, and so on. Each kid has progressively more teeth up to ten. The pages just show the number to count, plus a tiny bit of text on the picture telling you what country the kids are from. You can guess from the small bits of clothing to be seen, but other than that this information doesn't add much to the book for my kid. She isn't even interested in counting the teeth at all, just likes looking at all the children's faces. The last two pages show a child biting into corn on the cob, and then brushing. A good ending for a book featuring teeth!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 20 pages, 2007

Mar 18, 2013

colors + flavors

by Jill Hartley

Like the previous two books I've found by this author/photographer, colors + flavors is a simple collection of brightly colored pictures around a common theme. In this case, it happens to be fruit. Only the cover image shows a kid actually eating the fruit- all the interior pages just show the fruit itself, each one usually pictured as a whole next to a sliced-open portion to show the insides. All the pictures have bold-colored backgrounds or plates that compliment the colors of the foods nicely.

A lot of the fruits were unfamiliar to me. The ones in the book I know well were bananas and plantains, strawberries, mango, avocado, watermelon, peach, nectarine, grape, plum, orange, lime and pineapple. I have never eaten but did recognize the figs, pomegranate and star fruit. There were seven other fruits I could not identify at all. I think some were cactus fruit and am guessing one was a papaya but the others have no idea. Which made it fun to look at the pictures the fourteenth (or whatever) time in a row my kid pulled this book off the shelf, as I kept musing on the identity of the unfamiliar ones.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 24 pages, 2008

Mar 10, 2013

Arrows Into the Sun

by Jonreed Lauritzen

I thought of this book in context of the other ones I've been reading recently. It's been quite a few years since I read it, but some things do come back to me. It's a story set in frontier times, about a boy of mixed race- part native american, part white- who befriends and eventually falls in love with a pioneer girl. She happens to be Mormon. I remember finding the story fascinating but also a bit disturbing, because some of the depictions of Mormon beliefs and how they acted didn't quite match up with what I know of LDS culture (from having grown up in that church). In particular, I was bothered by the hints of violence- I recall that once the boy saw a portrait of Joseph Smith in someone's house and the painting showed him holding a sword. It unsettled the character, and this reader as well.

The novel itself was a good read, however, with interesting characters that struggled with their differences, with their growing minds expanding beyond the constricts of their respective cultures, with the disapproval their friendship brought upon them from each of their communities. I can't remember the ending well; I think they ran away together but I'm not sure. Has anyone else read this? What do you recall?

I wish I could find the book again but it's out of print.

Rating: 3/5 ...... 309 pages, 1943

Mar 9, 2013

Picture Maker

by Penina Keen Spinka

After finishing The Loon Feather, I was interested in other books about similar time period or subject, so I pulled this one off my shelf. It's also about a native american woman who traverses several cultures. Picture Maker is born into the Ganeoganogo tribe (which others derisively call Mohwak) but as a young girl is stolen away by an attacking war party of Algonquins. She spends quite a few years among them as a slave before finally escaping and making her way north where she lives among the Naskapi tribe and even later the Inuit people. Her journeys don't end there, as she never stays long among one people but eventually finds herself in Greenland among the Norsemen who are struggling to survive there.

While the writing, character development and overall depth does not really compare to Loon Feather, this book was just as fascinating in its depiction of five very different ways of life. It was pretty incredible to me that one woman could make her way through so many very different cultures, not only learning the rudiments of the various languages, but also trying to find acceptance in each new place. She not only melded into the different communities but also different types of status. She lived at various times as the beloved daughter of a high-ranking war chief, as an abject, abused slave, as a stranger living rather like a second wife, as a surrogate mother to an orphaned child, as mother to her own children, as an outcast seeking refuge, and finally as a cherished wife herself. So many roles for one person, and it startled me at times when references to her age was made- only fourteen at this point, sixteen at another, thinking of herself as an older woman at merely twenty. Yes, people had shorter lifespans back then, but for one young girl to go through so much!

Picture Maker spent most of her life merely trying to survive, but she never forgot the teachings of her homeland, her pride in her own people, and proved herself capable of standing up for herself when provoked. I found her quite admirable, even if I wished her character were written with a little more depth. I also wished that the unique skill she had of creating art had been a larger part of the story. At certain times it was a remarkable ability that the people she lived among used for their own ends, at other times it wasn't a part of her life and seemed to have been forgotten.

The ending made me curious to move on to its sequel, Dream Weaver. I'm also interested now in reading the book that inspired the author to write; The Greenlanders by Jane Smiley (although that one sounds like it could be very tedious).

Rating: 3/5 ........ 464 pages, 2002

more opinions:
The Reading Corner


It's an easy pick when only one person enters a giveaway. Anna is the winner of my polar bear bookmarks! Happy reading, Anna. I'll get them to you this week.

Mar 7, 2013

Polar Animals

by Paul Hess

This lovely board book features animals that live in arctic regions. It has polar bears, penguins, seals, arctic fox, reindeer, walrus, arctic hare and snowy owl. Each spread has one painting featuring a single animal, and a narrow picture on the opposite margin showing the animal with others of its kind doing something typical. The penguins huddle together, the reindeer scatter to the horizon grazing, the seals turn in the water under thick ice. In addition the front and back endpages each have a double spread showing all the animals together in their respective habitats; the front spread has arctic animals and the back spread shows the ones in Antarctica (seals and penguins only). The pictures are richly painted and I love them all (except the arctic fox looks a little funny. His nose is too big). And of course my toddler's favorite animal is the walrus, whether it's the single walrus shown looming on a rock in front of the cold ocean, or the group of them all piled together resting.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 24 pages, 1998

Mar 3, 2013

Wolf Tower

by Tanith Lee

I picked up this book once just browsing at the library (yes, I browse J Fiction sometimes) and found it quite a puzzle. It starts off with a likely-enough heroine, Claidi, describing her life in a journal. She serves a petty, cruel princess in a palace surrounded by a jungle maze and then a wasteland. The inhabitants are all fearful of the world outside and Claidi pretty much despises them all. When a handsome man crashes his hot-air balloon into the tower and is imprisoned, Claidi is instantly smitten with him, helps him escape and runs off with him into the wide world. There follows a series of adventures as she travels with him through several different towns. Each seems to have its own peculiar customs, sealed off from the world around. In the first, the people talk to and live communally with sheep. In the next, the people worship birds and try to offer Claidi as a sacrifice. They run into a troop of bandits, whose leader falls in love with Claidi but she follows the balloon-man onward due to an oddly blind sense of loyalty, even though he doesn't really treat her very well. Later they end up at a city where the ruling faction uses nonsensical games of chance to make the laws, and here Claidi finally does something worthwhile and tries to destroy their lawmaking- methods. She sees how it hurts the people.

But for most of the book I found her hard to admire. Claidi is so utterly ignorant, having been shut up in the palace all of her life, that she can't make sense of what she sees and frequently misjudges people. Usually I find that when an ignorant protagonist is describing new things, there's enough description that the reader can understand clearly what it is, even if the protagonist herself doesn't. But in this case I was often confused. Claidi makes a lot of awful decisions, and it turns out that people she trusts or even falls in love with prove themselves to be unpleasant and deceitful, while the ones she is wary of are the opposite- like the so-called bandits. Turns out they were really travelling traders.

Overall it was kind of a difficult book to read. The characters are written unevenly, and the voice of Claidi in her apparent journal entries was uneven as well. She uses lots of modern slang and expressions which feel out of place in the setting of the story. The adventures were by turns confusing or just boring. The heroine's actions and choices were often frustrating to this reader. Despite all that, I found the curious customs of the various towns so unique, imaginative and intriguing (even though they were often poorly described) that I kept reading just to see what new thing the author would come up with next.

Have any of you read this book? what did you think of it?

Rating: 2/5 ........ 240 pages, 1998

Mar 2, 2013

Baby Be Kind

by Jane Cowen-Fletcher

This is one of my favorite board books we have in the house. It has beautiful, soft illustrations showing little children doing various activities together, always accompanied by a puppy. The gentle words tell of ways even young children can be kind and compassionate to others, and the pictures show a simple storyline of the kids playing together, with little events that call for offering help, sharing, taking turns, forgiveness, handling anger and so forth. It's absolutely adorable and has a wonderful message as well, including not only other people in acts of kindness but also our animal friends. I always enjoy reading this book to my little one. The words have a nice, gentle rhythm and the pictures are a joy to look at.

Rating 5/5 ...... 18 pages, 2012

Mar 1, 2013

Saddle Shoe Blues

by Carroll Hofeling Morris

Someone gave me this book when I was young. It's the story of a girl growing up in the 50's. She struggles with a reading disability and slong with her mother befriends an impoverished family in her neighborhood. Not much more than that stands out for me, after all these years. I recall an incident with the shoes- she had special shoes just for sundays that she was supposed to keep clean, or something. I also recall the girl having a conversation with a sympathetic uncle who discovered why she was struggling with reading (I think she'd been hiding the issue) and helped her with it. Has anyone else read this book?

Rating: 3/5 ........ 167 pages, 1987