Friday, February 5, 2016

Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig

I am re-posting a review from yesterday, with a few changes. This book is a chameleon. Is it a "Perfect" picture book? I found it an unusual read, that brought me back again and again.
     Out this week:

Title: Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate
              Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig
Author: Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrator: Charlotte Voake
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade, February 2, 2016
Intended ages: 4-8
Themes: Literary figures, animals, death
FICTION
Opening Line(s):
"My Dear Reader,
This is a story about a girl named Beatrix Potter and what happened when she borrowed her neighbor's guinea pig. So if you are about to lend your favorite hamster, snake, cat, turtle, or hedgehog, please wait!"

Synopsis: In homage to Beatrix Potter, a story of good intentions going awry when a young girl borrows a neighbor's pet for an artist's model.

     I'm recommending a book that is more anecdotal than epic. Why? I don't know if my background affected my reading, but in case it did, here are the relevant bits. I lived in England for four years, and am a huge fan of Beatrix Potter's work.  Everyone hears Beatrix Potter and thinks about Peter Rabbit, but The Tale of Two Bad Mice is probably my  favorite. Go read it if you haven't. And I had three childhood guinea pigs (RIP Ginger, G.P., and Ruff). I also write for children, and belong to one particular group that focuses on nonfiction (so I hear Kristen Fulton's voice in my head while reading)
     I enjoyed the matter-of-fact way young Beatrix's life in late 1800's London is portrayed. The reader meets a young girl walking rabbits on a leash and bringing a huge menagerie of wild animals into the house with apparently no adult intervention or repercussions. Her permissive upbringing in a well-to-do home is, from what I know, an accurate reflection of her life. I recently finished Leonard Marcus' biography of Margaret Wise Brown that refers to times when Margaret skinned dead animals, shocking the other children, also shattering the notion that women of earlier eras didn't live rough and tumble lives.
     The pages reproduced (happily, in translated form) from her diary are interwoven seamlessly, propelling the story to the main event. Her picture diaries bring to mind today's books such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Timmy Failure and may serve to inspire a new generation of writer/artists.
     While, thankfully, I never killed any of my pets, the reality of such accidents feels realistic and sympathetic. But then I read the Author's Note. It is documented that Potter drew watercolors of guinea pigs around the time that this story is envisioned. However, Potter was 26 years old at the time, not a child. I had pictured a child's mistake as just that, a forgivable mistake borne of responding to her parents' call. The same actions committed by a 26-year old woman? Not as humorous. Would I have the same reaction if the author chose to focus on the death of the bat or family of snails Potter was also responsible for? Perhaps not. But thinking more and more on this plot point, I've decided that it is a great talking point for children.

 
     The author notes that except for her diary pages, all of the dialogue is invented. Thus the fiction classification. So is this a biography? The publisher says it is. I had to go to my nonfiction experts. The nonfiction group had an interesting discussion about what it means to be a biography yesterday. It's clear to me now that this IS one! It indeed tells a story of a person's life. And the Dewey classification (823) puts it clearly in literature. Because most of the biographies I've read for children purport to be nonfiction, I wonder if kids will catch the distinction and hope the adults in their life will make that clear for them.





Activities:
     Read Beatrix Potter's books!
     Start a picture/letter diary.
     Discuss the responsibility involved in borrowing something.
     Draw a picture of something you love, and give it as a gift.
     Discuss PROPER pet care!! (Imagine a row of exclamation points here). There are many resources for this, but you can start perhaps with the generic information from the Veterinary Medical Association.
     Compare Beatrix Potter's life to your own. WebEnglish Teacher has lesson plans and teacher resources for grades 3-5. First School.ws has activities for pre-school readers.
     I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Note: I received a review copy from Random House in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig

     Time for a book birthday review.
     Out this week:

Title: Beatrix Potter & the Unfortunate
              Tale of a Borrowed Guinea Pig
Author: Deborah Hopkinson
Illustrator: Charlotte Voake
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade, February 2, 2016
Intended ages: 4-8
Themes: Literary figures, animals, death

Opening Line(s):
"My Dear Reader,
This is a story about a girl named Beatrix Potter and what happened when she borrowed her neighbor's guinea pig. So if you are about to lend your favorite hamster, snake, cat, turtle, or hedgehog, please wait!"

Synopsis: In homage to Beatrix Potter, a story of good intentions going awry when a young girl borrows a neighbor's pet for an artist's model.

     I have mixed feelings about this book. I don't know if my background affected my reading, but in case it did, here are the relevant bits. I lived in England for four years, and am a huge fan of Beatrix Potter's work.  Everyone hears Beatrix Potter and thinks about Peter Rabbit, but The Tale of Two Bad Mice is probably my  favorite. Go read it if you haven't. And I had three childhood guinea pigs (RIP Ginger, G.P., and Ruff). I also write for children, and belong to one particular group that focuses on nonfiction (so I hear Kristen Fulton's voice in my head while reading)
     I enjoyed the matter-of-fact way young Beatrix's life in late 1800's London is portrayed. The reader meets a young girl walking rabbits on a leash and bringing a huge menagerie of wild animals into the house with apparently no adult intervention or repercussions. Her permissive upbringing in a well-to-do home is, from what I know, an accurate reflection of her life.
     The pages reproduced (happily, in translated form) from her diary are interwoven seamlessly, propelling the story to the main event. Her picture diaries bring to mind today's books such as Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Timmy Failure and may serve to inspire a new generation of writer/artists.
     While, thankfully, I never killed any of my pets, the reality of such accidents feels realistic and sympathetic. But then I read the Author's Note. It is documented that Potter drew watercolors of guinea pigs around the time that this story is envisioned. However, Potter was 26 years old at the time, not a child. I had pictured a child's mistake as just that, a forgivable mistake borne of responding to her parents' call. The same actions committed by a 26-year old woman? Not as humorous. Would I have the same reaction if the author chose to focus on the death of the bat or family of snails Potter was also responsible for? Perhaps not.
     The book is an interesting period piece. I recently finished Leonard Marcus' biography of Margaret Wise Brown that refers to times when Margaret skinned dead animals, shocking the other children, also shattering the notion that women of earlier eras didn't live rough and tumble lives.
     I recommend this book to Beatrix Potter lovers. The author notes that except for her diary pages, all of the dialogue is invented. So is this a biography? The publisher says it is.
     I'd love to hear your thoughts!



Note: I received a review copy from Random House in exchange for my honest review. No other compensation was received.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, January 21, 2016

ARCTIC WHITE by Danna Smith #PPBF

After a brief holiday hiatus, I'm back with more picture book recommendations!     
With winter storm Jonas bearing down on the Mid-Atlantic, today is a gorgeous snowy pick.

TITLE: ARCTIC WHITE                           

Author: Danna Smith
Illustrator: Lee White
Publisher: Henry Holt & Company, 2016


FICTION
Intended age: 4-8
Themes: Arctic, Auroras

First lines: "When you live in the Arctic in winter, everything is a shade of white."

Synopsis: A young girl looks around her Arctic home, wondering where all the color has gone until her grandfather takes her out to see a nighttime surprise.

Why I like this Book:
      The first thing I like is quirky--but I loved looking under the dust jacket to see a different illustration! For me, it's like finding a hidden gift. And it's one of my favorites from inside the book, showing the girl and her dog.
      The lyrical language and subtly shaded art in the book is lovely! It's a book to read slowly, thinking about the text before turning the page. "The blue-white of the tundra. The yellow-white of the polar bear."
       When we lived overseas, my family was fortunate to visit Father Christmas in Saariselka, Finland, and see the northern lights. This book brings back memories. Daylight only lasted an hour or so, but despite a perpetual darkness the landscape gleamed in white.
      I read a few reviews of this title which wanted more specificity of place and cultural identity, but I didn't miss that. At first, I found the second person point of view a bit distancing, but that faded as I got into the story and overall I think it's a beautiful book about a part of the world and a natural phenomenon many people may not get to see firsthand. This book is a much warmer way to experience the Arctic!


Resources/Activities:

Let me know if this is on your reading list! I love to read your comments.

This review is part of PPBF (Perfect Picture Book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books. Organized and curated by author Susanna Leonard Hill, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Holiday Spirit

     Fridays are usually Perfect Picture Book Friday posts--but Susanna's Holiday story contest continues! Here's a second story to close out the week. I'll be heading to read the other stories soon with a cup of cocoa which should put me in the right mood to write some holiday cards.




THE HOLIDAY SPIRIT              by Wendy Greenley                 (285 words)

Sheltering among the crabapple trees in the little home’s side yard, the animals’ stomachs grumbled.

“Is this the right place? You said there would be food,” said Squirrel.

“It’s here! Smell the holiday spirit,” said Deer.

“Smells like pine. But there are no pine trees,” said Rabbit.

“That’s the decorations,” said Deer.

“Where’s the food?” Squirrel danced nervously overhead.

“The holidays are about sharing. See the holiday spirit?” asked Deer.

“Holiday spirit flashes on and off?” asked Rabbit.

“Sometimes it flashes, sometimes it glows. Sometimes holiday spirit shimmers by moonlight,” said Deer. 

Image courtesy of thegraphicsfairy.com
“I’m hungry!” said Squirrel.

“Be patient.” Deer pawed the ground.

The animals waited.

“Do you see any more petunias?” Squirrel whispered.

“Nope. We nibbled them to the ground last week,” said Deer.

“Any more hosta leaves? They’re my favorite,” Rabbit said.

“Nope. Last night’s frost turned them to mush,” said Deer.

“So, if you’re wrong—there’s nothing to eat!” Squirrel and Rabbit moaned together.

“Have faith!” said Deer. “I think I hear the holiday spirit.”

“Footsteps?” asked Squirrel.

“Run!” said Rabbit.

The animals did their best to blend in with the shadows.

“Here you go,” a voice said. “Before we built our home, this was your land. Thank you for sharing it. Happy holidays.”

The footsteps headed back to the house.

“How did you know the holiday spirit would bring us food?” Squirrel and Rabbit asked again.

“I didn’t,” admitted Deer. “But the holiday spirit is about hope, too. And I felt it.”

Squirrel took a big bite from the corn on the cob. “Holiday spirit tastes delicious.”

“Dibs on the carrot!” said Rabbit.

“We’re supposed to share.” Deer crunched an apple. “Never mind.”

The holiday spirit, and all its gifts, were delicious.

                                  --THE END--

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season filled with delicious moments. :)

Monday, December 7, 2015

Cookin' Up the Holiday Kid-style for Susanna Leonard Hill's Holiday contest!

     Susanna Leonard Hill is an amazing author. And not just for the books she writes, although those are great!
     She hosts a Friday picture book review where bloggers link their recommendations on her website. By participating in this I have become a critical picture book reader, and by reading all of the other blog posts, learned about a lot of great titles I might otherwise have missed.
     She hosts fun contests throughout the year. Writing to her prompts always puts a smile on my face.
     She teaches a FANTASTIC online course--Making Picture Book Magic--with interactive lessons.
     To make a long story short--she builds a community. So, a huge year-end thank you, Susanna.
    
     Sure, this time of year is busy. But I found myself writing story after story from this year's prompt. Perhaps blame it on Tara Lazar's piboidmo idea generation frenzy? Whatever. It's been a fun month. I may post more for you to enjoy.
For this one, I encourage you to sing along!


Cookin’ Up the Holiday Kid-style (apologies to Johnny Marks & Brenda Lee)
120 words (woot!) 
From our house to you!

Gatherin’ up ingredients
on a well-worn countertop.
Mom and Dad sick, no cookies made
for when Santa makes his stop.

Gatherin’ up ingredients,
clouds of flour fill the air.
Rolling pins race
to smooth the dough
and sprinkles spill everywhere.

Santa better have an iron stomach, if he hears voice’s yelling
“Wipe that booger! Cripes, we forgot to add sugar!”

Gatherin’ up ingredients
someone asks “do you smell smoke?”
Sticky fingers grab oven mitts,
everyone tries not to choke.

Santa better have an iron stomach, if he hears voice’s yelling
“Wipe that booger! Cripes, we forgot to add sugar!”

Gatherin’ up ingredients
Rush to beat the bed time call.
Santa’s note reads, “perhaps reindeer feed?”
Merry Christmas one and all!


    I won't be reading the other entries until after I decide whether to post any of my others, but I look forward to enjoying all of them eventually!
Thanks for stopping by to read. Hope it put a holiday smile on your face. :)

Friday, December 4, 2015

OUT of the WOODS - A true Story of an Unforgettable Event

    First of all, I hope everyone had a relaxing Thanksgiving holiday. It used to be my favorite holiday, but now that family is scattered across the country and we can't always be together for this long weekend, I have to give the nod to Christmas when with end of the year vacations saved up we are able to spend time together. 
     My book recommendation today isn't a Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Kwanzaa or Christmas title. But it stopped me with a sense of awe and magic which is a wonderful thing to share at any holiday. And the generational story-telling aspect took me home.                                  
Author/Illustrator: Rebecca Bond
Publisher: FS&G, Margaret Ferguson Books, 2015

FICTION
Intended age: 5-9 
Themes: Animals, Memoir

First lines: "Antonio Willie Giroux lived in Ontario, Canada, in the town of Gowganda, on the edge of Gowganda Lake, in a hotel his mother ran. It was not a fancy place in 1914, but it was big--three stories tall."

Synopsis: A young boy who hopes for more than half glimpses of the forest creatures gets his wish when a fire tears through the surrounding forest and the animals and the people of a small town, prey and predators, have to find safety. NOTE: Spoiler alert: The amazon.com and bn.com description/summary of this book as well as Kirkus and many of the Goodreads reviews give the story away.

Why I like this Book: This book appeals to the rule breaker in me!
     The book tells a story, but it feels more like a mood piece (rule broken!). The fairly wordy text (rule broken!) is used for extensive description rather than action (rule broken!) And it works beautifully with muted, almost monochromatic illustrations. Based on a story passed down by the author's grandfather, the book's dreamy mysterious feel was compelling. Despite the author's note, and the subtitle that the story is true, the book is shelved in fiction leaving the reader to wonder--did this really happen? It is lovely to think that it did. Not a quick read, it's a story that begs for pages to be poured over thoughtfully. There are three spreads in the height of the action that took my breath away. A reminder that we share this world with many and we're all in this together.

Resources/Activities:
      I didn't want to give the story climax away--which made it hard to suggest activities!
  • The Fire Protection Association has advice to create a fire plan for your home.
  • Organize a family story night. Go around the table and let everyone re-tell their favorite story about a real event that happened to them. Include several generations, if possible!
  • Draw pictures of favorite/memorable family moments
  • Think about an animal's Thanksgiving. How would it compare to your own?
  • Review the illustrations and compare life in the early 1900's to your own.
Let me know if this is on your reading list! I love to read your comments.

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF

Thursday, November 19, 2015

VINCENT PAINTS HIS HOUSE

   What a difference a week makes. Last week's library trip didn't reveal any Perfect Picture Book candidates. This week, my problem is deciding which one to feature! And the winner is:
Title: Vincent Paints His House                                      

Author/Illustrator: Tedd Arnold
Publisher: Holiday House, 2015

Intended age: 3-8 
Themes: Colors (fiction that is a concept book)

First lines: "Time to paint the house!
                      "Hmm . . ." said Vincent.
                     Vincent could not decide what color to use."

Synopsis: A series of animals that live on and around Vincent's house advise him to use their favorite color when he paints the house.

Why I like this Book: Look at the gorgeous cover! The colorful title alone had me hooked.
     And as an adult, I was like "wow, Vincent Van Gogh!"--but there's no mention of Van Gogh in the book. None. Zilch. The fact that the book is based on a real artist is a gem-of-a-secret for adults to share with young readers.
     The book uses a repetitive format, easy for young readers to predict and decode. And colors are considered in bold fresh out of the tube rainbows of related shades. It made me want to find an easel of my own to experiment with.

Resources/Activities:

Let me know if this is on your reading list! I love to read your comments.

This review is part of PPBF (perfect picture book Friday) where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's site. Along with tons of writing wisdom, she keeps an ever-growing list of Perfect Picture Books. #PPBF