Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Yes, yes, I realize that this book won numerous awards last year so this review is a bit behind the times.  But the book was recently recommended to me by a very enthusiastic 12-year-old so I had to pick it up...

The Invention of Hugo Cabret takes place in early 20th century Paris where a young and penniless orphan, Hugo, spends his days running the clocks in the train station and stealing food, and his nights working on a writing automaton in a tiny forgotten room inside the station.  Ever since his father died trying to fix the automaton he found in the attic of a museum, Hugo has been passionate about repairing it, hoping that the message the automaton will write will somehow be a message from his father.  To get the parts for his project, he steals mechanical toys from the little shop in the train station.  However, when the owner there, a mysterious and bitter old man, catches him in the act, Hugo enters into a new adventure- a far less lonely one- tangled with a cast of characters all connected to his beloved automaton.

Well, the first thing I was intrigued by in the story was (of course) the unique format of the half picture book/half novel.  I loved how Brian Selznick used the pictures to tell the story rather than just emphasize whatever the words are saying.  As a Francophile, I like the setting in Paris and I thought the illustrations were perfect.  Although I couldn't really identify with any of the characters, I think that the characters were almost incidental.  I felt that the emphasis of the story was on images (definitely supported by the use of pictures instead of words in so much of the story) and there were many images that will stay with me.  

The picture book (graphic novel?)/novel idea is quite unique.  I think Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix would have been easier to read with that combination.  Some of those fight/chase scenes were hard to follow! 

Any books you would like to see as hybrids?  Any picture book that could use more words or novels that could use pictures for part of the story?  

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Roxie and the Hooligans

I am a sucker for a good title; so when I saw Roxie and the Hooligans by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, I was absolutely constrained to read it.   

Roxie Warbler looks forward to every visit from her famous explorer uncle, Uncle Dangerfoot.  She sits attentively while he tells her family stories about the latest adventures that he and his employer, Lord Thistlebottom, have experienced.  Roxie hangs on his every word as well as the words of Lord Thistlebottom's Book of Pitfalls and How to Survive Them.  However, there is nothing in either her favorite book or her favorite uncle's stories to guide her through her bully problem at school.  Helvitia's Hooligans have chosen Roxie, with her large, round ears, as their victim of the year.  Roxie is embarrassed to talk to her parents about it because, as a niece of such a great adventurer, she ought to be able to figure out how to escape them.  One morning, as the Hooligans try their latest bit of meanness on Roxie, she and the Hooligans end up in the dumpster.  And as fate would have it, the dumpster is promptly picked up and dumped into the nearby ocean.  After Roxie and Helvitia's Hooligans swim to a conveniently located desert island, the survival tips Roxie has learned come in handy as she tries to band together with the Hooligans, forage for supplies and outwit two dastardly thieves hiding out on the island with them.  

This book was exhilarating!  My only disappointment was that it was such a quick read because I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The little survival tips were fun and watching Roxie carry them out made them even more so.  I loved watching the attitudes of the Hooligans change as Roxie gradually became their fearless leader.  And I liked the very gentle explanation of why the Hooligans were the way they were and Roxie's realization of how much better her life was.  Above all, her refusal to panic in the face of anything was quite inspiring.

What a deliciously fun book! 

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Shakespeare's Secret

Shakespeare's Secret is an example of me picking up a book to read completely because of its cover.  Publishers, take note: if you're having a tough time getting a book sold, have Brett Helquist illustrate the cover.  It worked on me.  Again.

Sixth-grader Hero Netherfield is used to being picked on for her name; it's happened everywhere she's lived.  Although her sister, Beatrice, also has a name inspired by Shakespeare, Hero is the one who always has a difficult time fitting in with others.  However, despite a daunting first day at her new school, Hero begins to like her new home after befriending her eccentric next-door neighbor, Mrs. Roth, who tells her of a mysterious diamond that may be hidden somewhere in her house.  When Hero teams up with Mrs. Roth and Danny, a laid-back eighth grader, she gets completely caught up in the town's biggest mystery.

I thought this book was completely fun from beginning to end!  I liked all the ties to Shakespeare and the Elizabethan era and how the book didn't venture too far into melodrama territory (as it certainly could have).  Hero was very likable; actually, all the characters, from popular Beatrice to Shakespeare-phile Mr. Netherfield were very likable.  The mystery was great and yet it was the little vignettes that I enjoyed the most: cinnamon toast at Mrs. Roth's house, the discussion of Anne Boleyn's seal, the skateboard/bicycle trip into downtown, etc.  And I, of course, loved the happily-ever-after end.  

I am looking forward to reading Elise Broach's newest release!  This book is highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Family Grandstand

Penderwicks-lovers: don't despair as you wait for book 3!  This lovely out-of-print gem will tide you over with its funny, charming and everyday slice-of-life stories. 

Family Grandstand centers on the Ridgeways, Susan, George and Irene (called "Dumpling" because of her "roundness in the middle").  It's football season in Midwest City and, seeing as their father is a professor at the university and they live in a house that overlooks the football field by means of a tower, the three are very involved in the excitement of it all.  From the first game of the season to homecoming, a lot else happens at the Ridgeway household including Susan learning how to deal with babysitting the Terrible Torrences, George adopting an immensely oversized dog and five very discontented turtles for his birthday, and Dumpling trying very, very hard to be very, very good after misunderstanding an overheard conversation.  All this is told with Carol Ryrie Brink's brand of dry humor and gentle literary slapstick.

I have been reading Ms. Brink's books since I was little, and this one, as well as the second in the series, Family Sabbatical, are among my favorites.  Her characters are completely three-dimensional and entirely identifiable.  I know there are plenty of children's book readers who don't like "old-timey" books and I imagine that they would probably categorize this book in that group.  But I guess I'd use the clichéd word "timeless" for this book; it's proven to be that for me!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Illustration in Chapter Books

I recently realized that the two books I just reviewed (and loved) were both illustrated by Drazen Kozjan.  Coincidence?  I think not.  

I know that, although the writing in both books is completely wonderful and enchanting on its own, there is an added magic in the lively pen and ink drawings supplied by Mr. Kozjan.  I am partial to illustrators, being partnered with one myself, and I am drawn (pardon the pun!) to books with marvelous illustrations!

I picked up Judy Moody initially because of Peter H. Reynolds' endearing art and Clementine because of Marla Frazee.  And I remember many books from my childhood through the pictures: The Bad Times of Irma Baumlein with Trina Schart Hyman's almost gothic interpretation of this completely hilarious story (definitely a to-review!), Elizabeth Enright's perfectly illustrated Melendy books in her sparse but warm style, The Alley with Edward Ardizzone's wispy and active vignettes (this lovely painting is his), Beth and Joe Krush's detailed illustrations for Gone Away Lake, the list goes on and on!  In some books, the illustrations are my favorite part; Spiderwick Chronicles illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi is definitely an example of that.  

Any chapter books where the illustrations particularly captivated you?

Monday, August 11, 2008

Diary of a Fairy Godmother

I checked out this book after reading a review at one of my favorite blogs, Tweendom.  After I completed it, I felt almost giddy with enjoyment of this book so, despite the fact that there are several very wonderful reviews of this book out on the blogosphere, I had to add my own.

Diary of a Fairy Godmother is the journal of a young witch-in-training (barely one hundred years old!), Hunky Dory, who is at the top of the class in her charm school.  Her mother is so proud of her; she brags to anyone who will listen that her daughter "will be the wickedest witch wherever the four winds blow!"  Her aunt says that if she "were ever stupid enough to have a daughter, she'd want one exactly like [her]."  Her classmates admire her and her teacher considers her her teacher's pet.  There is only one very real problem: Hunky Dory enjoys granting wishes!  Could this mean Hunky Dory is destined to be a, gasp, Fairy Godmother?  

This book was all kinds of fun from the first page to the very end!  The fractured fairy tale has practically become its own genre but Esmé Raji Codell takes it to the next level with delightful attention to detail in making the witchy world so complete in its oppositeness.  I enjoyed the illustrations by Drazen Kosjan- they fit the spirit of the story perfectly.  I also loved how she seamlessly worked in other traditional fairy tales and added a fresh spin to them.  One of the best parts of the book were the quotes from the textbook of witches Be the One With the Wand; I'm tempted to copy some of them down onto sticky notes for inspiration.  I thought it was a wonderful touch that Ms. Codell included a reading list of other "Magical Must-Reads" in the back (Eleanor Estes' The Witch Family is in there, one of my personal favorites). 

I am definitely adding this book to my canon of "Magical Must-Reads!" 

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing)

When I started this blog, I made a decision to write reviews only of books that I love for two reasons: one, because I don't want to spend any more time focusing on a book that I didn't care for in the first place, and two, because I know that I've read negative reviews of books I love and it really, really bothers me!  And I can only imagine that it would be infinitely more bothersome if the author himself read the negative review.  

Therefore, all my reviews are glowing and tend to use words like "enchanting," "delightful," etc.  But Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing) truly blew me away.  It left an impression on me similar to what some people feel after reading Siddhartha or On the Road or something; you'll see life differently after reading it and you're not sure why or how, just that it'll be different (at least that was the effect on me).  

The story is about Julia Gillian who spends her summer walking her dog, Bigfoot, visiting her neighbors and trying to win a stuffed meerkat from the claw machine in the local hardware store.  Shadowing her enjoyable summer days is an unfinished green book bound by hair bands- a book Julia Gillian is afraid to complete because she is certain it has an unhappy ending.  Also clouding her summer is the fact that her parents are too distracted by their graduate schooling and the bad news in the paper to spend their days with her like they used to.  However, with the help of her wise friend, Enzo, her loyal dog and her raccoon papier-mâché mask, Julia Gillian succeeds in, if not conquering her fears, at least learning how to live with them.

Sad-ending-phobic from childhood and a newspaper-avoider through adulthood, I identified completely with this memorable heroine.  I am certain I could be best friends with Alison McGhee.  I thoroughly loved this book- it was 100% perfect.  And, although I will not divulge the end to Julia Gillian's green book, I can tell you that Julia Gillian (and the Art of Knowing) has an ending that is even better than a happy ending.  If that's possible.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Granny Torelli Makes Soup

I've been trying to blog about once a month but having just read Granny Torelli Makes Soup (and loved it), plus this is, conveniently, almost smack dab in the middle of the month, I'm going to try to blog twice a month.  Just so I can write about this wonderful book.

The two-part (Soup and Pasta) story is about a girl, Rosie, and a fight she has with her best friend-from-forever, Bailey, who lives next door.  In the first part, Rosie's Granny Torelli is over making soup while Rosie's parents are late at work.  While they cook, Granny tells Rosie stories of a childhood friend in Italy to help Rosie sort through her Bailey problem.  The second part tells of Bailey, Rosie and her beloved Granny making pasta while they work through another complication in their friendship with Granny's marvelous stories and wisdom.  Of course, everything ends up happily, and (as seems to be the case in Sharon Creech's books- with the notable exception of the tearjerking Walk Two Moons) even better than the reader hoped.

I feel compelled to describe the book as "heartwarming;" it's the perfect way to sum up its charms.    It is feather-light with snippets of depth so delightful, I thought I should write them down!  I am also partial to books that deal with food and Granny Torelli works it in so perfectly, you hardly notice that you've begun to smell the chicken soup cooking while you're reading the book.  The issues are relatable and are conveyed in an ageless manner; it's something that could apply to anyone whether they were fifteen or fifty-five.  It's told in a lyrical style- almost poetic- and even takes several unexpected turns in a story that seems almost familiar in its comfortableness.  

If books could be made into afghans, this is a book I'd choose to wrap around me on cold nights...

Thursday, July 3, 2008


It seems perhaps redundant to write a review about a series that has been on the bestseller lists for a while.  However, I was so thoroughly enthralled by the series that I can't help but write an entry for the latest books to completely eat up hours of my day!  

Fablehaven is about two children, Kendra and Seth, who are preparing for a boring two weeks when they are sent to stay with their grandfather while their parents go on a cruise.  Their grandfather severely restricts their access to the seemingly unending grounds to the yard (filled with rare and exotic butterflies) and the house. Seth's rebellion and Kendra's curiosity lead them to discover that the preserve is dedicated to the protection of magical creatures that have been gradually pushed off their lands by ever expanding human development; Fablehaven, the name of the preserve their grandfather owns, is home to creatures such as fauns, fairies, naiads and centaurs.  Once their grandfather sees that they are open to the wonder and magic of Fablehaven, he includes them on adventures (and they have some of their own without his permission, of course) that grow in danger and excitement as well as consequence to the magical and nonmagical world.

I won't reveal any more about the plot because I would absolutely hate to spoil any of the many plot twists.  The characters are perfect, the suspense gripping and the descriptions are so complete, I can see them in my head clearly.  The battle and action scenes were so vivid, I had no trouble following every thrilling move (and biting all my fingernails off in the process).  

For someone who has read more than their fair share of YA and children's fantasy, this book took me completely by surprise.  I literally read the entire first book in one evening, contemplated calling out sick the following day so I could buy and read the second book and then went out and promptly purchased the third book to tear through the third night.  

I loved that Brandon Mull doesn't needlessly kill characters to which the reader has grown attached and that he manages to give weight and proportion to even the slightest of characters.  I particularly loved Kendra- I often have trouble with the fact that girls are typically (not always, I know, Mr. Pullman) given supporting roles and if they're given lead roles, they're either the damsel in distress or belligerently boyish.  Kendra is all girl and yet strong, courageous and her character traits (ones at which a more aggressive heroine would scoff) are what end up saving Fablehaven time and again.

I loved all three books.

I can barely wait until April 2009.  

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Henry Reed, Inc.

When I began this blog, my intention was to review not only new releases, but also some favorites that have been out for years- even out-of-print titles- to bring awareness to the marvelous books that nobody talks about.  However, I've been mostly reviewing more recently released books because there have been so many great ones released.  So, in time for summer, I'm reviewing a great summer read that was released years ago but is still completely wonderful!

Henry Reed, Inc. is the first of a series of books by Keith Robertson about a boy who lives abroad with his diplomat parents and spends his summers with his good-natured aunt and uncle in a small town in New Jersey called Grover's Corner.  Henry's teacher has assigned his class to write reports about their summers and so the book is a first-person record of Henry's experiences in the US.  Part of the assignment was to discuss how American children earn money so the first thing Henry decides to do is start a business.  The business he decides to start is research and development; he teams up with a neighborhood girl, Midge, and the two spend the summer with various schemes to raise money under the broad umbrella of research and development.  Through the course of the summer, they have adventures with everything from truffle hunting to discovering oil in their backyard.  And they even end up making $40 each- which, then, was quite a feat.

The best part of these books (since Henry Reed, Inc. is simply the first of many) is the voice by which they are told.  No matter what crazy predicament they get themselves into, and they get themselves into many, Henry calmly discusses it- seeing everything in the most literal and serious manner (after a summer of  things like causing the power in the entire neighborhood to go out, causing a traffic jam with a riding lawnmower and a bathtub and unleashing a rabbit on an unsuspecting mailman, Henry closes the book by describing his time in New Jersey as "a quiet summer").  Midge contrasts with his practical and matter-of-fact nature by being delightfully over-the-top and wacky.  The reader gets the irony of the narration while thoroughly enjoying the mishaps the two (along with their faithful beagle, Agony) get into.  No matter what book it is or what insane project they are working on (babysitting services, orchestrating a colossal show), nothing feels more like summer than enjoying their hilarious fun!  

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

Have you ever read a book where you actually sighed aloud with utter satisfaction?  The Penderwicks on Gardam Street was such a book.  Reminding me of my very favorite authors- Enright, Eager, Estes, Brink-while filled with completely unique characters, The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, was both familiar and fresh.

This book is a sequel to The Penderwicks and, as much as I enjoyed the first book, I completely loved the second book.  After a brief preface, the sequel picks up the autumn where the first book left off.  The girls' favorite aunt comes to visit with an earth-shattering mission- she wants the girls' beloved father to begin dating again for the first time since his wife passed away from cancer.  The aunt requires that he go on four dates before he give up the dating idea.  The sisters are greatly opposed to the idea of a stepmother so this inspires the creative sisters to come up with a "Save-Daddy Plan" to set him up on four terrible dates.  Of course, hijinks ensue (including an adorable inside joke for Jane Austen fans) and although the reader can probably confidently predict the ending, it's getting there that's the fun! 

The book was so wonderful!  I loved the main plot, I loved the subplots and I loved loved the characters!  My personal taste in books leads to what my fiancé calls "slice of life" plots- books where there are neither magic and suspense nor tragedies and drama- just little, identifiable snapshots of everyday living.  Examples of these authors are Eleanor Estes, Elizabeth Enright, Carol Ryrie Brink, Patricia MacLachlan and I think Jeanne Birdsall can now be classed with these other captivating, favorite storytellers.  The only parts of the book I didn't care for, in fact, are the parts where it did get into drama and tragedy when recalling the mother's death from cancer.  Fortunately, that didn't happen too much so I was able to curl up and completely eat up the book with every bit of delight.  Definitely a book I'm rotating into my revolving favorite-book-list (books that I read over and over and over...).

Thank you SO MUCH, Ms. Birdsall, for giving me such an enchanting reading experience!  I've read on your blog that you plan to write three more books and I can't wait!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Crooked Kind of Perfect

A brief history of my reading Linda Urban's A Crooked Kind of Perfect: I had prepared myself not to like the book; I'm not a big fan of drama in kids' literature and the content lent itself to drama (mother works all the time, father has OCD, she's an outcast at school) so I feared that the book would take itself too seriously.  But one of my favorite bloggers, ShelfTalker, raved about it so much that I grudgingly checked it out of the library.

And the book blew me away.  So fabulous I got goosebumps multiple times.

The story is about Zoe Elias who has grand visions of playing the piano in Carnegie Hall after watching a PBS special about Vladimir Horowitz.  Since Horowitz makes his debut at 17-years-old, Zoe figures that (since she is almost 11) she has six years to learn how to play piano perfectly; a chance to wear a tiara, long gloves and maybe get her distracted mother's attention and admiration.  However her well-meaning father gets overwhelmed while trying to purchase the piano and ends up buying an organ from the mall- the Perfectone D-60- instead of the shiny grand piano she has been daydreaming about.  Since six months of free lessons are included, Zoe begins by learning how to play t.v. themes and 70s pop tunes.  Her enthusiasm to learn and passionate practicing prompts her teacher (Ms. Mabelline Person- pronounced "Per-saaahn") to register her for the annual Perform-O-Rama organ competition.  Now if she can only focus on her practice while dealing with her father's neuroses, her best friend's ambivalence, her new friend- a boy, her mother's hectic schedule and her own insecurities.  

This book amazed me.  It was the perfect snapshot-of-childhood story with humor and poignancy but poignancy that was never heavyhanded.  I couldn't stop talking about it and trying (unsuccessfully) to relate parts of the book to anyone who would listen to my meandering until I said, "Well, you should read it, that's all."

I don't know what else I can say about it.  You should read it, that's all.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Iris, Messenger

Okay, I just finished this book and I loved it!  Iris, Messenger, by Sarah Deming, tells the story of a middle schooler named Iris Greenwold who lives with her mother in Middleville, Pennsylvania.  Iris, like many other protagonists, hates going to school and really doesn't have any friends but she loves daydreaming and does her best to just get through the day avoiding detentions.  Which she is not very good at.  

Slight Spoiler Alert
Then on her twelfth birthday she receives a copy of Bullfinch's Mythology and is captured by the stories as well as the notes scribbled in the margins.  Of course the notes lead her to the world of gods and goddesses living right in her hometown, carrying on their own lives and trying their hardest to do a job similar to their immortal powers: Aphrodite owns a beauty shop, Hephaestus works as a mechanic, Artemis is a private detective and, my personal favorite, Hades is the principal of Iris's middle school ("Middle school is the closest thing we've found to hell."  How great is that quote!?).  Greek myths are woven throughout the story as the deities help Iris to discover her identity as well as help Iris's mother (a soybeantologist) get her job back.  

The book was a completely exhilarating read.  Iris had a delightful personality and the story was both witty and poignant.   I also love books where the author redeems the characters from another story (The Game by Diana Wynne Jones is another) and Deming kindly saves the poor, dilapidated Greek gods and goddesses from their tragic lives to a happily ever after in a hilarious epilogue (and I would have been very jealous of Iris's happy ending in my middle school years, that's for certain).  I actually learned more about myths from this fun book (and I considered myself an intermediate myth-lover, if not an expert); I can't wait until Ms. Deming comes out with another.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman

This quirky and action-packed story is about a ten-and-a-half-year-old girl named Alex (who is constantly being confused with being a boy because of her short hair, feisty attitude and dislike for skirts) who lives with her kindly uncle and goes to a prestigious private school (because her uncle is on the Board).  Although she loves learning, she dislikes school because of her shallow classmates and her old-fashioned teachers.  But this all changes when she gets a brand-new teacher, Mr. Underwood, just as she begins sixth grade, who teaches her to fence and use correct grammar.  Alex and her uncle befriend the teacher and he reveals to them that he is heir to an enormous hidden treasure garnered by his piratical great-great-great-grandfather, the infamous Wigpowder.

Slight Spoiler Alert
Of course, the current infamous pirate Steele kidnaps Mr. Underwood so as to have to treasure for herself, kills Alex's uncle and leaves Alex homeless.  Whereupon, Alex sets off to find her favorite teacher (taken aboard the notorious pirate ship, The Ironic Gentleman) and rescue him.  Her journey takes her on a number of adventures, from placating a ginormous Octopus to becoming a mind-reading personal assistant to rescuing a train of partiers having their souls stolen from them.  Naturally, the story concludes on the high seas in a swashbuckling climax.

Alex and the Ironic Gentleman was action-packed and took many unexpected twists and turns, (I was particularly intrigued by the moral dilemma Alex struggles with during her captivity on the pirate ship).  I enjoyed the unusual experiences and the chummy tone of the author- similar to E. Nesbit- as well as the very well-defined characters.  And anyone who has ever gotten yelled at (or whispered at) when visiting a museum will enjoy the comeuppance of the villainous Daughters of the Founding Fathers' Preservation Society.

The one problem I had with the book was the amount of character casualties. I know that the Harry Potter books, especially the final one, had no problem killing off many of the readers' favorite characters; J. K. Rowling said it was to exhibit the horrors of war.  Yet this book didn't really go as dark and foreboding as the Potter series; having characters, side characters or otherwise, drop like flies was a bit disturbing.  I like happy endings and everyone coming out okay.   

If Ms. Kress decides to release another novel, I will certainly read it- I loved her page-turning plot and her larger than life characters.  Yet I will be careful not to get too attached to any characters in the story... just in case.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The End of the Beginning

I actually had the opportunity to meet Avi in person at a book talk and I told him that my absolute favorite of his books was The End of the Beginning.  He sighed resignedly (clearly he has heard that before) and said it was a book he wrote over the course of several days.  He was trying to help a friend and aspiring author by telling him how easy it was to write, saying that he could complete a book in one day.  He said that although he wasn't quite able to finish it in one day, he did finish it within a week!

It makes complete sense to me that my favorite (sorry, Avi!) of Avi's books, The End of the Beginning, was written in a brief amount of time.  The End has a sweet and light touch and there is no evidence of over-thinking and complicating.  Its collection of vignettes contrasts with the more elaborate plot lines of his other books.  It concerns a snail named Avon as he leaves his cozy home looking for adventures with his new friend, an ant named Edward.  The events that follow, while adventuresome to the heros, are humorous to the readers: guarding a caterpillar in her cocoon, dueling another snail, teaching a cricket a new song and, biggest of all, discovering the end (the beginning?) of the branch they've set out on.  

The language is clever and endearing and Tricia Tusa's illustrations are precious.  The whole book has a Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet spirit and the illustrations even evoke Ernest H. Shepard's whimsical style.  It's a quick, refreshing and delightful read.  
Very highly recommended!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio

This was Lloyd Alexander's final book he wrote before he passed away so I felt a little sentimental reading it.  He is definitely a beloved author of mine and I hoped that it would be genuine Alexander goodness.  It has a lot of his trademarks: a ne'er-do-well hero on a quest, a feisty, quick-tempered love interest, a journey that is more than it seems and ruthless, cutthroat villains (led by one particularly ruthless, cutthroat villain). 

Slight spoiler alert...The story concerns a lazy dreamer, Carlo, who discovers a treasure map in the back of a book of fairy tales.  After his hardworking uncle tosses him out because of one mishap too many, Carlo decides that it is the perfect opportunity to find the treasure on the "Road of Golden Dreams."  Along the way he joins up with a diverse cast of characters, chief among them, the fiery Shira, the wise Salamon and Baksheesh, a smooth-talking conman who ends up having a heart of gold.  Of course, Carlo also manages to make mortal enemies and endanger his life and the lives of his companions but, like all Alexander's books, it has the happy, "everything turns out for the best" ending. 

I enjoyed this book; Alexander is brilliant at creating a world that is at once intriguing in its foreignness and then comfortable in its familiarity.  However, I thought the characters lacked the spark of those in his other marvelous books: The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha, The Arcadians, The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian, etc.  Also, there was a bit more "moral" than in his other books and the adventure didn't have as much suspense and humor as some of his others.  Yet, it was still an engrossing read and I would certainly recommend it. 
 But I'd also recommend picking up a copy of Sebastian on the same trip...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Castle Corona

This book, like the other Sharon Creech books I've read, left me with a feeling of delight.  Somehow, I always think that the books are going to be heavy and dramatic but she  has a gentle and lighthearted touch (at least in the books I've read of hers- The Wanderer and Bloomability) with an overall feeling of optimism.

The Castle Corona is a fairy tale without witches, magic or scary forests.  Instead it concerns two peasant children, the wise and imaginative Pia and her little brother, trusting and energetic Enzio, who spend their dreary days dreaming about living in the golden castle.  Inside the beautiful castle, however, is a family of royals also dissatisfied with their lives and dreaming about lives filled with more excitement or leisure (depending which royal is doing the dreaming!).  
One day Pia and Enzio find a pouch that was dropped by a thief from the castle, turning both the town and the castle upside-down.  The rest of the story unfolds, revealing the characters' different dreams, fears and endearing quirks.

The story is completely delightful, the characters are unique and yet identifiable, the tone is tender and whimsical with a whisper of a wisdom.  David Diaz's illuminated text is a beautiful touch.  Despite the lack of any suspenseful or dangerous conflict, I couldn't put the book down.  Her playful and humorous style reminded me a bit of Carol Ryrie Brink's fantasy stories.

I thoroughly enjoyed it!  If you've read it, feel free to comment!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Four Story Mistake...

I wanted to write a blog about all the wonderful children's books I've read (at least some of them) because often I'll finish a fantastic book and think, "Oh, I so want to talk to someone about this!"  But fellow children's book fanatics are difficult to find, so I thought I'd go online and find a (hopefully) gentle and enthusiastic audience...  

Some of my very favorite children's lit is from a while ago (as in the inspiration for my blog title) or out-of-print.  However, most books are still available via Amazon so some of those long-lost treasures will get their reviews as well.  

Looking forward to blogging with you!