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1. Review – How Big is Too Small? by Jane Godwin and Andrew Joyner

How Big is Too Small?, Jane Godwin (author), Andrew Joyner (illus.), Penguin, 2015.   Can size hold you back? Can size determine your value? Everyone and everything, from the miniscule to the enormous, has a place in this world. We all have important jobs to do. But Sam wonders – “How big is too small?” […]

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2. The Far Side of Evil

The Far Side of Evil. Sylvia Engdahl. 1971/2003. Penguin. 336 pages. [Source: Library]

The wind is howling through the trees outside, a cold, hateful wind. By standing on the bunk I can just barely reach the window. It's quite dark now, and the stars are brilliant, though they seem terribly far away. They, at least, are familiar and comforting, a reminder of home.
Elana, our heroine, has just graduated from the Federation Anthropological Service Academy. Her first "official" assignment has her going undercover on the youngling planet, Toris. The planet is in the "Critical Stage," and the Federation is sending dozens of agents in undercover. It's an information gathering mission, not one of intervention. The goal: blend in as much as possible with the Younglings, and transmit your observations when possible. It's dangerous because if Toris goes critical--uses nuclear weapons--then all the agents are essentially just as doomed as the younglings themselves. The only other agent Elana knows is another recent graduate. His name is Randil. He's a mess.

Toris has two "warring" governments, which is putting the planet in "Critical Stage." Elana's cover gets blown, and she's captured as a spy. The book is her report of how she become imprisoned and how she's handling the daily torture.

The premise of Far Side of Evil is simple. All civilizations--all planets--evolve through a critical stage, a stage where they choose to use their technology for weapons--nuclear warfare--or they choose to use their technology to go to the stars, to explore and colonize space.

Did I like The Far Side of Evil? Not really. Why? That's a good question. Was it because the chapters were way too long? Perhaps. Was it because it lacked the charm of The Enchantress From the Stars? Perhaps. I will say that Enchantress from the Stars has an almost fairy-tale feel to it in places. It reads like a fantasy book. Was it Randil's fault? Probably. He certainly proves irritating and infuriating. But it wasn't his fault alone. I also found Elana's narration to be less than ideal. I found her to be smug, arrogant, condescending, and repetitive. Why was Elana so likeable in Enchantress from the Stars and so unlikeable in Far Side of Evil? I think in the first book she was more vulnerable, and less confident in her abilities. She wasn't alone. She was acting under the advice of other older-and-wiser Federation agents, including her father. Both books are premise-driven to a certain extent; but Far Side of Evil is only premise-driven, and Enchantress from the Stars is plot-driven and character-driven too.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales

The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales. Franz Xaver Von Schonwerth. Translated by Maria Tatar. 2015. Penguin. 288 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I loved reading this collection of newly discovered fairy tales. Franz Xaver Von Schronwerth was a contemporary of  the Grimm brothers. His fairy tales were collected in the 1850s in Bavaria. His manuscripts were recently rediscovered--or discovered--and translated into English.

The book is divided into six sections: "Tales of Magic and Romance," "Enchanted Animals," "Otherworldly Creatures," "Legends," "Tall Tales and Anecdotes," and "Tales About Nature." Some sections have more stories than others.

Most of the stories tend to be short. How short is short? Well, the shortest in the collection are just one page. (Plenty are three pages or so.)

Commentary is provided for each story at the back of the book. The commentary provides context for the story, often describing the type of story it is, and what other stories it's like. 

I found the book to be a quick read and a delightful one. I enjoyed reading all the stories. It was a fun way to spend the weekend.

Is it for children? No. Probably more for adults. But I think that's a good thing. Adults need treats too.

The Turnip Princess
One day a prince lost his ways in the woods. He found shelter in a cave and slept there for the night. When he woke up, an old woman was hovering over him. She had a bear by her side and treated it like a pet dog. The old woman was very kind to the prince. She wanted him to live with her and become her husband. The prince did not like her at all, but he was unable to leave. (3)
The Talking Bird, The Singing Tree, and The Sparkling Stream
A nobleman had three daughters, each more beautiful than the next. One day the girls were sitting in the royal gardens, chattering away about their wishes and dreams. The eldest wanted to marry the king's counselor, the second hoped to marry his chamberlain, and the third declared that she would be quite satisfied with the king himself. It happened that the king was also in the gardens, and he overheard the entire conversation. He summoned the three sisters to ask them what they had been talking about in the garden. The first two confessed everything; the youngest was less eager to do so. But then all at once the king declared: "Your three wishes will be granted." (71)
The Three Spindles
A young farmer's daughter got herself in trouble, and her parents threw her out of the house. She wandered around aimlessly until finally, in desperation, she sat down on a tree stump with three crosses carved into it. She began to weep. Suddenly a wood sprite raced toward her, pursued by a group of frenzied hunters. The girl jumped to her feet to make room for the sprite, for she knew that it would find safety there from what where known as the devil's hunters, hordes of demons that rode in with the winter storms. (107)
The Mouse Catcher, or, The Boy and the Beetle
Once there was a village so badly infested with mice that no one knew what to do. A stranger arrived in town and told the farmers that he would be able to get rid of the mice. They promised him a generous reward in return. The stranger pulled out a little whistle and blew into it. All the mice in the village ran after the man, who took them to a big pond, where they all drowned. The stranger returned to the village and asked for his reward. But the farmers refused to give him the full amount. The man blew into another little whistle, and this time all the children in the village came running after him. (175)
The Talker
There once lived a couple, and they were both stupid is as stupid does. The wife ruled the roost, and one day she sent her husband to the marketplace to sell their cow. "Whatever you do, don't sell it to talker," she shouted as he was going out the door. "Did you hear me? Don't sell it to talker." Her husband promised to do just as she had said. (187)
Sir Wind and His Wife
The wind and his wife were both present at the creation of the world. The two were overweight, and on top of that, Sir Wind had a long beard that wrapped around his body three times. Still, both were able to pass easily through a mere crack in a wall, or any opening at all, for that matter. (205)
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. The Greatest Gatsby

Literary editors of both The Australian and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers commented about words and grammar in their columns this weekend. The Greatest Gatsby: A Visual Book of Grammar (Viking, Penguin) is a very clever way to help everyone understand words and grammar. Tobhy Riddle is one of Australia’s notable picture book illustrators, with works […]

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5. Review of the Day: Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon

Castle Hangnail
By Ursula Vernon
Dial (an imprint of Penguin Group)
ISBN: 978-0803741294
Ages 8-11
On shelves April 21st

These are dark times for children’s fantasy. Dark times indeed. Which is to say, when I pick up a fantasy novel for kids, more often than not I find the books filled with torture, violence, bloody blood, and other various unpleasant bits and pieces. And honestly? That is fine. There are a lot of kids out there who lap up gore like it was mother’s milk. Still, it’s numbing. Plus I really wish that there was more stuff out there for the younger kiddos. The ones who have entered the wide and wonderful world of children’s fantasy and would rather not read about trees eating people or death by cake. Maybe they’d like something funny with lovable characters and a gripping plot. Even Harry Potter had its dark moments, but in the early volumes the books were definitely for the younger readers. Certainly we have the works of Eva Ibbotson and Ruth Chew, but newer books are always welcome, particularly if they’re funny. Maybe that’s part of the reason why Castle Hangnail blew me away as much as it did. Here we have a story that knows exactly what it is, what it wants to do, and manages to be hilarious and charming all at the same time. If you like your children’s fantasy novels full of psychotic villains and mind-numbing action sequences, seek ye elsewhere. This one’s for the kids.

To some, Castle Hangnail might appear to be a “pathetic rundown little backwater” but to the minions who live there it’s home. A home desperately in need of a new Master and Mistress. After all, if they don’t get someone soon the castle might be sold off and destroyed. Maybe that’s why everyone has such mixed feelings at first when Molly appears. Molly is short and young and wearing some very serious black boots. She looks like a 12-year-old kid and Majordomo, the guardian of the castle, is having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that she’s supposed to be their new Wicked Witch. Yet when he gives her the necessary tasks to make Castle Hangnail her own, Molly appears to have a couple tricks up her sleeve. She may have her secrets but everything seems to be okay . . . that is until the REAL master of Castle Hangnail arrives to claim it.

Basically what we have here is Downton Abbey for kids, albeit with significantly more dragon donkeys (and isn’t Majordomo SUCH a Carson?). This raises the question of where precisely this book takes place. Remembering that author Ursula Vernon herself is not actually British, one supposes that the story could be read as a U.S. tale. Due to its distinct Eva Ibbotson flavor, the initial inclination is to see the book as British. Our picturesque little towns pale in comparison to their picturesque little towns, and we’ve far fewer castles lying about the place. Still, there’s no reason it couldn’t be American. After all, I’ve seen many an American author fall into the trap of putting cockney characters into their books for no apparent reason. Vernon has a good head on her shoulders. She’s not falling for that game.

Truly a book like this hinges on the characters created. If you don’t believe in them or don’t like them then you won’t want us to follow them into your tale. You have to sympathize with Majordomo, even when he does some unfortunate things. You have to like Molly, even when you don’t initially understand her back-story. It takes a little while but Vernon also makes it clear how someone can be wicked as opposed to evil. “Wicked was turning somebody into an earwig and letting them run around for a week to give them a good scare. Evil was turning someone into an earwig and then stepping on them.” An evil heroine is tricky to love. A wicked one is on par with your average 12-year-old reader.

Speaking of characters, Vernon makes some very interesting narrative choices as well. For example, our heroine is introduced to us for the first time on page six. However around Chapter 33 she disappears from the storyline and really doesn’t appear again until Chapter 39. You have to have a very strong supporting cast to get away with that one. It would be a lot of fun to ask kid readers who their favorite character was. Did they prefer Pins or his neurotic goldfish? The minotaurs or the moles? Me, I like ‘em all. The whole kooky gang. For a certain kind of reader, there’s going to be a lot of allure to having minions as lovable as these.

Even the lightest bit of middle grade fluff needs a strong emotional core to keep it grounded. If there’s nothing to care for then there’s nothing to root for. For me, the heart of this particular tale lies in Molly’s relationship with the evil sorceress (and teenaged) Eudaimonia. Lots of kids have the experience of wanting to befriend someone older and meaner. The desire to please can lead a person to act unlike themselves. As Molly says, “It’s like a weird kind of magic . . . Like a spell that makes you feel like it’s all your fault.” Molly also wrestles with being different from her kittens and sparkles loving twin and so the theme of finding yourself and your own talents come to the fore.

And now a word in praise of humor. Funny is hard. Funny fantasy? That’s even harder. Vernon has always blown away the competition in the hilarity department. Pick up any “Danny Dragonbreath” comic and you’ll see what I’m talking about. She can sustain a narrative for an early chapter book, sure, but full-blown novels are a different kettle of fish (is that a mixed metaphor?). So how does she do? You’d swear she’d been churning these puppies out for years. Here are three of my favorite lines in celebration:

- “Harrow was one of those people who is born mean and continues to lose ground.”

- “Magic was a requirement in a new Master, unless you were a Mad Scientist, and Molly didn’t look like the sort to hook lightning rods up to cadavers while wild Theremins wailed in the background.”

- “For there are very powerful spells that are very simple, but unless you happen to be the right sort of person, they will not work at all. (And a good thing too. You can raise the dead with five words and a hen’s egg, but natural Necromancers are very rare. Fortunately they tend to be solemn, responsible people, which is why we are not all up to our elbows in zombies).”

Parents wander into the children’s room of a library. They ask the librarian at the desk to recommend a fantasy novel for their 8-year-old. “Nothing too scary”, they say. “Maybe something funny. Do you have anything funny?” Until now the librarian might try a little Ibbotson or a touch of E.D. Baker. Perhaps a smattering of Jessica Day George would do. Still, of all of these Castle Hangnail appeals to the youngest crowd. At the same time, it can be equally enjoyed by older kids too. Smart and droll, it’s the fantasy you’ve always wanted to hand to the 10-year-old Goth girl in your life (along with, let’s face it, everybody else you know). A true crowd pleaser.

On shelves April 21st.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews: Views From the Tesseract

Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus

 

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3 Comments on Review of the Day: Castle Hangnail by Ursula Vernon, last added: 4/12/2015
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6. stripes and bows...

©the enchanted easel 2014

©the enchanted easel 2014























and a sweet little penguin named alaska!

that's what's been on the easel this week...in honor of my favorite season, which is right around the corner...WINTER! :)

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7. so....

i'm thinking a penguin would make the perfect pet for me...considering we both LOVE arctic weather! :)


sweet little alaska...a very stylish and fashion savvy penguin, if i do say so myself. 

{probably taking a page from my book, she is...;)}

she will be available FOR SALE very soon (as a PRINT)...and for the first time all year, i will be offering the ORIGINAL PAINTING-FOR SALE as well.

arctic cuteness~coming soon! :)



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8. a fashion savvy little penguin...

truly a bird after my own heart!

meet little alaska, a sweet and stylish little penguin. from her striped scarf and her pink bow...well, let's just say i may have been her inspiration. i mean, i do LOVE me some bows and the color pink. 'nuff said! ;)

she is FOR SALE AS A PRINT FOUND THROUGH THE SHOP LINKS HERE:

also, (wait for it...wait for it....) for the first time all year i am offering the ORIGINAL PAINTING FOR SALE! she is sized at an 8x8 (a perfect square-my favorite shape...just sayin') and is painted in brightly colored acrylics on a .75 gallery wrapped canvas. i made sure to seal her with a nice matte varnish to keep her happy and healthy through those long cold arctic winters. ;)

EMAIL ME AT enchantedeasel@yahoo.com IF INTERESTED IN PURCHASING THE ORIGNAL PAINTING! please be sure to put ALASKA in the subject line. please...and thank you.

up next...well her faithful and dapper little companion, aspen, of course! ;)

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9. this little guy...


©the enchanted easel 2014

 he's what's on the easel this week!

another penguin...coming soon! :)

{dapper little fella he is...}














©the enchanted easel 2014

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10. little Aspen...

aspen penguin
©the enchanted easel 2014
bringing a bit of dapperness to the month of december! :)

this is my last official painting for the year 2014...and wow, what a year it has been! from my upgrade/evolution in painting style to the rebuilding of my site and opening some new (online) shops, well i like to think it's been a pretty productive year! now...BRING ON 2015 'cause this girl is READY!!!

ok, back to little Aspen here {sorry to steal your thunder there for a minute, little buddy...;)}. he is FOR SALE AS A PRINT at the shops found here:

also...i am offering the ORIGINAL PAINTING FOR SALE as well! *EMAIL ME AT THE ADDY LISTED ON THE CONTACT PAGE OF MY WEBSITE IF INTERESTED*. he has a little girlfriend, named Alaska (pictured below) 
alaska penguin
©the enchanted easel 2014

and she is also FOR SALE! if interested in the ORIGINAL PAINTINGS as a set, i would be more than happy to accommodate you at a discounted price for the both of them. just send me an email and we can make it happen! 


i'll be posting some sketches and some finished drawings (which i will be offering up FOR SALE) for the rest of december! until then...

"LET IT SNOW! LET IT SNOW! LET IT SNOW!" :)

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11. Review: Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl Dreamingby Jacqueline Woodson. Nancy Paulsen Books, published by the Penguin Books. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

The Plot: Woodson uses poetry to tell the story of her childhood, growing up in the 1960s and 1970s. She was born in Ohio; moved to South Carolina; and later to New York City. It's a story of Woodson growing up, and learning more about the world around her, and learning how to process that world using words and stories.

The Good: First, yes, this book is wonderful. Perfect. Amazing. I was so, so happy to see it selected as the National Book Award Winner for Young People's Literature. I mean, there is so much out there that already establishes this as terrific, what do I have to add to the conversation?

Brown Girl Dreaming starts with Woodson's birth in 1963:

I am born in Ohio but
the stories of South Carolina already run
like rivers
through my veins.

Brown Girl Dreaming is a look at what shapes one girl, born in Ohio in 1963, following her childhood until about fifth grade. And so on one level, the "obvious" level, it's a book aimed at those who are the child-Woodson's age.

It's also about a young African American girl in the 1960s and 1970s, living both in the South and the North, and her many worlds: the world of immediate family of mother and siblings, the bigger world of grandparents and aunts and uncles, the world of friends and school, and then civil rights and what that meant, or didn't mean. And all those things, while being told by a child, are things that readers of all ages are interested in.

For Brown Girl Dreaming, the age of the protagonist doesn't dictate the age of the reader; rather, the interests of the reader make this book open and of interest to readers of all ages.

So, people like myself -- born just three years after Woodson -- are potential readers. As are older readers who lived during that time. Just because, hey, I also remember watching The Big Blue Marble and singing along to the theme song, even if I did it from New Jersey.

The poetry may make it more accessible for some readers, but that doesn't mean it's easy or simple. Teen readers do like to read about teens -- but it's not the only thing they like to read about. Despite Woodson's age during the time of Brown Girl Dreaming, the things she lives through, her experiences, her world is bigger than her age. A parent's divorce; a move; a new sibling; a sick brother; learning about the world through books; and civil rights; all of this, all of what is in Brown Girl Dreaming, are of interest to all ages. I'd even argue that older readers -- older than ten, anyway -- will get more out of Brown Girl Dreaming because they will understand the references and the emotions in a way that younger readers cannot.

And, finally, selfishly, I don't want this to be it. I want the books that take Woodson further along her journey: Brown Teen Dreaming, Brown Woman Dreaming -- just to suggest a couple of possible titles.

Of course, this is a Favorite Book Read in 2014.



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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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12. Millions of Cats (1928)

Millions of Cats. Wanda Gag. 1928. Penguin. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

Once upon a time there was a very old man and a very old woman. They lived in a nice clean house which had flowers all around it, except where the door was. But they couldn't be happy because they were so very lonely. 
"If we only had a cat!" sighed the very old woman. "A cat?" asked the very old man. "Yes, a sweet little fluffy cat," said the very old woman. "I will get you a cat, my dear," said the very old man.
And he set out over the hills to look for one. 

Millions of Cats is a Newbery Honor book from 1929.

Premise/Plot: A very old man and a very old woman long for a cat. The husband goes on a quest to bring back a "sweet little fluffy cat" to please them both. Is his quest successful? Yes. A little too successful. For in fact he finds
Cats here, cats there,
Cats and kittens everywhere,
Hundreds of cats,
Thousands of cats,
Millions and billions and trillions of cats.
How is he ever to choose just ONE cat from so many?! Especially since as he picks up or pets each one he sees, he finds it to be the prettiest cat. He can't bring himself to leave any of the cats behind. But it isn't practical to bring home hundreds, thousands, millions, billions, and trillions of cats. You can probably guess what his wife's response will be! Surely, they can't keep them all. For better or worse, he lets the cats decide amongst themselves. One scrawny cat remains, but, it may be the best one of all.

My thoughts: I loved this one growing up. I loved the repetition. I thought it was a fun story. I didn't--at the time--take the man's conclusion that the trillions of cats ate each other up literally. Is the book violent? Perhaps. Perhaps not. See for yourself.  "They bit and scratched and clawed each other and made such a great noise that the very old man and the very old woman ran into the house as fast as they could. They did not like such quarreling." This one might pair well with Eugene Field's "The Duel." (The gingham dog and the calico cat).

Have you read Millions of Cats? Did you like it? love it? hate it?

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. The Paper Cowboy (2014)

The Paper Cowboy. Kristin Levine. 2014. Penguin. 352 pages. [Source: Library]

"Hands up!"
My best friend, Eddie Sullivan, had a newspaper rolled and pointed at me like a gun. He was only twelve, but over the summer he'd grown so much, he looked big enough to be in high school. 

I've yet to be disappointed by Kristin Levine's fiction. I loved, loved, loved The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had. I loved, loved, loved The Lions of Little Rock. I still would love to find time to reread both books. Her newest book is The Paper Cowboy. The author's note reveals much: The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had is loosely based on her maternal grandfather's memoirs; The Lions of Little Rock was inspired by her mother's childhood in Arkansas. This newest book? Well, it is based on/influenced by her father's childhood. It is set during the McCarthy era, when the threat of communist spies was very strong no matter how big or small the community.

I'm tempted to keep it brief: READ THIS. But would that do it justice? Probably not. But I don't want to give away too much either.

I love The Paper Cowboy for its humanity. It almost aches with its humanity. There's not one perfect, flawless character within. Tommy, the protagonist, is far from perfect. In fact, he's a bit of a bully. But it's almost impossible to keep standing in judgment of Tommy once you get a glimpse of his home life. Time and time again, readers see a powerless Tommy in heartbreaking situations.

I love The Paper Cowboy for its look at family life. Every member of the family is fully developed. (Well, perhaps with the exception of the baby. Tommy's youngest sister is just three months old when the novel opens!!!) But one really gets relationships in this book. Tommy in relationship with his dad, with his mom, with his older sister, with his younger sisters. And the relationships--no matter if they're "good" or "healthy" or not-so-much, the relationships feel completely authentic. The sibling Tommy is closest to is his sister, Mary Lou, who is badly burned--an accident--near the start of the novel.

I love The Paper Cowboy for its sense of community. I loved getting to know folks in his community. Particularly, I loved his developing relationships with several adults within the community: Mr. McKenzie and Mrs Glazov, Mrs. Scully and Pa and Ma Konecky. I just came to CARE for all the characters, no matter how 'minor.' For example, Mrs. Glazov never felt 'minor' to me at all! I just LOVED, LOVED, LOVED her.

I love The Paper Cowboy for its look at friendship and school life and even bullying. I didn't "love" the book because of its examination or treatment on bullying. I wasn't seeking out a book on bullying. I certainly wasn't expecting a book on the subject of bullying told primarily from the bully's point of view. But sometimes a book just finds you, you don't have to seek it out. I do think it's interesting to consider Tommy as a whole person. Yes, at recess at his school, he can pick on his classmates and get away with it because he has a way with his teachers. But the reader sees deeper and sees beneath the surface. Yes, absolutely Tommy's actions are just WRONG. But when a character is fleshed out so completely, so thoroughly that compassion may just come easier than judgment. One friendship comes about so slowly that it deserves attention. I loved the character of Sam McKenzie. 

I love The Paper Cowboy because its one that makes you feel--sometimes so much it leaves you aching. It's an emotionally intense read. There are just some TOUGH moments to witness in this coming-of-age novel.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. Pioneer Girl

Pioneer Girl. Bich Minh Nguyen. 2014/2015. Penguin. 296 pages. [Source: Review copy]

At first, I wanted to love Pioneer Girl. I then settled for wanting to like it. It has an interesting premise: A Vietnamese coming-of-age story with a Little House connection. Lee grew up reading the Little House books. She may not want to admit to liking or loving the TV show, but, the books she loves, has always loved. Her parents came from Vietnam to America in the 1970s. She was born and raised in the Midwest. Her parents, particularly her mother and her grandfather, were almost always in the restaurant business: managing bad buffets mostly. The older she got the more she wanted to distance herself.

So where is the connection to Laura Ingalls Wilder?! Well, her grandfather brought a gold pin with him to America. It was a pin that had belonged to an older woman, a white woman, a reporter doing a story on the war. Lee, as an adult, is convinced that woman was Rose Wilder Lane. Furthermore, she has a feeling that the pin is *the* pin described in These Happy Golden Years, a gift from Almanzo to Laura. The novel also introduces a "what-if" mystery.

The book drifts between her structured thoughts on Laura Ingalls Wilder, Rose Wilder Lane, and the Little House books AND her own meaningless (at least in the moment as she sees it) life. She's a twenty-something young woman, still sorta in school, but wanting to find something more in life: a good job would be nice, but validation maybe that she's made it. Lots of family drama. Bit of angst. These two focuses connect now and then. Lee travels and does research. Or should I just call it what it is: theft.

The BIG, BIG, BIG problem I have with the novel is Lee herself. Lee goes to a library with a special research collection: Lee steals a photograph from the collection. Lee goes to a museum: Lee not only breaks the rules and enters rooms she's not supposed to enter at all, but, she steals more stuff. A letter. A first edition book with scribbles/notes from Rose. Does she have a guilty conscience? No! In fact, she's proud and thinks herself the cleverest of all. I exaggerate perhaps. But the fact that she does think herself super-clever and is proud of what she's done and tells of her exploits says something about her character.

Pioneer Girl is a new adult novel. It's a thoughtful novel, reflective in places. Lee poses a good question now and then, seeking insight into deeper matters. But the book left me unsatisfied. I do LOVE the cover however.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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15. Follow Follow (2013)

Follow  Follow. A Book of Reverso Poems. (Companion to Mirror Mirror) Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Josee Masse. 2013. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I loved, loved, LOVED reading Marilyn Singer's Follow Follow. If you love fairy tales, you MUST read Follow Follow. If you love good poetry, you MUST read Follow Follow. If you're new to reverso poems, to the concept of this form of poetry, you should really read Follow Follow or its companion Mirror Mirror. I love how the form itself is so engaging. It takes poetry to a whole new level for me! (It may do the same for you. I hope it does!)

Author's note:
The reverso, a form I created, is made up of two poems. Read the first down and it says one thing. Read it back up, with changes only in punctuation and capitalization, and it means something completely different. When you flip the poem, sometimes the same narrator has a different point of view. Other times, there is another narrator all together.
The poems:
  • Your Wish Is My Command (Aladdin)
  • Birthday Suit (The Emperor's New Clothes)
  • Silly Goose (The Golden Goose)
  • Ready, Steady, Go (The Tortoise and the Hare)
  • Will the Real Princess Please Stand Up (The Princess and the Pea)
  • The Little Mermaid's Choice (The Little Mermaid)
  • Panache (Puss in Boots)
  • Follow Follow (The Pied Piper)
  • No Bigger Than Your Thumb (Thumbelina)
  • Can't Blow This House Down (The Three Little Pigs)
  • The Nightingale's Emperor (The Nightingale)
  • On With The Dance (The Twelve Dancing Princesses)
I think I LOVED almost all of the poems. There were a few that I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED however.

The Little Mermaid's Choice

For love,
give up your voice.
Don't
think twice.
On the shore,
be his shadow.
Don't
keep your home
in the unruly sea.
Be docile.
You can't
catch him
playing
"You'll never catch me!"

You'll never catch me
playing
"Catch him."
You can't
be docile
in the unruly sea.
Keep your home.
Don't
be his shadow
on the shore.
Think twice!
Don't
give up your voice
for love.

Reading these poems is just a JOY. I love how engaging it is. How it makes you think and reflect on the familiar stories. I love how the poems play around with voice and perspective!!! So very clever!

Read this book!!!


© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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16. Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

DoryFantasmagory1 362x500 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonDory Fantasmagory
By Abby Hanlon
Dial (an imprint of Penguin)
$14.99
ISBN: 978-0-8037-4088-4
Ages 6-8
On shelves October 9th

Which of the following types of children’s books are, in your opinion, the most difficult to write: Board books, picture books, easy books (for emerging readers), early chapter books, or middle grade fiction (older chapter books)? The question is, by its very definition, unfair. They are all incredibly hard to do well. Now me, I have always felt that easy books must be the hardest to write. You have to take into account not just the controlled vocabulary but also the fact that the story is likely not going to exactly be War and Peace (The Cat in the Hat is considered exceptional for a reason, people). And right on the heels of easy books and their level of difficulty is the early chapter book. You have a bit more freedom with that format, but not by much. For a really good one there should be plenty of fun art alongside a story that strikes the reader as one-of-a-kind. It has to talk about something near and dear to the heart of the kid turning the pages, and if you manage to work in a bit of a metaphor along the way? Then you, my dear, have done the near impossible. The last book I saw work this well was the extraordinary Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett, a book that to this day I consider a successor to Where the Wild Things Are. I didn’t expect to see another book tread the same path for a while. After all, these kinds of stories are enormously difficult to write (or did I mention that already?). Enter Dory Fantasmagory. Oh. My. Goodness. Pick up my jaw from the floor and lob it my way because this book is AMAZING! Perfection of tone, plot, pacing, art, you name it. Author Abby Hanlon has taken a universal childhood desire (the wish of the younger sibling for the older ones to play with them) and turned it into a magnificent epic fantasy complete with sharp-toothed robbers, bearded fairy godmothers, and what may be the most realistic 6-year-old you’ll ever meet on a page. In a word, fantastico.

She’s six-years-old and the youngest of three. Born Dory, nicknamed Rascal, our heroine enjoys a rich fantasy life that involves seeing monsters everywhere and playing with her best imaginary friend Mary. She has to, you see, because her older siblings Luke and Violet refuse to play with her. One day, incensed by her incessant youth, Violet tells Rascal that if she keeps acting like a baby (her words) she’ll be snatched up by the sharp-toothed robber Mrs. Gobble Gracker (a cousin of Viola Swamp if the pictures are anything to go by). Rather than the intended effect of maturing their youngest sibling, this information causes Rascal to go on the warpath to defeat this new enemy. In the course of her playacting she pretends to be a dog (to escape Mrs. Gobble Gracker’s attention, naturally) and guess what? Luke, her older brother, has always wanted a dog! Suddenly he’s playing with her and Rascal is so ebullient with the attention that she refuses to change back. Now her mom’s upset, her siblings are as distant as ever, Mrs. Gobble Gracker may or may not be real, and things look bad for our hero. Fortunately, one uniquely disgusting act is all it will take to save the day and make things right again.

DoryFantasmagory2 300x192 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonThis is what I like about the world of children’s books: You never know what amazingly talented book is going to come from an author next. Take Abby Hanlon. A former teacher, Ms. Hanlon wrote the totally respectable picture book Ralph Tells a Story. It published with Amazon and got nice reviews. I read it and liked it but I don’t think anyone having seen it would have predicted its follow up to be Dory here. It’s not just the art that swept me away, though it is delightful. The tiny bio that comes with this book says that its creator “taught herself to draw” after she was inspired by her students’ storytelling. Man oh geez, I wish I could teach myself to draw and end up with something half as good as what Hanlon has here. But while I liked the art, the book resonates as beautifully as it does because it hits on these weird little kid truths that adults forget as they grow older. For example, how does Rascal prove herself to her siblings in the end? By being the only one willing to stick her hand in a toilet for a bouncy ball. THAT feels realistic. And I love Rascal’s incessant ridiculous questions. “What is the opposite of a sandwich?” Lewis Carroll and Gollum ain’t got nuthin’ on this girl riddle-wise.

For me, another part of what Dory Fantasmagory does so well is get the emotional beats of this story dead to rights. First off, the premise itself. Rascal’s desperation to play with her older siblings is incredibly realistic. It’s the kind of need that could easily compel a child to act like a dog for whole days at a time if only it meant garnering the attention of her brother. When Rascal’s mother insists that she act like a girl, Rascal’s loyalties are divided. On the one hand, she’ll get in trouble with her mom if she doesn’t act like a kid. On the other hand, she has FINALLY gotten her brother’s attention!! What’s more, Rascal’s the kind of kid who’ll get so wrapped up in imaginings that she’ll misbehave without intending to, really. Parents reading this book will identify so closely to Rascal’s parents that they’ll be surprised how much they still manage to like the kid when all is said and done (there are no truer lines in the world than when her mom says to her dad, “It’s been a looooooooong day”). But even as they roll their eyes and groan and sigh at their youngest’s antics, please note that Rascal’s mom and dad do leave at least two empty chairs at the table for her imaginary companions. That ain’t small potatoes.

DoryFantasmagory3 219x300 Review of the Day: Dory Fantasmagory by Abby HanlonIt would have been simple for Hanlon to go the usual route with this book and make everything real to Abby without a single moment where she doubts her own imaginings. Lots of children’s books make use of that imaginative blurring between fact and fiction. What really caught by eye about Dory Fantasmagory, however, was the moment when Rascal realizes that in the midst of her storytelling she has lost her sister’s doll. She thinks, “Oh! Where did I put Cherry? I gave her to Mrs. Gobble Gracker, of course. But what did I REALLY ACTUALLY do with her?” This is the moment when the cracks in Rascal’s storytelling become apparent. She has to face facts and just for once see the world for what it is. And why? Because her older sister is upset. Rascal, you now see, would do absolutely anything for her siblings. She’d even destroy her own fantasy world if it meant making them happy.

Beyond the silliness and the jokes (of which there are plenty), Hanlon’s real talent here is how she can balance ridiculousness alongside honest-to-goodness heartwarming moments. If you look at the final picture in this book and don’t feel a wave of happy contentment then you, sir, have no soul. The book is a pure pleasure and bound to be just as amusing to kids as it is to adults. Like older works for children like Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, Dory Fantasmagory manages to make a personality type that many kids would find annoying in real life (in this case, a younger sibling) into someone not only understandable but likeable and sympathetic. If it encourages only one big brother or sister to play with their younger sibs then it will have justified its existence in the universe. And I think it shall, folks. I think it shall. A true blue winner.

On shelves October 9th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus

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17. Drew Daywalt & Oliver Jeffers to Create a Sequel For ‘The Day The Crayons Quit’

The Day The Crayons QuitChildren’s books creators Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers will reunite to collaborate on a sequel to The Day The Crayons Quit.

Publisher Michael Green negotiated the deal with Steven Malk of Writers House and Paul Moreton of Bell, Lomax, Moreton Agency. Philomel Books, an imprint at Penguin Young Readers Group, will publish the new picture book in August 2015.

Green had this statement in the press release: “It’s gratifying to see the Crayons finally getting their due, yet many revealing tales remain untold. I have a feeling every child, crayon, and crayon activist will be inspired by this latest tale of artistic heroism.”

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18. More about the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

It is commendable that recent Prime Ministers have continued the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards even though, as with some other literary prizes, its future has often seemed under threat. It is a prestigious national award amongst the also-important state and other literary prizes. And it is lucrative, with winners receiving $80 000 and shortlisted authors […]

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19. The Highlights of a Professional Life: An Interview With Ursula Dubosarsky

Ursula Dubosarsky has written over 40 books for children and young adults. Some of which include The Terrible Plop, Too Many Elephants in This House, Tim and Ed (Tim and Ed Review), The Carousel, The Word Spy series, and The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta series. She is a multi-award winner of many […]

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20. The North Pole Penguin by Christopher Payne

The North Pole Penguin

Title: The North Pole Penguin

Author: Christopher Payne

Illustrator: Lorena Soriano

Publisher/Year: CreateSpace/2014

Now that Halloween is over, my thoughts have turned to Christmas. It’s less than two months away after all. I’m already thinking about the decorating, shopping, and visiting that make up part of the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. You may be too. But are you also thinking about Christmas books? If not, I have the perfect one to get you started: The North Pole Penguin. 

This book has the potential to be a Christmastime classic. With its clever rhyme and bright, put-you-in-the-spirit illustrations, The North Pole Penguin begs to be read over and over again. The story is about Parker Preston, a penguin from the South Pole, who loves Christmas and longs to thank Santa Claus in person for stopping at his igloo every year. So he sets off for the North Pole with a gift for Santa and meets new animal friends along the way who also want to give gifts to Santa. Some even accompany him on his journey. Here’s a sample from the book:

Upon some thinking long and hard, he knew his Christmas cause

To cross the globe and go and see the man called Santa Claus.

He’d bring him gifts and change the roles before the winter’s thaws

To give back to the special man whose kindness had no flaws.

If you’re searching for a sweet Christmas story with amazing illustrations and the strong possibility of becoming a holiday tradition, The North Pole Penguin is a perfect choice.


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21. Review of the Day: Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers

OnceUponAlphabet 219x300 Review of the Day: Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver JeffersOnce Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters
By Oliver Jeffers
Philomel (an imprint of Penguin)
$26.99
ISBN: 978-0-399-16791-1
Ages 6 and up
On shelves now

Beware ever becoming a brand, my sweet, for that way lies nothing but unhappiness and ruin. Or not. I think the only real and true problem with becoming extremely popular in your field is that you have to battle on some level the ridiculous expectations others set for you. You did “X” and “X” was popular? Make another “X”! Creativity is haphazard and in the children’s book biz even the most popular illustrators do jobs that simply pay the bills. Such is NOT the case with Oliver Jeffers’ Once Upon an Alphabet. I have seen Jeffers do books that were merely okay and some that didn’t quite pass muster. I have also seen him be consistently brilliant with a style that is often copied, whether artistically or in tone. Yet in his latest book he does something that I honestly haven’t really seen before. Each letter of the alphabet is worthy of a story of its own. Each one distinct, each one unique, and all of them pretty much hilarious. No other author or illustrator could do what Jeffers has done here or, if they did, the tone would be entirely off. Here we have an abecedarian treat for older children (at least 6 years of age, I’d say) that will extend beyond Jeffers’ already gung-ho fan base and garner him new devotees of both the child and adult persuasion.

“If words make up stories, and letters make up words, then stories are made of letters. In this menagerie we have stories, made of words, made for all the letters.” So begins Once Upon an Alphabet, a book that seeks to give each letter its due. The tales told vary in length and topic. For example, “A” is about Edmund the astronaut who wants to go on an “adventure” and meet some “aliens” “although” there’s a problem. “Space was about three hundred and twenty-eight thousand, four hundred and sixteen feet above him . . . and Edmund had a fear of heights.” Many of the stories seen here rely on a twist at their conclusion. Danger Delilah may laugh in the face of Death but she’ll book it double time when her dad calls her for dinner. And then there’s Victor, plugging away on his vengeance. Told with wit and humor these tales are each and every one consistently amusing and enjoyable.

One thing that sets Jeffers apart from the pack is his deft wordplay. He has always been as comfortable as a writer as he is an illustrator or artist. Examining the tales I saw that some of the stories rhyme and others do not. This could potentially be off-putting but since each letter stands on its own I wasn’t bothered by the choice. The book could also be a very nice writing prompt title, not too dissimilar from Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. Once kids get the gist of what Jeffers is doing here they could be encouraged to write their own letter-inspired tales.

As for the art, it’s recognizably Jeffers, but with a twist. A close examination of the book shows that Jeffers changes up his artistic style quite a bit. While I’d say all his art is recognizably Jeffersish, his choices are fascinating. What determines whether or not a character gets a nose? Why is the terrified typist of “t” made so realistic while Ferdinand of “F” is done in a more cartoony style? Then there’s the use of color. Generally speaking the book is black and white but is shot through with different colors to make different points.

You also begin to read more into the illustrations than might actually be there. When the elephant dutifully eats nearly nine thousand envelopes in answer to a riddle, he is directed to do so by a nun who is keeping score. Adults will see this and wonder if it’s the equivalent of that old riddle about how many angels will dance on the head of a pin. I know the nun is there because the letter is “N” but that doesn’t stop me from seeing a connection. Other times there are connections between letters that aren’t explicitly mentioned but that will amuse kids. The owl and octopus that search and correct problems fix the cup that made an unseemly break (literally) for freedom at the letter “C” only for it to break again around the letter “T”. Then there are the back endpapers, which manage to wrap up a number of the stories in the book so subtly you might not even realize that they do so. See the frog hit on the head with a coin? That’s the ending to the “F” tale. And a closer reading shows that each person on the back endpapers correlates to their letter so you can read the alphabet found on the front endpapers through them. Pretty slick stuff!

I guess the only real correlation to this book is Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies alphabet. Even if the name sounds familiar I’m sure you’ve heard it. “A is for Amy who fell down the stairs. B is for Basil assaulted by bears.” I’ve often thought that Jeffers’ sense of humor owes much to Gorey’s. You see it in letters like “H” which features a woman falling off a cliff or “T” where an author meets an untimely end at the hands (or, more likely, mouth) of a monster. And like Gorey, Jeffers is capable of giving potentially gruesome and macabre poems an almost sweet edge. Gorey’s stories dealt well in funny melancholy. Jeffers, in contrast, in a form of humor that turns tragedy on its head.

From what I can tell the book is pretty universally loved. That said, it is not without its detractors. People who expect this to be another alphabet book for young children are bound to be disappointed. No one ever said alphabet books couldn’t be for older kids as well, y’know. And then there’s one criticism that some librarians of my acquaintance lobbed in the direction of this book. According to them some letter stories were stronger than others. So I read and reread the book to try and figure out which letters they might mean. I’m still rereading it now and I’m no closer to finding the answer. Did they not like the daft parsnip? The missing question? The monkeys that move underground? I remain baffled.

Or maybe I just like the book because it ends with a zeppelin. That could also be true. I really like zeppelins. I am of the opinion that 90% of the picture books produced today would be greatly improved if their authors worked in a zeppelin in some way. Heck, it’s even on the cover of the book! But if I’m going to be perfectly honest with you, I suspect that even if you removed every last zeppelin from Once Upon an Alphabet I’d still like the puppy. A lot. A lot a lot. You see Jeffers knows how to use his boundless cleverness for good instead of evil. This book could be intolerable in its smarts, but instead it’s an honestly amusing and tightly constructed little bit of delving into the alphabet genre. It remains aware from start to finish that its audience is children and by using big long fancy dance words, it never talks down to kids while still acknowledging the things that they would find funny. All told, it’s a pip. No picture book alphabet collection will be complete without it.

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22. Pois Penguin


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23. laying down an icy background...

©the enchanted easel 2014
on some arctic adorableness! :)

it's no secret how much i LOVE winter (yes, i know, i'm a freak...but hey, someone has to love that beautiful season...). so....

i thought i would do a quick set of penguins. cute penguins, of course. will be selling the ORIGINALS of these cuties once they are done.

ah, winter, my friend. can not wait for your return! :)

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24. Melissa de la Cruz to Write a YA Spinoff Based on the ‘Witches of East End’ Novels

Witches of East EndMelissa de la Cruz plans to write a spinoff project inspired by her Witches of East End adult novels. Penguin Young Readers Group will release Triple Moon: Summer on East End, the first installment of de la Cruz’s young adult series, on July 14, 2015.

The Triple Moon story stars twin witches named Mardi and Molly Overbrook. Two characters from the original book series and the TV show, Freya and Killian Gardiner, will appear in the new books.

With Lifetime’s Witches of East End TV series facing cancellation, de la Cruz wants to take a hands-on approach to help her fans. In a statement emailed to Entertainment Weekly, de la Cruz explains: “I have asked producers if there is no hope for the show, if I can weave in some of the cliffhangers from season two so I can resolve them and bring closure. I have an idea on how to do it, but we’ll see. It’s a legal issue so it might not be able to fly.”

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25. SkADaMo 2014 Day 11

Piguin 2

March of the Piguins!

What is SkADaMo? Check it out here.


4 Comments on SkADaMo 2014 Day 11, last added: 11/13/2014
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