Saturday, January 24, 2015

Top 100 Chapter Books: 21-30

This is the point of the countdown that you are probably going to really start wondering about some of my selections. You are also going to wonder why some books are not on my list. Well, all I can say is that this is my list and these are the books that I love.

30.  Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
There have been countless books written about World War II and, specifically, the Holocaust, but Number the Stars is an incredibly compelling story of courage and hope. The story centers around ten year old Annemarie Johansen whose family becomes heavily involved with the resistance movement after Denmark is occuppied by Nazi Germany. Annemarie learns firsthand how costly it can be to battle oppression when she must risk her own life in order to save the lives of others.

Lowry spent a  considerable amount of time in Copenhagen researching details for Number the Stars. In fact, she even took the photo that has long been used as the cover.



29. The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton

Virginia Hamilton actually won the Newbery Medal in 1975 for her book M.C. Higgins, but I much prefer The House of Dies Drear which was published in 1968. What could be more fun than a spooky old house teeming with secret passages, unearthly specters, and ominous noises. Throw in some mean, nasty neighbors and a strange elderly caretaker and I am sold.  I know that it sort of sounds like the literary version of a Scooby Doo episode, but The House of Dies Drear is a spine-chilling mystery with a fascinating historical twist.

I was such a mystery fanatic as a kid and this is one that I read more than a few times. Hamilton also wrote a sequel to The House of Dies Drear called the Mystery of Drear House which was good, but not as good as the first one.

Ok, I was not sure if I wanted to discuss this because, personally, I believe that The House of Dies Drear is a great book, end of story. Unfortunately, race continues to be a serious issue in our nation, even in the world of children's books and the daily life of a librarian. Now, I am pretty sure that I could write an entire blog post just on this subject and maybe I will, because there is no denying that there is a lack of diversity in children's literature. Also many of the books that feature African American characters are historical fiction books centered around slavery, the Civil Rights movement in the 60s, the Harlem Renaissance, etc. or, specifically, racism. Please do not misunderstand me, children need to understand and experience these stories and their value is beyond measure. What about other genres, though? Where are the fantasies, the mysteries, the horrors, the romances, and the everyday middle school dramas featuring main characters that are African American? Or picture books for that matter. I am bringing this up now, because when I read The House of Dies Drear as a kid I thought that it was am amazing story and I imagined myself exploring secret tunnels right along side Thomas Small. Good storytelling is good storytelling no matter what color you are.

28. Watership Down by Richard Adams

A lot of people consider Watership Down to be an adult book, but I do not know many adults who would choose to read a book about anamorphic rabbits.  Also Watership Down began as stories that Adams told to his daughters on long car rides, so in my opinion that makes it a children's book.  Now, Watership Down is a looooong book that the majority of kids will probably find daunting. Do not be discouraged by the length, though, because the journey of Fiver, Hazel, and their friends Bigwig, Silver, etc. to find a safe, new warren is exciting and captivating reading.  Rabbits are generally thought of as extremely timid and weak, but Adams really turns these stereotypes upside down by making depicting them as courageous and heroic.



27. The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
I know that my Top 100 list is a little heavy with fantasy titles, but I can't help it. I am a sucker for a book with dragons, knights, magic, elves, trolls, etc. McKinley wrote The Hero and the Crown in 1984 as a prequel to the 1982 book, The Blue Sword. Both books are outstanding fantasy adventures featuring strong female characters, but I think that The Hero and the Crown just slightly edges out The Blue Sword.

In The Blue Sword McKinley introduces the legendary heroine, Queen Aerin. The Hero and the Crown goes back and tells how the young and friendless Aerin transformed from a shy outcast to the brave ruler of her nation.




26. The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye

The twist on the classic fairy tale featuring a princess who does not meet the general stereotype of beautiful, gracious, and desperate for a handsome prince to swoop in is currently a hugely popular genre in children's and teen fiction. Well, M.M. Kaye (The Far Pavillions) pioneered this genre nearly 40 years ago with The Ordinary Princess. Words cannot express how much I adore this little known book that should be on every young girl's book shelf because it is that wonderful!!!

The king and queen of Phantasmorania are shocked when the fairy godmother, Crustacea bestows their seventh daughter, Princess Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne with the gift of ordinariness. Rather than tall, blonde, and stunning Princess Amy (for short) is an ordinary young lady with mousey brown hair and freckles scattered across her slightly upturned nose. Despite her average appearance Princess Amy is friendly, generous, smart, caring, and these are the qualities that lead to true happiness. The Ordinary Princess is just a perfect little story about the importance of inner beauty.

One of my favorite parts of the book unrelated to the them is the recurring motif of the old English folk song, Lavender's Blue. You may not be familiar with it because it is very old, but it has always stuck with me. In fact, it was the one song that I always sang to my kids when they were babies. There are quite a few different versions, but these are the lyrics that I know. Burl Ives sang a version that was nominated for an Oscar, but it has a completely different tune than the traditional version.

Lavender's blue

Lavender's blue, dilly dilly,
Lavender's green
When you are King, dilly dilly,
I shall be Queen

Who told you so, dilly dilly,
Who told you so?
'Twas my own heart, dilly dilly,
That told me so

Call up your friends, dilly, dilly
Set them to work
Some to the plough, dilly dilly,
Some to the fork

Some to the hay, dilly dilly,
Some to thresh corn
Whilst you and I, dilly dilly,
Keep ourselves warm

Lavender's blue, dilly dilly,
Lavender's green
When you are King, dilly dilly,
I shall be Queen

Who told you so, dilly dilly,
Who told you so?
'Twas my own heart, dilly dilly,
That told me so.


25. The Neverending Story by Michael Ende and translated in English by Ralph Manheim


I do not think that many Americans are aware that the 1984 movie, The Neverending Story, was based on a book of the same title by German author, Michael Ende that was published in 1974. Now, I do not know about you but I do not read German. Luckily, The Neverending Story was translated into English in 1983, because it is one of the most magical and interesting fantasies ever written for children.

I grew up loving the 1984 movie (even though the kid playing Bastian is a bit of a whiner and Atreyu is supposed to be a Native American and the actor is paler than a Swedish albino) and I have probably watched it a few hundred times. However, if you have only watched the movie you are seriously cheating yourself because the movie only tells half the story!!!

After Bastian names the Empress and saves Fantastica (which is the name of the imaginary land in the book) from the Nothing the movie basically ends. Suddenly Bastian is riding Falcor, the luck dragon, and everything is immediately back to normal. Well, in the book this is basically the halfway point of the story. As they say "Rome was not built in a day" and Fantastica cannot be rebuilt in a single day either. Bastian must rebuild it one story, one wish at a time.

It goes without saying, that the book has so much more depth and detail than the movie ever could. The characters are more fully realized with complete back stories and there are so many amazing characters and adventures that you do not even see in the film. The Neverending Story is an absolute MUST READ!

****I understand that a couple of sequels were made the 1984 film. They were atrocious though, so let's just pretend that they do not exist. This is how I also feel about that last Indiana Jones movie, the third Mummy movie, and the sequel to Speed. Sometimes movie makers just need to quit while they are ahead.









24. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
The Chronicles of Prydain were published a book at a time from 1964-68 and I think that it still stands as one of the best fantasy series written for kids. Even though the second book, The Black Cauldron, won a Newbery Honor and the final book, The High King, won the Newbery Medal my list only has book 1 on it. I mainly did this because I thought that all five books in the series were equally good.

Disney made an awful animated movie called The Black Cauldron, but the events in the movie actually mirror those in The Book of Three. It is in this first adventure in Prydain that you are introduced to HenPen, the Oracular Pig; Taran, the assistant Pig Keeper; Gurgi; Eilonwy; and Fflewdur Fflam (my favorite character). You should definitely skip the cartoon and read the whole series.








23. Goodnight, Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian

At first glance Goodnight Mr. Tom is a historical fiction novel about the evacuation of children from London to the English country side during the Blitz. The book also delves into the very serious issue of child abuse. Widower Tom Oakley is just an elderly curmudgeon living alone when a malnourished and skittish young boy from London is placed in his care.   Mr. Tom, as he is dubbed by Willie, learns that the boy has suffered years of physical and emotional abuse from his religious fanatic mother. While living in the country with Mr. Tom, Willie gains strength, confidence, and the ability to trust. When the danger in London passes will Willie be forced to leave the only loving home that he has ever known? Goodnight, Mr. Tom is a beautiful and touching story about what it means to be a real father. I dare you not to have tears in your eyes by the end.




22. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

Book three of the Chronicles of Narnia really stands out in that it takes place before the ending of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe while Peter, Edmund, Lucy, and Susan are ruling as the kings and queens of Narnia. Rather than featuring English children that are pulled into Narnia by magic, The Horse and his Boy revolves around characters that are already living in Narnia and the neighboring countries of Archenland and Calormen.

Shasta is a young boy who has been raised by a Calormene fisherman that treats him more as a slave than a son. When Shasta encounters Bree, an enslaved Narnian horse, he convinces Shasta to escape with him. The two soon join up with another pair of runaways, Aravis, a wealthy girl fleeing from an arranged marriage, and her talking horse, Hwin.

The two horses and their young riders must learn to trust one another as they face many dangers on their way to freedom in Narnia.

21. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
It is amazing that a book that begins with a young boy being orphaned when his parents are trampled to death by a stampeding rhinoceros can be so uplifting and funny. The only author that could accomplish such a feat is the incomparable Roald Dahl.

After being orphaned poor James is forced to live with the absolutely horrid Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. With the help of a little magic a humongous peach grows in the yard and James discovers giant talking bugs living inside the pit. The odd group of friends set the peach rolling and are soon having some equally odd adventures. This story is so quirky and bizarre but, strangely, Dahl makes it all work together in a peachy keen magical way!

The  film based on James and the Giant Peach and produced by Tim Burton is actually quite marvelous. The combination of live action and stop-animation suits the story perfectly. Of course, there are several hilarious parts of the book that are left out, but it is still a pleasure to watch.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Top 100 Chapter Books: 31-40

Yeah, I knew that there was no way that I would finish my top 100 chapter book list before the beginning of 2015. Like, I had any time over the holidays to blog!  Oh well, here is to a new year in which I will be a bit more consistent with my posts.

On to the countdown!

40. On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Honestly, Wasn't she the best character?
Most people would probably name The Little House on the Prairie or Little House in the Big Woods as the best of the Little House series. My decision to designate On the Banks of Plum Creek ahead of the other eight Little House books may seem to come out of left field. Why is it my favorite? Well, being born in the late 70s I grew up watching the television series, Little House on the Prairie  Now, even though the title of the show was Little House on the Prairie, the real Ingalls family did not actually live near Walnut Grove, nor did they meet the infamous Nellie Olsen until On Banks of Plumb Creek.

The other reason that On the Banks of Plum Creek is my personal favorite has nothing to do with adoring Nellie Olsen or wishing that Michael Landon was my Pa. It is that in the beginning of the book while Pa is building their wood house the Ingalls live in a sod house.  As a little girl I thought that the was the coolest thing in the world. I would even cover the kitchen table with blankets so I could crawl underneath and pretend that I was living in a sod house. At the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Walnut Grove, Minnesota they have a replica of the sod or dugout house that you get to go inside. How fun would it be to stay inside? You could pretend to be Laura or Bilbo Baggins.

39. My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles
My Father's Dragon is the first book in a fantasy trilogy about a young boy named Elmer Elevator who travels to Wild Island (yeah, not too creative of a name. It reminds me of Tolkien calling a volcano Mount Doom). Despite the rather obvious name of an island inhabited by wild animals, My Father's Dragon, is an original and  immensely entertaining fantasy that was the runner up for the Newbery Medal in 1949. Interestingly, Gannett writes the story in third person, often referring to Elmer as her father. The reader is given the impression that the events happened long ago and were told to the author by a grown up Elmer. All three books in this trilogy are wonderful to read aloud or for beginning chapter book readers since each book is relatively short with beautiful illustrations.


38.  Ballet shoes by Noel Streatfield
You do not have to be a dancer to love Ballet Shoes. I'm not even a girly girl and I still love this story of sisterhood that was written in 1936. Posy, Paulina, and Petrova were all abandoned as babies and adopted by the wealthy and eccentric paleontologist, Professor Brown (or as the girls call him Great Uncle Matthew-Gum for short). While Gum travels the world the girls are left in the care of his grown niece, Sylvia, and Nana, Sylvia's childhood nanny. When Gum is gone for more than five years and the money runs out, the three adopted sisters are trained to dance and perform to earn money for the family.While Posy is an incredibly talented dancer, Paulina would rather act, and Petrova dreams of flying airplanes.

Ballet Shoes is less about dancing and more about the relationship between the three sisters. Do the three orphans love one another as sisters? Yes, but Posy, Petrova, and Paulina are also three strong individuals with different interests, personalities, talents, etc. I think that I fell in love with Ballet Shoes, because I could relate to that sisterly conflict. As much as I love my sister (and as often as people tell me that my sister and I look alike) personality-wise we are poles apart.

I was unaware that a movie version of Ballet Shoes starring Emma Watson (Hermione Granger) as Paulina was released in 2007. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film 7.7/10 stars so maybe I will have to check it out.


37. The Cay by Theodore Taylor
Okay, I have already mentioned Call it Courage and Hatchet so you are probably wondering why so many kids are struggling to survive after being stranded in the wilderness. The Cay is not the typical scrabbling for food, water, and shelter story, though. It also grapples with the tougher issues of war and racism.

Searching for Nazi submarines off the coast is just a game until Philip and his mother are forced to flee their home on the island of Curacao and return to America. When their ship is torpedoed Philip is left blinded and stranded on a deserted cay with an elderly West Indian man named Timothy (and, weirdly, a cat named Stew).  Philip must learn to trust Timothy and to do that he will need to let go of the deep seeded prejudices that he has been raised with.



36. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing is no doubt the best and most well known of Judy Blume's books for kids. Despite being published in 1972 this story of a  boy beleaguered by his puckish younger brother still resonates with kids today.

The story is told from Peter's point of view but, let's be honest, Fudge is the real star. From his birthday party and starring in a commercial to the infamous turtle incident, Fudge is what makes Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing such a fun book to read. This is probably why the subsequent titles featuring the Hatchers are titled Superfudge, Fudge-a-Mania, and Doublefudge.


35. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth Speare

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is a remarkable historical fiction book that explores everyday life in the the New England colonies and the puritanical dogmas that led to the Salem witch trials. Don't let kids be deterred by the educational aspects, though, because it is also a great story!

As the only child of a wealthy Englishman Kit has lived a life of privilege and indulgence on the island of Barbados. When Kit's father dies and she is sent to live with her aunt and uncle in Connecticut, the climate is not the only thing that Kit must get accustomed to. Kit quickly realizes in the strict Puritan community that many of the freedoms that she has taken for granted  (from her education to simply knowing how to swim) leave her open to suspicion and persecution.

34. The Witches by Roald Dahl
More witches, but these ones are not imagined by puritans. Even better these witches wish to rid the world of repulsive children who reek of "fresh dog's droppings".

At first glance the plot of The Witches may come across as being too scary for children, but this is a total misconception. Roald Dahl is a master at taking topics or events that seem dark and frightening and making them outrageous and hysterical. In my opinion, Dahl's books are not only a delight to read, but they also empower kids to conquer their fears.

I find it incredibly disheartening that The Witches is one of the most frequently challenged and/or banned books.  One reason that The Witches is banned is for what I believe to be completely misconstrued misogyny. The real hero of the book is an elderly grandmother who smokes cigars. How awesome is that? Also, I do not understand why it is sexist to make women (and in actuality they are not real women, they are witches) villains.

The movie adaptation of The Witches is quite good. Angelica Houston is divine as The Grand High Witch (who is one of the best literary villains). SPOILER ALERT The only part of the movie that I didn't agree with was the changing of the ending. Honestly, why do they do crap like that? It was ridiculous how there was one witch that turned good somehow and used her magic to change Luke (FYI: the boys is never named in the book) back into a boy. I much preferred how Dahl left him as a mouse and he was happy with that.




33. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George

This peek into the life of an Eskimo girl trapped between the history and traditions of her culture and the onslaught of modern America is both fascinating and exciting. I really wish that Julie of the Wolves had a different title, though, because Julie is her modern American name, whereas, Miyax is her true Yupik name. It is Miyax, not Julie, who survives alone on the frozen tundra with only the wolves for companionship.

I want to warn parents about one scene in Julie of the Wolves that may be inappropriate for young readers. Or at the very least you may want to discuss it. When Julie's father disappears she is told at the age of 13 that she will marry Daniel, who is "simple-minded".  Egged on by other boys, Daniel attempts to rape Julie, which is one of the main reasons she runs away.


32. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham

You may not have read the book but, admit it, you are familiar with Ratty, Mole, Badger and the original adrenalin junkie, Toad. If anything you have seen the animated Disney short film that usually accompanies The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in the cartoon, The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad.  Over one hundred years later The Wind in the Willow is still a fun and whimsical story about friendship and loyalty with a good dash of humor and adventure thrown in.



31. A little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The story of Sara Crewe has been immortalized by Shirley Temple's portrayal, but I sincerely I hope you take the time to read the book which is so wonderful. The book actually began as a serialized short story called Sara Crewe: or, What Happened at Miss Minchin's and Burnett expanded it into a novel at the request of her publisher.

The real standout character of this book is not Sara, but Miss Minchin. I don't know what it is about evil stepmothers, headmistresses, housekeepers, etc. but they are so enjoyable to read about. Miss Minchin (doesn't that name even sound dried up and bitter) showers Sara attention when her wealthy father is paying for it, but the moment Captain Crewe is missing in action that the her true nature is exposed. Too concerned about public opinion to throw Sara , Miss Minchin keeps her on as a much abused servant.

They did remake A Little Princess in the 90s but I still gotta go with the original 1939 film starring Shirley Temple.

Monday, January 5, 2015



            Portland Library 2014
          What a great year we had!



 January
Alice in Wonderland
           
    

                           Even though it was freezing outside we had lots of fun with Alice!

February
Puppy Love

                      
                                     
       Mackenzie's animal sanctuary the largest no kill shelter in the Midwest
 joined us for some fun with Clifford.                                                                    


Battle of the Books



         

Our teams practiced hard and had lots of fun!

March
Do you want to build a snowman?
Frozen fun!

 Packed in to
 enjoy the movie 

Craft and snow dough fun!


April
National Library Week

Trivia for prizes                         


Lego Fun

                   


Easter


       Library wide Easter Egg Hunt
      

May


  
                                                                     
     Fun at the library!      


June
     Start of summer reading   
                                              
       

Some Story time fun
                      


July
Summer Reading and more!
    Teddy Bear Picnic      

       



   Book Facing  
  Fun with Science and circuits 
    

Pop top bracelets
               
                                      Movies                                  
Video Games   



August

Summer Reading continues
           


  

                 Teen Summer Reading Fun

     
                      Win big prizes



September

New program!  





   Curious George's Birthday!

       



      Teens           


October


                    

                       
 
   Costume winner


     Visit from Kwame Alexander   



Halloween Spooktacular


                   

                         
    
Lots of scary fun with a haunted house upstairs and a haunted maze, games, and lots of treats downstairs!


November

 The doctor is in! 

      

       Making cupcakes and  giving check-ups          



       How to train your dragon 2

December
Here comes Santa Claus and his reindeer!

        


    Christmas Story time
               

                              The Portland Community Orchestra


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Visit from Santa


We had a great year and want to thank all that participated and here is a sneak peek of some of what will be coming up for 2015!