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Saturday, September 27, 2014

Top 100: 61-70

I read several other blogs and I am flabbergasted by the frequency and quality of the author's posts. They must stay up all night blogging, because between work, home, kids, and all those other things that require time and attention I can barely manage to post once a week.

Well, to quote Trace Adkins:  "All I can do, is all I can do and I keep on tryin'". My mother-in-law was a huge country fan and she once said this to me and it has always stuck in my head.

Here we go with the next 10 books on my Top 100 list.

70. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

I am sure that many of you have seen the film version of Ella Enchanted starring Anne Hathaway and Hugh Dancy which is cute and campy. Levine's Newbery Honor book actually has a lot more depth. Yes, there is a fairy godmother and a handsome prince, but Ella Enchanted is less about finding true love and more about redefining the classic fairy tale heroine. Ella may be cursed with obedience, but she does not allow that to keep her from being confident and independent. Rather than waiting for Prince Charming to rescue her from unhappy circumstances, Ella exerts her will to change things herself.

69. The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Alaskan gold rush in the 1890s leads to a profuse demand for strong, large-breed dogs that can pull sleds laden with equipment and supplies. Buck is St. Bernard/Shepherd mix that is snatched from a life of comfort with a wealthy family and shipped to the Alaskan wilderness.

I think that the expected, happy story line would be for Buck to stay loyal and make the steadfast journey back to his home. London does not take this route, though. Instead he shows that Buck's domesticity barely contains a fierce and independent will to survive. Eventually he becomes so disgusted and furious that he abandons all semblance of docility and embraces the savage freedom of a wild wolf.

And not only did he learn by experience, but instincts long dead became alive       again. The domesticated generations fell from him. In vague ways he remembered back to the youth of the breed, to the time the wild dogs ranged in packs through the primeval forest and killed their meat as they ran it down. . . . Thus, as token of what a puppet thing life is the ancient song surged through him and he came into his own again. . . .

68. Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater

It has been over 75 years since Mr. Popper's Penguins was published but it is just as lively and cheerful to read today. Mr. Popper is just your everyday house painter working and raising a family in a small town. Whenever he has a free moment, though Mr. Popper dreams of traveling to the Antarctic and exploring the frozen continent just like his hero, Admiral Drake.

One day a package arrives from Admiral Drake and the Popper family is delighted to welcome a penguin, whom they dub Captain Cook, into their home. When Captain Cook is overtaken by loneliness the Poppers do the logical thing and bring him home a mate. Well, of course, one penguin plus one penguin equals ten baby penguins and what could possibly go wrong in a house with a dozen penguins?

This book is so joyful; it begs to be read aloud with your children.

67. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Isn't it every reader's fantasy that the characters and worlds that exist in fiction become reality? I would definitely not object if Edward Rochester or Rhett Butler were to walk into my living room. The ability to summon the characters and things that they read into the real world is more of a curse for Meggie and her father, Mortimer. For every object that is drawn into reality from fiction, something from our world must go into the realm of the book. This is how Meggie's mother was lost and a depraved villain was unleashed upon our world.

I am a total book nerd so nothing could be better than an exciting  fantasy that revolves around books and reading. Don't stop after reading just the first one, though, because the entire trilogy is an amazing fantasy adventure.

66. The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford
The fierce loyalty and 300 mile trek of Luath, the young lab; Bodger, the old bull terrier; and Tau, the Siamese cat are the antithesis to The Call of the Wild. Both books do share a savage yet breathtaking setting: London's being the Alaskan wilderness and Burnford's takes place across Canada. Burnford actually based The Incredible Journey on the pets she and her husband owned while living in Canada and the strong bond that those animals shared.
The Incredible Journey was not that popular of a book until Disney made it into a movie in 1963. The 1963 film version is wonderful (I do not like the remake, Homeward Bound, as much, because they changed the breeds of the dogs which bugged me), but the book is definitely worth the read.

 65. The Tale of Despereaux  byKate DiCamillo

I must confess that I am not a big fan of Kate DiCamillo. Personally, I find that she throws too many mature themes in books intended for younger readers and her writing style is pretentious. However, the grandiose (you could say highfalutin) language really suits this classic fairytale about a tiny mouse that aspires to be a knight. The abusive and depressing history of Miggery Sow may be a little heavy for younger readers, but overall The Tale of Despereaux it is a whimsical and charming fantasy.

My kids and I listened to the audio version of The Tale of Despereaux and the reader, James Heywood, was wonderful. The narrator in this book "breaks the fourth wall" i.e. speaks directly to the reader which really works when are you listening to the audio version.

64. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
I am aware that most "greatest chapter books" lists have From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler much higher. I do love this book and, like every other kid who read it, imagined running away and secretly living in a museum (or library!). However, it has never been a book that I wanted to read again and again. I also had to drop it lower on the list just because even when I was a kid I thought that Claudia was a snobby, know-it-all and when I read it as an adult I still thought that she was a snobby, know-it-all and a selfish, disrespectful brat too. I know that is the mom in me talking, because if my kids just decided to runaway with or without a note, because they didn't always get their way I would be frantic with worry and really angry when I found them. Despite the rather unlikeable heroine (I much prefer Claudia's little brother) From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a fun mystery to read.

63. The Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
Here he is again, the splendiferous Roald Dahl!!! I told you that I adore him and you would see more of his books on my Top 100 list. Mr. Fox is an ingenious trickster that manages to outwit the three despicable farmers determined to kill him. One of the things that Dahl does exceptionally well is make his villains so outrageously horrid that they end up being hilarious.
"Boggis and Bunce and Bean
One fat, one short, one lean.
These horrible crooks
So different in looks
Were nonetheless equally mean."
- Roald Dahl, Fantastic Mr Fox, Ch. 1

62. Coraline by Neil Gaiman
Coraline should probably be reserved for older elementary kids that love to read anything creepy, because it is horrifying in the best possible way. When Coraline opens a mysterious door in her home it does not lead to a magical fantasy land like Narnia. Rather it leads into a replica of her apartment that is different in strange ways. Cleaner, nicer, and with an Other Mother who is much more attentive and affectionate. At first Coraline enjoys all of the attention and special treatment, but then things begin to seem sinister. I love scary books and Coraline definitely delivers. Of course, part of the reason I find it so scary is that I am terrified of dolls and there is the whole replacing eyes with buttons. The movie was also quite good too (it is from the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas) and especially fun to watch around Halloween.

61. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brian
I must have read this book half a dozen times and probably watched the Don Bluth cartoon more than a hundred times. I cannot remember if I read the book or watched the movie first, but they are both imaginative and exciting.  Sorry, Mrs Frisby, you may have been the title character, but I was much more interested in the super intelligent laboratory rats that escaped from the National Institute of Mental Health.
The home that they build in the Fitzgibbon's rose bush is so fascinating I wish that I was small enough to explore it. I read this aloud to my daughter when she was five or six and it was so much fun to share a book from my childhood with her and have her love it just as much as I did.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Bananas for Curious George

Don't get me wrong, I am a fan of TV and movies and my kids definitely love them too.

As a librarian, though, I feel like I should plan events that tie in with books and authors.

Since September 16th was the birthday of H.A. Rey what would be a better way to celebrate than having a Curious George Party!!

I love reading about authors and the stories behind their books.

The story of Curious George travels from Hamburg, to Rio de Janeiro, to Paris, to Lisbon, and to New York City. It involves the famed Hagenbeck Zoo in Hamburg, a wedding, bicycles, a train, Nazis, and a giraffe named Raffy.

Hans Augusta Rey spent his childhood in Hamburg, Germany near the Hagenbeck Zoo which is where he fell in love with animals and practiced drawing them.  While working in Brazil he was reunited with fellow Hamburg native, Margeret Waldstein. The two fell in love, married, and decided to settle in Paris. Hans had published several cartoons featuring a giraffe in a French newspaper and a publisher asked him to expand his ideas into a picture book.  Raffy and the Nine Monkeys (or Cecily and the Nine Monkeys in the U.S. and Great Britain) featured a small monkey named George that Hans and Margaret decided to make the main character in another book. Unfortunately, it was 1940 and springtime in Paris and the Nazis were about to invade France. Since the Reys were Jewish they decided to make their escape on two bicycles that Hans built from spare parts. The Reys rode the bicycles for four days to the Spanish border with only the clothes they were wearing, some food, and five new manuscripts one of which was Curious George. When they reached the border the Reys sold the bicycles to buy train tickets to Lisbon and from there sailed to Brazil and eventually made it to New York City, where they became celebrated children's authors.  Hans and Margaret are such an inspiring couple not only for their courage and bravery, but also for their deep and long-lasting love and creative partnership.

I know that I kind of went off on a tangent, there, but the story behind Curious George was so uplifting and fascinating I just had to share some of it.

Now on to the Curious George Party that the library held for toddlers and preschoolers.

First I handed out snacks (banana chips and chocolate animal crackers) on a big yellow hat plate which I made by hot gluing a yellow cup to a yellow plate. While the kids ate their snack I read them Curious George Vistis the Library (of course!).  After that we sang Five Little Monkeys Swinging in a Tree during which I gave each child the chance to wear my big alligator puppet and chomp a monkey.

Each child got to make a Curious George puppet to take home, which were really simple. I had all of the pieces cut out ahead of time and the kids just glued George together, gave him googly eyes, and drew on the mouth and nose. I had printed Curious George bookmarks to color and take home too.

By the time the kids finished their craft they were ready to move around so I got out balloons, hula hoops, and the brand new bubble machine that the library just purchased. The kids were so enamored with bubbles that we didn't even get to some of the games that I had planned.  We did manage to play freeze dance to the Go Bananas song by the Fresh Beat Band.

Another game that I had was toss the banana.  I had taken the tiles out of two bananagrams games and put just regular bean bags in the bananas (letting toddlers throw hard scrabble tiles would probably be a bad idea). I put hula hoops on the floor  and the kids had to try and toss the banana in the hoops.

Mostly, though, the kids just danced which was a blast for them and so much fun for the adults to watch!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Top 100: 71-80

You know this would be a lot easier to do if I didn't keep shifting books on my list. I have not had any hateful comments yet, so maybe my top 100 chapter books isn't too out there. At least not yet, but I still have a long way to go.

80. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Personally, I have always preferred Tom to Huck. Since this is a list of children's chapter books, Tom Sawyer is a bit more kid appropriate than Huckleberry Finn. Tom Sawyer has humor, a hunt for buried treasure, and Injun Joe is a terrifying villain.
Now that I am a mom I think that Tom Sawyer appeals to me, because the character of Tom reminds me so much of my youngest son. Like Tom, my Zane is a silver-tongued little con artist who is incapable of avoiding mischief. If there was a fence to be white-washed I can imagine Zane convincing all of his friends that it would be more fun than riding a roller coaster.

For girls, Tom Sawyer may be more appealing because you have Becky Thatcher as a lead female character. True, she is a bit undeveloped in the beginning as she is just the pretty, jealous blond that is infatuated with Tom. However, Becky does prove to be pretty spunky and courageous when her and Tom are trapped in the cave.  The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica Lawson came out just a month or two ago and I thought that it was a fun spin on the Twain classic. I enjoyed how Lawson fleshed out the character of Becky Thatcher and gave her a unique voice.
There have been quite a number of movies about Tom Sawyer. Who can forget the 1973 version with Johnny Whitaker (I think he was born to play Tom Sawyer) and Jodie Foster as Becky Thatcher. I thought that Tom and Huck starring Jonathan Taylor Thomas was cute too.

79. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume

Boys  may want to skip this review due to content that could make them uncomfortable.
The many covers of Margaret
I remember every girl in the fourth grade waiting for their turn to check this out of the school library. It was so scandalous because it talked about boobs, kissing, and periods (oh my gosh!!!). I know that I am giving away my age, but when I read this book in the 80's it was still the original 1970 version. Afterwards, I practically ran screaming to my mother to find out if I would actually have to wear a "BELT"!!! Luckily, for girls born during the current century Are You there God? It's Me, Margaret.  was updated in 2006. Instead of the dreaded "menstruation belt" Margaret gets to use the more convenient and less terrifying sanitary napkins.

All joking aside, Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. is much deeper than a group of girls chanting "I must, I must, I must increase my bust" (sorry I had to include that line somewhere). Blume's famed coming of age tale is achingly authentic and tender. Margaret is not only navigating the ups and downs of puberty and junior high, she also feels torn between the opposing religions of her parents. Any young girl can relate to Margaret as she struggles to figure out who she is and the woman that she wants to become.

Interesting side note: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. is one of  the most frequently banned and/or challenged book in school libraries.  I find it sad and strange that people feel the need to protect young girls from reading about things that are actually happening to their own bodies.

78. The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden
A person would have to have a phobic fear of crickets to not think that Chester was pretty cute. Especially when he is drawn by Garth Williams, the illustrator of Charlotte's Web, Stuart Little, and all of the Little House books. This relatively short book about a little country cricket with a huge musical gift is a sweet tale of friendship with memorable characters.

If you enjoyed this book as a kid you may also remember the Chuck Jones animated version. I grew up loving the cartoons based on books that Chuck Jones made after he left Warner Brothers. My favorite was always Rikki Tikki Tavi, but The Cricket in Time Square is also magical.

77. The Twits by Roald Dahl
If you know me you are probably shocked that this is the first Roald Dahl book on this list. Well, it was hard to resist but I figured that I should try to include some other authors and books in my top 100. Not saying that you will not see some more books by Roald Dahl higher on the list.
How can you not love a book called The Twits in which the opening line is "What a lot of hairy-faced men there are nowadays!"  Supposedly Dahl was inspired to write The Twits because he hated beards and I would not be surprised if that were true considering his lengthy and quite repulsive description of Mr. Twit's beard. I have read this passage to my young writers club to illustrate descriptive writing. On the Roald Dahl website there is even a link to download a beard to decorate with your own bits of debris.  What else can I say? The Twits is outrageously funny in an absurd and demented kind of way which is probably why I love it so much.

One of the most wonderful thing about all of Dahl's books is that in the middle of all the zaniness he can inject profound and heartfelt emotion.  In a world where there is so much obsession with appearance The Twits contains a quote that should be on every body-conscious girl's mirror.
“if you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams, and you will always look lovely” 

76. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George
When I was growing up I loved all of The Wilderness Family movies. Am I the only one that remembers those? I remember asking my dad if we could move to the mountains like the Robinsons so I could have pet bear cubs and a raccoon. My Side of the Mountain is The Wilderness Family meets Walden junior. What exactly does that mean? Well, Sam Gribley despises living in the hustle and bustle of New York City so he absconds to the Catskill Mountains with only forty dollars, some rope, a flint and steel, and a pen knife. Sam learns how to be self-sufficient and be one with nature (that is where the Walden similarities come in, but luckily there isn't any of Thoreau's wordy philosophy).

The book is slightly implausible. How many parents would allow their child to become a backwoods survivalist all by themselves? Young readers will enjoy learning how Sam hollows out a tree to live in, makes his own clothes, and hunts for food. Also, even though he doesn't get a pet bear cub, the bond between Sam and the falcon he raises is wonderful storytelling.

Check this out.
You can watch the entire first Wilderness Family movie on you tube!!!!

75. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Of all the famous horse books I think that Black Beauty is my favorite because it is narrated by the horse.  Now lots of children's books feature animals as main characters, but first person narration by an animal can be tricky. It can easily read hokey, contrived, and/or too babyish for older children.  What makes Black Beauty so exceptional is that as the reader, you never doubt the authenticity of Darkie/Black Beauty/Black Auster/Jack/Blackie/Old Crony.

Maybe this isn't the best endorsement, but I bawled so many times while reading Black Beauty.  The cruelty inflicted on Black Beauty is heartrending, and the suffering of work horses in Victorian London is difficult to read about.  There were definitely tears of joy, though, when Black Beauty is reunited with Joe and gets to spend the rest of his life in comfort and safety.

74. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Caddie Woodlawn is an 11 year old tomboy growing up in Wisconsin during the 1860s. Brink actually based the book on her grandmother, named Caddie Woodhouse whose family moved from Boston to a rural Wisconsin farm. The real Caddie also had two brothers named Tom and Warren. Fans of Caddie Woodlawn can visit the original home of the Woodhouse family which was moved to the Caddie Woodhouse historical park in 1970.

Yes, Caddie Woodlawn is a frontier story with a lively young heroine but don't confuse it with the Little House books; it is a unique and captivating story in its own right.  There is danger, excitement, and also lots of humor as Caddie and her brothers repeatedly find themselves in trouble.

73. The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

Most people believe that the Chronicles of Narnia begins with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Well, if you go by the date published, The Magician's Nephew was published in 1955 which was five years after The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  I really love that C.S. Lewis went back and wrote a prequel explaining how Aslan created Narnia, why the animals talk, where the White Witch came from, why the wardrobe leads to Narnia, and how a lamp post came to be in the center of a forest.

The lead character, Digory Kirke, is the same Professor Kirke that provides refuge to the Pevensie children during the London airstrikes of WWII. There was always that hint in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that he knew what was going on when Lucy first claimed to have gone to a strange land. You will find yourself saying "Aaaahhh, so that is where it came from" multiple times while reading The Magician's Nephew.

72. The Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
All of the Harry Potter books are spectacular, but I particularly love The Goblet of Fire, in which Rowling expands her world of magic beyond the walls of Hogwarts . The action starts with a bang at the The Quidditch World Cup and it only gets more thrilling when the Tri-Wizard Tournament begins.  Rowling packs so many chills, thrills, plot twists, and interesting new characters that I couldn't put The Goblet of Fire down.

The resurrection of Voldemort at the end of The Goblet of Fire is also a major transition in the Harry Potter series. The first four books in the series are definitely intended for juvenile readers; they include lots of action but are also light and funny.  The death of Cedric, the grisly rebirth of Voldemort, the unmasking of Barty Crouch Jr. lead into the darker, more mature 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th novels.

71.  Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos by Robert Lawson

I still remember my fifth grade teacher reading this book aloud to the class and then watching the cartoon version.  The book is actually a really fun way to teach kids about the life of Ben Franklin and the Revolutionary  War.  Who knew that Ben Franklin got all of his inspiration for his famous inventions from a mouse. Amos even helped write the Declaration of Independence!

Lawson also wrote Mr. Revere and I: Being an Account of Certain Episodes in the Career of Paul Revere, Esq. as Revealed by his Horse. Early American history is much more interesting when you throw talking animals into the mix.


Ok so there are 10 more books. I am going to try to get my next 10 out sooner, but I am in the midst of planning several programs so please be patient with me. I might have to start writing less on each book.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Gilmore Challenge and Freaky Friday

Whoot! It has not been quite two weeks and I finished Freaky Friday.  Actually it didn't even take me two days when I finally picked it up.(Okay actually if you only count reading time it was a few hours)  So I think it qualifies as a quick read.  Well I would like to start off by saying this is a good book I had a few moments where I was like, who is the person talking but it only took a second to figure it out.  If you are wondering if the book is anything like the movies I would say the movies are very loosely based.(though it has been awhile since I have seen the first one)  The book is mostly focused on the daughters experiences being the mom, though at the end you do get to find out what the mom has been doing as the daughter for the day.  I would say that the end is really my favorite part because the daughter (Annabel Andrews) actually answers a few of the questions you might still have, come the end of the book.  To sum it up this is a fun light hearted book, maybe targeted a little towards teenage girls but I think it is a good read for everyone.  It gets you to take a minute and think what it would be like to be someone else before you decide how easy life is for them, since we all have our problems.

Here is where it is mentioned in Gilmore Girls: Season 1, Episode 6, Rory's Birthday Parties
Rory yells at Emily for inviting all the Chilton students to her birthday party and storms off to Lorelai’s old room.

Rory: Sorry I snapped at Grandma.
Lorelai: Yeah, huh. That was a pretty Freaky Friday moment we had back there.

I think I am in the mood for romance next so I think I am going to give Love Story by Erich Segal a try  :)
Just keep reading!
Just keep reading!
Just keep reading!

Here is the link for the challenge: