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There was a day, about two weeks ago, when I finished a book and had no new library books waiting for me to read. Not one. In a panic, I went to the new fiction shelves at the library and took several youth fantasy books. I paid special attention when reading my journals and blogs and put lots of titles on hold, because I had nothing at home.

I have plenty to read now. Definitely more than I can read before they’re all due. This was one of the ones I pulled off the new shelf, just based on how many times I saw the title come up in the weekly review summary at Charlotte’s Library.

The Humming RoomThe Humming Room by Ellen Potter
Here’s a book that says straight off that it’s inspired by The Secret Garden, one of my favorites. This made me nervous once I realized it, but it came off well – like a well-done fairy-tale re-telling, close enough to follow the plot, but different enough to have its own unique spin.

Roo Fanshaw is 12 when her drug-addicted, ne’er-do-well father gets himself murdered. Only when she’s being taken to him does she learn that she has an uncle. He lives on Cough Rock, a small island in a river in upstate New York just big enough for his former child tuberculosis sanatorium turned mansion. The part of the housekeeper, Mrs. Medlock, is played by the stylish but strict Ms. Valentine, while cheerful Martha’s role is taken by the friendly, jean-clad 20-year-old Violet. Roo has been moved around often enough to be distrustful and antisocial, but she quickly learns to love the river and is curious enough to explore the large building, even though she’s told which wing to avoid. Outside, she finds a tiny cave by the river bank, just big enough for her. It’s there that she meets a boy who introduces himself as Jack, paddling around the river in his kayak and considered just a legend by most of the native population. Inside, she hears a mysterious humming noise, and traces it to her cousin Phillip, who’s been in poor mental and physical health since the unexplained death of his mother four years earlier. Both children are initially afraid that the noises that they hear from the other are the ghosts of tuberculosis victims, and some time is given to the sad fate of those children. There is, of course, an abandoned garden for Roo to bring to life as well – this one a greenhouse Amazonian jungle. Roo has never gardened before, but, unlike Mary, has always had a habit of listening with her ear to the ground and being able to hear the earth and what it’s saying to itself. The characters, especially Roo and Phillip, feel well-rounded and believable, similar but not identical to their counterparts in the original. Fans of The Secret Garden are of course the natural audience for this, but the modern setting and the slightly enhanced mystical elements give this appeal to those who wouldn’t necessarily go for historical fiction. Like the original, there’s frequent mention of death, but no in-book violence or romance, making this just right for middle grade readers.
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The Great Piratical RumbustificationThe Great Piratical Rumbustification. The Librarian and the Robbers. by Margaret Mahy. Pictures by Quentin Blake. Margaret Mahy is world-famous children’s author from New Zealand whom I have somehow never heard of before. I’m not quite sure how this book came across my radar, but there it was, a children’s book featuring both pirates and a librarian. How could I resist? Though these are packaged as a children’s chapter book, the book consists of two longish short stories, or maybe short novellas. In “The Great Piratical Rumbustification”, a family with three young boys moves into a house in the suburbs. It’s meant to give the children more room to play, but the cost is so high that their father is always depressed and the boys are not really sure where they can safely let loose. Things change when their mother hires a last-minute babysitter from a service for them, who turns out to be a mostly retired pirate. He sets off a signal in the backyard announcing a Rumbstification, and soon the house is overflowing with partying pirates, an event which changes everyone’s life for the good. In “The Librarian and the Robbers”, a proper but beautiful librarian is kidnapped by a gang of robbers. She wins them over by curing their measles with information in a home nursing guide from the library and by reading them thrilling tales while they are recovering. This contains some tropes that really ought not to be preserved – what is basically Stockholm syndrome combined with the Good Woman Can Cure Evil Man myth. I found myself charmed anyway. Quentin Blake’s characteristic flyaway ink drawings complete the lighthearted feel of the book. I haven’t had a chance to try it on the boy yet, but this feels like a perfect read-aloud book when a picture book is too short and a regular chapter book too long.

Cross-posted to http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org and http://sapphireone.livejournal.com .
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Young FredleYoung Fredle by Cynthia Voigt. Read by Wendy Carter. Fredle is a young mouse who lives behind the walls of the kitchen of a farm house, also inhabited by Mr. and Mrs., Baby, two dogs and a cat. He and his more adventurous girl cousin, Axel, enjoy pushing the boundaries of the strict mouse rules, talking while foraging and even foraging outside of the normal times. And then they find something new and delicious – a peppermint patty. They both eat themselves sick. Axel is able to run away to wait to get better, but Fredle is pushed out of the nest onto the pantry floor. From there, Mrs. takes him outside, presumed by all the mice to be a death sentence. Getting to this point of the story took long enough that I was surprised at how many discs were left of the audiobook – but this is really just the beginning. Fredle gets better, has an outside mouse bring him food, and discovers the stars and what he thinks are multiple moons. He must learn very quickly how to find food outside and how to stay safe from the outdoor cats as well as raptors, owls, snakes and racoons. Somehow, he makes friends with Sadie, the flightier of the two dogs, and develops an exploratory friendship with a young woodshed mouse who defies her colony’s rules against talking with house mice. He spends what seems like forever searching the perimeter of the house for a way back in, only to be kidnapped by a band of raccoons, the Rowdy Brothers. And when Fredle finally makes his way back home, he finds that he can no longer just go along with the rules that have always been followed, when he can see that doing things differently could save lives.

Many of the Amazon reviews talked about how the message was the importance of Freedom. Which is a nice all-American message, but not really the message that I got out of the book. It is some about freedom, of course – but when Fredle was first dumped on the grass outside, he was perfectly free and absolutely in danger of his life, both from the illness and from not knowing his way around. I think the more important lesson that Fredle learned was about flexibility and adaptation. Rules are fine if they’re really helping to keep you alive and safe, but they need to be re-evaluated regularly to make sure they really are still the best way to do things. Unmentioned in those reviews, but going along with it, is Fredle’s learning to appreciate beauty, not just going through the day trying to find enough to eat and then sleeping the rest of the day away. Many Amazon reviewers also found it slow, and aside from the slowish though not uninteresting beginning that I mentioned earlier, we did not find this to be the case. I listen to audio books in the car with my son daily, and rarely does he complain about the suspense of just having to stop wherever we land when we get to school. This time, he was waiting anxiously to find out what would happen to Fredle, especially as we had to turn it off just as Fredle had been spotted by a snake.

This was a runner-up for the annual ALA Odyssey awards for best audio for youth and teens. It was indeed very pleasant listening, though there are also illustrations in the print version that we didn’t see. This is a good choice for elementary-age kids and would make a good fine family read-aloud.

Cross-posted to http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org and http://sapphireone.livejournal.com .
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book coverThe Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall. Read by Susan Denaker. The Penderwicks appears now on just about every middle grade summer reading list I see, and no wonder. Birdsall has mastered the quiet family adventure novel. There might not be spies or time travel or indeed anything that might not actually happen, yet it never seems slow or boring. This is the third entry in the series, after a second novel that looked rather sadly like it might be tying up the whole series. In this novel, newly married Daddy is off on a honeymoon with his bride and her two-year-old (too small to be left behind, honeymoon or not). Rosalind, the eldest, is going on a vacation of her own with friends in New Jersey, leaving a very nervous Skye as the Oldest Available Penderwick, in charge of eleven-year-old Jane, five-year-old Batty, and Hound, for their two-week vacation in an ocean-side cottage at Point Mouette in Maine. If the evil Mrs. T-D allows it, their friend Jeffrey from the first novel will also be joining them. Will Skye be able to handle the responsibility of being OAP? Will Jane get past her writer’s block? Will Batty blow up, and what might cause it? Who does the nice musician who lives next door remind them of? Although accompanied by Aunt Claire, the girls are largely running things themselves as Aunt Claire sprains her ankle early on. Each character is lovingly depicted, each so different that you can tell which character is talking just by the word choice. Susan Denaker’s slightly old-fashioned narration is just right. This was a book that I longed to have more time to listen to and yet was disappointed when it ended. I might expect more people to enjoy children’s literature than actually do, but this feels like a book that everyone from kindergarten-age on up would enjoy reading together.

Alvin Ho

Oct. 31st, 2011 01:29 pm
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Here’s a series that was mentioned in a recent Books for Boys webinar from Booklist.

book coverAlvin Ho Collection Books 1 & 2: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things. Allergic to Camping, Hiking, and Other Natural Disasters. by Lenore Look. Read by Everette Plen. These are fairly short early chapter books of the funny but realistic kids type. Alvin Ho is a second-grade Chinese-American boy, interested in many things (like superheroes and baseball) and afraid of many more, like girls and school. On weekends, Alvin is a gentleman-in-training and Firecracker Man, a fearless superhero, while during the week, he’s too scared even to talk at school. The books are two-disc affairs (two books to a set), mostly episodic adventures around things like Alvin trying to make friends at school, going camping, and what happens when he lets loose on his psychotherapist the Shakespearean cursing that his father loves to use when upset. Alvin is sometimes joined in his adventures by his older brother Calvin, and more often by his five-year-old sister Anibelly. There is a lot to like about these books. There are not so many books with Chinese-American protagonists, and Alvin definitely doesn’t fit the stereotype of the Asian teacher’s pet. Alvin believes that crying makes you feel better, and bursts into tears at times of real or potential stress. And Alvin’s family relationships are loving and believable. I might have enjoyed the books more if they had been read by someone else. Everette Plen (and Mr. & Mrs. Plen, what’s with spelling your son’s name with the feminine ending?) is a child actor who read with decent expression but uniform full-speed-ahead pacing. I wanted to love them more than I did, but they are fine examples of realistic early fiction to appeal to both boys and girls, and the boy and I enjoyed them.

Cross-posted to http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org and http://sapphireone.livejournal.com .
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This one was part of my on-going listening adventures with my son. As my dear readers no doubt remember, he’s about to start first grade, but is listening on more of a fifth- or sixth-grade level, so we’re always looking for books that will be enjoyable without getting too advanced subject-wise. I’d never actually read this classic, but remember Mrs. Austin reading it to the family in Meet the Austins by Madeline L’Engle. LB is often of the opinion that if children have been enjoying a book for a long time, there’s probably a reason. He chose to listen to this over the modern fantasy I checked out at the same time.

book cover Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney. Read by Bernadette Dunne This book, published in 1881, is a Victorian Sweet Family Struggles through Hard Times novel. (Little Women, featuring a family with older children, was published in 1868.) The Peppers are a family of six. Mrs. Pepper, or Mamsie, is a widow struggling to support her five children with her needlework. As hard as she works, it’s only ever enough to put bread in their mouths, never enough to send them to school. Ben, the oldest at twelve, also works outside the home to bring in some extra cash, while Polly, probably eleven, manages the house, doing the cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the three younger children, Davie, Joel and little Phronsie, the baby at three years old. Despite their poverty, the little brown house in which they live is filled with love and laughter. They have little adventures around things like trying to bake a birthday cake for Mamsie, though they can’t afford white flour, getting measles, and trying to celebrate Christmas with gifts. One or the other of the girls getting lost is a recurring theme, resolved by the little girl being found by a rich man of some variety. In the first incident, little Phronsie is kidnapped by an itinerant organ grinder, left behind in the country, and rescued by thirteen-year-old Jasper King and his dog Prince. This develops into a family friendship that leads to first Polly and then the whole Pepper family moving into the King family mansion. I counted this plot device happening three times over the course of the book, and it’s not really a life message I want my children to absorb – just get lost and find a rich stranger who will rescue you and improve your lot in life. I also found the relentless sentimentality of the writing style to be a bit much. Never a child is mentioned to be doing something but the hand doing it is described as being a chubby little hand, even when the owner of the hand is eleven or twelve. I found that the narrator’s style exaggerated this with her reading style, so that it might not be so cloying if someone else were reading it. However, I was still able to enjoy it, even as the plot got increasingly improbable. When LB gets old enough not to want to hold hands in public, he might not enjoy this series so much. For right now, I’ll enjoy both holding hands and his excitement at finding out that we can get sequels from Project Gutenberg for free.

Originally posted at http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org .
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book coverThe Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling. Book 1 narrated by Flo Gibson. Book 2 narrated by Patrick Tull. It turns out that in a childhood spent reading, somehow I’d only read a couple of stories from the Jungle Book. The only one I remember clearly is Rikki-Tikki-Tavi. Somehow, despite living without a TV and rarely seeing movies as a child, I have a few images from the animated Disney movie stuck in my head, too. The original, as you might guess, is a whole lot less cute and funny than in Disney. Mowgli is still a child raised in the jungle by wolves. There are lots of short stories of his adventures, from his efforts to kill the tiger who was responsible for him coming to the jungle to his being cast out by the wolves, trying to live with humans, and coming back with the jungle to renew the Pack. In between Mowgli stories are others, most also set in India, but some set in the Arctic and other similarly remote places. Each story has an accompanying poem, which these days seems delightfully old-fashioned.

The whole thing is quite violent, mostly of course against animals, but still often horrific, as in the story where a young seal witnesses a group of others his age being clubbed to death, or the unforgettable battle between the mongoose Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and the cobras Nag and Nagina. There is no sex, of course, and hardly any women. The only one I can remember who isn’t a mother is a beautiful girl in white whom Mowgli sees walk by at one point, and that isn’t even a speaking role. Though in many ways I think that Kipling was trying to make his jungle function like a real one, his sexism extends to having the animals most respected in the jungle be the male elephant and his sons. I don’t know whether the matriarchal nature of elephant society was unknown at that point, or whether Kipling was too bound up in his worldview to see it. The supremacy of man to beast and white man to native Indian is of course even worse, both clearly there and balanced against Man being clearly crueler than Beast. But we found, the Boy and I, that these parts were infrequent enough that they didn’t interfere with the stories, which were with just one exception cracking good. We talked over the issues, agreed that the attitudes were outdated, and moved on. Underneath those outdated ideas are some deep truths, and great adventures in the meantime. The Boy very much wishes that there were more Jungle Books, especially more Mowgli stories.

We listened to both volumes of the Jungle Books. The first of these was narrated by Flo Gibson, whom Wikipedia says was a pioneer in recording classics for children, and whose voice is low and cracked enough that I heard age before I heard gender. The second was narrated by Patrick Tull, also possessed of a gravelly British voice, and who is best known for recording the vast majority of Patrick O’Brian’s Maturin-Aubrey series. Both narrators sounded more like a grandparent reading a story aloud than like some of the modern narrators who do convincing, distinct voices for each character. There are several other recordings out there, and I would be curious to know if any of my readers have listened to them. But in general: heartily recommended, within your and your child’s tolerance especially for violence.

Now this is the Law of the Jungle - as old and as true as the sky;
And the Wolf that shall keep it may prosper, but the Wolf that shall break it must die.
As the creeper that girdles the tree trunk the Law runneth forward and back -
For the strength of Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack.

"The Law of the Jungle" in The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling

Originally posted at http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org .
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book coverPippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren. Read by Esther Benson. I read Pippi multiple times as a child, of course, but hadn’t reread as an adult. And I tried Pippi on my son a couple of years ago – he would have been three or four – with high hopes that were soon dashed. It just didn’t work for him. Now, however, he is a big six-year-old, with kindergarten behind him and newly chafing at the rules that define childhood. In other words, ready for tales of a girl who defies the rules, who lives by herself and does what she wants. Even when the adults get upset with her, she ends up being loveable and saving the day her own way. I had remembered Pippi as a coherent story, and so was somewhat surprised to find that each chapter is a more or less independent story, with only the three main characters coming through from one story. Pippi rolls out cookies by the hundreds on her kitchen floor and gives Tommy and Annika lavish presents from her treasure stash. She rescues small children from bullies and fires, decides that school is much too restrictive for her, and puts on a better show than the circus. Though my LB is used to listening to books with longer plots, I’d imagine that these shorter stories would be ideal for introducing children to longer books, with continuing characters but shorter plot arcs. It’s a classic book, and Esther Benson reads it in classic style – which made me chuckle, too, as Pippi sounds much more refined than I imagined her being. We’ll be coming back for sequels.

Originally posted at http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org .
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book coverPolly and the Pirates by Ted Naifeh Our story opens with the young Polly Pringle at boarding school. She is regarded by her peers as sweet but much too willing to abide by the rules. That very night, her bed is hoisted out of her bedroom onto a pirate ship. She refuses to believe the awful truth at first: she is the only daughter of the famous Pirate Queen, taken as her crew’s last chance to find the Pirate Queen’s Hoard. The Pirate Prince, a handsome and untrustworthy-looking young man, is also after the treasure, and the Navy is after the lot of them. Polly rises to the occasion in a glorious way, proving in a manner quite unsettling to herself that she has inherited large amounts of her mother’s talent at nefarious business. Naifeh’s whimsical art, where the ships look like buildings, suits the story perfectly and is quite different from the moody shaded work he produced for Holly Black’s The Good Neighbors. This is rated for 7 and up, and I think it could go even younger if the child in question can sit still for an exciting story. The book says “Volume 1”, but I regret to say that my visit to Ted Naifeh’s web site failed to turn up any signs of a sequel in the works. Still, there’s a lot to be said for a one-shot story, and this one is highly entertaining.

Originally posted at http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org .
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book coverThe Clockwork Three by Matthew J. Kirby Sometime around the turn of the last century, in an east coast town something like Boston, three children meet. Giuseppe is a street busker, sold by his uncle to a cruel padrone who takes his earnings and doesn’t feed him if he doesn’t make enough. Frederick is a clockmaker’s apprentice, rescued from the harsh orphanage factory. Hannah is a maid at the hotel where her father was a stonemason before his stroke. All have desperate hopes – Giuseppe to return to Italy and find his sister and brother, Frederick to make a clockwork automaton and become a full journeyman, and Hannah for her father to get well enough to work so that she no longer has to support the family. There is a mysterious and wealthy fortune-teller, Madame Pomeroy, rumored to travel with a tiger, who employs Hannah when she is almost fired. There is a search for treasure left by a wealthy former resident of the hotel, and just a hint of magic. Soon, the three children realize that only by working together can they solve their problems. There were a few moments where the intended easy meshing of clockwork plot pieces seemed a little contrived, but all in all, this is a lovely and engrossing effort.

Crossposted to http://sapphireone.livejournal.com and http://library-mama.dreamwidth.org .
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book coverThe Birthday Ball by Lois Lowry. Illustrations by Jules Feiffer. This is a sweet little book from heavy hitter and Newbury-award winning author Lowry. The Princess Patricia Priscilla is about to turn 16 and is bored with everything. Bored with her life, bored with the idea of the ball in honor of her birthday, bored with the thought of having to choose a husband. After talking with her maid, she decides to borrow her maid’s clothes and attend the local village school just for something fun to do. There, she gets educated in what life is like for the peasantry and falls for the handsome young school teacher. Breaks from this story introduce the princess’s would-be suitors, all odious men from places with names like Dyspepsia. It’s a light tale for younger chapter book readers, with modern elements mixed into the setting adding to this feel, as well – one of the suitors, for example dresses in spandex, and the maid, trapped in the princess’s suite waiting for the return of her dress, reads Alice in Wonderland. The scribbly illustrations are by Jules Feiffer, whose work I recognized from my childhood reading of The Phantom Tollbooth. Will Patricia find a way out of having to choose from the odious suitors? I would have found this book just a bit better if the choice weren’t quite so clear, but it’s still a fun story for princess-obsessed girls. Pair it with The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye or Patricia Wrede’s slightly meatier Dealing with Dragons.
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book coverThe Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place. Book 1: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood. Read by Katherine Kellgren.
When we meet fifteen-year-old Penelope Lumley, she is a recent graduate of the Swanburn School for Poor Bright Females, on her way to her first job interview at the imposing Ashton Place. Only after accepting the position of governess does she meet the children – three children who have been raised by wolves. Penelope’s challenging job is to teach Alexander, Beowulf and little Casseopeia not only English, but also how to behave at a formal ball and how to do the Schottisch – whatever that is – before Christmas. Its vague references to novels starring plain governesses or set in large manor houses went right over Lightning Bolt’s head but greatly amused my love and me. The children are unbelievably quick to learn human ways but cling endearingly to some wolfish traits like chasing squirrels, howling at the moon, and adding wolfish noise to their words – “Miss Lumley” becomes “Lumeroo”. There are several mysteries, however: Who left the children in the woods in the first place? Does Penelope herself still have parents? And why is Lord Ashton so very attached to his almanac? The story is told in classic style by a narrator who puts in frequent notes along the lines of, “Now that we have gotten to know Miss Lumley, we may call her Penelope.” As always, Katherine Kellgren does a superb job of narrating, including in this case, the voices of children who sound partly like children and partly like wolves. We listened to it twice over before bringing it back to the library, and I at least am going to keep an eye out for the next books.

Larklight

Apr. 6th, 2010 08:28 pm
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Many thanks to my love for discovering this book, which Lightning Bolt and I listened to in the car.

book coverLarklight by Phillip Reeve. Read by Greg Steinbruner. Larklight is set in an alternate Victorian world, where the British Empire spans the solar system. Our narrator, Art Mumby (eleven or so, I’d guess), and his proper teen-aged sister Myrtle live in an ancient and remote manor house, Larklight, that orbits the earth past the moon. When their home is attacked by giant white spiders, Art and Myrtle escape to the moon, where they are rescued from the fearsome wildlife there by the young pirate Jack Havock. Art, Myrtle, Jack Havock and his crew of aliens then embark on a quest to save the solar system. I found a whole lot to like about this book. There is the wonderful Victorian-flavored prose, with both the floweriness and schoolboy slang. As part of this, the wooden ether ships are powered by the alchemical wedding which naturally occurs not in an engine room but in a wedding chamber. Many of the characters are archetypes twisted just enough to be self-aware – the Plucky British Schoolboy, the Very Proper Young Lady in Search of Love, and the Pirate with the Heart of Gold. Despite the unreality of wildlife that can survive in the ether and on the moon, the vast distances of the solar system seem much more accurately represented here than in much of sci-fi: Mars is the farthest regular British outpost. There are aliens and a few humans on the moons of Jupiter, but Saturn is farther than humans have ever managed to go. I really enjoyed Steinbruner’s reading of the text, his British accents as Art appropriately youthful and plucky, but the print book is also lovingly illustrated, so you can take your pick. My library has this shelved in teen, but I can’t see why – it seems more appropriate for children’s fiction. If you love this (and why wouldn’t you?) there are two more books in the series.
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Another one that LB and I enjoyed listening to.

book coverThe Pepins and Their Problems by Polly Horvath. Read by Julie Halston. Mr. and Mrs. Pepin and their two children, Irving and Petunia, think they are ordinary enough people. Somehow, though, they and their very fine neighbor Mr. Bradshaw keep having problems. Why is their cow producing lemonade instead of milk? How will they get off the roof when the ladder has fallen down? What to do when the neighbor on the other side objects to Mr. Bradshaw’s being called a very fine neighbor? Most authors would let their characters muddle through these difficulties on their own, but not this one! She solicits her readers/listeners for advice on what the Pepins should do and includes responses from across the country. This is silliness the whole family will enjoy.
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book coverThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Read by the author. I’m guessing that most of my readers don’t need me to tell them to read Neil Gaiman. That, and this book winning both the Newbery and a Hugo… but there it is. I read it and it was cool and now I feel like writing about it. The tale of Nobody Owens, raised by ghosts in a graveyard after the murder of the rest of his family, is still too dark for me to share with Lightning Bolt. However, Gaiman handled the opening murder scene delicately enough that a slightly older child probably would be ok with it. I liked the way he used characters that experienced fantasy readers would probably recognize without ever using the standard label. For example, Bod’s guardian, Silas, who is neither quite alive nor dead, is seen only by dark, doesn’t eat the same kind of food as Bod, and has unusually strong powers of persuasion. I loved the way the stories of isolated incidents at various points of Bod’s childhood built up stealthily into a plot. I appreciated that Gaiman didn’t settle for the easy resolution to the story. And I was smitten by his narration. I have heard some authors read their books quite badly, others passably. Gaiman ranks up there with some of the best professional narrators I’ve heard. Neil Gaiman rocks. But then, we knew that already.
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book coverElijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis Christopher Paul Curtis, native of Flint, Michigan, is the king of taking a serious topic and telling a funny children’s story about it. In Bud, Not Buddy, for example, he tells the story of a black, motherless boy hitchhiking across Michigan during the Depression. If you were looking for a cheerful story, you might just turn the other way after reading that description. And you would be very wrong. It is a book to make you laugh out loud, even though the tough realities of the Depression are still there. Yes, it won the Newbery, and it deserved it.

But here we’re talking about Elijah of Buxton. Elijah is the first free-born child in the town of Buxton, Ontario, a refuge for runaway slaves. Elijah is a mischievous boy who tells the stories of his pranks in colloquial language. I expect I’ll want to listen to it soon, too, as the narration style would make for a great listening book with the right reader. The anecdotes, filled with the colorful characters and details of life in the town, build slowly in intensity. Then, the details that seemed unconnected come together, as Elijah finds himself crossing the border to the United States in pursuit of a thief who has stolen the funds meant to buy the freedom of an entire family. Still, the story is funny through most of the book, moving, captivating. I was left in awe of Christopher Paul Curtis once again.
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The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron The most recent Newbery award winner apparently got pulled from a number of libraries (mostly school, I think) because it includes the shocking word “scrotum” on the first page. As overheard by our heroine. It is not mentioned again until the last chapter. Anyway, being the curious type, I thought I would investigate on behalf of you, my loyal readers.

10-year-old Lucky is more or less an orphan, with a father who left at the news she was coming and a dead mother. She’s being cared for by her father’s first wife, Brigitte, who flew over from France to take care of Lucky. They live in three adjoining trailers in the desert in tiny Hard Pan, California. Lucky's after school job is cleaning up after all the various Anonymous meetings. Listening in on them provides her both with stories even as she tries to follow the twelve steps herself. Lucky is still dealing with the death of her mother two years ago, as well as worrying that Brigitte, only a guardian, will go back to France. Her struggle is echoed in literary fashion by a little five-year-old boy who follows Lucky around everywhere, asking her to read Are You My Mother?, when Lucky would rather be working on scientific exploration and finding her Higher Power. Despite the grim premise, Lucky is an endearing and plucky character, and the story is funny and adventurous as well as touching.
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Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson For those of you going through Harry Potter withdrawal, may I suggest Peter and the Starcatchers? This fast-moving adventure with a sense of humor takes us back to a time when Peter Pan was just Peter, an orphan with a dismal and probably short future. Peter, still the leader of a small gang of orphans, is being sent to a barbarian king on a faraway island, onboard a small and dingy ship. Also onboard is young Molly, apprentice Starcatcher. Apparently, when stars fall on earth, the starstuff causes magical mutations, often harmful, so that it must be removed from earth by the Starcatchers before it can cause too much damage. Sure enough, a large and leaky chest of starstuff features prominently in the plot, as does the evil Captain Stache and his pirate crew. The plot will keep you on the edge of your seat and the characters are charming and believable. The book, for me, restored the magic of Peter Pan that was missing when I reread the original, with its old-fashioned mores. The savages are real people; Molly's aim in life is not to become a mother ASAP. It's an origin story well worth reading.
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Jack Plank Tells Tales by Natalie Babbitt Long-time favorite Natalie Babbitt (Tuck Everlasting) returns with this delightful collection, sure to be a hit. Cutting the microphone, Jack Plank is a retired pirate, looking for a new career. Every day, he heads out with his landlady’s daughter to try to find a job. Every night, he returns unsuccessfully, but with a tale to tell of why that particular career could never work for him. He couldn’t possibly do work that involved crossing a bridge, for example, because of the experience that a shipmate had with something closely resembling a troll in Nova Scotia, and another shipmate had an experience that put him off wigs forever. Jack Plank does find a job in the end, of course, but by that time, all we want is more stories. The stories belong to that wonderful variety, which are entertaining for an adult without being too scary for the beginning chapter book reader.
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Emperor's New Clothes
Night Kitchen Radio Theater Volume 1: The Emperor’s New Clothes and Pinocchio Mr. FP has recently started recognizing and protesting adult books in the car. This was an effort to find shorter things that he might understand better. The Emperor’s New Clothes clearly mocked the current administration, which I found apt and hilarious. Pinocchio was told more straight and was, alas, less interesting to me. Both of these audio plays use a frame to tell the story, which made them still over the head of a two-year-old. They would probably work for five and up, and the hour-long stories seem perfect for short car trips or attention spans.

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