Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mediocre Tea + Styrofoam Cup = Nastiness

I've done some traveling this summer and have been forced to confront this ugly truth over and over: NOTHING tastes good in styrofoam (unless it's instant hot chocolate mix and I'm sitting around a campfire...). But I digress.

I'm not sure if coffee tastes as terrible in styrofoam, but tea is downright undrinkable--even if you start with something halfway decent, like Twinings.

Another thought has occurred to me during my travels: why, oh why, don't fast food restaurants offer hot tea? Think about it: you don't have to do ANY prep. As long as you have a hot water dispenser, you simply need to have a stash of tea bags. That's it. No clean up. No wasted tea to throw out at the end of the day. No filters to buy. Nada. Zip. Maybe my favorite Chick-Fil-A will see this post and start offering hot tea. Then, there truly will be no competition to the great chicken sandwich (and bendy straws--CFA is the only one to wise up to this genius idea for kiddos!).

Any thoughts from the peanut gallery? Any places you've found suitable hot tea options (other than coffee houses and establishments like Panera)? (note that I said "suitable"--I'm not even asking for delicious here... just something drinkable)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

All-of-a-Kind Family

All-of-a-Kind Family
Sydney Taylor

This book review is in honor of dear Megan who is enjoying having her beautiful new baby finally in her arms! (Another boy :-) ). Congratulations, Megan and family!

I know Megan read these books growing up and harbors all kinds of warm fuzzies toward them. What a great choice for my first Retro Reads post!

All-of-a-Kind Family is one of those books like The Five Little Peppers that makes you kind of (secretly, even) wish you were poor. The family is so loving, cheerful, hard-working, and kind that poverty looks downright enviable. The mother is devoted to her home and children, the hard-working husband comes home to children who are eager to shower him with affection, and all are working together to pinch pennies where necessary, sacrifice immediate gratification, and save up for wonderful family celebrations.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

New Feature: Retro Reads

I was at my friend Brandy's house this morning (we could talk books for HOURS--really, people, we have play dates for our kids as an excuse to hang out on the couch and talk books...; it's almost as bad as when Megan and I have one of our scheduled phone calls....). Anyway, I was brainstorming with her how to discuss books I loved as a kid but haven't read since, books that are... well... old, and books that are "classics"--and she coined "Retro Reads" for me. Brilliant.

Here's what you'll find in Retro Reads (hopefully Megan and co. will join in):

  • book reviews about books I loved back in the day but haven't reread as a critic; think of it as the kid's perspective, only from about 25 years distant (Wrinkle in Time, Bridge to Terebithia)
  • book reviews about books that are no longer "contemporary" and have to be lumped into historical fiction... but they're really not what most grownups consider historical (Ramona Quimby, Age 8--joke's on us, right?!)
  • book reviews about recognized classics (Heidi, Tom Sawyer, etc.)

I'll index them in with the rest, but label them "Retro Reads" so you know what kind of a review you're getting. If I missed sex, drugs, rock and roll in the book as a kid, it's safe to assume your kid will probably overlook them, too :-).

And now, my tea (Tetley British Blend--I need a serious wake up call this afternoon) is finished steeping and I'm off to read a stimulating Library Science textbook all about Collection Development (aka, buying more books for your library shelves). You should know that Retro Reads will comprise much of my reviews this fall since no one really wants me to review Collection and Development for the 21st century (or whatever it's called) in this particular blog space....

The Lion and the Mouse

The Lion and the Mouse
Jerry Pinkney
Caldecott Medal

How can you not pick up this book when you see that cover??? I remember first reading this book the month it came out in a bookstore with my kids while we were waiting on something. We just marveled at it. As I've mentioned before, I think Pinkney's illustrations are amazing. When it won the Caldecott, I was delighted--obviously others are recognizing its greatness, too!

In this retelling of the classic fable, the lion and the mouse are both expertly portrayed. The tenderness, the arrested motion , the way the illustrations carry the narrative from page to page--very few words are needed, and, thankfully, Pinkney doesn't use many words. This is a must see and must read. It's a book to savor and pour over.

Recommended for all! Especially the preschool-early elementary crowd.

Aesop's Fables

Aesop's Fables
Jerry Pinkney


There are many collections of Aesop's Fables out there--some of them truly marvelously illustrated. I happen to really enjoy Jerry Pinkney's illustrations, so I was delighted to find this collection at our local library. If you're looking for a good Aesop's Fables collection to add to your personal home library, check this out!!

Pinkney has retold and illustrated 60 of Aesop's Fables for this one volume; many fables are a few paragraphs long with a facing page of illustrations. Some are shorter with smaller illustrations. Pinkney has a gift for capturing movement in one still shot. I also think his use of color is second to none. In this collection, one of my favorite illustrations is that for "King Log and King Stork." The frogs leaping off the log, the stork with its golden crown sucking a frog down, and the contrast of the green frogs with the stork's orange legs--breathtaking. You can see strong hints of his Caldecott winning Lion and the Mouse in his short version of that fable here. There is a nice spectrum of ethnicities present as well: an African American (or African) milkmaid, an Asian fisherman, a Caucasian shepherd boy. Engagingly retold and stunningly illustrated--this blows most other Aesop's Fables collections away.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The London Eye Mystery

The London Eye Mystery
Siobhan Dowd

Ted and Kat's cousin Salim (and his crazy mother Aunt Gloria) have come to visit unexpectedly for a couple of days. During their stay, Salim goes for a ride on the London Eye (the giant Ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames), but he doesn't get off. The rest of the book is focused on solving the mystery of how someone could get on the Eye--a closed system--and not get off at the end of the ride. Ted and Kat together solve the mystery!

Friday, August 19, 2011

School is Beginning...

My daughter just started kindergarten! (and is loving it) She's in a 3 day/2 day co-op where she goes to school 3 mornings a week and is homeschooled 2 mornings a week.

And I'm starting my fall semester Monday. I'll be taking 2 classes this fall and one, in particular, looks work heavy.

I've enjoyed writing a plethora of reviews this summer (I took a class in Young Adult resources, so I was reading YA books all the time!), but I must warn you few faithfuls that my reviews will grow scarcer :-).

On the plus side: this coming spring, I'm hoping to take Resources for Children, so expect the picture book reviews to pick up!

Megan should be having a baby any day now, and then she can start to pitch in.... ha ha ha... as well all know, having that baby is only the start of more work! But they're such little blessings, we can hardly begrudge them the time they demand. This will be her third blessing, so she's catching up to me. :-)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

There's a Princess in the Palace

There's a Princess in the Palace
retold by Zoe B. Alley
R. W. Alley, ill.

There's a Princess in the Palace is a funny graphic novel-style reinterpretation of five classic princess tales (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, The Frog Prince, Princess and the Pea, and Snow White). The clever narrative in this oversized book is broken up into the five distinct tales, but each story is connected (hilariously) to the next so that the book forms a complete narrative. Two little mice keep the narrative moving and help connect the details--as well as provide extra humor.

This book is best for (newly) independent readers who have some familiarity with the original tales; readers should have enough maturity to pick up on occasional word plays, twists on the original tales, and general wit. This would also be a great choice for slightly older reluctant readers.

Recommended for first grade and up.

The Magic Summer

The Magic Summer
Noel Streatfeild, auth
Edward Ardizzone, ill

When I see an obviously old children's novel by two such recognizable names (Streatfeild is the author of the shoes books--Ballet Shoes, Dancing Shoes, etc.; Adrizzone wrote and illustrated books like Tim and the Brave Sea Captain), I just cannot resist! Sadly this book is out of print; look for it in your local library.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book chronicling the adventures of 4 English children sent to live with their crazy great aunt in Ireland. Throughout the book, the children (two boys and two girls, ages 9-14 or so) learn to do for themselves and learn about all kinds of people. The crazy great aunt is exceedingly fond of spouting off random poems and lines from many familiar children's stories and poetry; the more well read you are (or your child is), the more you will enjoy it. You'll be ready to pick up a book of poetry and go fishing or rustle up some scrambled eggs for dinner after reading about these children's adventures! This is sort of a predecessor in a way to books like The Penderwicks.

Recommended for elementary/middle

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children

The Random House Book of Poetry for Children
compiled by Jack Prelutsky
illustrated by Arnold Lobel
sorry the picture is blurry!

This is an outstanding anthology of poetry for children. Jack Prelutsky is famous for his influence on and advocacy for poetry for children; he's the source of the marvelous poetry book The Bold Umbrellaphant. Arnold Lobel is beloved for his Frog and Toad books and has written and illustrated many others.

If you are looking for a solid poetry anthology for children and/or want to add to an existing collection, this is a perfect place to start. The poems range in size and age appropriateness; contents are arranged according to general theme (animals, food, etc.) and several indexes help locate favorites.

Daisy Dawson is on Her Way

Daisy Dawson is On Her Way
Steve Voake, auth
Jessica Meserve, ill

Daisy Dawson dawdles. And she can understand what animals and bugs are saying! So she talks back. Which makes her dawdle some more....which makes her late to class....again.

NOOK: First Thoughts

I've now had my NOOK for 3 days. I got the color version instead of the e-ink version! I've hardly used it (believe it or not), so these are just a few preliminary thoughts in case you are interested in the e-reader phenomenon:  (I'll keep you posted; my tech-y hubby is drooling over the possibility of converting the NOOK to an Android tablet... that's what happens when you're married to an electrical engineer!)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Great Turkey Walk

The Great Turkey Walk
Kathleen Karr

Do you need a good laugh? A rollicking good read? Lighter fare after The Hunger Games? Then this is the book for you! 

Back in the day... oh 'bout 1860, Simon Green takes it on himself to walk 1000 turkeys clear across Missouri and Kansas to the great city of Denver 'cuz he might be able to make a profit on those birds, seeing as how they ain't many turkeys in Denver. Told in Simon's engaging drawl, Karr illustrates one of those rare historical oddities that we've forgotten about: livestock "walks" in which someone literally walked livestock a great distance, usually to sell at their destination. And turkeys were among those livestock!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Okay for Now

Okay for Now
Gary Schmidt

Okay for Now is one of those books that has a perfect title. I truly cannot think of a better title to sum up this gem. It has perfect pitch, too. You will laugh, cry, grimace, wince, smile, gasp--all on the same page sometimes. And, it passes one of my hardest tests: a perfect ending. I'm hard on endings--especially when you have to wrap up this many loose ends. But Schmidt gives us an okay for now ending....

It Pays to Read!!!

I'm just tickled pink over here folks. Look at my new toy!

Now, I must confess I've been dragging my feet over the whole e-reader idea: is it good? bad? indifferent? And who wants to plunk down hard earned cash just to see?

Well, as usual this summer, I entered our local library's adult reading challenge (I always enter my kids because they get cool coupons and puppets). And this year, I won the drawing! I'll be picking up my nook (the e-ink version which is great for... reading!) Friday morning at 10 at our downtown branch. They're going to take my picture and everything. So, now you're reading the blog of a minor celebrity. (That's all it takes around here to become a minor celebrity :-) ).

Stay tuned for e-reader opinions which hopefully will be forthcoming.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The True Princess

The True Princess
Angela Ewell Hunt, auth.
Diana Magnuson, ill.

While the illustrations are not my favorite, I think this is a book worth owning and reading to your little princess! Gently, it sends the message that a true princess, a true daughter of the King, is one who thinks of others and who does her job cheerfully--while still acting as a charming story in its own right. This story will appeal to girls who are into princesses--it is simple enough to read to a fairly young child (age 3), but older girls will appreciate it, too. If you, like me, are seeking resources to combat the princess craze, then seek this book out. At the time of this review, it is cheapest on (not amazon, like usual!).

The Three Trees

The Tale of Three Trees: A Traditional Folktale
Angela Ewell Hunt (retold by)
Tim Jonke, ill.

This is a familiar story to many: three trees wishing for certain things are all used in the life of Christ. Along the way, their wishes get fulfilled in unexpected ways. The illustrations are wonderful. This folktale does a terrific job of covering the life of Christ from birth to death--it should be read year round, not just at Easter or Christmas.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Under Construction....

Literaritea is under construction....

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Queen's Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

The Thief (1996; Newbery Honor)
Queen of Attolia (2000)
King of Attolia
Conspiracy of Kings
Megan Whalen Turner
Mythopoeic Winner 2011 (whole series to date)*

Go. read. these. now.

You still have time before school starts. Trust me.

The Queen's Thief Series is epic fantasy--not fantasy as in dragons, wizards, elves, and fairies, but fantasy in the sense of castles, gods/goddesses who intervene in the lives of mortals (on occasion), and a hero's quest. The hero of these books is the very unlikely, snarky, storytelling thief named Eugenides (Gen, for short). Readers fall in love with him and hold their breath during his adventures. Turner has a real genius for crafting memorable, strong characters (both men and women), crafting amazing plot twists, and building another world. She gives us adventure, political intrigue, suspense, sword fighting, storytelling, genuine despair, and true love.

The Thief Lord

The Thief Lord
Cornelia Funke
2000 (Germany); 2002 (USA)
trans by Oliver Latsch
Batchelder Award winner

The Thief Lord was originally written in German, and it received the Batchelder Award when it was translated into English and published in the U.S. The Batchelder Award is given to the best work in translation that year. Think of it as a Newbery for foreign-language works.

This book is action packed from the start. It follows two English brothers, Bo and Prosper, as they try to make their way in Venice on their own. The Thief Lord is a masked boy named Scipio who is hiding his real identity and who helps a gang of young children (orphans and runaways, including Bo and Prosper) survive on the streets of Venice. A detective named Victor has been hired by Bo and Prosper's aunt to track the boys down. A woman named Ida becomes a surprising friend and aid to the children, and the theft of a magical item from long ago plunges the children into a adventure and a surprising ending.