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review 2015-03-31 14:02
Return to the Willows
Return to the Willows - Jacqueline Kelly,Clint Young

Modern sequels to beloved classics are a tricky thing.  Sometimes they're really well done (Wishing for Tomorrow: The Sequel to A Little Princess) and sometimes they make me want to hurl the book across the room (The Beekeeper's Apprentice). 


Thankfully, this one was really quite well done which didn't surprise me all that much as this same author wrote the remarkable debut novel The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate.  We know the lady can write, but could she capture the essence of one of of the most beloved of all children's novels? 


Yes, mostly.  I think she gets the characters just about right.  Toad's sojourn to Cambridge and the resulting disaster was absolutely hysterical.  The overall tone is a bit lighter and sillier feeling than the first, but that's not entirely a bad thing.  I thought the story was very fun and I'm firmly in the camp of loving the footnotes, but I could see how they could be annoying.  I didn't love the addition of Matilda Rat.  It feels a bit out of character for Ratty to have a love interest and, what's more, she really seems more like a plot device than a fully fleshed out character. 


Overall, a very fun read for anyone who don't feel they can ever get quite enough of 'messing about in boats'.

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review 2014-11-04 21:40
Where's Mommy?
Where's Mommy? (Mary and the Mouse) - Beverly Donofrio,Barbara McClintock

I am an ardent Barbara McClintock fan.  She's the illustrator I'd want to be if I was an illustrator.  Her style just speaks to me on just about every level.  I own almost everything her pen has touched. 


Sadly, our picture book reading days are dwindling as my daughter approaches tweendom.  But we both still love picture books and will make the time for special ones like this. 


It's important to know that this is a sequel to another fabulous picture book titled Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary.  You don't have to read that one to get something out of this one, but it sure enhances the experience greatly! In fact, the pair would make a LOVELY gift for any child who like miniatures and tiny details.

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review 2014-10-02 15:52
Wonderstruck - Brian Selznick

Gosh, that Brian Selznick is a clever dude.  I felt that Hugo Cabret worked so well because (a) it was totally new and unique and (b) its storyline (silent films/mystery) worked perfectly with the medium.  And so I wondered if he could really pull it off a second time.  Well, pull it off he did and, in my opinion, with even more success. 


Wonderstruck tells two equally engrossing stories.  One, set in 1977, tells the story of a grieving boy named Ben who is dealing with the loss of his mother and the total loss of his hearing while also attempting to unravel the mystery of his unknown father.  The other, set in 1927, tells the story of Rose - an overprotected, lonely and deeply unhappy deaf girl seeking some kind of freedom and happiness.  Ben's story is told in text and Rose's exclusively in pictures.  The stories intersect in surprising and enjoyable ways and overall this book is just a delight to experience.


I absolutely LOVE how Selznick always manages to incorporate non-fiction elements into his stories.  With Hugo it was silent films and Georges Méliès in particular.  Here it's museums - specifically the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the precursors to formal museums - Cabinets of Wonder.  I think in some author's hands this type of thing could feel clunky and pedantic, but Selznick's passion for the subject always shines through and is deeply infectious.


Finally, one simply cannot read this book and not think of E.L. Konigsburg's From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  I was thrilled to see Selznick address this in his acknowledgements AND he says there are little references to Konigsburg and her book sprinkled throughout his book!  I didn't catch a single one and now I feel like I may have to go back and read the entire thing!  Well, I could think of a lot worse ways to spend my time.

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review 2014-05-19 16:59
Fergus Crane: Far-Flung Adventures
Fergus Crane - Paul Stewart

The story is whimsical and enjoyable if a bit slight, but the total package is really something special.  I'm really just a sucker for beautifully and abundantly illustrated chapter books.  I'm also a sucker for anything illustrated by Chris Riddell (Gulliver's Travels, Castle Diary, Ottoline, etc.).  As always, his illustrations here are absolute perfection and enhance the story greatly.  I think we will continue with the rest in the series (Corby Flood & Hugo Pepper), but I can't help but wonder if perhaps if this same author/illustrator duo's Edge Chronicles might be a better fit for us.

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review 2014-05-15 00:15
A Child's Book of Natural History
A Child's k of Natural History - Margaret Fishback, Oliver Herford, Hilary Knight

I will buy anything illustrated by Hilary Knight - anything!  I've never been disappointed by him and I don't believe I ever will be based on this, my most recent purchase, and all past experiences.


This is a collection of 21 animal themed poems.  The poems here have a bit of an odd history.  The cover says that they are 'based on A Child's Primer of Natural History by Oliver Herford - revived and rejuvenated by Margaret Fishback'.  Odd phrasing if you ask me.  I always like to know what has been changed and why so I went digging for the original source which can be read here. For the most part, I think Fishback's changes seem good, but it still strikes me as a strange thing to do. 


Herford was writing in the early 1900s and so I wondered if Fishback had edited him to make the poems more PC.  And it seems that's the case in some instances. 


Herford's Seal Poem:


SEE, chil-dren, the Fur-bear-ing Seal;
Ob-serve his mis-di-rect-ed zeal:
He dines with most ab-ste-mi-ous care
On Fish, Ice Water and Fresh Air
A-void-ing cond-i-ments or spice,
For fear his fur should not be nice
And fine and smooth and soft and meet
For Broad-way or for Re-gent Street


Fishback's Seal Poem (an excerpt):


His fur is soft and warm and sleek --

The kind that grasping hunters seek.

But he would rather bob and float

Than be some lady's winter coat.


But then, Fishback added a poem about the elephant that wasn’t even in the original collection. It opens like this:


 This is the Elephant, who lives

 With but one aim – to please.

 His ivory tusk, he freely gives

 To make piano keys.


Ugh, gross, right?  


But the illustrations totally MAKE this book worth it.  It’s not hard to tell that this book was published in 1969 - the groovy colors leap off the page! Check out some examples here. Books/illustrations just don’t look like this anymore!


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