Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Book Review: The Little Match Girl, adapted and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney

My favorite tale by Hans Christian Anderson has always been The Little Match Girl. The poignancy, the moved me deeply as a child, and still does. Naturally, then, it was a story I wanted in my own library, to share with my daughters, but with so many versions, which to choose? It was blind serendipitous luck that the version I ordered, because the cover drew me in, was adapted and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. I love it. And that seems like a feeble way to describe my emotional reaction to it.

It is an incredibly moving version, both the text and pictures. Set in a large turn-of-the-century American city, where horse-drawn carriages are sharing the road with automobiles, Pinkney's version highlights the poverty prevalent in such big cities. His match girl has a more homogeneous, easily overlooked face. But don't let that fool you into thinking this is a bland version. The pictures, to me, reflect the rough life of the poor. From the very first picture of the story that shows the fear and destitution and hopelessness on the children's faces as they work in the cold attic to make small bouquets of flowers to sell, to the hungry longing on the little girl's red-cheeked face as she stares at the food on a cart on another page, to her little hand cupped around the lit match as she sits on the snow covered sidewalk in her torn stockinged feet.... It a good thing you can't see me now; the emotion that his drawings evoke in me in really quite embarrassing.

And yes, my children love it, too.

Thank you, Jerry Pinkney, for making this hauntingly beautiful book.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mini Book Reviews of Some of This Year's Reads

God Went to Beauty School
by Cynthia Rylant
ages 12 and up
I really enjoyed these poems. They are both fun and thought-provoking at the same time. A very intriguing image of God, although some critics may say it humanizes God too much.
by Clare Dunkle
ages 12 and up
I have never been able to get into Wuthering Heights, and since this book is billed as a prequel of sorts to Wuthering Heights, I'm probably missing something.  All in all, even without reading Wuthering Heights, it was a good ghost story. It definitely had the Gothic horror vibe going, if you like Gothic horror. I liked the story, and it held my interest, although the writing felt a bit choppy and incomplete at times. But maybe that's just a reflection of what the character felt. I liked the main character, Tabby, and was intrigued by how Dunkle wound her into the back story of Wuthering Heights.
by Cynthia Rylant
Ages 10 and up
I loved this book about a picturesque village God created as a "halfway house" for souls not ready to go to Heaven. This is a book of short stories about the residents of that village. Such good stories! Categorized as juvenile fiction, this is nevertheless a book anyone can enjoy. (And adults will probably appreciate it more.)
by Caroline Dale Snedeker
ages 8 and up
Newbery Honor Book
I expected to like this one more than I did. Especially given that it's a Newbery Honor book. The writing is excellent -albeit too long and wordy at times- and I like the character development. It was also an intriguing look into Quaker life.  The main male protagonist annoyed me no end. It was okay overall, good, even great in some places, but I struggled to stay interested enough to finish.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sandra Boynton Love

Sandra Boynton is an expert at packing a party into a small room, so to speak. Her books are the perfect read for babies and restless toddlers: bouncy, catchy rhymes, cute pictures, quick read. They have been favorites with all my girls, and Susanna, although she is now officially a pre-schooler (she just turned four), still loves them and she insists on having them read to her. And as much as her sisters grumble about her love of them, they still come running when they hear me reading them, and they'll willingly (mostly) read them to her. The problem is, the books are so catchy and fun to read, that my older two read aloud with me, which results in a stereo effect and drives Susanna batty. I have to threaten expulsion of the older two every single time we read them.

Here are Susanna's three favorite, most requested Sandra Boynton books:
Kids learn more complicated opposites in a fun way.
A rollicking animal hoedown.
Featuring animal sounds

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Mini Reviews of More Books I Read In September

Children's Literature: A Reader's History From Aesop to Harry Potter by Seth Lerer. (Non-fiction)
I only got through about half of this book before it had to go back to the library. Very informative, but rather dry. I love reading about the ins and outs of children's literature, but this book is text dense, ponderous and heavy, and is not a quick read.
I feel like I should give it another chance, but not right now.

The Iron Man by Ted Hughes. (Middle Grade)
An odd little story; an allegory of peace, if you will. Despite being the inspiration of the animated movie The Iron Giant, the only resemblance between the two is the presence of a metal eating iron giant and the boy named Hogarth.

Ivy's Ever After by Dawn Lairamore. (Middle Grade)
This reminded me a little of the picture book The Paper Bag Princess. Plucky princess Ivy doesn't wait around to let life happen to her, especially when she learns that the prince who is supposed to rescue her from her dragon-guarded tower imprisonment is an evil jerk, and her word puzzle-loving dragon jailer turns out to be a real friend. Together, she and the dragon set off to find her fairy godmother to enlist her help in fighting the people plotting to take over her father's kingdom. I think this would make an excellent read-aloud for my girls, and I like that the story is about friendship, family, and resourcefulness. There is a sequel out just today called Ivy and the Meanstalk

The Peach Keeper by Sarah Addison Allen. (Adult Fiction)
I really enjoyed this story about two women in a small Southern town, connected through their grandmothers who were once best friends, brought together in a surprising friendship as they struggle to right old wrongs and forge new paths of community, belonging and love. It's a story that combines mystery, romance, coming-of-age, and just a touch of magic.

(I liked that the main character from Garden Spells, Allen's debut novel, made an brief appearance in the book.)

A feast of a book for illustration enthusiasts, highlighting a few of the very talented illustrators of children's literature. The "story" behind the art of: Hilary Knight, Trina Schart Hyman, Harry Bliss, David Shannon, Bryan Collier, Paul O. Zelinsky, Brian Selznick, David Wiesner, Betsy Lewin, Denise Fleming, and Lane Smith. Interesting and well-written. My only "complaint" is that I wish there were more artists featured. (It makes me sad that many of the books by Trina Schart Hyman are no longer in print.)

Drink, Slay, Love by Sarah Beth Durst. (Young Adult)
Pearl (please note the irony of a creature of death named for the jewel symbolizing purity and innocence) is a young vampire from an old and distinguished vampire family. When she is stabbed through the heart by a unicorn, her whole world shifts. Suddenly she can be out in sunlight without burning up. When a diabolical plan hatched by her scheming parents lands her in high school, Pearl finds herself developing a conscience and friends. What will happen when her two worlds collide?

Blood Spirits by Sherwood Smith. (Adult/Young Adult Fiction)
I was so excited to read this sequel to Coronets And Steel, that came out the week after I finished the first book. And I wasn't disappointed. Excellent writing, same great characters, excitement, faster paced (than the first book), and a satisfying conclusion. (At least I'm guessing it's the conclusion?)

Charles and Emma: The Darwin's Leap of Faith by Deborah Heiligman. (Non-Fiction)
A fascinating, excellently written, and thoroughly researched, enjoyable biography about the Darwin's life together.

Overbite by Meg Cabot. (Adult Fiction)
The sequel to Insatiable. I liked it okay, although I wasn't thrilled with where Cabot chose to take the story. Oh well. The writing seemed rushed, compared to her first book.

Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie. (Adult Fiction)
My first Jennifer Crusie book. A fun, romantic story about an older divorced woman who reluctantly falls in lust/love with her younger downstairs neighbor. I liked it a lot. I'll be back for more from this author.

Amish Women: Lives and Stories by Louise Stoltzfus. (Non-Fiction)
A loving, intimate look at a few selected Amish Women, mostly in their own words, by a former member of their order. 

Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks (Adult Fiction)
A poignant, powerful look at life in early American history, as a young Puritan girl struggles with her place in the world, and her Native American friend is dragged, by circumstance, out of the life he knows. My first book by Brooks. Now I want to read her others.

The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker. (Non-Fiction/Memoir)
Elna Baker is a Mormon living in New York City, something her mother, especially, is not comfortable with. This is Elna's frank account of her life as she struggles with her religious identity and what it means to her.