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Book  Reviews

by Gregory, the Orange Forest Rabbit

(see more reviews here)
copyright 2003 by Lois June Wickstrom

Awake and Dreaming by Kit Pearson

Awake and Dreaming by Kit PearsonTheo hates being poor. Her father doesn’t know she exists. Her mother is a low-paid waitress who doesn’t make enough money to buy food and clothing, and pay the rent. Her mother hits her and yells at her and buys cigarettes for herself instead of shoes for Theo. Theo’s only happy times are when she dreams of having a nice family like the ones in books.

Theo spends so much time in her imagination, that it is not surprising she befriends a ghost. This ghost was a children’s author who died with one book unwritten.

Theo’s mother’s new boyfriend doesn’t like children. Her mother sends her to live with an aunt in Victoria. While on the ferry to Victoria, Theo sees the ghost, and then magically becomes part of her ideal family. Things quickly become dull for the reader when only nice things happen to nice people, and nobody has problems. Theo’s only problem is wondering if she is having a dream. Then suddenly she is back on the ferry to Victoria, and she must go to live with her aunt.

But, her dream family also lives in Victoria. And Theo investigates. The house she lived in exists. The family she was part of lives in that house. And her ghost lives in the cemetery near the house. But the family is composed of real people who fight and argue and have problems. And none of them remembers her. However, just as in her dream, they do befriend her.

Then Theo’s mother breaks up with her boyfriend and comes to Victoria to take her back. Theo doesn’t want to go. She has gotten used to regular meals, a warm house, and having friends. She meets with her ghost friend again. Then, the story takes a turn that leaves a puzzle for the reader – is Theo having another fantasy, or has her life truly become better? Theo gives her mother orders, and instead of hitting her, her mother obeys. Theo’s friends from different parts of her life befriend each other and her mother takes a good job and rents a warm apartment. All appears to be ending on a happy note – but that’s what happened last time Theo was awake and dreaming.

This book is the winner of the Canada Council for the Arts Governor General’s Literary Award, and the Ruth Schwartz Children's Book Award which is voted by school children who name their favorite book of the year.



This book is available as both an ebook and a treebook. You can read the ebook for free online at: http://korea50.army.mil/peacebound/index.html

Peacebound Trains by Haemi Balgassi

illustrated by Chris K. Soentpiet

Peacebound Trains by Haemi BalgassiSumi loves to watch the trains as they roll by her grandmother's house every afternoon. One day her mother will be on the train, coming home from the Army. Sumi's grandmother comes to sit with her on her favorite rock and watch the trains.

Grandmother, Harmuny in Korean, tells Sumi the story of another train she took long ago when she escaped North Korea during the war. Harmuny was a young mother. Sumi's mother was a baby in her arms.

Using poetic language, and illustrated by loving and detailed art, Peacebound Trains explains the devastating effects of war on family and country in language a child can understand. While this story is fictional, it is based on the story that the author's grandmother told her. Haemi Balgassi incorporates Korean vocabulary smoothly into the story, and the art depicts Korean dress of the time. Deftly weaving the specifics of the Korean conflict with the universality of family, this story is a good way to get your children thinking and talking about war.

Cockroach Cooties by Lawrence Yep

Cochroach Cooties by Lawrence YepMost children have to deal with a bully at their school. Teddy and his little brother Bobby live in San Francisco’s China Town, and their bully is named Arnie. They call him Arnie-zilla. In this story, Bobby foolishly gets the bully angry and Teddy jumps in to defend him. The nuns at their school step in to save Teddy a few times, but Arnie warns that the nuns won’t always be around. And he has plans to pummel them every day for the whole school year.

Throughout the rest of the story, the threat of Arnie is as real as the cable cars and small shops in China Town. The threat looms in the background as the boys buy a birthday present for their mother, visit the weird bug lady next door, and eat dinner at a Chinese restaurant where a leaky pipe is treated like a waterfall. The scenes with Arnie test the brothers loyalty to each other, as well as their ingenuity. Teddy feels that as the big brother, he must protect Bobby, even if it means getting a broken rib, like Arnie gave one of the other boys. But he also tells Bobby that having a little brother is like having a stone around his neck.

Lawrence Yep, author of this book, is married to Joanne "Spider" Ryder, a nature poet, and author of the just-for-a-day books in which readers become an animal for a day. Bobby shares Joanne’s interest in bugs. Much of the humor and pathos in this book comes when Bobby adopts a cockroach as a pet, and brings it to the bug lady to learn how to care for it. The only thing Teddy wants at the bug lady’s house is the cookies, and mysteriously Bobby warns him not to eat them. Like Joanne, Bobby tries to see things from the bugs’ point of view, and eventually from the bully’s point of view. Teddy meanwhile, helps the reader see the world from the point of view of a big brother.

Readers can empathize with Teddy and Bobby as they explore a world that is both familiar and very different from Sassafras Hill.

 



Before I review this book, I should explain that it is an ebook – that means it is not available in paper, but only electronically. Ebooks come in forms that can be read on all kinds of computers, including hand-held ones. You can’t buy them at most stores, but only on the web, and usually only at their publisher’s website. Fewer and fewer books are being printed each year, and yet there are more and more authors writing worthwhile books. Tree books are expensive to produce, transport to warehouses, and shelve in stores. A publisher of an ebook only needs to make one copy and put it on a website where it can be downloaded. No trees, no warehouse, no store shelves. So, an ebook publisher can afford to publish books that might otherwise never be read. Some authors epublish their own books. And some ebooks that become popular on the internet do get picked up by tree publishers and eventually sit on bookstore shelves.

This ebook is the winner of the 2002 Independent Ebook Award for Children’s Literature.

The Adventures of Biff and Buff Quite Possibly the Two Smartest Dogs in the World by Paul J. Gemmer. http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/YAdult.html

Adventures of Biff and Buff by Paul GemmerBiff and Buff are literate littermates -- Golden Retriever puppies who talk and read the newspaper and who have a goal of making the world a better place to have fun. Think about what would happen if Winnie the Pooh was a dog living in a city, instead of a bear living in the woods, and you're close. Garrett and Raine's mom didn't want a dog, but these two puppies were so irresistible that she took them both home.

These little puppies have amazing powers of persuasion. They not only get themselves adopted, they tame the cranky ice-cream man, talk a popular singer into performing a benefit concert for the SPCA, teach math, and even get along with a cat. Each adventure is a separate chapter so the book can be used for bedtime stories.

Paul Gemmer writes as if he personally knows these dogs. By the end of the book, readers will be wondering what they would do if Biff and Buff moved in with them. Would you take your dog for an art school exam, and then listen to his explanation of a blank piece of paper as art? Would you take your dog for a walk with a leash he designed using your fishing pole? And what would you do if your dog ran up your phone bill?

Johnny Jingle -Story and Pictures by Thomas Zarraonandia
Johnny Jingle -Story and Pictures by Thomas ZarraonandiaMy grandparents named my father Robert Louis, after Robert Louis Stevenson, their favorite poet. So, it was natural when I became fascinated with my shadow that they read me the Stevenson poem, "My Shadow."

My favorite verses are:

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see,
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head:
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow --
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there's none of him at all.

They had to buy a hard-cover book. You can read the whole poem free here:

http://www.ongoing-tales.com/SERIALS/oldtime/POETRY/shadow.html

And if you become fascinated with shadows, here’s a website

http://www.wsanford.com/~wsanford/exo/sundials/shadows.html

with lots of experiments you can do with your children to help them explore their shadows. The links at the bottom of the page are fun, too.

If you also like old-time poetry, here’s a page with dozens of links:

http://www.ongoing-tales.com/SERIALS/oldtime/POETRY/

And here’s a page with groundhog shadow poems:

http://www.stemnet.nf.ca/Groundhog/guide/poems.htm

All of which brings me to this week’s book. It’s another shadow poem Johnny Jingle written and charmingly illustrated by Thomas Zarraonandia. His daughter Anne Zarraonandia tells me her dad wrote this book over 40 years ago and she loves it so much she wants to share it with children everywhere.

The main website for this book is http://members.aol.com/johnnyjinglebook

And the slideshow of the ebook is here: http://homepage.mac.com/annez/PhotoAlbum9.html

You can also order it in treebook form.

Johnny Jingle is a sweet little boy with an adventurous shadow.

The book begins:

My name is Johnny Jingle
You can see I’m very small
But I have a silly shadow
That is sometimes very tall

The illustrations show Johnny’s silly shadow doing gymnastics, flying a kite, playing hide and seek, and then one cloudy day he disappears. Johnny looks everywhere for him. At the end of the book they are together again.

It’s cute. It rhymes. And it’s a friendly way to combine science and poetry. Enjoy.

 

Going Through the Gate  by Janet S. Anderson

Going Through the Gate by Janet AndersonForget Hogwarts! I want to go to Miss Clough’s one-room school. Albus Dumbledore has nothing on Miss Clough. Down a path behind her one-room school house stands a copper gate. And behind that gate lies the experience of a lifetime -- the experience shared by everyone in town on the day they graduate 6th grade -- the experience that shapes you for the rest of your life. Everyone in this town has gone through that gate – ever since Miss Clough became the teacher "a lifetime ago." There are no muggles here. Everyone who graduates 6th grade can go through that gate and be changed forever. It doesn't matter if you are new to town, or if your family has been there for generations. Five very different students each face this graduation day, eager and afraid, helping and sabotaging each other. The author builds up suspense and then delivers. This is practical magic. I loved it!

 

Since this is Seuss appreciation month, I figure I’ll mention my favorite Dr. Seuss book:

Bartholomew and the OobleckBartholomew and the Oobleck. The King wants something new to come from the sky. He's tired of the sun, the rain, the wind and the snow. He sends his magicians to their secret cave in mystic mountain Neekatave. In the morning green sticky oobleck falls from the sky and gums up the entire kingdom. It's great fun watching everything get stickier and sticker. Even the King gets stuck to his throne. Of course Bartholomew saves the day. And the King learns that the right thing to do when you've messed up other people's lives is apologize. Silly me, I'd hoped that my daughter would learn to apologize when she's made a mistake -- if kings can do it --- but she didn't get the message. Still, the book is delightful. I don't see it as an anti-science tale. Yes, lots of folks tried to talk the King out of his experiment, but scientists get that anti-science fear all the time. They have to ignore it or they can't do their jobs. The King didn't fire the magicians. This experiment was a failure. That didn't mean he should give up his throne and quit trying. He apologized, and went on with his life. That's the way life is.

Little Dragon Without FireAnd this week’s ebook is: The Little Dragon Without Fire by Laraine Anne Barker, available from http://www.diskuspublishing.com/laraineannbarker.html

All the other dragons tease Firetongue because he can’t breathe fire. His Uncle Inferno, who is known for telling tall tales and giving bad advice, tells him that the only way he’ll ever breathe fire is if he takes a ruby from the Fire God at Mount Furnace. Firetongue knows his mother won’t let him go if he asks, so he leaves a note where she won’t find it until after he’s begun his journey. You know what’s going to happen, but your kids probably won’t be able to guess the ending. Firetongue doesn’t get burned to a crisp by the Fire God. He also doesn’t get to breathe fire like the other dragons. But he does get a happy ending. Ebooks have budget problems, and this one isn’t illustrated.

dragon from Win WengerBut there’s another ebook about dragons that is free and has fine illustrations: The Philosopher’s Stone by Win Wenger at http://www.winwenger.com/ebooks/philstone.htm This story is a bit gruesome at the beginning where a knight kills two dragons, but after that he goes on to paint their pictures and recite poetry for them, and that conquers them even better Win Wenger dragorthan the sword. Okay, it’s propaganda in the guise of a story. This tale is an interesting example of thinking outside the box.