Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top Drawer Tuesday: Roald Dahl

Just three days ago was “Roald Dahl Day” as the famous children’s author was born on September 13th.
Born in Wales to Norwegian parents, Dahl served in the Royal Air Force during World War II.

His first piece of paid writing told of one of his adventures as a fighter pilot entitled “Shot Down over Libya” and was published in the Saturday Evening Post on August 1, 1942. For reasons of military security, Roald Dahl was not allowed to identify himself or his fighting unit, so the article appeared anonymously. However, the success encouraged him to continue writing and he went on to first write the lesser-known The Gremlins, then James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Interestingly, another famous children’s author, Antoine de Saint ExupĂ©ry, was also shot down in the Libyan Desert during World War II, and his near death experience inspired the novella, The Little Prince. 

This report was brought to you by Mr. Edwin Riddle
Of Public Relations, Personal Investigations, and Subterfuge

Friday, September 12, 2014

Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

Title: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
Author: Tom Angleberger
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

About The Book (Taken from Goodreads): 
Meet Dwight, a sixth-grade oddball. Dwight does a lot of weird things, like wearing the same T-shirt for a month or telling people to call him "Captain Dwight." This is embarrassing, particularly for Tommy, who sits with him at lunch every day. 

But Dwight does one cool thing. He makes origami. One day he makes an origami finger puppet of Yoda. And that's when things get mysterious. Origami Yoda can predict the future and suggest the best way to deal with a tricky situation. His advice actually works, and soon most of the sixth grade is lining up with questions.

Tommy wants to know how Origami Yoda can be so smart when Dwight himself is so clueless. Is Yoda tapping into the Force? It's crucial that Tommy figure out the mystery before he takes Yoda's advice about something VERY IMPORTANT that has to do with a girl.

My Review:
It took some time for me to find the heart of this book. I guess that is because the story begins and ends with Tommy wondering if another girl likes him and deciding whether or not he should ask her to dance. This seems like something just too basic and shallow to hold even a mere 141 pages together. Despite the fact, that this is where the book begins and where the book ends, it is not really what the book is about. 
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda perfectly captures middle school in all of its awkward glory. Middle School can be a lonely, embarrassing, and even terrifying time for many. At a point in one’s life when differences of size and maturity are at all time extremes, tolerance and sensitivity are at an all time low. All must coexists in the strange and brutal ecosystem that is Middle School: the strong, pretty and popular as well as the weak, freaks, geeks, and just plain weirdos. I felt this book captured that perfectly. The underlying theme seemed to be tolerance, it surfaced in each “case” one way or another. I do feel there should have been a little more plot, but I’ve heard the series just gets better and better.

Overall: 3.5 Stars. Plot? Not much. Humor? Definitely. This is a fun book with great characters and tons of Middle School humor. In each mini-story we learn a little bit more about Dwight and Tommy and the rest of the “not-so-popular gang.” Also, I love Star Wars, so enough said.

Fans of the Wimpy Kid Series will likely enjoy this book (same age group: 6th grade and same themes: Friend Drama, Popularity, Middle School Misfits). I found it more enjoyable than Wimpy Kid as Tommy is not so heartless and selfish as Greg. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Top Drawer Tuesday: Maurice Sendak

Today, Top Drawer Tuesday is featuring one of my favorite authors and illustrators: Maurice Sendak. Almost everyone has read Where the Wild things are, but here are a few things you might not know about the famous author:

1. Where the Wild Things Are was originally titled Where the Wild Horses Are, and was intended to feature horses (obviously). Sendak's editor Ursula Nordstrom adored this title, but there was one problem: Sendak couldn’t draw horses. When he told his editor that the whole horse thing wasn’t going to work out, he recalls her acidic response: “Maurice, what can you draw?"

“Things,” he said.

2. The “things” Sendak ended up creating were inspired by his relatives. His family was made up of poor immigrants, and the creatures from the book are based on the way he viewed them as a child: “They were unkempt; their teeth were horrifying. Hair unraveling out of their noses.” 

3. It wasn't until he was older that Sendak realized how lucky those immigrant relatives were to be alive (and how lucky he was to be alive!) Most of his extended family died in concentration camps, something his father discovered the day of Sendak's bar mitzvah. His father attended the event anyway. When Mr. Sendak walked in the the door, the guests burst into "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" but the look on his father's face told Maurice something horrible had happened. 

4. The monsters in the book were never named. Though the monsters were modeled after his family, they weren’t named after them. In fact, none of the monsters received names until the 2009 film came along.

5. Sendak believed that the Lindbergh baby kidnapping very much affected his childhood, and then later his work and his views on life. All though he was only 3 and 1/2 years old when the tragedy occurred in 1932, he says he vividly remembers the whole thing, including Mrs. Lindbergh’s voice pleading with the kidnappers via radio to rub camphor on her infant’s chest because she didn’t want his cold to get worse. "[When the Lindbergh baby was found dead]. I think something really fundamental died in me."

Top Drawer Tuesday is brought to you by Mr. Edwin Riddle

Of Public Relations, Personal Investigations, and Subterfuge

Source: Mental__Floss. "Ten things You Might Not Know About Maurice Sendak" article by Stacy Condradt

Friday, September 5, 2014

Book Review: The Castle Behind Thorns

Title: The Castle Behind Thorns
Author: Merrie Haskell
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction, Fantasy, Fairy Tales

About The Book (taken from Goodreads): 
When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. The stories all said the place was ruined by an earthquake, and Sand did not expect to find everything inside-from dishes to candles to apples-torn in half or slashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that prevents Sand from leaving. Why wasn't this in the stories?

To survive, Sand does what he knows best-he fires up the castle's forge to mend what he needs to live. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending, granted by the saints who once guarded this place?

My Review:
Haskell takes a small slice from the classic fairy tale sleeping beauty, and then runs in a completely different direction with it. Both Sand and Perrott are well developed characters. Sand is intelligent (but not book smart), grounded, easy-going, but not at all one who can be pushed around. He is stubborn, truthful, and forgiving. Perrotte is book smart, but lacks common sense. She has a temper, can be cutting and rude, is bossy, and at times dishonest. She has a past laden with unkindness and tragedy, and Sand, a future he does not want. The pair work well together, struggling through their own issues, muddling through the problems at hand, and bringing to light themes of kindness, forgiveness, family, and friendship.

Castle Behind Thorns is intriguing, quiet sort of story. It moves at a pace all it’s own even without hard action and extreme peril, the plot has pull and suspense; it’s just not the nail-biting, white knuckled, sort. 
The inclusion of religious symbols–– saints and miracles woven into magic and mysticism is well done and creates a new kind of magic, interesting and unpredictable. 

Overall: Four Stars. A well crafted, evenly paced story, with excellent characters. I felt this book touched on several complex and even sinister family issues, but in a way that didn’t make the book too dark, depressing, or difficult for young readers. Instead it is an uplifting book that shines out themes of friendship and forgiveness. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Top Drawer Tuesday: A.A. Milne

British author A.A. Milne was born in London. He was a successful novelist, poet and playwright in the 1920s, but his best known works are about the lovable bear Winnie-the-Pooh and his animal friends. The House on Pooh Corner is one of my favorite children’s books, which is why A.A. Milne gets the first spot in “Top-Drawer Tuesday.” Because you see, from now on Tuesdays (well maybe not every Tuesday, but certainly most, or at least several Tuesdays…) will be dedicated to book quotes and quips from my favorite authors. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Book Review: The Spotted Dog Last Seen

Title: The Spotted Dog Last Seen
Author: Jessica Scott Kerrin
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

About The Book: 
While tracking clues from a secret code penciled in the margins of mystery novels at a public library, Derek Knowles-Collier discovers a time capsule, an unpublished author and a gravestone that may finally put his haunting past to rest. At Queensview Elementary, grade-six students are required to complete a community service unit as part of their school curriculum, and Derek is assigned to repair duty at the local cemetery...

My Review
There’s nothing creepy or supernatural here, this book is about connections, community, friendship, and overcoming a traumatic past. The friends Derek makes as he works at the cemetery are clearly not the friends he would choose, but each of them has something unique to offer as they unravel the clues found in a library mystery book. Each character feels, speaks, and acts in a very realistic, and unique way. They are not ridiculously quirky or unrealistically smart, they are perfectly average, but interesting characters (refreshing!)
Derek has reoccurring nightmares that connect to a past trauma– an event he is forced to shut out of his mind daily as it haunts him at every turn. This book is certainly different from other middle grade reads, it deals with deep issues in a way middle graders can understand and connect with, shows how events effect an entire community, and touches on how to deal with grief on a person level. 
A few too many coincidences that tie up all too neatly in the end, is my only complaint. 

Overall: 4 Stars. This book is much more than a mystery! Don’t let my review bog you down, this story has a fair bit of humor and suspense. Death is certainly not its only theme!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Book Review: Fortunately, the Milk

Title: Fortunately, the Milk
Author: Neil Gaiman
Genre: Middle Grade Fiction

About The Book: 
"I bought the milk," said my father. "I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road."
"Hullo," I said to myself. "That's not something you see every day. And then something odd happened."
Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal, told by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young.

My Review
Unfortunately, I do not feel there was really enough here to make a book. If anyone other than Neil Gaiman had written this, I sincerely doubt it would have been published or managed to snag two such brilliant illustrators (Skottie Young did the US Version and Chris Riddle the UK). However, I guess if you are as famous as Neil Gaimen you might as well milk it. 
Cutesy, rambling, and wacky this book is written to sound like an on-the-spot made-up story. It might be a fun before-bed-read, but there is nothing particularly brilliant going on here. At its best it is sarcastic and witty– at its worst it is lazy storytelling. Neil Gaiman tends to have me in raptures when it comes to creativity and world building, but drop me flat when it comes to plot. This book was no exception … except there was no rapture, all I got was Un-Fortunately, The Milk. 

Overall: Three Stars. Highly creative and humorous, but patchy, random, and weak on plot. Might have made a better picture book. If it wasn’t for the fantastic illustrations I would never have made it through.