Archive for March, 2014

LESSONS FROM OUR ANIMAL FRIENDS

Tales of the Friendly Forest

Written by Alexi Lushkin
Translated from Russian by Galina Krylova

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This kindle book is a collection of ten fairy tales told from the point of view of several animals living in the forest. At the outset the reader is introduced to a poem that tells of the song of the forest. The animals in the tales introduce themselves one verse at a time. In the beginning, the forest was in chaos. Each of the animals went about doing whatever he wanted. One day a clubfooted bear shouted out to the other animals of the forest from the top of a tree that from now on there would be a truce; all animals would be friends to one another and there would be no territorial boundaries. From that point on, all the animals of the forest had their own names, but they were all friends and helpers to each other.

The rest of the stories focus on one or two animals who are able to teach the reader about compassion for others, the need to share knowledge, not to be afraid of the unknown, and to be true to oneself. In the story about fashion, the animals decide to be fashion mongers. Even though the boars delight in rolling around in the mud, they then rub against the trees ridding themselves of all dirt. The animals decide that boars are the neatest and cleanest animals in the forest. Appearances can be deceiving! In the story about the forest beasts watching children play hockey, children learn that TV and cinema did not always exist, there should be time for other pursuits.

These short stories are intended for children and adults. The format is a bit unusual in that the book begins with a poem and then switches to verse. In a few places the flow is a bit choppy due to the translation. Still, I found the stories refreshing with good lessons for children and reminders for adults. The book can be broken up into sections for younger children and read independently by children eight and older. Makes a nice bedtime story book for children who love animals.

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VINTAGE VOYAGE

The Rocket Book

Written and illustrated by Peter Newell

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This book was originally copyrighted by Harper and Brothers Publishing in 1912. Peter Newell was born in 1862. He illustrated for Mark Twain and the Alice in Wonderland books. Once relegated to the shelves of the Library of Congress, the book has been reissued in print and digitized versions. It is available online at amazon.com.

As many of my readers know, I am a history lover; I write about history. I live in a house that is more than one hundred years old, and I grew up in an apartment not unlike the “flat” in this story. The illustrations in this book are priceless! Newell uses black and white and muted colors that make the drawings pop. Facial expressions convey the humor and intent of the story. Each part of the story contains eight lines of catchy, clever verse. Even though today’s children may be unfamiliar with many of the items pictured: a Remington typewriter, a wooden hobby horse, a taxidermist with his walrus head, they will get the story from looking at the rhyme and the accompanying illustration.

What is the story? The janitor’s kid named Fritz, who is described as a “bad kid,” finds a rocket in the basement of a twenty-one story apartment building. He lights it up. The reader is taken on a humorous journey following the rocket through an apartment on each of those floors. The mayhem which ensues includes knocking off grandpa’s wig, ripping through a new hat through a hat box, destroying a breakfast table while exploding catchup on the family, and scaring off a burglar in one of the apartments. Where and when does it stop? Take a look at this book to learn a lot about early twentieth century people, clothing, and lifestyle. This book will appeal to adults interested in vintage objects and children age eight and up who enjoy humor, a good verse, and a dose of history.

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Thought Soup: A Story for Youngsters and the Adults Who Love Them

Written by Lyle Olsen

Illustrated by Marnie Webster

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This short e book packs a lot of punch in a few pages. A stranger ambles into a small town carrying an iron kettle on his back. He unloads it in the middle of the town square and proceeds to set up cooking. The townspeople distrust him, having been tricked into contributing to strangers many times before. When the mayor confronts the stranger as to what he intends to cook; he answers, “thought soup” and offers to demonstrate.

The stranger says that he will solicit thoughts from them and pulls out a large sack from his belongings. He requests each of the townspeople place his head in the sack and deposit his thoughts within. Once they are finished, the stranger empties his sack into the boiling water and asks that each bring a bowl and spoon to taste the soup. Much to their surprise, the soup is so bad that many believe themselves to be poisoned. The stranger admits that the soup tastes bad. All the citizens want to run him out of town, but the stranger convinces them to give him another chance with dinner. If they will only think delicious thoughts, he will produce a wonderful soup. So they throw him into jail until supper.

During that same day, the townsfolk reflect on what could have made that soup taste so bad. Each of these colorful characters remember how negative their thoughts were that morning and think about how to make their lives better. For example, the candlestick maker realizes how greedy she has been and resolves to make better candlesticks quicker using cheaper materials while offering better prices. The town crier admits to himself that he has been spreading gossip and should concentrate on positive things. Even the mayor recognizes that deep inside he has not lived up to his campaign promises and owes it to the citizens to do a better job.

Dinner time arrives and the soup-maker is released. Each of the townspeople once again add their thoughts to the sack. There were so many positive thoughts they had to use a basket to keep the sack from flying away. How do you think the soup will taste? What will happen to the stranger and the members of the town in the future? Our author ends the book with the caveat, “This is Not the End.”

This book is really a delightful read for children and adults. I would recommend it as an independent read for ages eight and up, but parents and teachers can certainly use it as a read aloud and valuable teaching tool to discuss how our negative feelings can poison ourselves and others. My one regret is that the pictures were not larger and more detailed because the nostalgic setting and characters are charming, and if illustrated in detail, would really bring this book to life.

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BY THE WATER’S EDGE

The Brook”

Written by Anne Marie Stoddard

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This short kindle selection can easily be read in one sitting. Stoddard has switched from murder mystery to horror and vampires in this short story. At the outset we meet a young girl named Violet Carson, who goes against her instincts to follow the sounds of a babbling brook along the trail of Honeysuckle Path. She decides to take a midnight swim. As she dives into the icy pool, she experiences a radical drop in temperature and a tingling sensation all over her body. Before she can react, the surface underneath her disappears and the water around her turns scarlet red. Only her skin, bone and hair remained.

Violet had been employed as a babysitter for ten year old Michael Wilson. Michael believes in vampires and is convinced that this is how Violet met her demise. He searches for evidence that vampires might have appeared in the mist near the brook, but his older brother Tom, as well as everyone else in the small Mississippi town of Sampson refuse to believe in his theory. There are those adults in town who blame Violet’s former boyfriend, Jake, whom she just caught cheating the night before she died, but there is no plausible evidence to validate that. Michael’s father Dale threatens to send his son to therapy, if he continues to talk about monsters.

Michael does love scary stories about supernatural powers, but he sincerely believes that the town is in danger. So one night when he is home alone with Tom, Michael succeeds in sneaking out with a supernatural emergency kit, containing a canister of garlic and a wooden cross made from a chair leg. Michael is determined to prove that he is right, solve the mystery, and slay the monster.

Are the ten year old’s fears substantiated? Will he encounter a supernatural force? What part did Jake play in the murder? The reader already has lots of questions he wants answered. There are quite a few twists and turns in this short story.

I would recommend this book for adults and young adults over the age of twelve. There are one or two curse words, and some mention of nudity, but the book does not present overt sex or gruesome horror scenes. The book is a fast paced, exciting read.

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A JOURNEY THROUGH TIME

Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland

Written by Lewis Carroll and illustrated by John Tenniel

e Book design by Marie-Michelle Joy

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I picked up this new e book version of the classic Victorian tale on a whim. What I did not expect was a totally new perspective on this classic fantasy tale.

As a child I read the book, but did not much care for it. After doing a bit of research I discovered that Carroll (real name Charles Dodgson) told this story to a friend and his three young children while enjoying a boat ride. The children were so pleased with it that he decided to write it down and commission John Tenniel to do the drawings for the publication. Dodgson was a mathematician intrigued by the math and science that was being applied daily to inventions as England was entering the Industrial Revolution. His other interests included reading, poetry and photography.

Alice was modeled on one of these three girls. She is curious and polite. The character in the story displays fear and courage, resilience, and the ability to adapt to change. The anthropomorphic characters she encounters are a strange bunch; some of them like the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar appear to teach her, while others like the Mock Turtle and the Flamingo appear sillier and more frivolous. A careful reading will produce numerous evidences of mathematical reasoning and the importance that the author attaches to mathematics in the world around us; yet the reader’s main focus centers on the trials and tribulations that Alice must face from the time she falls into the rabbit hole: how she must swim herself across the sea of tears to face the challenges that many creatures present, to her ultimate escape from the nefarious Queen of Hearts at the trial, which almost results in her losing her head! Alice learns to think on her feet quickly in this coming of age tale.

Adult readers will reminisce and recall many of the famous quotations, like “Off with his head,” and “Curious and curiouser.” Tenniel’s woodcut engraved illustrations are etched in time and delight the eye, whether in black and white or in color. The beautiful scroll work that edge the pages are a reminder of the care taken with printing books long ago. Alice is a strong, intelligent character who maintains the proper balance between respect and independence; she is probably one of the first strong female models in modern literature. This book can be used as wonderful tale for family discussion on so many levels. I would recommend it for tweens and teens as well.

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CASTLES AND CANOES

Terror at White Otter Castle

Written by Bonnie Ferrante

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This short novella could probably be best categorized as a young adult horror story, but it certainly will grip a mature adult audience as well. The language is simple, and the author deftly manipulates the reader into total involvement within the first few pages.

Three high school seniors are taking a summer canoe trip through the Canadian wilderness as a final get together before splitting up for college. Lauren, Aster and Beth have been together since first grade and have formed a “Power Triangle” pledging to always be there for each other in times of need. The girls are unique in terms of their backgrounds, skills and personalities. When their guides decide to camp in the shadow of the castle of James Anderson McQuat, the reader learns the legend of how Jimmy built his magnificent castle for Jane, the girl he longed to marry. Then he refused to meet her parents and their marriage plans collapsed. No one seems to know what happened to Jimmy.

Upon awakening on the beach, Aster sees a figure wearing a floppy hat and a long raincoat. No one believes her story. She mysteriously disappears and the real adventure begins. After a series of mishaps involved in the search, it becomes apparent that Aster has been kidnapped. Communication is cut and sabotage is indicated. What other dangers will the group encounter? The girls have pledged to always be there for each other, but can they find each other again and escape successfully?

There are lots of twists and turns, surprises, and a bit of horror combined to make this less than one hundred page story keep you on the edge of your seat. Next time you are looking for a well-written quick, exciting read, take a look at this one.

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BULLY FOR YOU!

The Hare And The Tortoise (Beat The Bullies!)

Written by Mike Nach

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This book is certainly not a rehash of the familiar tale, but rather a unique guide on the problem of bullying written to inform, entertain and enlighten children and adults. In the introduction, the author presents an overview on what bullying is, the effects of bullying, and the problems it causes. He promises that the story will help out victims of bullying.

His story is set in the peaceful forest where an alligator, bear, owl and python maintain law and order. Harry Hare is a natural athlete. His wife, Cathy scolds him for his vanity and tells him, “Your attitude sucks.” On the other hand, Tom Tortoise and his family are the slowest creatures in the forest, but they are kind and peaceful. One day while on his way to collect mushrooms for his family, Tom is accosted by Harry who taps on his shell and belittles him for his slowness. Poor Tom tries to avoid Harry and becomes troubled and anxious. But one day, Mr. Fox notices his worry and assures Tom he has a plan. Tom follows his suggestion, even though he is not confident that the plan will work. Harry will learn his lesson and Tom will have a peaceful life once more.

That is not the end of the lesson for the reader. In the second half of the book Nach provides a summary of the seven types of bullies: verbal bullies, emotional bullies, physical bullies, cyber bullies, sexual bullies, racist/status bullies, and adult bullies. More importantly, he sets up an action plan for the victims of bullies to pursue. The strategy includes remaining calm and confident, avoiding the bully whenever possible, controlling your emotions, reporting all instances to an authority figure, blocking gossip from the bully, and learning self defense. Nach’s final advice to a victim of bullying is never give up on yourself or give in to bullying others.

I recommend this book to parents, librarians, and teachers as an much needed and effective guide to introducing and discussing the problem of bullying to all school age children. The author does not preach, rather he talks to children in language they understand using phrases like, “whatever” and “don’t mess with me.” Makes the reader feel as if he is speaking with a good friend discussing a problem. In my opinion, that is what makes this book so enjoyable, informative and effective.

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A FAMILY DIVIDED

Hazardous Unions:Two Tales Of A Civil War Christmas

Written by Alison Bruce and Kat Flannery

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This book is an unusual combination that works well in this instance. Two different authors have teamed up to write two separate stories about twin sisters, Maggie and Matty, who find themselves separated by circumstance on opposite sides of the border during the Civil War. Due to their father’s death, these two sixteen year old sisters feel compelled to help support their mother and brother, whom they love dearly. The setting of both tales begins in the Fall of 1862. Both protagonists encounter physical and emotional trauma; both sisters succeed in rising to the occasion to assume control. They will each need to solve a mystery, navigate through romantic attachments, and survive the war.

In the first novella focusing on Maggie, we meet the twin who has traveled with her employer to a southern plantation in Tennessee. She is a servant girl employed by the Hamilton family. Soon the Union army comes to occupy the plantation; Maggie is the only person who has the strength of character to assume control. But the story does not so much revolve around the events of the war as much as the personal struggles of all the characters on both sides. It deals with their hopes and fears, racism, and family ties as well as the divide between the rich and poor. Maggie hopes to survive and someday be reunited with her own family.

The second story centers on Matty, a servant girl whose employer, General Worthington, has been sent to a fort in Illinois to train soldiers to fight for the Union. Her story rapidly switches to a mysterious piece of paper and Matty’s trickery to deceive a disabled bachelor named Colonel Cole Black into marrying her. The reader learns that she is remorseful for the deceit, but that she is determined that this letter and its information get into the right hands. This is the only way she could find to do so. There is danger for both of them now, and she fears that her solution might come about too late. Still, like her sister, Matty possesses a strong will and a determination to do the right thing, regardless of personal cost. The matter comes to a head at her father -in-law’s Christmas party resulting in lots of unexpected events and consequences.

The first of these stories about Maggie is more leisurely, filled with lots of well defined characters facing complex issues in treacherous times. Matty’s story is shorter; more intense with fewer characters, but a powerful, tighter knit plot. Even though the characters’ struggles and not the events of the Civil War are the focus of each story, the stories are well researched and documented in historical details. In less than one hundred fifty pages, the reader is treated to two tales of mystery, romance and historical fiction. I recommend this highly enjoyable work to young adults and adults who are interested in any of these genres.

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TOWER OF FEAR

The Ivory Tower

Written by Kirstin Pulioff

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This is a well written short story set in a dystopian world where fear and repression are the norms of everyday living. The colorful descriptions and lively verbs guide the reader on an adventure in which she will be eager to proceed on course with the heroine, Simone, and at the same time, be terrified of the outcome.

As the story opens, the reader meets two young friends named Simone and Christine, who are on very different social levels in the camp and bear totally opposite personalities. Simone is number 277 because she is an orphan. Sometimes she does not even receive food rations. Christine is number 35; she and her family are considered productive citizens. The army is present to protect the citizens by keeping them in a restricted area which is free from contaminants of a recent disaster. Young children attend school, but begin laboring in the factory as soon as they are old enough. Everyone is prohibited from going near an old rusted tower that lies at the end of the forest.

Simone and Christine are enjoying their last days of freedom before factory assignments. They are playing hide and seek when Simone gets near the fence and spies the tower. Christine urges her to retreat because she gets in trouble and is beaten by her parents when they find out she has been near the edge of the forest. They warn her of the contaminants and punishment for risking disease by going there. A few days later, Simone urges Christine to play hide and seek one more time. Reluctantly, she agrees. Of course the fearless and curious Simone takes off straight to the tower. While Christine waits outside, Simone gains entrance. She finds duplicate pictures of those in the camp and monitors that are spying on its citizens. Soon she hears footsteps and the approach of one of the soldiers. Desperately, she tries to make her escape. He informs her that they are there to “protect all citizens” whether they realize that or not.

Before the close of the story, Christine and her friend are reunited in the hospital, but Simone is wounded and branded. Will she become another dutiful citizen or do further adventures await this young citizen who does not appear willing and able to conform to camp life? Can their friendship survive?

Children ages eight and up, especially those who love dystopian adventures, will surely enjoy this fast paced and well written short story. This reader is already looking forward to a sequel.

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