Monday, 30 December 2013

Christmas books

My eldest boy's haul. 
And one of his younger brothers'..
and another one..
and another one.

Favourites so far are Petunia, Flora and Ulysses, Ghostopolis, Bad Island, The Phantom Tollbooth (audiobook), Michael Morpugo's Beowulf(not pictured as it was being read!) and Big Fat Little Lit

For me, it is such a relief to be able to openly look through all these lovely books, having spent the last few months furtively peeping at them in their various hiding places in my bedroom. 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, illustrated by P.J. Lynch

I don't really know who the target audience of this book are - I found it in the children's picture book section of the library, but the story is for adults. You can read it aloud, but the language is not overly easy for the under tens and the pictures feature New York in the early 1900's, a bare apartment and a young married couple. Not subjects that usually appeal to the picture book crowd. So, who would read it?

Well, me, for a start. I love this story, love the clipped, witty style, the New Yorkyness, the humour. Even though I say that I'm not a fan of the short story, reading this one is pure pleasure.

And the combination of words by O. Henry and illustrations by P.J. Lynch is entrancing. According to the book jacket, he always wanted to illustrate The Gift of the Magi as he liked the idea that some of the New York streets are still very similar to how they were when it was written. Anyways, the romance in these pictures just jumps off the page. Scroll down and take a look..

So if you want a present for someone you love who loves American literature or old New York stuff or just beautiful things, this is ideal. Someone of any age at all, but ideally over ten.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Arthur Quinn and Hell's Keeper by Alan Early

We were at the library last night, killing time while one of my boys did his Tae Kwon Do, when my twelve year old borrowed this one. I was very pleased.

You see, he started off at six, loving reading. Moving rapidly from the "I Can Reads", he was onto Harry Potter by eight and The Lord of the Rings trilogy by nine. Yes, I was one of those painful mothers at the school gates who tried to shoehorn these facts into every conversation. Anyway, no sooner had I bored everyone to death about it, he got an Xbox, and I got my comeuppance.

For the past two years he has read minimally, using all available time poring over cheat books, Xbox magazines and all that other console related crap. Nothing could tempt him and I gave up leaving books on his bedside table. He did often pick up his younger brothers choices; Louis Sachers' Wayside School books, maybe the odd graphic novel, so I suppose he was still reading a bit, but my boasting days were over. Although that's probably not a bad thing. I wondered though, did I now have a reluctant reader?

But things are looking up. He read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes the other day and when we got home last night, climbed into bed with this one. Its the third in the Arthur Quinn series and an absorbing, addictive read. When I peeped in at 6.45 this morning, he was awake and reading it again.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Little Owl and the Star A Christmas Story by Mary Murphy

This is our favourite Christmas book. It came down from the attic on Saturday, along with the decorations and never used candles and chipped crib figures. All the Christmas paraphenalia that I love to look at now, but will be itching to pack up and not see for another year by January 2nd. But not this. The only reason I put this book away is to make it all the more treaty to discover it again next December.

It seems that sadly, Little Owl and the Star is currently out of print, but it is available second hand from Amazon and AbeBooks. Written by Mary Murphy (whose board books I Like it When ... and How Kind! are the perfect new baby present), this is a sweet and gentle story.

"It was a silent night. I sat in my tree, with a waiting feeling." Isn't that a lovely beginning?

"A star sparkled along. "Follow me, Little Owl!" said the star. And I did."

And the star led Little Owl, the three kings on their camels ("plodding softly through sand." This is SO beautifully written.) and the shepherds to the stable, where they saw who was sleeping inside. 

This is a night time book, and the beautiful colours stand out all the more as a result.

I know its a bit late in the day to try to source this online but I'm sure most libraries will have it. Really, it's worth the trip.

P.s. Two interesting interviews with Mary; Here and here.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr and Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

I saw this little book mentioned in the inside cover of Homer Price and thought that it was a beautiful title. All the Puffin Modern Classics are inexpensive and nicely produced, so I ordered it. Look at the cover!

My twelve year old had an ear infection at the weekend and as his defences were down, I thought he might agree to put aside his treasured Xbox cheat book (no link to that here, it pains me to even mention it) and read this. Its called Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. He did, and liked it. He said it was "Really good, but a bit sad." His eight year old brother then picked it up at breakfast and after a brief tussle with our ten year old, finished it last night. (Yes, I am boasting that they were fighting over a book!) 

So, on the one hand, its a great little stocking stuffer but on the other, it is about a little girl who gets cancer as a result of the bomb on Hiroshima. So not exactly seasonal cheer. Its short, only sixty odd pages, and has instructions at the end on how to make a paper crane. Beautifully written and informative, its quite a change from all the usual fare for older kids.

For background, Bomb by Steve Sheinkin is great. My eldest read it last year and said he enjoyed it mainly because of the "exciting spy stuff." It's got great reviews and we have given it as a birthday present to over tens a few times.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Magic Bed by John Burningham

I got thinking last week, after writing about William Steig, about John Burningham. Their books are similar insofar as they are both equally popular in this house, and equally, I don't want to say thought provoking, as I have never seen my kids rubbing their chins and looking pensive after reading them, but they do peer closely at the illustrations and sit silently for the stories.

The Magic Bed was our first Burningham book. It's definitely my favourite. Georgie needs a new bed. His granny advises going to the shopping centre. (Isn't that so eighties? When nothing was any good unless it came from a shopping centre?) But Frank, (his stepfather? I'm not sure, but he is an only child and lives with his mum, his gran and Frank) on Georgies suggestion, opts for a second hand shop. And they find the bed.

So Frank helps Georgie clean up the bed and they find a message written on it. According to this, if Georgie says a magic word, the bed will take him to wonderful places. Frank does not laugh at this(unlike his mother and irritating Granny) he just tells George that the magic word is not easy to read and it says "M something, something, something, Y." And Georgie keeps trying until he gets it.  Soon he is travelling over the city and having many adventures.

But when the family take a break in the sun, Granny decides that a new bed is in order. She is SO annoying! On his return, Georgie is horrified, and races to the dump to see if he can save the magic one...

And phew! There it is on top of a skip. 

This is a wonderful book for any age. Other Burningham treasures include Harquin, reviewed by me here and Harvey Slumfenburgers Christmas Present, which is  perfect for this or any time of year.

Doctor De Soto by William Steig

I've been reading up on William Steig a lot recently. Well, reading about him and reading him. Having bought Doctor De Soto last Summer its proved to be a slow burner here. I suppose maybe I was expecting a lot, but when I read it first I thought, "It's not that great."  Its about a dentist who is also a mouse, who makes his living working on the teeth of other animals, many of whom are considerably bigger than he is.

Anyway, the book found its place on the shelf and we pulled it out every now and again, and then I saw the audio version in the library. I added it to our pile because well, it was free, why not? I hadn't even considered that when you think about it, when a picture book finds its way to audio, it has to be pretty well written right? And to be read by Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci? Well, it was magical. Magical and weird and funny and just made all of us stop and listen and smile.

And now, the more I read Doctor De Soto the more I love it. Its just written in such a not-condescending way. As if kids can actually cope with lines like;

"Doctor De Soto climbed up the ladder and bravely entered the fox's mouth. "Ooo-wow!" he gasped. The fox had a rotten bicuspid and unusually bad breath."
"That night the De Sotos lay awake worrying. "Should we let him in tomorrow?" Mrs De Soto wondered.
"Once I start a job," said the Dentist firmly, "I finish it. My father was the same way.""

And all that is before you even look at the pictures. Check these out.

Some animals cannot be trusted..

and some animals can.

Here is the donkey, getting some work done..

and his wife, reading a magazine in the waiting room. Mrs De Soto, lends a hand.

All of which got me on a bit of an obsessive hunt for reviews of all his books and which we should read next. Even though I had officially finished the book side of Christmas shopping, when I saw that Burgin at Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves says that if you want your kids to think outside the box, read William Steig with them, I knew I had to get a few more. Amongst those she raves about are Gorky Rises and Rotten Island, both of which will be found under our tree on Christmas morning.