Review of Down Girl and Sit: Smarter Than Squirrels, by Lucy Nolan

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Girl and Sit

Smarter Than Squirrels

by Lucy Nolan

illustrated by Mike Reed

Marshall Cavendish, New York, 2004.  64 pages.

http://www.marshallcavendish.com/

http://www.mikereedillustration.com/

With four chapters, lots of pictures, and lots of implied humor, here’s a book perfect for a child ready to read chapter books on his or her own.

Down Girl, a busy dog, narrates this book.  She and the dog next door, Sit, have an important job. 

Down Girl says,

“It is up to us to keep the world safe.  Sometimes Sit and I wish we had help, but we’ve gotten used to doing the job alone.

“The secret to our success is simple.  We are smarter than squirrels.

I don’t think people realize how many birds and squirrels are out here.  If they did, they’d never leave their houses.

Birds and squirrels steal almost everything in sight.  What they don’t steal, they eat.  They are very clever, but they are not as clever as we are.  Guess where we chase them.  We chase them up trees!

“You never see a dog in a tree, do you?  That’s because dogs are smart.  We know it would hurt to fall out.

“Birds and squirrels never remember this.  It’s easy to keep the world safe from birds and squirrels.”

Down Girl’s master is named Rruff.  It is obvious that Rruff loves Down Girl, since he shouts her name so often.

When a new creature comes to the neighborhood named Here Kitty Kitty, the dogs know their job has gotten more challenging.  Fortunately, Down Girl and Sit cleverly rise to the challenge.

A look at life from a dog’s point of view.  Lots of fun!

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/down_girl_and_sit.html

Review of Lionboy: The Chase, by Zizou Corder

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Lionboy:  The Chase

Book Two in the LionBoy Trilogy

by Zizou Corder

Read by Simon Jones

HighBridge, Minneapolis, 2004.  7.5 hours on 6 compact discs.

This time, instead of stopping in the middle of Charlie Ashanti’s story, as I did the first time I read Lionboy, I made sure I continued on.

I’m finding that when I listen to books on CD, I enjoy very different books than the ones I like to read.  Although I enjoyed the first book of the trilogy the first time I read it, I didn’t find it gripping, the sort of book that keeps me up all night reading.  So I never found myself compelled to pick up the second book in the trilogy.

Listening to the audio version of the book is a different situation.  Because I only live ten minutes from my workplace, I enjoy a diverting, entertaining story.  One that pulls me in, but that I don’t mind stopping after ten minutes.  The audio books I’m enjoying, this one among them, are an entirely different category of books than my usual choices.  Although I loved listening to some print favorites, such as Enna Burning and Fairest, I almost found it annoying that I couldn’t gobble up the story quickly, I liked it so much.  With a lighter book, like Lionboy, or comedies like those by P. G. Wodehouse, the way listening takes so much longer than reading is part of the fun.  I’m finding that listening to the audiobook is the perfect way to get around to reading a book that I couldn’t quite get myself to pick up and read with my eyes.  After all, I’m just entertaining myself while driving!

Most of Lionboy: The Chase took place in Venice — a future Venice where much of the city has finally fallen into the sea.  Still, the parts still standing are the same as they have been for hundreds of years, the same Venice I fell in love with myself, so I enjoyed vicariously spending time there while reading this book.

Charlie has gotten the circus lions away from the circus and away from Paris.  In this book, he needs to get them away from what he thought was their safe haven, a palazzo in Venice.  He still doesn’t know where his parents have been taken, and now there’s a reward offered for finding him and the lions.

The plot in this story did include some unbelievable coincidences, but mostly it was an entertaining adventure yarn to listen to.  How will Charlie, who can talk to cats and lions, save his friends the lions, and himself?  How will he find his parents?  How will he escape Raffi, who continues to go after him?

Charlie grows in this book, faces tough challenges, and overcomes.

I appreciated that this book did not end in the middle of things.  In fact, if they didn’t tell us in the epilogue that things are about to get much worse, I would have thought it was a nice, happy ending.  I like trilogies better when they consist of self-contained books, and this one at least finished the saga of the first two books.

The narrator is excellent, maintaining a nice variety of voices, including distinct voices for lions and cats.  Of course, I’m always a sucker for a British accent, and can listen to such a speaker all day long!

I intend to listen to Book Three while I am still thinking about the story.

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/lionboy_the_chase.html

Review of Lion Boy Audiobook

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Boy

by Zizou Corder

read by Simon Jones

Audio Adventures.  8 1/4 hours on 7 compact discs.

I reviewed the print version of Lion Boy years ago at http://www.sonderbooks.com/ChildrensFiction/lionboy.html

Unfortunately, I did not go straight on to read the next two volumes of the story — so I completely lost the thread of what was happening.  When Lion Boy was a selection for the Fairfax County summer reading program, it seemed like the perfect time to refresh my memory, so I listened to the book on CDs.  (And I’m happy to report that I have already begun the second book, so I am not going to let it go this time.)

How to say this without sounding derogatory?  I’m finding audiobooks perfect for the sort of light-hearted book that doesn’t absorb me quite enough to keep me reading late into the night.  Yes, the book is very interesting, but since I generally only get to listen in fifteen-minute stretches, audiobooks work well with a book that keeps me mildly interested over a long period of time.  I’m not sure I defined it exactly right, but I never did get around to reading the Lion Boy sequels, but I found myself eager to listen to them.  I’m finding there’s a certain type of reading that I enjoy more as listening.

And again (as with all the audiobooks I’m reviewing lately), the narration was marvellous.  The book had songs with music inserted in the text, and of course the audio version included these.

This is another good family story that would make great listening for a family vacation.  The hero is a kid, but he gets into some tight places, and the whole family will find themselves hoping Charlie finds a way to save his parents, and his friends the lions.

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/lionboy_audio.html

Review of Ever, by Gail Carson Levine

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Ever,

by Gail Carson Levine

HarperCollins, 2008.  244 pages.

Starred Review.

Hooray!  A new book by Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted and Fairest.  In Ever, the author takes us to a different sort of world.  Instead of magic and fairies, this world is inhabited by gods and goddesses.

Olus is a youthful god, the god of the winds.  He is curious about mortals, and so travels far from his own country and disguises himself as a mortal, a herder of goats.  He finds himself fascinated by the family of his landlord, especially Kezi, who makes beautiful weavings and beautiful dances.

Then, because of an unfortunate vow, Kezi’s life is to be sacrificed.  Can Olus find a way to save her?  Perhaps he can make her immortal like himself.  Only this will mean both of them undergoing a terrible ordeal.

Here is an enchanting story about love and fate, about uncertainty and awareness.

As with her other books, Gail Carson Levine again achieves a mythic quality to her story that I love so much.  We have a simple story with undercurrents of Truth.  Delightful!

http://www.gailcarsonlevinebooks.com/

http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/ever.html

Review of Larklight, by Philip Reeve

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Larklight

Or:  The Revenge of the White Spiders!

Or:  To Saturn’s Rings and Back!  A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space!

by Philip Reeve

Performed by Greg Steinbruner

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2006. 400 pages.

Audiobook:  Recorded Books, 2007. 8 CDs, 8.75 hours.

Starred Review.

Imagine for a moment that outer space is not a black emptiness, but really the “aether,” and full of living things.  Imagine that there’s life on Mars, life on Venus, life on Saturn, and even “ichthyomorphs” floating in the middle of space.

Now imagine that instead of just discovering gravity, Isaac Newton used alchemy to figure out how to make spaceships.  Imagine that in the 1800s, the British Empire wasn’t just an earthly empire ruling the seas, but ruled the solar system.

Art and Myrtle Mumby grew up on Larklight, a large old house that orbited the moon.

At the start of the book, their house is attacked by space spiders the size of elephants.  Their father is captured by the spiders, but they manage to escape and land on the moon.  On the moon, their life is in danger from giant moths, but they are rescued by space pirates.  The captain of the pirates is a teenage boy, but the crew are all aliens.

The pirates don’t want to obey Myrtle’s demands and take them to a British Embassy, and the children’s adventures are only beginning.  The book presents narrow escape after narrow escape as Art and Myrtle travel the solar system and end up saving the world.

This story is indeed a “rousing tale of dauntless pluck.”  I was put off at the beginning because I hate the thought of giant spiders, but before long I was lingering in my car to listen.  Even though I knew Art would surely escape, several times I found myself wondering how on earth he would get out of the latest tight spot.

Once again, I was enchanted by the delightful accents of the British narrator.  This audiobook would be a fabulous adventure to listen to for a family traveling on summer vacation.  Although there are some fearsome situations, Art and Myrtle emerge unscathed from them all.  Great fun!

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Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/larklight.html

Review of The Prophecy, by Hilari Bell

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The Prophecy
by Hilari Bell

Reviewed June 1, 2008.
EOS (HarperCollins), New York, 2006. 194 pages.
Starred Review.

I loved this book! The Prophecy is exactly the sort of book I would love to write. A well-crafted, light fairy tale type story, it still packs a punch. I was completely charmed.

Prince Perryndon’s father is the forty-fifth warrior king of Idris. Perryn would rather study than learn to fight.

However, when the king is home from the wars with the Norsemen, the master-of-arms makes a show of teaching Perryn to fight. The show only makes Perryn look like a fool and a failure and makes his father despise him all the more.

Then, studying in the library, Perryn discovers something that he thinks can win over his father after all: A prophecy that tells how to defeat the dragon! All they need is a true bard, a unicorn, and the Sword of Samhain.

The king scoffs at the prophecy, and scoffs at Perryn for believing it. However, his work does get him some attention.

When Perryn asks a magic mirror to show him any more writing about the prophecy, it shows him Cedric, the master-of-arms, writing a letter. In the letter, Cedric tells the Norsemen that Perryn has discovered the prophecy. He writes:

The sword was lost long ago, but magic often finds a way to raise itself. The boy is too weak willed to do anything on his own, but if he convinces his father to go looking for that sword, the dragon might be killed. 

If Idris were prosperous and well manned, it would be almost impossible to conquer — it is proving hard enough, even with the dragon eating away their strength from within.

So I will kill the boy. It can be made to look like an accident.

Now, knowing that Cedric will kill him at his first opportunity, Perryn decides to prove he is not too weak willed to do anything. He will assemble the pieces of the prophecy himself. If he can kill the dragon, surely he can win his father’s approval.

I love the way Hilari Bell shows us a prince with plenty of strikes against him, yet who is desperate enough to find a way to do something and help his people.

A truly wonderful book. This is my favorite of all the books I read for this year’s summer reading program.

This review is posted on the main site at: 

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/prophecy.html

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Review of Forever Rose, by Hilary McKay

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Forever Rose

by Hilary McKay

Margaret K. McElderry Books, New York, 2008.  291 pages.

Starred Review.

Although I admit to often staying up later than I should in order to finish wonderful books, it’s been awhile since a book lured me into finishing it in the morning before going to work.  Fortunately, I was close to the end, because I don’t think I would have been able to stop once I picked up Forever Rose and thought I’d just read a little more….

The Casson family is back, as wonderful and chaotic as ever.  Rose is having some rough times.  Her teacher is so mean, he won’t even let the class celebrate Christmas.  In fact, school is no longer a peaceful place where you can catch up on your daydreaming.  Her family never seems to be at home.  And then her brother’s big friend who always seems to be in the way starts showing up at their house, looking for a place to keep his drum set.

What’s more, Rose learns that when your friend says, “Promise you will help, please promise you will help!”  You should NOT answer, “Of course we will!”  Instead, you should say, “Help you with what?”

Rose is also having trouble with reading.  She explains, “If you finish one book, they make you pick another.  And as soon as you finish that, they send you off to the book boxes again.  And each book is a little bit harder than the one before.  It’s called Reading Schemes and it’s just like a story Indigo once told me about a dragon with two heads.  And when the dragon’s two heads were cut off, it grew four.  And when they were cut off, it grew eight. . .”

If you haven’t yet become friends with the artistic and lovable Casson family, you will want to start with the first book, Saffy’s Angel.  If you already know and love them, I am happy to report that the latest installment in their story is as quirky and delightful as ever.

I did finish the book before going to work – the perfect way to ensure starting my day with a smile.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/forever_rose.html

Review of Eoin Colfer’s Legend of the Worst Boy in the World

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Eoin Colfer’s Legend of . . . The Worst Boy in the World, illustrated by Glenn McCoy

Miramax Books (Hyperion Books for Children), 2007.  101 pages.

http://www.eoincolfer.com/

http://www.hyperionbooksforchildren.com/

It’s not fair.  Whenever something bad happens to Will, no one will even listen to him tell about it.  He has four brothers.  If he wants to complain about something to his Mom or Dad, there are usually at least two brothers in line ahead of him.

Will says, “All this complaining means that by the time Marty and I get home from school with our troubles, there is usually a little brother perched on each of Mom’s knees, moaning about their baby problems.  And even if, miracle of miracles, there is a free knee, Mom is usually on auto-nod by then anyway.  Auto-nod is when grown-ups don’t really listen to what a child says, they just nod every five seconds or so until the child goes away.”

Finally Will finds the perfect person to listen to him:  Grandad.  He makes a deal.  Grandad will listen to one sob story from Will each week, if Will will listen to one from Grandad.

So it seems like a great thing.  Only whenever Will thinks he really has a terrible story, Grandad completely tops him.  For example, one week the barber slipped when he was trimming the back of Will’s head with electric clippers and shaved a bald strip right up to his crown.  When he told Grandad about it, Grandad took off his cap and showed him where a shark had bitten him on the head.

Will was completely frustrated, so he decided to do some research.  It turns out that when Will was only two years old, his brother Marty, at three years old, almost managed to get rid of him for good.

What’s the worst thing a three-year-old could do to a two-year-old?  What plot would get him out of the house, away from Mom and Dad, and almost do him in forever?  That, my friends, is the Legend of the Worst Boy in the World.

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This review is on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/worst_boy.html 

Review of The Cowgirl Aunt of Harriet Bean, by Alexander McCall Smith

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The Cowgirl Aunt of Harriet Bean, by Alexander McCall Smith

Performed by Charlotte Parry

Recorded Books, New York, 2007.  1 compact disc.  1.25 hours.

It’s always fun to listen to a British narrator, and it was a treat to listen to Charlotte Parry talking about the exploits of Harriet’s detective aunts, Aunt Thessalonika and Aunt Japonica.  In this book, Harriet learns that she has a sixth aunt she hadn’t known about, Aunt Formica.  Aunt Formica grew up on a ranch in America, and is a skilled cowgirl, but she has asked her detective sisters for help, and Harriet gets to come along.

The story is fun, reminding me of a traditional tall tale.  I love Alexander McCall Smith’s stories, but do think he does a little better when he writes about places where he has lived.  This story set in the American West struck me as highly stereotypical.  I certainly hope none of his readers would ever try to deal with a rattlesnake in the way that happens here!

All the same, this is a fun story and a quick read (or listen).  This could be an excellent choice for a child just ready to read chapter books on their own.  It’s not too long and daunting, but does have some excitement, as Harriet and her capable aunts deal with rustlers.

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/cowgirl_aunt.html

Review of The Silver Donkey, by Sonya Hartnett

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The Silver Donkey, by Sonya Hartnett

Candlewick Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2006.  First published in Australia in 2004.  266 pages.

“One cool spring morning in the woods close to the sea, two girls found a man curled up in the shade and, immediately guessing he must be dead, ran away shrieking delightedly, clutching each other’s hands.”

In fact, it turns out the man is not dead.  He is an enemy soldier, having run away from the war.  He cannot see.  His eyes got tired of seeing the horrors of war, and his vision clouded over.

He tells the girls not to tell anyone he is there.  But how can they help him find his way home, across the Channel?  His younger brother is very ill.  “The doctors don’t think he has long to live.  My mother wrote saying that he wakes at night with a fever, calling out for me.  She wrote that I should hurry home.”

Marcelle and Coco want to help their soldier.  But how can two girls help a blind soldier?  They start by bringing him food. 

The soldier has a good-luck charm, a small shining silver donkey.  He repays their kindness by telling them stories, stories of donkeys, which, though humble, turn out to be surprisingly noble.

This book is mythic and powerful.  It tells of the horrors of war, but also of the nobility that shines through in difficult times.  And the wonder of friendship, across cultures.

The library copy is in a wonderful binding with high-quality pages, silver decoration on the cover, and a silver ribbon bookmark.  Illustrations by Don Powers grace its pages, with a special border on the pages of the stories the soldier tells.

A simple and beautiful tale.

This review is posted on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/silver_donkey.html