Archive for January, 2009

Review of Love, Magic & Mudpies, by Bernie Siegel

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009


Love, Magic & Mudpies

Raising Your Kids to Feel Loved, Be Kind, and Make a Difference

by Bernie Siegel, MD

Rodale, New York, 2006.  241 pages.

Here’s an inspiring book of musings and tips on inspiring your kids.  I read them through at the rate of about one musing per day, which gave me a nice little daily dose of inspiration.

Bernie Siegel says in the introduction:

“The title of this book says it all.  Love is necessary for our survival and is the key ingredient for both the parent and the child.  Children see the magic in everything, and loving parents can and will experience so many magical moments while raising their children.  Mudpies can be fun at times and also leave us covered with dirt.

“When you look at your children and yourself, I’d like you to accept that you are all part of this special magical relationship.  While creating your family, I’d like you to be in awe of life and its wonder but not hesitate to dive into life and take the risk of a mud bath now and then, too….

“I want to help parents not only survive the ups and downs of parenting but help them make it a blessing, too.  The magic excites and enlightens us, while the mud can become the fertilizer for our lives and relationships.  In this book, I will share with you the gems I have garnered from my medical practice and family life.  From my experience as a father of five, grandfather of eight, pediatric surgeon, counselor to those with life-threatening illnesses, and a Chosen Dad for suicidal and abused children I have met, I know our childhoods have a profound effect on our lifelong health.  I’ve seen that what we learn in our earliest years has a direct effect on our self-esteem, behavior, and choices.  It makes me realize that the parenting we receive is truly the number one health issue in most people’s lives….

“Remember, parents are the co-creators of life; so decide what you desire to create, and begin now.  Your children are the finest raw material you will ever have to work with.”

This book is full of helpful, encouraging, and inspiring ideas and advice.

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Review of One False Note, by Gordon Korman

Sunday, January 25th, 2009


One False Note

The 39 Clues, Book Two

by Gordon Korman

Scholastic, 2008.  174 pages.

Like the first book in The 39 Clues, The Maze of Bones, One False Note is more than a book.  It’s also a media event, an online game, a collectible card game, and a contest with real prizes.  They’ve gotten outstanding children’s authors to write the books — Rick Riordan wrote the first one, and now Gordon Korman.

Dan and Amy Cahill are travelling the world, trying to find clues to something that has the potential to make them the most powerful people in the world.

They have learned that their Cahill family is responsible for almost all the accomplishments of mankind.  In the first book, they were on the trail of Benjamin Franklin (a Cahill, of course), and in this book they follow the path of Mozart and his sister, Nannerl.

I find I’m not quite buying it.  Yeah, other books tell me that all these significant figures of history were masons, or part of some other big conspiracy.  But all family members?  Benjamin Franklin and Mozart and Marie Antoinette were all supposed to be related?  I can’t quite suspend disbelief so far.

And I’m sorry, I just can’t begin to bring myself to believe in a huge underground complex in Venice, storing the greatest art treasures of the world.  Even with really big pumps, I simply don’t believe that you could find that much solid ground to tunnel in, and who would risk the likelihood of flooding, even if you could?

I was delighted when they went to Venice, but I didn’t believe that part, and I didn’t believe that they would steal a boat to get away.  It’s so easy to get lost on the streets of Venice, why on earth would you use a boat where you’re so easy to spot?

On top of that, the clues don’t seem too tremendously important, since so many sinister family members are still on their tail.  Why don’t Amy and Dan just do what the other teams are doing:  follow the person who seems to have the latest lead.  Why should they break into their cousin Jonah Wizard’s hotel room, when they could just follow the news about Jonah and see where he goes next?

Okay, you get the idea — I have quibbles about the whole book!  But it is still a fun adventure story, and I doubt kids will be bothered by those things that bothered me.  Amy and Dan are growing on me, kids loose in Europe with only the help of a resourceful and multilingual au pair.  And by the end of the book, they’re on their way to Asia.

I do still plan to keep reading and find out what happens next.  Episode Three is slated to appear in March 2009.

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Review of The Shoe Bird, a Musical Fable by Samuel Jones

Sunday, January 25th, 2009


The Shoe Bird

A Musical Fable by Samuel Jones

Based on the story by Eudora Welty

Performed by Jim Dale

Seattle Symphony, Gerard Schwarz, conductor

Northwest Boychoir and Girls of Vocalpoint! Seattle, Joseph Crnko, conductor

Brilliance Audio, 2008.  1 compact disc.  1 hour.

Starred review.

A children’s story set to narration and orchestration?  What a charming idea!  This CD makes for lovely listening.  Jim Dale’s incredible performance, with such astonishingly different voices for different birds, makes for a delightful listening experience.

I’m afraid this is no Peter and the Wolf.  The story, about a parrot who repeats the line, “Shoes are for the birds!” and gets all the birds of the world to believe it, seems much more lightweight than Peter’s story.  The music, while nice, didn’t seem as memorable to me.  But then, I only listened to it once, rather than the thousand times I must have heard Peter and the Wolf.

However, it does provide plenty of opportunity for the orchestra to give different themes to different birds (as well as Jim Dale’s different voices).  There’s even a cat who threatens the birds, all weighted down with their new shoes.

And isn’t it nice to think that here’s a symphony orchestra experience to which you could send children, and they would hear something new!  As for me, it made a delightful and diverting change from listening to more serious books on CD as I drove to work.  Instead, I got lovely music, a silly story, and Jim Dale’s vocal gymnastics.  I hope that composers and orchestras and vocal actors and writers will do more of this sort of thing!  (Hmmm.  It takes a large cast to pull it off.  No wonder Peter and the Wolf doesn’t have more wannabes.)

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Review of The Joys of Love, by Madeleine L’Engle

Saturday, January 24th, 2009


The Joys of Love

by Madeleine L’Engle

Farrar Straus Giroux, New York, 2008.  255 pages.

Starred Review.

Here’s a wonderful discovery — a novel Madeleine L’Engle wrote back before she was appreciated, for which she couldn’t find a publisher.  The novel is beautiful, and classic Madeleine L’Engle.  I’m so glad her grandchildren decided to share it with the world.

Elizabeth Jerrold is an apprentice at a professional Summer Theatre in the 1940s, after the war.  She dreams of making it as an actress, despite the way her aunt and guardian despises the theatre, afraid she’ll turn out like her mother.  This summer is her chance to get her start, and she’s thrilled to be here.

She’s also falling in love with Kurt Canitz, the director at the theatre.  He’s spending time with her, walking and talking with her.  He’s so wise in the ways of the world and the theatre, how can she help but fall in love?

And then she has so much time with her fellow apprentices, learning and rehearsing and growing as actors and actresses.  They get to see the professional, a different one each week, to star in their productions.  As apprentices, they learn much from how the different stars act, on stage and off.

Madeleine L’Engle’s romances are so refreshingly wholesome.  I love the way her characters talk earnestly about life and about what’s truly important.  This is a romance, but it’s not fluffy silliness.  Instead, it’s about what is art, what is vocation, and what is love.

This is a beautiful and uplifting book.  Madeleine L’Engle fans will want to snap it up, one more way for a truly great writer to live on in our hearts.

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Sonderbooks Stand-outs

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

I’ve got my Stand-outs posted!

These are the books I most enjoyed reading in 2008. Check them out at:

Review of Confessions of an Amateur Believer, by Patty Kirk

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009


Confessions of an Amateur Believer

by Patty Kirk

Nelson Books, 2006.  271 pages.

Starred Review.
Patty Kirk grew up Catholic but wandered away from God and traveled all over the world.   When she came back to America, she married a Christian farmer, and ended up becoming a Christian herself.  This section from “About the Author” summarizes what the book is all about:

God began infecting every aspect of her daily life, converting every struggle to a miracle and holding her to account for every apparent victory.  She fought hard against these changes, in her marriage and parenting, her work, her mind.  She recorded her battles with God in free-form spiritual writings part praise, part lament, part exegesis, woven together with narratives of her daily life and her sometimes unwilling research into what it means to believe in God.

This book is a collection of those essays on spiritual things.  They are beautifully written and full of insight.  Those who follow my Sonderquotes blog will recognize Patty Kirk’s name, as I read through the book slowly, and so often found highly quotable paragraphs.

These are musings or meditations on life, God, the spiritual journey.  The author is open and honest, and readers will find her a kindred spirit.  She’s not afraid to talk about things a lot of us feel, but don’t necessarily know how to express as well.

This book explores how, having begun to believe as a child and lost sight of God for half a lifetime, I came not only to recognize him again but, by struggling with scripture and my own habits of unbelief, to acknowledge and celebrate his active participation in my life.

I love the picture she presents of God in these pages, a God who loves us, and who is not mean.

A big thank you to John, a Sonderbooks reader who recommended this book to me!

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Review of Artist to Artist

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009


Artist to Artist

23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art

Philomel Books, New York, 2007.  105 pages.

Starred Review.

Review written January 30, 2008.

The title of this book explains the content, but doesn’t grasp the beauty.  In Artist to Artist, 23 geniuses of picture book illustration, such as Eric Carle, Maurice Sendak, Chris Van Allsburg, Steven Kellogg, Rosemary Wells, Jerry Pinkney, and so many more, speak to aspiring artists about how they became an artist and what inspires them.

Each artist includes a self-portrait, a picture of themselves as a child, examples of early art, published art, and a look at the process of creating art, as well as a picture of their studios.  (I love the mess in Eric Carle’s—If you think about it, you’d realize that someone who deals with cut paper illustrations would have a mess of scraps on the floor.)  My favorite self-portrait is the one created by pop-up artists Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart—an amazingly intricate robot reaches out to embrace the reader, with the two happy artists inside the robot at the controls.  I found myself popping it out again and again.

Beautiful and inspiring, this is wonderful reading for someone like me—an adult with no artistic aspirations.  I can only imagine how much it could be enjoyed by someone in its intended audience—a budding artist ready to strive for greatness.

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Review of The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009


The Wednesday Wars

by Gary D. Schmidt

Review written February 23, 2008.
Clarion Books, New York, 2007.  264 pages.

Starred Review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2009: #2, Children’s Fiction

“Of all the kids in the seventh grade at Camillo Junior High, there was one kid that Mrs. Baker hated with heat whiter than the sun.


Holling Hoodhood knows that the teacher has it in for him because he’s the only kid in his class who doesn’t spend Wednesday afternoon either at Hebrew School or Catechism at the Catholic church.  Instead, Holling is stuck with Mrs. Baker, and Mrs. Baker is stuck with him.

This book reminds me of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  Both books look at the difficulties, dramas and dilemmas of student life with a large dose of humor.  Mind you, Holling’s difficulties are not as dire as those of Junior in the Absolutely True Diary.  However, he has some notable challenges, perhaps slightly on the bizarre side—involving rats, cream puffs, a fairy, baseballs, and William Shakespeare.

I love the scene where Holling meets the principal, because it sounds so true to what a principal would say:

I had to wait outside the door.  That was to make me nervous.
Mr. Guareschi’s long ambition had been to become dictator of a small country.  Danny Hupfer said that he had been waiting for the CIA to get rid of Fidel Castro and then send him down to Cuba, which Mr. Guareschi would then rename Guareschiland.  Meryl Lee said that he was probably holding out for something in Eastern Europe.  Maybe he was.  But while he waited for his promotion, he kept the job of principal at Camillo Junior High and tested out his dictator-of-a-small-country techniques on us.
He stayed sitting behind his desk in a chair a lot higher than mine when I was finally called in.
“Holling Hood,” he said.  His voice was high-pitched and a little bit shrill, like he had spent a lot of time standing on balconies screaming speeches through bad P.A. systems at the multitudes down below who feared him.
“Hoodhood,” I said.
“It says ‘Holling Hood’ on this form I’m holding.”
“It says ‘Holling Hoodhood’ on my birth certificate.”
Mr. Guareschi smiled his principal smile.  “Let’s not get off on the wrong foot here, Holling.  Forms are how we organize this school, and forms are never wrong, are they?”
That’s one of those dictator-of-a-small-country techniques at work, in case you missed it.
“Holling Hood,” I said.
“Thank you,” said Mr. Guareschi.

Set against the backdrop of the Sixties, this is an entertaining and touching story about being a kid and finding your way in life.

I like the way Mrs. Baker sums up Shakespeare:

“Shakespeare did not write for your ease of reading,” she said.
No kidding, I thought.
“He wrote to express something about what it means to be a human being in words more beautiful than had ever yet been written.”
“So in
Macbeth, when he wasn’t trying to find names that sound alike, what did he want to express in words more beautiful than had ever yet been written?”
Mrs. Baker looked at me for a long moment.  Then she went and sat back down at her desk.  “That we are made for more than power,” she said softly.  “That we are made for more than our desires.   That pride combined with stubbornness can be disaster.  And that compared with love, malice is a small and petty thing.”

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Review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Audiobook, by J. K. Rowling

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,

by J. K. Rowling
Performed by Jim Dale

Listening Library, 2007.  21 hours, 40 minutes.  12 cassettes.

Review written February 22, 2008.

Starred Review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2009:  #3, Audiobooks

I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows last summer, and finally got to the top of the request list to listen to the cassettes.  After finishing the book a second time, I’m again hit by sadness that the story is over, that there isn’t any more.

I’m reviewing the audiobook separately because I simply have to gush about Jim Dale.  He is incredible!  His vocal range is amazing.  He uses different voices for the enormous cast of characters and makes the books come alive.

We’ve read all seven books aloud as a family, but I still get something new out of hearing Jim Dale read them.  Of course, his British accent adds to the enjoyment!  But more than that, his amazing expressiveness adds a whole new dimension to the books.  If you love Harry Potter, here’s a way to enjoy the series afresh.  If you haven’t read the books and have been meaning to, treat yourself to listening to them.

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Review of The Arrival, by Shaun Tan

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009


The Arrival

by Shaun Tan

Starred Review.
Arthur Levine Books, New York, 2006.

The Arrival is an amazingly effective story of the immigrant experience—told in a graphic novel without any text—or at least without any text that we can understand.

The illustrations, beautifully drawn and wonderfully detailed, show us a man leaving his family behind to go on a long journey.  The pictures seem to be telling a historical story of a man traveling to America.

But then he arrives, and we see fantastic animals such as don’t exist on earth (at least that I know about!).  The letters of the text on signs are incomprehensible.  The clothing is different and strange.  The buildings are wild, unfamiliar shapes.

The man must try to find shelter, learn how to use the machines in his dwelling, find food, (including figuring out what it looks like and how to eat it) and find work.  He meets other immigrants and hears their stories.  And above all, he wants to bring his wife and daughter there to join him.

All this is shown to us without any words we can recognize.  By using strange, alien-looking objects and animals, Shaun Tan communicates the strangeness immigrants experience far more effectively than he could ever have done with words.

This book is shelved in the Young Adult section, but can span all ages from upper elementary to adults.  The powerful, wonderfully crafted images will stick in the reader’s mind for a long time to come.

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