Review of Winnie-the-Pooh audiobook, read by Peter Dennis



written by A. A. Milne

performed by Peter Dennis

Book published in 1926.  Blackstone Audiobooks, 2004.  3 hours on 3 cassettes.

Starred review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: Wonderful Rereads

I’ve already reviewed Winnie-the-Pooh at length and said how special it is to me: .

Although part of the specialness is that I fell in love with my husband while reading Winnie-the-Pooh together, I find that the book is still just as special even though my husband has now left me.  Winnie-the-Pooh has been part of my life much longer than he has.

I have checked out several cassettes from the library that I want to listen to before we end up getting rid of all our cassettes, and Winnie-the-Pooh is one.  (Though the same version is now available on CD.)  It was the perfect book to listen to while my son and I were making lots of trips back and forth while toting our possessions for a move across town.

Few things are as much fun as reading Winnie-the-Pooh aloud, especially with a group of enthusiastic readers.  However, when you are driving, you can’t read yourself, and this performance by Peter Dennis is the next best thing.  He is so exceptionally good at doing the voices of the characters, it’s a bit intimidating.  (Though I will not let that stop me.)

I was appalled to learn that my teenage son doesn’t remember most of the stories.  Surely I had read them to him enough times?  He learned to write his name P-O-O-H, for goodness’ sake! 

Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed listening to and laughing over them in the middle of the serious business of moving.  We will definitely have to do some Pooh readalouds together just as soon as we find the box where my copy is hiding.

You can’t ask for a better family listening experience than this version of Winnie-the-Pooh.  And I don’t care if your family is all adults or includes toddlers.  Those who are only familiar with the Disney versions may not realize the wonderful subtle humor and charm of the original books.  It’s hard to imagine anyone of any age not enjoying these stories.

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Review of Orangutan Tongs, by Jon Agee


Orangutan Tongs

Poems to Tangle Your Tongue

by Jon Agee

Disney/Hyperion Books, 2009.  48 pages.

Starred review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #2 Picture Books

This book is entirely too much fun.  I brought it home and read it to my teenage son, and, as I suspected, he couldn’t resist trying it himself.  For Dr. Seuss’s birthday, we recently had a tweetle beetle binge from Fox in Socks, so it was fun to read to each other and laugh from a new book where I didn’t have the advantage of about forty years of practice.

Orangutan Tongs (Can you resist saying that title aloud?) is a book of tongue twister poems, with illustrations.  They are all quite silly and good for fun and laughter.

My son claimed that he had not been practicing, but I found it highly suspicious that when I came home from work the next day, he was suddenly able to recite the Peggy Babcock poem:

Peggy Babcock at work.  Peggy Babcock at play.

Peggy Babcock tomorrow.  Peggy Babcock today.

Peggy Babcock, repeated, is tricky to say:

Peggy Babcock, Peggy Babcock, Peggy Babcock, ole!

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Review of The Graveyard Book audiobook, by Neil Gaiman


The Graveyard Book

by Neil Gaiman

Narrated by the author.

Recorded Books, New York, 2008.  7 compact discs.  7.75 hours.

Starred review.

2009 Newbery Award winner.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #2 Children’s Fantasy and Science Fiction

When The Graveyard Book came out, I checked it out for my 14-year-old son to read, knowing he’d want to read anything by Neil Gaiman.  He told me I should read it, but after listening to Coraline, which was very good but exceedingly creepy, I decided that a book by Neil Gaiman with “graveyard” in the title was bound to be too creepy for me.

However, when The Graveyard Book won the Newbery Award, I decided that as a responsible children’s librarian, I really should read it, and I was completely delighted with it.  There’s a little bit of creepiness, but not nearly so much as Coraline.  In fact, I think The Graveyard Book would make fantastic listening for an entire family on a car trip, because it appeals to a wide range of ages.  (If your kids are old enough to handle the fact that the family is murdered at the beginning, they will be able to handle anything else in the book.)

The premise, and the reason for the name, is the same idea as The Jungle Book, except instead of a baby being adopted by the dwellers of the jungle, a baby is adopted by the dwellers of a graveyard.

The book does begin as a family has just been murdered.  The killer is looking to finish the job, but the baby has toddled off.  In the graveyard, a loving woman who always wanted to be a mother convinces her husband to take pity on the baby and take him in.  As Mowgli’s parents needed the approval of the pack, so this baby needs the approval of the inhabitants of the graveyard.  He’s named Nobody Owens, Bod for short.

There are some fun parallels between Bod’s story and The Jungle Book.  For example, instead of getting kidnapped by apes, Bod gets kidnapped by ghouls.  At first the book seems very episodic (with extremely interesting episodes), but by the end, all the adventures tie together into Bod’s need to avenge his family, escape their fate, and live a life outside the graveyard.

Neil Gaiman’s narration is simply awesome.  He now lives in America, but he has a wonderful voice and just enough British accent to sound incredibly cultured.  He gives the different characters different voices, with accents as appropriate.  I found his reading of the chapter with the ghouls especially delightful.

Although I’m sure this book makes great reading on your own, hearing Neil Gaiman read it makes for an incredible listening experience.  I found myself lingering in the car more than once because I got to work too quickly.

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Review of A Curse as Dark as Gold, by Elizabeth C. Bunce


A Curse as Dark as Gold

by Elizabeth C. Bunce

Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic), 2008.  395 pages.

Winner of the William C. Morris YA Debut Award 2008.

Starred review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #4 Fantasy Teen Fiction

I do love fairy tale retellings.  A Curse as Dark as Gold takes the basic story of Rumpelstiltskin and sets it in a woolen mill shortly before the Industrial Revolution.  The author retains the feeling of magic and romance, and gives us a determined and strong heroine.

When Charlotte Miller’s father dies, leaving an enormous mortgage on the mill, Charlotte knows she must do something to keep Stirwaters running.  The entire village depends on the mill for their livelihoods.

But everyone says there’s a curse on the mill, and as soon as Charlotte and her sister Rosie overcome one seemingly insurmountable obstacle, another one rises up to take its place.  So when a strange man who calls himself Jack Spinner offers to help, Charlotte seems to have no choice.

This story is dark, as it does involve curses and difficulties.  But Charlotte is such a determined, capable character, you quickly find yourself rooting for her to succeed, even though you can’t imagine how she’ll pull it off.

The author fills the story with details about the woolen industry before the industrial revolution, so it almost feels more like a historical novel than a fantasy.  However, there is a strong undercurrent of magic, which practical Charlotte does not want to acknowledge.

This is a magnificently written book, and I’m excited to learn it’s Elizabeth Bunce’s first.  If this is how she begins her writing career, I will eagerly wait to see what she writes next!

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Review of Loving What Is, by Byron Katie


Loving What Is

Four Questions That Can Change Your Life

by Byron Katie with Stephen Mitchell

Harmony Books (Random House), New York, 2002.  258 pages.

Starred review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: #4 Other Nonfiction

Loving What Is is hard to describe.  It doesn’t quite fit into the box of any religion or philosophy I might try to fit it into.  In my view, this is a tool that a person from any religion can use to move further along their own spiritual path.

The title probably says it best.  With her process, Byron Katie shows you how to begin to stop arguing with reality and start loving what actually is happening in your life.

Katie doesn’t tell you what to think.  The Work she presents consists of four questions you ask yourself.  She doesn’t tell you how to answer them.

You start with a stressful thought.  She even suggests you fill out a Judge Your Neighbor worksheet to find thoughts you are thinking that are causing you stress.  I can use the example, “My husband should not have left me.”

Question One is:  Is it true?

It’s a simple question, and usually our gut reaction is Yes, of course it’s true!  In my example, the Bible even says that he was sinning, so of course he should not have done that.  He hurt people, didn’t he?

Question Two asks, Can you absolutely know that it’s true?

This question takes you deeper.  After all, what do I mean by “should”?  I’ve got a much closer relationship with God than I did before my husband left.  I’m happier and healthier, and am enjoying pursuing my own interests and passions more than I was able to when I was living as a wife.  Can I absolutely know that he should not have left me?

Question Three asks, How do you react when you think that thought?

For my example, the answer’s easy.  When I think the thought, “My husband should not have left me,” I get angry and sad.  I start wanting some kind of compensation.  I feel sorry for myself.  I want to make him change.  Bottom line, none of those reactions make me feel good.

Question Four asks, Who would you be without the thought?

Notice that she doesn’t tell you to give up the thought!  Katie’s far more gentle than that.  She just asks you to envision what you would be like without the thought.  In my example, I’d be happier, freer, and much more satisfied with my life now.  I’d have a lot more joy in the present.

Finally, she follows up the questions by suggesting that you look at “the Turnaround” and see if that statement might be even more true.

In my example, “My husband should not have left me,” there are at least three turnarounds:

I should not have left me.

I should not have left my husband.

My husband should have left me.

Just looking at the first one, when I’m in my husband’s business, brooding about what he should have done, aren’t I in that moment leaving myself?

Besides that, I can’t do anything about what my husband does, only about what I choose to do and think.

My example is not as complete as the many examples given in the book of people from a wide variety of circumstances going through the four questions with Katie’s help.

I find my resistance to the ideas here is mainly centered on the idea that no one “should” sin.  I don’t like the turnaround “My husband should have left me,” because it sounds like condoning sin or calling evil good.  (How arrogant I sound even admitting that!)

I can deal with it better when I realize that Katie’s ideas greatly help to get me to a Joseph place:  “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to accomplish what is now being done.”  After all, if I am happier and healthier than before my husband left me, what is there still to be angry with him about?  Who am I to get hung up on what he should or should not do?  What business is that of mine anyway?

This is why I think that Katie’s ideas can be helpful for anyone from any religious background.  Unless that religion encourages you to judge your neighbor — but I don’t think there are many of those out there!

She helps you examine what you are thinking and how that fits with reality.  You can become much more joyful about what actually is happening to you.

Definitely ideas worth thinking about!

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Review of Confessions of an Amateur Believer, by Patty Kirk


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


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


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


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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