Maniac Magee is called a folktale, which is the perfect description for this story about a boy who sleeps with deer and buffalo, unties impossible knots, and runs like nobody else. I listened to this Newbery-Award winner as an audiobook, which I'd highly recommend as a great way to enjoy it with your kids. There are some interesting ideas about home (and homelessness), race, and the truth that anybody, no matter how limited your resources, can make a difference. Maniac Magee could spark some wonderful family discussion!
With a title like Ben and Me, how could we resist picking this book up from the library shelves (since, after all, our one and only shares his first name)? Little did we know what a historical gem we had found. Subtitled, An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos, this tale was "discovered, edited and illustrated by Robert Lawson" in 1939. Amos reveals himself as the small, furry assistant who was the real genius behind much of Franklin's work. From bi-focals and the Franklin stove to the discovery of electricity and the Declaration of Independence, readers will enjoy laughing at the witty narrative while learning about some of Franklin's famous moments.
Initially, I checked this book out for Ben, but I couldn't resist picking it up and reading a bit. When I did, I was intrigued—I couldn't imagine where in the world this book was going. As I found out, it was going into the world...deep into the earth. You see, the main character, Will Burrows, and his father share a passion for digging tunnels. For Will, it's an adventure. For his academic father, it's an archaeological pursuit. But when Will's father decides to go it alone on a particular dig, he disappears without a trace. Will eventually uncovers his father's journal, and recruits a friend to go searching for him in a tunnel connected to their basement. They stumble upon a hidden world underground—a massive city complete with houses, streets, a church, and even a police force. They soon realize that this civilization is disturbingly different, only after it's too late to leave. Will they manage to escape? Will they ever find Will's father? These questions, and many more that follow, are what drove me to stay up way too late several nights in a row. There are a few brief periods (particularly the beginning) that are slower-paced, but readers will be rewarded well for sticking with this mysterious underground adventure.
When a child finds a good stick, there's plenty of entertainment ahead. Not a Stick shows us the magic that happens when such a simple object finds itself in the hands of someone filled with imagination.
In this case, a little pig wields the stick on each page, as an unseen grownup tosses out warnings to "be careful with that stick," and "watch where you point that stick." The pig corrects the speaker with each admonishment, countering, "This is not a stick." And we see exactly what he's talking about, as the same line drawing from the previous page is incorporated into a fantasy scene like leading a parade, riding a horse, and slaying a dragon.
Not a Stick is the followup to Antoinette Portis' award-winning book, Not a Box. Bet you can guess what that one's about ;) Her simple drawings and subtle usage of color capture the essence of these objects, as well as the imaginary adventures. This book reminds me of Harold and the Purple Crayon, in every good way. Highly recommended!
Don't let the length of this book scare you away. The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a story told in words and pictures, so a large portion of the pages are illustrations that contribute to the plot. And what illustrations they are! Author/Illustrator Brian Selznick won the Caldecott Medal for The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a fascinating mixture that he describes as, "not a exactly a novel, not quite a picture book, not really a graphic novel, or a flip book or a movie, but a combination of all these things." It's really worth experiencing this book simply for the groundbreaking format, but it's also a creative novel that weaves in mystery, history, and suspense. So what's it about? It's a hard plot to summarize, but it involves an orphaned boy who lives in the unseen world behind the walls of a Paris train station. Add one clever girl, an old man, a stolen key, and a hidden message, and you've got a very interesting read!
Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked and The Hamlet Chronicles, now treats us to a brand new story about a rogue tooth fairy called What-the-Dickens. Orphaned at birth, this skibberee bumbles his way through his first days of life and tries to find out where he fits in. He'd really like to become the pet of McCavity, a cat who unfortunately lacks a soft spot for winged creatures. He knows he doesn't want to be adopted by the bird who sings off-key. But when he meets Pepper, a tooth fairy on a mission, he thinks he must be on to something.
But skibbereen are suspicious sorts, and Pepper's colony isn't receptive to this stranger. Can he learn enough about their ways and prove himself worthy of belonging to their ranks?
The tale of What-the Dickens is a story-within-a-story and is told by Gage, an older cousin who has come to stay with three children during a natural disaster that cuts them off from power, food, and civilization. Their story runs parallel with the events in What-the-Dickens' life, and eventually intersects in a satisfying twist.
The writing in this book is truly delightful. As I read to Ben, we stopped often to appreciate Maguire's work—amazing descriptions, clever wordplay, ironic coincidences, etc. It was a teensy bit challenging as a read-aloud, only because of the frequent passages of dialog that don't indicate the change in speaker. It's no problem when you're seeing the pages, but a little trickier if you're only hearing it. However, in the hands of a skilled artist, I imagine that this would be a fantastic audiobook!
What-the-Dickens is wonderful modern-day fairy tale. Don't expect to get carried away by the plot, but instead enjoy the humor, the interesting characters, and the unique look at the world of a tooth fairy.
This is a great book. The plot moves along quickly, making for an easy read. The characters are charming and unforgettable—children and tooth fairies alike. Though easy to read, this novel is very exciting. I would recommend this to both young and old readers.
Behind the Curtain reminded me of just how much I enjoy a good mystery. The second novel in the Echo Falls series picks up right where Down the Rabbit Hole left off. Our hero, 13-year-old Ingrid, once again finds herself in the middle of a multi-layered mystery involving her brother, his friends, her Grampy, her father (and his job), and the local police. With an attempted kidnapping, car chase, and lots of close calls, it's hard to stop turning the pages in this action-packed book. Behind the Curtain is definitely at the older range of books you'll find on Family Reads, and there are some mature situations and profanity you should be aware of, but for the right reader, it's just too much fun to miss. If you're looking to share some reads with your older kids, this book is a great choice!
I read about the Milly-Molly-Mandy Stories when Ben was four, but since our library didn't carry it and I just couldn't bring myself to buy a copy for our boy, I never had a chance to see what they were all about. Well, like most decisions I've made along those lines, I regret it. These are such sweet little stories and they are well-suited to children of both the snip-and-snails and sugar-and-spice varieties.
Milly-Molly-Mandy is just one child: a little girl whose real name is Millicent Margaret Amanda. She lives in a nice white cottage with her Father, Mother, Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle and Aunty. Originally published in Great Britain in 1928, these stories are good, in the purest sense. Milly-Molly-Mandy is a happy, well-behaved child who's eager to help out her loving family and experience simple adventures with her nice friends.
It might sound a little over-the-top, saccharin sweet, but the stories are actually matter-of-fact and told in plain language. In the edition I read, each story is about 5-10 pages long, featuring fairly large print and at least one illustration. Think of them like warm milk, perfect for the young child who's just barely ready to move beyond picture books. And for kids who enjoy Milly-Molly-Mandy, the Betsy-Tacy series is not to be missed!
I never thought I'd have so much fun with a Western, but The Misadventures of Maude March proved me wrong. Orphaned at an early age, 11-year-old Sallie March and her 15-year-old sister Maude live a sober yet peaceful existence with their Aunt Ruthie. When their aunt is killed as a bystander to an accidental shootout, they go to live with a local preacher's family. When conditions there become unbearable, Maude and Sallie decide to head west in hopes of finding their mother's brother, whom they haven't seen in years. Between their hurried departure and incidents along the way, Maude gains a reputation for being a crazed outlaw. Told in the wry point of view of Sallie, who is so excited to try out life as a range rider after all the dime-store novels she's read, the story is mostly about the girls trying to survive their journey and the people they meet along the way. It's funny, smart, and a perfect introduction to the Western genre for those who've never experienced it before. I listened to this as an audiobook, and it would be an ideal choice for any road trip across western territory!
How to Be is a simple picture book that highlights the unique qualities of several different animals. For example, if you want to be a snake: "Shed your skin. Slither. Dance in a basket. Be charming." The illustrations are a cheerful mix of watercolor and line drawings that show a boy and a girl acting out the traits. This isn't a bedtime book, but it's a perfect pick for an active storytime. I could picture reading this to a toddler right before it's time for mom to make dinner...there's plenty to set the imagination in motion as the wee one imitates animals all through food prep. How to Be would make a fantastic gift for a child turning one.