Friday, November 18, 2011


Totally didn't get around to a post this week. Hopefully early next week. Also just saw that the pictures for Pat the Bunny and Pat the Cat didn't come through, so I'll try to fix that next week, too.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why Pat the Bunny is way better than Pat the Cat

In an effort to get some blog posts going, I'm starting a series on my random literary opinions. I've got 3 literary opinions lined up (today's, one on Harry Potter characters, and one about school stories); hopefully I'll come up with 2 more to make it a decent-length series. It may go without saying that these are opinions about children's books, but now I've said it, so there should be no confusion. The hope is to write one a week, but it'll be a victory if that actually gets done.

Now on to today's topic...

I'm going to assume that most readers have at least heard of Pat the Bunny, by Dorothy Kunhardt. Here's what it looks like:

This is a classic kids' book (originally published in 1940) and it's the ancestor of today's board books. It's interactive, with a soft bunny, nice-smelling flowers, a peek-a-boo page, a mirror, and other activities on each page. The activities are perfect for older babies/younger toddlers--my older girl (M.) can do everything except read the little book that makes up one of the activities, but for that, she turns the pages, just like she does in real books. She especially loves to say "bye bye" at the end. My three year old son still likes the book, too. Most importantly, M. has not yet destroyed the book. This is saying something, as she is right in the "destroy everything" phase of wanting to be independent but not quite getting the hang of it, and she's a little rougher in this stage than N. was. The book is not as sturdy as today's board books, but it's sturdy enough to stand up to a one-and-a-half year old. This is pretty important.

Moving on to Pat the Cat. This one was made by Kunhardt's daughter, and it first came out in 1984.

I have to say that it was a nice idea, and some parts of it are downright nifty. My favorite (and N.'s) is a sequence activity over 2 pages. First, you get money (pretend of course) out of the ATM (which I didn't realize existed in 1984--so I did learn something!), then you put it in Daddy's wallet on the next page. The two pages are designed so that, by putting the money in Daddy's wallet, it's positioned back in the ATM for the next read-through. This is pretty clever (says the girl who never ever ever solves the mystery before the story detective). However, there are some serious problems with Pat the Cat:
  • The activities vary in difficulty, and some of them are too difficult even for a 3 year old. Most notably among these is the squeaky toy at the end--I even have trouble getting it to squeak (you have to push it just the right way), and none of the kids (well, the 3 month old hasn't tried yet) can do it. This wouldn't be quite such an issue if it wasn't following in the footsteps of a book specifically aimed at babies.
  • Not all of the activities are "real." This may not be quite fair--the flowers in Pat the Bunny aren't real, either, but there is a real smell. What I mean by real is that you actually manipulate something--you really smell or touch or see what you are doing. Pat the Cat has one where you just pretend to write (with a paper pencil--no marks can be made), and I'm guessing the smell activity (since it's scratch and sniff) is going to run out eventually, too.
  • As you probably guessed, my biggest problem is with durability. This was a baby gift for little L. and, sadly, M. has already ripped one of the pages to pieces (I hope to fix it with book tape--I'm getting quite a pile of "books to fix"--but she's had access to this one for a much shorter time than Pat the Bunny). She's also almost lost the pretend money several times. Additionally, the hard-t0-squeak squeaky bear at the back bends the back cover when it finally does squeak.
Overall, while I don't hit 30 until early next year, I have to summon my inner geezer for these two books: they just don't make them like they used to! If you are looking for a fun interactive book for babies, go with the original Pat the Bunny. I'd say browse the others in the bookstore, but they tend to come shrink wrapped, so you'll have to find a friend who's kids have already ripped them! (You are welcome to come read mine, as long as you don't lose the fake money.)

I should mention that there are, of course, a whole host of good books for babies these days, in the form of board books or cloth books, but most of them aren't designed to be interactive (at least beyond the chewing on books that is necessary to the baby-book experience).

That's all for this week's literary opinion (my, isn't this high-brow)! We'll see if I make it back next week!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Where I've been...

Well, if anyone was reading this before, I don't blame you for givingit up recently, since there hasn't been a post since April!

Since then, I've put my house on the market, bought another house, moved (these three really happened due more to my husband's efforts than mine, especially the actual moving!), had a baby, bought a new car, and quit my job. It's been a busy summer.

I can't make excuses about not posting--mostly it was due to lack of effort and energy. However, since our life changes required a little bit more discretion this time around (I wasn't sure about going back to my job, as I was with the last baby), I couldn't post about work-life issues and maternity leave in the same way as I had in the past. I did indeed decide to quit, and with my husband starting a doctoral program, it seems to be the right decision. I'm enjoying being a full-time mom for now, although there's definitely an all-new balancing act to learn with a third baby in the mix.

I don't want to entirely get out of touch with the library world, of course, and I'm toying with the idea of trying a more kid-lit focused blog in the near future. While I play around with the idea and read up in the current kid-lit blogosphere, here are a couple recent reviews from my Goodreads account:

The Mostly True Story of JackThe Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I spent over half of The Mostly True Story of Jack waiting to find out when I was going to learn out what was really going on in Hazelwood, and once I got to the climax of the book, I still wasn't sure. I think Barnhill has a good sense of the rules of her magic, but I never got that same sense. This would be my main criticism of the book. For example, I never understood quite what the Avery men got out of making deals with the evil
"Lady"--even those callous enough not to care about the price they had to pay didn't seem to gain enough to make it worthwhile. They gained the same kind of power in the town that Potter had in the town from It's a Wonderful Life, but it didn't seem like the kind of power that would be enhanced by magic.

My other criticism is with the emotional ties--while the reader (who has the benefit of seeing scenes with other characters where Jack is not present) can tell that Clive, Anders, and Wendy are good guys, it seems to take Jack over half the book to come to that conclusion. Once he does, the action is going full-steam, and I find it hard to believe that he has as much time to get to know and love them as he does at the end.
Despite those criticisms, the book was an enjoyable read. I particularly like that even the bad guy has a sympathetic side. I would have liked to learn more about what happens to Mr. Perkins (a crony of the Avery's)--he seemed poised to make a moral turnaround.
Finally, the book ended well but not completely happily--this was impressively done, even more so given that it's a children's book (which I think makes such an ending harder).

Madeline's RescueMadeline's Rescue by Ludwig Bemelmans

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I actually don't like the pictures in this one quite as well as in the first Madeline, but this is the one that won the Caldecott. Some of the line drawings aren't as beautiful as the Parisian landscapes Bemelmans usually does, although the story (a dog rescues Madeline and then comes to live at the school) is just as charming. One "problem" I've noticed is the difficulty of identifying Madeline (in all his books) in pictures of the whole group--her hair does not always appear as red (because not all the pictures are full color) and it's sometimes straight, sometimes wavy. Even her bed seems to change positions occasionally! Doe
sn't detract from the fun of the books for the most part, but it does make it hard to point her out to an inquisitive 3 year old when he asks which one she is.

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Hope everyone is having a great fall!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Late, late, late POC update

Yes, this is an update on the Person of Color Challenge 2010. I'm very, very late. Blog updating has just completely fallen off my radar recently, so I'm going to try to get back into the swing of things.

This challenge involved coming up with a list of books that focused on characters of color and trying to read all of them last year. I pretty much failed miserably. Here's my original post at the start of the challenge. Below are the links to the rest of the posts from the challenge:
Out of my original list of 12 books to read, I read 4 and a half. That's not so good. I did get an additional POC book out of The Red Pyramid, which was not on my initial list, and I also read the sequel to Chains, Forge, which I loved. Oh, and I started La femme sans sépulture, which I have enjoyed so far, but put aside for easier reading in English.

As I predicted, the "adult" books took me quite a lot longer to read than my normal YA/children's fare, and I have basically abandoned All Aunt Hagar's Children, which was super depressing. I still intend to pick it up and finish it, but who knows.

A lot of the books on my list fell into my personal "serious" reading category (adult, often classics, anything in French falls into this category), which I can usually only tackle one at a time, often with long breaks in between, and I think this contributed to not getting further through my list. I picked up several non-POC "serious" books throughout the year (a couple theology books, since my husband is in divinity school, and an Anthony Trollope novel, which took from late November to early January to plow through). While many of the books on the list remain on my "to read" list, I'm not going to try to finish the list this year--especially not with it being already April, yeep! However, I will try, as I browse children's and YA books, to try to make more effort to choose books with POC protagonists.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Some recent picture book reviews

Inspired by Katie over at Sharing Soda, I thought I'd put in some picture book reviews. (It gives me an easy blog post, since I'm copying and pasting from Goodreads!) I don't do storytimes regularly in my current job (sigh), but it's been fun to look at picture books based on how our 2 year old son enjoys them.

(These are in reverse reading order, FYI):

Mrs. O'Leary's CowMrs. O'Leary's Cow by Mary Ann Hoberman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I don't know enough about the song/spin-off that this is based on to really appreciate it, but N. really likes it--there's a cow AND firefighters, so what's not to like?!

Arthur's Underwear:  An Arthur Adventure(Arthur Adventure Series)Arthur's Underwear: An Arthur Adventure by Marc Brown

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I think it's nice that Brown did an underwear book just because lots of kids asked for one (see the dedication), but I'm not that impressed with the story--although, I guess I wouldn't find it that easy to write a whole story about underwear!
N. thinks it's hilarious, although he doesn't get the dream sequences or the amoeba. The book did inspire the realization of a truism about kids: the difference between a 2 year old and an 8 year old is their opinion on going without pants.

Anansi and the Moss-Covered RockAnansi and the Moss-Covered Rock by Eric A. Kimmel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, my. I'm not a huge trickster-tale fan, but this was a good one. The original premise (a magic rock that knocks out anyone who comes along and says, "Isn't this a strange moss-covered rock?") takes some getting used to, but both Anansi's tricks on others, and the trick that finally gets him (for now) are really funny. So is the sound effect (KPOM!) with which everyone is knocked out and Janet Stevens' illustrations of huge jungle animals on their backs. Finally, this is a good book for learning attention to detail, as my 2 year old started to notice that Little Bush Deer (who comes into the story about half-way through) was appearing in the pictures all along.
But the real reason I now love this book: I walked in to said 2-year-old's room a little over a week ago, watched him walk around in a circle, look on the floor, say, "Oh, what a strange rock!" then yell "KPOM!" and "fall" down on his back. It was absolutely HILARIOUS.

Arthur's Nose : 25th Anniversary Limited EditionArthur's Nose : 25th Anniversary Limited Edition by Marc Brown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I always thought it a little ironic that the hero of the series that started with Arthur's Nose has had a shrinking nose throughout the years. Still, the classic is good, and most of the immediate characters are recognizable, even to a 2 year old.

Terrific (New York Times Best Illustrated Books (Awards))Terrific (New York Times Best Illustrated Books by Jon Agee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jon Agee books tend to be hit-or-miss with me, and this one was a hit! A tall tale about a man whose numerous misfortunes (winning a trip to Bermuda, being shipwrecked, finding a talking parrot...) lead to a friendship with the above-mentioned parrot. The title comes from the man's (usually sarcastic) exclamation at each new development.

And to Think That We Thought That We'd Never Be FriendsAnd to Think That We Thought That We'd Never Be Friends by Mary Ann Hoberman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was of two minds on this one--I liked the verse, and the first couple scenarios (siblings fighting, solved when they decide to share a soda or do something different) had nice messages. As the book went on, though, it got a little too New Age-y for me: if everyone just walks around the world together making lots of noise, we'll all be friends! Or maybe I'm just overly cynical about books that N. is not yet old enough to sit through...

Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep!Time to Sleep, Sheep the Sheep! by Mo Willems

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another "Cat the Cat" book, which N. received for Christmas. I especially love this one because of the cute getting-ready-for-bed scenes and the clever line about using the potty. N. especially loves to go around asking, "Checkers, anyone?" (at random intervals).

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Monday, January 24, 2011

2011 Books Waiting to be Read

Some of the books that I'm most looking forward to reading this year (these are in no particular order):
  • The Pale Assassin by Patricia Elliott (reading right now)
  • Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson (reading right now)
  • The Ordering of Love: The New and Collected Poems of Madeleine L'Engle by Madeleine L'Engle (have dipped into, and will dip into again soon)
  • Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde
  • A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner
  • The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
  • The Navigator by Eoin McNamee
  • The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food and Love by Kristin Kimball
  • I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
  • Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool (2011 Newbery winner)
  • A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip and Erin Stead (2010 Caldecott winner)
  • A River in the Sky by Elizabeth Peters
Some of these were Christmas gifts to me, a few I ordered with a Christmas Amazon gift card, and others are just ones I want to read.

I also hope to continue reading POC books. My next post will sum up my 2010 POC challenge and plans for the future in terms of the POC challenge and other "personal edification" reading projects.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Getting by and The Way We Live Now

So, it's been almost two months since I last posted. Going back to work has definitely been hectic, so a lot of days are still devoted to getting the bare necessities for keeping the household together done. Paired with Christmas (we mailed our last Christmas cards somewhere between the 7th and 10th of January!) and a cold going around, blogging has fallen by the wayside.

One excuse is that I've spent most of the last two months reading one book: The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope. I got interested in reading something by Trollope after reading Stanley Hauerwas' memoir, Hannah's Child, where he mentions being a Trollope fan. Since in my experience, professional theologians who still regularly read fiction are rare, I thought I'd try Trollope out. I'm not sure I quite realized what I was getting into (he's a Victorian novelist--that means long novels!), but I really enjoyed the book and am posting my review at the end of this post.

I'm also about to update my blog list to include two blogs I've decided need to be there:
Please check them out!

Ok, here's the review now (which I forgot to include the first time around--hooray for post-posting editing options!):

The Way We Live Now (Modern Library Classics)The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Inspired to try out Anthony Trollope by Stanley Hauerwas (who describes himself as a big fan of Trollope in his memoir).

1/6/11 Have just gotten past the 400 page mark and am now sufficiently drawn into the story that I'm eager to read every new chapter, not just the ones that deal with my favorite characters.

1/18/11 Almost there....almost there...

1/23/11 Whew. The Way We Live Now definitely embodies the stereotype of the Victorian's LONG!! However, when I finished it's 824 pages, I felt like I had spent the time well and enjoyably.

As noted above, I had to get about half-way through before I could really enjoy the full story. I didn't know on starting, but was unsurprised to learn, that the book was published serially, so it makes sense that the story would follow a character for a few chapters, then skip to another character. Once half-way through, however, the different storylines started to weave together more and that made even those chapters that just followed Melmotte (the villain of the story) around interesting.

I liked that Trollope portrayed realistic characters who had plenty of faults--several of them more faults than virtues--but he still managed to make most of them sympathetic. Even Melmotte had some sympathetic moments, but I feel that he richly got what he deserved. I also feel that Trollope didn't cheat by letting characters have sudden changes of heart and character--he would describe their motivations and their feelings, and they stayed true to those.

Most of the characters got happy endings--even a few who didn't quite deserve them. Paul Montague and Hetta Carbury were the central romantic couple, John Crumb and Ruby Ruggles had a somewhat more exciting, yet less tortured happy ending, Roger Carbury did not get the ending he desired but rose to the occasion quite well--only Mrs. Hurtle's fate left me sad. I found the marriage of Georgiana Longstaffe to be too precipitous to be really interesting. Felix Carbury didn't quite get what he deserved (in my opinion, a swift kick in the pants), but was at least prevented from dishonoring any more young ladies or ruining his mother financially. Lady Carbury's happy ending was perhaps not deserved, but satisfying nonetheless. Since I'm a happy ending kind of girl, this is largely what made the novel enjoyable for me!

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