Monday, 30 December 2013

Christmas books

My eldest boy's haul. 
And one of his younger brothers'..
and another one..
and another one.

Favourites so far are Petunia, Flora and Ulysses, Ghostopolis, Bad Island, The Phantom Tollbooth (audiobook), Michael Morpugo's Beowulf(not pictured as it was being read!) and Big Fat Little Lit

For me, it is such a relief to be able to openly look through all these lovely books, having spent the last few months furtively peeping at them in their various hiding places in my bedroom. 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry, illustrated by P.J. Lynch

I don't really know who the target audience of this book are - I found it in the children's picture book section of the library, but the story is for adults. You can read it aloud, but the language is not overly easy for the under tens and the pictures feature New York in the early 1900's, a bare apartment and a young married couple. Not subjects that usually appeal to the picture book crowd. So, who would read it?

Well, me, for a start. I love this story, love the clipped, witty style, the New Yorkyness, the humour. Even though I say that I'm not a fan of the short story, reading this one is pure pleasure.

And the combination of words by O. Henry and illustrations by P.J. Lynch is entrancing. According to the book jacket, he always wanted to illustrate The Gift of the Magi as he liked the idea that some of the New York streets are still very similar to how they were when it was written. Anyways, the romance in these pictures just jumps off the page. Scroll down and take a look..

So if you want a present for someone you love who loves American literature or old New York stuff or just beautiful things, this is ideal. Someone of any age at all, but ideally over ten.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Arthur Quinn and Hell's Keeper by Alan Early

We were at the library last night, killing time while one of my boys did his Tae Kwon Do, when my twelve year old borrowed this one. I was very pleased.

You see, he started off at six, loving reading. Moving rapidly from the "I Can Reads", he was onto Harry Potter by eight and The Lord of the Rings trilogy by nine. Yes, I was one of those painful mothers at the school gates who tried to shoehorn these facts into every conversation. Anyway, no sooner had I bored everyone to death about it, he got an Xbox, and I got my comeuppance.

For the past two years he has read minimally, using all available time poring over cheat books, Xbox magazines and all that other console related crap. Nothing could tempt him and I gave up leaving books on his bedside table. He did often pick up his younger brothers choices; Louis Sachers' Wayside School books, maybe the odd graphic novel, so I suppose he was still reading a bit, but my boasting days were over. Although that's probably not a bad thing. I wondered though, did I now have a reluctant reader?

But things are looking up. He read Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes the other day and when we got home last night, climbed into bed with this one. Its the third in the Arthur Quinn series and an absorbing, addictive read. When I peeped in at 6.45 this morning, he was awake and reading it again.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Little Owl and the Star A Christmas Story by Mary Murphy

This is our favourite Christmas book. It came down from the attic on Saturday, along with the decorations and never used candles and chipped crib figures. All the Christmas paraphenalia that I love to look at now, but will be itching to pack up and not see for another year by January 2nd. But not this. The only reason I put this book away is to make it all the more treaty to discover it again next December.

It seems that sadly, Little Owl and the Star is currently out of print, but it is available second hand from Amazon and AbeBooks. Written by Mary Murphy (whose board books I Like it When ... and How Kind! are the perfect new baby present), this is a sweet and gentle story.

"It was a silent night. I sat in my tree, with a waiting feeling." Isn't that a lovely beginning?

"A star sparkled along. "Follow me, Little Owl!" said the star. And I did."

And the star led Little Owl, the three kings on their camels ("plodding softly through sand." This is SO beautifully written.) and the shepherds to the stable, where they saw who was sleeping inside. 

This is a night time book, and the beautiful colours stand out all the more as a result.

I know its a bit late in the day to try to source this online but I'm sure most libraries will have it. Really, it's worth the trip.

P.s. Two interesting interviews with Mary; Here and here.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr and Bomb by Steve Sheinkin

I saw this little book mentioned in the inside cover of Homer Price and thought that it was a beautiful title. All the Puffin Modern Classics are inexpensive and nicely produced, so I ordered it. Look at the cover!

My twelve year old had an ear infection at the weekend and as his defences were down, I thought he might agree to put aside his treasured Xbox cheat book (no link to that here, it pains me to even mention it) and read this. Its called Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes. He did, and liked it. He said it was "Really good, but a bit sad." His eight year old brother then picked it up at breakfast and after a brief tussle with our ten year old, finished it last night. (Yes, I am boasting that they were fighting over a book!) 

So, on the one hand, its a great little stocking stuffer but on the other, it is about a little girl who gets cancer as a result of the bomb on Hiroshima. So not exactly seasonal cheer. Its short, only sixty odd pages, and has instructions at the end on how to make a paper crane. Beautifully written and informative, its quite a change from all the usual fare for older kids.

For background, Bomb by Steve Sheinkin is great. My eldest read it last year and said he enjoyed it mainly because of the "exciting spy stuff." It's got great reviews and we have given it as a birthday present to over tens a few times.

Monday, 9 December 2013

The Magic Bed by John Burningham

I got thinking last week, after writing about William Steig, about John Burningham. Their books are similar insofar as they are both equally popular in this house, and equally, I don't want to say thought provoking, as I have never seen my kids rubbing their chins and looking pensive after reading them, but they do peer closely at the illustrations and sit silently for the stories.

The Magic Bed was our first Burningham book. It's definitely my favourite. Georgie needs a new bed. His granny advises going to the shopping centre. (Isn't that so eighties? When nothing was any good unless it came from a shopping centre?) But Frank, (his stepfather? I'm not sure, but he is an only child and lives with his mum, his gran and Frank) on Georgies suggestion, opts for a second hand shop. And they find the bed.

So Frank helps Georgie clean up the bed and they find a message written on it. According to this, if Georgie says a magic word, the bed will take him to wonderful places. Frank does not laugh at this(unlike his mother and irritating Granny) he just tells George that the magic word is not easy to read and it says "M something, something, something, Y." And Georgie keeps trying until he gets it.  Soon he is travelling over the city and having many adventures.

But when the family take a break in the sun, Granny decides that a new bed is in order. She is SO annoying! On his return, Georgie is horrified, and races to the dump to see if he can save the magic one...

And phew! There it is on top of a skip. 

This is a wonderful book for any age. Other Burningham treasures include Harquin, reviewed by me here and Harvey Slumfenburgers Christmas Present, which is  perfect for this or any time of year.

Doctor De Soto by William Steig

I've been reading up on William Steig a lot recently. Well, reading about him and reading him. Having bought Doctor De Soto last Summer its proved to be a slow burner here. I suppose maybe I was expecting a lot, but when I read it first I thought, "It's not that great."  Its about a dentist who is also a mouse, who makes his living working on the teeth of other animals, many of whom are considerably bigger than he is.

Anyway, the book found its place on the shelf and we pulled it out every now and again, and then I saw the audio version in the library. I added it to our pile because well, it was free, why not? I hadn't even considered that when you think about it, when a picture book finds its way to audio, it has to be pretty well written right? And to be read by Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci? Well, it was magical. Magical and weird and funny and just made all of us stop and listen and smile.

And now, the more I read Doctor De Soto the more I love it. Its just written in such a not-condescending way. As if kids can actually cope with lines like;

"Doctor De Soto climbed up the ladder and bravely entered the fox's mouth. "Ooo-wow!" he gasped. The fox had a rotten bicuspid and unusually bad breath."
"That night the De Sotos lay awake worrying. "Should we let him in tomorrow?" Mrs De Soto wondered.
"Once I start a job," said the Dentist firmly, "I finish it. My father was the same way.""

And all that is before you even look at the pictures. Check these out.

Some animals cannot be trusted..

and some animals can.

Here is the donkey, getting some work done..

and his wife, reading a magazine in the waiting room. Mrs De Soto, lends a hand.

All of which got me on a bit of an obsessive hunt for reviews of all his books and which we should read next. Even though I had officially finished the book side of Christmas shopping, when I saw that Burgin at Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves says that if you want your kids to think outside the box, read William Steig with them, I knew I had to get a few more. Amongst those she raves about are Gorky Rises and Rotten Island, both of which will be found under our tree on Christmas morning. 

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Ignis the Dragon written by Gina Wilson, illustrated by P.J. Lynch

When we decided to go to Pictiur at the Irish Museum of Modern Art this morning, I did fantasise about seeing one of the artists there. Artists do visit their exhibitions, I think. But when I passed the man on the stairs with the cowboy moustache, I just thought, "It must be a cool thing now, amongst arty folk, to cultivate an Oliver Jeffers moustache." Until I thought, "OH MY GOD. That IS Oliver Jeffers." I was going to turn back and catch him before he left, to ask him to pose for a photo with my kids but the chances of them saying "Who?" "What favourite book?" "Do I have to?" "When can we go to the gift shop?" were high. And also, I felt too embarrassed to tap him in the shoulder. He must be sick of people doing that. But I wish I  had! Oh well.

On another note, Pictiur is in the IMMA cafe and just beside the gift shop, which to my mind is the absolute worst place to place an exhibition aimed at children. It just meant I spent the whole time saying "No, we are not buying anything" over and over and over again. And this morning, the smell of soup was overpowering.

When I stopped fuming about the location and the soup and desperately regretting not saying hello to probably the most famous, fantastic author of children's books I will ever have the chance to meet, I noticed the Ignis drawings.

We know Ignis very well. Written by Gina Wilson and illustrated by P.J. Lynch, I found this book in about 2008, and when I did, I was thrilled. My second son was mad about dragons and believe it or not, there was a time when it was not that easy to find a kids book with dragon characters. When it comes to dragon books, this one is just about perfect.

Ignis is a young dragon who cannot yet blow fire. He tries and tries but has no luck. His friend Scintilla and sister Flamma are encouraging but they can offer nothing but kindness. (Aren't they the most beautiful names?) His Gran-dragon advises him not to panic, it will come. Look at the expressions on the faces. Look at all the illustrations. So lush and so lovely.

He visits his friends Poto, the hippopotamous, Loquax the Parrot and Cara, the little girl, but alas they are good friends but not dragons, and cannot help.

And just when it seems like there is no hope for Ignis,"the very last spark from the volcano's very last eruption, one hundred years ago , came wandering out into the open, weak and wavering and looking for something to light."

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Minpins by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Patrick Benson

I think by this stage most kids over eight have read themselves, or listened to the audio books of Fantastic Mr Fox, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Witches and all the other Roald Dahl greats. Even as I type Matilda is playing on a little CD player in the bedroom above me. (Miss Trunchbull has just fallen over.)

But yesterday my ten year old came home with The Minpins on loan from his teacher. I'd heard of it from my friend Sarah a few years ago, but think its safe to say its a slightly lesser known Dahl title. Illustrated by Patrick Benson, it was an unexpected treat for both of us. I love Patrick Bensons soft, gentle on the eye drawings, and could read Owl Babies a thousand times (actually, I probably have) and not get tired of those many, tiny black lines. Just look at this forest, and these little people.

Anyways, it was his bedtime read last night, lets find out what he thought.
"I loved it."
Why? What was it about?
"There was a boy who wasn't allowed into the woods and he went in and was chased by the Gruncher! 
The Gruncher? Who was that?
I loved the Gruncher! You couldn't see him, only his breath, he breathed out smoke because there was fire inside him, and you could see his shadow."
So what happens to the boy?
"He climbs up a tree and finds the Minpins."
Who are they?
"These nice little people who are afraid of the Gruncher."
So does the boy help them?
"Yes! Its brilliant, he leads the Gruncher..."

I'll leave it there as I don't want to give away the ending but suffice to say, its a good one.

Picture books like this, with a bit more bite, are great. It gives older kids an age appropriately gripping tale and the pleasure of great illustrations too. This would be a perfect present for anyone between eight and twelve. I mean, why should the little ones get all the nice stuff? Picture books for all ages, I say!

P.s. I forgot to mention that one his favourite parts of the book was the way the Minpins talk to and travel on birds. Pretty cool right?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Chop-Chop Mad Cap by Juliette Saumande, illustrated by Sadie Cramer

Here is my eight year old. Refusing to eat breakfast or get dressed for school because this book is TOO GOOD to put down. Not that he said that of course. Being male he simply ignored my pleas to hurry up and kept doing what he was doing. It took a LOT of persuasion (shouting) to get him out the door this morning.
Anyways, the book is called Chop-Chop Mad Cap written by Juliette Saumande and illustrated by Sadie Cramer. And it gets two thumbs up from this stubborn boy.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

I knew nothing about Origami Yoda when I bought it other than I loved the title. My eldest read it in two sessions (he was eleven) and I ended up reading it aloud to two of his younger brothers on holidays. They could not get enough of it.

Its written in the form of a report put together a group of  middle school children. With (fantastic!)doodles by some of them. I'm not in middle school but I think the characters are really well drawn, the kind of people that you find something familiar about. Mike was a favourite of mine because he simply could not stop himself bursting into tears when things didn't go his way in sports. Its such a typically embarrassing thing for slightly older kids and yet I've never seen it addressed before. (And I did it all the time!)

And there's Dwight, the origami master of the school, who, when he knocks a drink onto the floor, wipes it up with his t shirt. Without taking it off.

As the main narrator, Tommy says "Dwight never seems to do anything right." And yet, the Origami Yoda on his finger gives great advice? What gives? (as I think they say in the States.) Anyone who has ever been called a wierdo will love Dwight.

And theres Harvey, the person who would have called you a wierdo, but he is human too. Like I said, its a really good book. This is what the chapters look like.

And the next book; Darth Paper, which is just as good!

Doctor Dan and Little Boy Brown

This is what the postman delivered yesterday. The plan was to hide them away for Christmas, but its November, and we need a treat. Doctor Dan is a Classic Little Golden Book, costs less than three euros and occupied my three year old for about ten minutes three different times yesterday. He's looking at it again now. So, well worth it.

Little Boy Brown is a masterpiece. I'd say it would be good for ages three or four to six or seven. Or anyone who likes beautiful books. I saw the review here and ordered it immediately. Vintage Kids' Books My Kid Loves is my encyclopedia for great kids books. 


I think it  might be one of the most beautiful childrens picture books I have ever seen. I'd gush more but my kid are hungry and I should really feed them!