Book Review: Frozen: The Cinestory by Robert Simpson


Author: Robert Simpson
TitleFrozen: The Cinestory
Publication Info: Joe Books Inc. (2014)
Summary/Review:

I read this adaptation of the Disney musical Frozen with my daughter over the course of several bedtimes.  It’s essentially scenes from the film arranged in a comic book format.  Strangely enough, none of the lyrics to the songs that made this musical famous are included in the book.  Instead the same basic ideas are related in the dialogue.  I don’t know if this is a licensing issue or if they just thought it would work better in comic form without the songs.  Nevertheless, if you and your children enjoy Frozen, this is an enjoyable read.

Rating: ***

Book Review: George by Alex Gino


Author: Alex Gino
TitleGeorge
Narrator: Jamie Clayton
Publication Info: Scholastic Audio (2015)
Summary/Review:

This novel tells the story of George, a fourth-grader coming to terms with identifying as a girl when presenting as a boy.  It’s set against a class performance of Charlotte’s Web in which George desperately  wants to portray Charlotte.  There are a lot of stock characters in the novel, including the school bully, and the former friend who now hangs with the bully. And there’s a temporary falling out between George and her best friend Kelly, as much over Kelly getting cast in the staring role as George outing herself as transgender.  But the novel shows even how people with good intentions can hurt – from George’s mother who doesn’t want George to put herself at risk of discrimination, to George’s older brother who was more ready to accept a gay sibling, and George’s teacher who hides behind the idea of fairly parceling out roles in the play to boys and girls.  At the end of the novel, George and Kelly get to enjoy a perfect day out with George presenting as a girl for the first time, which is a delightful outcome for the fictional character, and one I hope real life transgender children get to enjoy.

 
Favorite Passages:

“My point is, it takes a special person to cry over a book. It shows compassion as well as imagination…Don’t ever lose that.”

“The play will begin at six sharp. Parents and family, I hope you’ll stay for the PTA meeting that will follow.” A few parents coughed in response. George knew that coughing was the adult equivalent of groaning.”

Recommended booksEvery Day by David Levithan, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell,  and Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Celery Stalks at Midnight by James Howe


Author: James Howe
TitleThe Celery Stalks at Midnight
Narrator: Victor Garber
Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2004
Summary/Review:
A more direct sequel to the first novel as Bunnicula escapes from the house leaving a trail of dead, blanched vegetables in his wake.  Chester’s suspicions are again aroused and he draws in Harold and the new dimwitted puppy Howie into his investigation, leading to mayhem.  It’s very silly and funny.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Howliday Inn by James Howe


Author: James Howe
Title Howliday Inn
Narrator: Victor Garber
Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2004
Summary/Review: To build on my belief that this series should be called “The Harold and Chester Mysteries,” Bunnicula doesn’t even appear in this story.  Instead, the Monroe’s go on vacation and Harold and Chester are sent to a kennel called Chateau Bow-Bow.  There, Chester immediately begins to share his suspicions of the other dogs and cats and their human caretakers.  It turns out that there is something suspicious going on even if Chester’s earliest assumptions were way off base, but it does lead up to a wonderful Holmes and Watson moment for Chester and Harold.  Another fun book with a bit of mystery.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery by Deborah and James Howe


Author: Deborah and James Howe
TitleBunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery
Narrator: Victor Garber
Publication Info: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2004
Summary/Review:
My family enjoyed listening to this book on a long Thanksgiving road trip.  The premise of this series is that the Monroe family discovers and adopts a young rabbit with fangs who apparently can escape his cage and drain the vegetables in the kitchen of their juice and color.  But in all honesty, Bunnicula is a minor character in his eponymous book and this series could be called “The Harold and Chester Mysteries.”  Harold is the good-natured family dog who narrates the book and Chester is the egoistic and conspiracy-minded cat who stirs the pot with his suspicions of Bunniculas’ vampiric powers.  All in all, it’s a funny and entertaining family tale.
Recommended booksBeezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary, Stuart Little by E. B. White, and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
Rating: ***

Book Review: Who Was John F. Kennedy by Yona Zeldis McDonough


Author: Yona Zeldis McDonough
TitleWho Was John F. Kennedy
Publication Info: New York : Grosset & Dunlap, c2005.
Summary/Review:

Continuing our way through the “Who Was…?” series with my son.  This book again shows the series’ ability to be age-appropriate, but to also offer honest appraisals of their subjects.  I was particularly impressed by the details of Kennedy’s pre-Presidential life.

Rating: ***

Book Review: What Was the First Thanksgiving? by Joan Holub


Author: Joan Holub
TitleWhat Was the First Thanksgiving?
Publication Info: Grosset & Dunlap (2013), 112 pages
Summary/Review: This is a simple but honest children’s history of the settlers of Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag people and what really happened on that first Thanksgiving.  There’s a fair amount of myth-busting as well as using surviving records to determine actual events.  There’s also a short history of how Thanksgiving became an American holiday and a detailed chapter about visiting Plimoth Plantation (very useful to my son and I since we’re taking a field trip there next month).

Rating: ***

Book Reviews: Who was Franklin Roosevelt? by Margaret Frith


Author: Margaret Frith
TitleWho was Franklin Roosevelt?
Publication Info: New York : Grosset & Dunlap, c2010.
Summary/Review:

A good introductory biography of one of America’s greatest Presidents.  It’s not warts and all, but like many books in this series it includes some of Roosevelt’s failures as well as his success.  Another great historical read with my son.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: What was the Alamo? by Pam Pollack


Author: Pam Pollack
TitleWhat was the Alamo?
Publication Info: New York, New York, USA : Grosset & Dunlap, an Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., [2013]
Summary/Review:

The Alamo is something this northeasterner only knew the vague details about, so I was pleased to read this children’s history book with my son.  Interesting details include the infighting and poor planning of the “heroes” of the Alamo that contributed to their defeat, as well as a broader picture of the conflicts among the Mexicans and American settlers in Texas.

Rating: ***

Book Review: What Were the Twin Towers? by Jim O’Connor


Author: Jim O’Connor
TitleWhat Were the Twin Towers
Publication Info: New York : Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Random House, [2016]
Summary/Review:

Following on the Hurricane Katrina book, my son and I read this history of the World Trade Center in New York City.  The book is a full history of the Twin Towers dating back to its conception by David Rockefeller in the 1960s and deals with controversies such as the removal of Radio Row by eminent domain.  There’s a lot of detail about the design and construction of the buildings, and fun stories such as Philipe Petit’s walk on the wire.  The book also dedicates a chapter to the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.  The September 11 attacks are of course a major subject of the book, and again done in a clear manner appropriate to the age of the reader.  There is also a chapter on the memorial, museum, and new One World Trade Center building.  On the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, this was a good way to remember the events of that day with someone to young to remember it himself.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: What Was Hurricane Katrina? by Robin Koontz


Author: Robin Koontz
TitleWhat Was Hurricane Katrina
Publication Info: New York New York : Grosset & Dunlap, An Imprint of Penguin Random House, [2015]
Summary/Review:

I find it easier to work through difficult issues through books so I was impressed when my son picked out out this history of Hurricane Katrina written for children.  The book does a good job of setting up the history of New Orleans’ location and the necessity of levees as well as a primer on hurricanes and other storms.  The details about the storm and the flooding are clear and not sugar-coated (without being overly graphic) and it does not shy away from the poor decisions of political leaders.  There is also a chapter on the role that climate change played in the disaster.  All in all it’s a good introduction for children to one of the great tragedies of recent years, but something that may seem a long time ago to them.

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Who is Dolly Parton? byTrue Kelley


Author: True Kelley
TitleWho is Dolly Parton?
Publication Info: New York, New York, USA : Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, [2014]
Summary/Review:

I finished this children’s biography with the sense that Dolly Parton is one of the kindest, most optimistic, and hardest working people in show business.  And that’s all probably true, too!  Also pretty impressed that my son who never listens to country music chose to read this book, but Dolly is also responsible for The Pirates Voyage (among many other things).

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Who Was Louis Armstrong by Yona Zeldis McDonough


Author: Yona Zeldis McDonough
TitleWho Was Louis Armstrong
Publication Info: New York : Grosset & Dunlap, c2004.
Summary/Review:

The life of musician and icon Louis Armstrong is explored at a kids level, focusing mostly on his early life up to the 1930s.  Armstrong grew up in poverty in New Orleans and spent time in a reform school although he claimed that it saved him as it introduced him to the cornet.  Armstrong is celebrated both for his musical talent and innovation and for breaking down barriers for black people.  It’s an interesting book about a fascinating person, and it doesn’t shy away from some of the nuances of race such as when critics called him an “Uncle Tom.”

Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Who was Johnny Appleseed? by Joan Holub


AuthorJoan Holub
TitleWho was Johnny Appleseed?
Publication Info: New York : Grosset & Dunlap, c2005.
Summary/Review:

Another children’s biography that I read to my son that ended up teaching me about someone I knew little about.  John Chapman, Massachusetts born, moved to the frontier to raise apple orchards and sell seeds and seedlings to the pioneers who didn’t have time to time raise any apples themselves.  Both an eccentric and a genius of self-promotion, Johnny Appleseed left his mark on the American landscape.  If there’s one downside to this book is that it glosses over the fact that the apples were primarily used to make an alcoholic beverage, something I don’t think needs to be hidden from the kids.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Who Was Neil Armstrong by Robert Edwards


Author:  Robert Edwards
Title:  Who Was Neil Armstrong
Publication Info:  New York, New York, USA : Grosset & Dunlap, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2012.
Summary/Review:

My son and I enjoyed another “Who Was?” biography about the first person to set foot on the moon.  Armstrong was always a private person so he was harder to feel like you knew anything about him compared with Buzz Aldrin and other more outgoing astronauts.  This book fills in the details such as his early love for flying and becoming a pilot at a young age.  There’s also the sad story of his daughter dying at the age of two, something that Armstrong never spoke about.  This is a good bio for children (and their parents) wanting to learn about the man who took “one small step” and changed the world.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Who Is Michelle Obama by Megan Stine


Author: Megan Stine
Title:  Who Is Michelle Obama?
Publication Info:  New York : Grosset & Dunlap, An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., [2013]
Summary/Review:

My song picked out this children’s biography to read at bedtime from the Who was?/Who is? series and we both noted that despite her prominence, neither of us knew much about Michelle Obama.  So it was interesting to learn her life story, one of hard work and great accomplishments, and be reminded of just how quickly the Obamas went from ordinary Americans to the White House (and Michelle likely has a lot more life to live so there will be more to her story).  The book included short features about some other First Ladies from America’s past dispersed through the text.  I thought the book tended to overemphasize Michelle Obama’s beauty and fashion sense at the expense of her talents and accomplishments, but otherwise was a good introduction to her life.
Rating: ***1/2

Book Review: Who Was Davy Crockett? by Gail Herman


Author: Gail Herman
Title:  Who Was Davy Crockett? 
Publication Info:  Grosset & Dunlap (2013)
Summary/Review:

I read this children’s biography to my son.  I actually knew very little about Davy Crockett (who as we learn in the biography preferred to be called David) so it was interesting to read a book that focused on the facts of his life rather than the legend.  We learned that he was a man who moved around quite a bit on the Western frontier of Tennessee, enjoyed hunting bears, served in U.S. Congress, and died fighting at the Alamo.  It was all very interesting although the book does soft-pedal the severity of his involvement with “Indian removal,” slavery, and the anti-Mexican prejudice of the Texas liberation fight.  On the other hand, it doesn’t ignore these issues.  So we’re presented with a story of a complex man who’s life may be more interesting than the folk tales he inspired.
Rating: ***

Book Review: Ramona the Brave by Beverly Cleary


Author: Beverly Cleary
Title: Ramona the Brave
Narrator: Stockard Channing
Publication Info: New York : Listening Library, 2007 (originally published in 1975)
Books Read by the Same Author: Ramona and Her FatherBeezus and Ramona, and Ramona the Pest
Summary/Review:

Ramona is now in first grade, maturing away from being a “pest” but still finding trouble.  She also needs to conquer some fears.  After workmen cut a hole in the side of her house and build a new room, Ramona gets the reward of having her own room, but she also has to face the fear of falling asleep when she imagines a gorilla without bones may ooze into the room.  She also thinks that her teacher doesn’t like her, and she has to face down a mean dog with her shoe.  Another brilliant Ramona book from Cleary.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary


Author: Beverly Cleary
Title: Ramona the Pest
Narrator: Stockard Channing
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2010) – originally published in 1968
Books Read by the Same Author: Ramona and Her Father, Beezus and Ramona
Summary/Review:

In the second book of the Ramona series, Ramona begins kindergarten with much excitement, and while she’s eager to learn to read and write and loves her teacher, trouble follows her everywhere.  Among her problems are being to told to sit in a seat “for the present” and expecting a gift, the temptation to pull the springy curls on her classmates head, declaring herself on Halloween to be “the baddest witch” and managing to frighten herself, and becoming a kindergarten drop out.  Ramona feels ever so true to life with her kid logic and motivations and the book is laugh-out-loud funny.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary


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Author: Beverly Cleary
Title: Beezus and Ramona 
Narrator: Stockard Channing
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2010) – originally published in 1955
Books Read by the Same Author: Ramona and Her Father
Summary/Review:

This is the first in Cleary’s series of Ramona books.  I listened to it with my daughter at bedtime.  In many ways my four-year old daughter IS Ramona Quimby, creative and mischief and sometimes seems indifferent to the chaos she causes.  So this is a true to life book, and it feels oddly contemporary despite being published in 1955.  Unlike later books, this story is told from the point of view of Beezus who has to deal with a little sister who wants to hear an annoying book about steam shovel, colors in her library book, looks her friend’s dog in the bathroom, invites neighborhood children to a party that no one else in the family knew about, and destroys not one but two of Beezus’ birthday cakes.  Beezus has to deal with the guilt that sometimes she doesn’t love Ramona.  Near the end of the book Beezus mother and Aunt Beatrice reminisce about having a similarly contentious relationship as children but are able to laugh about it as adults, giving Beezus some comfort.  It’s a pretty brilliant book and I’m glad I’m getting to hear it now having missed it as a child.
Favorite Passages:

I am too a Merry Sunshine!

Rating: ****