IMWAYR – October 31, 2016

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date, and adapted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts with a children’s/YA focus. The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. These weekly roundups are a great way to discover new blogs and bloggers, share titles, and add to your ever-growing to-read list.

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!

Cute Happy Halloween Sign | yvednvrdnscom

Last week I did a Top Ten Tuesday post all about some of my favourite Halloween picture books, so do check that out for some spooktacular seasonal books!

Today I’ve got another set of new-to-me picture books that I’ve been sharing with my toddlers and preschoolers and absolutely loving, as well as a couple of historical fiction novels I’ve devoured. Enjoy!

Dancing Feet

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I love picture books with bouncing, rhythmic texts that get kids bouncing and bopping along, and Dancing Feet is a a perfect example of this kind of fun, energetic book. Lindsey Craig’s rollicking text is sure to get kids tapping and clapping, and it features super fun sound words like “stompity” and “creepity”. Marc Brown’s paper collage illustrations are lively and unique, and really complement the silly text. Lots and lots of storytime fun, perfect for toddlers.

Rhyming Dust Bunnies

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Oh Jan Thomas, what can’t you do? Thomas is a master of doing a lot with a little – the text in this hilarious picture book is extremely limited, yet it’s sure to get kids roaring with laughter once they realise what’s going on. The eye-catching illustrations feature bold lines and vivid, primary colours, perfect for sharing with a large audience. Another fun, fun, fun storybook. Honestly, if my dust bunnies were this cute I might never pick up the vacuum!

Dinosaur Kisses

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Dinosaurs! I just can’t get enough dinosaurs. Dinosaurs!!

While there’s a time and a place for sweet and syrupy picture books, don’t be fooled by the name, because this delightful book is absolutely not syrupy….it is absolutely hilarious, however, and kids will delight in the noisy and destructive antics of this very well-meaning but a bit overenthusiastic little dinosaurs. Who doesn’t like a bit of slapstick destruction now and then, right? So much fun, and still very sweet in its own silly way.

I’m My Own Dog

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A very independent dog decides to adopt a human pet. He takes him for walks, teaches him how to play fetch, and bemoans having to clean up after him (when he spills his ice cream!), but in the end, that’s what being a pet owner is all about! This is a very sweet story that will delight little readers, and the illustrations have a childlike quality about them that’s very endearing. Sweet, simple text and a fun twist on the story of a person and their pet. And I’ve just realised I’ve featured two picture books by David Ezra Stein this week, completely inadvertently. What can I say, he makes great books!

Three Sisters, Three Queens

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I tend to go through reading phases where I binge read specific genres. For the past few weeks I’ve been devouring historical fiction. Philippa Gregory is one of my old standbys – I sometimes take issue with her historical interpretations, but I can’t deny that her books are reliably entertaining! One of the chief complaints I have with most of her books is that they take place over long stretches of time, which means the story typically jumps across decades – we spend a few pages in one year, and then we’re transported forward a year or two to another event. It does make for a bit of a jerky read, and you don’t really get a chance to settle in to any setting, or explore any characters. The forward movement is unrelenting, so you’d better just hold on and go with the flow!

This is the story of three women whose lives were defined by their connection to Henry VIII – Katherine of Aragon (his first wife), and his sisters Mary and Margaret. While Katherine has often been written about, Mary and Margaret are less well known, and it’s interesting to see the events of the era through their eyes.

Reading about English history is always a bit strange for me – as a first-generation Canadian with English roots, it’s a bit jarring to think that this is technically my history, too. I don’t feel English in any way, and I certainly wouldn’t call myself an English-Canadian or anything like that (I’m Canadian through and through, even if I’m first-generation!), but the fact remains that my ancestors lived through all of the English historical events I read about in textbooks and novels. How very strange!

Ashes of London

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Like I said, I read thematically.

Set during the Great Fire of London in 1666, this murder mystery was a bit of a disappointment. It’s not a bad novel, but it’s not what I was expecting at all. The fire in fact is a very minor character in the story, which was a bit of a letdown, considering how transformative the fire was in the history of London. I did appreciate the fact that the two main characters, a young man and a young woman, didn’t end up falling in love – it was a refreshing change. I did find the story’s alternate perspectives a bit jarring, though – the male character’s story is told in the first person, while the female character’s story is told in the third person, which to be honest kind of annoyed me, as it felt as though the male character was given more agency than the female character. As other reviewers have said, some of the female character’s actions felt out of place, and her reactions felt strange and unnatural, but she was still a fierce female, and I did appreciate that. I finished this one, which says something considering how many books I DNF, but it definitely wasn’t one of my favourites.

Hope you all have a safe and spooky Halloween, and have a great week! November, here we come!

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#IMWAYR -Aug 15, 2016

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at The Book Date, and adapted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts with a children’s/YA focus. The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. These weekly roundups are a great way to discover new blogs and bloggers, share titles, and add to your ever-growing to-read list.

I actually didn’t do that much reading this week – life got pretty busy, and I was just too tired to do anything but zonk out on the couch in front of the TV (what can I say, there are FIVE different Star Trek series on Netflix at the moment). I did manage to do a little bit of reading this week, though!

I shared another entry in my Beautiful British Columbia : A Reading Staycation series, taking a look at a British Columbian novel that was a staple in high school language arts classes when I was a teenager – Joy Kogawa’s Obasan.

Interestingly enough, Joy Kogawa’s childhood home has been turned into a venue for literary events, and is located just a few blocks from the library where I’m currently working. The house offers tours, programs, and writing residencies – definitely worth looking into if you’re going to be in the Vancouver area.

I also read Otter Goes to School, a sweet little picture book about an otter who starts a make-believe school for her stuffed toys, only to find that being a teacher can be a pretty tough job. With teachers everywhere either heading back into the classroom or counting down the weeks until September, this is a very timely, gently reassuring story.

As part of Australia month over on The Book Wars I dove into Hello Baby!, a delightful animal-themed picture book from Mem Fox, one of early literacy’s most passionate advocates. While researching the book I discovered that Mem Fox actually grew up in Africa, living in several different countries with her missionary parents. Fox he was born and later settled in Australia, which is the subject of many of her books, but Hello Baby! draws from her memories of a childhood in Africa.

at the beach

I also took a look at At The Beach, a picture book all about the traditional Aussie beach holiday. Did you know that there are no privately owned beaches in Australia? The ocean is such an intrinsic part of Australian culture and national identity that there is a strong commitment to ensuring that beaches remain open to the public for everyone’s enjoyment. There’s a lot of detail on each spread of this book, sort of in the spirit of Where’s Waldo, and kids can really explore all the little surprises in each illustration.

The Lady of the Rivers: A Novel (Cousins War Series) by [Gregory, Philippa]

In terms of adult reads, I finished off another Philippa Gregory novel, The Lady of the Rivers. I devour these books like popcorn – in many ways they’re romance novels with airs, cloaking themselves the more dignified title of historical fiction. There’s no doubt that Gregory packs a lot of research into each novel, though I’m sometimes uncomfortable with the way she blurs the realms of narrative historical nonfiction and historical fiction. One of my major gripes with Gregory is that her novels are typically expansive in their time frames – we often follow a character from childhood all the way to middle age or beyond. This in itself isn’t a problem, except for the fact that the novels aren’t particularly long, meaning that a lot of (turbulent) time  is squished into one novel. We don’t really get a chance to get to know the characters all that well, and significant historical events are often given a single page or two of attention, when any one of them could be meaty enough to carry an entire novel. Still, they’re easy, breezy and fun to read, and they get me through my mind-numbing commutes intact. This one wasn’t necessarily my favourite Gregory novel to date, but it was just the sort of low-impact read my exhausted brain needed.

So, what’s everyone been reading this week?

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? January 25, 2016

It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at BookDate, and was adapted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts with a children’s/YA focus. This weekly roundup is a great way to discover new blogs and bloggers, share titles, and add to your ever-growing to-read list.

shapes

Title: Friendshape
Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal / Illustrator: Tom Lichtenheld
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: 2015
Genre/Format: Picture book

My Two Cents: Celebrate the ups, the downs, and the enduring joys of friendship while  mastering basic shapes and colours in this sweet if not particularly substantial friendship story. Characters of different shapes and colours explain the meaning of friendship, positively reinforcing the message that differences in appearance need not get in the way of friendship. The bold, charming illustrations serve as a lighthearted and cheerful introduction to shapes and colours for young learners.

tickle

Title: Tickle Monster
Author/Illustrator: Edouard Manceau
Publisher: Flying Eye Books
Publication Date: 2015
Genre/Format: Picture book

At first glance this boldly-illustrated picture book seems like just another a retelling of Go Away Big Green Monster – the child reader interacts with the book by “tickling” the illustrations in different places, taking apart the tickle monster piece by piece. The sly cleverness of Manceau’s storytelling becomes apparent the further you move into the story – the discarded pieces of the tickle monster gradually reassemble to form a little diorama that echoes the confident declaration of the narration. It’s a very clever little piece of art manipulation that will delight young readers once the final diorama is revealed, and would make for a brilliant (if time and labour-intensive) felt story.

gardener

Title: The Little Gardner
Author/Illustrator: Emily Hughes
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication Date: 2015
Genre/Format: Picture book

My Two Cents:  From the creator of the wildly-successful Wild comes a stunning picture book that is almost guaranteed to give you all the feels. A diminutive gardener toils away in a lush and wild garden, dedicating his life to the care of the natural world around him. Despite his best efforts, though, the task proves to much for the little gardener, but as darkness encroaches and all hope seems lost, help comes from a most unusual and unexpected place. This beautiful, beautiful book is a celebration of hard work, dedication, big dreams, perseverance and most importantly team work. The little gardener gives his heart and soul to the preservation of his garden, but it is too much for one person to bear, and it is only by working with others that the vibrant flora can be protected and nourished. Unlike some other children’s materials, which can blandly and blithely suggest that size doesn’t matter and that anyone can accomplish anything if they only set their mind to it, The Little Gardener takes a more realistic, yet no less optimistic approach to life. There are some challenges that are just too much for one individual, or even one group or nation, to overcome on their own. Failure in this regard has nothing to do with character or work ethic, and isn’t a negative representation of the individual(s), it’s simply a reality of life. In what can be seen as an allegory for environmental protection, collaboration is celebrated as the most sustainable and successful solution for protecting the natural world and all who depend on it. Some challenges are simply too big for any one of us to conquer on our own, but by working together we can move mountains. This message can be applied more broadly, too, and embraced as an example of the power of unwavering dedication and persistence even in the face of unimaginable odds and the lasting power of teamwork, cooperation and collaboration. A simple story with a complex and powerful message, brought to life by incredibly detailed and wonderful illustrations that will linger with the reader long after the last word has been read.

king's curse

Title: The King’s Curse
Author: Philippa Gregory
Publisher: Touchstone; Reprint edition (April 7, 2015)
Publication Date: 2015
Genre/Format: Historical Fiction / Novel

My Two Cents:  The prolific queen of European historical fiction is back in fine form with this engrossing novel of the early days of Henry VIII. Gregory focuses on a lesser-known figure in Tudor history, the King’s cousin Margaret Pole, and uses her unique perspective to tell a gripping story of the tumultuous reign of the second Tudor king. Though perhaps more fiction than history, The King’s Curse is nonetheless a highly enjoyable yarn through which Gregory weaves murder, love, treason, and madness. One of the challenges with historical fiction (assuming you are aiming for some level of accuracy) is building and maintaining suspense, when the fate of all your characters and the outcome of every event is already decided and often commonly known. It is a credit to Gregory that she is able to create a sense of tension throughout the pages of this large book despite recounting a popular and well-known  period in European history. Historically accurate? Perhaps. High-brow literature? Perhaps not. Entertaining and ideally suited for passing the time on a long commute? Absolutely.

So there you have it, a few titles I’ve been reading this week? What have you been reading?

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Time for another round-up of some of the many books I’ve been devouring lately.

A Curious History of Food and Drink / Ian Crofton

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I love, love, love random facts and entertaining trivia. As a child the only games my parents and I would play were “Scrabble” and “Trivial Pursuit”, and we regularly gather for family crossword puzzle-solving contests. I’m also a bit of a history buff, with a passion for “everyday history” – stories of the lives of everyday people throughout history. This humorous collection of food-themed information tidbits,  then, really hit the spot. Ever since picking up this book in my local library I’ve been boring thrilling friends and family with some of the factoids I’ve gleaned from its pages – did you know, for example, that the breakfast favourite currently known as French toast was originally called German toast, and was renamed on account of the First World War? Fascinating! The book is arranged in chronological order, going back as far as prehistoric times, and each anecdote is just a little morsel. It’s a perfect commuting book, as you can easily read a tidbit or two and pick it up again hours later.

The Red Queen / Philippa Gregory

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I love historical fiction, and I quite enjoyed “The Other Boleyn Girl”, despite its questionable portrayal of Anne Boleyn, but I just could not get into The Red Queen. A major reason for this is that I could not stand the protagonist, Margaret Beaufort. I understand that the reader is meant to admire this woman’s tenacity and her determination, even if they cannot stand her personality, but I just could not bring myself to care about this character, and so there was no reason for me to feel any involvement in the story. Margaret at times seemed more like a present-day teenager than a woman of the early Tudor era. Readers are encouraged to feel that Margaret is particularly cruelly treated because she is repeatedly forced into arranged marriages, however arranged marriages were considered the norm for hundreds of years, and it is probable that a well-born woman like Margaret would have expected such a marriage as a matter of course. As well, while arranged marriage at the age of 12 seems abhorrent to modern readers, average life expectancy at birth in Tudor England is typically thought to have been around 35 years of age. A 12 year old girl would likely have been nearing middle age, and her marriage would not have been all that unusual. When writing about history it is all too easy to reimagine the past through the lens of the present, which can make it easier for readers to identify with characters and understand cultures that have long since disappeared. This is a work of fiction, which means the author can do whatever the heck she pleases, but Gregory’s novels are often touted as being impeccably researched and are unfortunately sometimes viewed as historical fact rather than interpretation, which can be problematic for readers.

Cover Her Face / P D James

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I have long been a fan of P D James and her Inspector Dalgliesh novels, and I was delighted to find a copy of her debut novel at a library book sale. I had never read this early novel, and I found it quite fascinating. Beyond being an engaging mystery, Cover Her Face provides insight into 1960s England, particularly the social conventions of this turbulent era. Much of the story revolves around an unwed mother of questionable moral character, whose murder highlights the prejudices of English society. What really struck me were the unnerving parallels between several of the scenes in the book and comments recently made public from 2016 potential presidential hopeful Jeb Bush. Mr. Bush is quoted in a 1995 book Profiles in Character as saying:

One of the reasons more young women are giving birth out of wedlock and more young men are walking away from their paternal obligations is that there is no longer a stigma attached to this behavior, no reason to feel shame. Many of these young women and young men look around and see their friends engaged in the same irresponsible conduct. Their parents and neighbors have become ineffective at attaching some sense of ridicule to this behavior. There was a time when neighbors and communities would frown on out of wedlock births and when public condemnation was enough of a stimulus for one to be careful.

Now, here’s a passage from Cover Her Face, in which several characters are debating the treatment of unwed mothers in the community.

‘I don’t think, Doctor, that we should talk about the problem of these children too lightly. Naturally we must show Christian charity’ – here Miss Liddell gave a half bow in the direction of the vicar as if acknowledging the presence of another expert and apologizing for the intrusion into his field – ‘but I can’t help feeling that society as a whole is getting too soft with these girls. The moral standards of the country will continue to fall if these children are to receive more consideration than those born in wedlock. And it’s happing already! There’s many a poor, respectable mother who doesn’t get half the fussing and attention which is lavished on some of these girls.’

33 years separate these two passages, yet remarkably little has changed in their societal view of unmarried mothers. Note that the women referred to in Cover Her Face are not young teenagers but grown women in their twenties, living in an era in which sexual education and access to contraception was limited – unfortunately these conditions have also changed little in parts of North America. Though primarily an entertaining who-done-it, Cover Her Face is an engaging look at a bygone era that remains eerily connected to the present day.