Reviews

Celeste and the Adorable Kitten

I was thrilled to finally read Celeste and the Adorable Kitten, the sequel to Celeste and the Giant Hamster. Author and animal lover Melanie Typaldos  brings cat characters to life in a way I had never experienced before, with the story told completely from the cat’s perspective as a cat. It is not a story about a cat who basically acts like a human. Each cat has a distinct personality, some pleasant and some not, just as real cats are. There is a Cat Code of Conduct and a wealth of old cat’s sayings that guide the cats’ choices and behavior.

The adventure in the story is well paced, and all the cat characters are memorable. I loved it. This book is also illustrated by Alexandra Tayts.

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From the back of the book: “It wasn’t easy but Celeste the Cat has managed to capture the perfect gift for Mother, a beautiful – and unharmed – red bird that almost looks like one of the ornaments when she tucks it under a strand of Christmas tree lights. Now she just needs to wait for the right moment to reveal it. But everything changes when Father brings home a tiny white kitten that he rescued from the grocery store parking lot. The family dotes on the kitten while Celeste is pushed aside. It eats her food, drinks out of her bowl, and plays with her toys. But not for long! With the reluctant help of her two faithful companions, Ruby and Tiger, Celeste plots to rid herself of the little menace. But instead of finding the kitten a new home, Celeste ends up rescuing Salt from one peril after another until at last she finds herself on a desperate mission to rescue the kitten from the pound.”

I highly recommend reading Celeste and the Giant Hamster first, just to get to know Ruby and Tiger before you jump into Celeste and the Adorable Kitten. But it’s certainly not necessary!

Melanie’s beloved capybara Garibaldi Rous, who makes a cameo appearance in the new book, passed away last week. For more information please visit GiantHamster.com.

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Categories: Books we love, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Celeste and the Giant Hamster by Melanie Typaldos

I just finished reading the middle-grade novel Celeste and the Giant Hamster by Melanie Typaldos, and I feel compelled to blog about it right away because I enjoyed it so much. Celeste is an adventurous cat who goes out looking for a giant hamster one night, hoping to capture it and teach her owner that hamsters are not good pets. She discovers parts of her friends and herself that she never imagined.

I will be interviewing Melanie shortly and am looking forward to sharing her love of animals and books with you!

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Title: Celeste and the Giant Hamster

Author: Melanie Typaldos

Ages: 9-12

Publisher: BookSurge Publishing, 2009

Synopsis: Celeste the Cat is tormented by her human’s insistence on keeping a dwarf hamster, appallingly named Celestina, as a pet. Enlisting the aid of two friends, the brave but intellectually challenged Tiger and overly-enthusiastic Ruby, she sets out to trap a giant hamster that is loose and living in a nearby field. She plans on placing the giant hamster in front of Celestina’s cage to show her owner what she thinks of pet rodents. The giant hamster–actually a capybara–proves to be a larger, stronger and more intelligent adversary than the cats expect, resulting in a series of humorous mishaps that leave the trio battered but not dispirited. Slowly the cats come to realize that the capybara is not the frightening monster they imagined. When the capybara has a litter of eight precocious capy-kittens, Celeste, Ruby and Tiger find themselves doing things they never imagined, like going for a swim and protecting baby rodents from a tough gang of tom cats.

What I thought: I could not put this book down while I was reading it. The cat characters were lovingly drawn with tons of personality, and I enjoyed watching Celeste learn about herself. She is a lovely, loyal cat with a real hankering for adventure. She and her pals Tiger and Ruby are truly cat-like but think and feel on a human level about fitting in, having fun, and the difference between right and wrong. And the book is funny in so many ways, like when Celeste is horrified that the monster with hideous feet (ahem, capybara) is actually having baby monsters.  What is she going to do with monsters running all over her territory?

Celeste is a wonderful book in the same category with Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh. It is much harder to find great fiction for the quieter, more tender-hearted children who love animals. I actually have a child who refuses to read JK Rowling, Rick Riordan, and Philip Pullman, but he loves Charlotte’s Web and Mrs. Frisby. So I am particularly grateful to find a book like Celeste. And it’s soon to be re-released with all-new artwork! I can’t wait!

Just for fun, you can watch Animal Planet’s Most Outrageous Odd-Looking Pets episode featuring Caplin Rous, who was Melanie’s beloved pet and the inspiration for the giant hamster.

Celeste and Caplin were also featured in a great blog post by Jeff VanderMeer on Omnivoracious. Jeff also posted an extensive interview with Melanie, with a great deal of information about capybaras, on Ecstatic Days.

What do you think? Are there any other capybara fans out there?

Categories: Authors, Books we love, Reviews | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Cinco the Clinic Cat

Perfect Picture Book Friday is here with Cinco the Clinic Cat/Cinco, el gato de la clínica by Carol Brickell and illustrated by Jim Hastings. Cinco is a bilingual book in English and Spanish, and all the proceeds from the sale of the book are donated to charities that support medical clinics and provide medical supplies to those in need in Latin America. Cinco has received the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award and the Mom’s Choice Award.

Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog feature Perfect Picture Book Fridays. She has compiled a complete list of recommended picture books with links to resources for home and the classroom. It’s awesome!

Cinco-the-Clinic-Cat

Title: Cinco the Clinic Cat/Cinco, el gato de la clínica

Author/Illustrator: Carol Brickell and Jim Hastings

Publisher: Brown Books, 2010

Fiction

Ages:  4 and up

Themes: friendship, helping others

Opening: “I wonder if my wish will come trueAlisa lives in a country called Honduras. When there is no school, Alisa goes with her sister Karen to a clinic in their neighborhood. I’d like to help Karen, but I only get in the way. I wish I had a friend.

Synopsis:  When school is out, Alisa spends each day with her sister, who works in a medical clinic. But Alisa feels alone and out of place. One day, she sees a new face — a stray cat. After five days, they become friends and she names him Cinco. Together, they get involved in the activities at the medical clinic — and make more friends along the way. (from Amazon)

Resources and ideas: video of the author presenting the book to a group of children at the mall; can be used in discussions about geography, culture, Latin America, bilingualism, poverty, friendship, anti-bullying, therapy animals, medical clinics.

What I thought: Cinco is a lovely book that provides a window into the friendships and lives of people around a medical clinic in Honduras. The watercolor illustrations are airy and bright and portray the clinic as a welcoming, open place to visit. The text is spare enough for a small child, and I laughed when the boy who needed glasses said he thought the cat was a dog. Check out my favorite illustration, which shows so well a little kid’s perspective on the world (I remember what that feels like, does anyone else?).

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Check out a video featuring the author talking about the clinic and the book and working with kids (The Advocate magazine page with the video is here).

And here is the story behind the story:

Enjoy, and let me know what you and your kids think!

Categories: Perfect Picture Book Friday, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Perfect Picture Book Friday! Tara Lazar’s The Monstore

It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday, and Halloween is almost here! Here is a book I grabbed off the shelf because I’d seen a ton of great reviews and because the cover is adorable. And because I follow Tara’s wonderful blog. It’s The Monstoreby Tara Lazar and illustrated by James Burks!

Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog feature Perfect Picture Book Fridays. She has compiled a complete list with links to resources for home and the classroom. It’s awesome!

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Title: The Monstore

Author/Illustrator: Tara Lazar and James Burks

Publisher: Aladdin Books (Simon & Schuster), 2013

Fiction

Ages: 4-7 years

Theme: Sibling rivalry, commerce, fantasy, monsters

Opening:At the back of Frankensweet’s Candy Shoppe, under the last box of sour gumballs, there’s a trapdoor. Knock five times fast, hand over the bag of squirmy worms, and you can crawl inside The Monstore..”

Synopsis: The Monstore is the place to go for all of your monsterly needs. Which is perfect, since Zack definitely has a monsterly need. The problem? His pesky little sister, Gracie, who never pays attention to that “Keep Out” sign on Zack’s door—the one he has made especially for her. But when Zack’s monsters don’t exactly work as planned, he soon finds out that the Monstore has a few rules: No Refunds. No exchanges. No exceptions. (from Goodreads)

Resources and ideas: Reading and writing activites

What I thought: I enjoyed the whole monster store concept and the wonderful illustrations with such a variety of expressions on the monsters’ faces. They are just like little kids!

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There is some really delightful word play and a great twist at the end. My son said he would definitely read it to his kids!

Here is the brilliant Mira Reisberg’s video discussion, for those of us who would like to create such a wonderful book:

Enjoy, and let me know what you and your kids think!

Categories: Books we love, Perfect Picture Book Friday, Reviews | 13 Comments

Oldie but Goodie: Al Perkins’s The Digging-est Dog

Today I’ve chosen one of my husband Phil’s childhood favorites, a beginning reader called The Digging-est Dog by Al Perkins and illustrated by Eric Gurney. Phil remembers reading this book over and over when he was little. Then as a parent, he read it several hundred times to his own kids. When I proudly showed him my new copy, he grinned and grabbed it from me. “See?” he said, pointing to the dog on the cover. “Look at that face!” Then he did his best imitation of the dog’s happy, panting expression.

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Title: The Digging-est Dog

Author/Illustrator: Al Perkins/Eric Gurney

Publisher: Random House, 1967

Genre: Fiction, Easy Reader

Ages: 3-7 years, preschool-grade 2

Themes: animal rescue, persistence, fitting in, fixing mistakes, forgiveness

Opening: “I was the saddest dog you could ever see, Sad because no one wanted me. The pet shop window was my jail. The sign behind me said, ‘For Sale.'”

Phil’s favorite part: “I fell on my ear. I fell on my face. I fell on myself all over the place.”

Synopsis: A rescued dog who has to learn how to dig doesn’t stop until he has dug up the whole town. When he realizes what he’s done, he has to own up to his over-enthusiasm and put things right.

What I thought: I liked the sad dog on the first page who instantly turns into the happy, energetic Duke after his new owner Sammy buys him at the pet store. From a glass cage to a forever home on a farm… lucky dog! The rhyming text is cute and has a good rhythm, and with my kooky sense of humor, I laughed a lot at some of the rhymes, like “gates” with “Thwaites” and “Thayer” with “chair.” REALLY?! A star-nosed mole, of all things, makes a guest appearance as Duke is learning to dig, unusual in a book without too many extras in the illustrations. Al Perkins and Eric Gurney are the same duo who produced Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumbanother long-lived and much-loved rhythmic beginning reader from 1969. 

The Digging-est Dog appears to have been in print since it was first published 46 years ago, a testament to its enduring popularity and appeal to kids as well as the grown-ups who remember it fondly. Thanks Phil!

Enjoy and let me know what books you remember best!

Categories: Books we love, Oldie but Goodie, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Perfect Picture Book Friday! Ruth Brown’s A Dark, Dark Tale

It’s Perfect Picture Book Friday, and Halloween is coming! I’ve chosen one of my son’s favorite books, which he remembers as being “really, really scary.” We read it over and over and always had a good laugh at the end. He is 14 now and still remembers how he felt reading it… I think that’s a pretty strong recommendation!

Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog feature Perfect Picture Book Fridays. She has compiled a complete list with links to resources for home and the classroom. It’s awesome!

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Title: A Dark, Dark Tale

Author/Illustrator: Ruth Brown

First published by Anderson Press Ltd, 1981

Fiction

Ages: 3-5 years

Theme: Halloween, bravery

Opening: “Once upon a time there was a dark, dark moor.”

Synopsis: Children will delight in following the black cat’s progress through the dark wood, into the dark house, and eventually to the surprise discovery at the back of the toy cupboard, in this mysterious, beautifully illustrated picture book.(from Goodreads)

Resources and ideas: Lesson plans at MyBookez. Game of I Spy, looking for all the animals, especially the cat; cutouts and collages of cats, owls, trees, spooky houses, bats, moon, etc.; layered collage with doors opening to reveal something beneath; create a new story following the pattern of repetition and rhythm in the text.

What I thought: I loved the atmosphere created by the illustrations and the repetition in the text and in the imagery. Even though a different spooky place is featured on each spread, the words “dark, dark” and the black cat lead the way through each page turn. The tension builds as the cat leads us to smaller and smaller places. What are we going to find? The anticipation reaches a climax and is delightfully resolved on the final page.

Enjoy!

Categories: Books we love, Reviews | Tags: , , , , | 19 Comments

Kids Lit Discussion: Paperboy, by Vince Vawter

Welcome to the first blogged-about meeting of the Kids Lit group of Mt Lebanon Library! We are grown-ups who meet every other month, when our schedules allow, to discuss children’s literature. The group is moderated by Holly Visnesky, Senior Children’s Librarian. Yesterday we talked about Vince Vawter’s Paperboy

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From the Random House website: 

For fans of To Kill a MockingbirdThe King’s Speech, and The Help. A boy who stutters comes-of-age in the segregated South, during the summer that changes his life. An 11-year-old boy living in Memphis in 1959 throws the meanest fastball in town, but talking is a whole different ball game. He can barely say a word without stuttering, not even his own name. So when he takes over his best friend’s paper route for the month of July, he knows he’ll be forced to communicate with the different customers, including a housewife who drinks too much and a retired merchant marine who seems to know just about everything. The paper route poses challenges, but it’s a run-in with the neighborhood junkman, a bully and thief, that stirs up real trouble–and puts the boy’s life, as well as that of his family’s devoted housekeeper, in danger.

The group take: The majority of our group really enjoyed the book overall, although we disagreed with the comparison to Harper Lee. We also didn’t think it fit into the “kids with disabilities” category, as some other commenters have said, because based on personal experience, one person didn’t think stuttering was a disability. The book has extra space between paragraphs, which apparently symbolizes stuttering. The protagonist Victor is an 11-year-old boy, a loyal friend, and an amazing pitcher for his baseball team. When he asks why he has to be set apart by his stuttering, his newfound friend and mentor Spiro answers with a question by asking, why are you such a great pitcher? Everyone is different. One astute member of our group pointed out that all of us consider our disadvantages but never our advantages. It’s like being reminded to count your blessings. In Victor’s case, his skill eventually saves someone’s life.

I thought Victor was a lovable and adventurous character, but I didn’t understand why he was so distant from his parents. When I asked if that kind of distance was created by the stuttering, the natural difficulty Victor had in expressing his ideas, the other members said that was a normal relationship for 1959. And that certainly rang true in the great descriptions of the “grown-up code,” in which parents say “We’ll talk about it later” when they really mean “We’ll never discuss it again.” Victor is instead close to his Mam, the African-American woman who takes care of him most of the time.

Members of the group suggested that fewer subplots would have improved the book and allowed the space to develop another very interesting character who is only mentioned a couple of times before the end. And yes, we also suggested a character to leave out, based on personal preference. I argued that this book shouldn’t be described as a coming-of-age, but as some other kind of transformative experience. Victor is only 11, he’s not of age at the end of the book. He has many more significant times ahead. But he is profoundly changed by the people he meets, the things that happen to him, and the way that he stands up for himself.

Has anyone else read Paperboy? What did you think?

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Reblog Friday!

Welcome to the first Reblog Friday!

Today I am reposting a review of Mitchell Goes Bowling from KID LIT REVIEWS. This great review is highly descriptive, the book is hysterical, and the illustrations are charming. Mitchell is a member of a mixed-race family, and you can read more about that through the article linked at the very bottom of the post. Does anyone remember the first Mitchell book?

We all know that people of color are not well represented in the picture-book world. The only mixed-race character we ever saw in a picture book was Sam, the boy in A Balloon for Grandad by Nigel Gray and illustrated by the magnificent Jane Ray (this book is unfortunately out-of-print). I was so captivated by her illustrations that I hunted down copies of her books of Bible stories, cut out some of the pages, framed them, and hung them on my walls and in the boys’ rooms. I hope this destruction of a book is taken as the huge compliment it is!

And now, from KID LIT REVIEWS, Mitchell Goes Bowling by Hallie Durand! Enjoy!

KID LIT REVIEWS

BOOKS FOR KIDS – YOUNG AND OLD

review#411 – Mitchell Goes Bowling by Hallie Durand

Mitchell Goes Bowling.

Mitchell Goes Bowling

by Hallie Durand

Tony Fucile, illustrator

Candlewick Press

*Top 10 of 2013*

Inside Jacket: Mitchell loves to knock things down. . . . So one Saturday, his dad takes him bowling. Mitchell likes the special shoes and the loud crashing noises, but getting a strike isn’t as easy as his dad makes it look. There’s there’s the gutter, for starters, and the lanes are slippery, too. . . . Will Mitchell ever find a way to get an X on the scoreboard?

Opening:  Mitchell always knocked things down. That’s just how he rolled. He even tried to knock down his dad. . . . But one Saturday, when Mitchell was doing his thing, his dad caught him and put him in the car.

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About the Story:  Looking a bit worried and definitely unsure, as he sat in the backseat all buckled up, Mitchell remained quiet. His face lit up when he saw the BOWL sign. The place was loud, smelled like pizza and had many differently colored balls lined up against the wall. Mitchell put on his cool rental shoes, picked out a bowling ball, and got to put his own name into the electronic scoreboard. Picking up the ball—the biggest one he could find—Mitchell threw it as hard as he could down the lane . . . gutterball. Taking his second turn, Mitchell rolled the ball and knocked down TWO pins. Battle on! Mitchell yelled to his dad. Dad got up and rolled a strike. Mitchell tried to imitate his dad. Didn’t help. Dad got another strike! Mitchell decided to use the air blower, just like his dad. Mitchell used it on his hands, his face, and his hair. Mitchell really wanted to win.

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What I Thought:  Confession time. I love to bowl. I bowled more times than I could count on Saturdays. Mitchell Goes Bowling is right up my alley. I loved the illustrations. The motions and the atmosphere of the game are spot-on. The lanes had the correct dots in the correct spots, and even the boards were visible. The oil made Mitchell’s reflection visible. The motions Mitchell makes are easy to visualize thanks to swooshes, circles, and action words used.

I love the illustration of Mitchell slamming into his father’s legs, going nowhere. His aim was to knock his dad down. I also like Mitchell’s exuberance as he runs around the house knocking things down or through the air. The only one pleased is Mitchell. I hate to use this word but I am going to anyway: the illustrations are Adorable, with a capital A.

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The story does not give Mitchell an age; it could be about any kid who loves to knock things down. His smart dad gets Mitchell out of the house before trouble begins and takes his son to a logical place for someone who loves to knock things down. Mitchell loves the bowling alley, and who can blame him. The place is bright, happy, and full of glory-yet-to-win. Dad is an obvious bowler, even wearing his bowling shirt on a nonleague night. So his strikes should come as no surprise, not even to Mitchell. What surprises Mitchell is his inability to cause a strike himself.

Mitchell Goes Bowling is hilarious and original, and has boyish charm. Anyone who bowls will love this book, especially if a young child went along. When Mitchell gets frustrated and announces he wants to leave, Dad knows exactly what to do. Mitchell gets his strike and can finally do the triple steamin’-hot-potato dance with salsa. Young children, who love sports and games, will like this book.

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Young children, who enjoy funny picture books, will adore this picture book. Those who love endearing family moments will love Mitchell Goes Bowling. Reviewers who are entertained by wonderfully, hilarious picture books that make them constantly smile and giggle, will give Mitchell Goes Bowling twelve strikes!

This reviewer scores Mitchell Goes Bowling a perfect 300!

JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD SELECTION

TRAILER

MITCHELL GOES BOWLING

by Hallie Durand   website

Tony Fucile, illustrator    bio

Candlewick Press  website

Released 2013

ISBN:  978-0-7636-6049-9

32 Pages

Ages 3 to 7

© 2013 by Candlewick Press, used with permission

Text copyright © 2013 by Hallie Durand

Illustrations copyright © 2013 by Tony Fucile

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mitchell bowling

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