Posts Tagged With: middle grade books

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!


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

My kids’ book recommendations

I began my children’s literature education by reading to my kids. The first books were board and picture books, the favorites demanded over and over again. Some of them I loved and some I tolerated. And part of the joy of a picture book is a snuggly kid in my lap and hearing them laugh or gasp or point out the bird character who is never mentioned in the text.

Now the kids are the ones recommending middle grade books for me to read. I began with Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, then more recently read RJ Palacio’s Wonder, Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, and Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. These are the books they came home from school with and said, Mom, you have to read this.

I loved them all. How is that possible? I believe having a child tell a parent to read a book is an incredible recommendation. Their hearts were touched by these books, and they wanted to share their experience. I think when grown-ups recommend books to kids, sometimes we want to help them in some way. We hope a book will expose them to something new, interest them in reading, or even teach them something specific, perhaps about prejudice or animal welfare. But when I read these books, I didn’t learn those things at all.

I admired Babbitt’s tone and the atmosphere of Tuck Everlasting (it actually reminded me a bit of Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native); I felt I had visited some very wise old people in an unheard fairy tale. With the other three, I met characters I hold very dear. Frankly, I’m relatively new to middle grade books because when I was a kid, I mostly read Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie. I could have read all those Katherine Paterson books when I was 12, and I missed out! But do my recommendations mean as much to my kids as their recommendations do to me?

I don’t think so. Mostly I have spent time finding books that they are willing to try and I hope they enjoy. This has been very hard in a family where I am the only reading role model, and both kids are boys who are so different. There were a few hits, like the Captain Underpants books (which I don’t think are the least bit inappropriate, thank you very much). But one boy loved Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson’s Peter and the Starcatchersand the other refused to crack it open. One is a die-hard fan of Rick Riordan, but the other has to have his animal books instead. So when they both recommend books like Tuck, I pay attention.

What great books have your kids recommended to you?

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