Sunday, March 31, 2013

Top Five, or Seven, or Three…

Top ten? Such a cliché. Here are lists of some of my favorite books in various genres. I’m not going to list big-name classics, though of course many of those books are high on my overall lists. For example, Charlotte’s Web is wonderful, but you all know that one, so I’ll give you slightly less famous fare or forgotten classics that are dear to my heart. They’re books you may have missed, but just might like very much. Because in between gardening and walking around with your umbrella in the almost-April rain, you know you're looking for a good book!


The Bronze King and two sequels by Suzy McKee Charnas

Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith (was Crown Duel/Court Duel)

Gom on Windy Mountain and three sequels by Grace Chetwin

The Nine Lives of Christopher Chant by Diana Wynne Jones

Grimbold’s Other World by Nicholas Stuart Gray

The Return of the Twelves by Pauline Clarke

The Search for Delicious by Natalie Babbitt

The Serial Garden by Joan Aiken

The Silver Curlew by Eleanor Farjeon

Taash and the Jesters by Ellen Kindt McKenzie

The Wicked Enchantment by Margot Benary-Isbert


The Bromeliad Trilogy and the Johnny Maxwell Trilogy by Terry Pratchett

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert A. Heinlein

The Dragonback series by Timothy Zahn (Dragon and Thief, etc., especially for preteen boys)

Fledgling and sequels by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (see also the Liaden Universe series for adults)

The Silver Crown by Robert C. O’Brien

Starswarm by Jerry Pournelle


Alabama Moon by Watt Key

Down the Rabbit Hole and sequels by Peter Abrahams (see also his teen mystery/thriller, Reality Check)

The Enola Holmes series by Nancy Springer

Minerva Clark Gets a Clue and two sequels by Karen Karbo


Casson Family books by Hilary McKay

The Flight of the Doves by Walter Macken

The Lark and the Laurel by Barbara Willard

No More Dead Dogs by Gordon Korman

Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan

They Loved to Laugh by Kathryn Worth (an old-fashioned coming-of-age story with Quakers)

Thursday’s Children by Rumer Godden


Beware of Boys by Tony Blundell

Dogger by Shirley Hughes

Elsie Piddock Skips in Her Sleep by Eleanor Farjeon, illustrated by Charlotte Voake

Julius the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes

Little Rabbit Foo Foo, retold by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Arthur Robins

Not This Bear! by Bernice Myers

Suddenly! by Colin McNaughton

The Talking Eggs, retold by Robert D. San Souci, illustrated by Jerry Pinckney

Thea’s Tree by Alison Jackson, illustrated by Janet Pedersen

Trashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, illustrated by Dan Yaccarino (best for 3- and 4-year-old boys)

What! Cried Granny: An Almost Bedtime Story by Kate Lum, illustrated by Adrian Johnson


“The Boy Who Read Aloud” by Joan Aiken, from Classic Fairy Tales to Read Aloud, ed. Naomi Lewis

Duffy and the Devil by Harve and Margot Zemach

Good Griselle by Jane Yolen, illustrated by David Christiana

The Language of Birds, retold by Rafe Martin, illustrated by Susan Gaber

Larky Mavis by Brock Cole

The Magic Fish-bone by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Robert Florczak

The Magic Nesting Doll by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, illustrated by Laurel Long

Mr. Semolina-Semolus, retold by Anthony L. Manna and Christodoula Mitakidou, illustrated by Giselle Potter

Tatterhood and Other Tales, ed. Ethel Johnston Phelps


All the Small Things and Fourteen More by Valerie Worth, illustrated by Natalie Babbitt

Here’s a Little Poem: A Very First Book of Poetry, ed. Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters, illustrated by Polly Dunbar


Knock at a Star: A Child’s Introduction to Poetry by X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy Kennedy

Sing a Song of Popcorn: Every Child’s Book of Poems, ed. Beatrice Schenk de Regniers et al., illustrated by nine Caldecott Medal artists

A Spider Bought a Bicycle and Other Poems for Young Children, ed. Michael Rosen, illustrated by Inga Moore

Swing around the Sun and Words with Wrinkled Knees by Barbara Juster Esbensen

Tail Feathers from Mother Goose: The Opie Rhyme Book (Little, Brown), many different illustrators

Talking Like the Rain: A Read-to-Me Book of Poems, ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dorothy Kennedy, illustrated by Jane Dyer

Under the Moon and Over the Sea: A Collection of Caribbean Poems, ed. John Agard and Grace Nichols


Changeover and Tricksters by Margaret Mahy

Dairy Queen and two sequels by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Dash and Lily's Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Dragon's Bait and Magic Can Be Murder by Vivian Vande Velde

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer and sequel by Lish McBride

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (Book 3 in a series that must be read in order, starting with The Thief)

Northlander and The King Commands by Meg Burden

Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer

Soul Enchilada by David McInnis Gill

Thief's Covenant and False Covenant by Ari Marmell

Withering Tights by Louise Rennison

So Happy Spring! (And don't say you can't find anything to read.)

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Review of Forest Has a Song by Amy Ludwig Vanderwater

Today is a happy day. It’s the release date of Amy Ludwig Vanderwater’s first poetry collection. If you haven’t heard of Amy, you should. I first “met” her in the poetry blog community last April, when I followed her poems through National Poetry Month, one for each letter of the alphabet and a few bonus poems. Amy has a very friendly and poem-filled blog, The Poem Farm. She actually lives on a farm in New York, where I suspect she takes walks
through the woods.

We can join her in Forest Has a Song, which takes us on a walk through the forest and the
seasons with a girl and her dog. The book is illustrated in light-filled watercolors by Robbin Gourley. We begin with rows of leaves on the endpapers, then a view of a house with a path leading to the woods on the title page. The oft-overlooked credits spread is especially pretty—a row of weedy grass stalks on a sky-implying background. Of course, our true journey begins with “Invitation,” a poem that starts with the girl’s words and ends with the words of the forest itself. Here is the entire poem:

I heard
a pinecone fall.
I smell
a spicy breeze.
I see
wildly waving
rows of
friendly trees.

I’m here.
Come visit.

This is a good example of poet Vanderwater’s voice, clean and spare and true. Our walk continues with a “Dead Branch,” a haiku stick thrown to the girl’s dog. Then we meet “Chickadee,” who is afraid of the girl but is nevertheless attracted to the seeds she offers. As in the first poem, the poet gives us the girl’s voice followed by the bird’s. “Forest News” is next, in which the girl sees the tracks left by animals as the words in a newspaper. News about different animals is described in flowing lines. A couple of my favorites are “Young raccoons/Drink sips of creek” and “Here a possum/whiskery-wild/climbs a tree trunk/with her child.” The poem concludes:

Scribbled hints
in footprints
tell about the day.
I stop to read
the Forest News
before it’s worn away.

Our girl walks on, having encounters with unfurling “ferny frondy fiddleheads” and a “grandfather fossil,” a trilobite, before moving on to a tree frog and a lady’s slipper. There’s a sly bit of fairy tale humor in having those two poems on the same page since Vanderwater’s frog is courting and the lady’s slipper is the one dropped by “Forest Cinderella.” The frog poem, “Proposal,” begins rather desperately with:

Marry me.
Please marry me.

A tree frog calls
from tree to tree.
High above.
Finding love.

Notice the combination of romance and absurdity, as in “Crooning” followed by “Plopping.”

The girl is having a picnic with her family on the next spread, giving us “Spider” and the lullaby-like “Dusk.” Then the two night poems are especially nice. “Lichens” ends with a wise little twist and “First Flight” tells the story of a young owl’s first flight: “Mommy, I’m scared to be this high.” After that we see the girl and her dog back in the forest on their own, exploring moss and a sad little pile of bones: “I wonder/who will bury you?” We get a taste of “Wintergreen,” a moment of deer watching (and vice versa), “Home” in a rotten log, and the “Puff” of mushrooms ready to loose their spores. A “Warning” about poison ivy and the sound of “Woodpecker” finish off the summer: “In a red cap/he types poems/with his beak/upon a tree.”

The girl is waiting for the school bus as “Maples in October” decide to turn red. “Squirrel” has secrets, but can he remember them? Then we reach the poem that gave the book its name, “Song.” The girl tells us about the sounds of the forest, concluding:

Silence in Forest
never lasts long.
is everywhere
mixing in
with piney air.

Forest has a song.

A page turn. Snow has fallen, and snowflakes have voices. “Father cardinal” shows off: “Dramatically/he makes an entrance/through two birches/at stage right.” Finally, Forest bids us “Farewell,” again evoking the “spicy breeze” we smelled in the poem that began the collection, “Invitation.” The girl and her dog walk home.

Gourley’s illustrations are deliberately fair and spare, making a good match to Vanderwater’s poetic style. The girl appears with her brown Everydog on most of the spreads, leading us on a rambling tour of the forest. We get to see her parents and her little brother once or twice, as well. The subjects of the poems are called out in the artwork, but they support the poems rather than competing with them. The cover art is particularly lovely, as you can see.

Listen to the entire text of the title poem and take a look at more images from the book in the book trailer. Forest Has a Song is recommended by no less a luminary than J. Patrick Lewis, Children’s Poet Laureate of the Unite States: “With her first book of children’s poetry, Ms. VanDerwater has already arrived.”

I don’t know about you, but here where I live, Spring is starting to show her face. What better time to take a walk in the woods?

Note: Thanks to Clarion Books for providing me with a review copy of Forest Has a Song.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Middle Grade March

March is here and spring is springing, at least in my town, where the three feet of snow in the front yard has finally melted and the sun is shining. It's time for kites and daffodils and some good middle grade books!

Garden Princess by Kristin Kladstrup

Princess Adela is a girl after my own heart. Well, she’s more enthusiastic about weeding than I am, but she loves gardening, as I do. Actually, Adela lives and breathes gardening, which worries her well-meaning stepmother. How will the princess ever find a husband with all that dirt under her fingernails? Then Garth the handsome gardener’s boy gets an invitation to a garden party from the mysterious Lady Hortensia, and he asks Adela to come with him so that she can help him follow proper etiquette. Adela’s pretty stepsister Marguerite gets an invitation, too. Adela can’t wait to see Lady Hortensia’s famous gardens.

Then we see Lady Hortensia in her garden, accompanied by a talking magpie named Krazo. It won’t take long for readers to realize that the lady is up to no good. Her plans for her party guests threaten to be self-serving, and she seems to know some magic, besides.

Sure enough, when Adela gets to the party, she finds out that Lady Hortensia is an evil enchantress (think Circe). Now everyone but Adela is under a spell, and she sneaks around trying to figure out what to do. But her friends are gone or have turned against her, and she can’t hide out forever.

The book is not very long, and the prose is clear and friendly. Here is Adela’s description of part of Lady Hortensia’s garden before the princess figures out that something is very wrong. At this point, Adela is wondering how the woman can have spring, summer, and fall flowers at the same time.
How different Hortensia’s garden was from the gardens at home! The palace gardens had wide-open lawns and terraces—broad bands of colors and texture. But this garden felt closed in and secret, with surprises at every turn. The roses were astonishing. They were all different from one another: damasks, centifolias, china roses, tea roses, musk roses, and ramblers and scramblers that threw themselves up and over the walls. The roses can’t have been moved from a greenhouse, Adela decided. Hortensia must have been cultivating them in the ground for years.

Garden Princess is a fun story that reads like an adventurous fairy tale. And there is a rather sweet romance. Adela is a kind and determined heroine, with Krazo—not Garth—playing the role of sidekick. I found the first three fourths to be a bit better than the last fourth, but all in all the book is a cheery, fast-paced read, with a beautiful if ominously enchanted garden that seems just right for spring.

A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

The world Graff creates is a lot like ours, except that many people have Talents—some great and some small. Cady has such a powerful gift for baking the perfect cake that she’s won the Sunshine Bakeoff every year since she was five. Cady lives in Miss Malory’s Home for Lost Girls, which is often practically empty because kindly Miss Malory has a Talent for finding orphans just the right homes. Miss Malory hasn’t been able to find the right home for Cady, but when a man named Toby shows up, it seems that will change.

Meanwhile, the Owner of the Lost Luggage Emporium is doing something uncanny to each of his customers and evidencing an unusual interest in a certain kind of powder blue suitcase. This will remind readers of the prologue, but what’s the connection?

At the same time, a girl named Marigold Asher tries and tries to find her Talent. She’s even jealous of her brother Zane, whose Talent is for spitting. We also encounter an old woman who has lost her memory and then the nurse who cares for her. We meet Marigold and Asher’s small brother Will, who apparently has a Talent for getting lost. Then there’s the man in the gray suit, who is more than a little magical and seems to be manipulating events.

All of these stories will touch each other. We learn at the end of Chapter 2 that six of the eight rooms above the Lost Luggage Emporium are for rent.
The Owner didn’t know it then, but in just one short week, all eight rooms would be filled. Some would be occupied by people with great Talents, others would not. One would house a thief, a person in possession of an object worth millions of dollars. Several would be inhabited by liars. But every last person would have something in common.
 In just one short week, every last one of them would have lost the thing they treasured most in the world.
Which, you've got to admit, is a pretty enticing statement! 

While the magical elements are well delineated, A Tangle of Knots reads more like magical realism than fantasy to me, that and a touch of Ray Bradbury. I am curious about the title. Certainly it speaks to the interconnectedness of people, especially the people in the book. But I’m not sure Graff wants to untangle the tangles or unknot the knots. I suspect she doesn’t even think that’s possible. Because don’t the knots hold people together even if life is often tangly? Graff’s book shows us that human kindness and connections are more important than talents or Talents. Her cast is fairly large, but she manages to imbue her characters with individual importance and nuance. A Tangle of Knots is a thoughtful new book for the magically minded middle grade reader.

The Girl from Felony Bay by J.E. Thompson (5/13)

Abbey Force used to live on a beautiful old plantation in South Carolina, but her father has been injured and is in a coma. He is also accused of being a thief and has lost everything. Now Abbey lives with her Uncle Charlie and his wife. They’re an awful pair, and Charlie seems to have betrayed Abbey’s father in some way.

Determined to clear her father’s name, Abbey finds an unexpected ally in a girl who moves into Abbey’s old home, Reward Plantation. Here the author makes an interesting choice: newcomer Bee is also a Force, and she is African American. It is possible that Bee’s ancestors used to be slaves to Abbey’s ancestors. And now Bee lives in the manor house while Abbey lives in a little old broken-down place. Bee has been badly injured in a car accident and now walks with a cane.

Other players in this tale are a bully named Jimmy Simmons and his father, a pugnacious sheriff’s deputy, and a black boy named Skoogie who lives with his grandmother and is often a target for Jimmy’s bullying. We also meet some lawyers who were partners with Abbey's father at his law firm. Will they help Abbey with her quest?

As Abbey tries to find out more about what happened to her father, she stirs up trouble and uncovers mysterious doings in a part of the plantation named Felony Bay. But—the land isn’t part of Reward Plantation anymore. Why not? As Abbey and her friends get closer to the truth, they find themselves in serious danger. Let’s just say alligators are involved. But eventually the mystery is solved and Abbey finds her answers.

The sections about Abbey’s father are poignant, but Thompson is wise enough to handle them matter-of-factly. Here Abbey is visiting her father, talking to him in hopes that he will hear her and wake up.
I really did get straight As, but I hadn’t told Daddy that I was no longer going to Miss Walker’s School for Girls, I also hadn’t told him that Reward Plantation had been sold or that Timmy [her pony] had been sold or that I was living with Uncle Charlie and Ruth and pretty much hated every minute of it. Daddy had always raised me to tell the truth, but there was no way I could tell him the truth about my life. I was afraid if I told him what it was really like, he might never want to wake up.
 I made up some happy stories about things I had done and places I had gone with old friends from Miss Walker’s, and when I couldn’t think of any more good lies to tell, I took out A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and went to my bookmark and started to read from where I had stopped the last time.

The Girl from Felony Bay is a well-written adventure story, a nice blend of friendships, mysterious goings-on, and peril in the swamps, not to mention treasure hunting and treachery. A satisfying read for the middle grade crowd.

Note: Thanks to Walden Pond Press for a review copy of this book.