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Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Game

Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Reading Level: 5th to 7th

Pages: 192
Publisher: Firebird (Penguin Putnam)
Edition: Hardcover, 2007

I find this short fantasy highly entertaining and extremely delightful. Diana Wynne Jones has such a strong sense of language to convey humor, mystery, the fantastic world and its richly drawn characters. For example, when Haley first met Tollie, and was taunted by him, her thoughts were, to “pull pieces off him -- ears, nose, fingers... so long as they came away with lots of blood--" (p. 4, p.5) This extreme thought both illustrates Haley's feisty personality and also establishes the tone of the story early on. That it is going to be full of strong emotions and funny bits. And throughout the book, this tone is consistent.

There are vivid scenes that have stayed with me for months: the raw pork chop stuck in the drain, Flute and Fiddle standing by the street corners walking through walls, performing magic, Aunt Aster being carried in Orion's arms racing down the street, the various beautiful and dangerous strands and encounters in the Mythosphere. I am impressed by the author's ability to weave a very rich story within a slim volume.

Many other light observations that are both humorous and acute such as this, “Nodding and smiling turned out to be a habit with Marthya. She used it instead of understanding English. She used it particularly when Grandma told her to clean the silver or sweep the stairs.” (p. 31)

I also really enjoyed how the readers are as puzzled, confused, and baffled as Haley at the beginning of the story, and, how, there are clues that the readers start to piece together to get the whole picture, while Haley still is unaware of the situation... but eventually, there is enough of a surprise toward the end that it won't bore the readers who have somewhat figured out these characters. Jones' ability to weave tales together ambiguously and then slowly revealing the inter-dependent details is once again so masterfully done. Each character is drawn so vividly and every danger is breath taking. What a treat!

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Duck at the Door

Author: Jackie Urbanovic (also the illustrator)
Reading Level: pre-k to 2nd

Publisher: HarperCollins
Edition: Hardcover, 2007

This is an absolute WINNER! The text is sparing and just right to convey the situations from page to page -- I enjoyed the individual thoughts from the animals mixed in with the straightforward text.

Each animal in the house is distinctly designed and incredibly adorable/attractive/expressive. Their body language speaks volumes!

The surprising second-to-last spread made me *GASP* with horrified delight.

This whole package just WORKS!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Chicken-Chasing Queen of Lamar County

Author: Janice Harrington
Illustrator: Shelley Jackson
Reading Level: Pre-K - 3rd

Publisher: FSG
Edition: Hardcover, 2007

I would have to say that this is one of the most joyful picture books I've read this year. I adore everything about it. It's incredibly fun to read the text out loud and to hear it read. It is colorful and energetic, full of poetic inventions:

"wash away the dreaming and brush my teeth whiter than a biscuit"
"fast as a mosquito buzzing and quick as a fleabite"
and listen to the cadence and joy of these glorious lines:
"I think of all kinds of chicken thoughts so they won't know I'm up to something.
Corn, I think, bright, shiny knuckles of yellow corn.
Eggs! Eggs! Eggs! Goldy-brown eggs all warm, warm warm.
Corn bread, corn bread! Crumb and crumble bread.
Worms, Slurms, swishy, swishy-mishy, ickly-tickly worms"

Oh... I'm having so much fun just looking at these words and lines.

And then, of course, there are these glorious illustrations -- where the energy, the colorfulness, and sunshiny fun is captured and further expanded. The mixed media with real object collage illustrations convey the carefree high spirit of our heroine. The most effective compositions are the ones that explode outward:

The page with Pah-Quawkkkkk! and Quawkkkkkk exploding in the center of the spread.

And there are pages more subdued but no less pleasing. There is a great pacing of action verses internal thoughtfulness both in the text, and especially in the illustrations. This is just GLORIOUS! I said it a third time now :)

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Why the long silence

I've been reading... and writing, and thinking about what I've been reading. But, I have been jotting down notes on a private database since I am on the 2008 Notable Children's Books Committee and must read quicker and write more notes about them -- so I have not had time to craft more coherent reading journal entries. But, they will be coming soon. I have quite a bit to say about quite a few books published in 2007!