Review 1456: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

I cribbed part of the title of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day for my weekly personal blog, and then I thought maybe I should read it. I bought a copy for my great nephew’s sixth birthday.

It’s a really cute book, amusing for parents and something most kids can relate to as everything goes wrong for Alexander. He doesn’t get a toy in his cereal box and his brothers do, his teacher doesn’t like his art (an invisible castle), he gets in trouble for something his brother starts, and so on. Things that can make a kid miserable.

The art by Ray Cruz is good, too. This is a fun book for parents and offers a talking point for kids.

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Review 1419: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy

I picked up The Penderwicks to give to my eleven-year-old great niece, so I thought I’d read it first. It’s a realistic story about a family on vacation, and I thought it made a nice change from a lot of the less realistic children’s fiction.

The Penderwicks are four sisters, their widowed father, and a dog named Hound. Rosalind is 12, a thoughtful, responsible, child; Skye, 11, is hot tempered and hasty; Jane, 10, is dreamy and wants to be a writer; and Batty, 4, is shy and always wears butterfly wings.

The Penderwicks lose their Cape Cod cottage that they always rent for the summer, but they find a cottage in the Berkshires. It is part of an estate called Arundel.

They find Arundel beautiful, but the owner, Mrs. Tipton, doesn’t want the children in her garden. Rosalind gets a crush on a nice teenage gardener named Cagney. Skye and Jane meet Jeffrey, Mrs. Tipton’s son.

The bulk of the story centers around Jeffrey, whose mother thinks the girls are a bad influence and wants to send Jeffrey to military school. Jeffrey himself wants to study music.

I found this story amusing and sometimes touching. Its characters are likable and believable. This book is the first in a series, and I’m interested to see if my great niece likes it.

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Review 1349: I Took the Moon for a Walk

Cover for I Took the Moon for a WalkI Took the Moon for a Walk is an adorable book with beautiful, retro illustrations for preschool children or early readers. A little boy takes the moon for a walk, helping it over church spires and so on, until it is time for bed.

I bought this book for my great nephew, because I was struck by the gorgeous illustrations, but the text is nice as well. A lovely book.

The last couple of pages, after the story is finished, include information about the moon, what it’s made of and its phases, and about animals that are out at night.

picture from the book
The moon got scared . . .

Day 1291: Through the Looking Glass: Further Adventures in the Realm of Children’s Literature

Cover for Through the Looking GlassThis book sounded interesting to me, but I did not realize it was a collection of Selma G. Lanes’s essays on various topics related to children’s literature. Lanes herself was a writer about children’s literature, as well as an editor, critic, and essayist. Although Lanes writes in the introduction about the tendency for publishers to look for marketable books rather than good ones, the essays largely deal with a more congenial time for children’s literature, the 1970’s.

This collection includes reviews, obituaries, and opinion pieces on such topics as whether children’s books are literature, what constitutes a great children’s book, and whether the pursuit of political correctness can go too far. These topics are interesting, but because most of the essays are from the 1970’s, some of them seem dated. Lanes also is nostalgic for the works of an earlier time, many of which I’m not familiar with.

A final essay about J. K. Rowling written in 2004 brings us more up to date as does the introduction. Still, a reader looking for good reading for a child (and sometimes an adult) can get some ideas, albeit older ones, from this book.

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Day 1256: Bridge to Terabithia

Cover for Bridge to TerabithiaI read Bridge to Terabithia for the 1977 club (but forgot about it when I was posting for the club). It has become a classic book for preteens since its publication, but it was written after my time as a child, so I never read it before.

Jess is a ten-year-old boy from a poor rural family in, perhaps, Virginia or Maryland. He comes from a family of sisters, and his father works all the time, so he often feels isolated. It is almost time for school to start, and he has been practicing running all summer so he can win the races at recess.

A family moves in nearby, and he hopes they have a boy his age, but all they have is a girl, Leslie. She seems to be disposed to be friendly, but he has no use for a girl.

Then, at the races, when is ready to show everyone how fast he is, someone beats him. It’s Leslie.

Leslie and Jess become friends and create an imaginary world for themselves in a shack across the creek. The world is called Terabithia, and you can only get to it by swinging on a rope across the creek.

This is the kind of children’s book that has more to offer children than adults. I couldn’t help comparing it to The Secret Garden, which does a wonderful job of describing the garden, making it seem like a wonderland. There is no such magical description in this novel, which is more matter-of-fact, so it’s hard to understand the fascination of the kids’ made-up world. However, the novel did get me to cry without being manipulative. It deals with death and handles the subject very well.

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Day 1231: The Tiger Rising

Last year I gave my ten-year-old niece three books by Kate Di Camillo, and her face lit right up. This year, I got her The Tiger Rises and read it to see what was so great about Di Camillo.

Rob is an unhappy 12-year-old, used to being bullied on the bus and not allowed by his father to mention his dead mother. One day when he is exploring the woods near the motel where he lives, he finds a tiger in a cage.

The next day, he meets Sistine, a new girl in school. Sistine is angry since the breakup of her parents’ marriage. Rob takes her to see the tiger, and she immediately decides they should let it loose.

I am sure there are elements in this novel that would interest children, but it doesn’t have much to offer adults. It provides a shocking but unconvincingly easy solution to the characters’ problems. And really, what kind of a good solution is going to come from a tiger in a cage?

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Day 1175: Anne of Avonlea

Cover for Anne of AvonleaA while back, some bloggers were having an Anne of Green Gables reading challenge. That led me to reread Anne of Green Gables, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it held up for adults. Other bloggers went ahead and read the entire series.

I don’t think I read the entire series when I was a girl, but I know I read up through the time when Anne married Gilbert, so I’m guessing I read three or four books back then. When I ran across a copy of Anne of Avonlea, the second book in the series, I decided to give it a try as an adult.

In this book, Anne is sixteen and just about to begin her career as a schoolteacher in Avonlea. Most of her old friends are also teachers at nearby schools. The novel follows her adventures during the next two years as she teaches, makes new friends, and begins to grow up a little. She and Marilla also take on the upbringing of two six-year-old distant cousins of Marilla, Davey and Dora.

I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy this book as much. The dreamy, romantic Anne, with all her comments about fairies and so on isn’t as convincing as an older girl. The novel relies for humor mostly on the comments of Anne’s students and the misbehavior of Davey. I found the first a little cloying, and I couldn’t help comparing the second to a similar situation in A Girl of the Limberlost, which is handled much better. I have to admit to not developing any feelings for any of these children, whereas Anne as a child was very sympathetic.

Finally, there’s not much of a sense of plot to this novel. It is almost as if, in these transitional years, Montgomery didn’t know what to do with Anne. The most dramatic events center around her friend, Miss Lavendar Lewis, but they are predictable. I think this is a book that adolescent or pre-adolescent girls might love, but it holds little attraction for me.

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