23 October 2008

Passport Into the Wild

Passport Into the Wild
by Jack Hanna (4/5 stars)
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Hardcover: 72 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (September 30, 2008)

This book has the reader "travel with" Jungle Jack across the seven continents as he shares adventures and photos. It comes with a "passport" and stickers that are to be used at the end of "exploring" each continent, along with questions to answer and stir up young minds.

Each continent is given a fact page, and four pages of photos with notes, the center of which fold out into 40-inch wide double pages. The photos are bright and fascinating and the information, while sometimes seeming basic, is still quite interesting. It is a book that a child will return to again and again through-out several years.

My only complaint is that is so very short. Other than that, it is a lovely book and can be very educational while still being entertaining. It would make a wonderful gift for children interested in animals.

Thanks to Amazon for this Amazon Vine book to review.


Boogie Knights

Boogie Knights (4/5 stars)
words by Lisa Wheeler and pictures by Mark Siegel
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 40 pages
Publisher: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books (August 5, 2008)
Seven knights are sleeping tightly when they are awakened, in ones or twos, by odd music and sounds. As they go to investigate, they each discover the rockin' Monster Ball. A side story, told only in pictures, shows the little prince also trying to see what is going on and meeting a ghost princess in the bargain.

The tale is told mostly in rhyme, with some cute lines and some groan-worthy puns. There are times when it seems like the actions just aren't explained well enough, and times when the story-rhymes just don't seem to flow. The fun repetition sounds and bouncy word play make up for a lot, though, and will make it very enjoyable for children in the 4-6 age range, especially those still learning to read or that love the sound of words.

The illustrations, on the other hand, are wonderful--a solid 5 stars. Expressive and beautifully colored, these illustrations could probably tell the story on their own, as they do in the parallel story of the prince and princess.

An enjoyable book overall, I would expect the words and pictures to make it a favorite for many of the pre-school crowd.

Thanks to Amazon for this Amazon Vine book to review.


19 October 2008

Fabulous Halloween Book Giveaway

My friend, Deb, is having an wonderful Halloween Themed Book Give-away! It requires a wee bit of creativity, but I know you can do it. :D Go check it out and see if you find my entry while you are at it. I was quite proud of it. :D

14 October 2008

Jack and the Box

Jack and the Box
Art Spiegelman (1/5 stars)
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Raw Junior, LLC (October 21, 2008)

In this bizarre, "first comic for brand-new readers", Jack (a rabbit) is given a box as a gift from his parents. What comes out is a creepy, unappealing Jack-in-the-box type character that startles his parents, and scares Jack quite badly. The parents laugh it off and Jack politely thanks them (is this a subtle teaching to not address our fears) and tries to play with the toy. This toy, far from being a positive influence on Jack, brings out anger, fear, and eventually what might be a good time but looks more like a Seuss-ian want-to-be frantic playtime in which a lamp is broken but no one has to face consequences.

Jack and the Box is listed as for ages 4-8. Now, if you've ever been around kids, you know that this is a rather broad age spectrum. What is appropriate for age 4 is not necessarily appropriate for age 8 and vice versa. This book, to my mind, is not suitable for such a broad range. As a matter of a fact, I'm not certain it's suitable for young children at all. Fans of the author, perhaps, or teens that like creepy books, but not for "brand-new readers" as the front cover claims.

If I sound negative about Jack and the Box, it's because I feel negatively towards it. I found it an unpleasant reading experience and would not read it to a child. This opinion is based on several readings (I hoped it would get better), because I don't take it lightly when I give such a negative review. However, I feel that this book is just not right for the age group it's intended--perhaps the author or publisher has no real experience with children?--and that it would genuinely be scary for some. Each individual parent would need to make that decision for their own child, of course. However, even as an adult, reading for only for myself, I was totally unimpressed, and quite a bit creeped out.


11 October 2008

Another review of Nation

Debi pointed me to a review of Nation which eloquently expresses what I've been thinking. Do yourself a favor and read this review. She says what I haven't been able to frame into words yet.


Finished Nation by Pratchett last night. It was quite powerful, sometimes sad, always beautiful, very moving and inspiring and I'm just too fresh from it to write the review. To be honest, I'm not sure HOW to review it. 5/5 stars, yes, but how to convey the depths? I'm sounding sappy, but. . . It was fantastic in a sweet, sad, truthful, joyful way. There's no way to put that into words that make sense and can be an actual review, especially since it's a YA book that deserves a cohesive review. I'm stumped for now, but let me just say that those of you that are afraid to try him because of his Discworld stuff should try this one. It's not Discworld and it's wonderful.

I'll try to do better later.

05 October 2008

No, Really!

So, this morning I dreamed. . .

You're not going to believe me, when I tell you this but I promise, I'm not making ANY of it up, 'kay. 'Kay. Here goes.

I dreamed that Fred Thompson and David Lee Roth were this car together one night and they were driving along real fast, only I was one of them, cause when I dream I always dream first person. (No, I don't know which one I was, I just know that I was one of them.) So we/they were scorching this country road one night in some fast car and got pulled by the police.

I don't remember the gist of the police biz, but Roth was driving and did the talking and the end of the matter was that both were going to jail for being drunk. Thompson looks at Roth and says, "I hope you got cash, cause I don't have enough to get us both out!" (meaning bail money).

Then, the dream pans out, and it's a commercial, and a voice over dude says "American Express--for when you need to have enough to get both you AND your friend out of jail."

No. I don't want it psychoanalyzed. Thanks.

NonFiction Challenge Complete

I completed the NonFiction Challenge last month! :) I just posted one of the reviews (look below this post) and I need to finish up the review for Cider with Rosie, since it was an amazing 5 star book.

You can see the recap of my NonFiction Challenge here.

Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea

Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea
Charles Seife (3/5 stars)
Paperback: 256 pages
Publisher: Penguin (Non-Classics) (September 5, 2000)

In Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea, Seife first gives the history of the zero, in mathematics and social history, as well as it's non-history (why it was rejected in some cultures). He explains the resistance of the Greeks to the idea of the zero, why the Catholic Church rejected the zero and also how it was used in much earlier societies. These first chapters are well worth reading, blending history, math and mathematical history in a fascinating tale.

From there, the author begins to blend the idea of zero with other "dangerous" mathematical ideas (including "infinity"), and with his intermingling of ideas he looses the persuasiveness of his argument. It's hard to follow and/or believe that "zero" did this or that, when the zero he is talking about isn't actually "zero". Confused? So was I. He seemed to loose his focus and clarity from around chapter 6 to the end.

There are some rather high mathematical principals and examples throughout the book, which were difficult for me (not the world's best mathematician) to follow, and Seife often assumes that if one is reading Zero, then one is a mathematician, not a layman. This occurred more often in the later chapters which were troublesome in other ways, so I might just not have been as willing to try to understand the math, as I was having a hard time understanding the author's arguments.

On the whole, Zero: the Biography of a Dangerous Idea felt like a thesis that was expounded out to be a full-length book. It would have been much better, in my opinion, if Seife had stopped at around chapter 5, the first chapters being where his knowledge, insight and humor shone through.

Read in September for both the Nonfiction Challenge and as "Z" for the A-Z Title Challenge.


01 October 2008

NonFiction Challenge Update, among other things

I DID finish it! I read Zero: the biography of a dangerous idea and Cider With Rosie, both last month. I just polish up my reviews of them. I'm struggling with allergies and coworkers and not enough hours in the day. And then a friend loaned me a vampire series which I sucked down (excuse the pun) in just over a week; it was cheezy and awesome and deserves some mention, but I can't remember the author and am too lazy to google it so I'll look it up and blog it later. I hope. Funny thing is that I inadverdantly did Carl V's RIP challenge because of them. LOL

And then there's that alternative history series I read that I loved so much I just can't figure out how to review it. And two mediocre children's books from Amazon Vine. And isn't this Buy a Friend a Book Week? Or is that next week? I gotta go look it up. I'd link but that would mean moving in my chair and I can't do that at this moment.

But the good news? One of my kiddos pee-peed in the potty today after a week long power struggle, another said "apple" yesterday, and a third is nearly read to move into a class with typical kids full time. Life is GREAT!

Gettysburg: the graphic novel

Gettysburg: the graphic novel
by C.M. Butzer (1/5 stars)
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Paperback: 80 pages
Publisher: Collins (December 23, 2008)

Gettysburg: the graphic novel gives a very brief account of the battles that took place, and then dedicates the rest of the book to the building of the National Cemetery and the speeches by Edward Everett and President Lincoln at the dedication of Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Presented in graphic novel style, this book could have been a wonderful illustration of these most decisive days of the United States' Civil War. Instead, it appeared as a odd piece of "feel-good" propaganda, giving the idea of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as setting in motion a whole chain of civil rights movements. Apparently the author did not research the Emancipation Proclamation very much; Lincoln freed the slaves in the Southern states (states he had no jurisdiction over at that time) and did nothing for the slaves in the Northern states that were still in the Union. It's interesting to note that at the time of the war, there were more "Free Blacks" (as they were called) in the Southern states than they were in the Northern states.

And, with such a focus on slavery, a child that reads this novel is going to come away with the untruth (that is still being taught in our schools) that slavery was the cause of this war. States Rights were the issue, not slavery. But, Butzer is very specific in letting the reader know that the "repulsive institution of American slavery" is the direct cause of the war.

In addition, Gettysburg: the graphic novel is grossly biased in favor of the Union side, to the point still referring to the Confederacy as "Rebels"! Is this a contemporary account? Or an educated historical rendering? Or, perhaps neither. Butzer also misrepresents, hopefully accidentally, General Lee's orders to forage for food by illustrating it with looting. Anyone who has studied General Lee and his armies knows that he did not allow looting and that provisions were paid for, granted it was in Confederate money, but that is still not the looting that was illustrated.

Gettysburg: the graphic novel is also, unfortunately for a book supposedly drawing on "primary sources", cursed with historical inaccuracies. For example, the gatehouse to Evergreen Cemetery is shown as being built as part of the Gettysburg National Cemetery. That gatehouse was built in the 1850's and was standing when the battles were taking place. Perhaps he meant to show that it was being fixed from the damage? So it's just an error by negligence and not an outright falsehood then?

Sadly, the bibliography was not included in the ARC, because I would like to have seen the sources Mr. Butzer used that listed Lincoln's African-American Valet, William Johnson, as his "friend" (as well as on several other points). I think this was another case of the author attempting to color the reader's view of Lincoln.

Overall, this was a poorly written book and while it not might fool a reader who has previously studied up on the subject, it should not be given the chance to fool readers who don't have prior knowledge. Giving this to our children to read is placing prejudice and inaccuracy in their hands in the guise of truth and I adamantly advise against it.

Thanks to Harper Collins for the Advanced Readers Copy.