One-Minute Book Reviews

May 22, 2009

Win These Books for Children or Adults – Summer Reading Giveaway

Filed under: Contests — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:07 am
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[Update, June 4: This contest has closed.]

Late last year, I promised to bring back my former contests that let you win books reviewed on this site. It’s taken me a bit longer than I’d hoped, but here’s the first in the new series of occasional giveaways. Happy Memorial Day! Jan

You can win any book on the list below if you’re the first to link to One-Minute Book Reviews after you read this post. To enter, link to this site, then send the link and your mailing address to the e-mail address on the contact page, and tell me which book you’d like. (Please do not leave a comment with the link — e-mail entries only.) You don’t have to link to the review of the book you want or to say anything special; you can link to any post or page, and winners are determined solely by the time of arrival the e-mail.

You need to be over 18 and a resident of the U.S. to enter. If you win, I’ll put the book in the mail to you within a week. You can win only one book, but if more than one interests you, you’re welcome to mention an alternate choice in case someone has won the book you want. Winners’ names are not announced on the site.

All books are the copies I used to review them, so they’ve been read gently but are in very good condition unless specified. As noted below, some are advance reader’s copies or ARCs (uncorrected proofs with the art for the cover of the hardcover edition on the front).

Here are the books you can win.

Children’s Books
The Poky Little Puppy: A Little Golden Book Classic. By Janette Sebring Lowrey, illustrated by Gustaf Tenggren. This book is reported to be the bestselling American hardcover children’s picture book of all time. Hardcover edition. (Won)

Baby Farm Animals: A Little Golden Book Classic. Illustrated by Garth Williams (who illustrated the best-known editions of Charlottes Web and Little House on the Prairie). Hardcover edition. (Won)

Walt Disney’s Cinderella: A Little Golden Books Classic. Story adapted by Jane Wenner. Illustrated by Retta Scott Worcester. Art from the 1950 movie (with Cinderella in her pre-princess garb on the cover). Hardcover edition.

What a Great Kid! Coupon Book: 52 Ways to Tell Kids “You’re Loved.” A tear-out coupon for every week.

Advance Reader’s Copies/Children

PerpetualCheck. By Rich Wallace. A short novel about two brothers who face off at a chess tournament. This ARC shows a bit of wear, but a young chess player might enjoy it. See note about ages in review.

Books for Adults

No! I Don’t Want to Join a Book Club: Diary of a 60th Year. By Virginia Ironside. The hardcover edition of a comic novel recently out in paperback.

The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America. By John Demos. The hardcover edition of a National Book Award nonfiction finalist now in paperback. (Won)

Advance Reader’s Copies/Adults

Take Your Shirt Off and Cry: A Memoir of Near Fame Experiences. By Nancy Balbirer. An actor’s story of the big breaks that got away.  This ARC shows wear.

My Little Red Book. Edited by Rachel Kauder-Nalebuff. Girls and women remember their first menstrual periods.

Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way. By Ruth Reichl. Memories of a difficult other by the editor-in-chief of Gourmet.

Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa. By R. A. Scotti. True crime about a famous art heist.

How to Buy a Love of Reading. By Tanya Egan Gibson. A novel about a teenager whose parents hire a novelist to write a book for her.

Old World Daughter, New World Mother: An Education in Love and Freedom.By Maria Laurino. An argument for a new vision of feminism by the author of Were You Always an Italian?

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

April 29, 2009

Late Night With Jan Harayda — How to Find Out How Dumbed-Down a Book Really Is

Filed under: Late Night With Jan Harayda,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:53 pm
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You know how I reported back in 2006 that Mitch Albom is writing at a third-grade reading level in For One More Day, according to the Flesch-Kincaid readability statistics on Microsoft Word? I’ve since posted the levels of other books, including Stephenie Meyer’s The Host. And it’s always – shall we say? – enlightening to learn how dumbed-down some books really are. It’s also time-consuming: To find a reading level, I have to type passages from a book into my computer, then run the spell-checker or paste the text into a site that has a measuring tool other than Flesch-Kincaid’s.

So I was delighted to learn from a visitor about the site for the Accelerated Reader progress-monitoring software, which lists many popular books and their reading levels. The AR site seems to focus on books schools might use, so you can’t turn to it for the reading level of anything on your nightstand. But if you compute these levels as often as I do, this one could delay the onset of carpal tunnel syndrome for a couple of years.

“Late Night With Jan Harayda” is an occasional series of posts that appear after 10 p.m. Eastern Time and do not include reviews, which typically appear early in the day.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

April 25, 2009

Rich Wallace’s Tale of Young Chess Players, ‘Perpetual Check’

Teenage brothers face off in a novel about a chess tournament

Perpetual Check. By Rich Wallace. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 128 pp., $15.99. Ages: See discussion below.

By Janice Harayda

Perpetual Check has a warning for parents who overpraise their children’s modest talents, hoping to enhance self-esteem. The caution comes from Zeke Mansfield, a high school senior who is a good athlete but less than the star his father imagines. Zeke realizes at a chess tournament:

“Having his father telling him what a star he is for all those years hasn’t been a plus after all. Somehow it made him decide that an extra hour of working on his ball control was plenty, no need to make it two; that 50 sit-ups after practice were just as good as a hundred; that sometimes it wasn’t worth running hills in the pouring rain. He was great; he was unbelievable. His natural talent would carry him as far as he wanted to go. It was heady stuff at 12 or 13 or 15.”

That “heady stuff” gets tested at the Northeast Regional of the Pennsylvania High School Chess Championship, held during a snow-encrusted weekend at a hotel in Scranton. Zeke and his pudgy younger brother, Randy, a freshman, have both qualified for the event. Randy can beat his brother nine times out of ten and outranks him in other ways: He’s better student, has a girlfriend, and can guess the colors of M&Ms in his mouth with his eyes closed.

So when the two brothers meet in the semifinals, there’s a showdown, complicated by the presence of their father. Mr. Mansfield is a hypocritical, overcontrolling, sexist who tries live out his failed dreams through Zeke. His boorishness has fueled the natural rivalry between his sons, a reality that emerges in chapters told from the brothers’ alternating points of view.

Will one son outperform the other in the tournament? Or might both embarrass their father by losing to – oh, the horror! – a girl? Wallace controls the suspense well in a lightweight, fast-paced book that portrays Zeke and Randy with more subtlety than their father, who is a caricature. By the time the tournament ends, the brothers have had insights into more than chess strategy: They understand better the role their father has played in their relationship and in their parents’ shaky marriage. Zeke reflects early in Perpetual Check that “he never had a chance to be the big brother in the equation” with his sibling, because Randy had so many strengths. The equation may not be solved by the last page, but the boys have the formula.

Best line: “Randy knows that Zeke will often make a seemingly careless move early in the game. The strategy is to leave the opponent with ‘He must know something I don’t’ bewilderment.”

Worst line: “Dina giggles again.” Wallace casts Mr. Mansfield as a sexist, without using the word, but isn’t it sexist to have only female characters giggling, as in this book? Perpetual Check also has many lines such as, “He’s a dick,” “This guy I’m playing against is a prick,” and “No way you’re sitting on your fat ass for another summer.”

Published: February 2009

Ages: The publisher recommends this book for ages 12 and up, a label that appears based largely on its use of words such as “dick” and “ass.” This seems prudish and misguided given that many children start hearing these words in preschool.  Apart from the “bad words,” this short novel — a novella, really — would better suit ages 9-12 and strong readers as young as 8.

Read an excerpt form Perpetual Check.

About the author: Rich Wallace also wrote Wrestling Sturbridge and Playing Without the Ball.

Caveat lector: This review was based on an advance reader’s edition. Some material in the finished book may differ.

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear on Saturdays on One-Minute Book Reviews.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

April 24, 2009

A Review of ‘Perpetual Check’ — Coming Tomorrow

Filed under: Children's Books,Young Adult — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:23 pm
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Reviews of books for children appear on Saturdays on this site. Tomorrow: Rich Wallace’s new Pepetual Check (Knopf, 128 pp., $15.99), a short novel about two teenage brothers who compete in a Pennsylvania regional chess championship. Perpetual Check seems to have earned its “ages 12 and up” tag mainly for language like “your fat ass” and “He’s a dick.” Otherwise it’s for strong readers ages 8 and up.

April 22, 2009

Eco-Propaganda in Children’s Books by Carl Hiaasen and Others — It’s Always Earth Day in Recent Fiction for Young Readers

Meghan Cox Gurdon takes on eco-propaganda in children’s books in “Scary Green Monsters,” a Wall Street Journal essay that makes point similar to one I made more briefly back in January: A lot of trees are dying for books about rainforests. Gurdon writes in an article linked to Earth Day:

“The patriarch of the vogue for green-themed children’s books is surely Carl Hiaasen, the novelist and Miami Herald columnist who shot to eco-stardom in 2002 with Hoot, a novel for middle-schoolers about three children who foil a corporation’s attempt to build a pancake restaurant over a burrow of endangered miniature owls. Hoot won a Newbery Honor Award, and was followed in 2005 by Flush, a tale recounting the adventures of a different group of youthful oddball allies that is seeking to expose a casino-boat operator who’s been flushing raw sewage into harbor water….

“In all Mr. Hiaasen’s books for children, young readers are asked to sympathize with environmentalists who thwart businessmen, even when the good guys take destructive measures such as sinking boats or torching billboards. And the eco-tropes that have worked so well for Mr. Hiaasen — Good nature! Bad capitalist! — are steadily creeping into books across the age range.”

Gurdon also discusses Joan Bauer’s Newbery Honor book, Peeled (Putnam, 2008), Timothee de Fombelle’s Toby Alone (Candlewick, 2009), Katherine Hannigan’s “risibly didactic” Emmaline and Bunny (HarperCollins, 2009), and Joshua Doder’s popular “Grk” books, such as Operation Tortoise (Delacorte, 2009). She notes that children like routine:

“They’re not put off by predictability in stories. They’re accustomed to princesses being pretty, dragons being fearsome, and, it seems, alas, their fictional businessmen being corpulent and amoral. So it’s probably pointless to object to the eco-endlessness on the grounds of artistic feebleness.

“Yet there is something culturally impoverished about insisting that children join in the adult preoccupation with reducing, reusing and recycling. Can they not have a precious decade or so to soar in imaginative literature before we drag them back down to earth?”

Read all of “Scary Green Monsters” here.

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

April 18, 2009

Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo! The Case for ‘Cinderella’ (Including, Yes, the Disney Version) — Classics Every Child Should Read

Filed under: Children's Books,Classics — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:46 pm
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The latest in a series of posts on classic children’s picture books

Walt Disney’s Cinderella: A Little Golden Book Classic. Story adapted by Jane Werner. Illustrated by Retta Scott Worcester. Golden Books, 24 pp., $2.99.

By Janice Harayda

For several decades, the story of Cinderella has been anything but a Cinderella story. Scholars have attacked it for promoting female passivity, for giving stepmothers a bad name, and for equating beauty with virtue: The pretty Cinderella is good and her ugly stepsisters are bad. I read a critique that accused it of promoting capitalist values because – at least in the Disney the version, the one most familiar today — Cinderella is rewarded for the hard work of scrubbing floors and churning butter, as though we’d want the kids to read books where characters were rewarded for sloth.

There’s some truth to the all complaints. Variations on Cinderella have existed for centuries or more, and they typically reflect ideals of an earlier time. But if I had children, I’d want them to know this tale of a mistreated girl who marries a king’s son, and not just because it’s a defining myth of our age. The case against Cinderella was stronger in the past. If the story is one of female passivity — that of a girl rescued by a prince — it used to reflect the expectations of society as a whole.

Those assumptions have changed. Girls today see more countervailing influences to Cinderella — the tortured marriage of Charles and Diana showed us all what can happen when you marry a prince — so there seems to be less harm in reading it. There are also more benefits when surveys of cultural literacy have shown that children are increasingly growing up without understanding the ideas that have shaped civilizations – not just fairy tales but myths, legends, fables, Bible stories, and more.

As a child, I loved an oversized tie-in edition to the 1950 animated Disney musical Cinderella — “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo”! – and read it until its corrugated pop-up pumpkin fell off. A few weeks ago, I was startled to find Walt Disney’s Cinderella in a Little Golden Book Classic format in the new-children’s-books section of a good bookstore. No pop-up pumpkin, but everything else is identical. No less surprising is that the Little Golden Book Classic is better than many recent editions, including some others from Disney, in part because its cover shows Cinderella in rags near a brick fireplace, which makes the meaning of the title clear right away. Some versions have a princess on the cover that dilutes the message and make the book look like just another princess fantasy, instead of the mother lode.

I’m sure that at the age of seven, I liked my Disney version partly because its Cinderella has blond hair and blue-green eyes like me (which plays into stereotypes of the fair-haired as virtuous, given that one of her stepsisters has black hair and another red). But today you can find a United Nations of Cinderella stories at bookstores and libraries, and they have title characters of varied ancestry: Jewish, Persian, Chinese, Mexican, Korean, Caribbean, Hispanic, Cambodian, Egyptian, Alaskan, Hmong. And if some of these still seem to be a font of stereotypes, they make clear it would be more accurate to call Cinderella something else: an archetype who has never lost her appeal.

Best line: Some modern versions of Cinderella don’t explain how the title character got her name. The Little Golden Book Classic does: “But alas! The kindly gentleman soon died. And his second wife was harsh and cold to her lovely stepdaughter. She cared only for her two ugly stepdaughters.

“Everyone called the stepdaughter Cinderella now since she sat by the cinders to keep warm as she worked hard, dressed only in rags.”

Worst line: Cinderella had “a puppy named Bruno” before her father died.  The name “Bruno” is odd in context. And the dog probably shouldn’t have a name at all, because it’s used only twice, and an old horse (which becomes a coachman) and the mice (which turn into horses) don’t have names.

Published: 1950

Listen to the song “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from Walt Disney’s Cinderella on a site that doesn’t include a film clip from the movie. You can also hear it on YouTube sites that include a clip, but these may not be legal.

Other classic picture books reviewed on One-Minute Book Reviews include Millions of Cats, Madeline, Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Where the Wild Things Are, The Backward Day, Horton Hatches the Egg, The Story of Ferdinand and Flat Stanley.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com and www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

April 11, 2009

Robinson, Updike or Roth Will Win the 2009 Pulitzer for Fiction, Statistical Analysis Shows — But Don’t Count on It

I’m on record as saying that the frontrunner for this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction would seem to be Toni Morrison’s novel A Mercy, which I haven’t read. Morrison is the only Nobel Prize–winner in the hunt. And I think it’s going to be tough for the judges to pass over a laureate, although the National Book Critics Circle board did it in March.

But a research scientist and a book collector have reached a different conclusion by using regression analysis, a statistical technique for evaluating variables. The two say that the books most likely to win the 2009 fiction prize are Marilynne Robinson’s Home, John Updike’s The Widows of Eastwick, and Philip Roth’s Indignation. They’ve also identified the 12 other candidates that, based on their analysis, are most like to win, all listed in order at  PPrize.com. You can read their 2008 predictions — and how they fared — on the same site. The Pulitzer Prizes honor books in five categories — fiction, poetry, history, biography, and general nonfiction — and will be announced on Monday, April 20, at 3 p.m. Eastern Time.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 2, 2009

Why Are Animal Stories So Popular Right Now?

Filed under: News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:14 pm
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I’ve been having computer problems this week that have limited my ability to post (but that should end tomorrow or Monday when my Mac returns). So today I’m just going to throw out a question that’s been on my mind: Why are animal stories so popular right now?

I’m thinking of books like Marley & Me, Alex & Me, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Dewey: The Small-Town Libary Cat Who Touched the World, and the others that have touched a nerve in the past year or two. Stories about animals have been popular in the U.S. for decades: Think of classics like White Fang, Black Beauty, and Charlotte’s Web. But it’s unusual to see as many of these on bestseller lists as have appeared lately.

My theory is that animal stories become more popular in hard times, or when people have less trust in elected officials or other authorities because it’s reassuring to read that you can still count on a dog or cat even if you can’t count on the politicians or bankers. What’s yours?

(c) 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 16, 2009

2009 Delete Key Awards Grand Prize Winner — Stephenie Meyer’s ‘The Host’

Filed under: Delete Key Awards,News — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:02 am
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Stephenie Meyer’s The Host is the grand prize winner in the Delete Key Awards for the year’s worst writing in books.

Meyer’s novels exemplify the trend that Roy Strong, the former director of the of the Victoria and Albert Museum, called “the rise of the trashocracy.” The teenage vampire-romance series that began with Twilight led the 2008 bestseller lists. And next to Meyer, Mitch Albom almost looks like Isaiah Berlin.

It’s true that Albom’s For One More Day is written at a third-grade reading level while Meyer’s adult science-fiction novel, The Host, has a fourth-grade (9-year-old) reading level, according to the readability statistics that are part of the spell-checker on Microsoft Word. But if both books are dumbed-down, Albom can’t match the spectacular array inanities that have won the grand prize for The Host. Meyer’s unintentionally comic missteps range from mind-numbing redundancies (“It’s a voluntary choice”) to deeply purple prose and dialogue that might have come from television series called The Beverly Hillbillies in Outer Space. If this year’s Delete Key Awards were the Belmont Stakes, The Host would be Secretariat, winning by 31 lengths.

The Host has won the 2009 Delete Key Awards grand prize for lines like:
“It’s a voluntary choice.”

and

“He nuzzled his face against mine until he found my lips, then he kissed me, slow and gentle, the flow of molten rock swelling languidly in the dark at the center of the earth, until my shaking slowed.”

and

“ ‘Well, for Pete’s sake!’ Jeb exclaimed. ‘Can’t nobody keep a secret around this place for more’n 24 hours? Gol’ durn, this burns me up!’”

Other posts about the Delete Key Awards appear on www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 13, 2009

Should One of These Children’s Books Win a Delete Key Award for Bad Writing? Who Deserves It More – Kathi Appelt or Laura Bush and Jenna Bush?

Two children’s books have made the shortlist for the 2009 Delete Key Awards, which recognize authors who don’t use their delete keys enough. Should either win a prize on Monday?

Laura Bush and Jenna Bush are finalists for these lines from Read All About It!, a picture book in which exclamation points run amok:

“I say, ‘The library is a boring place! All I will meet there are stinky pages.’”

and

“Miss Toadskin thinks she can gross us out with her science experiments. But I live for that stuff!”

Kathi Appelt is a finalist for this redundancy from The Underneath, a runner-up for the most recent Newbery Medal and National Book Award for young people’s literature:

“The pain she felt was palpable.”

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

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