One-Minute Book Reviews

October 23, 2009

Halloween Poems and Picture-Book Fun for Children

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 7:57 pm
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Looking for Halloween reading for children under the age of 9 or so? You might want to read these posts:

“Good Halloween Poems for Children”: Where to find short Halloween poems that rhyme, including Robert Graves’s “The Pumpkin,” which begins: “You may not believe it, for hardly could I: / I was cutting a pumpkin to put in a pie …”

“John Ciardi’s Halloween Limerick for Children”: Two books that have the poet’s witty limerick about a haunted house, “The Halloween House.” The first lines are: “I’m told there’s a Green Thing in there. / And the sign on the gate says BEWARE!”

“A Classic Halloween Poem and Jump-Rope Rhyme”: Jump-ropers, remember the one that goes, “Down in the desert / Where the purple grass dies / There sat a witch …”?

“James Stevenson’s ‘That Terrible Halloween Night,’ a Picture Book for Ages 3–8”: A grandfather tells a tale to children who try to scare him on Halloween.

No costume yet? You might enjoy “Literary Halloween Costumes for Children.”

October 21, 2009

Heather Armstrong’s Memoir of Pregnancy, Childbirth and Motherhood — ‘It Sucked and Then I Cried’ – Shrieking All the Way to the Psych Ward


The creator of a popular blog tells how she found her way to a mental hospital and back

It Sucked and Then I Cried: How I Had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita. By Heather B. Armstrong. Simon Spotlight, 258 pp., $24.

By Janice Harayda

Heather Armstrong warns on her blog, Dooce, that she “CANNOT RESIST THE CAPS-LOCK KEY.” The same caution applies to her unabashedly self-indulgent memoir of pregnancy, childbirth, and the infancy of her first child, which made her so anxious that she checked herself into a mental hospital after she got no relief from psychotherapy and drugs that included Risperdal, Ativan, Trazodone, Lamictal, Effexor, Abilify, Strattera, Klonopin, and Seroquel.

How did Armstrong like breastfeeding? “Everything I’d ever read about breastfeeding had to have been written by a man with no tits, because everything said that as long as the baby was in the right position it wouldn’t hurt to breast feed. THAT WAS A LIE.” What did she think when her daughter woke up at 2 a.m.? “Leta knew how to poop, she knew how to eat, SHE HAD TO KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.” Would Armstrong consider having  another child? “‘HA! ANOTHER BABY? The logistics of more than one TOTALLY BOGGLED MY MIND.”

It Sucked and Then I Cried is intermittently funny but has a lot of bathroom humor and sometimes a nasty edge. Armstrong writes unkindly that when her stepfather raises his voice, she thinks: “Maybe if you SCREAMED A LITTLE LOUDER THE WINDOWS WOULD EXPLODE.” If she hates it when people shout at her, why does she spend so much time in this book doing what she calls “S.H.R.I.E.K.I.N.G.”?

Best line: No. 1: Utah stores sell soaps “in the shape of Joseph Smith’s head.” No. 2: “A few days after Leta turned four months old we took away Leta’s pacifier and it felt like we were running a division of the Betty Ford Clinic.”

Worst line: “But this time we couldn’t park in the special parking space because I was no longer pregnant (THANK THE LORD GOD JESUS!) and we had to park in the non-pregnant parking space and walk an extra twenty feet to the door. We found this inconvenience totally unacceptable as we were living in America and shouldn’t have to walk an extra twenty feet for anything. AM I RIGHT? AM I RIGHT? This is the best country on Earth! WE DON’T WALK NOWHERE FOR NUTHING. Damn straight.”

Editor: Patrick Price

Published: January 2009

About the author: Armstrong lives in Utah with her husband, Jon, and has had a second child since finishing It Sucked and Then I Cried. She has more than a million followers on Twitter at www.twitter.com/dooce.

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

June 20, 2009

A Good Children’s Poem About the Fourth of July

John Updike celebrates the Fourth in the spirited children’s poem “July,” which begins: “Bang-bang! Ka-boom! / We celebrate / Our national / Independence date.” The poem is one of 12, one for each month, collected in A Child’s Calendar (Holiday House, 32 pages, $17.95 hardcover, $6.95 paperback, ages 4–8). Beautifully illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman, this picture book won a Caldecott Honor for its images of four seasons in the life of members of an interracial New England family and their friends. Don’t miss Updike tending the barbecue grill in the full-page picture next to the poem.

June 6, 2009

Why Children Need High-Quality Fiction and Other Imaginative Literature

Filed under: Children — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:35 am
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Most children need to read more than nonfiction and the poor quality fiction that often appears on school reading lists. Here’s a good explanation of why:

“Practical books with facts in them may be necessary, but they are not everything. They do not serve the imagination in the same way that high invention does when it allows the mind to investigate every possibility, to set itself free from the ordinary, to enter a world where paradox reigns and nothing is what it seems. Properly engaged, the intelligent child begins to question all presuppositions, and thinks on his own. In fact, the moment he says, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if …?’ he is on his way and his own imagination has begun to work at a level considerably more interesting than the usual speculation on what it would be like to own a car and make money.”

Gore Vidal in Homage to Daniel Shays: Collected Essays 1952–1972 (Random House, 1972). The illustration shows the cover of Natalie Babbitt’s modern classic, Tuck Everlasting, an example of high-quality imaginative fiction that encourages children “to enter a world where paradox reigns and nothing is what it seems” and also appears on many school reading lists.

www.twitter.com/janiceharayda

April 11, 2009

More Good Coupons for Kids in a New Hallmark Gift Book

Filed under: Holiday Gift Books,How to — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:29 am
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Just before Christmas, I wrote about a book of tear-out coupons full of good IOUs for children that vanished from stores soon after I found it at CVS. I speculated that the item had been recalled because it contained a coupon that promised a child a lottery ticket when the laws in most states forbid the sale of lottery tickets to anyone under 18.

Now the book is back in slightly different form with a new title, What a Great Kid! Coupon Book: 52 Ways to Tell Kids “You’re Loved” (Hallmark Gift Books, 120 pp., $5.95, paperback), minus the lottery-ticket coupon. As in the earlier version, some coupons would appeal mainly to younger children. (“TRADE THIS IN FOR A ROYAL NIGHT … Good for one evening of being treated like royalty. You’ll be waited on hand and foot, and the entire family will refer to you as ‘your royal highness’ or ‘your majesty.’”) Other coupons might please children of any age, including teenagers. (“Not today! Pick your least favorite chore and SKIP doing it today!”) But the earlier bok disappeared so fast that there’s no telling how long this one will remain in stores, so if you may need a last-minute children’s holiday gift, you might pick one up well before December.

At this writing What a Great Kid! isn’t listed on the Hallmark site. But I found it at a Walgreen’s, and it’s also supposed to be available at Hallmark stores. Watch a video about it here.

© 2009 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 27, 2008

A Book That Makes It Fun to Learn to Read – ‘I Saw You in the Bathtub: And Other Folk Rhymes’

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:53 pm
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I saw you in the street,
I saw you in a tree,
I saw you in the bathtub –
Whoops! Pardon me!

I Saw You in the Bathtub: And Other Folk Rhymes (An I Can Read Book 1) By Alvin Schwartz. Illustrated by Syd Hoff. HarperTrophy, 64 pp., $3.99, paperback. Ages 5–8 (for independent reading), ages 2 and up (for reading aloud).

By Janice Harayda

A couple of months ago, I mentioned I Saw You in the Bathtub in the context of a couple of its poems that relate to Halloween. But this book is so much fun, it has a year-round appeal.

Alvin Schwartz has collected 40 ageless folk rhymes that consist mainly of words of one or two syllables: “I scream, / You scream, / We all scream / For ice cream!” So this book is a good choice for many kindergarten-though-third-graders who are starting to read and need short words and strongly patterned text.

But children as young as age 2 also love rhymes like: “Teacher, teacher made a mistake — / She sat down in a chocolate cake!” and “Three little chickadees / Looking at you, / One flew away / And then there were two.” And because variations on most of the rhymes seem to have existed since Cain, the book has an intergenerational appeal: It gives parents and grandparents a chance to share the versions they know. Am I the only one who learned the title rhyme as: “I saw you in the river, / I saw you in the sea, / I saw you in the bathtub — / Oops! Pardon me!”?

Best line: The title rhyme. But “Mary, Mary, strong and able, / Keep your elbow off the table” may be better known.

Worst line: A few rhymes are taunts that some adults may want to skip when reading the book aloud, such as the deathless: “Kindergarten baby, / Stick your head in gravy!” Speaking just for myself: I’d rather hear those lines than some words that arepopular among 3-year-olds, such as “dickhead.”

Recommendation? High value for the dollar as holiday gift for a family with children ages 2 and up. This $3.99 paperback is much more entertaining than most $16.99 hardcover picture books.

Published: March 1989 (first edition), 1991 (HarperTrophy paperback) www.harpercollins.com/books/9780064441513/I_Saw_You_in_the_Bathtub/index.aspx

Reviews of books for children or teenagers appear every Saturday on this site, which will also post a list of suggested gift books for children and teenagers during the holiday season. Please bookmark this site or subscribe to the RSS feed to avoid missing these posts.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

December 4, 2008

‘Unplug the Christmas Machine’ – How to Explain to Children Why You Plan to Give Them Fewer Gifts This Holiday Season

Filed under: How to,Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 11:00 pm
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“First, talk to your children as soon as possible about your plans to give them fewer presents.”

Do publishers have a sense of irony? You might wonder after seeing all the double-digit price tags on books about how to simplify your holidays. So here’s an alternative: Head for the library and look for Unplug the Christmas Machine: A Complete Guide to Putting Love and Joy Back Into the Season (Harper, 208 pp., $12.95, paperback), a field manual for the walking wounded in the annual holiday battle that advertisers and others wage for your soul and wallet.

This book grew out of workshops that authors Jo Robinson and Jean C. Staeheli began to lead in the late 1970s, and some of its material reflects the ideas of that era. But many of its suggestions are evergreen, and the advice never gives you the sense, as Martha Stewart’s does, that the glue gun can be a lethal weapon. A typical passage in the first edition tells how to ease your family into a celebration less focused on gifts:

“First, talk to your children as soon as possible about your plans to give them fewer presents. Be clear about what they can expect. Second, explain to children who are old enough to understand why it’s important to you to minimize gifts. Finally, give your children something else to look forward to, like a special trip or family activity. Focus on what they will be getting, not on what they won’t.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 15, 2008

A Poem That Teaches You the Names of All 50 States

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:03 pm
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California, Mississippi,
North and South Dakota.
New York, Jersey, Mexico, and
Hampshire. Minnesota.

— From “Someday Someone Will Bet That You Can’t Name All Fifty States”

Alas, poor Jeopardy! losers! Judith Viorst has written a book that could have helped you name that fourth state beginning with “I” that was all that stood between you and early retirement. Her Sad Underwear and Other Complications: More Poems for Children and Their Parents (Aladdin, 80 pp., $6.99, paperback) has dozens of short poems that find the humor everyday hazards like lost sneakers, mosquito bites and broken dishes. But none of those (mostly) rhyming verses may have earned her more gratitude than the list poem “Someday Someone Will Bet That You Can’t Name All Fifty States,” which teaches you how to win the dare in its title. Is Sad Underwear a book for the 7-to-10-year-olds that its packaging suggests? Or a cleverly subversive exercise in remedial reading for adults? Jeopardy! losers, you be the judge.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

A Nonfiction Book That Explains Thanksgiving to Children

Filed under: Children's Books — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:02 pm
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From the Pilgrims to the Rocky and Bullwinkle float in the Macy’s parade

Thanksgiving: A True Book. By Dana Meachen Rau. Grolier/Children’s Press, 48 pp., varied prices. Ages 7 and up (for independent reading), younger for reading aloud.

By Janice Harayda

My parents once required my younger brothers to wear homemade Pilgrim hats, fashioned from rolled black construction paper, while my grandmother carved our holiday turkey. So it’s probably safe to say that they spared few visual effects to help their children understand the meaning of Thanksgiving.

But my parents didn’t prepare us for at least one ironclad tradition: As soon as the meal ended – and sometimes before it ended – all the men in our family would get up from the table and go into living room to watch a football game. And many children’s books approach Thanksgiving as my parents did: Their explanations focus on the Pilgrims, turkey and pumpkin pie, and giving thanks with family and friends.

Dana Meachen Rau casts a wider net in her documentary–style Thanksgiving: A True Book, which uses archival images and color photographs to introduce the holiday. She begins with the story of the Pilgrims and Indians at Plymouth Colony (and includes a picture of Plymouth Rock as it appears today). Then she tells how Thanksgiving became a national holiday and describes modern traditions associated with it: going to church, playing touch football, watching the Macy’s parade. In the last pages, she shows volunteers serving a holiday meal at a homeless shelter – a nice reminder that there’s more than one way to express gratitude.

Thanksgiving: A True Book is intended for elementary-school students, but some preschoolers may enjoy the photos, especially a full-page picture of Rocky and Bullwinkle in the Macy’s parade. Rau takes a straightforward, no-frills approach to Thanksgiving, apparently intended for classroom use, that may help children doing their first school units on the holiday.

Published: 2000 Thanksgiving: A True Book is out of print but available online and in libraries. You may also want to read the Nov. 18, 2007, post about documentary picture books on Thanksgiving that remain in print www.oneminutebookreviews.wordpress.com/2007/11/18/.

Best line/picture: The photo of volunteers, including children, serving Thanksgiving dinner out of big aluminum-foil pans at a homeless shelter.

Worst/line picture: Families who see Thanksgiving as a strictly secular holiday may want to skip the photos of people saying grace and singing a hymn in church. But those pictures may appeal to families whose celebrations have a religious component that picture books rarely acknowledge so directly.

Furthermore: Rau also wrote Christmas: A True Book, Kwanzaa: A True Book and Halloween: A True Book.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

November 13, 2008

Andrew Bridge’s ‘Hope’s Boy’ – A Memoir of His Experiences in Foster Care, He Says

Filed under: Nonfiction — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 4:05 pm
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A former foster child recalls his time in “the closest thing that Los Angeles County had to a public orphanage.”

Hope’s Boy. By Andrew Bridge. Hyperion, 306 pp., $22.95.

By Janice Harayda

Like Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone, Hope’s Boy deals with a subject so tragic you wish the book were more credible. Andrew Bridge says he spent 11 years in foster care, part of it in “the closest thing that Los Angeles County had to a public orphanage,” after being snatched from his apparently psychotic mother on a street by authorities who made too little effort to reunite them after placing him with another family. And he makes a fair case that those things did happen to him.

But Bridge undercuts his credibility by describing early childhood and later events in implausible and gratuitous detail, including pages of line-by-line dialogue. Generations of creative-writing professors have said in effect to their students: If you want to get your character out of a parking lot, you can just have him drive away. You don’t have to say that he got out his keys, unlocked the door, and climbed in the car. Hope’s Boy is full of such padding and is consequently far longer than necessary. It is also overwrought. Bridge shows his love of purple when he describes going to bed at night when he was in kindergarten: “Tired, my mind emptied slowly into the raven night of the room’s deepening corners.”

Yet amid the surfeit of detail, Bridge leaves many questions unanswered. Why doesn’t he give the real name of his high school, where he clearly did well? Why does his say nothing about his time at Harvard Law School and instead go from his acceptance in once sentence to his graduation in another, though his book carries his story well into adulthood? Why doesn’t he mention the religion of the woman who served as his foster mother for 11 years, whom he says the Nazis had imprisoned in a Dachau satellite camp for children?

Bridge says he has changed “identifying details.” But if you change details, your story still needs to cohere. It’s natural to assume, for example, that a Holocaust survivor would be Jewish and Judaism would play a role in her life. And if this was true of his foster mother, Bridge doesn’t say so. He portrays her so unflatteringly that you wonder if he ignored the religious issue for fear of appearing anti-Semitic. But because he says his foster mother spent four years a labor camp, the issue is there, anyway. His silence just makes things murky. And Hyperion has billed his book as a memoir of “one boy who beat the odds.” Don’t we have a right to know if religion helped or hurt him along the way?

In an epilogue, Bridge tries to put his experiences in a national context by drawing on court records of the mistreatment at Alabama’s Eufaula Adolescent Center in the 1990s. This final section describes practices such as confining children for indefinite periods in six-by-nine foot cells, abuses that led to the appointment of a court-ordered monitor for Eufaula. Brief and direct, the epilogue is the strongest part of the book, because it reflects a principle too little in evidence elsewhere: Real tragedies are often so painful to read about that they are best served by understatement.

Best line: “Over half a million American children live in foster care. The majority of them never graduate from high school, and overwhelmingly, they enter adulthood only semiliterate. Fewer than ten percent of former foster children graduate college; many experts estimate the number is closer to three percent. Thirty to fifty percent of children aging out of foster care are homeless within two years.”

Worst line: Another example of Bridge’s overwrought prose appears when he describes the school bell that rang daily to announce the start of classes at his high school: “Every morning, the claxon was loud enough to taunt the boundaries of silence. Pricking thousands of eardrums, the blast walloped though the wide corridors lined with amber-colored lockers, then with nothing to stop it other than exhaustion, it spread over the large campus, across the lines of concrete and grass, dicing through the chain link fences. Muted by it, students and teachers halted their progress for the slightest moment, then once it ceased, proceeded onward with their new day.”

Published: February 2008 www.HopesBoy.com

Janice Harayda is a novelist and award-winning critic who has been the book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle www.bookcritics.org.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.
www.janiceharayda.com

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