One-Minute Book Reviews

February 13, 2012

Emma Darwin to Charles – Valentine’s Day Quote of the Day

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“I should be most unhappy if I thought we did not belong to each other forever.”
Emma Darwin to her husband, Charles, c. February 1839, as quoted in Deborah Heiligman’s Charles and Emma: The Darwins’ Leap of Faith (Holt, 2009), a National Book Award finalist

May 14, 2011

The Katie Woo Series: Early Readers About 6-Year-Old Chinese-American Girl

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Best Season Ever (Katie Woo Series). Red, White, and Blue and Katie Woo! (Katie Woo Series). Boo, Katie Woo! (Katie Woo Series). By Fran Manushkin. Illustrated by Tammie Lyon. Picture Window/Capstone, 32 pp., $19.99 each. Ages 5-8.

By Janice Harayda

Early readers — short chapter books with a limited vocabulary — are hard to write, and Fran Manushkin just clears the bar in this series about Katie Woo, a 6-year-old Chinese-American first-grader and her friends Pedro and JoJo. Tammie Lyon’s upbeat watercolors lack subtlety, and they get little help from the mundane plots and serviceable prose of these three books, which find the trio debating which season is best, celebrating the Fourth of July, and trying to scare people on Halloween. Each book has a glossary and other material at the end, and in Boo, Katie Woo! the back matter includes a recipe for a Halloween punch made from grape and orange juice, which apparently turn black when mixed. “Witch’s Brew might look pretty gross,” Manushkin writes, “but it will taste terrific.”

Best line: A party idea in the supplemental material for Boo, Katie Woo!: Make an “Icy Hand” for a Halloween punch by filling a non-powdered latex glove with water, freezing it, and removing the glove before floating it in the bowl.

Worst line: No. 1: A picture of Pedro heading a soccer ball and the words, “He backed up to hit the ball with his head” in Red, White, and Blue and Katie Woo!. Katie is 6 years old, and her friends are about the same age. American Youth Soccer discourages children under the age of 10 from heading, and U.S. leagues generally don’t teach it before then. No. 2: A picture of Katie standing outdoors in a sleeveless dress in a snowstorm on the cover of Best Season Ever. This seems to be  a fantasy when the other  pictures are realistic, and it sends a confusing sign about what the book contains. No. 3: These books don’t explain why they phoneticize the Chinese surname “Wu” to “Woo.” Would a two-letter word have been harder for children to grasp than a 3-letter one?

Consider reading instead or or in addition these books: The “Henry and Mudge” early-reader series by Cynthia Ryant and Suçie Stevenson, which includes Henry and Mudge in the Sparkle Days.

Published: 2011

You can also follow Jan (@janiceharayda) on Twitter at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda.

© 2011 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 6, 2010

Hare-Brained Books About Bunnies — Beware of Rip-Offs of ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ and Other Classics

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Bad bunny books and some recommended substitutions for the Easter basket

If you’re looking good books about bunnies, beware of the words “based on.” That phrase on a cover is usually a tip-off that you aren’t getting the original text, pictures or both. And some books omit even that red flag. Two examples are Peter Rabbit (Ideals, $3.95) and The Velveteen Rabbit (Ideals, $3.95), which have the words of Beatrix Potter and Margery Williams but pictures far inferior to those in the best-known editions of their books. Publishers can do this because The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Velveteen Rabbit are out of copyright in the U.S. (though not necessarily in all other countries). Some knock-offs of these classics cost as much as books with the original text and art.

So why not go for the real thing? Or consider any of the many other good books about rabbits. They include Pat the Bunny (Golden Books, $9.99, ages 1–3), by Dorothy Kunhardt; The Runaway Bunny (HarperCollins, $16.99, ages 2–5), by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd; and Bunny Cakes and Bunny Money (Picture Puffins, $5.99 each, ages 3–5), by Rosemary Wells or other titles in Wells’s hilarious “Max and Ruby” series about a brother and sister rabbit.

For ages 6 and up, consider the chapter-books about Bunnicula the “vampire rabbit” (well, it does drain juice from vegetables), by James Howe and Deborah Howe, illustrated Alan Daniel. The titles in this comic mystery series may tell you all you need to know: Bunnicula, Bunnicula Strikes Again!, Howliday Inn, Return to Howliday Inn and The Celery Stalks at Midnight (Aladdin, $4.99–$5.99 each).

This post first appeared in slightly different form in 2007. You can also follow Janice Harayda (@janiceharayda) on Twitter.

© 2010 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

December 3, 2009

My Holiday Gift-Book Guide on Twitter

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Looking for holiday gift-book ideas? I’ll post mine  on One-Minute Book Reviews closer to Christmas. In the meantime I’m putting up one or two gift-book suggestions a day for adults and children on Twitter (@janiceharayda) at www.twitter.com/janiceharayda, based on reviews posted on this site. Today’s reminder: Fans of Jan Karon’s “Mitford” series might like Miss Julia Speaks Her Mind (Harper, 2000), the first of Ann B. Ross’s “Miss Julia” books about a rich Presbyterian widow in a North Carolina hamlet who adopts a child. I reviewed it earlier this year on One-Minute Book Reviews.

November 11, 2009

What Are You Doing at 11 a.m. on 11/11? Veterans Day Quote of the Day

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Did you know …?

“At 11:00 AM on Veterans Day, Americans stop what they are doing for two minutes. They pay their respects to wartime and peacetime heroes. This is a Veterans Day tradition.”

— From Arlene Worsley’s children’s book Veterans Day: American Holidays (Weigl, 2007)

December 22, 2008

Wrap Holiday Gifts for Free With Items You Have at Home — Ideas From Elaine St. James’s ‘Simplify Your Christmas’

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Have you noticed how some of those cute little holiday gift-wrap bags can cost more than the presents you put inside them? In Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays (Barnes and Noble, 2003), Elaine St. James suggests that you instead use leftover wallpaper, the Sunday comics, art or photos from last year’s calendar, outdated maps or oceanographic charts, or a basket you want to recycle.

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


December 20, 2008

Gift Coupons for Kids — Wrap Up Permission to Skip the Vegetables, Have a Later Bedtime or Curfew, or Control the TV Remote for a Night

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Low- or no-cost gifts for children and teenagers that you can make with a pen and paper or a laserjet printer

The Awesome Kid Coupon Book: 52 Ways to Say You’re Special and You’re Loved!’ Hallmark Gift Books, unpaged, $5.95, paperback.

By Janice Harayda

O come all ye slackers who have fallen behind in your shopping for a child! Why not wrap up coupons good for the kinds of gifts described in this book — a waiver of a chore, a one-hour bedtime or curfew extension, or the right to “play the music you want for as loud as you want for one hour”?

The Awesome Kid Coupon Book has firm roots in a core principle of child psychology: Kids want to get out of doing some things as much as they want to have permission to do others. So this book has a coupon that lets a child to skip the vegetables at one meal as well one that confers control of the TV remote for an evening.

Most coupons involve free or low-cost gifts, and you can remove easily any that involve a cash outlay too steep for this bare-knuckles economy. (“SUPERSIZE YOUR ALLOWANCE – This coupon entitles you to double your normal allowance for one week.”) Some children may especially appreciate the “TOTAL SLOB COUPON!” that says: “Lounge in your grungiest clothes and do nothing all day! And don’t forget to wad up this coupon and throw it on the floor!” Just make sure your child reads the fine print on that one: “Weekends only.”

Best line: “BAN IT! This coupon entitles you to specify one food you do not want to find on your plate for an entire week.” Also: “A WHOLE NEW YOU — For one whole weekend day, you can be called any name you like, including anything that starts with ‘Super.’” And “BOOKWORM — Buy any book you want with a price up to $____________.”

Worst line: “BE A WINNER — Present this coupon and three scratch-off lottery tickets will be purchased for you. If you win, the money’s all yours!” This coupon seems to encourage adults to skirt the legal ages for buying lottery tickets (18 years old in most states, 21 in a few) by buying them for children. Would Hallmark have said, “Present this coupon and three six-packs will be purchased for you”?

Published: 2007

Warning: I found this book at a large CVS in September 2008 but haven’t been able to find it anywhere, including on the Web, since then. This is unusual: Books rarely go out of print so fast, and this one may have been recalled because of the lottery issue I mentioned above. I decided to post this review, anyway, because a) you might have better luck than I did at finding the book and b) some of its ideas may provide inspiration for homemade coupons.

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

September 30, 2008

A Rosh Hashanah Tradition Worth Adapting

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Elizabeth St. James recalls a Rosh Hashanah tradition worth adapting in Simplify Your Christmas: 100 Ways to Reduce the Stress and Recapture the Joy of the Holidays (Andrews McMeel, 1998):

“Many years ago in parts of Europe there was a custom at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which could expand our present-day ideas about giving.

“A village elder went from house to house with a bag full of coins. Those who could afford to contribute put coins in the bag; those who were poor and needed help took coins out of the bag. No distinction was made between those who put in and those who took out. This practice insured that no one in the community suffered, and it was done in a manner that maintained the dignity of all.

“What a beautifully simple idea. Give to those in need. Take only when you’re in need.”

St. James suggests adapting this tradition by donating blood, arranging to have fresh fruits or vegetables delivered to someone every month for a year, or giving a gift certificate for car repair, home maintenance, or another service a financially strapped family might not be able to afford. She offers more ideas like these in Simplify Your Christmas.

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

September 19, 2008

Knock, Knock. Who’s There? Orange. Orange Who? Orange You Glad That Halloween Is Coming, Kids? Tomorrow on One-Minute Book Reviews – Halloween Books

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Knock, knock. Who’s there? Orange. Orange who? Orange you glad Halloween is coming, kids? Yes, this is the season when bookstores and libraries roll out their books about trick-or-treating. Tomorrow One-Minute Book Reviews will consider early readers about the holiday, including Orange You Glad It’s Halloween, Amber Brown?, part of the popular series about the pun-loving Amber Brown, written by Paula Danziger and illustrated by Tony Ross.

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

July 3, 2008

Was George M. Cohan Really ‘Born on the Fourth of July’? Read a Biographer’s Answer and Listen to ‘I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy’ Here

I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,

A Yankee Doodle do or die;

A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam’s,

Born on the Fourth of July.

— From George M. Cohan’s “Yankee Doodle Boy” (also known as “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy”)

George M. Cohan claimed that he, like the Yankee Doodle Boy of his famous song, was born on the Fourth of July in 1878. But it true? In a poorly sourced article on Cohan, Wikipedia says that the composer was born on July 3, 1878. Other sources disagree with the online encyclopedia.

Biographer John McCabe says this in George M. Cohan: The Man Who Owned Broadway (Doubleday, 1973):

“George Michael Cohan was almost certainly born on July 4, 1878, at 536 Wickenden Street, on Corkie Hill, in Providence, Rhode Island. Until Ward Morehouse discovered the Cohan baptismal certificate which carries a July 3 birthdate, there had never been any doubt that the real live nephew of his Uncle Sam was born on any day other than the Fourth. The baptismal certificate hardly settles the matter. As was not unusual at the time, the birth was not recorded in the civic registry in Providence. There is, however, circumstantial evidence writ large that the July 3 on the baptismal certificate is a clerical error. Cohan’s birthday was always celebrated on the Fourth of July by his parents, Jeremiah (‘Jere’ or ‘Jerry’) and Helen (‘Nellie’) Cohan, and this many years before that date began to have profitable connotations for the Yankee Doodle Dandy. The utter probity of these two remarkable people who early taught their son that a man’s word was his impregnable bond is the strongest proof that Cohan was indeed born on the Fourth.”

Among the other evidence cited by McCabe is that Cohan’s father wrote in his diary on July 3, 1882: “Got a little present for Georgie’s birthday tomorrow.” McCabe adds: “The very casualness of the entry in a book intended for his eyes alone bespeaks its integrity.”

To hear a 1905 audio recording of “Yankee Doodle Boy” sung by tenor Billy Murray, including verses rarely heard today, click on the following link (where you will hear the lines at the top of this post about 40 seconds into the song): www.firstworldwar.com/audio/Billy%20Murray%20-%20Yankee%20Doodle%20Boy.mp3. Cohan wrote “Yankee Doodle Boy” for the 1904 Broadway musical, Little Johnny Jones.

You can also hear Cohan’s “Over There” for free in three recordings on the site www.firstworldwar.com/audio/overthere.htm site, including a English-French version by Enrico Caruso. To listen to the Caruso or another “Over There,” you will have to make another click on the site to select which version you want to hear.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

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