Sunday, December 21, 2014

Lark Rise to Candleford (1943)

Lark Rise to Candleford. Flora Thompson. 1943. 537 pages. [Source: Bought]

Did I enjoy reading Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford? Yes. Did I enjoy all three books equally? Probably not. Did I enjoy any one book as much as I loved the TV adaptation? Probably not. Lark Rise to Candleford is an omnibus edition of a trilogy: Lark Rise, Over to Candleford, and Candleford Green.

The first book in the series is Lark Rise. What I liked about Lark Rise was the fact that it had a cozy yet realistic feel to it. The chapters capture what life was like in a specific time and place, a particular part of the country in the 1880s. Rural vignettes. The book is rich in detail and description. Nothing happens but description. A sampling of chapter titles: "A Hamlet Childhood," "Men Afield," "At the 'Wagon and Horses'," "Callers," "Country Playtime," "School," "May Day," "To Church on Sunday."

The second book in the series is Over to Candleford. This book is definitely more personal in nature. For the most part, it focuses on one young girl, Laura. Readers see Laura at home, at school, at play, at church, visiting cousins, aunts, and uncles, etc. It is still rich in description and detail. Even though it is a more personal look at life in the country in the 1880s and 90s, it is still heavier on the descriptions than the action. This isn't a book that focuses on stories and storytelling. The book ends with a young Laura--perhaps twelve or thirteen--getting an apprentice job in Candleford Green with the postmistress Miss Dorcas Lane.

The third book in the series is Candleford Green. The book opens with Laura leaving home. She's excited and timid. The book will see her established in this new life. She'll be meeting new people, living in a new place, experiencing new things, growing up into a young woman. I was disappointed with this book. I haven't decided if I'm disappointed because it lacks characterization and plot in general OR if I'm disappointed because it lacks the characterization and plot that the television adaptation brought to it. The book's strength is in description and vignettes. The book's weakness is that there are not really any connecting stories or plot sequences. People are mentioned by name, perhaps, but in a very superficial just a few paragraphs way. The characters lack depth. A sentence or two here and there does not make good characterization. If the heroine, Laura, was fully developed and the chapters worked as a personal narrative capturing her experiences, thoughts, and struggles, then I think it might have worked better for me. But there was no person to connect to, no connecting-story to follow. It was just one description after another. There were passages I enjoyed reading. Laura does like to read! But nothing about it that made me LOVE it. I liked it well enough.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Eight More Christmas Books

And Then Comes Christmas. Tom Brenner. Illustrated by Jana Christy. 2014. Candlewick Press. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

With some picture books, you almost have to read them a few times before you decide if you like them or not. Such is the case with Tom Brenner's And Then Comes Christmas.

And Then Comes Christmas is all about establishing atmosphere and celebrating traditions. Atmosphere is established by description and detail. Phrases like "bare branches rake across the sky" and "romp in snow as smooth as bedcovers." Traditions are celebrated: choosing a tree, decorating a tree, making cookies, wrapping presents, reading stories, attending programs, making crafts, seeing Santa at the mall, etc. Some traditions will likely be familiar. Some may not be. Not every child gets to play in the snow before Christmas--or after Christmas, for that matter! But all children could choose to make paper snowflakes to decorate their windows.

It is a book that slowly and gently counts down to Christmas. (Though not with actual numbers.) There is a certain pattern to it...multiple when/then passages.

I think my favorite when/then passage is:
When elves and reindeer appear in stores, and small trains race through toy villages, and piles of presents nestle in cotton drifts...Then hop from foot to foot, waiting to sit on Santa's knee."
I like this one well enough. But I would hate to have to diagram any of these sentences!

How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Dr. Seuss. 1957. Random House. 64 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I love it. Of course I love it. How could I not? Now, I will admit that I didn't read the actual book until I was an adult. It wasn't one of the Seuss books that I owned growing up. But the christmas special--the cartoon--is one I've seen dozens and dozens of times. The book itself is lovely. If you love one, you'll love the other.

So in case you're unfamiliar with the book or special, The Grinch hates Christmas. His neighbors, the Whos in Who-ville, love Christmas. He is super-cranky this year, and, he decides to steal it. He thinks Christmas is all about the stuff. Take the stuff, do away with it altogether, right? Wrong. The Whos in Who-ville teach the Grinch a lesson about joy.

One of my favorite things about it is it's just SO quotable. Here are a few of my favorite lines:
Every who down in Who-ville liked Christmas a lot...But the Grinch, who lived just north of Who-ville, did NOT!
And THEN they'd do something he liked least of all! Every who down in Who-ville, the tall and the small, would stand close together, with Christmas bells ringing. They'd stand hand-in-hand. And the Whos would start singing. They'd sing! And they'd sing! AND they'd SING! SING! SING!
Then he slid down the chimney. A rather tight pinch. But, if Santa could do it, then so could the Grinch.
Then the last thing he took was the log for their fire! Then he went up the chimney, himself, the old liar.
It came without ribbons! It came without tags! It came without packages, boxes, or bags!"

'Twas the Night Before Christmas. Clement C. Moore. Illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith. 1823/1912. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I've read 'Twas the Night Before Christmas plenty of times before. But this is the first time I've read the edition of the poem published as a picture book in 1912 with illustrations by Jessie Willcox Smith.

The poem itself is as delightful as it ever is. I think this is a poem that feels familiar no matter what. You don't have to seek it out year after year. It just finds you and sticks. It's just part of the Christmas culture. (I love the Sesame Street play starring Bert and Ernie as featured in Muppet Family Christmas.)

It was interesting to see the illustrations from this time period. (You may see the illustrations at project gutenberg.) Did I love the illustrations? Not particularly.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. E.T.A. Hoffmann. Adapted by Wren Maysen. Illustrated by Gail de Marcken. 2009. 56 pages. [Source: Review copy]

I am not as familiar with the original story (1816) as I am the story of the ballet. (The two are different.) It's an odd book. I'll be honest. It is just as strange as Alice in Wonderland. (Though, of course, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King came decades before Alice.)

Marie Stahlbaum is the heroine of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. The book opens with Marie and her brother, Fritz, playing together and waiting, waiting, waiting for all the delights of Christmas. They are waiting to enter the large drawing room where the tree is, and where the presents are. Their mother and father are there as well. As is Godfather Drosselmeier. There is a new doll, Clara, for Marie. There are new toy soldiers for Fritz. And there is a lovely toy castle, Marzipan Castle, for them both. The Nutcracker is a gift for the whole family. Marie does take special interest in it, this interest remains despite the fact that Fritz breaks the Nutcracker when he's showing off.

Marie stays up past her bedtime in the drawing room. This is when things get strange: seeing Godfather Drosselmeier on top of the clock, seeing all the mice attack, seeing the Mouse King, etc. She witnesses a battle. Towards the close of that battle, she throws a slipper at the wicked Mouse King.

Marie awakens in bed the next day. Her mother had found her bleeding on the floor near the tree and toy cupboard. She spends the next few days at least in bed. Spending so much time in bed might seem horrible, and, perhaps Marie found it to be so part of the time at least. But her Godfather tells her strange stories which she believes of course.

Plenty of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is the Godfather's strange, strange story. This story is about "a king, a queen, some mice, and a young princess named Pirlipat." The story is rich in detail:
Princess Pirlipat was very lovely. She had flawless white skin, with bright blue eyes and flowing locks of golden hair. The generals, noblemen, and ministers of the state all told the king and queen that they had never seen a baby like the princess. Not only was the princess beautiful, but she was also born with two perfect rows of teeth!
The queen insisted that Princess Pirlipat's cradle always be guarded. The royal guards were placed at Pirlipat's door, and directly beside her cradle sat six nurses...and with these six nurses sat six big cats. The nurses had strict orders from the queen to keep one cat in each of their laps and pet them all day and all night so that they would never stop purring. This was indeed strange. No one knew why the queen went to such lengths to protect her princess, but still, every night, the sound of purring cats echoed throughout the castle. But the queen had a very good reason to be on guard, for a curse had been placed on her family.
Readers learn of the family curse, of course. And it's something. The story becomes more and more bizarre as it unfolds. But to Marie, it is completely captivating.

Meanwhile, we have not seen the last of the mice or their dreadful King. Marie knows that sooner or later the final battle will come....

There does come a time when the Nutcracker takes Marie to his magical, fantastic home in Toyland.

So readers see Marie awaken again from yet another dream. Will Marie's ultimate dream come true?

This story is so strange and bizarre and rich in detail--pure fantasy.

The Velveteen Rabbit. Margery Williams. Illustrated by William Nicholson. 1922/2014. Random House. 48 pages. [Source: Review copy]

Do you know what it is to be real? One little Christmas bunny will learn this and plenty of other life lessons in Margery Williams' classic tale The Velveteen Rabbit.

The Velveteen Rabbit opens with a young boy receiving a rabbit for a Christmas present. All is lovely for the rabbit that first day. But the toy is quickly forgotten. He becomes one toy of many, many, many toys. He's not exactly special to the boy or the other toys. In fact, I'd say the other toys bully him a bit. All except for the Skin Horse, the oldest toy in the nursery. It is this horse that tells the Rabbit all about being real, what it takes to be real, what it feels like, how it changes you, etc.
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real." "Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt." "Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." "I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled. "The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always." (5-8)
The Velveteen Rabbit is one of my favorite Christmas books. I love the nursery magic. I love the ending. It was originally published in 1922. The story and illustrations in this edition are original. This is a beautiful edition of the book. One of the best I've seen.

The Velveteen Rabbit was published several years before A.A. Milne's Winnie the Pooh and House at Pooh Corner. Chances are if you enjoy one, you'll enjoy the other.

Do you have a favorite toy-come-to-life fantasy?

Fancy Nancy: Splendiferous Christmas. Jane O'Connor. Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser. 2009. HarperCollins. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

I enjoyed reading Fancy Nancy Splendiferous Christmas. This is actually the first Fancy Nancy book I've read, so it served as a good introduction to the series as well. I liked it very much. I love the illustrations. They were a bit busy, perhaps, but that is part of their charm, I think. I love the amount of detail. Every time I read it, I notice something I hadn't noticed before. There is something almost precious about this book--perhaps because of the illustrations, or even the text. But I don't mind that in a picture book now and then.

In this one, Fancy Nancy and her family are decorating the house for Christmas. They are doing plenty of christmas-y things all together as a family. One of things they are doing is waiting. Waiting is a big part of the holiday, in my opinion. They are waiting for the Grandpa to arrive. When he arrives, they can begin to decorate the tree. They always wait for him. And I imagine every year, she gets a bit impatient because she is oh-so-excited. This year, however, her parents allow her to put on the brand-new tree-topper, something that she picked out and bought with her own money--in the summer...I won't spoil this one. But I ended up liking it very much!
What Cats Want for Christmas. Kandy Radzinski. 2007. Sleeping Bear Press. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

For cat-lovers, this is a charming-enough book to read at Christmas time. The premise is simple: if cats could write letters to Santa, what would they ask for. Each spread shows a cat and his/her letter to Santa. The letters are all written in rhyme. The letters are predictable enough, but, the idea I think is original. I do wish there was more variety in what the letters requested, however. And some letters seem a bit dark and twisted.

I really liked the illustrations. I think I liked looking at the various cats better than reading the letters.

 It's Not About You Mr. Santa Claus. Soraya Diase Coffelt. 2014. Morgan James Publishing. 34 pages. [Source: Review copy]

There are plenty of children who write letters to Santa each year. But how many letters to Santa include the gospel message? In this picture book a young boy does just that.
Dear Mr. Santa Claus,
It's me again--a kid. I know I've written lots of letters to you before with long lists of gifts I wanted for Christmas. Well, not this year. This letter is different. I discovered the real meaning of Christmas has nothing to do with you at all. It is about a very special gift. I want to tell you about this gift. By the way, how are you and Mrs. Santa Claus doing? Have you lost any weight? Did your helpers, the elves, grow any taller? Do you still like cookies and milk? Are you still wearing that red, furry outfit? I've always wondered, what do you wear in the summer time?
It's a simple book with a timeless message. Which timeless message? Well, I suppose I could pick one or two that stand out. First, that Christmas is not about Santa and presents and shopping. It is actually about celebrating Jesus. Second, that the gospel is too good to keep to yourself. The gospel is for sharing.
The real Christmas story began a long time ago, when a Roman emperor named Caesar Augustus ordered that a census be taken. A census is when all the people had to be counted. At that time, A man named Joseph and his wife, Mary had to take a long journey to the city of David, known as Bethlehem, for the census. It wasn't an easy journey as Mary was going to have a baby soon.
The focus of this book is on retelling the Christmas story and communicating the gospel message. Probably leanings toward more retelling.

I was pleasantly surprised by the illustrations. I thought they were very nicely done.

Will this book please every single reader? Probably not. It may not be a perfect fit for every family this holiday season. But I think for some it will be a great find.


© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

2015 Challenges: Fantasy Fiction Reading Challenge

Host: Impressions in Ink
Title: Fantasy Fiction Reading Challenge (sign up)
Dates: January - December 2015
# of Books: at least 3

I'll be reading at least 3 fantasy books. I hope to read much more than that, of course!!!

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© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Library Loot: Third Trip in December

New Loot:
  • The stories we tell by Mike Cosper
  • Bo at Iditarod Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill
  • Entangled by Amy Rose Capetta
Leftover Loot:
  • The Greatest Skating Race by Louise Borden
  • Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart
  • Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  •  Zebra Forest by Adina Rishe Gewirtz
  • Hope by LouAnn Gaeddert
  • Bartholomew and the Oobleck by Dr. Seuss
  • Thidwick and the Big-Hearted Moose by Dr. Seuss
  • Scrambled Eggs Super by Dr. Seuss
  • If I Ran the Zoo by Dr. Seuss
  • Nuts to You by Lynne Rae Perkins
  • The Zoo at the Edge of the World by Eric Kahn Gale
  • Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanion
  • The Book of Secrets by Cynthia Voigt
  • The Upstairs Room by Johanna Reiss
  • Xander's Panda Party by Linda Sue Park
  • Millions of Cats by Wanda Ga'g
  • A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen
  • Royal Flush by Rhys Bowen
  • Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs
  • Bomb by Steve Sheinkin
  •  Quinny & Hopper by Adriana Brad Schanen  
  • What If...? by Anthony Browne  
  • Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
  • Follow Follow: A Book of Reverso Poems by Marilyn Singer
  •  The Time Traveler's Almanac ed. by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
  • A Great and Glorious Adventure by Gordon Corrigan
   Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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Week in Review: December 14-20

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. Barbara Robinson. 1972. HarperCollins. 128 pages. [Source: Bought]
Brown Girl Dreaming. Jacqueline Woodson. 2014. Nancy Paulsen Books.  336 pages. [Source: Library]
Angel Tree. Daphne Benedis-Grab. 2014. Scholastic. 256 pages. [Source: Review copy]
Winterfrost. Michelle Houts. 2014. Candlewick. 272 pages. [Source: Review copy] 
The Golden Dreydl. Ellen Kushner. Illustrated by Ilene Winn-Lederer. 2007. Charlesbridge. 126 pages. [Source: Review copy]
A Quilt for Christmas. Sandra Dallas. 2014. St. Martin's Press. 256 pages. [Source: Library]
A Darcy Christmas: A Holiday Tribute to Jane Austen. By Amanda Grange, Carolyn Eberhart, and Sharon Lathan. 2010. Sourcebooks. 304 pages. [Source: Library]
Mr. Willowby's Christmas Tree. Robert E. Barry. 1963. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Uncle Vova's Tree. Patricia Polacco. 1989. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Too Many Tamales. Gary Soto. Illustrated by Ed Martinez. 1993. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Angelina's Christmas. Katharine Holabird. Illustrated by Helen Craig. 1986. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
The Trees of the Dancing Goats. Patricia Polacco. 2000. Simon & Schuster. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Morris' Disappearing Bag. Rosemary Wells. 1975. Penguin. 40 pages. [Source: Library]
Max's Christmas. Rosemary Wells. 1986. Penguin. 32 pages. [Source: Library]
Wombat Divine. Mem Fox. Illustrated by Kerry Argent. 1995/1999. HMH. 32 pages. [Source: Library]      
Revolutionary (Anomaly #3) Krista McGee. 336 pages. [Source: Review copy]
The Christmas Bus. Melody Carlson. 2006. Revell. 176 pages. [Source: Bought]

This week's favorite:

I choose The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. It is my favorite, favorite Christmas book. And it's a book I've read dozens of times through the years. It is a book that I just adore! It's familiar and funny and touching too. Brown Girl Dreaming was a FANTASTIC read. It was. It was a compelling, absorbing read. (Probably the first book that I've read that so intimately describes growing up Jehovah's Witness.) And it is easily one of my favorite verse novels that I've read this year. But it can't really take the place of The Best Christmas Pageant Ever in my heart.

© 2014 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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