Book Review: Hello Lighthouse

Lighthouse

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp: https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019/

Hello, Lighthouse has been my favorite ALA pick thus far, even though the lighthouse is the main character; if the author would’ve developed the unnamed characters a little more, Hello would’ve been a superb book.  The illustrations were so lovely (I love that the book was tall–like a lighthouse) and the details about a lighthouse keeper’s life so interesting, the lack of character development didn’t matter (too much).  

The idea of lighthouse keeping jobs being done away with through automation could’ve been stressed a little more–even going so far as to show how much safer life is with dangerous jobs being automated.

Showing what it was like growing up in a lighthouse would’ve been something children would’ve related to more; I was curious as there was nowhere for the child to play outside–the island that the lighthouse stood on was just a pile of rocks.  

I was impressed that the author conducted so much research for a fictionalized book (much less for children) on lighthouses; it shows in the pictures especially.  However, there was so much more information in the “About Lighthouses” section printed on the back cover–delightful details that many children will miss because they’re only going to know what was included in the story itself, such as lighthouse keepers needing assistants to play checkers with to help share the night watch and what kind of information was recorded in the logbook.  

Details like the lighthouse keeper sending handwritten messages in a bottle was a nice touch–a little more of that and less of the “Hello, hello, hello,” refrains would’ve been great.  The book reads much better without those the latter as they disrupted the flow of the narrative.

The “circle of life” when the wife was expecting was cute (even though I had to turn the book around to read it); other details like certain scenes being viewed inside the lens of the telescope added interest (but not busyness).  However, the page that was folded into the book was extraneous.

Being a dollhouse lover, I loved the cross-section of the lighthouse, being able to see all the rooms; intricacies such as that, as well as the sense of time passing with the changing of the seasons and the little girl growing up, brought this book to life.

This book and the author’s passion for lighthouses made me want to visit one; I even googled what old logbooks looked like (which, by the way, are boring).

This one’s a keeper!

Suggested activity:  If there’s a lighthouse in your area, visit it.  If there isn’t (and even if there is), you can buy a “logbook” (i.e. journal) and show your child how to keep a record of things that are of interest to them.  Make it as simple or as complex (depending on your child’s age) as you wish. Depending on your child’s age, write for them or use this form of journaling to practice their writing (or drawing) but always include the time and date (this is a great way to teach them how to read and understand a clock and calendar) with each entry.  This activity is to just get them writing, documenting, and learning how to remember things by doing so.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35580105-hello-lighthouse

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Book Review: The Day You Begin

The Day You Begin

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019

I liked the message this book was trying to convey–that we can be friends with those who are different and find common ground (regardless of what ground we were born in) and build on that.

However, the stronger (but subtler) message was that reading takes you places that you can’t afford to go to “…reading books and telling stories–even though we were right on our block–it was like we got to go everywhere” (I added punctuation for clarification).

The other lesson was that it was the gift of oral storytelling, of connecting with others, that helped Angelina connect with her classmates so that they would listen long enough to hear that she shared commonalities (though it is intimated that one has to first find common ground before being able to establish any sort of connection rather than just appreciating one another at the onset, despite their differences).  

Ultimately, it seemed that Angelina only connected (at least on a one-on-one basis) with the child whose ethnic heritage most closely mirrored her own.  What if she was the only Hispanic child in the class?

The constant shift in point-of-view didn’t connect me with any of the children who were more representations of different ethnic groups than unique characters who happened to be Hispanic, Asian, et cetera.  The author was trying to fit too many ethnicities into the first-person slot, and it just didn’t work. It’s all the difference between a hard news article and a human interest story.

That said, the illustrations were colorful, the faces expressive, and the surroundings downright whimsical–like double exposures of portraits and landscapes.  More imagery could’ve been built into the illustrations but they were well done and interesting with sharp lines, bold colors, and a profusion of patterns. I liked a ruler being used for a table and wished the author would have done more with pre-existing patterns (e.g. sheet music, chalkboards, etc).  

The Day You Begin is definitely worth a second look!

Suggested activity:  Grab a children’s book that has a unique setting (showing that books can take you to places you’ve never been and to those you can only imagine) and draw a map of that setting.  Even this book would work; just draw a map of the school with the cafeteria and the playground surrounding it. There are many ways you can go with this geographical activity: mind maps, treasure maps, even Google maps!

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/37506301-the-day-you-begin

Book Review: Good Rosie!

Good rosie

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp:
https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019/

When I opened this book and saw that it was it in comic strip form, I had my reservations; what’s more, the book is separated into chapters which was unnecessary–especially since each page is already broken up into panels.

Good Rosie! is about dogs meeting in the park.  That’s it.  

The illustrations were better than I could do, but I’ll stick to the Clifford the Big Red Dog series; even without a speaking part, Clifford has way more personality.  With the exception of the number of words on the page, Rosie reads like a Dick and Jane reader–text not necessarily meant to be interesting but to teach children to learn to read.

The author tries to be cute with Fifi (what I call a little “frou-frou” dog), but the humor falls flat–none of the dogs are interesting, especially the main one, Rosie, and that’s the smooch of death.  It’s all very Point A to Point B, checklist-type writing, with Maurice being the big dog with the deep voice, Fifi, the little dog with the high voice, and milquetoast Rosie being the happy/moderate/boring happy mid-sized dog.

This book tries to be about dogs making friends with other dogs, which, according to Rosie, if you want to make a friend, all you have to do is ask.  That’s it. Nothing about how to actually be a friend. 

I generally read children’s books more than once, but this was such a chore to get through, I didn’t wish to revisit it; likewise, my daughter showed no interest.  In fact, I disliked the illustrations so much, I had a tough time coming up with a suggested activity (for once, I will not be using an ALA book in conjunction with an activity).  

On that note, I suggest reading Clifford Goes to Kindergarten by Malcolm Bridwell.  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23399252-clifford-goes-to-kindergarten?ac=1&from_search=true. 

Suggested activity:  In Clifford, the schoolchildren do several activities during the course of the day–such as answering questions using a yes or no board (I use flashcards).  You can blend this with a show-and-tell activity by asking your child yes or no questions pertaining to the toy, book, or object they’ve picked out (sort of an early version of true and false).  If you’ve ever seen the classic game show, “What’s My Line?” (e.g. “Is it bigger than a breadbox?”), that will give you a better idea on how to conduct this activity.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26102488-good-rosie

 

Book Review: A Stranger in the House

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After reading Lapena’s The Couple Next Door, I was expecting the same tightly-woven and twisty plot.  

Such was not the case (no pun intended) with this one.

Lapena is not one for sympathetic characters or happy endings, which is fine if the plot is good.  Unreliable narrators are awesome plot devices but not for mysteries because part of the fun is putting the pieces together; when the pieces don’t factor in to the puzzle at all but are rather imaginary pieces, then it’s pointless–there is no need for foreshadowing because it’s going to be a total surprise with no clues leading up to it.  In other words, everything we’ve read up until such-and-such point could be a total lie.

I agree with some other goodreads reviewers that the amnesia angle (like evil twins) is overused, but nevertheless, it’s always fun.  Lapena is obviously a fan of Hitchcock with her shades of Rear Window, but Stranger was lackluster.  

I don’t mind the immediacy of the present tense, but Lapena should brush up on comma rules.   She does more telling than she should, but there are enough scenes with dialogue that it’s forgivable.

The character of Tom was quite awful.  His initial reaction to his wife not being home (when she obviously left in a hurry) wasn’t one of worry but of anger.  Maybe he has secrets of his own.  Supposedly, Karen was in love with him (we are told this, or rather, she tells us this), but I just didn’t get that vibe.  He just happened to be a handy, cheating sap.  

Brigid was the only interesting character.  I thought it was hilarious that she hated Karen for not  caring about her knitting blog. (Karen didn’t knit and yarn didn’t really seem to be her fabric–she was more the blazer type.)  I didn’t like Brigid, yet she was the only one I felt for in the end.

I’m not sure what purpose Brigid’s husband played and why it was important that he was a funeral director/undertaker except maybe it was symbolic that because he dealt with death so much, he couldn’t possibly spark a life.  Maybe he made Brigid die inside, and that’s why she had issues, though honestly, we’re only privy to him through her warped filter.

I’d swear Lapena was a cop in another life because in her books, there are basically two kinds of people:  the guilty (where no one is completely innocent) and the cops. However, the cops only seem innocent because we don’t know anything about their personal lives (like “Dragnet”; unlike “Law and Order”).

 I liked that Rasbach was back on the case–he is definitely one I’d like to know more about but not if Lapena would do his character an injustice.  He’s almost more of an entity–a representation in human form of the right side of the law–than he is a character. He did, however, have a great idea:  get a background check done on anyone you are seriously dating.  

If Lapena could just differentiate her minor characters more–the cops and the lawyer were interchangeable when it came to personalities; there is really nothing but their names to distinguish them from one another.  

I don’t recommend this book, but neither did I feel it was a waste of time.  It was…an experience.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/33984056-a-stranger-in-the-house?from_search=true

Book Review: Then She Was Gone

then she was gone.jpg

It isn’t often that I come across a character who is shown to have very specific thoughts about life in general rather than just thoughts that pertain to the story.  The characterization of the grieving mother was well-done, though it seemed strange that she would fixate on a man she just met after having been celibate for so long.  The status of her daughter’s disappearance had not yet been determined, so it didn’t make sense to show her moving on before that. 

I liked Laurel, even though her judgment (e.g. jumping in the sack on the second date) was questionable.

The author tells us (through another character) why Hanna was the way she was towards her mother, but we aren’t shown the interaction needed to substantiate this.  Also, the mystery of Hanna’s boyfriend wasn’t fully explored.

There needed to be more to Noelle’s story–like why she was the way she was; however, the characters of Kate and Sara-Jade Virtue were extraneous. 

Even though I always knew whose “turn” it was, I was so deeply engrossed in Laurel’s POV, I found it rather jarring when another character decided to tell their story; as it turned out, each character’s story was equally engrossing.

I’m glad that the perpetrator got their just desserts, and I felt for the strange little girl that Poppy was–wanting to drink champagne and talking (rather matter-of-factly) about how other kids thought she’s a bitch.  Her lack of emotional intelligence at such a young age made me feel sorry for her, but at least we were privy to her backstory (unlike Noelle’s). 

I’m glad that the wrap-up didn’t have the perp’s and the vic’s families keeping in touch or worse, becoming friends (I’ve always found that a little distasteful), even though the perp’s family were good people. 

The plot was intricate, though I didn’t feel that the perp’s motives with Ellie were strong enough;  then again, people have done more for less. 

What made me sad was that it seemed like Laurel was the only one who was affected by Ellie’s disappearance for Ellie’s sake, rather than just for how it affected them.  

Floyd’s swan song at the denouement brought it all together, though Ellie’s letter could’ve used a pinch more poignancy.

What sets this book apart from other mystery/suspense novels were the truths that were woven into it in the form of memorable quotes:

p. 20:  Neither of them were setting the world alight but then whose children did?  All those hopes and dreams and talk of ballerinas and pop stars, concert pianists and boundary-breaking scientists.  They all ended up in an office. All of them.

p. 131:  And then her child had died and she had found that somehow, incredibly, she could live without her, that she had woken every morning for a hundred days, a thousand days, three thousand days and she had lived without her.

p. 225:  “You won’t understand how much I love you until you’re a mother yourself.”

Then She Was Gone is primarily a thriller but with a strong focus on a mother and the daughter who was left behind, as well as the mother’s mother who is waiting for her child to be happy again (sadly, it seems this can only happen with finding romantic love).  The romance angle left me cold, especially with the way Floyd was so fixated on ten-year-old Poppy, seeing her as more his creation than his child–like a broken toy he had tinkered with for years until she was finally working properly–a toy good enough to give back to its rightful owner as atonement for someone else’s sins.

 

Book Review: Black Bird, Yellow Sun

Black bird

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp: https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019/

Black Bird, Yellow Sun, is like a poor-man’s Eric Carle. This is down there with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, which is one of the worst kids books ever–in words and pictures. I try to keep in mind that I can’t expect (nor should I expect) a striking narrative for an early board book. However, the words are large and contain repetitions of blends (e.g. bl for black, sn for snake, etc)–great for early readers. That said, the illustrations are quite bad–the rocks don’t even look like rocks but gray blobs. The bird isn’t a character but rather, just some random bird who coexists with a worm (also random). If you don’t like this (and even if you do), I highly recommend Little Owl’s Day and Little Owl’s Night (https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20307476-little-owl-s-day?from_search=true). The Owl books are the charming, narrative versions of the stark bullet points of Black Bird.

BBYS is one of those books you’d give to your child to play with and look at but not add to your library where they might actually last for the grandchildren.

Suggested activity: Use this book as a scavenger hunt guide (i.e. have your child look for pink flowers, gray rocks, et cetera).

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35793019-black-bird-yellow-sun

Book Review: The Fox on the Swing

Fox

As part of my Post-K Summer Reading Boot Camp: https://sarahleastories.com/2019/06/08/post-k-summer-reading-boot-camp-2019/

I’m not sure if it’s because this coming-of-age book for young children was written by someone from a different culture (i.e. Lithuanian) and has been translated to English, but the story didn’t make any sense, or rather, the theme of the story:  “Happiness is a fox.”  I tried googling for “foxes in Lithuanian folklore” but came up empty.  

I don’t believe the fox was real but rather, the fox was symbolic of something else–an imaginary friend who serves a purpose but for what purpose, I don’t know.  

However, the illustrations, layout, and font are fantastic, except that the main boy, Paul, looks like a tomboyish girl.  The illustrations are busy, but I didn’t mind because the story didn’t capture me at all.  Some of the quotes just didn’t jive, like “having a fox as your friend is the same thing as swinging on a swing.”

Though the relationship between the boy and the fox was solid, I thought the fox was a greedy pig when he guilted Paul into giving him his roll when it would’ve been better if the Paul (or the fox) had simply split it in half.  Sharing is not the same thing as giving it all away.  Overall, the fox seemed a bit too serious and not playful enough–more wise than whimsical.  

The fox tells Paul that when he moves away, he’ll stay behind, yet shows up again in Paul’s new city–that kind of inconsistency is confusing to a young child.  The boy is too co-dependent upon the fox and can’t seem to move on in the “even bigger city” without his presence.  If the fox is so wise, why isn’t the fox encouraging Paul to make human friends?  Even though Paul’s parents seem eccentric, most kids would probably think it’s cool to live in a treehouse like the Berenstain bears.  

Some of my favorite illustrations were the fox book titles (e.g. “Long Tales from a Short Fox,” “Wise Old Tales by a Strange Old Fox,” et cetera) and the fox and his boy gazing at the constellations of happy things (like swiss rolls and giant peaches).    

The Fox on the Swing was basically a litany of lessons, like when the fox mentions “that everything depends on your point of view.  Things can change.  Depending on whether you look at them from up above or down below, from the left or from the right.  So ask me again when you’ve looked at the problem from all sides.”  I get that, but this is when the teaching gets in the way of the telling and was just too didactic for my tastes.

Suggested activity:  I have always been a fan of Aesop’s Fables, and foxes are prevalent characters in them.  These simple tales are far more memorable than “The Fox on the Swing.”  https://aesopsfables.org/C18_aesops_fables_about_foxes.html

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36349763-the-fox-on-the-swing