Book Review: Dreamers

Dreamers

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

This is a case where the author’s personal story was more compelling than the one she wrote.  As for the illustrations, there is something very spiritual and surreal about them–the kinaesthetics reminded me of the frescoes of Michelangelo, the angles and bold color scheme, of Picasso.  However, I didn’t understand the significance of the skirt made of colorful feathers that seemed to defy gravity, the meaning of the people with the protests signs, or the symbolism of the eyeball in the strawberry.  It is a rare talent to be able to tell stories with words and pictures, but Morales should just stick with drawing because this was a poem trying to be a story.

The author’s love of libraries was evident–including the names/book covers of her favorite books was a stroke was perfect.  The magic of libraries seemed to be the major theme of the story rather than the angst of resettling in a foreign country in which there is a language barrier. 

There was no juxtaposition between the author’s birth country and her adopted one; a little compare and contrast (like she did in the back of the book), as well as a more narrative storytelling style, would’ve added much more context to the pictures. 

In short, the story did not do the pictures justice. 

Morales was spot-on in making the point that when you are able to communicate in the primary language of the country you are living in, you can make your voice heard.  People just won’t listen (they won’t take the time to) if they don’t understand you. That is why literacy–not just in speaking but in reading and writing–is so important.  As for the Spanish words scattered in random places, I wish the definitions had been included. Having to look them up separately (or on my phone while reading) would’ve disrupted the flow of the story.

I’m glad the author made a distinction about what the word “dreamer” meant to her, though because of how the word is used today, I would’ve probably used another title. 

The “extras” were better than the story, such as the list of other books the author found inspiring, as well as how she did the art (sometimes, the process is more interesting than the product).  However, her immigration story was the only part of this book that I found interesting; I thought it wonderful that she included actual names. What a delight that would be to be one of the people mentioned as having made such a difference in someone’s life.  I can only imagine how hard it is coming to a country where you don’t know the language (the language you are working hard to learn) and how relieving it would be to know that you had a friend you could trust–a friend who knew that language who could not only help you learn it but a friend who would watch out for you.

Ultimately, this story did not hold my daughter’s attention; so many children’s books are written only for the adults who choose to read to their children.  This, to me, was one of them.

Btw, I think if you’re going to give a book less than three stars, it would be nice if you would at least tell the author why in a civil way.  Otherwise, it comes across as mean-spirited.

Suggested activity:  Find a wall-sized world map, and, using pins (or tiny stickers), start pinning locations where the books you’re reading are published.  (The Fox on the Swing– earlier in this summer reading challenge–was published in Lithuania.)  Let your child pick a place; just fill your map with pins.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39651067-dreamers

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Book Review: Drawn Together

Drawn

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

This book’s heart was in the right place, but I don’t particularly enjoy picture books unless the illustrations are simple (usually board books).  The ad-libbing I had to do at the beginning was too much work for a bedtime story.  

However, I liked the idea of this book–of an Americanized grandson and his traditional grandfather communicating through art, though I wondered why the grandson never tries to learn his grandfather’s first (and seemingly only) language (which I’m assuming is Vietnamese as that is the author’s ethnicity), just as I wondered why the grandfather hasn’t tried to learn any English.  Wouldn’t it make sense to at least try to learn some rudimentary language that is prevalent in your country of residence? I would’ve much preferred to see grandfather and -son at least struggle to understand one another via the spoken word rather than just accept that they will never be able to communicate in any other way except through art; even then, they can’t have a conversation about what they’ve created–proof that a picture does not equal 1000 words.

The art is well-done (the picture of the grandfather and son hugging strummed my heartstrings), even if it isn’t my style (I’m not into dragons and superheroes).  I appreciate Mr. Santat’s art the way I appreciate Shakespeare, opera, and Andy Warhol; such takes an incredible amount of talent and skill to draw with such precision and infusion of color–it just wasn’t for me. 

With books like these, I wonder why the author should get top billing over the illustrator–the illustrator carried this story.  There’s only 102 words in the book.  

Suggested activity:  Art was my favorite class in elementary school; I try to pass that love down to my daughter by showing her that art is fun–by doing it with her.  For a child who prefers music to art (like mine), you have to think outside the crayon box. A blog I have found extremely useful for affordable art ideas is The Artful Parent:  https://artfulparent.com/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/34791219-drawn-together

Book Review: King & Kayla and the Case of the Lost Tooth

Kayla

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

This was a nice book but nothing special.  I like that it’s trying to get kids into mysteries, using their problem solving, critical thinking, and powers of deduction/process of elimination skills.  I also liked that it showed that if you want to solve a mystery, you have to “write stuff down”; Kayla and her friend Mason not only write down what they know but what they don’t know (an interesting concept).  However, if the solve had been more interesting than simply a case of overlooking something, I would’ve liked it a bit better.  

The story was told from the dog’s point-of-view, which was a good call; a children’s book should rarely be told from the parent’s point-of-view.  

But the idea of a communal/classroom tooth pillow seems rather unsanitary–is this a thing now?  

I didn’t like that this was divided into chapters because this is the kind of story that needs to be read in one sitting.  Use a bookmark if you want a stopping point. Teaching a child to use a bookmark (rather than folding down the corner of a page or turning the book over so that it puts pressure on the spine) is a good habit to instill early on.  Whenever I’m reviewing an adult book, I have multiple bookmarks handy, so I can refer back to certain passages.

The Case of the Lost Tooth is a paint-by-the-numbers book where the dots all look the same.  Kayla needed a more interesting personality, though King is all dog.  Captain Cat Obvious needed a bigger role, for he could’ve added a bit of spice to this overly sweet book.  The tooth fairy could’ve also joined in the search but maybe kids–just like with Santa Claus–aren’t supposed to see the tooth fairy.  However, the note under Kayla’s pillow was a nice touch.  

Using the dog’s best sleuthing tool–his nose–King and Kayla solved this non-mystery.  The moral of the story? Dig a little deeper–literally.

The illustrations were somewhat eighties (i.e. reminiscent of my childhood).  The lack of background/negative space made it very readable, though ultimately, the visuals fell flat, and the story wasn’t compelling enough to make me want to read the other installments.  This was too long for a read-aloud, but short and simple enough for early readers–a book my child would have to choose on her own for me to pick it up again.

Suggested activity:  There are lots of children’s books that talk about the tooth fairy.  However, if your child is old enough, you can also talk about how dogs help humans solve mysteries (e.g. find missing children–I would not get into finding corpses), help the blind navigate a seeing world, etc.   Here is a good listicle outlining all the ways dogs improve the lives of humans. https://www.petfriendly.ca/articles/how-dogs-help-people.php

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36928748-king-kayla-and-the-case-of-the-lost-tooth

Book Review: Night Job

Night Job

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

Night Job is the touching story of a little boy who accompanies his dad to work the third shift, cleaning up a middle school on Friday nights.  The idea of “take your child to work day” is a cool concept–it’s good for children to see how hard their parents work to provide for them, though I was surprised that the dad was able to bring his son because of liability issues, but that’s another lesson for another age.

Books that highlight the special relationship between fathers and sons touch my heart, for it is from dads that boys learn how to be men, including how to treat women.  No mother is shown in this, so I assumed the dad was single. I also inferred that this little family is impoverished–from the dad’s vocation as a custodian, eating egg salad sandwiches, and living in what looked like an extended stay facility–but the author does a splendid job of showing that their poverty is only limited to material things, not in adventure or love.  

However, this book was much too short; we see the gymnasium, the cafeteria, and the library, but not the classrooms and not enough of the exhilarating ride on the motorcycle, capturing the city when it’s sleeping.  There weren’t enough background details in the book–I couldn’t make out the name of the middle school or the particulars of the newspaper they were reading (much more detail was given with the baseball game). Details such as these would’ve added interest to the pages; a few more sensory details (touch, taste, smell) would’ve made it shine like a full moon.

I didn’t care for the building sighing and the chair whispering, Come–it didn’t fit in with the rest of the story, which is very Point A to Point B in its storytelling style.  This was realism, not escapism. There is also some odd wording, such as “a ring of keys as big as the rising moon” (moons don’t rise) and “from stem to stern,” which is nautical terminology.  

On recursive readings, I realized there was no dialogue–just the little boy telling a story–but it worked.  There is no conversation between the dad and his son when they’re having lunch; though the fact that there was conversation is probably understood (i.e. they didn’t just sit in the courtyard eating in complete silence), it would’ve been nice to mention what they talked about (e.g. baseball, cafeteria food, etc.) 

Though the dad is often busy working, the boy is always with him, not wandering off by himself–shooting baskets in the gym, listening to the radio in the cafeteria (rather than half-watching a television), reading his dad a story before falling asleep in the library, and even pitching in by helping clean the hallway floors.  

I also liked that it showed them doing lots of reading–the boy with the books, the dad with the newspaper, and not vegging out in front of a TV after a long night’s work.  (It was also nice to see an apple core instead of a snack cake wrapper in the lunch box.) It doesn’t show the dad playing with his son but just being there for him and with him, which is what a lot of parenthood is actually like.  Kids like to entertain themselves more than adults realize.  

Other goodreads reviewers mentioned that the language was too advanced for the boy’s age, such as “dusky highway” and “rising swell of dreams”; I agree.  I love the imagery these words evoke, but it must fit the character. To make such language more believable, the author would’ve had to tell the story in the third-person, and it would’ve lost so much.

The illustrations aren’t beautiful, but they tell the story beautifully.  The fact that most of them are gray-hued to fit the nocturnal atmosphere makes them perfect.

Overall, Night Job is a sweet book about a simple life–a life a lot of kids could probably relate to.

Suggested activity:  If your job offers a “Take your Child to Work Day,” take them up on it.  If this isn’t a possibility, find books about your profession or trade.  Even if your job is considered an “unskilled job,” reiterate to your child that all jobs are important and detail their purposes.  This will teach them to respect all those who put in an honest day’s work.  In relation to this book, tell them what the school would look like without someone to clean it.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38256476-night-job

Book Review: The Girl Before

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This book was absolutely unputdownable.  It also had a strange effect on me:  It put me into decluttering mode, bigtime, and I’m already a minimalist (which is not about having nothing but about having just the right amount).  The Girl Before made me think of all the clutter in my life, including the clutter inside my head as well as virtual clutter.  

The questionnaire scattered throughout was a novel idea (no pun intended)–a nice change from opening a chapter with a quote that someone else said.

Here is just a glimpse of the great writing in The Girl Before (p. 170):  Sometimes I have a sense that this house–our relationship in it, with it, with each other–is like a palimpsest or a pentimento, that however much we try to overpaint Emma Matthews, she keeps tiptoeing back; a faint image, an enigmatic smile, stealing its way into the corner of the frame.

Any book that gets me to learn a new word must have something going for it.  

I found it interesting that there were no quotation marks in Emma’s story, and even more surprising that it look me halfway through the book to notice this.  Is this a UK thing? I remember reading Harlequin Presents (a long time ago, so don’t judge) when apostrophes were used instead of quotations.  I am curious what the symbolism was concerning this.

Edward Monkford (what a pretentious name) evokes an image of Howard Roark from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead; other goodreads reviewers have said Christian Grey (I’ve seen the movies but never read the books and don’t care to).  His crazy house rules were fascinating–like the technology that controlled the house was fascinating. The concept that a house can change the way you live–actually help you live a better life–was fascinating, but Monkford himself was not.  He was a pig–just a well-spoken, better-dressed, affluent pig. (I guess you really can put lipstick on a pig, if you got enough to smear it with.)  

The women, Emma (THEN) and Jane (NOW), are both incredibly stupid because they think with their sex and not their brains.  Emma seemed like a closet hoarder who called her paramour “Daddy” (ew) and liked angry sex (even when the anger was directed at her).  She was a freak (yet we are told that she has charm). 

Compared to her, Jane was milquetoast.

Even though the women were not portrayed positively, it’s fairly realistic as a lot of women choose to have babies with losers (because they don’t need a man and think their sons and daughters don’t need a father).  Sometimes, they even marry these losers and put them above their children. It’s incredible how many male inmates (who are in prison for murdering women) get fan letters from women–women they’ve never even met.  

I never knew whether Emma’s last story was for real but it doesn’t matter.  THEN & NOW were both enjoyable.

But, back to Monkford:  A lot of women like egotistical, controlling men because they see it as take-charge masculinity.  Monkford is one of those ruthless corporate types who is also a temperamental artist (an explosive combination) who would blow up a perfectly decent development that would provide affordable housing to families if it had his name on it, but there was something about the aesthetics (just like the idealistic, anti-hero Roark) that didn’t align with his vision.  Furthermore, Monkford uses women until he uses them up (after all, he finds them so easily). He is incapable of love, for he can’t even love his own, imperfect kin. He likes his women damaged (and in the beginning anew stage), so he can turn them into blank canvases he can manipulate. His structures may be beautiful, but I didn’t get the impression they were very green.  All that extra, empty space has to be heated and cooled.

Monkford was such a commanding presence in the book that the other male characters barely registered.

The ending was weak, but the journey was so intriguing, the destination didn’t matter (it just knocked off a star).  It had the mysterious feel of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which I appreciated, but the nightshades of Gone Girl came out of the blue, for there was a turn in one of the character’s motives that wasn’t led up to or hinted at in any way.  I understand the author doesn’t want the reader to figure out everything too soon–in case the reader loses interest, but if the writing’s good, your reader won’t; a well-written story always trumps a twist ending.  What’s more, when the true villain is revealed, it’s anticlimactic, for it seemed I found out at the same time the author did.  

Jane could’ve used a little more to wrap up her story but then we’re introduced to Astrid, and the story stops (and, I’m sure, begins again there).  I did, however, like the tie-in to the title in the last part of her story. Nicely done!  

Besides being unputdownable, The Girl Before has immense readability.  

One gripe that has nothing to do with the book:  I don’t like authors going by different names.  What is the point of this? Are they not allowed to cross genres with the same name?  There is another author who does this, and I find it irritating.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28016509-the-girl-before

Book Review: Lena’s Shoes are Nervous

Lena

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

I did not have strong feelings about this book either way, but once was enough, as I was a bit confused by the premise–Lena wasn’t nervous about school but her shoes were, though only because the author tells us this; her dad cements the idea of “nervous shoes” by putting it in his daughter’s head.  Suddenly, all her clothes start taking on personalities of their own.  

Had the shoes been animated (they had as much personality as a sponge), this could’ve been a cute little coming-of-kindergarten-age story.

That business about her shoes not getting along with her dress–because her shoes splashed into a puddle and got it all muddy–didn’t make sense either.  Wouldn’t it be the dress who was pissed at the shoes rather than the other way around? And why is the headband such good friends with the shoes? Or better yet, why doesn’t she just wear a different dress–one that her shoes like? 

What’s more, how did Lena know the shoes were willing to be brave?  Did the shoes tell her this? Such is never shown/explained. I know I’m overthinking this, but I don’t think kids who are the target age for this book are going to get the idea of first-day kindergarten jitters projected onto inanimate objects.  Kids like stories that make them laugh or stories they can relate to. This story should’ve focused on Lena’s feelings, not imaginary shoe feelings.    

There was no mother in the picture, but a nuclear family doesn’t always have to be portrayed as this was as much about a father’s relationship with his daughter as it was about a child being nervous about her first day of kindergarten.  That said, I thought the dad was the mom at first because he said, “Oh, dear.” (That doesn’t sound like a phrase a man would say–I’ve, in fact, never heard a man say that.)

However, a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea was showing Lena being afraid of the big dog only for the dog to lick her face; this book should’ve shown Lena being wary around strange dogs and avoiding letting any dog lick her face.  After all, they lick their butts.  

The illustrations were reminiscent of Syd Hoff’s style (e.g. Danny and the Dinosaur, Sammy the Seal, etc), but his drawings were livelier and more consistent.  In Shoes, we bounce around from close-ups to zoom outs (i.e. multiple scenes on a page) to what I would call standard; we also go from black-and-white with spot color to full color.  What I loved, however, was the fact that Lena’s bedroom had a little library (in a bookcase shaped like a dollhouse) as well as a telescope (but no TV); the fresh fruits and flowers in the kitchen were also a nice touch.  Little details like that show (rather than tell) that Lena’s home is a healthy, nurturing one.  

Lena’s Shoes are Nervous was not the best but certainly not the worst.

Suggested activity:  There are many activities you can do that have something to do with shoes, whether it’s reading The Wizard of Oz (it really was all about the shoes), play horseshoes, match certain shoes with certain activities (bowling shoes, ballet shoes, etc; I’ve done the same thing with different types of balls).  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36495841-lena-s-shoes-are-nervous

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #492: Marriage

Untitled

The home is the child’s first school,
the parent is the child’s first teacher,
and reading is the child’s first subject.
–Barbara Bush

Margaret Susan Got Married

When Miss Margaret Susan got married
& became Mrs. Peggy Sue,
she, who had been a cosmopolitan traveler,
became a domestic goddess,
defined & deified as such by her husband,
her conversation sparkling like the windows,
her cooking nourishing like the rain.
When she gave birth to Suzy & Margie,
she taught them all she had learned
from the days she had backpacked her way
through the lands of her lineage.
She read to them about all the places she’d been,
told them about all the places they’d go,
& what wasn’t in the books,
she could fill in.
She taught them that there was a time to travel,
a time to stay home,
& a time to bring home with her;
now was that time.
And when her husband saw her
under the Tuscan sun & the Parisian moon,
he saw her in a different light.
He saw that he had fallen in love with a woman
who wasn’t all she was because of him
but of all that had come before him.

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 492