A World of Words

Reviewing children's books

What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge

What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge

ISBN: 0-14-036697-0. I’ve had this from when I was a child, but it’s available on Play for £1.33 and probably many other shops!

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Gangly, quick-tempered Katy always means to be beautiful and beloved and as good as an angel one day, but meanwhile her resolutions somehow get forgotten or go horribly wrong. Until, one terrible day, the swing breaks … But it is still  a long, eventful time before Katy learns to be as loving and patient as her beautiful, invalid Cousin Helen.

Katy Carr is one of six children (and we mustn’t forget Cecy Hall, who lives next door but always joins in), and as the eldest, is undoubtedly the leader. Her sense of adventure and vivid imagination get her (and the others) into trouble, but the games she devises seem really fun, and her conscience makes Katy really endearing, too. I first read this book when I was about 8, and at that age I really identified with some of the scrapes the children got into. As a child I was allowed around the local area without parental supervision (something I fear is getting rarer now), and got into my fair share of trouble! I was also very “romantic” and idealistic, so Katy was a character I really related to. Plus, all the children really capture the joy of childhood when they’re playing – it’s infectious!

Published in 1872 and set in 1860s America (although I’ve only just realised the characters weren’t from England), this is a Victorian book with Victorian values. I looked at this book for part of my university dissertation (comparing representations of disability in children’s fiction), and I have read reviews that after her accident, Katy became as saintly as Cousin Helen in order to match the Victorian ideals of womanhood. I can’t deny this – she does suddenly learn to mend her ways and “become the heart of the household”. To me, as a child, and even re-reading it as an adult, it didn’t matter.

Katy’s imagination is still as vivid as ever – she arranges thoughtful surprises for her family, and finds a way to deal with her disability. The book is packed full of morals for readers to follow, but rather than preach, it lets the story provide the explanation, which is what it should. What Katy Did is a real favourite of mine – have you read it? What did you think?

Oh yeah, and happy Easter! I’m off to Portsmouth to see some family in a bit; I hope your holiday is just as relaxing!

What Katy Did qualifies under the Vintage Children’s Literature Challenge I’m currently completing – check it out!

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It’s been a while…

I’ve had a really busy couple of weeks, what with moving, settling in and visiting friends. Funny how everything comes at once!

Anyway, today I’m writing about a book I found out about a few months ago. Room on the Broom was written by the current Children’s Laureate, Julia Donaldson; and illustrated by Axel Scheffler. I’d seen something about a theatre show based on it, and while circumstance stopped me from taking Caitlin and Lewis to go and see it, I bought the book straight away. (Since then, I also found out it was on CBeebies as part of Jackanory.)

Room on the Broom, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

ISBN: 978-0-230-74935-1, £2.95 from Play.com

room-on-a-broom

The witch had a cat
and a very tall hat,
And long ginger hair
which she wore in a plait.
How the cat purred
and how the witch grinned,
As they sat on their broomstick
and flew through the wind.

Room on the Broom follows the witch and her cat, who are travelling on a broomstick. The witch will lose something and they’ll go to retrieve it, only to pick up another animal friend. This is until the broom gets so heavy, it snaps! The witch falls in the path of a dragon, who declares:

“‘I am a dragon, as mean as can be,
And I’m planning to have WITCH
AND CHIPS for my tea!'”

This was a really fun story to read. It’s written in rhyming quatrains and is filled with onomatopoeic rhymes that make it really satisfying to read and listen to. The best one is on the first page:

“But how the witch wailed
         and how the cat spat…”

The text was really lively, and filled with whooshes and tumblings and loud, scary roars. It was so much fun for me to do, and even better when I got the kids to act it out! The accompanying illustrations were awesome, and if the story didn’t let Caitlin and Lewis anticipate what was coming next in the story (which it did!), they engaged really well with the pictures. It’s one of those that they’ll quite happily go into the corner with to ‘read’ on their own.

Caitlin and Lewis have often referred to this book when looking for something to read – in our house it’s known as ‘the witch book’. My family and I also love it – the first time I read this to the children, it was in front of everyone and I’d been reading really fast. I got to the dragon part (quoted above), and instead of saying “witch and chips”, I came out with “witch and tits” – oops! I was laughed at for a fair bit after that one!

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Moving house

I’ve been so busy this week, having finally moved out of my parents’ house (again!). They’re moving house too, so we’ve been through the loft and I’ve ended up re-discovering many children’s books. They take up a shelf and a half of my bookshelf. I was expecting them to take up more space, although I haven’t finished yet and I left books that Caitlin, Lewis and Harry could read at my parents’ house. Obsessed, me?!

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It’s World Book Day!

As you may have guessed from the imaginative title of this post, it’s World Book Day today in the UK. For any readers not from around here, schools (especially primary) generally encourage children to dress as their favourite character from a book. Then, every child gets a £1 book token to spend within a certain amount of time either towards a book over £2.99, or in exchange for one of the World Book Day £1 books for that year. This year the books are:

Alfie’s Shop, by Shirley Hughes (2+)

Giraffes Can’t Dance Colouring and Puzzle Fun, by Giles Andreae & Guy Parker-Rees (3+)

Horrid Henry’s Guide to Perfect Parents, by Francesca Simon & Tony Ross (5+)

Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders: Funny Inventions, by Tony Robinson & Del Thorpe (7+)

The Diamond Brothers In… Two of Diamonds, by Anthony Horowitz (8+)

Hang in there, Bozo, by Lauren Child (9+)

Tom Gates: Best Book Day Ever! (so far), by Liz Pichon (9+)

The Chocolate Box Girls: Bittersweet, by Cathy Cassidy (11+)

I think I’ve pretty much been on all sides of this one – as a child, a (trainee) teacher and now as an aunt (although the latter is obviously not as good as being a mother!). I’ve never been brilliant at fancy dress, so as a student I’ve previously come dressed as Pippi Longstocking (although I haven’t read those books yet!), and as a teacher, dressed as a (non-green) wicked witch of the west, from The Wizard of Oz. Bad costumes aside though, the day I’m referring to when I was a trainee teacher was actually by far the best day of a really stressful training course – children were encouraged to build reading forts under the tables, hold mini-performances in groups, and generally have a lot of fun with books. I wish there were more days like that, to be honest!

In honour of World Book Day, I’m reviewing one of its eight ‘£1’ books.

Giraffes Can’t Dance, by Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Reesgcdance

ISBN: 978-1-40830-370-2, £2.69 from Play marketplace

Now every year in Africa
They hold the Jungle Dance

Where every single animal
Turns up to skip and prance

A best-loved, rollicking, rhyming story – perfect for little ones.

I must admit, this book got a little overlooked, because I bought it at the same time as the Dr Seuss books I previously blogged about, and Caitlin and Lewis went straight for those. However, Caitlin loves both giraffes and dancing, so even though I’ve only read this story to her once, she thoroughly enjoyed it and still knows which book I’m talking about a few weeks on.

First off, the illustrations in this book are, I think, the best I’ve seen. When the warthogs started waltzing and the lions danced the tango, neither Caitlin nor I knew what the dances entailed, but we could see from the pictures. And as you can probably see from (my bad photo of) the front cover, the contrasting colours are amazing! Every illustration stands out and makes the story even better.

Not that the story needs to be better, though. Gerald the giraffe’s height makes dancing too awkward for him, and at the beginning of the book he finds himself being laughed at at the Jungle Dance by the other animals. However, he comes across a cricket who reminds him that:

“‘Sometimes when you’re different
You just need a different song'”

I really loved the message that this sent across. Gerald is reminded that everyone is different, and so has different strengths. It reminds me of the saying that says something like if you tell a fish to climb a tree, he looks stupid; watch him swim in water though, and he’s a genius. Children can really take away the positive messages and use it to build their self-confidence – not that they’ll be thinking of it like that, obviously!

The story is written in 4-line poems, with an ABCB rhyme scheme, which really set the rhythm well in a story about dancing. From my point of view, this made it really fun to read aloud, as well as doing all the funny voices of the laughing animals. From Caitlin’s perspective, she loved the fact that most of the story could be acted out. From gently swaying necks to rock ‘n’ rolling rhinos, there was a multitude of things for Caitlin to engage with, and she really enjoyed it.

Thoroughly recommended, for adults as much as children!

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Vintage Children’s Literature Reading Challenge 2013

Vintage Children’s Literature Reading Challenge 2013

Vintage Childrens lit

1. Only titles published before the year 2000 count.  So that means only the first three Harry Potter novels would qualify for this challenge.
2.  The challenge focuses mainly on novels but you can choose picture books or collections of short stories or non-fiction,  if you desire.
3.  Challenge runs from 31st of January to the 31st of December 2013 and you can sign up at any time.
4. You don’t need a blog to participate, you can just sign up and for each book read just leave a comment on the monthly post for the challenge or you could link to your goodreads page, facebook, twitter, whatever you can think of.
5. Choose a level.
6. Write an introduction post with the badge and a link back here.  Maybe outline some of the titles you plan to read.
7. Any format counts, including e-books and audio books, re-reads count as do double ups with other challenges.

Levels:

Gumnut baby – four books.  (the gumnut babies are the most famous characters by Australian children’s author illustrator May Gibbs.)

Alice – six books – you are entering into the wonderland of childhood.

Mary Poppins – ten books – you have a serious interest in the world of the young.

Peter Pan – twelve books or more – you clearly are still in touch with your inner child.

This is my favourite type of children’s literature! As a child the books I loved most were The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women and What Katy Did. I’m moving house soon, so all my old classics will soon be rescued from the loft, and I can’t wait to re-read them all! As I’ve already reviewed 4 at the time of writing this, I’m going to aim for Peter Pan level – here goes!

* * * * * * * * * *

1. The Cat in the Hat, by Dr Seuss (1957)

2. I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!, by Dr Seuss (1978)

3. George’s Marvellous Medicineby Roald Dahl (1981)

4. To Kill a Mockingbirdby Harper Lee (1960)

5. What Katy Did, by Susan Coolidge (1872)

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Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief – methadone?!

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, by Rick Riordan

ISBN: 0-141-32999-8, £4.99 from the Kindle store

The Lightning Thief

The first bestselling book in Rick Riordan’s phenomenally successful Percy Jackson series.

Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood. I never asked to be the son of a Greek god. I was just a normal kid, going to school, playing basketball, skateboarding. The usual. Until I accidentally vaporised my maths teacher. That’s when things started really going wrong. Now I spend my time fighting with swords, battling monsters with my friends, and generally trying to stay alive.

This is the one where Zeus, God of the Sky, thinks I’ve stolen his lightning bolt – and making Zeus angry is a very bad idea.

Can Percy find the lightning bolt before a fully fledged war of the gods erupts?

This one  has been on my ‘to-read’ list for a couple of years now, since the film came out and I saw how much enthusiasm my teenage American cousins showed for the books. I must say, I enjoyed it and I’ll be reading further in the series.

It’s probably for the best that Percy finds out about everything at the same time as the reader – I only know the basics of Greek mythology, and it kept me reading to find out why Percy (or Perseus, to use his full name) was coming so much under attack. I should probably mention that when I’m reading books on my Kindle, I have usually downloaded a lot of books at once, and then don’t bother re-reading the blurb before I start the book. It’s well paced, with a lot of action making it a book I got through quickly, although I also think it would have worked well slowed down a little.

I must say, I was struggling a little to talk about this book. While it is good, I think the characterisation could be worked on just a weeny bit more. Throughout, Percy refers to people as either friends or bullies, and, whilst he is immersed in camp and the reader is ‘just’ reading, I don’t think I was told quite enough about characters like Clarisse and Luke for them to have much of an impact in terms of how I should feel about them for Percy’s sake. Then, though I really liked that nothing romantic was introduced between 12 year-olds Percy and Annabeth, and I also liked her feistiness, I wasn’t all the way there in rooting for Annabeth either. I could even have hated Smelly Gabe (Percy’s detested stepfather) more.  This may just be me, or possibly because I’ve just read The Hunger Games, which I find has so far beaten off competitors fairly well! Saying that though, I reckon this will get a lot better in the following Percy Jackson books.

I thought it was a great idea to use Greek mythology, and it was a great part of the plot to see gods using the trio as pawns to get their own way and/or create havoc. I loved the sub-plot about Medusa, and often wondered how Percy was going to get out of certain situations. I’ve just read a great review on goodreads that links the similarities of The Lightning Thief to Harry Potter, particularly the first book. They are definitely big similarities, and as the review author puts it, The Lightning Thief is like methadone when trying to come off Harry Potter. I thought that was an awesome way to put it, and probably accurate – Percy Jackson is a watered down version of Harry Potter! What do you think?

 

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