Sunday, February 27, 2011

Yeah, people really like this book, but I didn't.

BeastlyBeastly by Alex Flinn
(HarperTeen, 13+)
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I read Beastly back in September, but I was reminded of it yesterday when I saw a copy with its shiny new movie tie-in cover sitting on a pile of books at work. Apparently back in September I gave it two stars, but looking back I really have to revise my decision, because I kind of thought it was awful. Awful enough to get ranty at the mere sight of it.

Let me start by saying my very favorite of all fairy tales (and my favorite Disney movie) is Beauty and the Beast and there is nothing I love more than an awesome Beauty and the Beast retelling. Which is why I picked up Beastly, despite being initially put off by the framing device of the main character airing his woes in a chatroom populated by other fairy tale characters (the Little Mermaid, the Frog Prince, etc.). I hate this because IM speak is terrible enough to have to read on the internet, please don't put it in my literature.

The other problem with the chatroom is a problem with the book in general: it's total and complete lack of subtlety. Absolutely nowhere in this book is any shred of attempt to conceal the Beauty and the Beast-ness of the plot. It is quite literally Beauty and the Beast, just moved to present-day New York. Which frankly doesn't work terribly well. Elements like the girl's father giving her to the beast or the beast hiding away in the middle of Brooklyn just don't translate. And parts of the original story, like his affinity for roses, I felt were just chucked in there so you couldn't possibly mistake this for anything other than Beauty and the Beast. And the chatroom loses all semblance of disguise. These characters are literally there being like, "Hey, I'm the Little Mermaid, what's poppin'?"

Furthermore, the main character of Kyle Kingsbury (who then changes his name to Adrian, for no other reason than for the girl to not be able to recognize him as the bully she went to school with) is so radically unlikeable and even when he changes to be a better person, is uninteresting and kind of dumb, really.

I'm a little intrigued by the movie, only because even just from the poster, things are clearly different than the book. For one thing, in the book he's just a beast, none of this weird scarred/tattooed nonsense. And Neil Patrick Harris is in it, but who knows what scripts people will pick up for a paycheck.

What really surprises me is the rave reviews of this book, which led me to pick it up in the first place. If you really want an AWESOME Beauty and the Beast retelling, here are some ones I'd recommend over this, any day:

Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the BeastBeauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast by Robin McKinley
(HarperTeen, 12+)
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The original and still the best. Also, says 12+, but I would say it's appropriate for the 9-12 set as well.

Rose DaughterRose Daughter by Robin McKinley
(Ace, 18+)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

McKinley's second crack at the story is not quite as good, but skewed a little older and still worth your time. Again, the publisher is saying adult, I remember this as YA, though, and Amazon concurs with me.

The Fire Rose (Elemental Masters, #1)The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Technically an adult sci-fi/fantasy novel, but if I remember correctly, nothing inappropriate for the YA set and certainly over 15.

Beauty and the BeastBeauty and the Beast by Nancy Willard
(Harcourt, 9-12)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A storybook, but satisfies our Beauty and the Beast in New York City need ad includes beautiful wood engraving illustrations.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Reading aloud a book with no words.

Where's Walrus?Where's Walrus? by Stephen Savage
(Scholastic, 3+)
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last weekend we had an event with the author in my store and I had to read it aloud for storytime. Read aloud a book with no words. I was a little nervous to say the least, but it ended up going great. The kids were engaged and participating. There was a big discussion about can-can dancers and feathers in one's hair and about how many of the kids had been to Central Park. Really the illustrations speak for themselves in a lot of ways and I can't recommend it enough. I hope others will choose it for storytime too. I promise you won't be disappointed.

In addition, Stephen Savage drew walrus pictures with the kids and then we had a great scavenger hunt for the walrus all around the store. It ended up being a really successful event. I was surprised at how well everything went, particularly the hunt where a different kid found each walrus and we only had one set of tears. It was really an awesome day.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Storytime 2/22/11

Storytime at Scholastic tends to attract mostly babies, considering it runs at 11am on weekday mornings. However this week the NYC kids are off from school, so we had some older kids, which is so much nicer. Unfortunately I didn't realize this while picking the books, but it still went okay.

Olivia Forms a BandOlivia Forms a Band by Ian Falconer
(Simon & Schuster, 3-7)
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love Olivia, but this one is just not as solid as the original. Olivia's mother is taking them to the fireworks and Olivia wants to know if there will be a band, because there has to be a fireworks band. When her mother assumes not, Olivia decides that she'll be the band. While cute, the plot sort of meanders then when Olivia finishes being a band and focuses on other things like her make-up. The images, however, are always worth the price of admission and the crash-bang-twink-ploink noises of Olivia's band make for a fun read-aloud.

Break for "Itsy-Bitsy Spider." Had to shy away from the normal baby-ness of songs like "ABC" or "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star." Maybe next time I'll go with "The People in Your Neighborhood."

Tony BaloneyTony Baloney by Pam Muñoz Ryan & Edwin Fotheringham
(Scholastic, 4-8)
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Cute with bright illustrations, but it's only just an okay read. Far and away the best part of the whole book is Dandelion the stuffed ostrich, who helps Tony Baloney with his problems by sitting and taking notes like a psychiatrist, and is clearly the source of any trouble going on. The dynamics between Tony Baloney and his siblings (one older and bossy and twin babies) doesn't ring quite as true, and I found the plot more annoying than Tony did his siblings. Also, I had to stop and explain the word "exasperated" to the kids, and while new vocabulary is always good, they wouldn't have figured it out on their own from the context. There's a cute gimmick in the writing, where Tony says things like, "for twenty years, or maybe just an hour", but it doesn't flow in the narrative very well, although that could've just been from reading it for the first time.

Cat the Cat, Who Is That?Cat the Cat, Who Is That? by Mo Willems
(Balzer + Bray, newborn-5)
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The simplest Willems for the youngest use, but really perhaps too simple. I agree with a reviewer on Goodreads who stated this might be better suited as a board book than in picture book form. However, it's saved by the alien/monster at the end ("Blarggie Blarggie!") and a sweet message.

Break for the "Hokey Pokey," my very favorite and a good one with the older kids. Also, later in the day a lady came in with a "The Hokey Pokey really is what's it's all about" t-shirt, so that made me happy.

Ivy Loves To GiveIvy Loves To Give by Freya Blackwood
(Arthur A. Levine, 4-8)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautifully drawn Ivy loves to give presents to the people (and animals) in her life, but she doesn't always get it right (glasses for the dog, tea for the chicken). Cute and silly at times, Ivy's story is very sweet when she does give the right gifts and her sister gives her a gift in return. A nice story in the vein of "it's better to give than receive" and about sharing. A nice short read-aloud with lovely illustrations and fun for the kids to point out Ivy's mistakes.

Cat SecretsCat Secrets by Jef Czekaj
(Balzer + Bray, 3-6)
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Originally I gave this book four stars because it's super adorable and I anticipated some awesomeness with storytime. I still think it's really cute, but it doesn't translate to storytime quite like I hoped. The interactive bits are great, my kids were fabulous meowers, but there's a LOT of pages where the cats are just staring at you listening. Almost like the pauses in Dora the Explorer, only you don't actually need that in the a storybook. Still, very cute and interactive.

All in all, a successful storytime, although I think the only one I'd pick again would be Ivy Loves to Give, especially for the two to five range. Maybe on another baby day, I'd bust out Cat the Cat and Cat Secrets. Sorry, Dandelion, but Tony Baloney misses out. And I'd pick a different Olivia book, cause there are far superior ones.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Catching up with some American Girls.

I absolutely adored the American Girl books growing up, so with some time to kill in Barnes & Noble yesterday, I decided to pick up one of the ones that had come out in the time since I was the target audience.

Meet Rebecca (American Girls Collection)Meet Rebecca by Jacqueline Dembar Greene
(Pleasant Company Publications, 9-12)
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rebecca Rubin is a Russian-Jewish girl in New York City in 1914. And while I'm pleased they've tackled this era of immigrant families in turn of the century New York and also Jewish families, there was just too much exposition on the culture and traditions. I felt like instead of telling the story, everything needed to stop and be explained. Furthermore, there isn't a whole lot of story besides. Rebecca wants to be an actor like her cousin, but mostly she just wants people to stop thinking of her as little. Most of the book was focused on Rebecca's whining about one thing or another. Even when she sold her linens to pay for her (starving) cousin's way to America, she whinged about how angry her family would be with her. She's just not as likable a character as I come to expect from these books, and the storytelling lagged.

I did want to check to make sure this wasn't just my adult self rejecting something I would have enjoyed when I was nine. So I picked up Meet Kirsten: An American Girl, which was my favorite growing up for lots of reasons, least of all the fact that she had my last name and so that was the doll I ended up with. But Meet Kirsten held up to my standards. Without being explicit or as dark as things probably really were, it still gave a solid feeling of immigrating to the United States, with both real tragedy and joy. It's a story, and teaches you about another culture without being a Social Studies lesson.

For the Jewish aspect, some books I would recommend instead would include All-of-a-Kind Family, about a large Jewish family in turn-of-the-century New York City, that includes a lot about Jewish culture and holidays without beating you over the head with it. Or a great book about Russian-Jewish immigrants at the time would be Letters from Rifka, although it would be more for the young adult set.