Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book Review: 'The Story of the Easter Bunny' by Katherine Tegen

✰✰✰✰ In a little town a round old couple passes the time by making Easter eggs. Their little white rabbit watches intently as the eggs are hollowed out and dyed. Then the couple makes chocolate eggs and weaves baskets to place them in. When spring arrives and everyone says "Happy Easter," the old couple delivers the filled baskets to the village children.

The little rabbit watches this every year, but one year the old couple fall asleep with work still to be done. The little white rabbit steps in by weaving baskets and delivering them to the children. Little by little the rabbit takes on more responsibility. Soon he becomes known to the children as The Easter Bunny. With the legend of the Easter Bunny growing, the little white rabbit realizes that he must find a new a new secret location to work from. With his rabbit friends to help, the little white rabbit continues bringing baskets of joy to children everywhere.

The Bottom Line: Author Katherine Tegen wrote this original story to answer her son's questions about the Easter bunny and his interesting job. This charming and heartwarming tale will answer your child's questions too. Illustrator Sally Anne Lambert's soft pastel toned watercolors are a treat as well. This picture book is recommended for kids ages 3 and up. The book's themes of kindness, giving, and teamwork make this the perfect bedtime story for springtime.

Details: The Story of the Easter Bunny written by Katherine Tegen and illustrated by Sally Anne Lambert. Hardcover picture book published by HarperCollins Publishers in 2005. 40 p. ISBN: 978-0-06-050711-4

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Review: 'Green Angel" by Alice Hoffman

✰✰✰✰ Fifteen-year-old Green is a quiet and shy teen. When Green’s family goes into the city to sell their goods, Green is left behind to tend the gardens.  Unhappy at the prospect of being left behind, Green doesn’t even bother to say goodbye to them. Little does she know it’s a decision that will soon haunt her.

When the unthinkable happens and the city is destroyed along with all the people in it, Green is left alone to deal her grief and her guilt. In a way, a little part of Green died the day her family died. With only her sister’s dog, Onion, for company, Green doesn’t even bother to heal her damaged eyes. She retreats into a protective shell by wearing black clothes, cutting off her long hair, and putting nails in her boots.  She even covers her body with black tattoos. Thus, Green loses herself for a while and becomes Ash, a girl who doesn’t care.

Partially blinded and unrecognizable as Ash, she must learn survival skills. Then something amazing happens, the girl who refused to heal herself begins to heal others. There's a hawk, baby birds, a greyhound, and more; one by one they come to Ash for help. As she begins to take care of others, Ash learns how to care about herself and becomes Green once again. 

The Bottom Line: This very brief tale of loss and love is haunting and has a dreamlike quality. Alice Hoffman’s writing is very descriptive and appeals to the senses; it is full of symbolism and imagery. Hoffman manages to pack lots of emotion into this slim little book. Told from the viewpoint of fifteen year old Green, this story of survival uses little dialogue. 

Teens who have suffered a loss will relate to Green. Hoffman expertly guides the reader through the grieving process by following Green’s journey from loss and despair to anger, acceptance, and finally hope. Green discovers that by losing herself, she finally finds herself.

Highly recommended reading for teens. The contemporary setting evoked images of 9/11 making this a possible pick for a YA book club. (You can find discussion questions here.) Green Angel is sad and enchanting all at the same time.

Note: I received this as a gift from the SantaThing program at LibraryThing. It’s different from the types of books I usually choose for myself, which is why I love the program.

Details: Green Angel by Alice Hoffman. Paperback published by Scholastic Inc. in 2010. 144 p. ISBN: 978-0-545-20411-8

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Book Review: 'Too Many Leprechauns' by Stephen Krensky

✰✰✰✰ If you've ever wondered why there's a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, then this is the picture book for you and your little one. Returning home to Dingle after a long absence, Finn O'Finnegan notices that something seems to be a bit off. Leprechauns have taken over the town and no one can sleep. You see...the more fairy shoes the leprechauns make, the more gold they get. And so the tap-tap-tapping continues day and night.

Now everyone knows how crafty and stubborn leprechauns can be. It takes a smart person to outwit them, but Finn has some experience with leprechauns. Finn knows that in addition to being clever, leprechauns are also very prideful and sensitive. Fortunately for the town of Dingle, Finn has a plan, that with a little Irish luck, just may work. Will the leprechauns ever stop their "infernal tapping" or will the town of Dingle be stuck with them forever? Read Stephen Krensky's clever book and find out for yourself why there's a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow.

The Bottom Line: This is a fun tale for reading at St. Patrick's Day or any time of the year. Outwitting leprechauns is never an easy task; kids will enjoy Finn's patience and cleverness. Illustrator Dan Andreasen's charming oil paintings add wee a bit of whimsy that both kids and adults will enjoy. Recommended  springtime reading for kids ages 4 and up.

Details: Too Many Leprechauns: Or How That Pot o' Gold Got to the End of the Rainbow written by Stephen Krensky and illustrated by Dan Andreasen. Hardcover picture book published by Simon & Schuster Book for Young Readers in 2007. 32 p. ISBN: 978-0-689-85112-4

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Book Review: 'Destiny of the Republic' by Candice Millard

✰✰✰✰½ Take a trip back in time to the Gilded Age, a time when the nation was still divided and the president was accessible to everyone. James A. Garfield's short tenure as America's 20th president is often overlooked, but he was an extraordinary man. Rising up from poverty, he became a war hero and respected leader. A staunch supporter of equal rights for blacks, Garfield won the respect of the Republican National Committee and was selected as their candidate for president, a role Garfield never actively sought.

Once Garfield became president, he came under intense pressure to honor the spoils system. Hundreds of office seekers lined up at the White House vying for positions they thought they deserved. Enter an office seeker named Charles Guiteau. Under the spoils system, Guiteau fully expected to be rewarded for what he thought was his part in getting Garfield elected. Unfortunately, there would be no appointment for Guiteau, and the disappointment turned him into a stalker and would-be assassin.

While Guiteau fully intended to kill President Garfield, the wounds were not fatal. Had Garfield been left alone, he very well may have recovered. However, due to his status as the president, he became the focus of the medical community. Enter Dr. Doctor Bliss, a physician with a checkered past. Under Bliss’s care, Garfield bravely and silently suffered through archaic and incompetent medical care.

Enter a young inventor named Alexander Graham Bell, who was sickened by the thought of doctors blindly probing inside Garfield's body for a wayward bullet. Bell became obsessed with the idea of inventing what was basically a metal detector for the human body. Unfortunately, the reluctance of the medical community to adopt new methods led to the tragic death of the 20th president of the United States.
The Bottom Line: Painstakingly researched and told with sensitivity, Millard's book sheds light on mostly forgotten events. Destiny of the Republic is written in braided narrative style, and it was fascinating to watch the lives of James A. Garfield, Charles Guiteau, and Alexander Graham Bell intersect. Reading about Dr. Doctor Bliss's insistence that archaic procedures be tried repeatedly in unsanitary conditions was heartbreaking. I found myself wondering if American history might have been different had Garfield lived and carried out his vision for America.
Very highly recommended for history buffs, true crime fans, and for readers who don’t usually read nonfiction. Author Candice Millard has masterfully woven together the tales of a leader, a murderer, and an inventor. Readers of biographies will appreciate this as well. Also, this book includes several pages of fascinating black and white photos and illustrations. As a final note, those who are a bit squeamish may want to skip over the descriptions of the horrific medical procedures performed by Dr. Doctor Bliss.

Book Club Notes:
 This quick read appealed to the club on many levels. We agreed that there was something for everyone including politics, medicine, crime, science, technology, and history. Each participant picked up on something different. Additionally, it was interesting discussing the contrasts between Garfield’s accomplishments and Guiteau's failures. Likewise, the contrast between Dr. Bliss's complacent arrogance with Bell’s obsessive curiosity provided ample discussion as well. Finally, we discussed the changes spurred by Garfield’s untimely death: 1.) The nation became unified, 2.) Chester Arthur eliminated the spoils system and set up a civil service system, 3.) Doctors finally adopted the practice of antisepsis.
Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard is a well-paced nonfiction book and a great example of nonfiction that reads like fiction. It was easily one of our best discussions to date. This book is highly recommended for book clubs interested in discussing nonfiction. You can find a reading guide with discussion questions at LitLovers. Also, the Lincoln City Libraries in Lincoln, Nebraska have put together a handy resource page.
Details: Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. Paperback published by Anchor Books in 2012. 432 p. ISBN: 978-0-7679-2971-4