Catching Fire: Summary and Review

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins cover artCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins cover art
Title: Catching FireCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult Fiction (Books for Teens)
Age Category: 16 to 19 years +

Today, in honor of Teen Read Week, I review the second book in the Hunger Games TrilogyHunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.  As it turns out, teen readers across the country recently chose Catching Fire as their favorite book of 2010.  I will not spoil any important plot twists in this Catching Fire summary and review.  For a review of the first book in the trilogy, The Hunger Games, click here.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins: Quick Review

I highly recommend Catching Fire by Suzanne CollinsCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins. First, the book is bursting with subjective appeal. The plot has the many exciting twists we’ve come to expect from The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the deepening characters make us care about what happens next, and the tastefully developed love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale is enough to pique the interest of any teen beginning to think about love. Second, Collins’s thoughtful examination of ethical issues—particularly those related to war, and moral psychology—stimulates productive thought and emotion, giving the book developmental value. My one caution is that the book, like The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, is quite violent (though, I think, in a productive and justified way), and so sensitive readers should be forewarned. Keep reading for an in-depth review. Continue reading

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The Hunger Games: Summary and Review

The Hunger Games: summary and review, cover artThe Hunger Games: summary and review
Title: The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games: summary and review
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Age Category: 16 to 19 years +

Well, I’m late to the “game” on this one.  Nevertheless, having just read the first in Suzanne Collins’s young adult fiction trilogy—in the wake of the buzz around the just-released third book of the trilogy, MockingjayMockingjay by Suzanne Collins—I feel that I must write something about it.  My reaction to The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games: summary and review can be summed up in three words: Blown.  A.  Way. For those who have not yet read it but plan to, my Hunger Games summary and review will not spoil any crucial plot twists.

The Hunger Games: Summary

The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games: summary and review portrays a dystopian vision of the future of North America, now the nation of Panem.  In Panem, a powerful and technologically advanced city—The Capitol—rules mercilessly over 12 outlying districts, each named simply for their number. Every year, The Capitol requires that each district select two teenagers by lottery—one boy and one girl—to represent the district at the annual Hunger Games, as “tributes”.

The Hunger Games are a cross between the reality show Survivor and the Roman Colosseum: the 24 teens fight to the death on live national television in a huge outdoor arena (we’re talking many square miles here), which encompasses a range of natural geography that varies from year to year. Continue reading

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The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau: Summary and Review

the fantastic undersea life of jacques cousteau by dan yaccarino cover artthe fantastic undersea life of jacques cousteau by dan yaccarino
Title: The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteauthe fantastic undersea life of jacques cousteau by dan yaccarino
Author: Dan Yaccarino
Genre: Picture Books for Children (Nonfiction)
Age Category: 6 to 8 years

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Today, in honor of Nonfiction Monday, I’m reviewing Dan Yaccarino’s The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau.  I must say, this picture book made me nostalgic: I grew up fascinated by Cousteau’s television programs.  That history made me especially excited to weigh in on Yaccarino’s book.

Picture Books for Children: Summary

The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteauthe fantastic undersea life of jacques cousteau by dan yaccarino is a delightful picture book biography of the revolutionary underwater explorer, filmmaker, and scientist, Jacques-Yves Cousteau.

The picture book begins with Cousteau’s boyhood, in which he overcame difficult health conditions by swimming in the Mediterranean Sea.  Yaccarino points to Cousteau’s fiercely determined and innovative spirit, even as a boy.  The picture book also brings out the fact that Cousteau loved to tinker as a boy; Yaccarino describes one occasion on which Cousteau bought a movie camera with his own money and then promptly took it apart to see how it worked.

The turning point in the picture book comes when Continue reading

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Mem Fox: Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes

Mem Fox books Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, cover artMem Fox books Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, cover art
Title: Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little ToesMem Fox books Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Author: Mem Fox, (illustrations: Helen Oxenbury)
Genre: Baby Board Books
Age Category: Infant to 5 years

Baby’s toes are one of nature’s wonderful features.  When I catch a glimpse of them I can’t help but marvel a bit.  The toe pads are almost perfectly circular.  And the skin is so fresh and pure-looking.  As parents know, they are also great for tickling and nibbling on…okay, okay, I’ll stop now.  Suffice it to say, for all you fellow baby-toe-lovers out there, this Mem Fox book is a gem that’s sure to make you and your baby smile.  It was first published in 2008, but has recently been released in a baby board book edition.

Mem Fox Book: Summary

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little ToesMem Fox books Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury opens with the following lines:

“There was one little baby who was born far away,
and another who was born on the very next day.
And both of these babies—as everyone knows—
had ten little fingers and ten little toes.” Continue reading

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Pippo Gets Lost, by Helen Oxenbury

pippo gets lost by helen oxenbury cover art
Title: Pippo Gets Lostpippo gets lost by helen oxenbury
Author: Helen Oxenbury
Genre: Best Baby Board Books
Age Category: Infant to 2 years

In my view, Helen Oxenbury’s old-school baby board books set the gold standard for children’s books in the infant-to-2-years age category.  Here I review a board book from her delightful series about Tom and Pippo.  For my review of Oxenbury’s equally delightful baby board book Clap Hands, click here.

Best Baby Board Books: Summary

Tom is a toddler with a favorite toy monkey named Pippo.  On the first page of the board book—the page with the publication details, before the story begins—there is a picture of Pippo wedged between two books on a bookcase.  As the title suggests, Pippo is lost, and this first illustration shows us where he is hiding.

When Tom discovers that Pippo is lost, he begins looking for him.  The board book’s opening line, “Sometimes Pippo gets lost…,” suggests that Pippo has been lost before (does this bring to mind any toddlers you know?). Continue reading

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Beezus and Ramona: Summary and Review

beezus and ramona by beverly cleary cover artTitle: Beezus and Ramonabeezus and ramona by beverly cleary
Author: Beverly Cleary
Genre: Juvenile Fiction / 3rd Grade Chapter Books
Age Category: 6 to 12 years

With the upcoming release of the movie “Ramona and Beezus” on July 23rd, I thought it would be fun to review Beverly Cleary’s classic  chapter book Beezus and Ramonabeezus and ramona by beverly cleary, the first in the series of books Cleary wrote starring the Quimby sisters, Beatrice (nicknamed Beezus) and Ramona. (Cleary won the Newbery Medal for Dear Mr. HenshawDear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary, and Newbery Honors for Ramona Quimby, Age 8Ramona Quimby Age 8 by Beverly Cleary, and Ramona and Her FatherRamona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary.)  While the trailer for the movie (embedded at the bottom of this post) suggests that the movie tries to capture the entire Ramona series—and thus may not be a straight translation of this children’s book into film—the movie’s title does resemble the book title (with the names in reverse order), so I’m sure there are points of connection between movie and book.

Beezus and Ramona: Summary

Beezus and Ramona beezus and ramona by beverly clearyis a character driven 3rd grade chapter book that focuses on Beezus Quimby, the 9-year-old sister of 4-year-old Ramona Quimby.  The book is essentially a series of vignettes depicting the relationship between the two sisters, in which Ramona’s mischief features prominently.  The book is different from the other books in the Ramona series in that Continue reading

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle cover art
Title: The Very Hungry CaterpillarThe Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Author: Eric Carle
Genre: Baby Board Books
Age Category: Infant to 2 years

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Summary

Eric Carle’s classic baby board book, The Very Hungry CaterpillarThe Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, begins with a small white egg resting on a leaf by moonlight.  When the sun comes up the next morning—on Sunday—the little egg hatches and a tiny, very hungry caterpillar pops out.

The caterpillar goes searching for food over the course of the week.  It finds and eats holes through several kinds of fruit, food that you might expect a caterpillar to like.  For example, on Monday he eats through an apple, on Tuesday two pears, on Wednesday three plums, and so on.  However, after eating five oranges on Friday he is still hungry (he is a very hungry caterpillar!), so on Saturday Continue reading

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Summary and Review

Harry Potter Books: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling, cover art
Title: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Age Category: 14 to 19 years +

I plan to review the seventh and last of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter booksHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling—before the release of the seventh Harry Potter movie in November, 2010.  But, I can’t review the seventh book before I review the sixth, right?  So, here’s my take on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling.  While I will not divulge here any important plot twists or outcomes of this book, I will talk about the plot of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling, so if you are worried about spoiling that book, stop reading!

Harry Potter Books: Summary

In the previous installment of the Harry Potter booksHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling—Voldemort and his minions tried to steal a prophecy (i.e., a crystal ball that preserves prophetic words previously spoken) about Harry and the Dark Lord, to help them in their wicked bid for power over the wizarding world.  With help from members of the Order of the Phoenix—a secret society formed to counter Voldemort’s forces—Harry and his friends foiled the plot in dramatic “shoot-em-up” style. (For my review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, click here.) Continue reading

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Grandfather Twilight, by Barbara Berger

grandfather twilight, by barbara berger, cover art
Title: Grandfather Twilightgrandfather twilight, by barbara berger
Author: Barbara Berger
Age Category: Infant to 2 years
Genre: Baby Board Books

Grandfather Twilight, by Barbara Berger: Summary

The central character of Barbara Berger’s baby board book Grandfather Twilightgrandfather twilight, by barbara berger is, logically enough, an old man with white hair and beard named Grandfather Twilight.  He lives in a beautiful deciduous forest and spends his days reading in a comfortable armchair, accompanied by his dog, his cat, and a bird.

The story of this board book traces Grandfather Twilight’s evening routine.  He takes a pearl from an endless strand he keeps in a wooden chest and goes for a walk with his dog.  As he walks, the pearl grows, the sounds of the forest hush, and the colors of a beautiful twilight sky fan out behind him like a misty ethereal wake.  At this point the illustrations alone tell the story for a time, unaided by text. Continue reading

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Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman: Summary and Review

Are you my Mother? by P.D. Eastman, cover art
Title: Are You My Mother?Are you my Mother? by P.D. Eastman
Author: P.D. Eastman
Age Category: 3 to 5 years
Genre: Picture Books (Beginner Books / Easy Readers)

Well, I’m a bit late with this—Mother’s Day was last Sunday—but I couldn’t resist.  This is one of my favorite Beginner Books / Easy Reader picture books.  A classic.  I still remember reading it with my mom when I was about four…

Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman: Summary

Are You My Mother?Are you my Mother? by P.D. Eastman by P.D. Eastman opens with a mother bird sitting on a big yellow egg in her nest.  The egg starts to jump and shake, so the mother bird decides she had better go and find some food to feed her baby bird, who is about to arrive.  Soon after she flies away, the egg hatches, and the baby bird asks, “Where is my mother?”

Since the baby bird can’t see his mother anywhere, he decides to go looking for her.  He steps out of the nest, falls to the ground (can’t fly yet!), and sets off on an adventure to find his mother.  He encounters a series of things—a kitten, a hen, a dog, a cow, a steamboat, an airplane, and a large steam shovel that he calls a “snort” (because it snorts!)—and asks each in turn, “Are you my mother?”.

Finally, as the baby bird is puzzling over the snort, the huge machine Continue reading

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Summary and Review

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling, cover art
Title: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Author: J.K. Rowling
Age Category: 12 to 16 years +
Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Book Review and Summary

Today I present a Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix book review and summary.  This fifth installment in J.K. Rowling’s masterful juvenile fiction series about Harry Potter picks up where the fourth book left off.  The Dark Lord Voldemort—having been restored to power at the climax of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4)Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling—and his minions are covertly at work, preparing for outright war.  They seek something Voldemort “didn’t have last time” (p. 96), i.e., when Harry was a baby and Voldemort last launched his campaign for power over the wizarding world.  But, what exactly is Voldemort seeking? This question drives the plot of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling forward on the deepest level.  Harry’s consistent experience of visions hinting at Voldemort’s activity and emotions help him and his friends in their efforts to understand and foil Voldemort’s plans.

In Rowling’s trademark style, the path toward answering the central question of the novel has many twists, turns, and subplots.  One significant subplot is Continue reading

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Children’s Books for Earth Day: One Child, One Planet

Children's Books for Earth Day, One Child One Planet, by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick, cover artTitle: One Child, One Planet: Inspiration for the Young ConservationistChildren's Books for Earth Day, One Child One Planet, by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick
Author: Bridget McGovern Llewellyn
Photographs: Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick
Age Category: 3 to 5 years +
Genre: Picture Books

Children’s Books for Earth Day

One Child, One PlanetChildren's Books for Earth Day, One Child One Planet, by Carl R. Sams II and Jean Stoick is an attractive children’s book for earth day that conveys the message and importance of resource conservation to children aged three-to-eight-years-old.  The book conveys this message via loosely rhyming verse and photographs of children and animals interacting with stunning natural landscapes and habitats.

This children’s book for earth day begins by briefly describing the earth and the trouble it faces due to global warming, and then focuses on what people—and especially children—can do to help counter global warming via conservation.  Specifically, the book points to familiar practices such as reducing the consumption of water, planting trees, conserving electricity, recycling, reducing the use of electronic devices, and generally squashing greedy consumer habits. Continue reading

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Easter Stories for Children: Petook, by Tomie dePaola, Caryll Houselander

Petook: An Easter Story, by Tomie dePaolaTitle: Petook: An Easter StoryPetook: An Easter Story, by Tomie dePaola
Illustrator: Tomie dePaola
Author: Caryll Houselander
Age Category: 3 to 5 years +
Genre: Picture Books

Creating good traditional Easter stories for children is difficult for a couple of reasons.  First, the traditional story is quite violent, so a graphically illustrated version of the story could be quite shocking or disturbing for a young child.  Second, the deep significance of the story can be pretty complicated for a young child, and so creating a picture book that tells the story in a way that is both true to New Testament theology and understandable for a young child is challenging.

Some picture books navigate these challenges by simply presenting the text from one (or several) of the Gospels along with illustrations that are not overly detailed.  I think Easter: The King James VersionEaster: The King James Version, by Jan Pienkowski, by Jan Pienkowski is a tasteful example of this approach.  As the title suggests, Pienkowski just presents relevant parts of the King James text, which she illustrates using silhouettes so the pictures are not too gory.

However, as I see it, the trouble with Easter stories for children that take this approach is that Continue reading

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The Egg Tree, by Katherine Milhous: Easter Picture Books

The Egg Tree by Katherine MilhousThe Egg Tree by Katherine MilhousTitle: The Egg TreeThe Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous
Author: Katherine Milhous
Age Category: 3 to 5 years +
Genre: Easter picture books

Easter is coming, and so I’ve been planning to review some Easter picture books.  However, when I started looking around online and in the library for good titles, it seemed there really weren’t that many.  Either I found a lot of “cute” but shallow books about eggs and bunnies—which I liken to marshmallow Peeps: sweet but not very nourishingThe Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous—or I found illustrated versions of the New Testament text.  Now, don’t get me wrong: marshmallow Peeps and the New Testament have their place; my kids will likely get a dose of both this Easter.  However, in my view, neither make for particularly good picture books.

Now, thankfully there are a few good picture books for Easter out there, two of which I’ll share with you in this and the next post.  The first one—1951 Caldecott Medal winner The Egg TreeThe Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous by Katherine Milhous—is only loosely connected with the biblical Easter tradition, as I will describe.  In the next post I will review Petook: An Easter StoryPetook: An Easter Story, by Tomie dePaola by Caryll Houselander and Tomie dePaola, which has a more direct connection with the traditional Easter story.

The Egg Tree, by Katherine Milhous: Summary

The Egg TreeThe Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous by Katherine Milhous is set in the Red Hills of Pennsylvania, in a rural Pennsylvania Dutch community.  The picture book opens with two young children—Katy and Carl—spending their first Easter on their grandmother’s farm, along with four of their cousins.  The children wake up early for an Easter egg hunt, but Katy can’t seem to find any eggs in her unfamiliar surroundings.  Feeling discouraged, she makes her way up into the attic and, to her surprise, Continue reading

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Story for Children about Saint Patrick: Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, Tomie dePaola

Tomie dePaola, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, story for children about Saint PatrickTomie dePaola, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, story for children about Saint Patrick
Title: Patrick: Patron Saint of IrelandTomie dePaola, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, story for children about Saint Patrick
Author: Tomie dePaola
Age Category: 6 to 8 years
Genre: Picture books

If you are looking for a story for children about Saint Patrick to help explain the significance of St. Patrick’s Day to 6-to-8-year-olds, Patrick: Patron Saint of IrelandTomie dePaola, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, story for children about Saint Patrick is a great one.  This children’s book is a brief, charming biography of St. Patrick, with the added bonus of several interesting legends about Patrick appended after the strictly biographical part.

Story for Children about Saint Patrick: Summary

As dePaola tells it, Patrick grew up in Britain near the Irish Sea during the late 4th- and early 5th-century CE, in the twilight of the Western Roman Empire.  One night warriors from Ireland landed on the shores near his home, raided local farms, and took many people into captivity, including the teenage Patrick.  Patrick was sold into slavery, and was forced to Continue reading

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