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scrounge: /skrounj/ informal verb: to actively seek [books] from any available source

I thought P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever looked like an amusing book when I first saw it, so I was glad I got it for Christmas last month. It'll make a great conversation piece, and as a proofreader I'm all too familiar with the difficulty that certain English words give us (myself included) -- we have plenty of exceptions to our language rules!

I was indeed amused while reading this, and found it a fun way to collect a good percentage of silent consonants in one place. Probably this wouldn't appeal to children until they were old enough to be reading some of these more difficult English words, but it could also be useful for someone who's learning English as an adult.

In some ways this alphabet book isn't consistent, because not every letter is used as a silent first letter the way P is (as in "Ptolemy the psychic pterodactyl struggles with psoriasis"), but that's understandable. For many letters, the text instead focuses on silent letters in other parts of words (such as the "n" in "hymn" and "autumn" or the "z" in "rendezvous"). Sometimes the book simply points out what a letter is not for, as in "F is not for photo, phlegm, phooey, or phone." Occasionally it "cheats" a little and focuses on words that are more clearly from other languages (J is for Jai Alai, a sport of Basque origin). 

But despite the fact that I think it "reaches" for a few of these, the premise is funny and it does a good job collecting so many weird words with silent letters. At the end is a glossary, which is helpful because I've always wondered how "gnocchi" was pronounced, plus it includes an explanation for why "ptero" got the "p" in the first place.

Scrounged From: A Christmas present from my brother

Format: Hardcover
Authors: Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter
Illustrator: Maria Beddia
Pages: 32
Content Advisory: None

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Winter Bees is a wonderful picture book of Joyce Sidman's poetry, especially fitting for those who live in a cold climate like we do. Have you ever wondered where bees go in the winter? Or voles, or beavers? This book contains a double-page spread on each featured piece of nature (mostly animals), containing a poem and then a few paragraphs of information about how the animal gets through winter, which helps to fill out the information in the poem.

The poetry here is lovely, and full of clever descriptive phrases. Most poems are of moderate length, managing to communicate a clear picture of winter survival without becoming repetitive or overly wordy.

Bees are "an ancient tribe, a hardy scrum... Together, we boil, we teem, we hum."

Snoflakes are "a lattice of stars spinning silently..."

A raven is a "Squawker, Croaker, Alarm-on-the-wind."

The poem about beavers is written as a pantoum, a poetry form that I don't remember encountering before, featuring some neat repetition of lines.

The illustrations here are amazing -- colorful, full of texture and life. I especially love how a long picture of a branch is drawn as moving from autumn to winter at the beginning of the book, and then again at the end it is shown morphing from winter into spring. 

Scrounged From: Our local library

Format: Hardcover
Author: Joyce Sidman
Illustrator: Rick Allen
Pages: 32
Content Advisory: None

More Reviews at Amazon

As Time Went By is a deceptively simple story in three parts about: a ship that breaks down and is eventually abandoned, a prosperous family that loses their wealth and has to go live with the other poor people, and a group of poor people who fix up a ship to use it for their new home.

The story is low on details, and seems sad at first, but I liked the ending. I like how the story forms a loop -- following the ship from its prosperous days, through abandonment, and then to its upcycled use as a dwelling. I suppose this story might be about class. It also asks (in a way subtle enough that children might miss it): what makes a person important?

Maybe it won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I really liked it, and the smoky illustrations were lovely as well.

Scrounged From: Our local library

Format: Hardcover
Author/Illustrator: Jose Sanabria
Pages: 48
Content Advisory: None

More Reviews at Amazon

Holes is a book that sat on my to-read pile for a long time, because I'd already seen the movie a few years back, so I wasn't as eager to read a story I'd already heard. Still, not only did I really enjoy the book, but it reminded me how much I really did enjoy the movie as well.

Even though I remembered quite a few of the details, I'd pretty much forgotten the ending, so it was nice that the story added details to what I already knew but saved some surprise for what I didn't.

Stanley Yelnats (yes, his name is a palindrome) is arrested after a freak accident makes it appear that he stole a famous baseball player's shoes. His family's life has generally been unlucky, and they blame it all on his great-grandfather who brought a curse on his family after neglecting to fulfill a promise he made to a friend.

Stanley is sent to Camp Green Lake, which was once a lake but is now a desert, and the boys at the camp are required to each dig a hole in the ground every day. 

It's an odd premise, but I love how the story occasionally flashes back in time to build layers of story until things gradually begin to make sense and you start to see how different characters are interrelated -- dare I say, it's a bit like an onion. Due to the complexity, it's not surprising that the movie doesn't deviate very much from the story, and it's neat that the author wrote the screenplay as well.


Sachar doesn't waste words as he describes the odd characters and their interactions, and so the book flows quickly along. I really enjoyed the story, and now it makes me want to watch the movie again.

Scrounged From: A local flea market

Format: Paperback
Author: Louis Sachar
Pages: 233
Content Advisory: A couple scenes involve violence -- some descriptions of death but not gratuitous.

More Reviews at Amazon

I've read many Bible stories for children over the years. We grew up on Kenneth Taylor's The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes and now we like Sally Lloyd-Jones's Jesus Storybook Bible. We've also read many picture books featuring individual stories -- some I liked, others were more generic, poorly illustrated, or tried too hard to make the story into something it didn't need to be. Still, I could list many good ones, but here are some I really like, some of which are by authors who are well known even outside the realm of religious literature.

 

Jerry Pinkney is a Caldecott-winning artist who has illustrated many books for children, including a wordless version of The Lion and the Mouse. Here in Noah's Ark, Pinkney tells the simple story from the Bible without messing with the narrative -- but the attention to detail in his words and paintings capture the epic scope of this story, as well as the courage and sense of survival. (When it comes to this particular story, we also enjoy Peter Spier's wordless version of Noah's Ark.)

 

I enjoyed The Very First Christmas board book because it tells the story from a Christian perspective, and doesn't feel the need to embellish the narrative with speculation. The story is a bit choppy at first for this reason, but it relates Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem, and the special visitors the baby Jesus received, paired with beautiful, reverent illustrations. See my full review of both versions of this book here.

 

I was pleasantly surprised to see a Creation picture book from Cynthia Rylant at our library, since I didn't realize that she was an illustrator as well. The text here is right from the King James version of the Bible, which is probably more familiar to many people despite the archaic language -- it does have a certain poetic feel to it. The paintings are fairly simple, with broad brush strokes and few details, but I think it works well and helps to capture the simplicity and repetitive nature of the text.

 

When I first saw the cover of this book, I assumed it was the story of the shepherd and the lost sheep, from the parable Jesus told. But it's actually a very modernized version of Psalm 23. Still, the illustrations show the commonalities between these two passages, and the title, Found, helps bring the ideas together. Love is the central theme here -- God's love never fails. This is a delightful (and sturdy) large-sized board book from Sally Lloyd-Jones, and I really liked the colors and texture in Jago's illustrations as well.

 

Psalms may not be "stories," but they can communicate many important ideas about God and people's relationship to him. Psalms of Praise takes a look at a few short verses from the book of Psalms, focusing on different postures -- a fun way to teach children how to relate to God, and also about different forms of movement, from walking, lying down, running, and even jumping over a wall! I've really enjoyed both titles I've read from this series of board books -- see my review for the "opposites primer" about the creation story here.

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