Friday, December 4, 2009

Mini Reviews: Children's Book Edition

I had a few review copies of children's books lying around, and I thought my Thanksgiving vacation was the perfect time to tackle them.  I read these without The Girl, as she's been swamped with work for her science fair project, and since I don't have enough to say to warrant separate posts, I figured some mini reviews would suffice.  Here goes:

Fairy Glade & Other Enchanting Tales is a collection of short stories for children by Dawn Beaumont-Lane, who I applaud for not letting dyslexia stop her from realizing her dream of becoming a writer.  Her stories feature a variety of characters -- friendly fairies who befriend a couple of children; a teddy bear and a steam engine who save a group of toys from disaster; a lizard and a frog who find some similarities among their differences; and a dove dealing with feelings of abandonment when his father leaves the nest.  Beaumont-Lane wrote some of these stories for her daughter as Christmas presents in the late 1960s at a time when she was struggling financially, and I think reading and writing are some of the greatest gifts we can pass on to our children.  I liked how the stories tried to tackle some heavy issues and provide some comfort to children, but neither the stories nor Beaumont-Lane's writing grabbed me.  I felt they could have been more polished in terms of structure, and I didn't find anything remarkable or memorable about the stories and the characters.  Also, the design of the book is a bit off-putting, as the only graphics are basic clip art.

In Otis:  The Musical Owl, the Chappelle family finds an abandoned baby owl, takes him home, and cares for him until he can be taken to an animal rehabilitation lab to learn to fly, hunt, and eventually live on his own.  (Not sure whether the author, Joseph N. Chappelle, based this obviously fictional tale on his family and a real owl, but that's my assumption.)  As Otis grows up, he masters the human language and the languages of various animal species, learns to maneuver in ways that most birds cannot, learns to control each of his feathers in time to music -- classical being his favorite -- and earns the respect of all the animals in his tiny area of New York State.  While Chappelle spends a lot of time describing Otis' musical tastes and the family that rescued him as a baby, they really don't have a lot to do with the plot, which seems to be centered on Otis finding his family and enlisting scores of other animals in the search.  Chappelle's writing is good, and I enjoyed the story until I got to the end -- where golden unicorns appear out of nowhere, along with talk of Otis traveling to faraway galaxies and some Christian preaching.  Those aspects of the story left me scratching my head, as they didn't seem to fit with the rest of the story.  Overall, it wasn't a bad book; I just wish there would have been fewer descriptions about Otis moving his feathers to music and more about the search for his family, which is accomplished too quickly and neatly.  I must remind myself that this is a children's book, but the length of the chapters and the type of words Chappelle uses makes the book suitable for ages 10 to 12 -- an age group that seems to prefer more action and tension in their stories, at least from what I know of The Girl's reading habits.

The Adventures of Songha:  The Amazing Savannah Cat by Linda R. Caterine is a fun book about a savannah cat who thinks like a queen, acts like a queen, and is determined to be treated like a queen.  Sounds pretty much like every cat I've ever owned!  Songha is a rare breed; her father is an African Serval, and because of this, Songha says she cannot be contained by walls, doors, fences, and screens.  Songha spends much of her time trying to break free to explore beyond the boundaries of the Caterine's Las Vegas home.  She doesn't want to run away, though; she just wants to roam free.  One escape brings her face to face with El Diablo, a wild coyote intimidating and killing neighborhood pets, and Caterine does a great job building tension and describing the action as Songha does her best to outrun El Diablo and save the neighborhood (I mean, her kingdom).  I really enjoyed this story, which Caterine based on the antics of the real-life Songha.  The only thing I didn't like was that Caterine ends each chapter with a poem to recap what happened in the chapter.  Because I'd just finished the chapter, the events were fresh in my mind, so I felt they were unnecessary.  I also thought Songha's going on about how wonderful she is got a little old after awhile, but the rest of the story was engaging, so I was willing to overlook it.

The Girl has expressed interest in reading The Adventures of Songha, so when she gets to it, I'll let you know her thoughts.  But she's been having problems getting into books lately.  There are so many she wants to read that she starts a new book almost every day, but she nevers seems to finish any of them.  Well, at least she's reading, right?

Disclosure:  I received free copies of Fairy Glade & Other Enhanting Tales, Otis:  The Musical Owl, and The Adventures of Songha:  The Amazing Savannah Cat from the authors for review purposes.


Serena said...

sounds like these books meant well. Perhaps the cat book included the poems for younger readers to help them follow and remember the story of each chapter...just an idea.

can't wait to see what the girl thinks.

Julie P. said...

Great post! I think Booking Daughter has the same problem. So many books and so little time!

bermudaonion said...

I love mini-reviews! Songha looks like an amazing book!

Unknown said...

I think the end of chapter poems sound interesting. Can't wait to see what The Girl thinks!

Suko said...

I don't usually judge books by mini reviews, but I think Songha is the one to pick up!

Staci said...

I love these! I haven't read picture books and younger children books in ages!! I hope that The Girl gets her reading mojo back soon..

Alyce said...

My son really liked the Adventures of Songha. The cover of the second book really doesn't appeal to me at all.

Anonymous said...

The Adventures of Songha sounds right up my daughter's alley.

Anna said...

~Serena: You're probably right, but I'm guessing The Girl wouldn't have needed the recap either.

~Julie: Exactly! The Girl didn't get to read Ivy + Bean with me either, and she was really disappointed. But we're hoping to finish up her last 2 books for the WWII challenge soon.

~bermudaonion: Thanks! I might try them again sometime. We'll see.

~Janel: I'll definitely post her thoughts after she's read it.

~Suko: You're right, Songha was a good read. I tried to be as thorough as possible in my mini-reviews. I just find that I have less to say about kid's books, but that might be because I don't read as many of them.

~Staci: I think the books under the tree will help her out with that!

~Alyce: Neither of the first two covers are very attractive. But I tried not to hold it against them. ;)

~carolsnotebook: I bet she'd enjoy it. I like the fact that it's based on a real cat!