Friday, December 30, 2011

Much-loved Books 2011: Part 2

This is the second part of the two-part compilation of books our beloved ST family child(ren) enjoyed the most - a book that possibly had the most impact, perhaps became an all-time favorite, or maybe just a book that came into their hands at the right time.

Choxbox's picks:

Like my other ST friends, I find it a rather tough task to pick out a favourite among the books we have read this year. Before I launch into it, here's a wish - may the task get trickier next year!

For my younger child, the Humphrey series by Betty G.Birney have found particular favour. These delightful tales of a hamster who is a class pet, are full of wise and witty observations of things that fill up a 6-year old’s life, like friendship, school and holidays.

For my older child, I think I'll just plug the last set of books she has read – the Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage. But oh wait, I cannot – I haven't finished the series myself. All I can tell you is that the books and the child could not separated for quite a while.

Maybe I should review the ones she is currently reading (I mean re-reading) – The Magic Thief series by Sarah Prineas, except that I haven't read these either.

Inkheart series – now we are talking. I have managed to read just the first one and can tell you it is stupendous. All about a bookbinder who finds out quite by accident that he has the magical ability to bring to life characters of stories that he reads aloud.

Enough for a master storyteller like Cornelia Funke to take off and create a thrilling saga that has been a hit world-wide, even been made into a film recently. The child tells me the first is the best of the lot, but that is not going to stop me from reading the other two as soon as I can.

[image source: Betty G. Birney's website,]

Praba's picks:

Harry Potter
By J.K. Rowling

 It was a year that screamed "POTTER" for us. Thanks to the nine year old discovering the series. We also thanked our cards for not having gotten into it during its hyped-up-heydays. As a family, we joined her to read the books and watch the movies. The books were enjoyed on several levels. Discussions based on the characters, the plot, and the writing were some. Guess-who-the-character-is game being the highlight of all.

And as for the five year old, it was always fun to watch the budding speller and reader make a mental map of characters, from A to Z...A for Arthur Weasley, B for Bellatrix Lestrange, C for Charlie Weasley, and all the way to Peter Pettigrew and Dolores Umbridge and of course, V for Voldemort, which sometimes also found itself morphing as L for Lord Voldemort. Overall, the books were fascinating reads for us filling our year with a fantastic, fantasy focus. :)

[image source:]

The True Story of Three Little Pigs
Written By Jon Scieszka
Illustrated by Lane Smith

Fairy tales like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, The Three Little Pigs have always been hot favorites with the five year old. Right since her toddler and preschool years in fact. Any fair tale angle and the story would promptly get picked up. Pictures are pored over while the text read over and over.

As a conscious effort to read something different this year, I picked up The True Story of Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka, in the same genre. The book weaves the classical tale from the wolf's angle.Although I wasn't sure if she fully got the humor. But here too, it was the huffing and puffing part that won the highest points. Overall, a book that begged for attention from the sprightly five year old who has been brimming with opinions and questions this entire year.

I absolutely loved Lane Smith's sepia-toned, cleverly done, vintage-style illustrations. Jon Scieszka's quirky text offered a riot of a read-aloud.Published in the 80's, it was fun to discover this picture book in the earlier part of 2011 as part of my local library's ready-to-read program for which I used to volunteer. I also found out recently from an ST friend that Lane Smith and Jon Scieska have teamed up for other similar witty ones. Lane won the Caldecott Honor medal for the Stinky Cheese Man.

[image source:]

Satish and Ranjani's picks:

Sooraj, our 9 year old son, graduated to reading chapter books full time and seems to be more influenced by friends rather than parents this year. He, as usual, went through phases where he kept reading books for days without a break and switched over to a phase where he did not pick up any book for more than a month. Roald Dahl was a favorite the early part of this year, but, it kept changing over the months.

His current all time favorite for the year is the Percy Jackson series. He enjoys reading about the various gods, comparing them with Gods of other mythologies and is fascinated that kids can fight against Gods. This lead to many questions about the nature of Gods and religion.

[image source:]

Shraddha, our 5 year old daughter, loves to look at the picture books and make up her own stories. She was fascinated by Meerkat Mail by Emily Gravett. But, her favorite of the year remains the Lady Bird Early Learner Series. This book series gives her the confidence that she can also read books. She feels extremely happy when she finishes these books and thinks she can read as well as her parents and brother.

Wordjunkie's picks:
Finding Violet Park
Author: Jenny Valentine
Publisher: Harper Collins
Ages: YA

I read a great deal of YA fiction this year - fantasy sagas, dystopic world views, vampire mushies, coming-of-age tales that ranged from the violent to the whacky, unending trilogies about Chosen Ones on quests - but the unchallenged winner of the lot has to be the quiet, unassuming 'Finding Violet Park'.

Written by British author Jenny Valentine, this is a sweet and sad story about a boy struggling to deal with the absence of his father. Fifteen year old Lucas Swain hasn't seen his dynamic journalist father since the man vanished into thin air five years ago, leaving behind three children, a distraught wife, and a whole lot of unanswered questions. Lucas is convinced his father will return – he clings to this imagined idea of what his father was like, even when evidence suggests otherwise.

'Finding..' had me at hello – narrated by Lucas, it made me laugh and cry and grieve with this awkward teenager desperately holding onto this ideal vision of a father he has never truly known. Lucas has a terrific voice – he is sarcastic and funny, but also capable of some very profound insights into people ( though his blind spot is clearly his dad).

Author Valentine fills the book with interesting, believable characters. I loved how the plot weaves all kinds of little clues together, culminating in an ending as surprising as it is heartwarming.

[Image Source:]

Right Where You Are Now
Author: Lisa Montierth
Illustrator: Ashley Burke
Publisher: Craigmore Creations
Ages: 3+

Picture books remain an addiction , and I have discovered some terrific writers and illustrators this year - Emily Gravett, Susan Roth, Mo Willems, Marcellus Hall, Don Tate, Romare Bearden. But since I can only pick one for this list, I choose the lusciously coloured 'Right Where You are Now', a bedtime tale about a very unconventional theme - evolution.

Written by Lisa Montierth and illustrated by Ashley Burke, the book conjures up visions of a world where the only constant is change, of an earth ceaselessly shifting, flowing and moving with time. "Can you imagine what may come to be, right where you are now?" the book asks in the end, prompting some very animated bedtime discussions over at my house.

A great book for introducing the concept of evolution to our tiny explorers.

[Image Source:]

Sandhya's picks:
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Written by Joanne Kathleen Rowling
Published by Bloomsbury
Age 10+

I don't think my first book requires much of an introduction. Reading the Harry Potter books has been quite an experience, especially with A. I have been a firm believer in the reading aloud of books, and I have always read aloud to A at all stages of her competence - always choosing books a wee bit beyond her. So the Harry Potter books seemed the perfect set when we began with the first when she was just 8 yrs old, finishing with HP7 this year, racing just in time to be able to watch the last movie on the big screen.

 HP, I think is about more than just the story, the incredibly wonderful characterisation, the rich imagination and impeccable English. Not all of it has come across in the movies.

It is also a story with a philosophy, with a lot of logic, the interlinking of plots, the way Rowling never introduces anything which may not be significant at some other stage, the way even her comic relief has a place in the larger picture. That mountains can be moved by faith, hope, love, compassion, courage, sacrifice, loyalty, team work and hard work. That even those considered too far gone can get back on the right track if only they wanted to. That there is always a choice.

Deathly Hallows can be read at many levels. A fast paced tale. A story of good versus evil. A coming of age tale. A fantasy, fairy tale, very realistically told. A tale of true and lasting friendships. A beautifully detailed story with plots and subplots that dovetail to tie up most ends.

[Image courtesy flipkart]

A Kick in the Head:An everyday guide to poetic forms
Selected by Paul B Janeczko
Illustrated by Chris Raschka
Published by Candlewick Press

Ages: 8+

Do you know what a couplet is? A quatrain? A haiku? A sonnet? A limerick? A ballad? An elegy? An ode? You do? Great!

Now, do you know what a clerihew is? A roundel? A triolet? A villanelle? A senryu? An aubade? An acrostic? A pantoum? A cinquain? No? Do all those words sound as if they were a set of carpenter's / goldsmith's tools? Or some kind of flowers or herbs? (That is what A thought they were.) Well, they're not. They're forms of poetry, which follow certain rules.

Let's take an acrostic- one of the simplest way for a child to write poetry. "Descriptive poems- when read downward, the first letter of each line must form a word or phrase, usually the subject of the poem." It is a form that any enterprising child can experiment with, using any word that they may. Even their own or their friends' names. And it can be so much fun! An example:

Santa Claus will come out tonight
And deliver presents
Near the
Time of midnight you can hear him
And what you will hear are the words ho ho ho

All these poetic forms have certain rules that have to be followed, for them to fit in the particular category. As Paul Janeczko explains in his foreword, "Knowing the rules makes poetry -- like sports -- more fun, for players and spectators alike." 

Beautifully illustrated in quirky watercolours by Chris Raschka, the book can be read as a picture book for younger children too, as the lilt and rhythm will appeal to the little ones too. Older children can appreciate the poems better, the form, the themes and the beauty of them. High school kids? The details of each poetry form will make much sense to the student with a literary bent of mind. Adults too can take a lot away from the book. Great for learning a particular form at a time, researching it, dabbling in it. Or just to keep it on the shelf to dip into a bit of poetic joy from time to time!

Acrostics, concrete poems, opposites, riddles, limericks, tanka, haiku...A and I have tried our hand a little bit at each. Why don't you try it?

[Image courtesy flipkart]


Choxbox said...

Sandhya, we loved Kick in the Head too - has led to much fun with the language. One of the best I have seen. Should so be used in schools.
Love your take on HP, and Praba and her kids' unique games around it.

Will look out for the other picks.
As always, enjoyed reading these lists.

Arundhati said...

Made a mental note of Praba's activities. Am so going to send Sandhya's to people who say HP is just a lot of hype... apart from saying 'Never judge a book by the movie' :p

Will keep my eye out for the others here

Arundhati said...


Wishing everyone at ST a very happy new year!

Sheela said...

We loved A Kick In The Head too - it inspired a 'Teacher' acrostic poem: Ana wrote one about her teacher - one line for each letter - and gave it to her KG teacher last year.

sandhya said...

Thanks, Chox, Arundhati, Sheela!

Chox, we loved Inkheart, too. Whatta book!

WJ- your review of 'Finding Violet Park' is very compelling. Will look out for this one.

Prabha- that the a wonderful thing about fairy tales isn't it? The various ways in which re-telling can be done? A and I often discuss this- what a particular story would be like if told from the POV of a different character. To some extent we can see this in narratives told through the eyes of different characters, istead of just the one protagonist. A wonderful format for historical fiction, IMO.

Vidya said...

@Choxbox: Thank you. Will watch this space for more:)

@Praba: I'm so loving another chance at HP when reading it to my 9 yr old:)

utbtkids said...

Just read THREE LITTLE PIGS by JON SCIESZKA. The wolf's perspective is hilarious.

Choxbox said...

The chap rocks absolutely right utbt?!
I picked up his 'The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Stories' from a used book shop, it had me snorting away with mirth.

Math Curse (illustrated by none other than Lane Smith of Its a Book fame) is rocking too, check it out.

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