Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Miscellaneous Madness: Spring and First 1/2 of Summer Book Reviews

It's been a while since we posted our last book reviews and that's because we spent the entirety of spring (and some of summer thus far) reading books 2 - 7 of the How to Train Your Dragon series. You might recall that we read the first in the series over the winter, and then we just couldn't stop. The characters from the first book just kept getting funnier and they added a girl character named Camicazi (!) and that did us in. Neither of us really wanted to read anything else. Then, with only one book left in the series, we decided to shift focus a bit. Dragons are still at the top of our list, but Kane has also added knights and monsters and Cam is all about all things fairytale -- princesses, to be more specific.

We've also worked audiobooks into rotation. Like many other families, summer vacations mean an increase in car travel time for us. Up to this point, mom has been happy to plug in the DVD player and let us have it -- especially when driving us by herself -- because that generally keeps us quiet. But Cam started requesting one particular Strawberry Shortcake episode over and over and over again. And I became kind of bored with watching DVDs. So mom figured she'd give the books on CD a try -- she used to travel listening to books on tape when she was little and had actually been fondly waiting to introduce them to us.

SCORE -- we've found some real wins in that category, particularly in the creative retelling of well-known fairytales. Some of them are a little over Cam's head, but mom tried to pick subject matters in which we are both interested. So even if she doesn't completely follow the story, Cam stays interested and randomly shouts out "they said Cinderella!" or "I know Snow White!," etc. And now we can't stop listening to them all over town and are guilty of sitting in our driveway running the air conditioning just to finish one more chapter.

We aren't going to give our reviews of the other How to Train Your Dragon books -- trust us, they are solidly funny and entertaining for both of us. And we're sure that we'll return to finish the last book sooner rather than later. In the meantime, here are our reviews of our other favorites (sort of divided categorically) and mom's notes as well.



Land of Stories -- The Wishing Spell

- Kane: I love the evil queen because she has interesting stories. I was really scared by what made Snow White cry -- the recipe for the poison apple. I think other kids might like this book because it's nice.

- Cameron: I love the nice queens. I didn't like the mean wolves.

- Mom: This story of two children falling into a book of fairytales was the first audiobook we tried and it was a total success -- all of us were riveted. Chris Colfer, of Glee fame, wrote and read the book himself so there was enough humor for the adults, while still being appropriate for kids. Colfer does a great recasting of classic fairytale characters and weaves a tale of their lives after the tales you know so well have ended (e.g., Goldilocks is a badass fugitive and Red Riding Hood is kind of a hussy on the prowl for her own Prince Charming -- because every other princess has one). This is actually the first in a triology and we can't wait for the second book to come out this August.

The Sisters Grimm: Books 7 & 8

- Kane: Awesome! I LOVE these ones. Although, I'm afraid that talking to the real evil queen might give them some trouble. She has strong magic. We both didn't like mirror.

- Cameron: I loved the evil queen ... because I just love her. But I didn't like the poison apple.

- Mom: We accidentally started with Book 7 in this 9-book series, but didn't have any trouble picking up there. This series also focuses on a set of siblings born into a family with fantastical ties who end up entering a storybook to help save the day. I think Kane liked this book best because there was more good-vs.-evil fighting than Land of Stories and because of the great, potty-humor loving character Puck. For Cam's sake, I liked that the two main characters were female, but there were still plenty of old school princesses in there, too. If I can find the others at the library, we might even start back at the beginning -- Kane loved them that much.

Fairytales and Princesses:

Glass Slipper, Gold Sandal: A Worldwide Cinderella

- Cameron: I love the glass slippers.

- Mom: Cam is still working on her book review style, but she really loved the illustrations in this book that pieces together parts of the classic Cinderella story from different versions across the globe to form one tale. I'm sort of irrationally averse to Disneyfied fairytales and attempted to show Cam different views of the stories she loves. I probably had the best success with this one. Likely because that girl loves her some shoes.

Sugar Cane -- A Carribean Rapunzel

- Kane: This was too scary.

- Cameron: Same.

- Mom: I'm not sure why that's the only review they wanted to give. The sorceress character was indeed much scarier in this version than in the American one they know well, but this was still a cool and beautifully illustrated version of the story.

Rumpelstiltskin (Paul O. Zelinksy)

- Kane: I liked the miller's daughter, but I didn't like Rumpelstiltskin.

- Cameron: Same. He (Rumpelstiltskin) was not nice -- he was mean.

- Mom: I picked this fairytale because I wanted to read the kids a book where the main character used some ingenuity (instead of her blonde hair) to help herself out of a bind. I don't think they necessarily picked up on that, but I have heard Cam tell someone that she didn't need a prince to rescue her, that she could "do it herself."

The Princess Knight

- Kane: I just like boy knights in the town. I don't like the girl stuff.

- Cameron: I liked the swords.

- Mom: I think Kane was partially just giving me a hard time in his review, but this is one of Cameron's favorite books from her school library. It's a great story of a little girl who trains to be a knight (first at her father's urging, but then secretly). Her father proclaims that the winner of a jousting tournament can have her hand, but Violetta enters the tournament in disguise and wins the whole thing to rescue herself.


Vampire State Building 

- Kane: I loved it. I loved everything, especially the chess tournament and the vampires. But I was scared about Buddy Ryan [the rallying chess champ] -- that he might be a vampire and get angry and bite your head off if you won the chess tournament.

- Cameron: I didn't like anything. It was too scary for me -- tell the library that.

- Mom: on our recent geocaching tour of DC street murals, we ran into some impromptu face painting and Kane chose to be painted as a vampire. Since then, he's been kind of obsessed with vampires and other monsters -- we've already all had to agree to be a family of vampires for Halloween. And he's started playing some chess this summer, too. So this book about a chess friendship that develops between an American boy and a Romanian boy (or is he a vampire?) was perfect for him. It was suspenseful without being too frightening, but had some very odd-placed advice on being careful when using the internet (the two boys meet by playing internet chess).

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich

- Kane: It was awesome and really funny. My favorite was the "there's a place in France ..." song.

- Cameron: I liked the mummy one. It was so, so funny.

- Mom: this book was flipping hysterical. Clever mini stories, rhymes, poems and songs about classic monsters doing ordinary things and turning the very thing that is supposed to make each one scary, on its head. I couldn't stop laughing at the vignettes of The Phantom of the Opera placed throughout the book. Get this book. Seriously. If your kid isn't into monsters, maybe wait until Halloween. But get it.

Geronimo Stilton -- The Quest for Paradise (The Return to the Kingdom of Fantasy Series)

- Kane: I loved it. I loved all the kingdoms and I liked the puzzles.

- Mom: this is actually the second in a mini-series of the quite large overall Geronimo Stilton series. We happened upon it sort of accidentally and both kids LOVED it. Each page is filled with illustrations and colorful text in different fonts. And every few pages (at least in this one) has a puzzle to solve, code to unlock, or game to play. Kane brought this to summer camp with him because he wanted to continue reading it during the day at school. He also liked the Geronimo Stilton "Haunted Castle," and we're working on a spinoff series of Thea Stilton -- "The Journey to Atlantis" -- which they like, but it's not as good as The Quest for Paradise.

When Mermaids Sleep

- Cameron: It is beautiful.

- Mom: this simple, bedtime story has all our bases covered: mermaids, dragons, pirates, gryphons. And I love the illustrations. This is Cam's #1 requested book before bed.


Liz D said...

Do you rent the CDs from the public library or purchase them? I have a DC public library card and I've never used it. This is a brilliant idea!

Kane and Cameron said...

Hi, Liz! We just check them out for free from various DC libraries. We've found a pretty wide selection in the kids' section, but not always every book in a series that we want. So we're considering doing a rental program, like Amazon's, too. It's really made such a difference in our car travel! I grew up listening to the Fisher Price Spellbinder series and I'm still on the hunt for those ....