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inkspotswis has commented on (18) products.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Book Thief

inkspotswis, January 1, 2010

My pick for the best book of the year.
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The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
The Magician's Elephant

inkspotswis, September 7, 2009

The bizarre – an elephant magically falling through the roof of a packed opera house – meshes with the dreamingly poignent – an orphaned brother and sister’s wish to be reunited -- in a tenderhearted tale that celebrates the connections between us and the courage it takes to follow dreams. Newbery Medal-winning author Kate DiCamillo succeeds once again with “The Magician’s Elephant,” a story about a magician who one winter evening brings an elephant crashing down onto his audience. On that same evening in the same city, a fortune teller informs a boy that an elephant will appear and lead him to his presumed-dead sister. A begger and his a blind dog, a noblewoman crippled by the falling elephant, a nun who oversees the local orphanage, a policeman and his wife who have no children of their own, a crippled former stonecutter hired to scoop elephant poop, the elephant, the boy Peter and his sister Adele form an ensemble cast who confront life’s deepest questions in their nighttime dreams, and who, each in their own small way, contribute to the tale’s simple yet miraculous conclusion. Each mired in their own difficult circumstances, the characters don’t have much reason to believe that life will change. But one by one they allow themselves to ask “what if?” What if they took a chance, what if they believed that change was possible, what if they were capable of making it happen? When that mindset takes hold, amazing things occur. The black and white illustrations bolster the story’s wintry feel, as characters wish for snow as they suffer through gray, laden skies and bitter cold. The perfect illustrative accompaniment to a story about daring to move after long standing still.
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(2 of 2 readers found this comment helpful)

The Road to Revolution! (Cartoon Chronicles of America)
The Road to Revolution! (Cartoon Chronicles of America)

inkspotswis, September 3, 2009

If children can envision themselves in a historical era they may actually read about the past and learn something. That’s the idea behind books like cartoon-based “Road to Revolution,” that inject fictional characters into real history. Unlike real people, they can move around and can be eyewitness to key moments at the author’s will. The cartoon feel, naturally, further entices.

“Road to Revolution” follows Penny, the daughter of a Revolutionary War-era Boston tavern owner and Nick, an orphan who befriends her. By being conveniently in the right place at the right time the duo overhear important British conversations and relay them to undercover patriots. They find themselves at a commemoration of the 1770 Boston Massacre, held at the packed Old South Meeting-House. Later, Penny overhears British officers planning an invasion. And at the Old North Church on the night of Paul Revere’s famous ride, Nick helps light the lanterns that told rebels the British were advancing by a water route.

Age-appropriately reigning in its graphics, the book also delves into the horrors of war, including the death of a real-life Patriot leader and mentor of Nick’s on Breed’s Hill.

From a historical perspective, the hero and heroine sometimes talk and act a bit more modern than kids of that time might have. Penny, in particular, seems a bit more bold than girls of that era. But that can be excused given the emphasis on their being fictional, and the goal of drawing in modern young readers, who relate best to people like themselves.

Mack and Champlin also go to pains to lay out a chapter-by-chapter epilogue account of which moments were actual history and which were fictional. Interestingly, those that were fictional were based on legend. For instance, legend has it that a girlfriend of the one of the participants offered her petticoat to muffle the oars on a boat trip across the Charles River. In the book, Penny did the offering.

Ultimately, a good account that teaches kids what they need to know, while well-delineating the line between what is real and imaginary. Depending on the child an adult might have to help them see the line, but it is there.
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(7 of 9 readers found this comment helpful)

The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
The Lion & the Mouse

inkspotswis, September 3, 2009

When the art is this stunning text only detracts. In his retelling of a classic Aesop’s fable, renowned author and illustrator Jerry Pinkney stuck to illustrations only, with the exception of occasional animal sound words like squeak, screech and roar. And what a good choice. The cover art, featuring a yellow-eyed, whisker-joweled, firey-maned lioned staring down a pink eared, knuckle-toed, bucktoothed mouse, is so exceptionally beautiful you would hate to see a printed title cover even a millimeter of it. So, happily, the title runs up the spine. The tale is a familiar one. After a mighty lion frees a small mouse that he might have eaten, the mouse returns the debt by nibbling the lion out of a hunter’s net. While the blazing oranges of the lion’s mane form the most spectacular image, other details further the delight. The setting, in the African Serengeti, allows for a great array of animal life as well as small, geographically distinct details like colorful flowers, grasses, insects and butterflies. Beautiful beyond words.
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(5 of 7 readers found this comment helpful)

Richard Bong: World War II Flying Ace (Badger Biographies) by Pete Barnes
Richard Bong: World War II Flying Ace (Badger Biographies)

inkspotswis, September 3, 2009

The Wisconsin Historical Society Press continues its time-trek around the state with the twelfth installment of “Badger Biographies” of Wisconsin residents. This time the series, geared for fourth-graders who are learning state history, looks at Poplar native Richard Bong, one of World War II’s most decorated American fighter pilots who died tragically in a training accident in 1945, soon after returning home from the Pacific.

In addition to focusing on Bong’s character and family life, the book is a good primer on how pilots were trained and what they experienced in combat skies of that era. Aircraft enthusiasts will find mention and photos of many different types of American and Japanese planes and a discussion of flying formations and maneuvers used by the opposing sides. On a human level, Bong’s dislike of publicity is a testament to his down-to-earth personality, and a good lesson for young readers. The Bong family’s involvement in the book is evident in those sentiments and in personal photos and reminisces. Like previous titles in the series, “Richard Bong: World War II Flying Ace” includes a glossary, index, reading group guide and suggested activities. Another great title in a much-needed niche series.
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