Mysterious Traveler by Mal Peet & Elspeth Graham (P.J. Lynch, Illustrator)

I haven’t covered a children’s picture book in a while and was motivated to post on one when I picked up Mysterious Traveler from the local library.

Already an old man, desert guide Issa has seen thousands of dawns. One particular morning, however, the desert reveals something new; something that changes his life. Tucked away in a narrow cave, shielded from a treacherous dust storm by a faithful camel, a baby girl lies wrapped in fine cotton and wearing half of a star medallion around her neck. Issa names the girl Mariama. As years pass, Issa loses his sight, and Mariama becomes his eyes. So Issa doesn’t see the pattern on the robes of a mysterious young traveler who comes through their village, or the medallion he wears. Who is this young stranger, and what does his arrival mean for the life Issa and Mariama share in the desert?

It is a wonderfully evocative and engaging story with gorgeous art. It is a simple story, with admittedly very little suspense but it has an elegance and warmth to it.

A great read-aloud book but also a good book for young readers.

Mysterious Traveller Possible cover First copies of Mysterious Traveler lo res

Best of 2013 – My Top Five Books for Younger Readers

If you have been following along at home, we have been covering my 2013 reading and picking out favorites.  We kicked it off on New Years Day with some basic statistics …

  • 73 total books read
  • 17,705 pages
  • 49 were fiction
  • 20 were aimed at Young Adult, Middle Grade, or Children’s audiences
  • 24 were non-fiction
  • 12 were audiobooks

… and I listed my top five in the fiction category.

Yesterday, we tackled Non-Fiction.  Today I want to discuss a third category which I am calling books for younger readers.  I read a mix of young adult, middle grade, chapter books, children’s literature, etc.  So I am going to just include all of those in their own category.

So here are my five favorites from that grouping:

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

I had this on my To Be Read list for sometime and my mother-in-law was kind enough to buy it off my wish list.  I then saw in audio format at the library and decided to listen to it in the car. It turned out to be nothing like I expected but it was creative and entertaining enough to make this list. I will post a review here shortly.

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

When we think of imaginative fantasy you often think of world building-authors who create alternate worlds that are so detailed and functional that they seem real. Stiefvater instead creates these wonderful characters and uses them to illustrate how magic infuses our world. The result is a captivating mix of the weird, quirky, wonderful and dangerous.

The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

This is a series that pulls you forward even as you seek to savor it.  It balances those equally enjoyable sensations and that is what makes it great.  If you like fantasy, and/or paranormal, young adult literature this series is a must read.  But the characters and prose are enjoyable no matter what genre you tend to read. Good storytelling escapes easy classification and this is good storytelling.

Fortunately, The Milk by Neil Gaiman

It takes a simple concept like running to the corner store to buy milk and turns it into an adventure. There is creative word play, whimsical characters and even a few plot twists. I enjoyed the wit and creativity of the story. My kids loved it as a read-aloud bedtime story. And I my third grade daughter can read it on her own. And we all loved the evocative illustrations which add another layer of fun to the story. Truly a book for the whole family.

The Sandman and the War of Dreams (The Guardians #4) by William Joyce

I have enjoyed this series (both the chapter books and the children’s picture books) and so grabbed this one from the library just before vacation. It turned out to be a great addition and perhaps my favorite of the series so far.  Interesting characters and some tension filled plot twists make for filling in the back story on the guardians a fun ride.  Look for a longer review soon.

So there you have it. Two books (and a new favorite series) from an author I had not read before, two books from favorite authors, and an unexpected but entertaining book from another author I had not previously read. Not surprisingly, all have a fantastical element as that is mostly the genre I read in the younger reader group.  But all were unique in style and tone with very different authors.  Fun all around.

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

As I mentioned when the book trailer/teaser came out, I knew immediately I was going to need to buy and read Neil Gaiman‘s latest book Fortunately, the Milk.

“I bought the milk,” said my father. “I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road.”

“Hullo,” I said to myself. “That’s not something you see every day. And then something odd happened.”

Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal, expertly told by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young.

And it didn’t take long to buy it or to read it.  I, of course, read it immediately to see if it was a suitable and appropriate for my kids to read.  Once I had made the determination that it was in fact a hilarious yarn with equally enjoyable illustrations, I read it to my kids who agreed with my assessment.

The problem with Neil Gaiman books is finding new ways to talk about his talent.  Witty, imaginative, quirky, silly, yet deeply human, etc. Fortunately, the Milk is all of these things.

Continue reading

Book Find: The Mousewife by Rumer Godden

As regular readers will know, I am a sucker for well designed and illustrated children’s classics.  So when I stumbled on The New York Review Children’s Collection volume of The Mousewife by Rumer Godden at a library sale for fifty cents I had to pick it up.  Described as a “lovely fable about unexpected friendship and bittersweet love” in mint condition with wonderful pen-and-ink drawings by William Pene du Bois – an easy choice.

Day in and day out the dutiful mousewife works alongside her mousehusband in the house of Miss Barbara Wilkinson. It is a nice house and the mousewife is for the most part happy collecting crumbs and preparing a nest for her future mouse-babies—yet she yearns for something more. But what? Her husband, for one, can’t imagine. “I think about cheese,” he advises her. “Why don’t you think about cheese?”

Then an odd and exotic new creature, a turtledove, is brought into the house and placed in a gilded cage. A friendship develops as the dove tells the mousewife about things no house mouse has ever imagined, blue skies, tumbling clouds, tall trees, and far horizons, the memory of which haunt the dove in her captivity. The dove’s tales fill the mousewife with wonder and inspire her to take daring action.

I found it to be a melancholy little story of friendship. Spare but evocative. A engaging story for young readers or to be read out loud as a family. May spark conversations about friendship, freedom, empathy and risk. And that is a good thing, right?

The author has an interesting background as well:

Rumer Godden (1907–1998) grew up in India, where her father ran a steamship company. When her husband left her penniless in Calcutta with two daughters to raise, she started to write books to pay off her many debts. She wrote more than sixty books for adults and young adults, including The Doll’s House, Impunity JaneThe Greengage SummerAn Episode of Sparrows and The Mousewife.

Just another example of why I enjoy spending a few minutes at the Friends of the Library sales whenever I go to the library. I support the library, enjoy the hunt for books like this one, and then get to enjoy the book for years to come.  All for fifty cents!

Voyage with the Vikings by Paul McCusker, Marianne Hering (Imagination Station #1)

Voyage with the Vikings, the first in the Imagination Station series, is yet another book I picked up for free for my Kindle.  It is also a book I picked up for my daughter to read but wanted to read first. That the book featured a girl as a lead character was a factor as well.

Here is the publisher’s description:

While visiting Mr. Whittaker at Whit’s Soda Shoppe, Beth and Patrick find a mysterious letter in the Imagination Station requesting a Viking sunstone. The letter is old and says that someone named Albert will be imprisoned if the sunstone isn’t found. Mr. Whittaker sends cousins Patrick and Beth to Greenland circa 1000. On their quest for the sunstone, the cousins meet Vikings Erik the Red and Leif Eriksson–and find the sunstone as they join Leif on his first voyage to North America. But the adventure is just beginning, for when they return to Mr. Whittaker’s workshop with the sunstone, there is another note waiting for them, requesting a silver goblet.

It turned out to be a sort of Christian version The Magic Treehouse series.  Kids go back in time and encounter history and must think there way out of the particular mystery they face in order to get back home.  In this case, the perspective of the children is explicitly Christian and their interaction with the people of the past reflects that as does the character building.

With that in mind, it is fairly well done.  Given its length and style it is not surprisingly rather thin on character development and suspense. But it has an interesting hook, the imagination station and time travel, and offers readers a glimpse into historical characters, geography, etc. It is a quick read and I would imagine a good choice for young readers.

I will also note that my daughter was somewhat disappointed that what she thought would be the lead female character actually takes a somewhat secondary role.  She complained that the boy, Patrick, is the one who has all the action scenes and “saves” the girl, Beth, on a number of occasions.  So take that into consideration for any young budding feminists.

But if you are looking for a fun chapter books series from an explicitly Christian viewpoint, this Imagination Station series from Tyndale House publishers is worth a look.

Voyage with the Vikings by Paul McCusker, Marianne Hering (Imagination Station #1)

Voyage with the Vikings, the first in the Imagination Station series, is yet another book I picked up for free for my Kindle.  It is also a book I picked up for my daughter to read but wanted to read first. That the book featured a girl as a lead character was a factor as well.

Here is the publisher’s description:

While visiting Mr. Whittaker at Whit’s Soda Shoppe, Beth and Patrick find a mysterious letter in the Imagination Station requesting a Viking sunstone. The letter is old and says that someone named Albert will be imprisoned if the sunstone isn’t found. Mr. Whittaker sends cousins Patrick and Beth to Greenland circa 1000. On their quest for the sunstone, the cousins meet Vikings Erik the Red and Leif Eriksson–and find the sunstone as they join Leif on his first voyage to North America. But the adventure is just beginning, for when they return to Mr. Whittaker’s workshop with the sunstone, there is another note waiting for them, requesting a silver goblet.

It turned out to be a sort of Christian version The Magic Treehouse series.  Kids go back in time and encounter history and must think there way out of the particular mystery they face in order to get back home.  In this case, the perspective of the children is explicitly Christian and their interaction with the people of the past reflects that as does the character building.

With that in mind, it is fairly well done.  Given its length and style it is not surprisingly rather thin on character development and suspense. But it has an interesting hook, the imagination station and time travel, and offers readers a glimpse into historical characters, geography, etc. It is a quick read and I would imagine a good choice for young readers.

I will also note that my daughter was somewhat disappointed that what she thought would be the lead female character actually takes a somewhat secondary role.  She complained that the boy, Patrick, is the one who has all the action scenes and “saves” the girl, Beth, on a number of occasions.  So take that into consideration for any young budding feminists.

But if you are looking for a fun chapter books series from an explicitly Christian viewpoint, this Imagination Station series from Tyndale House publishers is worth a look.