Book Review: Spark

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Spark by Sarah Beth Durst is a delightful fantasy for middle grade readers.

Twelve-year-old Mina is a quiet girl. She lives with her boisterous family on a farm in Alorria, a land with perfect weather thanks to the storm beasts and their guardians.

Mina has always dreamed of being a storm guardian, and for the past two years, she’s been caring for a storm-beast egg. But when her egg hatches, she discovers that she’s bonded not with a gentle sun or rain beast but with a fiery lightning beast named Pixit. Despite her family’s misgivings, Mina and her beast eagerly set forth to learn their duties at lightning school.

School is full of challenges for a shy, calm girl like Mina, though. The other students are so reckless and confident, and she worries that she’ll never fit in. Just as she’s starting to find her place, she accidentally crosses the border during a thunderstorm and learns that the Alorrians’ control of the weather has disastrous consequences for the outsiders. But what can one girl and her storm beast do to right this wrong?

Larrabee and I love books with lovable non-human characters like Bob (Bob), Charlie (Sweep), Squorp (The Menagerie), or Inkling (Inkling). And Pixit is one of our new favorites! His irresistible combination of innocence, wisdom, and humor made us smile.

Mina is a terrific heroine too. This is not a book about a quiet girl who learns to speak up. Rather, it’s a book about a quiet girl who learns that she can be a leader in her own quiet way.

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Christmas (Book) Traditions

img_5379Deck the halls with boughs of…  Wait, the Christmas books are in this box? So much for decorating. It’s time to read!

Larrabee started with our new addition from last year:  Olivia Helps with Christmas by Ian Falconer. Then, O Little Town of Bethlehem by Ron Berry, caught his attention with its music and lights. And he read Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree by Robert E. Barry out loud to me. I’ve been reading that one at Christmas time as long as I can remember.

We’ll save The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore for Mark to read aloud on Christmas Eve. That’s a tradition.

My personal favorite of all the books in the box is How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss. I can practically recite it from memory. No Christmas would be complete for me without chimbleys, Whos’ mouses, and roast beast. The Grinch just puts me in the Christmas spirit. Maybe I’ll watch the cartoon version before I finish decorating… Now that’s a wonderful, awful idea.

Reading with Grandma

IMG_4989I love to hear my mom read aloud to my boys. She reads with lots of expression and does great voices. It’s no secret how I became such a bookworm.

Over the years, she’s shared lots of good books with Blaine and Larrabee. I expect that the ones they’ll always associate with visits to Grandma’s house, though, are the Bill Peet books.

We have quite a collection of Bill Peet books at our house too. But Grandma has a huge stash that she’s saved since my brother was little. She pulls them out when we come to visit, and we all enjoy reacquainting ourselves with Cyrus, Kermit, Clyde, Buford, Chester, Pamela and Zeke.

Early in his career, Bill Peet worked for Walt Disney Studios, where he wrote the screenplays for 101 Dalmatians and The Sword in the Stone. Then, he turned to writing and illustrating children’s books and wrote dozens of delightful stories. Bill Peet said he got the ideas for many of his stories by doodling.

My all-time favorite is Cowardly Clyde, the story of the skittish war-horse who has to overcome his fear to save Sir Galavant from a terrible ogre. My kids crack up at the same parts that used to make my brother laugh (“Then I’m a dim-witted noodlehead” and “KER-PUFFLE”).

I’m curious to hear from you. Do you have a favorite Bill Peet book? What books do your parents like to share with your kids?

The Day the Crayons Quit

This month I’m writing about why I still read aloud to my kids now that they’re old enough to read to themselves. Another question you may be asking yourselves is why I still buy picture books when my kids are old enough to read chapter books. The answer: Sometimes I just can’t resist.

The Day the Crayons Quit (and its equally captivating sequel The Day the Crayons Came Home) written by Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers are two such irresistible books.

As a kid, I always imagined that the inanimate objects in my life had thoughts and feelings. My teddy bear, my pogo stick, the piece of French toast on my plate at breakfast. So I LOVE the idea of crayons with personality!

In The Day the Crayons Quit, Duncan finds a stack of letters. They’re from the crayons in his school crayon box. From overworked red to underused pink to naked peach, each crayon has a grievance. If Duncan wants to color, he’ll have to come up with a creative solution.

In The Day the Crayons Came Home, Duncan receives a stack of postcards. They’re from all the crayons he’s lost—including maroon marooned in the couch, glow-in-the-dark abandoned in the basement, turquoise left in his pocket, and neon red forgotten by the hotel pool. It’s up to Duncan to give them all a home.

These books are clever and funny. They also give parents a great way to talk to kids about other people’s feelings and points of view. And they make you want to write a letter or color a picture or both. Larrabee and I give them five stars!