Rocket Town

Rocket Town by Bob Logan

From Ashley: As I'm writing this, my son and husband are in the living room reading Rocket Town. I know this because I can hear my son's voice, "Ten, nine, eight, seven ...!" We love looking at the wild and inventive rocket designs and talking about which one is his favorite and what does he think this one does and wouldn't it be so fun to drive that one ... This is such a quirky, fun, creative book. We've read it many times over the past few days, and it is his "happy time-out" book of choice (i.e., You are being grouchy and crazy and need to sit on your bed and hug your bear and read this book until you're ready to rejoin civilized society). The illustrations are so engaging, it has worked like a charm. My three-year-old gives it two thumbs up, and so do I!

From Alysa:
The illustrations really make the book -- they're intricate and layered, something you don't always see in a board book.  And each page has a rather limited color palate, but the book as a whole uses a wide range of colors.  

I got the review copy of this yesterday, and I've already lost count of how many times Benjamin (age 2) has made me read it to him.  Our reading, minus the original text goes a little something like this:

Benjamin: Mommy! Let's read Rocket Town!
Alysa: Okay.
Benjamin: Levi (the baby brother) wants to listen? You sit next to me, Mommy. 
Alysa snatches a pen and paper.
Benjamin: I 'bout to read without you... 
Mommy you read this word.
Big, big, big, big! Small, small. These are small like that one. 
These up top of them. Mommy what's up top of them?
Alysa: Parachutes.
Benjamin: Parachutes are kind of like an umbrella?
A shark rocket! Rrrrar! Aaugh!
That's a school bus rocket.
Mom what's this rocket?
Alysa: The Claw.
Benjamin: It's like he's car!
You read this words Mommy. 
Alysa: You know those words.
Benjamin: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, ...and, what's gonna happen?!? BLAST OFF! Blast off, Mommy?
Alysa: Blast off!
Benjamin: He haves his helmet. The End. Now let's read Rocket Town again.

Rocket Town is nearly available for purchase (Sourcebooks, April 2011). Hope you enjoy!

Three books I liked:

 Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede
I found myself recommending this one to a friend who asked for SF/F books "for people who don't read SF/F."  I recommended it because, though it's about a girl who is born the unlucky thirteenth child of a wizard who must harness her power, it's also about a girl growing up during the westward expansion (magician cowboys!), and figuring out who she is. It's a lovely book, really. Despite there being a lot of action, it doesn't have the feel of an action book. Eff, our protagonist and narrator, is very contemplative. (Also of course it is by Patricia Wrede! Hello we love her remember? Sorcery and Cecilia. Mairelon the Magician, Dealing with Dragons, many Star Wars novelizations...ok I'll stop with the résumé.)

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Not gonna lie -- I kind of despised our main character, Liam, at the beginning of the book.  Liam looks old. Not old old. But, he's twelve; and somehow people mistake him for an adult.  Why did I despise him? He took advantage of his looks (understandable) to do dangerous things (what, are you crazy?!).  As a parent, I was constantly having a heart attack on behalf of his parents.  But, as the story progressed, I grew to like him more and more. Loved his way of relating the real world to World of Warcraft. And by the end, I was solidly rooting for Liam to come home alive -- for his own sake as well as his parents'. Liam made me wonder about my twelve year old brother, and how he's coping with being the tall kid.

Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr
So it was pretty awesome that I won this book in a contest on the author's blog. She keeps a nice blog.  I suspected I would like this book, because I liked Sweethearts by her (and also I like her blog, obviously).  Once Was Lost is short and intense. Inspired by the real-life disappearance of Elizabeth Smart, Zarr wrote a book about a girl named Sam who doesn't disappear, but one of her acquaintances does. To make matters more complicated, Sam's father is the local (overworked) pastor. Zarr does a great job of portraying complex emotions.  The feelings of sudden attachment to something (someone) that's gone missing -- then detachment when you notice everyone else feels attached too. Loving and loathing her parents at the same time, as they make decisions that are tough on her. Feelings of deep spiritual reflection.  So, yeah. I guess that makes it seem like a book about feelings. Which I think it is. It was good.

Three children's books

Book #1: Dream Big, Little Pig! by Kristi Yamaguchi.
"Poppy was a pig. A pot-bellied, waddling, toddling pig. She was a pig with dreams." Thus begins this cute story from Olympic-figure-skater-turned-children's-author, Kristi Yamaguchi. I knew when I saw the cover that there would have to be some hilarity to a story about a pig, of all animals, who dreams of becoming a figure skater (after dreaming and failing to become a ballerina and a singing star and a runway model). The "reach for your dreams!" anthem isn't too overdone, and it is infused with some reality---Poppy can't carry a tune, so she's wisely advised that "Singing is just not for you" by the music judges, and when the figure-skating dream takes hold of her, she has to work long and hard to achieve it. I also appreciated the follow-up dream of becoming a pilot, just to add a little touch of something-other-than-the-performing-arts to the storyline. Sweet book, especially for a little someone who might be feeling down about not being good at something. Poppy hits her bumps in the road, but she keeps a cheery optimism that'll make readers smile. Cute!

Book #2: My Name Is Not Alexander by Jennifer Fosberry
"My name is not Alexander!" said the little boy.... "I am Theodore! The greatest, grandest president who ever was!"
Following the dream-big theme of Book #1, Alexander is a little boy with an active imagination and an extensive knowledge of U.S. history. :) He dreams of being Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Chief Joseph, Fred Astaire, Jackie Robinson, and, of course, his daddy, "the greatest, coolest father that ever was!" I love that this book, like its predecessor My Name Is Not Isabella, serves as a great inspiration not only for kids to dream a little but also for them to learn about the past. My son (who is only 3) didn't really "get" it at first read, not having any idea who the people are that Alexander's pretending to be, but it inspired me to explain these historical figures to him. For that, the book also has little bios at the end to help parents teach kids a little more, which is great. Sweet book, especially for older-ish kids (not preschoolers, in other words). :)

And Book #3: Let's Count Goats! by Mem Fox
Can YOU count goats??
So this book is completely different from Books 1 and 2. I just read it for the first time tonight, and I knew I had to blog about it. It's a counting book, but definitely the funniest counting book I've ever seen. My three-year-old was cracking up. I don't know that I've really heard him laugh so hard. Ever. (Though to be fair, it was way past his bedtime, so he was a little loopy ...) Still, the illustrations in this book: hysterical. The goat that's climbed out of the cockpit of his plane to eat the tail fin? The faces of the "rowdy goats careering round in cars"? And the one that had my son really in stitches, the goat trying to play a trumpet backwards? Wow. Seriously hilarious. Most counting books are the same. A picture of six bananas with the corresponding number printed numerically and spelled-out in the top corner. A picture of seven toy cars with the corresponding number printed numerically and spelled-out in the top corner. A picture of eight balls ... you get the picture. Spencer is bored with those. But this got him fired up for counting again. The text dares the reader to count, and the happy, hungry, gagging, shouting, terrified, oblivious, noisy, mischievous goats make it so, so fun. Thumbs up.

I Now Pronounce You Someone Else

I don't remember where I saw this book listed, but it sounded good, wherever it was I heard about it, so I reserved it at the library. It took me a while to get to it, because I'm terribly busy at the moment (my usual book-reading evening time is currently occupied by lesson-planning for a church class I'm teaching, and boy #2 has decided that boy #1's naptime is a great time to be awake). So it pined away on my lamp stand, lost in a pile of lesson-planning materials and little-boy books for a couple of weeks or so, until I'd finally had enough of not reading, and I grabbed it and dived in, busyness be darned, knowing the due date was upon me.

I am so glad I made the time to read this sweet little book. I'm sure it spoke to me especially because it's about a girl who decides to get married at age 18, straight out of high school. I got married at 18 (though in my defense, I already had two years of college under my belt). So it struck a chord. Bronwen, the main character, is a little desperate to escape her broken family, and she falls totally in love with Jared, who comes from a happy, functional home. (More chords striking---minus the desperation part ... happy almost-seven-year anniversary, Honey! :) When Jared proposes, the prospect of marriage to him couldn't feel more right for Bronwen. But as she begins to acknowledge all of the sacrifices she'll have to make---the college roommates she'll never have, the study-abroad semester she won't be able to go on, and then even her college of choice she won't be able to attend---and when she realizes as the wedding draws nearer that "Bronwen" is dissolving into "Us," her perfect dream begins to crack, and only time, growth, and the long-needed support of her family will help her fit the pieces back together.

Such a good book, not least of all because this particular young woman decided to "wait" until marriage, and I think that's downright awesome. There are not many teen books out there with that kind of main character these days. Although, parents be warned, she and her fiance do some pretty heavy making out/necking/petting in one scene. Brief, and definitely not descriptive, but still there.

Anyway, great book. Two thumbs up.

Chickens to the Rescue!

When I grabbed these two books (Chickens to the Rescue and Pigs to the Rescue by the talented John Himmelman) off the library shelf, entertained by the concept and the cover illustration, I didn't realize what a treat Spencer and I were in for. These books are totally hilarious. Farmer Greenstalk and his wife and two children and their farm encounter the usual mishaps of life (the sheep wandering into the woods, a watch dropping down a well, the dog eating some homework, the hose springing a leak, the cat spilling his milk dish, the duck driving off in the farmer's truck---you know, the normal kinds of daily trials). But lucky for them, they have some fabulously go-getter, good-deed-doing groups of farm animals who send spies around the farm and farmhouse to sound the alarm whenever there's trouble and call in the troops: Chickens to the rescue!! Pigs to the rescue!! (The chickens of the first book are a tad more effective than the pigs in the second in lending a helping hand, however.)

Spencer loved looking for the lurking chicken spy (or pig, in the second book). I loved the illustrations---the scuba-gear-wearing chickens off to rescue the dropped watch, the mayflower-clad pigs "fixing" the daughter's shoelace, delightful chaos and detail on every page. Alysa and I both definitely recommend these great children's picture books (I made Alysa read them when she and her boys were over at my house). Two thumbs up. Or, four. :)

Note from Alysa: This post was updated 4/8/16 to add affiliate links. So, now you can click the cover images to get more info about and shop for these books on Amazon. If you make a purchase while you're there, I earn a small commission. Also, I still really love these books, and now there are two more in the series. :)

Just in case...

...you love Shannon Hale like me, but don't check her blog as often as I do:

The big reveal of an Alison Jay cover for Forest Born! Special Hardback edition! Coming October!

It's a mystery! Can you solve it?

My mother is trying to figure out the name and/or author of this favorite poem of hers.  We can't seem to figure it out any way any how.  The text may not be exact, since it's from memory, but I bet it's pretty close.

Under the green glass roof of waves
The little merchildren play.

Their toys are shells
And their homes are caves,
Their little pet fish
Feed beneath the spray.

They slip and dive,
Swoop and swirl,
Where the sea-grass sways
And the seashells curl.

Peep through the seaweed wafting wild,
And you might even see a little merchild.

Gunnerkrigg Court

Lazer cows. They're like regular cows, but with lazers. *zot*

Today I'll be interviewing Jacob about Gunnerkrigg Court, one of our favorite books/webcomics.

Alysa: So. Gunnerkrigg Court. It's pretty good, huh?

Jacob: laughs Yeah.

Alysa: Why don't you tell the blog readers how we found it?

Jacob: That's not a question.  But I can. Alysa got the first book of Gunnerkrigg Court for the Cybils...last year?... or I guess it was two years ago when she was on the Graphic Novels panel she read it and really enjoyed it and told me I had to read it. So I did. Then we found out there was a web comic.

Alysa: That it is a webcomic. (ETA: It won, by the way.)

Jacob: That it is a webcomic, caught up to the current storyline and both have been following it via Google Reader ever since.

Alysa: If I recall correctly, we were reading it pretty much non-stop for several days.

Jacob: I'm waiting for the next question. The first two have not been very good, as questions at least. One ended in "huh?" and the other was less of a question and more of a command.

Alysa: Umm, ok. What literary themes have you identified in Gunnerkrigg Court?

Jacob: Now I feel like I'm back in High School English. But that was a much better question. The main theme...is...the conflict between technology and the natural world. Which is shown through the conflict of Gunnerkrigg Court and Gillitie Wood.

A: How do you spell Gillitie wood?

J: I dunno.  I'll have to find out later.  Are you going to go back and edit this at all?

A: Yes. Yes I am. typos everywhere since I'm transcribing as we go Gunnerkrigg court is the school that Annie goes to.  Gillite wood is the big scary woods on the other side of the ravine/river/bridge.

J: There's also the usual themes of growing up; it's a coming of age story.

A: Yeah, she's finding out about her parents more, Gunnerkrigg Court is a boarding school, and her parents used to go to it.

J: But it's not like Harry Potter.

A: Right.  There's no real bad guy as far as I can tell.  It's just a series of chapters, experiences that Annie and her friends have.

J: There's also themes of friendship, and trust. And loyalty.

A: And mystery! checks email

J: Hey, I thought we were doing something.

A: We are. We're creating something together, that is not a baby.

J: You just want to be able to include that line.

A: What can I say? It's a good one.

J: The next question.

A: Ok fine. To whom would you recommend Gunnerkrigg Court? Or, have you recommended it to anyone already?

J: Ummmm I would recommend it to most anyone. Over the age of.. 12 would you say?

A: Sure. Yeah.  It's not inappropriate--

J: right, it's not vulgar, explicit

A; but the themes are just kind of --

J: Right. One of the things I like about it. Is that it has interesting themes and ideas without needing to resort to that sort of stuff. ... AND there's City Face. Not actually part of Gunnerkrigg Court. But I'll leave you to find out about that yourself.

A: One of the things that I think is kinda weird is reading it just a page at a time, as it comes out.

J: It was much nicer to read it in book form. We would love to purchase Volume 2. (and 3, I don't think it's out yet though.  The material is there, but it's not been published yet.) We're just poor graduate students, though.

A: Hey I wonder if it's on Paperbackswap. Probably not. Cuz --

J: The people who bought it probably want to keep it

A: Yeah. It's not put out by a publisher.

J: Is that true?

A: I think it's self-published. I mean, obviously there's still someone who publishes it.

J: fetches book Archaia Studios Press.  flips through first pages The drawing has gotten much better

A: Yeah his style has changed a lot.  And I think that the style of the story has changed too, over time.  It has become more coherent. Cohesive. Less episodic? But maybe that's just the fact that I'm reading it one page at a time.

J: If you do start reading it, be aware that there's not much exposition.  And by not much, I mean none at all.

A: The backstory comes later. In pieces.  Which I like.

J: It's all part of the mystery. ... Here's how you spell Gillitie Wood.

A: corrects previous. Ok, cool.

J: chuckles

A: What are you laughing about?

J: The first chapter. Annie's trying to figure out how to get Shadow 2 across the bridge but she couldn't walk across herself. And she says, "There was only one sensible resolution to the problem. I must construct a robotic walking device, which will provide you with transit across the bridge!"

A: I like all the fun inventions. Like the laser cows.

J: laughs

A: Ok! That's us signing off then! Tell us if you read it, and if you like it! Here's the first page. Oh! I wanted to tell them about how when we went out for Valentine's Day, dinner without the kids, we spent a good deal of time discussing our Gunnerkrigg Court theories. That was fun.

J: I see... still paging through Vol 1...Jones!
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