Because of Winn-Dixie

img_2719Book: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Date Read: December 2 to 9, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

I was prompted to finally get this book off my to read list by two things. I happened to be sitting in on a Fifth Grade class when they started to read this as a group, and was at least a little intrigued. It happened to work out that this also fit into the December prompt for the Unread Shelf Project, which suggested reading the shortest book on your shelf. Until this, I had avoided reading this one for quite some time, as I had been told that it was sad. Considering that I knew this was a book about a dog, I made some assumptions about why it might be sad, and decided to pass—who really needs to read another book where the dog dies at the end? Well, spoiler alert: that’s not what happens. In fact, we actually get a happy ending! Of course, I did not know that going in. Perhaps the surprise of a happier than expected ending biased me some in favor of the book, but I am glad that I finally decided to pick up this quite popular children’s novel.

Our main character, Opal, has recently moved with her father, the Preacher, to a new town. Being new, she is unsure of her place in the town, and seems a bit withdrawn and certainly lonely. Enter Winn-Dixie, the stray dog she claims as her own after he has wreaked havoc in the produce section of the local grocery store. Opal’s father has taught her to help the less fortunate, and this dog certainly fits the bill: he is skinny, gangly, and generally appears to be in rough condition. Winn-Dixie quickly wins over Opal, her father, and then a large number of people throughout the town. With the help of the dog, Opal starts to meet and open up to various people around the town.

One of the things that I found interesting in Opal’s journey is that the lesson she learns through Winn-Dixie about opening up to others and not judging based on looks, is something that she already knew—sort of. Opal has a soft spot for the outsiders, which I suppose goes along well with her taking in a rough looking dog. Opal was quick to befriend Otis at the pet shop, despite being told that he had been in jail. She quickly accepted the woman whom the other children referred to as a witch. While she is willing to let these people into her world, she is quick to judge many of the others around her, especially other children and the people who belong to her father’s church.

This is a great middle and upper elementary novel, and works really well for classroom discussions. I imagine that is not a major revelation to anyone. There is good reason that this book is often taught in school. There can be a lot to unpack here, in Opal’s relationships to the town, to her father, and the catalyst for growing up a bit she finds when she brings home Winn-Dixie.

Boris’s Thoughts: “A book about a dog? Really? 1 paw.”

Fortunately, the Milk

img_3501Book: Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

Date Read: December 14, 2019

Rating: 4 (of 5) stars

This book was a semi-random purchase as a Christmas gift for my cousin’s son. When my family was a bit smaller than it is now, I started the tradition of buying books for the kids that came for my family’s Christmas Eve celebration. It was easy at first. When I started this, there were three; we are now up to 12. I suppose there are worse things than being known as the family member to count on for a new book, but it has become increasingly difficult to find books that the kids will enjoy, and to try to remember which ones I have already given each of them! I usually go to my cousins for ideas for their kids, but both my cousin and I were stumped on this one. He loves adventure, but can be picky. He likes graphic novels, but has read most of the popular ones. I had a few ideas, but nothing I was too excited about, so I decided to browse a bit at the store. I ended up stumbling upon this one which I think was a perfect fit: a sort of adventure, but also a lot of goofiness; not quite a graphic novel, but definitely a nice balance of pictures interwoven into the story.

One day, while Mum is away, Dad is forced to run to the corner store to get some milk for breakfast. When he takes longer than expected, the children are suspicious about where he has been, but fortunately the milk was there to save him on his wild and wacky journey back home. It all starts with a strange noise as he steps out from the corner store, and then there is no stopping this ridiculous and fun tale from unwinding. There is something here to please everyone: aliens, time travel, dinosaurs, pirates, human sacrifice, hot air balloons… all seemingly random, but strung together into the perfect narrative to entertain young and old.

Based on reading level, I think this probably works best as an independent read for mid to upper elementary children. It is novel length, but not really separated out into chapters. There are many pictures incorporated throughout the text, along with interesting text blocking to make everything flow nicely. I can see the interest level on this extending a bit younger, but could see it being a bit difficult as a read aloud book. The length is certainly too much for a typical bedtime story, but without chapters, it’s not quite as easy to break it up for multiple reading sessions.

Boris’s thoughts: “You were supposed to take the picture before you wrapped it and put it in the Christmas bag.”

A Friend for Dragon

img_3067As a kick off to the third year of Books On My Cat, I present to you A Friend for Dragon by Dav Pilkey. This is the first book in the Dragon series of book, which I have written about several times before. Dragon is one of my favorite children’s characters. He is always getting into some sort of misadventure—in this case, Dragon falls for a prank and mistakenly assumes that an apple that has fallen on his head is actually looking to become his friend. Despite the misunderstanding, Dragon finds the apple to be a delightful friend, who is a good listener, has common interests, and shares with his friends.

I admit that this is not my favorite addition to the Dragon collection, but I think it sets a nice tone to the series. We get a good glimpse of his personality, which is then built upon in the later books. Dragon is a little naïve, but is also willing to make the most of any situation with his positive attitude. If everyone else is too busy, why not spend your time hanging out with an apple? Of course, apples do not last forever (especially when you are tricked into thinking you have a special speaking apple, and the culprit of the trick is no longer around to fake an appley voice). Although Dragon is quite distraught at the loss of his friend, he receives a pleasant surprise the summer after laying his friend to rest in the backyard.

Of course, as you may have noticed in the photo, today is also the debut of a friend of Boris: introducing Minka, a sassy little girl that joined our family at the end of December. She was found near where my dad works as a kitten in July; she was alone despite seeming too young to have left her mother. My dad began to care for her, and she moved into the office building. After living there for a few months, and with the weather starting to turn cold, he decided that it was time for her to have a more proper home and asked if Boris needed a friend. I was reluctant, as Boris has always struck me as a lone cat personality, but we decided to give it a try. The two are still getting used to having another cat around, but are starting to warm up to each other a bit. While Boris is still my number one guy, you will start to see a bit more of Minka around here!

Book: A Friend for Dragon by Dav Pilkey

Penguin and Pumpkin

img_2482Over the years, I have amassed quite the collection of Penguin-centric children’s literature. While Tacky is certainly the character I relate to the most, the Penguin created by Salina Yoon is by far the sweetest. There are several books about Penguin’s adventures with his friends, sometimes venturing far from the ice world that is his home. In this fall adventure, Penguin learns what fall looks like away from home, and brings back a special fall surprise for his little brother, Pumpkin.

When Penguin and his friends decide to visit a farm to learn what fall looks like off the ice, Pumpkin is still too small to come on such a far journey. Penguin and the others set out on an iceberg for their long trip to the farm, with the size of their vessel gradually diminishing as they get further from home. At the farm, they discover pumpkins of all varieties, and put together a harvest package to bring home. They even build themselves a new boat for the way back, made from a giant pumpkin! Back home, Pumpkin has been imagining some fall adventures of his own, but is very curious about the real fall. He is excited to have his very own pumpkin brought back for him, but the real surprise is the extra bit of fall Penguin brought so he could see what fall really looks like– snowing leaves!

Like I started with, this is a super cute and sweet story. First of all, I think it’s adorable that Penguin has a little brother named Pumpkin. The illustrations are well done and add some fun details into the story. I love the little details like the dwindling ice berg on the journey, and Sleepy Penguin who always seems to be dozing off. There are some bits of conversation added in to the story along with the narrative text. The books are definitely aimed at younger children, with many available as board books. These are fun as read aloud or bedtime stories, with great things to point out to kids in the pictures throughout the book.

Boris’s thoughts: “Did you notice that we get both of the falls that are in this book– the snowing leaves and the real snow! Both fun to watch. 4 paws.”

Boris and Bella

img_2141Happy October! I am so excited for the turn of the weather, and all the spookiness that comes along with October. In the spirit of the season, I plan to keep things spooky for my next few posts! I saw this book on display in the library, and it immediately caught my eye– the cover is a bit creepy-chic, and one of the title characters has a great name (coincidentally, my mother also has a dog named Bella to pair with my Boris).

As it turns out, this is not just an eye catching cover with a personal connection in the title– it is a cute story about friendship with a Halloween-ish theme.  Bella Legrossi and Boris Kleanitoff are neighbors, who are not particularly fond of one another. Bella is the messiest monster, and Boris is a neat freak who goes as far as polishing his pythons daily! Neither of them are popular with the other monsters in Booville, which only complicates things when they try to show each other up by throwing competing Halloween parties– which nobody attends because of Boris and Bella’s tiresome personal habits. As often happens in children’s books, Boris and Bella are able to find some common ground: first in their anger about the party everyone attended instead, and second in a shared love of dancing. While neither of these characters give up their ways, they do ease up enough to become friends.

Although the story does feature a Halloween party, this is not exactly a Halloween book. Halloween-ish? Halloween-lite? Despite monstrous characters, the story itself is about the ability to look beyond differences to find friendship in unlikely places. Nonetheless, the monster theme does make this a nice fit for the season. The illustrations are very detailed and compliment the story, with a color scheme that maintains a spooky mood to the setting. There is also some pun-ny humor for those who appreciate that sort of thing, and some really great kid humor– Baggo Bones connects his hipbones to his neckbone just for fun!

Boris’s thoughts: “I hope you’re not trying to suggest that I am persnickety like this other Boris. 1 paw.”

Rumple Buttercup

b4b5340f-eb2b-4750-b6e2-b3d19fc3d5dbI have to admit that I have a bit of a soft spot for the weirdos of the world, and this story of bananas, belonging, and being yourself written by the wonderfully weird Matthew Gray Gubler perfectly fits the bill. (I know you all must be shocked to hear this, from the girl who puts books on her cat.) With his 5 crooked teeth, 3 strands or hair, green skin, and left foot slightly bigger than his right, Rumple Buttercup is weird. He worries that people will be afraid of him, so lives a lonely life hiding in a rain drain beneath his town. He is so intrigued by the outside world that he sneaks up to look around from time to time—but only under cover of his trusty banana peel.

Rumple’s story is told in a unique format that feels part picture book and part graphic novel. The story is told in three picture filled chapters, spanning 136 pages. Despite the length, this is a quick read due to the interspersed drawings and minimal text. The style of Gubler’s art really lends itself perfectly to children’s literature. The format and length make it a little difficult as a whole group read aloud, but I can see this as a good fit for beginning readers or a one-on-one read aloud with kids. It is a sweet story that can be appreciated by both children and adults, celebrating that weirdness that makes each of us special.

Boris’s thoughts: “It’s a great story, but I can do without the banana peel. 3 paws.”

Land of Stories Companions

img_0673The Mother Goose Diaries

The Mother Goose Diaries purports to be just that—a diary written by the zany Mother Goose character from the Land of Stories. Honestly, I had some pretty high hopes for this one, but it left me feeling a little… meh. I love the eccentric Mother Goose that Colfer created for this series, the misfit fairy who is a bit wild and always up for adventure, but generally has good intentions. That is not quite the Mother Goose that seems to have written this diary. This Mother Goose comes off as more obnoxious than eccentric, and is perhaps too wild. The drug and alcohol references were more blatant and more frequent than expected, considering that this is a middle grade level book. There were definitely interesting uses of history in some places in the book, but at other times the history included seemed flippant and a little annoying.

I think my biggest issue with the book is that I had a hard time seeing it’s connection to the rest of the series. The diary follows Mother Goose through history, but there is minimal mention of the work of the fairies to spread stories of the Fairy Tale World. It is included, but generally glossed over rather quickly. Although the series talks about fairies sharing stories with authors like the Brothers Grimm, they are never mentioned. Nor are the twins, or any of the events from the series brought up at all. I realize that as a companion book this is intended to be separate from the primary series, but felt like there should have been something tying it to the other books.

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Queen Red Riding Hood’s Guide to Royalty

As we near the end of our journey through the Land of Stories, we come to Queen Red Riding Hood’s Guide to Royalty, another companion book authored by a character from the series. This book was a pleasant surprise for me. While I find Red’s character hysterical, she often becomes annoying. I thought that a whole book dedicated to her might be a little too much, but I think this was done perfectly. It was a short and quick read, which definitely helped it from being too “over the top.” I really enjoyed reading this, but I suspect that anyone who was not a fan of the original series may not fully appreciate the humor here.

In the later books in the series, Red finds an affinity for reading books from the “Other World,” although she often does not understand them or remember the correct names of authors. It is one of those books that inspired her to write this one, The Prince by “Nicole Macarena.” The book includes a little bit of back story to Red and her place in the kingdom that was not included in the original books, but the majority of it is taken up with her advice. As would be expected from her character, most of it is written rather condescendingly, and much of the time she presents as ridiculous and outrageous. However, there are actually some good points and advice included there, despite their somewhat ludicrous presentation.