17 February 2018

Princess Cora and the Crocodile

Princess Cora and the Crocodile
Laura Amy Schlitz
Illustrated by Brian Floca
Candlewick Press

Princess Cora is overwhelmed.  Her parents love her so much and want her to be successful, so they fill her day with the things that are most important to being an excellent princess and queen - taking baths (a queen must be tidy), studying (a queen must be intelligent) and physical activity (a queen must be strong).  Cora often tries to suggest to them that they're over doing it, but they don't listen.  One day, Cora has had enough and she writes her fairy godmother a letter, asking for help in the form of a pet.  Cora wants a dog, but her fairy godmother has other plans.  She sends Cora a crocodile, and a naughty crocodile at that.  Hilarity ensues, and eventually (after a little gnawing from a crocodile dressed like a princess) the king, the queen and the nanny all realized that Cora does need a bit of a break.
This is a great book with a kind of sad twist to it.  At first, none of the adults even notice that it's not Cora but a crocodile - they are all to wrapped up in "worrying what might be wrong with her". And every minute of every day is planned around training for Cora by the time she is seven years old.  I enjoyed the story when I first read it for it's absurdity and silliness, but as I think about it more, I can't help but see some parallels in the way we currently raise and educate our children.
Are Schlitz and Floca trying to subtly tell us something?  I recently read an article about the life lessons found in Chinese children's literature vs. children's literature in the United States, and it got me thinking about how what we read shapes our beliefs and thoughts.  I can't help but wonder who will benefit more from reading this book - children who might learn that it's OK to play and to ask adults for what we need, or adults who might need to be reminded that kids need to be kids.
In any case, the book is absolutely worth the time for readers of any age.

27 January 2018

The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Journey of Little Charlie
Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic Press
Release Date: Jan. 30, 2018
order it from the Tattered Cover here

My favorite book of all time is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak because it was the first book I'd ever read that gave the German perspective of the Nazis during WWII .  It opened my eyes and I connected very quickly with the idea that not everyone who lived in Germany (in fact a very small number of Germans) actually sympathized with the ideals of the Third Reich.
I know, it's a weird way to start a book review by talking about how much I loved another book...but stick with me.  Christopher Paul Curtis has done the same thing with The Journey of Little Charlie.  Told from the point of view of the not-so-little Little Charlie Bobo, this is the story of slave catchers in the 1850s who would travel north to try and recover escaped slaves.  The story opens with the sudden death of Little Charlie's father and the discovery that his father apparently owed money to a man named Cap'n Buck.  Cap'n Buck says that the only way Charlie can pay off his father's debt is by helping him recover "stolen property".  Little Charlie has never left his home of Possom Moan, South Carolina and though he's tall and looks like a full grown man, he's only 13. Along the way Little Charlie discovers the true character of Cap'n Buck and though he doubts he should be helping the Cap'n at all, he sees no other way proceed.
This would be a great book to use when teaching character evolution - the changes in Little Charlie are both obvious and inferred, which is perfect for upper elementary literary analysis.
I also learned to love the way the book was written.  Curtis writes it the way that Little Charlie would say it (much like the Aibileen Clark chapters from The Help). I struggled at first because I was reading it from a teacher's point of view and I wasn't sure how well students would be able to read it and understand what he was saying.  However, by the middle of the book, I was used to it and loved Little Charlie's voice, and I think students will too.  It would make a great read aloud if the reader was willing to get completely into it.
I would highly recommend this book to teachers and students and plan to give it to a student who loved Elijah of Buxton on Monday and see what she thinks of it.

Once again, thank you to Kristen Gilligan of the Tattered Cover for providing me with awesome ARCs to read and review.