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Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes
by Mem Fox
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Illustrations and Verse, Multicultural Message, 13 Aug. 2010
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes opens with the following lines:

"There was one little baby who was born far away,
and another who was born on the very next day.
And both of these babies--as everyone knows--
had ten little fingers and ten little toes."

The board book continues in parallel rhyming verse, ending each stanza (except the last) with the refrain of the last two lines, "And both of these babies..." The first two lines of each stanza vary throughout the book, however, and refer to babies that differ in myriad ways, including variations on where they were born (in a town, on the ice, in a tent) and the condition of their health (one child suffers from sneezes and chills). Helen Oxenbury's illustrations add to the diversity, portraying boys and girls of widely varying ethnicity.

The only break in this pattern of verse comes in the last stanza, where the baby is described as follows: "But the next baby born was truly divine, a sweet little child who was mine, all mine." Although this baby has ten little fingers and ten little toes, it also has "three little kisses on the tip of its nose." The final image is of a mother lovingly placing these three little kisses.

Several things make this baby board book attractive for young children and adults alike. First, Oxenbury's illustrations are (typically) beautiful. The scenery is colorful and compelling. For example, on the opening page ("There was one little baby who was born far away,") Oxenbury portrays two children on the shores of a lake with a small town and mountains in the distance. The long shadows cast by the children, the orange, purple, and brown hues of the mountains, and the yellow sky all suggest the warm lingering light of sunset. The diverse faces of the babies are also fascinating to look at, and the baby toes are so cute!

Second, Fox's verse is enchanting and funny. The book leaves the reader turning pages expectantly, to see what kind of baby will next be affirmed to have "ten little fingers and ten little toes." The verse makes excellent use of rhyme and repetition, which young children love. The book's refrain ("...ten little fingers and ten little toes.") is as silly and light-hearted as it is true ("Of course they have ten fingers and toes!") and always provokes a smile or giggle. The refrain is also perfect for accompanying gestures involving fingers and toes...fun!

Finally, the last pages of the book provoke a warm emotional connection between caretaker and child that makes the book endearing for both. As I closed the book I imagined a young child's response: "Again, again!"

In addition to its subjective appeal, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes reflects several qualities that make it developmentally valuable. First, the book has a subtle but clear multicultural message, conveyed in language that young children can understand. Specifically, the child is reminded that while human beings are marked by interesting differences, they are also deeply the same. This message comes through brilliantly in the verbal and visual diversity of the children in the book, and the book's unifying rhythmic refrain: we all have fingers and toes. While this multicultural message is complex and abstract to describe, the board book is shockingly successful at communicating it in terms that are concrete and intuitive for young children.

Second, the final focus of the book on the parent-child connection is also developmentally valuable. The special love of a care-taking adult is affirmed, securing the child who is being read to. Despite the portrayal of the beautiful partiality of a parent's love for her child, this affirmation of the parent-child bond also has a hidden universality, i.e., the (near-) universal love of a parent for her child. This too is beautifully securing for a young child. It subtly tells her that her bond with her parent is just as it should be. Thus, this baby board book helps to bond caretaker and child together.

Finally, the beauty and creativity of the book--both in its illustrations and its verse--is developmentally valuable. Such excellence helps to awaken a child's aesthetic sense.

In sum, I highly recommend Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. Get a copy of this book!


Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes
by Mem Fox
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Illustrations and Verse, Multicultural Message, 13 Aug. 2010
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes opens with the following lines:

"There was one little baby who was born far away,
and another who was born on the very next day.
And both of these babies--as everyone knows--
had ten little fingers and ten little toes."

The board book continues in parallel rhyming verse, ending each stanza (except the last) with the refrain of the last two lines, "And both of these babies..." The first two lines of each stanza vary throughout the book, however, and refer to babies that differ in myriad ways, including variations on where they were born (in a town, on the ice, in a tent) and the condition of their health (one child suffers from sneezes and chills). Helen Oxenbury's illustrations add to the diversity, portraying boys and girls of widely varying ethnicity.

The only break in this pattern of verse comes in the last stanza, where the baby is described as follows: "But the next baby born was truly divine, a sweet little child who was mine, all mine." Although this baby has ten little fingers and ten little toes, it also has "three little kisses on the tip of its nose." The final image is of a mother lovingly placing these three little kisses.

Several things make this baby board book attractive for young children and adults alike. First, Oxenbury's illustrations are (typically) beautiful. The scenery is colorful and compelling. For example, on the opening page ("There was one little baby who was born far away,") Oxenbury portrays two children on the shores of a lake with a small town and mountains in the distance. The long shadows cast by the children, the orange, purple, and brown hues of the mountains, and the yellow sky all suggest the warm lingering light of sunset. The diverse faces of the babies are also fascinating to look at, and the baby toes are so cute!

Second, Fox's verse is enchanting and funny. The book leaves the reader turning pages expectantly, to see what kind of baby will next be affirmed to have "ten little fingers and ten little toes." The verse makes excellent use of rhyme and repetition, which young children love. The book's refrain ("...ten little fingers and ten little toes.") is as silly and light-hearted as it is true ("Of course they have ten fingers and toes!") and always provokes a smile or giggle. The refrain is also perfect for accompanying gestures involving fingers and toes...fun!

Finally, the last pages of the book provoke a warm emotional connection between caretaker and child that makes the book endearing for both. As I closed the book I imagined a young child's response: "Again, again!"

In addition to its subjective appeal, Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes reflects several qualities that make it developmentally valuable. First, the book has a subtle but clear multicultural message, conveyed in language that young children can understand. Specifically, the child is reminded that while human beings are marked by interesting differences, they are also deeply the same. This message comes through brilliantly in the verbal and visual diversity of the children in the book, and the book's unifying rhythmic refrain: we all have fingers and toes. While this multicultural message is complex and abstract to describe, the board book is shockingly successful at communicating it in terms that are concrete and intuitive for young children.

Second, the final focus of the book on the parent-child connection is also developmentally valuable. The special love of a care-taking adult is affirmed, securing the child who is being read to. Despite the portrayal of the beautiful partiality of a parent's love for her child, this affirmation of the parent-child bond also has a hidden universality, i.e., the (near-) universal love of a parent for her child. This too is beautifully securing for a young child. It subtly tells her that her bond with her parent is just as it should be. Thus, this baby board book helps to bond caretaker and child together.

Finally, the beauty and creativity of the book--both in its illustrations and its verse--is developmentally valuable. Such excellence helps to awaken a child's aesthetic sense.

In sum, I highly recommend Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. Get a copy of this book!


Pippo Gets Lost
Pippo Gets Lost
by Helen Oxenbury
Edition: Board book

5.0 out of 5 stars Satisfying Story, Reassuring Message: Oxenbury is a Master!, 8 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Pippo Gets Lost (Board book)
Tom is a toddler with a favorite toy monkey named Pippo. On the first page of the board book--the page with the publication details, before the story begins--there is a picture of Pippo wedged between two books on a bookcase. As the title suggests, Pippo is lost, and this first illustration shows us where he is hiding.

When Tom discovers that Pippo is lost, he begins looking for him. The board book's opening line, "Sometimes Pippo gets lost...," suggests that Pippo has been lost before (does this bring to mind any toddlers you know?). When Tom can't find Pippo, he asks his Mom and Dad for help, but Pippo is not where they suggest to look (Tom finds Pippo's scarf and hat, but not Pippo himself).

At the climax of the story, Tom breaks down and worries that he will never see Pippo again. However, Mom reassures Tom and the two look together in the living room, only to discover that Pippo was in the bookcase all along! The baby board book ends with Tom gently scolding Pippo, telling him to "let him know before he goes away next time."

Several things make this board book appealing to toddlers. First, the theme of Pippo Gets Lost--losing something--is an experience that most any toddler is familiar with. Thus, Tom's temporary loss of Pippo, and the distress it generates, is a theme that toddlers can relate to and find interesting.

Moreover, Tom's temporary loss of Pippo makes for a good story. A good story generally has a beginning (where the characters are introduced), a middle (where a problem presents itself) and an end (where the problem is resolved). Pippo Gets Lost has all these elements, on a scale that is appropriate for a short baby board book. The tension created by Tom's problem--the tension that drives a good story forward--is tempered for the young reader by the fact that we know (from the first page) that Pippo is in the bookcase. Because the reader knows that Pippo is nearby, there is never any doubt that Tom will find him, and so the reader can enjoy Tom's struggle with the problem, rather than worry with him.

Oxenbury's illustrations are also lovely, as usual. They are simple, colorful line drawings with just enough detail to absorb a toddler while each page is read. The illustrations capture the happy disorder of life with a toddler.

Finally, Tom's gentle scolding of Pippo on the last page is both funny and charming. The humor is in the fact that Tom really seems to think his toy monkey "went away" on his own! Tom's expectation that Pippo will tell him before he does it again also gets a giggle. The charm is in the fact that Tom treats his relationship with Pippo like a genuine friendship. There is much for the adult reader to enjoy here too...

In addition to its kid-appeal, Pippo Gets Lost is developmentally valuable for several reasons. First, this baby board book sends the right sort of reassuring message about losing something: not to worry, it will probably turn up.

Second, this message encourages the right sort of response to losing something important. In a non-didactic way, Tom's experience shows toddlers to be patient and persistent in looking for the lost thing, and that it is okay to feel sad about it.

Moreover, Tom's experience encourages individual competence, even while demonstrating parental support: Tom begins by looking himself, aided only by parental advice, but when things get desperate (!) Mom ends up joining in the search. This support from Mom affirms the child's important parental connection, and adds to the book's reassuring message.

Finally, the language of the board book is pitched at just the right level for a toddler's language acquisition. The sentences are simple, with words focused on the objects, relationships, and experiences of a toddler's world.

In short, Pippo Gets Lost is an excellent board book for the toddlers in your life. The book's theme, story, illustrations, and humor make it attractive to a young child, while its reassuring message and encouragement toward persistence and individual competence contribute helpfully to a child's development.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 28, 2014 3:04 PM GMT


Beezus and Ramona (Ramona Quimby (Harper Paperback))
Beezus and Ramona (Ramona Quimby (Harper Paperback))
by Beverly Cleary
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book for children with difficult younger siblings, 17 July 2010
Beezus and Ramona is a character driven chapter book that focuses on Beatrice (nicknamed "Beezus") Quimby, the 9-year-old sister of 4-year-old Ramona Quimby. The book is essentially a series of vignettes depicting the relationship between the two sisters, in which Ramona's mischief features prominently. The book is different from the other books in the Ramona series in that Beezus is the protagonist instead of Ramona. Thus, the book is essentially a portrait of a young sibling relationship--especially its challenges--from the perspective of an older sibling.

Since this chapter book is character- and relationship-driven, the plot is minimal. However, the vignettes do develop the central theme of Beezus's struggle to feel love for her sister. Beezus--the quintessential conscientious bookish first-born child, concerned about doing things right--worries over her periodic anger and resentment toward Ramona--the classic misbehaving baby of the family who always seems to get her way and wreck things for her sister.

Throughout the book, Cleary subtly paints an alternative picture of sisterhood in the happy relationship between Beezus's mother and her sister Beatrice (the aunt after whom Beezus was named). Beezus adores her Aunt Beatrice--she's a young, pretty, jovial schoolteacher that drives a yellow convertible; what's not to love?

The book culminates with Beezus's 10th birthday dinner, which Aunt Beatrice attends. A dinner conversation between Mrs. Quimby and Aunt Beatrice, in which they recall (with laughter) the sibling rivalry of their youth, helps Beezus re-envision her relationship with the exasperating Ramona. Beezus realizes that she doesn't always have to feel love toward her little sister, and she gains hope for a happier sister-relationship when they both get older. After all, if Aunt Beatrice was once a frustrating little sister, then there must be hope for Ramona too!

The subjective appeal of Beezus and Ramona lies chiefly in the humor of Ramona's antics. From the reader's perspective, Ramona's clever mischief is hilarious. For example, once when Beezus is looking after Ramona while their mother is out, Beezus finds Ramona sitting in the basement by a big box of apples, eating one bite out of each apple and then tossing it aside. When her big sister orders her to stop at once, Ramona coolly explains, "But the first bite tastes best..." (104). Then, to try to evade trouble with her sister, Ramona claims that she just wants to "share" the apples with her sister. Sharing is good, right? Classic! This chapter book is filled with similarly sharp, hilarious episodes that reflect Cleary's acute insight into young children.

The book's theme of sibling relationships will also be appealing to children with siblings--especially those with younger siblings, and especially girls. Virtually any child with a younger sibling could probably relate to and identify with Beezus in some way, and so would be interested to find out how Beezus manages to get along with her difficult little sister.

Finally, the feature of the book that makes the sibling relationship so compelling is Cleary's excellent character development. Cleary nails the youngest sibling character with Ramona: just the right combination of funny, mischievous, demanding, manipulative, and exasperating. She has a real knack for the funny logic of a 4-year-old. Ramona is surely a forerunner of contemporary characters like Junie B. Jones (e.g., see Junie B. Jones's First Boxed Set Ever!: 1-4).

Cleary also develops Beezus to a tee. For example, after the encouraging birthday conversation between Mrs. Quimby and Aunt Beatrice (during the course of which Ramona was sent to her room yet again for being disobedient), Cleary describes an interaction between Beezus and her mother thus: " `Mother,' whispered Beezus, happier than she had felt in a long time, `I hope Ramona comes back before we have my birthday cake` " (p. 180). Here we see a realistically softened Beezus, who has new resources with which she can both appreciate and cope with her little sister.

The developmental value of this chapter book lies chiefly in its potential to help children deal with difficult younger siblings. Not only is it helpful that Cleary suggests that anger and exasperation are normal parts of young sibling relationships; her portrayal of Beezus's (albeit limited) patience with Ramona is also a lovely model for struggling older siblings. For example, Beezus often attends to her younger sister of her own accord, reading her favorite book to her, or taking her to the library. Cleary also helpfully shows that Beezus really admires certain qualities in her sister (e.g., her imagination), and thus encourages older siblings to see the positive side of their sometimes annoying younger siblings. Thus, Beezus is an exemplary big sister that children can both identify with and model themselves after.

The book's portrayal of family life is also developmentally valuable. Although the Quimbys are a traditional and somewhat quaint nuclear family (the book was written in the 1950s; what do you expect?), their family dynamics are healthy and functional, which is a breath of fresh air. Mrs. Quimby is a kind, gentle woman who parents with patience and equity, attentive to the special needs of both girls in their particular sibling roles and personalities. On the whole, then, Cleary's portrayal of family life is a charming, helpful example.

Finally, Beezus and Ramona is written at a level that will encourage the reading abilities of intermediate readers. It is an excellent book for children who are ready to graduate from easy chapter books, and could be enjoyable as a read-aloud for kids as young as six.

In sum, I highly recommend Beezus and Ramona.


Beezus and Ramona
Beezus and Ramona
by Beverly Cleary
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Great book for children with difficult younger siblings, 17 July 2010
This review is from: Beezus and Ramona (Paperback)
Beezus and Ramona is a character driven chapter book that focuses on Beatrice (nicknamed "Beezus") Quimby, the 9-year-old sister of 4-year-old Ramona Quimby. The book is essentially a series of vignettes depicting the relationship between the two sisters, in which Ramona's mischief features prominently. The book is different from the other books in the Ramona series in that Beezus is the protagonist instead of Ramona. Thus, the book is essentially a portrait of a young sibling relationship--especially its challenges--from the perspective of an older sibling.

Since this chapter book is character- and relationship-driven, the plot is minimal. However, the vignettes do develop the central theme of Beezus's struggle to feel love for her sister. Beezus--the quintessential conscientious bookish first-born child, concerned about doing things right--worries over her periodic anger and resentment toward Ramona--the classic misbehaving baby of the family who always seems to get her way and wreck things for her sister.

Throughout the book, Cleary subtly paints an alternative picture of sisterhood in the happy relationship between Beezus's mother and her sister Beatrice (the aunt after whom Beezus was named). Beezus adores her Aunt Beatrice--she's a young, pretty, jovial schoolteacher that drives a yellow convertible; what's not to love?

The book culminates with Beezus's 10th birthday dinner, which Aunt Beatrice attends. A dinner conversation between Mrs. Quimby and Aunt Beatrice, in which they recall (with laughter) the sibling rivalry of their youth, helps Beezus re-envision her relationship with the exasperating Ramona. Beezus realizes that she doesn't always have to feel love toward her little sister, and she gains hope for a happier sister-relationship when they both get older. After all, if Aunt Beatrice was once a frustrating little sister, then there must be hope for Ramona too!

The subjective appeal of Beezus and Ramona lies chiefly in the humor of Ramona's antics. From the reader's perspective, Ramona's clever mischief is hilarious. For example, once when Beezus is looking after Ramona while their mother is out, Beezus finds Ramona sitting in the basement by a big box of apples, eating one bite out of each apple and then tossing it aside. When her big sister orders her to stop at once, Ramona coolly explains, "But the first bite tastes best..." (104). Then, to try to evade trouble with her sister, Ramona claims that she just wants to "share" the apples with her sister. Sharing is good, right? Classic! This chapter book is filled with similarly sharp, hilarious episodes that reflect Cleary's acute insight into young children.

The book's theme of sibling relationships will also be appealing to children with siblings--especially those with younger siblings, and especially girls. Virtually any child with a younger sibling could probably relate to and identify with Beezus in some way, and so would be interested to find out how Beezus manages to get along with her difficult little sister.

Finally, the feature of the book that makes the sibling relationship so compelling is Cleary's excellent character development. Cleary nails the youngest sibling character with Ramona: just the right combination of funny, mischievous, demanding, manipulative, and exasperating. She has a real knack for the funny logic of a 4-year-old. Ramona is surely a forerunner of contemporary characters like Junie B. Jones (e.g., see Junie B. Jones's First Boxed Set Ever!: 1-4).

Cleary also develops Beezus to a tee. For example, after the encouraging birthday conversation between Mrs. Quimby and Aunt Beatrice (during the course of which Ramona was sent to her room yet again for being disobedient), Cleary describes an interaction between Beezus and her mother thus: " `Mother,' whispered Beezus, happier than she had felt in a long time, `I hope Ramona comes back before we have my birthday cake` " (p. 180). Here we see a realistically softened Beezus, who has new resources with which she can both appreciate and cope with her little sister.

The developmental value of this chapter book lies chiefly in its potential to help children deal with difficult younger siblings. Not only is it helpful that Cleary suggests that anger and exasperation are normal parts of young sibling relationships; her portrayal of Beezus's (albeit limited) patience with Ramona is also a lovely model for struggling older siblings. For example, Beezus often attends to her younger sister of her own accord, reading her favorite book to her, or taking her to the library. Cleary also helpfully shows that Beezus really admires certain qualities in her sister (e.g., her imagination), and thus encourages older siblings to see the positive side of their sometimes annoying younger siblings. Thus, Beezus is an exemplary big sister that children can both identify with and model themselves after.

The book's portrayal of family life is also developmentally valuable. Although the Quimbys are a traditional and somewhat quaint nuclear family (the book was written in the 1950s; what do you expect?), their family dynamics are healthy and functional, which is a breath of fresh air. Mrs. Quimby is a kind, gentle woman who parents with patience and equity, attentive to the special needs of both girls in their particular sibling roles and personalities. On the whole, then, Cleary's portrayal of family life is a charming, helpful example.

Finally, Beezus and Ramona is written at a level that will encourage the reading abilities of intermediate readers. It is an excellent book for children who are ready to graduate from easy chapter books, and could be enjoyable as a read-aloud for kids as young as six.

In sum, I highly recommend Beezus and Ramona.


The Very Hungry Caterpillar [Board Book]
The Very Hungry Caterpillar [Board Book]
by Eric Carle
Edition: Board book
Price: £3.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Illustrations, Satisfying Story, Plus Numbers and Days of the Week, 13 July 2010
Eric Carle's classic baby board book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, begins with a small white egg resting on a leaf by moonlight. When the sun comes up the next morning--on Sunday--the little egg hatches and a tiny, very hungry caterpillar pops out.

The caterpillar goes searching for food over the course of the week. It finds and eats holes through several kinds of fruit, food that you might expect a caterpillar to like. For example, on Monday he eats through an apple, on Tuesday two pears, on Wednesday three plums, and so on. However, after eating five oranges on Friday he is still hungry (he is a very hungry caterpillar!), so on Saturday he eats holes through a bunch of human food, including chocolate cake, a cupcake, an ice cream cone, a pickle, and a sausage. All this food gives him a stomachache, so on Sunday he eats only a cleansing green leaf, which makes him feel better.

The caterpillar is now fat and no longer hungry. He builds a cocoon and, after several weeks inside, he nibbles his way out (hungry again?) and shows himself to be a beautiful butterfly.

The most attractive feature of this baby board book, and the central locus of its subjective appeal for babies and toddlers, is Eric Carle's beautiful bold illustrations. The final illustration of the butterfly is especially stunning.

In general, the illustrations consist of brightly colored collage elements pasted on a white backdrop. The collage elements are made of coarsely hand-painted paper that was either cut or torn to assume the required shape. For example, the shapes depicting tree trunks have rough torn edges while the shapes representing leaves have smooth, cut edges. In addition to collage, Carle used colored pencil to highlight certain features (e.g., the hair on the caterpillar's back).

Overall, the artistic effect is illustrations that are bold, colorful, and highly textured in a way that reminds me of Ezra Jack Keats's beautifully illustrated children's books. The textured look of Carle's illustrations makes toddlers want to touch them.

The story in this children's book adds to its subjective appeal. Even in a simple baby board book like this, several of the classic elements of a good story are present. For example, the book has a beginning where the main character is introduced, and a satisfying climactic ending where the caterpillar turns into a butterfly, completing his cycle of development. Even for a toddler, this story structure makes the children's book appealing.

Finally, the book is funny! The absurdity of the caterpillar eating large quantities of human food like lollipops and ice cream is particularly hilarious for toddlers. That part always got a smile out of my kids when they were young.

In addition to the aspects of the book that give it kid-appeal, this baby board book has significant developmental value for infants and toddlers. First, and most obviously, the book is a delightful introduction to the life cycle of a butterfly, touching on the caterpillar, cocoon, and butterfly stages.

Second, this children's book can also introduce toddlers to numbers and the days of the week. As noted in the baby board book summary above, the caterpillar eats through one apple on Monday, two pears on Tuesday, three plums on Wednesday, four strawberries on Thursday, and five oranges on Friday. Saturday and Sunday are, of course, also mentioned.

Finally, the range of simple, familiar objects depicted in the book--fruit, sweets, the sun, the moon, leaves, trees, caterpillars, etc.--can help very young children in their language acquisition. As the adult points to the pictures and says the words, the child can absorb the meaning of the words. Once a toddler has had this children's book read to her a few times, the book is simple enough that she can enjoy completing the book's sentences as you read, exercising her memory.

Bottom line: this classic baby board book by Eric Carle is an excellent choice for infants and toddlers; it should be in every family's collection. Kids love this book for its beautiful illustrations and satisfying, funny story. The book is also great for the cognitive development of children, introducing them to the biology of caterpillars and butterflies, as well as numbers, days of the week, and basic language.


Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter 6)[Children's Edition]
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Harry Potter 6)[Children's Edition]
by J. K. Rowling
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Action-packed Story, Teenage Romance, Moral Lessons (No Spoilers), 3 July 2010
In the last book--Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)--Voldemort and his minions tried to steal a prophecy (i.e., a crystal ball that preserves prophetic words previously spoken) about Harry and the Dark Lord, to help them in their wicked bid for power over the wizarding world. With help from members of the Order of the Phoenix--a secret society formed to counter Voldemort's forces--Harry and his friends foiled the plot in dramatic "shoot-em-up" style. (See my review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.)

As a result of the botched attempt to obtain the prophecy, Voldemort's bid for power has become public knowledge, and the (unconfirmed but true) rumor on the street is that Harry Potter is "The Chosen One," i.e., "the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord." This is where the story of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince picks up.

A further result of the botched attempt is that Voldemort is furious with the Death-Eater-captain of the failed operation, Lucius Malfoy, father of Harry's arch-rival at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Draco Malfoy. Since Lucius has been imprisoned, Voldemort uses the son to get back at the father, giving Draco a mysterious and dangerous mission while back at Hogwarts. But what is his mission? The effort of Harry and his friends to unravel Draco's plan constitutes a major subplot of the book. Harry is given an old magic textbook filled with notes, hand-written by its former owner, "The Half-Blood Prince." The textbook helps Harry and his mates navigate their year at Hogwarts. But who is the Half-Blood Prince? This question also drives the plot forward.

The other central plot line involves private lessons Harry receives from Hogwarts Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, and Dumbledore's periodic secret excursions from the school. Where is Dumbledore going? What is he doing? Why is his hand so badly burned? And what does the Half-Blood Prince have to do with any of it? The climax of this book yields the sharpest and most shocking plot-twist of the entire Harry Potter series: not to be missed!

In my view, the central subjective appeal of this work of young adult fiction is its storyline. Everything about the story is complex, inviting the reader to study its depths. First, its characters are manifold and psychologically realistic; Rowling even probes the twisted psychology of Voldemort in this book. This thorough development of "the bad guy" is rare and interesting for a children's book. Second, the book's plot is bursting with subplots, each of which dovetails seamlessly with the overall plot of the book and the series as a whole. Rowling masterfully wraps in plot-lines from prior books and sets up the grand plot-line culminating in the last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7) [Children's Edition]. Finally, Rowling's carefully crafted fantasy world of magic and creatures is compelling and vivid, as always.

One thing that sets this story apart from prior books in the Potter series is the place of intense action and drama. Although the uptick in these is perhaps only incremental from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it is clear that this sixth book is more intense than the earliest books (e.g., Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Book 1), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Book 2), and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Book 3)). This is one reason I think the book is firmly in the "Young Adult Fiction" (14 to 19 years) category, and is not simply "Juvenile/Middle-Grade Fiction" (9 to 13 years). The drama and action will particularly appeal to teens.

Just as the intense action and drama is suitable for teens, so the relational themes in this book are mature in a way that will capture teenagers. Specifically, at age sixteen the characters in the book are now firmly entrenched in the world of romance and dating, and the relational tensions that entails. For example, the beginning of Ron's fling with Lavender Brown is described thus: "There, in full view of the whole room, stood Ron wrapped so closely around Lavender Brown it was hard to tell whose hands were whose. `It looks like he's eating her face, doesn't it?' said Ginny dispassionately. `But, I suppose he's got to refine his technique somehow'" (p. 300). Rowling obviously brings a heavy dose of humor to her descriptions of teen romance, which will also appeal.

On the whole, I think Rowling deals tastefully and skillfully with the romantic theme: I don't think there is anything parents of teens should worry about here. The particularly "kissy" sort of romance is portrayed as shallow and silly (as suggested by the quote above). When the romance is more compelling, it is far less physical and much more relational. This contrast in the portrayal of romantic interaction communicates a valuable lesson to teens about where the substance of romance lies, i.e., in relationships, not lips (though there's nothing wrong with a little smoochy smoochy!). Moreover, the book is sexually chaste relative to the contemporary world of most teenagers; Rowling's portrayal does not confront any fundamental questions of sexual ethics and does not portray anything beyond kissing. Nevertheless, the romantic themes are another reason I think the book is clearly Young Adult Fiction.

The insistent battle between good and evil also contributes to the developmental value of the book. As for the other books in the series, the dominant moral lesson is clear: evil is to be confronted at all costs. One worry is that Harry commits a shockingly horrible act at one point in the book, casting a spell on Draco Malfoy that nearly kills him (p. 522-523). However, several things ameliorate his transgression. First, Harry is soundly punished (p. 528-529). Second, his misdeed was (mostly) in the service of his effort to foil Malfoy's dark mission. Third, he had never previously used the spell he cast and thus did not know its effects (he read it from the Half-Blood Prince's book). Thus, his intention was not to kill Malfoy, evidenced by his own shock and cry of "No!" immediately upon seeing the effect of the spell. Moreover, it is important for children to see moral failings in protagonists: teens can better identify with morally flawed characters, and can thereby learn from their negative example.

Finally, for teens that are religiously oriented, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince continues to develop Rowling's Christian allegory (see my blog article "Harry Potter: Christian Allegory or Occultist Children's Books? (Part 2)" for a more complete view of this topic). For example, toward the end of chapter 23 ("Horcruxes"), Harry and Dumbledore have a conversation with deep theological overtones. Dumbledore tells Harry that Harry's power to defeat Voldemort consists in his ability to love, and notes that Harry's privileged knowledge of Voldemort's wicked activity (through visions) has come without the desire to join in. Finally, Dumbledore denies that Harry is compelled to confront Voldemort, emphasizing rather Harry's free and noble choice to do so. Here, then, Harry is a type of the biblical Christ--freely and sacrificially choosing to confront evil in an ultimate way, remaining pure in heart despite his intimate contact with evil, and being motivated and empowered by love. Profound theological teaching is available here for those who are interested; however, the episode slips harmlessly under the radar for those who are not.

In short, I highly recommend Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince for teens aged 14 to 19 years. Rowling's compelling storyline, characters, and themes continue to entertain, even while her book teaches important moral, theological, and relational lessons.


Grandfather Twilight (Paperstar Book)
Grandfather Twilight (Paperstar Book)
by Barbara Helen Berger
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting Illustrations, Great for a Calm Bedtime Routine, 16 Jun. 2010
The central character of Barbara Berger's baby board book Grandfather Twilight is, logically enough, an old man with white hair and beard named Grandfather Twilight. He lives in a beautiful deciduous forest and spends his days reading in a comfortable armchair, accompanied by his dog, his cat, and a bird.

The story of this board book traces Grandfather Twilight's evening routine. He takes a pearl from an endless strand he keeps in a wooden chest and goes for a walk with his dog. As he walks, the pearl grows, the sounds of the forest hush, and the colors of a beautiful twilight sky fan out behind him like a misty ethereal wake. At this point the illustrations alone tell the story for a time, unaided by text.

He walks to a rocky beach and then, as night falls, he releases the growing pearl--which turns out to be the moon--into the sky. Then he returns home and goes to bed. As he sleeps in his bed, his quilt is a beautiful twilight sky, populated by fluffy white clouds (one of which is his flowing white beard). Grandfather Twilight is aptly named: he is indeed the keeper of that special time between day and night, twilight.

The subjective appeal of this board book--i.e., that which makes the children's book appealing to babies and toddlers--lies chiefly in its enchanting illustrations. The earth tones of the forest combine with the rich pastels of the twilight sky to produce a calming feast for the eyes. My favorite illustration is the one where the evening colors begin to flow behind Grandfather Twilight. It is as if he effortlessly paints the stunning twilight sky across every point he passes. The soft-focus style of the illustrations adds to their appealing gentle feel. They remind me of playing outside as a child on long summer evenings.

Babies and toddlers will also enjoy the board book's portrayal of animals and objects that are familiar to them. Grandfather Twilight's dog and cat are sure to please. The final scene shows them snuggled together, asleep ("ahh, aren't they cute..."). Also, as Grandfather Twilight walks through the forest, we see birds among the trees, and rabbits in a field. Some children might also recognize the old man as a grandfather like theirs.

The language of the board book is also pleasing. Right before the colors begin to flow in Grandfather Twilight's wake, the text reads, "The pearl grows larger with every step. Leaves begin to whisper. Little birds hush." Such language lets the reader feel the gentle quiet settling over the scene.

The central developmental value of this baby board book is its calming influence as a bedtime story. As I suggested above, everything in the book is gentle and calming--the illustrations, the language, and even the story itself. Indeed, the whole point of the story is to explain--in a clever, soothing, mythical way--the change from day to night, from awake to asleep. At the end of the board book Grandfather Twilight, and even his pets, are asleep in bed. Thus, the entire progression of the story is toward bed. Here, then is a book that both prepares a young child for bed by calming him, and shows the child what comes next: bedtime. This children's book was regularly a helpful part of the bedtime routine for our children when they were young.

Finally, the board book's portrayal of familiar objects--dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, the moon, a grandfather, etc., as I noted above--is developmentally valuable for language acquisition. The parent can easily match words to the objects as the baby notices and points to them, thereby facilitating her learning of language.

In short, Grandfather Twilight is an enchanting baby board book that can play a calming, helpful role in the bedtime routine of any toddler or baby. I highly recommend it!


Are You My Mother? (Beginner Series)
Are You My Mother? (Beginner Series)
by P. D. Eastman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, Compelling Picture Book, Great for New Readers, 10 Jun. 2010
Are You My Mother? opens with a mother bird sitting on a big yellow egg in her nest. The egg starts to jump and shake, so the mother bird decides she had better go and find some food to feed her baby bird, who is about to arrive. Soon after she flies away, the egg hatches, and the baby bird asks, "Where is my mother?"

Since the baby bird can't see his mother anywhere, he decides to go looking for her. He steps out of the nest, falls to the ground (can't fly yet!), and sets off on an adventure to find his mother. He encounters a series of things--a kitten, a hen, a dog, a cow, a steamboat, an airplane, and a large steam shovel that he calls a "snort" (because it snorts!)--and asks each in turn whether it is his mother.

Finally, as the baby bird is puzzling over the snort, the huge machine picks up the baby bird, drives him to his tree, and sets him gently back in his nest. Moments later his mother arrives with a worm in her mouth and the two are happily reunited. The book ends with an image of the mother and baby birds snuggling in the nest.

Several factors give this picture book subjective appeal for young children. First, the book is just funny. Kids love how the egg jumps in the nest, and the image of the baby bird stepping out of the nest, confidently expecting to fly. Kids also crack up when the baby bird absurdly asks all the various animals and things if they are his mother: "`How could I be your mother?' said the cow. `I am a cow.'" (p. 33)

Second, the baby's separation from his mother adds a certain tension that drives the story forward. Even as the baby bird does delightfully silly things like ask a cow if she is his mother, the reader is mildly anxious for the baby to find his mother, and thus the reader wants to find out what happens next. In other words, this picture book has a compelling little plot! The tension climaxes in the bird's encounter with the snort: will this huge machine hurt our naive little bird? Of course, the story resolves in a delightful way as the snort turns out to be helpful and not harmful.

Finally, while the illustrations are not elaborate or deeply artistic, they are excellently done line drawings, and have the appeal of a cartoon for young readers.

The picture book is also developmentally valuable in several ways. First, as an "easy reader", the picture book is ideal for a child learning to read. In fact, the book is part of the famous "Beginner Books" series started by Phyllis Cerf, and Helen and Theodor Geisel--Theodor is better known as Dr. Seuss. The first book in the series, of course, was Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat (which I also heartily recommend).

Authors of Beginner Books were required to use fewer than 400 words in their writing--words selected as important building blocks in a young reader's vocabulary--thereby making the picture books both developmentally valuable and accessible for beginning readers. Incidentally, the use of humor in Beginner Books (clearly evident in Are You My Mother?picture books easy readers beginner books are you my mother) plays an important role in a child's process of learning to read. As Zena Sutherland so aptly puts it, "the humor makes the serious business of decoding easier" (Children and Books (9th Edition), p. 87).

Finally, the picture book's portrayal of a delightful warm connection between mother and baby bird gently affirms a young reader's most valuable and primary relationship. One aspect of the baby bird's connection to his mother that I found particularly sweet is the fact that he emerges from his egg assuming that he has a mother. His first words are, "where is my mother?" (p. 10), as if having a mother is simply a given. Even faced with his inability to find her, he is sure he has a mother (p. 37). And of course, the final image of the baby snuggling in the nest with mom is heart-warming.

In short, Are You My Mother? is a funny, compelling, and developmentally valuable picture book that I heartily recommend.


Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)
by J. K. Rowling
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and Intricate Plot, Masterful Character Development (As Usual), 10 Jun. 2010
This fifth installment in J.K. Rowling's masterful juvenile fiction series about Harry Potter picks up where the fourth book left off. The Dark Lord Voldemort--having been restored to power at the climax of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4)--and his minions are covertly at work, preparing for outright war. They seek something Voldemort "didn't have last time" (p. 96), i.e., when Harry was a baby and Voldemort last launched his campaign for power over the wizarding world. But, what exactly is Voldemort seeking? This question drives the plot of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) forward on the deepest level. Harry's consistent experience of visions hinting at Voldemort's activity and emotions help him and his friends in their efforts to understand and foil Voldemort's plans.

In Rowling's trademark style, the path toward answering the central question of the novel has many twists, turns, and subplots. One significant subplot is the introduction and activity of the book's namesake--the Order of the Phoenix--a secret society of wizards formed by Professor Dumbledore (the headmaster at Harry's school, Hogwarts) to counter the rise of the Dark Lord. It turns out that virtually all of the adult wizards in Harry's life are members of the Order, including professors from Hogwarts, Sirius Black (Harry's godfather), and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley (the parents of Ron Weasley, Harry's best friend). The development of Harry's relationship with Sirius--which takes a shocking turn--also continues to be an important subplot in this book.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix will have much subjective appeal for children older than twelve years. First, the plot is gripping and intricate. Although it is challenging to follow at times--with Rowling's wide range of characters and interpenetrating subplots--half the fun of reading the book is keeping track of everything. The complexity keeps the reader focused on the book and hungering for more. Rowling has created an entire universe in the Harry Potter novels not unlike J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth (though somewhat less complex), and this installment in the series is yet another tantalizing view into that alternate world.

The themes this children's book engages also make it attractive to kids twelve years and older. For example, Harry's efforts to cope with the loss of family members and friends is a theme with which many juvenile and young adult readers will identify. The prominent theme of good against evil, is also as compelling as ever: the reader is altogether wrapped up in Harry's and his friends' struggle against Voldemort. And of course, the fantasy themes--magical creatures, flying on broomsticks, casting spells, etc.--never cease to please.

As Harry, Ron, and Hermione--the central characters of the book--are now 15 years old, the book also develops the theme of teen romance in ways that are new for the series, but that are also eminently appropriate and tasteful. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4) Rowling "flirted" with the issue of romance (pun intended), but in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5) the issue is tackled more directly. For example, in this book Harry experiences his first kiss, and goes on his first (disastrous!) date.

Finally, in a discussion of what makes Rowling's juvenile fiction books appealing, I could not fail to mention her masterful development of the book's characters. Indeed, in the end, it is this deft development of characters (even of the many secondary characters) that makes her books so long, and yet so difficult to put down. To be honest, when I'm away from these books I miss the characters: they have become my friends (yes, I know, I am fully aware of my geekness).

I can't resist an example: when Harry and the Weasley family are staying together in London, Ron gets a letter unexpectedly informing him that he has been appointed "prefect"--a position at Hogwarts that gives him disciplinary authority. Ron's mischievous older twin brothers, Fred and George (who are hilarious; humor is another reason to love these books), promptly begin giving Ron a hard time about it and speculating (correctly as it turns out) that their mother's reaction will be "revolting". The following exchange ensues: Mrs. Weasley "gave Ron yet another kiss on the cheek, sniffed loudly, and bustled from the room. Fred and George exchanged looks. `You don't mind if we don't kiss you, do you, Ron?' said Fred in a falsely anxious voice. `We could curtsy, if you like,' said George. `Oh, shut up,' said Ron, scowling at them. `Or what?' said Fred, an evil grin spreading across his face. `Going to put us in detention?' (p. 164). Here Rowling nails the sibling dynamics. Simply put, her character development is the compelling heart and soul of these children's books.

In addition to its subjective appeal, the book has many qualities that render it developmentally valuable for children ten years and older. First, the complexity of the kids' book (both in its plot and its characters) makes it intellectually demanding for children. Rowling drops hints and clues as the mystery of the book unfolds, engaging the deductive powers of young readers.

Second, the book has significant literary value. Although Rowling is not the most elegant writer (her sentences tend to be a bit clunky at times), she makes brilliant use of imagery in her descriptions, her vocabulary is broad, and she creatively employs Latin roots in naming spells and potions, and Greek mythology for magical creatures. For example, centaurs inhabit the Forbidden Forest, and "accio"--in Latin, "I call"--is the spell Harry and his friends use to summon distant objects. Moreover, once in a while Rowling's turn of phrase is truly beautiful. The creative literary character of the book encourages literary growth in young readers.

In my view, the book is also morally edifying. In their fight against evil, Harry Potter and his friends show remarkable courage, compassion (even for enemies), and self-restraint--all of which are virtues I certainly hope to inculcate in my children. In my view, literary examples of such virtue, such as those in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5), have a role to play in this character development.

Granted, Harry and his friends are not saints: they frequently lie, and at times they are downright haughty and mean. Nevertheless, their lies are virtually always in the service of the greater good, illustrating the moral truth that "do not lie" has exceptions: it is immoral not to lie if a Nazi is at your door looking for the Jews in your attic. And the characters' mean or brash slips of character rarely go unpunished. All things considered, Harry and the gang are flawed yet helpful moral models, people to whom children can relate, and from whom they can learn.

Finally, although the Harry Potter series has been controversial in the religious community--particularly among conservative Christians--I think this book and the others in the series have the potential to be religiously edifying, particularly if parents read them to their children and use the books as a catalyst for theological conversations. For my take on the controversy over the Harry Potter novels, and my argument that the series amounts to Christian allegory, read the article series "Harry Potter: Christian Allegory or Occultist Children's Books?", on my website (just follow my Amazon profile link).

In sum, I highly recommend Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5), along with the other novels in J.K. Rowling's juvenile fiction series.


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