A Grain of Rice

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By Helena Clare Pittman

This cleverly told oriental folk-tale is something of a math lesson in disguise. An easy, fun story, readers will root for the clever peasant who uses hard work, a cheerful demeanor, and his wits to win the hand of the Emporer’s daughter. I have to agree with the School Library Journal who calls the book, “wise and humorous.”

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Easy-read chapter book for beginners.

Ages 6-12

Recommended

Reviewer: Doreen

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The Little White Horse

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By Elizabeth Goudge

A fairy-tale for middle graders, this chapter book tells the story of a girl who is determined to suppress evil and restore peace to the valley of her forefathers. Goudge was high-church Anglican and brings a strong respect for the church and one’s service to God. For Protestants, there is reference to a statue of Mary and the old traditional prayer times of the monks, but these are elements that can be taken in context of the fairytale as a whole. With little to no magic, except the sea horses which come rushing through the woods one night, the heroine proceeds with courage, discovering her own weaknesses and resolving not to fall into the old family ways of pride and bitterness. A strong sense of home and family and the sanctity of marriage are conveyed throughout the book. For preteen girls who still want to read fairytales, here is one that remains wholesome.

Chapter book

Ages 10-13

Available from public libraries

Reviewer: Doreen

The Nutcracker

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By Susan Jeffers

If the magical Nutcracker fairytale reads like a dream, that’s probably because it is! The picturebook story tells the dream that follows the receiving of a Nutcracker as a Christmas gift.

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Is this book for you? Well, if the music of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker thrills your heart, or you just can’t resist the twirling snowflakes in a land of lollipops; if a look at a real Victorian Christmas makes you smile or you want to at least familiarize your kids with The Nutcracker Story, then, yes, this is a picturebook for you.

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Author/illustrator Susan Jeffers wanted to retell the story of the Nutcracker in a version short enough for young listeners and to include pieces of the ballet in her illustrations, which she does. The artwork is truly Victorian from outside architecture to house décor to clothing fashion, and the ballerinas in the Land of Sweets are presented prettily, suiting a little girl’s dream of what a flower fairy should look like.

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Ages 4-7

Available from public libraries

Reviewer: Doreen

The Snail and the Whale

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By Julia Donaldson

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I really loved this book :). It’s a board book but not just for babies. Toddlers and preschoolers and early elementary will enjoy: “This is a tale of a tiny snail…this is the whale who came one night…” With a real adventure and rescue, rhythmic language, and well-done illustrations (although they are a little spoiled by the comic-strip eyeballs), it is sure to be enjoyed a few times over. Includes an audio version with background music, that is wonderfully read.

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A long picture board book, with audio CD

Ages 3-8

Available from public libraries

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Recommended

Reviewer: Doreen

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The Most Wonderful Thing in the World

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By Vivian French

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A brand-new fairy-tale, not quite modern-day, but occurring “in the time of your grandmother’s grandmother…” Would-be suitors of this princess must present the most wonderful thing in the world to win the princess’s hand. I shan’t spoil the ending, but will simply add that perhaps this story deserves to become a classic 🙂

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Picturebook with interesting pictures

Ages 5-12

Available from public libraries

Recommended

Reviewer: Doreen

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Hans Christian Andersen: The Ugly Duckling

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Retold by Stephen Mitchell

This longer retelling of the classic tale (around 30 minutes read-aloud), is recommended for its rich, warm illustrations. The creative mix of paper and fabric collage may inspire older, high-school age artists in their work.

(Jerry Pinkney also does a good job retelling and illustrating children’s classics and fables such as The Ugly Duckling.)

Ages 4-10

Picturebook

Available from public libraries

Recommended

Reviewer: Doreen

 

The Wind in the Willows

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By Kenneth Grahame

These books are well-loved for their characters and setting. Grahame does a marvelous job of drawing you into Mole’s cozy home complete with simple comforts and carolers at Christmas; Ratty’s water world of “messing around in boats” and poetry-writing by firelight; wise old Badger who lives deep in the dark, forbidding woods; and, of course, Toad. Mr. Toad, with all his pomp and pride and falls. Mr. Toad who never learns and will always go on being the foolish toad that he is–as his friends pick up the pieces.

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What more could you want? The difficulties, if they are such to you, is that the sentences are not simple and the language is difficult—definitely a vocabulary-stretcher!—making it a bit of a challenge to read aloud….that is where an audio version would be great. Another thing is the white buck that appears, seeming to protect the young lost otter, and worthy of the others’ reverence. This seems to jive with a Catholic understanding of saints and worship, but I could be mistaken.

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For its keen insight into characters and the fleshing out of relationships; for its dry-your-eyes humour, triumph of good over evil, and folly reaping its own rewards: The Wind in the Willows is Recommended!

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Chapter book, fiction

Ages 7 and up

Available from: public libraries

Reviewer: Doreen

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Randolph Caldecott’s Picture Books

 

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Illustrated by Randolph Caldecott

Have you ever wondered about the origins of the prestigious Caldecott medal on the front of some picture books? It is given out to the best picturebook of the year and is named after the nineteenth century artist Randolph Caldecott. He lived during the lifetime of fellow illustrators such as Beatrix Potter, and her father is said to have bought her some of his illustrations to inspire her artwork as a child 🙂

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This thick volume contains nine stories or nursery rhymes illustrated by Randolph Caldecott, most of which are in ink, but with about a fourth of the illustrations as full pages or doublespreads printed in full-colour. The stories and rhymes which Caldecott illustrates are familiar enough and not very deep or thrilling, perhaps, but it is his illustrations which are fun to view, for looking carefully, the reader can see the fun he has in adding another level to the story or rhyme….

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Ages 2-10

Picturebook

Available from public libraries

Recommended

Reviewer: Doreen

Misty of Chincoteague

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By Marguerite Henry

Here is an adventure for horse-loving children that will introduce you to a wild horse band on two real islands off the coast of North America. The story focuses on the efforts of a brother and sister to get a pony of their own, and speculates a little on the history and legend of how the first wild ponies got to North America. The children’s success in the story may seem a little too-good-to-be-true, but the author assures her readers at the beginning that though the order of the events in the book may have been shuffled, the events did truly happen!

Bonus: There are many more “horse” books written by this author. It is too bad that public libraries don’t seem to carry many of others.

Recommended for horse-adventure lovers

Chapter Book or Unabridged Audio Book

Available from public libraries

Ages 6-12

Reviewer: Doreen

The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship: A Russian Folktale

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Illustrated by Christopher Denise

The youngest mouse of an old peasant also wants to try his hand at building a flying ship in order to marry the tsar’s daughter. He is the least clever mouse, but when he welcomes into his ship an odd assortment of animal friends, using their wits together, they prove that together, a diverse group can accomplish the seemingly impossible, and that resourcefulness is measured not by intellect alone. That is the theme of this Russian folktale.

The illustrations by Denise make this story more enjoyable (and if you’ve seen the Brian Jacques’ Redwall book, you may recognize the mice illustrations).

Folktale, Picturebook

Ages 5 and up

Available from: Hamilton Public Library

Recommended
Reviewer: Doreen