I’ve Moved!!!

To start the new year off right, Between These Pages has moved to it’s very own url.  You can now find me at betweenthesepages.com. Click on over! Change your bookmarks!  Resubscribe!  Update any links you have!

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Winter Break

Dear Friends and Readers,

I am going on short break but will return after the New Year.  Wishing you and yours all the best in this holiday season.

See you next year!

Mrs. N

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To Buy: For the Dinosaur Lover

Do you have a dinosaur lover to shop for? Whether you’re just training a toddler in the ways of the prehistoric beasts or have an elementary school child ready to read about dinosaurs all on their own, BetweenThesePages has a dinosaur suggestion for you.

For the Board Book Crowd: That’s Not My Dinosaur by F. Watt
This is the perfect choice for a future paleontologist who is still going through that all important chewing and poking stage of their education.  Each page features a different (wrong) dinosaur.  This series is known for its relative durability (essential in something that is bound to be gummed and grabbed). There is a wide variety of textures for the little dino detectives to enjoy, set off by a wide range of adjectives. Of course at the end, there’s the payoff of finding the right dinosaur! Kids will love the touchy feeling fun and the predictable structure.  No content of concern.

For your 2-6 year old. Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea
I dare you to not have fun while shouting “Roar!” It won’t satisfy the scientific child who wants to identify different kinds of dinosaurs, but it will satisfy anyone in need of an awesome bedtime read. Dinosaur battles all sorts of difficult situations: a big slide! a bowl of spaghetti! He roars, he wins! But even an incredibly feisty red dinosaur is no match for bedtime. Bright colors, limited text and a go-to-sleep message? Big win in my book. No content of concern.

For your independent reader: Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst.

Viorst had me (and I suspect will have all you parents who are of a similar age) at her two page disclosure wherein she clarifies that she knows people and dinosaurs never lived together and that she knows the brontosaurus is no longer a brontosaurus but is now called an apatosaurus but she’s writing about a girl and a brontosaurus anyway because it’s HER BOOK.

This book also wins points in my book because it reminds me of one of my all time favorite picture books What Do You Do With a Kangaroo? Lulu may be a right royal pain but she is not a wimp.  In her supremely bratty way she marches through the forest to her goal.  But everything changes for Lulu when she meets her brontosaurus.  He sees the world quite differently than she does, and after only a short time with him, she is a changed girl. Viorst kindly provides three endings should you not like any particular one, and continues her authorly asides throughout, something I found charming.

This book also completely screams to be read aloud, so even though your third grader (or advanced second grader) could read it independently, consider it a candidate for a bedtime chapter book.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – Lulu says “foo on you.”
Death, Violence and Gore – A snake threatens to squeeze Lulu dead.  She replies “not if I squeeze you deader.”  She does squeeze him but does not kill him.  A tiger threatens to eat Lulu as her afternoon snack, but Lulu bonks the tiger over the head.  A bear threatens to scratch Lulu to pieces with his claws, but she stomps on his toe.  Lulu ponders squeezing, bonking or stomping the dinosaur when she does not get her way.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

For a holiday theme: The Dinosaurs’ Night Before Christmas by Anne Muecke

This festive treat takes the familiar poem by Clement Moore and dinofies it.  A boy who lives across from a museum is startled as the dino fossils come to life.  He scurries across to investigate only to find a dinosaur Christmas party in full swing.  It names lots of dinosaurs which should please your little enthusiast, and if you’re lucky, your copy will come with a CD of Christmas carols altered to include dinosaurs.  (If that sounds like your idea of a headache, you can try to hide the disk, but be warned, lyrics are at the end of the book with tune suggestions, so you may be out of luck). 

Great for: Lovers of Night at the Museum.  Anyone who’s dreamed of dinosaurs coming to life will get a kick out of this!

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None
Death, Violence and Gore – The boy worries that the dinosaurs might want to eat him.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – The boy and dinosaurs drink eggnog.
Frightening or Intense Things – Dinosaur skeletons shouldn’t frighten any real scientists.

Posted in Middle Grades, Primary Grades | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

The Nutcracker (Part 4)

I’ve loved Susan Jeffers’s work as an illustrator ever since I got my hands on her beautiful rendition of Robert Frost’s poem Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. Her period pictures in this version of The Nutcracker are bound to please.  My favorite pages are ones that are broken into multiple scenes giving tiny windows into Marie’s world.  The first part of the story (the party, is fairly similar to the ballet, in that Drosselmeier appears, shows off some amazing dolls and gives Marie a nutcracker which Fritz then breaks.  She falls asleep on the couch clutching the Nutcracker and is sprinkled by Herr Drosselmeier’s magic while mice eagerly look on.  The dream section where Marie and the Prince travel to the land of the sweets is accompanied by some quick mentions of the dancers from the ballet, but many illustrations of ballerinas, bound to captivate little ones who are in love with the dance.

Jeffers mentions in an author’s note that her purpose was both to illustrate the ballet and to create a version short enough to be read-aloud.  She references the Bell/Zwerger version I reviewed earlier this week as one that contains the full story.  I do feel that Jeffers kept an important part of the story when she told the part about Marie’s love for the Nutcracker.  Her love for him in spite of his looks is what breaks the spell and returns him to his princely form.  This aspect of the fairy tale, with its moral of inner beauty is a valuable part of the original to retain.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – The prince takes Marie by the hands.  Marie declares that she will love the Nutcraker even though he is ugly.  He is transformed into the prince of her dreams.  Year pass and they are engaged then married.  Their return to the Land of Sweets is shown in the illustrations and Marie is clearly grown-up.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – Soldiers are armed with swords, guns and a cannon that shoots peppermint candies.  The mouse king has a sword but the other mice are unarmed.  Two soldiers are captured by mice.  The mouse king is felled by Marie’s slipper but there is no talk of him dying; the other mice simply take him away.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – This is one of the least frightening mouse battles I’ve seen, so a good choice for easily frightened little ones.

Keeping some elements from the original (The nutcracker is under a spell) and making other parts that don’t seem to match any version I’ve read (the nutcraker is King of Toyland?)  this version, illustrated by Scott Gustafson is a very mixed up sort of retelling.

In my opinion it had none of the magical fairy tale qualities so well captured by the Bell/Zwerger version which sort of defeats the purpose of using parts of the original tale.  It also elimates the second act dancing that ballet lovers will be waiting for.  It seems no matter what you’re looking for, it’s better done elsewhere.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Marie grows up to marry Drosselmeier’s nephew.  The nephew had been promised that he would marry a princess.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – All of Dame Mouserink’s relatives are killed by mousetraps.  She threatens that the Nutcracker (inventor of the mousetrap) will be killed by her son with seven crowns.  The king’s soldiers kill Dame Mouserink.  Mice are armed with guns and spears.  The nutracracker has a sword. The toy soldiers fire hazelnuts and lemon drops from their cannons.  The nutcracker claims to have defeated the mouse king, but we are not given more information than that.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – Nothing that is not covered above.

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The Harlem Nutcracker (Part 3)

It was pretty exciting to find a version of the Nutcracker that featured a non-white cast. But I really wasn’t at all prepared for The Harlem Nutcracker. Rather than illustrations, author Susan Kuklin uses photographs of a dance performance to adorn the pages. But the story of the Harlem Nutcracker is not the story of the Nutcracker Ballet. An interview with the choreographer, Donald Byrd (found at the back of the book), sheds some light on this derivation. Byrd was inspired by a Duke Ellington interpretation of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and commissioned Billy Berger to write enough additional jazz music to extend Ellington’s work (which only included the section known as the Suite) to a full performance length piece. Byrd then reworked the ballet around African-American tradition, changing Clara from a young girl to a grandmother to fulfill the role of family storyteller. The Nutcracker is none other than Clara’s deceased husband and she is attacked not by the mouse king, but by death. It’s a hugely different interpretation, which was created to draw a black audience to the theater. I can see the cultural and artistic merit of this work, but I believe that some will be thrown for a loop if they take out this book expecting the traditional Nutcracker story with a more diverse cast. For some families, this will be something best saved until children are older, or used in concert with a viewing of the actual Harlem Nutcracker performance.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Clara had a husband. A male dancer is bare-chested.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – Clara’s husband has passed away. Death comes instead of the mouse king and brings a battalion of ghouls. Death shows Clara various points in history, including men losing their lives in WWII, the children who died in the Birmingham church bombing. Clara dies at the end.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – As part of Death’s walk through the ages with Clara, she is show the 80s when many in Harlem turned to crack.
Frightening or Intense Things – Pretty much all the aforementioned death stuff.

Posted in Middle Grades | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Nutcracker / The Nutcracker Ballet (Part 2)

The Nutcracker grand tour continues.  Today’s versions follow the ballet fairly closely for children who want their storybook to match their viewing experience.

First up is the version by Geraldine McCaughrean and illustrated by Nicki Palin.  The lead is called Clara (as in the ballet).  Clara’s brother Fritz is also a right pain in the rear (as you may remember in the ballet).  The Nutcracker does take her to a land filled with sweets and although the section is brief the illustrator tried to squeeze in representatives of each scene of the ballet. At the end Clara pledges to return each year to the land of the sweets but much as Wendy outgrows Peter Pan, Clara outgrows her fantasy prince in favor of dancing with a boy named Gunther year after year.

I had a really hard time with the writing in this one.  Because it was bad. The overly familiar nickname of “Drossy” for the formidable Herr Drosselmeier grated on my nerves. The descriptive phrases did not speak to me: Clara’s present of ballet slippers hang like “peach-soft fruit from the tree;” the Nutcracker’s uniform is so glossy that “the paint almost looked wet.” And of course, then there’s this: “Then the Prince led Clara on to the lemon-ice floor. It was as if they had danced a thousand times before,as if they had danced together down centuries of daydreams.” Oh sweet heavens that one hurts.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – Gunther (Drosselmeier’s nephew) kisses Clara’s hand.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – Fritz is furnished with a sword and toy soldiers.  He breaks the Nutcracker’s jaw.  The mice are rats in this version and the rat king appears armed with a sword.  There is a battle, the mice and soldiers are armed.  No injury is depicted except an upside doll and a mouse about to nibble a gingerbread man.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

If you’re going to get a book version of The Nutcracker solely to have a retelling of the ballet, I’d definitely choose this over the McCaughrean version.  Vagin has done both the writing (which is markedly better than McCaughrean’s) and the illustrations (which are intricate watercolors reminiscent of stained glass).  The book is a particularly nice fit for the Baryshnikov version.  Although the look is quite different, the presents sequence with full sized dancing toys is there.  This version also avoids any type of sexual/opposite sex relationship for Clara.  She is simply a little girl who loves her toy.  There is a prince for the dream sequence, but he is forgotton once she wakes.  Vagin also clearly took pleasure in offering a full page illustration to each of the Second Act scenes from the ballet.  Children will be able to fully admire the costumes of the dancers.  With short text boxes, a clear storyline and interesting illustrations, this isn’t a bad bet for children who want their picture book to match the ballet.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – Mice are armed with sabers, the soldiers with guns.  The soldiers and mice square off.   The mice king is killed (bloodlessly with a small prick type mark on his chest).
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – While the mice king has seven heads, only one is dominant, the other 6 spring from his shoulders sort of snake-like epaulets.

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The Nutcracker (Part 1)

As a little girl, one of my favorite holiday treats was getting all dressed up and taken to The Nutcracker.  It did a marvelous job of combining my somewhat cliched little girl favorites – a desire to be a ballerina and a nearly all consuming love of Christmas.  Should you find yourself with a similarly obsessed nutcracker fiend, I’m going to do my best to give you a sense of all the Nutcracker books I could get my hands on (turns out that’s seven versions).

This may well be my favorite picture book version. Retold by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Lisbeth Zwerger, this version is far from the ballet performed on stage, but is a lovely fairy tale.

This version’s basic differences from the ballet: The main character is called Marie (typical of book versions) rather than Clara.  The book has Marie’s dream state brought on by an injury rather than just sleep (this is consistent with Hoffman’s original from what I can tell).  Bell goes into the fairy tale behind the Nutcracker; you see, he isn’t a toy, he’s a boy who has had a spell put upon him (which Marie, of course, helps to break).  The whole magic surrounding the Nutcracker to boy transformation is something that always sort of confused me in the ballet, but this provides a lot of back story. Finally, the part that comprises a large portion of the ballet (in fact, all of Act II) is largely omitted.  There is no large tour of the land of the sweets with sugar plum fairies and coffee and tea and all those other bits.  Some children will be sorry to see them go.

Overall, I thought it was an engaging fairy tale and I was interested to learn the back story of how the Nutcracker became a Nutcracker.  This won’t work with children who would be irritated by the differences from the ballet.  Also, this is absolutely not one you’ll whip off nightly before bedtime, it has 10 pages of text, but they are text from top to bottom. It’s probably best for school age children or older because of the longer text and because the storybook violence is a bit more than in other versions I read. In case you’re wondering what else Anthea Bell has done, she’s the one who translates Cornelia Funke’s books to English. As Funke is highly beloved, Bell must be doing a good job!

Sex, Nudity, Dating –As with many fairy tales there is a theme of marriage. The king promises the princess will marry anyone who breaks the spell. At the end, Marie and the nutcracker/Drosselmeier’s nephew become engaged and he takes her away. She appears quite young in the book and there is mention of a year passing, but not years passing, which certainly strikes me as a tad young for marriage.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – The soldiers tell the Nutcracker they will follow him to death or glory. In one of the illustrations the great battle between the mice and the toy soldiers is depicted. It includes a mouse depicted holding a knife over a dead toy, another mouse standing over a decapitated doll and a random mouse head (without body) on the floor elsewhere. Toys and mice are both armed with weapons. When Marie awakes after the battle, she finds herself in bed and is told that she had put her arm through the glass toy cabinet and had cut herself badly. In the story of Pirlipat, the king is angry with a mouse for stealing bacon so he sets out traps and kills her sons. He is then warned to beware that the mouse queen doesn’t bite his princess in two. The nutcracker’s sword is bloodied from killing the mouse king.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – The mice aren’t particularly scary looking despite clearly taking part in carnage. The nutcracker totally creeps me out though. A mouse stands over the adorable princess and she is instantly changed, her head grows fat and shapeless and her body becomes tiny and shriveled.

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Olive Giveaway Winner!

Congratulations to Linden! You’ve won your very own copy of Olive! I’ll be in touch soon with details.

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Open Before Christmas – A Holiday (Picture Book) Giveaway

When I was a little girl, Christmas was a time of glorious anticipation:.  I counted down the days; I loved opening the tiny doors of my advent calendar; I baked cookies with my mother; and when it got really close Christmas, my nana came to visit and she’d show me how to fold and tuck lengths of ribbon into beautiful bows to place on the presents.  The only thing that was hard was watching packages arrive by mail each day and disappear into the depths of my parents’ closet by night.

My other grandfather who couldn’t often be with us for Christmas had the perfect fix for a small person’s pre-Christmas lack of patience.  He’d always send one box marked with the magic words:  OPEN BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Inside would be something special to help get ready for the holiday.  Sometimes it was an ornament to hang on the tree.  Some years it was a set of cookie cutters or an apron to use while baking Christmas cookies.  And of course, sometimes it was a Christmas book.

This year, I can help you make the wait until Christmas a little more bearable.  I have a new copy of Olive, the Other Reindeer ready to go out on an early sleigh.  Call it a practice run for Rudolph.  (Oh, who are we kidding, I’ll be using the US Postal service, and for that reason can only open this giveaway to residents of the US and Canada, and while this giveaway is open until 12 midnight on Saturday night EST, and I will be mailing out the package on Monday I can make no guarantees about when the book will get to you.  See aforementioned USPS.)

So how can you win a little holiday cheer?  Leave a comment here, telling me your favorite Christmas (or winter) story.  I’ll use a random number generator to pick the winner.  Just make sure you leave some way for me to contact you!  The winner will be announced Sunday, December 12th!

For those unfamiliar with Olive, she is a dog, who has listened to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer on the radio one too many times and develops an identity crisis.  She firmly believes she’s hearing them sing “Olive, the other reindeer” and therefore hightails it to the North Pole.  Our Olive isn’t the brightest creature, but she’s certainly well-intentioned.  She heads out with Santa and the reindeer and of course, they run into a few predicaments that can only be solved by a reindeer that’s really a dog (sticks that need chewing, things that need fetching, sniffing her way home in the fog).

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – None.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – None.

Posted in Primary Grades | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Quick Pick Picture Book – Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins

When Hershel arrives in a village he learns that they are unable to celebrate Hanukkah because of some antisemitic goblins.  To rid the town of this scourge, Hershel will need to light the candles each night and on the eighth night, he must trick the goblin king himself into lighting the candles in the menorah.

A great story about standing up for your religious beliefs; Eric Kimmel’s Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins picks up the theme of overcoming adversity that is present throughout the history of Judiasm.  Although the villains in this story are not the Syrians fought by the Maccabees or the Nazis and instead are goblins, the message is clear.  Hershel can and will overcome the menace and restore religious freedom.

Little children will love the ways that Hershel uses to outsmart the goblins and enjoy their creepy fantastical forms.  My personal favorite is the goblin who gets his hand stuck in the pickle jar.  Adults will appreciate that the overall message in this book is a meaningful one.

Sex, Nudity, Dating – None.
Profanity – None.
Death, Violence and Gore – None.
Drugs, Alcohol and Smoking – None.
Frightening or Intense Things – The first three goblins are mostly comical.  The goblin king is much darker and scarier.  This may be a bad choice at bedtime for those that are easily scared, even though good does prevail.

Posted in Middle Grades, Primary Grades | Tagged , , | 1 Comment