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The pope smiled.  “Blessings be on Nini, who gives such joy,” he said.  He raised his hand.

Nini raised his paw.  He patted the pope’s shiny ring.

The pope’s smile grew into a wide grin.  “Can it be?” he said.  “Has Nini just blessed the pope?”

(from The Famous Nini, page 19)

When Mary Nethery asked if I’d be interested in reviewing her newest picture book, I couldn’t say no, especially since The Girl and I just loved her last book, Nubs: The True Story of a Mutt, a Marine & a Miracle (read our review), which she co-wrote with Major Brian Dennis and Kirby Larson.  When I opened the envelope from the publisher, I was drawn to the beautiful cover with the vivid blue sky, the waters of Venice, and of course, Nini.

The Famous Nini: A Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star is a charming picture book written by Mary Nethery and illustrated by John Manders that tells the story of Nini, a cat who makes himself at home in Nonna Framboni’s caffè.  It is here that Nini inspires Verdi, meets the king and queen of Italy (who declare National Nini Day), and even blesses the pope.  But it is how Nini helps the daughter of Emperor Menelik that steals the show.

At the end of the book, Nethery explains that Nini was a real cat who lived in a caffè in Venice in the 1890s and became a celebrity for reasons unknown.  People flocked to the coffee shop to sign Nini’s guest book, and people paid tribute to him when he died.  Nethery imagines that Nini’s purr — something unique to cats — led to his fame.  She also details all the famous figures in the story, who actually called upon Nini during his lifetime, and separates the facts from the fiction in the book.

The Girl (age 10) and I both loved the illustrations and how the historical figures and their connections to Nini were detailed at the end.  We both learned a lot from this picture book, as we’d never heard of Nini prior to reading it.  The Famous Nini is a beautiful picture book to share with children and a tribute to the soothing touch of animals — and how they often do more for us than we could ever do for them.

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Famous Nini from the author and Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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They knew danger was near, and it was a bad thing that Gus had run off.  They cried out for him over and over.  But this was bad, too, because there were men very close by.  One of those men was Hunter, out looking for orangutans to capture and sell.

(from Miracle in Sumatra, page 14)

Miracle in Sumatra: The Story of Gutsy Gus is a picture book written by Jeanne McNaney and illustrated by David Cochard that aims to educate children about wildlife conservation.  Gus is a young orangutan living a carefree life in Sumatra with his parents, Xera and Cornelius.  He is supposed to be waiting for his parents when a young girl named Maya tempts him with a banana, and while searching for him, his parents are caught by Hunter, a man who makes money by trapping and selling orangutans and other animals.

The book has a spiritual aspect to it, as Gabriella, a heavenly angel, keeps watch over Sumatra’s forests, and she calls on Maya — whose father runs a company that chops down trees and sells the wood for construction — to help Gus rescue his parents.  Both Maya and Gus are young, but they are brave enough to take on the challenge before them.

The Girl and I read Miracle in Sumatra over the weekend, and right away, we both commented on how much we liked the vivid illustrations.  Gus is so cute and his bond with his parents so strong that it’s hard not to root for him, and children can identify with Maya and her innocence, as she believes it would be fun to take Gus home with her to play dress up.  I think it’s never too early to teach kids about the environment and the need to protect endangered species.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book was the spiritual angle.  When Gabriela prays to God to help Maya understand how she can help Gus, God transforms her into an orangutan so she can see, speak, and feel exactly like Gus.  I have no problem suspending disbelief for a children’s story, but I didn’t expect this, and I think I would have rather seen how Maya as a young girl could speak out against what she deems to be an injustice.  Still, after reading how it all plays out, I think McNaney accomplished what she set out to accomplish.

According to the book flap, “A percentage of all profits from the sale of this book will go to organizations that support wildlife conservation and endangered species preservation.”

Here’s what The Girl (age 9) had to say about Miracle in Sumatra:

I thought this was a cute book for younger kids.  I felt bad when Gus’ parents were captured, and I thought it was weird when the girl became an orangutan.  But I liked it.

Disclosure: We received a copy of Miracle in Sumatra from Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists for review purposes. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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The Girl (age 9) is happy to be part of her Auntie Serena’s National Poetry Month Blog Tour.  Here are her thoughts on her favorite poet, Shel Silverstein.

******

Shel Silverstein (1930-1999) was a cartoonist and poet known for his children’s books, like The Giving Tree, A Light in the Attic, and Where the Sidewalk Ends.  I love his poems because they are hilarious and fun to read out loud.  Here are my favorites:

CROWDED TUB

There’s too many kids in this tub.
There’s too many elbows to scrub.
I just washed a behind
That I’m sure wasn’t mine,
There’s too many kids in this tub.  (from A Light in the Attic, page 86)

JIMMY JET AND HIS TV SET

I’ll tell you the story of Jimmy Jet–
And you know what I tell you is true.
He loved to watch his TV set
Almost as much as you.

He watched all day, he watched all night
Till he grew pale and lean,
From “The Early Show” to “The Late Late Show”
And all the shows between.

He watched till his eyes were frozen wide,
And his bottom grew into his chair.
And his chin turned into a tuning dial,
And antennae grew out of his hair.

And his brains turned into TV tubes,
And his face to a TV screen.
And two knobs saying “VERT.” and “HORIZ.”
Grew where his ears had been.

And he grew a plug that looked like a tail
So we plugged in little Jim.
And now instead of him watching TV
We all sit around and watch him.  (from Where the Sidewalk Ends, pages 28-29)

And my favorite of them ALL:

THE LOSER

Mama said I’d lose my head
If it wasn’t fastened on.
Today I guess it wasn’t
‘Cause while playing with my cousin
It fell off an rolled away
And now it’s gone.

And I can’t look for it
‘Cause my eyes are in it,
And I can’t call to it
‘Cause my mouth is on it
(Couldn’t hear me anyway
‘Cause my ears are on it),
Can’t even think about it
‘Cause my brain is in it.
So I guess I’ll sit down
On this rock
And rest for just a minute… (from Where the Sidewalk Ends, page 25)

I love the pictures just as much as the poems because they go together.  In “The Loser,” instead of sitting on a rock, he’s sitting on his head.  That’s hilarious.  Kids and grown-ups will find Shel Silverstein’s poems “funny-ish cool.”  (I made that up by myself.)

Disclosure: My copies of A Light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends were gifts.  My mom is an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Night in Werewolf Woods is #5 in R.L. Stine’s Give Yourself Goosebumps series, sort of like the Choose Your Own Adventure books I remember from my childhood.  Published in 1996, the book gives readers a series of choices as the story progresses.  Told in the second person and geared toward children in the 8-12 age range, Stine makes young readers feel as though they are part of the story.

The idea behind Night in Werewolf Woods is that you (the reader) are taking a summer vacation with your family to WoodsWorld, where according to legend, werewolves walk the woods at night.  Your parents force you to be nice to Todd Morris, the son of their best friends, who are sharing the cabin with your family.  But Todd is a bit nerdy and a bit whiny.  As Todd is unloading the car, the Murphy brothers steal the red tin box that contains Todd’s prized collection of pewter figures.  You don’t really like Todd, but you don’t hate him.  In fact, you feel a bit sorry for him, so you offer to attend the Kids Only Campfire and get his collection back from the Murphy bullies.

At this point, readers are given their first choice — to ditch Todd and attend the campfire alone or let Todd tag along.  There are more than 20 possible endings to the Night in Werewolf Woods, and you can bet that The Girl made any risky decision that would put her face-to-face with the werewolves.  We stayed up late one Friday night last month reading this book together.  We took turns answering the puzzle questions and making decisions about where to go and what to do next, but The Girl was quick to voice her opinion if she thought my choices would end the story too soon or weren’t scary enough.

The Girl is a big R.L. Stine fan, a lover of scary, creepy stories.  I tell my husband that when she gets older, he’ll finally have someone in the family who enjoys watching horror movies as much as he does.  (For now, I have to keep telling her that the scary movies she sees advertised in the commercials are not appropriate for her innocent eyes.  I can’t even stomach most of them.)  But honestly, this book wasn’t as creepy as the R.L. Stine books I remember reading as a kid.  Granted, this was the first time I read a book in the Give Yourself Goosebumps series and we only saw one way the story could go, but it seemed that Night in Werewolf Woods was exciting simply because there was something to do, some action to take at the end of every page that kept the story from slowing down.  Even The Girl wished it had been scarier.  I think the scariest part was when we decided to turn off the lamp and read using a little book light — and my overstuffed bedroom closet popped open without any (human) help.  What a funny coincidence!

Here’s what The Girl (age 9) had to say about Night in Werewolf Woods:

Night in Werewolf Woods could have been scarier.  I personally like books that scare me and make my spine tingle.  Night in Werewolf Woods lets you choose your own adventure.  Me and my mom made the scariest possible choices.  I would like to re-read the book because I want to see what would happen if I let something bad happen to one of the characters (Todd).  The sentence I just said might sound mean, but he was annoying.  My favorite part when when the action happened.

Disclosure: The Girl purchased her copy of Night in Werewolf Woods at a library sale.  I am an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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When I told The Girl about Julie’s new Kid Konnection feature on Booking Mama on Saturdays, she was excited to participate.  It took us a few weeks, but here we are.

The Girl (age 9) borrowed Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman by Dav Pilkey from her teacher; apparently this book is a big hit in her 4th grade class.  She also went crazy buying some new and used Captain Underpants books during the recent family book-buying spree.  I will admit that when she brought this book home, I raised my eyebrows and said, “Wedgies, huh?”  And The Girl said, “Mom, they’re funny, okay?” in that tone that means she’s reading it and that’s that. (Oh, how I dread the teenage years!) I haven’t read this book, and I’m not sure I’ll every pick up a Captain Underpants book except to stare at it quizzically, but she enjoys them.

She asked me to ask her some questions because she didn’t feel like writing a review, so here goes:

Me:  Who’s this Captain Underpants dude?

The Girl:  He’s the principal, Mr. Krupp.  Harold and George used the 3-D Hipno Ring to hypnotize him.  Whenever anyone snaps their fingers, he turns into Captain Underpants.  Captain Underpants saves the day.  When anyone pours water on his head, he turns back into mean old Mr. Krupp, and he’ll give them detention.

Me:  I see.  So, tell me what this book is about?

The Girl:  Harold and George used the ring to hypnotize their teacher, Ms. Ribble, so they can get better grades.  When they hypnotized her, they said not to turn into a wicked wedgie woman.  Then they heard a news report that the ring works different on girls, so it does the opposite of what you say.  So Ms. Ribble becomes the Wicked Wedgie Woman, and she gives people wedgies.

Me:  So how does Captain Underpants figure into this story?

The Girl:  He tries to stop the Wicked Wedgie Woman from taking over the world with her robots.

Me:  What was your favorite part of the book?

The Girl:  Can you include this quote?  [The Girl thrusts the book at me.]

Me:  Sure!

The Girl’s favorite passage:

Before long, every cop in the city was hanging from a street sign.

“Call the National Guard!” screamed the Chief of Police.  “Call the Army — call the Marines — call a HAIRSTYLIST!” (page 117)

Me:  Interesting.  You’ve made me slightly curious about this book.  What else did you like about it?

The Girl:  In the back of the book, there’s an animation thing where you hold the book with your thumb and flip the page back and forth and it looks like Captain Underpants is really punching the robot.

Me:  Cool!  They don’t make books like they used to, I guess.

The Girl:  In the old days, you mean?  Because you’re old.

Me:  When did you grow a sense of humor?

The Girl:  [Smiles and does the “talk to the hand” movement.  I respond by rolling my eyes.]

Me:  So why do all the kids like Captain Underpants?  I’m assuming you enjoyed the book since you bought a bunch of them.

The Girl:  Yes, I did.  Because they are very, very, very, very [catches her breath] very, very funny.  Humorous.  An action-packed adventure.

Me:  Do you think grown-ups would like the books, too?  Would I like them?

The Girl:  No.  Because you don’t like potty jokes that much.

Me:  Actually, I think potty jokes can sometimes be funny.  Would your father like this book?

The Girl:  No, he’s an old grouch.

Me:  I hope you’re just kidding.  At least he doesn’t read our posts much.

So there you have it.  I actually think I don’t want The Girl writing reviews because these conversations are pretty funny.  I hope you enjoy them, too.

Disclosure: The Girl borrowed Captain Underpants and the Wrath of the Wicked Wedgie Woman from her teacher. I am an Amazon associate.

© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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