Monday, November 05, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Hondo & Fabian, written and illustrated by Peter McCarty

This beautifully illustrated day-in-the-life tale focuses on the parallel stories of a dog and cat set in the 1930s or ‘40s. Hondo the dog goes off to spend the day at the beach with a canine pal. Fabian the cat stays at home with “the baby.” Each has adventures and readers are invited to decide which pet has more fun.

The language in Hondo & Fabian is spare, featuring parallel narratives using similar words and sentence structure.

“Hondo is going to the beach to meet his friend Fred.

Fabian is going to the living room to play with the baby.”

Hondo gets hungry after diving in the waves and “wishes he could eat the fish.” Fabian gets hungry after playing with the toilet roll and “wishes he could eat the turkey sandwich.”

The basic language allows children to elaborate on the story from their own experience and imagination. The large type size means this book will function well as a transitional book as your child starts to recognize words and practices reading.

Parents will enjoy the vintage feel of Peter McCarty’s exquisite pencil illustrations while children will respond to the loveable animals. As he states in an interview with Publisher’s Weekly, he loves the “pure visual shape of things from that era” and it is a period which features in many of his books.

Children who enjoy the adventures of Hondo & Fabian will want to read Fabian Escapes, the sequel in which Fabian explores the world while Hondo stays home with the baby. Hondo & Fabian was a Caldecott Honor Book in 2003 for Peter McCarty’s outstanding illustrations.

ISBN10: 0312367473
ISBN13: 9780312367473

Trade Paperback
32 Pages
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication Date: May 2007
Author Website:


Sunday, November 04, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

The second Ruler of the Free Republic of Aburiria suffers from a mysterious illness, the source of which has caused much speculation among citizens. Whatever the cause, The Ruler gets fatter and smells horribly of decay. In celebration of his birthday, The Ruler has decided that his citizens will build him a modern-day Tower of Babel called the ‘Marching to Heaven’ or ‘Heavenscrape’ project that he plans to have funded by the Global Bank. Rising to challenge The Ruler are two heroes; Kamiti, an educated Aburirian man, and Nyawiri, a feminist activist. Together they become the witch doctor, the Wizard of the Crow, believed to be causing The Ruler’s illness and destabilizing his rule.

Wizard of the Crow (Murogi wa Kagogo)
the newest novel from Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is a massive work. Ngũgĩ’s Wizard of the Crow reads like an extended performance piece, epic in both its political themes and length (768 pages). As John Updike states in his review in The New Yorker: “When the Wizard, with his moral scruples and self-doubts, is not onstage, the novel becomes puppetry, a Punch-and-Judy show whose grotesque politicos keep whacking one another.”

Wizard of the Crow at its core is an African novel, written in a language of oral traditions, evident in both its construction and linguistic style. While it may feel foreign to Western readers, greater understanding of the text can be gained by reading the text out loud. Readers should remember that the narrative traditions from which Ngũgĩ draws are heavy on performance. The hyperbole and satire of his caricature leads to a fantastic and didactic tale highlighting the plight of Africa. While understanding of the novel may be aided through study of African history, it is not essential.

Ngũgĩ focuses a great deal on power and draws many parallels between women’s plight in traditional culture and the political situation in his homeland. By writing in his native Gĩkũyũ, Ngũgĩ can spread his message to a larger audience. As he states in the novel: “Awareness of being wronged is the first step in political self-education.”

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 1400033845
ISBN13: 9781400033843

Trade Paperback
768 Pages
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publication Date: August 2007


Saturday, November 03, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: Murder by the Slice by Livia J. Washburn

October in Texas means Parent-Teacher Organization fundraising carnivals at many of the elementary schools. Retired teacher Phyllis Newsom always takes an interest in school happenings but helping to organize the carnival for Oliver Loving Elementary School wasn’t part of her plan. However, when a friend of Carolyn Wilbarger’s comes to her with a desperate plea for help with the bake sale, Carolyn and Phyllis reluctantly agree to assist.

Carolyn suggests a “healthy snack” contest in addition to the traditional cake auction - an idea quickly approved by the PTO board. In a moment of harmony, Phyllis decides to participate in the auction, leaving Carolyn the baking contest. Peace seems ensured; that is, until the obnoxious head of the PTO sticks her oar in their plans, insisting Phyllis enter the baking contest. Competition is again flowing between Phyllis and Carolyn and disaster seems inevitable, until the PTO chairperson is killed at the carnival and the retirees band together to solve the crime.

Murder by the Slice is the second entry in Livia J. Washburn’s “Fresh-Baked Mystery” series. This cozy mystery series is the perfect antidote to the preponderance of blood and gore thrillers currently in vogue. Some may choose to stereotype Washburn’s books as “sweet” or “wholesome;” however, that does her books a great disservice (although there are lots of descriptions of pastries).

Washburn has created a charismatic group of characters who happen to be seniors, an active diverse bunch, far removed from the stereotype of doddering, helpless “grey-hairs.” Phyllis and her friends are useful members of the community, valued for what they contribute, and actively embrace life.

Washburn’s avoidance of most obvious stereotypes portends great things for this series. It is this potential therefore, that makes the one pitfall she didn’t avoid all the more glaring. The character of Eve is sure to evoke memories of the Golden Girls, a parallel which doesn’t do the “Fresh-Baked Mystery” series any service. Phyllis’ constant references to Eve as a femme fatale feels out of place and undermines an otherwise fun read.

Several recipes are included at the end of the book. A sample recipe can be found here.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 0451222504
ISBN13: 9780451222503

Mass Market Paperback
272 pages
Publisher: Signet
Publication Date: October 2, 2007
Author Website: