Thursday, April 25, 2013

Presidential Movies

Titles:  Lincoln (Steven Spielberg, Director; Doris Kearns Goodwin/Tony Kushner, Writers)
           Hyde Park on Hudson (Roger Michell, Director; Richard Nelson, Writer)

Ratings:  ** (2 stars out of 3 possible, "B") for Lincoln
              Highly Recommended

              0 stars out of 3 possible, "D"/"F" for Hyde Park on Hudson
              Not Recommended

Audience:  Lincoln, PG-13
                 Hyde Park on Hudson, R

America loves its presidents, and sometimes loves to hate them.  I thought it interesting that two of our most polarizing presidents were both subjects of feature films in 2012.

I intended to review Lincoln much earlier.  By now, everyone is already aware of both the quality of the film itself, as well as the performances by most of the cast.  I was initially hesitant, given Tony Kushner as the screenwriter, that one might sense a hidden, liberal agenda.  Every political entity tries to claim some sort of kinship with our 16th president, but this film portrayed him genuinely:  principled, yet flawed; politically astute, yet homespun.

To truly enjoy the film, the audience member should not mind a slower-moving historical drama with significant portions of political discourse.  Recall the film only portrays the last 6 months or so of Lincoln's life.  Was Daniel Day-Lewis' portrayal of Lincoln Oscar-worthy?  Yes!

The Mousehunter

Titles:  #1 The Mousehunter; #2  The Curse of Mousebeard; #3  Mousebeard's Revenge

Author/Illustrator:  Alex Milway

Rating:  **  (2 stars out of 3 possible, "B")

Audience:  5th grade and up

My 11 year-old daughter rates this trilogy with an "A," Highly Recommended.  I would probably put a caution in for some families ("C," Recommended with Reservations).  So we compromised and gave it 2 stars out of 3 possible.

Alex Milway shows a lot of creativity and artistry in planning this medieval mankind/mouse kingdom adventure series.  Just when you think there is nothing new under the sun (so to speak), a talented, clever author/illustrator comes along and does something relatively unique.

After a somewhat grisly opening scene at Old Town harbor (Pirate's Wharf, to be exact), Milway introduces us to Emiline Orelia, 12 year-old mousekeeper.  In Emiline's world, mice and men live cooperatively.  Various sorts of mice are collected and employed in a number of tasks in this seafaring tale of ships' captains, merchants and pirates.  Mice species are as varied and valuable as our modern dog species and Milway has outdone himself, illustrating each chapter with a unique mouse entry from "The Mousehunter's Almanac."

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cynthia Rylant

Titles:  Poppleton Series; Mr. Putter and Tabby Series; Henry and Mudge Series

Ratings:  ***  (3 stars out of 3 possible, "A")
              Highly Recommended

Audience:  Beginning Readers, boys and girls ages 4 and up

While I'm on the topic of Cynthia Rylant, I don't want any family to miss out on her series for preschoolers and young elementary ages.  The number of books available here can keep your Kindergartner well-occupied until he or she is ready for short chapter books, and the illustrations and humor will entertain adults who enjoy reading aloud to their kids.

The Lighthouse Family Series

Titles:  The Storm; The Whale; The Eagle; The Turtle; The Octopus

Author:  Cynthia Rylant

Rating:  **  (2 stars out of 3 possible, "B")

Audience:  Ages 7-10 (boys and girls)

Here is another handy step-up readers series by Cynthia Rylant:  short chapters, simple yet engaging plots, quality writing and vocabulary.

Focusing on relationships, The Lighthouse Family brings together a mild-mannered cat, a helpful dog, 3 mouse "children" and various ocean-faring animal friends for gentle adventures by the sea.  Lovely illustrations by Preston McDaniels add to the attraction for young readers.

The Cobble Street Cousins Series

Titles:  #1 In Aunt Lucy's Kitchen; #2 A Little Shopping; #3 Special Gifts; #4 Some Good News; #5 Summer Party; #6 Wedding Flowers

Author:  Cynthia Rylant

Rating:  **  (2 stars out of 3 possible, "B")
             "Recommended" by me and "Highly Recommended"
              by my 8 year-old!

Audience:  Ages 7-10  (girls)

Imagine how pleased I was when my 8 year-old daughter sat down with new markers over Spring Break and wrote out an impromptu review of The Cobble Street Cousins/Book #2 A Little Shopping!  Here's what she had to say:  (sic)

Jobs for the Cobble Street Cousins:  Tess=Brodway star.  Lilly=Poet.  Rosie=?

Chapters:  3

Chapter 1:  Lilly comes up with a craft witch is makeing a doll house witch is also a flower shop.

Chapter 2:  The cousins bought the supplies they needed and got ice-cream.

Chapter 3:  They make the dollhouse, gave it to their Aunt, and got ice-cream.

Rate:  Five Star Rating *****  (then she drew a big smiley face)

My take?  My daughter (also named Tess) is on the right track.  This series by Cynthia Rylant is just the right size and speed for readers who are ready for short chapter books.  Rylant provides a very nice step-up option with simple topics and gentle plots.

Lily, Tess and Rosie are three cousins who are also best of friends.  They enjoy each other's differences and encourage each other's plans and hobbies.  The series moves through a year in their life with Aunt Lucy whom they hope will soon be marrying neighbor Michael.  Some families may be disappointed that the "winter" book (Special Gifts) only offers a winter's solstice gift exchange, but when late summer rolls along, Lucy and Michael are at least married by a priest.  All-in-all, the books value family and the simple joys of childhood, so I am happy to recommend the series.