Monday, May 23, 2011

How to Save Your Tail Review

Book talk: Meet Bob.  Bob loves reading and baking.  Bob is also a rat, and he is about to become dinner.  When Bob is surprised by two cats it's his cookies that distract them at first, but what really saves his tail are his tales. It all starts with his great-great grandfather Sherman who climbed a beanstalk and saved a magic goose from a giant.  Bob is a good story teller and as each story ends he leaves a tantalizing hook for the next and the cats decide to put off killing him for just a little longer.  But what will happen to Bob when he runs out of stories?  Will there be  a happily ever after for the storyteller as well?

Rocks my socks: Bob may be telling stories to save his life, but Mary Hanson is clearly just having some fun.  The short chapters, frequent illustrations, and easy reading level make it a good for children transitioning into chapter books.  Kids familiar with the classic fairy tales will enjoy seeing them re-cast with rats in the lead.  It would make a good quick read aloud for a fairy tale unit.

Rocks in my socks: The twists on the fairy tales aren't particularly original and the story would probably bit a bit simplistic for older children to enjoy.

Every book its reader: I'd give this to 2nd or 3rd graders transitioning into chapter books who want a humorous tale or something with a fairy tale twist.

How to Save Your Tail by Mary Hanson

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library

Heart of a Samurai

Book talk: Manjiro was a fisherman.  His father had been a fisherman before him, and if he ever had a son he, too, would be a fisherman.  One day, a fishing expedition goes awry and he ends up shipwrecked on a cruel, barren rock of an island.  On that island, starving, near death, he realizes that he does not want to be a fisherman.  What he wants to be is a samurai.  Manjiro knows it's impossible, but what's the harm in a dying boy's dream?  But Manjiro does not die on that island.  He is rescued by a crew of barbarians, Westerners from America.  All his life Manjiro has been taught to fear and distrust these foreigners, but as he starts to learn their language and their ways he finds himself oddly at ease around them.  Manjiro turns from fisherman to sailor on a whaling vessel, and as his life is rocked by the wild seas he finds himself surrounded by impossibilities.  Perhaps his luck will last long enough to see one last impossibility and childhood dream come true.

Rocks my socks: This novel is based on a true story, which makes it all the more fascinating.  The author adds a lot of interesting historical details in about life at the time in general and whaling in particular.  Peppered throughout are drawings from the period, including some drawn by the real Manjiro.  In the novel Manjiro is endearing and it's easy to empathize with him and care about what turns his life takes, especially knowing that he really existed.  The novel also has a strong moral compass to navigate it through such choppy waters and there are a lot of important lessons for children (and adults) to learn form Manjiro.

Rocks in my socks:  The author clearly did her research and set about writing the book with the best of intentions, but I can't help but feel that the story is told from a very Western perspective.  There's a strong patriotic 'land of opportunities' theme around America and while Manjiro does mention missing home on occasion what he mostly describes missing is family and food.  Most mentions of Japanese culture are  critical with a focus on its strict class system and its demonizing of foreigners.   There isn't anything that is untrue or unfair on its own, but taken all together I question her focus on the negative aspects of the culture without taking the time to highlight some of the positive aspects of the culture as well.  As it's written I'm not sure why Manjiro would ever want to return to Japan, but he does--so clearly Preus is missing something here.

Every book its reader: This is a great book for anyone looking for a historical adventure novel.  The samurai tagline will appeal to a lot of young readers, but there is very little violence in the book.  Much of the novel also takes place on a whaling vessel, so anyone looking for a good high-seas adventure will be pleased as well.  I'd give it to readers 10 and up.

Heart of a Samurai by Margi Preus

Buy it at your local independent book store or check it out from your local library