Tag Archives: Childrens

The Night Gardener

Working in a library can sometimes be a little bit like going into a bakery while you are on a diet. There are so many cool titles that come across my desk every day and not nearly enough time to read everything I see. One of my (many) 2015 new year’s resolutions is to try and catch up on reading all of the cool books I saw on the shelves and put on my “must read” list in 2014.

One of those titles was a children’s book that came out back in March. Every time I saw it, it was either being checked out or put on hold. Last week it finally came back and I was able to grab it… boy am I glad I did.

bookcoverThe Night Gardener is a little bit dark, pretty scary and asks the question, ‘what is the difference between a lie and a story?’. How great is that? Molly and Kip are a brother and sister who have seemingly been orphaned. Down on their luck and hoping to find a new home Molly finds work in a place called the Sour Woods but as they approach their destinations birds stop singing and no one wants to help them find their way. What mysteries await them at Windsor estates? Is it their refuge or their undoing?

Pittsburgh’s very own Jonathan Auxier has written a wonderful little book that gives the reader the chance to consider the difference between our wants and our needs. The thing that we hope and long for, the answer to all of our problems… what if it isn’t really the answer after all? What if it is part of the problem to begin with.

When Kip and Molly first arrive, they are immediately turned away. Molly is told by the lady of the house that she doesn’t want any servants. Auxier has immediately set us up: we know that there is something wrong at Windsor, something evil even, but we also know that casting these two children out into the world alone and uncared for will put them in danger’s way. Cheering for Molly when she convinces Constance Windsor to take them in means that we have saved them from their fate as orphans only to throw them into the lion’s den. A great deal of the book does this, causing you to double back and realize that the thing you wanted for the characters has caused them even more trouble. When Molly gets her wishes fulfilled you are grateful until you realize that she has been immobilized and is too afraid to act. It is Kip, her younger brother, who realizes that getting the thing you want handed to you might be dangerous.

While it is a children’s book, this was a great creepy little read that kept me up late as I tried to finish it. Thought provoking in its use of villains and heroes The Night Gardener is a great book for kids and adults who need to learn a lesson about wants and needs.

–Natalie

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Into the Woods We Go Again

I’m gearing up to see the Hollywood adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods. I’m excited for this. I like musicals. I like that one in particular, ever since my college theater troupe put it on while I was living with half the cast. And even though I know they’ve made changes (they even announced a lot of the changes being made, unusual for Hollywood), I’m still going to enjoy it. I like a good fairy tale with a twist.

Given that this isn’t a movie I’m likely to see with a dozen friends in costume at midnight (ahem, Harry Potter, ahem, The Avengers, ahem, my friends are really nerdy), what does it mean to gear up to see a movie? For me, it’s all about those fairy tales. Because Into the Woods involves an array of fairy tale characters, with a few original inventions to move the story along, I’ve been focusing on just one—Cinderella. Sondheim’s Cinderella follows the Grimm version of the tale rather than the familiar Perrault/Disney, so she is aided by forest creatures and the spirit of her dead mother inhabiting a hazel tree rather than a fairy godmother. This Cinderella is more self-aware than most—even after catching the attention of the prince, she recognizes that escaping her life of drudgery by attaching her fate to a complete stranger won’t necessarily lead to a happily-ever-after ending.

The classic cover of Ella Enchanted, before the movie release went and spoiled everything.

Some of my favorite stories are these clever Cinderellas who direct their own lives. First and highest on my list is the children’s novel Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. The character list is what you’d expect—Ella, dead mother, unattractive stepfamily, fairy godmother, charming prince. But Ella isn’t just a comfort-to-rags-to-riches girl. She has a knack for foreign languages, a sense of humor, and a tendency to trip over her own feet. Her prince is not a distant stranger, but a confidante and pen pal. The story elapses over years, allowing for real character development. As the title implies, Ella has been under a spell since birth, and her great moral struggle comes from understanding and fighting this spell. If you want a fast read with fairies, friendship, and banister-sliding, I’d recommend picking this up.*

A rear view of Danielle in her ball gown, with massive fairy wings.

The second recommendation is the film Ever After, starring Drew Barrymore. Our heroine is Danielle, living in an entirely non-magical 16th century France. She reads Thomas More and befriends Leonardo da Vinci. She is aggressive, crafty, and—like Ella—a defender of the weak and disenfranchised. The prince is an elitist, burdened by the demands of his station. The stepmother (played by Anjelica Huston) is conniving and self-serving, and gets some great dialogue. As a costume drama lacking in fight scenes and special effects, the movie ages well.

The final recommendation is Marissa Meyer’s Cinder. It’s more of a soft science fiction story than the usual fantasy, and our eponymous leading lady is actually a cyborg, who leaves an entire prosthetic leg behind at the prince’s ball. The setting is New Beijing, in a world with android servants, mysterious plagues, and hostile alien forces. Linh Cinder was adopted as a child after a hovercraft accident destroyed two of her limbs and all memories of her birth family. She works as a mechanic for hire, enslaved by her adoptive family and the limited rights granted to cyborgs. She is independent, sarcastic, and dreams of freedom rather than love. Cinder is actually the first book in an in-progress series, currently including Scarlet (Red Riding Hood) and Cress (Rapunzel), with Fairest due out next month.

Cinder and the first two sequels, with references to the classic tales on which they are based.

If you’re interested in more non-traditional Cinderella stories, here are some worth looking up:

Just Ella by Margaret Peterson Haddix, a children’s novel exploring life in the aftermath of the ball

Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire gives us a kind stepfamily to a bratty girl who chooses the kitchen hearth, set in Holland during the tulip craze

Ash by Malinda Lo is a dark teen romance with a servant girl torn between the powerful magic she’s dreamed of saving her and the real world friendship/romance that allows her true freedom

Bella at Midnight is another teen adventure, with prince as childhood friend and heroine who refuses to be a damsel in distress

Fables is a graphic series wherein the stars of fairy tales are exiled from their magical world into modern day New York City, full of espionage, intrigue, and well-developed female characters.

Once Upon a Time is a television series with a suspiciously similar premise to Fables. Now in the middle of its fourth season, it borrows from not only the “Disney Princess” canon but also Mark Twain, L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, and Mary Shelley.

*I don’t recommend the film version of Ella Enchanted, however. The plot has been changed enough to be almost unrecognizable, and it lacks most of the charm of the original.

– Bonnie T.

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Angels and Angel Food Cake

Today is National Angel Food Cake day. It’s true. In honor of this day, I decided to dedicate my post to books that have angel food cake in them…or are about them…or are about angels because there are actually not A LOT of books about angel food cake.Nancy Willard Cover

The first book is The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake by Nancy Willard, because it has angels AND angel food cake. All her mom wants is a cake that her grandmother made for her birthday. The little girl thinks that would be easy enough, but soon discovers that the recipe is more difficult to find and the cake is more complicated to make than she originally thought. Throughout the work, she meets three angels who help her giver her mother exactly what she wants.

hidden

Hidden, by Marianne Curley, is a book about a hidden angel. Ebony knows she has been sheltered for most of her life. She is also aware that she is beginning to change. She is actually beginning to glow. Ebony is about to find out about her past, and why she has been sheltered for so long, because heaven wants its angel back and will fight anyone to get her.

Cooking Light

What kind of post would this be if I didn’t put a cookbook in it? Cooking Light is my secret (well not anymore) favorite cookbook. Mainly because it provides really good recipes that are healthier. I think they have some non-Angelic cakes in the book that are extremely delicious. So pick it up if you like the opportunity to have delicious food with less calories.

I hope you enjoy a piece of cake along with a good book!

-Abbey

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Neighborly

Right now I live next door to a building that used to house a business.  Said business relocated to a different neighborhood, which is sad for those of us who liked to shop there.  However, it does create the delightful state of affairs in which I can now describe where I live in terms of something that used to be there (and it wasn’t an Isaly’s).  This makes me feel as if, after thirteen years of city living, I am a bona fide Pittsburgher at last.

I’ve loved every moment of my time here thus far, especially getting to know all the wonderful people.  Pittsburghers are just like their iconic spokesman, Mister Rogers:  friendly folks who start conversations on buses, cheerfully perform random acts of kindness , and of course,  give helpful directions.

Feel like being part of — or even more of a part of — Pittsburgh’s neighborly phenomenon?  Next time you stop by Main Library, please consider supporting our colleagues in the Children’s Department by contributing to their latest Rogersian effort.  Between now and April 16 you can support the Mommy & Me Food Drive, which benefits our friends and neighbors at Community Human Services, by bringing a low-sugar, non-perishable food item with you next time you visit.  We always love to see you when you come in, but we’ll be super-excited if you choose to support the library and the Oakland community in this way, at this time.

My own Pittsburgh story is, I’m sure, just beginning, and I can’t wait to see what the chapters ahead reveal.  All I know for certain is that it will never be boring!  Not with wonderful friends and neighbors like you.

–Leigh Anne

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