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November 25, 2009 > Footnotes


This month's reviews are all about difficult subjects, starting with a little furious rodent.

For pre-schoolers and kindergarteners, Mouse Was Mad! by Linda Urban ; illustrated by Henry Cole.

Mouse was really mad. He was so mad he was hopping mad (I've had those days, haven't we all?). He was hopping about, when Rabbit happened by and criticized, "You call that hopping? This is how you hop," and Rabbit showed him the correct method. When Mouse tried to mimic Rabbit, though, he winds up (splash!) in a mud puddle! That did nothing to help his temper. He was really mad now, stomping mad. He stomped...and Bear came by. Somehow Mouse is going to have to survive all his friends' attempts to show him how to be mad, and somehow he's going to work his way out of it.

Children sometimes get frustrated with all the rules and limits life and parents and peers put on them, but they don't know what to do with all that anger. Mouse's trials and tribulations provide a funny mirror to their own tempers, and a great opening to talk about what to do when you get mad, really really mad. (Houghton Mifflin hardback, $16.00)

For 1st, 2nd and 3rd graders, Jack and Jill: The Miracle Dog with a Happy Tail to Tell, by Jill Rappaport.

This book isn't for everyone. It is ideal for children who have someone in the family going through cancer, either themselves or a family member, or even a pet. Jack is a young German Shepherd mix that Today Show correspondent Jill Rappaport adopts from a shelter. He is adopted and goes through the anxiety anyone goes through when moving into a new situation. Soon, however, he learns that he has 'won the doggy lottery'. He has friends both human and canine, and moves to a farm with horses, too.

One week, Jack's paw begins to hurt. When taken to the vet, he learns that he has something called cancer, and that the best way to treat the problem is to remove his leg. Needless to say, Jack doesn't want to be a 'tri-ped' and is worried he won't be able to play and run, but he doesn't want to hurt anymore, too. The whole book, from adoption to recovery from the surgery is told from Jack's point of view, simply and plainly, and includes his fears and relief. The photos are wonderful, and the whole book provides a reassurance that though cancer is incredibly difficult to treat, there is hope. Sometimes that hope is the most wonderful gift you can give. (HarperCollins hardback, $17.99)

For 2nd and 3rd graders, In Our Mothers' House, by Patricia Polacco.

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I've encountered children from all kinds of families. There are kids with two parents, some with step families, some with only one parent, some living with grandparents, etc. Unfortunately, there are children who get teased or harassed when they have same sex parents, either two moms or two dads. For primary aged students, it's very difficult for them to understand why anger or bias is aimed at them. I've heard this question more than once, "How come you don't have a daddy?" (or a mommy).

Patricia Polacco deals with this whole topic with a light touch in a book filled with delightful illustrations and her usual outstanding prose. The two mothers in this story are Marmee and Meema, and they fill their house with three adopted children. They do all the usual things, trick or treating at Halloween, decorating the house for Christmas, planning a tea party.

There is a person in their neighborhood, though, who always seems angry when she encounters the happy family. Things come to a head when the woman yells at the two moms in front of their children, and Marmee and Meema are left to explain why this person is so scary and angry. Polacco's explanation is uncomplicated and well expressed. The love of family comes through her words and beautiful pictures.

An excellent book to explain alternative family lifestyles and tolerance of the differences between them. (Penguin hardback, $17.99)

How to Talk to Girls, by Alec Greven.

Right off the bat you know this book is going to be different; it's written by a nine-yr old. That's right, Alec Greven is 9 years old, and is in the 4th grade. And I have to say his words of wisdom about females and how to relate to them is good for 8 yr olds, 12 yr olds, and 80 yr olds.

"If you want to start a conversation with a girl, first you have to say something like 'hi.' If she says 'hi' back, you are off to a good start...Be friendly. Act calm and don't be nervous. Don't say anything mean. Ask her a question and then you are off!"

See? Good stuff for guys to know. There's also grooming tips (Comb your hair. Don't wear sweats.), and behavior suggestions (Control your hyperness! Cut down on the sugar if you have to.). All in all an excellent book for boys just starting to get past the Ew, Cooties! phase. Watch for the sequels by Alec, "How to Talk to Dads" and "How to Talk to Moms". (HarperCollins hardback, $9.99)

Finally, for young adult and adult readers, the book Demon: a memoir, by Tosca Lee.

Clay, whose wife has recently divorced him for another man, is drifting through life. He has lost all the joy in his work as a book editor, and frankly there's not much joy in his personal life either. All that changes the night he meets Lucian.

Lucian wants to tell Clay his story, and insists that Clay will want to write and publish a book all about it. Clay is dubious, and actually gets up and leaves when the 'man' tells him that he is a demon, and that his story will explain Lucifer's side of the creation story. Lucian is not so easy to dismiss, however, when he tracks Clay down time and again. Clay becomes involved despite his misgivings, and the history that Lucian reveals puts God, the Garden of Eden, Adam, Eve and all humans in a whole different light. Clay becomes obsessed with hearing the tale all the way to the end - and what on earth could that end be?

Lee's writing style is very smooth, and very compelling. Though the subject sometimes gets uncomfortable, it is fascinating to challenge what we've been taught: even more fascinating is that the demon does not deny some of religions' basic tenets. "How would you feel if someone else became the best loved of all of God's creations?" he asks. A good question, from a thoroughly enthralling read. (NavPress paperback, $12.99)

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