Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Half-Baked Characters

Our local news station ran a story last night that I found quite interesting, and more than a bit surprising. It seems that many of the libraries here in Kansas have a well-kept secret. Perhaps I'm the only patron that hasn't run across this little gem, but I spend quite a bit of time in the children's section of our local library, and I don't know how I've missed it.

I'm talking about collections of cake pans that are available for check-out, much like you would check out a book for a limited lending period. You may know the types of pans I'm referring to; the character pans like Spider Man, or Cookie Monster. 

This is a wonderful idea! I have purchased a small number of those pans over the years - just a few months ago I bought the large Wonder mold because my granddaughter wanted a Barbie Princess cake for her 3rd birthday. If I had known it was available for check-out from the library, I could have used the money I invested in the pan on other things. It's not likely that I'll use it again, because next year I'm sure she'll want something completely different.

The idea of checking out cake pans from the library may seem odd at first - but it makes a lot of sense. Libraries are known for their collections - books, of course, but most libraries I frequent usually have several display cases strategically placed around the building, where they store permanent or travelling collections of all sorts of interesting objects. The variety is endless. The library I most often borrow from has a collection of dolls and a collection of paper-weights. They also have several display cases where they switch out the collections on a monthly basis.

I understand why the cake pan collection may not be stored in a display case, but I wish they kept it in an area that was at least visible for the average patron. I saw on the news story where one library kept them in bags on a carousel hanger, much like the audio books. Of course, some of these libraries have amassed pans that number into the hundreds, so I can see where they might not have floor space to adequately display them. But I didn't even know they were available, so at least a sign, maybe in the children's area, or even someplace in the baking books section, might be helpful.

I can't wait to go check them out and see what's available. I'm going to let the kids pick out the ones they want, and then help them bake their own character cake. Before we even bring the pan home, though, I think we'll find a book or two that features their particular character. While the cake is baking up their favorite character, we can read the book together and plan our decorating strategies.

Check out your libraries and see if they offer this unique twist to learning. It's sure to be a lot of fun, and can save you quite a bit of money. Or, if you have an old collection of character pans that you no longer need and are taking up valuable storage space (you know those things are difficult to store with their odd shapes) why not ask your library if they would be interested in starting such a program. 

Hope you all have a blessed day. And if you bake someone interesting, please come back and let us know. I'd love to see the outcome.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Do You Like A Good Treasure Hunt?

Several of the historical fictions I’ve read lately have been a bit on the glum side. That’s not a problem, because the stories were centered on the lives of children who could have actually lived during the time depicted in the story. The tales were depressing because of the harshness of life at that time in history. But there was hope and victory for the children who persevered.

A few days ago I finished a historical adventure tale that takes place in modern day, but which references historical events and places. I’m not sure of the exact genre such a tale falls into, but it was certainly a fun read.

The title of the novel is Gasparilla’s Treasure, and is written by Scott Clements. I’m in no way an official reviewer, but I think that many MG readers would enjoy this one. Here is a short blurb:

Trip Montgomery has no idea what is in store for him when he finds the dusty old trunk hidden under the floorboards in his mom’s attic. The trunk reveals a series of mysteries that send him on the greatest adventure of his life. Will his best friend Josh and his new friend Sarah be able to help Trip solve the clues that lead to the greatest treasure ever known to man? Or will Trip’s obsession with the treasure drive him deep into the disorienting dreamland of his great grandfather Pappy?

The tale revolves around three young friends, Trip, Josh, and Sarah, who must find and follow clues to a legendary treasure left behind by the pirate, Gasparilla. Trip’s grandfather insists that the treasure is real, even though Trip’s mother is fed up with the quest that has caused her so much grief.

Trip’s mother isn’t the kids’ only roadblock. The school bully and his thugs cause all kinds of havoc while the trio of treasure hunters deciphers the clues that are scattered around the historic town of St. Augustine, Florida.

There were many aspects of this tale that I found enjoyable. Mr. Clements weaves a riveting tale for anyone who loves a good treasure hunt. His characters are all believable and interesting. Each of the friends has distinct personality traits that make them engaging and fun. I admit to not checking every historical reference, but each of the ones I did check proved to be accurate.

The story arc was well developed and smoothly transitioned from scene to scene. The characters moved along in an orderly progression in their search for clues, and the clues and minor characters were presented in interesting and unique ways. I found the history teacher to be rather predictable, but enjoyable, nonetheless. Many readers will enjoy him, I predict.

The setting made this especially entertaining because of all the historical tidbits that were interspersed within the storyline. Forts and landmarks dating back to the Spanish Conquistadors were brought to life for the reader to explore, with a splash of fun facts thrown in to add texture to the setting.

I liked the way Mr. Clements shows us how much Trip loves and cares for his ailing grandfather. Although this is a tale of adventure and fun, it’s also a story of family and the lengths a young boy will go to in order to fulfill his grandfather’s last wishes. Although, based on the ending paragraphs, it just might be possible that Trip’s grandfather may be around for the next adventure.

This is a very entertaining read from a first-time author. There were places where I personally think the writing could have been tightened up quite a bit, and perhaps a slightly heavier hand could have been used by a skilled proofreader. However, it shows much promise for additional interesting reading to come. I’m looking forward to the next installment of these three likeable kids.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Are You a History Buff?

(sigh) I never did well in History class. In fact, my first B in college was in American History. It isn't that I don't appreciate history, or don't find it interesting. I simply could never keep track of dates, places, or names. Unfortunately, I'm still like that today.

However, I do love to read historical novels. This week I've read two that I thoroughly enjoyed, even though they were rather heavy on the serious side.

Bread and Roses, Too, by Katherine Paterson, is a story of a young Italian girl during the Industrial Revolution. It also features a young boy whose path crosses with Rosa. Ms. Paterson paints a vivid picture of the hardships the children and their families faced during that time. She goes into explicit detail of the strikes in the mills of the Northeast, and the harsh results of those strikes.

Eventually, many of the parents decided that their children would be safer - and at least be fed - if they sent them off to be fostered in other towns and cities. Jake - the young boy who fortuitously crosses paths with Rosa, ends up on the wrong train, and he devises a plan to pass himself off as Rosa's brother. It results in a very uncomfortable situation for the young girl.

I liked the attention to detail that Ms. Paterson instilled in this work. She did an excellent job of making history interesting to me, which is an awesome accomplishment. Her characters were well-developed and I could almost taste the cabbage stew. Overall, it was a lovely story and I highly recommend it.

The other book I just finished is Storyteller, by Patricia Reilly Giff. Ms. Giff is a talented wordsmith, and this story had me captured from the very beginning.

Told in alternating viewpoints, Ms. Giff takes us from present day back to the eighteenth century. Elizabeth is sent to live with an aunt while her father goes to Australia on business. Elizabeth seems to do everything wrong, and things don't begin too well when she arrives at her aunt's house. Then she finds a drawing of a young girl who closely resembles  Elizabeth. 

The young girl is Zee - an ancestor who lived during the time of the American Revolution. As Zee tells her story, we discover that the two girls have many similarities in behavior. Zee was forever forgetting to close the gate on the goat pen, or leaving the hen house door unlatched. 

As the two stories unfold, Elizabeth finds a common bond with her aunt - they both want to find out what happened to Zee. They enlist the help of another relative, and he is the one who discovers Elizabeth's talent for storytelling. 

This is a touching story, and clearly portrays the pain that two young girls, separated by two hundred years of history, share and overcome. Both of these authors have a knack for bringing out the strengths in their characters, and revealing their weaknesses in realistic ways.

If you're interested in history, I highly recommend both of these books. 

Happy Reading!