This week Caramel wanted to talk about a cute little book that was first published in 1987 and has been in the book bunnies library for a while now: The Boy With Square Eyes: A Tale of Televisionitis, by Juliet Snape and Charles Snape. Though the book itself is rather old, the issue of too much screen time has perhaps never been more relevant, as a large number of young people are moored to screens for hours on end during these days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marshmallow kindly agreed to taking notes and asking followup questions.
Marshmallow: So Caramel, what do you want to say about this book?
Caramel: It’s a fun book! The drawings are good.
M: What is this book about?
C: It’s about a boy who watched television all day and his eyes turned into squares. It’s a good book; you should read it.
M: Thanks, I have already read it! So, what do you think about the pictures?
C: They’re good, but in a few they’re blocky.
M: I think that that’s because he has square eyes now. Do you think that this book has a moral or a lesson that the authors were trying to teach to the reader?
C: Yeah, probably, it’s: “do not watch TV all the time!”
M: What do you think about the story?
C: It’s good! Really, really good!
M: What’s the main character’s name?
M: So, why is Charlie watching so much TV?
C: Who knows?
M: So here’s another question. Do you think that Televisionitis is a real thing?
C: No, it’s not.
M: I would think so. Anyways, tell me more about this book.
C: The Boy With Square Eyes is about a boy who watches too much TV.
M: So, do his eyes get fixed?
C: You’ll have to find out by yourself if you read the book.
M: Who is your favorite character?
C: In this book?
C: Well there are only three people who talk in the book: Charlie, his mom, and the doctor.
M: Okay then. Never mind. So then which picture is your favorite picture in the book?
C: They were all good. It’s going to be hard to choose.
M: Okay. Then what do you like about this book?
M: Can you be a little more specific?
M: So what do you like about this book?
C: The pictures, the story, and, etcetera.
M: Can you please be a little more specific than that?
C: The pictures, the story, and the plot.
M: What do you like about the story and the plot?
C: The plot is interesting, and the story is fun to read if you haven’t read it before.
M: Okay, what genre do you think this is?
C: I don’t know… Fiction!
M: Oh, yeah, that’s a good one. I was also thinking it could be a parable. So, how would you rate this book? With your three words?
This week Marshmallow reviews When You Reach Me, a 2009 novel by Rebecca Stead.
Marshmallow’s Quick Take: If you like mystery or science fiction, or if you enjoyed reading other books written by Rebecca Stead, then this might be the book for you.
Marshmallow’s Summary (with spoilers): Twelve-year old Miranda, a sixth grader in New York City in the late 1970s, has just started to receive notes that tell her that someone is coming to save her friend’s life and their own. Here is the first note:
This is hard. Harder than I expected, even with your help. But I have been practicing, and my preparations go well. I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.
I ask two favors.
First, you must write me a letter.
Second, please remember to mention the location of your house key.
The trip is a difficult one. I will not be myself when I reach you.”
After this first note, Miranda starts to receive more notes. These notes say that she must not share them with anybody and that she must believe the notes. Then the person starts to send proof of what they’re saying is true. For example, the note says “Tesser well” and then her mother’s boyfriend gives her a copy ofA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle signed by Madeleine L’Engle that says “Tesser well”.
In the middle of this, Miranda is also having school trouble. Her mom is preparing to go on a game show with the hopes of winning a large sum of money. Miranda is also having some problems with her best friend Sal.
There is in short a lot going on in Miranda’s life, and though some of it is normal kid stuff, the secret notes make things all quite mysterious. (And if you want to know more, you have to read the book!)
Marshmallow’s Review: This is a great book. It has a very interesting but also a very complex plot, and the reader may have a hard time finding who wrote the notes.
I think that this is also a very good book because the author, Rebecca Stead, is great at creating characters. My favorite character is probably Julie or Miranda. Miranda is really realistic, and she does things that make her unique, like tying and untying knots.
This book might be a little hard to understand for kits (baby bunnies) because of its complex plot, and it is also not a particularly easy book to read. I think therefore that it would probably be best for bunnies aged eight and up.
I think the best part of this book is that the author is an expert at making the reader want to finish the book soon. The mystery is great because the reader wouldn’t be able to guess who the writer of the notes is because they are concealed by the author wonderfully. I think that this is a great book that is an excellent mix of mystery and science fiction and many other genres.
Caramel and the rest of the book bunnies household have been watching Star Trek Voyager during these months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Voyager is the third Star Trek series Caramel has watched, after The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. In other words, he is a little Trekkie. One of his favorite things about the whole series is the star ships. As a result it was natural that he would fall in love with the book Star Trek: Ships of the Line, edited by Doug Drexler and Margaret Clark, with text from Michael Okuda. Below he shares his enthusiasm about this book, as Sprinkles takes notes and asks followup questions.
Sprinkles: So Caramel, what do you want to tell us about this book?
Caramel: It’s a good book if you like space ships and that kind of stuff.
S: Do you also need to like Star Trek?
C: Not exactly. As long as you like star ships, you are in luck. The book is packed with pictures of star ships.
S: I see. I think that also fits in the Star Trek universe narrative though, right?
C: I guess.
S: Are the pictures photos or hand-drawn?
C: I think there are both kinds of pictures.
S: What else can you tell us?
C: So on each two-page spread, there is a whole-page picture of a ship, and some writing.
S: What kind of writing?
C: There is a name for the photo or drawing and who it is by. Then there is a paragraph about the picture.
S: The content seems to be arranged in eight chapters (altogether in over 350 pages). Can you tell me a bit about that?
C: The chapter names are: “In the Beginning”, “The Creation of a Legend”, “Rebirth”, “The Finest in the Fleet”, “Of Gods and Men”, “There Will Always Be An Enterprise”, “Delta Voyager”, “Semper Exploro”.
S: Hmm, so I can guess that “Delta Voyager” is about the ships in Star Trek Voyager.
C: Yes, and “Of Gods and Men” is about Deep Space Nine.
S: And “In the Beginning” seems to be about the more recent Star Trek Enterprise. We have not yet watched that show. But so it seems that the book is telling us the stories of the star ships in the Star Trek universe in their chronological order.
C: Yes. Exactly.
S: Do you know who the people who put together this book are?
As the United States is approaching another presidential election, Sprinkles thought that it could be a good idea to review children’s books about a recent president: President Barack Obama. Here Sprinkles shares her candid opinions on five books about him, with the goal of informing parents of young bunnies. Perhaps other young bunnies (and their parents too) will find one or more of these books worth the read to learn from and get inspired by.
School-age bunnies often need to find people to write about for school reports. Most of the books I review in this post found their way to the book bunnies household as the younger bunnies were writing reports about their personal heroes, about well-known world leaders, and about past presidents. And occasionally young readers get their paws on books about inspiring people and just read them on their own. The five books I review in this post are all suitable for both kinds of reading goals. If your little one is curious about president Barack Obama, just keep reading to see which of these five books might be the right one for them!
In what follows I organize and present my thoughts in the order of reader level. By that I mean that the youngest bunnies will likely find it easier to read the books I mention first, and the older ones, those that are more independent readers and those that can handle more challenging sentences, might get more details and all around just more out of the books that come up later.
The first book I will describe for this review is President Barack Obama, written by A. D. Largie and illustrated by Sabrina Pichardo. A slim and mid-size paperback, this book is aimed at younger readers. It can be read out loud, as there is some basic rhyme built into the text on each page. I wished that some of this rhyming was made more visible by formatting of the text or by punctuation. For example the text “Barack Obama proved that you can can (sic) do anything that you believe as long as you hope for the best and focus you can achieve.” would be easier to read if it were written more visibly in two lines and / or with more punctuation:
Barack Obama proved that you can do anything that you believe,
As long as you hope for the best and focus, you can achieve.
Still, a parent used to reading books out loud for their little ones will probably figure out the rhythm soon enough.
There was also a small factual error in the book. Obama was elected to the Illinois state senate in 1996, and to the United States Senate in 2004. But again it is not a big enough deal; a parent can easily correct it while reading.
Despite these two minor issues, I would say that this can be a good book to teach young ones about President Obama. A part of a “Boys Grow Up To Be Heroes” book series, the book emphasizes that Obama was teased for his name when he was young but he persevered; he worked hard on his classes and on building community; and he wanted to bring people of many differences together. And after all that, he was the first black president! This can certainly be an inspiring read.
Next, I will describe Caroline Crosson Gilpin’s Barack Obama, published by National Geographic Kids. Rated Level 2 by the publisher, the book is meant for transitional readers who are getting comfortable reading on their own. The font size is large and the pictures are colorful. After a brief introduction starting on January 20, 2009, the day of the inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama, most of the rest of the book is organized chronologically, and ends the story with a quote from Obama himself:
“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
President Barack Obama
The book ends with a seven-question quiz, and a one-page glossary describing terms like “civil rights lawyer”, “community organizer”, and “multiracial”. All in all, this is a good book, telling the story with just enough details, and besides the facts, you also get a little dose of the inspiration that Obama’s presidency offered for many.
Barack Obama: Out of Many, One, written by Shana Corey and illustrated by James Bernardin, is also aimed toward the same level of readers, I believe. The book’s publisher Random House ranks it “Step 3: Reading on Your Own” and this is still written for the young reader, who is not yet quite ready for the chapter book. President Obama’s story is told in simple and clear language, from the beginning up to the time of writing of the book, during Obama’s second term. We start with:
We all have stories–each and every one of us. This is one of those stories. It is the story of a skinny little boy with a funny name and how he became part of America’s history.
and end along similar lines:
But the story is not complete. In fact it’s just started. Where does your story fit in the American story? You could help your neighbor or your school. You could even grow up to be president! Anything is possible–what happens next is up to you!
The illustrations are appealingly hand-drawn, and are peppered with actual photographic images. My favorite was the last one, right under the words I quoted above, where President Obama is looking at some school kids through a ginormous magnifying glass. And luckily due to copyright laws that say “a work of the U.S. federal government” will be on public domain, I can insert it right here:
Next I will share my thoughts on Who Is Barack Obama? by Roberta Edwards and John O’Brien. This book is clearly directed towards readers who are comfortable with chapter books, as it is one, and at over one hundred pages, it is actually quite an informative read. Its twelve chapters tell a chronological story, with a great many details, including a description of the Democratic nomination process and the competition between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton at the time before the 2008 presidential elections. The author seems to trust that her reader can handle both details and large-picture connections; I always appreciate authors who respect their readers! The book ends with two timelines, one for Obama’s life and the other noting some world events relevant to the narrative of the book.
I believe that this would make an excellent choice for the young reader who is curious to learn about President Obama. Illustrated in simple black and white sketches by John O’Brien, the book tells the story of one of the most inspiring political figures of our times, and situates his story within the wider American context.
The last book I will describe in this review is Stephen Krensky’s Barack Obama. This book also targets a similar audience but perhaps expects a little bit more from the reader. The font size is much smaller, the sentences are a little bit more complex, and the book overall has more the flavor of a historical biography than that of a children’s book. This is not particularly a disadvantage, however, and should definitely not deter any young reader wishing to learn more about the first black president of the United States. The details and the historical conextualization that were strengths for the previous book are also a strength for this one, and the photographic images add a lot to the book’s appeal.
The longest of the books reviewed in this blog post, at 125 pages, Krensky’s Barack Obama is a good text for those young bunnies writing reports or essays about the president, and it can be a good resource for learning more about his life and accomplishments. (Among other things, it contains a neat timeline and several references for further reading and study.) However, it does end on the inauguration day of 2009, and we do not learn much about his accomplishments as the forty-fourth president of the United States. Still, I would recommend it for those bunnies looking to learn more.
But perhaps those same young bunnies are up to learn even more about this man? Then I’d urge them and their parents to consider diving into one of Obama’s own books. Many parents will likely think Obama’s 2006 book The Audacity of Hope might be too political (or politically motivated) for their young ones, but his first book, Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, written in 1995, tells this man’s tale up to that time in lyrical but not overly dramatic language. This is a beautiful coming-of-age story, and it is perhaps uniquely American. Obama tries in it to open up, understand (for himself–and to our benefit), and come to terms with his own multicultural multiracial heritage. It can be a challenging read for preteens, but for tweens and teenagers, it is bound to be inspiring. And I’d say, it can be especially so, knowing that this young man narrating his own story would become the forty-fourth president of the United States in a little less than fifteen years from the end of the book.