Welcome to Mrs. Brecht's Bookshelf. Here you can read reviews of books that I read personally and books that I enjoy reading to my sons. Read more about our Caldecott journey here and about my decision to read banned/challenged books here. I'll also periodically post fun reading-related activities and ideas. Who knows, I may even start doing some book giveaways if I get enough readers!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

1944 Caldecott Winner

Title: Many Moons

Author: James Thurber

Illustrator: The illustrator of the Caldecott-winning version is Louis Slobodkin. The illustrator of the version we read is Marc Simont.

Method of Reading/Extra Activities: We technically did not read the book that won the 1944 Caldecott medal. The text of this book has been republished with new illustrations by a different artist. And since the Caldecott medal is given for illustrations, we really didn't get to experience the Caldecott-winning aspect of this book. I really have no idea why on earth an author (or in this case, I think it was the author's daughter) would republish a book that has won the Caldecott medal with new illustrations. Why mess with a good thing?!?! Anyway, our library does not have the original version, so that is why we read the republished version.

We read the book twice. Then Gabriel and I drew pictures of the moon and stars. We used black card stock and an opaque white painting marker. Gabriel had a lot of fun drawing. See our great pictures and my big boy's cute little grin?

About the Text: A princess becomes ill, and her father promises to get her anything she desires, so that she can get better again. The princess asks for the moon. The king and his royal advisers are distraught because they do not know how to accomplish this impossible task. Finally, the royal jester comes up with a plan of how to give the princess the moon.
About the Illustrations: As I mentioned, we did not read the original version, so I am unable to comment about the Caldecott-winning illustrations. The pictures in the updated version were cute and colorful.

Our Favorite Part: The page that had fireworks on it! Gabriel kept wanting to turn back to the fireworks page.

Our Least Favorite Part: This book has a lot of text on each page, so it doesn't really hold a toddler's attention.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Title: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Author: Jamie Ford

Review: I read this book for a new book club that some friends of mine are starting. I haven't been to a book club for a while and am eager to start reading and discussing various books. I'm going to try to get the details right in my review, but I lent my library copy of the book to another friend to read before book club, so I can't double check my dates, spellings of names, etc.

This novel has a dual time frame, partially set in 1942, partially set in 1986. It focuses on a 12-year-old, first-generation Chinese-American boy named Henry. (Wow! That's a lot of hyphenated adjectives.) He lives in Seattle during the World War II era and befriends a Japanese-American girl named Keiko. Though Keiko and her family are American citizens, they are discriminated against because of their Japanese roots. Henry's own father vehemently disapproves of his relationship with Keiko.

The two kids fall in love (I know, gag me). The "teenage romance" aspect of the story definitely grated on me, though I am glad the central characters were kids, because it adds an element of "loss of innocence" as relating to bigotry. Eventually Keiko and her family are forced to leave town and are relocated to prison camps (I forget the polite, PC term). Henry is devastated and tries to do anything in his power to be with Keiko.

Fast forward 40-some-years. The 1986 portion of the story focuses on Henry's relationship with his adult son - how Henry's past has effected how he relates to his son and how Henry reveals the personal details of his childhood to his son. Henry still clings to the memories of his relationship with Keiko and reflects on how the experiences of his childhood have shaped him.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and found its discussion of the Asian American community during WWII to be quite informative. It was definitely touching at times, but the romance aspect was a little annoying at the same time. Oh, and it was a very "clean" book. No sexual stuff. No (or very little - I can't remember) cussing. All in all, it was a pleasant book to read.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013


Title: 1984

Author: George Orwell

Summary: In the midst of an ultra-controlling society full of lies and contradictions, the main character Winston begins to think for himself. He falls in love (which is forbidden by the government) and begins noticing the flaws of his society. However, "Big Brother" (This phrase originated with this novel.) is watching Winston, who is soon captured, tortured, and brainwashed. The book has an unsettling ending, which I won't spoil for you, but which really makes you think about the role of government.

Why it's been challenged: The book has been challenged for its sexual content. It's also been challenged for pro-communist material (I don't understand that complaint; in my opinion, the book seemed anti-communist. Maybe I just don't know enough about politics.) (ALA)

If I were still teaching, would I allow my class of high schoolers to read this book? I think I'd allow it. I'd probably inform parents of the suggestive material. The sexual content isn't overly explicit, but it gets steamy a few times. However, I think high school students would really enjoy this book, and it would spark great political discussions and debate. A possible alternative would be George Orwell's Animal Farm. It is also very political, though more from a metaphorical historical point of view, rather than from a hypothetical futuristic point of view. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley would also be a great tie-in, though it also has suggestive material.

Here's a great quote from the book:

"What can you do, thought Winston, against the lunatic who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing and then simply persists in his lunacy?" (262)

Monday, July 1, 2013

1943 Caldecott Winner

Title: The Little House

Author and Illustrator: Virginia Lee Burton

Method of Reading/Extra Activities: We read the book together and had a toy house right next to us to play with while reading. This book also came with a CD, so we were able to listen to someone else read the book, too. Then we also attempted a craft project! Using toothpicks and Mod Podge, we tried to build a stick house. I'm thinking this was a little too ambitious to do with a two year old. See our lovely results?  

About the Text: A little house is built in the country and at times wonders what life is like in the city. Years pass and eventually, due to the city's expansion, she finds out first-hand what city life is like, and she does not like it. She becomes sad and lonely (lots of personification in this book!). Eventually, a family rescues her and moves her back to the country, where she is once again happy and peaceful.
About the Illustrations: The colorful illustrations are so cute in this book. They are unique in that the little house is always in the center of the picture, but the scenery and surroundings are constantly changing. The house changes very little, but her surroundings drastically change throughout the story, and the illustrations deftly emphasize this.

Our Favorite Part: The illustrations of the house when it was nighttime. There were lots of stars when the house lived in the countryside!

Our Least Favorite Part: This book made Mama tear up! Mama can relate to the little house. I'm a country gal living in the city. Hopefully someday we can move back to the country. :)

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Daughter of Time - Summer 2010 - Genre: Crime

Genre #15 - Crime
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
read 7/23/10 - 7/31/10

This book dragged for me. It was a murder mystery, but the whole thing was solved academically from an invalid's bed. I thought that I'd be intrigued by the unique plot, but it actually felt quite slow to me. It was also full of history (which, unfortunately, isn't my cup of tea). For me there were too many names of obscure historical figures to keep track of, so I stopped keeping track and just plowed through. Those who love English history would probably enjoy this book. It just wasn't for me.

This book was part of my 2010 summer reading program.

Magnificent Obsession - Summer 2010 - Genre: Inspirational

Genre #14 - Inspirational
Magnificent Obsession by Lloyd Douglas
read 7/18/10 - 7/22/10

This was a pleasant book about sacrificing of yourself and doing good for others. The characters in the book take the principle of Matthew 6:3 ("But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing") and use it as a formula for life (even turning it in to its own religion--a bit creepy). There is also a fun little love story woven in. The woman keeps avoiding the man, but he keeps pursuing. All in all, despite the odd religiousness of the book, Magnificent Obsession is a very pleasant, heartwarming book.

This book was part of my 2010 summer reading program.

O Pioneers! - Summer 2010 - Genre: Western

Genre #13 - Western
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
read 7/16/10 - 7/17/10

This was a fantastic book. It follows the lives of a family battling the hardships of the prairie as well as struggling through their own internal battles. This book has great descriptive elements to it, really helping the reader to visualize what life was like for the pioneers. Probably the greatest thing that endeared me to this book was the characterizations. The characters in this book are multi-faceted. The heroes have flaws, and the villains have redeeming qualities. Because of the excellent characterization and descriptive voice, O Pioneers! has a distinctly realistic and endearing tone.

This book was part of my 2010 summer reading program.