Guest Review: Amulet Series

I have a reluctant reader. After reading early (age 3) and reading well, my daughter Blossom seems to have hit a second-grade slump. Life gets more social in second grade, I suppose. She has athletic commitments and friends to giggle with and Minecraft to play. Books have become boring and reading has become a chore. It’s been a struggle all year to get her to complete twenty minutes of reading each night. The only time she gets excited to read is when we read Harry Potter together, a bedtime tradition we started about a year ago. We’re nearly finished with Goblet of Fire and it occurred to me that maybe we should look at titles which were similar to those from our beloved Hogwarts.

Amulet
Image via Goodreads

One night, Blossom and I hopped online and visited A Mighty Girl (my go-to spot for nearly all kids’ RA, tied with Brightly) and sure enough, they had just what we were looking for. Beyond Harry Potter: 35 Fantasy Adventure Series Starring Mighty Girls featured a variety of picks for various age ranges. One series in particular piqued her interest right away: The Amulet series, written and illustrated by Kazu Kibuishi. Yes, that’s right: illustrated. They’re graphic novels. I was hesitant about going this direction, but the research shows that graphic novels can be just as — and in the right circumstances, more — important in the development of a child’s reading. Leslie Morrison of Northwestern University’s Center for Talent Development writes:

In a traditional text, students uncover meaning embedded in sentences and paragraphs. In graphic texts, students must analyze the images, looking for signs of character development, for example, or clues that help build plot. All of this experience developing textual and visual reading skills contribute to students’ understanding of their world — the ways the text and images all around them communicate — and in turn help them in crafting their own stories.

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Her haul from that day. She attempted DogMan but passed it onto her brother, and hasn’t tried the AG book yet.

Okay, sounds good, right? And the plot — about a girl, her brother, and their mom who move into a possibly-haunted house that belongs to their great-grandfather, shortly after which the mom is kidnapped by a monster and taken to a scary/magical world, shortly after which the kids go after her to save her only to discover a whole bunch of intriguing and magical costarring characters like a robot and a talking bunny. Oh, and the daughter/sister/main character, Emily, comes into possession of a magical amulet which gives her powers — sounded interesting and similar enough to Potter for my girl.

We started with Book One: The Stonekeeper and she flew through it in two days. Not only that, she retained what she’d read and couldn’t wait to tell me everything that was happening in the book. So far, she’s read the first four in the series and is hoarding her Easter Bunny cash to make a trip to the bookstore this weekend for the fifth. And without further ado, I’m turning this review over to Blossom, age 7 (“and three-quarters!”) since she’s the one who’s reading the Amulet books:IMG_20180404_131642.jpg

Me: What do you like best about the Amulet series?

Blossom: I like that it’s an adventure and it has a brother and sister like me and Oakley [my brother] but the sister has all the power. She has the power because of her amulet.

Me: Why do you like Amulet better than other chapter books you’ve tried?

B: It’s more of an adventure than other books. And it’s a series so there’s always more of the story. And I like the pictures. Pictures help me understand what’s going on and help me with words I don’t know.

Me: Which character is your favorite and why?

B: Definitely Emily because she’s a really powerful girl who can do a lot of cool things. She uses the powers of the stone on her necklace to protect the people she loves.

Me: What lesson(s) have you learned from reading Amulet?

B: That family is important.

Me: In what ways are these books like Harry Potter?

B: They both use magic. And Emily is like Hermione because they’re both really smart and the most important characters [insert mom fist-pumping]. Voldemort is like Gabilan because they’re evil and they want power.

Me: Is there anything you don’t like about the Amulet books?

B: The beginning. [Heads up, parents: The series opens with the father dying in a car accident. She actually didn’t want to push on after that so we read the first couple of chapters together.]

Me: Would you recommend the Amulet books to other kids who are bored with reading, like you were?

B: Definitely!

IMG_20180404_131741.jpgI’ve seen some sources place the Amulet books in a 7+ age category and some who say it’s better to wait until 10. I’ve thumbed through the books myself and have to say that some of it is probably going over her head, but then again, I read plenty of books at her age with vocabularies bigger than mine and I could still get the gist of the story. It has some dark/scary characters in it and some moments of peril. Nothing worse than what you’d find in Harry Potter but the difference here is that there’s a visual representation of the scary parts. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous, though, and I’m certain that the vivid illustrations are helping to keep her hooked. Amulet Book Eight: Supernova comes out on September 25, 2018.

 

 

 

I have a reluctant reader. After reading early (age 3) and reading well, my daughter Blossom seems to have hit a second-grade slump. Life gets more social in second grade, I suppose. She has athletic commitments and friends to giggle with and Minecraft to play. Books have become boring and reading has become a chore.... Continue Reading →

Review: Once Upon a World Board Books

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Clockwise from top left: The Princess & the Pea, Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Snow White

My youngest is a diehard princess fan. We’ve watched Frozen more times than I can count, she wants everything in her life to be purple because of Sophia the First, and she insists on wearing a dress almost every single day no matter the weather. “No pants, Mama,” she says. “Pants are dumb.” (True story, kiddo.) So it goes without saying that when it comes to storytime, she’s much more interested in the “Once upon a time” variety than a classic like Velveteen Rabbit.

In our household, I strive to keep my children’s book collections and library picks as diverse as possible. Seeing superheroes and princesses in different skin colors and from different cultural backgrounds matters a lot. According to the nonprofit advocacy organization We Need Diverse Books:

For white children, they also suffer from not seeing the true nature of the world around them. It can distort the world around them and their connections to other humans. All children can learn from the richness of culture. As this School Library Journal blog post notes, non-white parents are three times more likely to talk about race to their children than white parents. Even at a young age, children do categorize themselves into groups. Children’s books can be used as a resource to help with tough topics. 

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Cinderella’s fairy godmother transforms her rags into a gown.

Enter Chloe Perkins’ series of board books, Once Upon a World. I found Cinderella at my favorite bookstore, Curious Iguana, when doing some shopping with my toddler and she wouldn’t put it down once she spotted it in the store. I had to buy it in order to avoid a meltdown, but the truth is that I would have probably picked this title up myself based on the gorgeous cover art alone. This version of Cinderella tells the same classic tale, but the setting and the characters are Mexican. It’s positively alight with gorgeous, vibrant colors and features traditional Mexican garments on the characters (major props to illustrator Sandra Equihua). We read it at least ten times the first day we brought it home; it easily became her new favorite book.

That is, until I got her Rapunzel.

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She doesn’t even need me to read it to her anymore. She knows this book by heart.

Rapunzel is, again, a traditional retelling of the story with the usual plot details, except it takes place in India. I can’t say enough good things about the illustration in this book; honestly, I’d hang some of these pieces as art in my own home. It’s so beautiful to look at, you won’t even mind reading it to your child for the seven millionth time. Illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan.

The other two books which round out the series are Snow White, styled as a Japanese fairy tale with gorgeously muted, ethereal sketches by illustrator Misa Saburi; and The Princess and the Pea, illustrated by Dinara Mirtalipova with whimsical folkloric scenes set in Russia.

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A scene from Snow White

And bonus: they’re board books! Toddler-friendly! Wipe-able! Paper pages and my two year-old just don’t mix yet. At some point during the design and planning phase of this series, somebody on a conference call said, “Hey, let’s make them board books!” (It was probably a mom.)

Buy these. Buy them all. Make your own boxed set and gift them to a new or expectant parent. I rave about the Once Upon a World Books to anyone and everyone I come across in parenting circles because they’re just so darn pretty to look at and to store on a shelf. I truly hope that Chloe Perkins plans to add more to this series (can I request a Nigerian-set Beauty and the Beast? Or a Native American Little Red Riding Hood? Please and thank you). But the four that do exist are an absolute treasure and are toddler approved.

My youngest is a diehard princess fan. We've watched Frozen more times than I can count, she wants everything in her life to be purple because of Sophia the First, and she insists on wearing a dress almost every single day no matter the weather. "No pants, Mama," she says. "Pants are dumb." (True story, kiddo.)... Continue Reading →

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