Stained by Cheryl Rainfield

July 5th I tweeted, “Best welcome home greeting. ARC copy of Stained by @CherylRainfield I’m jumping up & down with joy. Putting all others away #summerreading”, and I read with barely a pause.  As I finished the book I did so holding my breath.  There was no way I was going to be able to write a review.

The protagonist, Sarah Meadows, felt too personal.  She felt too real, and honestly that scared me a little.  So I sat on my copy of Stained and waited for the rawness of Sarah’s experience to evaporate.  I wanted to write an objective review.  Unfortunately the struggles, fears, and eventual victory I felt along with Sarah as she grew from an obsessively self-conscious teen to a confident young lady would not abate.

In Stained author Cheryl Rainfield uses a port-wine stain covering half of the face of a teenager to represent the feelings of inadequacy many of us experience.  Not every person with what society considers a blemish hates that which was given at birth, but many people suffer from the perception of blemishes that only matter within their own mind’s eye.  Rainfield captures the feelings of the latter type perfectly.

Plus in true Rainfield style she validates the abused and gives them a flawed survivor in Sarah Meadows.  She shows us that even if you’re scared, or imperfect, or ready to give up you can still be your own hero.  That validation of being a survivor and honoring all your flaws proved to be the scary aspect of the story to review. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful for every book Rainfield writes because she knows the heart of a survivor.  Her stories provide the bibliotherapeutic opportunities that many authors cannot produce and many readers desperately need.  However, this honest voice of courage through adversity can be frightening because it forces survivors and those fortunate enough not to have faced a similar situation to examine themselves.  Am I strong enough to overcome abuse, bullying, self-hate, trust issues, etc?  In Sarah Meadows we learn yes we can be that strong.  We can be our own hero.

The Ghost-Eye Tree review

Bill Martin, Jr.’s The Ghost-Eye Tree. is a story about a time that is a distant memory in the minds of many adults.  It is a time that has never existed for many children.  In this story a young boy and his sister are sent to the local dairy farm to fill the family’s milk bucket.  However, in order to retrieve the milk they must first walk past an old spooky tree which looks to have a Ghost-Eye when the moon shines just right.

A boy’s hat, the Ghost-Eye tree, and a sibling’s teasing continuously crop up throughout the tale.  Even though this story is about traveling at night to get milk for the family, the reader will notice that the actual focus is on the hat, the tree, and the relationship between siblings.  The boy loves his hat and it makes him feel brave.  This emotion is needed as he walks the dark road past the tree that seems to stare and reach for him.  However, the hat betrays him when he needs it the most.

The sister plays two parts in this story.  She spends much of the time telling her brother that he is afraid and that his hat is stupid.  However, when the occasion arises she proves to be the sister he can depend on.  Children with siblings reading this story will easily connect with the complex relationship between these two.

Originally published in 1985 this story is beautifully written.  It would also be a good read aloud book.  The illustrations have a dark ominous almost fuzzy look that magnifies the feelings the Ghost-Eye tree creates.  However, there are bright lighted pictures sprinkled within the book.  These warm colors show up when trusted adults such as the mother and the milkman enter the story.

Even though The Ghost-Eye Tree contains topics most children can not personally connect with, the story itself provides some unique opportunities to teach history and relationships.  The savvy instructor could use this book to discuss how much things have changed in the past few decades.  After all it wasn’t long ago, just a mere three decades for some of us, that we were still fetching milk from the local dairy and using party lines to chat with our friends.

Another lesson idea could include brining in rotary phones from the past and perhaps a guest speaker who can chat about the topics presented in this story.  Children could ask if the speaker ever experienced similar frightening images such as the Ghost-Eye as a child.  It might be interesting to learn that adults once had the same feelings as the children sitting across from them.  After all, the fear of the unknown is still relevant.  Plus, children are often fascinated by the strange devices of the past that look vaguely familiar to the devices of today.  Just that aspect alone could present many other teachable connections.

An exploration of relationships would also be interesting to explore with children.  Who can or should they trust?  Do all siblings argue like this brother and sister?  Are these healthy arguments?  Did the adults in their lives ever argue with their siblings?  These are just a few interesting questions children could explore.

Overall, The Ghost-Eye Tree is a fun story that children today can still appreciate.  This book can still be found in the children’s section of the library and many bookstores.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Creepy Carrots! short book review

Creepy Carrots!

Could carrots creep around the corner?  In this 2013 Caldecott Honor Book the reader is led into the mind of a rabbit consumed by the thought of monstrous carrots.  However, these are not ordinary carrots.  These are the type of carrots that hide as orange toys, flowers, and tools.  At least that is what young Jasper thinks.  His parents on the other hand can not see the carrots lurking around the corner.  Mom tells him that, “there’s no such thing as creepy carrots.”  Dad shakes his head and explains that he is having bad dreams.  What is a young rabbit to do when no one believes he is being stalked?

In this fun parody horror book by Aaron Reynolds the reader is provided with a background story about why carrots might stalk a young rabbit.  The reader is left with just enough contradictions to wonder if Jasper is simply paranoid.  This is due to the illustrations by Peter Brown which cleverly disguise the carrots as ordinary items that a child might see in everyday life.

Within the book’s pages dull grays are overshadowed by the orangey colors of carrots and non-creepy carrot like items.  A game could be played of “if it’s not a carrot then what is it?”  In which guesses could be made of what Jasper’s sees to what is really lurking on the next page.  Children may also want to explore the irony of a rabbit fearing carrots.  After all, don’t rabbits love their veggies?  Another learning idea could include creating alternative endings to how Jasper conquers his fear of carrots.

Creepy Carrots! is a fun tale of how to come up with solutions, conquer your fears, and to believe in what you think is true.  Geared for children in Pre-School-2nd grade it can be checked out at your local library or purchased at a local bookstore for around $16.99.