Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fun songs for kids

It is never easy finding songs that kids will like. It is even more difficult to find songs that kids of different ages will like. These songs are tried and tested by two of the pickiest critics I know-my sons aged 7 and 4. On some of our many long trips these songs have had them singing and grooving along and asking for them to be played (over and over and over). This list will feature some popular songs as well as some that unless you actively search out music for kids you probably may not have heard about.

I hadn't heard of the Dream Jam band but I picked up their cd at the library a while ago and this song quickly became one of our favorites, listened to at least four times a day going to and from work and school with the little ones. It tells the story of a kid's hilarious attempt to get his hair to behave. It has good lyrics and a great beat. Oh yeah!

Lots of young kids are fussy about food but this song is a surefire way to at least sing about how much food they will eat. Yo Gabba Gabba songs are always well produced and this one called "Party in my Tummy"  is no different. The bass in this song is tremendous, so you may want to turn it down just a tad.

Another song that is on heavy rotation in our playlist is "Lots of Little Pigs" by perennial favorite Laurie Berkner. It is rather long and it is a story song but I think this is why my little one likes it so much. The storytelling aspect of it keeps them enthralled and the singing parts are catchy as well. It is not on youtube but here are the lyrics and it is found on this cd.

The song "Six Months on a Leaky Boat" is a classic and I did not even realize that before I began looking things up for this post. The Wiggles have made the song their own in this hilarious rendition.  My wife thinks that were it not for Captain Feathersword's funny interjections from time to time the song could easily be played on an easy listening station due mainly in part to Greg's soothing voice.

This is another quiet song that usually has the kids listening. The beautiful Christine Anu's voice is so mellifluous and although we can't make out any of the words besides the title,"Taba Naba" we enjoy it immensely. Check it out here.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Manhunt by Kate Messner

I totally judged this book by its cover. It features three kids in a foreign city in all-action poses. They seem to be on the trail of some bad guy and they look determined to get him.  I thought to myself that it was worth a try.

The three main protagonists Henry Anna and Jose all know each other from other and are  junior members of the Silver Jaguar society, an awarded bestowed on them due to a case they solved together involving a stolen Star-Spangled Banner. They are all related in some way to full-fledged members of the society as well. As one would expect from some tweens their involvement with the dangerous criminals is minimal. Truth be told most of their involvement with the bad guys involves running from some goons.

The book started off really well with a spate of art thefts across the globe triggering panic in the art world. This causes an emergency meeting of the society in its Boston headquarters. Henry, Most of the action occurs in the city of lights, Paris. Although how they get there does seem a bit far fetched.  There is another member that they meet but he seems to know too much for a kid. I found this character a bit snooty. As you would expect there are some twists along the way but there is a happy ending to the story.

I have a few gripes about this book. First, the kids are not actually on a manhunt. They are looking for stolen loot and following some cryptic clues along the way. They have an unbelievable encounter with a relative of the main antagonist of the story that left me shaking my head. Another gripe I have is that there are too many threads that are not explored. Messner mentions something that piques reader interest and then whizzes on to a next detail leaving the reader hanging. I suspect though that we may learn more about Henry's background in further editions.

To its credit the book features excellent descriptions of Paris (food, places, small cultural tidbits) as well as many literary references (one of the characters is a bookworm). The language is accessible and the description of the gamut of emotions Henry experiences is well done also. Overall this is an ok read for a nine to twelve year old.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Arcady's Goal by Eugene Yelchin

Soccer is unquestionably the world's game and its legions of fans experience the highs and lows of each game and discuss the team feverishly all week. Some of the biggest stars of today came from humble backgrounds but they have used their skill to create a better life for themselves and their families. The game is not immune to real life concerns however and sadly sometimes politics becomes entwined with sports as occurred recently. Wars have been fought over results in soccer games and people have been killed over the outcome of matches.

In Eugene Yelchin's book Arcady's Goal, the title character lives in a rough camp for orphans in the Soviet Union in 1945. His parents have been deemed enemies of the state and he has been sent to live in a camp, guarded by tough armed guards and under the rule of the despot Butterball who organizes soccer exhibitions for Arcady to show off his skill. It is in one of these exhibitions that Arcady is spotted by an inspector called Ivan Ivanych. To his surprise the inspector returns to the camp with papers to adopt the young boy.

Historical fiction novels can sometimes have gross inaccuracies but I think the fact that the author's father was a Soviet who loved and played soccer gives him some credence. His description of Arcady's fist impressions of Ivanych's house and food is heartbreaking. Arcady convinces his new father of his love for the game and Ivanych agrees to find a team for him if Arcady will agree to learn to read. The first time Arcady plays with boys his age his skill is breathtaking but due to political differences he doesn't play on that team.

Ivanych himself has secrets as Arcady begins to discover. All is not lost however as they learn of a tryout to be held by the Red Army team, on which Arcady's hero, Fedor Bruko plays. A special pass is needed just to go to the tryout however and one thing becomes certain, the tryout is of tremendous importance for both of them. Ivanych has his own reasons for adopting the young kid. Arcady's goal has been transformed from an on field one to an off field one as well.

In the afterword of the book Yelchin gives a personal account of the after effects of the Communist Stalinist regime and the way in which it destroyed generations of families systematically. Relations between the United States and Russia are somewhat frayed now but it is fascinating to learn about this nation's sad past and to see how even today citizens are struggling with the legacy of decisions taken well before they were born. I recommend this book for those aged 11+.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Watched by CJ Lyons

    Technology has created avenues for exposure and at times overexposure. At times this can lead to making and breaking reputations. There are armies of hackers across the world who live by finding incriminating information about people from all walks of life and then blackmailing or extorting them. Celebrities usually have the resources to fight off these allegations but the average person does not.

 Jesse is a teen who lives with his uncle. His father walked out on the family and so his mother was forced to seek refuge at her brother's.  There has been a string of arsons in the town and Jesse's uncle, a firefighter, is kept busy. This is not the only thing on his mind however as Jesse is virtual slave to a mysterious person called King.

King discovered something that a family member did to Jesse when he was younger and spread it across the internet. Now he has Jesse at his mercy- Jesse has a phone that he must answer anytime King calls or else people in his life can suffer. Jesse is at the end of his rope and sees a bleak future for himself until he gets in touch with Miranda a skilled hacker who is on a mission to trap King and expose him. Both these kids have complicated back stories and differing motives for wanting King caught.

Though the second half of the book read somewhat like an espionage thriller with high tech gadgets, manhunts and inter agency task forces it did make for an engaging read. This novel is a fictional tale but it cyber bullying is a very real occurrence which in some extreme cases has caused kids to commit suicide. This is a timely book by CJ Lyons and while it is not exactly a cautionary tale it would still be a good read for those 14 and up.