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As a lover of children's literature, mother and bookseller of 13 years, I want to put good books into kid's hands. I share my philosophy on what makes a book good as well as book reviews and lists of great books for every reading taste and ability with a focus on new readers. I also highlight some wonderful books that are not always on the shelf at bookstores, but might be at your library and can definitely be ordered. All books mentioned are available in paperback unless noted.
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1. The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer by Davide Cali and Benjamin Chaud


The premise of David Cali and Benjamin Chaud's trilogy is simple, circular and deeply satisfying. Beginning in 2014 with I Didn't Do My Homework Because . . ., Cali and Chaud have taken readers on one detail packed adventure after another, starring our young hero in his pinstriped suit, red necktie and red socks, and his faithful, bug-eyed dachshund and his bespectacled, clever teacher. 



The Truth About My Unbelievable Summer begins with the inevitable question upon returning to school, "So, what did you do this summer?" Our hero responds, "Well, you may not believe this, but . . . " On a visit to the beach, he finds a message in a bottle and inside it is a treasure map! But, a magpie swoops in and pecks it out of his hands and the adventure begins. There are pirates, submarines and time travel that finds our hero floating down the Seine in his submarine as a bucket of slop is tossed on his head as he passes under the bridge in front of Notre Dame. Turns out he didn't time travel - he just happened onto a movie set.


There are libraries, hot air balloons, the Taj Mahal, mummies, pyramids and the Great Wall. And Yetis. But I don't want to give the whole story away. The final page ends, circling back to the start of the story, with a nice little reveal that brings the teacher back into the story. Three is a nice number, but I wouldn't mind one or two more books featuring our imaginative, well dressed hero and his dog . . . 




The first two books in the trilogy and .  . .



A Doodle Book of Excuses!! How cool is that?




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2. Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard, 128 pp, RL 3


Eric Orchard is the creator of Maddy Kettle, Book 1: The Adventure of the Thimblewitch in which eleven-year-old Maddy heads off on a quest after her bookstore-owning parents are turned into kangaroo rats by spider goblins. In Bera the One-Headed Troll, tables are turned as Bera, a troll, finds herself with a human infant she is trying to return to its parents. Bera's spare world is one of nighttime - if sunlight touches her, she will turn to stone - rendered in faded oranges and browns. And it is filled with ghosts, ogres with more than one head, benevolent rats, evil mermaids and hedgehog wizards that are a little creepy, a little goofy and entirely fascinating.


Bera is the troll with one head is the official pumpkin gardner of the Troll King. Living on a tiny island in a secret cove with just her owl, Winslowe, and her the ghost of Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Aunt Dota, who resides in a jar, she is happy with her quiet life. As she heads back to her house after the annual pumpkin harvest, she hears crying and finds the mermaids playing keep away with a crying baby in a cauldron.


Rescuing the baby from the mermaids, Bera faces another challenge when she receives the rare visitor at her door, the Troll King's former Head Witch, Cloote. Cloote has been banished, but she hopes to win her place back by using the human baby as part of a spell to create a hideous monster. Determined to get the baby back to the human village, Bera and Winslow leave the island for the first time ever and head into the woods in search of a legendary troll hero.




Bera, Winslowe and the baby in the cauldron are let down, betrayed and half-helped by one troll after another (one with two heads and one with three, just so you know there is a reason why Bera is referred to as a one-headed troll.) The raft of monsters and dangers in Bera the One-Headed Troll are wonderfully, gently menacing and Bera faces them all with quiet determination, much like Nanna the Great, an ancient troll legend who is happily turning into a hill. The climax of Bera the One Headed Troll, and the ending, are great, but honestly, I was happy trailing behind Bera, Winslowe and the baby as they wandered the forest throughout the night. I would love to see this trio again, but until then I'm getting my hands on a copy of Maddy Kettle!

Source: Review Copy





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3. Ogres Awake! by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost, 40 pp, RL 1.5


Ogres Awake! is the third book in the Adventures in Cartooning Jr. series (the mini-me of the Adventures in Cartooning series)and, as with Sleepless Knight and Gryphons Aren't So Great, authors Sturm, Arnold and Frederick-Frost present yet another silly story as the manic Knight and his steed, Edward, rush headlong into a new adventure. As always, the endpapers provide readers with instructions on how to draw the characters from the story.
From high atop a parapet where the Knight is playing fetch with Edward, the duo discover that what they thought was thunder is the snoring of ogres, one of whom is using a sheep for a pillow. Ready for a battle, the Knight and Edward gallop off to the King, who is calmly reading a comic book, naturally. This day has been foreseen - a plan is in place!


What is the plan? You just have to read Ogres Awake! to find out! But, the illustrations - and garden gnomes - just might give you a clue or two...


Source: Review Copy







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4. Compass South by Hope Larson, illustrations by Rebecca Mock, 224 pp, RL 4



Compass South is the fantastic first adventure in the Four Points series of graphic novels written by Hope Larson and illustrated by Rebecca Mock. As I finished reading this book, I felt like I had read a complete novel, there are so many details, world building and character diveristy in this book. In fact, I was reminded of S.E. Grove's trilogy that begins with The Glass Sentence, although Larson's book is set firmly - so far - in real, not an alternative, historical landscape. Mock's illustrations, which are filled with warm earth tones, packed with movement and energy. At times, I had to remind myself of which twin was which, but, in all fairness, this is a story with two sets of redheaded twins!


Set in 1860, Compass South begins with a prologue that explains how and why twins Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge made it from Ireland to New York City with two very special items - a compass and a pocket knife. Twelve years later, the only father they have ever known (but not their birth father) has disappeared and the twins have joined the Black Hook gang, stealing to survive. When Alexander gets caught, he and Cleopatra make a deal that sends them to New Orleans with Luther, a higher up in the Black Hook gang, close on their trail. Luther has been recruited by Felix Worley, also known as Lucky Worley, captain of the black ship, El Caleuche, to find the twins and relieve them of their heirlooms. 
These threads alone are enough to keep Compass South moving at a fast pace, but Larson weaves in a few more threads that make the story even richer. Before boarding the train to New Orleans, Alexander sees an add offering a reward for the return of redheaded twins to their father, who went West to find his fortune five years earlier. Alex convinces Cleo to cut her hair so they can pose as Samuel and Jeremiah Kimball and make their way to San Francisco to collect the reward and find their father. Of course things don't go as planned, starting with a run in with red headed twin boys that lands Alex and Edwin back in jail and Cleo and Silas without a plan.

While it's a challenge at times to remember which twin is which, especially after Cleo cuts her hair, the hot head Alex is paired with Silas, who has a mysterious ailment that leaves him weak, while thoughtful Cleo ends up with Edwin, who shares Alex's temperament. I will tell you that the twin pairs both end up on ships, but what happens to them, where they end up and what Luther and Worley want with them, well, you'll just have to read to find out!

Source: Purchased


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5. Compass South by Hope Larson, illustrations by Rebecca Mock, 224 pp, RL 4



Compass South is the fantastic first adventure in the Four Points series of graphic novels written by Hope Larson and illustrated by Rebecca Mock. As I finished reading this book, I felt like I had read a complete novel, there are so many details, world building and character diveristy in this book. In fact, I was reminded of S.E. Grove's trilogy that begins with The Glass Sentence, although Larson's book is set firmly - so far - in real, not an alternative, historical landscape. Mock's illustrations, which are filled with warm earth tones, packed with movement and energy. At times, I had to remind myself of which twin was which, but, in all fairness, this is a story with two sets of redheaded twins!


Set in 1860, Compass South begins with a prologue that explains how and why twins Alexander and Cleopatra Dodge made it from Ireland to New York City with two very special items - a compass and a pocket knife. Twelve years later, the only father they have ever known (but not their birth father) has disappeared and the twins have joined the Black Hook gang, stealing to survive. When Alexander gets caught, he and Cleopatra make a deal that sends them to New Orleans with Luther, a higher up in the Black Hook gang, close on their trail. Luther has been recruited by Felix Worley, also known as Lucky Worley, captain of the black ship, El Caleuche, to find the twins and relieve them of their heirlooms. 
These threads alone are enough to keep Compass South moving at a fast pace, but Larson weaves in a few more threads that make the story even richer. Before boarding the train to New Orleans, Alexander sees an add offering a reward for the return of redheaded twins to their father, who went West to find his fortune five years earlier. Alex convinces Cleo to cut her hair so they can pose as Samuel and Jeremiah Kimball and make their way to San Francisco to collect the reward and find their father. Of course things don't go as planned, starting with a run in with red headed twin boys that lands Alex and Edwin back in jail and Cleo and Silas without a plan.

While it's a challenge at times to remember which twin is which, especially after Cleo cuts her hair, the hot head Alex is paired with Silas, who has a mysterious ailment that leaves him weak, while thoughtful Cleo ends up with Edwin, who shares Alex's temperament. I will tell you that the twin pairs both end up on ships, but what happens to them, where they end up and what Luther and Worley want with them, well, you'll just have to read to find out!

Source: Purchased


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6. Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash, 272 pp, RL: TEEN


Honor Girl is Maggie Thrash's graphic memoir that was released last year and garnered awards and attention. Thrash chronicles the summer at an all girls camp where, having just turned fifteen, she falls in love for the first time.


Maggie's mom and her grandma went to Camp Bellflower, set deep in the Kentucky Appalachians. Every summer, on the first night of camp, the Honor Girl, chosen on the last night of camp the summer before, is serenaded. At the end of the song, the Honor Girl's candle is used to light the candles of all the other campers. Thrash writes, "the criteria for Honor Girl were vague, with no particular definition. It was just the one who seemed, in an unmistakable way, to represent the best of us." Maggie is reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, her favorite Backstreet Boy is Kevin Richardson and she wears a leash at night that tethers her to her bed and keeps her from sleepwalking. The details of 15-year-old Maggie's life are mundane yet so genuinely real. Thrash is a gifted writer, making the quiet, everyday minutiae interesting and engaging. It's easy to get inside Maggie's head, feel what she feels, be fifteen. 

Thrash tells the story of her first crush in all its thwarted, unconsummated, painful truth and it happens the way that I am sure most first loves happen, not the way they play out in fiction, especially YA fiction. Her crush, Erin, a 19-year-old counselor and astronomy major at college in Colorado, is not unknown to Maggie. But, she begins to feel differently about Erin after she gives her a routine lice check, running her fingers through Maggie's hair. Thrash uses wordless panels to illustrate this seen and as you scan you can feel something turning on, waking up, or beginning to slowly burn inside of Maggie. Thrash's skill as a visual story teller deepens the story immensely. Her illustration style is markedly different and less polished than many other graphic novels I have read. I'm still learning how to write about the art work in graphic novels and often look to other reviewers to help me shape my thoughts. I turned to Monica Johnson's review for The Comics Journal and found that her words describe Thrash's style (and the unique abilities that graphic novels have over other forms of writing) better than any I could find. Of Honor Girl Johnson writes, 

Thrash certainly has drawing skills, but they're her own, and they're specifically savvy for the story she is telling. Her bare-bones line drawings colored with watercolor pencils seem to be channeled directly from her 15-year-old self. The drawings have the rawness and bright-eyed directness of the teenager depicted in them, who can't hide behind a catalog of romantic experience and mastery. This is part of the brilliance of the comic medium itself - the way images work in concert with the literal to tell a deeper, much richer story - and Thrash really hits the mark with it. The drawings are so believably vulnerable, which is maybe why her story feels so devastating.


Johnson's use of the word vulnerable is well placed, both in describing the illustrations, Maggie and Erin. Maggie and Erin have moments of vulnerability and missed opportunities. Erin is a counselor for the junior girls and Maggie is a senior girl, so they don't have many chances to run into each other alone. Then there is the fact that, in the eyes of the law, Erin is an adult and Maggie is a child, not to mention that, even though it's 2000, this is the South and a Christian girl's camp and being openly gay is not accepted. Maggie shares her feelings about Erin with friends and finds sympathy and support. They keep Maggie's secret and also  nudge - or shove, in the way that teenage girls do - her toward Erin. In a meeting alone between Erin and Maggie, Maggie knows that Erin has made a move, and now it's up to her to make the kiss happen. But, filled with self doubt, she can't make it happen. She can't be that vulnerable. 
While Honor Girl is a memoir about first love, it is also, if peripherally about being gay. Maggie is pulled aside by the head counselor who starts wide, telling her that her parents could sue the camp for statutory rape if her relationship with Erin goes any farther. Circling in for her target, she tells Maggie that it's, "her job to make sure everyone feels safe" because camp is a place where "girls can be totally innocent and free, maybe for the last time in their lives." Maggie assures her that she does feel safe, to which the response is, "Everyone else needs to feel safe, too. From you. . . Don't ruin it for everyone." The brutality of that moment is hard to read, especially because I think most of us, most women, experienced a time in our adolescence when an adult betrayed, disappointed or backhandedly told us not to be ourselves and those words go deep.

Thrash bookends Honor Girl with an event that takes place two years after her summer with Erin, but seems to play itself out the same as it did at Camp Bellflower. As Johnson says wisely in her review, "If you don't let people know that they are wanted, they will go away. Love relationships are fragile opportunities. They need care and attention. They need those moments to happen." Honor Girl is a powerful, bittersweet reminder of this. 

Source: Review Copy


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7. REX by Simon James



Simon James has long been a favorite in my house, although rarely reviewed here. In my review of his book Nurse Clementine back in 2013, I talked about how much we loved and still love (I read it in the library to my students) Dear Mr. Blueberry and shared more of his work in that review, which I hope you'll check out. What James does best, time after time, is pair sweet with silly, creating poignant and playful picture books that truly hold up with time.


With Rex, James takes on dinosaurs and daddies with charmingly cartoonish, colorful illustrations filled with sharp teeth and erupting volcanoes. Rex starts off, "Once upon about 65 million years ago, there lived a terrifying tyrannosaurus." Fierce as this guy is (he scared "every saurus he saw!") he stomps off each night looking for a cave to sleep in and no one dares wake him. But one night, something does wake him. 


Little Rex imprints on the big dinosaur and even calls him Dad. As the big dinosaur tries to get away from Little Rex, James packs in all the big name dinosaurs and even one I've never heard of - the trigonosaurus. Their first day together ends with Little Rex curled up on the big dinosaur's belly, settling in for the night. The next day the learning and bonding begins, including "relaxing by a warm river of molten lava." Despite this, the big dinosaur makes sure that Little Rex knows he's not really his dad, he just found him in a cave, setting up a sweet, although not surprising, ending for Rex.


More books by Simon James:







Source: Review Copy

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8.


Me and Annie McPhee brings picture book pros Oliver Dunrea and Will Hillenbrand together for a rhyming, counting story filled with funny animals doing unexpected things, all on "one tiny island." Me and Annie McPhee begins, "In the middle of the sea, as far as the eye could see, there was nothing to see but sea." And who is seeing all this sea? The narrator and Annie McPhee, and they fit on an island that is just big enough for the two of them.


But, they are not alone. There are dogs who think they are frogs, perky pigs all wearing wigs, baby geese all named Maurice and "sleek snails sliding on shale," among many others. Dunrea's rhymes are so silly and tongue-twister-y, that reading Me and Annie McPhee out loud is a fun challenge. Hillenbrand uses a gentle pastel palette, tucking little clues into every illustration, hinting at the next animal to arrive. Just as the island seems to reach peak capacity, little Annie McPhee reaches her limit, proclaiming, "TOO CROWDED FOR ME!" Happily, a surprise visitor arrives (clever eyes might have spotted this visitor early on in the story) and the narrator and Annie head off for another adventure. Me and Annie McPhee is a book that little listeners will definitely ask to hear over and over again.

Source: Review Copy

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9. Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony, by Ellen Potter, illustrations by Qin Leng, 114 pp, RL 2



Last summer I reviewed the first two books in a new series by a longtime favorite of mine, Ellen PotterPiper Green and the Fairy Tree is a superb bridge chapter book series, ideal for readers ready to move up from leveled readers but not quite ready for something like The Magic Tree House or Junie B. Jones. Speaking of Junie B., Piper Green is the perfect choice for parents, educators and librarians looking for a winning, quirky, articulate girl character who is not sassy and uses words correctly. You can read my review of the first two books in the Piper Green series, which includes a list of Ellen's other books and links to my reviews of them, here

In Piper Green and the Fairy Tree: The Sea Pony, Piper's Saturday is filled with twists and turns, ups and downs. But that is life on Peek-a-Boo Island off the coast of Maine where the Greens live. Piper and the other islanders ride a lobster to school on the nearby Mink Island. But, bigger kids have to go to school - and live, during the week anyway - on the mainland, and that is what Piper's beloved big brother, Erik does. Home for the weekend, Piper is looking forward to time with Erik. But Erik is not feeling well and can't get out of bed. Piper decides to make him Cinnamon Snakes (cinnamon toast cut in squiggles) because that's what her mom always does when anyone is feeling under the weather. But, the Greens are all out of cinnamon.

In an organic but completely unpredicatble chain of events that perfectly characterizes the unique perspective of Piper herself, a trip to the store to buy cinnamon leads to a bosun's whistle (a gift from the fairies found in the Fairy Tree) to a glimpse of a beautiful new horse to a job as sternman (the "guy who stuffs dead fish into little net bags for lobster bait") to befriending a sea pony (a harbor seal) to finding a skiff lost in a storm to . . . riding atop that beautiful new horse!

Potter fills this series with little details about island life that, along with the maps in the front of the book, help landlocked readers get a real feel for this way of life. But, the real treat is getting to peek into Piper's life, her thought process and how she handles disappointments, new experiences and best of all, how she problem solves. While working as sternman on her father's lobster boat, Piper feeds half of the day's bait to a playful seal responding to her bosun's whistle. Piper begins to think that maybe she can ride this seal, since she learned just how much a horse costs. Piper eventually realizes the impossibility of this plan, but it doesn't get her down, or stop her planning.




And, coming soon!

Piper Green and the Fairy Tree Book 4: 
Going Places



Source: Review Copy

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10. Gardening Lab: 52 Fun Experiments to Learn, Grow, Harvest, Make, Play & Enjoy Your Garden by Renata Fossen Brown





I am not a gardener. I put plants in my yard with thought and care, then I had my third child and started working full time. I love plants, I love gardening, I just don't have time for it and thus haven't shared that love with my kids. However, I work at an elementary school with a project based learning curriculum where the second grade crew took on a year long project that involved a garden, milkweed and monarch butterflies. Using a micro-space, four big planter boxes and a compost pile, these kids became experts over the course of the year. And when, near the end of the school year their garden was vandalized, plants and chrysalises crushed, the spirits of our kids were not. There were tears, for sure, but they rallied. You can read about it here. I tell you about this by way of explaining my personal education on the power of the plant and the good of a garden and I am especially happy to be able to share Gardening Lab For Kids: 52 Fun Experiments to Learn, Grow, Harvest, Make, Play and Enjoy Your Garden by Renata Fossen Brown with the students at my school and my readers here.




Brown believes that gardening is the combination of art and science, and her book is a collection of activities that she has used professionally at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, where she has been vice president of education. Her introduction covers plant basics, from plant parts, hardiness and heat zones, annual versus perennial, watering, materials and even gardening with pets. Each lab takes up a two page spread, with the materials and instructions starting on the verso, and a "Dig Deeper!" box on the recto that gives scientist-gardeners the chance to go one step beyond. Units include getting started, theme gardening, green gardening, garden art and enjoying your garden and the variety and breadth that Brown brings to her book surprised and delighted me.


There are labs for soil percolation, making a rain gauge, making a sprinkler, using catalogs to create a garden design, and even making seed tape which I didn't know was a thing but is a brilliant idea. The entire unit on Theme Gardening is inspiring and I even found a project I think I can take on with my own kids - the Herb Spiral, using bricks like building blocks to build a very cool planter. 


The labs featuring art projects, gifts and garden goodies are especially fun. From stepping stones, plant labels and wind chimes to fountains, bird baths, luminarias, Gardening Lab For Kids is packed with great ideas. My favorites? The Garden Journal, the colorful, portable cushions for sitting and enjoying the garden and the lab on Garden Poetry are right up there, but the Garden Fort has to be my absolute. How magical to create a garden, decorate it and then enjoy it from the privacy of your own, handmade fort?

Source: Review Copy


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11. Let's Cook French: A Family Cookbook by Claudine Pépin, illustrations by Shorey Wesen & Jacques Pépin, 96 pp, RL: 3



As the daughter of Jacques Pépin, one of the first celebrity chefs on American television, Claudine Pépin has lived a life that makes her the perfect person to write a bilingual family cookbook featuring French cuisine. As she writes in her introduction, she "didn't grow up knowing how to cook," but she was around "tremendously good food." As a child, she spent summers in France with her grandmother, but instead of wearing a beret and riding a bicycle with a baguette under her arm, she was out in the country, peeling potatoes and eating a special goat cheese that was pungent enough that, when she would sweat, she "stank like goat cheese." Claudine cooked with her father on his show, as well as on other people's food shows. Along with her father, mother and twelve-year-old daughter, Pépin's husband, a professional chef and instructor at Johnson & Wales College of Culinary Arts, helped put together Let's Cook French: A Family Cookbook. As someone who loves cooking (and eating), especially when I know it is being enjoyed by my loved ones, I appreciate the traditions that three generations of a family have to share in this cookbook. I also love what Claudine said about her daughter in an interview with the Washington Post,

Shorey eats just about anything. That said, she doesn't like sweet potatoes. And asparagus makes her shudder - yet I've seen her eat it when we're out somewhere and it's put on her plate. That has to do with respect, for the food and those who made it.

If I can't pass on a love of food, I hope that, like Pépin, I, too have passed on a respect for food and the people who make it.

Pépin divides the book into four parts with headings that I love: To Start, To Continue, On the Side and To Finish. There are well known dishes you might expect, like Vichyssoise, Boeuf Bourguignon, Salade Niçoise, Crème Brûlée, Quiche, and Claudine's special Croque Monsieur, and, of course, Crêpes. There are also traditional recipes that I've heard of but never eaten and plan to make like Gougères, which are cheese puffs with suggestions on how to serve (warm and in a bread basket lined with a cloth napkin, naturellement) and Sablés, a French version of the sugar cookie. 

To get a better idea of the layout and complexity of the recipes in Let's Cook French, you can sample the Whole Roasted Chicken with Herbs of Provence, a classic Sunday dinner in France. As someone who likes to cook, these recipes and ingredients are not intimidating. Although the font is small, the instructions are always contained on one page. Honestly, while I adore the idea of a family cookbook, especially a bilingual one, I really think that this would be a fantastic cookbook to give to an adult chef who is comfortable in the kitchen and interested in exploring French cuisine for the first time. At least, that's how I plan to use this book!

Source: Review Copy



















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12. Let's Cook Spanish: A Family Cookbook by Gabriella Llamas, 96 pp, RL: 3



Let's Cook Spanish: A Family Cookbook by Gabriella Llamas is one of three books in a new series from Quarry Books. And, while Llamas's book has all the qualities that I love in this series, from format, trim size and layout to the range and accessibility of the recipes, which appear in English and Spanish, it has something I especially like that Llamas has written an introduction for adults and for children. Llamas reminds parents that, "cooking with children is a communication based in trust, love and respect," that supports, "creativity, independence, responsibility, order, motivation, concentration, patience and courage." In her introduction for children, Llamas details the joys of sharing food with others, talking about the small bites developed by the Spanish as a way of sharing food. From tapas to pinchos (skewered bites) and raciones (a bigger portion to be shared among a few) which are all a Spanish way of eating as they "encourage human relations and friendships." She ends her introduction by reminding readers of two stand out habits that her parents taught her when she was young:

First is to bless the food and the people and give thanks. The second is to wash your hands before eating and arrive at the table clean and tidy. It is a sign of respect and love for ourselves and for others. So, now go wash your hands!

Llamas divides Let's Cook Spanish into four parts, Tapas and Pinchos, Meat and Fish, Vegetables and Salad and May Your Life Be Sweet plus suggested menus and lined pages for notes. There are thirty recipes and they all sounds marvelous, from tapas like Basic Potato Omelet and Stuffed Eggs to first courses like Valencian Paella, Iberian Pork Fillet. I especially liked the range of vegetable dishes, from Potatoes Rojas Style and Vegetable Stew to the Country Potato Salad and the Cheese-Stuffed Piquillo Peppers. You can get a better taste for Llamas's recipes with Two Tapas to Cook with the Whole Family



However, I think that the desserts recipes are the most exciting in Let's Cook Spanish. The Chocolate and Churros, above, sound delicious. But the Santiago Almond Cake, the Baked Apples with Custard, the Meringue Milk Ice Cream and the Orange Confit recipes are all simple enough that kids will love them but elegant enough that you can serve them at a dinner party for adults. And, I was tickled to learn that Torrjas, the final recipe in the book, is a special Easter Lent dessert that is loved all over Europe and, in America is known as - French Toast! Llamas's recipe includes lemon zest and a honey sauce. Let's Cook Spanish: A Family Cookbook is a book that you and your kids will love exploring.

Source: Review Copy




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13. Kitchen Science Lab for Kids: 52 Family-Friendly Experiments from Around the House by Liz Lee Heinecke, 144 pp, RL 4



Liz Lee Heinecke clocked ten years of bench work in research labs before starting a new career - mom to three children. When her youngest was two, she started Science Wednesdays with her kids, but often encountered experiements that required specialized equipment, prompting Liz to begin customizing traditional science experiments and making up new ones. You can check out the brilliantly fun experiments she came up with at Kitchen Pantry Scientist, but I am sure that you will want to buy Kitchen Science Lab for Kids: 52 Family-Friendly Experiments from Around the House.


The format of Kitchen Science Lab for Kids is perfect! Each experiment unfolds over two pages, so you can prop open the book and see everything you will be doing, from beginning to end. The verso page contains a materials list and safety tips and hints and the start of the protocol (instructions). The recto finishes the protocol and ends with a "creative enrichment" block that encourages scientists to take experiments one step beyond. My favorite part of Heinecke's book, and one that she says are now treasured keepsakes in her house, is the Science Journal. Instructions are laid out for keeping a notebook to document and detail studies and experiments, which is a vital part of scientific exploration and a skill that is just plain useful across the board.


Kitchen Science Lab for Kids breaks the 52 experiments into 12 units. Chemical reactions, crystals, physics, life science, polymers, colloids and misbehaving materials are some of the units. Acids and bases, microbiology, botany and rocket science round out the 52 labs in the book. Children as young as five and as old as thirteen (or higher) will find these experiments engaging, exciting and fun. And even occasionally edible! Best of all, these experiments are all, 100% kid tested over a range of ages.


This is the experiment that I want to try with my kids - LAB 14: Standing on Eggs



Also by Liz Lee Heinecke:


Source: Review Copy


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14. Let's Cook Italian: A Family Cookbook by Anna Pradoni, illustrations by Emanuela Ligabue, 96 pp, RK: 3


I love to cook and I love to feed family and friends. My maternal grandparents were Italian and my grandmother had her own catering business and dreams of running her own restaurant. Family gatherings at her house were always a treat and she was always trying something new. Of course this is a love that I wanted to pass on to my three children, but it was very hard to find cookbooks for kids that appealed to my tastes and theirs, had an appealing format and had recipes that kids could actually make. In fact, I only reviewed ONE cookbook that met these standards in the first seven years of this blog - Kitchen for Kids by Jennifer Low. However, last year I discovered Quarto Books, a publisher of non-fiction books that "educate, entertain and enrich" the lives of their readers. Their books for kids are especially excellent, whether the subject is cooking, science, gardening, music, art or doodling. And, while I usually prefer a cookbook with photographs, their three Family Cookbooks are wonderful, especially because they are bilingual!


Let's Cook Italian: A Family Cookbook by Anna Prandoni with illustrations by Emanuela Ligabue has a fantastic format, as do all three books in this series. Imagine a large format paperback book (see the yellow and brown spine in the picture to the left) that has had two thick cardboard covered slapped onto it. Not only does this book look great and promise to hold up well in little (messy) hands as well as in the kitchen, the format allows it to lay flat when opened or stand up by itself!




Let's Cook Italian is divided into six sections: Starters, First Course, Vegetables, Second Course, Desserts and Snacks. The page layout begins with the name of the recipe, followed by a box with the ingredients on the right and four crucial pieces of information: servings, prep time, cooking time and degree of difficulty. On the left hand side of the page are two boxes, one that describes the recipe and another titled, "With the Kids," which shares childhood kitchen memories Pradoni as well as ideas to engage your kids in the kitchen. The recto and the verso pages are identical, with the recto in English and the verso in Italian with one exception - a small box with three words in translation appears on one page or the other for each recipe pair.

Most recipes have six ingredients or less and are varied and traditional. There is Veal in Tuna Sauce, Tuscan Tomato Bread Soup, and Stuffed Zuchinni. Second Course dishes include Milk-Braised Veal Roast, Steak Pizzaiola and Cod Marchigiana Style. Desserts feature, of course, Tiramisù, as well as Piedmontese Chocolate Pudding, Stuffed Peaches and Heavenly Cake, a lemon cake made fluffy from whipped egg whites. For a sample recipe, try the Vermicelli

Source: Review Copy



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15. Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science: A Family Guide to Fun Experiments in the Kitchen by Andrew Schloss, 160 pp, RL: 4



As a cook, I read Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science, and thought, this is a cookbook! Yum! However, having studied, researched and taught myself the hows and whys of cooking over the decades, I definitely understand that it IS a science. This is exactly why Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science by Andrew Schloss is such a fantastic book - it can hook people like me, who love food and cooking but not necessarily science, and teach me a thing or two. And have delicious, educational fun at the same time. Andrew Schloss is an industry expert, chef, consultant, author and the co-author of The Science of Good Food, a book that brings restaurant level chemistry and physics home with explanations of the physical and chemical transformations which govern all food preparation and cooking, making him perfectly poised to write this superb book for kids.

As I flipped through Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science, I came across many recipe experiments for things have long wanted to make. As the introduction says, "Each experiment is written directly to kids.  Almost all can be completed with simple household ingredients. Most take less than an hour (some can be done in as little as 10 minutes), and each provides a snack or meal after you're finished experimenting." I can't think of a better way to spend time in the kitchen with your kids! Besides being filled with exciting experiments, the layout and presentation in Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science is MAGNIFICENT! Yes, it deserves that superlative in all caps. As you can see on the page below, each experiment has a rainbow-color-ranking on the right hand side of the page. Each color informs you as to the wow factor, the degree of edibleness, difficulty level, materials called for, time, cost and safety, making it SO EASY to flip through this book and choose something to do right then and there, or plan for another time.



The table of contents is divided into six chapters: Wiggly, Jiggly Experiments, Sweet Crystal Experiments, Cookies, Cakes, and Other Baked Experiments, Fruitastic, Vegedacious Experiments, Eggcellent Eggsperiments, Sodalicious Experiments. You can make edible slime and glow-in-the-dark gelatin, cream-less ice cream and candy-cane origami. Or, you can make 40-second sponge cake, English muffins or molten chocolate cupcakes. As seen above, you can make glowy, bouncy eggs or solid soup. Then, top it off with little edible water bottles and milk rocks.

























As a cookbook and a science in the home book, Amazing (Mostly) Edible Science hits all the right marks for me. As a book lover, the aesthetics of Schloss's book is deeply pleasing, from the easy to read, colorful experiments to the fantastic photographs to the matte paper. This is a gorgeous, great book!

Source: Review Copy



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16. Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom by David Neilsen, illustrations by Will Terry, 229 pp, RL 4


Dr Fell and the Playground of Doom, the debut novel by David Neilsen and it is a marvelous mix of silly and supernatural inspired by an illustration of a nursery rhyme created by a legendary children's book illustrator. For more about how Trina Schart Hyman's illustration for the curious nursery rhyme Dr. Fell led Neilsen to write a middle grade novel, be sure to read his guest post, where you can also see the original artwork!

As I read Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, I was reminded of more than a few fantastic kid's books. Neilsen's creative naming of his characters and the streets and schools in the the town that Dr. Fell comes to took me back to a longtime favorite, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle by Betty MacDonald. The heroes of the story are ten-year-olds Nancy Pinkblossom and Gail Bloom, and Gail's eight-year-old brother and mortal enemy of Nancy, Jerry Bloom. They live on Hardscrabble Street (near Vexington Avenue and Von Burden Lane) and attend McKinley Grant Fillmore Elementary School, where the heads of the PTA are Candice Gloomfellow and Martha Doomburg. Classmates include Sharon Rottingsly, Jud Fetidsky, Abner Fallowmold, Horace Macabrador, Ethel Pusster and Lars Ouzewuld. All these kids and many more are the gleeful guests of the most amazing playground EVER built by the curious new neighbor who has moved into to the dilapidated house at the end of Hardscrabble Street. The more kids play on the Dr. Fell's playground, the more they want to play on it. Soon they are skipping school, strangely, with the support of their parents and educators.

Nancy, Gail and Jerry are having none of this. Having met Dr. Fell, who has an antiquated way of speaking that he always feels compelled to translate, his first day on Hardscrabble Street, they formed their opinions of him quickly and refuse to set foot on even a climbing rope on his playground. The trio, uneasy in their union, watch as more and more children are injured on the playground, returning minutes after a consultation with Dr. Fell in his conveniently nearby home office, completely healed. When an enthusiastic Leonid Hazzardfall takes a tumble from the top of the crow's nest on the play pirate ship in the middle of an impassioned speech urging his fellow playmates to skip school to stay and play and is clearly dead, only to return later, alive and well, the trio really begins to worry.

Dr. Fell's playground calls to mind the Land of Toys from Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio, renamed Pleasure Island in the Disney movie. Soon, the trio notices that those boys most frequently injured are starting to need to shave several years ahead of puberty, cementing their conviction that Dr. Fell and his playground need to come to an end. With the help of a crusty old neighbor, Nancy, Gail and Jerry find themselves at the heart of Dr. Fell's mysterious mission, fighting for their lives, or, more specifically, their childhoods...

I don't want to give away too much, but Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom and the purpose of Dr. Fell also calls to mind Cornelia Funke's marvelous novel, The Thief Lord, and Ray Bradbury's phenomenal Something Wicked This Way Comes. And, while I have (sadly) never read any, Neilsen, a professional actor, story teller and voice actor (you can hear him read the audio of his book HERE) is also well versed in the work of H.P. Lovecraft and is the creator of a one-man show based on his short stories, so I am sure there are influences from his work I am missing. While I can't go so far as to give this book the label Good Fantasy - Harmless Bad Guys, Neilsen weaves a good dose of levity throughout the book, but Dr. Fell and his mission are pretty dark. That said, Neilsen could have taken this plot point and gone in an entirely different, much darker direction and I applaud and thank him for writing a scary-but-not-too-scary book that is also long-but-not-too-long, making it accessible for younger readers.

Source: Review Copy




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17. Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom GUEST POST by author David Neilsen!


Today, something special is happening here. I am participating in a blog tour, but not just any blog tour. Sometimes you read a book and really love it, then you get to the author's notes or the acknowledgements and find something that makes you love it even more. That's exactly what happened to me when I read Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom by David Neilsen. Neilsen's debut is a marvelous mix of silly, spooky and creepy with a haunting plot point worthy of an episode of The Twilight Zone. Finishing the book, I learned that Neilsen, a professional actor, story teller and voice actor, was inspired by a pen and ink drawing by Trina Schart Hyman, a legendary illustrator who brought many fairy tales to life, winning a Caldecott in 1985 for Saint George and the Dragon, retold by Margaret Hodges. The illustrations of Trina Scahrt Hyman, longtime art director for Cricket magazine, take me back instantly to my childhood. I am thrilled and honored to have the author of a novel inspired by Hyman's work share here, in his own words, how his curiosity was piqued and how his creativity was sparked by this one work of art.

I hope you’re enjoying the blog tour for David Neilsen’s Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom! In case you missed yesterday’s post, head over to The Book's the Thing to check it out. The tour continues tomorrow on The Book Monsters. For my review of Neilsen's book, check back here tomorrow!


A Picture is Worth 46,000 Words
By David Neilsen


Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom started life as a reaction to an illustration. The picture, done by Children’s Illustrator Trina Schart Hyman, had been hanging on the wall of my in-laws’ home for as long as I’d known them. It was part of a 10-piece collection of drawings done years ago by some of the top children’s illustrators of the time. They were each asked to create a single image based on their favorite fairy tale or fable. Most of the pieces in the collection were based on stories I knew such as Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater or St. George and the Dragon. The one that caught my eye was labeled simply, “Dr. Fell.” I’d never heard of Dr. Fell, had no idea who he was or what he was about, but the more I looked at the picture, the more intrigued I became.
The image shows a little girl looking up warily at an old man in a suit and top hat. He is smiling down at her in a very creepy way, and on his back, unseen by the girl, is a basket filled with the arms, legs, and heads of little children. This was awesome! How had I never heard of this story before?
I asked my mother-in-law if she knew who Dr. Fell was. She was as stumped as I. So we turned to Google, and discovered Tom Brown’s four-line poem from 1680.


I do not like thee, Doctor Fell,
The reason why -- I cannot tell,
But this I know and know full well,
I do not like thee, Doctor Fell.


My first reaction after reading the poem?
That’s it?
I read the four lines again and again, finding them lovingly creepy but a far cry from arms and legs sticking out a wicker basket.
But then I read a bit more about the history of Doctor Fell. It turns out that those four lines had inspired a number of literary references throughout the ages. Robert Louis Stevenson mentions him in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Author Thomas Harris had his most famous creation, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, use Dr. Fell as a pseudonym in the book, Hannibal. The original nursery rhyme has been quoted in multiple episodes of the cult-TV show Dark Shadows.
Something about these four lines has sparked a foreboding sense of unease for three and a half centuries. They’d sparked Ms. Hyman to draw a truly-creepy picture. Now they were sparking something in me.
Questions ran through my mind. Who was this guy? What did he want? What was he doing? How was he doing it? Doesn’t anyone notice? As each question popped up, the story began to take shape. What happens when Dr. Fell comes to town? I knew right away that this was a children’s story, so he couldn’t be chopping off the arms and legs of children. There had to be something else he was taking from them, something else he needed them for. When that plot point clicked into place, it was obvious. The playground came next, as the natural vehicle for his monstrosity.
In the drawing, Ms. Hyman has added a few other details; a raven atop a withered tree, the girl having stepped off the path to get out of Dr. Fell’s way, flies buzzing around the basket on his back. All of it combines to give the picture a very lively, magical feel. I took that quality and tried to get it into the story by using heightened language a touch above the normal and expected.
The hardest part for me was creating the heros. There had to be a little girl, because of that image, but one little girl didn’t feel right. One little girl, on her own, was simply not going to be able to defeat the Dr. Fell I was creating. I played with different combinations of boys and girls of different ages for a while, trying to fall upon the right combination. For a while I had only two heros, a brother and sister, but after a couple of false starts, I knew I needed a third, and the trio from the book was finally formed.
All of this came from that single picture. Looking at it now--my mother-in-law gave it to me for Christmas and it hangs on my wall--I still feel that slightly-queasy feeling it gave me when I first noticed it. I owe it, and the late Ms. Hyman, a great debt. Her single image planted a seed in my head that grew to become Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom.

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18. Lucy by Randy Cecil, 144 pp, RL 2


Lucy by Randy Cecil is a truly special book that is hard to categorize. Is it a really long picture book? Is it a really big chapter book? Told in three acts and illustrated in soft black and grey tones, Lucy feels almost like a silent movie that has been captured in the pages of a book. A few years ago while working for a literary agent, I learned that the industry standard for a picture book is 1,500 words. That means that greats like Bill Peet and William Steig, to name just a few, might not get published if they were submitting manuscripts today. I also often find myself missing the richness of a longer picture book and the complex stories that can be told when more than 1,500 words are used. I am SO grateful to both Randy Cecil for writing Lucy and to Candlewick Press for publishing this marvelous, genre and standard bending book.
Told in three acts (plus a very short Act IV), there are layers of threes in this book. There are three main characters: Lucy, the stray dog, Eleanor, the girl who feeds her each morning and Eleanor's father, Sam Wische, an aspiring performer. We see Lucy perform her morning routine three times in a row, we see Eleanor perform her morning routine three times in a row and we see Sam try to perform in front of an audience three times, the third one being the charm. There are three flashbacks to Lucy's life before she became a stray.

Lucy, Eleanor and Sam's lives all intertwine and overlap, coming together for a climactic, satisfying ending in Act III. Lucy is looking for something special from her life before becoming a stray, Eleanor finds herself looking for Lucy in Act III, and Sam is looking for a way to overcome his stage fright and share his passion. Cecil's storytelling is sweet and uncomplicated and the repetition is comforting, as are warmly fuzzy illustrations that are presented in a circular composition. Lucy might feel like a simple story, but the more you read it, and the more you think about it long after having read it, the more you will realize that it's not!


Source: Review Copy





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19. One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree byDaniel Bernstrom, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel



In 2014 I enthusiastically reviewed Some Bugs, a wonderfully rhyming book written by Angela DiTerlizzi and illustrated by newcomer Brendan Wenzel. Wenzel's  playful, colorful style reminded me of Eric Carle and it is a treat to see him at play again in Daniel Bernstrom's magnificently mellifluous One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree.




Bernstrom takes a traditional theme in children's stories - being trapped in the belly of a beast (and getting spit out) and crafts it into an onomatopoetic, adjective packed story that is especially fun to read out loud. The clever little boy (with the toy, a cool little pinwheel) figures out that if he can prod the snake to keep eating and eating he will eventually over eat...



Wenzel's illustrations frolic across the pages of One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Tree, distracting the reader from the fact that cool kids and cute creatures are being eaten by a huge reptile. As the snake is wiggle-waggling and gobbling up a bird, a cat, a bee hive and even a adorable green "sloth covered in fuzzy-wuzzy moss," the art is as colorful as the words Bernstrom uses to tell his story.  When the clever boy eggs the snake on to eat one final small piece of "plummy-chummy fruit," the teeny-tiny fly perched on the fruit proves to be the tipping point. "Gurgle-gurgle came a blurble from that belly deep and full" and, well, you know how it ends one day in the eucalyptus, eucalyptus tree.


Coming soon! 
Wenzel's debut as author & illustrator 
and a follow up to Some Bugs!



Source: Review Copy


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20. Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raúl the Third, 128 pp, RL 3



In 2014 I reviewed the stand out graphic novel Lowriders in Space written by author, artist and librarian Cathy Camper and illustrated by Raúl the Third. I didn't think it was possible, but I love the follow up, Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, even more than the first book! While the ingenuity of the characters, the cars, and of course, space travel were big draws in the first book, the second book manages to pack in even more fantastic features that I know the students in my school will love. Camper ups the usage of Spanish vocabulary in Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, including a coyote who puns in Spanish, and weaves characters and themes from Atzec mythology and Mexican folklore into this fast paced, action packed graphic novel with even more of the intensely detailed, superb illustrations by Raúl the Third.


Lowriders to the Center of the Earth starts with Lupe, a master mechanic and "an impala extraordinaire," Flappy, an octopus  who wears a deer stalker and often travels in a jumbo popcorn bucket, and Elirio, painter of cars who has a "beak that was as steady as a surgeon's hand, his skill in detailing cars unparalleled, heading out to find Genie, their beloved missing cat. Footprints lead them out of town and into a giant cornfield where their odyssey beings.



It seems that Mictlantecuhtli, which I know is pronounced mick-lan-te-COOT-lee, thanks to the "What Does it Mean / ¿Que Significa?" back matter which also includes definitions of the geological terms used in the text, (but do know that these translations also appear in the story itself, at the bottom of the page) has taken Genie to his raucous underworld lair, which can be reached by way of a volcano. Straightaway, they hear a crying, wailing sound and discover a beautiful, blue weeping cat woman looking for her babies. La Lllorona takes a liking to Flappy and, while her crying can be a bit much, she does prove good to have along for the ride. 


The gang have to face Mic's skeleton crew, the Wind of Knives, the challenge of transporting a bucket of water to the center of the earth and back and a wrestling match with lots of wrestling terms and a surprise from little Genie (spoiler!! their pet is really Tepeyollotl, the Aztec jaguar god who is Lord of the Animals) before they can reclaim their pet and return to the surface of the earth. There are so many more details in Lowriders to the Center of the Earth that I haven't even mentioned. I'll leave you with my favorite cameo appearance in the underworld comes when the gang pulls up to a torta shop where they see a familiar face. Perched behind the wheel of a monster truck with massive wheels, looking like a roadie for Mötley Crüe, his arm around a doe-eyed goat and a bottle of sangre de cabra in his hand is . . . the Chupacabra!

Source: Review Copy

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21. The Yeti Files: Attack of the Kraken by Kevin Sherry, 128 pp, RL 2



It's here! Book 3 in Kevin Sherry's superbly silly series of books featuring all your favorite cryptids is here! Following in the footsteps of Monsters on the Run and Meet the BigfeetBlizz Richards and the gang go under the sea The Yeti Files: Attack of the Kraken



But, before heading to Atlantis, Alex the Elf and Gunthar the goblin are getting up to no good, out of eyesight from Blizz. Blizz thinks the two are getting along nicely in their igloo, but really, the devious duo are off tending to Gunthar's new pet whose name begins with "pt."


As Blizz gets the cryptosub ready to head out, he explains to Alex, Gunthar and Frank, the arctic fox who always seems to know what's really going on, all about the hidden city of Atlantis and the merfolk who live there. He also reminds the gang and readers how they received an urgent alert from the merfolk at the end of The Yeti Files #2of Monsters on the Run. In Atlantis, they crew are greeted by the Mayor, Julius Blacksand, who has been making big additions to the city with the help of some powerful, precious, rare crystals mined nearby. But, a determined megafan of Blizz's named Coral tells him that the mayor isn't all he seems to be and that his continued mining of crystals is threatening the health of the ocean they live in - and the mysterious Kraken. Can Blizz and the gang prove that this is true and stop Julius Blacksand? And just who is Emily Airwalker and where is she? While I always adore the humor in Sherry's books, he weaves some very pertinent themes of conservation and environmental awareness into Attack of the Kraken that I appreciated.


 The Yeti Files Books 1 & 2:

      Meet the Bigfeet          Monsters on the Run


Source: Purchased

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22. What Can I Be? by Ann Rand & Ingrid Fiksdahl King





Holding What Can I Be? in my hands after reading it, I felt like I had just walked through a gallery at a modern art museum. I knew that there had to be a story behind this book, which was published this year by Princeton Architectural Press, but feels much older. The premise of What Can I Be?which was written by Ann Rand and illustrated by painter and architecture professor Ingrid Fiksdahl King, coauthor of A Pattern Language, one of the most influential books on architecture and planning, is simple, suggestive and playful, presenting readers with a shape and asking what could it be, then encouraging readers to imagine what else that shape could be. Reading this article at the marvelous Brain Pickings, I learned the story behind What Can I Be?









In the 1950s Ann Rand and her husband at the time collaborated on three picture books that are still in print. Her husband, Paul Rand went on to be a legend in the graphic design world, creating many of the corporate logos that are still in use today. Like Fiksdahl King, Ann Rand was an architect and trained under Mies van der Rohe. In the 1970s the two created What Can I Be? but it did not reach publication for forty years. It is always fascinating to me when creative people from different disciplines make picture books, and when it is successful, the results stand out on the shelves, and What Can I Be? is definitely successful.


What could be green and shaped like a triangle? "a Christmas tree / the sail of a boat / a tent / or maybe a kite flying high in a windblown sky." While concept books are, by their very nature, simplistic, Rand and Fiksdahl King add layers of complexity, especially in the illustrations, but also in the text, using words like "splendid," "ruffled" and "windblown." What Can I Be? will definitely appeal to parents with a background in in art, design and architecture, but I believe it will also truly inspire little listeners who will want to hear it read over and over.




Books by Ann & Paul Rand





Source: Review Copy


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23. Rutabaga the Adventure Chef: Feasts of Fury by Eric Colossal, 128 pp, RL 3



 Last year I read and loved, as I do any book that makes food and cooking a central plot thread, Rutabaga the Adventure Chef #1 by Eric Colossal. Rutabaga, his pop-up kitchen and Pot, his trusty cauldron/pet, are back for more food, fun and adventure in Rutabaga the Adventure Chef: Feasts of Fury. And, as before, Rutabaga is a little bit goofy, a little bit gullible and a very passionate about cooking and feeding his friends, and even his enemies, from time to time.






Rutabaga the Adventure Chef: Feasts of Fury finds Rutabaga and Pot in the land of the dreaded gubblins where he meets, and cooks for, an old timer who shares memories of a soup he ate more than 30 years ago, prepared - with a special, secret ingredient - by his uncle. But, as he leads Rutabaga to the spot where he thought his uncle found the secret ingredient, a big, fanged surprise is waiting for him.



 From there, Rutabaga meets a troupe of actors and inspires a new play with an old favorite from his cooking school days, Poisoned Pot Pie. The pie isn't really poisoned, but there is a bean hidden in one of the individual pies and the person who gets it has to wash up. Rutabaga meets a mysterious thief/princess/liar named Minus and a very cool ingredient is part of a fantastic recipe that involves lock picking. When those dreaded gubblins do finally materialize, I think you can guess how Rutabaga gets himself, Pot and Minus out of a very dire predicament. And, quite happily, as with book 1, Colossal shares a handful of Rutabaga's special recipes - that kids can really make - at the end of the book. There are Popping Chocolate Spiders, Gubblin Snot, No-Bake "Poisoned" Cookies!

Source: Review Copy

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24. Return by Aaron Becker





With Return, Aaron Becker completes his magical, wordless trilogy. Fueled by imagination, creativity and adventure, readers have followed a young girl as she copes with loneliness, opening a door to another world with the help of a red crayon in Journey. In  Quest, our hero finds a friend and a new adventure, pulled back into another world by a king who needs their help.





In Return, our hero is slumped against the door of her father's study, red kite in hand and red rubber ball at her feet, wishing he would pay attention to her instead of the work before him on his drafting table. When she fails to get his attention, she heads to her room where she draws a door on her wall, returning to her kingdom. When her father realizes his daughter is nowhere to be found, he discovers the magical door and follows.


Becker closes his trilogy perfectly, bringing a third character into this world, connecting father and daughter. The two face a villain who has a mysterious box that gives him the power to vacuum up the creations brought to life by the red, purple and yellow magical crayons held by the girl, her friend and the king of this world. As they race to defeat him and rescue the king, they discover a sea cave where ancient drawings on the walls give them the direction they need in the magical world and back at home.

I can't think of a trilogy of picture books, wordless or otherwise, that creates a world filled with adventure, architecture and creativity like the one that Becker has gifted readers with. If you aren't sure how to read a wordless picture book out loud or what sort of magic can happen when you fall into one as special as this, be sure to read How to Read a Picture Book without Words Out Loud and/or my review of the second book in this trilogy, Quest.








The first two books in this trilogy 
with links to my reviews:



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25. On Bird Hill by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Bob Marstall



On Bird Hill is a marvelous, meditative, playful rhyming picture book Jane Yolen and illustrated by Bob Marstall. Both Yolen and Marstall have a gift for putting the natural world on the page and that shines through in On Bird Hill, which also has a thread of the fantastic running through it, with pleasant surprises tucked throughout. But the coolest thing about On Bird Hill? It's the debut title in a new series created for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology with 25% of the net proceeds supporting children's educational and community programs centered on ornithology.


Loosely based on the cumulative nursery rhyme "The Green Grass Grew All Around" with words by William Jerome and melody by Harry Von Tilzer, Yolen's couplets follow a boy as he walks his dog and sees a newly hatched bird. On Bird Hill begins, "As I was walking on Bird Hill, / Though it was day, the moon shone still," signaling something special. 


Marstall's illustrations are pastoral and wondrous, with smooth rolling hills and curious trees with curly leaves and tiny, round red fruits. Colorful insects dot the branches and leaves while life on land and sea bustles. Sail boats drift by, picnickers arrive by canoe and animals graze in the green fields. When the couplets arrive at the bird in her nest, the illustrations deepen. A close up of the nest shows the hatchling inside the egg, kinda creepy but kinda cool. And when the egg hatches, the inside of the shell shows a starry night on the island, Magritte style. As the hatchling "left the egg / He fluffed his wings, he stretched each leg," and Marstall instills a little humor into the story.



On Bird Hill has the look and feel of a classic and little listeners are sure to ask to have it read out loud over and over.

Source: Review Copy

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