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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 Great Antonio by Elise Gravel, 64pp, RL 2

The Great Antonio is Elise Gravel's loving tribute to Antonio Barichievich, the Croatian born strong man who was a Montreal fixture for many years. The Great Antonio is also yet another superb beginning reader from the fantastic TOON Books. Gravel begins this fanciful story of the life of this giant of a man speculating about his possible parentage and wondering about his childhood in Croatia. This may seem like an odd subject for a beginning reader, but Gravel tells Antonio's story with a playful tone that is immediately engaging.

To show readers just how HUGE Antonio was, she shows his clothes (a cat could sleep in his shoe, but it was quite smelly) and his eating habits. She also shows reader the various opponents he wrestled and the many enormous, heaving things he lifted and pulled.

 Antonio was larger than life and stories about him border on the unbelievable. Reading Gravel's author notes at the end of the book helped me get a perspective on this strange - for a beginning reader, anyway - story. Gravel shares that one of her favorite authors is Roald Dahl, who "got her interested in unusual people and animals," saying that she is, "attracted to anyone who is STRANGE or FUNNY." Growing up in Montreal, Gravel was very familiar with this strange and funny man. Like Sampson, Antonio had magnificent hair - long, thick dreadlocks that fell to the ground and were often used to pull buses. Or, Antonio would put metal in his braids and use them as golf clubs and more.

Gravel gives The Great Antonio the feel of a tall tale, speculating about his life and his feats but also respectfully sharing the stranger aspects of it. Near the end of his life, Antonio chose to live on the streets of Montreal, using a donut shop as his office. Gravel tells readers that, when he died, a mountain of flowers was left at his favorite table at the donut shop. Antonio himself may have created this air of mystery about himself, lending to his larger than life persona. In her author notes, Gravel shares that, after his death, many of his "wild stories" were proven to be true!

Source: Review Copy

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2. Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans! by Gary Northfield, 288 pp, RL 4

I absolutely love the concept for Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans! by the genius Gary Northfield! If I had to nutshell it, I'd say, think Terry Deary's Horrible Histories meets 13 Story Tree House. Julius is a hilarious character living in a time period that makes for some crazy adventures. Northfield layers in the history, from using Roman numerals for the page numbers to giving characters Roman names, as well as the names of famous Romans, and using Latin and the historically accurate names for the fights, fighters, arenas and more that appear in this book. There is even a tutorial on how to read Roman numerals and a glossary at the back of the book!

Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans! begins in African plains at a watering hole, called the Lake of Doom by Julius, that he does not want to be at. Actually, the book begins with Julius schooling readers about what zebras are really like, burps and all. It stinks (an illustration shows a yak pooping in the lake) is "sooo boring!" and presents the constant danger of being eaten. Wandering off from the Lake of Doom and trying to outrun a lion, Julius and helpful but annoying warthog named Cornelius and . . . a lion.

Never fear, it's not as bad as it seems! The naive Julius hears talk of a circus and caravans, of juggling monkeys and bears dancing with ostriches and he gets pretty excited. Unfortunately, the circus he is going to is the Circus Maximus (well, actually the Colosseum) and he is going to be performing in it, not watching it. This is such a fantastic conceit and I really hope that kids take to this kind of mash-up of history and humor so that Julius Zebra spawns imitators the way Diary of a Wimpy Kid has.

Instead of losing his life to gladiators in the ring, in an effort to keep himself from becoming "someone's fancy carpet," Julius grabs a sword and saves his tail, winning over the crowd and the Emperor, Hadrian. Julius earns himself a spot in the gladiatorial championship in 30 days that will celebrate Hadrian's birthday. As the new "People's Champion," he will get to fight for his freedom, and fame and wealth. Julius, Cornelius and a gang of animals, including Lucia, a vegetarian crocodile, Pliny the mouse, Milus the lion, Rufus a giraffe and Felix, a gazelle, begin training for the battle and also for escape. I don't want to give away the ending, but there is a second book in this series...

Source: Review Copy

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3. The Poet's Dog by Patricia MacLachlan, 88pp, RL4

Patricia MacLachlan is a big name in kid's books. Author of the Newbery winner, Sarah Plain and Tall, a classroom staple, as well as many other novels and picture books, I have reviewed only two of her books. The title of her newest book, The Poet's Dog, hooked me immediately. As did the length of the book. As a librarian at a school where the majority of students are English Language learners who are not reading at grade level, short books like this give them a sense of accomplishment needed to persevere with longer books. As an adult reader, I found The Poet's Dog to be alternately charming and frustrating, not sure what to make of this book. In the end, I decided to read it as a fairy tale and that helped quiet the the questioning voices in my head, allowing me to enjoy MacLachlan's book as I know young readers will.

The Poet's Dog begins with a haiku-like verse, "Dogs speak words/ But only poets/ And children/ Hear." This is the magical premise that sustains the story of Nickel and Flora, siblings lost in a snowstorm who are rescued by Teddy, the dog of the title. Teddy guides the two back to a cabin in the woods belonging to Sylvan, the poet. Slowly, over days, Teddy tells the children about Sylvan, who rescued him from the pound, and the children tell Teddy about the car stuck in the snowbank and their mother leaving to get help. Teddy tells the children about the poetry class held in the cabin and his love of the The Ox-Cart Man, a Caldecott winning picture book written by Pulitzer prize winning poet, Donald Hall, which he hears as a poem. Sylvan becomes ill and Ellie, a student of his, gets him to the doctor and, along with Teddy, becomes heir to his estate when he dies. Teddy refuses to leave the cabin, which is how he is able to rescue the children and keep them safe, but off the grid, until the storm clears. 

Like siblings in a fairy tale, Nickel and Flora deal marvelously with the challenges they encounter. They make a fire and tend to it, get wood from the shed and cook with the provisions left in the pantry. Taking the role of cook, Flora explains, "It's not because I'm a girl that I cook. I like it. It's in the herbs. Like science. When I grow up and have twenty-seven cats and dogs and become a horse trainer, I will have a large collection of herbs." Nickel writes in a notebook, sharing his view of life snowed in at the cabin. Teddy says his writing is, "funny, sly, and sometimes poignant. Sylvan taught me the word poignant." Sylvan thinks that poignancy "may be the most important thing in poetry." 

And, The Poet's Dog is definitely poignant. Teddy, who, it is revealed, is an Irish Wolfhound, is clearly a reliable caretaker for Nickel and Flora and readers will never worry about their eventual rescue. But, readers will begin to worry about Teddy and what will become of him. Just before Sylvan dies, he tells Teddy that he hopes he will "find a jewel or two." This proves to be a prophetic little mystery that is solved by the (happy) end of the story. So what did I find frustrating about The Poet's Dog? I think I made the mistake of not reading it as a fairy tale from the start, which left me worried and frustrated when I realized that Nickel and Flora's parents must be wild with worry upon realizing they have left the car stuck in the snow bank and that there would be no way they wouldn't be found sooner. I went into this book not realizing that I needed a willing suspension of disbelief, despite the poem at the start! I know that I will return to this book and read it again, maybe even out loud to students. It is magical in the best way, because it's about the magic of words and writing and that, even with a willing suspension of disbelief, is poignant.

One note that I feel bears repeating: I often reading other reviews of books before writing my own, to see what others are thinking and to find a perspective other than my own. I often read the reviews at Kirkus, an industry magazine. In the last year or so, every review (of children's books) makes note of the color of the characters in the book. The review of The Poet's Dog alerted me to the fact that, on the jacket art, the siblings appear to be brown skinned children with black hair while the text describes Nickel as "having blond hair, implying whiteness." Miscue on the part of the artist, Kenard Pak or calculated choice on the part of the art director and editor?

Source: Review Copy

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4. Box by Min Flyte, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw

Box by Min Flyte with illustrations by Rosalind Beardshaw is about one of my favorite things - boxes. Building cardboard box forts as a kid and for my kids, as well as smaller cardboard box houses for dolls and toys, is  and long has been one of my favorite things to do. With Box, Flyte and Beardshaw have created a marvelous story and exploration that little listeners will love. Best of all, and crucial for a book in which boxes are the star, there are TONS of flaps to lift and boxes to peek inside!

Unfortunately, I could not find any illustrations to show you just how fantastically the flaps compliment the illustrations and story so I'll just have to describe them. Thomas, Alice, Sam and Nancy each have a box. What is inside each box? A drum, a blanket, a tricycle and more boxes! Five flaps lift to reveal a toy mouse sleeping in a cozy little box. After the boxes are emptied, of course they need to be played with every bit as much as the things that were inside! Imaginations take off and castles, pirate ships and puppet theaters are created - all with flaps to lift. But wait, there's more! If you put all the boxes together you get a special flap that unfolds, like an accordion, to reveal a rocket ship! But wait - there's even more! A four page gatefold reveals one more creation, followed by tired out inventors and creators asleep - in a box, of course!

Source: Review Copy

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5. Also an Octopus or A Little Bit of Nothing by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by Benji Davies

Sometimes I will do a cold reading to a class of kids when I want to get a group opinion on a picture book. Occasionally, I will love a picture book that I read in the silence of my own home and it falls flat when I read it out loud to a group of kids. And vice versa. More than once I have not been moved by a picture book only to have the audience go crazy for it. I read Also an Octopus or A Little Bit of Nothing by Maggie Tokuda-Hall, illustrated by the marvelous Benji Davies (author and illustrator of Grandad's Island), out loud without even cracking the spine first, to two classes of kindergarteners and it was a hit - for all of us. Also an Octopus turned out to be a special treat for me because it is a book about story telling and how to tell a story, something dear to my heart. This is especially so since I became the librarian in a school where more than two-thirds of the student body are English language learners, less than two-thirds are reading at grade level and very few have the stamina to read a whole book (that is not a graphic novel). I am constantly talking to my students about story structure, the problem and solving the problem and Also an Octopus perfectly packs this lesson into a brilliantly and brightly illustrated picture book that is so fun to read.

 I was especially excited to learn that debut author Maggie Tokuda-Hall, a former children's bookseller and event coordinator at a well loved, independent San Francisco bookstore, was inspired to write Also an Octopus after repeated readings (out loud, for work) of Jon Klassen's I Want My Hat Back. When she asked herself, "Why is this book so good?" the answer she realized that it is the "perfect basic story, stripped down to the bare parts: Bear, quite simply, wants his hat back." This led Tokuda-Hall to begin writing a story about an octopus who wants to travel to far away galaxies but first, she realized, "Every story starts the same way . . . with nothing."

Moving on from nothing, every story needs a character. How about an octopus who plays the ukulele? But, Tokua-Hall tells readers, "in order for it to be a story, and not just an octopus, that octopus needs to want something." Thus, the problem is identified and the main character can spend the rest of the story solving the problem! As you can see from Davies's wonderfully bright illustrations that pop with purples, yellows and oranges, there are many ways to solve this problem. Tokuda-Hall, who said she felt like she "won the illustrator lottery" when she was paired with Davies, felt that Davies not only shared her vision for this story but "made it so much better and cooler" with the strong sense of story that his illustrations embody. I couldn't agree more! The words and pictures are perfectly paired in Also an Octopus, with Davies's artwork bringing the crazy world embodied in the text to life.

Whether you are looking for a spectacularly illustrated picture book that is a delight to read out loud (or to yourself) or a tool to teach story structure and story telling to kids (or adults), Also an Octopus or A Little Bit of Nothing is a MUST.

Source: Review Copy

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6. I Am a Story by Dan Yaccarino

Dan Yaccarino has written a picture book that really speaks to me. I Am A Story tells the story of, well, storytelling, with the story as narrator. As Frank Viva writes in his review, it's "kind of a historical biography of storytelling." Yaccarino uses a bright, primary palette for his illustrations, with the colors evoking and connecting different time periods. I Am a Story is the perfect book for a librarian and teacher, especially for someone who works in a school where character education is a major pillar of our curriculum. I Am a Story solidifies my belief that stories connect us and form the foundation of a community, a culture. While words can divide us, I think that ultimately, story telling unites us.

Yaccarino begins his book, "I am a story. I was told around a campfire." From there we are off on a journey that visits the highlights (and some low points) of the varied and long history of storytelling. From carvings and pictographs to tapestries and illuminated manuscripts. 

Yaccarino goes on to share the places where stories are discovered, from private to public libraries, biblioburros and Little Free Libraries. Stories are shared through the radio, and here Yaccarino shows a family around the radio, probably listening to The War of the Worlds. Another illustration shows movie goers enjoying Georges Méliès A Trip to the Moon. Television and computers are also shown as a way to share stories. Censorship, book banning and book burning are also addressed. Yaccarino ends I Am a Story with these wonderful words, "I've inspired millions. I can go with you anywhere and will live forever. I am a story."

Source: Review Copy

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7. Lucy & Andy Neanderthal by Jeffrey Brown, 224 pp, RL 4

Jeffrey Brown is the author of the first three fantastic Jedi Academy books, as well as many other hilarious books in which Darth Vader copes with hand-son fatherhood. Now, following another passion of his, he has created a graphic novel series Lucy & Andy Neanderthal, featuring siblings, Lucy and Andy, their clan, and some prehistoric creatures.

If you have read any of Brown's other books, then you know he is fantastic when it comes to creating engaging characters. Although I came of age with it, I'm not a fan of Star Wars, yet I found Brown's Jedi Academy books completely enthralling precisely because of the characters he populated this world with. In Lucy & Andy Neanderthal, we meet the tween siblings, their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Luba, and their baby brother Danny. Margaret and Phil, teens who are part of the clan, and the creaky old Mr. Daryl. As the older sister, Lucy can seem like a know-it-all, at least to Andy. In a funny twist, Brown gives Lucy some insights beyond her era, causing the other kids to think she's weird.

Brown includes two anthropologists, Pam and Eric, in Lucy & Andy Neanderthal. The scientists occasionally appear to share facts about life 40,000 years ago in the Stone Age as well as to let readers know when aspects of Brown's book might not be scientifically accurate, starting with Tiny, Lucy and Andy's pet cat. One thing I really love about the information that Pam and Eric share are the illustrations that accompany them. Brown shows readers what actual anthropologists might see when they are at a dig site, impressing upon readers that what we know scientifically comes from finding the remains of these early humans and their civilization, something somewhat abstract that could elude them.

In this first book in the series, readers see Lucy and Andy and their clan as they hunt a wooly mammoth, with the violence of the kill off the page. We see Lucy creating some cave art on a rainy day with some very funny hijinks and critiques from the adults of the clan. In another chapter Andy's toothache ends with an explanation from Pam and Eric on Neanderthal health care, of the lack thereof. Finding the remains of a wooly mammoth leads to a chapter on Neanderthal clothing and how it was made, which is important as winter approaches. As Lucy & Andy Neanderthal draws to a close, the clan encounters another group of people who seem a bit more civilized. I can't wait to see what happens in the next book as winter sets in!

Source: Purchased

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8. Imagine a City by Elise Hurst

Imagine a City is the gorgeously unforgettable picture book by Elise Hurst that reminds me of a childhood favorite, Rain Makes Applesauce, a 1964 Caldecott honor book by Marvin Bileck and Julian Scheer. Imagine a City begins with a gentle voice inviting readers to, "Imagine a train to take you away / Imagine a city and drops of rain / A world without edges / Where the wind takes you high."

Hurst's illustrations are rooted in reality, but the world she creates is filled with magic and wonder. And there are little details everywhere to be discovered, including nods to great surrealist painters like Rene Magritte, as seen in the illustration below.

Imagine a City is a book that is perfect for sending little listeners off into dreamland, but also a marvelous springboard for imagination. The next rainy or snowy day, be sure to pull this book off the shelf and inspire your children to create their own "world without edges."

Source: Review Copy

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9. Rabbit & Robot and Ribbit by Cece Bell, 48 pp

Rabbit & Robot and Ribbit is the newest chapter book from the marvelously silly Cece Bell. In Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover we first met the two friends working out their differences at their first sleepover. The best beginning reader chapter books seem to be those where friends work out their differences and/or their differences make for a stronger friendship. Bell brings all of that and more to her fantastic chapter books.

In Rabbit & Robot and Ribbit, jealousy is at the heart of the story. Robot has a new friend, Ribbit, and Rabbit is feeling left out. Especially since the only word that Ribbit says is "ribbit." However, "ribbit" means much more than just "ribbit," but only Robot can, using his Built-in Frog Glossary, translate. Bell layers on the wordplay, with Robot telling Rabbit that he is "engrossed" in something and Rabbit responding, "Gross!" Rabbit and Ribbit connect over their love of the television show Cowboy Jack Rabbit but clash again when Ribbit wants to be Cowboy Jack Rabbit in their pretend play. Ribbit is a girl and everyone knows girls can't be Cowboy Jack!

Through it all, the three manage to work things out, although it takes Robot overheating and falling over for Rabbit and Ribbit to truly bond. There are context clues and picture clues that will help emerging readers as they laugh their way through this fun new book and be ready for the next book in this super series!

Source: Review Copy

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10. The Kraken's Rules for Making Friends by Brittany R. Jacobs

I really like cryptids. They are a universal creation, from the Mongolian Death Worm to the Scottish born Loch Ness Monster to the Chupacabra of Mexico, every culture seems to have a mythical creature that some people believe is not mythical. And, because they are (probably?) mythical, authors and illustrators are free to give cryptids any kind of personality traits and back story they want. Finally, with Brittany R. Jacobs's new picture book, The Kraken's Rules for Making Friends, this fantastic cryptid is getting attention that unicorns, Big Foot and the yeti have been monopolizing.

Jacobs has a great take on the trouble with being a kraken, most notably the challenge of making friends. When you are a giant squid, this just doesn't come easily. The kraken tries to be more approachable by knitting a koi fish costume that doesn't fool anyone.

The kraken seeks out advice from the great white shark who, oddly enough, seems to be a pro at making friends. The kraken follows all of the shark's rules, but still no joy. Finally, the kraken realizes that there is one fellow who he can bond with, and a chum is made.

Jacobs's illustrations are cinematic and cartoonish at the same time, which makes for a very animated story. Her palette is limited but lovely. Best of all, Jacobs manages to make a giant squid cute and even cuddly and very expressive. I can't wait to see what cryptid or creature Jacobs takes on next!

Soure: Review Copy

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11. We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen is the final book in what has come to be known as the Hat Trilogy. While not the ending I might have anticipated or hoped for, it IS a very satisfying and perfect finale to what are possibly the two funniest, smartest, best picture books I have read.

I don't want to give away the plot because, as with all books in this trilogy, it is a delight to discover on first read. But, I can tell you that We Found a Hat is the story of two turtles who both look really good in the hat that they find in their sparse desert landscape. I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat (which I didn't review because I was working for Klassen's agent when it came out) and We Found a Hat all deal with envy - hat envy, to be specific. Klassen takes a different approach to this envy in this new book in a way that solidifies his status as a superb author and illustrator.

The book trailers for all three books in the series, especially We Found a Hat, with Burl Ives singing Home on the Range in his sonorous, rich voice, are fantastic. I'm assuming that anyone reading this review is familiar with the Hat Trilogy, so enjoy this walk down memory lane!

Source: Review Copy

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12. Under Earth, Under Water by Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński, 112 pp, RL: ALL AGES

Under Earth, Under Water by Aleksandra Mizielińska and Daniel Mizieliński is their fourth book I have reviewed here and their fourth book with the marvelous Big Picture Press, a publisher of oversized, highly illustrated, gorgeous books who believe that books should be "visually intelligent, surprising, and accessible to readers of all ages, abilities and nationalities." BPP definitely achieves this with every book they publish and, if you are a book lover, you will want to seek out all their titles. Under Earth, Under Water will appeal to anyone who likes to look inside things and understand how things work.

With Under Earth, Under Water, the Mizielińskis, who have an illustration style that is filled with tiny details and a unique palette, take readers on a detailed journey, from the top of the page to the bottom, over and under land and then sea. The endpapers serve as the introduction and table of contents, with images scattered across the spread, page numbers connecting them like a dot-to-dot. The introduction tells readers that "you will meet cavers, spelunkers, miners and passengers on the subway. You will find fossilized dinosaur bones, ancient relics, and gold! Lower yourself deeper and deeper down, from the thinnest layer of soil just beneath your feet all the way to Earth's red-hot core." From bugs and burrowing animals, we head on to edible roots and more. Everything is labeled, and there is a chunky paragraph of information on each page as well as textural details throughout. Leaving the natural world, readers move onto human constructions underground like subways and mines and a very cool spread on mined resources and how we use them. From there, paleontological finds, archaeological finds and caves are explored. This leads perfectly into how volcanoes are made, how geysers are made, the layers of the earth and tectonic plates.

With perfect logic, the center spread of Under Earth, Under Water, is of the Earth's core, with the text orientation flipping to indicate the need to flip the book itself. The endpapers tell readers that they will meet "record-breaking divers, scientists and research vessels" and come across "weird creatures of the deep, vintage submarines, and the wreck of the Titanic" before diving deeper down to explore "coral reefs bathed in sunlight the deepest part of the ocean, plunged in cold and darkness."

From lakes to the ocean and a look at buoyancy, to coral reefs, sinkholes, a look at pressure, diving and record breaking divers, a history of diving suits and submarines, the experience of reading Under Water has a very different feel, despite the continuous illustration style. I felt like I was going deeper and deeper underwater with every page turn and, being a tiny bit claustrophobic, I felt my breath tighten a bit. Giant sea creatures of the deep, underwater chimneys and deep sea dwellers are explored along with oil and gas platforms, the Mariana Trench, scientists underwater and the Deep Sea Challenger. The final pages of Under Water were most fascinating to me, with a look at the Mariana Trench and the Deep Sea Challenger, which is almost 7 miles under water!

Under Earth, Under Water is a magnificent book that any curious reader, young or old, will spend hours poring over. And, it's sure to spark an interest in new and exciting things, below ground and under water!

Source: Review Copy

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13. 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up: The Must-Read Book List for Kids by Bianca Schulze, 144 pp, RL 4

3 Reasons Why You Need to Buy This Book:

2) Visual Appeal
3) This list rocks

I almost feel like I don't need to write a review of 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up by Bianca Schulze, founder of The Children's Book Review, especially since I include the Table of Contents and a sample page here. Look at them, and you see the validity of my three reasons for buying this book. But, I feel like I do need to say one specific thing about 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up - this book is designed to appeal to kids from ages 4 - 11 (see a guest post from Schulze below on the great reason for this age cap), from the great graphics to the small trim size to the chunks of information on each page. Kids will be drawn to this book, pick it up, flip through it and find more than a few books they want to read - especially thanks to Schulze's excellent "What to Read Next" list that accompanies every title. And, as parents, I think we need to admit that our kids don't always want to read a book we put in their hands. I have MUCH better luck getting one of my students to read a book I like than I do my own 12-year-old-son. For those of us who read, of course we want our children to read books we like, but what we really want if for that passion to be sparked in our children, driving them to seek out books on their own. 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up will spark this passion!

I do also want to speak briefly to the diversity of characters and settings represented in Schulze's book. While the world of American children's books still has far to go, there have been advances made in bringing diversity to the page and Schulze's list shows that, at ever reading level. From obvious choices like this year's multiple award winner Last Stop On Market Street to titles like Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground RailroadAnna Hibiscus, Mango, Abuela and Me,  Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom, The Year of the Dog, George, Rickshaw Girl,  The Crossover, The Watsons Go to Birmingham, One Crazy SummerThe Birchbark House, Inside Out and Back Again, A Long Walk to Water, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry and Esperanza Rising. There are also books about kids facing physical challenges like El Deafo, Out of My Mind, and Wonder. There are also plenty of books about the immigrant experience, which you can discover by looking at the Titles By Genre section at the end of the book that is FANTASTIC! I will say, though, that I think the important inclusion of books with diverse characters probably limited the number of books fantasy books that were included - white kids as main characters pretty much dominate the middle grade fantasy genre... And, as a lover of all things kid's books, I was very pleased to find more than one verse novel on the list (and HOW HARD was it to leave Brown Girl Dreaming off the list??) as well as two graphic novels, El Deafo and The Arrival.

I hope you will read this guest post that Schulze wrote for books4yourkids.com!

101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up … And 101+ More

“As a child, my family’s menu consisted of 2 choices: take it or leave it.”—Buddy Hackett, American comedian and actor
Which books did not make the list of 101 books to read before a child grows up?
One of my biggest fears I had when creating this book was … creating this book. Coming up with the 101 books that I feel that kids should read before they grow up was absolutely no easy feat. With so many tremendous books to choose from, I took this job very seriously. I wanted as many children as possible to be able to use it as a guidebook for finding a story that they could see themselves in. I wanted kids to be able to read stories about characters, places, and situations that would provide them with a greater love and understanding for the world around them and the people in it. Most importantly, I wanted (and want) kids to find stories that they enjoy reading!
Sure, my day job is sorting through the many published children’s books available and then featuring the best of the best on The Children’s Book Review, but it’s a never-ending (hopefully) accumulation of book sharing. If I have missed a great book that published a year ago, I can always add it. If I love a book so much that I can’t stop talking about it, I can share it in as many articles as I wish. Writing 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up: The must read book list for kids (Walter Foster Jr. 2016) meant that I was providing a definitive list, and a list that touts it is the must-read book list for kids. No pressure, right?
I can’t say for sure, but the original list—which was spread across post-it notes, spreadsheets, an iPhone note, Facebook comments from friends, and e-mails from my editor at Quarto Kids—was a couple of hundred books long. With the help of my editor and the Quarto publishing team, I was able to get the list down to 101 books that I would, forever more, recommend as must-read titles to my own kids and yours.
But, what were the books I left out? Too many to list here, but I made the decision, with the support of my editor, to create a list that was capped at books for ages 11 and under. Once we introduce books for 12 and up, we enter the world of young adult novels. As a parent of 3 children (currently ages 1, 4, and 10), while I wanted to include stories that challenge the readers emotions (be it through humor or sadness), I also wanted to make sure our picture book readers weren’t going to stumble upon content that was too far beyond them. Once I made this decision, I had to make some cuts that snowballed (thankfully) into justified cuts of other books.
Then there were my all-time favorite authors like Judy Blume and Roald Dahl. I could have included all of their books, but then the list would not have been diverse enough. However, I did find a sneaky way to add more of my fave books from my fave authors. With each of the 101 books there is also a “You may also like:” section. I was able to sneak in plenty more of my favorite books that may otherwise not have been mentioned within the pages. The title of the book could also be: 101 Books to Read Before You Grow Up … and 101+ More.
Here are a few that would have, should have, could have made the list:
To Kill a Mocking Bird, by Harper Lee
The Boy with the Striped Pajamas, by John Boyne
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D Salinger
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
The Magic Faraway Tree, by Enid Blyton
And everything by Dr. Seuss.
Now let me ask you: What would you have included or excluded in your list of 101 books for kids to read before they grow up?

Source: Review Copy

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Little Bot and Sparrow by Jake Parker is a sweet, quiet picture book that got me a little choked up at the end. In fact, Parker's book thematically calls to mind picture book author and illustrator Peter Brown's debut children's novel, The Wild Robot. Great minds do think alike...

Little Bot and Sparrow, which has a fantastic book case showing the blue prints for Little Bot on the front and Sparrow on the back, begins its story on the title page where we see a space ship flying over a snowy landscape and jettisoning something. That something is Little Bot, who is "thrown out with the garbage" when he isn't needed any more. Alone in a new environment, he tries to make friends with a flock of birds. All but one fly off in fear. Curious, a sparrow watches and eventually befriends Little Bot, seeing that he just needs to be "taken under her wing." Sparrow teaches Little Bot about the world around him, and he is a quick learner. When he questions her about why she needs to sleep, she replies, "To rest and to dream." Not needing to sleep and not knowing what it means to dream, Little Bot decides that it is best left to the birds.

As winter approaches, Little Bot knows that it is time to say goodbye, and he does so with a tear in his eye. He watches her fly off with her flock until she is only a "tiny dot in the sky," then he wanders past places they explored, wondering if she is safe. That night, Little Robot closes his eyes for the first time. And he dreams.

Little Bot and Sparrow can be read and enjoyed on more than one level, making it even more meaningful. Parker's illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, with a soft edge that echoes the story. Scenes from the natural world are often filled with humor and playfulness, while Little Bot is presented as almost human in form and never threatening. That glimpse of the space ship on the title page made me want to know more about the world that Little Bot came from. Maybe next time?

Source: Review Copy

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15. Madeline Finn and the Library Dog by Lisa Papp

Madeline Finn and the Library Dog, written and illustrated by Lisa Papp, is a marvelous picture book that hits a lot of sweet spots for me. But, what first drew me to Papp's book is her illustration style, which reminds me of the wonderful Holly Hobbie. Papp's soft pencil sketches are enhanced by a muted palette and created on paper with visible fibers. She creates an inviting world right away, even in it is a prickly world for Madeline Finn, at first anyway. 

Madeline Finn does not like to read. Not books or magazines of "even the menu on the ice cream truck." Decoding is hard for Madeline and she is tired of getting a "Keep Trying" heart sticker instead of a star sticker like everyone else in her class. But things change when Madeline gets a very special opportunity at her public library.

Mrs. Dimple, the librarian, leads Madeline to a room filled with dogs and kids reading to them! She picks Bonnie, a beautiful dog like a "big, snowy polar bear." Soon enough, Madeline is reading to Bonnie, not worrying about her mistakes and feeling better about reading, happy to try those hard words over and over. Just when Madeline is ready to read out loud in class, hoping to get in one more practice session with Bonnie, Bonnie and Mrs. Dimple are not at the library!

 America being read to in my library

There is a happy ending for Madeline and Bonnie, one that means there will be even more dogs for kids to read to at the library. Papp tells Madeline's story with a simple sweetness and I love that she has written a book about a real thing - kids practicing reading with dogs! There are more than a few organizations that provide this service, in fact there is even a dog named America that visits my school from time to time to give the kids practice reading and it is a truly magnificent thing to witness.

Source: Review Copy

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16. Pirate's Perfect Pet by Beth Ferry, illustrated by Matt Myers

There is always room for a pirate picture book, especially one like Beth Ferry's Pirate's Perfect Pet, brought to life by the painterly illustrations of Matt Myers. Pirate's Perfect Pet begins with Captain Crave taking a dive off plank of his pirate ship when he spies a bottle with a message in it bobbing near a shark. No problem! Back on board, the Captain unfurls a letter from his Mummy, praising his piratical skills and sharing an article found in Be Your Best Buccaneer magazine. This article just happens to include a checklist to make sure you are living up to your perfect pirate potential as a captain. With the help of his crew, Captain Crave ticks off items on the list, only to discover he is missing a peg leg. And a pet.

Scurrying to set this right, the crew docks in a place that looks quite a bit like Miami Beach. Myers's illustrations are richly detailed and full of laughs. From the beach to the farm to the zoo, Captain Crave just can't find the perfect pet, although he does get his peg leg after a visit with a lion. 

His quest ends in a pet store when something poops in his eye. A parrot with an eye patch and a peg leg? Yep! The pirate's perfect pet.I thought the story could have gone in a different direction, but that's just me. Give the people what they want, and who doesn't want a pirate to have a parrot?

Source: Review Copy

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17. Snow White by Matt Phelan, 216 pp, RL 3

Snow White has always been Matt Phelan's favorite fairy tale. Phelan got the idea to set his version of Snow White in Depression Era New York City while sketching apple peddlers for a story he wrote about Herbert Hoover for the anthology book Our White House. Phelan's illustration lends itself marvelously to the noir tone of this story that is set amidst the end of the Jazz Age and the beginning of the Depression. With the Queen of the Zigfield Follies cast as the wicked stepmother and Detective Prince taking on the role of Charming, the casting is perfect - especially Snow White's protectors and friends, the Seven Dwarves.

Samantha "Snow" White lost her mother to tuberculosis when she was a little girl. Her father remarries and she is sent to boarding school. Snow's father is a business man and his ticker tape machine, one that he watches with growing unease and concern, especially after surviving the crash. Phelan brilliantly has the ticker tape stand in for the magic mirror that drives the Queen to her wicked deeds. After Snow's father dies, it is his will, naming her as the sole inheritor, not her potential as a rival beauty, that causes her exile. This exile granted to her, instead of death, by Mr. Hunt, a goon with a heart of gold. 

Snow flees to Hooverville where she is rescued by a gang of orphaned boys living on the street. Their relationship is one of my favorite parts of Snow White, with the tough urchins refusing to tell Snow their names, until a tender, heartbrreaking moment later in the tale. I don't want to give away all of Phelan's marvelous adaptations, but I will say that the store window of Macy's does play a special role in this story. Phelan's expressive, suggestive illustrations save the sharp lines for the wicked stepmother's Louise Brook's bob, glaring eyes and her fitting end. Snow and the boys are soft lines and smiles when the world is treating them well, and the ending to Snow White treats them very well and just might bring a tear to your eye. Phelan uses splashes of red sparingly, eloquently and effectively in Snow White, with most of the story playing out in slate greys and occasional icy blues. However, Phelan's "happily ever after" is presented in a warm palette that is indeed a happy ending.

Read my reviews of more of Matt Phelan's graphic novels and picture books here

Source: Review Copy

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18. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry, 368 pp, RL 5

With The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, Julie Berry creates a masterfully crafted Victorian setting (Berry's author's note at the end of the book is just as entertaining as the book itself) and populates it with intriguing, independent minded young ladies, adding layers of farce and mystery to create a book you won't be able to put down. Set in the cathedral city of Ely, Cambridgeshire in 1890, St. Etheldreda's School for Young Ladies on Prickwillow Road has seven pupils with wonderfully descriptive names. There is Dear Roberta, sent away to school by her jealous new stepmother. Disgraceful Mary Jane is what we would call boy crazy today and has been sent to Ely to keep her from eloping with the wrong kind of boy. Dull Martha and Stout Alice have more to offer than the descriptives they have been labeled with. Smooth Kitty, the child of a business mogul who had been hoping for a male heir, has a mind like a steel trap, if only her father would notice. Pocked Louise was cured of small pox at the age of eight by her uncle, a great surgeon and mentor to her, has been sent to school to discourage her scientific leanings. And, Dour Elinor has an abiding interest in the funereal industry. When Headmistress Plackett and her odious brother Aldous Godding are poisoned during the Sunday meal, each of the seven pupils has a skill that comes into play.

With the daily domestic woman Amanda Barnes off for the Sabbath and just the seven girls in the house, Smooth Kitty puts a plan into action. The girls will run the school and pretend to be Mrs. Plackett, as needed. Of course, they will have to dispose of the bodies of the headmistress and her brother, as well. There are somewhat gruesome moments in The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, but they are more than outnumbered by hilarious and poignant situations. Of course the girls can't keep up the sham, even if Stout Alice does fit perfectly into Mrs. Plackett's clothes and can imitate her voice, and Berry creates one sticky situation after another, from a raft of guests arriving for a surprise birthday party for Aldous to an elderly neighbor who twists her ankle and insists on spending the night at the school, sharing a bed with the dead Mrs. Plackett. In between these awkward passages, the girls work desperately to figure out who the murderer is, uncovering one curiosity after the next while also dealing with break ins, thefts, a new puppy (unfortunately and comically named Aldous) and the strawberry social, which Alice, acting as Mrs. Plackett, commits to attending.

One of the things I loved most about The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place, besides the characters, setting and story, is the way that things started to fall apart immediately for the sisterhood. Of course seven girls can't run a school and pretend like their headmistress is still alive, even in 1890 when crimes and disappearances were much harder to solve. You know that the girls are going to be found out, but you just read on, hoping that they will find the murderer and maybe even save their school before this happens. Berry wraps up her story marvelously with a very satisfying and much hoped for ending. 

Source: Purchased Audio Book
Narrated by Jane Entwhistle

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19. Ape and Armadillo Take Over the World by James Sturm, 40 pp, RL 2

Ape and Armadillo Take Over the World by James Sturm is my new favorite book. I fell in love with TOON Books when I discovered them in 2008, just around the time my youngest was learning to read. Having been through this process with my two older children, I was not looking forward to the tired old leveled readers that we were left to slog through after classics like Frog & Toad, Little Bear and Poppleton. Françoise Mouly and her quest to bring engaging, marvelously illustrated graphic novels into the world of beginning readers has meant that there are now over 50 fantastic books to take your new reader from sight words to chapter books. 

If you have read even a few beginning readers, you know that unlikely friends and the complexities of friendship are the staple of this genre. With Ape and Armadillo, Sturm has created the only duo who could even remotely rival Frog and Toad. And an armadillo! How many armadillo characters are there in kid's books to begin with? Happily, the title page shows Ape juggling, a curled up Armadillo among the balls in the air. Sturm's illustrations are superb - crisp and colorful and filled with motion and emotion.

Armadillo is a little guy with big ideas. Ape, his opposite, is more thoughtful and compassionate. When Ape and Armadillo Take Over the World begins, we find Ape taking issue with Armadillo's plan for world domination. While Armadillo does things fly away on the royal Pegasus, Ape has to distract a spitting serpent, fight an army of robots and escape through the sewer tunnels of the castle. Armadillo counters, saying that he is the one who thought up this plan and having ideas is not so easy. When Ape tries to come up with a plan (that involves kids, an ice cream shop, juggling Armadillo and hiding in tubs of ice cream) Armadillo shoots him down. But, like all good friends, the two manage to find common ground, coming up with a phenomenal plan for world domination that involves special suits, magic wands, creating a zoo filled only with really cool animals like griffins, dinosaurs and giant bugs and ending with ice cream. Because, as Ape points out, he likes a lot of the people in the world and doesn't want to rule it or blow it up.

The best part of Ape and Armadillo Take Over the World? Sturm includes bonus comic strips that run at the bottom of every page, giving readers a glimpse into the personalities of the main characters. Ape and Armadillo embody the creative imagination of kids, a creativity that is not bound by logic or physical limitations.

Read my reviews of the 
Adventures in Cartooning Series here

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20. Jedi Academy: A New Class by Jarrett Krosockza, 176 pp, RL 4

Jeffrey Brown authored the first three books in the Jedi Academy series, two of which I enthusiastically reviewed here. This trilogy is HUGELY popular in my school library and a fantastic alternative to Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Before that, Brown wrote a trilogy of Darth Vader, a comics series that imagines Vader's life as father to Luke and Leia. Brown's new series debuted in August and features prehistoric siblings Lucy and Andy as they deal with typical kid stuff while also being filled with scientific information and facts about pre-history. 

Jedi Academy was too good to let go, and quite smartly, Scholastic has tapped Jarrett Krosoczka, author of the Lunch Lady series of graphic novels. Jedi Academy: A New Class finds young Victor Starspeeder making a midyear transfer from the Jedi Academy at Obroa-skai, where he has had a series of mishaps to the Jedi Academy at Coruscant. Victor decides that he is going to start keeping a journal of his time at Jedi Academy because that is what his father, who died when Victor was a baby, did.

The Jedi Academy has its own challenges, starting with Christina, Victor's big sister, who already goes there. She tells him in no uncertain terms that once they are at school, they are strangers. Navigating the new school on his own, Victor is swayed by Zach, and older student, who turns out to be a bully and a prankster with his own agenda. He also gets stuck with Artemis, an asthmatic kid in a black hooded cloak who just might be a Sith. Victor tries to make friends, impress a girl, and get his special project on the planet Endor completed while also trying to stay out of trouble and keep Zach from getting him kicked out.

Krosoczka hits all the right notes in Jedi Academy: A New Class, continuing and updating features that Brown introduced in the first three books like handwritten notes between characters, school schedules and pages from the school newspaper, including an advice column by Ms. Catara, the school guidance counselor who is also a Gungan. Krosoczka also creates a couple new twists, including the Galaxy Feed, which is a social media type feature that pops up on a tablet like device, and a page of comic strips that look at classics like Family Circus, Peanuts and Garfield through the lens of Star Wars. I especially liked, "Huttfield," in which Jaba the Hutt is the lazy, food loving star of the strip.

While I love that this series continues on (and I hope that, after another three books a new author/illustrator takes on this challenge) and am thrilled that I have more of these books to offer students, for me, Krosoczka's take on the academic world of the young Jedi lacks a bit of the depth, heart and humor that I found in Brown's books. But hey, I'm pretty sure I'm not the target audience for these books...

Source: Purchased

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21. The Inquisitor's Tale, or Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz, illustrated by Hatem Aly, 384 pp, RL 4

In 2010, A Tale Dark and Grimm the debut novel by Adam Gidwitz, captured my attention and that of many other readers, young and old. Gidwitz is a master story teller and his reworking of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, many of them less than well known, is marvelous. I was thrilled when my son shared my enthusiasm for this book and even more excited when I discovered that reading it out loud was a great way to entice my students, many of whom are reluctant and/or struggling readers, to persevere with a longer book. True to his story telling nature, Gidwitz is back with The Inquisitor's Tale, a manuscript illuminated by Hatem Aly and like no other children's book I have read before.

Set in 1242 and echoing the structure of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, The Inquisitor's Tale finds an (initially) unnamed narrator at the Holy Cross-Roads Inn, a day's walk north of Paris. It is the perfect night for a story as a group gathers around the rough wooden table, sticky with ale. The king will be marching past the inn on his way to war with three children and their dog. A brewster, a librarian, a nun, a butcher, a jongleur, a chronicler, a troubadour and the innkeeper take turns telling stories of these three children and their dog, each one adding to the tapestry of their story. Subtly but surely, Gidwizt presents characters who are discriminated against or (much) worse, for gender, religion, and class.

Jeanne is a peasant girl who is seized with visions of the future. As an infant, her parents killed her babysitter/protector, Gwenforte, a white greyhound with a copper blaze on her snout, thinking that the dog had attacked Jeanne. Far from the truth, the loyal Gwenforte had saved the baby from an adder that made its way into the house. Realizing their mistake, they gave the dog a proper burial in a grove that quickly became a holy place and the dog thought of as a saint. Years later, after seeing a beloved neighbor, thought to be a heretic, hauled off by a huge, fat, red headed monk from Bologna, Jeanne knows she must keep her fits and the visions that follow a secret. She must also keep Gwenforte, who has come back to life, a secret.

The second child is William, an oblate. The son of a great lord fighting in Spain against the Muslim kings and a Saracen from Northern Africa, he was left at a monastery as a baby. More than his dark color, the size of William is a constant source of amazement and occasional frustration - or worse - to the monks. William's great size, strength and appetite, both for food and knowledge, make him a threat to some of the monks and he is sent away with a donkey, saddlebags full of books to be delivered to another monastery by way of a forest inhabited by fiends. 

Finally, there is Jacob, a Jew who survives the burning of his village by Christian boys and has the ability to miraculously heal the sick and injured. Jacob only wants to be reunited with his parents, but his ability to read and his love of his religion shape his path. As The Inquisitor's Tale unfolds, it becomes clear that, not only is this a story about stories and storytelling, it is a story about books. There are many strange twists and turns in The Inquisitor's Tale, including a hilarious incident with a dragon who, by way of a lactose intolerance issue, comes to pass gas that sets knights on fire. This leads to a fantastic scene with a cure from Jacob that involves vomiting up a tremendous amount of French cheese, Époisses, which Jeanne describes as tasting like life, "Rotten and strange and rich and way, way too strong." As the tales are told, we come to learn that King Louis is planning a book burning that the children will inevitably be part of. In fact, he has had his monks gather up all the texts written in Hebrew and  created an enormous bonfire in the heart of Paris. Being an oblate, William has a deep reverence for books, knowing the time and effort that goes into copying out a text. Being Jewish and able to read, Jacob also has a great reverence for books and the word of the Talmud. It is this reverence for books that leads the three children and Gwenforte to an amazing standoff with the king and his terrible mother at Mont Saint-Michel, the incredible island commune in Normandy.

While The Inquisitor's Tale has a deep vein of Christian thought and history running through it, Gidwitz makes his story richer and more engaging by also highlighting those who suffered in the face of Christianity. He begins the book, which he researched for six years and includes an extensive and interesting author's note as well as an annotated bibliography, with a quote from poet W. H. Auden that calls for loving "your crooked neighbor / With your crooked heart." It is this thought, one that Jacob reads in the Talmud and Jeanne notes that Jesus said, but in reverse, that drives the story and the children. As their adventures escalate and they meet many broken, crooked, questionable adults (they are the only children in the story) and they forgive and love their neighbors over and over. When they find themselves discussing Cain, Abel and the use of the word "bloods" (and not "blood," which William attributes to drunk scribes) they compare the loss of one life, which is really the loss of many - the descendants that person may never have - to the loss of books and the knowledge they contain and can eventually touch many lives with, Willam saying, 

A scribe might copy out a single book for years. An illuminator would then take it and work on it for longer still. Not to mention the tanner who made the parchment, and the bookbinder who stitched the book together, and the librarian who worked to get the book for the library and keep it safe from mold and thieves and clumsy monks with ink pots and dirty hands. And some books have authors, too, like Saint Augustine or Rabbi Yehuda. When you think about it, each book it a lot of lives. Dozens and dozens of them.

To this, Jeanne adds, "Dozens and dozens of lives, and each life a whole world." Having worked in almost all aspects of the world of kid's books at this point in my working life, I feel compelled to add to this idea. It is truly amazing, even in this day when books are printed by machines and illustrations can be created on computers, to realize how many hands touch a written work before it becomes a book on a shelf, from the literary agent (and the agent's assistant) to the editor at the publishing house to the booksellers, reviewers and librarians who embrace the story and pass it on, retelling it to invite new readers. And that's not even mentioning the writer's critique groups and family and friends who read manuscripts in the early (and late) stages. Storytelling touches us all, whether we write the words or not, and I am grateful to Adam Gidwitz for reminding us of this - especially with such a highly entertainingly readable book like The Inquisitor's Tale!

source: review copy

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22. Benny and Penny in How to Say Goodbye by Geoffrey Hayes, 32 pp, RL 2

Benny and Penny in How to Say Goodbye is the sixth book featuring these bickering siblings and, as always, Geoffrey Hayes captures the intense and fleeting emotions that young children feel and how they make sense of the world around them perfectly. And, as always, his illustrations are marvelously charming and the natural world that the mice live in gently beautiful. Hayes's graphic novel series is perfect for emerging readers looking for something beyond Frog & Toad and Amelia Bedelia.

In How to Say Goodbye, Hayes has his mice brother and sister encounter death. While playing together in the fall leaves, Penny finds a salamander she named Little Red. She knows that it is dead, having a grasp of what death it. Benny reacts with anger, throwing the salamander into the bushes.

Penny gets help from Melina and the two make plans for Little Red, Benny skulking around the edges of their activities. As the they prepare for the burial, Benny and Penny have memories of Little Red, each feeling their grief in their own ways. They also find ways to honor the life of the salamander. As the story draws to an end, another salamander appears and a new friendship begins.

You can read my reviews of other 
Benny & Penny books here

Source: Review Copy

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23. Mervin the Sloth is About to Do the Best Thing in the World by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Ruth Chen

I'm kind of done with meta picture books, but I will never be done with sloths, especially sloths named Mervin. Happily, Mervin the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World is a really fantastically fun meta picture book. Colleen AF Venable, graphic novel designer for the excellent FirstSecond by day and graphic novelist by night, makes her picture book debut with the help of illustrator Ruth Chen.

Mervin the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World begins with Mervin, center page, slowly moving to the right with each page turn, as the title drops in from the top of the book over the course of a few pages. A red panda, Mervin's friend, strolls onto the scene, taking excited notice of the falling title. More and more friends arrive, all speculating about the best thing in the world that Mervin is about to do. Flying? Digging? Gazelling (which is not even a word, as bird points out)? Is Mervin going to fight a shark? Turn into a robot? Do all our homework? Invent a time machine? 

There will definitely be lots of laughs as you read this book out loud, which is a must. Mervin the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World should not be read alone and when you get to the end of the book you will see just why...

Be sure to watch this brief video of Colleen and Ruth doing a stellar job reading their book out loud!

Soon to be on the shelves of my school library, Colleen's graphic novel series Guinea PI:

Source: Review Copy

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24. Geis: Book One, A Matter of Life and Death by Alexis Deacon, 96 pp, RL 4

This summer, I discovered that Alexis Deacon, picture book illustrator, author and frequent collaborator with another favorite of mine, Viviane Schwarz, had created Geis, a graphic novel that was already on sale in the UK. I waited patiently for it to go on sale here and, when I finally got to read Geis, I was surprised, enthralled and left breathless by the beauty of the illustrations, the rich world building and the fast pace of the story. I was so sad to read the end of Geis, but, I realized half way into it that it is a trilogy, so there is more to come!

Geis begins with a definition of the word "geis," pronounced "gesh," which is a Gaelic word for a taboo or curse, "like a spell that cannot be broken and certain rules must be obeyed." In an unnamed world that is reminiscent of a Bruegel painting, the Great Chief Matarka is dying without leaving an heir. Fifty people, including the Grand Wizard, the High Priest, the Chief Judge and the Lord Chamberlain have been called to her death bed. Among them is Io, the young daughter of the Kite Lord. Matarka has devised a contest that will determine who will take her place, but Niope, an evil sorceress, using Death Magic, has taken control of the event and tricked the fifty attendees into signing their names to a cursed parchment.

The fifty attendees are hurtled to various corners of the realm by the sorceress and must return to the death chamber to prove their worthiness. Io is the first to return where she learns the horrible truth of the geis from the sorceress. Nemas is next and together, the two know the truth of the challenge the fifty souls face but are not allowed to speak of it. When they do, the curse renders them speechless. They learn that they have until the next sunrise to leave the castle and return for a challenge that will leave all but one of them dead. As Io and Nemas prepare for this battle, we see others facing their fates, some of which are horrific, with bravery and cowardice, together and alone.

Geis is over almost as soon as it starts, yet you reach the final page of this graphic novel feeling like you have been gone for much longer. This is in large part due to Deacon's amazing illustrations and masterful world building. I was reminded immediately of the work of Maurice Sendak, some of which I have shared below. Io proves to be a young but brave and moral hero, struggling to survive in a world that no longer makes sense. I can't wait to see how she faces her next challenge!

Source: Purchased

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25. Monsters Go Night-Night by Aaron Zenz

Monsters Go Night-Night by Aaron Zenz may not be the best book to put your little ones to sleep, but it could be the best book to teach them about all the things that we do BEFORE we fall asleep! Zenz has been illustrating and writing picture books and beginning readers since 2008, which is when I started this blog. In fact, Aaron left a comment early on and that is when I learned about his career, his very creative kids and the blogs that they have. A father of six kids, ages (best guess) 6 to 18, Zenz and his kids review their favorite books at  Bookie Woogie. Over at  Chicken Nugget Lemon Tooty, the Zenz family blog where they share drawings and more, often inspired by kid's books. In fact, the monsters in Monsters Go Night-Night were inspired by drawings Zenz's son made when he was four and five!

The bedtime routine for monsters begins with a snack, moving on to a bath, pajamas, a snuggly companion, tooth brushing, a trip to the bathroom and, of course, kisses goodnight. What makes Monsters Go Night-Night both charming and clever and guaranteed fun for both reader and listener is the guessing game Zenz plays with this routine.

Monsters take baths, but what do they take baths with? Chocolate pudding, naturally! Silly, surprising answers are sure to get laughs. Happily, when we reach the page near the end of the book that reads, "Monsters need to go potty. Where do monsters go?" you will not have to worry about potty training backsliding. Ever the thoughtful parent, a page turn reveals that "Monsters go in the toilet!," with this aside, "Whew! It's a good thing MONSTERS know where to go."

For a very fun peek into the world of a picture book creator, awesome dad and monster lover, be sure to check out this video!

Source: Review Copy

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