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1. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 30 – Wonderful 2016 Children’s Novels

31daysNo excuses!  These are just the books that I read in 2016 that I thought knocked it out of the park.  These aren’t the “best of the year”.  These are just the books that were particularly good and that somehow crossed my radar.  I read a lot more than what you’ll see here, but I loved these the best.  For your consideration:


Wonderful 2016 Children’s Novels

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

cloud-and-wallfish

My dark horse Newbery front runner.  I found it because Roger Sutton mentioned it off-handedly on his podcast, but it was Monica Edinger’s Horn Book review that got the most attention from the folks at Heavy Medal.  It’s just the most delightful little Cold War, East Germany, book you could name.  I’m gaga over it.  If your kids read it, they will be too.

Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

fivechildrenwestern

Again with the book recommendations from Monica!  This time a couple years ago, when she found the English edition of this book.  It came out this year with surprisingly little fanfare, but I just adored it.  The question is whether or not kids unfamiliar with the works of E. Nesbit will get anything out of it.  The eternal optimist, I vote yes!  I mean, it’s about a tyrant finding its (his) soul.  There’s something to that.

Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

FullofBeans

Funny that I never reviewed this one, but with Jenni Holm you sort of don’t have to.  The woman’s masterful.  To read her book is to marvel at how seemingly effortlessly she pulls various elements together.  I will say that though this book is a prequel, you will not need to have read its predecessor to get anything out of it.  It is, in a nutshell, sort of perfect.

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

 furthermore

To ask anyone to craft a wholly original fantasy novel for kids is just setting that person up for a fall.  If Mafi succeeds in any way here it is in her writing rather than her ideas.  Not that her ideas aren’t interesting.  They are, but it’s the characters, their interactions, and their personalities that sold it for me.  It is infinitely readable and a lot of fun to boot.  I like fun.  I liked this book.  I don’t hold it against it that it’s a New York Times bestseller either.

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

ghost-9781481450157_hr

Years ago (three?) I said this Jason Reynolds guy was gonna be a star.  I had a chance to hear him speak for the NYPL librarians after the publication of his first solo YA novel.  In 2016 he started publishing middle grade in earnest and if he doesn’t win any major awards this year it’s simply a matter of time before he does in the future.  I don’t know if Ghost is gonna take home a Newbery in any way, shape, or form.  I just know that it was incredibly fun to read.  One of my favorites of the year.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

 girldrankmoon

It’s anyone’s guess as to why it took me 8 months or so to finally pick this book up.  When I saw Kelly speak at BookExpo here in Chicago this year I knew she was on to something.  But to be perfectly frank, I’ve loved her work since she wrote The Mostly True Story of Jack (a book that I would contend still doesn’t get the attention and respect it deserves).  I liked this one a lot.  It’s a thick one, no question, but it also compelled me skip ahead a little just so that I could make sure that the villain wouldn’t win.  There’s only one other book on this list this year that made me do that.  I’ll let you guess what it was.

The Inn Between by Marina Cohen

InnBetween

I include this book not because it’s some deep, insightful, heavily meaningful book fraught with consequence and award-worthy pain.  No, this is just the kind of book I would have LOVED as a kid.  I was the one who checked out all the Apple paperbacks that involved ghosts from my Scholastic Book Fair orders.  So, naturally, this would have appealed.  I mean, the back flap copy calls it “The Shining meets Hotel California” and that ain’t wrong.  You’d never know it from the cutesy cover, though, would you?  Someone needs a cover do-over.

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

InquisitorsTale

It doesn’t need my help.  It never needed my help.  But it’s wonderful and winning.  Smarter than almost every other book on here by half.  Gutsy.  Challenging.  And I can’t wait for the movie.  I call dibs on Tom Hiddleston to play the King of France.

The Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King and a Pickpocket Squirrel by Susan Hill Long

MagicMirror

Poor little book.  You were the first novel I read in 2016 and I came dangerously close to forgetting you here today.  I liked this one very much, going so far as to say in my review that it was similar in tone to The Princess Bride.  It actually makes a rather good pairing with THE GIRL WHO DRANK THE MOON, come to think of it.  If you’ve a kid looking for light, frothy fantasy, this is the one to pick up.

Makoons by Louise Erdrich

Makoons

Does anyone ever point out how funny these books are?  Yes, we all know Louise Erdrich to be a master writer, but she’s also incredibly hilarious when she wants to be.  The latest book in the Birchbark House series did not disappoint and even gave us a few new characters.  My favorite is the character done in by vanity, brought low, and ultimately redeemed.  I’m a sucker for that kind of tale.

The Mighty Odds by Amy Ignatow

MightyOdds

If you could have any superpower, would you choose the normal one or the weird one?  If you chose the weird one then this book is for you.  I think we’ve seen the outcasts-with-superpowers motif a lot (Spiderman, arguably, was one of the first) but I like Ignatow’s style so much that this is one of my current favs.  How much do I love it?  I actually bought a copy for my niece and I almost never ever buy books.  What can I say?  It was just that good.

Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

 msbixbylastday

Not usually my kind of book but I liked Anderson’s Sidekicked years ago and figured that in spite of the description it might work for me.  And it did!  Granted, there’s more than a touch of Dead Poet’s Society to it, but all I cared was that it had an honest ending.  An honest earned ending.  This title doesn’t pander and I appreciate that.  Worth discovering.

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

Pax

Can you believe this book came out in 2016?  I feel as if we’ve been talking about it for two years.  It’s still one of the strongest of the year, no matter what anybody says.  When I was a child, I had a thing for foxes.  Clearly I missed my era.  If you’ve somehow managed to avoid reading this title, you have time to get your hands on it before award season.  Do that thing.

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

RaymieNightingale

While I would repeat that this book would be Because of Winn-Dixie if you dipped that book in a vat of sadness, that doesn’t mean it isn’t remarkable.  I found it breathtakingly sad, but also smart.  I didn’t care two bits for the main character (she’s remarkably forgettable) but the other characters just popped off the page.  Quite a book.

Rebel Genius by Michael Dante DiMartino

rebelgenius

Poor action/adventure fans.  What do I even have for you here today?  Well, I have a fantasy novel coming from one of the co-creators of the Avatar: The Last Airbender television series, and that ain’t peanuts.  Though it does come across as a slightly less scholarly His Dark Materials, I enjoyed the premise of Rebel Genius (a great title, if ever there was one).  The big bad villain never makes an appearance but plenty of other baddies do.  It’s compelling to its core.

When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

whenseasilver

I just finished reading my daughter Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and wanted to just skip directly to this one, but Starry River of the Sky is next on our list and we shall not go out of order.  Of the three books in the series, this is by far my favorite, and you certainly don’t have to have read the other books to enjoy it.  Lin gets better and better with every book she writes.  Annoying for her fellow authors, I’m sure, but great for the rest of us!

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown

WildRobot1

This marked Peter Brown’s debut as a novelist.  Doesn’t seem quite fair that he should be able to write AND draw.  Leave a little talent for the rest of us, won’t you, Peter?  In any case, I’m all about the strong female heroines.  So often in robot books the de facto pronoun is “he”.  Brown made it “she” and it works for her.  Better still, it works for us.

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

WolfHollow

Remember earlier when I mentioned that there was one other book on this list that made me so tense I had to skip to the back to know precisely who would live, who would die, and what would become of the villain?  Because the villain in this book does meet a terrible fate, but even so remains a cussed little wretch to the end.  She is, without a doubt, the best villain I’ve encountered in a children’s book in years.  A true blue psychopath.  Best you know now.


Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – Calde-Nots

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – International Imports

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Older Picture Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Graphic Novels

December 21 – Poetry

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Novel Reprints

December 30 – Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

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2. Koko's Kitten

Koko's Kitten. Francine Patterson. Photographs by Ronald H. Cohn. 1985. 32 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Koko's full name is Hanabi-Ko, which is Japanese for Fireworks Child.

Premise/plot: Koko's Kitten is a nonfiction picture book for elementary-aged readers. Though the book is called "Koko's Kitten," the picture book biography (of a gorilla) tells much more than just that one little snippet of her life. It tells of how Koko was/is the subject of a special project, how she started learning sign language, the special bonds she's formed with the humans in her life, etc. The climax of this one, is, of course, how she came to have a kitten of her own.

My thoughts: I remember learning about Koko in the 1980s. And I had fond but vague memories of Koko's Kitten. I remembered she had a kitten. A kitten named All Ball. I remembered that the kitten died and she wanted a new kitten. It turns out I remembered only *some* of this one. I still like it. But it is more wordy than I remembered.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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3. Borden Murders

Borden Murders. Sarah Miller. 2016. 304 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: It happened every spring in Fall River, Massachusetts.

Premise/plot: Sarah Miller's newest book is a middle grade nonfiction book about Lizzie Borden and the 'trial of the century.' On August 4, 1892, Mr. and Mrs. Borden were murdered. Miller chronicles the events stage by stage. Her book is divided into sections: Lizzie Borden Took An Axe, Murder!, The Bordens, Investigation, Inquest, Arrest, Preliminary Hearing, The Waiting Time, The Trial of the Century, Aftermath, Epilogue.

My thoughts: This one was incredibly compelling and very well researched. (Over twenty pages of notes documenting among other things all the dialogue in the book.) Miller presents a balanced perspective of the case allowing readers to make up their own minds. Miller gives all concerned or connected the human touch. The press does not come out looking innocent.

Whether your interest is true crime, biography, or nonfiction set during the Victorian period, this one is worth your time.


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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4. This Is My Dollhouse

This is My Dollhouse. Giselle Potter. 2016. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: This is my dollhouse. It used to be just a cardboard box. But then I painted bricks on the outside and divided the inside into rooms and made wallpaper with my markers and it became almost like a real little house.

Premise/plot: Readers meet an imaginative young girl who loves, loves, loves to play with a dollhouse she created by herself. Readers also meet her friend, Sophie, who has a store bought dollhouse. The two do work out how to play together despite their differences.

My thoughts: I could relate to this one! For me and my sister, it was Barbie doll houses. (She had one. I didn't. She had a *real* refrigerator, mine was out of blocks. She had a *real* bed, mine was an egg carton.) I loved the celebration of imagination AND friendship. I loved the focus on PLAY. Part of me does wonder if kids are allowed enough PLAY time and encouraged to PLAY creatively. I think there is a huge difference between PLAYING and playing on. (I want to play ON the computer. I want to play ON the ipad.)

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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5. Books of December - Gifts


I have several siblings (several- more than three, less than a dozen).  For years, I gave every sibling a Christmas present.  Then, I gave every sibling and his or her significant other a Christmas present.  THEN, I gave every sibling, their S-O and their CHILDREN individual Christmas presents.  THEN, I gave each family a box of Christmas presents.  Finally, I sent some of my siblings a “family” Christmas present.   Now, they are lucky to get a greeting card from me.  This is the evolution of my family gift-giving.
( I did not expect nor did I often receive presents in return. Sometimes I was happily surprised.  I just like giving gifts.)

A lot of these gifts were homemade.  Because homemade gifts are super, right?  Well, they are, if they come from my sisters, who all take great pride in crafting the most delightfully sewn, knitted, quilted items.  I go for the Big Effect, and that sometimes means that my gifts fall apart 24 hours after they are unpacked.  Still, it’s the thought.... Or, is it? (My food gifts are usually awesome!)

A gift can be as small as a button, as mysterious as an empty box, as ephemeral as a kiss. 

Books about gift-giving and generosity that I love.

The Best Christmas Ever by Chih-Yuan Chen.  I will mention this book every Christmas season in some form or other, because I love it so much.  I love the brown paper feel of the illustrations.  I love the feeling of winter, darkness, and struggling hope.  I love its simplicity.  And I love the joyous resolution.  The Bear family is so poor that they don’t even hope for presents this year.  On Christmas morning, they find that “Toddler Christmas” visited in the night and brought them small, precious gifts.

Birthday Surprises edited by Johanna Hurwitz.  Hurwitz asked 10 children’s authors to write a story about a birthday in which a child received an empty box.  Sometimes, the box was the actual present.  Sometimes, the box represented something else.  In one case, the box was sent by mistake and the present was delivered in person.  Imagine getting a box filled with air. 

Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant.  First published in Rylant’s collection, Children of Christmas, this story tells of a train that rolled through the mountains and gifts that were thrown from the back to the impoverished children.  Every year, a boy wishes for one particular gift.  Every year, he gets something he needs.  He returns as an adult and we find out whether his wish ever came true.

The following website offers a list of books about gift-giving and generosity to share with your young ones. 
The Best Childrens Books about Generosity.


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6. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 29 – 2016 Reprinted Children’s Novels

31daysBack on December 9th I wrote a piece on those reprinted picture books I was happiest to encounter in 2016.  Now I’ll say a word or two about the reprinted novels of this year.  Naturally, if you look at the output from the publisher New York Review Books you’ll find a lovely array of titles.  For more than are listed here, that’s for sure and for certain.  The books I’m including today are ones I’ve read, so it’s fairly short.  Still, don’t miss the books listed here today.  The book market is not kind to reprints that could be called “forgotten”.


2016 Reprinted Children’s Novels

The Borrowers Collection by Mary Norton

borrowers

My knowledge of previous collections of all the Borrowers stories is not good enough to determine whether or not any previous versions also included the short story “Poor Stainless” or not.  Whatever the case, this new bound volume of full stories is delightful.  Chock full of illustrations, it’s the ultimate Borrowers collection.

The Golden Key by George MacDonald, ill. Ruth Sanderson

goldenkey

The title probably hasn’t been out-of-print before, but I do know that back in the day it was Maurice Sendak who illustrated it.  Sanderson’s a different take than Sendak, that’s for sure, but it’s a lovely new edition.

The Rescuers by Margery Sharp, ill. Garth Williams

rescuers

If Disney had any sense in its monolithic head it would have years ago grabbed the literary rights to every publication ever brought to the silver screen.  Imagine, if you will, a children’s book collection that consists of books that are better known now for their Disney adaptations.  101 Dalmations by Dodie Smith, Old Yeller by Fred Gipson, Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss, and, naturally, The Rescuers.  As with most Disneyfied products, when I read this book as a kid I was struck both by how sharp the writing was (not cutesy in the least) and also by how good illustrator Garth Williams was at making horrific looking humans.  Turns out the master of whimsy had a penchant for the grotesque as well.

rescuers2

Never knew he had it in him.

For other celebrations of reprinted books, please check out the ShelfTalker piece Hello, Old Friends.  I wish I’d seen the Lobel book mentioned there.  Ah well.  Can’t get them all.


Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – Calde-Nots

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – International Imports

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Older Picture Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Graphic Novels

December 21 – Poetry

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Novel Reprints

December 30 – Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

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7. The World of Little House

The World of Little House. Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson. 1996. 160 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: We know Laura Ingalls Wilder best through her nine Little House books, which tell the story of her life as a pioneer girl.

Premise/plot: This biography of Laura Ingalls Wilder would be perfect for upper elementary or middle schoolers. In some ways it's "just" a biography, but, in other ways it's so much more than that. One thing that I loved about it, for example, is the inclusion of HOUSE PLANS for all the houses Laura Ingalls Wilder lived! That plus the inclusion of crafts and recipes and extension activities really just made me happy.

For any reader who loves the book series or even the television series, this one is a fun and easy-going read.

My thoughts: While I didn't learn anything "new" about Laura Ingalls Wilder, I found it a fun, delightful presentation of what I already knew. The only book that truly was packed with I-didn't-know that information was the recently released PIONEER GIRL. This biography shares an intended audience range of the actual books. So one could go from the series to this biography smoothly. (I can't imagine a fourth or fifth grader picking up PIONEER GIRL and finishing it. Pioneer Girl just has SO MANY footnotes.)

Easy to recommend this one!

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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8. Louise and Andie: The Art of Friendship

Louise and Andie. The Art of Friendship. Kelly Light. 2016. 40 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Art, this is the BEST day ever! I'm so excited to meet our new neighbor. I hope she loves art too.

Premise/plot: Louise and Art are back in a second book! (Though the focus is on Louise and not her adorable, little brother Art!) Louise and Andie, the girl next door, become good friends quickly. But things don't stay wonderful long, soon, these two realize they have artistic differences. Can this friendship be saved?!

My thoughts: Loved this one. I did. I really loved it!!! It is so important--no matter your age--that you learn how to resolve conflict! I love seeing this friendship endure the stress of a big argument. I love that these two are able to work things out and really come to know and appreciate each other better.

Text: 5 out of 5
Illustrations: 5 out of 5
Total: 10 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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9. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 28 – 2016 Great Nonfiction Chapter Books for Kids

31daysI peer into the darkness and at long last I see the light at the end of the tunnel.  We’re almost there!  Almost at the end of this month’s 31 Days, 31 Lists challenge.  I’m certainly delighted, not least because I’ve managed to keep it up so far (knocking on wood now as hard as my brittle knuckles can knock).

As with some of the lists, today’s is not by any means complete.  I fell down on the job of reading as many chapter nonfiction books as I should have.  And since I refuse to place any books on these lists that I haven’t actually read myself, it’s going to be far too short.  For a variety of far more complete lists featuring nonfiction, please check out the Best of the Year compilations from all the major review journals (SLJ, Kirkus, Horn Book, etc.) as well as libraries like NYPL, Chicago Public Library, and others.


 

2016 Great Nonfiction Chapter Books for Kids

A Celebration of Beatrix Potter: Art and Letters by More Than 30 of Today’s Favorite Children’s Book Illustrators, edited by The Stewards of Frederick Warne & Co.

celebrationbeatrix

It seems a pity that I’m only just now mentioning this book, but I honestly couldn’t figure out if there was any other list it would slot into easily.  In truth, it’s probably made for adult enthusiasts and not actual kids, but who knows?  There could be some Potter loving children out there.  Maybe they’d be interested in the wide variety of takes on one classic Potter character or another.  Whatever the case, this book is a beautiful ode to the works of Beatrix and anyone would be pleased to receive it.

Crow Smarts: Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird by Pamela S. Turner, photos by Andy Comins, ill. Guido de Flilippo

crowsmarts

This is right up there with Sy Montgomery’s Kakapo book as one of my favorite books about obscure birds out there.  Of course, the Kakapo is dumb as a box of rocks while these birds are smarter than human 4-year-olds, but who’s counting?

Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet by Nikki Tate

deeproots

Orca consistently produces fun nonfiction titles on serious subjects in a voice that never patronizes its young readers.  This latest is no exception.

The Hello Atlas by Ben Handicott, ill. Kenard Pak

helloatlas

I really wasn’t sure where to put this one either, and it just feels like it has a bit too much content to consider it a picture book.  The publisher calls this, “A celebration of humanity’s written and verbal languages is comprised of fully illustrated word charts depicting children of diverse cultures participating in everyday activities, in a reference complemented by a free downloadable app for iOS and Android that allows readers to hear the book’s phrases as recorded by native speakers”.  Cool, right?  Well, says Kirkus, “This will be a necessity for just about everybody, as there are no phonetic spellings”.  So word to the wise.  It’s still a pretty amazing book.

Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West by Candace Fleming

presentingbuffalo

Did I mention I liked it yet?

I liked it.

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson

sachiko

Still one of the most powerful books of the year.

Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela S. Turner, ill. Gareth Hinds

SamuraiRising

This one came out so early in the year that I almost forgot it was a 2016 title.  Then I remembered that there’s this crazy outside chance that it could win a Newbery for its fantastic writing.  So there’s that.

Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

somewriter

It took me a while to jump on the bandwagon with this one, since I’m sometimes slow on the uptake.  Now that I’ve read it, I’m gratified to write that it really is quite amazing.  I’m not sure what kid would pick it up on their own, but it does a really lovely job of encapsulating White’s life and spends a good amount of time on his writing for children.  Visually arresting from start to finish, this is one of the best bios of the year.  Glad I followed the crowd on this one.

What Milly Did by Elise Moser, ill. Scot Ritchie

whatmilly

I’m not a huge fan of the cover, but I think the book’s worth its weight in gold.  FYI.


Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – Calde-Nots

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – International Imports

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Older Picture Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Graphic Novels

December 21 – Poetry

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Novel Reprints

December 30 – Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

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10. Echo Echo

Echo Echo: Reverso Poems About Greek Myths. Marilyn Singer. Illustrated by Josee Masse. 2016. 32 pages. [Source: Library]


First sentence: Ancient Greece: an age of marvelous myths, gone, but not forgotten. Heroes that rise and fall.

Premise/plot: This is the third collection of reverso poems by Marilyn Singer. The first two were: Mirror, Mirror and Follow, Follow. Both of those were fairy tale inspired poetry collections. This third book is inspired by Greek mythology.

So what is a reverso poem? A poem that is both read top to bottom, and bottom to top. The two 'versions' of the poem might tell completely different stories! Word order and punctuation can accomplish a LOT. Much more than I ever thought about!!! Most of the reverso poems in this collection have two narrators. For example, with "King Midas and His Daughter," the first poem is from the daughter's perspective (top to bottom), and the second poem (bottom to top) is from the King's perspective.

My thoughts: I really enjoyed this one. I'm not sure I loved, loved, loved it as much as the previous volumes. But. It's been a few years since I've read them, and, I'd have to reread all three closer together to truly decide which is my favorite. I can tell you that I do like Greek mythology. (Thanks in small part to Edith Hamilton and good old Percy Jackson.)

I think my favorite poem might be "Pygmalion and Galatea."
Wondrous!/ How/ life-/ like! There is nothing in this world/ so perfect. Oh, these lips, hands, eyes!/ The artist/ is in love with/ his creation./ Let a heartfelt wish be granted,/ kind Venus:/ Only you could make this stone breathe!
Only you could make this stone breathe!/ Kind Venus/ let a heartfelt wish be granted./ His creation/ is in love with/ the artist./ Oh, these lips, hands, eyes--/ so perfect!/ There is nothing in this world/ like/ life! How/ wondrous!
*The book does have at least one typo. And I wouldn't have noticed it if I hadn't chosen to share it. I would have just auto-corrected in my head without thinking twice. "There is nothing is this world." I include it here just in case it hasn't been caught yet and fixed already for future editions.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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11. The Anthropology of Gifts - Part One

The Anthropology of Gifts - Part One


Look what I got in the mail right before Christmas! 

 -a beautiful slip-covered copy of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass with the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel.  (The book pictured comes from Atlas Books, a book marketing company.  The mention of this company is not an endorsement.  The Atlas Books catalog offers lots of lovely looking books.  However, I suggest that authors looking for a marketing company do a thorough investigation on their own.)

This is an example of a traditional "gift" book - lovely to behold and to hold.  Other traditional gift books are coffee table books, heavy with color plates, or educational tomes to enrich the recipient's mind, or inspirational volumes.  Gift books look impressive on display.

Every major publisher puts out books in the Fall that are designed to catch the eye and to answer the needs of the gift-giver.

Most book review sites produce Best of... lists before the holidays so that no one goes ungifted.  I prefer to let people do their own choosing.  I am not alone in having received book gifts that were not to my liking.  I have GIVEN books as gifts that ended up in yard sales. 

This brings me to something I have been mulling over during this season of grabbing, getting, gifting, griping, to say nothing of wrapping, worrying and wondering - the anthropology of gifts.

Part One:
Did you get what you wanted this holiday?  Did you give the perfect gift?  Are you wishing that you had spent more...or less?  Did your friend get a better gift from you than you got from him?

Does it matter?

Why do you give gifts, anyway?


We learn that there are two acceptable reasons to give gifts;
to show affection,
to earn affection.
(The second reason is, ahem, less acceptable than the first.)

It follows that gift-giving should be completely altruistic.  There should be no thoughts of, “Whoa, she will be blown away when she sees my awesome gift.”  Nor, should we be worrying that, “This gift won’t seem too brown-nosey, will it?”

In the history of gift giving there are so many other reasons;

to show power, - as in, “No gift you give me is worth as much as the gift I give you. So watch it.  I might take it back.”;
to earn prestige, - “Look how very important and special I am.  I can give so much.”;
to flatter, - “YOU deserve this wonderful gift.”;
to insult, -  “YOU barely even merit this tiny awful gift.”;
because it’s expected, - “I got invited to my cousin’s step-son’s wedding and I never even met him.  I don’t want to look cheap.”;
because it meets a need - “I noticed that your socks are worn.  Here, have some socks.”

The feelings that accompany gift-giving and getting are also significant -
insecurity,
hope that the recipient will be pleased,
envy over what others receive,
worry that we haven’t quite discharged our gift-giving duty,
worry that someone will be empty-handed,
worry that we will be disappointed,
hurt that the giver has no idea what we like - or who we are - even what colors we hate!

Yep, it’s a mine field, this giving of gifts. 

A young friend once complained that her relatives, whom she barely saw, gave her a beautiful Christmas stocking.
 “As if I was a little kid,” she snorted.  She was in her late teens.  “They have no interest in me, at all.” 
By the way, the stocking was absolutely gorgeous.   It was not appreciated.  The relatives did not want to show up empty handed, especially when they spent so little time with my friend.

And this brings up the politics of RECEIVING gifts....  Whoo, Nellie!  Do we really want to go into that, right now?

The ONLY acceptable way to receive gifts is happily and with a “Thank you.”  Jumping up and down with glee is acceptable if you are small enough to jump up and down without shaking the floors.  Sulking is never a good thing. 

If the gift is insulting, the giver has been thwarted. You seem pleased.  They will have to try harder.
If the gift attempts to impress, well, act impressed if you want to, but it is not obligatory.
If the gift was meant to flatter, don’t make much of it - unless you want to flatter back.
If the gift feels obligatory, remember, the giver didn’t have to give you anything.
If the gift seems insignificant, perhaps it is all the giver could give you.

As mothers, and grandmothers, and maiden aunts, and crotchety old uncles are always telling us, “It’s the thought that counts.”  (Except when it IS the thought that counts, - and the thought is nasty - then we are not supposed to notice.)

This holiday season, I decided not to worry about it.  I asked my loved ones what they wanted and gave them what I could to meet those requests.

I love every gift I receive, because I love the givers.

The best gift we have is our friends and family.  So, if we remember that, it’s all good - (in the words of Pete the Cat).





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12. Board book: I'm Wild About You

I'm Wild About You. Sandra Magsamen. 2016. Scholastic. 10 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: I love the way you monkey around. I love the way you stomp up dand down! I love the way you waddle when you walk.

Premise/plot: An animal-themed board book for parents to read aloud to their little ones. The message from cover to cover is very sweet and affectionate. (Some readers might think it a little over the top with sweetness.)

My thoughts: I definitely like this one. It's for little ones--babies, toddlers--no doubt. I like the animals. I especially like the elephant!

Text: 3 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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13. Board book: Itsy-Bitsy I Love You!

Itsy-Bitsy I Love You! Sandra Magsamen. 2016. Scholastic. 10 pages. [Source: review copy]

First sentence: My itsy-bitsy spider climbed up to snuggle me. Down came my arms, we hugged so happily.

Premise/plot: This board book reworks the classic song "Itsy Bitsy Spider."

My thoughts: I liked this one. I did. This is definitely for little ones, and, not so much preschoolers. (Although if you have preschoolers and little ones, then both might enjoy it.) The illustrations are very bright and bold. The text is cute. You can still sing it as a song. This one begs to be acted out. (As did the original song!)

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10


© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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14. It’s Tuesday! Write. Give. Share.

It's Tuesday! Write. Share. Give.

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15. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 27 – 2016 Nonfiction Picture Books

It’s finally come!  The list is nearing its end.  So it is with great delight that I present to you some of the last of the lists.  Today’s is particularly long, celebrating what I consider to be some of the best books of 2016. Since so many of them have shown up on my other lists I’ll leave off the comments this time around except for those that haven’t appeared here before.

These are the nonfiction titles I was most impressed by in 2016:


 

2016 Nonfiction Picture Books

Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley, ill. Jessie Hartland

adalovelace1

Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson

adalovelace2

Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood, ill. Sally Wern Comport

adas-violin-9781481430951_hr

Animals by the Numbers: A Book of Infographics by Steve Jenkins

animalsnumbers

Anything But Ordinary: The True Story of Adelaide Herman, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff, ill. Iacopo Bruno

anythingbutordinary

A Beetle Is Shy by Dianna Hutts Aston, ill. Sylvia Long

beatleshy

Circle by Jeanne Baker

circle

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky, ill. Isabelle Arsenault

clothlullaby

The Deadliest Creature in the World by Brena Z. Guiberson, ill. Gennady Spirin

deadliestcreature

Death Is Stupid by Anastasia Higginbotham

deathisstupid

Dining With Dinosaurs: A Tasty Guide to Mesozoic Munching by Hannah Bonner

diningdinos

Does a Fiddler Crab Fiddle? by Corinne Demas & Artemis Roehrig, ill. John Sandford

doesfiddlercrab

Dorothea’s Eyes by Barb Rosenstock, ill. Gerard DuBois

dorotheaseyes

Elizabeth Started All the Trouble by Doreen Rappaport, ill. Matt Faulkner

elizabethstarted

Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal, ill. Laura Freeman

fancypartygowns

Gabe: A Story of Me, My Dog, and the 1970s by Shelley Gill, ill. Marc Scheff

Gabe1

Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution by Jonathan Tweet, ill. Karen Lewis

grandmotherfish1

Growing Peace: A Story of Farming, Music, and Religious Harmony by Richard Sobol

growingpeace

If this hasn’t appeared on a list before it’s only because I’ve never found a place to slot it.  Though it has elements of biography to it, it’s mostly about sustainable farming, overcoming religious differences, and working together.  And since I never made a peace and global studies list (next year?) it shall go here instead.

How Cities Work by James Gulliver Hancock

howcities

Very keen.  It’s a good book to use if you want to describe to a kid how cities form, what they contain, their problems, their solutions, and their future.  Lots of lift-the-flap elements as well.

One note – if you’re buying this book for your system through Baker & Taylor, they’ll have a warning note attached saying that there are small parts and that it’s not appropriate for children under the age of three.  They sometimes will put this warning on books with small lift-the-flap flaps.  I personally think the book is safe, but you may be strict in your policies.  FYI.

How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh? by Alison Limentani

howmuchladybug

I Am NOT a Dinosaur! by Will Lach, ill. Jonny Lambert

notdino

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, ill. Elizabeth Baddeley

idissent

The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick, ill. Steven Salerno

kiddiamond

Lift Your Light a Little Higher: The Story of Stephen Bishop: Slave-Explorer by Heather Henson, ill. Bryan Collier

liftyourlight

Martin Luther “Here I Stand” by Geraldine Elschner, translated by Kathryn Bishop

martinluther

The Marvelous Thing That Came from a Spring: The Accidental Invention of the Toy That Swept the Nation by Gilbert Ford

marvelousthingspring

Since the book is focused far more on the invention than the inventor, I couldn’t really put it on the biographical list.  So for all that it’s fun and funny and interesting and beautiful (really beautiful) I’ve had to wait until now to put it on any lists.  That said, it was worth the wait.

Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix

MiracleMan

The Music in George’s Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue by Suzanne Slade, ill. Stacy Innerst

musicgeorge

My Book of Birds by Geraldo Valerio

mybookbirds

Natumi Takes the Lead: The True Story of an Orphan Elephant Who Finds Family by Gerry Ellis with Amy Novesky

natumitakeslead

The Navajo Code Talkers by J. Patrick Lewis, ill. Gary Kelley

navajocode

Olinguito, from A to Z! / Olinguito, de la A a la Z! by Lulu Delacre

OLINGUITO

Otters Love to Play by Jonathan London, ill. Meilo So

ottersplay

Pink Is for Blobfish: Discovering the World’s Perfectly Pink Animals by Jess Keating, ill. David DeGrand

pinkblobfish

A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney, ill. Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

poempeter

The Polar Bear by Jenni Desmond

polarbear

Prairie Dog Song by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore

prairiedogsong

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

Radiant Child

The Secret Subway by Shana Corey, ill. Red Nose Studio

secretsubway

She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland by Loki Mulholland & Angela Fairwell, ill. Charlotta Janssen

shestoodfreedom

A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent by Anne Rockwell, ill. Floyd Cooper

spycalledjames

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman, ill. Daniel Minter

steprightup

Ticktock Banneker’s Clock by Shana Keller, ill. David C. Gardner

ticktock

The Toad by Elise Gravel

toad

The Tudors: Kings, Queens, Scribes, and Ferrets! by Marcia Williams

tudors

Under Earth / Under Water by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski

underearthwater

When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike by Michelle Houts, ill. Erica Magnus

whengrandma

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, ill. Don Tate

whoosh

Whose Eye Am I? by Shelley Rotner

whoseeye1

The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin, ill. Jez Tuya

williamhoy

You Never Heard of Casey Stengel?! by Jonah Winter, ill. Barry Blitt

younevercasey


 

Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – Calde-Nots

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – International Imports

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Older Picture Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Graphic Novels

December 21 – Poetry

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Novel Reprints

December 30 – Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

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16. Tom Sawyer Abroad

Tom Sawyer Abroad. Mark Twain. 1894. 108 pages.

First sentence: DO you reckon Tom Sawyer was satisfied after all them adventures? I mean the adventures we had down the river, and the time we set the darky Jim free and Tom got shot in the leg. No, he wasn’t. It only just p’isoned him for more. That was all the effect it had.

Premise/plot: Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and Jim (now free) accidentally have an adventure together--in a hot air balloon--that takes them halfway across the world to Africa. The trip has its dangers certainly. But Tom is so smug and obnoxious that one of the biggest dangers is the size of his ego. The book's biggest weakness perhaps is its sudden and abrupt ending. I can almost imagine Mark Twain going, well, it was fun and interesting when it started...but I've got a new idea for a book now and I just don't care about this anymore. So let's type THE END and send it off to be published.

My thoughts: If the ending had been an actual ending, perhaps this one would have been worth my time--and your time. As it is, I can't really recommend it! Was it easier to get published back then? Was Mark Twain under contract? Did his editor not care either? Did he even have an editor? Instead of improving as it goes along, it does the opposite. Each chapter shows Twain's growing lack of interest in what happens on this balloon ride.

I don't think the fault is solely in the premise. I think it's just that when you start a book you should see it through to the end...or else not publish it.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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17. Identifying Barbie Dolls

Identifying Barbie Dolls. Janine Fennick. 1998. 80 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Collecting Barbie dolls is one of the most popular hobbies today.

Premise/plot: Janine Fennick's book is a nonfiction guide for adults (primarily) about collecting Barbie dolls and caring for your doll collection. She essentially divides Barbie dolls into three categories. (The book was published in 1998; I'd argue there needs to be a fourth category). Her categories are: "The Ponytail Era" (1959-1966), "The Mod Era" (1967-1972), and "The Collectible Era" (1973-present).

The first fifteen pages essentially act as an introduction to doll collecting itself. The remaining three chapters focus on a specific era of doll production.

The writing is both technical and practical. A fun, swinging narrative it is not. If you want to know the difference between a #1 Ponytail and a #2 Ponytail (the first two dolls) this book will tell you ALL you need to know. If you want to know what year Midge got bendable legs, this book is for you.

My thoughts: I'll be honest, though she discusses all three eras, the author's bias for the first two eras is obvious. I wouldn't mind knowing what she thinks of the current state of Barbie. (I am disappointed not with the Fashionista line, but, with the other offerings. Almost all Barbies produced in the past five to seven years have the exact same face, almost the exact same makeup, almost the exact same hair. There is no point anymore to buying *more* dolls. To have two or three dolls with the same face is one thing. Twins! Triplets! But to have sixteen? That's just CREEPY. Instead of buying more dolls, you'd almost be better off just buying fashion accessories. But clothes can be very taste specific. (I always LOVED, LOVED, LOVED sewing my own Barbie clothes. In fact it's probably the number one thing I miss about playing with Barbies.) I miss the 80s and 90s. Yes, the author doesn't really see the point of it all. But I did and do.

Probably the biggest strength of this book is the use of COLOR photographs. So many dolls, so many fashions shared in FULL color. Some of the Barbie biographies (for lack of a better word) just have black and white photographs. Yes, the narrative might be more entertaining. But it's the PICTURES OF BARBIE that makes you want to keep flipping through the pages.

I should also note that I am and always will be a believer that Barbie is meant to be played with and loved. This view puts me at slight odds with the strict collector looking for everything to be in a never been opened box.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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18. Slaves of Obsession

Slaves of Obsession. Anne Perry. 2000. 368 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: "We are invited to dine with Mr. and Mrs. Alberton," Hester said in reply to Monk's questioning gaze across the breakfast table.

Premise/plot: William and Hester Monk attend a dinner, and, soon most of the guests will be caught up in a murder case. The victim--one of several--is Mr. Alberton. And it looks like he's been killed by someone he knew, someone he entertained in his own home. Monk isn't directly on the murder case, so to speak, but he's hired by Mrs. Alberton to find her missing daughter and bring her back home, no matter what. And the number one suspect in the case is the daughter's love-interest. So chances are, if you find one you may find the other. So Hester and Monk have their hands full in this one. It takes place on TWO continents. (The daughter has fled to the United States....)

My thoughts: I really am enjoying this series again. I really like seeing Hester and William settle down into married life. I really love seeing these two love and respect and cherish one another! Yet the romance in the book is never in-your-face or time-consuming. Instead it is in the background, subtle. The issue in this book is "slavery" and whether it's right or wrong to sell guns to the South. Does someone who sells guns for a living have a moral obligation to sell guns only to people whom he agrees 100% with? Does he have the right to refuse to sell guns to interested buyers because he finds their cause distasteful? Who is really capable of deciding which causes are good or bad?

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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19. Little Babymouse and the Christmas Cupcakes

Little Babymouse and the Christmas Cupcakes. Jennifer L. Holm. Illustrated by Matthew Holm. 2016. Random House. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It was Christmas Eve. And Babymouse was putting out cookies for Santa. Babymouse! Mmf. I couldn't wait! They looked so tasty! (Sigh.) I certainly hope Santa likes Christmas crumbs.

Premise/plot: This picture book takes readers BACK to a time to when Babymouse (the star of a very popular graphic novel series) was LITTLE. After Babymouse "accidentally" eats Santa's cookies, she decides to do something different...and instead of baking more cookies...she decides to bake him cupcakes. But will all go according to plan?

My thoughts: I love Babymouse. I do. I think this is a fun introduction to Babymouse for younger readers. As you might have guessed, Babymouse's imagination was ACTIVE even way back when.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 4 out of 5
Total: 8 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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20. The Sun Is Also A Star

The Sun Is Also a Star. Nicola Yoon. 2016. 348 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Carl Sagan said that if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.

Premise/plot: Can you find your one true love and know it's your one true love in just a single day? Natasha is upset that her family is being deported and sent back to Jamaica. She's fighting for the chance to stay up to the very last minute. On this day--her very last day in New York--she meets Daniel, a guy with his own family issues. (Namely, his brother is horrid. Plus his parents want to make all of the decisions for him for the rest of his life.) Their meeting is by chance--or is it?

My thoughts: Objectively, this is a compelling teen romance with humor, heart, and drama. The chapters are short, making it even more appealing, and the chapters alternate narrators. The characters are all flawed. Not one perfectly perfect person in the bunch. That's what you want. That's what you need.

Subjectively, I think there is a very good reason I read little YA these days. Not because YA in and of itself is "bad." But because as I mature (aka get old) I find profanity and blasphemy more silly, obnoxious, and offensive, than cool. Particularly blasphemy. This book took the Lord's name in vain in various ways--often. Way too often for me to say WOW WHAT A GREAT BOOK. I am not old enough to go that any book with "language issues" is "bad" and should be taken off the shelves. I will never be that old. Just old enough that I say--No thanks, not for me.

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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21. In Bleak Midwinter

Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising was the first novel I ever read that celebrated the darkest days of the year.  Cooper's story combined Celtic mythology, Arthurian legend and Christianity in a heart thumping fantasy.


It makes sense to me that all over the Northern Hemisphere, people celebrate at this time - with lights, and fires and revelry.    After all, it feels as if the sun is leaving us.  Call back the sun with noise and joy, warmth and light, peace and truth.

That's what I wish for you now and in the coming year - Light, and Peace, Warmth and Truth, Joy and Love - oh, and noise, too, of the happiest sort. 

Fight the Dark!

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22. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 25 – 2016 Transcendent Holiday Titles

31daysNote that I didn’t specify which holidays, of course.  These are just the books I think did a slam bang job of lauding their respective days of celebration.  Enjoy one and all!


2016 Transcendent Holiday Titles

Babushka: A Christmas Tale by Dawn Casey, ill. Amanda Hall

babushka

Oh, certainly this isn’t the first Babushka title you’ve ever encountered in your life . . . or is it?  It’s certainly the cheeriest I’ve seen.  And lovely too.

Christmas in the Barn by Margaret Wise Brown, ill. Anna Dewdney

christmasbarn

Anna Dewdney left us in 2016.  One of the many losses we’ve had to swallow.  Be comforted then that she did a really stand up and cheer job on this old Margaret Wise Brown book.   A nice take on an old classic.

The Christmas Story by Robert Sabuda

christmasstoryFor you pop-up lovers.  Of course Sabuda got his start with a pop-up Christmas book (The Christmas Alphabet, if I’m not much mistaken).  This just makes sense as a natural companion.

Christmas for Greta and Gracie by Yasmeen Ismail

christmasgreta

Okay.  Stand back.  I’m going to say it.

Most emotionally honest children’s book with a Christmas theme since The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

That is all.

Groundhog’s Runaway Shadow by David Biedrzycki

groundhogrunaway

Lest you fear this is an entirely Christmas-related list (it’s alphabetical which skews it a little at the start).  I love Groundhog’s Day books and we get about one to two a year.  This one’s worth the price of admission.

Hanukkah Delight! By Leslea Newman, ill. Amy Husband

hanukkahdelight

A board book and a bloody good one too.  And trust me, there’s a need.  Great Hanukkah board books aren’t exactly a dime a dozen.

Hanukkah with Uncle Reuben: Not Santa . . . (But Not Bad) by Mark Tuchman

unclereuben

The only mystery with this book is how it hasn’t been picked up by a major publisher yet.  Consider it your culturally sensitive alternative to Shmelf the Elf.

The Lost Gift: A Christmas Story by Kallie George, ill. Stephanie Graegin

lostgift

I’m not the kind of reader who goes in for cute little furry animals delivering lost Christmas presents on their own, but this book isn’t cloying.  It’s cute, but it comes by its adorableness honestly.  Kudos George & Graegin!

Maple and Willow’s Christmas Tree by Lori Nichols

maplewillowHeartfelt is hard.  Of all the Maple & Willow books, I like this one best.  Not hard to see why.

More Than Enough: A Passover Story by April Halprin Wayland

morethanenough

When Marjorie Ingall wrote up her The Best Jewish Children’s Books of 2016 list (THE best list to go to each and every year for all things Jewish) she alerted me to this book.  I was able to locate it pretty quickly and I’m awfully glad I did.  Here’s what Marjorie had to say about it: “We see a young family shopping, preparing for and celebrating the holiday, announcing ‘dayenu’ regularly along the way. In an afterword, Wayland explains the meaning of the word, outlines the elements of the Seder, and notes that ‘dayenu’s message—being grateful for the blessings in each moment—goes beyond Passover. It’s a concept I hold in my heart when I’m on a beautiful hike, when I’m biking with my family, when I’m petting my kitty.’ A good reminder for all of us.”

The Nutcracker by Kate Davies, ill. Niroot Puttapipat

nutcrackerClearly I’m a pop-up sucker, but this really and truly is one of the best Nutcrackers you’ll ever buy.  I mean, just LOOK at that ending!

Potatoes at Turtle Rock by Susan Schnur and Anna Schnur-Fishman, ill. Alex Steele-Morgan

potatoesturtle

If you buy only one book by a tattooed female rabbi this year . . .

Refuge by Anne Booth, ill. Sam Usher

 refuge

That this book isn’t better known is shocking to me.  It draws direct comparisons between refugees and a certain fleeing couple and their newborn babe. $1 from the sale of each book sold until October 2017 will go to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

A Teeny Tiny Halloween by Lauren L. Wohl, ill. Henry Cole

teenytiny

For all that Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year, in a lot of ways, this was the only book that really did it for me in 2016.  A great rendition of a classic.

Yitzi and the Giant Menorah by Richard Ungar

yitzi

Funny and smart.  And now, naturally, I have the Steven Universe song “Giant Woman” caught in my head, though now it’s with the words “Giant Menorah” instead.


Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – Calde-Nots

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – International Imports

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Older Picture Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Graphic Novels

December 21 – Poetry

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Novel Reprints

December 30 – Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

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2 Comments on 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 25 – 2016 Transcendent Holiday Titles, last added: 12/25/2016
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23. Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain

Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain. 2014. Candlewick. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Peppa and George wake up one day and look out the window. IT'S SNOWING! Hurrah! They can't wait to go outside.

Premise/plot: Peppa Pig and her family (Mummy, Daddy, and George) spend a LOVELY day on Snowy Mountain skiing, skating, and sledding. Adventures and misadventures are had by all. Many characters are there on the mountain too. (For example, Madame Gazelle, Miss Rabbit, etc.)

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. If you have seen an episode or two of the television series you know exactly what kind of comedy to expect. Peppa sings a song. Mummy and Daddy pig end up covered in snow. And there's a lot of laughing. For example, when Peppa and George want to sled down the mountain but don't have a sled, Peppa decides that DADDY PIG makes a good sled. Away they go.

Overall, this one is worth the read IF you already love Peppa Pig.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10

© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on Peppa Pig and the Day at Snowy Mountain as of 12/28/2016 3:23:00 PM
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24. Countdown to Christmas, day 25

So Kailana (The Written Word) and I are teaming up again...this time to celebrate CHRISTMAS. 25 days of answering questions! You are definitely welcome to join in on the fun!
What I love most about Christmas...Christmas greetings!

Merry Christmas to you all!




© 2016 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on Countdown to Christmas, day 25 as of 12/28/2016 3:23:00 PM
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25. 31 Days, 31 Lists: Day 26 – 2016 Unique Biographies for Kids

31daysDuring the 2016 Boston Globe-Horn Book Colloquium Carol Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes spoke together about the art of writing about other people.  During the speech they mentioned how part of their job is to break down “the canonical boundaries of biography.”  Too often kids read the same biographies about the same people over and over again.  The canon, such as it is.  There were a bunch of perfectly good biographies out about those folks this year.  I prefer the more obscure figures and the people who don’t usually get studied.

On that note, here are the folks from 2016 that got some stellar bios.  The ones you probably shouldn’t miss:


 2016 Unique Biographies for Kids

Ada Lovelace, Poet of Science: The First Computer Programmer by Diane Stanley, ill. Jessie Hartland

adalovelace1

Ada’s Ideas: The Story of Ada Lovelace, the World’s First Computer Programmer by Fiona Robinson

adalovelace2

It’s a twofer!  Ask for one Ada Lovelace biography, get two!  Which one do I like better?  According to my notes  . . . my notes say I liked both of them equally.  We had some in 2015 as well, it occurs to me.  Does that mean we’ll get even more in 2017?  Stranger things have happened.

By the way, I heard the most amusing complaint the other day that Ada gets all the bios for kids and Babbage gets none.  I’ll just let you process that one in your brain yourself.

Anything But Ordinary: The True Story of Adelaide Herman, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff, ill. Iacopo Bruno

 anythingbutordinary

Lots of reason to love this. Rockliff did a lot of original research to learn about this early female magician and her most magnificent and infamous trick.  Iacopo Brunos’ art just add to the lustre, since he produces gorgeous art and gets very little public appreciation for it.  Luscious.

Are You an Echo?: The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko by David Jacobson, ill. Toshikado Hajiri, translations by Sally Ito and Michiko Tsuboi

areyouecho

How many other lists can I get this on?  At least one more, I think . . .

Cloth Lullaby: The Woven Life of Louise Bourgeois by Amy Novesky, ill. Isabelle Arsenault

clothlullaby

You might remember Cloth Lullaby from such previous lists as 2016 Calde-nots (solely because the illustrator doesn’t reside here).  It’s hard to pinpoint why exactly I like it so much, apart from the art.  Maybe it’s the fact that it shows that art springs from inside you and comes out in all kinds of original, eclectic, interesting ways.

Dorothea’s Eyes by Barb Rosenstock, ill. Gerard DuBois

dorotheaseyes

Photographers do get pic bios, but I’m still holding out for Weegee.  Dorothea Lange will do in a pinch, though.

Esquivel! Space-Age Sound Artist by Susan Wood, ill. Duncan Tonatiuh

 esquivel

I love that I live in a world where a picture biography of a lounge music composer can even exist.

Fancy Party Gowns: The Story of Ann Cole Lowe by Deborah Blumenthal, ill. Laura Freeman

 fancypartygowns

I had this sitting on my desk and someone walked past, saw the dresses, and then started cooing about the ones they knew.  Very cool.

The First Step: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial by Susan E. Goodman, ill. E.B. Lewis

firststep

A biography of a kid!  Once in a while a child will be assigned such a thing.  Ruby Bridges can only be discussed by so many children.  Nice to have some (much earlier) alternatives.

Gabe: A Story of Me, My Dog, and the 1970s by Shelley Gill, ill. Marc Scheff

Gabe1

Technically this is an autobiography and not a biography but the psychedelic, nutty, dog-loving nature of this (which is to say, its awesomeness) compels me to include it.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, ill. Elizabeth Baddeley

 idissent

The first, I am sure, of many such biographies to exist.

Indian Boyhood: The True Story of a Sioux Upbringing by Charles Eastman, ill. Heidi M. Rasch

indianboyhood

A new edition of a title that was released more than a hundred years ago.  Debbie Reese included an earlier republication on her list of Recommended Children’s/YA/Reference/Resource Books, FYI.

The Kid from Diamond Street: The Extraordinary Story of Baseball Legend Edith Houghton by Audrey Vernick, ill. Steven Salerno

kiddiamond

Poor sports books.  They just don’t really come out all that often.  Particularly if they’re about women.  This one was fun and light-hearted, something we could all read once in a while.

Martin Luther “Here I Stand” by Geraldine Elschner, translated by Kathryn Bishop

martinluther

2017 will mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  If you’ve any kind of an older kid who wants to know more about that, start here.

Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service by Annette Bay Pimentel, ill. Rich Lo

mountainchef

A rather fascinating story of the Chinese-American chef who worked in what many might consider impossible circumstances.  We do not HAVE a huge number of older Chinese-American biographies on our shelves.  But we have this now, and that is good.

The Music in George’s Head: George Gershwin Creates Rhapsody in Blue by Suzanne Slade, ill. Stacy Innerst

musicgeorge

Very fun and peppy.  I would have loved an accompanying CD but I suppose it’s not too hard to find the titular song if you really look.

A Poem for Peter: The Story of Ezra Jack Keats and the Creation of The Snowy Day by Andrea Davis Pinkney, ill. Lou Fancher & Steve Johnson

poempeter

A lovely ode to a lovely man.

Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West by Candace Fleming

presentingbuffalo

I still think the Newbery committee needs to seriously consider this book.  Distinguished hardly even covers it.

Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

Radiant Child

And speaking of major literary awards, oh, Caaaaaaaldecott committee . . .

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson

sachiko

Nominated for a National Book Award, it’s amazing.  And, very unfortunately, very timely at this precise moment in history.

She Stood for Freedom: The Untold Story of a Civil Rights Hero, Joan Trumpauer Mulholland by Loki Mulholland & Angela Fairwell, ill. Charlotta Janssen

shestoodfreedom

A Civil Rights activist has her story told, and published, by her own children.  And what did YOU get your mom this holiday season, hmmmm?

A Spy Called James: The True Story of James Lafayette, Revolutionary War Double Agent by Anne Rockwell, ill. Floyd Cooper

spycalledjames

Basically, you hand this book to the kids currently obsessed with Hamilton.  LOTS of Lafayette for them to enjoy, and a hero worth remembering.

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness by Donna Janell Bowman, ill. Daniel Minter

steprightup

I wish I had reviewed this book this year.  I’m not a horsey girl, and even I thik this is an amazing story.  Basically it challenges our ideas of what an animal can and cannot learn while celebrating a pretty fascinating man as well.

Ticktock Banneker’s Clock by Shana Keller, ill. David C. Gardner

ticktock

When I was a kid I had to memorize a song about Benjamin Banneker.  These kids no one ever seems to study him.  I’m just pleased that there’s a new bio of him out now.  Let’s get more!

What Milly Did by Elise Moser, ill. Scot Ritchie

whatmilly

What did she do?  Basically made it possible for you to recycle your plastic.  You’re welcome.

When Grandma Gatewood Took a Hike by Michelle Houts, ill. Erica Magnus

whengrandma

And in other elderly woman news, Gatewood became famous for hiking more than any other person in the country.  Crazy inspiring story, this.

Whoosh! Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton, ill. Don Tate

whoosh

Geez, I loved this book.  I love books that celebrate real inventors and Barton makes the guy sound so approachable.  You’ll love him by the time you get to the end.

The William Hoy Story by Nancy Churnin, ill. Jez Tuya

williamhoy

Not the first Hoy bio I’ve ever seen, but I’m happy we’ve a variety to choose from now.

You Never Heard of Casey Stengel?! by Jonah Winter, ill. Barry Blitt

younevercasey

How crazy is it that this is the first picture book biography of the guy I’ve ever encountered?  Winter has a blast with the subject matter.  I wonder if he’ll ever consider doing one of Yogi Berra . . .


 

Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:

December 1 – Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Adaptations

December 3 – Nursery Rhymes

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Alphabet Books

December 7 – Funny Picture Books

December 8 – Calde-Nots

December 9 – Picture Book Reprints

December 10 – Math Picture Books

December 11 – Bilingual Books

December 12 – International Imports

December 13 – Books with a Message

December 14 – Fabulous Photography

December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales

December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year

December 17 – Older Picture Books

December 18 – Easy Books

December 19 – Early Chapter Books

December 20 – Graphic Novels

December 21 – Poetry

December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles

December 26 – Unique Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books

December 29 – Novel Reprints

December 30 – Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

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