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Book Reviews from the Children's Department Staff of the Park Ridge Public Library
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1. Garbage Trucks by Cari Meister

Garbage TrucksBullfrog Books Machines at Work is an easy non-fiction series for the youngest transportation lovers. Titles include Airplanes, Fire Trucks, Garbage Trucks, Helicopters, Ships, Tractors, and Trains. Currently, Garbage Trucks is the favorite in our house, but there is something to appeal to everyone in this series. The books include real photos and short text. In Garbage Trucks, children are introduced to front loaders, rear loaders and side loaders and how they work. In the back of each book, there is a page that highlights different part of the vehicle and a picture glossary. It’s a great way to introduce some new vocabulary.

Posted by: Liz

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2. Hug Machine by Scott Campbell

Hug MachineWatch out! The Hug Machine is on the loose and ready to hug! At first glance the Hug Machine looks like a typical boy in a striped shirt, shorts, and red boots. But readers will quickly learn this is no ordinary boy. There is no person or thing the Hug Machine will not hug. It doesn’t matter if one is small, large, long, or spiky. There are hugs for everyone!

I absolutely love this book. Scott Campbell delivers in both text and illustrations in his creation of the Hug Machine. The boy’s facial expressions warm my heart when his eyes are closed and he is hugging someone so intently. This story is not only sweet, it’s also quite humorous. In this picture book we learn that the best way to keep a hugging energy high is to eat pizza. We also learn that there is a safe way to hug a porcupine. This would be a great story to share as a family since both children and adults will enjoy this book. Once you are done reading together make sure you give your little one a great big hug!

Posted by: Katie

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3. Get Real! A Non-Fiction Video Book Review

This month, Kelly shares a great book for winter, Shackleton’s Journey by William Grill. Let’s hope that our winters are a little easier than his!

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4. Christmas in the Country by Cynthia Rylant

Christmas in the CountryChristmas in the Country is a picture book full of Cynthia Rylant’s remembrances of Christmases in the country where she lived with her grandparents when she was young. From stringing lights, to singing in the choir in the church at the bottom of the hill, to writing a letter to Santa on Christmas Eve – the traditions remembered are not unusual, but they are so lovingly evoked with Rylant’s sweet, simple prose and Diane Good’s soft ink and watercolor illustrations. Reading this book with loved ones will be a sweet celebration of the season, and may prompt a conversation about your own Christmases past. If you are feeling at all harried or overwhelmed with all you have to accomplish this holiday, this book may inspire you to slow down and remember all the simple joys the season offers.

Posted by: Parry

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5. Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Greenglass HouseIt seems like every year at this time, I assert once again that winter is the best time for slightly creepy stories — it’s cold outside, and we all like to huddle by the fire (or the radiator), feeling cozy and protected. A spooky mystery can add to that feeling of coziness — weird things are happening out THERE, but in HERE I’m nice and warm.

Greenglass House takes place right before a freezing cold, snowy Christmas. Milo is happy to have his loving innkeeper parents to himself for once, and planning to laze about over the school break. Unexpectedly, and at a time of year when this NEVER happens, the inn fills up with guests. And not just any guests: shifty guests. Shady guests. Guests who seem to be hiding something (or who are just plain unpleasant). It’s an open secret that Milo’s parents’ inn is friendly to smugglers, but do the guests know that? Is that why they’re there at such an odd time? Can anyone be trusted? And that’s before the mysterious thefts start, or the electricity fails due to sabotage Not to mention the ice storm! Milo’s parents and the cook are run off their feet, and Milo is either ignored or needed to help out. So much for Christmas!

Luckily for Milo, the cook’s younger daughter, Meddy, hitched a ride with her mom, so he has someone to talk to. She introduces him to the role-playing game Odd Trails, one that his father used to play when he was Milo’s age. Milo’s game character is braver (and tricksier!) than Milo himself, and their games are a great cover for an investigation into the thefts and sabotage. Do the guests have anything to do with the most famous historical owner of the house? What do they really want? And what significance is there in the guest that arrives on Christmas Eve itself?

Greenglass House is one of the best books I’ve read all year—it was enthralling, amusing, and emotionally affecting, with stellar, atmospheric prose. I’ve been able to recommend it to both adults and children, and everyone who has read it has loved it. If you love Greenglass House as much as I did, check out any of Kate Milford’s other books. None of them are as cold and wintery, but we have them all here at the library, and they’re all truly wonderful.

Posted by: Sarah

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6. Fly Away by Patricia MacLachlan

Fly AwayLucy can’t sing. She wishes she could, but she just can’t seem to carry a tune. Her sister Gracie has a lovely voice. Even her brother Teddy who is not quite 2 and who hardly even talks, can sing perfectly in tune. However, only Lucy really knows that Teddy can sing at all. It’s their secret until a family crisis brings his talents to light. Every year Lucy and her family pack up their van, chickens and all, and go to help her mom’s aunt Frankie in North Dakota during the rainy season when the river floods. This year the raging river looks particularly fierce to young Lucy. When little Teddy goes missing one afternoon it is up to Lucy to overcome her fear of not only the river, but also singing, in order to find him.

In Fly Away Patricia MacLachlan has captured the essence of the child’s point of view beautifully. Told from Lucy’s perspective, the family trip to Aunt Frankie’s takes on a childlike wonder. While the flooding river and the storms that cause it are certainly precarious, Lucy’s perspective adds a level of intensity that is specific to her youth. In addition, something as simple as her inability to sing carries extra feeling because we are experiencing the emotions through Lucy’s filter.

Fly Away is a short, but moving story about what it means to be part of a family and accepting the talents we have been given instead of lamenting those we have not. It would make a good choice for fans of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad books or Tomie DePaola’s memoir series. Readers who enjoy Fly Away should also try MacLachlan’s White Fur Flying as well.

Posted by: Staci

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7. Stanley the Builder by William Bee

Stanley the BuilderWhen you read Stanley the Builder with its simple story, likeable characters, and bright illustrations, it brings to mind another favorite character named Maisy. And I LOVE Maisy! I think little boys and girls will also love reading Stanley the Builder and the other stories about Stanley as well – Stanley’s Diner, Stanley the Farmer, and Stanley’s Garage. This book is just the right length for those little ones who typically have a very short attention span, but will be able to sit for Stanley. I like the boyish themes in the series; and just as with Maisy, I think boys and girls (and parents) will enjoy reading these very much! Yeah!

Posted by: Mary

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8. Richard Scarry’s The Best Lowly Worm Book Ever!

Richard Scarry’s The Best Lowly Worm Book Ever!Holiday gift buying season and Richard Scarry is a safe choice, but for good reason. When I started my Library career it was during a time when most of Scarry’s work was out of print. Libraries were holding on to tattered copies of Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, Busy Town, Busy People and Busy, Busy World Book and the like because although the books may not have been purchased in a while, people were still sharing them with their children. Finally, someone figured out that these well- loved copies of Richard Scarry books were not enough. New people were being born, needing an introduction to the world from Huckle the Cat, Bananas Gorilla, and Lowly Worm. So recently, much of Scarry’s book has been put back into print.

The Best of Lowly Worm is actually a new addition to the Scarry canon that Scarry’s son completed after finding the start of the book in Scarry’s unfinished works. In true Scarry fashion, the pages are packed with details, each double page spread featuring another concept important to early childhood development including counting, letters and getting dressed. Children and adults will love looking at the pages many times over, watching new subplots unfold with every viewing among the characters and situations featured in this book. Scarry’s books are a perfect way to introduce young preschoolers to new vocabulary as they will find the art so appealing, they won’t be able to stop looking and wondering at all of the new words and situations.

Pick up some of Richard Scarry’s work at the Library, choose your favorite and buy it for the young child in your life to keep this classic children’s illustrator’s books alive and well on your shelves at home and in the Library.

Posted by: Kelly

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9. Rex Wrecks It! By Ben Clanton

Rex Wrecks It!If you have anyone in your life that enjoys knocking down towers or destroying things, Rex Wrecks It! is the story for you. Gizmo the robot, Sprinkles the bunny, and Wild the monster love to build things, but Rex always wrecks them. From block towers to rockets and magical hearts, Rex wrecks it all. After he wrecks their awesomerific block tower, they finally realize that the solution is to build something as a team and knock it down together. They discover that it really is more fun to work as a team. Kids will enjoy shouting the refrain and you can’t help but not like Rex. I love his apologetic “rawry” after knocking down the block tower. This is a story that will be read again and again. It’s also a great story to share with older siblings with a little one in the family that likes to destroy things. On a side note, depending on your kids, I’d recommend skipping the blockhead comment in the story. We didn’t when we read it, and now my kids have a new name to call each other.

Posted by: Liz

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10. Stella Batts Needs a New Name by Courtney Sheinmel

Stella Batts Needs a New NameI think many children (and adults) have at one time or another wanted to change their name. Stella Batts is no exception, especially when a boy in her class calls her Smella!

Stella is eight years old and wants to be a writer when she grows up. Stella loves that her parents own a candy shop where their specialty fudge is named after her. However, she does not love her name. Stella recently went on a class nature walk and something happened that she does not want to talk about. But now she wants a new name. Stella picks a new name, but then has second thoughts about her decision.

Courtney Sheinmel has created a likeable character. Stella goes through typical ups and downs that many third graders can relate to such as dealing with a mean classmate, hanging out with a group of friends, and having a younger sibling that wants to be just like her big sister. This story would be great for those who are just starting with chapter books. Charming black and white illustrations by Jennifer A. Bell add to the pleasant appeal of the book.

If you liked reading about Stella, you’re in luck! Young readers can enjoy more adventures about this enthusiastic third grader in the rest of her early chapter book series.

Posted by: Katie

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11. Sugar White Snow and Evergreens: A Winter Wonderland of Color by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky

Sugar White Snow and Evergreens: A Winter Wonderland of ColorIt’s maple syrup season! One cold, gray morning, a family gets ready to take a trip to the farm to hunt for golden maple syrup. They play in the white snow with friends before climbing aboard a sleigh which takes them on a colorful trip to the farm. Bright colors are all around – a red cardinal bird, the snowman’s orange carrot nose, a yellow tractor, pink cheeks, green evergreen trees. When they arrive at Mr. Sweet’s Famous Sugar Maple Farm, they notice that each tree has a silver pail to collect the sweet sap. The farmer shows them the sugar shack where they boil the sap in sturdy black pans. Finally it’s time for some breakfast! Inside the farmhouse their snowsuits hang on pegs making a rainbow of colors, while on the table a golden pancake and maple syrup awaits.

The simple, rhyming text in this book introduces or reinforces so many colors and is beautifully illustrated with vibrant artwork. I’m certainly ready for a winter’s sleigh ride to a farm while taking in the colorful sights along the way!

Posted by: Wendy

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12. Pascual and the Kitchen Angels

Pascual and the Kitchen AngelsThe Thanksgiving season is the perfect time to share an appreciation for food and cooking with kids. It is a time to be grateful for the food we have that nourishes us, and to share with others who don’t have as much. If you’re looking for inspiration, I have a book recommendation for you! With his signature folk-art illustrations, Tomie DePaola’s picture book Pascual and the Kitchen Angels recounts the legend of San Pascual, known to many Catholics (especially in Spain and Latin America) as the patron saints of cooks and the kitchen.

Pascual was born in 16th century Spain and was very devout from a young age. After working as a shepherd for most of his young life, he left home to become a Franciscan friar so he could help feed the poor. Because he had no formal education, the friars accepted him as a lay brother and he was assigned the task of cooking for the brothers. The trouble was, Pascual knew nothing about cooking! According to the legend that DePaola recounts, Pascual prayed to God for help, and angels came down from heaven and cooked a delicious meal fit for the friars. So, Pascual was able to fulfill his kitchen duties while never ceasing to pray.

San Pascual is known for living a life of prayer, humility, and service to others. The legend of his miraculous cooking is inspiring – it reminds us that cooking and eating can transcend the ordinary and become something that truly nourishes our souls and allows us to give to others.

Posted by: Parry

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13. Thanks for Thanksgiving by Markes

Thanks for ThanksgivingThanksgiving is quickly approaching. One of my favorite Thanksgiving stories to share is Thanks for Thanksgiving by Julie Markes. This simple story is told in rhyme and features a boy and a girl sharing the things that they are grateful for. It is a great book to read before talking to little ones about the things they are thankful for in their lives. Preschoolers will enjoy looking at the beautiful, detailed illustrations and can relate to the children in the story.

Posted by: Liz

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14. The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure by Doreen Cronin

The Chicken Squad: The First MisadventureJ. J. Tully certainly stays busy these days. One would think a retired search-and-rescue dog could laze around the yard and enjoy a peaceful afternoon nap. However, J. J. does not know that luxury. Sugar, Poppy, Dirt, and Sweetie make up the Chicken Squad and they always keep things interesting. These four fuzzy little chicks are constantly getting into mischief and it’s J. J.’s job to keep them out of trouble.

It seems like a normal day for the Chicken Squad until Tail the squirrel dashes into the chicken coop with a huge dilemma. Tail has seen something in the yard that is BIG and SCARY! What could this big and scary thing be? The chicks try to get more information from Tail but it is an extremely difficult task as the squirrel keeps fainting from being scared. Will the chicks learn what this big, scary object is and protect everyone in the yard? The Chicken Squad is certainly up to the task!

This is a comical delight for young children who are beginning to read longer books. The black and white illustrations by Kevin Cornell enhance the story by perfectly depicting the range of zany emotions that each character experiences. The drawings are also paced throughout the story to break up the text for readers just starting with chapter books. If you enjoy these wacky chicks you can read more about them in their next adventure called The Case of the Weird Blue Chicken, or check out some of their previous escapades in the J. J. Tully Mysteries.

Posted by: Katie

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15. Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers

Finding Ruby StarlingAs someone who bears almost no resemblance to any members of my (awesome) family, I am fascinated by siblings who look alike, and by people who ‘look’ Irish or German or like they come from some other country. I’ve always wanted to find out that I look like someone.

Ruth Quayle isn’t really expecting to find out that she looks like anyone — she just using FaceTrace, an Internet bot that searches for pictures that match her own. What she doesn’t expect to find are several pictures of someone who looks exactly like her, but ISN’T her. The mystery girl is Ruby Starling, who lives in England, and, since Ruth is adopted, just might be Ruth’s identical twin sister.

Ruby isn’t sure who this crazy person sending her emails is, and her mother has DEFINITELY never mentioned that she gave away one of her babies. But her artist mother is kind of flighty . . . and Ruby’s birth DID take place in America . . . and maybe Ruby and Ruth really ARE identical twins!

Finding Ruby Starling is one of the most engaging, heart-warming — and HILARIOUS — books that I’ve read all year. Written entirely in the form of emails, letters and Tumblr posts, the book perfectly delineates the two girls’ separate lives, and shows how similar — and how different — they are. Ruth’s best friend Jedgar, with whom she makes YouTube horror movies, is contrasted with Ruby’s older, fashionable friend Fiona. Ruth’s zany-yet-loving parents (a paleontologist and a heart-surgeon) are contrasted with Ruby’s artist/sculptor mother, and her recently deceased, very English Nan.

Very few books can make you laugh uproariously while still touching your heart, but this book succeeds perfectly. It is, as Ruth would say, Totes Amazeballs!

Posted by: Sarah

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16. It’s An Orange Aardvark by Michael Hall

It’s An Orange Aardvark“Wrrr,” this picture book begins with a carpenter ant in a hard hat drilling a hole in the log he lives in. The ant explains to the other ants (all in hard hats, of course) that he is drilling a peephole. Three of the ants are thrilled with the prospect of looking outside to see the world. The fourth is firmly against the idea as there could be any number or horrific things lurking outside, the worst of which would be an aardvark. But the first ant persists, and soon cuts out a peephole and orange light shines through the log. The other ants quickly point out to the nervous ant that there is no way that whatever is outside could be an aardvark because aardvarks are grey. But, our poor worried ant cannot be dissuaded and announces “It’s an orange aardvark!”

The story continues with the first ant drilling another hole that reveals the color blue and the terrified ant announcing “It’s an orange aardvark wearing blue pajamas.” Red causes him to exclaim “It’s an orange aardvark carrying a bottle of ketchup”; green is an orange aardvark wearing blue pajamas carrying a bottle of ketchup with gecko (geckos eat ants too, you know). The story continues this pattern of colors being revealed though tiny peepholes that leads the terrified ant into a ridiculously delightful conclusion and the other three to exclaim in a very repeatable chorus “goodness, gracious, yikes!”

Eventually, it is revealed that the ants are not seeing a hungry aardvark at all, but a beautiful rainbow. Told with simple die cut illustrations and extremely rich colors, this story would work for very young readers as a way to learn colors and older preschoolers and even kindergartners because of the escalating action and suspense. This story would also serve as a solid introduction for learning more about carpenter ants, aardvarks and geckos.

Posted by: Kelly

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17. Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt

Planet KindergartenWhen children are about to embark on their first big mission – KINDERGARTEN – they must be prepared for their new experiences, and this book is up to the task! This imaginative story helps kids to think of Kindergarten from the countdown (the days leading up to school) to the splashdown (the bath at the end of the first day) in a way that is full of humor but also full of strength.

The book is written as if the boy is accepting a mission to travel into outer space all the way to PLANET KINDERGARTEN! His first day on Planet Kindergarten includes aliens from many galaxies, and crewmates that sometimes disagree over the equipment (recess). They run some experiments, and write in their logs, and capture images for their families (draw pictures). And even though he gets a little sad during his rest time and wants to abort his mission, he remembers what they say at NASA: FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION. He gets back to work, and before you know it, his mission is accomplished, and it is time to go home. Hooray!

This book is just plain clever, and I think kids and parents will enjoy reading it very much.

Posted by: Mary

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18. Ungifted by Gordon Korman

UngiftedNo one would ever call Donovan Curtis a gifted student. In fact, even average might be considered a generous label for Donovan’s academic abilities. However, when a seemingly harmless prank goes horribly wrong and there is a mix-up with some paperwork in the Superintendent’s office, Donovan Curtis finds himself on a very prestigious list of students who are being transferred to the Academy of Scholastic Distinction. Not wanting to ruin a good thing (or face the consequences of his actions), Donovan does his best to skate by under the radar in his new school for as long as possible, but being ungifted in a class of geniuses is not easy to hide. As his teachers and fellow classmates grow more and more suspicious, Donovan must work harder to become an indispensible member of the robotics team and his class in general or face being found out as an impostor or worse. Along the way, Donovan’s new classmates, teachers, and even his family come to realize that people are gifted in a variety of ways, and sometimes it can be the least likely addition that can make all the difference. Donovan may not be book smart, but he knows plenty about being average, and average may be exactly what the students at the Academy really need.

Told from multiple points of view, Ungifted is more than just the story of Donovan trying to keep his head above water at the Academy of Scholastic Distinction. Unlikely friendships are formed, fences are mended, and stereotypes are smashed in this clever, funny and often heart-warming story of friendship and acceptance. Gordon Korman does a wonderful job giving each narrator a distinct voice. Donovan and his classmates are the stars of the story, but even among those stars, super-genius Noah Youkilis is a stand-out with his quirky fashion sense, obsession for trying to get kicked out of the Academy, and a newly ignited passion for wrestling. This is a fun, fast-paced read for middle school students looking for realistic fiction along the lines of Wonder without the heavy subject matter.

Posted by: Staci

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19. Heidi Heckelbeck Gets the Sniffles by Wanda Coven

Heidi Heckelbeck Gets the SnifflesWe all know what it’s like to be excited for something special. Heidi Heckelbeck waits all year long for the Brewster Fall Festival. She’s especially excited this year to go through the haunted barn with her best friend Lucy.

We also all know what it’s like to get sick and have to miss out on something special. Poor Heidi starts sneezing and feeling achy all over. At first she tries hard to ignore her symptoms, but when she becomes feverish she has to admit that she feels overall terrible. She has a really bad cold that she can’t even cure with a special “potion” and she will have to miss going to the long awaited Brewster Fall Festival!

When Heidi finally feels like her old self again, her family and friends delight her with a great surprise. They have turned the garage into a special haunted house just for her. What fun and how scary!

The Heidi Heckelbeck series is always a hit with me. Every page has an illustration that helps the reader further enjoy the story. This easy reader is not only a great read-alone story, but would also be fun to read aloud – especially on a crisp fall day!

Posted by: Wendy

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20. Penguin and Pumpkin by Salina Yoon

Penguin and PumpkinJust in time for autumn and Halloween, Penguin is back. This time Penguin is off on an adventure to find out what fall is like. Unfortunately, her little brother, Pumpkin, is too small to make the journey. But Penguin doesn’t forget about him and brings him back a little bit of fall.

Not only is this a story about the season but of sibling relationships as well. The cute illustrations share some of the joys of autumn. While Penguin and Pinecone is still my favorite in this series, I love the ending image of snowing leaves in this title.

Posted by: Liz

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21. The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg

Categorical Universe of Candice PheeCandice Phee marches to the beat of her own drummer. Candice might tell you, though, that she doesn’t see any drummers around, and that she’s sitting still at the moment, thank you. Candice is very literal, and very sure of her world. She knows quite well that none of her schoolmates like her, but she likes everyone anyway. I’ve seen several reviews which assert (as does Candice’s friend Douglas Benson’s mother) that she must be autistic, or somewhere ‘on the spectrum.’ Candice’s response? “I’m me.”

Candice’s outlook may be generally positive, but this doesn’t mean her world is an easy one–her baby sister died of SIDS; her mother has had a double masectomy and is (understandably) suffering from depression; her father had a business blow-up with Rich Uncle Brian before Candice was born, and has been frustrated in his job ever since. More than anything else, Candice wants to fix her family. She knows it won’t be easy, but she has to try. And when Douglas Benson confides that he believes that he is from another dimension and needs to get back to his real family, Candice is skeptical, but can’t quite bring herself to NOT believe him.

Candice is one of the most endearing, engrossing characters that I’ve read about in a long time. From her hilarious interactions with her teachers (regular and substitute) to her philosophical worries about her pet fish (does the fish think of her as a deity? Is it ethical for her to allow the fish to think so?), to her heartfelt attempts to heal her family’s wounds, every moment in this lovely novel was affecting. The book comes to a satisfying conclusion, so there’s no reason for the author to write a sequel, but I wouldn’t be at all upset to spend more time with Candice.

Posted by: Sarah

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22. Zen Ghosts by Jon J Muth

Zen GhostsIn the 2005 book Zen Shorts by Jon J Muth, Stillwater the giant panda moves next door to siblings Abby, Michael, and Karl. Stillwater becomes their friend – he plays with them, talks with them, lets them climb on him, and tells them stories that relate to their lives. The stories Stillwater tells are simple stories rooted in the Zen Buddhist tradition. In the book Zen Ghosts, it is Halloween, and Stillwater is helping the children decide what costumes to wear. He invites the children to meet him for a ghost story after they go trick-or-treating, and the story he tells is eerie and mysterious, yet gentle (and not exactly scary). Afterward, there is swapping of candy and quiet enjoyment of the moonlit Halloween night.

Muth uses watercolors to illustrate scenes of the children and Stillwater, and brush and ink to illustrate Stillwater’s ghost story. The watercolors capture the beautiful colors of autumn, and there are a couple of wonderful wordless spreads – one being an evocative picture of all the costumed trick-or-treaters out on the darkened neighborhood street that readers will pore over. In the author’s note, Muth explains that the ghost story Stillwater tells is a koan, a kind of story that is a paradox to be meditated on, from the Zen Buddhist tradition. As Muth writes, “They appeal directly to the intuitive part of the human consciousness, not to the intellect.” Zen Ghosts is gentle and philosophical (though more playful than ponderous), and a wonderful Halloween read aloud for kids in grade K and up (it would make an especially good match for older kids).

Books featuring Stillwater the panda include Zen Shorts, Zen Ties, and Zen Ghosts (and you can meet Stillwater’s nephew Koo again in Hi, Koo!).

Posted by: Parry

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23. The Spooky Box by Mark Gonyea

The Spooky Box by Mark GonyeaKnock, knock! What would you do if you found a box at your door? It’s not just any box though, it’s a spooky box! This small package could be filled with anything. There could be old bones or slithery snakes. When reading this book you will be presented with multiple items that could be contained in this mysterious black box. The narrator invites participation by eventually asking readers to open the box by lifting a page flap to discover what’s hiding inside.

This engaging picture book is perfect for Halloween celebrations since all the illustrations consist of only three colors: black, white, and a very light shade of orange. The suggestions for what could be in the box also reflect a Halloween theme with items like spiders and candy. This would be a wonderful story to spark creativity with either a large group or one-on-one. Children with wild imaginations will greatly enjoy this tale. So what do you think is hiding in the spooky box?

Posted by: Katie

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24. Special! An Interview with Author Caroline Stills


We’re thrilled to be able to bring you this interview with Caroline Stills, the author of Mice Mischief, among other wonderful books.

When did you start writing?

I started taking myself seriously as a writer after my first baby was born, when I became a ‘stay-at-home mum’ (mum = Australian for mom). I thought I would have lots of time to write while my baby slept, ha-ha. Despite the exhaustion and the all-encompassing role of being a new mother, I did put pen to paper, slowly at first, and have been in love with writing ever since. My first baby is now a teenager, and my youngest child is in primary (elementary) school, so I have a bit more time to write these days.

If you weren’t a writer, what would your job be?

My most important job is being a mum to my daughters. Writing is like a precious treasure, something I do just for me (and my readers). These are the two best jobs in the world for me and I really can’t imagine doing anything else!

How long did it take from finishing your first book to when it was actually published?

I wrote my first picture-book story Magic Mummy in 2005, it was accepted by a publisher in 2006, and finally became a book in 2009. Patience is a very useful trait to have as a writer.

Did you get many rejections?

I was actually extremely fortunate that the first story for children that I wrote was accepted for publication by one of the first publishers I sent it to. I’ve had plenty of rejection since then though. I’ve had some really lovely rejections (where publishers give encouraging feedback) and also one or two really painful ones. Unfortunately rejection is a part of every writer’s life, it comes with the job.

Do you find it hard to stop revising? Or do you have a definite ending point?

I’m a planner when it comes to writing; I like to know where my story is going. Once I finish my first draft, I will edit and rewrite, creating another draft or two. Then I give the manuscript to some trusted writer friends for feedback. Once I read their critique and suggestions, I will work on another draft. After that, it’s time to send the story to a publisher, as any further drafts at that stage might mean the loss of the story ‘spark’. When a publisher accepts a manuscript, they will want more editing and rewriting, and I’m happy to do as many drafts as needed at that stage, to make the story the best it can be.

For you, what is the hardest part of writing a book?

Life always seems to be busy so, for me, the hardest part of writing is finding the time to devote to my writing. But because I love it so much, I make sure to find this time.

What made you decide to write for children, and how is it different from writing for adults?

I initially started writing to create fiction for adults. Having my own children inspired me to try writing for children, and that’s when I found my passion. Some people mistakenly think that writing for children is easier than writing for adults, but it’s not. For example, when writing a picture book, every single word matters. Because there are so few words, each one has to contribute to the story, has to have the right meaning and sound (rhythm etc), and are individually considered with great care and thought. And I believe that some of the most innovative and interesting contemporary writing has been for teens/YA. Did you know it is statistically twice as hard to have a picture book accepted for publication than it is for an adult novel?

Do you have any input into the illustrations for your books, or do you only see them once they’re completed by the illustrator?

It is always exciting to see how the illustrator has interpreted my text and what artwork they have created. I have never been disappointed. I am happy to leave the illustrations to the experts – the illustrators themselves and the publisher. Saying that, I have been lucky enough, on occasion, to have a sneak-peek at illustrations at the conceptual/‘sketching’ stage.

Do you prefer to write about animal characters (like in The House of Twelve Bunnies) or human characters (like in The ABC of Pirates)?

For the most part, I don’t consciously write a character as an animal. However, animals as characters do work particularly well in picture books, as they are nationality-neutral – children from all over the world can appreciate a cute little mouse or rabbit and take that character’s story to their hearts.

The House of 12 Bunnies was actually The House of 99 Children in the original draft of the manuscript. It was a story that my daughter wrote when she was eight, which I worked on with her (expanding and tightening her wonderful idea) before offering it to my publisher. Through the editing process, the manuscript then became The House of 12 Children, and illustrator Judith Rossell chose to illustrate the children as adorable rabbits. It then became a natural decision to change the title to The House of 12 Bunnies to reflect the fabulous artwork.

What advice would you give young writers?

Read. Write what you like to read. Read some more. Enjoy the process. Write because you love to write – not because you think you will make money from writing, as not many writers do.

What inspires you?

Lots of things. My children. Things I see or hear. The news. There is inspiration all around us.

What was the most exciting thing that happened to you as a child?

I grew up in New Zealand but had extended family in Australia, so occasionally my family would travel from one country to the other on a plane. Back in those days, the pilots would let children visit the cockpit if you asked nicely. I remember sitting up the front of a plane, next to the pilots, being amazed by all the gadgets and technology surrounding me while soaring above the clouds. Funny thing is, I hate flying now.

Who is your favorite author or book (children’s or adult)?

That is such a difficult question to answer when there are so many great books and authors. When I was very young, I devoured any book I could get hold of, and they included lots of Enid Blyton books. As I became an older child and into my teenage years, I particularly loved the books of John Wyndham: The Chrysalids and The Day of the Triffids and others. I was fascinated about stories set in the near future, what life would be like if something unexpected happened (eg. What if a spectacular display in the night sky – a meteor shower – caused everyone who watched it to go blind? Many of you will recognize this as the start of The Day of the Triffids).

Over the last few years, a couple of books (adults only) that stick in my mind due to their incredible prose and emotional stories are The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

Can you give us any hints about any new books you might have coming out soon?

My latest release (2014) is Mice Mischief: Math Facts in Action illustrated by Judith Rossell and published in the US by Holiday House. This book was first published in Australia, New Zealand and the UK as 10 Little Circus Mice by Little Hare Books. I’m hoping one day, in the not too distant future, to add a novel to my list of publications (which have so far all been picture books).

Thank you so much to Caroline Stills! To find out more about her and her other wonderful books, check out her website.

(Photo courtesy of Caroline Stills)

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25. Pete the Cat and the Bad Banana by James Dean

Pete the Cat and the Bad BananaPete the Cat loves eating bananas. They are easy to peel, they are sweet and tasty. Every morning he puts a banana in his cereal. Sometimes he puts a banana on his peanut butter sandwich. One day something bad happens – Pete eats a banana with brown spots. YUCKY! It’s mushy and gross and makes his tummy hurt. From then on he refuses to eat any food that has anything to do with bananas. He tries other foods that are yellow like bananas or shaped like bananas or that need to be peeled like bananas, but none of those foods are just right like bananas.

Finally something perfect happens! Could it be he finds a good substitute for a banana OR could it be he starts eating bananas again? Read this delightful Pete the Cat book to find out.

I agree with Pete that a banana is fun to eat and that they are sweet and tasty. This story really spoke to me because I am very fussy when it comes to eating bananas – they can’t be too ripe (mushy), nor can they be not quite ripe enough (slightly hard). My family knows that I will only eat a banana that seems just right.

Pete the Cat is such a beloved book character who finds great solutions for any problem. His books are always fun to read and this newest book is just right – not at all too mushy!

Posted by: Wendy

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