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1. Review of the Day: Grandmother Fish by Jonathan Tweet

grandmotherfish1Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution
By Jonathan Tweet
Illustrated by Karen Lewis
Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan)
ISBN: 978-1250113238
Ages 3-6
On shelves now

Travel back with me through the Earth’s history, back into the farthest reaches of time when the sand we walk today was still rock and the oceans of an entirely salination. Back back back we go to, oh about 13 years ago, I’d say. I was a library grad student, and had just come to the shocking realization that the children’s literature class I’d taken on a lark might actually yield a career of some sort. We were learning the finer points of book reviewing (hat tip to K.T. Horning’s From Cover to Cover there) and to hone our skills each of us was handed a brand new children’s book, ready for review. I was handed Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters, illustrated by Lauren Stringer. It was good, so I came up with some kind of a review. It was, now that I think about it, the very first children’s book review I ever wrote (talk about evolution). And I remember at the time thinking (A) How great it was to read a picture book on the topic and (B) That with my limited knowledge of the field there were probably loads and loads of books out there about evolution for small children. Fun Fact: There aren’t. Actually, in the thirteen years between then and now I’ve not seen a single evolution themed picture book come out since the Peters/Stringer collaboration. Until now. Because apparently two years before I ran across Our Family Tree author Jonathan Tweet was trying to figure out why there were so few books on the subject on the market. It took him a while, but he finally got his thoughts in order and wrote this book. Worth the wait and possibly the only book we may need on the subject. For a while, anyway.

Let’s start with a fish. We’ll call her Grandmother Fish and she lived “a long, long, long, long, long time ago.” She did familiar fishy things like “wiggle” and “chomp”. And then she had ancestors and they turned out to be everything from sharks to ray-finned fish to reptiles. That’s when you meet Grandmother Reptile, who lived “a long, long, long, long time ago.” From reptiles we get to mammals. From mammals to apes. And from apes to humans. And with each successive iteration, they carry with them the traits of their previous forms. Remember how Grandmother Fish could wiggle and chomp? Well, so can every subsequent ancestor, with some additional features as well. The final image in the book shows a wide range of humans and they can do the things mentioned in the book before. Backmatter includes a more complex evolutionary family tree, a note on how to use this book, a portion “Explaining Concepts of Evolution”, a guide “to the Grandmothers, Their Actions, and Their Grandchildren for your own information to help you explain evolution to your child”, and finally a portion on “Correcting Common Errors” (useful for both adults and kids).

grandmotherfish1What are the forbidden topics of children’s literature? Which is to say, what are the topics that could be rendered appropriate for kids but for one reason or another never see the light of day? I can think of a couple off the top of my head, an evolution might be one of them. To say that it’s controversial in this, the 21st century, is a bit odd, but we live in odd times. No doubt the book’s creators have already received their own fair share of hate mail from folks who believe this content is inappropriate for their children. I wouldn’t be too surprised to hear that it ended up on ALA’s Most Challenged list of books in the future. Yet, as I mentioned before, finding ANY book on this subject, particularly on the young end of the scale, is near impossible. I am pleased that this book is filling such a huge gap in our library collections. Now if someone would just do something for the 7-12 year olds . . .

When you are simplifying a topic for children, one of the first things you need to figure out from the get-go is how young you want to go. Are you aiming your book at savvy 6-year-olds or bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 3-year-olds? In the case of Grandmother Fish the back-story to the book is that creator Jonathan Tweet was inspired to write it when he couldn’t find a book for his daughter on evolution. We will have to assume that his daughter was on the young end of things since the final product is very clearly geared towards the interactive picture book crowd. Readers are encouraged to wiggle, crawl, breathe, etc. and the words proved capable of interesting both my 2-year-old son and my 5-year-old daughter. One would not know from this book that the author hadn’t penned picture books for kids before. The gentle repetition and clincher of a conclusion suggest otherwise.

One problem with turning evolution into picture book fare is the danger of confusing the kids (of any age, really). If you play it that our ancestors were monkeys, then some folks might take you seriously. That’s where the branching of the tree becomes so interesting. Tweet and Lewis try hard to make it clear that though we might call a critter “grandmother” it’s not literally that kind of a thing. The problem is that because the text is so simple, it really does say that each creature had “many kinds of grandchildren.” Explaining to kids that this is a metaphor and not literal . . . well, good luck with that. You may find yourself leaning heavily on the “Correcting Common Errors” page at the end of the book, which aims to correct common misconceptions. There you will find gentle corrections to false statements like “We started as fish” or “Evolution progresses to the human form” or “We descended from one fish or pair of fish, or one early human or pair of early humans.” Of these Common Errors, my favorite was “Evolution only adds traits” since it was followed by the intriguing corrective, “Evolution also take traits away. Whales can’t crawl even though they’re descended from mammals that could.” Let’s talk about the bone structure of the dolphin’s flipper sometime, shall we? The accompanying “Explaining Concepts of Evolution” does a nice job of helping adults break down ideas like “Natural Selection” and “Artificial Selection” and “Descent with Modification” into concepts for young kids. Backmatter-wise, I’d give the book an A+. In terms of the story itself, however, I’m going with a B. After all, it’s not like every parent and educator that reads this book to kids is even going to get to the backmatter. I understand the decisions that led them to say that each “Grandmother” had “grandchildren” but surely there was another way of phrasing it.

grandmotherfish3This isn’t the first crowd-sourced picture book I’ve ever seen, but it may be one of the most successful. The reason is partly because of the subject matter, partly because of the writing, and mostly because of the art. Bad art sinks even the most well-intentioned of picture books out there. Now I don’t know the back-story behind why Tweet paired with illustrator Karen Lewis on this book, but I hope he counts his lucky stars every day for her participation. First and foremost, he got an illustrator who had done books for children before (Arturo and the Navidad Birds probably being her best known). Second, her combination of watercolors and digital art really causes the pages to pop. The colors in particular are remarkably vibrant. It’s a pleasure to watch them, whether close up for one-on-one readings, or from a distance for groups. Whether on her own or with Tweet’s collaboration, her clear depictions of the evolutionary “tree” is nice and fun. Plus, it’s nice to see some early humans who aren’t your stereotypical white cavemen with clubs, for once.

I look at this book and I wonder what its future holds. Will a fair number of public school libraries purchase it? They should. Will parents like Mr. Tweet be able to find it when they wander aimlessly into bookstores and libraries? One can hope. And is it any good? It is. But you only have my word on that one. Still, if great grand numbers of perfect strangers can band together to bring a book to life on a topic crying out for representation on our children’s shelves, you’ve gotta figure the author and illustrator are doing something right. A book that meets and then exceeds expectations, tackling a tricky subject, in a divisive era of our history, to the betterment of all. Not too shabby for a fish.

On shelves now.

Source: Final copy sent from publisher for review.

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2 Comments on Review of the Day: Grandmother Fish by Jonathan Tweet, last added: 10/29/2016
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2. A Mixed Bag of Great Books for Refugee Week

Refugee Week (UK) - logoToday sees the beginning of Refugee Week here in the UK. More than ever we need to be nurturing compassion and empathy in our children so that they grow up able to recognise the toxicity of xenophobia and … Continue reading ...

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3. Rain Reign (2014)

 Rain Reign. Ann M. Martin. 2014. Feiwel & Friends. 240 pages. [Source: Library]

Rose Howard loves her dog Rain. She probably loves Rain more than homonyms and prime numbers. Maybe. It would be hard to know for sure. These are just a few of the things readers should know about Rose. Oh, I almost forgot rules. Rose Howard loves rules, loves living by rules, loves holding other people to high standards of abiding by rules. Which doesn't make her many friends among her peers, or, even the adults in her life. For example, she's no longer allowed on the bus because the bus driver couldn't take it anymore--the constant criticism of her driving. To help facilitate her needs in the classroom, she has an aide assigned to her. This helps. It may even help a great deal. Rose has worked with an aide for a year or two, I believe, but even so Rose's behavior in and out of the classroom is far from perfect. I'll qualify that. Her behavior is still not good enough, not perfect enough, not "normal" enough to please her father. I think there are enough indicators in the text that show that others in Rose's life are more forgiving and accepting. (Rose has Asperger's syndrome and OCD.)

So what is Rain Reign about? It's a story about a girl, a dog, a hurricane, and a brave act on Rose's part. There are some things Rose will tell readers from the start. I don't consider these facts to be spoilers. 1) There is a storm, a hurricane. 2) Rose's Dad puts the dog out of the house in the midst of the storm. 3) Rose doesn't know why her Dad did this.

I liked Rose well enough as a narrator. I did. But I think for me, the big surprise perhaps, was how much I loved her uncle. I think Uncle Weldon was my favorite part of this novel.

© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

0 Comments on Rain Reign (2014) as of 2/19/2015 9:53:00 AM
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4. Seeing the Woods and the Trees in 42 Picture Book Stories from Around the World

Trees are so much a part of our daily lives, whether we take them for granted or find ourselves fighting for their survival: so it is perhaps unsurprising that there are many stories from all over the world that feature trees, woods or forests as a central theme or ‘character’… … Continue reading ...

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5. Reconciliation and Friendship in the Face of Fear and Distrust in Children’s and YA Books

Mirrors Windows Doors article: Reconciliation and Friendship in the Face of Fear and Distrust in Children's and YA BooksA few weeks ago, amidst the deepening refugee crisis from the war in Syria, many people and organisations around the world came together for the Continue reading ...

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6. Review of the Day: The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtauld

PerilousPrincessBuckle and Squash: The Perilous Princess Plot
By Sarah Courtauld
Feiwel and Friends (an imprint of Macmillan)
ISBN: 978-1-250-05277-3
Ages 7-10
On shelves now.

Considering that I will never but EVER write an early chapter book or, for that matter, an easy book for new readers, it’s funny how often I sit around contemplating their difficulty. More precisely, I want to know which ones are more difficult to write. Easy books sounds like they’d be the hardest, particularly since it is remarkably hard to siphon a book down to its most essential parts while also making it interesting. Then again, those early chapter books are the devil. We see whole bunches of them published every year but how many are the type you’d like to read to your kids at bedtime over and over and over again? Nothing against Magic Treehouse, but would it kill Mary Pope Osborne to include just one tiny giant name Bonnet? Or have her characters fake The Black Death with the aid of turnip soup? I guess that’s what’s so great about Sarah Courtauld’s early chapter book import The Perilous Princess Plot. Not only is it sublime bedtime reading, it’s also perfect for transitioning kids to longer books, AND it’s knock your socks off funny. Goat and gruel, there’s something for everyone here. Unless you hate humor. Then you’re out of luck.

Meet Lavender. Interests include princesses, being a princess someday, handsome princes, and princesses (did I mention that one?). Meet her younger sister, Eliza. Interests include not hearing Lavender mention anything fairy tale related ever ever again (to say nothing of her singing). The two live in the Middle of Nowhere, in the Forgotten Corner of the Kingdom, in the realm of Squerb and their lives are pretty ordinary. Ordinary, that is, until Lavender gets herself kidnapped by the villain Mordmont who is hoping to ransom a pricey princess. Now it’s up to Eliza and her trusty steed/goat Gertrude to rescue Lavender (whether she wants to be rescued or not) and to generally save the day. There just might be a couple odd pit stops to attend to first.

It’s interesting. An author has a lot of ways of making a protagonist sympathetic to the her readership. Often in children’s books an instantaneous way is to make them the recipient of unfair treatment. Nothing captures hearts and minds more swiftly or efficiently than good old-fashioned outrage on behalf of your heroine and that’s certainly how Courtauld begins the book, with Eliza mucking out the goat pen as Lavender tra la las about. However, the real way in which you bond with Eliza is through your mutual annoyance with Lavender. Lavender is sort of what would happen if Fancy Nancy ever got so swallowed up in a princess obsession that she became unrecognizable to her family. Courtauld was quite clever to make Lavender the older sibling too. We’ve all seen the younger-princess-obsessed sibling motif in various books and while I’ve nothing against it, there’s something particularly grating when someone who, by dearth of age alone, should know better yet doesn’t.

In a given day you probably won’t read many early chapter books for kids that feel like the cast of Monty Python meandered out of retirement to write a book for children. Funny? Baby, you don’t know the half of it. Funny is hard. Funny is difficult. Funny is almost impossible to pin down because everyone’s sense of humor is different in some way from everyone else’s. But I simply refuse to believe that there’s a kid out there who could read this book and not crack a smile once. Here, I’ll give you an example. Early in the story the evil villain Mordmont is depressed. As he says, “I’m a man of simple pleasures . . . All I ever wanted was a castle, my own pride of lions, a jeweled crown, a choir of elves singing me awake each morning, sainthood, the power to make gold, the best mustache in Europe, a Jacuzzi, an elephant from the Indies, another one to be its friend, a singing giraffe, the power of invisibility, Magic Cheese Powers, a tiger with the feet of a lamb, the head of a lamb, and the body of a lamb – basically, a lamb – power over the sea, power over the letter C . . .” at which point we’re told that another 4,235 simple pleasures are to be skipped over so that we can fast forward to the final one, “a meringue that speaks Japanese.” It’s the lamb part that really got me. Love that lamb.

So let’s say you’re writing an early chapter book and you have the chance to illustrate it yourself. Do you do so? Particularly if it’s your debut novel? Yep. I’ve checked out her CV and from what I can tell Ms. Courtauld isn’t exactly a trained artist. In this respect she reminds me not a little of Abby Hanlon, another hilarious early chapter book author/self-taught illustrator whose Dory Fantasmagory is largely aided by her seemingly effortless pencilings. In this book too the art is deceptively simple. Just pencil sketches of silly tiny things, really. Yet I tell you right now that if some fancy pants illustrator walked up and said they’d redo the whole thing for free, I’d turn ‘em down flat. Courtauld has this perverse little style (in the best possible way, naturally) that just clicks with her storytelling. Some of it is obvious, like the view of a tearful rhino forced to watch Swan Lake, and some are visual gags so cheap that you just want to physically hug the book itself (like the image of people poking a girl after Mordmont talks about losing at poker). And how many early chapter book British imports can you name that contain images of Kanye West? I rest my case. Check and mate, babies.

According to a number of reputable sources this book has, “won the Sainsbury’s Book Award, and has been shortlisted for the Sheffield Children’s Book Prize and Coventry Inspiration Book Award.” In the U.K. it was also originally released with the title Buckle and Squash and the Monstrous Moat-Dragon. I’m not entirely certain why the U.S. publisher chose to change that one. Perilous plots are nice and all but they can’t really hold a candle to freakin’ moat dragons, now can they? I mean, it’s a dragon! In a moat! Still, a title change is a small price to pay when you get a book as good as this one. Hand it to a boy, hand it to a girl, hand it to a goat, they’ll all enjoy it in their own ways (though the goat may need a bit of a floss afterwards). If there are more Buckle and Squash books on the horizon, let us hope they float our way. I, for one, will look forward to those adventures. After all, the Monty Python guys can’t live forever. Time for someone else to pick up the torch.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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Other Blog Reviews: Reading Rumpus

Professional Reviews:

Alternate Covers:

And here’s the book jacket whut wuz in Britain.


Misc: Read the first chapter here.



2 Comments on Review of the Day: The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtauld, last added: 12/10/2015
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7. The Bone Magician (YA)

The Bone Magician. F.E. Higgins. 2008. Feiwel and Friends. 274 pages.

How I have come to hate this place of evil, this city of nightmares. Urbs Umida they call it, Dank City, and well it deserves its name. It has taken everything that was precious to me. But I shall leave one day, soon, when I know the truth. I shall pass through those gates and it would please me greatly to not look back. Imagine, never again to inhale the stink of rot and decay, never again to see despairing eyes in the shadows, and never again to hear the name Deodonatus Snoad or to read the lies from his poisonous quill. 

Don't judge a book by its cover. Just don't.  Especially don't judge this book by its cover. (I prefer the original cover, though even that doesn't seem like a good enough cover for the contents.)

In 2009, I reviewed F.E. Higgins novel, The Black Book of Secrets. And it was love. It really was. I fell in love with the atmosphere and tone created by Higgins. I just loved his writing. Sure it was a little over-the-top, but it worked really, really well. The way he created such quirky characters, how each quirky character had a name that suited them just so.

I was not disappointed with The Bone Magician. In fact reading the Bone Magician made me want to go out and reread The Black Book of Secrets. Not to mention picking up The Eyeball Collector and The Lunatics Curse.

So in this non-sequel, readers meet quite a cast of characters. The hero is a young might-as-well-be-an-orphan named Pin Carpue. (Pin's mother is dead; his father is just on the run, supposedly because he's murdered Pin's uncle, but Pin isn't really sure that is true and Pin's father could have just disappeared the day his uncle died by pure coincidence). And the heroine is a young girl with plenty of secrets named Juno Catchpole. I could tell you that readers first meet Pin after he's been drugged seemingly unconscious by Juno and her associates. I could tell you that Pin witnesses something incredible and unbelievable: he witnesses Juno 'raising' the dead corpse in the coffin on display at the undertakers. Or I could tell you about Benedict Pantagus, Madame de Bona, Deodonatus Snoad, Aluph Buncombe, or Beag Hickory. But I won't. I think the magic of this fantasy is in letting it surprise you.

I loved this one. I just loved it. I like the writing, the storytelling, the characterization. It is just charming and funny. True, the humor could be seen as being on the dark side. And perhaps dark dramas aren't usually considered to be all that charming. But in this case, it all works. It is not as dark and as creepy as the cover would have you believe. It is not a creepy-scary book. Even if it does feature the Silver Apple killer.

An example of the writing:
Whether or not Hickory Reds were the preferred choice of a potato thrower, it was certainly true that when it came to projecting medium-sized weighty objects through the air, there was no one to match Beag. It wasn't just the distance, you understand, it was also the accuracy with which he threw them.
Beag was a man with many talents and he had left his home village at a young age to see the world, to learn, and to seek his fortune. He was not going to let his lack of stature be an obstacle and by the ripe old age of twenty-four he h

2 Comments on The Bone Magician (YA), last added: 3/23/2012
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8. Eyeball Collector (MG/YA)

The Eyeball Collector. F.E. Higgins. 2009. Feiwel and Friends. 250 pages.

"Tartri flammis!" cursed Hector as his stomach tightened in a knot and his chest jerked violently with every beat of his heart. He rotated slowly on the spot, panting from the chase. His nose tingled with the stench that filled the air. Already his ears were pricking to the menacing sounds around him: screeches and wails, scraping and dragging, and the ominous unrelenting moaning. So this is fear, he thought. In a strange way it excited him.

See what reading one great book can do?! It can lead you to reading other great books! Yesterday, I was oh-so-happy to have read F.E. Higgin's The Bone Magician. And I was oh-so-happy that I'd thought ahead to check out all of her books at the same time. Because I just couldn't wait to get to The Eyeball Collector! And it did NOT disappoint. It was absolutely wonderful!

Six or seven years have passed since the events of The Black Book of Secrets and The Bone Magician. The Eyeball Collector is set in the same town as The Bone Magician, the dreadfully unpleasant city of Urbs Umida. (One thing you might notice if you read both books is that it seems Beag Hickory has made it as a poet at last. This novel is not only dedicated to Beag, it opens with one of Beag's poems, and in passing a reference is made in a bookshop to a book of Beag's poetry!) The Eyeball Collector can definitely be read on its own as a standalone--it's nice to know just in case you've got access to one but not all. But I do think that after getting a taste of Higgins' writing, you'll want to read them all.

The hero of The Eyeball Collector is a young boy, Hector Fitzbaudly. He's from the good side of town. (All the somebodies live on the North side of town.) Which makes him being on the wrong side of town--the South side, the too-close-to-the-stinky-river-side--a big mistake on his part. But he wanted adventure, excitement, he wanted to see how the other side lived. He didn't quite expect to be so completely robbed. But if that was the worst that happened to young Hector, he'd consider himself fortunate. For it isn't too long after that he witnesses someone--a one-eyed someone--trying to blackmail his father. His father gives in to the blackmailer's demands, but the blackmailer sells his story to the papers anyway. So all was for nothing. Long story short, Hector's father isn't long for this world. And soon he's an orphan, an orphan determined to find the man responsible for his father's downfall and death. He's determined to find this one-eyed man and kill him.

Of course, that's just one aspect of the story...

I loved so much about The Eyeball Collector. I loved the atmosphere and setting, the tone of this one. There is something delightfully-and-charmingly creepy about this one. The villains and even the heroes are a bit eccentric, you might say. And the storytelling, well, it kept me reading.

Read The Eyeball Collector
  • If you are a fan of F.E. Higgins
  • If you are a fan of middle grade or young adult fantasy
  • If you aren't quite a Dickens fan but you've always thought you should be
  • If you like atmospheric shady-gothic reads full of eccentric characters
  • If you're a cat lover who can forgive a book for killing off two cats

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews Display Comments Add a Comment
9. Interview with Emmy Laybourne, Author of Momument 14

Emmy Laybourne is the author of Monument 14, a new YA post-apocalyptic tale about a world gone mad.  Natural disasters and toxic chemical spills make life very difficult for the young protagonists scrambling to stay alive.  Emmy dropped by the virtual offices to chat about her book.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Emmy Layton] I’m a YA novelist, musical theater writer, and recovered character actress who is also a mom to two kids and a lizard (adopted)!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] Can you tell us a little about Monument 14?

[Emmy Layton] Monument 14 is the story of fourteen kids who get trapped in a superstore (think Target) during a series of environmental catastrophies that leaves the world outside the store hostile and dangerous. It’s the story of how the kids come together and try to survive and take care of each other, despite their differences. 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Emmy Layton] The idea for M14 actually began as a musical! I wanted to write a musical about a small colony of people living in a Wal-Mart. But then I decided to write it as a YA novel and everything changed. The only character who remains from my original notes and ideas for the musical is Astrid! In the musical idea I had a wild girl living up above the ceiling tiles. Astrid is that wild girl!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What was the most challenging aspect of writing the book?

[Emmy Layton] It was hard to take characters that I created (and really ended up loving) and put them through so much anguish. Especially the young ones. As an author, I knew that the story needed to really move fast, the characters needed to be in danger and the tension needed to stay high until the very end. As a mother, well, I just wanted to make everything okay. The mommy part of me wanted to make NORAD find a way to quell the airborne chemicals and have Mrs. Wooly show up in a new bus to take all the kids home to their loving parents!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Dean?

[Emmy Layton] Observant. Kind. Honest.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Jake would never have in his pocket?

[Emmy Layton] Great question! A calculator. A pack of raisins. A condom.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is Alex’s single most prized possession?

[Emmy Layton] The analog alarm clock he took apart and put back together when he was five.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are your greatest creative influences?

[Emmy Layton] Authors Anne Lamott, Kent Haruf, and Lynda Barry; UCLA professors Howard Suber, TIm Albaugh and Richard Walter; and the ten years I spent as comedy improviser.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three things do you need in order to write?

[Emmy Layton] At least 4 straight, uninterrupted hours; a good breakfast with plenty of protein; and my Classical Radiohead playlist on Pandora!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Emmy Layton] Hold Me Closer Necromancer, by Lish McBride. I loved the characters, the tone, the setting AND the story! It was such a cool world – it made me want to move to Seattle and work in a fast food joint and you really can’t say that about every book you read!

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

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10. Review: Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne



   Title: Monument 14

   Author: Emmy Laybourne

   Publisher:  Feiwel and Friends

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Your mother hollers that you’re going to miss the bus. She can see it coming down the street. You don’t stop and hug her and tell her you love her. You don’t thank her for being a good, kind, patient mother. Of course not—you launch yourself down the stairs and make a run for the corner.

Only, if it’s the last time you’ll ever see your mother, you sort of start to wish you’d stopped and did those things. Maybe even missed the bus.
But the bus was barreling down our street, so I ran.

Fourteen kids. One superstore. A million things that go wrong.

In Emmy Laybourne’s action-packed debut novel, six high school kids (some popular, some not), two eighth graders (one a tech genius), and six little kids trapped together in a chain superstore build a refuge for themselves inside. While outside, a series of escalating disasters, beginning with a monster hailstorm and ending with a chemical weapons spill, seems to be tearing the world—as they know it—apart.


I am fascinated by post-apocalyptic stories.  I enjoy books where the disaster is unraveling without warning, forcing the protagonists to find hidden strengths and somehow survive the ensuing chaos.  In Monument 14, Dean, a high school student, is running late for the bus.  In his America, set a short-time in the future, there is a gas shortage, so everyone takes the bus to school.  His mom is yelling at him to hurry up and get outside, or he’ll miss his ride to school.  Racing out the door, he doesn’t even have time to tell her good-bye.  As one disaster after another plays out, he begins to regret that he didn’t take that extra time.  It is starting to look as though he won’t ever see her again, let alone live to tell her about his really, really bad day.  I liked the urgency of the opening paragraphs – Dean doesn’t have time to do anything but barrel to meet his fate, and making that bus is going to have some alarming consequences for him.

A freak hailstorm destroys the bus and almost ends Dean’s life.  Saved from a certain and painful death, Dean ends up in a superstore with a group of very different kids, running a spectrum of ages.  With nobody but themselves to depend on, they have to work together to survive as one disaster after another wreaks havoc to the world outside.  They actually have it good, considering the magnitude of the disasters that are unfolding outside.  Secure in the store, they are safe and have plenty of supplies as they wait to be rescued.  But as it becomes apparent that there isn’t going to be a rescue, they must take matters into their own hands.  Should they stay safe inside the store?  Or should they venture out into the unknown and look for their parents?

I enjoyed this read, despite some pacing issues.  I also had to suspend disbelief in order for this story to work for me.  The prose was strong enough that I decided to just sit back and follow along as Dean narrated his adventure.  Circumstances weren’t all that dire for the kids

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11. Moby Dick

Chasing the Great White Whale   by Eric Kimmel illustrated by Andrew Glass  Feiwel & Friends 2012  Finally! A version of Melville's classic I can actually finish! In one sitting! With pictures even!  So, up front, I'm no fan of Moby Dick. I have tried and tried and simply cannot traverse the literary muck and mire of Melville's meandering meditation. I get about 60 or 70 pages in and I start

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12. Monument 14 (YA)

Monument 14. Emmy Laybourne. 2012. Feiwel & Friends. 294 pages.

Monument 14 was a quick and mostly compelling read. The book has an interesting premise, for the most part. Life as we know it has ended, at least for the near future, and a dozen (or so) students find themselves for better or worse "trapped" in a superstore. The students vary in age, of course, from kindergartners to seniors or juniors. They must find a way to work together to make the best of a very bad situation: the outside world has turned hostile and there is no guarantee that they'll be able to leave the store in the next few months. 

The narrator is one of the older students, a guy named Dean; he happens to be trapped with his brother, Alex. While there are plenty of characters, I didn't really feel connected to anyone. This one was not great at characterization or relationships. Dean happens to have a big, big crush on one of the girls he's trapped with...but she has a boyfriend, another one of the characters. And Dean is having to balance his "love" for her with his need to not make a bigger-than-him enemy.

For those who don't mind a premise-driven post-apocalyptic, this one may work well enough. It was definitely interesting in places, and intense too. But I didn't love it.

Read Monument 14
  • If you like survival-catastrophe-thrillers 
  • If you don't mind a little teen drama (high school stereotypes abound)

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

2 Comments on Monument 14 (YA), last added: 10/11/2012
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13. Otis Dooda: Strange But True

I told myself that while I was at ALA, I wouldn't pick up arcs.  Then a school marketing person handed me two arcs, and publishers gave some to me, and you know how it goes!  The result is that I've been reading a bunch, and now that it's summer and my commute is simply from my bed to the lake, I actually have some time to blog.

The first up, is Ellen Potter's new book Otis Dooda: Strange But True.  Potter has stepped out of her wheelhouse with this illustrated novel for the younger set, but since Potter is writing it, you know the writing is tight.

Otis and the rest of the Dooda family are making a move to NYC.  They are moving into the 35 story Tidwell Towers, which impresses Otis since it looks like it's made up of LEGO blocks!  Otis notices the automatic door and thinks that moving is "kind of cool, like we were moving into a Price Chopper Supermarket!" (p8)  The automatic doors aren't the only thing that is different from Otis' old place...there seems  to be a kid skulking in a potted plant in the lobby.  It turns out that he gives everyone the shakedown for candy and other goods when they come into the building, and if you don't pay up he curses you!

Otis finds this out the hard way, refusing to sacrifice his homemade LEGO lie detector.  Otis gets the details when he befriends Perry, a kid on his floor with the strangest looking and smelliest dog you've ever seen.  One of the great things about Tidwell Towers is that there are lots of kids, and before long Otis is hanging out with Perry, Cat and Boris and they are hatching plans to put the kibosh on the plant guy.

What follows is an often hilarious tale of the often dysfunctional apartment slash big city life.  As I said, this isn't what I would necessarily expect from Potter, however, I know at my library I have daily requests for "something with lots of pictures, like Wimpy Kid", and this fits the bill.  Strange parents, a creepy older brother, rats and poodles,  friends with parents with odd jobs, and trying to dodge the inevitable summer enrollment in classes all come into play.  The humor is sly and horse read oriented at the same time, and readers will likely laugh out loud along the way.

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14. Review: A Little Something Different

A Little Something Different: Fourteen Viewpoints, One Love Story by Sandy Hall. Swoon Reads, an imprint of Feiwel and Friends. 2014. Review copy from publisher.

The Plot: Lea and Gabe meet in creative writing class. It's going to take more than sharing a college class to get these two together, even though they sit side by side.

What's keeping them apart? And what will it take to get them together? Well, Lea and Gabe won't tell you, but their friends, family, and others around them, from the bus drive to the waitress, will.

The Good: I just loved the narrative device of fourteen people (including those who don't like Lea and Gabe, as well as a squirrel and a bench) telling the romance of Lea and Gabe.

I loved this -- both because I've always been a fan of large casts and multiple viewpoints, and because it strengthens this particular story. While we don't see what Lea sees or Gabe sees, we see what those around them do, and it's like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. We see more of their world than they do.

Admittedly, fourteen voices is a lot to keep track of, as a reader, even when some are as unique as 'Squirrel!" The book design helps make this easier for those who, unlike me, don't keep a notebook with a running list of characters as they read. Instead of simply saying "Casey" or "Danny" or "Bob," it always says "Casey (Gabe's friend)" or "Danny (Lea's friend)" or "Bob (a bus driver)". It's just that little bit extra to help keep track of who is who.

I've written before (both when talking about New Adult and just in general) that when I was in high school I looked for books set in college out of curiosity about what college would be like; and when I was in college, I wanted books with a college setting to reflect the reality I was living. A Little Something Different meets that reading need, because it's not just about Lea and Gabe's slow road to romance; it's also about the things, small and big, that make up college life: parties, cafeteria food, overlapping friends, ordering take-out.

I would call this New Adult; but -- in part because of who is telling the story, and because it does take a while for Lea and Gabe together -- this isn't a sexytimes romance. What it is a sweet, funny glimpse into the lives of Lea and Gabe and those around them. This is more for those whose search for New Adult is more about setting than romance -- but the romance is so great! It's just not a hot and heavy romance, it's a slow burn of missed opportunities by two of the shyest people on the planet.

Another thing I liked about A Little Something Different is how Hall wove in diversity into the narrative. For example, Lea's friend Danny is gay; the creative writing professor is a woman married to another woman; Lea is Chinese-American. Gabe had been in a car accident the year before, and it -- and the physical after effects of the accident -- are something he doesn't easily share (it's a bit of a spoiler even saying that here), and those things have an effect on how he interacts with others and how others see him.

Note: Sandy Hall is a fellow New Jersey librarian.

Other reviews: Wondrous Reads reviews; Good Books & Good Wine

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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15. Treats -

I can deservez some now?

Book #10 is drawn, scanned and printed out. Tomorrow, painting will commence...

7 Comments on Treats -, last added: 12/5/2009
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16. WIP Wednesday - Evolution of a Spot...

For each of the books in the Wind Dancer series I've done around 25 interior spots (give or take). And depending on the complexity, they all pretty much go through the same process which I thought I would share with you today.

After getting a copy of the manuscript followed by the art-request list, I initially do a number of very very rough, scribbly thumbnails (left scribble). They are really rough - and nearly unrecognizable to others - but it seems to be a step that is necessary for me to go forward.

After the initial scribble, I do one or two drawings that refine it further (middle sketch above). If it's readable, and I think I am depicting the image being requested, I can submit it at that point to make sure we are on the same visual page. In this case, no. So another sketch is submitted (image on the right). Again, no.

So, yet another drawing (left) - this one accepted. After the submitted sketch is approved, I draw a 'clean', refined one (middle drawing). The final drawing is scanned, cleaned up as necessary and then print out small, multiple copies on bond paper so that I can do value and color studies (far right) and also on watercolor paper.

Here's me painting the final printout - referring to my color comp, as well as a Trina Schart Hyman forest, since I love her tree colors. (tweetdeck, hulu and facebook keeping me company at my desk...)

Repeat 20 some times per book...

Most spots do not need so many revisions, more complex pieces, like covers, may need more. But regardless of the intricacy, I go through the same process with every piece I do.

Back to it - 13 more pieces to paint for this book.

10 Comments on WIP Wednesday - Evolution of a Spot..., last added: 1/23/2010
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17. Figure Friday -

I'm combining WIP Wednesday and Figure Friday this week since I've been working crazy-late hours trying to get the interiors to book #11 of the Wind Dancer series done and out (and after a series of working until 4am or 5am in the morning, I am happy to report it is!) So, here is the finish from the drawing posted last week.

Now on the book #12...

7 Comments on Figure Friday -, last added: 1/31/2010
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18. WIP Wednesday - codas...

I'm on the very last leg of the very last book of the Wind Dancer series.... I'm waiting for the last sketch approval for the last drawing of book #12 (everything else is drawn and scanned. I'm awaiting for the arrival of my supposedly fixed laptop tomorrow so that I can print them out, and then begin painting them.)

In addition to these, there is one more illustration needed for one of the previous books still in production, and yes, it is indeed another puppy.

Here is to one more week of painting, and then - a break??!

5 Comments on WIP Wednesday - codas..., last added: 2/25/2010
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19. WIP Wednesday - sketch variations

Last drawing of the last book of the Wind Dancer series....
Original submitted concept. They wanted to see *more* of them so -

I did a larger, full scene - and did various croppings -

-aaaaand, here is the one they picked....

2 Comments on WIP Wednesday - sketch variations, last added: 3/4/2010
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20. Figure Friday - exercise results...

The daily figure pages continue.

Recently I was given a few revisions and a new piece to do on my last big project. One of the new items was a full figure of a repeat character. My model is 2 years older than she was when we started, so I decided to try to implement what I've been learning and build a figure to match my previous ones from scratch rather than from photo reference...
This is what I ended up with to submit....

(and in daily page news, I has noses and eyeballs!)

2 Comments on Figure Friday - exercise results..., last added: 7/6/2010
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21. The Gardener (YA)

The Gardener. S.A. Bodeen. 2010. May 2010. Feiwel & Friends. 240 pages.

The videotape of my father was never meant to be seen by me, and were it not for a chow mix ripping apart half my face, the man might have remained only a mysterious void. But it was that day when I was five, that day of growls and blood and pain and screams, when I first heard my father's voice.

Mason is a sophomore who loves biology, loves science. And he's hoping that he'll be able to get a scholarship from TroDyn--when the time comes--so he can go to the college. True, he'd have to commit to working in TroDyn's labs for five years. But what could be so awful about that? But his mom has other ideas for her son. And she believes strongly that TroDyn is no place for her son to be. Ever. Ever. Ever.

It is when he goes to confront his mom about something--he found an ID card when he was snooping through his mom's filing cabinet--that the story really begins. He sneaks into her workplace. He confronts her. She stalls. Then he meets the girl. The girl that will bring so-many-complications to his life. But the girl he couldn't forget in a hundred years.

All the things that I liked most about this one are things that I think you should discover on your own. The fewer spoilers you know, the more you'll enjoy this one.

I liked this one. It's dark. It's creepy. It's compelling.

The Compound is another novel by S.A. Bodeen.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

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22. The Kneebone Boy, by Ellen Potter

As fellow readers, I am sure that some of you have experienced this. The siren song of a book simply from title and cover art alone. This was my initial experience with The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter. Now, I have enjoyed Potter’s work in the past, so I wasn’t worried at all about experiencing the dreaded feeling of, “but I wanted to like this book!” that happens when readers fall for covers and titles sometimes. From the creepy dark haired young children staring out with their older blond brother wrapped in a scarf and holding a cat, to the bare feet hanging from the tree, I was simply intrigued.

Upon opening the arc, I was greeted with Chapter 1 followed by a bit of foreshadowing of the upcoming chapter: “In which we meet the Hardscrabbles, unearth a triceratops bone, and begin to like Lucia even more.” The Hardscrabbles are siblings Otto, Lucia and Max, who all live in the town of Little Tunks with their artist father Casper. Their mum is simply gone. She had been there, then she wasn’t. As in most small towns, the rumours began to spread…especially when Otto gives up talking aloud (he has invented a sort of sign language that he and Lucia use) and takes to wearing his mum’s scarf everywhere.

Casper is a peculiar sort of artist in that he paints portraits of royalty…exclusively exiled royalty. Casper says, "...there is something extraordinary about the face of a person who has fallen from greatness. They remind me of angels tossed out of heaven who are now struggling to manage the coin-operated washing machine at the Scrubbly-Bubbly Laundromat" (arc p.23) As you can imagine, exiled royals are not big on settling up their bills, so the Hardscrabbles don't live a luxurious existence by any means, and it means that their father is often traveling to wherever it is that the exiles are.

Usually when their dad goes away, the children stay with kooky Mrs. Carnival from down the way, but this time Casper tells them that they are to stay with their cousin Angela in London. Lucia especially is quite excited about this turn of events, and some time in London would be great if cousin Angela were actually at home.  Stuck on their own in London, the kids come up with a plan that doesn't involve staying back in Little Tunks with Mrs. Carnival.  Instead of trying to head home, the kids go on another adventure to find their Great Aunt Haddie in Snoring-by-the-Sea.

It turns out that not-so-old Haddie is renting a castle folly that is chock-full of its own secrets, including the entrance (a Tyrolean traverse), a parent castle (named the Kneebone Castle), and some pretty interesting rats.

I don’t want to go too deeply into the plot and get all spoiler-y. Suffice it to say there are some twists and turns that will make readers want to start flipping back through the text looking for clues. From the beginning where readers are told that the narrator is one of the Hardscrabbles, but not which one, to the very big reveal, Potter has woven together a plot that flows pretty seamlessly. The characters are all well developed (I grew particularly fond of Otto) and their personalities will draw readers in. This is the kind of book that captures readers at the beginning and keeps them in its thrall all the way through. Emily Reads captures the essence in her haiku review found 3 Comments on The Kneebone Boy, by Ellen Potter, last added: 8/11/2010
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23. Review: Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly by Carolyn Parkhurst

Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly
By Carolyn Parkhurst
Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino
Feiwel and Friends (Macmillan)
ISBN: 9780312548483
Grades K-2

*Best New Book*

(Click to enlarge)

Review copy from publisher.

Watch the book trailer for Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly:

This book is nominated for a Cybils award in the Fiction Picture Book Category.

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24. Cinder (YA)

Cinder. (The Lunar Chronicles #1). Marissa Meyer. 2012. Feiwel & Friends. 400 pages.

The screw through Cinder's ankle had rusted, the engraved cross marks worn to a mangled circle. 

Cinder is an outcast. Not just a hardworking orphan with a horribly mean stepmother who 'owns' her, but a teen girl whose very humanity is in question. After her parents' death, Cinder was adopted, but the accident that killed her parents left her adoptive father little choice but to 'make' her a cyborg. Since he died too, Cinder has found little comfort in human companionship. No, she's a cyborg and a mechanic. She may not be popular; she may not be planning to attend the ball. But she's a clever, resourceful girl who doesn't really mind not going to the Prince's ball. Especially since there are more important things on her mind. Like her stepsister, Peony, who's caught the deadly plague, letumosis. Like repairing the prince's android. Like trying to help Kai, the prince, outwit the evil Queen Levana so that the Lunars don't invade Earth.

Cinder is very, very futuristic. If you don't like science fiction, then this one probably isn't for you. If aliens, cyborgs, and deadly plagues that threaten humanity's very existence, don't thrill you, then Cinder won't offer you much. But if you're looking for more than just a romantic, familiar retelling of Cinderella, then I think Cinder will surprise you. It is a very original retelling!

Read Cinder
  • If you like, no, love, science fiction
  • If you like futuristic stories
  • If you like Cinderella retellings, but if you don't at least like science fiction, it may not be enough for you

Listen to Chapter One,

© 2012 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

4 Comments on Cinder (YA), last added: 2/4/2012
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25. The Humming Room, by Ellen Potter

Roo is a crafty kind of girl.  When she doesn't want to be found, she heads beneath her father's trailer where she can look at her treasures and put her ear to the ground and listen to the earth.  It is here where readers are introduced to Roo, as her neighbor Mrs. Quick is talking to the police about what happened above her.  The officer tells Mrs. Quick that Roo has an uncle (a rich one) who is willing to take her in. This is news to Roo, as she has never been told about any family...it's always been Roo, her father and a various string of girlfriends.

After a short stint in foster care, Roo is gathered up by her Uncle's assistant Ms. Valentine.  They travel to the island of Cough Rock on the St. Lawrence where he uncle lives in the old St. Theresa's Children's Hospital.  Roo is not so happy with the boat ride as she has never learned to swim.  Once she arrives, she realizes that the water is the least of her worries.  Her uncle wants nothing to do with her, she is forbidden from entering the East Wing of the building, there are the unexplainable sounds, and before long she is under the eagle eye of her tutor Mrs. Wixton who loves to gossip about Roo's family.

But Roo is a wily one, and rules have never really applied to her, and she soon learns to evade Mrs. Wixton and uncover some of the secrets of Cough Rock.

Inspired by The Secret Garden, The Humming Room is a ghost story of sorts coupled with Roo's coming of age.  Ellen Potter has written a creepy story that ultimately has hope at its heart.

1 Comments on The Humming Room, by Ellen Potter, last added: 3/12/2012
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