Friday, January 13, 2017

Review: Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice and Hope in a New Land by John Coy, Photos by Wing Young Huie


I have a box of laminated photographs I have been collecting since high school (yes, we had photographs back then.) Most were cut out of magazines, particularly National geographic, and almost all are of people. They are pictures that caught my eye for one reason or another, usually having something to do with the expression on the subject's face.

Opening up this book was like going through my box of pictures. Whether the people in them are looking into the camera lens or away, smiling or serious, there is something captivating about each one. They are the faces of immigrants, come here for a variety of reasons, determined to make a better lives not just for themselves, but for their families. As the spare text says, "They dreamed of more."

The text goes on to say, "They made mistakes and people laughed. Others didn't understand how much they'd sacrificed." I feel like I am stating the obvious when I say this would be a fantastic book to open discussion about so many important and timely issues. It closes by asking, "What will we do with their great gift?"

My paternal great-grandfather came here from Italy, hoping to build a better life. He and his uncle ran a store in the town where I grew up. His son brought my grandmother home from the UK, a war bride. I have copies of letters she wrote to her future mother-in-law, nervous and excited about the changes ahead of her.

On my mother's side, we have German, French-Canadian, English, and Dutch. As far as I can tell, within three generations ago, none of my relatives were actually here in the US!

Another fun fact: my maiden name, Segna. Not too common here in the US, very very common in northern Italy. As far as we have been able to determine, every person in the United States with the last name of Segna is, in fact, related to me, as can be traced on our family tree. Can't say quite the same for my current last name, Jones!

A lovely book, a serious book, an important book to share with your little (or not so little) ones. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Review: Plant the Tiny Seed by Christie Matheson

Is it Spring yet? No? Sigh.

Springtime, with everything fresh and green, new life popping up everywhere, is my absolute favorite time of the year. Despite the warm weather we have been having, Spring is still a few months away though, so I will have to settle for reading about it!


The image of the cover illustration above really does not do it justice - while the background is a flat texture, the lettering and pictures are all in a gloss finish, which really makes the hummingbird shimmer! Inside illustrations are simple and brightly colored. Follow the almost life-sized images of the life cycle of a zinnia, complete with a sneaky snail, buzzing bees, and a ladybug hidden on every page. Spare text invites readers to help the flowers grow. Tap the seeds, clap for rain, or shoo away that pesky snail! A page at the end makes sure you know just how to plant and care for zinnias (a good starter plant) at home.

A sure bet for lap time at home, and already on our roster for Spring story times. Be prepared to read it over and over again - we already have!

Monday, January 9, 2017

Review: Good Night! Good Night! by Carin Berger

I'm back! I took an unannounced vacation from blogging, after a week's vacation from work left me with about a month's worth of catching up. Isn't that how it always seems to work out? Things are happening at the library, from our new portable STEM cart (a.k.a. Ami's new toy) to the search for a new reference librarian (final interview today). Preschool programs started up again this morning with a good sized crowd of 35, and we are dusting off our zombie gear for class visits and a mannequin challenge! (What...don't YOU dress as a zombie to visit middle schools?)

Publishers seem to be back in the swing of things as well, and my TBR pile is growing. So, without further ado:


Stories about children stalling at bedtime will never get old, because MY CHILDREN WILL NEVER STOP STALLING AT BEDTIME. Sure seems like it, anyway! Berger nailed my youngest with the one-more-hug, but I'm hesitant to read this to him and give him more ideas. Good-night dances? Good-night monkeys??! 

Each stalling technique is added to the list along the way, making this easily interactive in a story time, or before bedtime at home. Mommy tries to balance firmness with fun, and at last everyone is tucked in for the night.

I love the cut paper illustrations - images like these always make me want to get out my wallpaper scraps and scissors and start crafting scenes. That would be a perfect art extension, along with talking about ways to show singing, dancing, jumping, etc. A little art and the human form lesson, perhaps?

Definitely an early favorite for 2017! And you can check out two other books written and/or illustrated by Berger here and here.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

2016 Cybils Award Finalists

Whew, it's done! Our part, anyway - the second round judges in all the categories now have to whittle these lists down to one title each the best of the best! I know coming up with the short lists weren't easy, so I do not envy them their task. You can find links to the short list in each category at, but here are the short lists for the categories I was part of, Board Books and Fiction Picture Books. These are the must-haves for any library, so if you find you are missing some, get those order cards out!

2016 Finalists: Board Books

Cityblock (Alphablock)by Christopher Franceschelli
Harry N Abrams
Nominated by: Becky L.
Your little one will have fun while learning as he/she travels through a generic city in this quality board book with engaging lift flaps and cut page turns via a variety of city transportation methods. Fabulous city destinations await, including a museum, a carousel, a sports stadium and more! And that is not all – in this “big city – all you can eat city,” there are many cultural treats to discover. This fabulous book slices up the essence of a big city in manageable bites, just perfect for a little one’s mind to chew on. Chock full of art to enjoy, words to learn, details to savor and most importantly, it’s a city block little ones will want to revisit again and again.
Lynne Marie, My Word Playground
Cuauhtemoc: Shapes/Formas (English and Spanish Edition)by Patty Rodriguez
Lil’ Libros
Nominated by: PragmaticMom
What in the world is Cuauhtémoc? And what is it doing in a child’s board book?
The charm of this little board book is the surprising variety of learning the author and illustrator have included in twenty-two pages. Cuauhtémoc is a beautifully illustrated book that introduces the youngest of our future readers to shapes. But that’s not all: it also names the shapes in both English and Spanish. And this book has still more: it focuses on one of the most neglected groups in children’s literature, indigenous American culture. You can find this all in a package that is perfect for 0-2 year olds, with simple text and large bright pictures. Cuauhtémoc is a wonderful book for your baby or your library system.
Debbie Nance, Readerbuzz
Dinosaur Dance!by Sandra Boynton
Little Simon
Nominated by: Alysa Stewart
Filled with pitch perfect rhymes and onomatopoeia, Dinosaur Dance waltzes from one page to the next with daring illustrations and colorful dinosaurs. The words are fun to say and create a rhythm that encourages small children to dance with the dinosaurs. Reading this board book provides the ideal environment for learning, laughing, and of course, dancing.
Kirstine Call, Reading for Research
Follow the Yarn: A Book of Colorsby Emily Sper
Jump Press
Nominated by: ediew
Follow the Yarn is a creative new take on the basic color board book. Each page shows yarn of a different color being unraveled by a cat, and the featured color is written in big, bold, color appropriate text. On each subsequent page, the previous colors are still displayed in what creates a fun web of colors by the end of the book. The yarns crisscross each other, so toddlers will enjoy following each color’s yarn to the end. The last page, white, is stunning with the colors contrasted against a black background. This book will make the task of teaching colors a delightful experience for both parents and children.
Kate Unger, Mom’s Radius
LOOK, LOOK AGAINby Agnese Baruzzi
Publisher/ Author Submission
Look, a donut! Or is it? Unfold the (sturdily constructed) flap, and you find those are actually the curves of a lounging cat. A green apples becomes two crocodiles, and so on, in this playful counting book.
The counting part of it is almost an extra. The real fun comes in learning to look at each shape differently, and in guessing what else it might be. Adults may remember similar photo games in magazines like National Geographic for Kids, or in the back pages of Reader’s Digest. The pages are easily manipulated by little hands, and while younger readers will enjoy marveling at the transformation, older children can be led in games of, “What else could this shape be?”

2016 Finalists: Fiction Picture Books

A Hungry Lion, or A Dwindling Assortment of Animalsby Lucy Ruth Cummins
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Sondra Eklund
“Once upon a time there was a hungry lion” the book begins, and then lists all the other adorable animals surrounding him. Oh wait, that’s not quite right. Let’s try listing those animals again. And again. And… where did everybody go? Surprise! Of course the lion didn’t eat them all! It’s a party! Um….they’re going to eat the cake, right? Well….maybe not….
There are quite a few “a hungry animal is going to eat you, no, wait, it’s just a party” books, but this one stands out with its triple-twist and giggle-worthy ending. Cummins’ bright, colorful illustrations feature an adorable assortment of animals – and a stoic lion with a glare that fits his naughty personality perfectly. Cummins has a perfect sense of timing as she plays out the joke and surprises readers on every page. A Hungry Lion will keep your storytime audience and classes laughing hysterically as they request multiple readings so they can catch every detail.
Jennifer Wharton, Jean Little Library
Ida, Alwaysby Caron Levis
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Nominated by: Jennifer Rumberger
Filled with lyrical language and vivid verbs, this book reads like poetry. The story of Gus and Ida touches on death and friendship in a peaceful and hopeful way. The illustrations add depth and power to the well chosen words. The unmistakable bond between Ida and Gus creates an emotional resonance that stays with you long after you’ve read it. You’re reminded that those you’ve lost are right there with with you. Always.
Kirstine Call, Reading for Research
One Day in the Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus Treeby Daniel Bernstrom
Nominated by: Heidi G.
“One day in the leaves
of the eucalyptus tree
hung a scare in the air
where no eye could see,
when along skipped a boy
with a whirly-twirly toy,
to the shade of the eucalyptus,
eucalyptus tree.”
Are your toes tapping? There’s a definite rhythm going that makes this book a natural read-aloud. Children can of course see the snake peeking out of the eucalyptus tree, and that snake gobbles up that boy with the whirly-twirly toy. The boy keeps calm and immediately hatches a plan, convincing the snake to swallow more and more adorably illustrated creatures, until he is finally so full, he…er…burps them all out. Early literacy skills, a feeling of empowerment, fun illustrations, science and social studies extensions, and just plain fun make this a well-rounded addition to the list.
Strictly No Elephantsby Lisa Mantchev
Simon & Schuster
Nominated by: Flowering Minds
When one little boy and his tiny pet elephant try to participate in Pet Club Day, they are met with a sign that says: Strictly No Elephants. Despite their sadness, they push forward together and ultimately travel from the realization that they do not fit in that club, to a joyful accomplishment and a place where they can celebrate their differences with friends. This well-written and aptly-illustrated book conveys the sadness and sweet success often found in the process of finding true friends and subtly suggests the meaning of friendship.
Lynne Marie, My Word Playground
The Night Gardenerby Terry and Eric Fan
Simon & Schuster
Nominated by: Betsy
The Night Gardener is a magical book. A small town is forever changed by the works of the Night Gardener, a mysterious man who creates new topiaries out of the local trees each night. One little boy, William, is impacted a bit more. One night after celebrating with the neighbors late into the night, William comes upon the Night Gardener and gets to help him create many creations in the local park. Though the trees only last until fall, the community is never the same again. And a small gift from the Night Gardener inspires William for a life time.
The text in this book is fairly minimal, with no more than a few sentences per two-page spread. The illustrations begin in muted tones with only the topiaries in color. But as the story progresses and the people in the neighborhood are impacted by the Night Gardener’s sculptures, they begin to appear in color as well. By the end of the book, the whole town is in full color, appearing as vibrant and alive as the people of the town. This book is perfect for kids ages 4-8.
Kate Unger, Mom’s Radius
There’s a Bear on My Chairby Ross Collins
Nosy Crow Books
Publisher/ Author Submission
“There’s a bear on my chair!”
On my chair!
I declare! A bear on my chair!
A mouse arrives home and discovers an enormous polar bear is sitting on his chair. How far will the mouse go to remove that bear from his chair?
There’s a Bear on My Chair is a exuberant tale filled with surprising rhyme and unexpected plot twists and wild mouse mood swings. This is a book children will ask to hear over and over again, with side benefits: you will love reading it over and over, and it will soon be a book children will find they can read solo.
Dare to ensnare this rare and extraordinaire bear-chair affair, There’s a Bear on My Chair.
Deb Nance, Readerbuzz
They All Saw a Catby Brendan Wenzel
Chronicle Books
Nominated by: PragmaticMom
“The cat walked through the world, with its whiskers, ears, and paws . . .”
When you see a cat, what do you see? A child sees a cute calico cat and wants to pet the kitty. But a mouse sees a large black cat with yellow crazed eyes, large pointed teeth, and long sharp claws ready to pounce. It is all a matter of perspective in Brendan Wenzel’s debut. He gives children twelve animals’ vision of the cat. The beautiful images will have children thinking about size and perspective, giving them a new view of their world.
Sue Morris, Kid Lit Reviews

There were many wonderful titles nominated that did not make the short list, but which should not be missed either. Take a look through my reviews over the past few months, and check out the blogs of my fellow panelists (links above). I would like to thank those other ladies for making this such an enjoyable experience, and for making me take a second or third look at things!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Review: Paper Princess by Erin Watt -or- What Happens When Ami Hates a Book

Paper Princess (Royals Series #1)

From strip clubs and truck stops to southern coast mansions and prep schools, one girl tries to stay true to herself.
These Royals will ruin you…
Ella Harper is a survivor—a pragmatic optimist. She’s spent her whole life moving from town to town with her flighty mother, struggling to make ends meet and believing that someday she’ll climb out of the gutter. After her mother’s death, Ella is truly alone.
Until Callum Royal appears, plucking Ella out of poverty and tossing her into his posh mansion among his five sons who all hate her. Each Royal boy is more magnetic than the last, but none as captivating as Reed Royal, the boy who is determined to send her back to the slums she came from.
Reed doesn’t want her. He says she doesn’t belong with the Royals.
He might be right.
Wealth. Excess. Deception. It’s like nothing Ella has ever experienced, and if she’s going to survive her time in the Royal palace, she’ll need to learn to issue her own Royal decrees.

I can't believe I read the whole thing.

Things I Learned from This Book:

- The more badly a guy treats you, the more attractive that makes him.
- Men can not control their physical desires, and that is not their fault.
- Men also cannot help beating each other up when they are upset, and that just makes them more manly/attractive.
- The only real power a woman has is sex.
- Adults can never be trusted to help you. They will cover up crimes and blame the victim (goes without saying that your peers will do the same.)
- Adults are also ridiculously oblivious at all times.
- The more money and power someone has, the fewer morals they have. That's okay, because
- The more money and power someone has, the less the rules apply to them.
- Men who threaten to sexually assault you should be forgiven and trusted again quickly.

I'm sure there's more, but as you can see this is the PERFECT little book to hand teens if you are motivated to perpetuate rape culture and turn them into little sado/masochists! We'll ignore the whole badly written/ridiculously predictable hang-ups.

Enjoy! (or...not.)

Monday, December 26, 2016

Cybils Round Up #3 - Arr, Matey!

A few more Cybils nominations that I personally liked, all with a piratical slant:

How to Find Gold

"Let's find gold," said Anna.
"That would be dangerous and difficult," said Crocodile.
"Good!" said Anna. "Let's go!"

Well, how can you not instantly like Anna? And Crocodile while occasionally the voice of reason, is never a wet blanket. This story is delightfully silly and full of adventure. The logic in it almost makes me feel like one of my kids wrote it - not a bad thing, they come up with some pretty wild stories! Visually appealing, an a perfect read-aloud to entertain both kids and their parents.

Speaking of visually appealing...


The illustrations are definitely the star of this show. The pirates, big and small, are instantly likable. They and their finds are in color, with almost everything else in black and white. Poring over details can keep little ones occupied for hours (where's that monkey this time?) Sparingly written text starts us off with "an old ship" and "a sad friend", then carries us off on a swapping adventure. Future rummage sale aficionados will be tantalized by the deal-making, as one loose button is traded for two teacups...which become three coils of rope...which due time, a new ship, and two happy friends!

Pirate's Perfect Pet

In addition to a ship, every pirate needs the perfect pet. Of course, anyone who knows anything about pirates knows just what that should be, but it takes Captain Crave a bit longer to figure that out. He and his crew search the beach (an octopus is too clingy), the farm (geese are too bossy), and the zoo ( he has his peg leg, at least!) Children will giggle all the way through, and cheer when he finally meets his soul-mate (in a perfectly appropriate way). Another sure hit for story time.

Remember, the Cybils Fiction Picture Books finalists will be announced January 1 at! There are seven first-round panelists including myself, and we had over 200 books to choose from, so a good or bad review from me does not necessarily indicate placement on the final list. 

Friday, December 23, 2016

Cybils Round-up #2

A few more Cybils nominees that have caught my attention:

Albert's Almost Amazing Adventure

Albert had an AMAZING vacation in Maine, and he can't wait to tell his friends about it! One day, he went to the beach and saw a man eating -

SHARK?!, a man eating a huge hot dog.

Albert has the admirable ability to appreciate the beauty in the ordinary. His friends are not so impressed, however, and his exciting account of his trip falls flat. This one made me immediately think of my middle guy, Logan who notices the cool tiny big in the big wide playground. Which made me immediately love Albert.

A Year of Borrowed Men

A very sweet story with lovely illustrations, covering one of those bits of history that I think I knew about and then forgot.

"When World War II 'borrows' the men in seven-year-old Gerda's family, the German government gives them in return three French prisoners of war who must sleep in an outbuilding and work the farm. Gerda knows they are under orders to treat the men as enemies, but it doesn't seem fair."

While there are some tense moments when the family is caught being 'too friendly' to the prisoners, this is mainly a story of friendship and humanity, told through the eyes of a child, and gleaned from memories of the author's mother.  Absolutely beautiful.

The Snurtch

Ruthie has a problem at school. She keeps getting in trouble for being not-very-nice. But it's not her, it's the Snurtch! That darn Snurtch follows her everywhere, throwing tantrums, being noisy, and generally being rude. When she finally faces the Snurtch and starts talking about him, he doesn't disappear, but he does become a little more manageable. And, as we discover, everyone else has some sort of Snurtch following them around too! A fun way to tackle some bad behavior with very young children, and isn't that a satisfying name to call it? (Try it - say it out loud - nobody is listening!)