Friday, December 29, 2017

Book Review: The Afterlife of Holly Chase by Cynthia Hand


On Christmas Eve five years ago, seventeen-year-old Holly Chase was visited by three Ghosts who showed her how selfish and spoiled she’d become. They tried to convince her to mend her ways. She didn’t. And then she died.

Now she’s stuck working for the top-secret company Project Scrooge—as their latest Ghost of Christmas Past. So far, Holly’s afterlife has been miserable. But this year’s Scrooge is different. This year’s Scrooge might change everything…

I grabbed this off my TBR shelf just before leaving work for a whole week off, not even realizing the somewhat Christmasy theme. I started reading it on the 23rd when the littles went down for a nap, planning to just get off my feet for a few minutes...and read for two hours straight. I tried stopping to sort laundry but went back to it, and ended up finishing it in the bathroom while I was getting changed for a party, using a roll of toilet paper to hold the pages open. There was no way I was going to have normal dinner conversation with Ethan and Stephanie and Blackpool lurking around in my head!

Of course, that means I didn't have time to get a review up before Christmas, but no worries, this is a fantastic book to sink into any time of the year. The main character is instantly both engaging and realistic. Even years after her death she does not easily let go of the Marley in her head, and when things get stressful, she reverts back to her old ways. Nobody is beyond redemption, though - not Holly, and not the current Scrooge. Or...are they? A good relationship can turn someone's life around, but what happens when that relationship falls apart? Secondary characters are also fun, with some surprises and back stories of their own. The premise itself is, of course, intriguing - second chances?Bad people turning good? Alternate planes and time travel and getting inside someone's brain? Pick this up soon for an enjoyable weekend read!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Review: The Cholent Brigade, by Michael Herman and Sharon Harmer


When a big snowstorm hits, Monty Nudelman happily shovels his neighbors' sidewalks, driveways, cars, and steps—until he hurts his back. Now he can barely move! He can't even make his Shabbat lunch. Luckily, his neighbors have all made cholent—a delicious Shabbat stew. The neighborhood kids form a "cholent brigade" to bring Monty Nudelman a tasty feast. Cholent to the rescue!

Brr! Winter came late and mild here in southern NM, but just looking at Harmer's illustrations of Monty shoveling snow made me shiver. It is pretty safe to say I am not a winter weather person. I do love a good deed and a shared meal, though, and this simple story expresses the fun of both without an ounce of preachiness. Herman includes a recipe for cholent at the end. Friends who got instant pots for the holidays can speed up the cooking, especially the beans - or would that ruin the atmosphere of good smells all night long? vs. comfort smells...our new debate topic!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Book Review: Locked Up for Freedom by Heather E. Schwartz


In 1963, more than 30 African-American girls ages 11 to 16 were arrested for taking part in Civil Rights protests in Americus, Georgia. They were taken without their families' knowledge to a Civil War–era stockade in Leesburg, Georgia, where they were confined in unsanitary conditions and exposed to brutal treatment. Over the following weeks, their commitment to the fight for equality was put to the test. 

I love finding books about bits of history I wasn't aware of. Of course, I knew about the Civil Rights Movement, and that African Americans of all ages were arrested and mistreated, but this is the first I have heard of this particular incident.

I also love books that include first-hand accounts of historical events, so this title fits the bill on both counts. It begins with a solid background on both Jim Crow laws - listing some of the specific laws of Georgia, down to how many city blocks apart 'colored' and 'white' baseball games had to be played. Rules of etiquette are detailed, as well as things like health officials refusing to use new needles for African American patients. Charts comparing earning potentials and photographs of police dogs attacking peaceful teenagers all serve to help the reader understand why these protests weren't simply a matter of complaining about something relatively petty.

The conditions the girls were kept under have to be read about themselves. The fact that these are first-hand accounts, photographed by a daring young photographer smuggled in under a blanket in the back of a car, reminds us that this all happened not too long ago. A must-have for every library that serves upper elementary through high school students, and hopefully one that will be referred to frequently in class.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Book Review: Hooray for Community Helpers series from Lerner



Books about community helpers are always a sure bet, and Lerner's sturdy binding and large photographs continue to please both children and librarians.

Written around a first grade reading level, Hooray for Garbage Collectors touches on recycling, vehicles and safety. I do have to wonder if the photograph on the "tools" page is more for the Moms than the kids, though - why is that man not wearing more clothing under his safety vest? Sure, it can be hot work, but I can't imagine bare arms are recommended by OSHA when handling refuse. That particular shot may be more suited to a calendar spread.

Hooray for Firefighters was less sexy, but had its own issues. One of the very first pages says "They slide down a pole." Um...our fire station doesn't have a pole. I don't know that I have ever seen a pole in use at a fire station. Some still have them, sure, but they are kind of a safety nightmare. That makes me wonder if Kenan actually spent time at a fire station, or if she just put together some stock photos. When there isn't room for more than the basic information about a subject, shouldn't we try to get that basic info right?

Rather disappointing coming from Lerner and Kenan, and hopefully just a glitch. I don't think I will be ordering the rest of this particular series.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Review: Harry Potter Quidditch Magical Film Projections


If you read the title and thought to yourself, "Wha???" Don't feel alone - I did too! The description intrigued me enough that I asked for a review copy, even though there isn't actually any new text to read and review, just lines from the movies:

The wizarding world’s favorite sport, Quidditch is a magical game played high up in the air with Quaffles, Bludgers, and broomsticks. This interactive book allows fans to project their favorite Quidditch scenes from the Harry Potter films on a wall or ceiling using a flashlight. Read along and experience extraordinary moments from the movies like never before, like when Harry catches the Golden Snitch in his first-ever game of Quidditch.

Six scenes involving Quidditch (or flying in general) have lines of dialogue paired with a black-outline drawing on clear plastic. In a darkened room, you shine a flashlight through the plastic to project the picture on the wall or ceiling.

Overall, it worked pretty well. Trying to put it on the ceiling (our only white surface available) was a little awkward, and works better with two people, but my 11yo thought the results were pretty cool. Of course, the darker the room, the better it works, but that means you can't read the dialogue at the same time. I think it will work better if you can set it on a flat surface and project the images on the wall, using the light of the same flashlight to read the scenes.

Not something I would have for check-out at the library, but if you are looking for a last-minute stocking stuffer for your Harry Potter fan, this one is sure to be a hit!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Review: Sisters of Glass by Naomi Cyprus


Halan is a powerless princess. She is heir to the Magi Kingdom, a blazing desert land ruled by ancient magic. But unlike every royal before her, Halan has no magical powers of her own.
Nalah is a powerful pauper. The glassblower’s daughter, she lives in the land of New Hadar, where magic is strictly outlawed. But Nalah has a powerful force growing within her—one she can’t always control.
One girl fears magic, one worships it. But when a legendary mirror connects them, Nalah and Halan finally meet—and must work together to save their two worlds, before everything they know is shattered forever.

Squarely in the middle grade realm for mysteries and plot twists. This has magic, character development, parallel worlds, family and friendship. Talking points can include how familial love is sometimes blind, nature vs. nurture in developing personalities, and bad consequences of good intentions.

As far as I can tell, this is Cyprus's debut title, and the first in a series. A promising start, and I will be watching for the second title to be announced!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Shane-Michael-What-Cat-Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo, etc., Turns Four!

Every year at this time until I am old and senile, I will be telling the story of Shane's birth - which you can read about here, here and here! For now, though, I will just tell you about Shane at four years old.

Contrary to the doctors' dire warnings, he does not have any heart conditions whatsoever. This child does everything at full tilt!

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His default status is goofy.

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And he is never lacking in self-confidence.

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He does NOT, as the doctor's predicted, have Down's syndrome, or any other syndrome, except perhaps so-smart-he's-scary syndrome.

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Or, maybe just plain scary.

Knows how to play it as both a Daddy's boy

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and a Mama's boy

as the need arises.

Whatever kind of boy he is being,

we are just happy he is ours! Happy fourth birthday, Littlest Guy!

Monday, December 18, 2017

Review: Great Big Things by Kate Hoefler and Noah Koocek


This book is filled with great big things: billions of stars, looming mountains, a vast sea...a mouse. Yes, a mouse - one so small compared to the great big things it travels through, you might think it's a mistake to call it such.
Only it's not.

I think I was expecting a book of opposites of some sort.

So. much. more.

Perspective, yes. But oh my goodness, the imagery! Between the spare text and sweeping illustrations, I felt with each page that I was a tiny mouse making myself even smaller against a raft of driftwood as gigantic whales surrounded me on an endless ocean, or staring wide-eyed at a vast storm-cloud filled evening sky. It was exhausting! And then when he reached his destination...well. You have to get to that part yourself, but I will say that it instantly went on every reading list I could fit it onto. I am just sad that the publication date of October 10 meant it was too late to get attention for this year's Cybils, but will miss the cut-off for next year's!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Review: Greetings from Witness Protection Program by Jake Burt


Nicki Demere is an orphan and a pickpocket. She also happens to be the U.S. Marshals’ best bet to keep a family alive. . . .
The marshals are looking for the perfect girl to join a mother, father, and son on the run from the nation’s most notorious criminals. After all, the bad guys are searching for a family with one kid, not two, and adding a streetwise girl who knows a little something about hiding things may be just what the marshals need.
Nicki swears she can keep the Trevor family safe, but to do so she’ll have to dodge hitmen, cyberbullies, and the specter of standardized testing, all while maintaining her marshal-mandated B-minus average. As she barely balances the responsibilities of her new identity, Nicki learns that the biggest threats to her family’s security might not lurk on the road from New York to North Carolina, but rather in her own past.

Wow! I found the initial description intriguing, and guessed from the description that it would be a fast-paced read. What I did not expect was all the FEELS. Primary characters are all three-dimensional, and the emotional responses and break-downs they display I found completely realistic. Well, okay, I have never actually been in the Witness Protection Program, but I have known some very strong kids pushed to their breaking point. The last two pages had me absolutely sobbing in my kitchen. Fortunately, my kids all had their noses stuck in a movie and didn't notice.

Grab some tissues and grab the book, then settle in for a fantastic read!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Review - Crown: an Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James


The barbershop is where the magic happens. Boys go in as lumps of clay and, with princely robes draped around their shoulders, a dab of cool shaving cream on their foreheads, and a slow, steady cut, they become royalty. That crisp yet subtle line makes boys sharper, more visible, more aware of every great thing that could happen to them when they look good: lesser grades turn into As; girls take notice; even a mother’s hug gets a little tighter. Everyone notices.

A fresh cut makes boys fly.

Who doesn't feel just a little bit better about themselves after a fresh new haircut? Barnes captures the feeling perfectly, for young and old. From the crisp lines of the narrator's cut, to the locs and cornrows and intricate designs of the other customers, "Tip that man! Tip that man! It was worth it. It always is."

What I really can't get over is the VOICE. Several books I have read lately inspired a mental accent of some sort while reading it, but this is the first book I have read in a while that took on a completely different voice in my head. I do not know Derrick Barnes and have never heard him speak, but it was definitely his voice reading those words, not mine. It is a true gift to be able to take the reader so far out of their own head and personality in just a few short pages.

James's illustrations do not let the text down. You cannot help but smile back at each of the faces, and leave the book walking with a little extra swagger of your own.

Or, you know, a desperate urge to call whoever does your hair, asap.

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Review: Here Lies Daniel Tate by Cristin Terrill

Ack! Holidays, kids sick, me sick, dance class, holidays, new employee, new scouting group, winterizing, Cybils, holidays, summer reading prep, jury duty...and did I mention the holidays? I seem to be a bit behind here (and everywhere else), time to do some catching up!

Nothing like a good murder mystery to read right before you have jury duty:


It seems too good to be true when Daniel Tate, missing since he was abducted from one of California’s most elite private enclaves at the age of ten, turns up on a snowy street in Vancouver six years later. At first too traumatized to speak, he is eventually able to tell the authorities who he is and is reunited with his overjoyed family. In time, they tell him, he’ll recover the memories he’s missing; all that matters is that they have him back.

It’s perfect. A miracle. Except for one thing:
That boy isn’t Daniel Tate.

But he wants to be. A young con artist who’s been taking on false identities for years, this impostor has stumbled onto the scam of a lifetime. Daniel has everything he’s ever dreamed of—wealth, privilege, the chance to make a fresh start, and most importantly, a family that loves him. Now that he’s finally found a place to belong, he doesn’t question his luck.

Until he realizes that maybe Daniel isn’t missing at all. Maybe someone knows what really happened to the boy he’s pretending to be...and if he can’t uncover the truth—he could be next the next Daniel Tate to disappear.

I was immediately drawn into Daniel (well, fake-Daniel)'s life, rooting for him from the start. You know that what he is doing is wrong, and even fake-Daniel doesn't try to convince you it isn't, but you still just can't help liking him. All of the characters are fairly well-developed, but most are held at arm's length. It is fake-Daniel's head that the reader is inside, and it is hard to pull yourself out again to do mundane things like drive your car and cook supper.

The story premise had me intrigued, and it did not disappoint. I figured out "whodunit" by the end, and had an inkling of the final 'shocker', but there were enough red herrings along the way that I kept second-guessing myself. While I can't say the conclusion made me happy, I was satisfied with it. Intense, suspenseful and sharp, hand this off to teens or adults who appreciate a good thriller!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Review: Alfie (The Turtle That Disappeared) by Thyra Heder


Nia loves Alfie, her pet turtle. But he’s not very soft, he doesn’t do tricks, and he’s pretty quiet. Sometimes she forgets he’s even there! That is until the night before Nia’s seventh birthday, when Alfie disappears! Then, in an innovative switch in point of view, we hear Alfie’s side of the story. He didn’t leave Nia—he’s actually searching for the perfect birthday present for his dear friend. Can he find a gift and make it back in time for the big birthday party?

I love the imagination of Heder's earlier book, Fraidy-Zoo, so I was looking foward to this one. I found it a mixed bag: I liked her watercolor illustrations in Alfie much better - the illustrations in Fraidy-Zoo were too busy for such a small space, I felt like there were details I was missing due to size. 

The story of Alfie is one kids will enjoy, as well. Many will be familiar with getting a new pet (or toy or whatever) and losing interest after a while. Hearing the same story told from Alfie's point of view can be a refreshing eye-opener, and could lead to some great story extensions (what does the class guinea pig think of our days together?)

I think kids will enjoy this book quite a bit, but the adult in me can't get over the fact that there are absolutely no repercussions from Nia completely forgetting about her pet. He just pops back up again A YEAR LATER, and all is well! As someone who often sees the end results of impulse pet buying/gifting, I just can't get past that enough to really enjoy it myself.

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Review: The Love Interest, by Cale Dietrich


There is a secret organization that cultivates teenage spies. The agents are called Love Interests because getting close to people destined for great power means getting valuable secrets.

Caden is a Nice: The boy next door, sculpted to physical perfection. Dylan is a Bad: The brooding, dark-souled guy, and dangerously handsome. The girl they are competing for is important to the organization, and each boy will pursue her. Will she choose a Nice or the Bad?

Both Caden and Dylan are living in the outside world for the first time. They are well-trained and at the top of their games. They have to be – whoever the girl doesn’t choose will die.

What the boys don’t expect are feelings that are outside of their training. Feelings that could kill them both.
From debut author Cale Dietrich comes a fast-paced adventure that is full of both action and romance and subverts common tropes.

I wasn't sent this book for review, I picked it up myself because I was intrigued by the premise: (minor spoiler alert because it happens early on) In this particular love triangle, the two boys fall in love...with each other.

Overall, this is a great story, well-told and with more facets than I expected. If you teens are looking for an entertaining and intriguing adventure story, this will fit the bill. As an adult reader, however, I was disappointed by elements that did not add up, particularly toward the end. I could suspend enough disbelief to accept the general premise of the organization's existence and how the Love Interests were trained. There were too many unanswered questions, however, to make the ending work for me at all: Major spoilers in them, though, so read on with warning.

In all the centuries if this organization's existence, no one has been caught? Any rebellion has been shut down and covered up? Basically every famous or powerful person in the world has a 'fake' spouse, and we're supposed to believe they are so well-trained that they never break their cover - yet these two characters do so before they even meet their target?

Juliet is a genius but nobody knows about her inventions? Her father is overprotective but lets her build and test bombs without supervision? She and Travis up and leave their whole lives on a moment's notice, immediately after finding out they have been horribly betrayed? Not to mention the time crunch pf packing all that crap and getting to the right location in ten minutes...

And then this multinational, age-old corporation is completely taken down by the killing of one man? With no global repercussions - the other Love Interests just fade into the woodwork, both trainees and those already married off - everyone is just living a happy normal life now?

As I said, the story is good, and if your teens aren't bothered by inconsistencies, by all means hand it off to them. The characters are interesting - the target girl got much more depth and personality than I was expecting, and the romance was a definite twist on the familiar. If you have one who will get angry with gaping holes, however, you might want to steer them to a different title.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Review: Lock and Key - the Downward Spiral by Ridley Pearson


This is the second book on the Lock and Key series, a fascinating imagining of how Sherlock Homes and James Moriarty first met - and how they ended up such mortal enemies. Not just that, but a tale of how two young boys grew up to become the great detective and the criminal mastermind to begin with.

In addition to the two obvious main characters, we have Moira, James Moriarty's sister. She narrates a great deal of the story, and is every bit as intelligent and involved as the two young men, however much they try to shield her or keep her uninvolved. It's not just sexism or the innate sense of superiority both boys have: females in the Moriarty family inevitable come to bad ends. Particularly clever ones. It makes the reader a bit unsure as to how things are going to turn out - especially as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never mentioned Holmes being involved with any women...

The series occurs in modern times, and in the US, complete with cell phones and computers; but the boarding school atmosphere brilliantly lends an overall feeling of still being in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's time period.

At the end of the first book I was definitely intrigued, and ordered the second before the publisher had a chance to send me a review copy (which they still did - score!). I had pretty much written James off as being beyond redemption at that point, but I underestimated Ridley's ability to create and maintain many-faceted characters. I mean, I know in one part of my brain that Moriarty isn't suddenly going to turn into the Pope, but the reader in me is still holding out hope, even after finishing book two!

Younger readers do not need to be familiar with the original tales to thoroughly enjoy these, but will probably want to explore those while waiting for book three. These would be an excellent choice for a book discussion group, with plenty of opportunity to share theories and sift out clues from red herrings. With that, here is one of my theories, with a good-sized spoiler, so - reader beware!

Lois is obviously trained as more than an assistant/nanny, as Moira has deduced. I think she has some sort of connection with the person they have decided is responsible for the Moriartys' father's death. Once you get to that part, you will understand the possible connection - although I do not think she is actually working for him. I also have some interesting theories about the love vs. loyalty angle, but that would give too many spoilers!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Review: You Know What? by Carol Gordon Ekster and Nynke Mare Talsma


Oliver should go to sleep. But there is so much he wants to tell his mother about: what happened that day at school, the things he read in books, everything he sees around him. 
A touching and familiar picture book about (postponing) the ritual of going to sleep.

So, basically, Ekster transcribed parts of a typical bedtime conversation at my house, and Talsma illustrated it (rather adorably). Both humorous and sweet, striking the balance we try to find each night between listening to the things they want to tell us when they still want to tell us things, and getting them to actually BE QUIET AND GO TO SLEEP at some point!

A book that makes you, the parent, laugh out loud and immediately hand it to another parent to read. But, how does it do with children? If mine are any indication, swimmingly! They caught the humor at all ages, enjoyed looking to see what the bunny was doing in each picture, and probably came up with a few new stalling ideas...

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Review: Love, Santa by Martha Brockenbrough and Lee White


In a series of letters, a young girl writes to Santa to ask about the North Pole, Mrs. Claus, and of course, Christmas goodies. Year after year, Santa writes back, and a heartwarming relationship develops, until one year, the girl writes to her mother instead: Mom, are you Santa? Her mother responds to say that no, she is not Santa. Because Santa is bigger than any one person — we bring him out through kindness to one another and the power of imagination. This transformative tale spins a universal childhood experience into a story about love, giving, and the spirit of Christmas.

There are quite a few books out, now, (and a few "my mother's cousin's dentist did this" stories going around Facebook) with variations on the everyone-is-Santa theme. This looks to be one of the better ones!

Books with removable items...the bane of every librarian's existence, but fun for individual kids. The first page tells us, "When Lucy was five, she wrote Santa a letter." The second page in the spread has a real envelope containing the note, "Dear Santa, The North Pole is freezing! How do you stay warm? Love, Lucy" Santa writes back to tell her about the matching red coats that keep him and Mrs. Claus warm, and gives Lucy one of her very own!

Through the years, Lucy writes to Santa with different questions, and both his notes and his gifts to her show just how well he knows and cares about her. Finally, Lucy asks that inevitable question, and her mother lets her in on that little secret that opens up a whole new world of sharing.

I am going to add this book to our collection, but among the nonfiction, so it is less likely to be browsed by a young one whose parents want to believe in Santa a bit longer. Always the parents' choice! If yours are ready to take that next step into feeling like part of the adult world, or if they have grown up knowing all along, this book is a wonderful conversation starter, and one they will go back to time and again. Just make copies of the notes, so you can replace them when they inevitably get lost - or, have the kids write their own letters and responses!

So, what about you? How did you find out about Santa? Or did I just spoil it for you? I was kind of a brat. I suspected at a rather young age, and asked my parents, who turned it back on me with, "What do you think?" I hazarded a "no", and they confirmed it. I immediately ran upstairs and broke the news to my baby brother, probably ruining Christmas for him forever. Tell me your stories in the comments!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review: Little Blue Chair by Cary Fagan and Madeline Kloepper


Boo's favorite chair is little and blue. He sits in it, reads in it and makes a tent around it...until the day he grows too big for it. His mother puts the little blue chair out on the lawn where a truck driver picks it up. The truck driver sells it to a lady in a junk store where it sits for many years until it's sold and put to use as a plant stand. In the years that follow, the little blue chair is used in many other ways — on an elephant ride, in a contest, on a Ferris wheel, in a tree...until the day it flies away, borne aloft by balloons, and lands in a garden of daffodils where a familiar face finds it.

Kids (and adults) who delight in finding new uses for things will take similar delight in this sweet book. Young readers will be fascinated by all the adventures this simple blue chair gets to go on - from holding a plant to riding an elephant! 

Kloepper's illustrations are a bit reminiscent of Ruth Krauss, and fit the story perfectly. I only wish Fagan had not felt the need to spell out who the familiar face at the end was - as an adult reader I pretty much knew that was coming, and I am certain children reading it would have understood it. I felt a bit let down at that point, as the prose until then had been excellent. Still, a great addition to a shared or private library, and sure to inspire some sifting through junk piles!

***Edited to say that Logan absolutely fell in love with the story, clutching the book to his chest and falling asleep with it! The overstating that bothered me did not bother him in the least. He and Sheridan have been taking turns reading it out loud.

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Review: The Lost Frost Girl by Amy Wilson


With a name like hers, Owl never expected her life to be normal, at home or at school. But when Owl finds out that she is Jack Frost’s daughter, her world shifts beyond what she could ever imagine.
Determined to meet him, Owl delves into Jack’s wonderful world of winter and magic—the kind of place she thought only existed in fairy tales. And as she notices frost patterns appearing on her skin and her tears turning to ice, Owl starts to wonder if being Jack Frost’s daughter means that she has powers of her very own.

I picked this book up for my lunchtime read, and was pulled in from the first lines:

"When you have a kid, don't call it something stupid.
Don't call it Apple, or Pear, or Mung Bean.
Don't call it Owl.
This advice is a bit late for me. Because she did. She did call me Owl. Twelve years ago she looked down at a tiny little baby - me - and decided that Owl would be a good way to go."

'She', in this case, would be Isolde, Owl's free-spirited, artistic, sometimes distracted but always loving mother. And her father? Well, you read the blurb, so you won't be quite as surprised as Owl is. What is pleasantly surprising is that Wilson is able to avoid so many common tropes, even with what is, on surface, a common plot line; child discovers he/she has some secret ancestry that imbues special powers, child must learn how to use said powers, often with help of friends who may or may not also have special powers.

Friends! Everyone should have a friend like Mallory, bless that girl. She does not exist merely as a foil for our heroine, but is a fleshed-out character in her own right. Avery has his own issues, which we won't spoil here. Jack Frost is not what one might expect from the stories, and is allowed to be a bit more complicated than even he thinks he is. 

Owl's journey to understand what is happening to her, as well as her new and changing relationships, are as believable as they can be when half the characters are fay. The prose is at once down to earth (see opening lines) and lyrical:

"I'm standing on the riverbank, watching Jack's bare feet dance across the ice as though it were a ballroom floor, patterns curling out around him, and I don't know whether the world is shrinking or growing, but there's an exploding sort of feeling in my chest because nothing is ever going to be the same after today."

Isn't that second part a great way to describe adolescence?

The world building happens quickly, given some depth in short passages that tell how Owl's mother first met Jack. I have a clear mental picture of Jack's domain, but not so much some of the others. I am hoping for a sequel that will flesh those out, as well as the very interesting characters Wilson has introduced.

In short, I liked Owl, I liked this world (both worlds) and their characters, and I hope to get to know them all better. An excellent debut!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Review: A Bedtime Yarn, by Nicola Winstanley and Olivia Chin Mueller


Adults and children will find it easy to relate to Frankie, a little bear who is afraid of the dark. A familiar topic through the generations, parents have tried monster spray, checking the closets, special bedtime prayers, night lights, musical toys, and a myriad of other solutions. 

Frankie's mother offers him a ball of yarn, with one end leading out to where she sits, knitting. A tangible thread to safety, each ball slowly dwindles as she pulls out more yarn, to be replaced by a new color. As Frankie drifts off to sleep, the colors influence his dreams, taking him on wonderful adventures.

Just as Frankie declares himself maybe ready to sleep without the ball of yarn, his mother shows him what she has been making: as adults have probably guessed, a colorful blanket, there to remind him of all his dreams as well as of the security he feels with his mother nearby.

While it isn't QUITE Christmas season, whatever Walmart may think, there is an obvious gift pairing here: gift this very sweet book with its dreamlike illustrations to a little one in your life, along with colorful balls of yarn and a pair of knitting needles. Let the child select the colors he wants for his blanket, or teach him to knit and start working on the blanket together!

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Review: Let's Explore Countries series from Lerner


There are lots of different places to visit in the world! Have you ever been on an island? What would it be like to live on one? Take a trip to tropical Cuba and learn about the history and culture of this Caribbean country. Full-color photographs and carefully leveled text bring Cuba to life, while age-appropriate critical thinking questions introduce readers to nonfiction. It's almost like being on the beach yourself!

It's getting a bit difficult to find up-to-date nonfiction country books these days. I was happy to see Lerner has a new set out, because their text and illustrations are usually high quality, with components such as index, glossary, and additional resources.

This series is part of their "Bumba Books" line, created especially for younger readers. They wouldn't do for a report, but are perfect for introducing younger children to a country they have heard about, or may be visiting (as a military town, this comes up more often than it might other places!) I have looked at Cuba and China so far, and they seem to be a good mix of environment, foods, and basic geography. 

There is much more that could be included - holidays, politics, history - but these are meant to be short easy readers. Since the push is for more nonfiction in the early grades, it is good to have some selections that are bright and interesting. Most pages include a question to engage your reader in a little more critical thinking. I would highly recommend them for a school or classroom library, and will be getting the rest of the series for our public library shelves.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Review: Fox and the Bike Ride by Corey R. Tabor


It’s the day of the animals’ annual bike ride, and Fox is not excited. Every year it’s the same old, same old.
Fox wants adventure.
He wants action-adventure.
He wants danger-action-adventure!
(And snacks too, of course.)
So he secretly schemes to make this the most unforgettable trip ever—and his friends are coming along, whether they want to or not!

The tired old lady in me is quite dismayed at Fox's recklessness. What's WRONG with a nice, leisurely trip, anyway?

Fortunately, the reader in me is still the same person who looked at the horses lined up for the trail ride and immediately pointed at the black one on the very end bucking and prancing and ready to GO already and said, "I want that one!" (And after much pestering of the Poor Man In Charge, that is the one I got. We did not exactly stick to the trail.)

Sometimes, you need to shake things up a bit, and maybe even add a little danger and uncertainty to your plans. As long as there are still snacks at the end, it's all good.

The illustrations are fantabulous - keep your eye on the chicken! I can see this becoming a favorite at home very quickly, with future plans having a "What would Fox do?" element involved.

***Edited as I was cataloging. Check out the 245 and 700 lines:

Love it!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review: Stay by Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise


Eli the dog has been with Astrid since her parents brought her home from the hospital as a baby. Now Astrid is getting older, and so is Eli. Before he slows down too much, Astrid wants to make fun memories with him. So she makes a bucket list for Eli, which includes experiences such as eating with him in a restaurant, and taking him down a slide at the playground.

But in the end, what is most important to Eli is the time he spends with Astrid

The subtitle makes it pretty clear (to adults anyway) what is going on, so my first question was whether it would be too maudlin to get through. Fortunately, the story is incredibly sweet but not saccharine, and the happy outweighs the sad - although the last page* puts a lump in my throat every time!
(*No, the dog has not died at the end)

This is THE book I will hand to any parent wanting to prepare their child for the death of a pet. It's also a great book just for talking about how a family dog or cat is slowing down and can't do all the things he used to. Heck, it can even relate to an older family member who just needs to sit and visit a bit more than they used to.

I loved Klise's illustrations as well. Eli ages gracefully, his face a little less full than it was when Astrid was a baby. The bright colors and cheerful scenes keep this a book of celebration rather than loss. Very much a book you will want to have on hand in your library, or in your home!

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Review: Fun Firsts series from Lerner



Do you remember your first sleepover? Whether it was at a relative's house or a friend's, there might have been a little anxiety and a few questions about what to expect. This first title in Lerner's Bumba Books early reader series "Fun Firsts" covers snacks, activities, and talking all night long. Text bubbles offer discussion questions such as, "What do you need to bring to a sleepover?" 

Getting a new pet can be a monumental moment in a child's life, even if they already have animals in the home. Choosing just the right one is a big deal, and we frequently get kids in the library looking for books about hamster care or dog breeds, wanting to prove to Mom and Dad that they are ready 😉 This title can be a good start to the discussion, briefly mentioning types of pets, care, feeding, training, cleaning up, and safety.

Image result for pet meme

As early readers, these offer just enough information to provide a jumping off point for conversation or more study, while the 'chapters', glossary and index help children become familiar with the typical nonfiction book format. Bright full-page photographs and sturdy binding make these a great addition to school or public libraries.

Other titles in this series include Going Camping, Going On an Airplane, Moving Day, and Starting a Sport.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Review: Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper


There was a cat who lived alone.
Until the day a new cat came . . .
And so a story of friendship begins, following two cats through their days, months, and years until one day, the older cat has to go. And he doesn’t come back.

A sweet introduction to the circle of life, and how love and friendship continue throughout. 

Saying goodbye to pets is tough. Different children (and adults!) respond in different ways. Some need to talk things through, while others prefer to reflect alone. With spare prose and simple black and white pictures on each page making this suitable for very beginning readers, parents may choose to read it together or let their child explore it alone for a bit. 

The death of the big cat is parsed as, "he had to go...and he didn't come back." The black cat is watching a bird fly away from a feeder, and then he is seen alone. The next pages have him alone, then with the family in silhouette, with the text, "And that was hard. For everyone." So many emotions and thoughts in just six words! 

Fortunately, it is followed by, "Until the day a new cat came," and the cycle of friendship and caring begins again. If you find yourself dealing with the death of a person rather than a pet, you can use this to talk about what you have learned from that person, and how you can pass it on to others.

A great book to have on hand for similar situations, but not so fixated on the loss of the first cat that it can't be read at any time, simply as a story of friendship.

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Review: The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken


One eye was bigger than the other.  That was a mistake.

The weird  frog-cat-cow thing? It made an excellent bush.
And the inky smudges… they look as if they were always meant to be leaves floating gently across the sky.

Do you have a tiny perfectionist (or two) in your life? Someone who will tear up a paper in a fit after a misstep, and declare tearfully "It's all ruined!!!"? Of course you do, and they NEED this book!

I have known teachers who tore the erasers off every pencil in their room to stop their charges from erasing holes in their papers. In The Book of Mistakes, when Luyken makes a mistake - in ink, no less - rather than starting over, she incorporates the mistake into her picture. Does it end up looking like what she originally intended? Nope - it's even more wonderful and imaginative!

A fun and easy extension might be fun with paint splotches like these monsters we recently created in story time:

Write it in your lesson plans as "building a framework for understanding symmetry", and you are covered.

Or, less messy but also fun, have each student draw a simple smudge or shape on a paper, then trade with another student. Students now draw a picture based around the squiggle they were handed. I would have loved exercises like this in school, but the ones who find it most frustrating are the ones who need to practice it the most, and who will need the most encouragement. Be patient with them! And then put up a hallway display showing how great your kids are at thinking outside the box!

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Book Review: Charlie and Mouse series by Laurel Snyder and Emily Hughes

Silly Ms. Snyder seems to think she has based this new series on her own children, when it should be obvious to everyone that it is all about Logan and Shane.


Who else but Logan would try to earn money by selling rocks to the neighbors (and get away with it)? And the bedtime banana stalling technique - pure genius that could only come from Shane! Two adorable, spirited brothers in a charming early reader that my kids pretty much memorized as soon as I brought it home.

The newest title is just as fun:


In this heartwarming sequel to Laurel Snyder's beginning chapter book Charlie & Mouse, the two brothers enjoy a special visit from their grandpa, Grumpy. Follow along as they discuss being medium, pounce each other, sing the wrong songs, build blanket forts, and more. 

I know that SAYS it is their grandfather visiting, but this was obviously written about our recent visit from Uncle Mike. And it was a sheet used in the fort, not a blanket.

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, tree, grass, outdoor and nature

All joking aside, this is a fantastic new series for your beginning readers. Broken up into very short chapters with cheerful, quirky illustrations, they are sure to both entertain your new readers and encourage them with how well they can read "a real chapter book". Bonus: you won't mind hearing the stories over and over yourself! We are eagerly anticipating the next installment!

*NOTE: These titles have been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Review: Christmas for Bear by Bonny Becker and Kady MacDonald Denton

I have worked Bear and Mouse's first book into a dozen different story times, and I just realized I never reviewed it! I literally squeed* out loud when I saw this title up for review, and immediately asked for a copy. 
(*That is too a word, go away spell check)


One frosty night, Bear hears a tap, tap, tapping on his front door. "Merry Christmas!" cries Mouse. Mouse is there for a Christmas party, and Bear has never had one before, but he’s certain that pickles (preferably from France) must be an essential component, along with the reading of a long and difficult poem. The problem is, whenever Bear comes back from the kitchen with more treats, Mouse has vanished — only to be found, small and gray and guilty-eyed, scurrying under the bed or rifling through the closet. Will there be even a tiny present involved? "Hogwash!" scolds Bear. 

It did not disappoint in the least. A very satisfying story to read aloud (doing Bear's lofty tones and Mouse's timid requests is almost too easy with this text!), it is going smack at the top of my holiday story time list. Bear even reminded me a little bit of myself with my kids, teasing just a bit and then having to be rather obvious about my surprise. And the poem he reads is the same one Daddy reads at our house every Christmas Eve!

The illustrations are charming, soft watercolors in wintery hues. I even got an idea for a stocking stuffer* for my starry-eyed boy. And if you'll excuse me now, I need to see about ordering pickles from France.

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

* Psst! Don't tell Logan, but I ordered this for his stocking, and it already came in:

It is really nice - and less than $7! He will be at least as excited as Mouse!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Review: Red and Lulu by Matt Tavares


Red and Lulu make their nest in a particularly beautiful evergreen tree. It shades them in the hot months and keeps them cozy in the cold months, and once a year the people who live nearby string lights on their tree and sing a special song: O Christmas Tree, O Christmas Tree. But one day, something unthinkable happens, and Red and Lulu are separated. It will take a miracle for them to find each other again. Luckily, it’s just the season for miracles. . .

The grown-up in me is wondering WHY ON EARTH a family would agree to cut down such a majestic tree, the only tree in their front yard. But, this book is not written for the grown-ups, it is written for the children, and for them it is just right. 

The cardinal couple and their separation are the main focus of the story. While there is an urgency and some sadness, it is not a tear-jerker that will upset more sensitive children. Fitting around their story are details about the annual selection and lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. A footnote explains the origin and continuation of the tradition, as well as where the idea of a winged stowaway came from.

Let's talk illustrations: there is so much going on with the family that happens to live by the tree. Kids can match up activities to seasons, and talk about how the tree is a part of each (although I did wonder why there would be so many fallen maple leaves under a Norway Spruce. Really strong winds from the back yard?). The cardinals are drawn accurately, and there are dozens of details to pore over, such as a little boy counting the rings on the tree, or the first and last illustrations mirroring each other. Scenes of New York as seen from a bird's point of view. Really, the book is worth purchasing for the illustrations alone! A solid addition to your Christmas classics.

*NOTE: This title has been nominated for the Cybils Award, and I am a first round panelist. There are many nominations and six other judges. My opinions should not be construed as a sign of inclusion or exclusion on the final short list.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Review: It's a Boa Constrictor! It's a Chimpanzee! by Tessa Kenan, Bumba Books by Lerner

Last week we looked at Lerner's Let's Explore Countries series for beginning readers. Any teacher or librarian can tell you that animal books are a sure hit for the younger ages, so I was pleased to see this series as well.



Like the country series, these attractively illustrated titles include simple but informative text, with questions designed to spark critical thinking (Why do you think boas can be different colors? How else might chimpanzees use tools?) A good basic introduction to each animal, and interesting enough to motivate young readers. Another set I strongly recommend for school or classroom libraries. Other animals currently available in this series include the jaguar, chameleon, red-eyed tree frog and vampire bat. We will be purchasing all of them!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Family Fright Night 2017

We looooooooove Halloween here, and our Family Fright Night is one of my favorite annual programs! It is a popular program as well, and last year the crush of people was a bit overwhelming. I ended up have to rearrange the schedule as we went, shouting stories to a packed room, and didn't get to really visit with anyone. We made a few adjustments this year, and it went much more smoothly.

I am mad at myself about one thing, though - I didn't get pictures of any of the food! Just these absolutely adorable mini jack-o-lanterns that my volunteer created:

We also had:

Poisoned Apples (plain old apples)
Jack-o-lantern Seeds (cheese balls)
Toasted Bones (pretzel sticks)
Dried Skin (chips)
Eyeballs (grapes)
Witch's Teeth (harvest candy corn)
Used Band-Aids (vanilla wafers with a smear of white frosting and red jam)
Blood Dough Cookies (red velvet Chips A'Hoy)

This year we set up the refreshments outside. In previous years they were in the same room as the stories, and people would grab a plate and sit down for the stories. Advantages to having them outside: stories could start without waiting for everyone to get snacks, and no spills inside. Disadvantage: adults filling "to go" bags!! Seriously, people. Sigh. I was afraid there would be a lot of trash left outside, but I only found one styrofoam cup.

In the space where snacks were last year, I put a row of tables with Halloween books to check out, and these characters giving their sales pitches.

In years past I learned an open tub of candy brings out the worst in people, so I make up goody bags now. Each has EXACTLY the same amount of candy and toys. I asked parents to let me know of allergies ahead of time, so I could have some specially tagged and sitting next to me. They looked the same as everyone else's bags, so nobody felt singled out. (The skeleton is holding bags that are purely toys, no candy at all).

I gave out 108 goody bags, so with adults I would say we had at least 200 people. I gave out the treat bags after each of two story times. Splitting it up worked MUCH better - our room is only supposed to hold 70 people, and we definitely went beyond that (shh!) for the first story time, came very close the second. Everyone was super at listening to the stories and 'helping' me with different parts. I had set up a microphone, but didn't end up having to use it.

The bucket of "bones" was for a "Skeleton Says" game, to get some wiggles out, but there wasn't time or need for it. 

Btw, if you are a new librarian, start hoarding large swaths of black material - sheets, tablecloths, whatever. They come in handy for any sort of holiday, as backdrops, or to cover things you can't move:

The cabinet where our story time crafts go...

20 cases of water...

Two boxes of rocks for the next painting party...

Even the ugly chair that hasn't made it to storage! I told everyone she was caught dog-earing pages.

I had this cool bubbling water thing, and totally forgot to turn it on.

I DID test out the fog machine earlier in the day. Which set off the fire alarm in the whole building. Good news, our staff jumped up and did everything they are supposed to in a fire!, guys.

I had brought this mirror from home for a program last week, so I just added some decals:

Huh...I don't see my reflection...that is so weird.

For scary stories I read: 
Guess? by Mem Fox (no coaching needed for all the "yes" lines!)
The Doghouse by Jan Thomas (I had the kids whisper in a scary voice, "the doghouse" every time it came up)
The Little Old Lady Who Wasn't Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams (kids helped with all the sounds)
Who Took My Hairy Toe? by Shutta Crum
Games and Crafts! Since we were using the entire library, inside and out, I couldn't set them up until it was almost time, so I used the chairs as a staging area:

Having a box for each made clean-up easier, too - I just told everyone helping to sweep everything into the box, and I would deal with it in the morning. (Instead, I am posting these pictures...I'll get to them in a bit!)

I got these hands at the dollar store, and had a plastic graveyard fence to go around them, but the ground was too hard to push the fence in! As you can see, we just got the hands in enough to stand up, but they worked. We had glow-in-the-dark necklaces to throw, ring one hand and get a prize. Gabe Professor Snape ran that one.

Maui, here (who made the hook himself) ran the spider races.

Cheap game, you just need two plastic spiders and a bag of straws. Make a line down the middle of a table with masking tape. Two competitors each get a (fresh!) straw, and at the signal, try to blow their spider to the end first. Winner gets a prize.

We also had the web grab, run by Ellie:

This is the "after" picture! It was full of toys and candy, and you had to use the tongs to get just ONE thing out through the web.

Trick or Treat:

Run by Bianca, a first time volunteer. Roll the "die", if it lands on "treat" you get a prize, if it lands on "trick" you have to do what it says first. (Quick: what book contains the robot monkey line?)

And, Feed the Monster:

Your basic toss-the-ball game. I was originally using bugs, but since we did it outside I was afraid Senta, who was running the game, would spend half her time hunting in the grass for them!

This Candy Corn Puppet craft was more popular than I expected:

Even zombies like to craft!

Make your own treat bags:

Followed by, clean up your own mess:

Day of the Dead Masks:

Very popular!

Monster faces:

Adult coloring and Halloween trivia:

Last but not least, all the cuties in costume! I only got a few, because I was mostly reading stories, but:

A very spirited Supergirl and Batman

Mom MADE these!!! Even their treat bags!!!

Cutest witch EVER.
Ballerina Panda

Pirate - I want that shirt! And the boots! And...

Malala Yousafzai. With a newly missing tooth.

Psst - don't EVER tell a 2-year-old Rainbow Dash that she looks like a beautiful flower. It will not go well for you.
Even a furry pumpkin!

with painted nails.

I'm assuming a service dog, extremely well-behaved. For those who do want to bring their pets for something special, though, keep an ear out for details about Santa Pets in December!

I hope everyone had a great time! I loved seeing all the costumed wee ones (and adults). Have a fantastic Halloween!