Thursday, December 8, 2016

SERIES THURSDAY: The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale


Even monster-battling princesses get tired sometimes! But a peaceful time away is hard to find as the humorous New York Times best-selling series continues.

After battling monsters all night, a sleepy Princess in Black decides that she needs a vacation. After all, the Goat Avenger, a new hero who looks oddly familiar, has offered to protect the goats while she takes a much needed break. The very next day Princess Magnolia rides her bicycle to the seaside, where the air is salty, the sun is shiny, and the sea is as blue as monster fur. But just as Princess Magnolia is about to take a nap on her hammock, she hears a "ROAR!" Seriously? A monster? On the perfect beach? Impossible! Could a sea monster really ruin this vacation for the Princess in Black?


I am delighted to highlight this new book in one of my very favorite series.  Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, along with LeUyen Pham have created a truly winning series.  In this volume, the Princess in Black has discovered that one of the downsides to having a double identity is very little sleep.  Frankly, she's exhausted, and when the Goat Avenger suggests she take a vacation while he watches out for monsters, she's more than happy to agree.  Unfortunately, once she's at the beach, things take a turn for the worse when a sea monster shows up to create chaos.  Can the Princess in Black save the day again or will she stay in hiding with her friend Princess Sneezewort?  Once again, the Hales and Pham have created the perfect book.  A delightful text with great read a loud potential (lots of sound effects built right in) and the gorgeous illustrations that highlight poor Princess Marigold's utter exhaustion.  I felt tired just looking at her. I especially love the fact that Princess Marigold is a pink-loving sweetheart and a black-wearing monster fighter at the same time. So often society tells kids they need to fit into one neat box or another, with no cross-over between them.  But in reality no one fits into a nice, neat little box, and these books demonstrate that to perfection. I'm sorry I'm gushing, but I really do love this series.  If you haven't tried it yet I highly recommend that you do.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016



McDonnell has created an amusing book that looks like an ipad.  The theme of the book isn't hard to guess once you look closely at the cover illustration.  Tek, a young 'cave' boy with a beard (his father hasn't invented shaving cream yet), is obsessed with his video games, tablet, and phone.  In fact, he is so focused on his technology that he refuses to even leave his cave.  Despite the efforts of his parents and his best friend, Larry (a crocodile?), Tek misses out on the evolving world, including the Ice Age, and the appearance of dinosaurs.  It isn't until the local volcano erupts and disrupts Tek's entire world that he starts to see the world around him and the wonders it contains.  The design of this book is fabulous.  The first half of the book looks just like an ipad screen, even including a number pad page.  Once Tek starts seeing and experiencing the world around him, the design of the book changes.  Tek's beard also adds humor as do the parents comments and the fact that Larry carries around a basketball, wishing Tek would come play with him.


A young boy comes across a ship's captain who is heartbroken because his ship is in such poor shape.  The peg-legged boy decides to help his friend gather the supplies he needs to fix up his ship by swapping or bargaining for what they need.  They start one one red button off the sailor's coat, which they trade for two teacups.  The two teacups are traded for three coils of rope.  Two coils of rope are then traded for six oars and so on and so forth until the boy and the sailor (and a monkey) have visited a bunch of islands and gathered all the supplies they need.  The fun incorporation of math (it would be fun to have children see if they can figure out just what supplies the two still have once they are done trading) and the detailed illustrations make for a delightful read.  The judicious use of color also has an important role in leading the reader's eyes to certain aspects of the story.  It would be lots of fun though to see what young readers/listeners notice once they look beyond the obvious.  There is so much to see and do with this book that it's a real winner in my book.  Beyond the obvious connections to economics and math are connections to creativity and friendship and determination.  And the fantastically detailed illustrations make it a real possibility for the Caldecott as well.


A young boy, his little sister, and his parents are off on a trip.  As readers we follow along as the suitcases get packed (including monkey), the taxi is loaded, the airport is navigated, and the plane takes off and arrives.  Each aspect of the journey is documented in the detailed and adorable illustrations.  I think the part of the book I enjoyed the most was looking at all the details in the illustrations.  It's fun to follow sock monkey's journey, as well as a strange shaped fragile package, and several other travelers that appear throughout the book.  Even the cover under the book jacket gives additional details about the travelers.  This book makes for a delightful look at traveling but also a great way to prepare children for traveling by airplane.  With no shortage of fun things to look at and discuss this book makes for a great sharing experience.  While the details of the book are great for one-on-one reading, story times are likely to be a bit more difficult because of all the details.


While this book is not one of my favorites for 2016, it is a cute book and it has appeared on several best of lists, so it is definitely in the running for the ALA Awards.  This story revolves around a duckling who opens a book only to discover that the book doesn't have any pictures, it's all text.  At first this makes him mad and he throws the book.  But afterwords he feels bad and picks it back up and starts to read it.  When a bookworm shows up and asks him if he can read it, he isn't sure at first, but he keeps at it and eventually finds himself creating his own pictures to go with the words.  By the time he is finished, he is thoroughly in love with the book.  Interestingly, the words on the front end papers are in jibberish with a few recognizable words mixed in.  But the back end papers are completely readable.  An interesting symbol of the theme of the book:  that learning to read pure text can be challenging, but worth it in the end.  While the illustrations here aren't my favorite, I can't deny that they are still cute and appealing, and the message is a powerful one.

Monday, December 5, 2016

PICTURE BOOK REVIEW: Little Kunoichi, The Ninja Girl by Sanae Ishida


Little Kunoichi, a young ninja in training, is frustrated. Inspired by tiny Chibi Samurai’s practice and skills, she works harder than ever and makes a friend. Together, they show the power of perseverance, hard work, and cooperation when they wow the crowd at the Island Festival. Ninja skills don’t come easily to Little Kunoichi. She needs determination—and a special friend—to unleash her power!


I didn't love this book as much as I was hoping to.  The book is cute enough and the themes are certainly good ones, I just couldn't fully get into the book, and the ending where Little Kunoichi and her friend, Chibi are working to come up with a fancy way to show off their skills did not really resonate with me.  However, the illustrations are adorable, especially when Kunoichi is spying on Chibi Samurai's practice sessions.  And the themes of hard work and persistence with a dash of creativity thrown in are great.   And I loved the fact that Chibi is also struggling at his special school, but refuses to let his small stature or struggles stop him and simply practices harder. And when the two get together to train, they are both the stronger for it.  What I had a problem with though is the fact that Kunoichi and Chibi thought they needed to do something spectacular to wow the crowd instead of just showing their improved skills. Not to mention, what they end up doing seems a bit beyond the abilities of two young children. And the inclusion of a dragon at this point was a bit jarring.  I don't think any of this will bother child readers though, they will be thrilled to see ninja moves in a boat with a pink dragon getting in the way. And a search and find picture for the festival seemed a bit of an odd addition at the end of the story, not that child readers will be bothered by this, they will be delighted to try to find Little Kunoichi and Chibi Samurai.  While the book doesn't quite resonate fully with me, the book is a cute one that is bound to appeal to young ninja lovers.

MMGM: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier/The Tortoise and the Soldier by Michael Foreman



Catrina and her family are moving to the coast of Northern California because her little sister, Maya, is sick. Cat isn't happy about leaving her friends for Bahía de la Luna, but Maya has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the cool, salty air that blows in from the sea. As the girls explore their new home, a neighbor lets them in on a secret: There are ghosts in Bahía de la Luna. Maya is determined to meet one, but Cat wants nothing to do with them. As the time of year when ghosts reunite with their loved ones approaches, Cat must figure out how to put aside her fears for her sister's sake -- and her own.

Raina Telgemeier has masterfully created a moving and insightful story about the power of family and friendship, and how it gives us the courage to do what we never thought possible.


This book has created some controversy, which I doubt was the author/illustrator's intention. My overall impression of the book was one of enjoyment.  Telgemeier has created another fun story using her well-known illustrative style.  I have no doubt that many young readers will enjoy the book.  Cat is a great character who struggles to support her ailing little sister, while not wanting to be held back by it.  When Cat discovers that the new city that she and her family have moved to celebrates the holiday of Day of the Dead and celebrates with the ghosts of former friends and family, she's rather freaked out by it, especially after some of the ghosts lead her sister into a trip to the hospital.  But with the help of her family and her new friends, Cat finds a way to face her fears while learning more about the culture and traditions of her new town.  

The concerns I've read about relate to the portrayal of the Latinx community and the Day of the Dead celebration.  The other issue is the use of old mission ruins as the setting for the first appearance of the ghosts and the place where they most commonly come.  Old Missions do carry certain symbolism and memories, often unpleasant memories, for some peoples, especially some First/Native Nations peoples.  The other issue I can't really comment on because my experience with the Day of the Dead is very limited.  How accurate the portrayal is, I don't really know. The same goes for the portrayal of cystic fibrosis, I know very little about it so I cannot confirm or deny it's accuracy.  I did take note in the author's note at the end of the book, that the author did put effort into gathering information about these topics. It's clear from what I've read and seen that reactions to this book may vary widely. That fact needs to be taken into consideration by librarians and other gatekeepers who either select or do not select this book for collection inclusion.

Here are some sources for other reviews:  

School Library Journal Review 
Telgemeier Interview
SLJ Newbery Blog Heavy Metal Discussion
Debbie Reese's Review


As a boy, Henry Friston dreamed of traveling the world. He thought he was signing up for a lifetime of adventure when he joined the Royal Navy. But when World War I begins, it launches the world, and Henry, into turmoil. While facing enemy fire at Gallipoli, Henry discovers the strength he needs to survive in an unexpected source: a tortoise. And so begins the friendship of a lifetime. Based on true events, and with charming illustrations, this story of war, courage, and friendship will win the hearts of readers.


The Tortoise and the Soldier almost reads like nonfiction, except it seems clear from the beginning that the boy telling the story may be an invention of the story.  Foreman explains at the end the circumstances that really led him to Henry and Ali Pasha (the tortoise).  The inclusion of photographs from the real story is great.  As a story about an individual's experiences during World War I, Foreman does a great job.  It was interesting the way he combined that story with the story about the boy wanting to become a journalist.  So in reality there are two stories here, that of the growing friendship between the boy and Henry, the soldier, and his tortoise, and the story of Henry's year at sea on a war ship along with gathering the wounded on shore during the invasion of Turkey where he meets Ali Pasha for the first time.  Not only is it a glimpse of a part of World War I that I haven't read much about, but it's a powerful reminder of the impact that animals, pets, can have on the human psyche.  The soft pastel illustrations help soften the impact of the violence depicted and the illustrator is careful not to make the illustrations too graphic in terms of the wounded.  But it is a story about war, so that can't be avoided entirely.  I found the book appropriate though in terms of middle grade readers, except for maybe the most sensitive of readers who aren't ready to read about death and war quite yet.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016



Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day helped open the door to children's books being published with diverse main characters.  While the lack of such diversity remains a problem, the numbers of such books being published continues to grow.  In beautiful poetic language, Andrea Davis Pinkney introduces the reader to the man behind the book.  I didn't even know that Keats had changed his name until reading this book.  I loved getting a glimpse into the man who dared to take a chance, who saw a picture of a cute African-American boy and hung on to it because it touched him.  And then 20-years down the road using that photograph as inspiration when creating his first children's picture book.  It was sweet reading about the encouragement Ezra (Jack) received from his teachers and his concerned father regarding his passion for art.  Despite serious reservations about his son being able to support himself with art, he couldn't deny his son the chance to do what he loved.  And Keats continued to pursue that passion despite the discrimination (he was a Jew) and life challenges that came his way.  The gorgeous illustrations beautifully complement the lyrical verse that both addresses Keats life and references Peter (The Snowy Day's main character).  The wonderful combination of text and illustrations makes for a book that is a work of art unto itself.


Before Morning is one of my absolutely favorite reads this year and I hope it wins an award.  The book is absolutely beautiful.  Beth Krommes and her scratchboard art are favorites of mine.  I always have to get my hands on anything she illustrates.  This particular story uses a minimum of words to share the heartfelt wish of a young girl whose mother is setting off for work as an airline employee.  The girl, through a simply yet profoundly worded invocation, wishes for snow to keep her mother home.  The book truly highlights the power of a young girl's wish and the soft beauty of a snow storm.  Just looking at the different snowflakes scattered through the pages was enjoyable.


Jim LaMarche has long been a favorite illustrator of mine.  His pictures are so gorgeous and serene, especially the nature ones.  In Pond, Matt discovers a small spring in a damaged area that inspires him to try restoring the pond that once existed.  With the help of his friend Pablo, and his sister, Katie, as well as his father, Matt works hard to recreate the pond.  And with hard work and dedication, they succeed.  I found it delightful to watch the pond come back to life.  It was fun spotting the animals as they returned as well as following the kids as they restored an old boat and sailed on the pond.  The illustrations I could have stared at for hours.  In a book that shows the power of the human will to rebuild what people have damaged, the illustrations stand out as much as the pond does.  One of my favorites for the year.


What an amazing book!  Gorgeous illustrations combined with lyrical poetic text make this a great candidate for both the Caldecott Medal and the Sibert Medal, maybe even the Newbery.  Fleming uses poetry to convey information about this unusual and fascinating animal that scientists still know so little about.  The text, while factual, reads like a dramatic adventure story.  I appreciated the fact that Fleming makes it clear what facts about the giant squid have been confirmed and those that still await discovery.  Rohmann's gorgeous pictures highlight the movement and size of this mysterious animal.  And the fold-out page pops out at just the right moment, giving the reader the most complete look at the animal in the whole book.  This strategy creates an air of mystery that perfectly fits with the text and the many unanswered questions scientists still have about this animal.  A winner of a book from cover to cover.

Monday, November 28, 2016

MMGM/NONFICTION MONDAY: Framed! and Choosing Courage


Get to know the only kid on the FBI Director’s speed dial and several international criminals’ most wanted lists all because of his Theory of All Small Things in this hilarious start to a brand-new middle grade mystery series.

So you’re only halfway through your homework and the Director of the FBI keeps texting you for help…What do you do? Save your grade? Or save the country?

If you’re Florian Bates, you figure out a way to do both.

Florian is twelve years old and has just moved to Washington. He’s learning his way around using TOAST, which stands for the Theory of All Small Things. It’s a technique he invented to solve life’s little mysteries such as: where to sit on the on the first day of school, or which Chinese restaurant has the best eggrolls.

But when he teaches it to his new friend Margaret, they uncover a mystery that isn’t little. In fact, it’s HUGE, and it involves the National Gallery, the FBI, and a notorious crime syndicate known as EEL.


Framed! had everything that I love about a middle grade mystery.  Great characters! Interesting plot with twists and turns!  And most important of all, a connection to Sherlock Holmes!  Florian Bates uses his T.O.A.S.T. theory to figure people out and solve mysteries.  His Theory of All Small Things states that life can be figured out by paying attention to the small details.  He uses his theory to make friends as well as figure out the best ways to survive middle school.  Moving around frequently with his parents leaves Florian plenty of time to put his theory into action.  But when he meets Margaret and uses his theory to figure her out, she is enthralled with his techniques.  And when they visit the National Gallery where Florian's parents work, they put T.O.A.S.T. into action figuring out all they can about the other visitors.  One visitor in particular stands out though, especially when he shows up more than once under unusual circumstances.  None of that means anything though until Florian finds out that the museum has been robbed. Florian goes with his father to see if he can help figure out the mystery.  And Florian solves the mystery within a couple of hours which catches the eye of the FBI.  But there turns out to be more to the mystery than was originally thought which leads Florian and Margaret deeper into what turns out to be a rather dangerous set of conditions.  Florian and Margaret are fun characters, each with their own quirks.  T.O.A.S.T. turns out to be a rather fascinating way to see the world and the mystery itself takes several sharp turns (including a kidnapping, a mob boss, and a forgery).  This is a fabulous new series for young readers who enjoy a good mystery with dabs of humor spread throughout.


What turns an ordinary person into a hero? What happens in the blink of an eye on a battlefield (or in any dangerous situation) to bring out true courage? The men and women who have been recognized by the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation know the answers to these questions deep in their hearts. We learn of Jack Lucas, a 13-year-old who kept his real age a secret so he could fight in World War II—where he deliberately fell on a grenade to save his buddies during the Iwo Jima invasion—and Clint Romesha, who almost single-handedly prevented a remote U.S. Army outpost in Afghanistan from being taken over by the Taliban. Also included are civilians who have been honored by the Foundation for outstanding acts of bravery in crisis situations: for example, Jencie Fagan, a gym teacher who put herself in danger to disarm a troubled eighth grader before he could turn a gun on his classmates. Adding depth and context are illuminating sidebars throughout and essays on the combat experience and its aftermath: topics such as overcoming fear; a mother mourning her son; and “surviving hell” as a prisoner of war. Back matter includes a glossary and an index.


Peter Collier has collected some amazing stories in this book about heroes.  While many of the accounts shared focus on recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, there are some that don't.  The stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things are particularly touching, such as the middle school teacher who talks down an armed fourteen-year-old, putting her own life on the line for her students.  These kind of stories I find particularly touching in the face of modern day celebrity worship.  The men and women whose stories are told in this book make sacrifices that in many cases are very costly to themselves.  Throwing oneself on top of a grenade to save one's comrades, leaping through heavy gunfire to rescue an injured buddy, enduring years of torture with honor, stepping forward to serve your country after being confined to an internment camp.  It's impossible to read these stories without being touched by the individuals who experienced them.  One commonality among these individuals is that none of them see themselves as a hero, and yet all of them did heroic things.  Since many of these stories involve warfare, there is all too much violence depicted in both actual combat, torture, and recovery, as well as death.  A powerful collection of stories demonstrating the power of sacrifice and courage in doing one's duty.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

PICTURE/POETRY BOOK REVIEW: When Green Becomes Tomatoes by Julie Fogliano


december 29
and i woke to a morning
that was quiet and white
the first snow
(just like magic) came on tip toes

Flowers blooming in sheets of snow make way for happy frogs dancing in the rain. Summer swims move over for autumn sweaters until the snow comes back again. In Julie Fogliano's skilled hand and illustrated by Julie Morstad's charming pictures, the seasons come to life in this gorgeous and comprehensive book of poetry.


I decided to read this book after hearing it praised on Heavy Medal, the School Library Journal blog that discusses the Newbery Medal and its contenders.  I wanted to see if I felt the same as the others who had praised the book.  I am very happy to say that I do feel the same way.  The book is gorgeous both in language and art.  I've rarely seen a book that fits together so beautifully.  The poems start with spring, travel through summer and fall, take the reader through winter and back to spring.  The language is so evocative and beautiful I even read it out loud to myself just to hear how it sounded.  This is a book that works well on so many levels.  The language makes for a great exercise in the power of visualization and description.  Combining the art and the words would make for delicious conversations about blending the vision of both author and illustrator.  And the size and design of the book work so well, perfect in terms of child-size hands.  I think my favorite poem was the pumpkin one for October 31.  Half of the poem is made up of the word pumpkin.  Here is a selection:

pumpkin sprout
pumpkin shoot
pumpkin leaf
pumpkin root

pumpkin vine
pumpkin growing
pumpkin wander
pumpkin going

The whole poem takes the pumpkin from seed through the growth cycle and back to seed.  Truly a worthy Newbery contender from my point of view.

Monday, November 21, 2016

NONFICTION MONDAY: The Borden Murders by Sarah Miller


Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.

In linear narrative, Miller takes readers along as she investigates a brutal crime: the August 4, 1892, murders of wealthy and prominent Andrew and Abby Borden. The accused? Mild-mannered and highly respected Lizzie Borden, daughter of Andrew and stepdaughter of Abby. Most of what is known about Lizzie’s arrest and subsequent trial (and acquittal) comes from sensationalized newspaper reports; as Miller sorts fact from fiction, and as a legal battle gets under way, a portrait of a woman and a town emerges.

With inserts featuring period photos and newspaper clippings.


I knew very little about Lizzie Borden and the murder of her parents when I picked up this book.  But the blurb intrigued me.  The book does not disappoint.  In fact, I found it so compelling I read it in just a couple of days.  This is the best kind of narrative nonfiction.  A compelling story, fascinating but complex individuals, and a puzzling, not to mention brutal, set of circumstances.  Miller does a wonderful job of combining what is known as fact and what was opinions and speculation.  She's combined the very most factual information she could find with glimpses into the thoughts and beliefs of others.  She is careful to point out when information is false or misleading or incomplete.  It was interesting to read about the crime itself, the investigation, as well as the trial itself.  Not only does the book look at a particular crime, but also at a time and place and the behavior of both individuals and crowds.  While not intended to be a commentary on the fickleness and often unfairness of public opinion, the impact of that very thing on the proceedings leading up to the trial, but everything that came after.  I appreciated the great effort Miller made to be as objective as possible.  She shared evidence and testimony from both the prosecution and the defense, leaving the reader to decide what he/she thinks.  I was left, like the author, unsure about Borden's guilt or innocence.  There are some things that Borden did and said that definitely made her seem guilty, but on the other hand the evidence against her was far from definitive.  A fascinating account of an event that continues to puzzle even the experts.

Friday, November 18, 2016

FANTASTIC FRIDAY: Fablehaven Book of Imagination by Brandon Mull


Fablehaven has sold more than 3.5 million copies and readers made The Caretaker's Guide to Fablehaven, the first visual discovery and definitive guide to all the mythical creatures of Brandon Mull's wildly brilliant imagination, a bestseller in Fall 15. Now it's the READER'S turn to tap into your imagination in the very first interactive guide to Fablehaven!

Tuck this journal into your backpack, tote it along and use it as a fun activity book for all things Fablehaven and to reflect on the mythical creature metaphors found in the series.

  • If you owned your own invisibility glove like Seth, how would you use it today?
  • Learn how to draw a dragon’s head with step-by-step instructions.
  • You have found the legendary Totem Wall. Choose a face to speak with. What question would you ask?
  • Within the pages of this book are secret codes what will help the reader discover a secret message from Brandon Mull about Dragonwatch, the sequel to Fablehaven.
  • Dragons can create paralyzing fear. Imagine your hands and arms were literally paralyzed from encountering a dragon, but you still needed to write a message. Use your feet or mouth to write a note on the page.
  • Create your own art: draw your own magical preserve. Include your home, landmarks, trees, trails, areas to avoid. Where is it located? What is it called?
  • Draw your family pet as if it were a guardian to a hidden, ancient artifact. What special power does your pet have to protect the treasure it is guarding?
  • Fans will also find coloring book pages, mazes, scavenger hunts, and instructions for origami creatues of Fablehaven characters like Raxtus!
VIDEO--How to make Wizard Slime by Sadie Mull, daughter of the author


Fablehaven is one of my favorite fantasy series and as such I was eager to take a look at this activity book related to the series.  The book does not disappoint.  The book is full of secret codes, recipes to try out, and your own preserve to create.  Readers who enjoy interactive books that inspire imaginative play are bound to enjoy this book.  Writing, drawing, coloring, designing, and word games punctuate this fun book.  Hours of creative enjoyment are contained in this book.  The sheer variety of different activities and games makes this a great book for both individual and group activities.  One could even use the book to set up a Fablehaven party to celebrate the series or the upcoming sequel series that comes out in March 2017.  If you have a Fablehaven lover in your house, this book is a must.

(Note: see the video above for an example of one of the activities).

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