Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Shelf Awareness--There's a Hole in My Garden

PB Review: There's a Hole in My Garden

There's a Hole in My Garden by James Stewart (Albert Whitman, $16.99 hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9780807578551)

In January, a child finds a hole in his garden that's "not a very big hole." But since "it's just the right size for [his] best marble," the unnamed boy drops the marble in and hopes a tree will grow from it. When February rolls around, there's no marble tree (because "[m]arble trees don't grow overnight"), but since the hole is "a little bigger now," he drops in some candy, hoping for "a candy tree." Of course, March comes and "[t]he candy tree isn't growing either." But the hole is even bigger now, so in goes his flashlight. April, May, June... the rest of the year comes and goes with the boy expecting trees to grow out of the increasingly absurd items--robot, piano, dinosaur!--he throws into the ever-enlarging hole. Finally, by December, when the hole has grown so large it's "swallowed the garden," the boy does some research and comes up with his most spectacular idea yet.

There's a Hole in My Garden is a great deal of fun to read aloud, and the understated humor will leave audiences in stitches; the matter-of-fact depictions of the boy throwing bigger and bigger objects into a hole are hilarious. Black-and-white spot art on the left set up the main activities on the right, which play out in full color, full-page displays. Stewart provides just enough context to ground the story in a recognizable world, making the antics more effective, and his somewhat spare style nevertheless delivers plenty of details to discover on subsequent readings. Even the pickiest of young readers should find themselves drawn into the deadpan humor and wowed by the stellar ending. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Hoping to grow an unusual tree, a boy plants larger and larger objects in an ever-widening hole in his garden.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

September Book Picks


In WONDERLAND, by Barbara O’Connor, all Mavis Jeeter wants is to live in one place long enough to have a real best friend. But her mom moves the two of them, yet again, to a new job, in another state, as housekeeper for the wealthy Tully family. Luckily, young Rose Tully could use a best friend, too. But the girls are so different. And when Henry, a dog in search of a home, shows up, the girls will need to break plenty of Mrs. Tully’s rules if they want to get Mr. Duffy, the gatekeeper, to adopt a new pet… O’Connor does a great job, the writing reminds me of Kate DiCamillo, and this book will probably be mentioned in Newbery discussions. (MG)

A FESTIVAL OF GHOSTS, by William Alexander is the follow up to A PROPERLY UNHAUNTED PLACE, and it’s just as good as the first. Rosa Ramona Diaz is a ghost appeasement specialist, just like her mom. She and her new friend, Jasper Chevalier, travel around town quieting ghosts and restless spirits. When Rosa begins attending classes at Ingot Public School, the hauntings begin to escalate. To make matters worse, Rosa worries that she's being haunted by the spirit of her dad, and Jasper is determined to reopen the Ingot Renaissance Festival, even though the grounds have been taken over by dueling ghosts. These books champion respect and the power of listening. (MG)

Chapter Book:

TIME JUMPERS, by Wendy Mass, is a new time-travel adventure series, along the lines of THE MAGIC TREEHOUSE books but for less experienced readers. In the first book, STEALING THE SWORD, Chase and Ava find a mysterious old suitcase that magically transports them to King Arthur’s Court. The kids must return the hilt of Excalibur to the king before he fights in the tournament, but an angry man is trying to steal it. There’s lots of action, an intriguing setting, and plenty of illustrations to help new readers stay on track.

Picture Books:

Do “[b]unnies in their hutches" eat orange? How about gorillas and giraffes? In WHO EATS ORANGE? written by Dianne White and illustrated by Robin Page, we see a variety of animals working their way through a veritable rainbow of foods. This early non-fiction book is as fun to read aloud as it is beautiful to look at. Plenty of back matter makes it a great choice for classrooms, but kids will enjoy it just as well on laps and for library story-time.

Want a bouncy, rhyming bedtime book about robots? Give BITTY BOT, by Tim McCanna, illustrated by Tad Carpenter, a try. Follow along, in pitch-perfect rhythm and rhyme, as Bitty Bot, not yet ready to be “tucked in tight,” takes his homemade rocket ship on a trip to the moon. The art adds plenty of details, colors, and goofy moonpeople to ratchet up the fun.

Maybe you’d prefer your bedtime books a bit more dreamlike and magical. In TIME FOR BED, MIYUKI, by Roxane Marie Galliez with illustrations by Seng Soun Ratanavanh, every time her grandfather asks if she’s ready, a little girl finds one more task she needs to complete before she can sleep. But when Miyuki, with Grandfather’s help, has prepared for the Dragonfly Queen, watered her garden, gathered the snails, covered the cat, “danced the last dance of the day,” and taken her bath, she’s finally ready to be tucked in to hear a very special story. Watercolor and colored pencil illustrations are luminous.


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Hey, Kiddo

YA Review: Hey, Kiddo

Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Graphix/Scholastic, $24.99 hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780545902472, October 9, 2018)

In Hey, Kiddo, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author/illustrator of picture books and graphic novels for children, puts his talents to use on a more sophisticated project: delving into his own chaotic past. In his first work for young adults, Krosoczka describes how his life was shaped by his mother's addiction and his family's love.

Even though his mother, Leslie, "started using when she was just thirteen years old" and wasn't sure who his father was until Jarrett was born, the boy "came home in an oversized stocking on Christmas day" to a family that cared deeply for him. When Leslie's "terrible decisions" became too dangerous for three-year-old Jarrett, his grandfather Joe insisted on becoming the boy's legal guardian. Joe and Jarrett's grandmother, Shirley, had already raised five kids and were just about to turn into "empty-nesters" when they took in the toddler.

Jarrett's grandfather, usually depicted puffing a cigarette, frequently expressed love for his grandson, and provided for him in the best way he could. Joe saw to it that, when Jarrett's school repeatedly slashed its art program, the boy got art lessons at the Worcester Art Museum, since "[a]rt was the only thing that [he] had any sort of interest in." Shirley--also a heavy smoker and a drinker--was abrasive, though she clearly loved the boy. Still, Jarrett "always felt the void that Leslie's absence created."

When she did come around, there were good times. A birthday party at a McDonald's, months away from his actual birthday, was "a lot of fun" and "the only party that [he] ever had with friends throughout [his] entire childhood." Likewise, rare presents of a stuffed polar bear and, years later, the matching scarves Leslie knit for Jarrett and his pet gerbil, were treasured. But an even bigger gift might have been the letters and homemade cards they exchanged, where he'd "request a cartoon from her and then she'd request one back from [him]." The letters show that Leslie told Jarrett she loved him--"a lot." But her presence in his life was sporadic and "just as quickly as she'd [reappear], she was gone again."

Eventually, Jarrett found himself in art. This memoir serves as a wonderful expression of the richness of his gift, as well as a tribute to his "two incredible parents" who "just happened to be a generation removed." Rendered in black, white and a range of grays, with touches of color coming from the addition of rusty orange tones, the inked art is moody and expressive. The reproductions of actual letters and drawings from Jarrett's childhood lend authenticity and poignancy to the book. By the time he graduated from high school, Jarrett gained a measure of maturity that allowed him to come to terms with the family that, though far from "idyllic," is uniquely his. Perhaps, as Leslie told Jarrett while he was working on this book, their story "could help somebody who might be walking a similar path to the one [they] had walked." Here's hoping! --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: Jarrett Krosoczka's graphic novel is a reflection on his unconventional upbringing, which included being raised by grandparents due to his mom's devastating addiction.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

September's Book of the Month

September’s Book of the Month is another successful collaboration from that prolific picture book dynamic duo, Mac Barnett and Jon Klaassen. In THE WOLF, THE DUCK & THE MOUSE, when a mouse encounters a wolf, he’s “quickly gobbled up.” But imagine the mouse's surprise when, instead of meeting his end, he meets a duck who invites him to sit down to a delicious breakfast. Bread and jam, to be exact, and served on a tablecloth. As the duck explains, “I may have been swallowed, but I have no intention of being eaten.” The mouse decides to stay with the duck in the wolf’s belly. Life is good until too much dancing in there causes the wolf's stomach to ache, and his loud moaning attracts the attention of a hunter. So the duck and the mouse ride out to defend their home...

Klassen’s shrewd, collage-like illustrations perfectly match the droll text. For the “interior” scenes, he uses the dark browns and black of the wolf’s belly to cast a spotlight on the absurd antics in the foreground. When the action moves outdoors, he plays with light and dark there, as well. Like a previous Barnett/Klassen collaboration, EXTRA YARN, the story of THE WOLF, THE DUCK & THE MOUSE feels old fashioned, but with a modern, smart-alecky twist. Like a sardonic relative of an old pourquoi story or fairy tale, with hints of Peter and the Wolf. The subtitle of this witty E. B. White Award-winner could easily have been “Why the Wolf Howls at the Moon.”


PS—it’s really interesting to me how the emotion is conveyed in this book—the eyes are so expressive, these characters don't even have mouths most of the time! If you want to study how to infuse gobs of feeling into your characters, check out the rest of Klassen’s work and also the other master of this, Mo Willems.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Shelf Awareness--A Festival of Ghosts

MG Review: A Festival of Ghosts

A Festival of Ghosts by William Alexander, illus. by Kelly Murphy (Margaret K. McElderry, $17.99 hardcover, 272p., ages 8-12, 9781481469180)

Rosa Diaz is a ghost appeasement specialist, just like her mom. The two live in a "cozy basement apartment underneath the Ingot Public Library," where their official job is to deal with books that are "too haunted." But ever since the "huge circle of copper" placed around Ingot by its founder, Bartholomew Theosophras Barron, was broken, Rosa and her new friend, Jasper Chevalier, spend a lot of time traveling around town, quieting ghosts and restless spirits.

The previously "library-schooled" Rosa begins attending classes at Ingot Public School to perform the "emergency appeasements" her mother is certain the school will need. She's not worried when, on her first day, small hauntings become evident, including a chalkboard that displays "[e]very mark ever made on it." But when the voices of six students--and the principal--are stolen by ghosts in the water fountain, Rosa and Jasper know they have to find the key to appeasing Ingot's restless dead. As if that weren't enough work for two middle-graders, Rosa worries that she's being haunted by the spirit of her dad, and Jasper is determined to reopen the Ingot Renaissance Festival, even though the grounds have been taken over by dueling ghosts.

A Festival of Ghosts, Alexander's follow up to A Properly Unhaunted Place, is as strong as the first, with Murphy's dynamic pencil illustrations scattered throughout. Rosa and Jasper have all the makings of a terrific literary duo and as the pair grow more comfortable with each other, they affectionately banter their way through all the supernatural tasks, whether they are communicating with ghosts or keeping one step ahead of the people who believe in banishing ghosts forever. Here's hoping for a third book that's just as good! --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: The ghosts are back in Ingot, and Rosa and Jasper have their hands full trying to appease them in William Alexander's follow up to A Properly Unhaunted Place.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

August Recommendations


In THE PARKER INHERITANCE, by Varian Johnson, twelve-year-old Candice Miller, "just a girl trying to get through a horrible summer,” is plunged into a mystery when she finds a letter in the attic. Left behind by her grandmother, who lost her job with the city ten years earlier in a mysterious scandal involving buried treasure, Candace and her new friend Brandon decide to solve the puzzle, clear her grandmother’s name, and maybe find some cash in the process. THE PARKER INHERITANCE is a whip-smart mystery that delves into race relations while spooling out a page-turning plot that takes its inspiration from a classic, The Westing Game. (MG)

THUNDERHEAD, by Neal Shusterman, is the worthy sequel to series opener and recent Printz Honor Book, SCYTHE. In this installment, rogue “fallen apprentice” Rowan has gone "off-grid" and is operating as Scythe Lucifer, illegally gleaning scythes who don’t deserve to wear the honored robes. As Scythe Anastasia, Citra forges her own path. She gleans humanity on her own terms--with compassion--and unwittingly becomes the leader for a new generation of scythes. When nasty Scythe Goddard reappears from the dead, can monumental destruction be far behind? Read the first book and then enjoy this follow up, which explains more of the reasoning behind a “perfect” society ruled and managed by the Thunderhead. (YA)

Easy Readers:

MR. MONKEY BAKES A CAKE, by Jeff Mack, features the titular monkey, way too many bananas, and a grand plan. What could go wrong? Action-packed and full of fun, the clever antics and effective repetition are perfect for drawing in emerging readers. Kids will love the ups and downs of Mr. Monkey’s wacky day in and out of the kitchen.

In SERGIO RUZZIER’S FOX AND CHICK: THE PARTY, by—yup—Sergio Ruzzier, Fox and Chick’s very different personalities lead to a series of gentle, endearing adventures. When Fox tries to read, he's interrupted by the irrepressible Chick, who would rather have a party in Fox’s bathroom. When Fox gathers vegetables to make soup, Chick is too full of advice. And when Fox wants to paint a landscape, the twitchy Chick tries to convince him that a painting with a chick in it would be more exciting. Ruzzier’s distinctive character design and colors make FOX AND CHICK really stand out.

Picture Books:

 “Deep in the woods/is a house/just a house/that once was/but now isn’t/a home.” Two kids explore the ins and outs, pasts and present, of this house, in the very wonderful A HOUSE THAT ONCE WAS. Julie Fogliano’s gorgeous, nuanced language is matched by Lane Smith's equally gorgeous, equally nuanced, art.

NIGHT OUT, by Daniel Miyares, showcases stellar art in almost wordless book about a lonely boy who accepts an invitation to a fantastical nighttime party, where he meets some unlikely friends. A magical twist at the end will leave readers sighing with satisfaction.


Monday, August 6, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Grace and Fury

YA Review: Grace and Fury

Grace and Fury by Tracy Banghart (Little, Brown, $17.99 hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780316471411)

Serina Tessaro has spent her entire life training to become a Grace, a woman handpicked by the Heir to serve as Viridia's "highest standard of beauty, elegance, and obedience." If chosen, Serina will live in the palace, "go to glittering balls and want for nothing"--she'll never have to work as a servant or a seamstress or be forced into marrying the highest bidder. Serina's sister, Nomi, on the other hand, can't accept that the choices for women are so limited, and she doesn't understand how becoming "a possession for [the Heir] to own" is better than those other options, anyway. Despite her opinions, when Serina goes to the city of Bellaqua to "vie for this honor," Nomi goes along as handmaiden.

On their first night, as Serina is being introduced at the Heir's ball, Nomi sneaks into the palace library. Even though women are forbidden to read, Nomi has been taught, and she steals a book that reminds her of home--then immediately runs into the Heir. Although terrified, she responds defiantly to his rude questioning; the Heir, seemingly angry, proceeds to his ball. When he announces his top choices, though, Nomi is stunned to find that she, not Serina, has been named a Grace. Worse, Serina is caught with Nomi's stolen book and is banished to the nightmarish Mount Ruin. Nomi must find a way to rescue her sister while appearing to embrace her new role at the palace.

Grace and Fury's blend of fantasy, feminism and political thriller will likely appeal to fans of The Hunger Games, Marie Rutkoski's Winner trilogy and Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes. The dual narratives create plenty of suspense, and the growth and transformation of these two sisters is engrossing. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: In a country where women have few options, Serina competes to become a revered Grace, but all her well-laid plans for the future crumble when her rebellious sister is chosen instead.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

August's Book of the Month

August's Book of the Month is WE ARE OKAY, by Nina LaCour. It won the ALA's Printz Award this year.

Marin is spending her first winter break at her college dorm in upstate NY. It's a far cry from the California sunshine and her Ocean Beach home in the Bay area. Her beloved gramps died just before the term started, and Marin fled from the secrets he left behind. Now, bruised and battered, she's trying to put herself together again. But first she’s got to make it through a visit from Mabel, her former best friend? lover? sort-of-sister? without falling apart, and possibly mend some important fences along the way.

Present tense passages of Marin in NY, as she’s joined by Mabel, alternate with past tense reminiscences of her possibly “weird" family life with Gramps. WE ARE OKAY is a lovingly-crafted, deftly-woven look at grief and healing. It’s raw and honest, lonely, sad and hopeful. I was transported.


Friday, July 27, 2018

Shelf Awareness--I'm Not Missing

YA Review: I'm Not Missing

I'm Not Missing by Carrie Fountain (Flatiron, $18.99 hardcover, 336p., ages 12-up, 9781250132512)

Ever since Syd showed up in Miranda's third grade class in Las Cruces, N. Mex., the two girls have been best friends. They became even closer the summer before high school, when Syd's mother left rehab and "hightailed it to Colorado." Miranda could relate, as her own mom had taken off seven years earlier. Syd and Miranda performed a symbolic ritual of "honor and blood," swearing "to never stray from the other, and to never go after [their] mothers." Then, in the middle of senior year, Syd vanishes. She had been waiting to hear about her early admission to Stanford as the culmination of an elaborate Escape Plan, and suddenly she is "[g]one, not missing," and it's "as if Syd had never existed."

Miranda is forced to recognize "a basic truth about [her] life": content all these years to exist in the shadow of Syd's "superstar light," she has no idea "what to do or how to be or even what to look at" without her best friend by her side. Rather than walk alone past Nick, the boy she's been in love with for three years, the one who stood her up for prom, she skips class. But Nick has a secret that involves both Syd and Miranda, and he reaches out to her to talk.

Though Miranda is no closer to discovering where Syd has gone, she begins to discover herself. In her debut novel, poet Carrie Fountain writes with grace and fluidity as she reveals twists and turns that are fresh and surprising. Miranda's sweet romance with Nick proceeds in realistic fits and starts as the pair earnestly navigates the rough terrain of love and betrayal. By the end, readers will almost certainly feel hopeful about the prospects of Fountain's very real, very compelling characters. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: High school senior Miranda's best friend suddenly runs away, leaving her alone to deal with life and love.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Shelf Awareness--The Letting Go

YA Review: The Letting Go

The Letting Go by Deborah Markus (Sky Pony Press, $16.99 hardcover, 360p., ages 12-up, 9781510734050)

When a dead body shows up at Hawthorn Academy for Independent Young Women, a secluded California school for sensitive, artistic, mostly Ivy League-bound types, Emily doesn't know what to think. She's changed her last name. She's cut ties to almost everybody she ever knew. And she keeps her fellow students away by being "aggressively unpleasant." But Emily fears that this dead body (a murder victim, shot in the back of the head) might be her fault, that the mysterious killing of everybody she's ever loved--parents, friends, even pets--is "starting again."

In an effort to create distance between herself and others, Emily immerses herself in Emily Dickinson's poems, using Dickinson's words as her own. She relentlessly quotes Dickinson on death and dying in her independent study project and believes she'd feel at home in the poet's time, when "death was more ordinary." And now, even though she's played by "the rules" and "everyone [at Hawthorne] was willing to leave [her] the hell alone," the uproar surrounding the dead body has somehow made her appear approachable to new student M. Mischievous and very much alive, M decides she's not going to let Emily's bad behavior chase her away. Much as she wants to, Emily can't let herself forget the danger M is courting by pursuing this friendship.

In The Letting Go, her debut novel, Deborah Markus has created a perfectly tortured main character whose horrible past has forced her to become an "unusually restless shadow." As the mystery of the new murder eats at her, she becomes ever more confused about what is real. Events hurtle toward a terrible and satisfying conclusion in this fascinating literary thriller. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Emily thought she was safe after changing her identity, but when a corpse appears at the front door of her new school, she fears the murders may be starting again.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

July Recommendations


I’ve gone back and reread two of my all-time favorite fantasies, GRACELING, and companion book (prequel?) FIRE, by Kristin Cashore. In Graceling, Katsa has been used as King Randa’s weapon for years. Her powerful killing Grace makes her virtually impossible to defeat. But Katsa has had enough, and she's formed a secret council to try to make amends. When she rescues an elderly Leonid man from the neighboring kingdom of Sunder, she meets Prince Po, whose Grace of fighting is similar to Katsa’s own. The two set off to solve the mystery of who kidnapped the grandfather and end up on a life and death mission to save the heir to the Monsean throne. Thrilling adventures and a completely satisfying romance, set in a superbly crafted world. (YA)

In FIRE, the kingdom of the Dells is verging on war, with rebel lords amassing armies to unseat young king Nash. Fire is a human monster—able to read minds, though she doesn’t care to use her power if she can possibly help it. Her father had certainly used his, though, contributing greatly to the current state of crisis in the Dells. When Prince Brigan arrives to take her to King City to help the royal family, she has to decide whether her convictions are worth the possible downfall of the kingdom. An equally satisfying romance fills the pages of this companion book, and it also sheds light on the origins of King Leck, from GRACELING. If you haven’t read these books, which conclude with BITTERBLUE, you’ve waited long enough! (YA)

Board Book:

HI! by Ethan Long, is simple yet effective. A series of neatly-rendered animals says hello: "Hoo! Moo! Growl! Howl!” and so on. It comes full circle and there’s a cute finish. The board book format makes it perfect for babies, and also for kids who are ready to think about learning to read.

Picture Books:

In I AM A CAT, by Galia Bernstein, Simon thinks he’s a cat, but Lion, Cheetah, Puma, Panther, and Tiger disagree. Even though he’s small, Simon sets them straight. Kids will love it.

THERE MIGHT BE LOBSTERS, by Carolyn Crimi, illustrated by Laurel Molk, stars a small dog named Sukie who is afraid of everything that can go wrong at the beach. She wants to sit safely while her human, Eleanor, has all the fun. But when her stuffed monkey gets a little too close to the water....

ALL THE ANIMALS WHERE I LIVE, by Philip C. Stead, is an example of a picture book that breaks "the rules." It’s quiet, it rambles, and there’s no child—or child-like—protagonist. And yet it’s a beautiful example of the art of picture book-making. There’s plenty to discover as Stead describes his new home in a satisfyingly roundabout way.


Monday, July 2, 2018

July's Book of the Month

July’s Book the Month is the 2018 Newbery Medal winner, HELLO, UNIVERSE, by Erin Entrada Kelly.

In this story, four middle school kids, along with a very important little sister, collide during the course of one fateful day.

Shy Virgil feels like a Grand Failure. He's misunderstood by his outgoing, athletic family, and can’t seem to learn his multiplication tables. And, even though he’s sure he’s meant to be friends with Valencia Somerset from school, it’s been a whole year and he's never managed to utter a word to her.

Valencia is trying to convince herself she’ll have a nice, lazy summer, feeding the stray dog in the woods near her house, sketching, and taking notes on squirrel behavior. Who needs friends, anyway?

Kaori, “a proud Gemini,” runs a psychic business, with help from her younger sister Gen, offering spiritual guidance and interpreting dreams for other kids.

And Chet is a bully who's been horrible to both Virgil and Valencia. Virgil thinks of him as the Bull: "Always ready to charge, always fired up to call Virgil a retard or a pansy.”

When Virgil runs into Chet on his way to Kaori’s house on that first day of summer, Chett pulls a horrible prank and events quickly spiral out of control.

HELLO, UNIVERSE examines many different kinds of relationships: family, friends (how good ones are lost and found), and how bullies and victims get made. There is big-time drama when Chet meets Virgil in the woods, but also plenty of gentle moments. The alternate narrators allow readers a deeper understanding of the motivations of all the characters, rather than judging them on their actions alone. It’s pretty enlightening, and a smart way to approach this engrossing story.


Friday, June 29, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Brick: Who Found Herself in Architecture

PB Review: Brick: Who Found Herself in Architecture

Brick: Who Found Herself in Architecture by Joshua David Stein, illus. by Julia Rothman (Phaidon Press, $16.95 hardcover, 40p., ages 4-7, 9780714876313)

"Great things begin with small bricks." This is what Brick's mother tells her when Brick is just a baby, awed by the huge buildings in her city. Prompted to look closer, Brick finds the homes on her street, the fire station, the schoolhouse and the post office are all "made out of bricks just like her." She wonders if there are bricks in all the streets, in all the towns and even "across the ocean, in lands far away?" Most especially, Brick wonders where she, herself, will fit in. "What great thing might she become?"

When Brick sets sail on a wondrous journey, she sees castles scarred by "years of fighting," "fantastic churches," "splendid synagogues" and a "towering Buddhist temple." None feel like home, so she continues on. She visits the Great Wall, apartment buildings and brick homes in towns and country. But nothing is right for Brick. She feels lost until she returns to her mother's earlier advice: great things begin with small bricks.

For anyone who's ever wondered where life will take them, and especially for little ones who can only dream of what the wide world holds, Brick's story will advise and inspire. Each structure she visits is identified as a real place, which grounds the story while also expanding its scope. Illustrations are rendered appropriately in oranges and reds and make excellent use of white space. A delicate black line describes the architecture with dexterity, allowing readers a glimpse of wonders that may await on their own journeys as they root for Brick to succeed on hers. Ultimately, Brick learns she must let go of her worries before reaching a place where she can be part of a "wide and lovely" whole, arriving at what is perhaps, for her, "the perfect place to be." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Young Brick travels to famous brick buildings all over the world in a quest to find out where she belongs.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Fat Girl on a Plane

YA Review: Fat Girl on a Plane

Fat Girl on a Plane by Kelly deVos (Harlequin Teen, $18.99 hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780373212538)

Fashion blogger Cookie Vonn is the daughter of a famous supermodel--she could even be "Leslie Vonn Tate's doppelganger," except that she weighs 330 pounds. Cookie has just scored an interview with her idol, designer Gareth Miller, at her first ever fashion preview. En route through Chicago, however, flight attendants decide she needs a second seat and won't let her leave for New York unless she buys one. Mortified (and down an interview opportunity), Cookie decides she's "done being the fat girl on the plane" and joins NutriNation. Slowly, the pounds come off. When Cookie does finally meet Gareth Miller (on a plane, no less), he introduces himself with a joke about a woman who's too fat to fly! Cookie still intends to design plus-size clothes that let women "look and feel great," so when, as a PR ploy, Gareth is convinced to "launch a plus-size capsule collection" with her, Cookie seizes the opportunity.

But if Cookie thought her life would be perfect as a thin person, she has to rethink that. She's still feuding with "snothead" nemesis Kennes Butterfield; can't get anything going with her longtime crush, Tommy Weston; her parents remain mostly absent; and attending Parsons for fashion design continues to be financially out of reach. She's not even sure she likes the way people look at her now that she's thin.

Cookie is a strong character, one whom readers will enjoy accompanying on her journey of self-discovery. Engagingly told, alternating chapters go back and forth in time, allowing the author to contrast the way Cookie is treated when she's heavy and after she's lost weight. Kelly deVos, who, like Cookie, was also once "declared too fat to fly," says it best in her compelling note at the outset: "It's what's inside us that counts." --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: When 17-year-old Cookie, the daughter of a famous supermodel and fashion devotee herself, is forced to buy a second seat on an airplane, she vows to lose weight and take the fashion world by storm.

Friday, June 15, 2018

June Recommendations


STRANGE THE DREAMER, by Laini Taylor, is set in the same multiverse as her astounding Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy. In this new book (first in a duology), orphan and librarian Lazlo Strange is obsessed by the mysterious, magical lost city of Weep. Against all odds, he secures a spot in the contingent of scholars recruited by the Godslayer to journey to the land of his dreams. Love and hate, monsters and gods. No one writes the prose of fantasy as beautifully as Laini Taylor. (YA)

In THE HEART FORGER, by Rin Chupeco, sequel to THE BONE WITCH, sorcerous Tea struggles to keep the eight kingdoms safe from monstrous daevas as well as from the dangerous Faceless Dark asha who seek power and immortality. This second book is even better than the first, featuring a twisting, turning plot that’s rich with magic, exotic beasts, romance and treachery. (YA)

Easy Reader:

In four related chapters, CHARLIE & MOUSE, written by Laurel Snyder and illustrated by Emily Hughes, depicts the antics of two irresistible brothers at home and around their diverse neighborhood. The vocabulary is rich and never condescending, helped along by full color illustrations that do a great job of supporting the text.

Picture Books:

NEW SHOES, by Chris Raschka, is a toddler’s-eye view of how to replace your old worn out pair for bright, comfy new ones. Simple text, great colors, and the fun perspective make this volume really stand out.

Looking for a sweet friendship story? In SAM AND JUMP, by Jennifer K. Mann, Sam and his stuffed bunny, Jump, are best friends. At the beach, Sam meetsThomas, and they play all day, When it’s time to go home, Sam accidentally leaves Jump behind and it’s too late to go back! Spare text and a winning art style make bring this story alive.

BLOBFISH THROWS A PARTY, by Miranda Paul, illustrated by Maggie Caton, is the kind of absurd picture book kids should love, especially as a read-aloud. Poor Blobfish lives alone at the bottom of the sea. He wants friends and treats, but when he tries to throw a party, a mad-cap version of the telephone game ensues. It doesn’t look good for Blobfish getting his party, until the aliens show up. Really, it all makes perfect sense!


Sunday, June 3, 2018

June's Book of the Month--Big Cat, Little Cat

“There was a cat
    who lived alone.
Until the day
    a new cat came.”

So begins BIG CAT, LITTLE CAT, by Elisha Cooper. Big cat teaches a little newcomer some very important rules of the house. These two kitties become inseparable: cleaning, climbing, hunting, exploring and doing all the things that cats in the city do. They enjoy years of loving companionship, “[u]ntil the older cat got older and one day he had to go…”

This is a lovely, accessible, and reassuring story about family, letting go, and new beginnings. It’s happy, it’s sad, and it’s ultimately an uplifting circle-of-life story. Kids should be able to handle the emotions explored here, and it's a gentle, accessible way way into a difficult discussion.

The expressive but spare black and white illustrations, with occasional pale orange background, earned Cooper a Newbery Honor for this book.

Have you read BIG CAT, LITTLE CAT? What do you think?


Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All

YA Review: Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All

Fatal Throne: The Wives of Henry VIII Tell All by M.T. Anderson, Candace Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Lisa Ann Sandell, Jennifer Donnelly, Linda Sue Park and Deborah Hopkinson (Schwartz & Wade, $18.99 hardcover, 416p., ages 12-up, 9781524716196)

In Fatal Throne, seven highly acclaimed writers of young adult literature bring their considerable talents to the legendary saga of Henry VIII and his doomed wives.

"Once upon a time, there were six queens who married the same King, one after the other." The first, Katharine of Aragon, is betrothed to Henry's older brother Arthur as "a flesh-and-blood treaty... between [their] two countries." When Arthur dies, Katharine is wed to "handsome" Henry. Despite her beauty and accomplishments, Katharine's only living child is a girl, rather than the son Henry demands must succeed him. He declares their marriage invalid, banishes her and even forms a new church to have his way. As Katharine realizes--too late--Henry "always gets what he wants. He takes it as his divine right."

The king is "besotted" by second wife Anne Boleyn, until she, too, bears a daughter who lives, rather than a son. Henry accuses Anne of "committing adultery with three men" and she is beheaded. "Sweet Jane" Seymour follows. The king genuinely adores this kind wife whose aim is to "obey and serve," but she dies giving him the male heir he so desires. Aging Henry arranges to marry, in turn, Anna of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Katheryn Parr before dying a bloated, malodorous old man, albeit one who "changed the world."

Romance and intrigue dominate these accounts, as do the frustrations of being female in a time when "no woman--not even a Queen--can... show her own power." Each author gives distinguished voice and form to her queen while Anderson's king remains a constant counterpoint. Framed by the terror each queen feels as she awaits judgment, these stories of love, lust, power and intrigue never fail to fascinate. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Seven acclaimed YA authors reimagine the life and loves of King Henry VIII and the turmoil of being one of his six ill-fated queens.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

May Recommendations


In THE BOY, THE BIRD, & THE COFFIN MAKER, Allora is a town where "fish jump out of the sea and straight into your mouth.” A magical town, where trouble never finds you. Except, sadly for young Tito Bonito and his little bird, stories like this are greatly exaggerated. Tito finds himself starving, stealing food from a kindly old coffin-maker who lives alone on a hill. But there really is magic in Allora, and eventually Tito and his wonderful bird, along with Alberto the coffin-maker, make the most of it. This is a gentle fable, with wonderful use of magical realism, promoting the strength of kindness. (MG)

BOB, by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, is a mystery about who—and what—the short, green, bald (but slightly fuzzy) not-zombie Bob really is, why he’s in Livy’s closet, and why he’s wearing that chicken suit. Also, why Livy can’t remember much of anything about her last visit to Gran Nicholas’s house in Australia, five yeas ago. The magic runs deep, the story is sweet. (MG)

THE BOOK OF DUST, Volume One: La Belle Sauvage is a terrific start to Philip Pullman’s new, three-volume prequel to his epic three-volume saga, HIS DARK MATERIALS (THE GOLDEN COMPASS, THE AMBER SPYGLASS, and THE SUBTLE KNIFE). In this newest story, Lyra is a baby, consigned for her safety to the small Priory of St. Rosamund. Malcolm lives across the river at his parents' inn, the Trout, where he hears a great many things. When agents of the Consistorial Court of Discipline, an arm of the Church, begin hunting for Lyra, it falls to Malcolm and kitchen maid, Alice, to keep her safe. If you’ve missed any of the books in Pullman’s series, run, don’t walk, and read them all. He’s a terrific storyteller. (Upper MG/YA)

Picture Books:

One of the most best approaches to nonfiction I’ve seen in a while is HELLO HELLO, by Brendan Wenzel (THEY ALL SAW A CAT). A fun, rhyming text, and art made using a variety of media, introduces readers to many different animals by calling attention to their attributes: black and white or color, stripes or spots, size, shape, etc. An author’s note explains that many of these creatures are endangered, and asks readers to find out more about them. And, finally, all 92 animals are numbered and identified in the back. This is a beautiful book from start to finish.

THEY SAY BLUE, by Jillian Tamaki, features a girl thinking deeply about her world, through the colors she sees, and a few that she doesn’t. It’s a gorgeously produced picture book debut by an artist who won multiple awards for her graphic novel THIS ONE SUMMER a few years ago.

Easy Reader:

PIG AND CAT ARE PALS, by Douglas Florian, is extremely appealing and I’m not entirely sure why. The illustrations are scrabbly and kid-like, the palette is full of pink and gray. And chartreuse! But it’s an incredibly skillful job. Dog and Pig like to do all kinds of things together. But when Dog shows up, Cat feels left out. Never fear—these animals do the right thing.


Wednesday, May 2, 2018

May's Book of the Month--A Different Pond

May’s Book of the Month is A DIFFERENT POND, written by Bao Phi and illustrated by Thi Bui. A quiet story about an early morning fishing trip becomes so much more, in the hands of author and poet Bao Phi, and illustrator Thi Bui, who earned a Caldecott Honor for her work on it.

“Hours before the sun comes up,” a boy and his father dress, pack food, visit the bait shop, and drive to a pond, where they spend the chilly, pre-dawn hours fishing and talking. The boy does his part by making a fire, but he’d rather not bait the hook. His father isn’t upset. The boy learns why, even with two jobs, the man still needs to fish for their dinner: “Everything in America costs a lot of money.” As they eat their bologna sandwiches, they talk about another pond where Dad fished when he was growing up in Vietnam. The boy wonders “what the trees look like at that other pond, in the country [his] dad comes from.” The strong bond shared by the whole family is evident, and we see that they all work hard to contribute what they can.

 Thi Bui’s illustrations are stunning, mostly done in blues, yellow, and ocher. She uses graphic novel panels (often set within larger double spreads for spot art) so she can fill her pages with color and still have them be easily read. Her backgrounds are detailed and her faces expressive.

Like much good art, A DIFFERENT POND feels both intensely personal, and completely universal, at the same time.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Shelf Awareness--The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker

Children's Review: The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker

The Boy, the Bird, and the Coffin Maker by Matilda Woods, illus. by Anuska Allepuz (Philomel, $16.99 hardcover, 208p., ages 8-12, 9780525515210, May 15, 2018)

Allora is a town where "fish jump out of the sea and straight into your mouth." A town where "you never get cold because even in winter the sun keeps the snow away." And, best of all, Allora is a town "so far away from everything else," he will never find them again.

Sadly for the boy and "his little bird and only friend," his mum's stories about Allora are exaggerations. One year after their arrival, his mother has died, and young Tito Bonito is cold, hungry and stealing food from kindly coffin maker Alberto. Some 30 years ago, a plague struck Allora, and Alberto lost his entire family to "the sickness." Now the old man lives alone in his quiet house, building coffins during the day so the dead may rest comfortably, and working on his own coffin at night. When Tito and his bird find their way to him, Alberto's somber routine begins to change.

After setting a trap to catch the thief, Alberto is surprised to discover that the culprit is a child whose face has the likeness "of a woman he had buried five weeks before." Even though Tito flees, the old man vows to solve the mystery of who is caring for this frightened boy, and to help "as best [he] can." Alberto begins leaving food out, and Tito grows comfortable enough to come back every day. He joins the coffin maker in his workshop, learning, talking, working, "and for the first time in thirty years, the room [echoes] with two voices instead of one." But Tito is still "absolutely terrified" about something, and it takes nearly dying in a bitter storm before he fully accepts the new home Alberto so freely offers.

Just as Allora is a town of "impossibilities," where you "tilt your head toward the sky to see magic every day and deep into every night," so is the legendary Isola Mountain, in a story Alberto reads to Tito each evening. Isola is a place of enchantment, home to trees made of silver, flowers made of rubies and blades of grass made of emeralds. But perhaps most fantastical of all things in Matilda Woods's delightful novel is Tito's "bright little bird," Fia, whose eyes flicker gold when she spies gentle Alberto for the first time. When the reason for Tito's fears materializes, Fia brings all of the magic of Isola to bear in forging a solution.

Woods has penned a gentle fable, one rich in hope that promotes the strength of kindness. Her magical realism nods to the likes of Isabel Allende and Gabriel García Márquez, perfectly tailoring the genre for a middle-grade audience. Anuska Allepuz's whimsical illustrations add to the magical feel. Sweet, earnest and not to be missed. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Shelf Talker: Lonely Alberto's days are transformed when a young, scared boy and his magical bird become part of his life.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Shelf Awareness--Dread Nation

YA Review: Dread Nation

Dread Nation by Justina Ireland (Balzer & Bray, $17.99, hardcover, 464p., ages 14-up, 9780062570604)

Life would have been very different for Jane McKeene if the dead hadn't "rose up and started to walk" in Gettysburg two days after she was born. As a black child born to "the richest white woman in Haller County, Kentucky," Jane might have become a "proper house girl" or even "taken Aunt Aggie's place as House Negro." Instead, now 17-year-old Jane attends Miss Preston's School of Combat for Negro Girls, located just outside of Baltimore. She and her classmates learn the fine art of killing the undead ("shamblers") who have terrorized the country since the end of the War Between the States. Jane's education at Miss Preston's is important: a trained student from Miss Preston's may be hired as an Attendant to a fashionable white woman. As an Attendant, Jane will keep "her charge from being killed by the dead, and her virtue from being compromised by potential suitors." The War may be over, but the popular Survivalist Party freely compares black people with "apes" and "livestock" while it focuses on "securing the safety of white Christian men and women" and restoring the nation to "its former glory."

When sweet-talking, also multiracial ex-beau Jackson Keats asks Jane to help him find his missing sister, Jane sneaks out of school accompanied by her "passing light" classmate and nemesis, Katherine Deveraux. In their search, the two girls and Jackson find themselves swept up in a plot wherein white families and Attendants are going missing. Witty and subversive, Ireland deftly tackles important issues from our nation's past and present. Themes of racism, power and humanity are blended into this action-packed adventure with a cast of well-developed characters who practically jump off the page. A neat conclusion ties up most plot points, but readers will hope for a sequel. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI.

Discover: Since the onset of the undead plague, black and indigenous peoples are being trained to protect white Christians who are struggling to re-impose pre-Civil War values on the nation.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

April Recommendations


In BLOOD WATER PAINT, by Joy McCullough, seventeen-year-old painter, Artemisia Gentileschi, works as her father’s apprentice in 17th-century Rome, where women are merely "beauty/ for consumption.” When she’s raped by the man giving her art lessons, she immediately understands: "He is teacher, I am student,/ man and girl/ power, nothing…." Artemisia brings charges against her rapist even though she knows it's unlikely she will win. This is historical fiction about an iconic painter, based on transcripts from her trial. Told in luminous verse, it tackles issues of gender and power in a way that is relevant today. (YA)

In DREAD NATION, by Justina Ireland, life would have been very different for Jane McKeene if the dead hadn’t “started to walk” in Gettysburg two days after she was born. Jane, aged seventeen, attends Miss Preston’s School of Combat for Negro Girls just outside Baltimore, where she learns the fine art of killing “shamblers” who have terrorized the country since the War Between the States. When Jane, along with ex-beau Jackson Keats and fellow student (and nemesis) Katherine Deveraux, stumbles upon a plot that has white families and their black Attendants going missing, the trio find themselves captured and loaded aboard a train bound for a Survivalist compound in Kansas. There, they encounter a society based on the message of “securing the safety of white Christian men and women,” and restoring the nation to “its former glory.” Witty, subversive, and full of action, this is another story about power--and lack of it —that should be relevant to readers today. Great characters. I’m hoping for a sequel! (YA)

TESS OF THE ROAD, by Rachel Hartman, is the first in a fantasy duology by the author of Seraphina and Shadow Scale. When high-spirited Tess Dombegh is six, her energetic attempts to discover "the mystical origins of babies" disappoint her devout mama, and Tess realizes that she'll have to work much harder than her twin sister, Jeanne, to make it into heaven. Ten years later, Tess is a lady-in-waiting at court. She has the "whiff of scandal" about her, so it's up to sweet, virtuous Jeanne to marry and save the family from poverty. When eligible Lord Richard proposes to Jeanne, Tess dares to hope that she might finally be free to pursue her own interests, but after making a horrible, drunken mess of Jeanne's wedding, a convent becomes Tess's only apparent option. That is, until Tess is gifted with a pair of fine leather boots that "[seem] to be a suggestion” and she runs off to a distant city to make a new start as a seamstress. She meets up with her old best friend, the "lizardy" quigutl (a subspecies of dragon) named Pathka, who is on a journey of his own. This is the same world as the Seraphina books, but this time we get to know the unquenchable Tess, whose life has so far been constrained by shame and the medieval expectations of others. Three thumbs up! (YA)

Picture Books:

With delightful illustrations, rhythm, rhyme, and lots and lots of onomatopoeia, WATERSONG, written by Tim McCanna, illustrated by Richard Smythe, follows one fox through a rainstorm and out the other side. Really fun to read aloud!

Poems by Nikki Giovanni, art by Ashely Bryan, what more can I say? I AM LOVED will “lyric you in lilacs” as you feast on its sumptuous spread.

THE FISH AND THE CAT, by Marianne Dubuc, is a wordless picture book, featuring an undaunted cat chasing an elusive fish through water, air, and outer space. Dubuc’s appealingly stylized art perfectly captures the nature of her cat (while her fish defies categorization!) in this unhurried pursuit through realms of imagination. Quirky with plenty of charm.