Wednesday, March 28, 2018


Breaking news: Winter is not reading the calendar! It keeps on snowing across the upper swath of our country and is not the least bit apologetic about dropping cold temperatures across the south.

Enter Lucy who loves snow and ice. If only her friends would join her.

MICE SKATING by Annie Silvestro, illustrated by Teagan White, Sterling Children’s Books, 2017

Lucy is a mouse. And so, of course, her friends are mice. Like any self-respecting and traditional mouse, each one has burrowed in to spend the cheerless days of winter below ground, snoozing, perhaps, or maybe reading books about humans while I am reading a book about them.

Not Lucy. She dons her fluffy wool cap with a pink pom-pom on top and goes adventuring. She catches snowflakes on her tongue, makes mice angels in the snow, and misses her friends. Her attempts to bring snow fun into her friends’ cozy napping spaces fail. Snow cones?  They aren’t cheese. An indoor snow fight? A soggy mess.

Then Lucy figures out how to skate.

Adding to the reader’s enjoyment, the author sprinkles wordplays on cheese throughout the sprightly text. Art shimmers. Winter re-gains its first snow of the season excitement.

Thank you, Lucy.


Teagan White, whose art brings Lucy and her field mouse friends to life, has illustrated greeting cards and textiles as well as children’s books and received a BFA in illustration from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design.  

Author Annie Silvestro  is the author of Bunny’s Book Club (Doubleday), another Bunny book coming out this summer, and The Christmas Tree Who Loved Trains (HarperCollins, September 2018).

After considering opening a children’s book store, Silvestro decided to create books instead, beginning her writing career with determination in 2009. She joined the Society of Children’s 
Book Writers and Illustrators and “kept working and learning.”

Author Silvestro shares this journey with young authors in schools – a part of being a children’s author that she discovered she loves.  “It (author visits) was something I was nervous about doing at first, but now I’ve found it to be the very best part of my job. Engaging with children about books and reading is such a gift.”

Silvestro says she loves to tell young readers “how important it is to keep reading! You have to be a good reader to be a good writer. I also like to tell them to persevere and that it’s ok to make mistakes.”

Returning to Lucy, readers will see that Lucy perseveres, makes mistakes, and yes! succeeds. Set out the snacks of cheese and crackers. While younger readers enjoy turning pages, older readers will be chuckling over the wordplay. And a few more days of winter will be OK.    

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

A Path of Pebbles

Have you ever followed a trail of shiny stones, one more lovely than the other, until you found yourself deep in the woods of wondering…?

STEPPING STONES: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs, artwork by Nizar Ali Badr, Orca Book Publishers, 2016
First I read an article in Bookbird,  A Journal of International Children’s Literature. The article was written by Margriet Ruurs, an award winning author of more than 30 books for children.  She, too, was following a path of pebbles, first showing up on Facebook. She saw the artwork of a Syrian sculptor from Ugarit, now living and working in Lattakia, Syria. He simply arranges rocks on the ground or on a rectangle of plywood – except it’s not so simple. His images tell deeply emotional stories.

Author Ruurs had to find this artist, had to ask him about his life and work. Her article in Bookbird details her determination to find him and her inspiration to write a book about a refugee family’s journey to find a peaceful life. She wanted Nizar Ali Badr to tell this eloquent story in stones undergirded by his own intriguing story: a gifted artist managing to create in spite of a multitude of deprivations.

I had to follow the trail to her book, too, as reader. I had to know how her search ended, as well as more about the artist himself.

Ruurs’ story follows a young girl who is forced to flee her home when war comes to her Syrian village and “Life in our village changed. Nothing was as it had been.” The pebble people who are her family say good-bye to the rooster and the goat and go to the end of the earth where they must cross a vast sea. The physical burdens of the pebble family’s belongings bow the adults’ bodies, but the weight of loss is a burden the sculptor conveys in all the bodies, young and elderly.

This family created by author Ruurs survives the sea, but other refugees do not. On land once more, the family stops. “Mama and Papa planted seeds to grow flowers to remember those who did not reach freedom.” It’s a tender scene. Love, care, hope. All told in stones that have become real people to the reader.

Badr has not left his homeland. In the foreword, author Ruurs notes that sometimes the artist does not have money to buy the glue that would make his art permanent. It becomes one of those “meant to be” moments that made it possible for the artist and author to create this book for a publisher willing to consider challenging circumstances. Badr says his ancestors left “a signature in my genes to create and share my work with honesty and modesty.” Ruurs hopes she can raise awareness of the plight of those who must flee the horrors of war.

This is a beautiful book.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Bull Named Ugly

What happens when the older brother you idolize, the one all the girls in the small town of Salt Lick, Nevada fall for, the bull riding champion everybody brags about, goes to Iraq and steps on an IED?  (An Improvised Explosive Device also known as a street bomb.)

BULL RIDER by Suzanne Morgan Williams, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2009

It may be his brother Ben struggling with a traumatic brain injury and life-altering physical injuries but 14 year old Cam who prefers riding a skateboard to clinging to a grouchy fire snorting bull also crashes headlong into change. Author Williams brings the world’s problems to Cam’s ranch and everyone in this warm, loving family must adjust to roles outside their expectations.

The other members of Cam’s family are well thought out to provide just enough poignancy with a good balance of family fun. The adults have adult challenges, but the author keeps the focus on Cam and how he relates to his brother’s shifting moods contrasted with the unsettling discussion about patriotism, love of country and the willingness to sacrifice. A bull named Ugly plays a major part, too, but that’s all I’m going to tell you.

Suzanne Morgan Williams has a solid background in nonfiction for young people. She researches deeply with extensive acknowledgements. Through her craft Bull Rider comes to life, receiving the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Award for Outstanding Juvenile Book of 2009.

If you missed this novel when it first came out, read it now. It’s timely today. Movies are being made about our war vets, but do any of them get inside the heads of their younger brothers and sisters? This book will motivate you to thank a veteran for his or her service -- and the vet's family, too.

Visit the author at

Monday, September 25, 2017

Read This Book!

We are in the midst of the 35th annual Banned Books Week which began on September 24th.
I read banned books. Do you?

BAN THIS BOOK by Alan Gratz, Tor/Starscape, 2017

"How can you put into words how a book slips inside of you and becomes a part of you so much that your life feels empty without it?" These are the words of 4th grader Amy Anne Ollinger when she finds out her favorite book, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, has been removed from her school library book shelves. Note: "not banned, but removed" is the explanation when Amy Anne asks. To Amy Anne it's all the same.

How did this happen? An influential parent has protested the book -- and several others  -- as inappropriate.

Amy Anne does a lot of protesting inside her head until the injustice of it all empowers her. A leader, an organizer, an advocate, a champion. All of these are unleashed as one little girl digs in and learns what our country and our rights are all about.

This is a PPR book. Parents, Please Read! You need to know what is going on inside your child's head that isn't being said out loud.  Thanks to Alan Gratz for making this topic accessible to all ages.

A Reader's Guide is included in the book. All curriculum guidelines are met.

Any mistakes in this review are mine. The book was due at my library and had to be returned because there is a waiting list. I could not double check and re-read and write more as I usually do. The copies I buy will probably not stay in my house long because I will give them away to someone who gets as energized by the topic as I do.

Every title mentioned in BAN THIS BOOK has been banned somewhere sometime. Can you find your favorites? I discovered I've been reading banned books my whole life --  I just didn't know it.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Can a Story Save the Kingdom?

If your kids are into saving kingdoms this year, here is a holiday book to give them some options.

THE STORY BOOK KNIGHT by Helen Docherty and Thomas Docherty, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2016

Leo was a gentle knight. So begins this gentle tale. He likes to read. However, his parents succumb to the way it is always done, and when they pronounce, “Knights must FIGHT,” Leo is puzzled.

However, not only is Leo a gentle knight, he is a dutiful son. And so he sets off to tame a dragon, armed with gifts from his parents, a new shield and sword. (He also packs sandwiches and a stack of books.)  

Along the way to find the elusive dragon, Leo encounters a griffin, (he knows it is a griffin because he has read about one), a troll, and finally, in a village where the people are in hiding, an ENORMOUS and cranky from a nap, DRAGON. 

The cover copy asks, “…can a story be as mighty as a sword?” Read this to your four year old and discover a happy ending and a delightful answer.

This book’s creators live in Wales with their two daughters. I’m guessing lots of stories are told in their home.

My suggestion: after you have read this to your young listener half a dozen times or so, suggest he or she read it to the baby or a doll, or even the dog or cat.  Like Leo, you will be left in peace to read.  It’s your turn to read to YOU.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Happy Launch Day!

When the debut novel of a dear friend is released and available for book shelves in libraries, bookstores, and your house, it's a cause for celebration. Drum roll, please!


With a twin sister like Hazel, Cl’rnce doesn’t need any enemies. On the other hand, he’s done a pretty good job of making enemies all by himself.  Cl’rnce is a prankster.  Hazel is a spoiler.

A spoiler is a role I do not wish to play, so I will say as little as possible about what really happens in this delightful fantasy about dragons and wizards (which you could figure out from the title, yes?) and a race to see who will be Primus, ruler of all the Dr’gon Nations.

First, Cl’rence needs a Wizard Partner. He doesn’t want one.

Meanwhile, back at her desk, the author is creating Moire Ain, a perfect WP, except first she has to escape from the Hedge-Witch.

And then, there is the Whisper Stone. It’s a treasure sought by lots of evil-doers, or evil doer wannabes.

Those who have endured sibling torment will gravitate to Cl’rnce’s corner even as they giggle at Hazel’s insults. He has been suffering from Hazel’s rants for 420 years. No wonder all Cl’rnce wants to do is nap. That alone would make a dr’gon tired, wouldn’t it? On the other hand, thinking up mischief is tiring, too. And Cl’rnce is gifted at that. It’s carrying out all those great chuckle-worthy plans that lands him in trouble.

The readers won’t nap. From giggling 3rd graders to page turning 4th and 5th graders, this tale is filled with magick and kindness, heroes and villains, witches and dragons and ….well there’s no end to the enchantment.   

And I can’t leave out Raspberries! He’s a guard bird. At least that’s what I’d call him.

Another drum roll, please.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Building Confidence

Is there anything more endearing--especially for parents--than watching happy kids rush toward school, eager to learn?

THIS IS NOT A CAT! By David Larochelle, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka, Sterling Children’s Books, 2016

At the Sunny Hills Mice School, the first lesson will be about DANGER. Or CATS.

Note: on the first page, one little mouse doesn’t look all that happy and the “something” peering around the tree at two skipping mice and one mouse dragging his feet is licking its lips. That creature does not look like a cat. Hmmm. Anyhow, turn the page to see the teacher introducing the lesson of the day: How to recognize danger.  Glowering from the easel is a large picture of a CAT.

To the mice kids’ delight, the teacher shows them pictures of a bunny, a butterfly, an ice cream cone—none of these is a cat. And then, a huge cat appears.

After that, the action is wild, zany, and chaotic. The child on your lap or in the reading circle in pre-K, is laughing so hard, you might need to take a breathing break. I will not spoil the ending.

David Larochelle is a former teacher, and Mike Wohnoutka has illustrated over 20 children’s books and written and illustrated 3 picture books. The pair also collaborated on an award winning book, Moo!  I can imagine them in a brain storming session. Again, there must be a time-out to breathe. Oh, do visit their websites.

Now, why did I call this book a confidence builder? All the words in the book are written using only the words in the title. Young children will be reading this one on their own before you can say, "SCAT!"

Hillview School Library