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!"

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Time To Talk

My first child valued her library card. When the time came that the books she checked out were of her own choosing, not mine or a teacher’s, I discovered that books open doors to discussion. That’s especially helpful when the discussion is not easy.

Bullying is always a concern, but as school bells announced the end of summer this year, at least one news source reported that the group most vulnerable to bullies in academic settings is the LGBTQ community.  If you want to begin a discussion with your kids, here are a couple of books that might open a door. One is for parents, the other for teens.

PLAYING A PART by Daria Wilke, Translated by Marian Schwartz, Arthur Levine Books, imprint of Scholastic, 2012.

Grishka’s mother and father are actors in a puppet theatre in Russia. This is Grishka’s whole world. His friend, Sam, a talented young adult actor and puppeteer, has announced he will leave the theatre soon and go to Holland to escape the risks of homophobic persecution in Russia.  A number of subplots involving family and friends lend themselves to the coming of age moments Grishka experiences, including standing up to his grandfather who is homophobic.

I saw the Jester puppet as a metaphor for Grishka’s personality and growth. How and why do people play the part of the Jester? What made them be that way? What happens when the role of Jester doesn’t work?

Author Daria Wilke was born in Moscow and grew up surrounded by the art and craft of puppetry.  Marian Schwartz is an award-winning translator of Russian literature.

This is a beautifully written thought-provoking book, and the translation preserves its quality.

CROOKED LETTER i: Coming Out in the South, edited by Connie Griffin, NewSouth Books, 2015

The contributors to this enlightening collection of first-person narratives are professional writers who are Southerners. They are also gay, lesbian, or transgendered. Readers will applaud their courage to share some of their most painful growing up experiences.

The thread that caught this children’s writer’s eye was not the Southern connection, but the childhood experiences of each writer.  Parents who simply didn’t understand what they were doing tried to do the right thing. In most cases this turned out to be the very worst thing to do to their much loved children. The same thing could be said for the community, teachers, pastors, many who thought their actions were helpful when in fact, they were hurtful and their impact destructive.

In reading this book a second and third time, which I often do before I review a book here, I kept returning to the essay by Merril Mushroom, “The Gay Kids and the Johns Committee” for a sense of history in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Were others being persecuted? Yes, the McCarthy hearings were in progress. And then there was Brown vs. Board of Education. Whatever the term “civil rights” means to you, capitalized or not, the circle of those who should have them and don’t is wide.

The essays can be read out of order. If you are looking for a shorter essay that ends with hope and acceptance, “Coming Home,” by Logan Knight is a good choice.  It is the second essay in the book, but it would also be a good one to read last as a way to remember the book. Hope and acceptance between generations is always a positive sign.

May you find doors to walk through to discussions that will keep leading you and yours forward together.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Lessons from a Junkyard

Sadie Kingston is a teenaged girl who visits a wrecked car in a junkyard several times a week. Why in the world would anyone do that?     

THE LIES ABOUT TRUTH by Courtney C. Stevens, Harper Teen, 2015.

The car is a total wreck. How could anyone come out of that wreck alive? Sadie did. Her best friend, Trent, the driver, did not. The driver’s brother, Max, a passenger in the back seat, also lived.

Two other teens, Sadie’s boyfriend, Gray, and her best girlfriend, Gina, were riding in the car in front of Sadie, Trent, and Max at the time of the accident.  They were not injured physically. Sadie, however, is badly scarred, both physically and emotionally.

The secrets of all five teens snarl and tangle as the author teases them out. Sadie could confront these secrets, but she walls herself off as she struggles to heal. Why did she live? What direction is her life taking? Is this what she is pondering when she visits the car in the junkyard?

Sadie’s family and the boys’ family have been next door neighbors in Florida since before the kids were born. Both families are solid and their friendships are healthy.  They are good people, kind, caring, trying hard to overcome the great loss to both families.

Max and his parents leave for another country for his dad’s job shortly after the accident, but he and Sadie become close through daily emails. When the family returns, Max and Sadie make it clear that they are “together” even though it’s hard for Gray and Gina to accept.

Author Courtney C. Stevens is an adjunct professor and former youth minister. Her debut novel is Faking Normal.

Although not your typical beach read, this would be an excellent book for youth groups to discuss at a summer retreat. Our church group goes to the beach. The members are independent thinkers with deep convictions. I can imagine them discussing this one around a campfire.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Feeding the Future

Give your young sleuths a mystery of a different sort to puzzle over this summer.

THE STORY OF SEEDS by Nancy F. Castaldo, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016

Author Nancy Castaldo has a passion for saving the world in a way our super heroes never considered. Her first book, Sniffer Dogs: How They and Their Noses Save the World gave the reading world a glimpse into her tenacious research.

Now she takes note of this shocking fact: one in five plants on earth are threatened with extinction.

She asks, “Who is protecting our seeds?”

To find answers, author Castaldo crossed the country from her hometown in the Hudson Valley of New York to California and traveled the globe, all the way to Russia in the dead of winter.  What she found becomes a reader’s introduction to quiet heroes who work behind the scenes, sometimes risking their lives, sometimes giving their lives up entirely, all in their mission to save seeds for future generations.

This is a book for everyone to read and ponder before and after a trip to the corner grocery. Who knew going to the market--any fruit and vegetable market--with Mom or Dad could be so intriguing?

THE STORY OF SEEDS paired with Fresh Delicious by Irene Latham, would make a great set of books for those who set up those wonderful farmers’ markets to sell right alongside the tomatoes. 

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Words in Work Boots

If you’ve ever thought of poetry
as formal
not for you

this is the book
that will change your mind.

we are talking about concrete

                                                         Don’t judge a book by its title.

WET CEMENT: A MIX OF CONCRETE POEMS by Bob Raczka, Roaring Book Press, 2016

No matter what your age or your relationship with words, this sliver of a book will entertain you and keep you thinking long after you turn out the lights.

Sorry I can’t tell you my favorite poem. Every time I page through, I find another that has to be first.

The author has written several collections of children’s poetry including one titled Presidential  Misadventures: Poems that Poke Fun at the Man in Charge. I’ve got to read that one.   

Visit the author's website and make a shopping list.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


This summer say thank you to the inventor of the wheel and set off on an adventure—even if it’s only to the neighborhood park.

WHEREVER YOU GO by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, Little Brown and Co., 2015.

Wherever You Go

Where does the road go?   

Over, under
zoom and race
zig and zag
left and right

Choices are made, plans change.

Share this book with your toddlers and young listeners as you pack your bags for a family trip—and be sure the book goes with you.

Illustrator Eliza Wheeler  delights sharp little eyes following a dapper bunny guide on a bike. He leads through towns, villages, the bright lights of the cities, even along a quiet winter trail through a forest dotted with cozy cabins demonstrating that all vacation trips are not made in summer. A wise looking owl flits along to provide company, a tranquil touch.

When he crosses a bridge and roads converge, the amiable bunny makes new friends. Does the family in the van resemble yours? That monkey waving from the top of the luggage carrier reminds me of my little brother on our family vacations.  

A comforting thought for all travelers: the same road you travel away from home takes you home again. 

Pat Miller will be remembered for her award winning picture book, Sophie's Squash.
Wherever You Go will join Sophie's Squash in your children’s basket of  lovingly thumbed books.
If you visit her website, you'll find other books including another book about Sophie.

Follow your road to delightful discoveries.

Bring home happy memories.

Safe travels.


Monday, April 11, 2016

Pick a Peck of Poems

What better way to celebrate spring than a poetic foray into a farmer’s market?
FRESH DELICIOUS, Poems from the Farmers’ Market, by Irene Latham, Illustrated by Mique Moriuchi, Wordsong, 2016

Poet Irene Latham's fanciful wordplay and illustrator Mique Moriuchi's  gift with paint, paper, scissors, and glue turn a trip to the outdoor market into a hunt for fun.  Who could resist a puzzle of squash or a battle with okra swords? Not I!

Engaging recipes close this adventure among the stalls of beans and peas (did one of those just wink at me?) and young readers will be eager to help, sample and devour the finished version. 

In the meantime, you will be reading this to the child on your lap over...and over...and over.

Good thing you have a healthy snack of fruit kebabs to nibble on while you turn the pages.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What’s Your Favorite Sea Creature?

A book byte…

THE THING ABOUT JELLYFISH by Ali Benjamin, Little, Brown & Company  2015

The first place I visit in an aquarium is the jellyfish tank. They mesmerize me. I am not the only one affected this way, apparently.

Suzy Swanson is in 7th grade, grieving the loss of her best friend in more ways than one. As the story unfolds, the reader sees that Suzy’s best friend left many months before, long before her sudden drowning. This is about grief and growing through and up because of it.

You will learn a lot about jellyfish, among other things.

A quote from this book will always be with me: “We are made of stardust.”



Friday, February 19, 2016


A librarian called this picture book, “airy.”
SWAN, The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova, by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Julie Morstad, Chronicle Books, 2015

And, indeed, it is airy.
Snowflakes. Petals. Feathers. Also airy. Illustrator Morstad scatters them across the pages, never letting the reader forget the soaring ambition of a little girl.

Author Snyder won’t let the reader forget, either, reminding us of the humble beginnings of this legend, repeating “shirt, shirt, laundry” even as the artist is applauded by kings and queens, yet drives herself to take ballet where it has never been.   

Anna Pavlova is known best for The Dying Swan ballet she made her own. Her influence on classical ballet can never be fathomed.  
In my mind, if we had to use a different word for ballet, it would be Pavlova.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Conversation Gap

Book bytes
A byte is a small unit.

By a stretch of my imagination, a “book byte” would be a small unit of a book review or book discussion including a quotation, comment, recommendation, whatever pops up when readers talk about books.

A writer friend asked me, “So what did you think of the Printz* winner this year?”
BONE GAP by Laura Ruby, Balzer + Bray, 2015

I couldn’t say much.

If I did, I’d risk telling too much. Spoiler alerts? I can think of several. How could I sidestep them?
This I can tell you: schedule this book for a time when your next day is an easy one, maybe a morning you can sleep in. Chances are that once you turn the first ten pages or so of this magical and haunting novel (words two other reviewers used, appropriately), you will keep reading until you are long past your usual bedtime.

After you finish Bone Gap, you will want to read it again. You can turn the pages faster when you read it the second time. And you will.

*The Michael L. Printz award honors the best book written for teens. It is sponsored annually by Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Friend Indeed

Book bytes
A byte is a small unit.
By a stretch of my imagination, a “book byte” would be a small unit of a book review or book discussion including a quotation, comment, recommendation, whatever pops up when readers talk about books.

CRENSHAW by Katherine Applegate, Feiwel and Friends, 2015
The author’s name is well known. She created the ANIMORPH series and won the Newbery Medal for THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. A sister writer told me, “You must read this one.” Of course, she was right.

CRENSHAW is about good parents, sweet kids, and hard times. It deals with homelessness from a child’s tender perspective and the comfort he receives from an imaginary friend.  3rd grade readers will enjoy the story. Some will relate in a personal way. It could be their story.  Anyone—teachers, parents, social workers--seeking a way to help the most vulnerable among us would find this book a gentle path to building trust. If only CRENSHAW could be discovered by an older audience--adults who don’t understand that poverty is not always a choice.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Robert Sibart Award for the most distinguished informational book for children was announced last week by the American Library Association. Two of the four honor books named will bring home the meaning of this special day honoring Dr. King.

VOICE OF FREEDOM: FANNIE LOU HAMER: THE SPIRIT OF THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT by Carole  Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes, Candlewick Press, 2015.
Author Weatherford has written more than 35 books for children and young adults. This is the first picture-book for fine artist Holmes who also won the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award.     

Fannie Lou Hamer’s courage is legendary. It would take a strong pair of talents to introduce her to young readers. Weatherford brings the first person voice of Hamer to the page with an effective verse style that is her own poetic strength. Yet, her beautiful writing never gets in the way of the gritty, forward moving story. The emotion Holmes brings to each page turn pulls the reader deeper into a relationship with Hamer. The “little light” of Hamer’s goodness shines in both art and text.

TURNING 15 ON THE ROAD TO FREEDOM: MY STORY OF THE 1965 SELMA VOTING RIGHTS MARCH by Lynda Blackmon Lowery as told to Elspeth Leacock and Susan Buckley, illustrated by P. J. Loughran, Dial, 2015.
While researching my own work in progress, I had the privilege of getting to know Mrs. Lowery. She was part of the struggle we learn about on Martin Luther King Day. She and her family lived inside the Civil Rights Movement. Authors Leacock and Buckley give her appreciable space to tell about the events that shaped her life.

Any teacher or librarian building a program for Black History Month or hoping to impress writing students about the importance of primary resources would benefit from inviting Mrs. Lowery into their classrooms. She was “there.”

Black History Month is days away. Here are two books to put front and center for any display. What’s in your library?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Book Byte

A byte is a small unit.
By a stretch of my imagination, a “book byte” would be a small unit of a book review or book discussion including a quotation, comment, recommendation, or whatever pops up when readers talk about books.

Here’s a quote from the father of an avid ten year old reader:
“That (book) was right in his wheel house.”

The book?

HOW RUDE by Heather L. Montgomery, Scholastic, 2015
This book is about bugs that don’t mind their manners. Classified as non-fiction and science, the “ugh” factor is replaced by an exclamation of “gross” at every page turn, something 7-10 year olds “get” while they laugh so hard they snort milk out their noses. 

My thought? If your child reads this book during snack time, you might want to have a stack of napkins handy.
Repeating the first words of that sentence, If your child reads, be happy!


Friday, January 8, 2016

Title Turns Reader into Rebel

Warning: this book can create a different kind of reader—a rebel reader. I was not a rebellious ten year old, but if this book was in my hands when I was that age and it was time for bed, I’d have begged my mom, “Just let me finish the chapter.” —not saying which chapter.  After that, I’d have risked the consequences for taking a flashlight under the covers so I could turn the next  page, or two or…

LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS by Lisa Lewis Tyre, Nancy Paulsen Books, 2015

Lou is twelve and definitely qualifies as “spunky” – which links her with her maternal grandmother, Bertie, but I’m getting ahead of the story.  The summer before the great and scary “junior high” years begin finds Lou and her life-long friends caught up in a mystery that threatens to tear their friendships apart.

The historical background of Lou’s family home which sits in the middle of the growing town of Zollicoffer, Tennessee is part of the mystery. Built in the mid-1860’s, the house’s secret room also links generations. Each chapter begins in diary form and deepens the mystery.

From a century old Civil War stolen gold scandal to the family-owned junk business her father runs today, Lou finds her head spinning with questions that rise to Heaven. After all, she prayed for an exciting summer. Is this really what she wanted?  It was right after that fervent prayer that she learned about the county’s plan to take her family’s property by eminent domain.  Whatever this means, Lou is determined to save her home, creaky boards, peeling wallpaper, and secret room (especially). No pressure. Add the University of Tennessee football National Championship in 1998, that Lou’s friend doesn’t get a football scholarship to UT because the high school coach is a bigot, and Lou’s list of things to fix gets longer before it gets shorter. Again, no pressure.

Lou’s friends are warm, smart, funny, and work together as only good friends with a shared history could. Grandmother Bertie’s lines are unexpected and as colorful as she is. (Note: no profanity.)

I have a hunch author Tyre has carried these characters inside her head for a long time which is one reason they are fully developed on the page. This reader wonders what happens to these people next. Is there a sequel to this debut novel? 
Visit the author to find out how and why she wrote the book -- oh, and there are hidden bits of treasure in the text.

Who knows? This book could hook some non-readers, too. On page one Lou must endure the car pool line. She spots her dad’s shaky old dump truck lurching toward her, knowing as she witnesses this humiliation that the queen of snark is somewhere within viewing distance preparing an unwelcome comment. What pre-teen wouldn’t relate to that?    

Rebel readers. I like the sound of that.


Hillview School Library