Friday, September 22

It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk Blog Tour (and Giveaway!!)

Oh man, it is about time that I got to host a blog tour stop for one of Josh Funk's books—and have an interview with the man himself! I am such a fan. Allow me to introduce you to his newest book, report his comments on the matter, and then, (drumroll...) post the giveaway! Enter for the chance to win a copy of It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk below...

It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk
Written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Edwardian Taylor

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-1542045650
Publisher: Two Lions
Date of publication: September 19, 2017
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: fractured fairytale, narrator & character relations, beans, giants, humor

"Jack is not fond of the bossy narrator of his fairy tale! When Jack is told to trade his beloved cow Bessie for some magic beans, throw the beans out the window, climb the ENORMOUS beanstalk that sprouts overnight, and steal from a GIANT, he decides this fairy tale is getting out of control. In fact, he doesn’t want to follow the story line at all. Who says Jack needs to enter a life of daring, thievery, and giant trickery? He takes his story into his own hands—and you’ll never guess what happens next!"

Monday, September 18

Top Early Readers/Chapter Books of the Month (Sept 2017)

This post seems to be a bit dominated by small rodents. But don't worry, I threw in a ghost story, just to keep you on your toes.

There's a Pest in the Garden
Written and illustrated by Jan Thomas

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0544941656
Publisher: HMH Books
Date of publication: June 6, 2017
Age: Grades K - 2
Format: library book

Themes: vegetables, gardening, animals, humor

There’s a pest in the garden and he’s eating all the vegetables! The beans, corn, and peas are rapidly disappearing! Good thing, then, that Duck has a plan to save the day (well, sort of).

I'm always a fan of Jan Thomas because I'm always a fan of funny books. And boy did this one fit the bill! I love it when a story takes unexpected, hilarious turns, which this book does beautifully. The illustrations feature her traditional characters and style, with bold colors and lines simply done. Really, the story is short, sweet, and great for beginning readers--and also totally hilarious. As a readaloud, this would be a lot of fun to encourage predictions and questions from your storytime crowd. Definitely recommended.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Fergus and Zeke
Written by Kate Messner, illustrated by Heather Ross

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0763678463
Publisher: Candlewick
Date of publication: June 13, 2017
Age: Grades 1 - 3
Format: library book

Themes: field trips, mice, classroom pet, museums, friendship

Fergus loves being the class pet in Miss Maxwell’s classroom. He does everything the students do, until the teacher plans a field trip to the museum — without Fergus! He doesn’t want to miss the fun, so he stows away in a backpack and sets off for an adventure. When he arrives at the museum, Fergus finds it a little overwhelming — huge and full of exciting things to see. Luckily, he meets a new friend, Zeke, who knows the ropes, and together they explore everything from moon rocks to butterflies to a giant dinosaur skeleton ("A playground!" says Zeke). But when the time comes for the bus to leave, Fergus is worried that he’ll be left behind. Will he make it back to school to take his place as class pet once more?

A traditional story of friendship that has all of the classic elements. These two mice are hardly alike, but of course, opposites attract and they enjoy a simple adventure, much in the vein of Frog and Toad. I was not overly wowed because its traditional feel also means that it felt a tad unoriginal and predictable. However, it could make for a good pre-field-trip read or is a great recommendation if for a reader that's really into mice books (because, my goodness, there are a lot).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Ghost Attack
(Monster Itch #1)
David Lubar

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0545873482
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of publication: June 27, 2017
Age: Grades 2 - 4
Genre: Mystery, Horror
Format: library book

Themes: ghosts, allergies, cousins, mystery

When Alex and his cousin Sarah are visiting their grandparents, Alex gets terrible red, itchy hives. Yikes! He's allergic to a ghost! Even worse, the ghost won't leave him alone -- he wants Alex and Sarah's help. Can they solve the ghost's mystery and get rid of Alex's awful rash before it ruins everything?

A little creepy at the beginning, an intriguing mystery in the middle, and thoroughly satisfying by the end--a fun read to recommend! A touch of humor keeps things light as Alex and Sarah figure out the clues to helping a haunting ghost. It keeps readers engaged; it's easy to solve the mystery right along with the characters. While I do hope these two main characters gain a little more depth in the subsequent sequels (there's little hints about their strong loyalty to each other, even as the play jokes and have fun, which I think is brilliant and should be further developed), I admit that it's a great story and perfect for the upcoming Halloween season.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

A True Home
(Heartwood Hotel #1)
Written by Kallie George, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-1484731611
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: July 3, 2017
Age: Grades 2 - 5
Genre:
Format: library book

Themes: mice, hotels, forest animals, courage

When Mona the Mouse stumbles across the wondrous world of the Heartwood Hotel in the middle of a storm, she desperately hopes they'll let her stay. As it turns out, Mona is precisely the maid they need at the grandest hotel in Fernwood Forest, where animals come from far and wide for safety, luxury, and comfort. But the Heartwood Hotel is not all acorn souffle and soft moss-lined beds. Danger lurks, and as it approaches, Mona finds that this hotel is more than a warm place to spend the night. It might also be a home.

You know when you feel all warm and cozy with your hot chocolate by the fire and a blanket in your lap and loved ones all around? That's what this book does to you. Okay, I may be exaggerating a bit, but this is definitely a heart-warmer. Mona is so sweet, brave, and kind (maybe too much so a time or two, even?), and her past so tragic, that you can't help but love her. The story itself is well developed, with Mona gaining more and more courage with each opportunistic event, culminating in a fantastic climax. Truly, this was a joy to read and I highly recommend it (it's especially perfect for fall).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, September 11

Top Picture Books of the Month (Sept 2017)

Edit: Originally published without my review stars--oops! Fixed on 9/13.

I feel like there's a bit of a back to school theme here. Or maybe it's just because all I've been thinking about is getting back in the swing of things now that I'm working at a school again. Summer gone? Yep. Lessons planned? Well...no. But books! So here's the books that topped my charts this month...

Small
Written and illustrated by Gina Perry

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1499804010
Publisher: Little Bee Books
Date of publication: August 1, 2017
Age: 4 - 8 years
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: size, empowerment, city life, imagination

While spending the day with her mom and baby sibling, one little girl feels overwhelmed by the big world that surrounds her. Tall buildings, noisy cars, and hungry ducks who want to eat her lunch all make her feel like she is small. Until . . . she dreams big by being an artist, plays big and makes the winning shot, and swings big because she is brave. Soon she realizes she IS big, and nothing can stand in her way!

This one struck a chord with me. See, I feel small when I think of all the students coming through my library. I feel big when they look to me for a good book, though. It's all about perspective! This book is a great way to start off the school year—it's empowering, encouraging, and endearing all at once. The little illustrations are sweet, and fit the story well. This would make for a great readaloud; after reading, have your students write what makes them feel small vs. big (or talk to your kids about it). It's simple, cute, and to the point—check it out.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Duck and Hippo: Lost and Found
Written by Jonathan London, illustrated by Andrew Joyner

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1542045629
Publisher: Two Lions
Date of publication: August 15, 2017
Age: 4 - 7 years
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: friendship, searching, picnics

Duck and Hippo invite their friends, Turtle, Elephant, and Pig to a picnic at their favorite pond. Yippee! It’s time to dance and sing, swim and eat. Everyone brings goodies to share…except Hippo. He didn’t bring ANYTHING. So Hippo sets off into the forest to find some berries. But he is gone a long time, and Duck begins to worry that Hippo is lost. What should his friends do to find him? Join Duck and Hippo on another fun adventure!

It's an end-of-summer picnic, so it still fits my theme, see? Anyway, the first Duck and Hippo adventure now has a sequel—one that is much more of a story than a series of little adventures. Still, though, the pacing feels off at times. And there's a lot of exclamation points. It makes for a lot of shouting. In any case, it's a fun little story and I still love the illustrations—their cartoonish quality encourage the humor, action, and emotion of the story. If you liked the first, this is a fun followup.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Crocodali
Written and illustrated by Lucy Volpin

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1499806335
Publisher: Little Bee Books
Date of publication: August 29, 2017
Age: 3 - 7 years
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: art, painting, reader interaction, crocodiles,

In this interactive picture book, children can follow Crocodali the painter's instructions to help him create a masterpiece that will spark children's curiosity! Crocodali tells readers to tilt the book to straighten the canvas, shake the book to spread the paint, blow on the book (but not too hard!) to help the painting dry, and much more. As they help Crocodali paint his masterpiece, children will be able to express their creative sides and learn to appreciate art.

Brilliant! Much along the lines of Herve Tullet's books, this interactive story is a lot of fun. I appreciated it especially for having this adorable little crocodile guiding the read through the actions—it helps to have a character for young readers to focus on. Plus, it allows for discussion of the name Dali and famous artists. The illustrations are beautifully done, with the watercolor allowing for lots of fun actions. Overall, I did think it was a tad short, but the ending does encourage it to be read over and over. I'm sure that kids will have a lot of fun with this one; a favorite of mine, for sure.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

How to Get Your Teacher Ready
Written by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0553538250
Publisher: Knopf Books
Date of publication: July 4, 2017
Age: Grades K - 3
Format: library book

Themes: teaching, elementary school, first day of school, behavior

You're ready for the first day of school...but what about your teacher? It's up to you to make sure she feels welcome (give her an extra-big smile!) and prepared for the exciting year ahead. Within the pages of this book, you'll find expert advice on getting your teacher ready for picture day, the holiday concert, the 100th day of school, field day, and all the busy days in between. You and your teacher have lots to look forward to, and she'll be depending on you to help keep things running smoothly. So crack open this book! And enjoy a wonderful year together.

It's cute. Let's just say it now. This book is a great way to help kids feel empowered and responsible at school, and it cleverly encourages good behavior. The illustrations have a lot going on, which just adds to the entertainment value. My favorite part? It addresses that things don't always go well, and that in those scenarios, it's perfectly acceptable to turn to books. Read and know that things will get better. So read this book, and be a better you tomorrow!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Nothing Rhymes with Orange
Written and illustrated by Adam Rex

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1452154435
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Date of publication: August 1, 2017
Age: 4 - 8 years
Format: library book

Themes: fruit, loneliness & inclusion, friendship, rhymes

We all know nothing rhymes with orange. But how does that make Orange feel? Well, left out! When a parade of fruit gets together to sing a song about how wonderful they are—and the song happens to rhyme—Orange can't help but feel like it's impossible for him to ever fit in. But when one particularly intuitive Apple notices how Orange is feeling, the entire English language begins to become a bit more inclusive.

Ah, Mr. Rex. Your clever humor has swooped in once again, topped with a healthy dose of friendly encouragement about including others. See how this is a great start-of-school year read? Talk to your kids about times they've felt left out. Ask about times where they may have noticed others being left out. While Orange's experience is thoroughly unique, the overall message is the same: be a friend! The illustrations are also clever; they consist of actual photos of fruit, overlaid with brilliantly drawn facial expressions. The rhyming is quite impressive, sure to please kids and adults alike (I mean, when he brings in and rhymes "Friedrich Nietzsche"...). A crowd-pleaser, good lesson, and fun readaloud (once you've mastered saying "Friedrich Nietzche"), so check it out.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, September 4

Top Middle-Grade Fiction of the Month

Oops, this was supposed to go up last week. But guess who just started her brand new job as an elementary school librarian?? That's right. This girl. Dream job: attained. So, yeah...I may be a littel swamped at the moment. But! I'm excited for lots of new content for the blog (for example, the decorating of my new library) and to review even more books as I share them with students. So, of course, here are some more reviews! My favorite middle-grade reads from the month...

Beyond the Doors
David Neilsen

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1101935828
Publisher: Crown Books
Date of publication: August 1, 2017
Age: Grades 4 - 7
Genre: Horror, Mystery
Format: ARC from author

Themes: family relationships, memories, nightmares & monsters, humor, doors

"When a family disaster forces the four Rothbaum children to live with their aunt Gladys, they immediately know there is something strange about their new home. The front entrance is a four-story-tall drawbridge. The only food in Aunt Gladys’s kitchen is an endless supply of Honey Nut Oat Blast Ring-a-Dings cereal. And strangest of all are the doors—there are none. Every doorway is a wide-open passageway—even the bathroom! Who lives in a house with no doors? When they discover just what Aunt Gladys has been doing with all her doors, the shocked siblings embark on an adventure that changes everything they believe about their family and the world."

This is the second book I've reviewed of Mr. Neilsen's (see Dr. Fell back here), and may I say, his writing is still so fun. It's creepy, yes, but with just the right amount of funny. I mean, how would you like it if you were stuck eating Honey Nut Oat Blast Ring-a-Dings cereal for every meal? I also enjoyed his ability to tell the story from the point of view of each of the four siblings (alternating between the four with each chapter), each with their own unique personality and depth. It made it even more interesting and, at times, totally hilarious (I mean, one of the characters is a seven-year-old girl obsessed with all things cute and fluffy). His strong writing voice, reminiscent of Lemony Snicket, is sure to please readers of all ages.

I will admit, though, that I wasn't quite as much of a fan of the story itself as I was his first. The writing, yes, but the plot... The premise of this story, while very original and unique, became a bit difficult for me to follow. The traveling through space and time and memory became very layered very quickly (think like the movie Inception) and I was a bit lost trying to follow along. I hope younger readers would not be daunted by it. Still, I would be quick to recommend it to fans of Lemony Snicket, Neil Gaiman, and the like. And, if you can listen to the audio book, DO, because Nielsen is a very talented performer.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart
Stephanie Burgis

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-1681193434
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date of publication: May 30, 2017
Age: Grades 3 - 7
Genre: Fantasy
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: dragons, chocolate, responsibility, failure & success

"Aventurine is a brave young dragon ready to explore the world outside of her family's mountain cave . . . if only they'd let her leave it. Her family thinks she's too young to fly on her own, but she's determined to prove them wrong by capturing the most dangerous prey of all: a human.

"But when that human tricks her into drinking enchanted hot chocolate, she's transformed into a puny human without any sharp teeth, fire breath, or claws. Still, she's the fiercest creature in these mountains--and now she's found her true passion: chocolate. All she has to do is get to the human city to find herself an apprenticeship (whatever that is) in a chocolate house (which sounds delicious), and she'll be conquering new territory in no time . . . won't she?"

Dragons and chocolate? I mean, honestly, what's not to love? And that's just the premise. Then you start reading it and it just wins you over that much faster. Burgis' character voice (in this case, it being an extremely frustrated dragon-turned-human who thinks chocolate is manna from heaven) is spot on. Aventurine is hilarious. And sassy, spunky, scared, sad, and all sorts of other "s" adjectives. She experiences a full range of emotions and wonderful development. Really, it wouldn't have been a successful story without such a strong main character; it's so well done. Kids will love it and I will definitely recommend it.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Posted
John David Anderson

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0062338204
Publisher: Walden Pond Press
Date of publication: May 2, 2017
Age: Grades 6 - 9
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Format: Library eBook

Themes: bullying, friendship, middle school, written communication

"When cell phones are banned at Branton Middle School, Frost and his friends Deedee, Wolf, and Bench come up with a new way to communicate: leaving sticky notes for each other all around the school. It catches on, and soon all the kids in school are leaving notes—though for every kind and friendly one, there is a cutting and cruel one as well.

"In the middle of this, a new girl named Rose arrives at school and sits at Frost’s lunch table. Rose is not like anyone else at Branton Middle School, and it’s clear that the close circle of friends Frost has made for himself won’t easily hold another. As the sticky-note war escalates, and the pressure to choose sides mounts, Frost soon realizes that after this year, nothing will ever be the same."

Ah, middle school. Boy, does it suck. And here is a novel that really makes you think about why that is. What I loved most about this book were the characters—each with their own quirks and talents, but overall, written in a way to be widely relatable. It was easy to put one's self into the story. I also appreciated the philosophical undertones, especially in regard to words. Because, honestly, whoever came up with "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" saying should, himself, be stoned. Words do hurt. And this story carefully examines the ramifications of all sorts of words—words said to friends, whispered behind a back, or written anonymously for all to see.

On a more critical note, however, this wasn't as perfect as I would've hoped. The ending seemed to drag, especially with a bit of a double climax (in fact, there seems to be two parallel storylines, which both had to be wrapped up). And the way Anderson kept referring to the "war" of words was a bit overly dramatic—not the metaphor, but the referencing to it and how it began, because he just kept repeating himself. Overall, it's not one that I would be quick to recommend to my elementary school students, but I can see it being a fantastic classroom study in a middle school class. Also, a definite recommendation to those who enjoyed Sticks and Stones or Goodbye Stranger.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, August 25

Top Nonfiction Books of the Month

The Football Fanbook: Everything You Need to Become a Gridiron Know-it-All
(A Sports Illustrated Kids Book)
by Gary Gramling

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1683300076
Publisher: Sports Illustrated
Date of publication: August 8, 2017
Age: Grades 4 and up
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: football, NFL, facts & trivia, stats

"So you're a football fan and now you want to take your passion for the game to the next level? The Football Fanbook is filled with fun trivia and unique lingo to impress friends, illustrated behind-the-skills how-to's, important game-winning strategies, and much more, including an analysis of each NFL team. Readers will sound like experts in no time."

Now THIS is a football book! Somehow Gramling manages to fit in records, cool facts, team summaries, and an index of valuable lingo all within a manageable size of book--totally accessible to the middle-grade audience it's targeted towards. The anecdotal way it's written keeps the stats and numbers personable and exciting. Gramling really knows what he's talking about. I don't know that there's much to criticize, except that I do wish the book itself was bigger, more like the reference book that it is rather than a small chapter book. A small complaint, because football fans are going to appreciate this book in any case. Very much recommended, especially as football season gets underway.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Benjamin Franklin's Wise Words: How to Work Smart, Play Well, and Make Real Friends
Written by K. M. Kostyal, illustrated by Fred Harper

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1426326998
Publisher: National Geographic Kids
Date of publication: January 24, 2017
Age: Grades 3 - 7
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: copy from publisher

Themes: Benjamin Franklin, self-improvement, biography, quotations

"Discover history through the eyes of one of the smartest, funniest, and coolest figures from America's past. This book presents 50 of Benjamin Franklin's famous 'wise words' from Poor Richard's Almanack, his personal letters, and other writings, with sage advice on everything from good citizenship and manners to friendship and being happy. Sayings are paired with hilarious illustrations and witty translations for modern audiences. It's a great go-to for inspirational and innovative ways to practice mindfulness, industriousness, and self-improvement."

This was actually a really interesting book that not only helped me learn more about an important figure in American history, but also helped me find a way to improve my own life. I'm not even kidding. I mean, some of BF's (how the author often refers to Franklin) sayings are pretty cheesy or archaic, but some are definitely applicable (hint: my favorite is on page 53). The author's interpretations of them, however, were not always as admirable; I wish she'd left more of the interpreting up to the reader to apply it to their own understanding as they choose. Either way, I did love the stories she told from BF's life that showed how he lived up to his own advice--well-researched and well-delivered. I don't think it'd be very useful as a biographical reference, but overall, more for fun.

The illustrations are very bold and heavily caricatured, adding plenty of humor and punch to this book of advice. Some are abstract in and of themselves, which seems fitting for BF's advice. I just hope the kids like them. Overall, it would take some hand selling, but you should read some or all of these sayings with your kids.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Virginia Hamilton: America's Storyteller
Julie K. Rubini

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0821422694
Publisher: Ohio University Press
Date of publication: July 13, 2017
Age: Grades 5 - 8
Genre: Nonfiction
Format: copy from publisher

Themes: Virginia Hamilton, biography, authorship, race

"Long before she wrote The House of Dies Drear, M. C. Higgins, the Great, and many other modern classics, Hamilton grew up among her extended family around Yellow Springs, Ohio. The stories she heard from her family fueled her imagination, and the freedom to roam the farms and woods nearby sharpened her powers of observation and encouraged her creativity. As she grew older, witnessing racial discrimination and the response of the early civil rights movement established in her a lifelong commitment to representing a diversity of experiences in her work."

Now here's a very traditional biography, and it's about someone who really does need more credit, especially in light of the recent #weneeddiversebooks movement and the like. Hamilton really was an amazing author who always featured characters of diverse races and backgrounds. This story of her life highlights the origin of the inspiration for her books; how her life provided her experience to tell an expert story. I also appreciated the little side notes and inserts about what was going on in history during the time of her life (e.g. notes about the Civil Rights Movement in Ohio, etc). Overall, very informative and well-written. The writing is a bit advanced, though, so I would definitely put the target age solidly in middle-grade.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, August 17

The Adventures of Henry Whiskers (Review and Giveaway!)

It's been awhile since my last giveaway, so I'm excited to offer not just one, but two books--the series The Adventures of Henry Whiskers, perfect for thrill-seeking beginning chapter book readers! Enter the giveaway below:

 
978-1481465748 | January 3, 2017978-1481465779 | August 29, 2017

The Adventures of Henry Whiskers
Written by Gigi Priebe, illustrated by Daniel Duncan

My rating: ★★★½

Publisher: Aladdin
Age: Grades 2 - 5
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: Adventure, Windsor Castle, mice, family relationships, courage

"Twenty-five generations of Whiskers have lived in Windsor Castle’s most famous exhibit: Queen Mary’s Dollhouse. For young, book-loving Henry Whiskers and his family, this is the perfect place to call home.

Tuesday, August 15

Top Early Readers/Chapter Books of the Month (August 2017)

Here we have my favorite books that are aimed at the younger grade-school kids, from early readers to chapter books. Also, stay tuned for later in the week for a giveaway of another awesome chapter book series!

The Good for Nothing Button
(Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!)
Charise Mericle Harper (and Mo Willems)

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1484726464
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: May 2, 2017
Age: Grades K - 2
Format: library book

Themes: emotions, imagination, birds

"Yellow Bird has a button. It does . . . nothing! It is a good for nothing button. Red Bird and Blue Bird are excited to try the button. But when they press it, they discover that the button makes them happy. Happy is something! A flabbergasted Yellow Bird insists the button does nothing. But it sure does seem to be making him mad. Mad is something! The hilarious debate that follows takes readers on an emotional roller coaster that pokes at the power of imaginative play."

A bit of a strange concept for a story (characters arguing over a button that does nothing?), but my initial skepticism gave in to an appreciation for its exploration of different emotions. This easy reader is another "Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!" book, so it follows that same style of simple illustrations, word bubbles, and typographical variations (you know, when the character emotion is conveyed through different fonts or all caps—that sort of thing). I appreciate this style; it's easier for kids to read and comprehend character voice, especially their emotions (which is really important with this story, since it is all about emotions). While, overall, it wasn't particularly funny or ingenious, it's definitely a good read.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face and the Badness of Badgers
Written by John Dougherty, illustrated by Sam Ricks

My rating: ★★

ISBN: 978-1101996621
Publisher: G. P. Putnam's Sons
Date of publication: February 7, 2012
Age: Grades 1 - 3
Genre: Fantasy, Humor
Format: library book

Themes: quests, brother/sister relationships, kingdom, humor, badgers

"Welcome to the kingdom of Great Kerfuffle! Great Kerfuffle is really great. And there's usually a kerfuffle (the clue's in the name really). This particular kerfuffle started the day Stinkbomb's twenty dollar bill went missing. Stinkbomb and his little sister Ketchup-Face know exactly who took it: the badgers. After all, they're called badgers because they do bad things; otherwise they'd just be gers.

"They bring news of the badgers' treachery to King Toothbrush Weasel (don't get us started on the story behind his name…), who sends them on a quest to rid the land of badgers. What follows is a full on kerfuffle-fest, containing:  one deep dark forest, a grocery cart in distress, a song about jam—and, of course, a band of very tricky badgers."

Ah, so, so ridiculous. But it's supposed to be, so thus, it is successful—funny how that works, huh? Really, there's an art to being ridiculous, and Dougherty has the skill. This book doesn't come off as stupid or annoying, as could be the case (the characters are named Stinkbomb and Ketchup-Face after all). It's clever and snarky in a self-aware, yes-I-know-this-is-ridiculous sort of way. There's a lot of illustrations and typographical elements that further these elements. The climax is a little hollow (it's a little rushed and feels more like an afterthought) and there's less focus on character development. But really, the story was created to be a galavant into the silly, and so it is. I'd recommend this to reluctant readers especially.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

The Unlucky Lottery Winners of Classroom 13
Written by Honest Lee & Matthew J. Gilbert, illustrated by Joelle Dreidemy

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0316464628
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Date of publication: June 6, 2017
Age: Grades 1 - 4
Genre: Humor
Format: library book

Themes: money, lottery, classroom relations, luck, humor

"When unlucky teacher Ms. Linda LaCrosse wins the lottery, she shares her winnings with her class--giving each student over a BILLION DOLLARS! You might think this was nice, but it was not. It was a nasty idea! With great money comes horrible allergies, steep taxes, exploding volcanoes, and other problems. As the students of Classroom 13 are about to learn, winning the lottery is not always lucky."

It honestly felt like I was reading Sideways Stories from Wayside School—it's a hilariously cheeky look into a classroom full of comically diverse characters. This story, though, is specifically about the lottery and what happens when different kids get their hands on a billions of dollars (each chapter is about a different kid in the class). So Lee really lets his creativity loose (and is his name really Honest Lee??), making for some funny, crazy, and even thoughtful situations. Really, it's less of a story—with a storyline with beginning, middle, climax and all that—and more of a collection of stories (again, like Sideways Stories). My favorite part, though, is the author's encouragement of kid readers to write their own chapter of what they'd do with a billion bucks. Creative, funny, and easy to recommend.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Overboard!
(Survivor Diaries)
Written by Terry Lynn Johnson, illustrated by Jani Orban

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0544970106
Publisher: HMH Books
Date of publication: July 4, 2017
Age: Grades 2 - 5
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Format: library book

Themes: survival, hypothermia, Pacific Ocean, lost children

"Eleven-year-old Travis and his family are on a whale watch off the coast of Washington when disaster strikes. The boat capsizes, throwing everyone into the ice-cold chaotic waves. Separated from their families and struggling to stay afloat, Travis and twelve-year-old Marina must use all of their grit and knowledge to survive."

Man, this book wastes no time getting the reader into a high-suspense, intense storyline. It's fast, action-packed, and informative, with a full survival story and useful facts in under 100 pages. Survival experts and Coast-Guard-approved-tips keep it authentic and educational. There are some sparse illustrations to help the story along, as well. Basically, kids will love it. I also appreciated the character development. While the main focus is the action, Johnson takes the time to share some character history, fears, and growth to make the whole story a bit more relatable. Really well done and easy to recommend, especially for fans of the I Survived series.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Saturday, August 12

Top Picture Books of the Month (August 2017)

There were a lot of great picture books published this summer, but here are some of my favorites. You'll notice most of them are based on humor... (what can I say, I love to laugh)

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective
Written by Jason Gallaher, illustrated by Jess Pauwels

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1481462716
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Date of publication: July 18, 2017
Age: 4 - 9 years
Genre: Mystery
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: forest animals, detectives, mystery, humor

"Help Whobert Whover, Owl Detective, keep his woods safe in this hilarious who-who-dun-it. What happened to Perry the Possum? Whobert Whover, Owl Detective, is on the case! Did Debbie the Duck whack Perry with her wicked wings? Or did Freddie the Frog soak Perry in his sickening slime? And what if the culprit is closer to home than Whobert expects?"

Whobert is adorable. Yes, I'm TOTALLY biased because—hello—I run a book review blog called Literary Hoots. But, sadly, he's not quite as wise as you might expect for an owl... (*giggle*). Okay, sorry, let's keep going. Really, the book, overall, is just awesome—but it takes a couple of read-throughs to really appreciate it. The writing has great flow, with a repetitive pattern of Whobert looking for clues, making an accusation, being totally wrong and starting again. Then the ending exploits that nicely and wraps up quite humorously—perfect for a readaloud or storytime.

The illustrations support the text beautifully because this is where the real humor comes in. Look closely at the clues illustrated—what is Whobert missing that the intrepid reader could discover? It's brilliant and demands to be looked at repeatedly, encouraging the reader to be their own detective. In storytime or with a child on your lap, this is a fantastic picture book to try out. I really hope more Whobert adventures are in the works.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monster's New Undies
Written by Samantha Berger, illustrated by Tad Carpenter

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0545879736
Publisher: Orchard Books
Date of publication: June 27, 2017
Age: 3 - 5 years
Genre: Humor
Format: library book

Themes: monsters, underwear, rhyming, humor

"These are my undies! / A sweet work of art! / Uh-oh! My undies! / They just fell apart. Monster is JUST FINE with his old undies, thank you very much. But when his undies fall apart, what's a monster to do? His mommy takes him shopping, of course! But finding the perfect pair of undies is not going to be easy..."

Rhyming text all about underwear? I would never NOT use this in storytime. Fun to read aloud and content kids love (I'm sorry, kids will never NOT laugh at underwear books—trust me, I did a whole underwear storytime). My only complaint is that it might be a tad too long; I honestly didn't know you could poeticize about underpants for so many pages. And the ending felt a bit abrupt. Still, with appealing illustrations and the chance to repeatedly rhyme words like "buns" and "rump," I know kids would have a lot of fun with it. See for yourself!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors
Written by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Adam Rex

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0062438898
Publisher: Balzar + Bray
Date of publication: April 4, 2017
Age: 5 - 10 years
Genre: humor
Format: library book

Themes: games, battles, legends, humor

"You've played the game. Now read the legend of how it all began...Long ago, in an ancient and distant realm called the Kingdom of Backyard, there lived a warrior named ROCK. Meanwhile in the Empire of Mom's Home Office, a second great warrior sought the glory of battle. And his name was PAPER. At the same time, in the Kitchen Realm, in the tiny village of Junk Drawer, lived a third warrior. They called her SCISSORS. These three were the strongest, smartest, and fastest in all the land. Time and again they beat the most fearsome opponents they could find: an apricot, a computer printer—even frozen, breaded, dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets! But when the warriors finally meet each other, the most epic round of battles begins...and never ends. That is why, to this day, children around the world honor these worthy adversaries by playing ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS!"

There's been a lot of buzz about this one—and for good reason. The writing is just so clever and the illustrations so totally epic. And of course, the two together make for a hilarious homage to a rather simple game. Who knew you could make Rock, Paper, Scissors so totally awesome? Gosh, even the publisher-provided summary is rather glorious. The length of this book, though, does lead me to say it'd be better for an older audience—grade-schoolers will love it. I think it'd make for a great classroom study, in addition to it being just an all around fun read.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Blue Sky, White Stars
Written by Sarvinder Naberhaus, illustrated by Kadir Nelson

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0803737006
Publisher: Dial Books
Date of publication: June 13, 2017
Age: 4 and up
Genre: Poetry
Format: library book

Themes: The United States of America, the flag, patriotism,

"An inspiring and patriotic tribute to the beauty of the American flag, a symbol of America’s history, landscape, and people. It depicts a stirring tableau, from the view of the Statue of Library at Ellis Island to civil rights marchers shoulder to shoulder, to a spacecraft at Cape Canaveral blasting off. This book is an ode to America then and now, from sea to shining sea."

Man, I missed the ball on this one—what a perfect read for the 4th of July! I only missed it by a month or so. While the writing is poetic and evocative, it's Nelson's illustrations that make this book so successful. I'm a huge fan of his skill; the detail and realism in his paintings are awe-inspiring. Naberhaus outlines, while Nelson fills in the details. So, really, his work was perfect for Naberhaus' writing. Definitely take the time to really pore over the art in this book. This is one that can be appreciated by people of all ages.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Be Quiet!
Ryan T. Higgins

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1484731628
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: April 4, 2017
Age: 4 - 9 years
Genre: Humor
Format: library book

Themes: forest animals, humor, book writing

All Rupert the mouse wants is to star in a beautiful, wordless picturebook. One that's visually stimulating! With scenic pictures! And style! He has plenty of ideas about what makes a great book, but his friends just WON'T. STOP. TALKING.

Genius, really. Pure comedic genius. Higgins has delivered a story that not only makes you laugh out loud, but even explores aspects of the book writing and illustrating process. It's so meta; it breaks the fourth wall before the book even starts. The illustrations, with their comic-like word bubbles and action contributes to the humor even further. This would be such a great readaloud—the more dramatically read, the better (and it allows for a lot of drama!). Give this one a try!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, August 8

Top Board Books of the Month (August 2017)

We're going to change how I present my reviews (again). I think it'll be much better to highlight my favorite reads in each age category as a monthly review. So here are my favorite board books for this month!

Dinos on Deck!
Gareth Lucas

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1626869387
Publisher: Silver Dolphin
Date of publication: June 13, 2017
Age: 2 -5 years
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: dinosaurs, pirates, treasure hunting, sounds

"Join your favorite dinosaur friends on an adventure in the seas! Hoist the sails, press the sound buttons, and laugh along as a Triceratops, a Stegosaurus, a T. Rex and more search for treasure. What will these dinosaur friends find when they open the treasure chest?"

Simple, short, and definitely a hit with toddlers. I mean, pressing sound buttons? Having a book make all sorts of noises? It's really quite obvious. I admit, I wasn't the most impressed initially (it is noisy). But for something so short and sweet, it still packs in some good stuff—it names some dinosaurs, has a rhyming text, has bright (and funny!) illustrations, and has a perfect little surprise at the end. I'd recommend this as a quick and fun storytime addition. If it's a really big hit, you could also try Dig, Dig, Digger! (another of Lucas' noisy books, all about construction).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Woodworks Nursery Rhymes: Wheels on the Bus
Elliot Kreloff

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1626869561
Publisher: Silver Dolphin
Date of publication: July 11, 2017
Age: 2 - 5 years
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: rhyming, play, buses

"The wheels on the bus go round and round! Climb aboard the yellow bus with this sweet playset featuring a chunky board book, a wooden school bus, and a playmat for added fun. Young readers will enjoy reading and playing along with their favorite nursery rhyme as they drive around the town and sing their way through the storybook."

Singing a book can be so much more satisfying than simply reading it.This book featuring the song The Wheels on the Bus is small, simple, and colorful. Really, this set is all about fun for tots: little chunky book (for little, chunky hands!), a toy school bus, and a large play mat to on which to drive that toy bus (it features city streets and bus stops). It's perfect for imaginative play. Overall, though, it wouldn't really work in a storytime or library setting—much more fun in a small setting, at home or one-on-one. There's also an Old MacDonald version, too, with a tractor and farm-setting playmat.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Flora and the Chicks: A Counting Book
Molly Idle

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1452146577
Publisher: Chronicle
Date of publication: March 7, 2017
Age: 2 - 5 years
Genre: Educational
Format: library book

Themes: counting, chickens, eggs,

"When a nest of eggs begins to hatch, just how many are there? And how will Flora ever keep up with so many chicks? Featuring fold-out pages and Molly Idle's graceful artwork, this counting book will delight young children as they master new words and concepts."

The story is in the pictures, with Idle's soft illustrations full of movement and grace. Each page's text is simply a number (it is a counting book after all), so the star is Flora and her adorable chicks. My toddler had fun with the fold-out pages (though was a tad disappointed that not every page had them) and we "cheeped" for each newly hatched chick--a way to make the counting even more fun. Since the emphasis is on the illustrations, I'd recommend this for a more intimate storytime session, enjoying all the aspects of the art.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals
Mo Willems

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1484767467
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: May 30, 2017
Age: 0 and up (yes, literally everybody)
Format: library book

Themes: babies, family relationships, how-to

"Mo Willems' introductory guide for new arrivals welcomes readers to the world using bold, eye-catching graphics and clever text that is perfect for reading aloud. With a fun and heartwarming message, Welcome playfully interacts with the reader with its meta-humor, while addressing such topics such as injustice, cats, friendship, and family. This one-of-a-kind guide to the world is a must-have for infants and new parents alike."

Okay, this isn't technically a board book. It just has really thick paper pages. BUT it's for babies, so I'm including it here. Okay, it's really for adults, too. The point is: it's a great book for a baby storytime. The illustrations are bright, with stark contrast--perfect for a developing baby's eyesight. It even has mirror pages, for admiring a baby's own reflection. The text? Well, that's really for the adults. It's a humorous how-to pamphlet for...well, life. The life of a baby, anyway. It's a meta instruction manual. Sweet and snarky all at once. Basically, it's a fantastic way to get parents excited to read to their newborns.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, July 31

7+ Awesome Books for Preparing Your Toddler for a New Sibling

Oh hi there! It's a been a while since I've posted here on Literary Hoots and the subject of this particular post is a big hint as to why—I decided to give myself a wee maternity leave due to the arrival of a new baby in the family. Now that I've (sorta, kinda) gotten back into the swing of things, I plan on posting regularly once again. Thanks for sticking around!