Wednesday, December 16

Oldies: Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia

We have a winner! Congrats, Apelles, on winning the drawing for a signed copy of Alistair Grim's Odditorium! Stay tuned for more giveaways to come!

Merry Christmas, Amelia Bedelia
Written by Peggy Parish, illustrated by Lynn Sweat

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 9780688061029
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Date of publication: August 18, 1986
Age: Grades 1 - 3

Themes: Christmas, holiday prep, humor, play on words

On Christmas Eve, Amelia Bedelia has to get the Rogers house ready for a visit from Aunt Myra. But as usual, Amelia takes directions literally and turns the house upside down delicious. She makes a cake with lots of dates, stuffs the stockings, and figures out the perfect star for the top of the tree.

Amelia Bedelia is a classic and beloved character. There's not a whole lot I can add, but I'll mention my favorite aspects anyway. This specific book in the series is a personal favorite--one I grew up with. In fact, I can say, as I child, I was confused about the date cake (I didn't even know "dates" were a food until years later, ha!). So, with that in mind, I'd say that Amelia Bedelia books are much more successful when a child can read the book and discuss it with an adult. It's a prime opportunity to learn about homonyms. I should've asked my mom what dates were...

The simple illustrations fit the story—straightfoward and literal. It's hard not to like them. The text and vocabulary? It is a bit more difficult. With a fair bit of text on each page, and with over 60 pages, it's not the easiest reader, but a good stepping stone to chapter books. I'd definitely recommend the series, especially with the even-better modern Amelia Bedelia books (both readers and chapter books) that are reaching a whole new generation. Love 'em all.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, December 11

Alistair Grim's Odd Aquaticum (and BOOK GIVEAWAY!)

Alistair Grim's Odd Aquaticum
(Odditorium #2)
Gregory Funaro

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-1484700075
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: January 5, 2016
Age: Grades 4 - 7
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: love, family relationships, magic, Arthurian lore, good vs. evil

Grubb, once an orphaned chimney sweep, is enjoying his apprenticeship on the Odditorium with genius sorcerer Alistair Grim. However, the rest of England is convinced that Grim is a villain. The real villain? Prince Nightshade, a wicked necromancer who wants the Odditorium's power source for himself. With the evil prince hot on their trail, Grim, Grubb and the rest of the Odditorium's crew embark on a perilous adventure to find the legendary sword Excalibur: the only weapon capable of penetrating Nightshade's magical suit of armor. Along the way, they must battle a banshee assassin, sea monsters, and a mad witch bent on revenge. But that's not all. Unbeknownst to Grubb and the others, their fate has been written in an ancient Avalonian prophecy—a prophecy that holds the key to a destiny not even Alistair Grim could have imagined.

Was I super excited to get my hands on this sequel? Oh yeah. Was it worth it? Definitely. This story was just as action-packed and exciting as the first with some extra intrigue thrown in. A lot of the storyline motifs echo the first book—such as love being the best magic, what family means, etc.—but there's a new Arthurian spin. The hunt for Excalibur and the surrounding lore give the tale some nice depth. The only (small) complaint I had was that the story almost had two climaxes, so that I felt like I was on a bit of a roller coaster. Kids, I'm sure, will love it, though. It's just that much more exciting!

The characters are, again, fantastic. Grim could be a tad annoying because he has a habit of not sharing his plans. Good thing Grubb is just so trusting and loving (he's such a great kid!). And the way Grubb narrates the tale provides just enough humor and enticement. Both are still troubled by their pasts and new intrigue provides some more depth to these characters. New characters add some charm, too. Love it.

So if you loved the first, you're going to love this one. Be excited. If you haven't touched the series—I highly recommend it. In fact, I'm so excited about it, I want to give you a copy of the first book! AUTOGRAPHED! Yay! (In case you want to brush up on why the first book was so fantastic, see my review here). Enter the drawing below for a chance to get the book (just before Christmas—what a perfect gift!).

a Rafflecopter giveaway
And don't forget! Book #2 will be here January 5th!

Pre-order now on Amazon
Or wait for it at your library

(Digital ARC provided by the author in exchange for an honest review)

Wednesday, December 9

Literary Gift Guide Collection

With all the holidays coming up, I thought I'd pull out my old gift guides--blow off the dust, in a way--to help provide inspiration for gift givers.

If you're reading this blog, there's a good chance you like books. Or at least know somebody who likes books. This list is for such a book lover. It has all the cool things. Basically, it's my Christmas wish list.

Delving deeper into the book lover's wish list: all the best bookends. Technically, if you've got a book lover on your gift-giving list, there's a good chance they have a lot of books that need to be held up somehow.

But what about for those who don't love reading? Especially of the younger variety?

Talking about reluctant readers here. Yep. If you've got a child on your list who just isn't a fan of the written word, try loosening their reluctance with some of these book recommendations.

Hopefully you can find just the right something for that special someone on your list!

Tuesday, December 8

Picture Perfect

Picture Perfect
(Sofia Martinez)
Written by Jacqueline Jules, illustrated by Kim Smith

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1479557776
Publisher: Picture Window Books
Date of publication: February 1, 2015
Age: 5 - 7 years
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: family relationships, Hispanic Americans, identity, sisters

Sofia is sick of looking exactly like her sisters. She wants to stand out! And when school picture day comes around, Sofia thinks of the perfect way to make that happen.

It's a simple story; there's nothing too extraordinary about it. There's some standard characters and the plot is somewhat drab. Sofia herself, though, is a pretty fun and spunky character. And I did appreciate the Spanish vocabulary lesson—any Spanish words that Sofia and her family use are highlighted and there's an index in the back with the translation. There's also other helpful hints and activities at the end. The illustrations are vivid and cute, if somewhat standard.

Overall, I feel like it's just okay. It's a perfectly relatable story (as a younger sibling who always tried to outshine her siblings, I can attest) that many kids might appreciate, but it probably isn't something they'll seek out. I'd recommend the series for kids learning some Spanish.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Wednesday, December 2

Storytime From Space

Have you guys heard about this? It's the COOLEST storytime ever. Which is saying a lot, because I have some pretty cool storytimes (I'm so humble). But this storytime?

It's from astronauts. In the Space Station. Yeah.

They have already sent one collection of picture books and had a set of storytimes filmed. Totally awesome, you could show them in a classroom or a space-themed storytime or just watch it in your underwear before bed. So are they going to do more?

Well guess what tomorrow is?? Launch day for a second set of picture books! More info can be found on their home page. Seven books will be included, but I want to highlight my favorite and share some coordinating activities.

Tuesday, December 1

I Really Like Slop

I Really Like Slop
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1484722626
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: October 27, 2015
Age: 5 - 8 years

Themes: food, trying new things, friendship, politeness

Piggie really likes slop. She likes it so much, she wants Gerald to try some! But can Gerald find the courage to do it? Or will the smell alone be too much to handle?

I know, I know, I'm reviewing yet another Elephant & Piggie book. But each one is unique! This time, it's the illustrations, really. The story is simple enough, and I appreciate the lesson it teaches. But it's the illustrations that really put it over the top. They're super hilarious and RICH with emotion. They're very exaggerated, but I think that fits the nature of the story. Another winner in my book!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, November 30

New Picture Books: Falling Out of a Story

I'm back! After a wee maternity leave, I'm trying to get right back on schedule. To make up for some lost time, here's two picture book reviews of recent publications that both play on the same theme: characters falling out of their own story and crashing somebody else's. 

We're in the Wrong Book
Written and illustrated by Richard Byrne

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1627794510
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Date of publication: September 29, 2015
Age: 4 - 8 years

Themes: books, genres, journey, friendship

When a potato sack race goes awry, Bella and Ben find themselves bumped from their familiar page into uncharted territory. It's a brave new world of lollipops and sphinxes―and Bella and Ben are on one page-turning adventure. How will they find their way back into their very own book?

This book is a companion to Byrne's first book, This Book Just Ate My Dog (which I first talked about in this post). Turns out, I liked that one better. This book is good, but not great. On the one hand, I appreciate that Byrne had his characters travel through all different sorts of books (fictional, nonfiction, puzzle, etc) and clearly delineated between them with different illustrative styles. However, on the other hand, this made the story drag a bit. The ending did have a stab at some humor and the friendship between Bella and Ben is pretty cute. Overall, still recommended, perhaps in conjunction with his first book.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

I Thought This Was a Bear Book
Written by Tara Lazar, illustrated by Benji Davies

My rating: ★★½

ISBN: 978-1442463073
Publisher: Aladdin
Date of publication: August 4, 2015
Age: 4 - 8 years

Themes: fractured fairy tale, aliens, books, family relationships

After an unfortunate bookcase collapse, Alien suddenly finds himself jolted out of his story and into a very strange world, complete with talking bears. Desperate to return to his book, Alien asks the Bear family for help so he can get back to his story and save his beloved Planet Zero from total destruction before it's too late. Mama Bear and Papa Bear try all kinds of zany contraptions (with some help from their nemesis, Goldilocks) without much luck. Baby Bear might have the perfect solution to get the Alien out of the woods and back to his planet...but will anyone listen to the littlest voice in the story?

While the concept behind the story is good, I don't think it was executed all that well. Alien falls into a different book, but Alien has the same illustrative style, so it's lacking clear delineation (this being especially evident to me since it's in direct contrast to We're in the Wrong Book). The text was a little hard for me to follow, as well, because it's mostly random speech bubbles. And it seemed too long of a story. It wouldn't make for a great readaloud. The ending was pretty adorable, though, and I appreciated some spots of humor. So though it is not exceptional, it makes sense to include with a fractured fairy tale collection or as a readalike to something like The Three Pigs, by David Weisner.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, November 16

Behold! A Baby

*Here's a not-so-subtle hint for why I've had sporadic posting this last week...and more sporadic postings to come. Hopefully I'll get back on track soon!*

Behold! A Baby
Written by Stephanie Watson, illustrated by Joy Ang

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1619634527
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date of publication: June 2, 2015
Age: 3 - 8 years

Themes: new sibling, baby, showcase, family relationships

Step right up! See one of the most stupendous wonders of the world! A loving father reveals a baby's fantastic feats (smiling, eating a banana, babbling) that cause adults to go insane with joy and wonder. The only audience member who remains unimpressed? His big brother.

Here is a positively adorable book on the ever-so-popular topic of new-sibling-hood. I'm sure many older siblings can relate to the feeling that their parents only ever "Ooo" and "Ahh" over the new baby. While this book exaggerates that feeling quite a bit, it also makes it more fun and humorous for the reader. Both parents and kids will enjoy it.

Do you know what's even more adorable? Ang's illustrations. Granted, the star baby does not have a mustache this time around, but I still love her depictions. She really captures that oh-my-gosh-it's-SO-CUTE feeling that some people get around infants. Overall, an adorable book with a cute ending and I think I'll just say it's cutely adorable one more time. Ha!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, November 12

The Odds of Getting Even

The Odds of Getting Even
(Tupelo Landing #3)
Sheila Turnage

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0803739611
Publisher: Kathy Dawson Books
Date of publication: October 6, 2015
Age: Grades 5 and up
Genre: Mystery

Themes: judicial system, fugitive, framing, family, friendship

The trial of the century has come to Tupelo Landing, NC. Mo and Dale, aka Desperado Detectives, head to court as star witnesses against Dale's daddy—confessed kidnapper Macon Johnson. Dale's nerves are jangled, but Mo, who doesn't mind getting even with Mr. Macon for hurting her loved ones, looks forward to a slam dunk conviction—if everything goes as expected. Of course nothing goes as expected. In no time flat, Macon's on the run, Tupelo Landing's in lockdown, and Dale's brother's life hangs in the balance. With Harm Crenshaw, newly appointed intern, Desperado Detectives are on the case. But it means they have to take on a tough client—one they'd never want in a million years.

I love these books and these characters. This one might not have reached the level of the earlier books, however. It's still quick-witted and funny, but I'm confused about Macon Johnson's character. Throughout the story, he's admitted to be a no-good drunk of a dad by everyone, but the whole underlying drive behind plot is how protective he is of his kids. Why is he protective now? I'm just not sure Turnage did a good job with him. Also, the suspect was a bit too obvious from the beginning (here comes a stranger to town!) but I still love how the kids go about figuring it out.

I still love these books. They're great mysteries with plenty of light-hearted humor. I'd still recommend the series.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, November 10

The Story of Diva and Flea

The Story of Diva and Flea
Written by Mo Willems, illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1484722848
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: October 13, 2015
Age: Grades 1 - 3

Themes: friendship, courage, Paris, dogs & cats

For as long as she could remember, Diva lived at 11 avenue Le Play in Paris, France. For as long as he could remember, Flea also lived in Paris, France-but at no fixed address. When Flea flâneurs passed Diva's courtyard one day, their lives were forever changed. Together, Diva and Flea explore and share their very different worlds, as only true friends can do.

There's some cute aspects, a valuable lesson, and some spots of humor, but this is not my favorite Mo Willems book. In the story, both animals have their own fears to face. They help each other face them with courage and become better friends while doing so. But MAN, it was a tedious and somewhat boring process. I love Mo Willems, especially Elephant and Piggie, but I'm wondering if he should stick to books of that length. This one is longer and it drags. I actually had to take a break from reading it. Yes, a break from a beginning chapter book! Still, I appreciate the French vocabulary (perhaps a pronunciation guide would be helpful, though) and culture lesson, and the note at the end from Mo makes it touching—it's a personal story.

But you know what really makes it? The illustrations are gorgeous. DiTerlizzi does a really great job with the emotions of the characters, the beauty of Paris, and keeps it true to the story. It just adds to the charming, romantic, Parisian feel of the book.

Overall, I might not rush to recommend this book, but it definitely deserves a perusal.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, November 9

Imaginary Fred

Imaginary Fred
Written by Eoin Colfer, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

My rating: ★★½

ISBN: 978-0062379559
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date of publication: September 29, 2015
Age: 4 - 8 years

Themes: imaginary friends, friendship,

Did you know that sometimes, with a little electricity, or luck, or even magic, an imaginary friend might appear when you need one? An imaginary friend like Fred. Fred floated like a feather in the wind until Sam, a lonely little boy, wished for him and, together, they found a friendship like no other. But Fred knows what happens when Sam grows up and is no longer lonely. How long will their friendship last?

This is Eoin Colfer's first picture book and it is super long. Cute, but long. Perhaps he's just a bit too used to making chapter books? Because this just goes on and on. The story could have been trimmed down a bit; the length would make for a tough readaloud. So, while not a storytime pick, it'd still be fun for kids to read on their own. Sam and Fred are adorable, and the friendship(s) they build do teach a good lesson. Some dashes of humor also keeps it light. Good story, just...long.

The illustrations? Normally I love Jeffers' work, but this time, it didn't quite float my boat. It's composed of simple pen-line drawings with some digitally added dots of blue and yellow for the imaginary friends. It's a bit too simple and the dots actually made it a bit hard on the eyes. I appreciate that he did something different for the imaginary characters, to help delineate, but he's done better work on other books.

So do I recommend it? With how much I love The Adventures of Beekle, this will not be topping my list of great imaginary friends books. But with such a well-known, popular author and illustrator, I'm sure many people will still enjoy it. Not so much my taste, but you can try it out if you want.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, November 6

Six of Crows

Six of Crows
Leigh Bardugo

My rating: ★★★★★

ISBN: 978-1627792127
Publisher: Henry Holt
Date of publication: September 29, 2015
Age: Grades 8 and up
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: thievery, camaraderie, revenge, science/magic

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price—and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can't pull it off alone. His recruits his crew carefully: a convict with a thirst for revenge; a sharpshooter who can't walk away from a wager; a runaway with a privileged past; a spy known as the Wraith; a Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums; and a thief with a gift for unlikely escapes. Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz's crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction—if they don't kill each other first.

It's like Ocean's Eleven in a kick-butt fantasy world. But SO MUCH better. This may all come as a surprise, given my less-than-stellar review for Bardugo's other series, The Grisha Trilogy. Technically, I liked her writing, just not the story. And I was a little skeptical of this, because it's technically a companion novel. So imagine my happiness at discovering a down-right fantastic story.

First, the format: Bardugo tells the story through alternating points-of-view each chapter—switching between five of the crew members. Five different POVs could get confusing, but in this case, it works wonders. Not only does this narrative provide intimate depth and detail for each character, but actually moves the plot along quite rapidly, making it hard to put down.

Speaking of characters, they're EXCELLENT. Each have their history recalled through various flashbacks during the story, providing needed depth and understanding without detracting/distracting from the story in the least. Kaz Brekker is my favorite hands down because he is simply fascinating. Multi-layered, talented, scarred, cruel, broken, and just believable. I don't want to say too much because it will give stuff away, but man, he is a beast.

Also, can I just say that the romance in the story was spot on. Which is to say, there are hints of it, due to shared pasts between characters, but none of the insta-romances or random love scenes that seem to pop up in other YA books. It acts as a motivator in a believable way, not a reader pleaser.

Finally, and what I probably appreciate the most: the ending wraps up enough but leaves the reader wanting the sequel. It's not a total drop-off cliffhanger (which seems to be the trend nowadays, UGH), but not a perfectly tied up package either.

It's just brilliant.

There, it's all summed up in three words. Go and read; it is extremely well done. I can't even think of a good readalike. So you'll just have to read this and understand.

Warning: Explicit Content
Language (once)

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, November 5

The Thing About Jellyfish

The Thing About Jellyfish
Ali Benjamin

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0316380867
Publisher: Little, Brown
Date of publication: September 22, 2015
Age: Grades 5 - 8
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: death & grief, friendship, jellyfish,

After her best friend dies in a drowning accident, Suzy is convinced that the true cause of the tragedy must have been a rare jellyfish sting—things don't just happen for no reason. Retreating into a silent world of imagination, she crafts a plan to prove her theory—even if it means traveling the globe, alone.

I do want to express that this book is well-written and the format was really well done, but all I can think is why do these acclaimed middle-grade books have to be SO DEPRESSING. And I'm not saying that MG authors should avoid the difficult topics. I can appreciate novels dealing with death of a loved one, disability, or whatever the case may be. But my goodness, inject a little bit of humor, give the reader some hope already! This book didn't have the pick-me-up I needed. It's more my personal reaction and feeling, so take it with a grain of salt.

It is well-written. It starts off after the death has occurred, so the whole focus is on Suzy dealing with the grief. And that grief is very multi-layered, with the author going deeper and deeper into the two friends' history as time goes on. The process of revealing bit by bit makes the story more gripping. It also helps the reader understand just why Suzy goes to such lengths to study jellyfish—the characters are believable and well done. I did question the ending a bit; Suzy flipped her grief switch off a bit too easily, in my opinion. But overall, excellently written.

So yes, it's got the technical elements down pat. But I was just SO depressed/disgusted by the end, that I forgot to love it. I feel mixed. I'm not telling you not to read it...just be prepared.

My preferred friend-died-and-I-don't-know-how-to-grieve book would be Lost in the Sun. Other readalikes are All the Answers and Secret Hum of a Daisy. If you want more of the girl-drama aspect and changing friends, there's How to Outrun an Alligator With Your Shoes Untied or Roller Girl or A Year Without Autumn.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Wednesday, November 4

Picture Book Month

Guess what? It's the most wonderful time of the year!

...Yes, Christmas is coming and the holiday season is wonderful, but I'm talking about:

Yay! Picture book month!

I could go on and on about why picture books really do deserve a whole month of celebration and why they're so important for kids and how everyone should run to their libraries and read and the whole shebang (stop for a breath) but for now, I'm just going to point out some different sites and old posts that do just that.

Tuesday, November 3

Hoot, Owl!

Hoot, Owl!
(National Geographic Readers)
Shelby Alinsky

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1426321252
Publisher: National Geographic Children's Books
Date of publication: July 14, 2015
Age: 4 - 6 years
Genre: Nonfiction

Themes: snowy owls, habitat, behavior,

Information all about snowy owls! Flying, swooping, gliding, they hunt for food—usually an unsuspecting mouse. They live in the snow where their color helps them blend in. Hoot!

National Geographic lists this book as a pre-reader—"just right for kids who are ready to read"—but there are some pretty long sentences that could be difficult for a beginner. The vocabulary is pretty basic, but some words like "doesn't" and "listen" might be troublesome, too. I'm not sure if I agree with their ranking.

But if we ignore that (mentally, you can put it at a bit higher of a level) then, really, there's a lot to appreciate about this book. To have a nonfiction book—truly informational and educational—for beginning readers is really empowering. At the beginning, Alinsky lists key vocabulary to look for when discussing "where they live" and "what they do." There's also follow up activities. But the best part? They somehow managed to capture the cutest/coolest photographs for the book. This is my favorite:

Is that not so adorable?? I know, I know, it's a powerful bird of prey—but it's just so CUTE. Yes, my four stars is in part due to my love of owls. As well as the technical details. So give it a try; if not owls, remember that National Geographic has all sorts of nonfiction early readers.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, November 2

McToad Mows Tiny Island

McToad Mows Tiny Island
Written by Tom Angleberger, illustrated by John Hendrix

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1419716508
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Date of publication: September 1, 2015
Age: 3 - 6 years

Themes: transportation, vehicles, lawn care, toad

McToad likes Thursdays. Why? Because on every other day of the week, McToad mows Big Island, but on Thursdays, McToad mows Tiny Island. To do so, he puts his mower on the back of a truck, which drives to a train, which goes to a helicopter, which flies to a boat, which uses a crane to put the lawn mower onto Tiny Island. There McToad mows and drinks some lemonade, and before you know it, it’s time to turn around and go back home.

It's complete and utter nonsense in the silliest way possible—but what else would you expect from Tom Angleberger? Basically, it's hilarious, and storytimes everywhere are going to love it. For me, the lack of a real story made it four stars instead of five, but don't let that stop you from enjoying it. It still has a great pattern in text (perfect for a readaloud) and a thorough rundown of transportation vehicles. But what's even better? The illustrations. Hendrix made sure each page was rich with detail and some hidden jokes--and, I might add, some mighty fine hand-lettering. Even the end pages are fantastic.

For the vehicle-loving tot or for the librarian looking for another fun storytime readaloud, this is a definite must. Really, just everyone should at least give it a read-over.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, October 30

It Came From the Library Shelves! (Dun Dun Dunnnn)

Halloween is tomorrow and I was trying to decide what sort of scary post I could put on the blog. Well then I remembered all the stuff I found in and around juvenile fiction while I was weeding a while back.

Boom. The cult classic:

It Came From the Library Shelves!! Out of the primordial depths to destroy the world! (cue the creepy music).

Thursday, October 29

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition
Written by J. K. Rowling, Illustrated by Jim Kay

My rating: ★★★★★

ISBN: 978-0545790352
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
Date of publication: October 6, 2015
Age: Grades 4 and up
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: magic & wizardry, schooling, family, friendship, good vs. evil

All he knows is a miserable life with the Dursleys, his horrible aunt and uncle, and their abominable son, Dudley—a great big swollen spoiled bully. Harry's room is a tiny closet at the foot of the stairs, and he hasn't had a birthday party in eleven years.

But all that is about to change when a mysterious letter arrives by owl messenger: a letter with an invitation to an incredible place that Harry—and anyone who reads about him—will find unforgettable.

We all know the story, but here it is for the first time in a jaw-droppingly beautiful, illustrated format. I'm not even kidding, I just love to sit and stroke the pages. Obviously, the original story is a favorite of mine. I grew up on Harry Potter and think J. K. is  a genius. This review is really about the story. It's about Jim Kay. He has managed to created vivid, detailed, spectacular illustrations that are original, but not distracting. Like, on the one hand, they aren't just scenes that look like the movies or Mary Grand Pre's work. But nor, on the other hand, do they take away from the reader's imagination. They're supportive and yet, outstanding in their own right.

I don't really know how else to explain it. I'd include examples, but I have too many favorites to narrow it down at all. Honestly, I'm grateful that such a fine artist has put so much effort into a beloved story. Basically, I love this edition more than the book I have on my shelf. So go and pick up a copy and admire it. Stroke its beautiful pages.

Oh, but I would say, even though it is illustrated, it's still a middle-grade book. I still stand by my opinion that younger kids (say, younger than nine years) really shouldn't read the seriesthe later books, especially, are more for the pre-teen/teen ages. So keep that in mind when sharing it with your kids. Oh, also of note: this American versionyou know, "sorcerer's" instead of "philosopher's"has been put back into British English. Everything except "sorcerer's stone" is back as it J. K. originally wrote it. Which is just brilliant. You just have to remember all your British vocab.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Wednesday, October 28

Halloween Storytime

The storytime was for a preschool-aged group at my library, and expands a bit off what I did last year.

Tuesday, October 27

A Pig, a Fox, and a Box

A Pig, a Fox, and a Box
Written and illustrated by Jonathan Fenske

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0448485102
Publisher: Penguin
Date of publication: June 16, 2015
Age: Grades 1 - 2

Themes: trickery, friendship, rhyming

Pig and Fox are friends, but sometimes, Fox likes to play tricks on Pig. In this case, it involves a box. However, Fox soon finds that his plans often go awry, and he may soon find that he doesn't want to play tricks anymore.

I laughed so hard when I read this book, I'm not even kidding. I guess I didn't know what to expect. The title and rhyming scheme of the book makes it vaguely Dr.-Seuss-esque. Which is great for beginning readers--the vocabulary is simple and the rhymes help with a reader's phonetic awareness. Though in rhyme, the story is told through the speech bubbles of the two friends, a trend made popular by books like Elephant & Piggie. Which is great for kids to recognize who is speaking and what emotion should be read. So, in my mind, this book was going to be a mix of the two and be another generic beginning reader.

Oh no. So much funnier. The illustrations are simple (and simply computer generated--so not very exciting) and so is the text, but it has a bit of a snarky-boy-cries-wolf story that really made me laugh. And I think kids will absolutely love it, too. Honestly, I think you should pick this one up and give it a try.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, October 26

Everyone Loves Bacon

Everyone Loves Bacon
Written by Kelly DiPucchio, illustrated by Eric Wight

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0374300524
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Date of publication: September 1, 2015
Age: 3 years and up

Themes: bacon, friendship, fame, pride

Egg loves Bacon. Lettuce loves Bacon. Waffle loves Bacon. Bacon is sizzling with popularity. And pretty much everyone thinks he is the best. That is—until Bacon's fame goes to his head. He's so busy soaking up the attention, that he soon forgets the important things in life, like friendship and family. How will it all pan out for our dashing, delicious hero?

It's true, I love bacon. So it almost goes without saying that I thought this book was absolutely fabulous. Not only does it capitalize on the best breakfast meat ever, but it does actually teach a good message about friendship. The story itself is pretty short and to the point, and filled with little puns and jokes along the way. I did laugh repeatedly, which is always a big plus in my book. The illustrations are also fabulous—full, vivid spreads that show all the glories of bacon.

Basically, in conjunction with Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, you're on your way to a breakfast-filled, fun storytime all about the importance of friendship. Now, does it have quite the happy, lets-have-these-friends-make-up ending? Well, no. But it will have you craving bacon.

But tell me this: why does this single illustration have a human hand? Seriously, the only page. Everywhere else, the food is moving on its own. What does it all mean??

*cue X-Files music*

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, October 22

Tween Book Club Activity Ideas

Just like Lindsey from Jbrary, I help run the Tween Book Club here at the library with a coworker. And, just like she posted on different corresponding activities she does with her books, I thought I'd share what I've done with mine!

Our book club is targeted at kids in grades 5 - 8 and is held at the library once a month. Our basic format includes a little video to start—such as the book trailer or an author interview—to act as an ice breaker, and then the book discussion with various questions we've researched or written ourselves.

But the best part? Snacks and activities! Let's be honest, it's usually those two elements that get our kids excited about the program...

Since there's two of us running the club, we usually have two activities to go with each book that the kids can choose between (or do both). So here are the books we've done and the activities/snacks planned for after the book discussion...

Tuesday, October 20

Pig and Pug

Pig and Pug
Written by Laura Marchesani & Zenaides A. Medina, Jr.
Illustrated by Jarvis

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0448483429
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers
Date of publication: March 10, 2015
Age: Grades K - 2

Themes: friendship, farm animals, dogs, differences & similarities

Pig lives on a farm with lots of other animals. All the animals have friends, but Pig does not. One day a new animal comes to the farm. Pug has a curly tail like Pig. Pug plays in the mud like Pig. Pug even snorts like Pig. Pug is not a pig, but maybe, just maybe, Pig and Pug can be friends!

It's adorable. I mean, yes, everyone knows how cute little smooshed-face pugs are. Combine it with squishy little pink piglet... I mean, honestly. Okay, on to the more important aspects here. In terms of a beginning reader, I think the book is excellent. The vocabulary is simple (I think the hardest words are "together" and "afternoon") and repetitive (so very repetitive...), so kids really get a chance to learn them.

The illustrations are clever and contribute to the context. What makes them even better are the little extras, like some of the animals doing silly things. It's cute, it's funny—very important in my book. The story itself, however, did have some disconnects. The other farm animals point out all of these similarities, but Pug is not a pig, so "Pig and Pug cannot be friends." Then they find even more similarities, and now it's okay to be friends. That logical sequence seemed a bit off to me, but it does drive the story forward. It's a super small criticism for an overall excellent book. Try it out!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, October 19

Nerdy Birdy

Nerdy Birdy
Written by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Matt Davies

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-1626721272
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Date of publication: September 22, 2015
Age: Grades K - 3

Themes: birds, friendship, cliques, nerdiness

Nerdy Birdy likes reading, video games, and reading about video games, which immediately disqualifies him for membership in the cool crowd—Eagle, Robin, and Cardinal. Nerdy Birdy is lonely. But at his lowest point, Nerdy Birdy meets a flock just like him and discovers that there are far more nerdy birdies friends than cool birdies in the sky. But what happens when a new bird flies in and she's not exactly cool or nerdy?

As a self-proclaimed (and other-people-proclaimed) nerd, this book was AWESOME. Who needs the cool birdies when you can have a group of compadres that look like this?

I mean, honestly. It's very obvious that the illustrator had a lot of fun with this book. One of the birds is even holding a lightsaber, for cryin' out loud. That's legit. Really though, Davies' relaxed, sketchbook style of illustrating really fits the fun nature of the book. I enjoyed them. And the story? Well, it could've just stopped with Nerdy Birdy realizing that he doesn't have to try to be something he's not—that he can find friends just the way he is. But Reynolds carried it a step further (which does make it a bit of a long book) and brought in another character—a vulture—that's just plain weird. And still, Nerdy Birdy reaches out to be her friend. It's funny, cute, and still carries an awesome message of being a good friend.

The not-quite-five-star rating is me wondering whether younger kids will fully appreciate the nerdy vs. cool factor. Or whether parents want to introduce that dynamic. I put the target age at a little older, to hit the school-age kids. I think they'd appreciate it more and laugh like I did.

Find it at your library or on Amazon