Tuesday, April 28

The Skunk

The Skunk
Written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Patrick McDonnell

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1596439665
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Date of publication: April 14, 2015
Age: Grades K - 3
Genre: Mystery

Themes: suspicion, escape, following, city life

When a skunk first appears in the tuxedoed man's doorway, it's a strange but possibly harmless occurrence. But then the man finds the skunk following him, and the unlikely pair embark on an increasingly frantic chase through the city, from the streets to the opera house to the fairground. What does the skunk want? It's not clear—but the man is desperate to escape!

Count on Barnett to write something strange, yet intriguing. Although with not as much humor as I suspected (which bummed me out a bit), it still is a fantastically written story in it's pure Hitchcock-like simplicity. Combined with the simple illustrations and monochromatic color scheme, it's a classic-feeling story for kids and adults alike. And, the best part, the simple text and story make for a great beginning-reader. The confusing motive of the skunk and surprising ending make it great for any reader. See what you think.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, April 27

Superhero Picture Books

"Superhero" is the word this summer, what with the collaborative library summer reading program theme of "Every Hero Has a Story." At our library, we've been making all sorts of preparation, the most basic being book lists! Here are eight of my favorite superhero picture books...

Friday, April 24

Joshua and the Lightning Road

Joshua and the Lightning Road
Donna Galanti

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1942664048
Publisher: Month9Books
Date of publication: May 19, 2015
Age: Grades 5 - 8
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: courage, friendship, family, Greek mythology

Joshua loves the tales his Grandfather weaves of Greek mythology—he just never expected them to be true. But during one particularly fierce thunderstorm, Joshua watches his best friend kidnapped by a bolt of lightning. And he knows he must go after him. So begins his adventure in a world of fallen gods, where children of earth are enslaved for energy, monstrous creatures roam the land, and Joshua shockingly discovers his own secret powers. Will he be able to save his friend—and the other kids—and survive?

This was an action-packed adventure with every chapter! Galanti has quite skillfully written a plot that keeps you guessing, giving just enough information and background for it to make sense. The characters are pretty fantastic, too, though I did find myself getting frustrated with Joshua on occasion when I felt he was being a tad imperceptive (though I guess he had good reason to be pretty emotional—he goes through a lot). My other trouble was with the setting, and I felt a little lost between the different realms or places of enslavement. I did wish for a rough map or something at the beginning, but I think I got it by the end. Speaking of which, it had a great ending, with just enough pull for more books in the series. I do recommend it, especially for fans of the Percy Jackson series. (update: see comment from author below! It addresses my concerns...)

Pre-order on Amazon
...or wait for it at your library

(I received a digital copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review)

Thursday, April 23


Pam Muñoz Ryan

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0439874021
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of publication: February 24, 2015
Age: Grades 5 - 9
Genre: Historical Fiction

Themes: music, family, WWII, adversity, integrity

"Lost in the Black Forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica. Decades later, as the second World War approaches, the lives of three children—Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California—become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. Pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their solo stories converge." (from WorldCat.org)

I had to copy a summary for the book because it is so complex and lovely, I didn't know how to give the 592-page-book justice in just a few sentences. I mean, the official summary barely gives it justice! It's amazingly well-written, interweaving stories and destinies, fairytale and the actual historical atrocities with which these kids are dealing. But that is also a small (very small) complaint I have, in that, a book dealing with the Holocaust, the Depression, and segregation in America...it has an awfully happy ending. Really, it's a tiny complaint. Also, Mike's story wasn't as compelling for me--I thought he was being pretty ignorant. BUT. Otherwise, the characters were fantastic (I especially loved Ivy) and the writing is superb. Highly recommended and I may even add it to my Newbery watch list.

It kind of read likes Cloud Atlas (characters connected across time and space), but that's not something I'd recommend to kids. Other readalikes include West of the Moon (historical fiction meets fairytale) and any book that celebrates the power of music.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, April 20

Betty Goes Bananas

Betty Goes Bananas
Written and illustrated by Steve Antony

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0553507614
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Date of publication: December 23, 2014
Age: 2 - 5 years

Themes: tantrums, emotions, bananas, patience

Betty sees a banana. She wants to eat the banana, but it won't open! She screams and kicks, until the calm Mr. Toucan shows her how it's done. But she wanted to open it! She screams and kicks, until the calm tells her she can do it next time. But when she goes to eat the banana, it breaks! And she screams and...well, you get the idea. What will Mr. Toucan do if Betty finds another banana?

This book is utterly fantastic. So simple, yet so funny. And yet, so educational, too! Great for toddlers AND their parents. And for anyone who wants to understand more about tantrum-throwing. The story is repetitive, but it still builds up to a great ending, so it's perfect for little kids. The illustrations are basic as well, but still show the emotions being talked about. It's just so great! I totally recommend it.

It works well with any of the books on my tantrum book list.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, April 17

Flannel Friday: Mustaches!

Mustaches, my friend. They're hip and happening. With the new release of Mustache Baby Meets His Match, it was only a matter of time before I planned a whole storytime surrounding facial hair. Turns out, it expanded to include monsters as well because of the fabulous book Mo's Mustache. So I have two flannels today, regarding mustaches...

The first was totally and completely inspired by a fabulous original composition I discovered on Sunflower Storytime. I tweaked the rhyme a bit to fit my fancy, but it's still about Mr. Lou and his mustache that grew and grew:

Thursday, April 16

The Last Dragonslayer

The Last Dragonslayer
Jasper Fforde

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0544104716
Publisher: HMH Books
Date of publication: October 2, 2012
Age: Grades 5 - 9
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: integrity, consumerism, magic, environmentalism

Magic is fading and so is the need for it. Drain cleaner is cheaper than a spell, and magic carpets are used for pizza delivery. Fifteen-year-old Jennifer Strange is the acting director of Kazam, an employment agency for magicians—but finding business is tough. And then the visions start, predicting the death of the world’s last dragon at the hands of the last Dragonslayer. And then the magicians feel a surge in their magic. Big changes are coming, and Jennifer is in the middle of all of it.

It's a pleasant enough story, although heavily saturated in dry wit and British humor. (I will admit that it did make me laugh.) The characters are thoroughly odd, as well, but it fits the odd story. Jennifer, for instance, though nearly sixteen years old, hardly acts like a teenager; the story itself is skewed towards middle-graders and her personality is rather mature (especially with all of her responsibilities). She's like no sixteen-year-old I've met. Overall, it's a nice story that avoids the angst, drama, relationships, and darkness of many modern teenage fantasy novels. I probably won't read the rest of the series, but I'll still recommend it to the right people. Fans of Douglas Adams for instance...

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, April 14

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret

Ballet Cat: The Totally Secret Secret
Bob Shea

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1484713785
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: May 5, 2015
Age: 5 - 8 years

Themes: friendship, boredom, secrets, selflessness

Ballet Cat and Sparkles the Pony are trying to decide what to play today. Nothing that Sparkles suggests—making crafts, playing checkers, and selling lemonade—goes well with the leaping, spinning, and twirling that Ballet Cat likes to do. But when Sparkles's leaps, spins, and twirls seem halfhearted, Ballet Cat asks him what's wrong. Sparkles doesn't want to say. He has a secret that Ballet Cat won't want to hear. What Sparkles doesn't know is that Ballet Cat has a secret of her own, a totally secret secret. Once their secrets are shared, will their friendship end, or be stronger than ever?

Now, you should all know by now the absolute, undying love I have for the Elephant & Piggie books by Mo Willems. So this? This was an easy choice because they really are similar. I laughed out loud repeatedly. I loved the emotion conveyed through both the illustrations and text (and text format). And I love the message of friendship it shares. It's a fantastic story.

The only reason it didn't quite get the same high mark was the colors used throughout. Each page's background color, the text bubble's color, and even the characters themselves change color on just about every page. It was very distracting and takes away from the continuity of the story. But such is Bob Shea. Also, I fear that it might be bigger draw for girls—or their parents, if you know what I mean. But still, I give it a high recommendation.

Read alikes include, obviously, Elephant & Piggie, but also other friendship-based readers like Frog and Toad or the lesser-known Hippo & Rabbit (which is completely adorable).

Pre-Order now on Amazon!
...or wait for it at your library

(Digital ARC provided through NetGalley)

Monday, April 13

Gingerbread for Liberty

Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution
Written by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0544130012
Publisher: HMH Books
Date of publication: January 27, 2015
Age: Grades 1 and up
Genre: Nonfiction

Themes: American Revolution, baking, foreign relations, soldiers

Christopher Ludwick was a German-born American patriot with a big heart and a talent for baking the best gingerbread in Philadelphia. No one goes hungry if he can help it. So when cries of “Revolution!” begin, Christopher marches off to feed General George Washington and his hungry troops. But Washington is surprised when his favorite baker sneaks off on a secret mission...

Besides the fact that this book is telling a obscure and amazing tale about an unknown player in the American Revolution, the illustrations are positively WONDERFUL. Because the whole story is told with gingerbread! It's pure genius. It's educational and tasty. The author's note at the end tells how Ludwick's work in the Revolution had nearly been forgotten, what with there only being few records about him. The story, while not told perfectly, was still enlightening. Why wouldn't you try to win a war with delicious treats? I'm glad Kirsch reemphasized the whole point of the story with his illustrations. Well done. Recommended for sure.

Pairs well with any books about the American Revolution, particularly Independent Dames, which tells the story of lesser-known female patriots. Also goes well with gingerbread cookies.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, April 10

Favorite Apps for Early Readers

Whether you're a parent looking to further your child's literacy skills or a librarian looking to add some educational variety to a program, apps can be a really useful resource. If, that is, you know what to look for!

Thursday, April 9

Roller Girl

Roller Girl
Victoria Jamieson

My rating: ★★★★★

ISBN: 978-0525429678
Publisher: Dial Books
Date of publication: March 10, 2015
Age: Grades 4 - 8
Genre: Graphic Novel, Realistic Fiction

Themes: friendship, roller derby, change, courage

Astrid does everything with her best friend Nicole. But after Astrid falls in love with roller derby and signs up for derby camp, Nicole decides to go to dance camp instead. And so begins the most difficult summer of Astrid's life with changing friendships and ever-growing derby bruises. As the end of summer nears and her first roller derby bout draws closer, will Astrid be able to handle the bout, a lost friendship, and middle school?

I sat and read this book in one fast sitting; I couldn't stop turning pages! The story was fantastic and SO well-done. It really captures the emotion of the changes in friendships and personal interests that often occur around middle school—especially as a graphic novel. The art was perfect for the story, and helped convey that emotion further. On a more personal note, I myself had a best friend (ironically, also named Nicole) that I lost at that age as we changed our interests, so this book really means a lot to me. Plus! It's a great introduction to roller derby! Totally recommended!

Also, in terms of book pairings, it's an easy fit with El Deafo, in terms of a strong heroine dealing with challenges and friendships. And that they're both graphic novels, of course.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Wednesday, April 8

Bugs Storytime

This storytime was a for a combined toddler and preschool-aged group at my library. We had some special guests for our storytime: exterminators!

Tuesday, April 7

Something Sure Smells Around Here: Limericks

Something Sure Smells Around Here: Limericks
Written by Brian P. Cleary, illustrated by Andy Rowland

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1467760355
Publisher: Millbrook Press
Date of publication: January 1, 2015
Age: Grades 2 - 5
Genre: Poetry

Themes: humor, limericks, puns, a sundry

A combination of joke and poem will make for a great limerick. They're five-lined funny stories filled with silly and sly humor. They have an almost musical beat that makes writing them and telling them a fun thing to do!

Yes, Poetry Adventures is back! You can see the other books I reviewed by Brian Cleary here. But basically, I really appreciate his books of poetry. They're educational, hilarious, and fun—great for grade-school kids. And, what's more, this book is perfect for National Poetry Month! Just check out one of my favorite limericks:

"A frog drove her car down the road.
Hearing one of her tires explode,
the frog didn't panic—
she called her mechanic
and next thing you know, she was toad."

Ha! The only thing negative thing I would say is that the book felt short. I wish there were a few more poems in it. It didn't seem quite as filling as his first two. But still! As a set, they're awesome. Totally recommended!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, April 6

Mustache Baby Meets His Match

Mustache Baby Meets His Match
Written by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang

My rating: ★★★★★

ISBN: 978-0544363755
Publisher: Clarion Books
Date of publication: March 3, 2015
Age: 4 years and up

Themes: good guy/bad guy, friendship, competition, facial hair

Baby Billy was born with a mustache. But Baby Javier, the new baby in town, was born with a beard. When Baby Javier comes over for a playdate, Baby Billy tries to show him a thing or two—but it quickly becomes a competition of manliness! Has Mustache Baby met his match? Or will the two remember the real point of a playdate?

This book is so amazing, I want to do a whole storytime just for mustaches and beards. Yes, I love the book that much. The first book, Mustache Baby, was good, but this just takes is up to a whole new level! Again, there's the hilarious character plays behind each style of mustache, but now throw in a beard and it gets that much better. Also, it still has the sentimental side where two kids are learning how to become friends. The illustrations? This book would not be what it is without them. For instance:

It's not just two babies trying to one-up each other over art. Oh no. That's Dali and Van Gogh. And that's why this book is good for all ages. There's so many subtle little jokes in the illustrations! I love it. I love that it's hilarious, clever, sentimental, and well-done. I highly recommend it, even if you haven't read the first.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, April 3

March Madness Results Are In...

In case you're curious...

Harry Potter is the ultimate champion. But really, that's no surprise is it?

Most of the wins seemed about right, with a surprise or two thrown in. I was surprised how quickly Diary of a Wimpy Kid lost out, what with how often those books circ out. But fantasy books for the win!

See the original post about this book display here

Thursday, April 2

The Iron Trial

The Iron Trial
Cassandra Clare & Holly Black

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0545522250
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of publication: September 9, 2014
Age: Grades 5 - 8
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: elemental magic, good vs. evil, friendship, secrecy

Most kids would do anything to pass the Iron Trial and be accepted into the Magisterium, a prestigious school of magic. Not Callum Hunt. He wants to fail. All his life, Call has been warned by his father to stay away from magic and the school. So he tries his best to do his worst—and fails at failing. Now enrolled at the Magisterium, Call is shocked to discover how much he enjoys it. That is, until he discovers the secret his father has been hiding from him all along...

It's a bit of a dark and sinister book, but what else would you expect from Clare & Black? I mean, the villain in the book is called "The Enemy of Death." DunDun Dunnnn. But still, it took me a while to get through the book; it didn't grab me like I thought it would, and I'm not exactly sure why. Callum came off a tad annoying, because he comes off rather angry and selfish (which is understandable, given his past and hardships; it just didn't make him very likable). The story, on the whole, was good. There's a lot of mystery and excitement, and I'll admit, I didn't predict the ending. It was quite the surprise. So I'll leave it up to you, whether or not to read it.

Find it at your library or on Amazon