Tuesday, June 30

Blog Spotlight: Step Up Readers

Normally, I have some sort of book review for early readers or kids on Tuesdays. But today, I thought, why not go straight to the source? and show you guys a REALLY useful blog that's ALL ABOUT easy readers.

Behold! Step Up Readers!

Creator Katie has built a fantastic blog where she reviews and spotlights readers for the rest of us. Because it turns out that there's a lot of variables with publishers, levels of reading, series, and...everything, really.

For parents, this is a great resource in helping to select books for their children. Because who really has the time to check which books are actually at their kids' reading level (because Level 2 is not the same all the way across the different publishers. Oh no.)

For librarians & teachers, it's a huge help for us in figuring out which sorts of books we should even be stocking and recommending. Just because it says it's a "reader" doesn't mean it's the educational, engaging story that kids need.

So thanks Katie! Hopefully we can build up the world of easy reader reviews and help others help kids get interested in reading from an early age!

Monday, June 29

Outstanding in the Rain

Outstanding in the Rain
Written and illustrated by Frank Viva

My rating: ★★

ISBN: 978-0316366274
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Date of publication: April 14, 2015
Age: 3 - 6 years

Themes: birthday, Coney Island, carnival, word play

With several plays on words, a young boy excitedly spends his birthday at Coney Island. He enjoys ice cream, rides, and time on the beach—eating sandwiches on the sand which is there. When the night rain falls and night train calls, the little boy goes home—but not before getting a special treat.

On the cover, you'll notice it also says "a whole story with holes," and I take that both literally and figuratively. What Viva has done is create a story with strategic die-cuts to reveal different illustrations and word-plays. But, in this attempt, the story itself is lacking. It's jumpy (with his stretches in word play) and overly simple. I'm still confused about the boy shouting in her ear, but then it's her rear... I don't know. It's just not the best script. The illustrations are appealing, following a specific color scheme to create a vintage vibe, but aren't enough to save the book overall. This is not a favorite, but perhaps you'll get a chance to peruse it at some point and make your own opinion.

If you really want to, find it at your library or on Amazon

Saturday, June 27

Library Hashtags: #SaturdayLibrarian

Do you guys watch The Tonight Show? With Jimmy Fallon? I must admit that I do enjoy that show...

Which brings me to the inspiration for this post. Every Wednesday, Fallon does "Tonight Show Hashtags" which is where he finds the top/funniest quotes for a particular Twitter hashtag he created.

And, since I am here at work on this lovely Saturday, it only makes sense to copy Fallon and pick out my favorite #SaturdayLibrarian tweets.

Thursday, June 25

The Girl in the Torch

The Girl in the Torch
Robert Sharenow

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0062227959
Publisher: Balzar + Bray
Date of publication: May 26, 2015
Age: Grades 4 - 7
Genre: Historical Fiction

Themes: immigration, family, race, New York City, determination

Twelve-year-old Sarah has always dreamed of America, a land of freedom and possibility, and the beckoning Lady Liberty. When Sarah and her mother finally journey across the Atlantic, though, tragedy strikes—and Sarah finds herself being sent back before she even sets foot in the country. She daringly jumps off the back of the boat and swims as hard as she can toward the Lady's island and a new hiding place: the Statue of Liberty. Now Sarah must find a way to Manhattan while avoiding the night watchman and scavenging enough food to survive. When a surprising ally helps bring her to the city, Sarah finds herself facing new dangers and a life on her own. Will she ever find a true home in America?

This is a fascinating and beautifully detailed (albeit a tad sugar-coated) story about immigration. I guess I haven't read much from that time and place—there's a lot of wonder, heartbreak, and new experiences for Sarah, and it was thoroughly enjoyable to read about them. While there were noticeable stretches to make the story work (which the author admits to in his notes at the end of the book), I believe this is a valuable insight into that historical time period.

The characters were quite varied, including Russians, Irish, Chinese, African American, and Native American. Which, yes, there were those and many other nationalities in NY at the time. It just seemed a bit overly sweet they all seemed quite happy to work with each other to help secure the fate of one 12-year-old girl. But hey, it makes for a great children's novel. I did particularly enjoy Maryk, and his tragic past; he was very well written and a good counterpart for Sarah.

In the end, yes, I enjoyed it, and would recommend it to any reader or classroom. I think it's a good readalike to West of the Moon with the immigration theme.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

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

Wednesday, June 24

7 Ways to Get Kids To Read This Summer

Ah, summer. The sweet release from the dreaded school year. Swim parties and beach trips. Ice cream and popsicles dribbling down your face... Of course summer vacation is awesome!

But while these thoughts are running through kids' minds, many educators and parents may have this thought: how can I ensure my kids don't experience learning loss over the summer? Don't worry! There are ways you can help keep your kids' brains working and developing! And here's a little post to get you started: seven ways to get your kids to read this summer.

Tuesday, June 23


Dan Santat

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0439298193
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
Date of publication: July 1, 2011
Age: Grades 2 - 6
Genre: Graphic Novel

Themes: pets, superheroes, villains, competition

Captain Amazing, the superhero of Metro City, is getting old and tired. He's out all hours battling arch-villains, catching thieves, and helping little old ladies cross the street. He doesn't even have time for his house full of pets. It's decided then: he needs a sidekick. Captain Amazing's four pets agree—and each one of them thinks HE should get the sidekick spot. It's a sibling rivalry royale as pets with superpowers compete for the coveted position.

I know, I know, more Dan Santat material (I'm gonna start a fan club...). But not only is this an awesome story, but it's a great book to have for this year's superhero-themed summer reading program.

The story line is fun and original, with the main action of competing pets in the foreground, while the looming threat of the evil villain and an imminent battle sits in the back. It all comes together with a fantastic boom of a climax. As for the art, it's pretty good, but you can tell that it's some of Santat's earlier work. In the end, I've already recommended it to one eager young man, and I'm sure many others would be fans of this, too.

It is a standalone novel, but it could easily tie-in to Santat's other illustrated superhero books: Ricky Ricotta (written by non-other than Dav Pilkey, of Capt. Underpants fame).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, June 22


Written by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Dan Santat

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0811866903
Publisher: Chronicle
Date of publication: August 20, 2013
Age: 4 - 8 years

Themes: self-acceptance, traits, support groups, animals, food chain

For the Great White Shark, Timber Wolf, and Lion, it's lonely at the top of the food chain. It's difficult to fit in when plant eaters can be so cruel—just because you ate a relative of theirs that one time! What's a carnivore to do?

Should I just create a Dan Santat Fan Page? I feel like that's what this blog is turning into. Because I LOVE his illustrations. But anyway, about this book specifically...

I laughed. A lot. Which always means high marks in my book. These "poor" animals are getting their feelings hurt and what are they to do? Santat's illustrations capture the emotions of the animals quite perfectly, with cartoon-ish brilliance, matching Reynolds hilarious (and somewhat brash) story line. Check out the lion trying to ignore the mean gazelles' whispers...

It still makes me laugh. So why not a full five stars? Well, I don't know that everyone will appreciate the audacious, meat-eating extravaganza. Even I was quite upset about the fate of the owl... (but hey, I love owls). It also may send a bit of a confusing message to kids, about accepting themselves for who they are...even if that harms others? That's if you read too much into it. Honestly, just read it for fun and it will be hilarious.

Another Dan Santat book for the win. See the other books I've reviewed of his here.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, June 19

10 Books That Read Like Your Favorite TV Shows

It's true. Sitting down and vegging out on the latest season of your favorite TV show really is easy and fun to do. And thanks, Netflix, for making it that much easier.

But maybe you're stuck waiting for the next season. Or, you know, your brain needs a little bit of a pick-me-up. Behold! Your solution: ten books that read like your favorite shows on television.

Thursday, June 18

Goodbye Stranger

Goodbye Stranger
Rebecca Stead

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0385743174
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Date of publication: August 4, 2015
Age: Grades 6 - 9
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: middle school, friendship, betrayal, choices, consequences

Bridge is an accident survivor who's wondering why she's still alive. Emily has new curves and an almost-boyfriend who wants a certain kind of picture. Tabitha sees through everybody's games—or so she tells the world. The three girls are best friends with one rule: No fighting. Can it get them through seventh grade? This year everything is different for Sherm Russo as he gets to know Bridge Barsamian. What does it mean to fall for a girl—as a friend? On Valentine's Day, an unnamed high school girl struggles with a betrayal. How long can she hide in plain sight?

This is a true "middle-grade" novel dealing with all the things that make middle school so horrible. Changing friends, drama, changing bodies, drama, changing attractions, and drama. On the one hand, I really wouldn't recommend it, because it's got all that content that I'd like to forget about middle school. But truly, on the other hand, it's an excellently written novel about the challenges of growing up. It takes a good look different character's choices, and the severe or challenging consequences of those actions.

The characters are really well done because they were believable. It wasn't just the standard heroes and bullies; it felt real in how the main characters made mistakes and how supporting characters reacted to those mistakes (do you like how vague I'm being? I don't want to give anything away). It's accurate. I really think it is. But that's also what makes it depressing (going back to that first hand...). So you decide. I appreciate the excellent story and writing (and it does have a good ending!), but I will take care when recommending it. I could see it as a possible Newbery contender, but won't be pushing for it.

Pre-Order on Amazon
Or put your name on the holds list at your library

(Digital ARC provided through NetGalley)

Wednesday, June 17

Tuesday, June 16

I Will Take a Nap!

I Will Take a Nap!
Written and illustrated by Mo Willems

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1484716304
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: June 2, 2015
Age: 5 - 8

Themes: crankiness, naps, dreams, friendship

Gerald is tired. And cranky. He is sure a nap will help him feel better. Will Piggie be in his dreams? Or will Piggie keep Gerald from dreaming altogether? (Who knew a pig could snore so loud??)

Fantastic book from Mo Willems yet again! What I particularly appreciated about this one is that the story helps empower young kids. It helps them recognize feeling tired or cranky, and how making the choice to take a nap will actually help them. What is even more fantastic is the hilarious surprise ending. Which I won't spoil for you, of course. It did feel a little repetitive to me (which is great for early readers--don't get me wrong) but that did make it a bit more tedious than the other Elephant & Piggie books. Still highly recommended!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, June 15

Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats

Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats
Written by Alicia Potter, illustrated by Birgitta Sif

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0385753340
Publisher: Knopf Books
Date of publication: May 12, 2015
Age: 4 - 8 years

Themes: shyness, courage, lessons, love

Miss Hazeltine is opening a very special school for shy and fearful cats. They come from all over, and Miss Hazeltine gives them lessons in everything, from “Bird Basics” to “How Not to Fear the Broom.” The most timid of all is Crumb. He cowers in a corner. Miss Hazeltine doesn’t mind. But when she gets in trouble and only Crumb knows where she is, will he find his inner courage and lead a daring rescue?

It's cute. I appreciate the story because it's a fantastic look into overcoming one's fears and building courage. I particularly appreciate that the teacher, Miss Hazeltine, has her own fears--even though she's the trying to help these cats with theirs. So it's a great read for any kids who might be scared of one thing or another. The illustrations are also adorable, with a lot of expression in all the many cats drawn on the page. Their progression from shy, cowering kittens to the daring rescue is evident in everything from face to tail. Like I said: cute.

Is it the most amazing book ever, though? I'll recommend it to the right people, but I'm not raving over it. Check it out if you love cats!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, June 12

The Avengers! Summer Reading Library Display

Well most of us librarians might be superhero-ed out already, what with such a super summer reading program this year...

But of course, the summer continues onward, and I have my version of a book display befitting the season:

Thursday, June 11

Chasing Secrets

Chasing Secrets
Gennifer Choldenko

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0385742535
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books
Date of publication: August 4, 2015
Age: Grades 5 - 8
Genre: Historical Fiction

Themes: the plague, race relations, societal mores, San Francisco, power, truth

In 1900 San Francisco, thirteen-year-old Lizzie Kennedy is stuck at Miss Barstow’s snobby school for girls. She'd much rather learn science and lives to go on house calls with her physician father. On those visits to his patients, however, she discovers a hidden dark side of the city—a side that’s full of secrets, rats, rumors of the plague, and a quarantine against Chinatown. But the newspapers and Lizzie's own father denies the plague's existence. Why is Noah, the Chinese cook’s son, suddenly making Lizzie question everything she has known to be true? Ignoring the rules of race and class, Lizzie and Noah must put the pieces together in a heart-stopping race to save the people they love.

There is a lot to appreciate about this book. The amount of research that went into it is amazing, particularly; I felt that I learned a lot about what it was like to live in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. Choldenko also (quite usefully) includes all sorts of notes about her research at the end of the book. Of particular interest were race relations with the Chinese (which was terrible), social norms in regards to gender (women could hardly do anything!), and the power grabs by the rich (lots of new money from gold and the railroad). So, yes a lot to learn!

The story itself was good. I did feel like there were some gaps and slow parts, but it really picked up in the end. Lizzie, as a character, was pretty awesome: she has a lot of growing up to do and makes leaps in trying to understand herself, her interests, and her place in the world. She's ahead of her time, but that makes her more relatable to the younger readers of today. The other characters have their shining moments, too, so they're not flat and boring background fillers. Overall, yeah, I'd recommend it. I don't know that the kids will flock to it, but we can encourage it!

If kids liked Choldenko's Al Capone at Alcatraz books, they'll like this, too. Also, it's a great readalike for The Great Trouble.

Pre-Order on Amazon
Or put your name on the holds list at your library

(Digital ARC provided through NetGalley)

Tuesday, June 9

Inventions that Could Have Changed the World...But Didn't!

Inventions that Could Have Changed the World...But Didn't!
Joe Rhatigan (illustrations by Anthony Owsley)

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1623540241
Publisher: Imagine
Date of publication: February 10, 2015
Age: Grades 3 - 6
Genre: Nonfiction

Themes: engineering, inventions, patents, failure vs. success

The fascinating stories of inventions that could have changed the world, should have made a difference, or would have astounded us all, but for one reason or another, didn't. Some inventions were too wacky, weird, or unwieldy. Other simply didn't work. And still others may be the next big thing...some day. Learn about the inventors, what they thought they would accomplish, and what—if anything—they did accomplish.

This idea behind this book truly is entertaining; there's some pretty wacky inventions out there. But was the book itself all that great? Not so much. The author needs some editing (his writing is pretty tedious for grade-schoolers) and the format should be cleaned up a bit (it felt pretty busy on each page). The illustrations were cute, but sporadic between the actual illustrations filed with US patents. So I don't know that they were totally necessary.

So I don't love it, but I do love the idea and the message behind it. I do love the little extras it has (like web addresses to see things in action, such as Edison's talking doll). It can be funny and enjoyable to look at, and it also encourages kids or aspiring engineers to get ideas and go for it. Give it a try.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, June 8

Have You Seen My Monster?

Have You Seen My Monster
Written and illustrated by Steve Light

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0763675134
Publisher: Candlewick
Date of publication: April 7, 2015
Age: 2 - 6
Genre: Educational

Themes: shapes, searching, fairs, color

A little girl gallivants through a county fair, searching for her furry, monstrous friend. Perhaps he is under the quatrefoil banner on stage or riding the octagonal carousel. She searches from the fun house to the Ferris wheel. Maybe the monster is judging the pies (on rhombus-decorated tables)? Or perhaps he’s at the monster-truck rally (with parallelogram-ed trucks)?

This is Steve Light's second book, his first being one that I liked for the Caldecott last year. But the illustrations for this one? I was disappointed. So the purpose of this book is to educate a child on the different shapes (twenty different ones!) one can find. But, the shapes were not worked into the illustrations in a satisfactory way. Like, I wanted the shape to really be part of the larger picture, not seemingly added as an afterthought--which some of them look like they were. So Light has an odd mix of well-integrated shapes and odd, out-of-place additions. I'm not a fan.

The educational aspect, however, is pretty impressive. I mean, when you're talking about twenty different shapes, you've got to really scrape the bottom of the barrel. He's teaching kids about shapes like quatrefoils, trapeziums (and trapezoids--they're different), curvilinear triangles, and all the other polygons. In addition to your standard square, circle, and rectangle. It's impressive, it really is. So maybe you can pick it up if you want to brush up on your geometry. Or you can pass this by. Up to you.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Saturday, June 6

Of Beast and Beauty

Of Beast and Beauty
Stacey Jay

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0385743204
Publisher: Delacort
Date of publication: July 23, 2013
Age: Grades 9 and up
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: fairy tale retelling, good vs. evil, monsters, bravery, truth

In the domed city of Yuan, the blind Princess Isra is raised to be a human sacrifice whose death will ensure her city’s continued vitality. Still, she strives to be a good monarch, hoping to help the city's Banished people—second class citizens despised for their flaws. In the desert outside Yuan, Gem, a mutant beast, fights to save his people from starvation—but he's captured while trying to steal Yuan’s enchanted roses. In an effort to escape, he befriends Isra, trying to win her trust. Neither expect to fall in love, or be the key to the balance needed to restore their two kingdoms.

That summary doesn't even begin to cover it. There are so many levels to this story, so many secrets and twists and turns. And it is so well written. Admittedly, some of the plot elements are a little strange, what with a mix of fantasy (magic and gods) and sci-fi (colonizing a new planet and building domed habitats). And fairy tale. But still. The passion. The emotion that comes from Jay's writing is simply brilliant.

The characters, too—my gosh. They're so complex. Maybe, sometimes, a little confusing-ly complex. It was hard to keep track of Bo's bipolar feelings towards Isra, for instance. But Gem and Isra? Wow. There's so much that each care about or are worried about, it provides so much truth and foundation to their rich emotions. They're really well done.

Basically, if you can handle some a pretty fantastical setting (you know, keep pushing through those first few chapters—they'll make sense later), you should read this. Jay has managed to create real emotion and love. It's just so well done! I can't get over it...

Warning: Explicit Content
Some sexuality

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Wednesday, June 3

Tuesday, June 2

Splat the Cat: Splat and Seymour, Best Friends Forevermore

Splat the Cat: Splat and Seymour, Best Friends Forevermore
Based on the creation by Rob Scotton
(Written by Alissa Heyman, illustrated by Rick Farley and Robert Eberz)

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0062116031
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date of publication: October 7, 2014
Age: Grades PreK - 2

Themes: friendship, party, secrets, surprise

Splat loves his friend Seymour, and decides he wants to show it through an amazing surprise party. But with all the planning and preparations—and secrets—Seymour is left confused and wondering what happened to his friend! Will all the silliness split this pair apart or bring them closer than ever?

The Splat the Cat beginning readers are awesome: each book focuses on a specific element of speech, a phonetic. In this case, it's words that sound out -ore. So not only are kids reading a great story, but they're building their vocabulary and phonetic skills. There's cohesion to the story and it really grabs the reader's attention. I recommend this series.

As for readalikes, this book is just like the Fancy Nancy book I read a while back, and, of course, any story on friendship makes me think of Elephant & Piggie.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, June 1

Snow White and the 77 Dwarfs

Snow White and the 77 Dwarfs
Written by Davide Cali, illustrated by Raphaëlle Barbanègre

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1770497634
Publisher: Tundra
Date of publication: April 14, 2015
Age: 3 - 8 years

Themes: chores, hard work, fractured fairy tale, exhaustion

Snow White is on the run from an evil witch when she comes across some dwarfs in the forest—77 of them. They agree to take her in and keep her safe if she will help them with their chores. She soon realizes she's taking on a lot more than she bargained for—the laundry and dishes alone are enough to make anyone crazy. But beard maintenance? Snow White may just decide to take her chances with the witch.

I really enjoyed this book and for several reasons. This is one that both the kid and parent can laugh at—the kids, because it's silly; the parents, because what mother hasn't felt totally exhausted after chores?? Also, the illustrations are FANTASTIC. They're super bright and vivid, but the emotion in Snow White's face is priceless. I mean, just check out this ONE page.

Priceless! I'm telling you, it's that fantastic throughout the whole thing. Overall, it is a well-done book (even if the ending is predictable and falls a little flat). I totally recommend it.

Find it at your library or on Amazon