Tuesday, September 29

My Pet Human

My Pet Human
Written and illustrated by Yasmine Surovec

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1626720732
Publisher: Roaring Press
Date of publication: August 4, 2014
Age: Grades 1 - 4
Genre: Semi-Graphic Novel

Themes: cats, pets, friendship, love

Oliver is an independent kitty. He has his run of the neighborhood and looks at his animal friends with their fussing humans with pity. But when a freckle-faced girl moves into town, Oliver sees the opportunity to train a human to provide him with a few creature comforts. And if he can help her adjust to her life and make a new friend, that's just all in a day's work. The real surprise comes, however, when Oliver needs Freckles just as much as she needs him.

Since it's told from a cat's point of view, you know it's full of all sorts of subtle humor and emotions. Which, as an adult, I really appreciated as I read it. But what's also great is that it's still an awesome story for those just starting chapter books. Even if the kids don't pick up on the subtle things, the main story is easy to follow, understand, and appreciate. It's a mix of traditional text and comic book, in a Diary of a Wimpy Kid way—but much easier. The text is simple, the illustrations are straightfoward (simple black and white), and the speech bubbles are easy to read. Plus, it's adorable. I mean, just look at this page:

For cat fans, it's awesome. For beginning readers, it's fantastic. Honestly, I would recommend it. I recognize that it isn't ground-breaking, but still a fun book.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, September 28

Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast

Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast
Written by Josh Funk, illustrated by Brendan Kearney

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1454914044
Publisher: Sterling Children's Books
Date of publication: September 1, 2015
Age: 4 - 8 years

Themes: friendship, food, competition,

Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast are the best of friends until word gets out that there's only one drop of syrup left. Only one of them can enjoy the sweet, sweet taste of victory. Off they race down the contents of the fridge in a ruthless race! Will their friendship survive?

First of all, this book is written in rhyme. This can be hard to do! But I will say now, Funk is totally successful with his prose. Besides rhyming words like "linguini," "legumes," and "avalanche," the story itself is told well—no awkward jumps or holes in the plot to make the rhymes work. Speaking of the story: it is definitely a cute one. I didn't predict the ending! It had me laughing out loud.

And the illustrations! SO adorable! Each little morsel, down to the last pea, has a little face drawn on it. Plus, the race creates for some action-packed, dramatic scenes that Kearney illustrated wonderfully. I enjoyed the full-fridge look at the end, too, to trace the breakfast's path in the story.

In the end, it didn't quite get the full five stars because the race felt a little long while the lesson in friendship felt a little short, but I still love it! Definitely recommended. The rhymes and exciting race make it perfect for storytime!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, September 24

Alistair Grim's Odditorium

Alistair Grim's Odditorium
Written by Gregory Funaro

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-1484700068
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: January 6, 2015
Age: Grades 4 - 7
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: love & family relationships, mythological creatures, magic, Steampunk Victorian England, collecting, good vs. evil

Grubb, age twelve (or thereabouts), has never known anything beyond his miserable existence as a chimney sweep, paid only in insults and abuse by his cruel master. All of that changes the day he stows away in the coach belonging to a mysterious guest at the inn that he is tasked with cleaning. Grubb emerges from Alistair Grim's trunk and into the wondrous world of the Odditorium. Fueled by a glowing blue energy that Grubb can only begin to understand, the Odditorium is home to countless enchanted objects and an eccentric crew that embraces Grubb as one of their own. But when the Odditorium comes under attack, Grubb is whisked off on a perilous adventure. Only he can prevent the Odditorium's magic from falling into evil hands—and his new family from suffering a terrible fate. (inside flap summary)

I will say it now: this action-packed adventure is one heck of a ride. I loved it, I really did. Grubb is about the most endearing, loyal, lovable hero I've read in a while. Raised first on the love of Mrs. Smears, he doesn't lose that "magic" after her death, despite the heartbreak and then hard labor as a chimney sweep. And what better place to build that magical love further than in a whole house full of oddities that all have some history of heartbreak? Mr. Grim and Nigel, in particular, are favorites for their depth that Funaro reveals in glimpses of back story. All of it, really, comes down to love. But I'm getting too philosophical! Moving on...

The plot, seriously, kicks off with such a bang and an onslaught of such amazing events (and never really stops!) that I was nervous for a bit that it would all be too much. I mean, we're dealing with a mysterious magical power that draws in several cultural mythologies into a steampunk-ish Victorian England. There's a lot going on! But it worked. I mean, I'm still having trouble putting my finger on what made it work exactly, but it did. Perhaps Mr. Grim's original collector/antiquer profession provided the needed foundation for samurais fighting sirens with the help of a banshee in a flying factory of a building (it is called the Odditorium for a reason!). The writing gets your imagination going and, with a little help from a few fantastic illustrations, really builds the whole exciting scene into your brain.

So why not a full five stars? The missing half star is due in part to the trouble I had along the way keeping track of all the different sources of energy (Red godly power? Blue animus? Yellow fairy dust?), and how they all interacted or were limited or blocked, and how that all in turn controls the plot decisions. There were a couple times that I just had to go with it, instead of figuring out if that would really work in this book's setting. Grubb grabs onto it unbelievably quick, and I felt a tad left behind. Also, there's a LOT of questions left unanswered—all in preparation for the sequel, of course!—but still leaves me a tad confused, on top of everything else. I imagine younger readers will grab on as quick as Grubb, though.

Will I eagerly jump on the next book? You bet. Will I recommend it to everybody? For sure. This is the perfect series for lovers of Fablehaven (it's really on par with all of Brandon Mull's books, actually), Percy Jackson and—honestly, it's so cliche—but it really had some elements of the early Harry Potter books. And I don't give that comparison often! Toss in some Roald Dahl, too (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes to mind).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

I was given a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review

Wednesday, September 23

Rain Storytime

This storytime was for a preschool-aged group at my library. Conveniently, it rained all last weekend, so this storytime was perfect!

Tuesday, September 22

Pie for Chuck

Pie for Chuck
Written and illustrated by Pat Schories

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0823433926
Publisher: Holiday House
Date of publication: August 10, 2014
Age: 4 - 6 years

Themes: teamwork, blueberry pie, senses, sharing

Big Chuck is a woodchuck with a taste for pie. He daydreams about warm, flaky pastries and their fruity filling. When he spots a freshly baked blueberry pie cooling on the windowsill, he must have it. Chuck can't reach high enough, so he recruits his friends to help. Maybe Raccoon or Rabbit can get the pie? It takes some impressive and athletic teamwork for Chuck and his friends to reach the ledge, but their reward is so sweet!

In a totally classic way, Schories' Chuck books are another fantastic tool for beginning readers. The art and text are not revolutionary, but at the same time, that's what makes it so great. Each page has around six simple words on it and is fully illustrated in soft watercolors—your standard early reader, yes? But there's just enough detail in the illustrations and just enough interest in the plot that it's more exciting and more fun for readers.

In Pie for Chuck, though the cover basically gives the story away, the illustrations of adorable animals (complete with emotions/expressions to expand on the text) trying their best to reach a rather delicious looking pie keeps the readers attention. I also love that the end pages are part of the story, too—plenty for kids to look at. Her first book, Pants for Chuck is even more hilarious (because, hello, how often have you seen a pair of adorable little pants on a woodchuck?). Honestly, I'd recommend them both as a tool for the earliest of early readers. They're fun and build some confidence.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, September 21

12 Brand-Spankin' New Favorite Picture Books for Summer 2015

It's time for a new batch of picture books! Woo! Basically, so many great picture books come out at once that I can't just do a weekly review for each one. So, just like I did back in March, and in November 2014, I have created a list of my favorite favorite recently-published picture books.

Friday, September 18

The Top 10 Coolest Bookends (aka Gift Guide!)

Yes, yes, we all know that books all on their own sure are handsome and sophisticated and awesome all on their own, but why not encourage a little bit more flair with stylish bookends?

Thursday, September 17


Katherine Applegate

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1250043238
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Date of publication: September 22, 2015
Age: Grades 4 - 6
Genre: Fantastical realistic fiction (speculative fiction)

Themes: poverty, homelessness, imaginary friends, family relationships, truth

Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again. But along comes Crenshaw. Again. Crenshaw is a cat. He's large, he's outspoken, and he's imaginary. He has come back into Jackson's life to help him, just like last time. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?

This was a tad disappointing for me. It's not a terrible book, which is why I'm still giving it three stars, but I had higher hopes. To me, it just came off...weird. And this is why: Applegate juxtaposes the stress and heartache of a boy dealing with the imminent homelessness of his family with a giant bubble-bath-enjoying imaginary cat. Now, this sort of premise worked in Flora & Ulysses, because DiCamillo has a more humorous writing style with punctures of thought-provoking serious aspects. Applegate, on the other hand, is just too serious of a writer. Her writing is awkwardly punctured with a giant cat is asking for purple jelly beans. It just didn't jive. It really bugged me.

Without Crenshaw, though, Applegate does tackle a pretty harrowing topic in a way that could really teach kids empathy and awareness for those around them. So yes, I appreciated her addressing yet another social issue in a thought-provoking way (which is why I really enjoyed The One & Only Ivan, Applegate's Newbery winner). Jackson is a believable and respectable character, a young boy clinging to facts and science to help him muddle through his difficult home life. Of course, the point of the book is getting him to learn how to move past simple facts and address what he's feeling, especially in regards to his relationship with his parents. Does he do that in the end? Yes. Is anything else really solved? No. But I appreciated the realistic nature of it (poverty does not just solve itself easily).

In the end, I'm not in a hurry to recommend it. I liked the readalikes Flora & Ulysses and Hold Fast better. But it will continue to get lots of praise and recognition, so it's up to you.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Digital ARC provided through NetGalley

Tuesday, September 15

Dragon Masters: Rise of the Earth Dragon

Dragon Masters: Rise of the Earth Dragon
(Dragon Masters #1)
Written by Tracey West, illustrated by Graham Howells

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0545646239
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of publication: August 26, 2014
Age: Grades 1 - 4
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: dragons, training, wizard, kingdom, friendship

Drake is surprised by a King's soldier at his family's farm, and learns that he must be taken to the castle to be trained as a Dragon Master. With three other young Dragon Masters-in-training—Ana, Rori, and Bo—they must learn how to connect with and train their dragons. They must also uncover their dragons' special powers. Does Drake have what it takes to be a Dragon Master? What is his dragon's special power?

This turned out to be really awesome! I was skeptical at first—it does have a bit of a slow start—but now I'm eager to read the next one. Of course, that's because it leaves off with a bit of a cliffhanger ending. Which is great for kids! Because, yay, read more books!

As for the finer details, everything is pretty simplified. There aren't complex characters or vocabulary, and the sentences are basic. While this does make the story drag a bit, it is, of course, helpful for those just delving into the world of chapter books. Still, I wish the author had given it a bit more life (she does better towards the end; maybe the other books carry that forward). So no, you aren't reading Harry Potter yet, but it's a good step towards that.

Other great readalikes would be How to Train Your Dragon, and Dragon Slayer's Academy. I'd definitely recommend it, especially as a stepping stone to harder chapter books.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, September 14

Interstellar Cinderella

Interstellar Cinderella
Written by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Meg Hunt

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1452125329
Publisher: Chronicle
Date of publication: May 5, 2015
Age: 4 - 7 years
Genre: Science Fiction

Themes: fractured fairy tale, space ships, mechanics, gender roles

With a little help from her fairy godrobot, Cinderella is going to the ball—but when the prince's ship has mechanical trouble, Cinderella knows just how to help. The prince is smitten! But Cinderella has to run—how will the prince find her again?

This is a rather awesome twist on the original tale. It's not just about dancing the night away, but has a heroine that is strong and independent. So, the star character was great, but the rhyming scheme for the story was lacking. There were random hops and skips in the story (letting the illustrations or the reader's knowledge of Cinderella fill in the gaps) and some of the rhymes felt forced. Overall, not my favorite.

The illustrations were very fun, though—big and bold and with lots of color. In some cases, it can be a tad too much, but it fits the nontraditional nature of the book. It's definitely one to keep on your radar as another fun fractured fairy tale, but I wouldn't necessarily seek it out to recommend. Try it out if you want.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, September 11

12 New Kids' Books with Delicious Food Ideas

Ever get a craving while reading a book? It usually happens when a character happens to be eating something delicious. Like in any book written by Laura Numeroff (honestly, I would not be giving the mouse a cookie or the dog a donut, I'd be eating them myself!).

And, over time, there have been a lot of ideas put out there of book-inspired foods. Plenty of children's books lend themselves to the project in the past (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Blueberries for Sal, Green Eggs and Ham anyone?) that I decided to create a list of food ideas from some of the newest in kids' books—from the youngest tot to teens.

See if any of these book/food pairings gets you salivating...

Thursday, September 10

Serafina and the Black Cloak

Serafina and the Black Cloak
Robert Beatty

My rating: ★★½

ISBN: 978-1484709016
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: July 14, 2015
Age: Grades 4 - 7
Genre: Horror, Historical Fiction

Themes: identity, paranormality, friendship, family, Biltmore Estate, missing children

When children at the Biltmore estate start disappearing, only Serafina knows who the culprit is: a terrifying man in a black cloak who stalks Biltmore's corridors at night. Following her own harrowing escape, Serafina risks everything by joining forces with Braeden Vanderbilt, the young nephew of Biltmore's owners. Braeden and Serafina must uncover the Man in the Black Cloak's true identity before all of the children vanish one by one.

While the story line was suspenseful and the tale rather creepy, the book felt too random and disjointed for me to fully enjoy it. There's the demonic nature of the cloaked man, and then the bleeding forest (were the leaves really bleeding? I'm still confused at the part). And then there's a catamount... There seemed to be too many things going on at once. The mystery of disappearing children, the mysterious identity of the cloaked man, the mysterious origin of Serafina...it was too much for me to create a fluid story.

As for the characters: Serafina, when we are first introduced to her, is hard for me to imagine—she's repeatedly referred to as strange in appearance and actions. I couldn't connect with her, but her "huntress" persona did drive the story along. Braeden seemed way too friendly to someone who is supposed to be strange and shunned by everyone else. He came off pretty flat, as the overly kind hero of the story.

I appreciated the look into the workings of the Biltmore Estate and the history of the area. I enjoyed the scary parts. Overall, I might recommend it to a certain few, especially those that enjoyed The Night Gardener (Jonathan Auxier) or Boys of Blur (N.D. Wilson).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, September 8

I Yam A Donkey!

I Yam A Donkey!
Written and illustrated by Cece Bell

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0544087200
Publisher: Clarion
Date of publication: June 16, 2015
Age: Grades 1 and up

Themes: grammar, vegetables, miscommunication, donkey, "to be" tenses,

When a donkey exclaims, "I yam a donkey!" it's unfortunate that his audience happens to be a yam. Especially one who is particular about sloppy pronunciation and poor grammar. An escalating series of misunderstandings leaves the yam furious and the clueless donkey bewildered by the yam's growing (and amusing) frustration. The yam finally gets his point across, but regrettably, he's made the situation a little bit too clear...

Downright hilarious. While technically, this book is a picture book, it's a book that will be lots of fun for everyone of all ages. It's nice for beginning readers because it's repetitive in the text, and has a nice lesson in grammar—but it might not be as funny. Honestly, those that are going to have the most fun with this book are those that can appreciate proper grammar (though it might get the true Grammar Nazi's cringing). The illustrations are simple (the fact that the yam is wearing glasses just adds to the humor) and the text is simple, but the lesson its teaching is more complex.

In the end, I imagine I would have a lot of fun reading it to grade-school kids or sharing it with my friends. I don't think it'd work in, say, preschool storytime. But honestly, read it—in a lighthearted way. Cece Bell has an amazing sense of humor.

A good readalike would be Who's on First?—yep, as in Abbott & Costello.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Saturday, September 5

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War

Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War
Steve Sheinkin

My rating: ★★★★★

ISBN: 978-1596439528
Publisher: Roaring Brook
Date of publication: September 22, 2015
Age: Grades 6 and up
Genre: Nonfiction

Themes: Vietnam War, treason, information, secrecy, journalism,

On June 13, 1971, the front page of the New York Times announced the existence of a 7,000-page collection of documents containing a secret history of the Vietnam War. Known as The Pentagon Papers, these documents chronicled every action the government had taken in the Vietnam War. They revealed a pattern of deception spanning over twenty years and four presidencies, and forever changed the relationship between American citizens and the politicians claiming to represent their interests. The Papers were leaked by one man, whom Henry Kissinger would come to call "the most dangerous man in America."

Sheinkin is a nonfiction-writing genius. He turns history into the riveting, drama-ridden story that it is. I loved Bomb and this is another awesome book. Of course, I may be biased, because this is what I studied for my undergraduate...but Sheinkin picks the really controversial periods in American history. He knows how to get the reader to think and ask questions.

As for this book in particular, I can guess that its reception might still be a bit mixed, since this controversial era is still in the minds of many individuals today. Sheinkin really doesn't try to fluff the story at all; it is a reflection of the true failure America had in Vietnam. And there's a lot that goes into the failure. He kept the facts and storyline well organized. Some pictures from the time are dotted throughout to help the story in a constructive way. He also ties it in to the recent drama with Edward Snowden, making the book relevant to readers today.

My only qualm might be the targeted audience from the publisher. They say it's good for kids as young as ten, but the story is gruesome (including some of the pictures). Vietnam was not a pretty time and Sheinkin doesn't shirk from that. Will the younger kids really be able to appreciate the controversy? Hard to say. Also, if you're concerned, Sheinkin doesn't exactly shy away from the soldier's (or Nixon's, for that matter) crass language.

Still, I highly recommend it. Especially if you enjoyed his other books.

Pre-order on on Amazon
Or put a hold on it at your library 

Received an ARC from the publisher

Friday, September 4

Flannel Friday: Polar Bear's Underwear

Did you know that preschoolers think that "underwear" is about the silliest thing there ever was? I found out this week, with a whole storytime devoted to the topic. It was non-stop giggles and a whole lot of fun!

So I thought I'd share my star flannel from that storytime: Polar Bear and his laundry full of underwear. It's based on the book Polar Bear's Underwear (which received strong praise from the kids and parents alike after reading it! They thought the ending was especially hilarious). In this case, I had the kids help me with two different tasks...

First up, getting Polar Bear's underwear out of the washer and organized.

I had volunteers pick out the laundry first. Then I called out each color and those kids that had that color would put their pair of underwear on the board. For some extra math fun, I then asked the kids questions like, "Which color of underwear does Polar Bear have the most?" "How about least?" Of course, you can do this with any amount of whatever—it was fun to introduce some math into storytime.

Second task (because I was having so much fun with Mr. Polar Bear) was to help him choose his underwear for the week. In this scenario, we practiced patterns!

Besides learning the days of the week, it was more math! My literary tip for parents was to find random times like this to practice simple math problems (like you would find in the book, Bedtime Math). The kids enjoyed it and especially liked it when Polar Bear tried on different pairs. It was a lot of fun!

Mel at Mel's Desk is hosting the Flannel Friday round-up today. You can also check out the FF website, Pinterest, or Facebook! Or use #flannelstorytime on Twitter!

Tuesday, September 1

Oldies: Have You Seen My Cat?

Have You Seen My Cat?
Written and illustrated by Eric Carle

Original publication: Franklin Watts (1973)

Republished as an early reader series "The World of Eric Carle"
ISBN: 978-1442445741
Publisher: Simon Spotlight
Date of publication: May 1, 2012
Age: 3 - 5 years

Themes: cats, world travel, surprise,

A little boy worries about his missing cat and travels to different places in search of his pet. The boy encounters numerous feline counterparts as he searches, including lions, leopards, and tigers—but none of these are his! When he finally finds his cat, she has a surprise waiting.

Simon Spotlight has created a really nice collection of Eric Carle's work, and made them easily available for beginning readers. Most of Carle's work, after all, is simple in its style. For this particular book, they classified its reading level as "Pre-Level 1" and I actually agree; this has very simple text and plot. It has the same sentences on each page spread. I'd venture to guess that a child would actually memorize the book before actually reading it. But that's not necessarily bad—in some cases, that gives a child the confidence they need to try other books. So yes, as a pre-pre-reader, this book definitely fits the bill.

As for the overall story, I actually liked it. With such a simple plot, the illustrations still have a lot of detail and educational content. Carle introduces all kinds of cats from around the world. The publisher includes a cheat sheet at the end with each cat's species.

So if you're looking for the truest of beginning readers, this book is a great start. It's a good step up to some of Carle's more complex books and other early readers in general.

My rating: ★★★★

Find it at your library or on Amazon