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

Saturday, October 17

Thursday, October 15

The Caretaker's Guide to Fablehaven (Blog Tour!)

Hey guys! If you're stopping here for the blog tour, take a chance to look around. Otherwise, enjoy this review for the Fablehaven series companion book!

The Caretaker's Guide to Fablehaven
Written by Brandon Mull, illustrated by Brandon Dorman

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 9781629720913
Publisher: Shadow Mountain
Date of publication: October 13, 2015
Age: Grades 3 - 8
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: reference; magical creatures, artifacts, & places;

"This guidebook to the Fablehaven magical preserve is filled with everything a new Caretaker might need to know in order to survive. There are entries detailing important information about artifacts large and small, a complete bestiary of creatures (from fairies to trolls to satyrs), a guide to identifying demons, dragons, and wizards as well as valuable insights into the other magical preserves.

Immerse yourself into the secret knowledge that has been handed down through the generations by reading the updates and notes written in the margins by the former Caretakers of Fablehaven, including Grandpa Sorenson, Kendra, and Seth. Fully-illustrated, this unique encyclopedia has gathered the world of Fablehaven into one volume.

Scattered throughout the book are colorful fairies that also mark some of the characters, artifacts, and creatures that will be featured in the upcoming sequel series, Dragonwatch."

Well if you love the Fablehaven books then of course you're going to love this book! It provides deeper insight into all elements of the stories—people, places, and things. There's funny and insightful asides from the original characters, and it quickly brings the reader back to a familiar setting. Mull's fantastic writing ability shines, since many entries read like his books.

But what really shines, of course, are the AMAZING illustrations. Whether you've read Fablehaven or not, there are some truly beautiful depictions of various magical creatures/places. Dorman has done justice to the original ideas that Mull described and more than capitalized on the imaginative, fantastical beings. There are some really elaborate and stunning images...

...and this one is just one of many. The format altogether—text, layout, illustrations—is really nice.

Now, for those that have not read the series, there are some definite tie-ins that may leave some readers confused. Or, if you're planning on reading the series, do not start with this guide, since there are a LOT of spoilers. Also, from a purely referential standpoint, this book is not the best; there are some entries that I felt were just too short, or that Mull put a little too much of his novel-style-writing into. Yes, he can write amazing stories with great imagery, but the sometimes the similes were a bit much in this book. But hey! This is a definite plus for kids who don't want to read a textbook!

So if you or your kids are a fan, then it's definitely time to go pick up this book. The illustrations alone...! And get excited for Mull's next series!!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Brandon Mull, #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Fablehaven and Beyonders series, travels the country visiting schools, promoting literacy, and sharing his message that "Imagination Can Take You Places."

Brandon Dorman is the illustrator of the New York Times bestseller The Wizard. His work has appeared in childrens books and on numerous covers, including the Fablehaven series and The Candy Shop War series.

I received a free digital ARC of the book in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, October 13

Dance! Dance! Underpants!

Dance! Dance! Underpants!
(Ballet Cat book)
Written and illustrated by Bob Shea

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-1484713792
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: February 2, 2016
Age: 5 - 8 years

Themes: dancing, friendship, shyness, underwear, performing

Ballet Cat is getting her friend Butter Bear ready for her big ballet debut. "Leap, Butter Bear, leap!" Ballet Cat prompts. But Butter Bear would prefer to just point her toe. When Ballet Cat keeps pushing, Butter Bear gets hungry, then thirsty, then sleepy...The bottom line is that Butter Bear would rather do almost anything to avoid making a big leap. Why? Because people will see her underpants!

I admit, I enjoyed the first Ballet Cat book and wondered how this next one would compare. Turns out, it's even better! They fixed my main complaint of too many changing colors (pages, text bubbles, characters) and kept a more consistent color scheme. The color of the text bubble matches the character's color that is speaking throughout the book. The background colors still change, but are consistent through each scene.

The story itself is hilarious. I laughed out loud repeatedly. And the illustrations--they really helped the story with emotions and some spreads of text-less events. For beginning readers, the vocabulary and concepts are slightly more challenging, but I still recommend it to those just learning to read for the same reason I recommend Elephant & Piggie: it's great for understanding the emotions and character voice in text.

Overally, the humor will really appeal to its target audience (obvious, I mean, it's underwear!) and I appreciate the character voice. It didn't quite get the full five stars because the color choices are still rather vibrant (and sometimes distracting). But really, I do love them. Obviously, I was more excited about this second one than I realized, since I'm reviewing it well in advance of the release date. Basically, take this as an opportunity to go read the first one (if you haven't), read other Bob Shea books, or anxiously await this newest installment.

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

(Digital ARC provided through NetGalley)

Monday, October 12

Leo: A Ghost Story

Leo: A Ghost Story
Written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Christian Robinson

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1452131566
Publisher: Chronicle
Date of publication: August 25, 2015
Age: 4 - 7 years

Themes: ghosts, imaginary friends, burglary, friendship

Leo is friendly and happy. He is also a ghost. When a new family moves into his home and Leo's efforts to welcome them are misunderstood, Leo decides it is time to leave and see the world. That is how he meets Jane, a kid with a tremendous imagination and an open position for a worthy knight. That is how Leo and Jane become friends. And that is when their adventures begin.

I had a hard time rating this one because I'm really not won over...but I feel like I should be. I enjoy Mac Barnett's work, but this just didn't seem quite as good. The story seemed to ramble quite a bit and didn't have a real arc. Leo is a ghost. The new family that moves in are scared, so Leo leaves. Leo wanders in a city that's changed quite a bit. He meets a new friend. Then, quite randomly, a burglar sneaks into the house of his new friend and it's up to Leo to save the day. It just feels like a bit too much, without much humor.

Still, it got the three stars because the concept is an original idea: a girl making friends with a ghost because she thinks he's her imaginary friend. And, the illustrations are SO adorable. The monochromatic scheme contributes to the ghostly aspect, and the retro simplicity adds to the child-like whimsy. Actually, the story itself is rather childlike (picture a toddler telling you a long story, but with words like "roused" in his vocabulary), so I guess the two go hand-in-hand.

Overall, I would say that with the many many positive reviews it's getting elsewhere, you should decide for yourself. Good readalikes would be The Adventures of Beekle and Imaginary Fred.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, October 8

The Hollow Boy

The Hollow Boy
(Lockwood & Co. #3)
Jonathan Stroud

My rating: ★★★★★

ISBN: 978-1484709689
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: September 15, 2015
Age: Grades 5 and up
Genre: Horror

Themes: ghosts, mystery, camaraderie, 

As a massive outbreak of supernatural Visitors baffles Scotland Yard and causes protests throughout London, Lockwood & Co. continue to demonstrate their effectiveness in exterminating spirits. There is a new spirit of openness in the team now that Lockwood has shared some of his childhood secrets, and Lucy is feeling more and more at home. That is, however, until Lockwood hires an annoyingly perky and efficient new assistant, Holly Munro. Amid reports of many new and dangerous hauntings—and an un-paranormal assassination attempt during a carnival in the center of the city—the team struggles to get past their personal issues to save the day on all fronts. Because if they're not careful, the bad feelings will attract yet more trouble...

Oh man, are the ghosts back in full force! Stroud is back with a vengeance! This books was positively terrifying from the first scene and the whole book was action-packed. Strategically placed flashbacks and observations from Lucy (our narrator) still give the book the depth and intrigue needed to give the story more feeling than just utter terror. Basically, I still love all of the characters (I especially appreciated the new understanding we gain of Lockwood) and yet, I still was scared out of my wits. So fantastically done. What else would you expect from Stroud?

See my rave reviews for book 1 & book 2.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Wednesday, October 7

Tuesday, October 6

The Not-So-Itty-Bitty Spiders

The Not-So-Itty-Bitty Spiders
(Olive & Beatrix #1)
Written and illustrated by Amy Marie Stadelmann

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0545814812
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of publication: August 25, 2015
Age: Grades 1 - 3
Genre: Fantasy

Themes: witchcraft, science, trickery/practical jokes, fears, sisters

Twin sisters Olive and Beatrix don't often get along. Olive is "ordinary" and loves science. But Beatrix is a witch! She has a brain full of tricks, and she uses her magic powers to play pranks on Olive and her best friend, Eddie. When it gets to be too much, Olive and Eddie decide to play a prank on Bea. They rig up a bucket of spiders over her bedroom door. But when the spiders crawl into one of Bea's magic potions...WHAM! Giant spiders are on the loose! These sisters will have to work together to shrink the not-so itty-bitty spiders down to size!

Here is another beginning chapter book (Scholastic calls them "Branches") that's great for those early readers who are ready for the next step. Was it all that fantastic and amazing? Well, no, but there is quite a bit to appreciate. In the story, I appreciated that both girls had to face their fears and helped each other through that. It was action-packed and fast-paced, too, which will keep reader's attention. The characters? Most of them were pretty bland since there wasn't much character development (Beatrix comes off pretty obnoxious, actually), but the talking pet pig—so hilarious. He provides just the right amount of comic relief. The illustrations are pretty great, too, with a darker-themed color scheme that contributes to the spooky-but-fun story.

Overall, I'd recommend it here and there. It definitely can appeal to boys and girls alike and the simple speech bubbles in between the story's text will make it more fun for reluctant readers. There's just not a lot to really sink your teeth into.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, October 5


Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0062368430
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Date of publication: September 1, 2015
Age: 3 - 8 years

Themes: waiting, toys, weather, friendship

Five friends sit happily on a windowsill, waiting for something amazing to happen. The owl is waiting for the moon. The pig is waiting for the rain. The bear is waiting for the wind. The puppy is waiting for the snow. And the rabbit is just looking out the window because he likes to wait! What will happen? Will patience win in the end?

And I was left waiting for something better. I do appreciate the book, another Henkes' simple, heartfelt tale. It's cute and has the most adorable illustrations—the emotions of the toys are excellently conveyed. But the storyline? I just don't quite understand it. The five friends are waiting for their various events...and then they happen. So not a lot of waiting required. Sometimes other things happen. Then a new friend comes, who has her own event to wait for...which then happens. And now they'll just wait to see what happens next. So no, there's no real climax nor a wrapping up of the story. No progress is made, really. Nothing to accomplish expect to ponder what you yourself may be waiting for as you stare out the big window of life.

It's certainly more existential or melancholy than your usual picture book. As for a recommendation? To each their own, I say. Some will love this, some will be confused. It's not a lesson in patience nor a heartwarming tale of friendship, it's just...philosophical.

Find it at your library or on Amazon