Monday, February 29

Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!)

Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!)
Written by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Tim J. Miller

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0451469458
Publisher: Viking Books
Date of publication: February 2, 2016
Age: 4 - 8 years

Themes: storytelling, alligators, parties, humor

Snappsy the alligator is having a normal day when a pesky narrator steps in to spice up the story. Is Snappsy reading a book ... or is he making CRAFTY plans? Is Snappsy on his way to the grocery store ... or is he PROWLING the forest for defenseless birds and fuzzy bunnies? Is Snappsy innocently shopping for a party ... or is he OBSESSED with snack foods that start with the letter P? What's the truth?

Three starred reviews, "perfect for fans of Mo Willems," and some catchy illustrations...and yet, it just didn't quite sit right. It was enjoyable enough, but the storyline felt too random and disjointed. The ending was particularly strange with the reveal of the narrator, yet no explanation for why this "narrator" felt the need to follow and narrate all of Snappsy's actions. And, worse of all, I didn't laugh. Sad day.

But, I will say, this would be a fun as a readaloud because it's perfect for two different people. So, either a parent and child could have fun reading the two parts (narrator and Snappsy) which would be perfect for beginning readers, or it'd be fun in storytime with a helper or (even better!) an alligator puppet. So yes, there's some good fun to be had. Just not quite my particular cup of tea.

A readalike for Mo Willem's Pigeon books (kind of) and perfect for an alligator storytime.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, February 26

Sizing Up Sequels: 3 Chapter Book Series

I finished a bunch of books this week that were all sequels and decided to review them together, since I've already reviewed the first in each series more extensively. So consider this a start to a new book list category of posts called "Sizing Up Sequels" to check-up on series continuations. Because, obviously, I've got to make sure they're still good...

Wednesday, February 24

Cozy Quilt Storytime

Guess what? Today is World Read Aloud Day! Here's a storytime idea to get you inspired or you can just sit down with your favorite picture book and reading buddy. Either way, register your own read aloud celebrations here to participate!

This storytime is targeted at preschool-aged kids at the library. It's a great opportunity for kids to bring their blankies with them!

Tuesday, February 23


Written by Sara Pennypacker, illustratred by Jon Klassen

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0062377012
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Date of publication: February 2, 2016
Age: Grades 5 - 8
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: human/animal relationships, foxes, war, anxiety, depression

As war approaches and his father enlists in the army, 12-year-old Peter is forced to move miles away to his grandfather's and (worst of all) return his pet fox, Pax, to the wild. Peter raised Pax since he was a kit and is his very best friend, so it doesn't take him long to realize he shouldn't have abandoned the fox. Peter runs away to start the desperate, trouble-laden, 300-mile journey back. Pax, anxiously awaiting the return of his boy, embarks on his own dangerous adventure as he tries to survive the wild. Will the two be reunited?

When I saw the buzz about this book, I got excited. I mean, it's Sara Pennypacker of Clementine fame and Jon Klassen—author/illustrator of one of my favorite hilarious picture books. So I guess I was picturing something compelling yet fun, along those lines of their earlier works. I mean, it is an illustrated chapter book...right?

Oh gosh, no. I almost couldn't finish it. I mean: the first chapter when Peter has to abandon Pax? It's utterly heartbreaking. And that's just the first couple of pages! It is definitely a hint of what's to come! Death, hardship, depression, anxiety, war, blood, secrets, lies, abandonment, bitterness—it's all there. Humor? Nope. Happiness? Hardly! This is not just an illustrated chapter book; in my opinion, the target audience is not the appropriate audience. With a 12-year-old main character dealing with a lot of difficulties (to put it lightly), this book is definitely on par with all those tragic Newbery contenders people like to write (I know, I complain about these often—sorry). Also, the lack of setting (the story takes place in an unknown time and place) underlies the author's mature theme of the universality of the tragedies of war. It just doesn't come off as a very juvenile book, to say the least.

So let me put it all this way: in terms of an excellently written book (my goodness, the way Pennypacker writes from a fox's point-of-view is simply fascinating and very well done) with good character development (both boy and fox must become stronger) and difficult topics addressed—yes, this will be a critically acclaimed book. As for the thoroughly depressing storyline, terrible ending, and some mature content—no, I did not particularly enjoy this book. I'm not rushing to recommend it to kids, either. I'm torn between content and merit, so a middling review? You can decide for yourself (just prepare to be sad).

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, February 22


Written by Adam Rubin and illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0525428879
Publisher: Dial Books
Date of publication: October 20, 2015
Age: 4 - 8 years

Themes: robots, transformations, secret formula, imagination

FACT: Robots are awesome. They have lasers for eyes, rockets for feet, and supercomputers for brains! Plus, robots never have to eat steamed beans or take baths, or go to bed. If only there were some sort of magical “Robo-Sauce” that turned squishy little humans into giant awesome robots… Well, now there is.

Fact: this book is awesome. I mean, yes, the characters get to turn into robots. But guess what? The book itself turns into a robot. Yes, I'm serious. Have you ever had such a picture book before? I doubt it. The surprise transformation really cements this book in my mind as unique and fun for all robot-lovers out there. It's just so clever! The ending was so fun!

The actual story and illustrations are not quite as funny as I wanted, however (I guess I was expecting it to be more like Dragons Love Tacos—this team's other book—but it didn't have the same sense of humor) and it is a bit on the longer side. That, combined with the (sometimes violent) robot takeover definitely makes the book better for a slightly older audience. So while I wouldn't use it in my preschool storytime, I'd still recommend it to families and classrooms. Really, it's ingenious.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, February 18

7 Awesome New Nonfiction Picture Books for Kids

A plethora of nonfiction work has been on my desk lately, and there is some fascinating stuff that I'm excited to share. So I decided to do a big post highlighting my favorite ones. Totally random subject material, yes, but that's why children's nonfiction is so much fun! Everything from con men to Winnie the Pooh!

The target age group would be grade-schoolers, but there is—of course—appeal for all ages (I spent hours with the 50 States book, myself!...but I'm getting ahead of myself). Here's seven awesome, published-in-the-last-year nonfiction picture books.

Wednesday, February 17

What This Story Needs is a Hush and a Shush

What This Story Needs is a Hush and a Shush
(A Pig in a Wig Book)
Written and illustrated by Emma J. Virján

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0062415288
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date of publication: January 26, 2016
Age: 5 - 8 years

Themes: bedtime, farm animals, animal sounds, sleep

Pig is back with her wig and another adventure with some animal friends. "What this bedtime needs / is a pig in a wig / brushing her teeth, / combing her hair, / and getting ready for bed / with her pink teddy bear." But with a honk, a quack, a moo, and more, it turns out what this bedtime really needs is a quieter place to sleep!

After giving a full five stars to her first book and then listing it as a favorite of 2015, it's not hard to say that I had pretty high expectations for this book. And they were not quite met. This is not to say the book wasn't good. On the contrary, it again had adorable illustrations (the duck cuddling with the wig!) and an excellent rhyming scheme. It would be an excellent readaloud, what with all of the fun animal sounds. It's cute!

However, it lacked the silliness of the first one that I so enjoyed. And it seemed a little less accessible by early readers, with some more complicated vocabulary and a slightly more complex storyline. These things are small complaints, really, and they're only complaints because I'm comparing it to the first. On it's own, it's still great and yes, I recommend it! As a follow-up to the first, yes, I was a tad disappointed.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, February 16

When Mischief Came to Town

When Mischief Came to Town
Katrina Nannestad

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0544534322
Publisher: HMH Books
Date of publication: January 5, 2016
Age: Grades 3 - 6
Genre: Historical Fiction

Themes: family relationships, grief, change, choices & consequences, humor, love,

When 10-year-old Inge Maria arrives on the tiny island of Bornholm in Denmark to live with her grandmother, she's not sure what to expect. Her grandmother is stern, the people on the island are strange, and children are supposed to be seen and not heard. But no matter how hard Inge tries to be good, mischief has a way of finding her. Could it be that a bit of mischief is exactly what Grandmother and the people of Bornholm need?

Completely and utterly adorable. Perhaps too much so. This may sound strange, but I didn't give it the five stars because it was almost too cute. Things work out a little too easily for Inge. It's very much like watching Pollyanna. Very much so. With some Anne of Green Gables and Pippi Longstocking thrown in, like the publisher advertises. But even with the heavy dose of saccharinity, the pain and grief that Inge experiences does help temper it. She does struggle with the loss of her mother, and it provides the needed depth. I loved the moments where she felt the urge to cry--everything is changing, people are mean, she feels alone--and would coach herself out of it, choosing to be positive instead. I enjoyed it and would recommend it to all the Pollyanna lovers out there. (Yes, I am one of them.)

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, February 15

The 2015 Cybils Winners!

Guess what?? Cybils, that's what. I had the awesome, amazing opportunity to be a Round 2 judge for the 2015 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader and Early Chapter Book category. And yesterday, our decisions were finally announced!

Check out all the winners here!

But of course, I'm going to highlight the easy reader & chapter book winners here, as well as my (personal, individual, outside-of-the-contest) runner ups.

Friday, February 12

Origami Flowers Activity for Kids

Origami is a popular after-school program at my library. If we had the people-power, I could totally see this happening as a regular club. It stimulates the brain both logically and creatively, has endless possibilities (so. much. origami.), and is very low cost (just need paper—and not even just origami paper, but all different kinds you probably have laying around). Plus it's fun!


In our origami activities, we always have a few examples with varying levels of difficulty—start with the easiest and move on up. If kids can only do easy one—great, they can make a couple more while other kids try the harder ones. Also, the more people staffing the program the better because invariably, there will be participants who make a mistake or just need a little more one-on-one help. So it helps to have a couple roamers. Otherwise, have your group set up around your main lecturer/example-maker.

So without further ado here's some origami flowers!! Just in time for Valentines!

Thursday, February 11

The Shrunken Head

The Shrunken Head
(Curiosity House #1)
Written by Lauren Oliver & H. C. Chester

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0062270818
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date of publication: September 29, 2015
Age: Grades 4 - 6
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction

Themes: murder, thievery, curiosities & marvels, orphans, New York City,

Three orphans have happily called "Dumphrey's Dime of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders" home. Of course, that's because they're quite extraordinary—Phillipa with her mind reading, Sam with his amazing strength, and Thomas with his contortionist body. But when a fourth orphan shows up, a girl named Max who can throw knives with frightening accuracy, strange things begin to happen. The newest exhibit—Mr. Dumphrey's prize shrunken head—is stolen, and leaves in its wake a trail of deaths and murders. Could the head really be cursed? The four orphans are determined to solve the case, and in the process, stumble upon the shocking truth about their pasts.

The book itself is an "oddity and wonder"—I'm still trying to figure out just how to describe it! It's so perfectly quaint with endearing characters and a fascinating storyline, yet is punctuated with touches the weird, the terrifying, and the gruesome. Basically, it feels like you're cuddling with the Addam's family (snapsnap). I reveled in its uniqueness. Plus the periodically-placed illustrations are just fantastic. Look at that cover!

The four orphans are just about my most favorite characters that I've read in a juvenile mystery. Yep, I said it. Their individual "powers" are not distracting or awkward in the story, but really contribute to their personality, depth, and endearing qualities. Then, their interactions with each other just build on all that and make me love them all the more; there's punches of humor, touches of the emotional, and surprising discoveries. Having the chapters be told in their alternating points-of-view helps, too. Seriously—you get invested in these kids!

Which is why I may have gotten frustrated with some elements of the story. It does drag a bit in the middle ("oh wow yet another murder...and yet no one is particularly worried about the kids") and is weighed down by some confusing side elements and discoveries ("yet another possible clue!"). I wish that some of that bulk had been trimmed down so that the ending was that much more of a pow (fantastic twist there at the end, by the way).

So overall, yes, I do want to know what happens next! I would definitely recommend it, but I bet I'd have to push the sell a bit harder. The extra murders and length make me wonder if younger kids will really go for it, yet the cover/marketing is targeted at them—turning away some older readers. A bit of tough sell. But a fantastic read for sure!

A good pre-read to Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Wednesday, February 10

The Terrible Two Get Worse

The Terrible Two Get Worse
Written by Mac Barnett & Jory John, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-1419716805
Publisher: Henry N. Abrams
Date of publication: January 12, 2016
Age: Grades 3 - 7
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: pranks, consequences, friendship, principals

On their own, pranksters Miles and Niles were pretty devious. Now that they’ve formed a pranking duo, they’re terrible! But their powers will be tested when their favorite nemesis, Principal Barkin, is replaced by his stern and cunning father, Former Principal Barkin. Now Miles and Niles will do just about anything to get their old antagonist back—including pranking alongside him.

"It is only a prank if we react." And so begins the downfall of the Terrible Two. And it was actually pretty sad! Former Principal Barkin is a hard-nosed dictator with preposterous demands and unfair biases, an utterly ridiculous character that really made me mad. I understand that's how I'm supposed to feel about him...but seriously! It really takes away from the humor and joy of the last book. Of course, there are still some great lines and jabs of humor, but I'm going to stick with my gut and say the first one was better (it was a top favorite of mine last year). This one had less pranks, and the climax prank was far less impressive and somewhat out-of-nowhere. But I'm glad it happened in terms of the story.

Overall, kids who loved the first book will definitely pick up the second one and still enjoy it. There's some added depth to the characters, particularly Niles and Principal Barkin, that I really appreciated. The sporadic illustrations are fantastic and add much to the humor of the story. I probably wouldn't recommend it in and of itself, but to those who enjoyed the first, I'd say give it a go.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, February 8

Cockatoo, too

Cockatoo, too
Written and illustrated by Bethanie Deeney Marguia

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1499801026
Publisher: Little Bee Books
Date of publication: January 5, 2016
Age: 3 - 6 years

Themes: birds, word play, dancing,

Two cockatoos meet two more cockatoos in tutus and two tutued toucans. And then two more! Can they all can-can? They can! The cockatoos and toucans join together for a dance and ask the reader: "Can you can-can too?"

The back of the book says, "Whew, it's a jungle in there." Yep, that about sums it up. The text is really simple...tongue-twisting-ly simple. I admit, my brain hurt after reading the book. I mean, even the book summary takes some effort! Ha! But that's all what makes the book so fun. It would make a good readaloud, just prepare yourself beforehand for all the tongue twists. Younger crowds will think it's just silly, but this might be fun for older crowds, too; grade-schoolers would enjoy the wordplay.

The other huge plus is the fantastic illustrations. The watercolor is bright and SO beautifully done, perfect for the colorful birds of the jungle. And also perfect to showcase tutued toucans can-canning. Yep. There are toucans in tutus doing the can-can. Go and read it.

Good for fans of grammar and words, a readalike for E-mergency! or Brian P. Cleary's Words are Categorical series

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, February 5

5 Ways to Encourage a Baby's Love for Books (and a Sweepstakes!)

Start 'em young. No joke, people.

Of course you can encourage a love for literature at any time or age! But why not start right away? I must admit after having a baby that my job as a children's librarian became that much more exciting. It's so much cuter to have a picture book reading buddy.

So here are some ways that parents can help their newest additions and librarians can help their youngest patrons build a love for reading.

Thursday, February 4

Favorite Board Books for Baby

It's pretty baby-heavy around here nowadays. Which made me realize that for some crazy reason I haven't ever talked about board books.

What?? I know! Totally crazy. Especially since I was doing Baby Time at my library and everything.

So, without further ado, I present my favorite board books. (Which makes a lot of sense, now that I actually have a baby...)

Wednesday, February 3

Paper Wishes

Paper Wishes
Lois Sepahban

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0374302160
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Date of publication: January 5, 2016
Age: Grades 4 - 7
Genre: Historical Fiction

Themes: WWII, Japanese-Americans, relocation camps, family relationships, dogs

Ten-year-old Manami did not realize how peaceful her family's life on Bainbridge Island was until the day it all changed. It's 1942, and Manami and her family are Japanese American. The attack on Pearl Harbor means the government has forced them to move to a prison camp in the desert. Manami is sad to go, but even worse is that they cannot take their dog, Yujiin, with them. Manami tries to sneak Yujiin under her coat but is caught and forced to abandon Yujiin. She is devastated, but Manami clings to the hope that somehow Yujiin will find his way to the camp and make her family whole again. It isn't until she finds a way to let go of her guilt that Manami can reclaim the piece of herself that she left behind and accept all that has happened to her family.

It was a fascinating book; I have not read much about the U.S. government's relocation camps. While the main focus of the book is Manami's relationship with her family and the loss of her dog, it also includes actual historical events and elements that enrich the story. That all being said, yes, it's another sad book. Especially when all this injustice is being told through the eyes of a child.

But that's not necessarily the reason for my lower rating. What I didn't like was the style of writing. Sentences and paragraphs are very short, and it comes off very stilted. I recognize that this is on purpose and it really does contribute to the simple, child-like retelling of a story, but it bothered me (personal preference). I also did not love the way it ended, but appreciated the author's note (but I shouldn't have to depend on that to tell me how this family's story wraps up).

Overall, yes, it's recommended. I can tell it will get some Newbery buzz. Try it out, and see if you can win me over.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, February 2

My Favorite Books of 2015

I know, hopefully you have the same attitude I do: better late than never! I mean, technically we're only a month into the new year. This post is still relevant...right?

Whatever. If anything, I'm doing it for myself. So there. Here's my totally and completely biased, I-don't-care-if-they're-award-winners-or-not-I-just-love-them book list--my favorites from 2015!

And maybe if you trust my opinion, you'll like these, too.

Monday, February 1

Mother Bruce

Mother Bruce
Written and illustrated by Ryan T. Higgins

My rating: ★★★★★

ISBN: 978-1484730881
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: November 24, 2015
Age: 3 - 7 years

Themes: bears, geese, cooking, migration, family relationships

Bruce the bear likes to keep to himself. That, and eat eggs. But when his hard-boiled goose eggs turn out to be real, live goslings, he starts to lose his appetite. And even worse, the goslings are convinced he's their mother. Bruce tries to get the geese to go south, but he can't seem to rid himself of his new companions. What's a bear to do?

A completely lovable grumpy old bear with some adorable goslings?? What more could you want?! Just LOOK at how wonderful the illustrations are: (the baby carrier...)

I read this months ago. I can't believe it's taken me this long to review this book. Because, obviously, it's awesome. It has all of the elements I love: a slightly irreverent humor, inside jokes for adult readers ("are these eggs free-range organic?"), irresistibly charming illustrations, educational elements and varied vocabulary, a storyline kids can love, a perfect readaloud for storytime...I could just go on and on. The point is: I laughed out loud and so will you. And so will your kids. That's what's so great!! Go read it!

Good readalikes include: Goodnight Already! and I Love You Already! (gotta love the bear/fowl combo), and the hilarious family mashup makes me think of Wolfie the Bunny.

Find it at your library or on Amazon