Tuesday, May 31

Good Night Owl

Good Night Owl
Written and illustrated by Greg Pizzoli

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1484712757
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: April 19, 2016
Age: 4 - 8 years

Themes: sounds, bedtime, owls, mice

Owl is ready for bed. But as soon as he settles in, he hears a strange noise. He'll never get to sleep unless he can figure out what's going on!

Let me start off by saying that I took a whole class in college just on Edgar Allan Poe, so the fact that this story was reminescent of The Tell-Tale Heart really made the story a bit...eerier to me. Really, I'm sure to the standard child reading this, it's a nice bedtime story about a silly owl who will do ANYTHING to figure out where that strange noise is coming from. It's funny, even! But to me and my Poe brain, it was creepy. And that made me not love it as much.

But hey, the illustrations: adorable. They're simple and I'm a fan of the owl (surprised, anyone?). They also show a lot of the emotion behind the text (as the owl slowly descends into madness...*ahem* moving on). The text itself is great with a lot of repetition and straightforward vocabulary—good for beginning readers or as a read aloud. In fact, it'd be a lot of fun to read aloud; for instance, having your child make the strange noise would get them involved and giggling as you, the reader, get into the character of the owl (or vice versa). There's a lot of fun to be had with this book! Just forget what I said about Poe...

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, May 27

Ice Cream Storytime

This storytime is targeted at preschool-aged kids at the library—just in time for summer! It's pretty hot here in AZ, so this storytime is all about ways to stay cool.

Thursday, May 26

The Wild Robot

The Wild Robot
Peter Brown

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0316381994
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Date of publication: April 5, 2016
Age: Grades 3 - 6
Genre: Science Fiction

Themes: robots, animal life, friendship, survival, family, environment, islands

When robot Roz opens her eyes for the first time, she discovers that she is alone on a remote, wild island. She has no idea how she got there or what her purpose is—but she knows she needs to survive. After battling a fierce storm and escaping a vicious bear attack, she realizes that her only hope for survival is to adapt to her surroundings and learn from the island's unwelcoming animal inhabitants. As Roz slowly befriends the animals, the island starts to feel like home—until, one day, the robot's mysterious past comes back to haunt her.

Wow. I'm impressed. Yes, its a fun story with cute illustrations and short chapters—all things that will make it popular with the intended audience. And yet, underneath all that, Brown still addresses some pretty deep topics and writes with the skill that readers of all ages will appreciate. With family makeup, environmental issues, dangerous human tendencies, and even robot ethics—yeah, it can get pretty heavy the more you think about it. I didn't particularly enjoy the heavy handed stuff, but that's just my personal preference.

I still really liked the overall story. It does take its time in some places (and may deter the action- seeking readers) but it's good for the emotional development.  Roz really develops quite wonderfully and really grew on me as a character. I also loved all the animals with their individual (varied and many) personalities (oh man Chitchat, so cute). And the ending was enough that, if there was a sequel (and it does leave the possibility) that I would definitely want to read it. But I'm still satisfied. Overall, I'm very happy with what this picture book author was able to do for his first chapter book. Definitely recommended.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Wednesday, May 25

Go Photo! An Activity Book for Kids (with Giveaway!)

Go Photo! An Activity Book for Kids
Written by Alice Proujansky
(Illustrations by Maggie Prendergast)

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1597113557
Publisher: Aperture
Date of publication: May 24, 2016
Age: Grades 3 - 7
Genre: Nonfiction

Themes: photography, how-to, ideas, friendship

This playful and fun collection of 25 hands-on and creative photography projects encourages young readers to experiment with their imaginations, get messy with materials, and engage with the world in new and exciting ways. Indoors or outdoors, from a half-hour to a whole day, and whether alone or with friends, family or an unsuspecting pet, there is a photo activity for all occasions. Some don’t even require a camera!

Just in time for summer. Really, I think it's an ideal book to give kids. This activity book has detailed instructions (sometimes too detailed; I can see some kids just glossing over the words--but I did expand my vocabulary with "triptych"), plenty of example pictures (very useful and well done, may make the glossing-over previously mentioned okay), the added illustrations are helpful and tastefully done, and (most importantly) packed with some really fun ideas. Like, I'm grabbing my camera and doing this. Me. Right now. No joke. There's some super awesome activities!

So in the day and age of social media (coughPinterestcough) and website how-tos, I think it's really nice to be able to hand a kid a book and say, "Here's a bunch of really cool ideas and activities, why don't you give it a browse?" Trust me, this one will get kids thinking creatively and having fun, just in time for summer.

Find it on Amazon or IndieBound 
(not yet available in libraries)

AND I'm giving away a copy! Yep! No charge, just enter below...

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Open to the US & Canada only, ends 6/3/2016. No purchase is necessary. Void where prohibited. We and the publisher/publicity department are not responsible for lost, stolen, or damaged items. If you are under 13, please get a parent or guardian's permission to enter. Winner will be chosen randomly via Rafflecopter after the contest ends. Winner will have 48 hours to respond to to the email, otherwise we will pick a new winner.
If you have any questions, feel free to email me emily{at}literaryhoots{dot}com

Tuesday, May 24

Thunder Boy Jr.

Thunder Boy Jr.
Written by Sherman Alexie, illustrated by Yuyi Morales

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0316013727
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Date of publication: May 10, 2016
Age: 3 - 8 years

Themes: names, identity, family, Native American culture

Thunder Boy Jr. is named after his dad, but he wants a name that's all his own. Just because people call his dad Big Thunder doesn't mean he wants to be Little Thunder. He wants a name that celebrates something cool he's done, like Touch the Clouds, Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth, or Full of Wonder. But just when Thunder Boy Jr. thinks all hope is lost, he and his dad pick the perfect name...a name that is sure to light up the sky.

It's simply wonderful. I admit, I'm skeptical when an author (who's bread and butter are novels for the more mature audience) takes on a picture book. But Alexie had done a fantastic job with plenty of humor ("People call me Little Thunder. That nickname makes me sound like a burp or a fart"), energy, and family love. Plus, the insight into Native American culture is great for kids, too. And then to pair it with Morales' illustrations! Genius. The vivid colors and bold strokes go well with Alexie's style and really bring the story to life.

The best part is, it's a perfect readaloud. It's great for storytime or it'd be fun to use in the classroom, and then have the kids work on what they would choose for their own names, based on their accomplishments or personalities. Overall, it's easy to recommend this book.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, May 20

Flannel Friday Roundup for May 20th

Hello again! We got a whole bunch of awesome flannels to highlight today! Let's get started...

Flannel Friday: Cat the Cat, Who is That?

I'm on a bit of a Mo Willems kick right now. I mean, with the release of the LAST Elephant & Piggie book, I'm just feeling all nostalgic and whatnot (*sniffle* I need a tissue)...

So today's flannel is all about Cat the Cat, another beloved character from Mr. Willems. Cat the Cat's little books are perfect for baby or toddler time, since they have very sparse, but repeated text with fun little twists at the ending (in true Willems fashion, of course). Plus the simple vibrant illustrations translate pretty well to flannel...

These are the characters from Cat the Cat, Who is That? It's pretty flexible set—you could use them as you read the book or to practice animal sounds or to talk about friendship, etc., etc.

Basically, I love Mo Willems' work and am excited for more to come! (see my Elephant and Piggie flannel idea here with free printables).

Guess what? I'm hosting Flannel Friday this week! So head on over to this here post and add your link to your flannel in the comments by the end of today. You can also check out the FF website, Pinterest, or Facebook! Or use #flannelstorytime on Twitter!

Wednesday, May 18

Flannel Friday: May 20th Placeholder

Hello friends! Here is the placeholder for this week's Flannel Friday round up. Just comment below with a direct link to your flannel creations by Friday night (May 20th) to be included. Then come back Saturday morning to browse the round up. If there's any problems, just let me know. I'm looking forward to some fantastic flannels!

(Oh and when making your Flannel Friday post, don't forget to include links to this round up post and to Flannel Friday's page. Happy flanneling!)

Tuesday, May 17

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook
Leslie Connor

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-0062333469
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Date of publication: March 1, 2016
Age: Grades 5 - 7
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Themes: family, justice, perseverance, court system, foster care, home

Eleven-year-old Perry was born and raised by his mom at the Blue River Co-ed Correctional Facility in tiny Surprise, Nebraska...even though she is a resident on Cell Block C. So far, Warden Daugherty has made it possible for them to be together. That is, until a new district attorney discovers the truth—and Perry is removed from the facility and forced into a foster home. In the "outside" world, he feels trapped. Desperate to be reunited with his mom, Perry goes on a quest for answers about her past crime. As he gets closer to the truth, he will discover that love makes people resilient no matter where they come from ...but can he find a way to tell everyone what home truly means?

Now this is what I like to see in a middle grade novel. Yes, there are tough issues and real world problems, but that doesn't mean it has to be depressing! Perry sees a lot of injustice, both in the formal legal sense and in his personal relationships. He gets angry, he gets sad. But he also fights, has hope, and builds off of the support he gets from some amazing friends (I love the characters in this book--the variety and strength in each is awesome.) The writing is excellent with several key details I appreciated. For instance, while with his foster family, Perry never refers to anything as his, just "the room he's staying in" or "the bed they let him use" and so forth. Home is with his mother. Speaking of, the addition of chapters from Jessica's perspective, while I thought odd at first, provide fantastic perspective to the story. I enjoyed her character's voice. And while the ending is totally predictable, I still love a happy ending (*heartfelt sigh*).

I wish I could've given it the full five stars, but there are some odd gaps, jumps, and skips. For instance: Brian, the token bully character, has too quick of turnaround. The depth behind his change of heart is missing. Also, Perry's father. Jessica shares her fond memories of him and how wonderful he was...but she never told him about his son, Perry? I wish she had just put in one sentence about why she cut ties. Small complaints, really. I'm getting picky about details.

Honestly, on the whole, I loved this book and will be quick to recommend it. The legalese and making-a-family-with-those-around-you theme makes me think of Three Times Lucky, while the fight for family and strong main character is like Some Kind of Courage. Really though, this is a pretty unique book and topic. Go and read!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, May 16

Dig, Dogs, Dig

Dig, Dogs, Dig: A Construction Tail
Written and illustrated by James Horvath

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0062357021
Publisher: Harper Collins
Date of publication: April 26, 2016
Age: 5 - 8 years

Themes: dogs, construction equipment, working together, building

Top dog Duke and his crew of construction-worker dogs are hard at work building a new park. They need lots of cool equipment to help them dig, haul, push, and plow—like a backhoe, dump truck, bulldozer, and grader. But what happens when the crew finds something unexpected buried deep in the ground?

I picked up this book because it was a new release at my library. Turns out, it's an early reader conversion of the previously published picture book of the same name. Which is fine and dandy—there's even a couple other companion books involving the same themes. But I'll be reviewing it now as an early reader.

The illustrations are perfect for kids. They're bright and cartoony and depict dogs and construction equipment. I mean, what kid doesn't love dogs and construction equipment? The text, however, is a bit more complex for the beginning reader (there's lots of construction vocabulary after all) but the wonderfully done rhyming scheme aids in that regard. It also makes for a smooth, fun read. Besides being a fun early reader, it'd be a great readaloud in storytime (I do love a good rhyming book).

But I will touch on my biggest complaint: the story itself. I'm sorry, but a pack of dogs dig up a GIANT dinosaur bone...and they don't so much as lick the thing?? They're DOGS! Totally missed out on some fun to be had with that. It makes for a story that is just plain standard. What a shame. But hey, it's another fine book to recommend.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, May 13

10 Ghost Stories for All Ages

Today is Friday the 13th. And it's the only Friday the 13th this whole year. Yeah. So I had to do something spooky to commemorate it, right??

Well, turns out I did a book list for the Cybils blog a while back all about ghosts and thought I'd re-post it here (with a few tweaks). Because ghost stories and Friday the 13th are like best buds. And because I LOVE ghost stories.

Also, I did it for a range of ages, from picture books to YA. Because really, I think kids of all ages should be able to enjoy a good ghost story! Just remember to leave the lights on…

Thursday, May 12

Sizing-Up Sequels: 3 Early Readers

Most early readers are part of some sort of series. It makes sense, obviously, because hey, if a kid likes reading one type of book, then great—he has ten more to read. So there's some potential to do a lot of "sizing-up" of sequels. I'm still trying to branch out and try new series. In the mean time, here's three follow-up reviews...

Tuesday, May 10

Barnacle is Bored

Barnacle Is Bored
Jonathan Fenske

My rating: ★★★★★

ISBN: 978-0545865043
Publisher: Scholastic
Date of publication: May 10, 2016
Age: 4 - 8 years

Themes: boredom, fish, opposites, envy, humor

Barnacle is stuck on the underside of a pier, wishing he had something to do. Every day is exactly the same. The tide comes in and Barnacle gets wet and cold. The tide goes out and Barnacle is dry and hot. Boring! Barnacle wants something EXCITING to happen. Then a colorful fish swims by. Barnacle bets the fish doesn't have a boring life! But then again...maybe exciting isn't always better.

Um, it's perfect. I'm in love with this barnacle. I will sing this book's praises forever more. Seriously. Shall we go over my criteria? Irreverent humor that made me laugh out loud, loudly--check. Simple illustrations that are still humorous and full of fun emotion--check. A storyline that is easy to read aloud and has educational elements--check. Good for beginning readers, adult readers and everyone in between--check. You have to read this book!

Fenske has wowed me with some pretty great books in the past, but I do believe I have a new favorite. I appreciate that he told a story that is engaging while educational (an excellent practice in opposites), humorous yet with a moral (an excellent lesson in gratitude over envy), and has perfect illustrations to tie it all together (who knew a barnacle could be so cute?). This book is one that I will recommend every time.

Great readalike for I'm Bored for humorous boredom, and I Want My Hat Back for irreverant humor.

(And happy book birthday! Just look at this, it captures barnacle's personality perfectly. Gah! I'm in love)

Find it at your library or on Amazon

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

Monday, May 9

Chuck and Woodchuck

Chuck and Woodchuck
Cece Bell

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0763675240
Publisher: Candlewick
Date of publication: March 8, 2016
Age: 4 - 8 years

Themes: friendship, shyness, woodchucks, school, show & tell

When Caroline's classmate Chuck brings Woodchuck to show-and-tell, Woodchuck is so funny that their teacher says he can come to school every day! Woodchuck is friendly to everyone, but he's especially sweet to Caroline. He gives her Chuck’s hat when her ears get cold and Chuck's cupcake when she drops hers. But when Caroline forgets her lines during the class play, it's not Woodchuck who comes to the rescue.

This is just plain old adorable. A bit in the vein of Bell's book El Deafo, this book reads from first person, relaying simply and sweetly the tale of some shy friends. While it may be simply told, there's still some character/story development to appreciate, mainly Chuck's ability to talk to Caroline. Also, the illustrations, in classic Bell style, are perfect for the book. I especially appreciated how there were things to notice in the background--like how Chuck would always notice how to help out Caroline. You'll just have to see the book to really appreciate it.

And while this is a cute book and would, indeed, make a fine readaloud (especially to start off a school year), it's not quite a five-star, simply because of its simplicity. It's just plain adorable, like I said before. Still, definitely give a try, especially for the shy guys and Cece Bell fans in your life.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, May 6

Little Robot

Little Robot
Ben Hatke

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1626720800
Publisher: First Second
Date of publication: September 1, 2015
Age: Grades 1 - 4
Genre: Graphic Novel, Science Fiction

Themes: friendship, robots, STEM

When a little girl finds an adorable robot in the woods, she presses a button and accidentally activates him for the first time. Now, she finally has a friend. But the big, bad robots are coming to collect the little guy, and it's all up to a five-year-old armed only with a wrench and a fierce loyalty to her mechanical friend to save the day!

This is just an all around good book. There's so many small details to appreciate, as well as the story as a whole. For instance, the text is sparse, with the art acting as the main story-teller. The girl is the only character that actually talks (the robots all make nice-for-reading-aloud robot noises). And then there's details like this:

This emphasizes the simple art-filled, minimal-text feel of the book. I love it. So, on the whole, it makes a great book for kids of all ages—reader and non-reader, alike.

As for the actual story, I really appreciated the lesson it has in friendship. The little girl is obviously pretty lonely, and with this new robot friend, is trying to navigate the difficulties of balancing what she wants with the needs/wants of the robot. Plus, don't forget, there's evil robots to contend with, adding a classic good vs. evil subplot to the book.

The lack of fifth star was due to little bits and pieces that I didn't understand/appreciate. But really, I'd still recommend it. I think it'd even be an awesome classroom study, because there's so much to infer in the story and lessons to learn about friendship. A great graphic novel for the younger crowd. Try it out.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, May 3

The Bear and the Piano

The Bear and the Piano
Written and illustrated by David Litchfield

My rating: ★★★½

ISBN: 978-0544674547
Publisher: Clarion
Date of publication: April 5, 2016
Age: 4 - 7 years

Themes: bears, music, friendship, change

One day, a bear cub finds something strange and wonderful in the forest. When he touches it, it makes a horrible noise. Yet he is drawn back again and again. Eventually, he learns to play beautiful sounds, delighting his woodland friends.Then the bear is invited to share his sounds with new friends in the city. He longs to explore the world beyond his home, and to play bigger and better than before. But he knows that if he leaves, the other bears will be very sad. Will he ever see them again?

It's beautiful, heartwarming, and endearing. And the illustrations are soft, cozy, and well done. An all-around, feel-good book. But I (sadly) did not love it, like I wanted to. It's a very predictable (overused) storyline that stars (yet again) a bear. Perhaps I'm just bear-ed out (so. many. bear. books.). I don't feel that it had any elements to make it stand out from all the rest. It's perfectly enjoyable so, of course, I recommend it. It's just so standard that I feel like I don't have as much to say.

Readalikes include all the (hundreds of—no, thousands!) bear picture books of recent publication. Try The Bear Ate Your Sandwich or Winnie in particular.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Monday, May 2

Author Interview: Kristina Springer

Another awesome author interview today! Kristina Springer has just published a wonderful middle-grade novel based on Cyrano de Bergerac called CiCi Reno #MiddleSchoolMatchmaker. As part of the blog tour for the book, I was sure excited to get some behind-the-scenes info on the book...

E: Hi Kristina! Thanks for doing this interview. I'll start off with my very first thought when I saw your book: Cyrano de Bergerac?? How did you decide on Cyrano in a middle school setting? And get it to work so well!

K: Often times I’ll be reflecting on something that happened when I was the age of my characters and then spin it into a fun tale. When I was in 7th grade I took my own stab at middle school matchmaking. Back then, one of my close friends was majorly crushing on a boy from my brother’s soccer team. She said she really wanted to go on a date with him but was too shy to approach him herself. Well, we didn’t have cell phones or the Internet back then so there was no sending him a tweet or an e-mail. Instead we came up with a plan where I telephoned him, pretending to be her, and convinced him to meet me (really her) for a movie. Their date, unfortunately, was a disaster. But it gave me the idea to try updating the Cyrano tale with some fun twists and setting it in the 7th grade.

Now that sounds like fun. So then I have to ask: did you ever see Roxanne with Steve Martin? Ha, how many people have asked you that since you wrote this book?

I did!! Steve Martin is great! I remember watching it when I was a kid—so fun! And surprisingly no one has asked me this question yet! ☺