Wednesday, August 31

Author Interview: Bruce Hale

The Full Moon of the Were-Hyena is still in full swing! I am, of course, referring to the release of the awesomely-scary-but-still-hilarious book, The Curse of the Were-Hyena which I reviewed back here. AND I'm so pleased to share an interview with the author of the book, Mr. Bruce Hale. Read on to learn more about the book, his Hemingway Technique, and the name of that rather dashing hat.

E: Hi Bruce! Thanks for doing this interview. Let's talk about the book: you've mentioned that the original idea came from a story you illustrated in 2nd grade, but a were-hyena?? That seems pretty unique! Tell us more about the idea behind the story and deciding to have a were-hyena be your star monster. Any special research go into it?

B: My second-grade story was called “The Two Brothers in Monstertown,” and it was basically these two boys meeting and fighting various monsters, including my favorites at that time, Wolf-Man and Frankenstein’s Monster. For years, I would show that original book in my author visits, and for years, kids would tell me, “You should turn that into a real book.” I tried a few times to make a rhyming picture book out of the concept, but it just wouldn’t fly. Then, on one California school visit, a kid told me, “You should make it a mystery series, with kids solving mysteries that have to do with monsters.” Bingo!

As I mulled over the idea while visiting more California schools, it struck me that the Latino kids I spent time with there don’t have that many representations of themselves in the kind of books I write. That led me to making Carlos a Latino main character.

I was originally going to have the teacher turn into a werewolf, but Stephanie Lurie, my delightful editor at Disney-Hyperion, encouraged me to come up with something fresh and different. After some time spent Googling were-creatures around the world, I settled on the were-hyena as one of the creepiest. (Although a were-shark would’ve been cool too!)

Monday, August 29

Reviews of the Week 8/29

So I'm going to try something a little bit different, namely posting all the reviews for one week on Monday, instead multiple posts. We're going to see if this works as I start to do some reformatting for the blog this next month...


Friday, August 26

13 of the Best Alphabet Board Books for Baby

Board books are kinda becoming a thing around my house. My librarian heart is quite proud of the fact that Baby Bear is now totally fond of books. She loves to turn pages and point at pictures and don't even get her started on touch-and-feel books. So, when we checked out A B See (see below) from the library the other day (resulting in us both loving it), it got me thinking about the best of the best alphabet books we've read together. Some she loves more, some are more for me, but hey, that's what happens when you're a parent. Compromise.

Sure, there's all kinds of "A is for apple" books: simple and to the point. But these are the ones that carry it a bit further, engaging the reader better. These are the "A is for awesome" board books that babies and toddlers (and parents) will enjoy.

Thursday, August 25

Inspector Flytrap

Inspector Flytrap
(Inspector Flytrap #1)
Written by Tom Angleberger, illustrated by Cece Bell

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1419709654
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Date of publication: August 2, 2016
Age: Grades 1 - 4
Genre: Mystery, humor
Format: library ebook

Themes: mysteries, detective work, humor, animals, Venus Flytrap

Inspector Flytrap (no, don't call him Mr. Flytrap) of Inspector Flytrap Detective Agency, along with his goat assistant Nina, are only concerned with solving BIG DEAL mysteries. No, this venus flytrap does not care to find a missing pickle paperweight, but will take on the mysterious blob on a Da Vinci painting, a giant stinky shoe, a kidnapped rose, and other such cases. He's confident he can solve them, even if Nina likes to eat everything, including the evidence.

A venus flytrap detective, who gets around on a skateboard pushed by his goat assistant and discovers things like Da Vinci snot...yeah, it's completely nonsensical. Which is why it's also completely hilarious and I can tell kids will love it. Is this my preferred reading? No. But Angleberger and Bell, the dream team, can totally pull it off. His writing is carefree and fun, while her illustrations support the story quite beautifully.

With simple text and illustrations on nearly every page, this is a great beginning chapter book. Plus, the silliness and interspersed comics breaks make it a surefire winner with those who may be more reluctant about reading. The flytrap and goat are very aware that they're a plant and goat, and thus aware of their limitations. Therefore, the way they work around these AND work to solve weird mysteries makes for an engaging, humorous story. While I don't love snot or stinky shoes or sarcastic goats, I would still recommend this to the right kid. This is right up there with Captain Underpants and the like.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, August 23

Author Interview: Jean Reidy (Blog Tour and Giveaway!)

Yay! Today is the day! Today is my day for the Busy Builders, Busy Week Blog Tour. I reviewed the book yesterday, and am so happy that I got to interview the author, too. Jean has written several picture books, Busy Builders, Busy Week, being her most recent. And you can enter to win a copy below! But first, let's learn more about Jean...

E: Hi Jean! Thanks so much for doing this interview. I've never actually had the opportunity to interview a picture book author before! So, tell me a little bit about the process of writing and publishing a picture book. How did you start out?

J: I’ve always been a reader. And I especially love children’s literature. So when I had children of my own, reading and rediscovering picture books with them was a special joy. But I don’t think a person can simply sit down one day and say, “I’m going to write a picture book.”

Monday, August 22

Busy Builders, Busy Week

Busy Builders, Busy Week
Written by Jean Reidy, illustrated by Leo Timmers

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1619635562
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Date of publication: June 14, 2016
Age: 3 - 6 years
Format: received from published for review

Themes: days of the week, construction, play, animals, rhymes

"Sunday! Dream day!
Study, scribble, scheme day.
Map, measure, plan a treasure.
Gather up a team day!

A big project is under way in the neighborhood! And it's going to take lots of teamwork—and fun construction vehicles—to complete it quickly. What could all that digging, dumping, and bulldozing create? Find out, all while learning the days of the week!"

You know what I love? Subtly educational books that are so fun, you don't even realize you're learning. Which is what I love about this book. Like The Very Hungry Caterpillar, this book takes the reader through the days of the week while still telling an engaging story. I particularly enjoyed the "guessing game" aspect—just what exactly are they building??

And the rhyming is WONDERFUL. I mean, see the example at the top of this review? The whole book is like that. Such great rhythm. My lack of fifth star, though, has to do with the pacing. Each day of the week gets a similar four-line poem, but some are illustrated over a single spread, while others go across several pages, breaking up the poem. While I love the extra illustrations, this did mix up the pacing a bit. Oh, and the illustrations, by the way, are a great addition; they're colorful, vivid, and add just a touch of humor and fun.

Overall, hugely recommended. Perfect for storytime or reading aloud, because the rhymes are just so fun to say. Great for kids who love construction and play. Plus, there's the whole subtle learning aspect! See? It's just so great. Give it a try.

Want to use it in the library or classroom? Click here for a free classroom curriculum guide and storytime kit!

Stick around until tomorrow, when I'll post an interview with the author and a giveaway!

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Friday, August 19

Review: The Curse of the Were-Hyena (and giveaway!)

You guys, full moon means only one thing right? Well, if you thought werewolf, think again. Yep, it's the Full Moon of the Were-Hyena (even more creepy than the werewolf, seriously). This blog tour goes all month long and is all over the interwebs. As for me? Check out my review below and a giveaway! Also, stay tuned for an interview with Bruce Hale that is in the works!

The Curse of the Were-Hyena
Bruce Hale

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1484713259
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Date of publication: July 5, 2016
Age: Grades 3 - 6
Genre: Mystery, Horror
Format: ARC from publisher

Themes: shape-shifting, monsters, friendship, teachers, curses, humor

"What do you do when your favorite teacher starts turning into a were-hyena?

a) Flee in terror?
b) Try to cure him?
c) Bring him carrion snacks?

Mr. Chu, the coolest teacher ever, has developed some very unusual habits, like laughing hysterically for no reason, sniffing people's homework, and chasing chickens. When best friends Carlos and Benny decide to find out what's happening to him, they get caught up in some moonlight madness. And it looks like just the beginning of the weirdness that has arrived in the town of Monterrosa. . ."

Hilarious and creepy. Yes, two for one special! Turning into a hyena makes for some terrifying situations...but with a lot of laughs. I mean, it is a hyena after all. But seriously, Carlos and Benny keep things light at the right times, while also have some great depth as characters. I also really enjoyed the character, Mrs. Tamasese, who (while being totally kick-butt awesome) provided a little of the needed adult supervision. Along those lines, it did bother me a bit that the kids' parents were (once again) totally ignorant or absent or silly, but I realize kids like reading about being the heroes in such situations.

Otherwise, the story is quick-paced and starts off immediately with an action-packed grabber. The mystery of who's behind it all kept me guessing through most of the book, too. There's some scattered illustrations throughout the book that also help keep the story going. Overall, kids will have a lot of fun with this one, especially if they're looking for scary (but not too scary). Great for reluctant readers, too, with the quick, high-action storyline. Definitely give this one a try!

Find it at your library or on Amazon
The Full Moon of the Were-Hyena Howling Good Giveaway!
★ ★ ★ ★
Ten winners will receive a copy of Bruce Hale’s The Curse of the Were-Hyena. Four Grand Prize winners will receive The Curse of the Were-Hyena plus an advance reading copy of the second book in the series, Mutant Mantis Lunch Ladies! And as a bonus, Grand Prize winners will also get a signed photo of Bruce Hale disguised as a were-wolf!
Click here to enter!

Thursday, August 18

Little Dee and the Penguin

Little Dee and the Penguin
Christopher Baldwin

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-0803741089
Publisher: Dial Books
Date of publication: April 5, 2016
Age: Grades 3 - 6
Genre: Graphic Novel
Format: library book

Themes: family relationships, adventure, world travel, animals

"When Little Dee meets a motley crew of animals deep in the forest, she knows she’s found the perfect set of new friends. Between the bossy vulture, the slightly dim dog, the nurturing bear, and the happy-go-lucky penguin, this mismatched group of big personalities doesn’t always get along—but they’re a family.

And they’re on the run. A pair of hungry polar bears are after the penguin, and the rest of the team are determined to protect her. They’re not interested in adopting a tiny human. But Dee loves them—especially Ted the bear—and she won't let them go. Instead, she hops on their getaway plane and joins them on an around-the-world adventure."

If the cover doesn't tell you enough about the cute factor, I will reiterate: this is a cute story. But I don't want to sound too shallow, because it's got some very serious and thoughtful elements, as well. Honestly, I liked it more than I thought I would. Let me explain...

Initially, I wasn't the biggest fan of the illustrative style; I felt it was too simplistic and awkward. Turns out, that fits the storyline quite perfectly. Then there are the characters that I wasn't too sure aboutthe vulture deserves to be punched in the face, he is such a jerk. But then even he has a moment to show some depth and heart. Soon, I realized I wanted to give Ted as big of a cuddly hug as Dee was often giving him. It's got the humor and the heart and thus, it worked its magic on me.

The story isn't perfect. For instance, every time this motley crew crash lands somewhere new, there is immediately another animal there to do whatever it takes to help them. It felt too easy. How is it that only the polar bears are the bad guys? But then again, I realized that the story isn't really about running from polar bears as it is about family. And that really made the story noteworthy.

Anyway, despite some awkwardness and silliness, I recommend this book. Lots of kids will enjoy it and parents, teachers will be fans. Good readalikes include Little Robot and My Pet Human.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, August 16

How to Help a Child Select Books On Their Own (Ready to R.E.A.D.!)

When a child comes into a library, it can be pretty overwhelming. There's a LOT of books! Sometimes, kids will pull books randomly. Sometimes they find a title simply because someone recommended it. But what I want to make sure is that children know how to find a book successfully—selecting something they can enjoy so as to build a love of reading.

So I came up with a way to help them remember (and you, as an adult—parent, librarian, teacher) how to find a book to read. Or perhaps I should say R.E.A.D. (yep, dorky acronym time!).

Monday, August 15

ABCs on Wheels

ABCs on Wheels
Written and illustrated by Ramon Olivera

My rating: ★★★★

ISBN: 978-1481432443
Publisher: Little Simon
Date of publication: July 5, 2016
Age: 3 - 7 years
Genre: Educational
Format: library book

Themes: alphabet, vehicles

Buckle up for an alphabetical road trip! From A is for axle to Z is for zoom, get ready to be introduced to taxis, hot rods, moon rovers, stagecoaches, racecars, ice cream trucks, and more in a celebration of where the wheels meet the road.

As a follow up to Olivera's first book, ABCs on Wings, this is great. It's another creative ABC book that kids will enjoy, especially fans of all things vehicular. The word choice is clever, and I appreciated that, often, the page spread told an individual story (for example, E is for Empty with a driver pushing his car and F is for Full with the driver at the gas station). It's also got a good variety in that, while most kids will know taxi and ice cream truck, they may not know the words hot rod or compact. The illustrations are fantastic--bold, simple, and colorful, with a little retro flair.

It's not perfect (ABC books rarely are, what with the difficult letters like Q and X) but kids will definitely love it. Recommended for sure, for any ABC or transportation needs.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Thursday, August 11

Review: The Big Move

The Big Move
(Commander in Cheese #1)
Written by Lindsey Leavitt, illustrated by Ag Ford

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-1101931127
Publisher: Random House
Date of publication: May 31, 2016
Age: Grades 1 - 4
Format: library book

Themes: mice, the White House, presidents, inauguration, exploration, siblings

Ava and Dean Squeakerton, part of the noble are presidential family of Squeakerton mice, live in the White House. And today is inauguration day, which means a new human president is moving in—best of all she has kids! That means cool kid treasures for Ava and Dean. Maybe they’ll even find a Lego! However, sneaking around means Ava and Dean will each have to be as quiet as a...well, mouse. And the Squeakerton siblings aren’t so good at that. But moving day is so busy, nobody would notice two mice searching for toys...right?

While I didn't much care for the third person omniscient narrator who often broke the fourth wall (interrupting the flow of the story with random mouse observations and some weak humor), I like the idea. Kids will have a lot of fun exploring the White House from the perspective of a mouse. Plus, the facts interspersed throughout and some great stuff in the index means that this book is pretty educational, too. For instance, I learned that the coldest inauguration day was President Reagan's, at a chilly seven degrees. Fascinating, right?

Generally speaking, I appreciate the idea for this series and think kids will enjoy it. The illustrations are a cute little addition, too. The characters flip-flopped too much for me to get a really good feel for them, and the story was pretty short (being locked in a room most of the time made it sort of drab), but hey, I'll still tell kids about it. I, myself, however, will probably not read more in this series.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Wednesday, August 10

10 New Sports & Olympics Books for Kids

The Olympics in Rio are officially underway! I definitely get excited for the games (for instance, check out this Olympics book display idea I created), but I always forget how much I enjoy watching all these random sports and athletes until the Olympics come on once again and I just sit in front of the TV all day. It's seriously cutting into my reading time. Good thing there's lots of good sports books to help satisfy both needs!

To celebrate the Olympics and sports in general, here are some of the best books for kids published in the last year that incorporate these themes.

Tuesday, August 9

Author Interview: David Neilsen

Today is the day. Today is when you should all be getting your hands on Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom. Remember my rave review a week or so back? Yep, I'm back today, on the book's birthday, to share an interview with the author.

"David Neilsen is the author of Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, and several other odd, weird, supernatural, and occasionally slightly disturbing books and stories. David is also a professionally trained actor who works as a professional storyteller up and down the Hudson River Valley and in New York City. His one-man performances based on the work of H.P. Lovecraft have sent many screaming into the hills in search of their sanity." (

Well, on that intriguing note, let's get this party started...

E: Hi David! Thanks so much for doing this interview. I admit, I'm quite a fan of this book. How did you get the idea for the story? When did you first run into the name "Dr. Fell"?

D: The idea for the book came from an illustration by the late children's illustrator Trina Schart Hyman. It had been hanging on the wall of my in-laws' for years. It shows a man in a suit and top hat leering down at a little girl, who looks back at him suspiciously. The man has a large basket strapped to his back out of which are sticking various arms, legs, and heads of little children. It’s labelled "Dr. Fell" and Hyman drew it when asked to create an image from her favorite fable or fairy tale. Curious, I looked up Dr. Fell online and discovered the four-line poem written in 1680 which I’ve included at the beginning of my book.

Right away all sorts of questions jumped into my head. Who is this guy? What is he doing? What happens when he comes to town? The story began to take form when I went about answering these questions.

Monday, August 8

Why I Recommend Harry Potter and the Cursed Child While Cursing its Existence

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts I & II
J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany

My rating: we'll get to this in a minute

ISBN: 978-1338099133
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine
Date of publication: July 31, 2016
Age: Grades 7 and up
Genre: Fantasy
Format: my own purchase

Themes: family relationships, magic, good/evil, time travel

"It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places."

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Yes, I started out this post like I would any other review. But let's be honest, this is going to turn into a novel in and of itself. I have a lot to say about this book, not only as a trained and practiced children's librarian, but as a part of the Harry Potter generation—my seventeenth birthday being mere months before the release of the seventh book, which I devoured in one night. I will admit, however, that in my adulthood, I am not as devout as I once was, and have not spent much time over Rowling's periodic Pottermore updates. This all makes for a very interesting review.

I refrained from reading any (if at all) reviews or articles about the book before I started reading. Since finishing, I have stuck with this inclination in attempts to give my pure response. So...*clearsthroat*

Friday, August 5

The View From the Carpet - ALSC Blog

Guess what?? I was a guest blogger on the ALSC blog yesterday! Yep, I feel so official. Here's the start of the article with the link at the bottom.

Picture this: Parents and caregivers scattered across the storytime room floor, with wriggly, adorable babies on their laps. There’s a “hello” song playing in the background and some books to peruse. Here I sit with my own baby, eagerly awaiting the start of storytime at my library.

And let me tell you, the view is pretty different from the carpet.

You see, I used to be that librarian, there, the one greeting babies with a fluffy puppet and big smile. But after getting a few years of paid labor under my belt, I traded my storytime hours for the good life: yep, I’m now a stay-at-home-mom.

Actually, let me amend that: I’m a stay-at-home-mom-who-is-still-a-children’s-librarian. 

Thursday, August 4

The Best of the Best Pokemon Books for Kids

If you haven't heard of Pokemon Go, then I'm seriously concerned that you're living under a rock. Pokemon, once hugely popular when I was a kid, has roared back with a vengeance to be the top topic in pop culture. So, on the other hand, this post is in no way original and is rather late to the game. Because libraries and Pokemon right now are like this:

They have a little thing for each other. So to help libraries spread the love a little more, or, really, for anyone looking to expand their Pokemon knowledge, here's the best of the best books about Pokemon. Basically, these are the ones that were always checked out at my library and are best sellers on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 3

Still a Gorilla

Still a Gorilla
Written by Kim Norman, illustrated by Chad Geran

My rating: ★★★

ISBN: 978-0545757911
Publisher: Orchard Books
Date of publication: July 26, 2016
Age: 3 - 6 years
Format: library book

Themes: animals, zoo, identity, imitations

Willy the Gorilla wonders if he can be another animal. What if he roars like a lion? Or swims like a walrus? Or jumps like a kangaroo? Nope, still a gorilla! It never works out, but just when Willy is beginning to fell disappointed, he finds a way to embrace who he really is.

Repetitive storyline, adorably illustrated animal antics, a dash of humor—yep, it's another sure-fire storytime winner! There is (some) rhyming text (a little odd that it's not the whole book, but it still lends itself to easy reading aloud) and the illustrations are bright and bold. Willy is particularly adorable, even when things don't go as planned. I'm not overly wowed by it, but I would definitely have this on hand for an animal storytime or an animal-loving toddler.

Reminded me of I Don't Want to Be a Frog and Ribbit! or even There Is a Tribe of Kids.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Tuesday, August 2

Sizing-Up Sequels: 3 (More) Early Readers

There's a lot of early reader series. So there's probably going to be a few more of these sizing-up posts (see the first one here). While I am trying to branch out to other series, I thought I'd check up on these classics to see if they're still what you'd expect...

Monday, August 1

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom

Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom
David Neilsen

My rating: ★★★★½

ISBN: 978-1101935781
Publisher: Crown Books
Date of publication: August 9, 2016
Age: Grades 3 - 6
Genre: Mystery, Horror
Format: ARC received from author

Themes: playgrounds, childhood, friendship, monster, good vs evil, community

When the mysterious Dr. Fell moves into the abandoned house that had once been the neighborhood kids’ hangout, he immediately builds a playground to win them over. Soon, kids from across the city are flocking to the ever-expanding structure to play for hours on end. But it's only a matter of time before someone gets hurt. In a flash, Dr. Fell has them fixed up—totally healed!—and only Jerry, Nancy, and Gail find it odd. In fact, these three seem to be the only people in the whole neighborhood not bewitched by Dr. Fell and his extravagant wonderland. As the number of injuries increases, they alone must find a way to uncover the doctor's secret healing power—and his darker ulterior motive—without falling under his spell.

This book is amazing. Creepy, hilarious, exciting, disturbing, and completely brilliant all in one. Yes, it is that awesome. I read it practically in one sitting. While it is a spooky mystery, the humor is what really made me love it. With a bit of a parody undertone (what with the kids attending McKinley Grant Fillmore Elementary or Washington Madison Hoover Elementary or Lincoln Adams Coolidge Elementary), it definitely feels like Jerry, Nancy, and Gail (I mean, seriously, even their names) fell right out of Beaver Cleaver's neighborhood into the 21st century. I seriously laughed more with this book than any I've read in a while. Granted, I was picking up on a lot of the satire that may be missed by some younger readers, but kids will still get plenty of laughs.

Okay, but beyond the humor, there was a wonderful dose of creepy. The story moves along quickly, leaving just enough hints and ideas to keep the reader guessing at the mystery of Dr. Fell. There's some truly eerie scenes that will keep even the most reluctant of readers on edge. And the characters themselves were surprisingly deep; Neilsen could've easily stuck in some flat caricatures to go with the Beaver Cleaver theme and gotten away with it. But Jerry, Nancy, and Gail each have some insecurities and fears that really made it easy to be invested in their characters.

My only complaint—the tiny, half-star complaint—was the ending. Definitely exciting and scary, but let's just say Neilsen left room for a sequel, which left me a bit frustrated. On the whole, I seriously want kids to read this. They'll have a lot of fun, especially with the recent rise in popularity of spooky stories, or titles like Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library and Scavenger Hunt.

Find it at your library or on Amazon

Hey I'm participating in Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday! Check it out here!