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"I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells." — Dr. Seuss
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Review: The Story of Life by Catherine Barr

Fri, 2015/09/04 - 10:19am

The Story of Life: a First Book about Evolution by Catherine Barr and Steve Williams, illustrated by Amy Husband (InfoSoup)

Starting before there was life on earth, this nonfiction picture book takes readers on a journey from 4.5 billion years ago to today. Volcanoes and black ocean water with some areas that were warm from underwater volcanoes created the tiny bits that formed the basis of life. Cells started growing, some using sunlight, water and oxygen that changed the very earth itself. Over millions of years, cells developed into different forms of life and became the first animals. The seas became full of life and animals and plants started to expand to the land. Then an unknown disaster hit and most of the life on earth was destroyed. It became cold and dark, giving a chance for huge dinosaurs to emerge and take over. Millions of years passed again and insects and mammals appeared. A meteor hit the world though, and then it was time for the mammals to survive. Humans evolved from those mammals and spread across the world, bringing us to the present day.

This basic look at evolution offers a sense of the length of time that it has taken to get us from basic cells to humans today. On each two-page spread there is information on how long ago this scene was taking place. The text on the page has lots of information on the changes happening, the progress towards new life, and also the series of disasters that has caused sudden death on the planet. This is a fascinating look at evolution that is appropriate for even preschool children to begin to understand the science that created life on earth.

The illustrations by Husband are playful and fun. They add a lighthearted touch to the serious scientific information. At the same time, they are have scientific labels for important objects and ideas that let children better understand the progress of evolution that they are learning about.

A strong picture book that explores evolution and will inspire children to learn even more about prehistoric times. Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Frances Lincoln Children’s Books.

Filed under: Book Reviews, Nonfiction, Picture Books Tagged: evolution, nature, science

This Week’s Tweets, Pins & Tumbls

Fri, 2015/09/04 - 9:34am

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week that I think are cool:


Baby Cries When Mom, Dad Reach Last Page of Books http://ow.ly/RHRkJ #kidlit

Books about Creating Art: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/193021534006958218/

“Did you have to dumb it down?” by Lauren DeStefano | Nerdy Book Club http://ow.ly/REmwE #kidlit

Eric Litwin and Tom Lichtenheld Ink Three-Book Deal With Scholastic | GalleyCat http://ow.ly/RLuyk #kidlit

Four NYC Publishers, One Epic Season: Rocco Staino’s Peek at Upcoming Fall Titles | School Library Journal http://ow.ly/REYVA #kidlit

RH Children’s Buys Self-Pubbed Phenom ‘Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep’ http://ow.ly/RHQFg #kidlit

Why are all the moms gone? A parent/writer tries to find herself in children’s literature http://buff.ly/1hP4GGy #kidlit

Why children’s authors shouldn’t always ‘kill the parents’ | Children’s books | The Guardian http://ow.ly/REZHH #kidlit

Why Diversity of Experience, Race and Gender Norms in Children’s Books Matters http://ow.ly/RBsMF #kidlit


Denver Library brews a month of craft beer, coffee and tea events – The Denver Post http://ow.ly/RBSnV #libraries

The public library in an Internet age: a series from Michigan Radio | Michigan Radio http://ow.ly/RHRFT


Why Melvin Burgess’s ‘dangerous’ books aren’t dangerous at all | Children’s books | The Guardian http://ow.ly/RBTCG #yalit

Filed under: Recommended Links

Review: The Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber

Thu, 2015/09/03 - 1:30pm

The Tiger Who Would Be King by James Thurber, illustrated by Joohee Yoon

Released September 15, 2015.

Thurber’s profound story is brought to vivid life in this new picture book version. Tiger wakes up and decides that he wants to be king of the beasts, declaring to his wife that he will be king before the night is over. He believes that others are calling for change as well and that the moon will rise in his colors, striped and orange. Lion though is not willing to give up his title. The two start fighting and soon all of the animals in the jungle are fighting too, though many don’t know why they are fighting. Eventually after an immense battle, there is only one survivor, Tiger. He may be king, but there are no beasts to rule any more.

Yoon takes the words of Thurber and creates a picture book that is startling and incredible. She captures in expressions, the pride of declaring yourself to be a ruler, the shock of the old ruler being challenged. The epic battle is shown on pages that fold out to a four-page spread that brings to mind Picasso’s Guernica in its confusion and brutality. Done in only two colors, the green and orange capture the moist heat of the jungle. Though the illustrations appear to be prints, they are actually done with a combination of hand drawing and computer art. However it was done, it is pure brilliance.

A great book to spur discussion about war, pride and costs, this picture book will resonate with young readers. Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Enchanted Lion Books.

Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: jungles, lions, tigers, war

Review: The Standed Whale by Jane Yolen

Thu, 2015/09/03 - 1:13pm

The Stranded Whale by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Melanie Cataldo (InfoSoup)

In the fall of 1971, Sally and her brothers were walking home from school along the dunes in Maine. Sally spotted a big gray thing on the beach and realized that it was a stranded whale. The children grab their sweaters and use them to keep the whale wet. One of the brothers ran off to call for help and people from the community arrived with buckets. They tried rocking the whale to get it back to the ocean, but she was too big and they were too weak and small. Sally stayed by the whale’s huge eye, even as it breathed its final breath. The children were seen as heroes for what they did that day, but Sally knew that it would be so much more wonderful to have been able to see the whale return to the ocean.

Yolen writes with such poetry about nature that you are right there and experiencing it alongside Sally and her brothers. Yolen captures the world of the beach in her poems, showing all of the small living things that Sally dashes by on her way to the ocean with her sweater. Most evocative are the scents of the whale, who smells “of fear and deep water” at first. Then the whale last breath:

The sigh smelled like seaweed,

like lobsters in Dad’s traps,

like gutted fish on the pier.

Such imagery that captures in a subtle way the scent of death too.

Cataldo’s illustrations make sure to keep the scale of the enormous whale consistent from one page to the next. On some pages there is an expanse of grey flesh with one huge eye looking out. The effect is humbling, showing that nature is both bigger than us and also a part of us too. The illustrations are beautifully done, playing light and dark against one another as the whale slowly perishes.

A brave book that does not shy away from grief or wonder. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, Picture Books Tagged: Maine, nature, oceans, whales

2016 Scottish Children’s Book Award Shortlist

Wed, 2015/09/02 - 11:59am

The shortlist for the 2016 Scottish Children’s Book Award has been announced. The awards go to books in three categories that are specific to age ranges:


Bookbug Readers (ages 3-7)


Mouse’s First Night at Moonlight School by Simon Puttock and Ali Pye

Never Tickle a Tiger by Pamela Butchart and Marc Boutavant

Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit Book Burglar by Emily MacKenzie


Younger Readers (ages 8-11)


The Fastest Boy in the World by Elizabeth Laird

The Mysteries of Ravenstorm Island: The Lost Children by Gillian Philip

The Nowhere Emporium by Ross Mackenzie


Older Readers (ages 12-16)


Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein

The Piper by Danny Weston

Trouble on Cable Street by Joan Lingard

Filed under: Awards

Review: One by Sarah Crossan

Wed, 2015/09/02 - 10:15am

One by Sarah Crossan (InfoSoup)

Tippi and Grace are conjoined twins. They have two arms each, but share two legs together. They have spent their childhood being homeschooled, but now the money has run out and they have to start school. It’s a private school, but still much more exposed than they have been before. The two of them literally do everything together. They go to therapy where one twin wears headphones while the other has private time with the doctor. They share dinner with one another but never desserts. Still, there are things you want to be private about, like what boys you like and how sick you are feeling. And Tippi and Grace are feeling sicker and sicker, leading to a decision that is impossible to make.

Told in verse, this novel is compellingly written entirely in Grace’s voice. She clearly tells a story of being an individual and a separate person, but also the meaning of being that close to someone your entire life.  The book celebrates the closeness of these sisters and their battles with one another but also their care too. While they are unique from one another, they are also a single one being too. This will resonate with teens growing up themselves and experiencing new things away from close family.

In the end though, this is Grace’s story and it is made fascinating by the details of being conjoined and the unique way that this impacts every day life. Grace’s voice is clear and vivid. She has a specific point of view that is all about the way she lives with Tippi alongside her. Crossan embraces the necessary optimism of a conjoined twin but also offer Grace skepticism and a healthy sense of humor that gets her through the day. Crossan is also not afraid to let these two twins be teenagers, giving them opportunity to drink and smoke with the friends they make. It’s touches like that that make this book really work.

An honest and awe-inspiring look at being a conjoined twin and also a devastating decision, this book is impossible to put down. Appropriate for ages 14-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Greenwillow Books.

Filed under: Book Reviews, Teen Tagged: conjoined twins, sisters, twins

Review: Hilo by Judd Winick

Tue, 2015/09/01 - 10:00am

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick

DJ isn’t good at anything in particular. His siblings are good at sports or ballet or school, but DJ doesn’t have anything on the family calendar because he doesn’t do anything much. The one thing that DJ had been good at was being best friends with Gina, but then she moved away. Just as DJ thinks things can’t get any more dull, something crashes down from the sky. It’s a boy in silver underwear. He can’t remember anything at first, but then he puts more and more together. His name is Hilo and DJ gets him clothes and feeds him. The two head to school together and that’s when DJ realizes that Gina has come back. She’s different though, interested in new things, and DJ assumes that she is being friendly just because of Hilo. Soon the three friends though will be facing a huge enemy that is falling to earth one piece at a time.

Winick has created a graphic novel that is a winning mix of child-friendly art and dramatic adventures filled with battles and explosions. Hilo is a great protagonist, a child who has super powers that he discovers over the course of the book. He delights in the small things, like burping over and over again, eating dinner with the family, and attending school. Everything is an adventure for him and a chance to learn more about the planet earth. DJ too is a strong hero, a boy without Hilo’s powers but also a boy who is far from ordinary thanks to his bravery and his decided ability to be a great friend.

The art is approachable and funny. From the way that Hilo falls asleep to the way that he burps gleefully, this book is filled with humorous moments. Happily this is a book with a three-person team where one character is Asian, one African-American and the other a white alien. The female character is the one into science and sports too, which is also very refreshing.

This is the first story in Hilo’s journey to earth and it ends with a cliffhanger that will lead right into the next. Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Random House Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School, Graphic Novels Tagged: aliens, robots, science fiction, super heroes

Review: Sonya’s Chickens by Phoebe Wahl

Tue, 2015/09/01 - 9:38am

Sonya’s Chickens by Phoebe Wahl (InfoSoup)

Sonya was given three tiny chicks by her father. It was her job to take good care of them. At first, the chicks liked in the house in a cardboard box while Sonya’s parents fixed up the coop in the yard. Soon they grew into pullets and were living outside. They followed Sonya everywhere she went. She took good care of them, giving them food and water and cleaning out their coop. They grew into three large happy hens and started laying eggs. Then one night, Sonya was woken by squawking in the chicken coop. She headed outside and one of her chickens was no longer there, only two hens were up in the rafters hiding. Sonya’s father explained that a fox had gotten the hen and told her about why he would have taken her. Sonya and her family had a funeral for the hen and worked to repair the coop so that a fox could not get in again. Then the circle started once more when one of the eggs began to hatch.

Wahl embraces honesty about the death of pets and grief in this picture book. Beautifully told, the loss of the chicken may surprise some readers. It is handled with care and truth, the father in the story explaining that the fox has to hunt for his family in order to feed his kits. Sonya is allowed time to express her feelings, supported by her family. The ending of the book has a new chick joining Sonya’s flock and her willing to continue on despite the loss. It’s a lesson in resilience.

The illustrations in this picture book are impressive. Done with watercolor, collage and colored pencil, they are vibrant and richly colored. The images show a mixed-race family in a rural setting, something that isn’t seen enough in picture books. They have a great textural feel and also depict a fully-realized home and family with most of the pictures taking up an entire page with their rich colors.

An honest look at grief and loss of a pet, this picture book is a winner. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: chickens, death, families, grief, pets

Review: The Marvels by Brian Selznick

Mon, 2015/08/31 - 10:00am

The Marvels by Brian Selznick (InfoSoup)

Released September 15, 2015.

The author of The Invention of Hugo Cabret returns with his third book. In this novel that mixes his vivid artwork with longer passages of text, the focus is on one amazing family, The Marvels. It begins in the 18th century with a shipwreck where a boy survives the sinking of The Kraken and finds his way to London. Just as the ship was sinking, he had been participating in a play on board along with his brother who was killed in the wreck. So when he reached London, he found the Royal Theatre and people willing to take him in. Time passed and the boy turned into a man who one day finds a baby left on the theater doorstep. So begins a theatrical family until one generation does not want to be on stage anymore. Time turns again, now it is 1990 and the story is that of Joseph who has run away from boarding school to the home of his uncle whom he has never met. Looking through the windows of the home, it is as if a huge family has just left the room. But his uncle lives there alone. Odd noises filter through the house too, a bird sings where there is no bird and footsteps can be heard. As Joseph is allowed to stay, he discovers that he is living in a mystery and one that he must solve in order to understand his uncle.

This is another stunning novel from Selznick. Again it marries his art with his prose, both of which are beautiful and evocative. His art depicts the theater life and shows how like ship rigging the ropes all are. It shows art and family and irreconcilable differences. Then comes the prose where Selznick paints a picture of the uncle’s home with the same detail and care that he uses in his images. They come to life in a different but complementary way. It is stirring and beautiful to experience vivid depiction of two settings, one in text and the other in art. This results in a book that is visually arresting but also has prose that is worthy of celebrating and sinking into as well.

Joseph and his uncle are both very interesting characters. Both are rather isolated and lonely, finding their own space in the world. Both struggle to fit in, but also find ways that allow them to not have to change their own personality much at all. It is a book that looks at love and the various places you can find it in life as well as its power to transform. As the story unfolds, there are wonders and almost magic at work. This is an exploration of theater and performance too, a look at what is truth and what is real and an acknowledgement that theater can be both.

I was rapt when reading this novel. It is a treat to have a new Selznick to explore and this one lives up to his stellar reputation. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Filed under: Book Reviews, Elementary School Tagged: families, grief, theater

Review: It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Mon, 2015/08/31 - 8:30am

It’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Released September 8, 2015.

The creator of the Lunch Lady graphic novels returns with a picture book that takes bad events and turns them around. The book begins with a child losing a balloon but then says that Grandma will see it as she flies home on the plane. Your sandwich falling into the sand may make you sad, but it will make seagulls happy. Wet shoes are horrible, but being barefoot is great! One after another unfortunate events are turned around into something to even look forward to. This optimistic picture book will have you looking for a day filled with lemons rather than lemonade.

The text of the picture book is simple. The situations captured here are universal and children will respond to all of them. From scraped knees to melted ice cream, these are situations that could ruin anyone’s good mood. But this book restores all of it to be OK with cool bandages and an upside-down solution instead.

The art too is simple. Krosoczka makes sure to use a wide range of races on the page, showing visually how universal both the good and the bad can be. The simplicity of the illustrations with their watercolor washes makes for a book that can be used with groups. I can also see children coming up with their own positive spins on bad things as an activity.

Positivity galore in this picture book that will brighten any gloomy day right up. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Knopf Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.

Filed under: Book Reviews, Picture Books Tagged: positivity