Wednesday, November 27, 2013

LITTLE JANE SILVER, by Adira Rotstein

Rotstein, Adira. Little Jane Silver. Toronto: Dundurn, 2011. ISBN 978-1554888788. $12.99 U.S./ $8.99 CAN. Ages 10-13.

Little Jane Silver is the daughter of infamous pirate Captains, Long John Silver II and Bonnie Mary Bright, and she lives on a pirate ship called the Pieces of Eight. Little Jane, as she’s affectionately called by her parents, lives a child’s dream: she sails the open seas with her pirate parents and explores the Caribbean meeting all sorts of dynamic characters. There’s only one tiny problem, Little Jane insists on being part of a “boarding party” now that she’s twelve years old and her parents won’t take her seriously. Instead, she’s confined to banal pirate chores: swabbing decks and tying down cannon afts. Little Jane devises a plan only to be launched into a bigger kettle of fish as she makes arch enemies with Ned Ronk, the boatswain of the ship. One thing leads to another and before she’s completed her sword lessons with the weapons master Jezebel Mendoza, Little Jane finds herself in the midst of a traitorous battle where she must fight to save her parents, the crew, and a buried treasure. Little Jane may only be twelve, but she’s about to be taken a lot more seriously; she’s become the Pieces of Eight’s best hope for survival!
Little Jane Silver is chock-full of pirate history, jests, adventures, and all things pirate for a thrilling ride on the Caribbean seas. I highly recommend for any child who can’t get enough of pirates and craves a true pirate education. Ms. Rotstein includes deftly researched chapters that expound upon British and French colonization of the islands, the slave trade, and reminders of why many a British Captain turned treasonous to pursue a life of piracy.

If you like this book, I also recommend the sequel: LittleJane and the Nameless Isle. Middle Grade Readers may also enjoy: Geoff Rodkey’s Deadweather and Sunrise: The Chronicles of Egg, Book 1. For Teen Readers: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

Shelley A. McRoberts   

Monday, November 25, 2013


Cline-Ransome, Lesa. Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass. Illustrated by James E. Ransome. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2012. ISBN 9781416959038. $16.99. Ages 5-9.

It is never too early for a child to start learning history and about the past that has helped to shape our nation and make it what it is today. Words Set Me Free is a picture book adaptation of the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an influential book everybody should read at some point in their life. This picture book is a great way to educate and inspire an early interest in reading the full book.

As far as picture books go, Words Set Me Free is rather wordy and lengthy, and is a book that beginning readers should probably read alongside an adult, so that they can be sure to be able to understand all of the text, and be able to discuss the issues the book addresses. This book could never be taken as light reading. The author is not overly graphic when discussing the hardships of being a slave, but she also does not mince words, nor hide the fact that life was cruel for Frederick.

The illustrations, done as very realistic paintings, also portray the truth of the subject matter without being too explicit or scary. For example, in one part of the book, Frederick’s master finds out that his wife is teaching Frederick his letters and becomes very angry. Instead of depicting Frederick being punished by his master, the illustrator painted a silhouette of the master in an angry pose, with a scared young Frederick cowering below. This way, the master’s disapproval and Frederick’s fear are portrayed, but with subtlety.

One thing I find interesting is how the author chooses to end the book. Obviously, this picture book only portrays a snippet of the actual events detailed in the full Narrative, but the book ends with an epilogue where Frederick forges a letter in his master’s name that seemingly will win him his freedom. But when you read the author’s note on the next page, you realize that it is much later on in his life that Frederick actually becomes free. I suppose it could just be that the author simply did not wish to prolong the story, but still wanted to end the book optimistically.

Other than introducing American history, I think that the best themes of this book are about perseverance and the power of words and reading and how they can change your life. For children who do not really enjoy books, that is a powerful lesson in the importance of reading and of not giving up.

Joyce Myers

Friday, November 22, 2013


Brennan, Sarah Rees, Untold, The Lynburn Legacy, Book Two. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2013. ISBN-13: 978-0375870422 $14.68 YA Novel- fiction. 

Sarah Rees Brennan takes her readers back to the Sorry-In-The-Vale town. Untold, Brennan’s sequel to her Gothic work Unspoken, takes place a few days after Kami Glass, the story’s heroine, and her friends clashed against Rob Lynnburn, a man who lusts after power and control. In Untold, we, the readers, see the aftermath of the battle that took place at the end of Unspoken. Revealed as the series’ antagonist, Rob wishes to rule the town through fear, manipulation, and destruction. Seeking power and protection from Rob’s reign, members of the town with magic of their own have started to join him. Not willing to go down without a fight, Kami, Jared, their friends Angela, Holly, and Rusty, and the rest of the Lynnburn family join together to find allies of their own and search for a way to combat Rob’s vast number of followers. Further, in the devastating aftermath of her last battle Kami’s link with Jared severed. For the first time since their connection, Jared and Kami find themselves feeling isolated and vulnerable. Additionally, the two learn to find ways to cope with their mental separation and reconnect with each other in physical ways. Kami discovers she can now choose who to love without Jared’s overpowering influence and bond. But is her love for Jared real or is it the aftermath of their bond? To discover herself and fight against her enemies, Kami will need to burrow her way through Sorry-In-The-Vale’s secrets and, to her own shock, her own family’s secrets as well. What she discovers in the dark vault of secrets will test her in ways she never thought possible. Untold proves to be another stunning  and compelling work by Brennan. The witty and sarcastic humor is still there, elements of love and passion are further shown, and death continues to be a dark element to the story. Unlike Book One, Brennan draws out more of her characters by adding their voices throughout the book, exposing the reader to the character’s strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, without their bond, Brennan makes Jared and Kami appear a bit needy, shown as constantly pining for each other and worrying about each other’s thoughts rather than their own. Overall though, the story was nicely done and leaves the reader hanging at the end- a sudden pause of breath for whatever comes next in Brennan’s Book Three!

Jacquelyne Yawn

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Brennan, Sarah Rees. Unspoken, The Lynburg Legacy, Book One. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012. ISBN13: 9780375870415 $14.63 YA Novel- fiction.

Ever had an imaginary friend growing up? Well what if that imaginary friend you talked to as a child was real? 

Meet Kami Glass, a teenager living in the English town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. Kami is like most girls, she likes to dress in style, has a best friend and two crazy brothers, and is even in love with a boy- Jared, whom she has known all her life. However, no one knows about Jared except her due to the fact that he seems to exist only in her mind. Despite that odd quality, life is normal for Kami until the Lynburns move back to their manor in town. The Lynburns are a family that has a dark past and even darker secrets. The two teenagers, cousins, arrive at school and Kami quickly encounters the shock of her life. Jared is real. Now our protagonist needs to uncover not only the mystery of the Lynburn’s, but also her feelings about Jared. Through their mind link, the two are aware of their feelings and thoughts, but can Kami still trust him? And will Kami uncover the mystery behind the brutal animal sacrifices and nurder happening in her secretive town? Sarah Rees Brennan does a fantastic job creating a strong and compelling story in Unspoken. The author shows her ability to bring Gothic romance to a new and modern age with her independent heroine and the boy that needs to be saved. Brennan provides for her readers a strong cast of characters full of complexities and a dash of quirkiness. Throughout the story we see characters using witty humor in their dialogues that helps to lighten the atmosphere of a dark and suspenseful story. Even with grisly deaths, the reader can laugh as they read lines like: “Your soul like the souls of a thousand monkeys on crack, all smushed together.” Overall, the book is very entertaining to plow through and leaves the reader hungry for more.

Jacquelyne Yawn

Monday, November 18, 2013

ART MARKS by Sallie Lowenstein

Lowenstein, Sallie. Art Marks. Kensington MD: Lionstone Books, 2013. ISBN 978-9859618-0-0. $30 

The first thing you will notice about Sallie Lowenstein’s Art Marks is the book itself, by which I mean the artisanal uniqueness of its production. It’s a book of art, i.e. a handcrafted volume the likes of which you seldom encounter these days. It’s hand-bound and stitched with thick covers and corners like an old photo album, fittingly, since this is a book of memoir, of travel, of family, and of artistic discovery as Lowenstein relates and provides drawings from her childhood spent in Burma and India. As she writes on the opening page, “I wish every child a trip like mine to change their worlds and minds forever.”

Focused on a (magnificent!) road trip to Delhi in the late 1950s, she recalls the driver who sketched for her, opening the cosmos of art she has since pursued. It is a treat to see her drawings from decades ago—talented and observant child! She notes and draws the peacocks surrounding one of their hotels, camels and elephants elsewhere—all the swirling wonder of South Asia recalled in the grown-up’s reverie, a respite of cherished memory interspersed with the “hectic scramble of America.”

Constructed as it is, the book opens flat to numerous double-truck pages of gorgeous, vibrant illustration. Evidenced in her many other picture books, Lowenstein has a gift of both design and replication of, for example, the intricate decoration of Muslim art in Jaipur, in Agra, and of little known but poetically-named places like Fatehpur Sikri. These painting are sometimes on half pages; each page is thick, sensuous paper and the chosen font looks like beautifully-written print on old-style lined notebook sheets.

Lowenstein’s prose matches her art and honors the memory of her journey through descriptive words that convey not just sights but smells and touch, like the feel of sand. The words equal her topic and honor that turbaned driver of long ago who took the time to entertain and instruct a little girl from far away. The cover of the book and an inside illustration show his hand sketching a bird for her---- reminding us all that random acts of kindness can have lifelong benefits for those who receive them, including the creation of this truly lovely memoir.

Alida Allison 

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Klimo, Kate. Daughter of the Centaurs. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2012. ISBN 13: 9780375869754 $14.57 YA Novel- fiction. 

Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Kate Klimo brings a fresh new view of this setting. Instead of zombies, vampires, and the occasional werewolf (or both) we get centaurs. Daughter of the Centaurs centers around a young girl, Malora, who dreams of following her father’s footsteps to become a horse leader of the People, a small band of the world’s remaining humans. However, tragedy strikes when her People are massacred by a group of bat-like beings called Leatherwings. Left as the sole survivor, Malora finds herself alone with only Sky, her father’s stallion, as her companion and a herd of wild horses. Three years later, Malora and her herd are captured by a group of Centaurs, her People’s ancient enemy. To her surprise and astonishment, Malora finds companionship and a place to call home in the Centaurs’ society. Despite finding friends among the Centaurs, there are those who still fear and despise the foreign human. Will Malora ever truly feel welcome in her newfound community? The story is a great coming of age novel for young teens. Throughout the novel the reader comes across themes about belonging, those who feel ostracized, and society as a whole. As a first novel, Daughter of the Centaurs is a promising start for the trilogy. The story is entertaining, a great range of characters, and light-hearted. Yet, the book displays a few flaws that include lack of character development, not enough plot buildup, and a simplistic writing style. Overall though, the book is a fantastic read and recommended for any teen interested in a good fantasy.

Jacquelyne Yawn

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

NO GO SLEEP! by Kate Feiffer

Feiffer, Kate. No Go Sleep! Illustrated by Jules Feiffer. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2012. $16.99. ISBN 9781442416833. Ages 3-7. Picture book—fiction.

What child ever wants to go to sleep when mommy and daddy say to? Every child and parent will be able to relate to this book about the process it takes for one stubborn baby to finally fall asleep.

This book is a little reminiscent of the timeless book Good Night Moon, in how various nearby objects and animals, like the sun and moon, stars, nearby cars, bunnies, frogs and the baby’s toys talk to the baby and take part in trying to soothe the baby to sleep.

The illustrations are done by Jules Feiffer, of The Phantom Tollbooth fame, each illustration recalling that classic book. The illustrations are striking and colorful and feature corresponding text to sounds objects and animals make, such as the “beep, beep” of a car, or the “baa, baa” of sheep, which are good associations for children when reading books, and add a little something eye catching to the illustrations.

All in all, this is fun book that I can easily see parents and children reading together over and over at bedtime.

Joyce Myers

Monday, October 7, 2013


Bardoe, Cheryl. The Ugly Duckling Dinosaur: A Prehistoric Tale. Illustrated by Doug Kennedy. New York, NY: Abrams Books, 2011. $16.95. ISBN# 9780810997394. Ages 4-8. Picture book—fiction.

Of the many different retellings of fairy tales I have ever read, this one is one of my favorites. This reinterpretation of The Ugly Duckling is set during prehistoric dinosaur times and features the ancient ancestors of today’s ducks as the duck family and a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex as the ugly duckling. The resemblance between a duck and a dinosaur is so different that you have to wonder how a T-Rex egg even ended up among duck eggs, but this ridiculousness is part of the charm of the story.

The author’s narration of the familiar fairy tale is enjoyable and easy to follow, but it is really the illustrations that make the book what it is. Many of the illustrations made me laugh because it is not often that you see a baby T-Rex trying to act like a little duckling. My favorite illustration features the T-Rex’s duckling “siblings” following after their mother, waddling into the water, while the T-Rex clumsily clomps behind them with a gait that could never be mistaken as a duck waddle. Another hilarious illustration shows the ugly duckling trying to fit in by disguising himself with feathers.

Dinosaur lovers will enjoy the glimpses of a variety of dinosaur creatures the baby T-Rex meets up with on his quest to find his place in the world. These other featured dinosaurs include, Pteranodons, Stegosauruses, and Deinoychuses. The author’s note page features more detailed information about various dinosaurs with more scientific images for those readers who wish to learn more.

Joyce Myers

Friday, May 10, 2013

THE SECRET RIVER by Marjorie Kinnan

Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan. The Secret River. Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. New York: Atheneum Books, 2011. $19.99. ISBN# 9781416911791. Grades 3-5. Picture book—fiction.

Originally published in 1955, The Secret River won a Newbery Honor award in 1956; author Rawlings also won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939 for The Yearling. In addition to many other awards, illustrators Leo and Diane Dillon received Caldecott Medals for Why Mosquitos Buzz in People’s Ears and Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions.

The Secret River addresses the significant issues of hunger and poverty in a gentle and optimistic manner. Young Calpurnia wants to help change “hard” times to “soft” times for her family and village. She decides she will catch fish to feed the townspeople and seeks the guidance of Mother Albirtha, “the wisest woman in the forest,” who tells her how to find a secret river. Calpurnia is successful in her quest, catching plenty of fish to feed the village, although she struggles to make her way home. She encounters several beasts (an owl, a black bear, and a panther) on her journey home and pacifies them with fish. At this point, readers may wonder if Calpurnia will return empty-handed, but she returns with enough food for everyone.

The illustrations aptly convey the scariness of the forest, which is dark with faces embedded in the trees, although the acrylic paintings are somewhat muted to suggest softness. The Secret River contains various messages, such as the importance of helping others and to trust one’s self. However, the book may be trying to do too much by interspersing poetry (created by Calpurnia), regional dialect, and grammar corrections. For instance, when Calpurnia says, “everybody be’s my friend,” her mother corrects the error. Additionally, when Calpurnia goes back to find the secret river, but it is gone, Mother Albirtha tells her,“The secret river is in your mind.” Such a concept may be confusing for readers. Overall, this is an engaging picture book for older readers and it would be best to share with an adult who can help explain some unfamiliar ideas.

--Cynthia McDaniel

Thursday, May 9, 2013


Granfield, Linda. Out of Slavery: The Journey to Amazing Grace. Illustrated by Janet Wilson. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2009. ISBN# 978-0887769153. $15.95. Grades 4-7. Picture book—nonfiction.

Originally published in 1997 as Amazing Grace: The Story of the Hymn, Out of Slavery was selected as a nonfiction best book by Quill & Quire (a Canadian award). This historical account of the slave trade focuses on ship captain John Newton during the mid-1700s. Granfield’s writing is descriptive, rich, and engaging. She uses vivid metaphors and a relatively high level of vocabulary, with many interesting historical facts and details that older elementary age readers would probably find fascinating. Clearly Granfield conducted extensive research for this book, including Newton’s Journal of a Slave Trader. However, she does not sugarcoat the story and she presents information about the reality of the slave trade that could be disturbing for some readers, presenting information such as babies that were born on a ship were often “tossed overboard.” Somewhat ironically, devout Captain John Newton prays for the Lord’s help to “deliver his cargo of 207 African men, women, and children to be sold in the marketplaces of the West Indies.”

Eventually he decides to find a “more humane calling” and becomes a minister, writing sermons and a book of hymns, including “Amazing Grace” (which had a different title at the time). Additionally, he wrote a pamphlet entitled “Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade” in which he decided in retrospect that slavery should be banned. Newton worked to abolish slavery in Britain and the British colonies, which actually occurred the same year he died in 1833. Additionally, readers will probably feel relieved by the relatively happy ending.

Wilson has won many awards for her illustrations and her work in Out of Slavery captures the tone and advances the story. For example, the first page shows the ship African during a fierce storm in 1752. She captures the movement of the “vicious, glitter tipped waves” and shows the ship pitched sideways as “the masts strained and moaned in the relentless winds.” Many of the illustrations depict horrendous situations, but of course, this book is presenting a horrific time period in human history.

According to Wilson, Out of Slavery is a companion book to In Flanders Fields, in which she used a similar artistic style. She says, “some readers miss the fact that I've depicted the same boy on his forced journey from Africa. Also, the inspiration for the image of the captives in Africa came from reading a diary of a slave driver of the time [Newton]. He wrote about seeing Africans with tears streaming down their faces as they walked.” The paintings were done in oil on canvas.

I highly recommend Out of Slavery for any reader who wants to learn more about the realities of slavery. This is an honest account of human greed and suffering. Considering the fact that slavery still exists in the world today (although it is more covert) perhaps this book will inspire others to help make a difference.

--Cynthia McDaniel

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

NINI by Francois Thisdale

Thisdale, Francois. Nini. Toronto: Tundra Books, 2011. ISBN# 9781770492707. $15.95. 

Thisdale is both author and illustrator of Nini, which begins in Asia with a baby in the womb who hears her mother’s soothing voice. However, she goes to an orphanage when she is only one day old. She is not mistreated, but she does not hear the comforting voice anymore. It is not clear why the baby is sent to an orphanage, but that detail may not be necessary. Readers learn that a husband and wife “on the other side of the world” are unable to have a baby. The story is fairly simple, almost like a fairy tale—which may be part of the point. Clearly, Nini will “live happily ever after” with her new family.

One of the strengths of this picture book is that it does not try too hard to cover every aspect of adoption. Children in adopted families would probably feel comforted knowing that Nini’s birth mother cared about her and in a sense she has two families. There are some words that would be difficult for young readers, such as “falter,” “shrill, and “frail.” Apparently Nini is a tribute to the baby Thisdale and his wife adopted. The illustrations complement and further the story. Thisdale uses drawing, painting, and digital images to create a calm but vibrant mood. The result is a serene depiction of a present-day family situation that would be enlightening for all readers.

--Cynthia McDaniel

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

EDWIN SPEAKS UP by April Stevens

Stevens, April and Sophie Blackall. Edwin Speaks Up. New York: Schwartz & Wade, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-375-85337-1.

You might say that the text supplements the illustrations in this picture book—the pictures tell as gripping and more truthful a story than the actual words. Whenever Edwin, the little baby of this lemur family (or similar such creature), speaks up, not a member listens to him despite his insightful observations and reminders. Granted they just happen to be mixed up in all sorts of garbled "baby-speak" ("Figbutton noo noo POCKY BOOKY froppin ROOF" clearly indicates that the mom's pocketbook is on the roof of the car, right?). But in this wild excursion to the grocery store, Edwin is the "silent" hero among his whole family, the only one observing where lost items go, where lost grocery carts get switched, and finally where to find the missing but supremely important sugar that everyone else has forgotten.

Reading this book with a child would be immense fun; it invites the child to look for the interaction between the story and pictures. A keen eye can seek out and notice all the action going on in the illustrations and compare that to the oblivious nature of Edwin's mom and siblings in the text. Does anyone else know where mom's pocket book is? Nope, only Edwin. Who tries to call and point out to mom that she has switched grocery carts? Only Edwin. The reader finds out how observant and versatile Edwin is with every page. The retro style of the illustrations—colorful and with a 50's flair—belie their complexity, an intricacy the derives from the watchful eye of young Edwin.

This was a delight to read, and young readers will get great pleasure from decoding the silliness of the grown-ups and big kids compared to the intelligence of the little baby.

Alya Hameed

Monday, May 6, 2013


Addasi, Maha. The White Nights of Ramadan. Illus. Ned Gannon. Honesdale, PA: Boyd's Mills Press, 2008. ISBN: 978-1-59078-523-2.

"Noor was too excited to sleep. She kept checking the candy and the fanouses that would light up their path for Girgian." This undercurrent of energy courses through the whole story, in which little Noor and her littler brothers prepare for a three night celebration during Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting. It's always a pleasure to read of that exuberance in the child during what is a spiritual and peaceful but also challenging time (fasting from dawn until dusk for a month!).

The familiar and widely known facts are there about Ramadan, but we get to learn a whole new facet of Arab culture in the description of a culturally specific holiday, Girgian (which I personally was unfamiliar with, despite my Muslim heritage). I enjoyed learning about this celebration, and I'm sure a lot of kids will actually relate to it—even if in the most ridiculous way—by equating the action of giving and collecting candy from house to house to that of Halloween. However, here you see children share in the delight of making the traditional candy and adorning their fancy ethnic garb together, while the parents instill the understanding that there is deeper purpose to the holiday and the month itself. There's no discord here; Noor naturally picks up from her grandmother the joy of being with your family and supporting others, an action she fulfills completely by the end of the novel.

This is a well-written story about a multigenerational family in Kuwait who share in the many experiences of Ramadan, and teach us about a jovial new one.

Soft, swirly illustrations in rich jewel tones bring out the bright white moon and brilliant red garb and yellow drums, all the while inviting the reader to experience the excitement of the children. I love illustrations that capture the details in their expressions as well as their cultural background. These are just incredibly warm and evocative. The guide at the back is helpful and informative as well—worth an exploration into something that may be somewhat familiar to the general reader but offers rich insight into the beauty of another culture. I've become a fan of Maha Addasi's work and highly recommend this book.

Alya Hameed

Friday, May 3, 2013


Jenkins, Emily and G. Brian Karas. Lemonade in Winter: A Book about Two Kids Counting Money. New York: Schwartz and Wade, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-375-85883-3.

The chant will stay with you long after the last page is turned: "Lemon lemon LIME, lemon LIMEADE! Lemon lemon LIME, lemon LEMONADE! All that it will cost ya? Fifty cents a cup!" (not sure about you, but that last line really nails it for me). And with it the image of two determined young children ready to capitalize on their entrepreneurial spirit in order to liven up an otherwise cold, snowy winter's day. When Pauline peeks out of her apartment window and sees the blank open street, the immediate vision is a lemonade stand (naturally). I particularly loved the opening, with the surprisingly warm illustrations of a cold day, and one brightly lit window holding a tiny smiling head. The words start the reader off on an adventure too: "An empty street. Outside, a mean wind blows." Pauline has her work cut out for her, but she will prevail. So, against the well-meaning admonishments from her parents, Pauline and her little brother John-John scavenge through the house for quarters, and in doing so, take the reader into a lyrical journey through counting, adding, and learning about the value of money.

I really loved this book for its many layers. On the surface, you have two children who constantly adapt to their challenging surroundings (No people around? Time for a discount! Not enough attention? Let's advertise!) and gain admirers and customers through their endeavor. It's a sweet tale of sister teaching brother how to count money—but more than that, she instills the value of money into him. That leads to my second level of admiration: learning the real value of money. Does that only mean that four lemons cost a dollar, and two dollars for cups?

 Nope, because by the end Pauline realizes that despite their efforts, they had spent six dollars on supplies, but only earned four dollars worth of quarters in sales. So she and the reader have a sense of disappointment that their hard work did not lead to success. But the "value" of money doesn't end there. Her brother John-John reminds Pauline that it still amounts to something, "Sixteen [quarters] is money!" says John-John... "Will sixteen quarters buy two popsicles?" Leave it to the youngest to have the most faith. And so, by the end, Pauline and her brother share the fruits of their labor by realizing they can have two sweetly sour lime and lemon popsicles. The value of money becomes the value of the shared experience.

This is an exceptional book for introducing a child to the idea of money. The illustrations also carry the reader through all the steps in soft tones, never overwhelming, just perfect for the sunshine and vibrance that the two kids bring to their glum sidewalk. Kids and parents, students and teachers will feel truly enriched through this reading experience.

Alya Hameed

Thursday, May 2, 2013


Townsend, Michael. Monkey & Elephant’s Worst Fight Ever! Illus. By Michael Townsend. Alfred A. Knopf, Mar. 2011. ISBN 0375857176. $15.99.

Monkey & Elephant’s Worst Fight Ever! is about best friends Monkey and Elephant. Monkey goes to Elephant’s house and assumes that he wasn’t invited to a secret costume party that Elephant was having. Things quickly escalate from there. Elephant gets even by giving the Bunny family the keys to Monkey’s house. Monkey responds by painting a face on Elephant’s rump while he’s sleeping. Tensions between Monkey and Elephant continue to escalate. Eventually, Monkey and Elephant are given an ultimatum: Monkey and Elephant must make up and hug before they can come home. Monkey and Elephant argue for a while before Monkey learns that Elephant wasn’t having a party; he was hosting a surprise wrestling tournament for Monkey. Elephant and Monkey apologize to each other and come home. They fix everything they broke and they hold the wrestling tournament.

Some of Monkey and Elephant’s actions struck me as childish. Monkey and Elephant’s fight was based on a misunderstanding that could have been resolved if Monkey had asked Elephant what he was doing. Monkey and Elephant were overly dramatic:

I’m sorry!
I’m sorry too!
Not as sorry as I am.
No, I’m more sorry!
No, I’m more sorry!

I did not like this book much. The characters were vindictive. They got revenge on each other. Some of what they did involved innocent bystanders. No wonder the other animals wanted them gone! They were ruining the peacefulness of the island. This book is about friendship and how you should not jump to conclusions. If you don’t understand something, you should ask questions.

Carly Krewitsky

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Gardner, Carol. Princess Zelda and the Frog. Photography by Shane Young. New York: A Feiwel and Friends Book, 2011. ISBN 978-0-312-60325-0. $16.99 US / $19.50 CAN.

Princess Zelda and the Frog is a retelling of the classic tale The Princess and the Frog, but in this version the princess and the frog are bulldogs in costumes. Princess Zelda has everything she could ever want, except a full night’s sleep. She wears silk dresses and sleeps in a silk bed. One day, she drops her golden ball into a mud puddle. She doesn’t know how to get it back, so she makes a deal with the frog, who fetches her ball in return for her letting him eat off her plate, drink from her goblet, and sleep on her bed. Princess Zelda reluctantly agrees to the frog’s demands. In the morning the frog turns into a handsome prince and Princess Zelda gets a good night’s sleep.

I like the names in this book: Princess Zelda, Queen Lucille, and King Sour-Mug. The frog has a lot of nicknames for Princess Zelda; he calls her Sparkles, Silky Pants, Sweet Cakes, Princess Perfect, and Sweetums. He repeatedly refers to her as his BFF, or Best Friend Forever. He calls out:

“Oh, BFF, please let me in!
So I might see your lovely grin!
Remember the promise you made to me
Please let me in---We’re meant to be!”

At the end of the book, Princess Zelda, waking up from a good night’s sleep, says to the prince:

“Oh, BFF, you were so right.
I used to toss and turn at night.
But with you snoring next to me,
It’s plain to see we’re meant to be!”

The costumes Princess Zelda wore highlight that she is a very pretty princess. I find it interesting that through the majority of the book Princess Zelda wears purple. On a few pages, she wears pink. In the last three pages, she wears red and gold. The frog has only one costume until the end of the book. At the end of the book, he is wearing red, blue, white, black, and gold.

Overall, I liked Princess Zelda and the Frog. I like dogs. I would dress my dog in costumes if she’d let me.

Carly Krewitsky

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Donaldson, Julia. Tabby McTat The Musical Cat. Illus. Axel Scheffler. London: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2009. ISBN 978-0-545-45168-0. $16.99 US /$18.99 CAN.

Tabby McTat The Musical Cat is the story of a cat and his master, a busker named Fred. They enjoy singing songs and collecting money from people on the street.

The story starts out happy and ends happy. However, the ending is not completely happy; Tabby McTat does not go back to his wife and her owners Prunella and Pat. The story is happy in that Tabby McTat is reunited with Fred. I thought the story was sad in that Fred and Tabby were trying to find each other but were unable to do so. Also, Fred breaks his leg when he chases after the thief.

Tabby McTat The Musical Cat uses a lot of rhyme. For example, “this and that” rhymes with “old checked hat.” “Sat” rhymes with “cat.” “Chat” rhymes with “cat.” “Chase” rhymes with “lace.” “Head” rhymes with “bed.” “Black” rhymes with “back.” “Old Fred” rhymes with “hospital bed.” “Pat,” “mat,” “flat,” and “bat” rhyme, so do “Grew” and “mew” and “tabby-gray fur” and “very loud purr.” “Susan and Soames” and “very good homes” rhyme, as does “Tabby McTat” and long-lost cat!”

In addition to rhyme, Tabby McTat The Musical Cat uses repetition. For example, on the first page of text “perfectly” is repeated three times, although the last time says “PURRR-fectly.” When the thief enters the story, “it” is repeated. When Tabby McTat is separated from Fred, “on” is repeated.

The author is also alliterative. The third sentence of the first page reads: “The two of them sang of this and that.” Fred eats bacon and bread; bacon and bread both begin with “B.” When Tabby McTat meets Sock, Sock is described as “A gorgeously glossy and green-eyed cat.” When Sock and McTat talk, it’s described as a “cat-to-cat chat.” When the thief steals the hat, there is a ton of words beginning with “H”: “had,” “his,” “hat,” and “he.” When Fred pursues the thief, the author uses the words “chase” and” crash” and “broke” and “banged.” Sock’s owners are named Prunella and Pat. McTat enjoys pouncing on Pat.

Overall, I thought Tabby McTat The Musical Cat was a good picture book. I liked the interaction between the cats and their owners. As the daughter of a musician, I also liked the musical aspect of the story.

Carly Krewitsky

Monday, April 29, 2013


McKee, David. Elmer and the Birthday Quake. London: Andersen Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-1-4677-1117-3.

Fans of David McKee’s patchwork elephant will enjoy the colorful characters of his newest addition to the series, Elmer and the Birthday Quake. Elmer takes a back seat in the tale when his friend Super El is better suited for the task of rescuing a 100-year-old elephant (appropriately named “Old”) from a dangerous cliff top. Super El, a smallish pachyderm in a spandex (I’m assuming) superhero suit, will delight his fans with his eager and decisive heroics. Not only is he a quick and confident hero, he teachers Elmer and the other elephants to seize the day.

As colorful as ever, McKee’s illustrations are delightful and bold. In addition to his visually diverse jungle layouts, a radiant herd of pink elephants make an appearance.

Following in the tradition of providing his reader with a bit of counsel (in Elmer celebrating individuality is the lesson), McKee’s book is a lighthearted tale that pokes at the reader to consider taking an active role in making the most of their days.

Kelsey Wadman

Friday, April 26, 2013

ZOE GETS READY by Bethanie Deeney Murguia

Murguia, Bethanie Deeney. Zoe Gets Ready. New York: Arthur A. Levine, 2012. ISBN 978-0-545-34215-5. $16.99.

During the week, young Zoe’s mother chooses Zoe’s outfits based on her schedule—school, soccer, and rainy days. Except for Saturdays. Saturdays, Zoe gets to decide her own wardrobe. The narrative follows Zoe’s imaginative projections, letting her mood decide her outfits and the outfits determine the adventure. A pocket day would allow Zoe to collect all sorts of treasures, like frogs and acorns. A flowing dress would work perfectly for a whirling day. A blend-in day would allow her to camouflage in a tree.

Sprinkled throughout the narrative is Zoe’s unseen but heard mom. She provides guidance and direction to Zoe, prompting her to hurry up and finish getting ready to go out for the day. Finally, Zoe emerges from her room, wearing a piece of clothing from every one of her imagined adventures. On Saturdays, Zoe gets to decide, and she embraces every opportunity for adventure.

In addition to the simple and engaging narrative, Zoe Gets Ready features beautiful and bright watercolor illustrations. The visuals compliment the story perfectly and each page will hold the reader’s interest. Between the inviting illustrations and story of a child’s empowerment, this book will be a popular choice for a young reader.

Kira Hall

Thursday, April 25, 2013


Agee, Jon. The Other Side of Town. New York: Scholastic, 2012. ISBN 978-0-545-16204-3. $17.95.

Jon Agee's whimsical book tells the story of a New York City cab driver who picks up an unusual fare. An odd little man, dressed in a strange green onesie-like suit with a pink tuft on the cap, directs the cab driver to take him to "Schmeeker Street," to which the cabbie responds confusedly, "You mean Bleecker Street?" No, the little man means "Schmeeker" street, which is one of the main roads on The Other Side of Town.

As the cabbie drives the man through the Finkon Tunnel during mush hour, the duo repeats the same game of words. The man says "nog lights," the cabbie says "fog lights?" The man says "Snooklyn Bridge," the cabbie says "Brooklyn Bridge?" And so on and so forth. There is little variation in the way the story is told, and when reading it, the repetitive conceit gets a little old. However, I can imagine that reading it aloud with an enthusiastic child would be a riot.

A caveat, though: that child would need to be familiar with New York City landmarks and lingo. This book, while charming and quirky, might have a limited audience due to how specific it is to New York. For children who live in New York or are particularly familiar with the city, this book would be a very fun way to talk about both real landmarks and nonsense at once.

Jill Coste

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I LIKE OLD CLOTHES by Mary Ann Hoberman

Hoberman, Mary Ann. I Like Old Clothes. Illus. Patrice Barton. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012. Text Copyright 1976. ISBN 978-0-375-86951-8. $16.99.

Mary Ann Hoberman originally published I Like Old Clothes more than 30 years ago, but the simple and delightful story is just as relevant today. Told in rhythmic rhyme that just begs to be read aloud, I Like Old Clothes follows a small girl who documents her affinity for hand-me-downs. She loves patched-up, worn old sweaters, shirts with other people's names on them, and "once-for-good clothes, now-for-play clothes."

The little girl rhymes her way through what she loves about old clothes -- the fact that they tell a story. Who wore these before me? the little girl wonders. She daydreams about what games the clothes have won, what parties they've been to. I Like Old Clothes makes a case for appreciating vintage artifacts and letting your imagination tell you the story of where the clothes were and will be.

The illustrations tell just as much of a story as the words. Barton's textural sketches work well with the idea of fabric and clothing, as every illustrated setting has some element of of pattern overlaid on it. Green grass has a hint of a vine pattern, the squares of a floor hint at plaid, the sky is just-this-side of polka-dot or gingham. The little girl's enthusiasm for old clothes comes through in her illustrated expressions and her bouncing movements.

With its drawings rich with texture and its story of how-clothes-are-more-than-clothes, this book would be perfect for a budding fashion designer, fashionista, or any creative child.

Jill Coste

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

THE VELVETEEN RABBIT by Margery Williams

Williams, Margery. The Velveteen Rabbit. Illus. Gennady Spirin. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish, 2011. ISBN: 978-0-7614-5848-7. $17.99.

Margery Williams' classic The Velveteen Rabbit is typeset with lush, ethereal illustrations by Gennady Spirin in this 2011 version. The Velveteen Rabbit, originally published in 1922, tells the story of the plush toy bunny who longs to become Real. New to the nursery, he is shy and sensitive, and he feels inferior to the snobby wind-up toys. The Skin Horse, old and wise and part of the family for two generations, assures the rabbit that it's much easier for beloved stuffed animals to become Real, because they are durable, and becoming Real takes a long time.

The sweet little velveteen rabbit soon becomes the Boy's favorite toy, and over time, the rabbit becomes shabby, worn, well-loved, and, yes, Real. The rabbit's joy is palpable when the Boy exclaims to his mother "He isn't a toy. He's REAL!" But as we learn in life, good things often come to an end. When the Boy is stricken with scarlet fever, the rabbit is discarded with the other germ-laded sheets and toys. Separated from his Boy and crying softly, the rabbit is visited by the Nursery Fairy, who turns him into a real rabbit. But even as a live critter, the rabbit doesn't forget his Boy.

The story's poignant lesson about loss and enduring love is just as powerful as ever in this 2011 edition. Spirin's illustrations evoke the 1922 setting that Williams would have envisioned as she was writing. The little rabbit's face is expressive, and the images of the Boy walking around with Rabbit tucked under his arm or snuggled in bed are wholesome and representative of the affection a child can have for a toy. Additionally, there's an almost air-brushed quality to the illustrations that creates an almost dreamlike atmosphere that perfectly complements this classic, heart-breaking/heart-warming story of magic.

Jill Coste

Monday, April 22, 2013

RIVER SONG by Steve Van Zandt

Van Zandt, Steve. River Song. Illus. Katherine Zecca. Nevada City: Dawn Publications, 2007. ISBN: 978-1-58469-094-8, $9.95.

"Blurp-ah pa-shoosh rumbly pound / A white rapid river makes a wonderful sound..."—so goes the refrain of River Song with the Banana Slugs String Band. See, the book comes along with a CD, and after reading the book through once, and then twice, I thought sticking it in the player was the perfect solution—entertain the little one and get some work done. Not the case. Nope, she wanted me to sing along.

So, "blurp-ah pa-shoosh rumbly pound / A white rapid river makes a wonderful sound" as it travels from high in the mountains on the short days of Winter and down "steep canyon walls that echo with wren's call." Its song continues as it goes through glens, past a Summertime farm, and carries families in their water-tubes along. Finally,  "it rolls and it rolls right past me"...and into the sea. Upon reaching the sea, the water evaporates back up into the sky, and the water cycle begins again.

This is another fine example of the Dawn Publication's books that seek to share nature with children. And, as with the others, it succeeds. Part of what makes River Song so charming, though, is the accompanying CD of the Banana Slug String Band (you might check out additional materials and curricula at This is a great way to introduce the water cycle, draw attention to Earth Day, or just celebrate the wonder of our natural world.

Reviewed by Stephanie Ashley

Friday, April 19, 2013

THE SPIDER AND THE FLY by Tony Diterlizzi

Diterlizzi, Tony. The Spider and the Fly. Based on the tale by Mary Howitt. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. ISBN: 978-0-689-85289-3.

The Spider and the Fly revamps Mary Howitt’s cautionary tale about a soothsaying spider and a sweet, naïve fly by pairing the verse with Tony Diterlizzi’s Caldecott-honored illustrations. At first glance, contemporary book browsers might wonder how a poem written in 1829 (complete with Victorian vernacular) could hold the attention of today’s child reader. However, all dusted off and with a fresh coat of paint, this story proves that some scares are timeless. Diterlizzi’s drawings toe the line between charming and creepy, with an aesthetic nod to old film noir and Edward Gorey. The story itself plays out the melodrama of an unsuspecting damselfly who meets an unfortunate end at the many hands of a scheming spider.

The text rings with the moralizing overtones common to the children’s literature of its era. This is a story with a lesson, particularly for little girls, about the big bad world. Some parents may bristle at the basic plot trajectory – a wide-eyed babe in the woods is taken in, seduced, and murdered by an unctuous older man – but hey, they’re only insects! And as the afterword reminds any disgruntled readers, “What did you expect from a story about a spider and a fly? Happily ever after?” That being said, this book would best be reserved for an elementary school aged reader (the jacket advises 6 and up).

Diterlizzi’s illustrations really do balance out the spookiness and slime with sophisticated fun. The little Fly is all rouged up like a flapper while the Spider smolders like a portly Gomez Addams. The backgrounds of each scene are not to be missed; these pages were designed for lingering. The Spider’s lair is dripping with beautifully gory detail, decorated by a dead ladybug footrest and a coffee table copy of The Joy of Cooking Bugs. Diterlizzi also accomplishes a haunting range of light and shadow using only black, white, and shades of gray.

All in all, this is a lovely book with some serious style. There’s an applicable message about the dangers of sweet-talking strangers, but the illustrations are worth the price of admission alone.

Emily Lohorn

Thursday, April 18, 2013

GO, GO, GRAPES! by April Pulley Sayre

Sayre, April Pulley. Go, Go, Grapes! A Fruit Chant. New York: Beach Lane Books, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-4424-3390-8. 

Perfect for picky eaters and fruit aficionadas alike, Go, Go, Grapes! announces itself as a fruit chant. This full color picture book takes the reader on a tour of the supermarket produce aisle, introducing exotic new fruits alongside familiar peels and pits. Apples, berries, melon, and of course, grapes are the main attraction in this produce parade. But what about cactus, kiwano, or rambutan? Never fear, for every fruit is invited to join the party in April Pulley Sayre’s follow-up to Rah, Rah, Radishes. Child readers ages 3-7 will enjoy the vivid color photographs taken from fruit stands and grocery stores around the world. Adults will also appreciate the diverse sampling that represents a multicultural culinary tradition. While the photos are sumptuous and sure to steal the show, the book’s language is just as great a delight. Pulley Sayre’s verse is (pardon the pun) pithy and energetic. There is alliterative magic in lines like “Grab a guava. Live for lime.” The book begs to be read aloud and would be especially appropriate as a bedtime story for a little one who is loathe to eat his or her fruits and veggies. However, even established omnivores should find this book to be a sweet treat.

Emily Lohorn

Wednesday, April 17, 2013


Heard, Georgia. Falling Down The Page: A Book of List Poems. New York: Square Fish, 2011. ISBN 978-1-59643-666-4. $8.99

Edited by Georgia Heard, Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems is a refreshingly unique poetry anthology for young readers. Heard unites these poems by form allowing the book to explore a variety of subjects while simultaneously highlighting the range and depth of the list form of poetry. Falling Down the Page highlights themes young readers can relate to, touching on everything from test anxiety to the beauty of nature. While the overall arc of the book follows a school day and a school year, the poems themselves grapple with issues and ideas far more diverse.

The best poems in Falling Down the Page come to life in the specificity of the objects or observations being catalogued. In “In My Desk” Jane Yolen’s list of absurd objects “one/ holey/ sock, […]a pair of moldy/ old pincecones, […] my braces that were much too tight,/ a lunch box/ with a great big/ hunk/ of rotting cheese” drives the voice of this loveably eccentric speaker (16). The details draw the reader in heightening the emotional impact. Similarly, Kathy Applet’s “Test Day” uses specific details to enliven the voice of the poem. The poem opens, “It is never about the things I know:”(30). Then it continues with a list of weighty points of knowledge, “That my great-great-aunt learned to drive when she was 68 […] How the thunder scares my ginger-striped cat” each item enriches the speaker’s voice (30). Applet’s “Test Day” is one of the many skillful voice driven poems that run through Falling Down the Page.

Moreover, the poems in Falling Down the Page are richly musical in a variety of ways. Many of the poems, such as the opening poem, “Good-byes,” use a short meter and overt rhyme scheme to create a whimsical music. Lines such as, “It’s really hard/ to say good-bye/ to twinkling beach,/ and golden sky,/ to castles rising/ from the sand, to Annie’s caramel/ popcorn stand,” evoke nursery rhymes establishing a familiar poetic music. In “Things to Do if You are the Sun” Bobbi Katz employs a more subtle soft tone of music. Relying on assonance and internal rhyme, allow the stark images of the poem to not be overpowered by a heavy rhyme scheme. Katz writes, “Keep things cool enough for penguins./ Slip away to end the day./ Light the moon at night./ Let people and animals sleep./ And at the crack of dawn,/ wake up the world!” foregrounding the speaker’s views of the sun thereby letting the music work as a soft underscore (33). On the opposite end of the musical spectrum, David Harrison’s “Chorus of Four Frogs” is one-hundred percent music. The poem is made up of four voices repeating onomatopoeic words in a variety of sequences. The words “Greedeep,” “Ribbet?” “Peep-peep” and “Ker-plum!” are repeated to create, as the title suggests, a frog chorus crescendo. “Chorus of Four Frogs” provides a unique perspective of the list poem (39). Young readers will love reading this poem aloud.

While one might worry an entire book of list poems may grow tedious, each poem in Falling Down The Page is unique and engaging. Readers will be captivated by the diverse voices and music singing from the page and inspired to try to create a list poem of their own.

Francine Rockey

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

ZIBA CAME ON A BOAT by Liz Lofthouse

Lofthouse, Liz. Ziba Came on a Boat. Illus. Robert Ingpen. La Jolla, Calif.: Kane/Miller Book Publishers, Inc., 2007. ISBN 978-1-933605-52-4. $15.95.

Ziba Came on a Boat is the story of Afghan refugees traveling by sea to an undisclosed host country. The crowded fishing boat surrounded by blue water is the initial and oft repeated full-page image—the constant return to the image throughout crafts the ebb-and-flow feel of the story. The narrative crosscuts from occurrences at sea—waves, calm, storm—that prompt young Ziba’s flashbacks to her mountainous village before and after Taliban rule. The connection between sensory experience and memory is sophisticated and fluid; the text is straightforward and resonant. The reader gets the feel of the monotony and solitude of this type of desperate boat escape—sitting cross-legged, exposed to the elements, surrounded only by family, having fled without belongings. All that remains are memories, good and bad, hope for the future, and dreams of “azadi”—freedom.

As difficult as the underlying subject matter is, this book is a gentle gem, accessible and re-readable. The undercurrent of hope and the security of already having escaped prevent readers from experiencing any anxiety. Ziba’s flashbacks focus on childhood scenes that are universal—reading schoolbooks and helping to set the dinner table—and more culturally-specific, like carrying water jugs back to her mud-brick home. Her snapshot memories translate easily for a young audience, while the background illustrations invite talking opportunities between child and adult readers. While the illustrations of faces tend to be a bit fuzzy (though ethnically specific), the depictions of mountainous Afghanistan are lovely and informative without romanticizing village life. The book is frank but inviting—perfect for readers interested in a multicultural world where children experience political strife.

Chandra Howard

Monday, April 15, 2013


Yates, Louise. Dog Loves Drawing. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House), 2012. ISBN: 978-0-375-87067-5. $16.99.

“Dog loved books!”

So begins the story of Dog, a pooch who loves books so much, he owns his own bookshop. There is nothing Dog enjoys more than sharing and reading books. He gets a big surprise one day when he receives a curious package in the mail... a book with no words or pictures! With his pens, brushes, and colored pencils, Dog embarks on a lively journey, making new friends and creating his own adventure along the way. Reminiscent of the classic book Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson, Dog Loves Drawing is cute and charming, and the author’s pencil and watercolor illustrations and doodles are absolutely adorable. Readers will be delighted to see how Dog makes his own world of fun and will likely be motivated to do the same!

Jenny Weisenborn

Friday, April 12, 2013


Hayes, Geoffrey. The Bunny’s Night-Light: A Glow-in-the-Dark Search. New York: Random House, 2012. ISBN: 978-0-375-86926-6. $11.99.

In this sweet story, Bunny can’t go to sleep because “There’s too much dark at night.” Papa is determined to find the right night-light that is especially for Bunny, so the two set off on a walk through the woods and town on a quest for the perfect illuminating source. With options that are too bright, too twinkly, too busy, too small, or too tall, will Bunny ever find that special light? The rich illustrations are timeless and beautiful, and the attention to detail and glow-in-the-dark accents make Bunny and Papa’s cozy little world come to life. This tale will certainly appeal to any reader who is, or has been, afraid of the dark, and the pages are a work of art that will be cherished by both youngsters and parents. Comforting and reassuring, The Bunny’s Night-Light will surely become a classic bedtime story.

Jenny Weisenborn

Thursday, April 11, 2013


Eversole, Robyn. East Dragon, West Dragon. Illus. Scott Campbell. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon & Schuster), 2012. ISBN: 978-0-689-85828-4. $16.99.

“West Dragon thought East Dragon was a snob. East Dragon thought West Dragon was a slob... they were a little afraid of each other because they didn’t know who was bigger, who was fiercer... so they kept a world between them, just in case.”

In this classic tale of clashing cultures, East Dragon, West Dragon artfully weaves a story of two contrasting dragons -- one who lives in a land of palaces, emperors, and geishas, and one who lives in a land of caves, kings, and knights. The dragons have never met before and happily live in their own worlds, until one day when everything goes wrong and their sides of the sea meet. What will happen when these fierce forces come face-to-face? With intricate and whimsical watercolor illustrations that will enchant you, East Dragon, West Dragon is filled with action that will take you on an adventure!

Jenny Weisenborn

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

A GOLD STAR FOR ZOG by Julia Donaldson

Donaldson, Julia. A Gold Star for Zog. Illus. Axel Scheffler. New York: Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic Inc.), 2012. ISBN: 978-0-545-41724-2. $16.99.

In Madam Dragon’s school, young dragons learn all the skills necessary to become a great dragon -- how to fly, roar, breathe fire... even how to capture a princess! “Zog, the biggest dragon, was the keenest one by far. He tried his hardest every day to win a golden star.” Klutzy and endearing, Zog tries his best to be the best and encounters many mishaps along the way. Throughout his years of school, Zog makes a special friend, a friend who may be the key to his success one day.

The text flows through fun and humorous rhymes, and the rich illustrations are bold and vibrant, filling every square inch of the page. An uplifting story that makes you want to read it again and again, A Gold Star for Zog is a whimsical tale with a twist!

Jenny Weisenborn

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal & Tom Lichtenheld

Rosenthal, Amy Krouse and Tom Lichtenheld. ! Exclamation Mark. New York: Scholastic, 2013. ISBN 978-0-545-43679-3. $17.99.

An exclamation point, after all, stands out, doesn’t it? So, if you’re a little exclamation point kid, you have to find your mojo, which is just what this little one does. Surrounded by friendly but markedly different periods, the little point can’t fit in. In fact, he’s “flummoxed” (I would recommend this book if only because the authors used this word!). Ah, but exclamation boy meets a question mark as unlike the others as he is, and voila. The charming “Who am I?” story is told in energetic prose and illustrated by personified punctuation drawn with a lot of dash. Both satisfying and funny, ! is a grammar tale that exemplifies the continuing collaborative excellence of Rosenthal and Lichtenheld.

Alida Allison

Monday, April 8, 2013

LOOK...LOOK AGAIN! by John O'Brien

O’Brien, John. Look … Look Again! Honesdale, PA: Boyds Mills Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-59078-894-3. $18.95.

Brilliantly John O’Brien’s pen-and-ink and watercolor cartoons surprise the eye and the mind. Each panel leads one to a visual conclusion changed by the very next illustration, until the last leaves one deeply amused and appreciative of O’Brien’s sense of humor and graphic genius. The reinforced cut-out cover opening onto endpapers that draw upon yet contradict it, the very original iteration of the “Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup” joke, the Three Ring Circus, the cows, pizzas, knights, and much more are packed in a hilarious book certain to be repeatedly enjoyed by readers of all ages, especially older ones.

Alida Allison

Friday, April 5, 2013

DEATH CLOUD by Andrew Lane

Lane, Andrew. Death Cloud. New York: Square Fish, 2011. ISBN-10: 031256371X.

As adventure stories go, this one bristles with intrigue and pulses with strange twists and turns. A young Sherlock Holmes, intent on returning home for summer holidays from his boarding school, instead is diverted towards his estranged uncle’s home in the country. What begins as a humdrum, monotonous stay with inaccessible and cold relatives turns rather quickly into a sharp and confusing mystery when a dead body appears on his uncle’s land. It’s a promising tale, and young readers will enjoy the antics that Sherlock and his new mate Matty Arnatt get up to moments within meeting one another, from inadvertent spying on shady criminals to surreptitious boat rides. And the climax, well it’s just one round of intensity after another, with observation and cunning being the most deadly weapons.

The confusion around the titular enigma that momentarily lingers over bodies, a “death cloud” of sorts, is unfortunately resolved too quickly. However, that in turn does lead toward a new series of questions that befuddle the reader more than any would-be otherworldly forces. Basically the truth seems more farfetched than imagination, but at least Holmes is quick to point that out to the villains themselves, who only begin to question the feasibility of their plans at this young teenager’s prodding. Visually, readers might also be somewhat unsettled or perturbed by the villain himself who, having suffered a great injury during a war, has an almost laughable appearance if it weren’t so disturbing. Still, Lane uses history to his benefit and creates characters and settings that fit perfectly into the time period and the machinations of that era.

There does remain one major issue though—the imagining of young Sherlock Holmes himself. Any avid Holmes reader will find it hard to believe that as a fourteen year old, Sherlock had not yet developed his keen sense of observation, wit, sarcastic cunning at least to some degree. I can see him not fitting in at school, but I cannot imagine him being so… timid. I welcomed the summer tutor his brother hires for him, an American with sharp senses and a sharper brain, who guides Sherlock through his first stages of development into the dark world of mystery and crime solving. But Sherlock himself did not ring true for me, instead lacking in personality and falling for a girl far too simply like any typical teenager would. That Lane’s book is fully endorsed by the Conan Doyle Estate makes me wonder though, do I expect too much of the grand master detective? Or do his talents deserve to have been inculcated at an earlier age?

Nevertheless, the book does allow for a growing parade of subsequent books, which may resolve such issues as: Why his uncle was estranged from his father in the first place? When does Holmes’ disdain for common folk and ambivalence toward women develop? And what mysteries lie within his own family? It would be a fun experience to see if and how these unfold amidst the wild capers Sherlock is bound to pursue.

Reviewed by Alya Hameed

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

GOING APE! by Eduardo Bustos

Bustos, Eduardo, and Lucho Rodriguez. Going Ape! New York: Tundra, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-77049-282-0, $9.95. 

Did you know that there are more than two hundred species of primates in the world and, except for humans, they are known as apes? Did you know that the Gibbon is the fastest mammal that lives in trees and cannot fly? Or that the Macaque can swim more than half a kilometer (a third of a mile for those of us in the US)? Or that the Allen’s Swamp Monkey has webbed feet? How about the fact that Orangutans, my favorite ape of all time, live with their mothers for seven years?

Well, not only is all of this true, there are many more facts to be learned about apes in Bustos and Rodrigeuz’s book. Originally written in Spanish, Going Ape!’s colorful and straightforward illustrations nicely complement its easily accessible text. This is an excellent book for the beginning reader—the text is large and, excepting the names of the apes, there aren’t too many multi-syllabic words. For those in San Diego, or anyone who lives near a zoo, this would be a very useful book to read in preparation for a zoo trip. As a final note, the large illustration of each ape’s face would serve as a neat template for a mask and there's a pretty cool poster with all the different ape faces on the backside of the cover!

Reviewed by Stephanie Ashley

Friday, March 29, 2013


Puttock, Simon. Little Lost Cowboy. Illus. Caroline Jayne Church. New York: Egmont, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-60684-259-1, $16.99. 

Poor Cowboy Coyote—he's had a very rough day and night. No matter how hard he tries and where he goes, he can't find his mother. He "EEKS!" and "SPLASHES!" and tumbles about—all with no luck. Fortunately, he eventually meets a kindly toad who gives him the best advice ever: "Sit tight and wait, and howl your VERY LOUDEST, [and] I'm sure you will be found." And so, Cowboy Coyote cries: "AROO! I'm lost and I'm lonesome" and lists off the mishaps of the day. This time, though, Cowboy Coyote doesn't go anywhere and waits for his mom to arrive.

Little Lost Cowboy has beautiful illustrations and they make the cumulative structure of the story truly enjoyable. A favorite scene is Cowboy Coyote pulling his bedraggled hat and self out of a cold stream. Poor Cowboy Coyote!

As cute as Cowboy Coyote is, the message of Little Lost Cowboy is that ever so important: "Stay put when you're lost and yell until someone finds you." This is an excellent teaching tool—and an enjoyable read!

Reviewed by Stephanie Ashley

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

WADDLES by David McPhail

McPhail, David. Waddles. New York: Abrams, 2011. ISBN: 9780810984158, $15.95.

"Waddles waddled like a duck.
              But he was not a duck.
                          Waddles was a raccoon. A very round raccoon. And he was always hungry."

So begins the story of Waddles and a very special year with some very special friends. Open the book, turn to the title page, and I guarantee you will fall in love with Waddles—carrying a half-eaten piece of pizza and all. This is certainly not a book about healthful eating habits (though Waddles should be praised for putting food back in the trashcan when he's done with it) but it is a book about friendship and loyalty.

While Waddles is not a duck, his best friend, Emily, is a duck. Emily and Waddles spend  a lovely Spring together. Emily does her best to encourage a better diet, but Waddles "prefer[s] half-eaten sandwiches or cake." Their days together change when Waddles finds Emily sitting on her nest. She explains that she needs to keep her eggs safe and she won't be able to join Waddles on his adventures. Waddles stays with her, but when he realizes that she won't be able to go get food, Waddles offers to sit on the nest.

As Waddles stands post, the themes of loyalty and bravery enter the story. No matter what happens, Waddles won't abandon Emily's eggs. Fortunately, everything works out okay and the ducklings are born. Before Waddles realizes it, though, Summer has come and gone and Fall has arrived. Waddles doesn't like what happens next, but true friendship sometimes means letting go—and, just maybe, saying hello again!

Reviewed by Stephanie Ashley

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

TIME TO PRAY by Maha Addasi

Addasi, Maha. Time to Pray. Illustrated by Ned Gannon. Honesdale, PA: Boyd's Mills Press, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-1590786116. $17.95.

Time to Pray endearingly takes the reader into the personal world of a young Muslim girl and her bond with her grandmother which grows stronger as the girl's sense of spirituality develops. Visiting her grandmother in an undisclosed Middle Eastern country, the girl slowly steps into the world of prayer, one of the five tenets (or pillars) of Islam, and with each step she grows more thoughtful about the meaning behind praying as well as more excited to discover new ways to remember her grandmother. By keeping this in an unnamed country, Addasi allows the reader a chance to feel the threads that weave this spiritual act without any cultural or social influences; it's just a simple story about love and devotion in its many forms and serves as a wonderful introduction to Islam for all readers.

The illustrations, all done in oil, feel as soft and tangible as the sentiments that brew within the story. The rich colors and vibrant expressions are equally nurturing and evocative. The text itself is translated with the English and Arabic side by side. Addasi also includes a an informational page at the end explaining about Islamic prayer and the different times, an added benefit. Overall it's a brief, tranquil look into a different religion but more importantly, into a girl's maturing love and spirituality.

Reviewed by Alya Hameed

Monday, March 25, 2013

A SWIM THROUGH THE SEA by Kristin Joy Pratt

Special Feature: Review by a Middle School Student

Pratt, Kristin Joy. A Swim Through the Sea. Nevada City: Dawn Publications, 1994. ISBN-13: 978-1883220044. Price: $8.95

Open the book, read the first sentence—"If Seamore the seahorse, who lives beneath the sea, one day went exploring, what do you think he'd see?"—and get ready for a colorful ABC journey through the ocean and sea. From admiring "amiable Angelfish in appealing apparel" to discovering "a dozen delightful Dolphins diving up and down" to ogling "an odd-looking Octopus" and examining a "Xiphosuran, exhibiting an excellent example of an exoskeleton," Seamore will lead you through a beautiful undersea world.

This is a lovely book—Pratt's story-line is creative and a delight to read, her water-color illustrations are worthy of framing, and the easily accessible scientific information she shares in prose form provides an excellent first introduction to diverse undersea life. There is something else that sets A Swim Through the Sea apart from other books; Pratt wrote it and another, A Walk in the Rainforest, before graduating from high school. Pratt has gone on to write several other books (Salamander Rain: A Lake & Pond Journal and Saguaro Moon: A Desert Journal) and if they are anything like A Swim in the Sea, I know I will enjoy each word. Environmental awareness is a beautiful thing and this book made me treasure nature all the more.

Reviewed by Stephanie Ashley

Friday, March 22, 2013

KAZAAK by Sean Cassidy

Cassidy, Sean. Kazaak! Markham, Ont.: Fitzenhenry & Whiteside, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-55455-117-0. $18.95.

Kazaak! is the story of two porcupines named Spike and Rupert. Spike is quite the ingenue when it comes to having quills; Rupert, though, is an old pro. Rupert excitedly shows Spike all the wonderful things that quills can do. Most marvelous of all, however, is the way that, with a flick of a mighty tail, a porcupine can kazaak pretty much anything. You can kazaak fruit and let the yummy juice drip of your quills into your mouth. You can kazaak a tree and use it to help you climb up. The most important thing that kazaaking allows you to do? Scare off Bear.

Unfortunately, things don't go so well for Rupert and Spike when they encounter Bear in the woods. Rupert has spent so much time showing Spike what quills can do and kazaaking here and kazaaking there that all his quills are gone! A little quick thinking on the part of Spike, though, saves the day!

The final few pages of Kazaak! end with some information about porcupines—where they live, what they eat, and what their tracks look like. Additional statistics are shared about quills—for example, an average porcupine has 30,000 quills and if you were to draw all 30,000 quills at a rate of two quills for every second, it would take four hours to finish. Speaking of drawing, a final activity provides a diagram of how to draw a porcupine.  It's a good book, though I did feel a bit sorry for Bear when everything came to an end.

Reviewed by Stephanie Ashley

Thursday, March 21, 2013

BUZZ by Eileen Spinelli

Spinelli, Eileen. Illus. Vincent Nguyen. BUZZ. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-4169-4925-1, $15.99 

BUZZ. I can probably recite every word of BUZZ. The reason? My niece loves it. Fortunately, it's a cute book and I rather like it myself. Eileen Spinelli has set the story in response to the scientific statement that "aerodynamically speaking, the bumblebee shouldn't be able to fly, but the bumble doesn't know it, so it goes on flying anyway." She switches it around a bit, though, and the story explores what might happen if a bumblebee did find out that she couldn't fly.

BUZZ centers around three main characters: Buzz, Snail, and Old Owl. All three live a happy existence and Buzz especially loves being able to fly over fields of clover, trees, and Snail's briar. Old Owl is lovable in his stereotypical aloofness and Snail is kind—especially when Buzz, devastated upon seeing a news article reporting the scientific findings, can no longer fly. Unfortunately, this happens right when Buzz needs to fly the most. Old Owl is in great danger and only Buzz can save him—if she could fly. Alas, she can't, and Buzz has to come up with another way to save Old Owl.

This book is more than just a sweet little story and pretty pictures; it poses the question: "What will you do when someone says you can't succeed?"

As a side note: I tried out a fun reading development technique (which is appropriate for any illustrated book a child knows well) that was a great success. I asked my niece if she wanted to write the story of Buzz. She excitedly said yes, so I pulled out a piece of paper. I asked her to look at the pictures and tell me a story of what happened. There was a lot of "Buzzy, buzzy, buzzy Buzz!" but it was worth every single reading to watch a three year-old, clutching a few pages to her chest, proudly proclaim: "I'm an author! I writed a book!" Did she put pen to paper? No. But she is beginning to associate the act of writing and words and the creation of written narrative. Who knows, one day she might write her very own book for someone else to review!

Reviewed by Stephanie Ashley

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Hoppey, Tim. Pedro the Pirate. Illus. Dianna Bonder. McHenry: Raven Tree Press, 2012. ISBN# 978-1-936299-18-8. $16.95. Author’s suggested audience: Pre-K to 3rd Grade.

Pedro, the cabin boy on a pirate ship, dreams of becoming a real pirate like Captain Crossbones and finding treasure. Pedro he finds a locket on the rocks and takes it. A mermaid named Elena approaches Pedro and she asks him how he can take what doesn’t belong to him. Indifferent to her comments, Pedro casts a net to catch Elena. Captain Crossbones and Pedro kidnap Elena and hold her for a ransom of gold from the other mermaids. Pedro feels guilty about stealing and kidnapping. When he opens the locket, he learns that the locket is of special significance to Elena. The next day, when the mermaids bring the gold as ransom for their friend, deceitful Captain Crossbones keeps the both the gold and Elena. Pedro talks Captain Crossbones into releasing her. Later, Pedro sneaks into the captain’s quarters and takes the key to the pirate’s treasure chest. Pedro returns the locket to the rocks where he found it. He also leaves all of the mermaids’ gold there too. Pedro tells Elena he now knows he doesn’t want to be a pirate and he vows never to steal anything again.

This picture book includes valuable lessons and is enjoyable to read. Themes of action, adventure, value, and virtue follow Pedro through his decision-making about becoming a pirate. The powerful lessons about right and wrong taught by the story are do not steal, people can change their mind and do the right thing, and that things that have gone wrong can be made right again.

This is not a bilingual book but it does include creative elements of bilingualism that add to the quality of the book. The parrot character plays a significant translator role in the story. That is, he repeats what is said but in the opposite language. On page eight, the captain shouts, “Arrgh, treasure!” and the parrot squawks, “¡Arrgh, tesoro!” Tesoro is the Spanish translation of treasure. The translations not translated by the parrot are easy to connect to the English text because the Spanish text immediately follows the English. On page three, sailors scream “The pirate! ¡El pirata!” Pirata is the Spanish translation of pirate. The words pirate and pirata look alike and make it easy for the readers to make a connection, and these words are cognates.

Even though Pedro’s serious dilemma about right and wrong lends a serious tone to the story, there is humor in the interactions of the bilingual parrot, bilingual Pedro, and Captain Crossbones, who only speaks English and doesn’t understand what the parrot is saying. Crossbones says repeatedly “Quiet, parrot!” and the parrot always replies “¡Silencio, loro!” basically repeating what the captain just said, only in Spanish. Crossbones can’t understand what the parrot is saying, but the reader can, and this is very funny and enjoyable.

The story is mostly written in English, but there are nine words and phrases in Spanish in the book and the translations given to Spanish are accurate. The book includes a glossary of Spanish and English vocabulary words used in the story at the back. The text is color coded, with English text in black and Spanish text in red so the Spanish is easy to identify. Oddly, some words and phrases are not included in the glossary and these might be difficult for the target audience to understand. These are words and phrases that the target audience may not have been exposed to yet or are not commonly used in their everyday communication. The words boasted, glistened, beamed, and plunked do not appear in the glossary. The two phrases not included in the glossary that may be unfamiliar to readers are, “What the blazes did you just say?” and “Let’s have her walk the plank and be done with her.”

There are big, colorful and fun two- page spread illustrations of the ocean and of pirates. Characters’ facial expressions are very vivid. Inside of the front and back cover are illustrations of a historical nautical map that depicts ships, gold, a compass, and route markings. Text on these pages is placed within boxes, visible and clear.

On some pages, where the image does not fill the two-page spread, there is a blue border, with the text to one side. The border on the side where the text is appears much thicker and looks like water splashing into the image, which adds a nice touch since the story takes place in the ocean.

This book is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Diana Derner