Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year - A 2011 Retrospective

A very happy new year to everyone. On this last day of 2011, here's a look back at all of the 2011 books featured on Crowding the Book Truck.

Books tagged 2011

Here's to a safe, happy, and book-filled 2012!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Little Wings #1: Willa Bean's Cloud Dreams by Cecilia Galante illustrated by Kristi Valiant

Willa Bean isn't like the other cupids! She has wild red hair, a lot of freckles, and bright purple wings. She also loves finding treasures, and has a really big collection of all of her great finds. There's only one thing that Willa Bean's nervous about: school is starting soon, and she doesn't know how to fly! Will she be the only one there who can't fly?

Have cupids ever been featured in a children's series before? Maybe it's time for cupids to have a moment. They're kind of like angels (living in clouds, having wings, flying), but you won't have to address any religion questions head on. Like many young heroines in children's books, Willa Bean is plucky and determined and just a little bit feisty. In this first title, she has to deal with something that many kids could relate to: starting school and worrying that everyone else can do things that you can't. The book nicely sets up what could be lots of future adventures for Willa Bean and her friends and family. I can see it working nicely for young readers, particularly girls, who are ready to explore a new series.

Find it at Amazon.

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Random House.

Read it with:
The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante
Little Wings #2: Be Brave, Willa Bean by Cecilia Galante
Kylie Jean, Blueberry Queen by Marci Peschke

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

One Christmas Eve a young boy was in bed, waiting and wishing for Santa to come. His friends had told him there was no Santa, but he didn't believe them - he believed in Santa Claus. Then he heard it - the soft sound of a train. It was The Polar Express, and it came to take him and other children to the North Pole. After a short journey, the boy is chosen to receive the first present from Santa. But when he loses this present, is all hope lost? Or is there still some Christmas magic yet to come?

The Polar Express is not only a holiday classic; it was the winner of the 1986 Caldecott Award for illustration, and its rich images have resonated with children for over twenty-five years. The message of hope and belief has warmed the hearts of children and adults who want to believe in the magic of the season. The style of the illustrations and the voice of the narrator make it a book that might speak particularly strongly to adults remembering their own childhoods. In 2004 The Polar Express was made into a movie starring Tom Hanks, but don't let the original book go overlooked around the holidays.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies
Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore and illustrations by Corinne Malvern

 What happens on the night before Christmas? Stockings are hung by the chimney with care, children are nestled all snug in their beds, and there's a visit from St. Nicholas. The poem attributed to Clement C. Moore has gone a long ways towards influencing modern ideas of Christmas and Santa Claus (fun fact: the words Santa Claus aren't used in the poem at all), and in this Little Golden Book edition illustrated by Corinne Malvern you can enjoy all of the sugarplums, all of the reindeer, and all of the Christmas cheer.

I had never realized just how this poem positions Santa as an elf-figure. He has a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer; he's called "a right jolly old elf." Sure, he lives at the North Pole and there are elves in his workshop, but I'm much more familiar with him as a man; I've not thought of him as an elf. Are there cultures that do? Anyway. There are a number of other Little Golden Books editions of The Night Before Christmas with different illustrators, but there's something about the old-style illustrations in the Corinne Malvern edition that particularly resonates with me. I like the fashions that the characters wear, and I like the different framing styles that are used around the areas of text.  The edition that I have is slightly older than the one pictured (not the 1949 original, but reissued in 1982), but it looks like it's been republished again in September 2011.The Night Before Christmas isn't something that's been a part of my family traditions to date (unless it's the Sesame Street version that's shown during "A Muppet Family Christmas" - you haven't experienced the poem until you've heard a Two-Headed Monster say "Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night"), but for families looking to start their own traditions, this is a poem and a book with a lot of history behind it.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Find it at  IndieBound.

Read it with:
Frosty the Snow Man by Annie North Bedford
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert L. May
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore and illustrated by Kathy Wilburn

Friday, December 23, 2011

Miracle on 34th Street by Valentine Davies

As someone who watches a great deal of Christmas movies, I would be hard pressed to name my absolute favourite. Is it A Brady Bunch Christmas? It's just so cheesy and wonderful! Elf? Sure, it's recent, but it does have that whimsy that a great Christmas movie needs. A Muppet Family Christmas? What could be better than all of the muppets together for the holidays? A Charlie Brown Christmas? Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer? Frosty the Snowman? A Christmas Carol? There are just so many strong contenders. But if I was absolutely forced to name a favourite Christmas story, I think I might have to go with Miracle on 34th Street.

After spending many years enjoying the movie versions (both the original and the 1990s remake), this was the first time I'd read the written story. It wasn't published until after the original movie was released, but it doesn't seem to be an exact duplicate of the story. It's largely the same, but there are some minor differences - nothing that really changes the story in any way. It adds a bit of detail onto the mysterious character of Kris Kringle with a few pages dedicated to his story before he shows up at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. At just over 100 pages, it's not a long story; I think it would be most properly called a novella. The original 1940s edition does have some of the casual racism from the time (there's a brief reference to Cleo, the "colored maid"), but for the most part it holds up rather well. There's a timeless quality to the question of Santa Claus and the true meaning of Christmas. I don't know if reading the book is going to be come a holiday tradition for me in the same way that watching the movies has, but if you can find a copy of the book (particularly one of the original 1940s editions with its original design) it might be worth giving it a look, especially if you're a fan of any of the movie versions.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Christmas at the Movies edited by Mark Connelly
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Franklin's Christmas Gift by Paulette Bourgeois and illustrated by Brenda Clark

Franklin loves Christmas. It's a very special time for him. But he doesn't know what gift to donate for his class's toy drive. It's hard to part with all of the toys that he loves so much, and when he tries to decide, he gets sidetracked by all of the Christmas fun, like baking cookies, making cards, and playing Christmas music. Then it's time for the toy drive. What will Franklin do?

Franklin is such a great character because no matter what he does, children can relate to him. He wants to do the right thing, but he doesn't always know what that is - and it's not always the easy thing to do. Franklin's Christmas Gift brings up a lot of great concepts to talk about with kids, like charity and generosity. What is the true meaning of Christmas? What kinds of gifts mean something to other people? This would be a great book to be paired with a family activity, like making presents or donating toys to charity.
Check out the websites for Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark.

I received a review copy from NetGalley from Open Road Media.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Franklin in the Dark by Paulette Bourgeois and illustrated by Brenda Clark
Franklin Goes to the Hospital by Paulette Bourgeois and illustrated by Brenda Clark
Franklin's Christmas: A Sticker Activity Book by Paulette Bourgeois and illustrated by Brenda Clark

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Jolly Christmas Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

There aren't many Christmas stories about postal workers. Sure, elves and Santa and even the characters in A Christmas Carol are more closely associated with the holiday. But how do people think that their packages get from one house to another? How do Christmas cards get to the homes of loved ones? How are those fruitcakes carried all over the world? Postal workers! The Jolly Christmas Postman celebratese the work of one such postal worker as he carries cards and gifts to many different fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters.

As with the original The Jolly Postman, this book contains envelopes with things that you can pull out - letters, books, games - and enjoy along with the characters. There's something truly delightful in opening up each envelope and examining what's inside. This is particularly true because of the genius attention to detail that Janet and Allan Ahlberg pay to all words, illustrations, and little touches. This book has more in the way of games and fancy stuff than the original one, which I found kind of overwhelming, almost as if it was too much of a good thing. But it also means that there's lots for children to return to and explore. Even twenty years after it was first published, this remains a lovely Christmas book that will delight children and provide lots of quality reading time for the whole family.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
Postman Pat Has Too Many Parcels by John Cunliffe

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Karen's Wish by Ann M. Martin

Christmas is coming, and it's Karen's favourite time of year! Her parents (who are divorced) have sorted it out so that Karen and her brother Andrew can celebrate Christmas with both families. She's even going to experience Hanukkah with her best friend Nancy! Now she can concentrate on singing Christmas songs, doing Christmas crafts, and making her Christmas list. But when she learns that Nannie is in the hospital, it doesn't feel right to be celebrating. All Karen wants for Christmas is for her family to be at home and healthy. Will her Christmas wish come true?

I'm pretty sure that this book was one of my first introductions to Hanukkah, at least at a level about what it means for kids and families. Karen (who can sometimes work my last nerve) is a character that I find to be easy to relate to here; she's excited about Christmas but worried about her step-Grandmother, and there's that awful feeling that things aren't going to be right for Christmas. As usual, I do think that the adults in her life should have talked things out with her a bit more, particularly around her feelings of survivor's guilt (even though she had nothing to do with Nannie's accident), but (spoiler alert) everything turned out okay in the end.

(Also, the scene that's shown on the cover totally never happens. Nancy and Karen give each other their presents at different times. But it does match up with what Karen and Nancy are wearing in the story. And Nancy (on the left) is rocking a dress that I totally would have seen on people at the time.)

For a more in-depth take on the book, check out the BSC Revisited.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Mallory's Christmas Wish by Ann M. Martin
Karen's Angel by Ann M. Martin
With You and Without You by Ann M. Martin

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Huron Carol illustrated by Frances Tyrrell

The Huron Carol has always been one of my favourite Christmas songs, and in this book illustrated by Frances Tyrrell, it has gentle illustrations to go with the powerful words. Winter has crystalized the woods; stars peek out as small points of light on a velvety dark background. People from many nations come to see a small child who has been born in a humble setting, bringing him traditional gifts to honour him. And there, in the presence of the newborn baby, they will find beauty, peace, and joy.

 The song was originally written by Father Jean de Brebeuf (1593-1649) in the Huron language as a retelling of the Nativity story. The song survived past his death and was eventually translated into English by J. E. Middleton in 1926. An afterword in the book, "The Story of The Huron Carol," talks about the history of the song but also of the Huron people. Additionally, there is a lot of information on the illustrations for the book at Frances Tyrrell's website, including the sources and inspirations for the images.

Find it at Amazon Canada.

Read it with:
The Huron Carol by Ian Wallace
A Christmas Celebration by Avril Tyrrell
Woodland Nutcracker by Avril Tyrell

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mallory's Christmas Wish by Ann M. Martin

Christmas in a big family can be great, but Mallory is starting to find it a bit overwhelming. She has seven brothers and sisters, and Christmas feels like it's getting out of hand. That's why she suggested that this year they have an Old Fashioned Christmas. There's just one problem - after winning a contest, the Pike family is being filmed by a local TV station. How can they have a traditional Christmas if they're doing everything in front of a camera? This might be the worst Christmas ever!

When I first read this book, the idea of Mallory fantasizing about worldwide stardom after a local TV news feature seemed laughable; now, it seems totally possible. A large family on TV? How normal! There's a small subplot, about a retirement home that's throwing a holiday craft/rummage/bake sale and the Baby-Sitters Club totally takes over. One chapter mentions how Stacey is resentful that she is expected to give up spending holiday time with her boyfriend in order to babysit for free. I wish that there was more of that examined in the series, particularly after Stacey rejoins the BSC after quitting. But then no one really reads as age appropriate in this series. Mallory, in the first chapter, laments as to how hard it is to buy for kids these days because they grow out of things so fast. Except she's 11, and she's around her brothers and sisters every day. The outcome of the story, that the family ends up rejecting the camera crew and giving up on their dreams of fame, isn't even worth giving a spoiler alert for, because it's just so predictable. But I think in terms of Christmas-themed BSC books, this is better than the even-more-of-a-cliche story where Mary Anne spends too much on presents and then has to secretly earn money before her family finds out.

Find it (used) on Amazon. 

Read it with:
Holiday Time by Ann M. Martin
Karen's Wish by Ann M. Martin
The Secret Life of Mary Anne Spier by Ann M. Martin

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Littlest Christas Elf by Nancy Buss and illustrations by Terri Super

Allister is super excited to be going to the North Pole. That's every elf's dream! But when he gets there he discovers that he's littler than the other elves. He's too little to make toys, to paint doll houses - he's even too little to sweep up in the workshop! Allister is scared of what Santa will think. Maybe his new friend Nicholas will be able to help Allister to believe in himself.

I have a number of Little Golden Books Christmas stories, but this is one of my favourites. It's well-worn ground, particularly around Christmas stories: an elf who doesn't fit in, believing in yourself, (spoiler alert) an elf saving the day and/or going on Santa's big trip with him. That doesn't seem to matter, though, particularly for a child who might be reading this story for the first time. (I doubt that the 'Nicholas' reveal would be that big of a surprise to adults It has a timeless look to it, too; without checking the copyright page, there was little that tipped me off to it being published in 1987. It looks like it's out of print now, but it's likely able to found in second hand bookstores and book sales (which is where I picked up my copy).

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Little Bunny and the Magic Christmas Tree by David Martin
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer by Robert L. May
Santa's Toy Workshop by Al Dempster
The Little Christmas Elf by Nikki Shannon Smith

Friday, December 16, 2011

Llama Llama Holiday Drama by Anna Dewdney

Christmas can be a very exciting time. There's music and lights and lots of shopping. But there's also lots of waiting: waiting for Christmas, waiting for your Llama Mama while she shops, waiting for cookies to bake in the oven. All of that waiting can be hard for a Little Llama! Can there be a balance between that waiting and the excitement - or will it all end in a lot of holiday drama?

 This holiday-themed edition has lots of what makes the Llama Llama books so special: relatable situations, fun rhymes, unconditional love between a parent and a child. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as Llama Llama Red Pajama, but the bar was set pretty high, and it still might make for a fun reading time during the holiday season.

Check out Anna Dewdney's website and the website for the Llama Llama books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney
Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas Eve Good Night by Doug Cushman

When I was a child, I had a very hard time going to sleep on Christmas Eve. Okay, I'll be honest - the closer it gets to Christmas, the harder I find it to sleep. For all the kids out there like me, there's Christmas Eve Good Night by Doug Cushman. It's a fun rhyming book that reminds us that everyone has to say goodnight in order for Christmas to come. In fact, it builds to one of the most famous "good nights" in popular culture: the one that Santa Claus gives as he drives out of sight. The colourful, detailed pictures will have kids pouring over the pictures past their bedtime, and this good night book will have them well on their way to dreaming of sugar plums and other holiday delights.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Halloween Good Night by Doug Cushman
Space Cat by Doug Cushman
The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore
Good Night Canada by Adam Gamble
How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight? by Jane Yolen

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Family Christmas Tree Book by Tomie dePaola

Have you ever wondered about Christmas trees? Where did they come from? When did we start using Christmas trees? How do people around the world use them? The Family Christmas Tree Book takes the form of a conversation while one family goes to a tree farm to select their Christmas tree. Through questions, answers, and speech bubbles, they talk about the history of Christmas trees, how trees are used, and how things like strings of lights and Christmas tree holders came into popularity. With Tomie dePaola's signature drawings and a strong sense of curiosity, this is a neat book for people wanting to learn more about one of Christmas' premier symbols.

I love Tomie dePaola's artistic style. There's a lot of information wrapped up in this tiny book - perhaps a little too much information for must children, who might grow tired of the historical facts, but it's smartly accompanied by detailed drawings. I really enjoyed the parts that looked at the family's own personal history with Christmas trees. And the craft at the end sort of shows the age of the book; if this was a more recently published book, it would likely have its own page where you could cut right in the book rather than the warnings not to cut the book. But no matter. This is still a lovely book about how one family gets ready for the Christmas holidays by sharing and learning together.

It doesn't look like The Family Christmas Tree Book is in print anymore, but you can probably find it in libraries, used bookstores, and online.

See more of Tomie dePaola's books at his website.

Read it with:
Mary, the Mother of Jesus by Tomie dePaola
Christmas Tree! by Wendell Minor
O Christmas Tree by Jacqueline Farmer

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Worst Twelve Days of Christmas by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and Ryan Wood

Joy always looks forward to Christmas, but this year it's definitely going to be different. It's her little brother's first Christmas, and he's ruining everything! He steals candy canes, he ruins surprises, he makes everything smelly - this year is going to have the worst twelve days of Christmas ever!

The Worst Twelve Days of Christmas is a fresh take on the old Christmas carol. I really loved the illustrations by Ryan Wood. You could definitely see that even though things were going wrong, this was a home full of love and warmth. Joy in particular was a well-rendered character. Although the ending of the book is a bit predictable, it's a fun rhyming read of holiday fun and sibling relationships.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson
The Hog Prince by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
The Twelve Days of Christmas by Gennady Spirin

Monday, December 12, 2011

Zoe and Beans: Zoe's Christmas List by Chloe and Mick Inkpen

Zoe is a child who knows exactly what she wants, and Christmas is no exception. In order to make sure that Father Christmas knows what to bring her for Christmas, Zoe and Beans travel to the North Pole to deliver her list in person. But not everything goes as planned - it looks like Zoe and Beans are in for quite an adventure!

I have to admit that I wasn't familiar with Zoe and Beans before I picked up this Christmas volume, but I was quickly and easily charmed by this book. The illustrations are great and there's a strong playfulness that comes through with the text and the pictures. This is particularly evident with the use of a pull-out page that expands on the idea of how a picture book page is used. This book will appeal to kids who are already fans of Zoe and Beans, but also to children who are looking for a holiday-themed read.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Zoe and Beans: Where is Binky Boo? by Chloe and Mick Inkpen
Zoe and Beans: The Magic Hoop by Chloe and Mick Inkpen
Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Little Bunny and the Magic Christmas Tree by David Martin and illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev

Little Bunny is tired of being the littlest one in his family. He's never big enough to do what he wants to do! Then on Christmas Eve he has a magical adventure and becomes even tinier - so small that he can explore inside the Christmas tree! What a magical night!

 There's a lovely 'what if' quality about this book, so it wasn't a surprise to me to read on the back flap that it grew out of David Martin's own childhood wondering about what it would be like to be small and be inside the Christmas tree. There's enough of a story, though, that the book hangs together nicely even if you've never wondered what that would be like. The soft colour palette manages to be warm and bright and cozy - like being inside with family on a winter's night.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
All for Pie, Pie for All by David Martin
My Side of the Car by Kate Feiffer
Dragon is Coming! by Valeri Gorbachev

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Barbie in A Christmas Carol by Mary Man-Kong

Eden Starling is a star. She has a beautiful singing voice and people come every night to see her perform. But Eden is very selfish and vain. While the other people in the cast look forward to celebrating Christmas with their families, Eden demands that they spend Christmas at the theatre rehearsing and practicing. That night, three ghosts visit Eden: one from the past, one from the present, and one from the future. Together, they try to show Eden a different way of living and how important it is to be kind, generous, and thoughtful of others.

I can't even begin to think of how many adaptations of A Christmas Carol there have been. And given that one of my favourite versions is the TV movie "Ebbie" starring Susan Lucci as Ebbie Scrooge, coldhearted department store manager, I'm clearly not that much of a purist. This book is definitely designed to appeal to Barbie fans, and either extend the experience of people who have already watched the movie version, or to spark interest in people who have not yet read the movie version. The book can stand on its own (barely, but it does). Because it has the look of the animated movie, the illustrations are bright and colourful (and the clothing in particular looks rich and expensive). It's not the most original story in the world, but could definitely be a favourite around this time of year.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
I Can Be A Rock Star by Mary Man-Kong
Rudolph's Shiny Christmas by Mary Man-Kong
The Good, the Bad, and the Barbie by Tanya Lee Stone
The Missing Wedding Dress featuring Barbie by Karen Krugman
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and Robert Ingpen

Friday, December 9, 2011

Chickadee Winter by Dawn L. Watkins and illustrated by Gabriela Dellosso

Jack's grandparents' place is not at all like New Mexico, and he's having a hard time adjusting. He misses the weather, the food, and everything about his home, and he's not sure if he even likes it in a place where winters are so cold and there's snow everywhere. Jack and his sister Nora are staying with their grandparents and Christmas is getting closer, but Jack is in no mood to celebrate. Maybe the chickadees that fly around his grandfather will help him to understand how this kind of winter, while different than what he's used to, can still be fun and beautiful.

It's very easy to relate to Jack: he's a young boy who feels like his life has been turned upside down, he misses his old life, and he's afraid about what the future will bring. His parents are only briefly mentioned in this book, and it doesn't sound like he has a very close relationship with his grandparents (although they are doing a good job of taking care of him), so he feels a little bit lost. The illustrations are at their best when they're depicting Jack's grandfather (as on the cover), a quiet man with strength and peace. Also beautiful are the different shades used to show the sky: light blue, dark blue, white, purple, yellow, orange... Jack might be missing the vibrant colours of New Mexico, but the illustrations show how even when there's so much 'white' going on in winter, there can still be many different subtle details. This book will resonate with both animal lovers as well as children who are struggling to deal with changes in their lives.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of BJU Press.

Don't miss Gabriela Dellosso's website.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
The Cranky Blue Crab by Dawn L. Watkins
Very Like a Star by Dawn L. Watkins
Karen's Plane Trip by Ann M. Martin

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Peace, Love, and Baby Ducks by Lauren Myracle

Carly just had an amazing summer experience at a wilderness camp and returned home feeling transformed. But she wasn't back in her wealthy Atlanta neighbourhood for very long before things started getting hard. Her younger sister, Anna, is no longer her "little" sister, and everyone at school has noticed Anna's transformation from little girl to super hottie. Carly struggles to understand their new relationship and the privileged world that she lives in, while learning that not everyone shares her views on things.

It was refreshing to read about a sisterly relationship like the one between Carly and Anna. They were each others' biggest defenders as well as the ones who knew exactly which buttons to push. How messed up is it to be jealous of your younger sister? Or to be mad at her for things that she can't control? These scenes were balanced with Carly's new understanding of her world of privilege, and her frustration with people who had different points of view than her own. There's relationship drama, school drama, and family drama - basically, all the difficult parts of growing up and finding you own personality.  True, it might be a bit of a stretch to be including this book in my "25 Days of Christmas" posts, but there is a section where Carly joins up with some classmates to provide Christmas presents to the "less fortunate," and Carly starts to think about the nature of Christmas and selfish/selfless gestures.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Shine by Lauren Myracle
Bliss by Lauren Myracle
Confessions of the Sullivan Sisters by Natalie Standiford
The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June by April Benway

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Lettice: A Christmas Wish by Mandy Stanley

 One day Lettice pops her head up out of her burrow and discovers that there is white sparkly stuff everywhere. It's snow! Lettice wants to learn more about this sparkly snow and discovers people decorating a Christmas tree. What is Christmas? How are the sparkles involved? Lettice wants to learn more about this wonderful, sparkly holiday!

There is definitely a sub-category of Christmas picture books that focuses on sparkly Christmas books, and they usually have the sparkles helpfully located right on the front cover. With Lettice (who I had not met as a picture book character before this book), the sparkles were the first thing that I noticed, and I imagine that many other young children - likely young girls - will notice the cover as well. Lettice is a fun and friendly character and the message of sharing Christmas - a Christmas beyond sparkles and presents - is a positive one. This book will be a favourite for existing Lettice fans and a great entry point for new fans.

Check out Harper Collins Canada for a peek inside the book.

Don't miss Mandy Stanley's website

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Lettice: The Dancing Rabbit by Mandy Stanley 
The Princess's Secret Letters by Hilary Robinson
Who Do You Love? by Mandy Stanley

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

With You and Without You by Ann M. Martin

Liza O'Hara is really looking forward to Christmas. It's her family's favourite season and they all really get into the celebrations. Sure, she has terrible stage fright and she's just found out that she has to be in her class's production of A Christmas Carol, but there's probably a way around that. Then her father reveals some awful news: he's been diagnosed with a heart condition and he only has months to live. The idea of going on without him is heartbreaking, and Liza has no idea how the family is going to survive. But they still have one Christmas together to make a lifetime's worth of memories.

Ann M. Martin is probably best known as the creator of The Baby-Sitters Club, a series that has a place close to my heart. But she also has a number of stand-alone books, including Bummer Summer, Missing Since Monday, Slam Book, and Ten Kids, No Pets (and its sequel Eleven Kids, One Summer - so I guess it's not technical stand-alone, but it wasn't part of a larger series). One of my favourite of her non-BSC books has always been With You and Without You. It's a sad book (I can remember checking this out of my school library and crying during silent reading), but sad in that way that kids sometimes like; it's a satisfying sad because (spoiler alert) Liza eventually comes out on the other side of her grief. It's hard to think of children's books (this one is about the middle grade/young junior high level) that deal with the loss of a parent within the book - in many of them the parent has already died before the book begins. In the months following her father's death, Liza experiences sadness, grief, fear, anger, and guilt. How can she be happy while her father is no longer alive? Why don't her siblings feel the same way that she does? Is it okay to ever be happy again? Set around two Christmas - one with her father and one without her father - this is a touching story that really resonates with readers.

(Side note: it's hard to think that this book has been around for twenty-five years, and that the youngest child, Hope, would now be older than me. Time warp!)

Find it at Amazon. 

Read it with:
On Christmas Eve by Ann M. Martin
Missing Since Monday by Ann M. Martin
Stage Fright by Ann M. Martin

Monday, December 5, 2011

Winter Town by Stephen Emond

For Evan, Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a visit from Lucy. They used to be really close when she lived near him, but since she moved away they only get to see each other once a year. This year, though, things are a bit strange. Lucy has a new look and a new attitude, and Evan isn't quite sure what to make of it. He's dealing with a lot of pressure from his father over his choice of university and doesn't quite feel ready to make decisions that could shape the rest of his life. Can Evan and Lucy find any common ground - or has their friendship reached its end?

I knew from the moment I laid eyes on this cover that this was a book I wanted to read. Isn't it lovely? The colour, the snow, the textured paper...I know you can't judge a book by its cover, but having a great one doesn't hurt. Luckily for me, I loved the inside just as much as the outside. Evan and Lucy each had strong voices, which was crucial because they each tell half of the book. When I reached the end of Evan's part, I really wanted more from him, but I was quickly drawn into Lucy's point of view. I loved the comics and how they fitted into the main story. The book as a whole seemed to me like a book that really trusted its reader; it didn't have to spell everything out right away and information could be pieced out over time. This was my first time reading a book by Stephen Emond and I am eagerly anticipating the chance to read another one of his books.

Check out Stephen Emond's website.

I received an advance review copy from Little, Brown.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
I Know It's Over by C.K. Kelly Martin
Happyface by Stephen Emond
Steverino: The Complete Collection by Stephen Emond

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Royal Christmas by Lisa Ann Marsoli

Join these four Disney princesses in four holiday stories about celebrating Christmas. Ariel has bought perfect Christmas presents, but they've gone missing! Aurora wants to have a homemade Christmas with her aunts. Cinderella is planning a big holiday event, but people aren't quite sure what she's up to! Tiana has created a beautiful holiday party...but who's the mysterious stranger?

This was really my first time getting a good look at what a Disney Princess book is like. I grew up with Ariel, Cinderella, and Aurora (Tiana is new to me) and there were Disney movies with princesses, but there wasn't the whole Disney Princess merchandising engine as it exists today.  My favourite of the four stories as probably Ariel's, as The Little Mermaid remains as my favourite animated Disney feature. I felt a strange happiness in knowing that she could spend the holiday with her family AND Prince Eric (although I did spend a fair amount of time looking at her massive eyes and wondering if they made her appear childlike; not helping this was the frequent way in which she seemed to be ducking her head and looking up at people). I can easily see this being a hit with young Princess-hungry readers. If you're looking for a richly illustrated picture of royal bliss, particularly about the holidays, this could definitely be the book for you.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Wishes Come True by Lisa Ann Marsoli
Happily Ever After... by Lisa Ann Marsoli
Disney's The Little Mermaid by Amy Edgar

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Something for Christmas by Palmer Brown

A little mouse is sad on Christmas Eve. He wants to give someone special something for Christmas, and he wants it to be very special. He has lots of ideas, but none of them are very practical. Luckily, his mother is able to help him understand that it's the thought that counts and sometimes the best gift of all is love.

Something for Christmas is another book in the New York Review Children's Collection. It was originally published in 1958 and has been reissued this year in a lovely edition for a new generation to enjoy. Told in the back-and-forth style of a conversation between the little mouse and his mother, there's an excited energy to the young child and a tender love that radiates from the parent. I usually hesitate before calling a story 'timeless,' and some of the details do somewhat date the story, but I imagine that the central storyline and the themes love will be ones that resonate with this generation and generations to come.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Beyond the Pawpaw Trees by Palmer Brown
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present by Charlotte Zolotow
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney

Friday, December 2, 2011

I Spy a Christmas Tree by Jean Marzollo and photographs by Walter Wick

The I Spy books work on a brilliantly simple concept: here's a photograph - can you find certain images? I have such fond memories of pouring over these books as a child, and few contained as many memorable spreads as I Spy Christmas: A Book of Picture Riddles. I Spy a Christmas Tree takes those original images and resizes them, zeroing in on certain sections of the bigger pictures. The riddles are shorter and the objects are easier to find; even the book itself is a different size (smaller and more compact). This one is great for kids, particularly beginning readers, to hold and explore on their own, but for the ultimate I Spy experience, make sure to check out the original, too.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
I Spy Little Hearts by Jean Marzollo
I Spy a Candy Cane by Jean Marzollo
I Spy Little Christmas by Jean Marzollo
I Spy Christmas: A Book of Picture Riddles by Jean Marzollo

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett

Few would argue that Ebenezer Scrooge is the breakout character from A Christmas Carol. The story, after all, is about him and his Christmas Eve redemption. But where does that leave Jacob Marley? As Scrooge's former partner, Marley is the first spirit to visit him and to warn him of the other ghosts - and of how important it is to listen to them. What was Marley's life like? Where did he go wrong? Did he have a chance for redemption as well?

As my favourite film version of A Christmas Carol is Susan Lucci's Ebbie, I don't think I could ever be accused of being A Christmas Carol purist. Beyond that, I like reading books that shed light on characters from other works. The first few chapters of Jacob T. Marley felt more like a character sketch than a novel, but once the novel had established Marley's background it seemed to settle in, and so did I. Jacob T. Marley answered questions that I didn't know I had about A Christmas Carol; it has an amazing attention to detail and is a solid addition to holiday reading.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Shadow Mountain.

Visit R. William Bennett's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Marly's Ghost by David Levithan
Mrs. Scrooge by Carol Ann Duffy
The Christmas Gift by R. William Bennett

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Shut Out by Kody Keplinger

Lissa is tired of playing second fiddle to a sports rivalry. Her boyfriend is on the football team, and it seems like his top priority is to focus on the football/soccer rivalry at Hamilton High. But Lissa has had enough, and she's encouraged the other girlfriends to fight back with the best weapon at their disposal: their sexuality. They are officially cutting off their boyfriends until the rivalry ends. It's not long before the guys are starting to feel the effects of this stance - but rather than giving in, they decide to fight back. Has Lissa started more than she can handle?

I enjoyed The DUFF and was really eager to read Kody Keplinger's second novel. My favourite parts were the sleepover scenes where the girls addressed sexual stereotypes and expectations. Those were, I thought, very honest, touching, and realistic. I also really liked that the book explicitly mentioned Lysistrata (although I'll confess that it was quite a while before I made the Lissa/Lysistrata connection - my excuse is that I was listening to an audiobook). There were some things that I would have loved to have seen explored more, like Lissa's issues of trust, compulsion, and abandonment, or the girlfriends in a role beyond that of "the girlfriends," but the dialogue and tone of the book went a long way to making it an enjoyable read.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
Lysistrata by Aristophanes
Troy High by Shana Norris

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff

Life in Pandemonium is all that Daphne's really known. She's the daughter of Lilith and Lucifer, half-demon and half-fallen angel. Her brother, Obie, rejected Pandemonium and went to Earth - and now he's missing. Daphne is determined to find him, and she needs the help of Truman, the last person to have seen Obie. But Truman is fighting battles of his own - a dependency on alcohol and a lack of will to live. Will they be able to overcome these demons, both personal and physical, and find Obie? Or will their quest meet a very violent end?

Don't Brenna Yovanoff's books have beautiful covers? I was enticed to pick up The Replacements because of its eye-catching cover (even though I eventually ended up listening to an audiobook version), and this cover is intricately designed and hauntingly beautiful. That's also a great way to describe the story. Daphne is driven by love and fear and there are some large questions raised in this book about love, relationships, duty, destiny, and family - not to mention the whole concept of good vs. evil. There are lots of creepy, atmospheric details that expanded on these themes. After a strong beginning, I got a bit lost in the middle, but the book grabbed me back for a solid ending (so it could just have been the timing of my own reading experience). I just put the book down, and I'm already excited about reading Yovanoff's next book.

I received a review copy from Penguin Canada.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
The Replacements by Brenna Yovanoff
Paradise Lost by John Milton
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Monday, November 28, 2011

Treasures at the Museum by Deborra Richardson and illustrated by George Hilton III

Robbie and Brittany are heading to the museum with their Aunt Imani, but Robbie doesn't want to go! He thinks it's going to be boring and that he won't have anything in common with the archives. But Aunt Imani explains that museums aren't the only things that have archives and collections - people have them too! And who knows what kinds of treasures they might find at the museum?

This is a fun look at museums and archives and a great introduction to the Smithsonian for children. It successfully takes what could be big, impersonal concepts ('what is an archive?') and makes them easy for children to relate to. Given the specialized subject matter, it's a bit hard to picture kids picking up this on their own to read for fun (not that it's not a fun book!), but teachers interested in using it with classes will find some supplementary material at the end of the story to help them with their lesson plans. This would be a great addition to classroom or school libraries, particularly if visiting a museum or archive is part of your school field trip plans.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of The Elevator Group.

Read it with:
Ulysses Kay: A Bio-Bibliography by Deborra Richardson
Lost in the Museum: Buried Treasures and the Stories They Tell by Nancy Moses
The Rarest of the Rare: Stories Behind the Treasures at the Harvard Museum of Natural History by Nancy Pick and Mark Sloan
A Kid's Guide to the Smithsonian edited by Ann Phillips Bay and Barbara Hehner

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene

While the battles of World War II are taking place overseas, the war is about to come to the small town of Jenkinsville, Arkansas. German POWs are being transferred to a nearby facility and the entire town seems to be a bit on edge. Watching the tension is twelve-year-old Patty Bergen. Patty is struggling with a lot of things: she's terrified of her father's abusive temper, her mother is always insulting her, and she's one of the only Jewish people in her small town. When she meets Anton, one of the German soldiers, she's amazed by his intelligence and his kindness. Then Anton escapes from the prison facility, and Patty's world is about to change forever.

(Some spoilers below)

I first heard of this story when I fell in love with the TV Movies - Daring to Love forum thread at Television Without Pity. So many people seemed to have such strong memories of both the book and the TV movie. This book wasn't really what I thought it was going to be - I pictured it being more of a romance, but due to the striking age difference between Anton and Patty (including her being only twelve at the time), I would have a hard time even thinking of it being based on romantic love. I was also surprised by the examination of race and the casual, institutionalized racism, although if I had really thought about the setting and the time period I shouldn't have been surprised (but probably still shocked at its extent). The edition that I read, the Open Road Media eBook edition, includes an "Author's Affidavit" at the front of the book where Bette Greene confesses that Patty Bergen is based on her and the book is based on her life. Reading the book took on a bit of a different light after that, making it even more difficult to read about "Patty's" mother and father and how they treated her. 

Summer of My German Soldier, the TV movie starring Kristy McNichol, aired in 1978. Someone has put the movie in its entirety up on Youtube, but I have no idea how long it will last until someone pulls it down.

Also check out Jezebel's look at Summer of My German Soldier.

I read a review copy of the eBook from NetGalley courtesy of Open Road Media.

Read it with:
Morning is a Long Time Coming by Bette Greene
The Drowning of Stephen Jones by Bette Greene
Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself by Judy Blume

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Flyaway by Lucy Christopher

Isla and her father share a love of birdwatching, and the time when the swans arrive is a special time of year for them. But an outing together turns scary when her father collapses. He's taken to the hospital where it's discovered that he has a rather serious heart condition. Isla's mom tries to encourage her to go on with her life as normally as possible, but Isla isn't sure that she can. Then she meets a young boy named Harry who has health issues of his own and spots an injured swan on its own just outside the hospital. While struggling with her fears about her father, her loneliness at school, and her relationship with her mom and brother, Isla discovers a strength in herself that she never knew she had.

I picked up this book on the strength of Lucy Christopher's name. The cover wasn't one that would have immediately hooked me, although after reading it I do feel more connected to it. I had read Christopher's Stolen and wasn't really expecting a book like this from her (namely, a book for middle grade readers). That, combined with an early scene involving an accident with a flock of birds, stopped me from getting completely settled with the book. I felt like the rug could be pulled out from under me at any moment, which worked perfectly with the plot, because Isla's world is slipping away from her. It was an unsettling reading experience, but also a very powerful one, and I think the book would be just as strong if I reread it. The blurb at the back of the book says that Christopher is working on a new book, a psychological thriller for teens, and I can't wait to read it.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Stolen by Lucy Christopher
Flyaway: How A Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings by Suzie Gilbert
Birdwing by Rafe Martin

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein

In 1974, Phillipe Petit had a goal: to walk between the two towers of the World Trade Center. It was a dream that many would call foolish at best and life-threateningly dangerous at worst. But Phillipe Petit was not like many people. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers is the story of how he dared to do something that so many thought was impossible and how he captivated a city while doing it.

The book starts as if it was telling a fairy tale: "Once there were two towers side by side..." It would be easy to assume that this book won the Caldecott medal on the strength of post-9/11 emotion. I believe, though, that the illustration and style will stand the test of time. The images play with line, colour, and perspective and made me feel quite dizzy (but in a very powerful way). This might not be the book for people who are scared of heights, but for the right child this book could strike the right chord of history and adventure.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Man on Wire by Philippe Petit
September Roses by Jeanette Winter
A Book by Mordicai Gerstein
Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Playground by 50 Cent

Butterball is not happy to be going to therapy. What does someone like Liz understand about his life? He's teased because of his weight. His parents are divorced and he barely sees his dad; even worse, his mom moved him to a place that he hates. He has no friends, and the one friend he did have... well, he doesn't want to talk about that. Yeah, things might not be that great, but how is therapy going to help anything?

(Spoilers below)

Is it too much of a backhanded compliment to say that this book is better than I thought it was going to be? I'm usually not that optimistic about books written by celebrities - even a New York Times bestselling author like 50 Cent - for children, and even more hesitant for books that have some kind of obvious message. In this case, the issue is bullying, and the twist is that it's told from the perspective of the bully. Particularly strong were the scenes where Butterball realized how his actions affected how other people - including girls - saw him (as well as the incredibly sad and frustrating scenes where Butterball's dad engaged in his own destructive brand of parenting). The revelations near the end about Butterball's mom could have been handled a bit better (by both the character and the author), but maybe this will help to contribute to the normalization of gay parents in children's literature. The ending was a bit too neat for my liking, but it might go over better with younger readers who will take away a positive message about redemption.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
The 50th Law by 50 Cent and Robert Greene
From Pieces to Weight by 50 Cent
My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari
Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Stitching Together by Ed Choy Moorman

When I ordered Stitching Together, I only really knew that there was a version of Kermit the Frog on the cover; I didn't know what I'd be getting on the inside. There's "Scenes from the Life and Death of Jim Henson," a glimpse at a genius visonary who died too soon. There's "The Life of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew," an early comic done around Muppet Labs' resident scientist. There's a visit to Jim Henson's childhood home (as seen from the outside). And there's an excerpt from another comic where a childhood crush on Kermit is confessed.

This is an absolutely lovely collection. The pieces are funny and sad and touching and sweet. The image of Jim Henson's funeral in "Scenes from the Life and Death of Jim Henson" had me tearing up. While the Dr. Bunsen Honeydew piece gets a lot of downplaying, I loved the visuals of Dr. Honeydew as a baby and the Honeydew family as well as the mini-origin story of how Dr. Honeydew and Beaker met (although for some reason the hatching in the panels and the bunk bed made me think that they met in prison - I imagine that that would be quite a different story). If you get a chance, definitely give this collection a read.

I purchased a copy of Stitching Together at Buy Olympia.

See more at Ed Choy Moorman's website.

Buy Stitching Together at his website (under the Shop tab).

Read it with:
Ghost Comics: A Benefit Anthology for RS Eden edited by Ed Choy Moorman
Tales of a Sixth Grade Muppet by Kirk Scroggs
Muppet Sherlock Holmes by Patrick Storck
The Muppet Show Comic Book: Meet the Muppets by Roger Langridge
Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Same-Sex Marriage by Tricia Andryszewski

The issue of same-sex marriage has been an incredibly politically-charged issue in the United States. Should a legal marriage include two men or two women as well as a man and a woman? What happens when religion and the government intersect like this? How have views of same-sex marriage changed over the recent decades? This book takes a look at the history of the same-sex marriage movement and the challenges that it has faced in America.

I admit that I was quite skeptical of this book before I started reading it. I run the risk of exposing my biases here, but I think I was focusing on the subtitle of the book and was anticipating a book that argued against same-sex marriage. Instead, the book reads more like an account of what has happened legally and socially around same-sex marriage. While information is included on the differing opinions, it comes as more to explain the context of the political division. The text is accompanied by news articles from USA Today and there's a timeline and a glossary at the end of the book, along with resources for where to look for more information. It's a book that takes what is still a very contentious political issue and makes it accessible for youth to understand (particularly those who are looking to use it for a school assignment). Still, I am optimistic that the day will come where students will look back on a book like this and wonder why such a debate was needed at all.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Lerner Books.

Find an earlier version at IndieBound or the updated version from Lerner.

Read it with:
Gay Rights by Tricia Andryszewski
Courting Equality by Karen Kahn, Patricia A. Gozemba, and Marilyn Humphries
Green Energy: Crucial Gains or Economic Strains? by Matt Doeden
Gay Power! by Betsy Kuhn

Monday, November 21, 2011

Can You Sue Your Parents for Malpractice? by Paula Danziger

Lauren has realized that there aren't many perks of being fourteen.  She's not a kid, but she's definitely not an adult. High school is filled with stupid rules around what you need to do to be popular, and harsh actions that come when you break the rules - like dating a younger guy. Her parents still hold all the power, and they don't want to see that she's growing up. A law class at school captures her interest, but it gets her wondering: can you sue your parents for malpractice?

I realized a little while ago that my life needed more Paula Danziger in it (and frankly, with a cover like this one, how could I resist?). There's a whole bunch of tween-early teen books that I seem to have largely skipped when I was in the actual age bracket, so I'm exploring some of them now. Reading this book was like peering in on some kind of time capsule in terms of women's rights and gender relations, which I found fascinating. Sometimes it's hard to take all of the teen-related angst (like, is it really that big of a deal if someone's who's 13 dates someone who's 14?), but I think that's because it's tinged with my own memories of being that age.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
The Cat Ate My Gymsuit by Paula Danziger
P.S. Longer Letter Later by Paula Danziger and Ann M. Martin
It's Not What You Expect by Norma Klein

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Murder, She Wrote: The Fine Art of Murder by Donald Bain

While on vacation in Italy, Jessica Fletcher becomes an unwitting witness to a terrible art theft-turned-murder. The violent act continues to haunt her back when she's in the United States, but she tries to put it aside and focus on her new novel. But her work comes to an abrupt halt when she discovers that the husband of an old friend in Chicago has been killed. Jessica finds herself drawn into this murder mystery, lending support to her friend while wondering about the identity of the true killer. Jessica is shocked when the Chicago murder seems to have ties to the Italian murder. Has she found herself in the middle of another international incident?

Is there anything better than a cool autumn evening, a warm blanket, and a new Murder, She Wrote mystery? Jessica Fletcher is back, and this time she's taking on the world of art forgery. Well, sort of - it's more like the backdrop for her latest murder encounter. (Spoiler alert) I was expecting the Italian plot and the Chicago plot to come together a bit more and be more tied together in the resolution, but I wasn't exactly disappointed in the true resolution. It just felt a bit like there had been two possible ideas for this book, but at some point they got mashed up into a single story. Still, it's very much the Murder, She Wrote series that I know and love, and I think fans of cozy mysteries will be satisfied with this new volume.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Murder, She Wrote: A Question of Murder by Donald Bain
Murder, She Wrote: Provence - To Die For by Donald Bain
Murder, She Wrote: A Fatal Feast by Donald Bain

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The One Week Job Project by Sean Aiken

When Sean Aiken graduated from college, he had no idea what he wanted to do and no idea how to go about finding out what he wanted to do. So he developed a project that would give him the chance to find out. Every week for one year he would take on a different job. Then, after having worked at 52 different jobs, he would hopefully be closer to finding out what he wanted to do. When he started out he had no idea where the jobs would take him or what he would be doing. When he finished, he had a much different understanding of himself.

This is a fun concept. It's not something that I have the personality or the inclination to do, so I get to live vicariously through this person's experiences. It's easy to be skeptical or even cynical about this experiment. On one level, there's the question of the job experience. How much can you really experience in a week? If you step into a job with no experience and little training, are you really doing the job or are you shadowing? Some of that is just a semantic difference, and Sean Aiken does a good job of explaining how the project worked and what experiences he did have. I also found myself wondering how, for lack of a better word, 'genuine' this project was. Aiken, from very early on the project, used social media and web technologies incredibly smartly. He was able to promote the project and himself. In the book, he admits that he anticipated writing a book about the project. At the end of the 52 weeks, he doesn't really come away with a job that's right for him; he comes away with a job/career that he's created for himself through the One Week Job Project. Would it have been more satisfying for me as a reader to find out that at the end of the project he had decided that he really did want to be a brewmaster (week 19) or a yoga instructor (week 7)? Would that have been more "honest"? Probably not, and then we wouldn't be reading this book, which creates a weird kind of loop. Besides, this book is just as much (if not more) about Sean and his relationships with others (his parents and family members, his friends, his new girlfriend) while he goes on this journey.

But to the book itself! It's is structured really well and hooks you in and keeps you interested. It's a fun read. This has been marketed (or at least I have seen it being marketed) to the 'just out of school' crowd, but I think it is a story that will resonate with anyone who has ever wondered if there's a perfect job out there for them.

See more at the One Week Job website.

It's also a movie; view the trailer here.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Craft Rubin
Living Oprah by Robyn Okrant
The Year of Living Biblically by A.J. Jacobs
Not Buying It by Judith Levine

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems

Piggie is really excited - it's Pig Day! The happiest day of the year! But Gerald feels a bit left out. Pig day is for pigs, and he's an elephant. He doesn't want to make Piggie unhappy on her special day, but is there a way that they can all celebrate together?

There's something about Elephant and Piggie that just makes me smile. I love these characters and their friendship. I even have an Elephant and Piggie poster in my home. Although of course I hate seeing anything that makes Gerald anxious (though that could be almost anything), there's a great message in here that friends don't have to be identical to each other. Many children may celebrate different holidays than each other or have cultural differences, but that doesn't mean that they can't be friends and celebrate each other. This wasn't quite up there for me with my favourite Elephant and Piggie boks (I think I was spoiled by We Are in a Book), but it is another solid entry into the Elephant and Piggie canon. And for extra fun, check out this interview with Mo Willems from (I had never put together Elephant Gerald).

Find it at IndieBound.

Don't miss visiting Mo Willems' website. (I particularly love the fan mail.)

Read it with:
We Are in a Book by Mo Willems
I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems
Pigs Make Me Sneeze by Mo Willems

Thursday, November 17, 2011

I Before E (Except After C) for Kids by Susan Randol

FOIL. BEDMAS. HOMES. These are all acronyms that I used in school to remember different things. There were many more tricks, too: My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas (the order of the planets, including then-planet Pluto)), Thirty days hath September (the days in each month), Never Eat Shredded Wheat (the order of compass points). Many students find these acronyms, poems, and memory aids helpful in memorizing information for tests. This book has lots of fun ways to remember information. Wondering when to use affect or effect? Need to remember the order of the US Presidents? Forgetting how to spell "believe"? This is the book for you.

It was a bit of an information overload to sit down and read this book from cover to cover, but it seems like it would be a fun reference book for students to have in classrooms and libraries. I fully admit to my more nerdish tendencies, but I would have really loved this book as a kid (and I definitely still found it useful today). True, from an adult perspective there were some rhymes or tricks that were so elaborate that I wondered "Wouldn't it just be simpler to actually memorize the information?" But I think that there are enough different tips and approaches for a variety of students to find this book useful. It's also the type of book that could be really helpful for adults who are preparing for any type of trivia competition - did Socrates teach Plato, or was it the other way around? This book can help you remember! (P.S. - Socrates taught Plato, who taught Aristotle - you can remember it with the acronym SPA).

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Reader's Digest Children's Books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Popular Mechanics' The Pocket Genius by Susan Randol
I Before E (Except After C) by Judy Parkinson
"I" Before "E" Except After "C" by Dr. Laurie E. Rozakis

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Implosion of Aggie Winchester by Lara Zielin

Aggie Winchester's life just became extremely complicated. Her friend Sylvia is pregnant - and the father refuses to publicly acknowledge Sylvia or the baby. On top of that, a new girl at school is driving a wedge between Sylvia and Aggie's friendship. Aggie's mom, who is also the principal, is undergoing cancer treatments. And all of this is coming to a head as a rumour starts that Aggie's mom interfered with the prom court elections to prevent Sylvia, a pregnant Goth, from winning. Add in some boy trouble of her own, and Aggie isn't sure what to do anymore. Will things ever get back to normal?

One thing that I thought worked particularly well in this book is how Lara Zielin nailed the high school dynamic of a friend that you're friends with because of circumstance, not because you necessarily like them. Aggie is a particularly interesting character because she's still trying to find out who she is. She doesn't necessarily want to be a Goth, but she doesn't necessarily want to live exactly as her parents want her to. Her rebellion seemed realistic. There was also some extremely questionable parenting choices being made by Aggie's parents, but unlike, say, Wait Till Helen Comes (one of the first books that inspired by 'questionable parenting' tag), the choices are understandable if not necessarily right. Sometimes the strands of the dramas seemed to be bordering on a bit too much, but Zielin has a strong writing style that kept everything in check.

Check out Lara Zielin's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Six Rules of Maybe by Deb Caletti
Bumped by Megan McCafferty
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr
Prom Kings and Drama Queens by Dorian Cirrone
Donut Days by Lara Zielin

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Crossed by Ally Condie

(Warning: Crossed is a sequel to Matched, so this part has spoilers for Matched. There will be another spoiler warning below for Crossed.)

Cassia's world was turned upside down when she was matched with Xander...but saw an image of Ky on her official match microchip. This confusion led her to question her feelings about Xander, and Ky, and to wonder about the total control that's exercised by the society officials. Crossed picks up where Match left off - with Cassia and Ky on the very fringes of society, alone and thinking about rebellion - and each other.

(Spoilers follow, both for Matched and Crossed.)

When I started reading Crossed and saw where the characters were, I was afraid that it would take the entire novel for Cassia and Ky to get back together and the book would seem like it was just killing time. I was pleased with both the speed at which Cassia and Ky found each other but also how well the story worked when they were apart. I thought that the new characters were interesting and fit into the novel's world very well. The action in this book raised the stakes to true life-or-death situations. And, though, he took more of a backseat in this book, I'm curious to see how Xander will fit into the story again. I'm now very excited to see what happens in the third book, scheduled to be released in November 2012.

Check out Ally Condie's website.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Penguin Canada.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Matched by Ally Condie
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Freshman for President by Ally Condie
Divergent by Veronica Roth
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Monday, November 14, 2011

Also Known as Rowan Pohi by Ralph Fletcher

It was a twist of fate that brought Rowan Pohi into existence. He was an imaginary character created for a laugh; Bobby and his friends Marcus and Big Poobs imagined the perfect applicant for the snooty Whitestone Prep school. To their surprise, Rowan gets in. Having taken the joke as far as it will go, Bobby and his friends have a funeral ceremony for Rowan, and that should be that. But Bobby is looking for a chance to escape his own life, and Rowan might represent that. Soon Bobby-as-Rowan is attending Whitestone: befriending wealthy classmates, enjoying the difficult classes, dodging questions about his background. How long until his luck runs out?

One of the keys to this novel working is understanding why Bobby wants to risk so much to become Rowan. This part is well set up. Not only is Bobby's home life something that he wants to run away from (only his younger brother Cody is holding him back), but he also shares his name with his father. He can't create his own identity because he's in the shadow of his father. I could easily understand the attachment to Rowan, although there were some times where I didn't quite understand why Bobby's friends treated Rowan as if he was an actual person and not a prank. There's something about this book that I could see working quite well as a Disney-esque TV movie, particularly as the book marches toward its dramatic climax.

I do have to say, though, that I was troubled by the passages where Bobby's brother Cody played at being an "Indian." His behaviour included wearing feathers in his hair, playing with a "tomahawk," and calling himself an "Indian boy." While this plays into the larger themes of identity and acceptance of yourself, I was uncomfortable in seeing it play out this way. (There is a passage at the end of the book - MILD SPOILER ALERT (not really related to the main plot) - when Cody says that "Being Spider-Man is way cooler than being an Indian." While Cody is, at five years old, a small child, statements like that go completely unchecked without any indication that there is a very real difference between the two.) Check out Debbie Reese's American Indians in Children's Literature blog for another perspective on this type of behaviour.

Check out Ralph Fletcher's website.

I received an advance reading copy from NetGalley courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
How to Write Your Life Story by Ralph Fletcher
Spider Boy by Ralph Fletcher
My Favorite Band Does Not Exist by Robert T. Jeschonek

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 Timeless Rhymes from 50 Celebrated Cartoonists

It's easy enough to find a book of nursery rhymes. They're common in bookstores, libraries, and on the personal bookshelves of babies everywhere. But this is a different kind of nursery rhyme book. Fifty of today's most talented and celebrated cartoonists have joined together to present Nursery Rhyme Comics. With comics from Nick Abadzis, Andrew Arnold, Kate Beaton, Vera Brosgol, Nick Bruel, Scott Campbell, Lilli Carre, Roz Chast, JP Coovert, Jordan Crane, Rebecca Dart, Eleanor Davis, Vanessa Davis, Theo Ellsworth, Matt Forsythe, Jules Feiffer, Bob Flynn, Alexis Frederick-Frost, Ben Hatke, Gilbert Hernandez, Jaime Hernandez, Lucy Knisley, David Macaulay, Mark Martin, Patrick McDonnell, Mike Mignola, Tony Millionaire, Tao Nyeu, George O’Connor, Mo Oh, Eric Orchard, Laura Park, Cyril Pedrosa, Lark Pien, Aaron Renier, Dave Roman, Marc Rosenthal, Stan Sakai, Richard Sala, Mark Siegel, James Sturm, Raina Telgemeier, Craig Thompson, Richard Thompson, Sara Varon, Jen Wang, Drew Weing, Gahan Wilson, Gene Luen Yang, and Stephanie Yue, this is definitely not your grandparents' books of nursery rhymes.

There's so much wonderfulness to discover and uncover in this volume. Some of the cartoonists have taken a traditional approach to illustrating the rhymes, while others have reinterpreted them in new ways. Some of the standouts for me were "The Donkey" by Patrick McDonnell, "Hickory Dickory Dock" by Stephanie Yue, "The Owl and the Pussycat" by Craig Thompson, "Georgie Porgie" by Raina Telgemeier, "Pop Goes the Weasel" by Scott Campbell, "Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been?" by Ben Hatke, "The Grand Old Duke of York" by Kate Beaton, "London Bridge is Falling Down" by David MacCaulay, and "There Was a Little Girl" by Vera Brosgol. I was excited to see pages by artists whose work I already know and love; I've also discovered some new artists to look for in the future. Wondering what to get new parents as a baby gift? This is a book that comic fans (or future comic fans) should have on their shelves.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of First Second and Macmillan.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Jelly Belly by Dennis Lee
Hark! A Vagrant! by Kate Beaton
Bake Sale by Sara Varon
My Very First Mother Goose by Iona Opie