Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lunch Lady and the Author Visit Vendetta by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

The Lunch Lady has battled cyborg substitutes and evil librarians in the interest of keeping the school safe. Now, though, she has her hands full making special treats for a visiting author. The kids are really excited to meet the author of the Flippy Bunny books. There’s something not quite right about him, though…something the Lunch Lady can’t put her finger on. Then the gym teacher goes missing, and it’s up to the Lunch Lady to uncover exactly what’s going on!

I love this series for so many reasons. It has a number of strong female characters, which is always wonderful to see. The humour plays with ideas of elementary school life but never feels too juvenile. It has a perfect balance of cracking dialogue and groaners. One of the small things that I love about the Lunch Lady books is how it starts with an unrelated event before the credits, like a teaser. It’s very cinematic, like what you might see in a superhero movie. It’s such a fun read. I already have the next few books in the series on hold.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute
by Jarrett Krosoczka
The Drained Brains Caper
by Trina Robbins
Lunch Lady and the League of Librarians
by Jarrett Krosoczka

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson and Sophie Blackall

Gia likes her life exactly the way it is: just her and her mom. She is not excited about the baby that’s coming. The baby’s going to change everything. She’ll have to share her clothes with the baby. She’ll have to share her house with the baby. Everyone wants to talk about the baby. Gia is so sick of the ding-danged baby!

I’m not trying to go for the obvious pun, but Pecan Pie Baby is just so…sweet. I think it’s perfect that the book stopped before the baby actually came, because I think an ending where Gia suddenly was happy with the baby all the time and didn’t miss her old life and they all lived happily ever after would have felt wrong. There are going to be hard times ahead, and Gia isn’t always going to be happy with the baby, and she will have to share her mom’s attention. This story, though, has a note of ‘maybe things will be alright after all’ rather than ‘everything will be perfect forever.’ Sophie Blackall is quickly becoming one of my favourite illustrators. Her humans have tremendous facial expressions and eye movements. There is so much that happens in the details. My favourite image is the small one of Gia and her mom in the corner of the page, mischievously sharing a slice of pecan pie. I also like how Gia’s room, which at first was so warm and full of fun, takes on the bare look of a prison when she’s sent to her room. Blackall's so immensely talented and this book is a great combination of author and illustrator.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:

Big Red Lollipop by Rukhsana Khan and Sophie Blackall
There’s Going to be a Baby by John Burningham and Helen Oxenbury
The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson
Are You Awake? by Sophie Blackall
Bye-Bye, Baby! by Richard T. Morris

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Sorely Trying Day by Russell and Lillian Hoban

Father has had a sorely trying day. When he comes home from work all he wants is a little peace and quiet. But instead he finds the cat on top of the grandfather clock, the dog barking up a storm, and his four children yelling and hitting each other. All of them are ignoring their mother. As the story of what happens comes out, all of the children are punished for their various misdeeds. Everyone is looking for someone to blame, and no one is happy. Is there no end to this sorely trying day?

The first word that popped into my head while reading this book was ‘darling.’ The children, while clearly not perfect, enchanted me with their sailor suits and hair ribbons. And the punishment for behaving so badly to each other? They will not be allowed to press flowers in their scrapbooks for a week. But flower-pressing is their favourite activity! I loved the circular way the story is told, both with the children who go around and round over who is to blame, but also in the way that the end mirrors the beginning. These are good children at heart who just happened to be having a bad day. I’m deeply grateful for The New York Review Children’s Collection for republishing this story and bringing it back into print.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban
Grumpy Bird by Jeremy Tankard
The Backward Day by Ruth Krauss
All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Wheels of Change by Sue Macy

People often think of the history of transportation as going from horses and carriages to the automobile. But where does the bicycle fit in? On two (or three) wheels, bicycles changed how people traveled, socialized, and even thought about the world. Bicycles were particularly important for women because they represented a way for women to get out into the world beyond their own houses and neighbourhoods. Few people could have predicted how important bicycles would become to the women's movement.

Until now, I've really only thought of bicycles and feminists together in the context of the phrase "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle." In Wheels of Change, though, it was easy to see how connected bicycles were to movement, freedom, and change. This book has lots of examples of just how pervasive the bicycle culture became in American society. I liked the pictures of the different models of bikes and the (now ridiculous sounding) reasons why bicycles weren't suited for women.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Basketball Belles by Sue Macy
Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg
Elizabeth Leads the Way by Tanya Lee Stone

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Square Cat by Elizabeth Schoonmaker

Eula is a square cat. It's not easy being a square cat. Skirts don't always fit right. If you tip over, it's hard to get back up. And she's the only square cat that she knows. Her best friends Patsy and Maude are round cats. Together, though, all three of them have fun learning what it means to be round, square, and just yourself.

I know you can't always judge a book by its cover, but this was one book that I just couldn't resist. I mean, look at it! It's a square cat. The cover is indicative of the illustrations on the inside. Most pages have fairly minimal illustrations, usually just a cat or two or three, sometimes in some kind of costume. This works perfectly for this book, because it lets the squareness (and occasionally roundness) of the cats come through. Who can resist a cat in hoop earrings and a beehive hat? Or a cat in a checkerboard sweater and a pillbox hat? Beneath some of the visual jokes it's also a sweet story of friendship, fitting in, and being yourself.

See more at Eula the Square Cat.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin and James Dean
Splat the Cat by Rob Scotton
Squares: Seeing Squares All Around Us by Sarah L. Schuette
Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems
Picasso by Mike Venezia

Friday, August 26, 2011

Prince William and Kate: A Royal Romance by Matt Doeden

Prince William grew up before people's very eyes. His first official photograph happened when he was only days old. Cameras followed him as he grew up: portraits with his family, snapshots at Disney World, ski trips in the mountains. The world saw a grieving son at his mother's funeral and a college student at St. Andrews'. That's where he met Kate Middleton, the woman who one day would become his bride. Revisit all of these moments along with information about Kate's life, capped by photos and information about their engagement and royal wedding.

Many books have been and will be written about William and Kate, and this is a solid choice for younger readers. There's lots of information presented in a straightforward way. In a way I like having something published so soon after the wedding; it might lack a perspective that later works will have, but it can serve as a capsule of what was going on in terms of public opinion at the time. (I've heard a lot about Charles and Diana's wedding, for example, but how were people talking about it when it actually happened?) This is a good choice for public and school libraries looking to increase their high-interest books about modern history and to update some of the older books they might have on Prince William.

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley. This book will be published on September 1, 2011.

See more information at Lerner Books.

Read it with:
Prince William by Terri Dougherty
William and Catherine: A Royal Wedding by Andrew Morton
Royal Romance, Modern Marriage: The Love Story of William and Kate by Mary Boone
Call Ripkin, Jr. by Matt Doeden
Knit Your Own Royal Wedding by Fiona Goble

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Scaredy Squirrel Has a Birthday Party by Melanie Watt

Scaredy Squirrel is back with something to celebrate: it's his birthday! He usually celebrates in his treehouse alone because of all of the things that could go wrong: ants, confetti, clownfish, ponies, porcupines, Bigfoot... the list is practically endless! This year he's decided to take a chance and invite a friend. But when a whole bunch of party animals show up, the only thing Scaredy can do is play dead! Will he find a way to enjoy his birthday party, or will his fears end up ruining his big day?

I chose this book partly because I enjoyed it so much and partly because today is my birthday and this seemed like the perfect birthday to highlight. I hope everyone has a great day!

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt
Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend by Melanie Watt
Scaredy Squirrel at the Beach by Melanie Watt
Scaredy Squirrel at Night by Melanie Watt

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Summer Promise: Book One in the Christy Miller Series by Robin Gunn Jones

It's summertime, and Christy Miller is on what seems like the trip of a lifetime. Instead of spending the summer on her Wisconsin farm, she's soaking up the California sun with her aunt and uncle. Her aunt showers her with new clothes and makeup that show off Christy's maturing body. Christy meets some new friends at the beach, but they're a lot different from her friends back in Wisconsin. Before she left home, she promised her parents that she wouldn't do anything she'd regret...but that was before she met Todd. With all of these temptations, will she stay true to herself and her parents?

I haven't read a lot of overtly religious books, but I know that there is a great demand for these books. I knew nothing about Christy Miller or Robin Jones Gunn before I started reading this eBook, so I'm happy to have had an introduction to such a popular series. Christy is an engaging main character whose struggles are believable (wondering if a boy likes her as a friend or as a girlfriend, shy about wearing clothes that show off her body, trying to figure out what kind of a person she is and what kind of a person she wants to be), even when the story veers slightly over the top. I found myself thinking a lot about the characters and religion and how it's shown in this book, and I always like books that make me think. I think that Summer Promise is available as an eBook title, and the Christy Miller Collection has the first few books (including Summer Promise) in a combined edition.

I received this title through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program, but it's also available at NetGalley.

Also check out Robin Jones Gunn's website.

Find more information at the WaterBrook Multnomah website.

Read it with:
Peculiar Treasures by Robin Jones Gunn
A Whisper and a Wish by Robin Jones Gunn
Departures by Robin Jones Gunn

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan A. Shea with paintings by Tom Slaughter

Growing can be a hard thing for children to understand. Why do some things grow and others stay the same size? What does it mean to be alive? A duckling will become a duck, but will a car become a truck? Cubs will get bigger and grow into bears, but will a stool become a chair? In neat rhymes, all sorts of items are explored in Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?. The book is set up so that it asks these questions and then invites kids to answer them; it never gives wrong information, like a shovel will grow up to be a plow. It does, though, encourage kids to use critical thinking skills. Before the examples get too numerous, the book provides answers: yes to ducks and bears, no to trucks and chairs. The images are bright and colourful; the book uses flaps and cutouts to play with the concept of growing. I think this would be an interesting choice for a storytime; I’ve used Do Pigs Have Stripes? by Melanie Walsh in the past and I’ve found that kids love shouting out the answers. It would also be a strong choice for a one-on-one reading experience.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Do Pigs Have Stripes? By Melanie Walsh
Fall Mixed Up by Bob Raczka
Same Same by Marthe Jocelyn

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sweetly by Jackson Pearce

After leaving behind their evil step-mother, Gretchen and her brother Ansel are free - but have nowhere to go, and almost no money. When their car breaks down, they're stuck in a little town with few options. They're helped out by a friendly young woman, Sophia, who makes and sells candy and chocolate. She's happy to have extra help, because the Chocolate Festival is just around the corner. Strange things have been happening after recent festivals; young girls have been going missing, and many of the locals blame Sophia. Gretchen isn't sure what to believe - but she's determined to find out the truth before something terrible happens...again.

Spoilery talk below.

When I started reading Sweetly, I was pleasantly surprised by how much of the story came as a surprise. Knowing the basic story of Hansel and Gretel, I was initially quite distrustful of Sophia (the candy-making 'witch' figure). As the story went on, these thoughts slipped to the back of my mind, and I became confused about who to trust (in a good way). I figured out some things before Gretchen did (like the relationship between the seashells and Sophia), and I thought that Gretchen was trying to hard to make the 'mirror' idea fit - but I feel that it was Gretchen forcing it, and not author Jackson Pearce. This was a fun, suspenseful read that I really enjoyed; after reading this and Sisters Red, I can't wait for another book from Jackson Pearce.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
As You Wish by Jackson Pearce
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Hansel and Gretel by Cynthia Rylant

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tom Thumb: The Remarkable True Story of a Man in Miniature by George Sullivan

When Charles Stratton was born, by all accounts he was an average child. Then, at six months old, he stopped growing. He was an otherwise healthy child who was just over two feet tall. A clever and talented boy, he soon caught the eye of P.T. Barnum. After changing his name, his age, and his life story, Barnum made Charles - now Tom Thumb - a star. He would perform all over the world as a singer, dancer, actor, and comic. This is the story of how Tom Thumb earned money and fame - and how it changed his life.

Before reading this book I had no idea who Tom Thumb was, and only a very basic idea of P.T. Barnum. This is a well-paced, well-put-together biography that I think will be pretty popular with readers of all ages. But it's more than a straight biography; it also looks at the exploitation of child stars - what it was in the 1800s and how it has/has not changed since then. I was reminded in some parts about the Dionne Quintuplets and how they were put on display to perform for crowds. What would Charles Stratton's life have been like if he wasn't Tom Thumb? Sullivan also illustrates in many ways how 'times were different,' particularly when talking about performing in blackface or when mentioning that Tom was so nervous about the possibility of being attacked on a cross-country train trip that he wanted all passengers to carry guns (although the beliefs about the "Indian violence" aren't critiqued quite as harshly as blackface). It's also a look at the culture of celebrity and the celebrity business; the elaborate photographs and merchandise from Tom Thumb's wedding reminded me in some way of the excitement around Prince William's recent wedding in terms of selling items to a hungry public (I myself have a commemorative keychain of the royal wedding).

I received a review copy through NetGalley, but this book is out in stores now.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Tom Thumb by Richard Jesse Watson
The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
The Great and Only Barnum by Candace Fleming

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Counting in the Garden by Patrick and Emily Hruby

Gardens can be fun places. There are lots of colours, lots of things to do, and lots of things to count! Join this little boy as he explores his garden - one item at a time! I was a big fan of ABC is for Circus, so I wasn't surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I love the big, bright colours and the warm tones. I also liked how once the numbered items were revealed, they were added to a repeating two-page spread. This set-up makes it so easy to talk about the pictures with children: where are the (blank)? What was added? Can we count all of the (blank)? What shape is that? Beyond numbers, the book also uses a cool vocabulary; there are words like turnips, thistles, squirming, and slippery. This is a natural fit for kids who love the outdoors as well as families looking for a new counting book.

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

See more of Patrick Hruby's art.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
ABC is for Circus by Patrick Hruby
Charley Harper Colors by Charley Harper
One Grey Mouse by Katherine Burton

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Brooklyn, Burning by Steve Brezenoff

Kid's been living on the fringes of Brooklyn and about to slip through the cracks. Working off-the-books (and not entirely legally) at a bar provides some food and a basement place to play music, and some days that seems like enough. Kid, 16, no longer lives at home, and hasn't for awhile; you can usually find a place to crash somewhere, even if it is on the street. Then someone answers an ad that Kid placed about a band; the ad is old, and a lot has changed since it was first placed. Kid must face what has happened and also find a way to keep moving forward - before everything falls apart.

This was a challenging book for me, but challenging in a wonderful way. I am a visual reader; I picture the characters, action, and setting as I read. Not knowing many details about Kid (namely, is Kid a guy or a girl?) was difficult for me, and caused me to challenge many of my assumptions about gender and narrative. The whole story evokes a very retro atmosphere; except for some of the details, I wouldn't have been surprised to learn that it was set in the 1970s. That added for me a strange 'the more things change, the more they stay the same' vibe that ran through the story. I'm afraid that this all sounds much more negative than I mean it to - I did really like this book, but it was not an easy book to read, and even though it's just over 200 pages, it really did loom large in my head during and after reading it. I definitely recommend checking it out.

Find it at IndieBound.

Find out more at Lerner Publishing.

Check out Steve Brezenoff's blog.

I read an advance reading copy at NetGalley. Brooklyn, Burning will be available on September 1, 2011.

Read it with:
The Absolute Value of -1 by Steve Brezenoff
You by Charles Benoit
In Trouble by Ellen Levine
Brooklyn! An Illustrated History by Ellen M. Snyder-Grenier

Friday, August 19, 2011

Building Stories by Isabel Hill

Buildings can tell stories just like books can. They have words, signs, and sometimes even special architectural features like sculptures, statues, and murals. These things are clues to what the buildings are (or were) used for. Follow the rhyming text as it shows of some special buildings, and then keep your eyes peeled for stories the next time you go outside!

The first time I visited New York, I was just struck by the detail in some of the buildings. I took tons of close-up pictures of small sculptures and statues (but none of my pictures ever looked as good as this). Books like this are great for supporting early literacy skills in children. it can appeal to kids who are detail-oriented as well as ones who love buildings and construction. I didn't love this book quite as much as I loved Urban Animals, but since I loved Urban Animals a lot, this one still scores pretty high for me. It's a fun book with cool pictures that promotes connecting kids with the world around them.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley.

See more at Star Bright Books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Urban Animals by Isabel Hill
Small Medium Large by Emily Jenkins
Look Book by Tana Hoban
What's Up, Baby? by Kathleen Rizzi
My First Words at Home by Star Bright Books

Thursday, August 18, 2011

It's Not What You Expect by Norma Klein

Carla doesn't know what this summer is going to be like. Usually she and her twin brother, Oliver, head to camp, but this year isn't like other years. Their father has just moved out and their parents aren't giving any explanation why. Now he lives in New York, has grown a beard, and might even have a girlfriend. Does that mean their mom is going to start dating? To keep themselves busy, Carla and Oliver and their older brother Ralph open a restaurant: he cooks and she's the maitre d'. It's a big success, but then they're distracted by Ralph's girlfriend's news - she's pregnant. Carla feels herself growing apart from her twin, and she's not sure that she likes it. Life, love, relationships - it's not what you expect.

(Some spoilers, but I don't think it will really impact reading the book.)

I've really read very little Norma Klein, and I'm trying to fix that. It's hard because her books aren't always very available. I had to request this book through interlibrary loan; my library no longer has any Norma Klein books in its collection. (You might be able to find some at second-hand bookstores or websites or book sales.)

Anyway, this was a strange little book. Two fourteen-year-olds run a hit restaurant with no adult involvement? It's amazing how believably this plot is set up. I was more amazed, though, by the frankness with which pregnancy and abortion are dealt with. Sara Lee, Ralph's girlfriend, decides to have an abortion, and it's dealt with with very little fuss or controversy; while the book doesn't go into the long-term affect that such a decision might have on her (it happens near the end), it does show her after the abortion in a very functional light, moving on with her life. I can't think of any recent middle grade book (and that's really what this is) that deals with abortion in such light; it even has the word 'abortion' on the back cover. There's also a very interesting look at different 'types' of mothers (and different 'types' of women) as Carla sees them, and at fourteen, she's just starting to wonder about her own role as a future woman. I've requested some more Norma Klein titles through interlibrary loans, and I can't wait to dive into them.

Find it at Fantastic Fiction.

Read it with:
Forever by Judy Blume
Taking Sides by Norma Klein
Learning Curves: Body Image and Female Sexuality in Young Adult Literature by Beth Younger

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Beginning of After by Jennifer Castle

Laurel has two parents and a younger brother; they’re one of the few Jewish families in her neighbourhood. That’s why they’re observing Passover with the Kaufmans, a family that they aren’t really that close with, not really. Laurel isn’t friendly with David Kaufman; they’re in different groups at school. After he bails on Passover and Laurel heads home to work on some homework, that’s when Before ends. Mrs. Kaufman, Laurel’s parents, and her brother are all killed in a car accident; Mr. Kaufman is in a coma. Laurel has no idea how to go on when everything is so different. David is also grieving, but do they really have anything in common? Laurel must figure out how to deal with everything that comes After.

I picked this book up as soon as I received it, and it was very hard for me to put down. Laurel was a strong, compelling character, and as so much of the novel depended on her, I really got into her story. I was particularly interested in how her relationship with her grandmother played out; her Nana comes to stay with her after the accident, and it’s not always easy for either of them. They’ve both lost family, people that they care about. Issues of guilt and blame and peace and loss are woven through the whole novel along with Laurel’s struggle at restarting a normal life when everyone recognizes her as a victim of a tragedy. Definitely a title worth checking out, and a great book to recommend for people who want something like If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman.

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of HarperTeen.

Find it at Amazon.

Don't miss Jennifer Castle's website.

Read it with:

If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Fixing Delilah by Sarah Ockler
Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Witches by Cheryl Christian

Witches are getting their witchy ways ready: brewing up special brews, getting their brooms ready for riding, taking care of their spooky cats. In rhyming text, follow this group of young witches as they prepare for a special night out on the town. There's a fun relationship between the text and the pictures, and I can see kids being eager for a second read (I know I was, to put all the pieces together). There's just one illustration that I wondered about on the second read through, but I think that it would make an excellent discussion point for anyone reading it with a child (an opportunity to say something like "what do you think..."). The illustrations The illustrations also show young 'witches' of many different physical abilities, and that's always welcome in picture books for young children.

Find it at Star Bright Books.

This book will be available on August 15, 2011. I read an advanced reading copy from NetGalley.

Read it with:
Karen's Witch by Ann M. Martin
Only a Witch Can Fly by Alison McGhee
Broom, Zoom! by Caron Lee Cohen

Monday, August 15, 2011

My First Words at Home by Star Bright Books

Dog. Kitten. Ball. Book. These are common words that many children learn early on. They're all in here, along with other words like blender, magazines, computer, and ladybug. My First Words at Home has lots of colourful images of household items big (closet) and small (cup), animate (butterfly) and inanimate (broom). The pictures show items from a modern life, making the items relevant to children of today. Reading this book and others like it can be a great way to build vocabulary skills with children.

I read an advance copy from NetGalley.

See more at Star Bright Books.

Read it with:
The Baby's Catalogue by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
What's Up, Baby by Kathleen Rizzi
Hip, Hop by Catherine Hnatov
My Face Book by Star Bright Books
Small, Medium, Large by Emily Jenkins

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Jackie O: On the Couch by Alma H. Bond

Famous people have faces that are known by the public. We're there for their public moments and hear about their private ones. The Kennedy family had many moments of public triumphs and public heartaches, and Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was at the heart of many of these moments: the election and inauguration of John F. Kennedy, the pictures of Caroline and John Jr. playing around the Oval Office, the Valentine's Day tour of the White House, the assassination of JFK in Dallas, the swearing-in ceremony of Lyndon Johnson on the plane in Dallas, the funeral of JFK in Washington, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, marriage to Aristotle Onassis. The public watched Jackie through all of these moment, and since then many biographers and historians have examined her life in both a personal and historical context. But what did Jackie really think about everything? What did she think about John's affairs or Bobby's wife Ethel? What did she feel for her children? How did she keep going despite experiencing such terrible loss? Jackie O: On the Couch gives the narrative back to Jackie and puts her innermost thoughts and feelings on display.

Since my early teens, I have had a strong interest in learning about the Kennedy family. I've read a lot of books that detailed their lives, including a number of books that 'exposed' Jackie Kennedy. I was interested to see this book and how it handled her life. My favourite parts were the ones that dealt with the Bouviers, I think because this hasn't been as thoroughly detailed as her life with John, Robert, Ethel, etc. Everything unfolded pretty much as I assumed it would and I didn't always think that I was getting a lot of extra insight. I might have enjoyed the book a bit more if I didn't know so much about Jackie already, but then if I didn't, would I be as likely to pick it up? I'd be interested to see what it's like to read a book like this on another public figure, one that I don't 'know' so well.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Bancroft Press.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Tales of Psychology by Alma H. Bond
The Secret Memoirs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Ruth Francisco
The Last Will and Testament of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
Jackie After Jack by Christopher P. Andersen
One Special Summer by Jacqueline and Lee Bouvier

My Dog, My Cat by Ashlee Fletcher

This cat and dog are very different. The dog barks; the cat meows. The dog's tongue is wet; the cat's tongue is dry. The dog loves getting wet; the cat hates getting wet. These two can hardly agree on anything. But in the end, they do have some things in common - and most importantly, they both love their owner. I love the bright colours and big illustrations in this book. I sort of wish that there had been a third similarity that they share, so that it had the nice flow that comes from three things in a list, but that's a minor quibble. I can see this book being a good one to use with friends or siblings who are fighting. My Dog, My Cat has a nice message that people (and animals) aren't all the same, but if you try, you can usually find some common ground.

Don't miss Ashlee Fletcher's website - I can definitely see more children's books in her future.

I read an advance copy from NetGalley, courtesy of Tanglewood Press.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
My Dog, Cat by Marty Crisp
Chicken and Cat Clean Up by Sara Varon
Chicken and Cat by Sara Varon

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Near Witch by Victoria Schwab

There are no strangers in Near. So when one appears in the dark of night, everyone in town is on edge as to who this strange man could be. Then a child goes missing. Then another child goes missing. The town is convinced that this stranger has something to do with it. Lexi, though, isn't so sure. She's entranced by this stranger, certainly, but isn't ready to believe that he could be behind something so terrible. In order to find out the truth, she must break away from the safety and support of her town and turn towards the magic that happens out on the Moors. The Near Witch was just a story that people told to children...but now it looks like the story might have come true.

The undercurrents of fear and uncertainty drive this story and keep it clipping along at a good pace. There were elements of the story and of Lexi that reminded me a bit of The Hunger Games's Katniss (a strong teen in a family with a single mother who looks after her younger sister and has abilities in tracking that help her out), but Lexi is still her own character and this story builds its own world. As the layers of mythology were pulled back, information came out organically and Lexi and the stranger developed a very believable bond. A solid choice for fans of supernatural suspense stories. I am really excited to read more from Victoria Schwab.

See more at Victoria Schwab's blog. She also has a website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Pied Piper's Magic by Steven Kellogg
Sweetly by Jackson Pearce
The Doll in the Garden by Mary Downing Hahn

Friday, August 12, 2011

Small, Medium, Large by Emily Jenkins and Tomek Bogacki

Some concepts can be hard to understand. Take size, for instance. How do you know when something is small? What's the difference between medium and large? Where does huge fit in? What do you do if something is smaller than small - say, if it's itty-bitty? All of these relative concepts are explored in Small Medium Large with clever text, fun illustrations, and lots of humour. The normal book conventions are also played with (turning the book sideways so that they all fit on a page, having characters 'wait offscreen' until it's their turn) but these don't get in the way of the concepts. This will be a strong addition to concept book collections.

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley. Small Medium Large will be published on August 15, 2011.

Check out Emily Jenkins' website.

See more at the Star Bright Books website.

Read it with:
Small, Medium and Large by Jane Monroe Donovan
The Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins
Sizes by Charlie Gardner
The Berenstain Bears: Ready, Get Set, Go by Stan and Jan Berenstain

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Chicagoland Detective Agency #2: The Maltese Mummy by Trina Robbins and Tyler Page

Megan has got two tickets to a press conference with musician Sun D'Arc. He's one of the hottest performers around. Raf gets sick and can't go, so she takes William with her instead. After a series of confusing experiences, William ends up missing. Why was Sun D'Arc acting so strangely? Why is Jazmin, the new girl at school, lurking in alleys? And what's the connection to Egyptian mummies? Could this be another case for the Chicagoland Detective Agency?

I was kind of underwhelmed with the first book in the Chicagoland Detective Agency series, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this title. I felt like the characters gelled a bit more (or maybe I was just more familiar with them). It's not a long book, but there were some strong red herrings and a satisfying conclusion. This looks like a fun series for kids who like comics and mysteries. Definitely worth checking out.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Chicagoland Detective Agency #1: The Drained Brains Caper by Trina Robbins and Tyler Page
Go Girl! The Time Team by Trina Robbins
Return of the Mummy by R.L. Stine
The Professor's Daughter by Joann Sfar
The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

What to Expect When You're Expecting Larvae by Bridget Heos and Stephane Jorisch

Congratulations! You are the parents-to-be of larvae! I'm sure you have lots of questions: what will my larvae look like? How many babies will I have? What will my babies eat? Don't worry; this book will help to explain everything you need to know to take care of the larvae and answer all your questions along the way.

The hook of this book is that it's set up like a parenting book - namely, What to Expect When You're Expecting. But I don't think most pregnancy/parenting books have questions like "will anything eat my [baby]?" There are lots of facts that were either new to me or that I'd long forgotten. Did you know that adult butterflies drink nectar, but their babies eat leaves? Or that male mosquitoes don't drink blood? The facts are fun and informative and the illustrations add to the text but never detract. This is definitely a great resource for classrooms, libraries, and kids looking for more information about the insect world.

I read a review copy from NetGalley.

See more at Bridget Heos' website.

Get more information at Lerner's website.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
What to Expect When You're Expecting Joeys by Bridget Heos and Stephane Jorisch
The Owl and the Pussycat by Stephane Jorisch
Lady Gaga by Bridget Heos
Butterflies by Sara Nelson

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Last WIll and Testament of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

Sometimes you can find the oddest things in a library. This volume is exactly what it says it is: a copy of the last will and testament of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. Along with the regular will information about trusts and tax laws, it lists her bequests to her friends and family following her death.

I have had a longstanding fascination with Jackie O (and the entire Kennedy family), so being able to read this legal document was sort of neat. I definitely felt like a voyeur, that I was peering into someone else’s business, and about that I felt a bit of unease. That feeling wasn’t helped by the fact that one of the sections deals with her personal papers, letters, and notes, which were left to her children, along with a plea for continued respect to her privacy. It made me wonder what she would think about this ‘book.’

A ‘cast of characters’ at the front of the book helped explain who the people named in her will were in relation to her (although if you didn’t know the who Caroline Kennedy and John Kennedy, Jr. were, I’d wonder why you were reading this text), and a timeline at the back of the book puts events like her birth, marriages, and time in the White House into a proper chronological context. It’s marketed as being an historical document, and, given that Jackie was a former First Lady and I suppose that it is.

Frankly, it makes me wonder if there’s a market for this type of glimpse into a celebrity’s life, and if so, why don’t we see more of this? Or is having documents put online at sites like TMZ and The Smoking Gun enough to take care of that wonder? In that way, this might be an historical document in more ways than one.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:

Jackie O: On the Couch by Alma H. Bond, PhD.
Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy by Caroline Kennedy
Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years - Selections from the John F. Kennedy Library
Dear Mrs. Kennedy by Jay Mulvaney and Paul De Angelis

Monday, August 8, 2011

Wolf Camp by Katie McKy and Bonnie Leick

Maddie is really excited to go to Wolf Camp for two weeks. It'll be an excellent chance to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Her parents are happy for her, but when Maddie returns home they can't help but notice how she's changed. She growls at the family dog. She howls at the moon. She wants to eat nothing but meat. Her parents aren't quite sure what to do with her!

When I first saw this book I imagined that it would be a story that actually took place at Wolf Camp, so I was surprised to find out took place entirely at Maddie's house. This approach, though, was incredibly effective in getting my imagination going. Just what did this Wolf Camp look like? What exactly did the kids do? Who was running it? (And if it is actually wolves who run the camp, how did they put together the brochure?) The pictures are full of little details for kids to discover (for example, keep an eye on Maddie's dad's newspaper) and the combination of summer camp and animals has a lot of fun possibilities.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
It All Began With a Bean by Katie McKy and Tracy Hill
Goodnight, Little Monster by Helen Ketteman and Bonnie Leick
Pumpkin Town! by Katie McKy and Pablo Bernasconi

Sunday, August 7, 2011

From Jazz Babies to Generation Next by Laura B. Edge

Teenagers today drive much of pop culture. Celebrities, tv shows, fashion, movies, music...all of these things are influenced by people who aren't even old enough to vote. But a century ago, there wasn't even such a thing as a teenager. People went from being children to adult with hardly any transition period. But political and social developments (such as the freedom that the roaring 20s allowed and the increased social opportunities that bicycles, cars, and telephones allowed) meant that lives were changing and teens (old enough not to need supervision but young enough to not have spouses and children) were the ones to benefit from these changes. How did we go from Flapper girls to Beliebers? This history of the American teenager will help you find out.

This is such a fun book. I love learning about cultural history, and with the engaging text and fun photos and graphics, this was a tough book to put down. I think that it will be useful for students writing reports for school but that it also has enough appeal to be a book that people would reach to for reading for pleasure.

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

See more at Laura B. Edge`s website.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Andrew Carnegie: Industrial Philanthropist by Laura B. Edge
Iceberg, Right Ahead! by Stephanie Sammartino McPherson
Gay Power! by Betsy Kuhn
The Little Black Dress and Zoot Suits by Alison Marie Behnke

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Drop In: Volume One by Donnie Lemke

Omar likes to go fast. When he’s not on his surfboard, he’s on his skateboard. His father was a famous for his board skills, but ever since his dad disappeared under mysterious circumstances years ago, Omar isn’t quite comfortable with comparisons to his dad. While filming some stunts with his best friend, Omar falls over five stories and lands in the ocean. He’s rescued by a strange girl and Omar definitely feels some kind of attraction to her. This sets in motion a series of events that Omar is struggling to understand – including being tapped to join the 900 Revolution. What is the 900 Revolution? Who’s behind it? What do they want with Omar? And is there anyone that he can trust?

Not really knowing anything about skateboarding, I had no idea what to expect. I liked the mixing of word narratives and graphic novel panels. It was interesting to move back and forth from those two styles. All of the mystery around Omar, his dad, and the 900 Revolution definitely piqued my curiosity. I hope more will be explained in the next books. Tony Hawk’s name will bring a built-in audience for these books, and I think that the people who do pick them up will be happy with what they find.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley. It was provided by Capstone.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Impulse: Volume Two by M. Zachary Sherman
Fall Line: Volume Three by M. Zachary Sherman
Unchained: Volume Four by M. Zachary Sherman
Tony Hawk and Andy MacDonald Ride to the Top by Alice Dieterich

Friday, August 5, 2011

Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter

Since the Henley heist, Kat has a new(ish) purpose in life: reclaiming stolen property and getting it back to its rightful owners. That's why when a woman approaches her with a story about how a precious jewel was once stolen from her family, Kat is intrigued. But the lost item is no mere jewel - it's the Cleopatra Emerald. Besides being something that is rumoured to have belonged to Cleopatra herself, and besides being one of the most guarded items in the world, and besides apparently being cursed, it is the one thing that Kat's Uncle Eddie has forbidden the family from stealing. Kat's crew has made history before with an impossible heist - will lightening strike twice, or will Kat be the one who gets burned?

Sometimes, as I'm trying to coherently gather my thoughts about a book, I wonder why I didn't start writing one-word reviews. (Side-note: how helpful do you think a one-word review would be? I think if it tapped into things like appeal factors, it might be more helpful than it sounds). I think my one-word review for this book might be "zippy," because the book just zips along from plot point to plot point, location to location, occasionally pausing for the reader to catch their breath, and then zipping right back along. I loved the details that narrow in on how Kat thinks, how she sees the world as a puzzle to be figured out. I was tickled by all of the names of the various heist plots (Jack and Jill, Humpty Dumpty). I'm really enjoying Kat as a character, and in this book I feel like we saw a bit more of supporting characters Hale and Gabrielle (and what I saw, I liked). I want more: more of Kat, more of Hale, more heists, and more Heist Society in general.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Heist Society by Ally Carter
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff
Swindle by Gordon Korman

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Honestly, Red Riding Hood Was Rotten by Trisha Speed Shaskan and Gerald Guerlais

Everyone knows the story of Little Red Riding Hood: a young, innocent girl who was brutally attacked by a big bad wolf - a wolf who also ate her poor grandmother! But the wolf has a different version of events, and he's ready to share them now. Get ready to hear a different point of view!

I was immediately drawn to this book because of the illustrations. I love the rich colours and images, particularly around Red Riding Hood. I like books that play with perspective and narratives and get you thinking about the different ways a story can be told. Interestingly, even though this version was from the wolf's perspective and was set up to be his defense, I still didn't think he's that likeable a character. He doesn't put forward that he was framed or anything like that; instead, he says that Red Riding Hood and her grandmother looked so much like apples, and he loves apples, so he had to eat them. To me, that isn't much better than just eating them because you like eating humans; you're still doing something you know is wrong (he doesn't mistake them for apples - he knows they're not apples). Furthermore, I'm afraid that if I keep going down this line of thinking, it's not too long until I get to 'if she's been wearing something different, I would never have done what I did! It's her fault for dressing like that!' and other victim blaming concerns. Is that reading too much into this? Maybe, but Red Riding Hood is often used to talk about predatory actions and rape culture (see also Sisters Red by Jackson Pearce for teens). Anyway, this book comes with lots of helpful material at the end to facilitate discussions between kids and parents/caregivers/teachers. There's definitely lots to talk about.

I read an advance reading copy from NetGalley.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Little Red Riding Hood by Jerry Pinkney
The Wolf's Story: What Really Happened to Little Red Riding Hood by Toby Forward
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
Me and You by Anthony Browne
Believe Me, Goldilocks Rocks!: The Story of the Three Bears as told by Baby Bear by Nancy Loewen and Tatevik Avakyan

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Everything I Was by Corinne Demas

Life is pretty good for Irene. She likes her private school, enjoys her friends, and her parents take care of everything she wants and needs. But then her father loses his job, and the family faces an uncertain financial situation. While they regroup they move in with Irene's grandfather. Her mother has a hard time adjusting to their new life, and her father carries a lot of guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy around with him. Irene likes being with her grandfather and is even starting to make new friends, but her mind is still on her old life. How is Irene supposed to move on with her life when she can't forget everything that she had - and everything that she was?

Over the last year or so there have been a number of books that have addressed what it was like for kids, tweens, and teens whose parents lost their jobs in the economic downturn of the late 2000s. Irene is a very sympathetic character who tries her best to deal with the way that her life changes. I liked the themes of perspective and how people see different things in the same situation. From the cover I thought that this might be a dramatic story (or maybe even a supernatural one) but it's a very down-to-earth story about finding out that your parents might not have all of the answers that you thought they did.

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

See Corinne Demas' website for more information about this and her other books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Dark Song by Gail Giles
All the Things You Are by Courtney Sheinmel
What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb
The Writing Circle by Corinne Demas

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I'm Just Sayin'! by Kim Zimmer

Since the early 1980s, Reva Shayne was at the heart of the action in Springfield; her portrayer, Kim Zimmer, became one of Guiding Light's biggest stars. Reva had many (many) husbands, even more lovers, three 'deaths,' five children, and lots of adventures. She was a time traveler, a psychic, a cancer patient, a princess, an Amish woman, a sufferer of post-partum depression, and a talk show host. She was a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, and a survivor. Behind the scenes, many things changed from the time that Kim Zimmer first started at Guiding Light in the 1980s to when the show went off the air in 2009. With honesty and humour and pulling no punches, this is the story as Kim Zimmer lived it.

I started watching soaps in the mid-1990s when I was a young teenager. I watched the CBS soaps (Young and the Restless, Bold and the Beautiful, As the World Turns, and Guiding Light) mainly because those were the only ones that the old TV at our cottage could pick up with decent reception. When I started, Reva had just come back to the canvas after a five year absence (she had driven her car off a bridge in Florida and years later had been discovered living with an Amish family); she was married to Buzz and Josh was with Annie and I was torn because I liked Annie (until she went crazy, and then I loved her in a different way). I was watching during the Clone storyline, the 'Michelle befriends an angel' storyline, and the 'Vanessa fakes her own death and then reconnects with Matt over this new thing called the Internet' storyline. In those days, I could usually get home from school in time to catch the last thirty minutes of the show, meaning it was the only one (aside from Y&R, which aired from 4:30-5:30 on a local station) that I could watch regularly and not just at Christmas and summer vacations.

When I first started watching, I used to quiz myself on the characters' names as their pictures appeared.

Over the next ten-twelve years, I still kept up with soaps, and still loved them, but didn't watch them with the same regularity. I started high school, and could no longer get home to watch Guiding Light. At university I was usually in class (except for a semester where I randomly started watching Days of Our Lives with another girl from our dorm - it was the only time we ever hung out). Then, the summer before I finished library school, I found that I was working mostly evenings and didn't have to be at work until 5pm. I found my way back to soaps, and was most connected to Guiding Light. After finishing school and getting a full-time position, I was able to indulge in some luxuries - like a DVR. Guiding Light was one of the first shows that got a series pass.

By this time, though, the series had been cancelled. After seventy-two years on radio and television, Guiding Light was ending. Over the summer I watched as storylines wrapped up and characters faced tragedy and happiness; I welcomed back favourites and got caught up in the show. I watched the final show on September 18, 2009 with tears streaming down my cheeks; when it ended, I pressed play and watched it again. I spent the weekend watching youtube videos from the 80s and 90s, tearing up and thinking about what might have been. I was surprised by my reaction, but I am not exaggerating when I say that I grieved for the show.

Whenever a reader picks up a book, they bring to it their own personal history. All of this is to help explain what I brought to reading this book. I have been waiting for this book since the show went off the air almost two year ago. If anyone was going to write a book like this, it would be Kim Zimmer. I expected it to be an honest account of the drama surrounding the last few years of Guiding Light - on screen and off. And, sure, that's there, but that's only part of it. It's also Zimmer's story of how she became a working actress.

It's a story of what being a 'soap star' looks like from behind the scenes. It's tidbits like how great a guy Alec Baldwin is or how Zimmer once tried to walk off Oprah's show in the middle of taping. It's also the story of how Zimmer was self-medicating with wine during the last few years of Guiding Light. It's the story of how she got a DUI and how that refocused her life. It's the story of living with menopause. It's a story of how she and her husband made a showbiz marriage work. It's a story of what it was like to be at the end of four soaps: The Doctors, Santa Barbara, Guiding Light, and now One Life to Live.

But it is also about Guiding Light. There are tributes to cast members that she was close to and stories about life behind the scenes. She talks about her frustrations with storylines and how she production models changed over the years. She details her tense relationship with executive producer Ellen Wheeler and shares how hurt she was by things like the Daytime Emmy's insulting "tribute" to Guiding Light. She also details how the cancellation of Guiding Light happened at the same time as the death of her mother, and how this affected her and framed her reactions to fans who were mourning the show.

I still love and believe in soaps, but with the cancellation of Guiding Light in 2009, As the World Turns in 2010, and the cancellation/medium shift of All My Children this year and One Life to Live next year, they are a format in transition. I hope to one day read a big account of this time period, like The Late Shift or Live From New York.

But back to I'm Just Sayin'! Reading this book is like inviting Kim Zimmer to a long lunch and then getting to ask her all the questions you've been wanting to know about. Since most of us won't ever have the chance to do that in person, thank goodness for this book.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Afternoon Delight: Why Soaps Still Matter by Carolyn Hinsey
Jonathan's Story by Julia London and Alina Adams
Lorelai's Guiding Light: An Intimate Diary by Lorelai Hills
Changing Shoes by Tina Sloan
Guiding Light: A Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration by Christopher Schemering

The Summer I Lost It by Natalie Kath

Kat's tired of being fat. She doesn't like how she feels about herself and she doesn't like how others see her. She's decided that this summer is going to be the summer that she finally does something. Her parents quickly veto the idea of 'fat camp,' so it's up to her to find a way to incorporate exercise, healthy food, and better habits into her life.

(The summary that was provided by the publisher is really inaccurate in terms of the actual plot of the book, so I hope that has been changed by the time it hits stores).

I approached this book hesitantly, not quite sure what I would find, but it turns out there was a lot that I liked about this book. I liked how it established that Kat was in fact overweight (15 pounds away from being not obese), and that was established by a doctor. In fact, doctors, nutritionists, and even personal trainers were frequently name-checked as people to talk to when you want to lose weight sensibly and responsibly. Kat shares her plans with her parents and doesn't do it in secret. Yes, she might initially want to do it partly because of a boy, but it's more complicated than that and actually tied into her feelings about her self-image and self-worth. Losing weight is presented more as a part of living a healthy life than how important it is to be thin. I was worried that the book might be too preachy, but it wasn't (the closest it came to that is when Kat describes what she's eating and the calorie count of that and a high-calorie 'regular' meal appears in a bubble on the page). The story is told through Kat's journal entries and at just over 100 pages, it's a very streamlined story with few-to-no subplots or other storylines. There are also some recipes and meal plan ideas at the back of the book. I do want to see more fiction that focuses on people who are fat and where the story doesn't focus on losing weight, but I think there's also a place for a book like this.

Check out Stone Arch Books (Capstone).

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Fat Camp by Deborah Blumenthal
Fat Chance by Leslea Newman
Sweet Valley Twins: Lois Strikes Back by Francine Pascal
Eat This, Not That! For Kids by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding

Monday, August 1, 2011

Just Grace and the Double Surprise by Charise Mericle Harper

Grace can't wait for her best friend Mimi's new baby sister to arrive. She has lots of great plans for how to teach the baby to call her Grace - not Just Grace, just Grace - and to stay away from cats because Mimi is allergic. The waiting is more than she can stand! But just when she thinks the little girl is going to arrive, Mimi (and Grace) are in for a surprise! And that's not all - Grace's parents have another surprise for Grace. It's a double surprise!

Grace's way with words, love of cartooning, and insight into people's behaviour are at the centre of this fun book in the Just Grace series. I love how she talks and how she understands people, and how she's constantly being surprised and recalibrating her ideas about the world. Her thoughts about how someone can react to news differently whether you're having a good day or a bad day, for instance, definitely struck a chord withe me. I'm a latecomer to this series, but Grace and her future books have won a place on my to read shelf.

I read an advanced reading copy at NetGalley.

See more at Houghton Mifflin Books for Children.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper
Still Just Grace by Charise Mericle Harper
Just Grace Walks the Dog by Charise Mericle Harper
Just Grace and the Terrible Tutu by Charise Mericle Harper