Friday, September 30, 2011

And Both Were Young by Madeleine L'Engle

Life has been changing too fast for Philippa. She desperately misses her mother and is still grieving her passing. She wants to be with her father, but instead he has sent her off to a boarding school in Switzerland. She doesn't get along with the other girls; she doesn't think she has anything in common with them. She's alone and miserable...and then she meets Paul, and everything changes.

And Both Were Young was originally published in the 1940s; it was republished in the 1980s and now again in 2011. The cover is decidedly modern (I'm not an historian, but did people really dress like that in post-war Europe?) but the text inside is all as Madeleine L'Engle originally intended (a foreward from her granddaughter explains how the original book was edited to remove some of the more romantic elements of the story). I think I liked this story even more knowing all of its history. Beyond the historical details, Flip's story is still relevant in today's world; sure, maybe few people are at an exclusive Swiss boarding school, but she's also dealing with mourning her mother, concern about a possible future step-parent, fitting in at school, loneliness and homesickness, caring about a troubled friend, and falling in love.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Bloomability by Sharon Creech
Dreams of Significant Girlhood by Cristina Garcia
Camilla by Madeleine L'Engle

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Queens of All the Earth by Hannah Sternberg

Olivia should be getting ready to move into her freshman dorm room. She should be going off to college. But instead, she's not going anywhere. She retreats to her bedroom, hiding from the world and cutting off contact with her family. Time passes and nothing really changes for Olivia. Her older sister, Miranda, decides to jolt Olivia into responsiveness by planning a trip to Spain. But not all of her plans go exactly how she wants them to; it's not just Olivia who will be changed by this trip.

There are so many really interesting things going on in this novel - which I was kind of surprised by, because it's not a very big novel! The relationship between Miranda and Olivia is at the heart of the story, and I easily bought that they loved and frustrated each other and didn't always understand each other. There's a quiet strength to the story that kept me interested in how everything played out. This is Hannah Sternberg's debut novel, and I'm really curious to see what comes next from her.

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

Check out Hannah Sternberg's website.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
A Room with a View by E.M. Forster
Zen and Xander Undone by Amy Kathleen Ryan
The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
The Six Rules of Maybe by Deb Caletti
I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Daddies by Janet Frank illustrated by Tibor Gergely

What do daddies do all day? Daddies work while children play! They are doctors and construction workers, tailors, barbers and chefs. They work in offices and grocery stores, factories and schools. Daddies can do anything! But what's their favourite part of the day? Coming home and spending time with their children.

I was surprised to see that this book was reissued and reprinted in May of 2011; it seems so totally like a relic from another era. I haven't seen the new edition, so I don't know if any changes were made to the text or illustrations. The copy I have is from my mom's era (and in fact was my mother's, with her childish printing of her name in the front cover). The rhyme scheme has stuck in my head for twenty years (although I did conflate some of the lines with the Sesame Street song What Do People Do All Day?). The illustrations are lovely and colourful and I can see how they would be very appealing to a child. The book is an interesting look at the work world in 1954. With a few exceptions, the images set at workplaces are completely devoid of women. Women can be nurses and actors/singers, but that's about it. I don't quite believe this reality, but am intrigued by the messages that it sends to kids. The look at men and gender roles and family roles make this an interesting book to look at, but for today's kids, it might be better to look for something a bit more modern.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Little Mother by Sharon Kane
Daddies by Lila Prap
Daddy Kisses by Anne Gutman

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

It's A Little Book by Lane Smith

Children aren't born knowing what books are. They have to explore pages on their own and figure out what these strange objects are used for. Can you wear it as a hat? Do you eat it? Is it a beak, like a bird, only you hold it in your hand? When you really think about, books can be pretty confusing things! But eventually, through modeling and exposure, even little ones can understand how to use and enjoy books.

This board book uses the same characters and structures as Lane Smith's earlier It's A Book, although in this version the Jackass isn't referred to by name. I was skeptical of this book when I saw it in stores, thinking it was just a chance to cash in on a board book format. When I read it, though, I enjoyed it in a different way than It's A Book. The humour seems gentler in this book, I think because the Jackass isn't presented as being so out of it. Yes, he doesn't know how to use a book, but he's a child in diapers - he hasn't learned yet. Without the digital storyline, the message becomes slightly less sharp. I still don't know if board book is the right format for it, because I think that it will be older children who enjoy it the most. I almost wish this was in a full picture book format (I don't think it is). But no matter. It's still a book that parents and adults will enjoy, a book that's given and read as a funny joke.



Find it on IndieBound.

Read it with:
A Book by Mordicai Gerstein
Have I Got a Book for You by Melanie Watt
It's A Book by Lane Smith
Read It, Don't Eat It! by Ian Schoenherr

Monday, September 26, 2011

Black as Snow by Nick Nolan

Everyone knows Sebastian Black. If he's not on TV talking about his Evo-Love religion, his good looks are being featured in magazines or blogs are talking about his latest romantic conquest. His mother is thrilled at the attention - and the money that it makes. It's a great life for Sebastian, but when something tragic happens he starts to wonder what his life is all about. He retreats from the public eye - and his mother - in an attempt to find answers about his life. Sebastian is alone and and at his most vulnerable. But his timing couldn't be worse, because a group of people who oppose his religion and his teachings are getting close to finding him...and they'll stop at nothing to get their message across.

I feel like before talking about the book, I should talk about how I got the book. I was approached (by email) by someone from Little Bird Publicity to see if I would be interested in receiving a review copy for a book that was published by AmazonEncore. I'd heard about AmazonEncore but wasn't quite sure what kinds of books they'd be publishing, so I jumped at the chance to read one of the titles, and before long a copy arrived in the mail.

But, back to the novel. When I first started, it took me a little while to get into the book. There were a number of characters and plots presented in the first chapters, and I had a hard time keeping them all straight. As the story picked up steam, though, I found myself much more able to keep up and could let myself get lost in the story. Sebastian is an engaging main character, and there's lots to be explored with a young, beautiful, Christ-like figure. The two biggest strengths of this book were Nick Nolan's deeply crafted supporting characters (particulary Tess and Libby) and his talent for writing dialogue. I loved the scenes where the characters would debate and challenge each other, or even just share information. I can't say that I picked up on all of the Snow White details (helpfully explained in an Author's Note at the end of the book), but I don't think you need to to enjoy the story. The religious-based plots and two intense, graphic sex scenes (one an act of violence, one an expression of love) mean this book won't be for everyone, but what book is? I doubt that I would have known about this book had it hadn't come across my inbox, so I'm thankful to have had the chance to learn more about author Nick Nolan's work.

I received a review copy of this book. Check out more information about Amazon Encore.

Look for more information on Nick Nolan's previous books.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Double Bound by Nick Nolan
Strings Attached by Nick Nolan
Sleeping Angel by Greg Herren

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Is A Worry Worrying You? by Ferida Wolff, Harriet May Savitz and Marie Le Tourneau

What would happen if 100 elephants came over for tea...and you didn't have any tea in the house? What if you were walking down the street and you saw a rhinoceros on the other side of the road? What if you got to school and saw that your new teacher was a bear? These are all very scary situations! You might even worry about what would happen. Worrying isn't fun, and the more you worry, the worse the worrying gets. But there are lots of different ways that you can send a worry packing before it ruins your day.

As someone who did a lot of worrying as a little kid (and still is a pretty good worrier today), I'm glad to see that there are books that address children's worries. It's not always as easy as telling someone "oh, don't worry about it." Worries can also spiral until they're so big you can barely handle them. Having a book like this reassures children that worries are common and there are lots of other people who worry; it can also give them ideas for how to handle their worries, like trying to put their minds on other things, facing worries head-on, and telling people about what's worrying them.

I read a review copy at NetGalley courtesy of Tanglewood.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The 10 PM Question by Kate De Goldi
Ready for Anything by Keiko Kasza
Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes
The Story Blanket by Ferida Wolff and Harriet May Savitz
Big Rabbit's Bad Mood by Ramona Badescu

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Go the F**ck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes

Bedtime books make up a classic part of children’s picture books. Pages filled with sleepy animals and pajama-clad children are commonly found in most children’s libraries, whether public or personal. But Adam Mansbach wanted to write a different kind of book – one that more closely fit his experiences as a parent. And so a new children’s book was born: Go the Fuck to Sleep.

What is there that’s left to say about this title? I’ve now read the book and saw it as one man’s descent into near-madness (or the end-of-the-day equivalent) as he struggles to keep his life together. He begs, he pleads, he takes a hard stance, tries giving in, gives up, and just when it looks like he might have succeeded he finds himself starting the cycle once again. Just to be clear: it’s not a children’s book; it’s a book about children. After the initial buzz about the book, I haven’t heard too much about how it’s been received. I think that people will likely either love the joke or hate it, with a smaller percentage of those who are just indifferent. The book is interesting, too, as a slice of modern society. I’ve read many different commentaries on it, including the question of what would be different if a woman wrote the book. For added fun, try the Samuel L. Jackson-narrated audiobook recording.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Goodnight Moon
by Margaret Wise Brown
It’s Time to Sleep, My Love by Nancy Tillman and Eric Metaxes
The End of the Jews by Adam Mansbach
It’s Just a Plant by Ricardo Cort├ęs

Friday, September 23, 2011

Tunnel Vision by Susan Shaw

It all seemed like an ordinary day. Liza was walking home, as usual. She was walking by the train overpass, as usual. The group of men by the tunnel wasn't usual, but it didn't seem too strange. Then things did start getting strange. Her mother was yelling at her. There was a loud noise. There was blood. Then the police came. It didn't seem possible that her mother could be dead - murdered - in the street in front of her house. The police need Liza as a witness, and in order to keep her safe she and her dad must go into the Witness Protection program. They must leave everything behind, including their names. Everything has happened so fast. Liza isn't sure how to handle everything, or even if she wants to help the police. But she won't have much time to think about it, because every minute puts her deeper into danger.

Witness Protection Program books usually bother me because the characters often make really bad choices for really bad reasons. But I was pleasantly surprised with Tunnel Vision. It's not that Liza didn't make questionable choices, because she does. But I think Susan Shaw grounded her character in a way that I don't usually see, so I could understand Liza a bit more. The action keeps the thriller moving along at a good pace (I read the book in one sitting because I had to know what happened next). It's also an interesting look at how things like 'disappearing' have changed in an internet age. How can you disappear when your picture is on 24 hour news channels and newspaper websites? Can you slip through unnoticed when cell phones and GPS devices are so common? How can you start a new life when reminders of your own life are so easily uncovered?

I received a review copy from Simon & Schuster's GalleyGrab program.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Don't Look Behind You by Lois Duncan
Almost True by Keren David
When I Was Joe by Keren David
61 Hours by Lee Child
Safe by Susan Shaw

Thursday, September 22, 2011

She's Shameless: Women Write about Growing Up, Rocking Out, and Fighting Back edited by Megan Griffith-Greene and Stacey May Fowles‏

What was it like for the previous generations to grow up? What challenges did they face? What barriers did they break through? How did girls struggle and thrive to become strong women? This anthology of short essays takes a look at those stories and presents them for the new generation of young feminists.

After a few recent incidents where I was judging a book by its cover, this time I almost didn’t read this book because of the ‘rocking out’ part of its subtitle. I liked the ‘shameless’ part, but while I can definitely appreciate music and musicians, I wasn’t that amped to read a ‘how to’ guide for a rock-style life. Then, out of a touch of curiosity, I read a bit of the book and realized how far off I was. In some ways, it seems almost like a passing of the torch for some of these writers, turning around to the next generation of teens and saying “Here. This is yours now.” What ‘this’ exactly is might not always be clear, but it has a combination of feminism, inspiration, history, and potential. I wished that most of the essays were longer, which is a great complaint to have against a book. There is a bio section in the back for each of the contributors, and I have definitely been inspired to seek check out some more of their work.

Check out the Shameless website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Cleavage: Breakaway Fiction for Real Girls edited by Deb Loughead and Jocelyn Shipley
Be Good by Stacey May Fowles
The Emily Valentine Poems by Zoe Whittall
BITCHfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine edited by Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler
Don’t Cramp my Style edited by Lisa Rowe Fraustino

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Doormat by Kelly McWilliams

Jaime is used to feeling a bit plain next to her friend Melissa; Melissa always has lots of drama going on in her life. But this time Jaime is not prepared for what Melissa has to say: she's pregnant and she wants Jaime to help her. Jaime wants to help but is overwhelmed by how huge it is. At fourteen, she doesn't know how to help Melissa and as a doormat, she's not used to being listened to. Can she figure out the best way to handle this situation?

While not a long book (it comes in at around 125 pages), Doormat covers a lot of emotional territory. How can you help friends without taking on their troubles yourself? What do you do when a friend doesn't listen to reason? It also has an authenticity about high school, helped by the fact that the author Kelly McWilliams wasn't much older than the main characters when the book was written. I was, though, surprised to see the language used around abortion; it seemed like it was straight out of a 1960s story, not one from the 2000s. (Also, at one point a teacher advocates for abortion for teen pregnancy in class, during a lesson - I can't see that happening today without high profile media attention.) This is a good choice for students looking for 100+ page books for school and anyone looking for a solid shorter novel.


Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
My Life as a Doormat (A Comedy in Three Acts) by Rene Gutteridge
Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles
The Lit Report by Sarah N. Harvey
Butterflies in May by Karen Hart
How to Deal by Sarah Dessen

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bear in Underwear by Todd H. Doodler

One day Bear and his forest friends decide to play Hide and Seek. He has a perfect hiding spot. In fact, Bear hides so well that everyone forgets about him! On his way home he comes across an abandoned backpack – full of underwear! Which pair should he wear? Some are too big, some are too small…is there anything in that bag that’s just right?

I think this is one of those books where it’s best if you don’t think too much about it. After all, why did the animals decided they needed underwear? Especially underwear that belonged to someone else? Do they think of it like short pants? Do they know what pants are? Are they aware of their nakedness? Do animals need underwear? Do any of us need underwear? There’s really not much too the story, but I doubt that will matter; underwear and underthings can be a real crowd pleaser for children. I liked the bright, bold colours of the animals and the forrest and the detail that went into the design. I could have lived without the rejection of one pair of underwear as being ‘too girly’ (they were pink and frilly, naturally). The outside of the book has real fabric underwear that the Bear wears (and yes, it felt strange touching underwear on a library book). Bear’s underwear story continues in a sequel, Bear in Pink Underwear.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:

The Underpants Zoo by Brian Sendelbach
Always Lots of Heinies At the Zoo by Ayun Halliday and Dan Santat
The Zoo I Drew by Todd H. Doodler
Bear in Pink Underwear by Todd H. Doodler
Aliens Love Underpants by Claire Freedman

Monday, September 19, 2011

The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline by Lois Lowry

Caroline's life isn't perfect. She suffers through living with her brother (she's nicknamed him Beastly). Her parents are divorced and she barely knows her father. She has to eat things like eggplant and parsnips. But she also gets to spend a lot of time at the Museum of Natural History, learning about the dinosaurs. She has a good relationship with her mom and her best friend. Then one day she stumbles onto some mysterious clues that lead her to discovering that one of her neighbours might have a darker side... and even worse, her mom's starting to date him! Caroline and her brother could be in danger! Caroline's determined to expose him - but is she too late?

First things first: I picked this up just because it has a girl named Caroline in the title, and my name is Caroline. I know you can't judge a book by its cover, but having your name in a title doesn't hurt.

Is it just me, or is the storyline of 'young girl thinks that a stranger in her life is an evil killer' one that appears a few times in middle grade books? (Offhand, the only thing that I can think of is when Sally J. Freedman thinks that Hitler lives near her, but that's sort of different). I guess it works because it introduces an element of danger and suspense without putting anyone in danger. And it allows for vicarious snooping!

Underneath the thriller storyline, too, are some solid details that make this much a strong book. Caroline deals with issues of money and class in very grounded ways: her mother struggles to make ends meet and the family eats whatever vegetable is cheapest at the grocery store; her best friend lives in an apartment with a doorman and eats things like shrimp cocktail. Caroline also is a main character who's fascinated with dinosaurs, and geology, and it's still pretty rare to have a main female character in a middle grade novel who loves science so wholeheartedly. Aside from The Giver, I have a pretty significant Lois Lowry hole in my reading background. The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline confirmed that I need to fix this sooner rather than later.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Switcharound by Lois Lowry
A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry
The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts
Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry
Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Robot Dreams by Sara Varon

Dog and Robot have been best friends ever since Dog sent away for a ‘build your own robot’ kit. They love doing things together: going to the library, watching movies, going on trips. One day they take a trip to a dog-friendly beach. They have a blast playing in the water and napping on their towels. It’s a perfect day – but when Robot wakes up, he can’t move! Dog tries everything he can, but there’s no way he can get Robot home. As it turns from day into night, Dog reluctantly leaves Robot behind. Alone at the beach, Robot dreams of the future – and what could have been. Will Dog and Robot ever be reunited?

I was thoroughly surprised by this book. While I tried to guess what would happen next, it kept moving in directions that were completely unexpected. The panels that show Dog leaving Robot on the beach were incredibly sad and, despite the bright colours and style, very dark. Over the course of the next year, terrible things kept happening to both of them. But good things happened, too, even while they were apart. This might be a spoiler, but I ultimately found this book to be bittersweet. I never thought that I would describe a book about an anthropomorphized dog and his robot friend as being realistic, but I loved how things ended in this book – not too neat, but done in a satisfying way. I have read and loved Chicken and Cat and Chicken and Cat Clean Up, but they didn’t prepare me for just how much I would enjoy Robot Dreams.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Chicken and Cat by Sara Varon
Chicken and Cat Clean Up by Sara Varon
The Rabbi’s Cat by Joann Sfar
Fred and Pete at the Beach by Cynthia Nugent

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Animals in Fall: Preparing for Winter by Martha E. H. Rustad and illustrated by Amanda Enright

Kids know that seasons change from winter to fall to spring. We prepare for it by wearing heavier clothes, turning up the heat, and storing food for the winter. But how do animals get ready for winter? What do they do to get ready for the snow? Some hibernate; some fly south for the winter. Some turn a different colour; some put on weight. Find out more about the world of nature in this beautifully illustrated, easy to follow book that looks at animals and the seasons. There's lots of great information and a glossary at the end for figuring out new words. There's even an experiment that kids can do at home to simulate how layers of fat keep animals warm. This book will be a natural fit in schools and libraries during the autumn months, but it's a great choice for curious kids all year long.

See more information about the book from Lerner Publishing. I received an advance review copy from NetGalley.

Read it with:
Are You Ready for Fall? by Sheila Andersen
Not a Buzz to be Found: Insects in Winter by Linda Glaser
Fall by Linda Heriges

Friday, September 16, 2011

Zita the Spacegirl Book One by Ben Hatke

Zita wasn’t expecting to open a portal to another world, but that’s what happened when she pushed the button that on a device that appeared in the crater of a fallen meteorite. That push set of a series of strange events that led to her best friend, Joseph, being abducted! Zita bravely sets out to find him but runs into a number of obstacles along the way. Everything is so different – and dangerous; how will she ever find Joseph? With the help of some space creatures (some a bit more reluctant than others), she just might have a chance to save her friend…but it could come at a terrible cost.

This was such a fun graphic novel to read. The adventure story kept me wondering what would happen, and the illustrations added a lot of humour and depth. I’ve been describing this book to colleagues as Jellaby meets “Firefly.” I don’t know if that’s the most particularly apt comparison there is, but that’s what it made me think of (and it has piqued some people’s interest). The book has been on a number of ‘Best of’ and ‘Must Read’ lists, and I definitely agree with those lists. I can’t wait to read more.

Find it at IndieBound.

See more at Ben Hatke's website.

Read it with:
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch
Jellaby by Kean Soo
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Urban Animals by Isabel Hill

In some cities, there are animals everywhere! Going for a walk, riding in cars, and, as Urban Animals shows, on the outside of buildings! Have you ever seen a snake on the side of a wall? What about a seahorse? Some buildings have lions or dogs or even elephants. Keep an eye open next time you go outside; you never know what you might see!

I loved seeing all of the pictures of the animals; it's a fun look at art and architecture and urban design. What do these animals mean? Why would a building want to have a cow on it? Even if you don't live in a city that has the elaborate architecture of these buildings, Urban Animals is a great way to get excited about seeing the things that are around you.

See more at Star Bright Books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Building Stories by Isabel Hill
Look Book by Tana Hoban
My Face Book by Star Bright Books

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

An Elegy for Amelia Johnson by Andrew Rostan, Dave Valeza and Kate Kasenow

Amelia Johnson has lived a full life - not a long life, because at 30 she only has weeks left until her cancer kills her, but a full life. There are many people in her life who are important to her. Her two best friends Jillian and Henry are devastated by the thought of her death. That's what prompts them to honor one of her last wishes: to deliver taped messages to some of the people from their past. Henry, a filmmaker, and Jillian, a writer, frequently butt heads over how to best go about this task, and they're not prepared for everything they discover. In the end, though, they hope to create a proper elegy for Amelia Johnson.

Does one person ever really know another person? All the sides of them? Everything they've done? And is the way you know someone the way that someone else knows someone? Questions of identity, relationships, perspective and are at the heart of this book. When someone is dead or dying (especially someone young), there's a tendency to overlook any flaws they might have had and view them only in a positive light. But people are more complicated than that. I loved the artwork in this book; I loved how it captured expression and emotion in the face and body language of the characters.

See more at Archaia.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Blankets by Craig Thompson
Mom's Cancer by Brian Fies
Janet & Me by Stanley Mack
Blue Pills by Frederik Peeters
Zen and Xander Undone by Amy Kathleen Ryan

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker

When Clementine sees the 'Family Meeting!' sign go up at her house, she starts to get nervous; what is she getting in trouble for this time? She hasn't used her Dad's tools, she hasn't been eating too much junk food, and she's been pretty nice to her brother. No, the news is much worse - there's going to be another baby in the family! Clementine doesn't know why her parents want another baby. With four of them, everything is nice and square. Clementine already has her hands full with school and her friends - the last thing she needs is another baby in the house!

Clementine's individuality, determination, and point of view have already won her quite a following, and I think that this strong title will keep fans on her side. She's an engaging character and the stuff that she deals with (losing a favourite hat, dealing with her science class partner, thinking that her friend is growing up and leaving her behind) will resonate with the book's audience.

I read a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Disney-Hyperion.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker
Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary
Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson and Sophie Blackall

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Kiss Goodbye by Audrey Penn and Barbara L. Gibson

Chester does not want to move. He likes living in his tree. His mother tells him to think of it as an adventure, but Chester isn't so sure about that - he's had plenty of adventures that didn't turn out exactly right! Maybe he should stay behind. If he did that, he'd miss his mom...but if he moves, he'll miss his home. With his mom's gentle advice, Chester learns how to say goodbye to a place that he loves and open his heart to a new home.

Moving is a fact of life for many children, but that doesn't make it easy for them. It can be hard to picture living in a new place and leaving everything that they know behind. In A Kiss Goodbye, Chester's mother doesn't negate Chester's feelings of worry, but she gently reassures him to give the new home a try. When I saw the cover (and the red-marked tree that indicated why they would be moving), I was afraid that the moving story would be overshadowed by a story about environmental encroachment. It does mention the tree cutting, but only briefly; the focus stays on Chester and his family's move. This book is a natural fit for anyone who has read and enjoyed Chester story in The Kissing Hand and A Pocketful of Kisses and a soothing story for any kids who are nervous about moving to a new house.

I read a review copy at NetGalley courtesy of Tanglewood.

Read it with:
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
A Pocketful of Kisses by Audrey Penn
It's Moving Day! by Pamela Hickman
The Berenstain Bears' Moving Day by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Forest Animals by Deborah Hodge

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Faces of Hope 10 Years Later: Babies Born on 9/11 by Christine Pisera Naman

September 11, 2001 was a terrible day that saw terrorist attacks shake the United States.Millions of people watched in horror as the day unfolded. Many people, though, had other things on their mind: bringing new life into the world. September 11, 2001 was the birth day for thousands of new babies who had no idea about the world they were coming into. These children are now ten years old. In a follow up book to one that looked at babies born on 9/11, Christine Pisera Naman invites us to get to know these children, their hopes, and their dreams.

I've thought about people who have a birthday on September 11, but I hadn't really considered the children who were born on that day. It was very interesting to see how they see America and what they want to do when they grow up. It appears that they were asked "how will they make the world a better place?" Their answers cover everything from green living, helping kids and taking care of animals to teaching, hairdressing, being a mom, bus driving, and serving in the military. The military and war are present in a lot of the accompanying pictures (also drawn by the kids). The book is dedicated to Christina Taylor Green, one of the children featured in the original book. Christina was the youngest victim of the Arizona shooting at Rep. Gabrielle Gifford's political event in January 2011.

One small thing that bothered me was that the book referred to the fifty children featured in this book; with two sets of twins, there are actually 52. This happened at least twice, once on the back cover and once in the dedication to Christina Taylor Green. (I am reading from an advanced copy, so there is a chance that this will be changed in the final version). Also, I wish there was something that let us know what the kids had been asked to draw. The drawings were so similar in some ways that I thought there must have been a direction for them, but even if there wasn't, it would have been nice to know that. Still, this books manages to honour and commemorate the tragedy of September 11, 2001 while looking forward with hope and possibility.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11 by Christine Pisera Naman
Caterpillar Kisses by Christine Pisera Naman
Dog Heroes of September 11th by Nona Kilgore Bauer

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Great Moon Hoax by Stephen Krensky and Josee Bisaillon

Jake and Charlie are two boys selling newspapers in 1830s New York. They buy newspapers every morning and then sell them to people for a penny a paper. They depend on headlines to help build interest in the papers: a murder, a fire, something really exciting. One day they discover a story from South Africa about a powerful telescope that can see animals on the moon. Even better, it's going to be a series! With the excitement growing every day, the two boys are selling more papers than ever. Could this moon story be just what they were waiting for?

The artwork in this book is just lovely. I love the way that newspapers and newsprint are incorporated into the images. It has an old-timey feel while still looking very modern. The story itself was a bit limited because of its true nature (there was a story in the paper about the moon, but then it wasn't true...which was given away by the title) so it ended more with a whimper than with a bang, but the true strength was in the details about what life was like for newsboys in the 1830s. It's a fun book that will give kids lots of things to think about.

I read a review copy at NetGalley provided by Carohrhoda.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
How Santa Got His Job by Stephen Krensky
Moonshot by Brian Floca
Till Death Do Us Bark by Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise
My Papa Lost His Lucky by Dave Bouchard and Josee Bisaillon

Friday, September 9, 2011

Super Mario by Jeff Ryan

If I say the name Mario, who do you think of? Possibly a family member, or depending on your interests, an athlete, actor, or singer. But for many people, there's only one Mario, and he's super. In the early 1980s, Nintendo was a struggling company that seemed, to the outsider, destined to fail. Twenty years later, it's synonymous with home video systems and has created a solid lineup of classic characters (Mario, Luigi, Donkey Kong, Princess Peach, Kirby, Yoshi). Along the way there have been imitators and competitors, designers and visionaries, successes and failures. Nintendo's history (and, wrapped up in that, the history of Mario as a character and icon) is recounted in this new book from writer and gamer Jeff Ryan.

I'm just a few years younger than Nintendo, so that gives me a bit of a different perspective than someone who remembers when Donkey Kong came out. I did, though, keep reflecting back on my own experience as I was reading. When my cousins would visit in the mid-80s, we'd rent a NES and play Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. Later we inherited a NES from my uncle and I grew to love Super Mario Bros. 3. We had two Gameboys, but we only had three games for them: Tetris, Dr. Mario, and Jeopardy! (and we never played the two against each other in Tetris). Later we got a Super NES and then we kind of stalled out. I've never played Mario Kart, I have a hard time with the N64 games, and I've never played a Game Boy in colour. In university I discovered online emulators, and in January of this year I purchased a Wii. I don't consider myself to be a gamer, but I like the straightforward adventure that most of the Mario games offer. With that perspective, I really enjoyed this look at Nintendo and modern gaming history. Much of this information was new to me, and I found it to be written in a really straightforward and engaging way. The highest praise that I can give this book is that it had me really eager to buy some classic Nintendo games (on my Wii, of course).

See more at the SuperMarioBook website.

I read an advance copy at NetGalley courtesy of Penguin Portfolio.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Wii for Dummies by Kyle Orland
Double Trouble: Nintendo Adventure Books #1 by Clyde Bosco
Science Fair Season by Judy Dutton
Super Mario Galaxy 2 by Catherine Browne
Level Up by Gene Yuen Lang and Thien Pham

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Calli by Jessica Lee Anderson

Calli's life has changed a lot since her moms decided to become foster parents. Her mom, Brandi, has always wanted to have lots of kids, and her 'other mom' Liz grew up in foster care. Calli knows that fostering is important and that many of the kids have had very tough lives, but that doesn't make it any easier when she sees her foster sister, Cherish, kissing her boyfriend. Her mom's lupus is getting worse (stress doesn't help), she can't trust her boyfriend, she doesn't get along with Cherish, and she's having a hard time getting along with her best friend. Calli's not sure what to do anymore - but she knows she has to do something.

In Calli, Jessica Lee Anderson has created a novel that deals with many shades of gray. Cherish starts out by giving the reader a bad impression (kissing Calli's boyfriend), but she's more than just a one-note villain character. Calli's frustrations and sometimes even jealousy also prompt questions about privilege and perspective. I could empathize with Calli even when I didn't agree with what she was doing; I suspect I would feel the same way if the book had Cherish as a main character. In some ways (likely due to the length of the book), it felt like a glimpse into Calli's life; she had drama going on before the book started, and she'll have stuff going after the book ends.

I read an advance review copy at NetGalley.

See more at Milkweed Editions.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Border Crossing by Jessica Lee Anderson
Trudy by Jessica Lee Anderson
All The Things You Are by Courtney Sheinmel
Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
Perfect by Natasha Friend

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Record Collecting for Girls by Courtney E. Smith

There are lots of books about music, and lots of people who have written about music, but few of these titles have been written for girls by a girl. Courtney E. Smith spent 8 years at MTV as a music programmer and manager of label relations. She's interested in listening to music and sharing music, and those passions come together in this book aimed at young girls who are curious about learning more about music.

I like the idea of a book like this. As Smith was talking about it, I realized that many of the books I had read on music loving were, in fact, written by men. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on girl bands as well as the playlists at the end of the chapters. While the book is titled Record Collecting for Girls, it's largely about Record Collecting for Courtney. Her own preferences are at the core of the book - it's okay to like this band, it's not okay to like this artist. There's nothing wrong about this approach, and of course it's going to be written through the lens of Smith's own experiences, but there's a part of me that had hoped for a more encompassing "it's okay to like whatever you want" message. (I've been spending a lot of time wondering about this reaction, especially in light of its gender-based approach.) Overall, I love reading books by people who are passionate about a subject, and while I might not have agreed with everything, there's no doubt that Courtney E. Smith is passionate about music, bands, and record collecting.

p.s. My deepest apologies to the author for mangling her name so thoroughly. Everything is corrected now.

I read an advanced copy through NetGalley.

Find out more information from the publisher.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Songbook by Nick Hornby
Love is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield
Rock and Roll by Steve Almond
My Misadventures as a Teenage Rock Star by Joyce Raskin

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Fall Mixed Up by Bob Raczka and Chad Cameron

It's fall - the time of year where apples turn orange and pumpkins turn red. No? What about trick-or-treating for turkey, and giving thanks over candy? Or bears gathering nuts for the winter, geese hibernating, and squirrels flying south? It might be fall, but everything is all mixed up!

There is an amazing attention to detail in these pages. It's the little touches that I love, like the turkey carved like a jack-o-lantern, the 'up' printed on an arrow pointing down, or the way the hot air balloon floats over several pages. The illustrations are frequently a little off kilter (check out the way the perspective changes in the first few pages) and that adds to the mixed-up feeling that everything is a little... off. The rhyming is clever and ends with a perfect invitation for a second reading. I think this book has a strong chance of becoming more than just a seasonal favourite.

Find it at Lerner Books.

Check out Bob Raczka's website. And don't miss Chad Cameron's website.

Read it with:
Witches by Cheryl Christian
Let it Fall by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
George Hogglesberry: Grade School Alien by Sarah Wilson and Chad Cameron
Lemonade and Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word by Bob Raczka

Monday, September 5, 2011

Fail Harder: Failblog.org Community


The term "fail" has become so ubiquitous in today's conversation. Urban Dictionary defines it, among other things, as the glorious lack of success. Jack Layton used the phrase "hashtag fail" in the English language leaders debate in the last federal election. Most of its current usage comes from the Fail Blog, part of the Cheezburger family of blogs. Fail Harder takes the blog to a book, featuring photographic evidence of fails around the world. Helpfully divided into ten categories (such as school, the mall, holidays, kids, pets, and more), the pictures show a wide variety of fails. Some are causes for confusion (two signs for exits, pointing left and right). Some have words in the wrong order (eat kids for free). There are spelling mistakes, design flaws, and unfortunate names for businesses and products. I was shaking my head, usually in disbelief, most of the time I was reading it. You have to see this stuff to believe it.

Find more information at the Andrews McMeel website.

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley.

Read it with:
Cake Wrecks by Jen Yates
That is Priceless by Steve Yelcher
Passive Aggressive Notes by Kerry Miller

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Turkey Monster Thanksgiving by Anne Warren Smith

Katie's family has always celebrated Thanksgiving in a certain way: pizza on the couch in front of the television. She likes it, her younger brother likes it, and her dad likes it. But then Claire tells Katie that that's not a "real" way to celebrate Thanksgiving, and Claire wonders how to have the perfect celebration. She's worried that without her mom, they might not be a "real" family, and is determined to prove otherwise to everyone. But when there are unexpected guests, cooking disasters, and a possible poison oak infestation, has Katie gone too far? Can this holiday be saved?

I had no idea that this book was originally published in 2001 until I went to IndieBound to find a link. (I guess I should start paying more attention to the publishers copyright page in books, eh?) See the original cover? The book didn't read dated or 'old' to me in any way that tipped me off (it might sound silly to think of 10 years as dated, but a lot can happen in terms of trends in a decade). Katie is an extremely sympathetic protagonist and I felt for her as she was torn between herself, her family, and what other people might think of her and her family. At times I did wonder if this was part of a series (especially around some of the details of her mother, who was pursuing a singing career), but I think it was just that the book didn't spell out every single detail - and I liked that. The Thanksgiving aspects of the plot (and the cover, which I really like) make it a natural book to pick up in the fall, but the way that the story deals with issues of divorce, peer pressure, and living up to expectations are worth revisiting all year long.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Bummer Summer by Anne M. Martin
Tails of Spring Break by Anne Warren Smith
Bittersweet Summer by Anne Warren Smith
Don't Be Such a Turkey by Nancy E. Krulik

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Curse of the Ruby Necklace by Francine Pascal

While looking for shells on the beach one day, Jessica Wakefield comes across a beautiful ruby necklace. She's immediately drawn to this beautiful object and even risks her life by diving into the ocean during a thunderstorm in order to retrieve it. Her twin sister Elizabeth can't understand Jessica's attachment to the necklace - it seems to have some mystical hold over her. Meanwhile, the twins also discover that a movie is being filmed at the old Keller mansion. This could be Jessica's big break! And Elizabeth is eager to get the scoop for the school newspaper. But before long the twins find themselves dealing with murderers, jewel thieves - and ghosts. Can they solve a decades-old murder...before it's too late?

At the end of Fahrenheit 451 (spoiler alert), citizens of the new society begin by recounting the books that they can remember. If I was part of that society, The Curse of the Ruby Necklace would likely be my book. I purchased this book (or, rather, my mom bought it for me) when the above paperback edition was new in stores. It then took up residence at our cottage, and I read it at least once a summer until I went to grad school. When I went back to the cottage this summer, this was one of the first things that I looked for.

I never really got into Sweet Valley High. I spent a lot more time reading their younger counterpart, Sweet Valley Twins. In this series, Jessica and Elizabeth were 12 years old and in grade 6 (which always bothered me, because at my school 12 years old generally meant grade seven). Elizabeth was best friends with Amy Sutton and worked on the school newspaper, got good grades, and was the Gallant to Jessica's Goofus. Jess was best frenemies with Lila Fowler, belonged to an exclusive club called the Unicorns (who sat at a table they called the Unicorner and always wore at least one purple thing every day), dated Aaron Dallas, and didn't care much about grades.

Little of that, though, is relevant for Curse of the Ruby Necklace. Other characters make only brief occassional appearances (except for their cousin Robin, who joins them in solving a mystery). It's really more about Jessica, Elizabeth, and the magical necklace that connects them with Lillian Keller, the young girl who died decades ago and the subject of the new movie being made. Lillian's cousin was blamed for the 'accidental death,' but Lillian has returned (in spirit form) to right the wrongs of the past and to help bring the real killer to justice. The necklace acts as a conduit for the three girls to have access to Lillian; it makes them moody, possessive, and have terrible nightmares. (Sound familiar? When I first read/saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, it made me wonder if J.K. Rowling had read The Curse of the Ruby Necklace.) Aided by the movie's Penny Marshall-ish director, the twins are driven to find justice for Lillian.

Like many series paperbacks, this book really isn't meant to withstand the number of readings that I've given it. Sure, the entire premise, as a ghost story, is basically implausible, but there are more mundane things that stick out to me as being unrealistic. (For example, a big deal is made of the fact that the girls are twins, and they're hired because of how valuable twins are for movie-makers dealing with restrictions on child labour. But Jessica and Elizabeth are the only twins on set, and they're only ever in scenes with other tweens...so how will having an extra "Luella" character ever make a difference?) It's best not to dwell on that, though, and instead just settle in and enjoy the complete ridiculousness that is The Curse of the Ruby Necklace.

See how it fits into the Sweet Valley Twins universe at wikipedia.

For a more in depth review of the book, I highly recommend 1bruce1's recap.

Find it at Amazon (used).

Read it with:
The Unicorns Go Hawaiian by Francine Pascal
Baby-Sitters' Christmas Chiller by Ann M. Martin
Closed for the Season by Mary Downing Hahn
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fish You Were Here by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue

Everything is business as usual in Mr. Venezi's pet shop. Things are all mixed up, of course, but the animals are used to that. Then he hires an assistant, Viola. She's young but she's very efficient and she makes a great impression on the animals. She might be too efficient, though; Mr. Venizi is acting weird and maybe it's because he's not When Mr. Venizi doesn't show up for work the next day, Hamisher is convinced that he's missing. Not to worry - Sasspants and Hamisher are on the case!

This is the first book I'm reading in the Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye series and I was happy to see that I was able to mostly able to catch up (and definitely able to enjoy the story). I liked the colour and the layout; the illustrations were colourful but not distractingly bright, and even when a lot was going on the pages weren't crowded. I liked the animals personalities (that's something I probably would have appreciated more after reading the other books) and how they interacted with each other. And I loved the mystery storyline and the clues and misdirection. A fun choice for mystery fans, animal lovers, and kids who enjoy funny books.

I read an advance review copy from NetGalley.

See more at Colleen AF Venable's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Drained Brains Caper by Trina Robbins
Hamster and Cheese by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue
And Then There Were Gnomes by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue
The Ferret's A Foot by Colleen AF Venable and Stephanie Yue

Thursday, September 1, 2011

In Trouble by Ellen Levine


People always talk about the girls who get in trouble - the ones who grow bigger, the ones with the rumours, the ones who disappear. These are fast girls, girls who went all the way. Jamie's world is rocked when her best friend Elaine reveals that she's pregnant. Jamie starts reaching out to anyone who can help, but it quickly becomes clear that Jamie has issues of her own - and Elaine isn't the only one who has decisions to make.

Spoilery talk below.

There is a lot going on in this book. In addition to the multiple pregnancy threads, Jamie was also violated sexually, and her father has just returned from nearly a year in prison as a political prisoner. There are family secrets, too, that Jamie uncovers as she attempts to help Elaine, and a small romance subplot between Jamie and the editor of her school newspaper. While it was necessary for the plot, I did wonder a bit at the way in which Jamie's family talked about Elaine and her 'trouble'; I get that they are shown to be different than other families, but this just seems to be so different than many other depictions of the mid-1900s. I also wondered if maybe Elaine was a figment of Jamie's imagination - that Jamie was the one pregnant the whole time, but because of the forced sex, she had 'invented' Elaine as a way to deal with it. This didn't turn out to be the case, but Jamie and Elaine are definitely linked and contrasted in many ways. I appreciated Levine's words at the end of the book that point out how difficult it was for young girls who were pregnant in the 1950s and 1960s - and how things have and haven't changed since then. Books like this, that talk about abortion and do not demonize it as a choice, need to be written.

Don't miss Ellen Levine's essay When, Along with her Character, an Author Gets in Trouble.

See more at Ellen Levine's website.

I read an advanced copy from NetGalley courtesy of Carolrhoda Lab.

Read it with:
Henry's Freedom Box by Ellen Levine
Blue Plate Special by Michelle D. Kwasney
The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler
Snow Apples by Mary Razzell
Every Little Thing in the World by Nina de Gramont