Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Star Shard by Frederic S. Durbin

Cymbril's only duty is to sing. She was purchased by the master of Thunder Rake (a giant wagon city that travels from place to place) so that she would use her lovely voice to captivate the local audiences who come to spend money at the markets. She is a slave and she works very hard, but people take care of her and she wears beautiful clothes. She misses her late parents (and worries about forgetting them), but she doesn't spend too much time thinking about what she's missing in her life. Then her master brings in a new person, a mysterious boy named Loric. Cymbril is drawn to him, and being around him helps her to realize things about herself. The two of them devise a plan to escape from the Rake, but will they be able to survive the dangerous attempt?

Looking back at the book after reading the story, I have a new appreciation of the cover. The trees evoke the idea of prison bars, echoing Cymbril's growing realization that she is a prisoner. It took me awhile to get into the story, I think because I had a difficult time understanding exactly what the Rake was. But once Cymbril ventures into a mysterious place known as the Night Market, the atmospheric details kicked in for me and I was able to settle into the story. The themes of slavery and freedom are referred to quite often, but they allow the reader a chance to reflect on what it means for a person to be free (an important consideration, particularly for young readers). A fantasy story for middle grade readers with hints of violence, lots of suspense but not too much gore, I can definitely see this being a favourite for both male and female readers.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Books for Children. 

Check out Frederic S. Durbin's website.

The Star Shard was serialized in Cricket Magazine

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Dragonfly by Frederic S. Durbin
Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin
Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

Most people don't have their first day of school when they're in high school, but most people aren't Maggie. She's always been homeschooled by her mom and the only classmates she's known have been her brothers. But now everything's different. Her mom left, her dad's the chief of police (and cutting his long hair!), she's starting high school with a bunch of strangers, and she's being haunted by a 19th century ghost. Getting through the day has never been so complicated.

I really enjoyed this book. Maggie is the anchor of the story; when she's in a scene with other characters she grounds what's happening and blends into the group, but when she's alone she grows to fill the entire page. Her eyes give away her fear, sadness, surprise, and - more rarely - happiness.  Friends with Boys includes high school staples like identity, fitting in, and friendship, but with a family spin (both with Maggie and her brothers and her friends, siblings Lucy and Alistair). I love explorations of families, particularly the relationship between brothers and sisters and how you can know someone so well in one persona (like Maggie knows her brothers in their role as brothers) but not in another part of their lives (how little she knows about their lives at school). I'm so excited for people to discover this book and get to know Faith Erin Hicks' storytelling and style.

For more information, check out Friends with Boys online and Faith Erin Hicks' website.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of First Second.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
The Gravesavers by Sheree Fitch

Monday, February 27, 2012

Rocket Town by Bob Logan

Have you ever been to Rocket Town? It's home to rockets big and small. Some are short, and some are tall. There are fast rockets and slow rockets and many different kinds of rockets. Count along as this astronaut gets ready for a blastoff! If this is your first visit to Rocket Town, make sure that it's not your last!

Rocket Town has a lovely retro-futuristic look to it. Some images echo past visions of the future, like a fantasy Tomorrowland.  There's also an element of looking back at the past with an eye to technology. (The carriage rocket, for example, would be right at home in a steampunk novel.) The big, bright pictures - many of them with sharply contrasting colours - are perfect for a board book format. It combines so many great things: cars and trucks, space, rockets, countdown, a dog... how could it go wrong? Bob Logan has very quickly shot right to the top of my list of authors and illustrators that I want to see much, much more from.

Don't miss Bob Logan's website for a look at some of his illustration.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Sea of Bath by Bob Logan
Roaring Rockets by Tony Mitton
Trashy Town by Andrea Griffing Zimmerman

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Exposed by Kimberly Marcus

Liz loves the way the world looks through her camera. She's most comfortable when she can photograph the world. Some of her best pictures are of her best friend, Kate, a dancer. One night Liz and Kate have a big fight, and before they can make it right again, everything changes. Kate is accusing Liz's brother of something terrible, and Liz is caught between her best friend and her family. Everything is blurry and out of focus, and Liz has no idea what's true - and who's right.

The verse novel format of this book seems to swirl around Liz as she struggles to make some sense of her life. She doesn't know what to think and the idea of questioning her relationships with the people she loves most is tearing her apart. The guilt of whatever role she played in "that night" weighs heavily on her, and her family seems to be falling apart even as it puts on a show of solidarity. Exposed was one of YALSA's Best Fiction for Young Adults picks for 2012. 

Check out Kimberly Marcus' website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
You Against Me by Jenny Downham
Scritch-Scratch A Perfect Match by Kimberly Marcus
Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

It wasn't Hazel's idea to attend the support group. Her mom thought it would be a good idea for her to get out of the house and spend some time with other kids where were living with their cancer diagnoses. Hazel's on a new experimental drug that's bought her some time from her terminal disease, but her lungs are pretty much shot and she carries oxygen with her wherever she goes. She wasn't expecting to meet Augustus Waters at the support group, a tall and gorgeous survivor with 1.4 legs who talks and lives in metaphors. Hazel wants to spend time with him, but as they grow closer she can't stand the thought that one day she will die and he will be left behind.

This, I think, is my favourite John Green novel, overtaking the previous favourite Looking for Alaska. With an outer coating of teenage romance, underneath it deals with questions of guilt and responsibility, love and obligation, and life and death. Hazel wants to minimize the effect that her death will have on the world, so she hides away so that people won't be too sad when she dies. Augustus wants to make a difference in the world, live a meaningful life that people will point to after he's gone. They're both searching for answers from the world, a world that pretty much screwed them over, health-wise. Hazel, in her search for answers, has fixated on an ambiguous novel and is desperate to know what happens to the characters in the end. While I at times grew frustrated with her insistence that something happened to fictional characters after the book has ended, I realized that this child-like approach speaks to her own uncertain life and what happens once it has ended. I don't know if this counts as a spoiler or not, but I was not always dry-eyed while reading this book.

John Green is online. You should check it out.

This is John talking about signing all pre-ordered copies of the book:

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Looking for Alaska by John Green
Wonder by RJ Palacio
Six Months to Live by Lurlene McDaniel

Friday, February 24, 2012

Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? by Gael Fashingbauer Cooper and Brian Bellmont

Crissy dolls. Encyclopedia Brown. Choco-diles. Seven Up Bar. The 70s and 80s had a particular flavour that is instantly identifiable. Some of the items that were so popular then continue to this day; others have been revamped and revised, and some have been discontinued altogether. They went quietly from the shelves, confusing loyal fans who have spent years trying to replicate tastes, sounds, and appearances. This book asks the question that has been on a generation's mind: whatever happened to Pudding Pops?

As a pop culture enthusiast, resisting this book was a futile effort. I eagerly paged through the book, thinking back at things I'd experienced in my own life (Connect Four, Choose Your Own Adventure, TV theme songs) and things that I've seen covered in other nostalgia-based works. Owing both to a slightly different age bracket as well as a different country of origin (Canada, which has its own lost tastes, toys, and trends), there were many things here that I was learning about for the first time (Zoom, O'Boisies, the Hal Needham stunt set). One of the limitations of reading this book was that, as a paper book, it was entirely self-contained. At many times I wished I was reading it with my laptop so I could do Google image searches, look up unknown names on IMDB, and (the biggest wish) check out old commercials on YouTube. My longing for web connections also had me thinking about my own era and if we will continue to have the same time of "What happened to...?" or "Remember the..." publications that have come before. When so many things are catalogued online and details are just a wikipedia click away, will we ever have to wonder what happened to a forgotten memory? I'm not so young that I don't remember a time before the internet, so I know the difference that finding online evidence can make in validating a childhood memory (there are still a few that I can't anyone else remembering). At any rate, Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops is a fun look back at a 'simpler time' and the stuff that has captured the imaginations of a generation of people.

Check out the blog that spawned the book, GenXtinct.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Sunshine by Norma Klein
The Official Preppy Handbook edited by Lisa Birbach
Just Can't Get Enough: Toys, Games, and Other Stuff from the 80s that Rocked by Matthew Robinson and Jensen Karp
From Abba to Zoom: A Pop Culture Encyclopedia of the Late 20th Century by David Mansour
Totally Tubular 80s Toys by Mark Bellomo

Thursday, February 23, 2012

DJ Rising by Love Maia

For Marley Johnnywas Diego-Dylan, music just isn't an interest; it's part of who he is. Music is as essential as breathing and just as natural. His days are filled with school and work (and thinking about Lea Hall, the girl of his dreams) and supporting his heroin-addicted mother, but when he lets loose on his turntables, all of that fades away. His goal of becoming a professional DJ seems even closer when he gets the chance to show his stuff in public. That sets in motion a chain of events that give Marley (now DJ Ice) the chance to be the hottest young DJ in the city. The intense schedule of work and DJing is stretching him to the limit - and his mother is getting worse. How is Marley going to balance it all?

Without knowing anything of the DJ world, DJ Rising managed to bring me inside the world of clubs and music. That's one of the key strengths of this book; the story of trying to be the best, to overcome opposition, and to prove yourself is universal, no matter what industry you're in.  Marley is a character you can't help but root for, but I discovered just how deep my connection was to him. Partway through the book, he experiences a terrible, devastating betrayal. When I read this part, my stomach just dropped. I felt physically ill for his loss. At the other end of the spectrum, Marley's passion for music, dance, and joyful expression grabbed me. I love when characters are passionate and inspired; it helps them to feel like three-dimensional people. This is an incredible debut for author Love Maia and a great book for teen readers to dive into.

Find out more about Love Maia at her website.

Find it at IndieBound. 

I received an advance copy from Little Brown Books for Young Readers.

Read it with:
Playground by 50 Cent
Boy21 by Matthew Quick
How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Escaping Titanic: A Young Girl's True Story of Survival by Marybeth Lorbiecki with illustrations by Kory S. Heinzen

Ruth is traveling to America on the grand ship Titanic. Her father is back in India, where they had been living, so it's just Ruth, her mother, and her two siblings. The Titanic is a beautiful ship that's more like a city on the sea, but after spending so much time on the water, Ruth just wants a place to call her home. Still, it is exciting to be on such a beautiful ship. Then one night Ruth and her family woke to silence from the engines and noises in the hallway. There's been an accident. The crew tries to calm them by saying that the Titanic is unsinkable, but is that really the case?

As this year marks the 100th anniversary of the Titanic disaster, look for a lot of books about the Titanic coming out in 2012. Escaping Titanic is a book that gives children a glimpse into the horror of the event without being too dark. The main character of Ruth gives kids a way to put themselves in the middle of the action in a believable way. The illustrations are nicely balanced with the text and as the sinking of the ship occurs, the words retreat and the Titanic takes over the book. There are so many shades of blue used in the pictures; it's beautiful in a haunting kind of way. A short timeline and a note about the real Ruth round out the content at the end of the book.

Check out Marybeth Lorbiecki's website.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Capstone.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Titanic by Gordon Korman
Titanic: Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure by John Malam
Iceberg Right Ahead! by Stephanie Sammartino McPherson

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Inside the Olympics by Nick Hunter

In 1896, a modern sporting tradition began; the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens, Greece. In the century since for first Olympics, the games have seen triumph and tragedy, power and passion. There have been incredible athletes who won - and lost - Olympic medals and athletes who made powerful statements just by being at the games. There have been many scandals (drugs, cheating, corruption behind the scenes) and even some fatal acts of violence. Some sports have been held ever year since 1896 (or 1924, the first year of the Winter Olympic Games) and others couldn't even have been dreamed of by the organizers of those games. Inside the Olympics looks at the history of the Olympics, great moments and athletes, and how the games are organized in the Twenty-First Century. 

I was in Grade Four during the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, and I remember us doing a unit on it in class. That's when I became really interested in the Olympics and figure skating in particular. Because of that, I always love seeing new books about the Olympics that are written for kids. Inside the Olympics does a great job of covering the event from the ancient games through to the present day, with a look to this year's London games and beyond. The print in the eBook version that I read was a little small in the viewer, but it likely is a bit more readable in the print version. All of the things that I expected to be in here are here (Muhammad Ali's win in 1960, the black power salute in 1968, Jesse Owens at "Hitler's Olympics" in 1936, Michael Phelps's gold medals in 2008, a biography of Pierre de Coubertin, Ben Johnson's story in 1988) along with stuff that I wasn't expecting (the coverage of the Winter Olympics, the focus on the Paralympics and Paralympic athletes). Maps, charts, and a glossary of terms round out this solid non-fiction title. If your classroom or library has an outdated Olympic title on the shelves (or you're looking to kindle some Olympic interest in a child of your own), this is a great choice for a new replacement.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Capstone.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Modern Olympic Games by Haydn Middleton
How to Train with a T. Rex and Win Eight Gold Medals by Michael Phelps
The Olympics: Legendary Sporting Events by Matt Christopher

Monday, February 20, 2012

Kylie Jean: Dancing Queen by Marci Peschke

Kylie Jean is back, and her desire to be a beauty queen is stronger than ever! She's just learned about a new kind of queen: the Swan Queen, Odette, from Swan Lake. She's so excited to audition for Odette, because that means she'll get to wear a beautiful ballet costume (and maybe even a crown!). But there's a lot of competition for the role of Odette, and many of the other girls have more experience than Kylie Jean. Will she find a way to be a dancing queen?

(Some spoilers below)

It's not unusual for me to get excited about books, particularly books that I didn't know were being published. But the look of pure joy on my face when I saw that there was a new Kylie Jean book is a look that I rarely get. I have such a strong affection for this little girl and her pink and sparkles and dreams of being a queen. Kylie Jean, as usual, demonstrates a lot of positive character traits in her story: she's disappointed but learns to live with it, she doesn't get the part she wants but she realizes that she made a commitment and sticks with it, and she wants to congratulate the person who did get the part she wanted. She has a great relationship with her family and focuses on how to solve problems. And, as an extra bonus, at the end of the book (after the fun reflective and extension exercises for readers), there was a page advertising three more new Kylie Jean books. They're absolutely going on my To Read List.

I read a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Capstone.

Check out Marci Peschke's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Kylie Jean: Football Queen by Marci Peschke
Kylie Jean: Singing Queen by Marci Peschke
Kylie Jean: Spelling Queen by Marci Peschke

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Terrible, Awful, Horrible Manners! by Beth Bracken and illustrated by Richard Watson

Pete has terrible manners. He burps. He farts. He picks his nose. He never says please. He has terrible, awful, horrible manners! And even worse, he thinks it's funny to behave like this! His parents have a plan to make him realize how he's behaving...but will it work?

While I have my doubts that a single dinner where the adults act impolitely would be enough to get Pete to reconsider his behaviour, it does make for a good story. There's enough disgusting stuff in here to appeal to kids (for example, there's a farting monkey on the back cover), while parents and caregivers will appreciate the message of 'it's polite to use your manners.' And people like me who love monkeys will find lots of great monkey pictures throughout the book. It's a fun addition to the popular category of picture books about manners.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Capstone.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Hippo Says "Excuse Me" by Michael Dahl
Monkey with a Tool Belt by Chris Monroe
One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo
School for Bandits by Hannah Shaw

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Someone Else's Life by Katie Dale

Rosie has just lost her mother, Trudie, to Huntington's Disease. It's a terrible, incurable illness - that's also hereditary. As Rosie decides whether or not she wants to get tested for HD, an old family friend reveals a shocking truth: Rosie was not Trudie's biological daughter. Rosie's entire life is thrown into chaos as she starts questioning everything she knows about herself and her family. What do you do when you feel like you've been living someone else's life?

Oh my goodness, there were so many twists in this book! If I was talking about it to a friend (and being totally spoilery, which I'm not going to do here) it would sound something like "...and then this happened, but then this happened, and then this happened, BUT THEN this happened, and then out of nowhere THIS HAPPENED!" It was a complete roller coaster ride for the reader, which was perfect, because it mimicked the experience of Rosie and everyone around her. The book develops a lot of strands around identity, family, adoption, genetics, and the power of 'what if.' I read a blurb that said that this is a good read for fans of Lurlene McDaniel, Jodi Picoult, and Caroline B. Cooney, and I completely agree. It's a plot-driven story with some strong characters and a lot of emotion and I can easily see this just hitting the spot with those readers.

Check out Katie Dale's website.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Random House (Doubleday).

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Big Bad Werewolf by Katie Dale
I'm Not Her by Janet Gurtler
Six Months to Live by Lurlene McDaniel
The Lying Game by Sara Shepard

Friday, February 17, 2012

Slither Slide, What's Outside? by Nora Hilb & Sheryl and Simon Shapiro

There are so many things in the world that can inspire creativity. Spring brings with it all kinds of fun things, like trees in blossom and wiggling worms. The sky has lots of beauty and mystery, like stars and rainbows and a soft summer drizzle. As the seasons change and the world reveals more awesome sights, it becomes clear that there is so much in nature that can inspire and spark creativity in children.

I love the combination of drawings and photographs that this book uses. This approach will appeal to a number of kids who like different styles of art and representation. There's also a really nice message running through the book about the beauty of nature and its power to inspire. Reading this book and acting out some of the passages is a great way to foster literacy skills with children.

Find more information on Nora Hilb here .

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

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Better Together by Sheryl and Simon Shapiro
Up Cat by Helen Hutchins
Look Book by Tana Hoban
Urban Animals by Isabel Hill

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Up Cat by Hazel Hutchins with illustrations by Fanny

What does a cat get up to all day? Well, there's waking up, washing up, and tossing up toys. There's lapping up milk and creeping up on furniture (and scratching up furniture, too...). They love to size up different items and soak up the sun. You'd be amazed all that can be done in a day!

As a non-animal person (or rather, someone who likes animals from a distance), this book is a perfect example of why I don't feel the need to have a cat in the house. But as a book for young children, it has great repetition, fun illustrations, and lots of common words, phrases, and images. It's a perfect companion to Up Dog (who even has a cameo here) and likely to be a favourite among animal lovers, big and small.

Find it at IndieBound.

Learn more about Hazel Hutchins at her website.

I read a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Annick Press.

Read it with:
Up Dog by Hazel Hutchins
The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood
Mattland by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Artistic Impressions: Figure Skating, Masculinity, and the Limits of Sport by Mary Louise Adams

If you were to ask a random person to name the sports that they thought were the most masculine, it is unlikely that figure skating would be one of the sports that they name. In fact, figure skating would probably end up near the bottom of the list. In contrast, when figure skating was first being developed, it was an activity that was only done by gentlemen and was used as a marker of how wealthy and powerful a man was. That changed in the 20th century and figure skating quickly became associated with not only femininity, but with young women (and girls). In the mid-90s there was a movement where a number of male skaters tried to separate themselves from the popular view of the sport and instead branded themselves as 'masculine' skaters. It was that period that prompted Mary Louise Adams to write this book on the historic origins of figure skating and how ideas of masculinity have always been intertwined with this sport.

That period in the 90s was also when I first became a big skating fan, so the skaters that she wrote about (Elvis Stojko, Alexei Urmanov, Kurt Browning, Viktor Petrenko) were ones that I was familiar with. It was interesting for me to go back and look at other books on skating with an eye towards gender roles and masculinity; Christine Brennan's writing on Michael Weiss in Inside Edge, for example, talks a lot about sex and sexuality. I also started thinking about how masculinity is portrayed on the ice today and what those ideas say about the concept of masculinity. The book was quite readable for a fan of skating and very well organized. It clearly stated what it was going to cover, so even though I wish there had been topics around pairs and ice dancing, it is not a fault of the book that it wasn't there - it just means that I want someone to write another book on those aspects! This is a can't-miss for fans of figure skating and gender studies.

Click here for more information on Dr. Mary Louise Adams.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Inside Edge by Christine Brennan
Figure Skating: A History by James R. Hines
Culture on Ice: Figure Skating and Cultural Meaning by Ellyn Kestnbaum
Women on Ice: Feminist Responses to the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan Scandal edited by Cynthia Baughman

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Karen's in Love by Ann M. Martin

Karen Brewer is back - and she's in love! Well, maybe...she knows that she really likes Ricky Torres and she might even love him. They're engaged to be pretend married, and Karen's really happy. But then she and Ricky have a big fight; they're barely even talking anymore, and Ricky seems more interested in Pamela Harding! Valentine's Day is coming up. Will these two be able to work it out?

Even as a child, the concept of marrying someone in elementary school was strange and kind of scary. I suppose it's just a general kind of playacting, but at the end of the book (spoiler alert?) Karen is contemplating changing her name, which to me seems a bit extreme. Anyway. People who dislike Karen as a character will find a lot of ammunition here, from Karen's behavior at Pamela's birthday party (which she self-justifies away) to her ongoing fight with Ricky and her patronizing approach to fellow student Natalie. I do like the scenes of her getting ready for Valentine's Day: making homemade cards for family, buying little funny cards for classmates, wearing all red, eating an all red breakfast, a class party. Those did bring back memories, even if the central plot of second-grade marriage didn't.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Karen's Surprise by Ann M. Martin
Karen's New Year by Ann M. Martin
Karen's Goldfish by Ann M. Martin

Monday, February 13, 2012

Stacey and the Stolen Hearts by Ann M. Martin

Stacey is really excited about Pete Black's great Valentine's Day fundraiser. The Student Council will sell Valentine-grams for $1 and then hand them out on February 14. It seems like all of Stoneybrook Middle School has gotten swept up in the spirit and the fundraiser is a big success. But then the valentines are stolen while Stacey's on duty... and the list of suspects is a mile long. Even worse, someone is making the private messages very, very public. What's Stacey going to do?

As far as Baby-Sitters Club Mysteries go, this one was pretty enjoyable. It was a mystery that made sense to have thirteen-year-olds investigating it (I wasn't screaming at the book for them to go to the police). Plus, it has the late-in-the-series character of Cary Retlin, who I always enjoy reading about. (In this book he even has a secret basement lair!) There are some other plots going on, including the mandatory one involving children (this time it's a Valentine's Day party at the library) but even that didn't seem over-the-top. Stacey did have a few passive aggressive comments about her best friend Claudia that I probably wouldn't have picked up on when I was younger, but in general this was a good entry in the BSC series.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Karen's in Love by Ann M. Martin
Abby's Un-Valentine by Ann M. Martin
Stacey's Ex-Boyfriend by Ann M. Martin

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Hippo Says Excuse Me by Michael Dahl with illustrations by Oriol Vidal

There are two words that Hippo knows really well: Excuse me! Hippo is used to others having to make room: at the bus stop, in an elevator, on the sidewalk. Excuse me is the polite way to get others to make room. But is there room for everyone?

I could tell from the cover that
the bright colours make this story come alive. There are bold blocks of solid colours, which appeal to younger readers, as well as detailed illustration on the animals. The animals had great facial expressions, like the ostrich on the elevator's unimpressed eyes or the way the panda on the bus had cheeks that puffed out. A small detail that I loved was that this isn't a story about the hippo being "too big" or the size being an unheard of problem. In many of the pictures there were larger animals than the hippo: the giraffe on the bus, the moose in the elevator. The 'problem' (or the discomfort) just comes from when they all try to use the same thing at the same time, just as when too many people crowd onto a bus. There are a number of ways that this book can be used to build literacy skills with children, from reading the repeated words and pointing out the large print letters to pretending to walk like a hippo to talking about concepts like size and manners. I'm looking forward to checking out the other books in the series.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Capstone.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Penguin Says "Please" by Michael Dahl
Mouse Says "Sorry" by Michael Dahl
Bear Says "Thank You" by Michael Dahl
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead
Terrible, Awful, Horrible Manners! by Beth Bracken

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Boxcar Children #120: The Vampire Mystery created by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny - best known as the Boxcar children - have recently befriended a local author. Mr. Hudson is best known for a famous vampire story. When he goes out of town, the children look after his house. But then creepy things start happening - things right out of his book. It couldn't possibly be a real vampire at work...could it?

While I never really got into The Boxcar Children books as a child, I did read a few of them. As children are prone to do, I pictured characters older than me as being really old, and I think that that was exaggerated with this series because they lived on their own in that boxcar. So it was a bit trippy to see kids on this cover. When did that happen? Anyway. It's a typical children's book mystery that will appear to series fans, and I can see there being a crossover audience for fans of supernatural books. Will they be disappointed in the conclusion? Perhaps, but it really couldn't have ended any other way.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Albert Whitman & Company.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Kristy and the Vampires by Ann M. Martin
Vampire School: Casketball Capers by Peter Bently and Chris Harrison

Friday, February 10, 2012

Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto with illustrations by Jillian Tamaki

Gee's life is filled with silence. He lives alone with his grandmother, and she won't talk about the past. His sister went away to school and barely comes home. He doesn't have many friends and mainly keeps to himself. But when his grandmother ends up in the hospital and a cat starts talking to him, Gee might be on his way to finding some of the answers he's been waiting for. The answers lie in a mysterious place called Half World - and he might not like what he discovers.

Half World was a critical and popular success due to its inventive story and strong writing. I might be going out on a limb here, but I have to admit that I responded to this sequel even more. I love the character of Gee and the journey that he travels. The struggles that he faces have incredible stakes and that tension is maintained throughout the novel. The way he faces himself and fights the concept of destiny is both inspiring and heartbreaking. This is a wonderful follow-up for fans of Half World and I hope that this book brings more fans to the story.

Check out Hiromi Goto's website and Jillian Tamaki's website.

I received an advance review copy from Penguin Canada.

Find it at

Read it with:
Half World by Hiromi Goto
The Water of Possibility by Hiromi Goto
Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Chicken, Pig, Cow's First Fight by Ruth Ohi

Chicken, Pig, and Cow are best friends. They're such good friends that they've never had a fight! When they find an elaborate block city, they all get excited. Chicken builds a statue, but Pig - who's a bit too excited and starts zipping and zooming around - accidentally ruins it. Then things go from bad to worse! How can these three friends make everything okay again?

One of the things that I love about this book is how quickly everything gets out of hand. No one intends to make the others angry, but it happens, and they have different opinions about the situation. Even better, they resolve it in a healthy way that acknowledges bad behaviour and remorse while forgiving and moving on. The bright illustrations and fun characters make this an easy pick to read with kids.

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

Don't miss Ruth Ohi's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Chicken, Pig, Cow by Ruth Ohi
Naomi's Tree by Joy Kogawa
Chicken, Pig, Cow and the Class Pet by Ruth Ohi

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Zeke Meeks vs The Putrid Puppet Pals by D.L. Green with illustrations by Josh Alves

Recess is usually the best part of Zeke's day. He loves running around, playing basketball, and doing anything that involves being active. But lately there's been something strange going on. Everyone in his class seems to be obsessed with Puppet Pals, and Zeke doesn't get it. They're just finger puppets! How much time can you spend playing with finger puppets? Zeke is determined to resist going along with this trend...but how long can he hold out?

Zeke Meeks is a new series of chapter books and I can easily see it being a big hit with readers. Zeke is smart, funny, and likeable. He's the unlikely voice of reason in a world gone crazy. As someone who often failed to see the appeal in any number of fads, I appreciated Zeke's attempts at injecting logic into his world. The story was funny and the characters were strongly developed for a new series; the accompanying illustrations were seamlessly embedded right into the story.  I'm really looking forward to reading more Zeke Meeks books, especially the one about the no TV week.

Here's a book trailer that introduces the new series:

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Capstone.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Zeke Meeks vs. the Stinkin' Science Fair by D.L. Green
Zeke Meeks vs. the Horrifying TV Turn-Off Week by D.L. Green
Zeke Meeks vs. the Gruesome Girls by D.L. Green

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Birthday Suit by Olive Senior and illustrated by Eugenie Fernandes

Johnny loves to be naked! He loves the sun on his skin, the sand on his feet, and the waves on his body. His mom tries to get him dressed, but there's no piece of clothing that he can't get out of! Will Johnny ever get dressed, or will he stay in his birthday suit forever? Seeing the lush illustrations of a beautiful place, it's easy to understand why Johnny wouldn't want to wear clothes! This common problem for parents is handled practically and with humour by Olive Senior. It's a great book to read with kids who need a bit of convincing about why clothes are important.

I read a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Annick Press.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Big Week for Little Mouse by Eugenie Fernandes
Kitten's Summer by Eugenie Fernandes
Catch That Baby! by Nancy Coffelt

Monday, February 6, 2012

Up Dog by Hazel Hutchins with illustrations by Fanny.

This little dog has lots of energy! He likes to go outside and dig up bones, drag them back to the house, and muddy up rooms. So when it's time to clean up, he needs to be fenced up while his owner washes up. But there's always time for a good snuggle up at the end of the day!

The first time I read this I was so focused on the individual pages and words that I completely missed the story going on in the background. It's not just a collection of up phrases, it really does tell a story about this dog's day. While many of the phrases are common ones that kids will be familiar with (dig up, wash up, hang up), there were a few, like pen up, that I thought might be new and unknown. But that's why books are so great - they can open a window onto a part of the world that you don't see every day. This is a fun concept book that I can easily see kids enjoying.

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

Check out Hazel Hutchins' webpage.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Up Cat by Hazel Hutchins
The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood
Mattland by Hazel Hutchins and Gail Herbert

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cradle Me by Debby Slier

Star Bright Books has published so many board books where babies (and baby faces) take centre stage, and Cradle Me continues that tradition. In just a few pages, eleven babies with various expressions and actions (peeking, touching, sleepy, smiling) are shown in colourful photographs, with space for families to write in their own language below the pictures. The babies are each in a cradle board and are from different Native American tribes (Goshute/Paiute, Oneida/Leech Lake, Arapaho, Northern Ute/Uintah, Pueblo, Kootenai/Salish, Navajo/Dineh, Shoshone, Nez Perce, Shoshone/Bannock, Yurok/Hupa); the book is also in the shape of a cradle board, with a rounded top. There's a bit of information about the cradle boards and the babies in the final pages of the book (that's where the names of the tribes come from), but I would have loved even more information about the cradle boards, the tribes, and how the book was put together. Maybe there isn't really a place for that in a board book, but when there are so few books that feature Native American children and traditions I think I end up wanting so much from them. I'm looking forward to seeing more reviews from people within the tribes to see how accurately this book reflects their history and their culture.

Find it at IndieBound.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Star Bright Books.

Read it with:
Babies, Babies! by Debby Slier
Backpack Baby by Miriam Cohen
What's Up, Baby? by Kathleen Rizzi
Carry Me by Star Bright Books

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Au Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber

It wasn't Perry's idea to take Gobi to the prom. She is the Lithuanian exchange student living with Perry's family and while Perry was friendly with her, they weren't exactly close. But there they were, at the prom. Following a small physical altercation, they leave but instead of heading home, Gobi insists that they drive into New York City for one unforgettable evening. And between dodging bullets, staring down possibly dangerous men, and evading the police,  it will definitely be a night that Perry will never forget.

It took me awhile to get into this book because I wasn't ready (or willing) to hand myself over to it at the beginning. I kept asking questions about the story: Why doesn't Perry just stand up to his parents? Who's Gobi working for? Is this making any sense? I told myself to read 50 pages before I made any decisions, and the next thing I knew I was 130 pages in. It kind of snuck up on me and pulled me in. Information was parceled out over the course of the book, and while I wish that there was at least a bit of explanation of Gobi's motives and role earlier on, I was satisfied with what was revealed. Another thing that kept me turning the pages was that it seemed like it wasn't always adhering to common YA romance/adventure fiction conventions. People get shot. People die. There are repercussions from actions. When I expected one thing to happen, another would happen instead. This kept me on my toes while reading and pushed me to finish the book to see what happens. I read the entire book in one sitting, and I think that that was the best reading experience for the book. I can easily this being a movie because it had so many great cinematic elements (the transformation from quiet wallflower to hot assassin, chase scenes, a great ending).

Check out Joe Schreiber's blog.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Chasing the Dead by Joe Schreiber
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn
A Long Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
Fat Vampire by Adam Rex

Friday, February 3, 2012

American Quarter Horses Are My Favorite! by Elaine Landau

Do you have a favourite kind of horse? Maybe you like American quarter horses. They're fast horses, hard workers, and very popular with riders - and police officers! There's lots to learn about these horses, like their size, their history, and their daily maintenance routines. If American quarter horses are your favourite, or even if you're just getting to know them, this might be the book for you!

I've never really been that into horses, not even when I was younger. But growing up there were always girls who were very into horses, and I expect that that hasn't changed much since. This series is fun and informative and nicely blends the more factual horse-based information with the majestic images that horses have. It breaks down why having your own horse might not be the best idea and honestly lays out how big a commitment a horse can be. But it also talks about ways you can be involved with horses without having to own one. The colourful photographs will appeal to readers who like realistic images, and like many Lerner books it is a nice fit for students looking for report information as well as readers reading for pleasure on a topic that they're interested in. 

Check out more at Elaine Landau's website.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Lerner Publishing.

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
Is the Trumpet For You? by Elaine Landau
American Quarter Horses by Pamela Dell
The American Quarter Horse by Ellen Frazel
Great Danes are the Best! by Elaine Landau

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Jennifer Lawrence by Katherine Krohn

When The Hunger Games opens in theatres later this year, it could be one of the biggest movies of the year. Based on the best-selling novel by Suzanne Collins, the story of Katniss Everdeen has captured the imaginations of readers around the world. When plans for the movie were first announced, people wondered who would play the pivotal role of Katniss; it later went to Jennifer Lawrence. Who is this actress? Where did she come from? What did she do before landing this role? This book has everything you need to know about the young woman behind the character.

I'm not going to lie - I'm very excited for The Hunger Games. I enjoyed the books and I'm really looking forward to the movie. I didn't have strong feelings either way on Jennifer Lawrence when she was cast as Katniss, but I did want to learn more about her. This book is a very straightforward biography that traces the young actress' life and career to late 2011. This book probably won't have a very long shelf life without seeming dated (particularly once The Hunger Games opens - let alone if Jennifer Lawrence goes on to have a long and successful career), but its topicality and relevance will make it very appealing to young readers. It's a great fit for middle grade readers who like biographies, people who like reading about celebrities and Hollywood, and those who are looking forward to The Hunger Games.

Check out Katherine Krohn's website.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Lerner Publishing.

Find it at Amazon. 

Read it with:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Vera Wang: Enduring Style by Katherine Krohn
Kristin Stewart by Robin Johnson

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Donkey That No One Could Ride by Anthony DeStefano and illustrated by Richard Cowdrey

This little donkey is very small and weak. He isn't strong enough to support people, or carry things, or really do much of anything! His owner is fed up and decides to get rid of him. What's a poor donkey to do? But when two men approach him and tell him that they have a special job for him, he has no idea how his life is going to change!

The animals in the Christmas Nativity and the donkey who carries Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem have long been popular in children's stories, so it's nice to see a new story about Christ's life as told through the eyes of an animal. The illustrations in this book are very strong; there are humorous pages (like the donkey in a ditch, or being hefted into the air by a heavy load) and there are sad pages (like when the donkey cries or is sent away by his owner). Hints in the background also suggest that while this (spoiler alert!) ends up being a joyous time for the donkey, it's a very different time for Jesus (see the determined expression on Jesus' face as they enter the city or and the three crosses in the background in the last pages of the book). This makes it a good choice for families to read and discuss together. I can see this being a favourite Easter gift for religious families, and a popular seasonal pick that public libraries might want to have on their shelves.

I received an advance review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Harvest House Publishers.

Check out Anthony DeStefano and Richard Cowdrey's websites.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Animal Lullabies by Pam Conrad
Animals of the Bible by Mary Hoffman
The Donkey's Christmas Song by Nancy Tafuri
This Little Prayer of Mine by Anthony DeStefano
Little Star by Anthony DeStefano