Monday, April 30, 2012

Friend Me! by Francesca Davis DiPiazza

It's hard to think about getting through the day without Facebook, Twitter, text messages, phone calls, or your favourite website. Many of the sites, devices, and technologies that we use are fairly recent. But the history of social networking goes back a long time. People and communities had their own ways of gathering together, sharing information, and keeping in touch. What does a smart phone have in common with a barn raising? It sounds like the set-up to a bad joke, but they are each a form of social networking. Learn more about the history of communication and networking in this photo-filled book of facts and stories from Lerner Books' Twenty-First Century Books series.

I really like non-fiction books that look at culture and society, especially when they are geared toward young readers. The beginning of the book points out that for many of today's teens and tweens, ideas around communication have been heavily influenced by the computer - whether it is a computer in the house or a computer on someone's phone. Being able to keep in touch with people around the world in an instant is something that not many other generations have experienced. The information is presented in easy-to-follow chapters, and I really liked that in looking at North American history it began with a chapter on Native Americans and their traditions around communication (something that many books overlook). All of the usual suspects are here: telegram, television, phone, computer, morse code. But there are also different modes, like songs, coded messages, Dungeons & Dragons, crowdsourcing, and mail-order catalogs. The layout is clean and clear and uses lots of pictures and images. The text breaks down bigger terms and concepts (comparing banishment to being unfriended on Facebook by all your friends at once, for example) and that means that a lot of information can be explored. This is a solid choice for school, classroom and public libraries.

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

Find it at Amazon.

Read it with:
When Did George Washington Fight His First Military Battle? by Francesca Davis DiPiazza
From Typewriters to Text Messages: How Communication Has Changed by Jennifer Boothroyd
Same-Sex Marriage by Tricia Andryszewski

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bear's Underwear Mystery by Todd H. Doodler

Once there was a bear who liked to wear underwear. One day he gets a mysterious message in the mail: there are ten hidden pairs of underwear and if he finds them he will end up somewhere special. There are some clues to show him where to go, but he's going to need some help! Fans of the titular Bear in Underwear (or bears or underwear) will find more to like in this book. It has the bright colours, the fun expressions, and the underclothing of the other books, plus the added fun of counting. There's not really a mystery per se, and the book isn't interactive (at least that I could see) in letting readers discover the underwear. But I could see crafty teachers and librarians being able to adapt this into storytimes (maybe as a felt story). The board book style will be a good fit with young readers, so check it out for adding it to a board book or concept book collection.

I received a review copy from Edelweiss courtesy of Blue Apple Books.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Bear in Underwear by Todd H. Doodler
Bear in Pink Underwear by Todd H. Doodler
Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan A. Shea

Saturday, April 28, 2012

172 Hours on the Moon by Johan Harstad

NASA is going back to the moon to set up a long-abandoned base called DARLAH 2. NASA stopped sending astronauts to the moon decades what would make them want to go back? In order to cover up the real reasons for their trip - and to gain some money and publicity - they host a lottery to find three teens to take into space. It's the opportunity of a lifetime for the three winners: Mia from Norway, Antoine from France, and Midori from Japan. Before long the three are training for their space adventure...but it quickly becomes clear that NASA hasn't told them everything.

With the set-up of sending teenagers into space, you know that things aren't going to go well. I kept waiting for the book to shock me, and while I think the elements were there, when reading the book I felt a series of whimpers, not a bang, and I was really expecting a bang. Maybe this had to do with it being a translation, although in general I think that the book read very well. The short chapters kept me reading along at a fast pace, wanting to know what came next. A lot of time was spent in the first part of the book introducing the teenagers, although I felt like I knew more about Mia than either of the other two. I can see this book working very well as a movie, or (perhaps even better, though much more unlikely) a TV series - as long as it was in the hands of exactly the right person. I did like the blending of real-life events and fictional (I assume!) twists, as well as the more Lost-like elements of shared experiences and hidden codes. The cover design definitely got me interested in the story, and I think teens looking for a sci-fi supernatural read will definitely be interested in this book.

Check out the book's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Moonshot by Brian Floca
Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity by Dave Roman

Friday, April 27, 2012

Seriously, Just Go to Sleep by Adam Mansbach illustrated by Ricardo Cortés

In 2011, a picture book had the whole publishing world talking. It was a book about bedtime called Go the Fuck to Sleep.It was a book about children, but as the title made very clear, it was not a book for children. It sold an incredible amount of copies (and the audiobook version was read by Samuel L. Jackson) and now the book is back - in a slightly different way. Am I surprised to see a 'clean' version of the original Go the Fuck to Sleep? No. When a book does as well as that one did, there are definitely going to be follow-ups in some way. And to tell the truth, I'm kind of happy to see this because it means that children will be able to fully explore the book. I'm fine with having books that are for adults (even in picture book form, which is usually when people start to freak out about language and intent), but I think that children will really enjoy the 'naughty' aspect of kids who try to prolong their bedtime and will likely recognize things that they do themselves. The tone of the book is perfect for kids (and parents) who aren't really interested in cutesy-type books. I also think that parents were also probably reading the original to their kids (likely editing as they went along). The humour and the desperation from the original book is still here, and now it's accessible for a wider audience. I think that it's best to think of this book as a companion to the original, not necessarily a replacement. If you're looking for a new book to add some variety to your bedtime routine, take a look at this one.

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

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Go the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortés
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 Cortés

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Jesus: He Lived Among Us by R.F. Palavicini and Steve Cleary

The story of Jesus has been recounted in many different ways over the last 2000 years. For many people, the definitive version of his story is found in the Bible. Drawing from the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus: He Lived Among Us tells the story of Jesus from his birth to his death. It explores his faith, the miracles that he performed, and the relationships that he had with his disciples. Paired with illustrations and a bit of a framing narrative, this book is told in a way that will be meaningful for young readers.

As the cover of the book makes clear, this book is based on an animated film. The illustrations inside the book are taken from the movie. It does have a bit of a feel of a companion piece, but the movie can stand on its own. I'm not sure how easy it would be to follow for someone who didn't have prior knowledge of Jesus and his life; knowing a bit about the Bible definitely helped me to keep some of the stories, people, and events straight. Similarly, someone who knows a lot about the Bible and Jesus might not find much that's new in this book, at least in terms of content. The style of the book, the accessible language, and the artwork make this a book worth exploring, especially for parents and caregivers who are looking for a book about Jesus for a young reader.

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

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Meet Jesus by Lynn Tuttle Gunney
Stories from the Life of Jesus by Celia B. Lottridge
The Life of Jesus by Mary Billingsley

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Play Ball by Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, and Jackie Lewis

A new school means new opportunities for Dashielle. For the first time, she'll be going to school with boys...and that means that there will be a baseball team. She knows that she's a good shortstop, but the coach and the principal won't even let her try out for the team. How can she prove what she's capable of when people won't even give her a chance?

I really love the messages that come through so strongly in this book. There's a strong feminist message, but there are also pieces that reinforce the importance of teamwork, family, and being true to yourself. Dashielle doesn't want special treatment; she wants a chance to show what she can do. While I would have loved to see more of a reaction from the female softball players (they show up early on and then are not really heard from again), particularly after Dashielle calls softball a "watered-down version of baseball," but I can understand that that didn't really fit into the narrative arc of the book. I like that Dashielle, for all of her strengths, isn't perfect; she's strong and hardworking and talented, but also blind to things that are going on her life. And, without giving too much away, I loved the ending. I was expecting a very Hollywood-style ending of everything turning out awesomely and happily-ever-after, and I like how the authors flipped my expectations and my understanding of what a happy ending means. This book has appeal for both male and female readers as well as younger and older readers. Forgive me for making the obvious pun, but this book was a real home run for me.

Learn more about Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir at their website. Learn more about Jackie Lewis at her blog.

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

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
The Catch by Rick Jasper
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don't Play Baseball by Jennifer Ring

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Zero by Tom Leveen

Amanda doesn't like to be called Amanda. She'd rather be called Zero, an old nickname, because it's more appropriate. She's nothing, less than others, and pretty empty. Her life is sort of destroyed. She's not going to the art school of her dreams because they rejected her scholarship application due to her lack of technical ability. Her best friend situation is...complicated, to say the least. Her father drinks away his troubles and her mother just gets more closed off.What better time could there be to stop acting like herself? And she's going to start by talking to the really talented drummer with the amazing eyes...

(Spoiler warning, just in case)

Amanda (who also gets called Zero, Amy, and Z) is a character that I grew to have a really strong affection for. Her journey over the course of the novel as she grows and gains confidence and  her voice is a very strong story. I loved her relationship with Mike, the drummer that she awkwardly approaches after a gig. Their relationship has some very romantic parts but is also wonderfully down-to-earth. During the last few chapters, I slowed down my reading pace just because I wanted to drink in the words. Mike and Z's conversations near the end of the book are just stunningly awesome. Free of cliches, the conversations are real and at time sputtery and completely true to their characters. I think it's my favourite conversations in a teen novel since I Know It's Over.  I was originally happy that the story is told entirely from Zero's perspective, but when I finished the book I wished I knew more about the others - Mike but also Jenn and the guys in the band. But, at the same time, I don't want anything taken away from Zero's story. It's kind of a complicated relationship that I have with this book, but a really satisfying one. Definitely check it out.

Check out Tom Leveen's website for more information about him and his books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Party by Tom Leveen
I Know It's Over by C.K. Kelly Martin
Salvador Dali by Robert Descharnes

Monday, April 23, 2012

The World in Your Lunchbox by Claire Eamer illustrated by Sa Boothroyd

There's an incredible history to the things that we eat every day. Fruits, vegetables, meats, grains, dairy products, spices, much of what makes up our daily diets is stuff that our ancestors might eaten in some form or another. Wars have been fought over food; it shaped the way that the earth was explored. Changes in science and technology have meant that food can stay fresher longer and we have access to many different kinds of foods. Take a moment to think about all of the food that you eat in a week - how much do you really know about it?

I know it's such a cliched reaction, but in every chapter I was saying to myself "I didn't know that!" There's something really neat about discovering the history of things that are so common, and learning more about the science of taste helped me to understand why I like the foods that I like. Set as a child's class project, there's sections on science, history, and even some groaner-worthy food puns. The book also have a positive message around eating healthy and making good food choices. A great pick for classrooms and libraries looking to have some high-interest books in their non-fiction collections.

Check out the websites of Claire Eamer and Sa Boothroyd.

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

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with
Lizards in the Sky by Claire Eamer
50 Underwear Questions by Tanya Lloyd Kyi
Who Wants Pizza? by Jan Thornhill

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Girl in the Park by Mariah Fredericks

Wendy and Rain were opposites in many ways, and now they're opposites in one more: Rain is alive, and Wendy is dead. She was killed in Central Park after leaving a party. As the media starts to tell a sensational story of a dead party girl and their high school whispers about Wendy's wild ways, Rain is determined to show everyone the Wendy that she knew. She doesn't believe that Wendy's death was an accident, and the only way to prove that is to find the real killer.

This book oozes atmosphere in a really great way. The exclusive New York prep school has an elite, claustrophobic air. Wendy exists through snatches of memories and stories; I never feel like I really get to know her, only the her that we see through the eyes of others. The mystery part of the story wasn't as strong to me (possibly because I identified the killer early on), but I was more than willing to stick with Rain as she explored suspects and motives. There are a number of neat choices that Mariah Fredericks makes, like keeping the main suspect in Wendy's death (another girl's boyfriend who Wendy had publicly gone after) 'offstage' until the last part of the novel. If readers are looking for a book filled with secrets and lies, definitely check this one out.

See more about Mariah Fredericks at her website.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Random House Children's Books

Read it with:
Crunch Time by Mariah Fredericks
All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett illustrated by Jon Klassen

A little girl lives in a world where everything is black, white, or gray. The only colour in her life comes from her knitting. She starts by knitting herself a sweater, but then she has extra yarn. So she knits some stuff for other people...but she still has extra yarn. The yarn seems almost endless! But when a greedy man tries to take the yarn for himself, what will happen to all of the colour?

It's practically impossible to describe this book without using words like sweet and lovely, but it's also funny and visually interesting. I'm a huge fan of Jon Klassen's illustration style (I even have a poster version of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling hanging on my living room wall). There's a simplicity in his art that works so well with Mac Barnett's story. It has humourous touches but also lots of quiet space. The story brings together themes of creativity and generosity and weaves them together with a definite sense of magic. Don't be surprised if young readers want to pick up a pair of knitting needles after reading this book.

Check out the websites of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
Chloe and the Lion by Mac Barnett
Wazzyjump by Michael Moniz
Annie Hoot and the Knitting Extravaganza by Holly Clifton-Brown
Cats' Night Out by Caroline Stutson

Friday, April 20, 2012

Karen's Telephone Trouble by Ann M. Martin

Karen loves using the telephone to get funny jokes and to find out her horoscope. Then she has to call all her friends and tell them the jokes. She can't help it if she's popular! But she's spending a lot of time on the phone...and the other people at the Big House are getting really mad at her. Then she finds out that her telephone calls cost money and she has no way of paying the bill. What is she going to do?

Readers of The Baby-Sitters Club and the Little Sisters series who are easily annoyed by the character of Karen Brewer should probably steer clear of this one. The cover shows her looking pretty pleased with herself as she flouts the rules and inconveniences her family members. A lot has changed in the fifteen years or so since this book was published, particularly around telephones, so that adds a particular element that kids today might not have personally experienced. Also, it made me smile that at the end of the book Karen decides to fix her trouble by emailing her friends if mid-late 90s computers wouldn't use telephone lines! But if you're looking for jokes that a second grade class finds funny, there are lots of them in here.

Find it at Amazon. 

Read it with:
Karen's Witch by Ann M. Martin
Karen's New Year by Ann M. Martin
Karen's Pony Camp by Ann M. Martin

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Jeremy Lin: From the End of the Bench to Stardom by Bill Davis

In early 2012, Jeremy Lin captured the attention of the world. He seemingly came out of nowhere to dominate basketball and the media. But who was this player whose last name inspired so many puns? Where did he come from and how did he come to play for the New York Knicks? This biography traces Lin's life story from his early days in California to Harvard to headlines around the world.

I like the idea of having topical books that can capitalize on the public's interest, particularly for reluctant readers as well as readres of non-fiction. The trade-off, though, comes when the book feels like it was put together in a hurry. This is an unauthorized biography, so the material (detailed with notes in the back of the book) largely comes from public interviews with coaches or players; it already has the feel of something that is out of date. At times it felt like I was reading a long essay on why Jeremy Lin was so great rather than a book that really explored Lin and his life. If there's a reader who is desperate to read a book on Jeremy Lin, this one is worth checking out; otherwise, you can probably find the same kind of information on his wikipedia page and wait to read a book by Lin himself.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Right Fit Reading and Open Road Media.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Linspired: The Jeremy Lin Story by Mike Yorkey and Jesse Florea
Jeremy Lin: Rising Star by James Buckley Jr.
Jeremy Lin: The Reason for the Linsanity by Timothy Dalrymple

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Melanie Mouse's Moving Day by Cyndy Szekeres

Melanie Mouse is so sad. Her family is moving, and that means that she'll have to say goodbye to all of her friends. How can she leave the people she loves? Moving is going to be awful! But once she sees her new house and starts to make new friends, she realizes that it's not going to be so bad after all.

This was a book that I know I read as a child (there's even a home movie of my mom reading it to me), but unlike a lot of other books from my childhood, I haven't read this one in years. When I found it again through Inter-Library Loan, I was surprised at how sad it was. Melanie is inconsolable in the first part of the book, and her friends are all sad, too. They have such big, sad eyes and mournful expressions - it's just so sad! Of course it has a happy ending, and I'm glad for that, but it was overshadowed for me by the sad part. The illustrations are very sweet and the mouse world that Cyndy Szekeres has created (tiny things used for tables, mouse toys, moving your belongings on a leaf) could easily capture a child's imagination. I thought that this book was out of print but I see that there was a 2010 edition published, so a new generation of kids can work through the emotions of a move with Melanie's help.

Find it at IndieBound 

Read it with:
Suppertime for Frieda Fuzzypaws by Cyndy Szekers
Nothing-to-Do Puppy by Cyndy Szekeres
A Kiss Goodbye by Audrey Penn

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz

Craig is hurting. His animals, the animals that he loves and takes care of, has escaped from his house; they could be sick or worse. His boyfriend (is he even his boyfriend anymore?) left and won't return his emails. He struggles to get along with his parents and brother. Lio is hurting. His mother walked out on the family and Lio doesn't understand how she could do that. He misses New York and hates living in the Washington D.C. area. He doesn't like to talk, not even to his therapist. Craig and Lio have formed a kind of friendship that might lead to more, if either of them want it. And if either of them is ready for it.

Set in the shadow of 9/11 and during the nightmare of the Beltway sniper, it's amazing how something so recent can feel like it's coming from a completely different time. Can something set 10 years ago qualify as historical fiction? The references to email and IM certainly help it. But it never feels dated, it feels authentic. Craig and Lio are two characters that I've never seen before in YA. They aren't defined by any one characteristic, quality, or event. They're on very different paths but I found myself really hoping that those paths would converge. This is definitely a book worth checking out.

Check out Hanna Moskowitz's website.

I received an advance review copy from Simon & Schuster Galley Grab.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz
Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan
We All Fall Down by Eric Walters

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Bremen Town Musicians retold by Brian Wildsmith

An old donkey knows that his master wants to get rid of him, so he decides to leave the farm and join up with the musicians of Bremen Town. He still has a fine voice, after all. After he sets out he comes across some more animals: a dog, a cat, and a rooster. Little do they know about the adventures that they will have on their way to Bremen Town.

The story of the Bremen Town musicians (the original folktale) is not one that I was familiar with as a child; I was definitely in my late teens before I even came across it. So I don't have the cultural association with the story and I didn't know how the tale was going to unfold. It definitely zigged and zagged from where I thought it was going to go, but I was happy to see a (spoiler alert) happy ending. Animal lovers will be drawn to the theme of animals taking charge of their lives and triumphing over adversary, although some could find the idea of older animals facing their mortality (often at the hands of humans) to be kind of dark. The illustrations are strong at depicting the different textures of animals and wildlife (a common theme in Brian Wildsmith's work), and there are a lot of details and smaller things to look for. This looks like a reissue of an earlier edition, so if your library is looking for a shiny new copy of this folktale, definitely give this one a look.

For more information on Brian Wildsmith, check out his website.

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

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Jungle Party by Brian Wildsmith
The Bremen-Town Musicians by Ilse Plume
The Bourbon Street Musicians by Kathy Price

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Valentino Finds a Home by Andy Whiteside and illustrated by Catherine Hnatov

Valentino is a Guinea Pig looking for a home. He  is he often mistaken for a rat...or a meal! And now he's had enough. So he maneuvers his way to America on a quest to find someone who will appreciate him. Will he ever find a home?

There's a delightful streak of the absurd running through this book. The text is rhyming and playful; the illustrations are bright and clear with a cheeky sense of humour. I was a bit hesitant when I read the jacket copy saying that in Bolivia he was afraid of being eaten but early on there's a spread of Valentino getting in shape. When I saw those pictures I was hooked on this book. This is a great read for a child who likes books that are a bit different and who have an offbeat sense of humour, as well as those who love to read about animal stories.

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

Read it with:
Hip, Hop by Catherine Hnatov
Super Guinea Pig to the Rescue by Udo Weigelt
I Completely Know About Guinea Pigs by Lauren Child

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Swift Edge: A Mystery by Laura DiSilverio

Charlie Swift is skeptical when a young figure skater shows up at her office. The girl, Dara Peterson, is desperate - her partner Dmitri Fane has gone missing and the Olympics are only weeks away; the US National Champions are even sooner. Lots of people think that Dmitri has just gone away to clear his head (or is hidden away with a new boyfriend), but Dara knows that something is wrong. Charlie accepts the case and soon finds herself immersed in the strange world of figure skating. There are a lot of people who are happier with Dmitri gone, including Peterson and Fane's biggest rivals. But Dmitri might have been up to more that just triple jumps, and as the bodies start piling up Charlie Swift could be in mortal danger. Good thing she had an extra-large Pepsi to start the day.

I picked this book up for the figure skating aspect of it rather than being attracted to the mystery part, so that's the lens that I'm viewing it with. There were parts that made a lot of sense (such as being set in Colorado Springs, home to one of the biggest US training centres and some top-level coaches) and then details that didn't (such as the focus on the National Competition being incredibly important when the US would almost definitely have two entries to the Olympic Games, so it wouldn't matter who won Nationals, or the idea of a pairs team doing side-by-side triple axels), but I think only a big skating fan would make a note of these issues. The mystery gets a bit convoluted as more characters are introduced, but plots and suspects dovetail and tie-in nicely, building to a big finish. Charlie maintains her sarcastic tone but also displays the characteristics that make her good at her job. Gigi, her partner, often plays for comic relief, but she's given enough of a back-story to make me root for her and want her to succeed. Many reviewers have written that this is a good pick for fans of Sue Grafton and Janet Evanovich, so if you like those writers be sure to give Laura DiSilverio a try.

See more at Laura DiSilverio's website.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Swift Justice by Laura DiSilverio
Swift Run by Laura DiSilverio
Murder She Wrote: Skating on Thin Ice by Donald Bain

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Smiley Book of Colors by Ruth Kaiser

There are smiles everywhere. Not just on happy people, but on things like buildings, food, and clothing. Two eyes, a curve for a mouth, sometimes a nose and voila - an instant face. You might have to squint to see them, or maybe you see them easily (it probably depends on the person). I think I've confessed before on this blog that I'm someone who frequently sees 'faces' on houses (windows, doors, sometimes even a porch mustache), so this book was a natural fit for me. Built around examining colours, this book has the potential to be a bit scary for some kids (imagine faces everywhere - it's not too hard to get to imagining things coming to life), but with the right person it can jump-start their creativity and encourage them to think differently about the world around them.

This book came out of the Spontaneous Smiley Project, so if you're in the mood for some more smiles, head on over there and check them out.

I received a review copy from Edelweiss courtesy of Golden Books (Random House).

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Ruby, Violet, Lime: Looking for Color by Jane Brocket
Building Stories by Isabel Hill
Urban Animals by Isabel Hill
Look Book by Tana Hoban

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Llama Llama Nighty-Night by Anna Dewdney

It's time for one little Llama to get ready for bed! He has a regular nighttime routine: clean up, bath, story. Before long Llama Llama will be ready to say 'nighty-night' and drift off to sleep. (And don't forget a goodnight kiss from Mama!)

All of the charm of the original Llama Llama books has been packed into this condensed board book version. Along with the loveable character of Llama Llama, this book has rhyming text, familiar scenes, and words that might be new to kids (but ones that they can learn from the context and with some help from a caregiver). I'm a big fan of the original books, but I've found that they can be a bit long for young readers, so I'm so excited to see this shorter board book series. Definitely check it out!

Check out Anna Dewdney's Llama Llama website. There are Llama Llama games, activities, and information about the books.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
Grumpy Gloria by Anna Dewdney
Llama Llama Wakey-wake by Anna Dewdney

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Will Not Read This Book by Cece Meng illustrated by Joy Ang

One little boy has an annoucement: he will not read this book. No matter how what happens, the book will not get read. He can be hanging from a cliff, there could be a monkey involved, it could be a life-or-death situation and he would still not read this book. Is there anything that could happen to change his mind?

Books about kids who don't want to read books present a reassuring line to people who don't see themselves as readers. As much as I love to see kids enthusiastically grabbing and pouring over books, I know that there are probably just as many kids who aren't likely to pick up a book on their own. One of the strengths, I think, of the book is that (spoiler alert) it doesn't swing all the way to the other side of the spectrum at the end of the book. The boy doesn't become a passionate advocate of reading; he doesn't decide that he loves books after all. He grudgingly accepts that reading might not be so bad, especially if his mom will read with him. And to me that's a much more realistic ending for a boy like this one. The story used humour effectively and the wide-ranging scenarios that the boy imagines make it exciting and dangerous while still in a safe environment. I responded very positively to Joy Ang's illustrations and the different expressions that the boy adopts over the course of the book. I could easily see this book as an animated short movie (both in story and look). This is a fun book to share with kids - both kids who see themselves as readers (it will be absurd to see a kid go to such lengths to avoid reading) and those who do not (who might find it reassuring to know that there are other people out there who feel like they do, even if they are fictional characters).

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Tough Chicks by Cece Meng
The Qalupalik by Elisha Kilabuk illustrated by Joy Ang
Miss Brooks Loves Books! (And I Don't) by Barbara Bottner
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dog Number 1, Dog Number 10 by Ami Rubinger

Ten different dogs. Ten different interests. Join these animals as they introduce themselves with their names and personalities along with their numbers. Rhyming text and strategic pauses give kids a place to shout out the answers (and a surprise visit from some felines keeps it from feeling too rote). Just as in Ami Rubinger's I Dream of an Elephant, there's a hazy dreamlike quality about this book that makes it seem like it's taking part on another planet that has a very different natural environment. I think the bold, bright colours will appeal to young readers, and the expressions and characters of the dogs themselves create a fun learning environment for starting kids on their numeracy journey.

See more of Ami Rubinger's work at his website.

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

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Big Cat, Small Cat by Ami Rubinger
I Dream of an Elephant by Ami Rubinger
Ten Nine Eight by Molly Bang

Monday, April 9, 2012

Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman illustrated by Dan Yaccarino

It's not every day that a boy meets a robot, but this boy and this bot discover that they can have a lot of fun together. But when the robot gets accidentally switched off, the boy is stumped as to how to help him. Can the boy and the robot ever be friends again?

Dan Yaccarino is one of my favourite illustrators working today, and I'm always so excited by his art. Coupled with this debut story from Ame Dyckman, this is a book that I can easily see kids getting excited about, too. Robots (like dinosaurs) are a great crowd pleaser, and this story takes what, on paper, is a very simple storyline and lets it be a simple story. The pictures and the reader's imagination expand to fill in any empty spaces. It's a lovely story about friendship and learning about others' differences and the love and affection that can grow between a boy and a robot.

Check out Ame Dyckman's website and Dan Yaccarino's website.

I received an advance review copy from Edelweiss courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Robot Dreams by Sara Varon
Lawn to Lawn by Dan Yaccarino
The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau by Dan Yaccarino

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Humpty Dumpty by Salina Yoon

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall...and it didn't end well. Or did it? In this new version of an old rhyme, Salina Yoon creates an Easter-themed story that might just have a happy ending.

I think it's fitting that Humpty Dumpty has an Easter theme. He's probably one of the most famous eggs in literature, certainly an egg that is also a character (and not just featured, like green eggs). Is there any connection between this egg being put back together on Easter, the same holiday that celebrates Jesus' resurrection from the dead? Probably, but it's likely best not to think too much about that. Instead, think about the bright colours and fun images that will appeal to kids and the holiday tie-in that makes it a natural fit for parents to add to Easter baskets.

Find out more about Salina Yoon.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
Who Do I See? by Salina Yoon
Humpty Dumpty and Other Rhymes by Iona Opie
Where Are Baby's Easter Eggs? by Karen Katz

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

Wahoo Cray (named after the wrestler, by the way, not the fish) is worried about his father. Mickey Cray is one of the best wild animal wranglers in the world, but ever since he was hit on the head by a frozen iguana falling out of the tree he just hasn't been the same. This means that the Cray family is running out of money. That's when the crew from Expedition Survival! arrives, hoping to use Mickey Cray's animals and services for their popular cable adventure show. Mickey isn't convinced that it's a great idea, but Wahoo knows that this is just what they need to pay off their debts and start fresh...that is, if they can all get out alive.

Wahoo is a good, solid character who is a great combination of man and boy; sometimes he needs to be both. He's worried about his father's health, sanity, and reputation, but he also wants his mom to be able to come home and not have to work at a job that means she has to work in China. Coming out of the recent recession there have been a number of books that include a piece like this in their narrative. I think that this truly does reflect many children's reality in that they do have an awareness and concerns about their families' financial situations. What might not reflect their reality is living in a location that is also home to alligators, snakes, turtles, and many different kinds of animals.  It's evident that Carl Hiaasen, a longtime Florida resident, has a deep understanding of both the area and the wildlife. That authenticity comes through in the story. There's lots in here that will appeal to readers, including the animals but also a comedic adventure story that gets stranger and more dangerous as the book goes on. Also, the visual appearance of Chomp and Carl Hiaasen's other children's books really speaks to me; this will be an attractive, attention-grabbing book to have on shelves.

Find out more information about Carl Hiaasen at his website. 

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Fat Vampire by Adam Rex
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray
Chomp! by Heather Brown
Can You Tell an Alligator from a Crocodile? by Buffy Silverman

Friday, April 6, 2012

Izzy the Whiz and Passover McClean by Yael Mermelstein with illustrations by Carrie Hartman

Izzy the Whiz loves to invent things. His mother is worried because it's almost Passover and there's still so much to do, but Izzy tells her not to worry: his new invention, Passover McClean, will have the house clean in no time! But Passover McClean doesn't quite work as Izzy was expecting...will he have everything back to normal by the time his mom comes back?

There are two things that I love about this book. One is that it is so deeply immersed in Jewish life and tradition, and the other is that it has the power to reflect anyone's life. The celebration of Pesach and the ritual cleaning of hametz is unique to Jewish people who observe this holiday, and it's wonderful to see a children's picture book that reflects this. At the same time, though, there's a wonderful universal quality about the book. Whether or not someone fully understands what hametz means (I did not) is not needed to enjoy this book. It's about a boy who invents a machine that doesn't work as he planned. It could be anyone's story, but it's specifically Izzy's story, and his story includes Passover and hametz and other aspects of Jewish life. That makes it accessible to all readers and provides the opportunity to learn more about another religion and culture. The illustrations are soft and fanciful, and it's always cool to see a kid who's interested in science (and science experiments). This is a great pick for public libraries looking to diversify their picture book collections; it might end up in a holiday collection, but it's worth checking out at any time of the year.

Yael Mermelstein is the winner of the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award Carrie Hartman has a website and a blog where you can see more of her illustration.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of Lerner Books / Kar-Ben Publishing.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Barnyard Purim by Kelly Terwilliger
Hannah's Way by Linda Glaser
Going on a Hametz Hunt by Jacqueline Jules

Thursday, April 5, 2012

I Dream of an Elephant by Ami Rubinger

Dreams can be wonderful things. You never know what you might dream about. For example, you might dream of an elephant that's blue, dancing and jumping the whole day through. Or you might dream of an elephant that's yellow (he's a popular fellow). There's no end to the marvelous things that you can dream! Visual cues and predictive text help kids to figure out the answers; this book practically screams out to be used in storytimes. I was reminded a touch of the elephant dream sequence/trip in Dumbo, with the elephants in such wild colours, but while that was known to scare young viewers, I think that this book will excite and delight them.

See more of Ami Rubinger's work at his website.

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

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
Big Cat, Small Cat by Ami Rubinger
Dog Number 1, Dog Number 10 by Ami Rubinger
I Broke My Trunk by Mo Willems
Ten Nine Eight by Molly Bang

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

When I Was Small by Sara O'Leary with illustrations by Julie Morstad

Henry knows all about his own history. He knows all about what he was like when he was (an even younger) boy. But he's curious about his mother. What was she like as a little girl? He wishes that they could have been friends. So his mother tells her what she was like when she was small.

As a fan of Sara O'Leary and Julie Morstad's previous collaboration, When You Were Small, I was quite excited to find this book peering back at me from a library shelf. The text is short and spins readers off into a gentle fantasy world. The illustrations seem both vintage and timeless. They're lovely with a whimsicality that at the same time seems entirely natural. Julie Morstad is one of my favourite illustrators. Children and caregivers can talk about the content of the book (do you think these things really happened? do you think part of it is true?) as well as the idea behind it. It's a great prompter for sharing your own family stories and personal history with kids.

It looks like this book was released in Canada in December of 2011 and seems to have a US publication date of August 2012.

Check out their websites for more about Sara O'Leary and Julie Morstad.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
When You Were Small by Sara O'Leary
Where You Came From by Sara O'Leary
Singing Away the Dark by Caroline Woodward and Julie Morstad
Oddfellow's Orphanage by Emily Winfield Martin

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin

Sasha is a proud member of Stalin's Communist Soviet Union. He can't wait to join the join the Young Pioneers and pledge his allegiance to Stalin and his country. He wants to make his father, a member of the secret police, proud. But then his father is arrested. Was he set up by a devious neighbour? It all must be some kind of terrible mistake. Alone, with his father arrested and his mother dead, Sasha tries to find a way to convince Stalin that his father's arrest is just a big mistake. But along the way Sasha learns many hard truths about his father, his life, and his hero, Stalin.

My favourite part of this book is how it plays with perspective. This shows up literally, as the perspective in the illustrations is sometimes skewed. Adults loom scarily over children in images that look like something out of a nightmare. Of course, the entire book (which takes place over a very short period of time) looks at how Sasha's perspectives change. He develops a deeper understanding of his father, of Stalin, and the world. Yelchin's afterward about Stalin and the USSR can help readers to put the story in its historical context. I hope Breaking Stalin's Nose's status as a Newbery Honor book brings it a larger audience.

Check out Eugene Yelchin's website to see more of his illustration and work.

Find it at IndieBound. 

Read it with:
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Stalin's Nose by Rory MacLean
Seven Hungry Babies by Candace Fleming

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Good and Useful Hurt by Aric Davis

Mike, still grieving and dealing with the death of his girlfriend, knows that he must confront her memory and move forward - but nothing is ever that simple. Three things happen at about the same time: Mike hires a new piercing artist at his tattoo shop, a customer requests that Mike design and ink a tattoo using the ashes of a customer's lost loved one, and an unknown serial killer decides who will be his next victim. These three events seem unrelated, but they place Mike on a path that will change the course of his life...and the lives of the people around him.

Before looking at what's on the inside, I want to talk for a moment about what's on the outside. This is quite a stunning book to see in person. The colours on the cover really stand out, and the detail work at the start of each chapter gives it a special look. And it has a good heft; it feels good in my hands, and that's one of those indescribable personal details that always puts me in a good mind for reading. In his profile at the back of the book, Aric Davis says that he likes weather that's cold enough to wear a sweatshirt (but not a coat) - I love that weather, too. And now to the content. I was nervous when I started reading because I know very little about the world of tattoos; I was afraid that my lack of knowledge would mean that I wouldn't understand the book. No tattoo knowledge is necessary, I am happy to say. I think that people who do know a bit more about this world would appreciate the details and observations, but the book is completely accessible even to people who have never thought about getting a tattoo or a piercing. The chapters are the perfect length and keep the story moving without feeling choppy. It was a hard book to put down; the changing points of view meant that I wanted to keep going and explore what was going to happen next. I would frequently think, "okay, I'm just going to read one more chapter" and that would lead to many, many more. The idea of tattoos that include personal remains was something that I feel like I'd heard about before in real life, but not something I've seen explored in a book. It set the tone  of the book with something slightly otherworldly yet completely grounded in the physical world.

I received a review copy courtesy of Little Bird Publicity.

Find it at IndieBound.

Learn more about Aric Davis at his website.

Read it with:
Nickel Plated by Aric Davis
From Ashes Rise by Aric Davis
Moody Food by Ray Robertson

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Other Side of Suffering by John Ramsey

John Ramsey knows why you know his name. On December 26, 1996, his daughter JonBenet was reported kidnapped from her bed; she was later found murdered in their basement. While John and his family lived in a world of grief, they also lived under the shadow of suspicion by the Boulder Police Department. The police thought that John and his wife Patsy were the most likely suspects, and tabloids soon published all kinds of outlandish stories naming John and his family as the guilty parties. Over a decade later, John and Patsy were finally cleared of all suspicion in a formal announcement where it was revealed that there had never been any evidence that connected them to the crime. How could a family stand it? How could John Ramsey deal with so much tragedy in his life and come through to the other side of suffering? This is his story of how his life changed and shattered and how his faith in God helped him to put the pieces back together.

I was twelve at the time of Christmas 1996, so I have very strong memories of the Ramsey murder case. I remember the way that the media tore into the story; I remember the images splashed all over televisions and tabloids. This book, while about John Ramsey's journey of suffering and healing, starts out with and spends a fair amount of time on the loss of his youngest daughter. There are details that I knew along with things that I had known at the time but forgotten (such as John losing his oldest daughter in an accident only years before) and things that I never knew about the family (like how they never went back into their Boulder home after leaving it after the murder was discovered). The book talks a lot about John's religious faith and how it has provided comfort and guidance to him over the last two decades. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he frequently goes to the book of Job, but it's clear that his faith is something that is very deeply a part of his identity. This will be a book that will be of interest to readers of true crime as well as people looking for spiritual guidance through tough times.

I received a review copy from NetGalley courtesy of FaithWords.

Find it at IndieBound.

Read it with:
The Death of Innocence by John and Patsy Ramsay
JonBenet: Inside the Murder Investigation by Steve Thomas with Don Davis
Madeleine by Kate McCann