I’ve started this year off right with 10 books read so far. I’ve just gotten back into reading Advanced Reader’s Copies (ARC) from Netgalley, and finished my first book a couple days ago, so I’m happy with that. I’m halfway done with A Storm of SwordsA Song of Fire and Ice #3 by George R.R. Martin, though I know it will take me forever to read it as I keep stopping to read more ARCs. Plus my ebook copy, with all the appendices and maps, comes out to nearly 1100 pages (which is a lot for anyone to read). Thankfully I own it, so no big deal. I’m currently reading an ARC called Madam: A Novel of New Orleans by Carri Lynn and Kelli Martin, as well as listening to Rick Riordan’s audiobook of The House of Hades (The Heroes of Olympus #4).

As always, I rate things from 1 – 5 stars, one being the lowest and 5 being the highest. The Caldecott Challenge, which I started May 2012, is my attempt to read all of the Caldecott Honors and Award winners from 1938 – the present. I will include some photos of illustrations that I like with the reviews. I’m also starting the Newbery Challenge, reading the winner and at least one honor book from every year of the medal, namely 1922 – present.


1-2-3: A Child’s First Counting Book written and illustrated by Alison Jay

I first picked out this book for my son because he is working on remembering numbers and how to count, but also because I love Alison Jay’s crackled illustrations. This book features a young girl who falls asleep and dreams she is in the world of fairy tales, and starts counting things like “three little pigs” and “seven magic beans”. The pictures are interesting enough to entertain the kids and the parents reading it to them. The back of the book features a page that lists all the fairy tales featured throughout the story. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

Puff-Puff, Chugga-Chugga written and illustrated by Christopher Wormley

Sneeze from Puff Puff Chugga Chugga

My son has just been obsessed with this book. Every time he is at home, he wants me to read it to him. I must say, it is a cute concept for a book. You can tell the author/illustrator is British from the terminology in the book. I had never heard of the book before, but since my son loves trains so much, I figured I would give it a try. It is also one of the hardest books to find in print (at least in the US and assuming you don’t mind paying $25 for a picture book).

The book is about a conductor who runs a small 3 car train. On his way from his house to the town, he picks up three passengers: Mrs. Walrus, Mr. Bear and Mrs. Elephant. He doesn’t think any of them will fit in the cars, but they do somehow. He warns them not to get too much shopping when they get into town, but of course they do. Everything manages to fit into the train cars until a bee flies up Mrs. Elephant’s nose and she makes the most enormous sneeze, blowing everyone out of their seats and upsetting the groceries and the train cars. That is my son’s favorite part: He loves making the giant sneezing noise with me (not exactly in the book, but the sound effect is funny so I added it in so he could understand what was going on).  With all these groceries everywhere, what are the poor animals to do? Invite all their friends and family to have a picnic, of course! Soon the place is swarming with all ages of walruses, bears, and elephants chowing down on all sorts of new things. They right the train and then promptly take a nap after gorging on all that food. The conductor takes his train home. Recommended for ages 2-6, 5 stars.

Trains!: Steaming, Huffing, Puffing written by Patricia Hubbell, illustrated by Megan Halsey and Sean Addy

This was another book I found to feed my son’s train obsession. The rhyming text tells of all different kinds of trains and what they do. I enjoyed the mixed-media collage illustrations, which included clip art, maps, original drawings and etchings, though at times they seem a little cluttered. Recommended for ages 2 – 6,  4 stars.

Trouble on the Tracks written  and illustrated by Kathy Mallat

My son found this more interesting that I did, though I mostly think this is because it was about trains. The story was too short. A train puffs along the countryside but is overturned by Trouble, which comes in the form of a large black cat. The engineer, played by a young boy, picks up his model trains and set them back on the track and the train starts up again. Recommended for ages 2-6, 2 stars.

One written and illustrated by Kathryn Otoshi

I found this by accident while browsing the ABC section. I fell in love with it, although it definitely went over my son’s head in terms of the meaning. I ended up sharing it with my mother who enjoyed it as well. The book is a neat take on teaching colors, numbers, and how to stand up for something you believe in (or in this case, against someone). Blue is a lonely color. He is frequently bullied by Red, who announces that Red is the best color and Blue is not. None of the other colors stand up to him to refute this. That is, until the number 1 shows up and refuses to be bullied. One by one, the other colors stand up to Red as well, including Blue, and they become colored numbers. They “all count”. As this reviewer points out , “The other lesson [besides bullying] is the lesson of individualism. The concept that everyone counts relates to the concept of everyone being equal.” Recommended for ages 3+, 5 stars.

Little Critter Little Red Riding Hood: A Lift-the-Flap Book retold and illustrated by Mercer Mayer

A cute lift-the-flaps version of Little Red Riding Hood, as told by Little Critter’s sister. In this version, Little Red Riding Hood is sent to her Grandmother’s House to cheer her up, and who wouldn’t be cheered up by a basket of cookies and cupcakes! On the way there, she meets an old beggar, who is really the wicked wolf in disguise. Running commentary is provided by a mouse throughout the story. The wolf climbs through an open window into Grandma’s House, ahead of Red, and ties up Granny with a rope and puts her in the closet. He then disguises himself to look like Grandma, then comes the traditional part of the story “What big ears you have, what big eyes and teeth you have…All the better to eat you with” and the wolf leaps up out of bed after Red. Luckily a woodcutter is passing the house and sees the wolf inside, and chases the wolf away with his ax. They find Grandma and untie her and they all enjoy the goodies provided by Red’s mother. Needless to say, my son had fun lifting all the flaps and discovering what was underneath. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

The Day the Crayons Quit written by Drew Dewalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

The Day the Crayons Quit - Green

I had been reading about this for awhile, but had never been able to find a copy until Wednesday. I enjoyed this book a lot more than my son did (I think it was just a bit too wordy for him). The crayons have had enough. One by one, each crayon in a Duncan’s crayon box write him a letter saying that they’ve done either too much coloring or not enough and tell him they are quitting. I, in particular, liked the letters from Orange and Yellow about what color the sun really is. To solve their problems, he uses his imagination to create a picture using all the colors in the way they want him to use them. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Mole’s in Love written by David Bedford, illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw

I picked up this book for my son, mostly because the title was cute and you almost never see books with moles (with the exception of Brian Jacques Redwall series, which portrays them so perfectly). It was a cute story, though I know I thought it was funnier than my son did. It is about a mole who wakes up to a new spring and is ready to fall in love. He can’t see very well and literally falls in love with every animal he sees, only to be “rejected” by them. Then a girl mole gives him a pair of glasses and he realizes that all the things he loved about the other animals are right here together in this mole. They live happily ever after, the end. Recommended for ages 4-8, 4 stars.

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild written and illustrated by Peter Brown

Mr Tiger Goes Wild

This book has been on my to-read list for awhile, but the copies at the library were always checked out. I adored this book, way more than my son did, mostly because it’s more adult-friendly than geared towards kids (though the older ones would get it better). It is set in what looks like Victorian times. All the animals act and dress like a proper human would from this time period and live in houses that all look the same. Mr. Tiger yearns to act differently and so he starts “going wild” – not wearing any clothes, walking around on all fours and acting like a real animal. The other animals are scandalized. After retreating to the jungle, he realizes that he’s lonely and goes back to visit his friends, and they’ve all started to “go wild” as well. Highly recommended for ages 4-8, 5 stars.

Steampunk Alphabet written and illustrated by Nat Iwata

I love steampunk books, so I figured I would give this a try. I’m not sure what the age range on this book should be, as it is way too much text for the same kind of book. My son enjoyed looking at the pictures. There are descriptions of each letter and the rhyme that followed the letters. It was a cool concept, just didn’t really work well in my opinion. Recommended for ages 5+, 3 stars.

Oh No! Not Again!: (Or How I Built a Time Machine to Save History) (Or At Least Save My History Grade) written by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Dan Santat

Oh No Not Again

I really enjoyed the first book, where our main character builds a killer robot for her science fair project and the illustrator made the background seem like a Godzilla movie, complete with Japanese signs. In this book, our heroine, has just gotten an A on a history test (not an A+ horror of horrors!), after missing one question about prehistoric cave paintings. So she decides to build a time machine, illustrated and explained on the end pages of the book, to change it so she can ace the test. Only things don’t exactly go as planned and she ends up failing the test in the future. I won’t say too much to give the story away, but it involves curious cave-men. Recommended for ages 6-9, 3 ½ stars.

Caldecott Challenge

Tom Tit Tot: An English Folk Tale illustrated by Evaline Ness

Ok, I’ll admit it. I’ve been putting off this book for awhile because of the name and the fact it was illustrated by Evaline Ness, whose illustrations I’ve gotten to unfortunately know throughout the course of the Caldecott Challenge. I know part of it is the time period she was working in, as they just liked weird color pairings in children’s books like mustard yellow and red, or avocado and black. Normally I like woodcut illustrations, but I just can’t get into her work. Then there’s the language of the book, written like the story was probably originally created in 19th century vernacular, which is not ideal for reading out-loud.

This book won a 1966 Caldecott Honor. The story is a version of the Rumpelstiltskin fairy tale, and reminded me of Harve & Margot Zemach’s Duffy and the Devil (a Caldecott winner from 1974), which I had read previously. In this book, a young witless girl is pushed into a marriage with the king after he heard her mother say that she could spin 5 skeins of yarn a night (in reality, she was complaining about her daughter, but didn’t want the king to hear). The daughter is treated to luxury, all the meals and clothes she could want for 11 months out of the year, but has to spin her 5 skeins a night every night for a month, or the king will kill her. She doesn’t know what to do, enter a little man who promises to do the skeins for her if she will give herself to him (rather than the more common version of “give me your 1st born child”) or if she can guess his name. The month runs out and the queen is desperate to find out his name and learns it after hearing a story from the king, telling the little man and making him disappear. Recommended for ages 7+, 2 stars.

The Wave retold by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Blair Lent

I was rather excited when I found out that Blair Lent illustrated this, as I have enjoyed his work in the past for the Caldecott Challenge. The artwork in this book wasn’t as good as his other books, such as Why the Sun and the Moon Live in the Sky. This book won a 1965 Caldecott Honor. However, the story was interesting enough. It is harvest time in a small fishing village in Japan, when suddenly the sea starts withdrawing from the shore. A wise old grandfather knows what is happening and tries to warn the villagers by burning his rice fields. They see the smoke and come running. He saves them from the ensuing earthquake and tidal wave. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 ½ stars.

Just Me written and illustrated by Marie Hall Ets

Despite my aversion for this author (I have had to read way too many of her books for this Challenge), this book had a cute story. A little boy goes all over a farm and imitates the animals. It won a 1966 Caldecott Honor.  Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

Children and Young Adult

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu

I had seen rather good reviews on this book, plus I’ll admit the cover/title was interesting enough to draw me in as well. It took me about 150 pages to really get into this book and I didn’t really figure out what was going on till about ¾ of the way through. It is a very intriguing premise though if you stay with it. I’ve heard rumors that this may be one of the books nominated for a Newbery award.

Aletheia was once full of magicians, before the plague hit and wiped out the majority of the population. Now there are only a handful of magicians left in a small community called the Barrow, surrounded by a huge forest, outside the capital city of Asteri. Oscar was adopted by Caleb, the most powerful magician on Aletheia. He gathers and grinds plants and other natural ingredients for the potions and magical items that Caleb sells in the shop. Oscar is content to be by himself, with the cats, and just tries to stay out of the way of Wolf, Caleb’s Assistant. That is, until a horrible accident happens, and Wolf and another Assistant are killed. Oscar who does not know how to speak and act towards people is forced to take care of the shop. He is assisted by Callie, the Healer’s Assistant. Suddenly the children of the Asteri start becoming sick and no one can figure out why. It is up to Callie and Oscar to work together to help them. Is it the plague or some other illness? What is evil is skulking in the forest? What really happened to the magicians of Aletheia? To find out, check out this compelling book. Recommended for ages 9-13, 3 1/2 stars.

Newberry Challenge

The One and Only Ivan written by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao

I’ve been curious about this book for awhile, because it is definitely fascinating to narrate a book from the viewpoint of a gorilla. It won the 2013 Newbery award. The book was based off the true story of Ivan, a silverback gorilla who lived 26 years of his life in captivity in a circus-themed mall, before he was moved to the Atlanta Zoo.

This was a sad story, but an enjoyable read. We see the world through the eyes of Ivan, who barely remembers life in the jungle before he is adopted by Mack and brought into the circus mall to spend his life in a cage. He is joined by Stella, an elderly elephant who tells great stories and Bob, a stray dog who has befriended the two and sleeps on Ivan’s stomach at night. One day, to get more money and have more people visit, Mack procures a baby elephant named Ruby. Stella adopts her and starts taking care of her, even though she’s never had a baby of her own. She knows how scary a place like this can be for any new animal to the mall. Sadly due to an old injury and Mack’s negligence, Stella passes away and Ivan is left in charge of Ruby and has promised Stella that he will not let her remain in this cage. Ivan, in the book, is also artistic like the real gorilla he is based off of and starts off coloring pictures in crayon and eventually moves to finger paints. It is through this medium that he hatches a plan to escape, with a little help from some humans. Will he and Ruby make it? To find out, read this quick but excellent book. Recommended for ages 9-13, 4 stars.

Young Adult

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, narrated by Amy Rubinate

I have one MP3 CD instead of Audio CDs. I had heard good reviews on this book, and decided to give it a try. At first the narrator annoyed me, but she grew on me as the book progressed. My one big gripe with the book was the length, as it seemed to drag on forever, never wanting to end the story. It did have some excellent writing though, and some really great insights into becoming an adult, like this quote: “I really wondered why people were always doing what they didn’t like doing. It seemed like life was a sort of narrowing tunnel. Right when you were born, the tunnel was huge. You could be anything. Then, like, the absolute second after you were born, the tunnel narrowed down to about half that size…I figured that on the day you died, the tunnel would be so narrow, you’d have squeezed yourself in with so many choices, that you just got squashed.”

Fourteen year old June Elbus adores her artistic Uncle Finn. Even though she is a shy social outcast, she always feels at home with Finn. He is painting her and her older sister Greta’s portrait. Only he might not get to finish it, as he is dying of AIDS. The story is set in 1987, and being gay and having AIDS is just not something discussed in public. When Finn does die, it devastates June and her mother, Finn’s sister. Shortly after the funeral, June receives a letter from a mysterious man who was at her uncle’s funeral. He wants to meet up with her so they can discuss Finn. After hemming and hawing, she decides to meet him. The man is Toby, her uncle Finn’s partner, who was part of his life for ten years, but June never knew it. In fact, after spending time with him, she realizes that some of the things she loved about her uncle came from Toby. Even though June can’t decide whether to love or hate Toby, she realizes after spending time with him that he is helping her come to terms with Finn’s death, and as this reviewer puts it “June starts to understand that everything in life is a lot more grey than she’d imagined.”

I could identify with June, from the point of view of someone who was shy growing up and everyone saw as a little weird. I liked that she was obsessed with Medieval Europe, as I went through a similar phase as a teenager. Life is hard and dealing with something as complex as your beloved uncle dying of a disease hardly anyone knows or talks about and then meeting a man who loved him just as much as you did, but never knowing he was a part of his life, is even more complicated. Really, the fact that she comes out of this in one piece and dare I say it wiser is miraculous. Recommended for ages 13+, 4 stars.


I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot By the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai and Christina Lamb, narrated by Archie Panjabi

I learned about this book after watching some clips of The Daily Show with John Stewart, and seeing her promote and speak about it. She was very articulate and the book sounded fascinating, so as soon as the library started ordering copies, I put one on hold. It is a very in-depth history/biography and some of the story was hard to listen to, especially the parts about all the terrorism and violence. Honestly it made me worry about my best friend and her family as they are from that country. Malala is a brave young woman and I hope she is able to make it back to her homeland in the future. The narrator was good and it was nice to have the author read the prologue to set the stage for the book.

The book was a mini-history lesson about the creation of Pakistan, its leaders and detailed history of the country from the viewpoint of Malala, a now 17 year old Muslim girl. She is from the Swat Valley, a beautiful mountainous area of the country that used to be part of Afghanistan. She tells the history of Pakistan and the Swat Valley, in order to set the stage for events that have occurred to her and her family from her parent’s childhood in the late 1960s to the present. Her father started a couple private schools, which Malala attended through the years. As a result of her father’s occupation and political activism, she became fascinated with politics and started petitioning and speaking out to the local and country’s government to provide girl’s education for all females. The Taliban, which originated in Afghanistan, took control of the Swat Valley around 2008 and demanded that the females in the area remain in purdah, which basically means isolating themselves from men, putting up barriers around the house, and remaining covered  up at all times – it is better explained here. They did not like that Malala and her father were so outspoken, especially about girls’ education, and so in 2012, Malala was shot in the head on her way home from school. She survived with the help of a lot of talented and dedicated medical professionals in Pakistan and England, and continues to fight for free education for all to this day. Highly recommended, 5 stars.

VB6: Eat Vegan Before 6:00 To Lose Weight and Restore Your Health…For Good by Mark Bittman

I have been thinking about switching over to vegan or vegetarian for awhile now. I honestly get tired of eating so much meat, and I know it’s not healthy for me. My husband has been making an effort to make sure that we are eating more vegetables at dinner, but I need to do more. This program seemed like a good compromise for me, though I know really getting into it would be challenging. Along with the whole Vegan-Before-6pm rule, you’re not supposed to have sugar, anything with white flour, and obviously since it is a vegan diet, no dairy or meat. I’ve not really thought about it before, but I have sugar and dairy nearly every day, in morning coffee for example. I believe cheese would be the hardest thing for me to give up. I think the big part about this diet is planning ahead and having options. Bittman is really good about laying out not only the technical part of why it is healthier to be vegan, but also strategies and tips for staying on track, meal plans and recipes. I’ve even found out that the book/idea is so popular that they’re creating an entire VB6 Cookbook to come out in 2014.  4 stars.

Dublin’s Strangest Tales: Extraordinary But True Stories by Michael Barry and Patrick Sammon

I randomly found this in the new history section, where I have found a great many good books, and decided to give it a spin because it was a relatively quick read. I’ve never been to Dublin, so it seemed like a good way to introduce me to the city’s history. Most of them, truth be told, weren’t extraordinary but just odd. My favorites were the one about the one on page 36 about early academic library practices, pg 42 about the most famous harp in Ireland, pg 61 about the Irish resurrectionists, and on pg 88 the true story about author Oscar Wilde’s parents. 3 stars.

Vegan For Her: The Woman’s Guide to Being Healthy and Fit on a Plant-Based Diet by Ginny Messina and J.L. Fields

The majority of the book expounded on the health benefits of being becoming a female vegan, and covered medical conditions that can be avoided or damages lessened by maintaining a plant-filled diet. I learned the importance of magnesium and Vitamins B12 and D supplements for all women, but especially for vegans as these vitamins and minerals are important for a healthy body. Magnesium is especially important if you have a history of migraines, as I do. The back section of the book had vegan recipes, and I marked a few, including Coconut-Mango-Avocado Smoothie, Mediterranean Beans with Greens, and Creamy Kale Miso Soup. There are also resources for Vegan Women, including books and resources about veganism, vegan fashion and activism. Overall it was a good and complete guide to veganism for women. 3 stars.

Seoultown Kitchen: Korean Pub Grub to Share with Family and Friends by Debbie Lee

I have been waiting forever for this cookbook, and finally found a copy via interlibrary loan. It sounded so fascinating, a Korean-American girl raised in the Deep South, who uses aspect of both regions in her cooking to create Korean pub food. While there were a few good very original recipes, overall, I was not that impressed. The cookbook is divided into Food on Skewers, different kinds of Kimchi, Noodles, a whole section on Pork, Ground Meat, Fish, Tofu, Chicken/Egg, Vegetarian, and Cocktails. In addition, there is a section for general recipes such as stocks, an illustrated section on how-to’s (for example, how to clean squid or prepare rice cakes), and a list on online resources. 3 stars.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

Another blog turned into a cookbook, I had heard good reviews on this from other blogs that I read including Culinary Concoctions by Peabody and David Leibovitz. So I decided to see what all the fuss was about. The author is from NYC and cooks from a tiny apartment kitchen, is self-taught and and features a lot of amazing looking vegetarian food, as well as meat and sweets. She has anecdotal stories before each recipe, which makes them more personal. These are recipes you can make at home without too much effort, and she has lovely twists on traditional recipes like the Gingerbread Spice Dutch Baby. I grew up eating German pancakes, which are very similar, so I’m sure this breakfast pancake would be awesome. The Whole-Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones just look and sound amazing. Her vegetarian recipes like Vinegar Slaw with Cucumbers and Dill, Sugar Snap Salad with Miso Dressing, and Cranberry Bean Salad with Walnuts and Feta all sound easy enough to make and delicious to eat. That’s not even counting the Peach Dumplings with Bourbon Hard Sauce (insert drool) or the Blueberry Cornmeal Butter Cake that just look like food porn. After reading this, I signed up for her blog posts. 5 stars.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane written and narrated by Neil Gaiman

I have waited forever to read this book, trying to debate whether I wanted the book or audiobook version and finally settling on the audiobook as it had the shorter queue. Plus its voiced by the author, which always makes the narrated story better in my opinion. Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers because he’s so steeped and quite excellent at writing about mythology and incredible things that happen to quite normal characters. In this book, it happens to our main character, who is described throughout the story as a book worm. Those of us who read regularly, especially fantasy, know what it is to become so immersed in a book that it almost becomes our reality. As a friend of mine has said in her review of the book: “Our narrator here does us book worms credit, using the books he’s read as guides on how to navigate this world where reality takes a back seat.” I, as my friend did, found it interesting that only the women in the book had names and how powerful it was to know someone’s name. The folktale “Rumpelstiltskin” comes to mind when talking about this kind of power. My friend also said “The first thing I thought about [when considering the Hempstock ladies] were the literary archetypes of the crone, the mother, and the maiden.  Then again, I think those archetypes can also be found in the pagan traditions as well.” She is correct, in Greek mythology we have Hecate who shows up as the crone, matron and maiden, and in Celtic mythology, we have The Morrigan (aka Badb, Macha and Nemain).

Our narrator, simply referred to here as “the boy” is an adult when the book starts, but the story goes back to when he was seven years old and had an amazing experience related to the farm he is currently visiting in the present. He wanders down the lane of his town to discover an eleven year old girl named Lettie Hempstock who takes him to a world within a world on an adventure. Only there are consequences to this trip, which come in the form of a vindictive woman named Ursula Monkton, who becomes the boy’s babysitter while his parents are at work. She reminded me of The Other Mother character in Gaiman’s book “Coraline”.  She delights in torturing the boy and making others do the same. Lettie and her mother and grandmother are the only ones who can save the boy and they use their special kind of magic to do so. The book was a creepy fantasy with a touch of horror, but was such a well-written story that I didn’t want it to end. Highly recommended , 5 stars.

The Revenant of Thraxton Hall: The Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle written by Vaughn Entwistle

 See here