Archive for March, 2014

50th Anniversary Special2

My husband I finally finished watching the first seven of the new seasons of Doctor Who for the 9-11th Doctors, including the 50th Anniversary Special (pictured above) and the 2013 Christmas Episode. Once you’ve seen the Anniversary Special, which discusses what exactly the War Doctor (the one in between the 8th and 9th Doctors – played by the amazing John Hurt) did, you’ll understand more about the later Doctors, nine through eleven. The War Doctor was the one at the very end of the Time War between the Time Lords of Gallifrey and the Daleks (their sworn mortal enemy) of Skaro.  All of the later incarnations are always feel ashamed or very conflicted about what they did  and whether or not it was the right thing to do. As I’ve not watched a lot of the older episodes, I really had no idea, so it was nice for them to explain it a bit more.


I really enjoyed watching all the episodes and I definitely gained a new appreciation for Matt Smith, who played the 11th Doctor. I talked about the 9th and a bit about the 10th Doctor in this previous post, both of which I loved watching. David Tennant (the 10th Doctor) is my favorite version. Plus he had my favorite companions, Rose and Donna (pictured above). I actually liked Martha Jones, the 10th Doctor’s companion in-between the other  two, though my husband did not much care for her. FYI all the links to the Doctor Who Wikia above for Rose, Donna and Martha do give away a lot of plot, so if you want to watch the episodes, don’t read all the way through the articles).

Amy, Rory and the Doctor

The 11th Doctor took a little getting used to as he was totally different from the other two, and not just in the fact that the actor himself was quite a bit younger. The 11th Doctor is also brooding, but he gets really angry, while at the same time managing to act very child-like. It’s hard to explain without watching the show, but I think the child-like wonder and curiosity part of his personality is why he got along so well with the women in the show, as they share this trait. He discovered Amy Pond when she was 7, and he is frequently dealing with children throughout the show. He sees River Song when she is a baby and can calm her down no problem. This was also the first show where there was a husband and wife companion team, in the guise of Rory Williams and Amy Pond (pictured above), who the Doctor loved to call “The Ponds”. Rory definitely grows on you, though it did take a season or two. Despite what my husband thinks, I actually like Amy as a Companion, though I much prefer Clara (pictured below). She was more like Rose and Donna – feisty, curious and not taking any crap from the Doctor. Another reason I like Matt Smith’s time as the Doctor is that one of my favorite writers, Neil Gaiman, wrote two of the episodes. I loved The Doctor’s Wife episode as I could totally see the TARDIS behaving like that is she was a real person. In Nightmare in Silver, we saw the two halves of the Doctor, and it was very Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.


The only problem with 50th Anniversary Special and a few others during Smith’s tenure, including the last Christmas episode and most of the ones we deemed “too weird” like the one where there are two Amys (The Girl Who Waited), or the last Amy/Rory/Weeping Angels episode (The Angels Take Manhattan) are that they were written by Stephen Moffat. He is the show’s lead writer and executive producer, who took over after the brilliant writer Russell Davies left for Hollywood. You know that gesture where you shake your fist at the sky bemoaning a particular fact. Well my husband and I apply that to Moffat whenever he gives us insanely weird plots or paradoxical endings, like the final non-Christmas episode of Season 7. Despite this, I still think he is a good writer, as he did write for the BBC show Sherlock and the movie The Adventures of Tin-Tin (both of which I enjoyed). Plus I do like the majority of his episodes, and he has written some pretty memorable Doctor Who quotes. I can’t wait to see Season 8, though it sucks that it won’t start until August.

I’ve written a little poem, which describes the show and the different Doctors (nine through eleven once again) and their companions. I don’t get excited to write poetry much anymore, so I’ll take inspiration from wherever I can find it.

Raggedy Doctor and The Destroyer of Worlds
My hubby and I started re-watching
the new Doctor Who series
that started back in 2005,
at the end of last year.
We’ve seen them all before,
or at least through the end of the sixth season,
when my hubby lost interest the first time around.
Now it’s funny
because my two-year old son gets so excited
and can’t wait to watch the show.
Watching them again
has made me start watching
some of the old doctors from the 1960s and 70s.

I can name most of the major villains
including Daleks, Sontarians, and Cybermen.
I know the meaning of the word TARDIS,
and can identify the sound of one landing.
I wish I had a Sonic Screwdriver,
and find that the phrases Allons-y
and Are You My Mummy?
have become part of my Whovian lexicon.
I frequently get the show music
stuck in my head.
I’ve even thought about wearing
a Doctor Who costume
to my local Comic Con.

The Ninth Doctor
sadly only lasted one season.
I loved Christopher Eccleston’s portrayal of the Doctor
because he was so brooding,
probably contemplating his role in the last Time War,
which had occurred not that long ago.
Yet you can see
how much he wants to help people.
The flip-side of his personality was
that he was always saying something cheeky,
making you want to slap him for his impudence.
Rose was his companion,
and we got to see her go from
a loud Chav to a person willing to fight for the people she loves,
and changing the Doctor for the better.

The Tenth Doctor is my favorite.
David Tennant just brought so much curiosity,
quirkiness, and passion to the role,
as well as a real love of all things Whovian.
Rose really fell in love with this version of the Doctor,
and was devastated
when she was trapped in a parallel universe
without him.
Martha Jones was his next companion,
and she really grew into her own with him,
as an independent woman and as a doctor,
though she had to leave
because of her unrequited love.
Donna Noble was his last companion,
and in my opinion the best.
“Donna Noble has left the library;
Donna Noble has been saved,”
was one of the most memorable lines
during her time as a companion.
Though a bit daft,
she could hold her own with him,
and would always tell him her opinion.
She was one of the few women
who could travel with him
and not fall in love.
Sadly, he had to leave her behind,
with her memory erased.

The Eleventh Doctor,
Matt Smith,
really helped to mainstream
and popularize the show
in the US.
Amy Pond’s Raggedy Doctor
first shows up
when she is seven years old,
and shows up again twelve years later.
She is reluctant to go with him,
and will only do so
if he returns her in the morning.
She is engaged to goofy Rory,
who loves her more than anything,
but you can’t help but wonder at first
if she is settling,
because the Doctor wasn’t there.
My hubby believes
Rory is the most annoying person
on the planet,
and at one point
made a drawing of him
being blown up by Daleks.
He is the reason
my husband stopped watching
the first time around.

There is a crack in the universe
that manifests itself on Amy’s bedroom wall,
and this allows her to become an anomaly
in regards to space and time.
This becomes especially apparent
when Rory is erased from space and time,
but comes back as the last centurion,
Someone every woman wishes she had,
the man who waited for 2000 years
for his true love.
Amy and Rory are the first wife-husband team
to travel with the Doctor.

River Song should be mentioned
in this ode to Doctor Who
even though she’s not technically
his companion.
She’s the badass archaelogist
with enough spunk
and knowledge of the TARDIS
to impress anyone.
Ican’t give too much more away,
because that would be “Spoilers”,
as she likes to say.
She’s my favorite character on the show.
Sometimes I wish they would do
a spin-off show,
where we can see more of her adventurous hijinks.

Clara is the last companion
of the eleventh Doctor,
and she is one of my favorites.
like River, Donna, and Rose
have the most personality.
She is someone I would want
in my corner
if I was ever in a bind.
The Doctor can’t figure her out,
as he keeps meeting up with her
throughout history.
This conundrum
is eventually explained,
But finding out,
definitely keeps you on the edge of your seat,
until the answer is finally revealed.

My son went through a phase where he absolutely loved “Goodnight Moon,” so I can definitely identify with this. It is a very neat perspective and a great paper as well.

Nerdy Book Club

Hello, Nerdy Book Club. I am going to keep my wrap-around comments brief on this post so that I can share with you one of the personal narratives that came in earlier in the school year from a student who took in the assignment, processed what the assignment was asking, and then approached the teacher’s desk at the end of the block.

“I know what we are supposed to write, but I am wondering if I can try something different. Would it be okay if I tried something different?”

Here is that “different” personal narrative. . .

“Whisper My Story” by Sarah Shelton

Personal Narrative for AP English Language and Composition 2013-2014

All at once, the suppressive darkness that was my life disappeared with a single, quick jerk. The sudden light was a shock, and I had no idea how to respond. Slowly, blurry outlines replaced the stark white world…

View original post 1,098 more words

Children and Young Adult

The Wishing Spell (The Land of Stories, #1) written and narrated by Chris Colfer


The author plays Kurt Hummel on the TV musical show “Glee”, and he is one of my favorite characters. I had no idea that he was a writer as well, and but I love fairy tales retellings, so I figured why not give the book a try. I thought he did a pretty good job considering this is his first novel. I especially liked him singing the Magic Harp’s song. The story was a little predictable, but there were enough twists to keep it interesting. I am interested in what happens with the rest of the series.

The book is about twins Alex and Conner, who couldn’t be more different. Alex is an incredibly smart and perceptive bookworm, who most of her classmates resent and tease because of it. Conner is completely laid-back and is constantly falling asleep in class, but never lacks for friends. The twins’ dad died in a car accident about a year ago, and they had to sell their house. Their mother takes double shifts at the hospital to pay for the growing number of overdue bills, and can’t see her children as much as she would like. So the whole family is dealing with a lot. For their twelfth birthday, the twins receive the book their paternal grandmother always read to them growing up, The Land of Stories. They quickly learn that this is not the average book, as the fall into it and end up in another world. Once they arrive there, Alex does not want to leave, but feels she owes it to her brother to try. So they set out on a quest to find the mythical Wishing Spell, by following a map and journal, and meet many famous fairy-tale characters along the way. The only problem with this quest is that they’re not the only ones trying to find the items for the Wishing Spell, so the twins have to get there first. Will the twins ever be able to make it home? Recommended for ages 9-13, 3 ½ stars.

Newbery Challenge

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, narrated by Cassandra Campbell

I’ve heard about and seen this book for years, but never managed to pick up a copy until I needed one for my Newbery Challenge. This book won the 2007 Newbery Award and rightly so, as it was a great book, though a bit random. Lucky was a quirky fascinating character and I kept hoping that things would get better for her, and they eventually did. I liked how the author described in the interview after the book how she “wanted to create a book that makes you cry and hope, like Charlotte’s Web.” I know I did.

Lucky is a 10 year old girl whose birth mother is killed by a lightning strike in the beginning of the book. Her father’s French ex-wife takes up guardianship of her, and they live together in her mother’s trailer in Hard Pan, California (population 43). Her best friend is Lincoln, a quiet sincere boy who loves to tie knots. Lucky’s dog is named H.M.S. Beagle, after Charles Darwin’s exploration ship to the Galapagos, and Lucky wants to be a famous scientist like Darwin. She carries around a survival kit because you never know what will happen.

Lucky cleans up trash outside the FoundWindchimeMuseum, which is home to Hard Pan’s 12 Step programs for Alcholics, Overeaters and Smokers. She is convinced after listening in on a couple of the meetings that she needs to find a higher power, but she doesn’t know what that would be. After hitting rock bottom, she decides to run away. Will Lucky ever discover her higher power? Will she find the love she has been seeking since her mother died? To find out, read this great story. Recommended for ages 9-12, 5 stars.

Maniac Magee written by Jerry Spinelli, narrated by S. Epatha Merkerson

I probably would never have picked up this book if I wasn’t reading it for the Newbery challenge. This book was the 1991 Newbery Award winner. The description is not very appealing. However, the writing is fabulous and vividly descriptive. It is a great story for kids (especially boys), as the author made it sound like a classic tall tale, plus it has short chapters to keep them interested longer. I loved the story about McNab, the baseball pitcher at the beginning of the book and the interactions later between Grayson and Maniac. The narrator, S. Epatha Merkerson (you probably know her from the TV show “Law & Order”) did a fantastic job at getting all the nuances of how kids talk and their incredulity at Maniac’s story. I was totally drawn in by her narration of the story.

Jeffrey “Maniac” Magee’s parents died when he was little and he lived with his aunt and uncle for about 8 years before finally having enough at age 11 and leaving. He starts running and eventually ends up in Two Mills, Pennsylvania, where he starts creating his legend. He ends up staying and creating a family, first with the Beall’s in the East End of town, with a lonely old man named Grayson at the baseball stadium, with the McNab family (although this was short-lived) on the West End of town, and finally again with the Bealls.

There is a lot in the story about race relations and prejudice, as the town is very definitively separated into white (West End) and black (East End) sections of town. These two topics are very hard to discuss, especially with children, but I think the author handled it really well. Maniac never seems to understand the term “black,” as he doesn’t see the inhabitants of the East End as such. He sees them as “gingersnap and light fudge and dark fudge and acorn and butter rum and cinnamon and burnt orange. But never licorice, which, to him, was real black.” In the end, it doesn’t matter that he is a homeless white kid, he is welcomed by everyone, and makes friends on both sides of town. Highly recommended for ages 9-13, 5 stars.

Paperboy by Vince Vawter, narrated by Lincoln Hoppe

I picked this one because it seemed the most interesting out of the 2014 Newbery Honor award winners. I enjoyed this story way more than I thought I would, to be honest. I guess it’s because I can always identify with children who are slightly different from other kids, as I was always seen as a bit of a weird loner as a pre-teen/teenager. The narrator, Lincoln Hoppe, really grew on me through the course of the books. I liked that the story was semi-autobiographical, and the main character’s real name is even closely related to the author’s name.

We are introduced to the protagonist, Vincent, although we don’t find out his name till the very end of the book, in the summer of his eleventh year. He is living in segregated Memphis, Tennessee in 1959. He has a stutter, and uses what his speech therapist calls “gentle air” to push his letters out, so he stutters less. Vincent is looked after by his African-American live-in housekeeper, Ms. Nellie, who he calls M’am as it is easier for him to pronounce. As a result of his stuttering, he is kind of isolated from other kids and most adults just think he is slow-witted. Vincent tries to pronounce his name, but has trouble with the consonants that start it. He is best friends with Art, who he calls Rat because it is, again, easier to pronounce. He is an excellent baseball pitcher, but accidently busts Rat’s lip when Rat was catching for him one day. So Vincent decided that he would take over Rat’s paper route for the month of July while Rat was at his grandparent’s farm.

The paper route is a big deal for the narrator, who is not only taking on more responsibility, but also must put up with some interesting characters on his route during the week and on Friday especially, when he is charged with picking up subscription money. He sees a young boy with his face right up against a TV and nicknames him TV Boy as he is always watching the screen. Vincent meets Mrs. Worthington, a housewife who drowns her sorrows in whiskey, with whom he is smitten (probably for the first time in his life). My favorite character is Mr. Spiro, a Merchant Marine, who spends all his spare time reading books. He doesn’t talk down to the narrator like the other adults in his life tend to do, and the narrator loves listening to him talk and having conversations with him.

The other adult that he deals with on a regular basis is Ara T, the local African-American junk man. M’am does not like him and is always warning the narrator to stay away from him, but usually his curiosity gets the better of him. He loans Ara T his knife for him to sharpen, but Ara T won’t give it back. Once M’am finds out about the knife, she disappears for a few days and comes back all beat up. What is really going on between M’am and Ara T? Will the narrator ever get his knife back? To find out, read this well-done book. Recommended for ages 9-12 (though B**** is used a couple of times), 4 stars.

Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Robert Byrd

Good Masters Sweet Ladies

I have been fascinated by Medieval History since I was probably about 12 years old or so, so I am always interested to read books about the period. This book has been on to-read list for awhile, but I’ve not managed to get around to it until I decided to do the Newbery Challenge. I think it is so cool that this 2008 Newbery Award winning book was created by a children’s librarian/storyteller/playwright whose kids were studying the Middle Ages and she wanted to create monlogues for them all to have a part. I loved the illustrations by Robert Byrd! I also find it fascinating that the author uses so many period terms and phrases. For example a “villein” is a term to describe a person who is owned by the lord and is essentially a slave and a “sniggler” is someone who catches eels.

The book follows a group of children that live in the manor, work for the local lord, and/or live in the village surrounding the manor. It’s pretty fascinating because the text of the monologues is taken from all the different children’s perspectives and backgrounds, like the lord’s daughter who gets mud on her silk dress (which is now ruined), followed by a girl who threw mud at her because she was frustrated with her lot in life (but realizes that deep down they’re probably not that different). There is  the miller’s son who no one likes because they think his family cheats them and his only friend, the village half-wit (who is actually pretty clever in some ways). It also gives informational text for the history and culture brought up in the text, like why the Crusades happened, why people in the Middle Ages went on pilgrimages and Jews in Medieval Society. Recommended for ages 7-12, 5 stars.

Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Rick Allen

The Mushrooms from The Dark Emperor and Other Poems of the Night

I had already read One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia as one the Newbery Honor winners for 2011, but I love owls and poetry, so I decided to give this book a try as well. It was a very quick read, as the poems are only one page long and the opposite page is one giant print and then there is a small scientific description on what is featured in the print/poem. I loved the gorgeous illustrations by Rick Allen. They reminded me of artists like Mo Willems, not for the style but for the fact that each page and nearly every picture featured a little Red Newt (Willems always puts the Pigeon in his books, usually in the end pages). The poems, as the title suggests are about creatures that only come out at night. My favorite poem is the one about the owl, aka “the dark emperor”, because it is a concrete poem and it is in the shape of an owl. I also enjoyed the one about the baby porcupine, which are called porcupettes. I thought it was a really-well done book that is not only informative, but fun to read as well. Highly recommended for ages 6-10, 5 stars.

Young Adult

Dust of Eden written by Mariko Nagai

The Summer I Found You by Jolene Perry

One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva


The Setting Sun: A Memoir of Empire and Family Secrets by Bart Moore-Gilbert

Around the World in 80 Dishes by David Loftus

 I got to say that despite not really caring for most of the recipes, I thought the concept of this cookbook was ingenious. As you probably guessed, it is a riff off of the Jules Verne classic “Around the World in Eighty Days,” except it is 80 dishes. I’ve never read the original book, but after reading this cookbook, it is definitely on my to-read list. Each section starts with a selection from the book and the area that it details. Our voyage starts in London, goes from there to India, Hong Kong, Japan, San Francisco, across the US to New York City, and from there back to London. Loftus got his good friend Jamie Oliver to contribute several recipes, in addition to other famous chefs like Nigella Lawson, Heston Blumenthal and many more. The food photography in the book is stunning. I marked a couple of recipes including Overnight Lamb Shanks with Figs and Honey, Aouda’s Champagne Cocktail, Chilled Minted Cucumber and Honeydew Soup (would be great for the summer here in Phoenix), and Pomegranate and Persimmon Salad. 4 stars.

The Ghost and the Graveyard (Knight Games #1) by Genevieve Jack

Grateful Knight is a down-on-her-luck nurse, whose ex-boyfriend ran off with all her money. Her father bailed her out by setting her up in a house in Red Grove, a place out in the country, for her to put her life back together. The only thing he neglected to tell her was that it was right next to a cemetery. Oh yeah, and it is haunted by two ghosts, one of which helped bring her into this world. On her way to the house, she notices the incredibly hot cemetery caretaker named Rick, who is very interested in getting to know her better. The only problem is, one of the ghosts named Logan, is also very appealing to her. Who will she choose?

Overall I enjoyed the book, especially because although it was clearly a romance/erotica story, the majority of the book was about the Grateful discovering who she really is and the supernatural elements that are attached to that. My only gripes were the corny aspects of the main storyline, particularly the explanations of how she will come into her powers, the main character’s name, and the ending (it ended rather abruptly). After awhile, though the name seems to matter less, and is definitely a memorable one. I’m curious to see what will happen in the next book. 3 ½ stars.

A Fine Romance: Falling In Love with the English Countryside written and illustrated by Susan Branch

This book was recommended by my friend Rebecca because she thought I would like it, as my husband is English, I love traveling around the UK, and I am a bit of an Anglophile. I was lucky to find it via interlibrary loan from Albuquerque. It’s an interesting book because it reads like a diary, but includes drawings, watercolor illustrations, and photographs taken by author.

The book is about the author meeting and falling in love with the man who would eventually become her husband in 1987, despite the fact that she had given up on love after a messy divorce. They visited England in 2004 together and loved it, but had always wanted to go back and explore the country more in-depth. So for their 25th Anniversary, they take the trans-Atlantic ocean liner Queen Mary 2 back to England. It is a very luxurious ship and reminds me, as the author also notes, of movies from the 1930s and 40s, when everyone traveled by boat across the Atlantic.

They landed in Southampton, England and then had to tackle driving on the other side of the road and car (with no prior experience), which was rather hilarious to read. I’ve lived in Scotland, so I know how confusing the signs and roads can be at times, as a passenger or pedestrian. Susan and her husband have roughly two months to visit the country, and start driving and visiting the South (called the Garden of England), and heads up towards the Lake District in NW England, where she finally gets to visit Hill Top (the farm of Beatrix Potter, who is someone the author really admires). From there, they go to York and then the Cotswolds. They visit small villages, a lot of National Trust historic properties, and a Cathedral. They also get to stay in a lot of gorgeous cottages. The book also features recipes of food that they ate along the way, such as Roasted Shallots, Pimm’s Cup, and Orange-Lavender Polenta Cake. 4 stars.

Book Reviews March 2014

This past weekend I went to the Tucson Book Festival and had a bit of a fangirl moment when I got to see Young Adult author Chris Crutcher and got him to sign my copy of his latest book. I was first introduced to the author’s work when I was in Grad School for Library and Information Science and was taking a class on YA literature. We had to do a paper on a banned book and why it was banned. I picked Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes  (to be further abbreviated as SFFSB) because I had never read any of his stuff and I liked his book the best out of the ones we had to choose from. I read a couple of them, for example The Perks of Being a Wallflower, just to figure out which I wanted to write on. It’s weird but I had never heard of  SFFSB, even though it came out when I was a teenager, but I rather enjoyed the book. The funny part was trying to explain the book to my mother, who immediately thought the book was horrible based on the number of times it cursed (there was a lot, I counted) or mentioned delicate topics like masturbation or abortion. I was also excited to see Chris Crutcher because I know how firmly he is on preventing censorship for teens, a topic that he has spoken on in length not only on his website (including SFFSB) but other public forums like magazines and the Book Festival. I sadly missed the lecture there because I mixed up the times. I also saw a very brief glimpse of Lois Lowry (who had signed a copy of The Giver for me about 5 yrs ago in South Carolina) and sat for part of a talk given by Laurie Halse Anderson, who wrote Chains.

I’ve been making some real progress on the Newbery Challenge list this last month, so I’m rather proud of that. I’m trying to get better about picking advanced reader’s copy books that I can actually finish and write a review on, as I have been finding books that are very visual (graphic novels and children’s nonfiction) but can only be viewed in Adobe Digital Editions, and not my Kindle. Now that I have a laptop again, that problem should be a little bit easier to solve. I’m currently listening to Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata on audiobook. I’m reading Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo, the newest Newbery Award winning book, which is absolutely hilarious

As usual I rate books on a scale of 1 – 5 stars, with one being the lowest and five the highest. I am still trying to finish my Caldecott (need link) Challenge, and with all the winners and honors. I’m down to 18 books left to read. I’m also completing a Newbery Challenge, where I’m reading all (need link) the award winners and at least one honor book. I apologize in advance for the length of this post. It seems I have been a lot busier than I thought in the last month. So much so that I will have to split my normal book reviews post into two. The first one will be Children’s books and Caldecott, and the second one will be Newbery (Children and Young Adult), Young Adult, and Adult books.


Pomelo Explores Color written by Ramona Badescu, illustrated by Benjamin Chaud

The Happy Gray of Rain - Pomelo Explores Color

I like the idea of a tiny pink Elephant named Pomelo, the illustrations were super cute (they would be great for individual prints to decorate a child’s bedroom), and the ideas for color descriptions were very original. However, I think this book, like its predecessor (insert title) fell a little flat. Let me explain. The book is all about Pomelo and his friends learning about different colors and how amazing it is to live in a multi-colored world. That part is fine. It seems like the intended audience for this book is toddlers/preschoolers who are just learning their colors, and despite the small pages, I don’t think this age group will pay attention for the entire length of the book. It is something like 70 pages. My 2 ½ year old lost interest somewhere around the second color. They definitely thought outside the box when picking the color descriptions, like “the mysterious blue of dreams”, “the comforting white of dandelions” and “the foamy white of hot milk”. The book would make a fun creative book for older kids, maybe do a lesson on colors or poetry. Recommended for ages 3+, 3 stars.

Clickety Clack written by Rob and Amy Spence, illustrated by Margaret Spengler

I picked this up for my son because of his train obsession and it was funny because as soon as he saw the cover, he yells out “Clickety-Clack” and I was like “Wow, can he read that?” (he’s only 2 ½ ). Then I realized he probably has listened to it at daycare, and he said some of the repeating phrases along with me as I was reading the book. Needless to say, it was a huge hit with him. I enjoyed it too. I mean how can you not love a book with talking yaks, quacking ducks and mice who use fireworks! As I said earlier, the text repeats itself so a child can easily follow the pattern. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

The Mysterious Tadpole written and illustrated by Steven Kellogg

The Mysterious Tadpole

I love Steven Kellogg’s illustrations, they just remind me of my childhood.  So when I saw this book for sale at a local used bookstore, I immediately bought it. I enjoyed the story more than my son did, mostly because I’m not sure he really understood what was going on, but he liked the illustrations. I have to admit I was cheering a bit when he went to the librarian for help.

Every year, Uncle McAllister gets a really cool present for Louis’ birthday. This year he sent Louis a tadpole, which Louis just loves and even brings to show and tell at school. He names it Alphonse, discovers that he likes cheeseburgers, and Alphonse just keeps getting bigger and bigger. He outgrows the jar he came in, the kitchen sink and the bathtub. He is definitely not the frog that his teacher originally thought he was.

So Louis smuggles Alphonse into the junior high swimming pool, and becomes a paperboy so he can keep feeding him his favorite food. When the swimming coach finds out about the creature, he tells Louis he has to be removed immediately. What is Louis going to do? He needs a permanent place to put Alphonse, but his parents can’t afford to buy a pool. So he enlists the help of Miss Seever, the school librarian. Will she be able to help Louis and Alphonse? To find out, read this charming story.  Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

All Aboard! written by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Amiko Hirao

Another train book I picked out for my son, but he lost interest after a couple of pages. The concept was an interesting one, but some aspects of the story weren’t immediately recognizable, and thus made the book rather confusing. The book starts off with a rabbit named Mr. Barnes, who is going on a long train trip. He is completely surrounded by animals on the train, except for a little girl, who no one else seems to be able to see. I liked pointing out all the animals and getting my son to name them. But the story just keeps going and going, with no possible end in sight. At the end of the book, the reader finds out that the little girl is the actual subject of the book and Mr. Barnes is her stuffed rabbit that she brought along with her for the extended train trip to her grandparent’s house. I enjoyed the illustrations. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 ½ stars.

Huge Harold written and illustrated by Bill Peet

I will admit that when I saw the cover illustration for this book, I wondered if it was influenced by Harvey, that Jimmy Stewart movie about man with the imaginary 6 ft tall rabbit companion. I really enjoyed this story about a young rabbit who can’t stop growing, though I know my son was a bit disappointed that there weren’t any trains in it. Harold outgrows his family and must seek refuge in the deep forest, but he only finds predators though, so he must run away.

He finds a field full of yummy vegetables, but the farmer doesn’t appreciate him eating his produce and tries to shoot him. Harold hides in an abandoned mansion during a storm and my favorite illustration from this scene is Harold completely overwhelming a tiny twin bed as he is sleeping in it. Two boys see him and tell some farmers, who chase him for months. Harold finally finds refuge in a barn, where a kind farmer lets him stay and then he ends up being a “thoroughbred” racer. Recommended for ages 4-7,  4 stars.

The Insomniacs written by Karina Wolf, illustrated by the Brothers Hilts

I picked this one up not because I thought my son would like it, but because I loved the cover art (it is even better inside). The book was about the Insomniac family, a working mom, a stay-at-home father and their daughter Mika. The mom takes a job on the other side of the world, twelve hours away, and the family is unable to go to sleep at night. After the whole family is falling asleep in the morning, they decide to do something about it. They try to go find a bear, thinking that they hibernate through the winter so must know how to sleep at night, but are unsuccessful. So they decide that they will stay awake at night and go to bed in the morning, this plan is pretty successful. I loved the illustrations by the Brothers Hilts, they were so quirky and fun. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Train written by Elisha Cooper

I picked this up immediately when I saw it at the library, for my son. It starts out with a commuter train, which goes from the small towns to the big city, then switches to a passenger train that goes longer distances. From there, we see a freight train with an incredibly long line of attached freight cars containing things like steel, oil and wheat. Next is the Overnight Train with its sleeping berths and tiny bathrooms, and finally the High Speed Train.  I loved the illustrations of all the different kinds of trains, and the little details like the animals that were passed by the train at the bottom of the pages. My only gripe was that the book was way too long for my son, as a read-aloud book. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 ½ stars.

While Mama had a quick little chat written by Amy Reichert, illustrated by Alexandra Boinger

While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat

I picked this one up for myself because the premise seemed amusing. I really enjoyed the look of the illustrations. The premise to this rhyming story is that Mama gets a phone call from Uncle Fred and just wants to have a “quick little chat”, and so her daughter Rose must get ready for bed. But before Rose can really get started, there is someone ringing the doorbell saying they’ve got party supplies to deliver, so she lets them in. Then all these guests, waiters, and musicians start arriving and pretty soon she has a full house, and her mother is still on the phone. Part of me wondered how on earth the mother couldn’t hear all these people coming in to her house and a party going on, and the other half was just in awe of the story wondering how it would end. Will Rose be able to get rid of everyone and make it to bed before her mother finishes her chat? To find out, read this captivating book. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 ½ stars.

Chester the Worldly Pig written and illustrated by Bill Peet

I had seen this book at the library book sale, but had not picked it up because I had never read the book, but decided to try to read it at the library when I got the chance. I’m glad I did. It was a cute story. Chester decides as a piglet that if he wants to avoid the common ending of a pig (being made into food), then he needs to do something extraordinary. He eventually manages, after much trial and tribulation to balance on his nose on the top of a fence post. He waits for the circus train to pass the farm so he can be noticed, but ends up taking it upon himself to do it as the circus folk were all asleep when the train passes. He is quickly discovered and put in the show, though after being put in an act with some tigers and being so terrified he couldn’t perform, he is re-delegated to the clown’s baby buggy and later chained up so he can’t escape. He does eventually manage to escape off the train, only to run into a wild bear and then a group of Hobos, who both try to eat him. He decides that he’s had enough and goes to a farm, where he does live the life of a pig and grow fat. On the day he is to be slaughtered for food, he is saved by a traveling showman for double his worth. Can you guess why? To find out, read this enchanting story. Recommended for ages 4-8, 3 stars.

Fortunately, the Milk Written by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young

Fortunately the Milk's Aliens

I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages, but it is always checked out. This book is Neil Gaiman at his zaniest, which I just love! The illustrations were hilarious and really made the story even funnier. The book is all about a family with two kids. The mom has gone away to a conference and the father is left in charge. When the kids get up in the morning to eat cereal for breakfast, they realize that they are completely out of milk. So the dad goes to the store to get some more and he is gone “for ages and ages.” When he finally returns he has quite the tale to tell. He claims he was on the way back from the shop when he is abducted by aliens, goes back in time and end up on a pirate ship, gets rescued by a dinosaur professor, does some more time travel and meets some vampires. All in one morning, of course! The children do not believe his story, as they think he just took elements from around their kitchen, like the sister’s book on vampires and the son’s dinosaur toys. But they’re not quite sure as he does have the infamous milk. Highly recommended for ages 6-10, 5 stars.

Hello Mr. Hulot! by David Merveille, according to Jacques Tati

I picked up this book browsing the children’s section. This is one of those books that I think I would like if I had grown up in a French-speaking country or knew the films of Jaques Tati, who was apparently famous for originally creating the tragic comic character. David Merveille took Mr. Hulot and converted him to a wordless picture book, which is pretty ingenious if you think about it. I loved the 1930s-looking illustrations and the crazy situations Mr. Hulot seems to constantly find himself in. Recommended for ages 6-10, 3 stars.

Clickety Clack written by Rob and Amy Spence, illustrated by Margaret Spengler

I picked this up for my son because of his train obsession and it was funny because as soon as he saw the cover, he yells out “Clickety-Clack” and I was like “Wow, can he read that?” (he’s only 2 ½ ). Then I realized he probably has listened to it at daycare, and he said some of the repeating phrases along with me as I was reading the book. Needless to say, it was a huge hit with him. I enjoyed it too. I mean how can you not love a book with talking yaks, quacking ducks and mice who use fireworks! As I said earlier, the text repeats itself so a child can easily follow the pattern. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

All Aboard! written by Mary Lyn Ray, illustrated by Amiko Hirao

Another train book I picked out for my son, but he lost interest after a couple of pages. The concept was an interesting one, but some aspects of the story weren’t immediately recognizable, and thus made the book rather  confusing. The book starts off with a rabbit named Mr. Barnes, who is       going on a long train trip. He is completely surrounded by animals on the train, except for a little girl, who no one else seems to be able to see.  I liked pointing out all the animals and getting my son to name them. But the story just keeps going and going, with no possible end in sight. At the end of the book, the reader finds out that the little girl is the actual subject of the book and Mr. Barnes is her stuffed rabbit that she brought along with her for the extended train trip to her grandparent’s       house. I enjoyed the illustrations. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 ½ stars.

Caldecott Challenge

All Around Town written by Phyllis McGinley, illustrated by Helen Stone

An inventive ABC rhyming book written for city kids, this book is a little dated. It won a 1949 Caldecott Honor. Some of the subject words were a little weak, but I thought overall the rhymes were excellent with good vocabulary. I will say that I always get a little bummed when people can’t come up with good word for the letter X and like to use “X-tra Large” or “Xtra Cheese” instead. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Mr. Wuffles! Written and illustrated by David Wiesner

Every time David Wiesner creates another wordless picture book, I swear he gets more and more imaginative. Though this one had been on my to-read list for awhile, it made an appearance sooner rather than later after winning a 2014 Caldecott Honor. Mr. Wuffles is a black and white cat (reminds me of my cat growing up). His owner keep buying him toys to play with, but he is never interested in any of them, until he finds a small spaceship-sized one. Only it’s actually a tiny spaceship complete with aliens, intent on colonizing our planet. They manage to escape from Mr. Wuffles under a countertop, and it is here that they meet ants and a ladybug. They befriend one another, and help each other to escape Mr. Wuffles’ clutches, and allow the aliens to return to their ship. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle


I realized after I read this book, that the author/illustrator also created Tea Rex, another recent book I’ve read that I thought was really creative and different. This books follows in the same vein, though this one is wordless. It reminds me a lot of Fantasia 2000 as the flamingos in that movie were practicing ballet as well. This book won a 2014 Caldecott Honor and rightly so. I just love not only the ballet positions but also the facial expressions on the little girl as she mirrors the flamingo. Recommended for ages 3-6, 4 stars.

The Wild Birthday Cake written by Lavinia R. Davis, illustrated by Hildegard Woodward

I had been putting off this one for awhile due to its length (a bit too long to read to my son). I really enjoyed the last book, Roger and the Fox, that I read by this author and illustrator team. This book won a 1950 Caldecott Honor, and it’s the best one I’ve read so far from that year.

Johnny is a young boy who has bought a backpack for himself, filled it with a lunch, and intends on going hiking in the woods. On the way there, he sees some of the people he regularly helps out with chores, but is too intent on his mission to stop. He also runs into the Professor, who is always rescuing animals from the nearby woods, and who reminds Johnny about his birthday party that afternoon. Johnny totally forgot about it, so he starts rushing around trying to find a suitable gift. He makes the Professor a card out of a piece of birch wood.

While on the edge of a pond, he spots some ducks flying overhead and then sees one in the pond. He decides that he wants to catch it for himself. He of course gets completely covered in mud in the process, and his mother refuses to allow him to keep the duck, even though it is injured. He brings it with him to the Professor’s house, and he shows the boy three ducklings that he’s found. Johnny adds his duck to the Professor’s pond, which turns out to be female, and she starts leading the ducklings. He asks the professor to keep the duck and fix its wing, and the professor decides to name the duck Birthday Cake. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.

Journey written and illustrated by Aaron Becker


This seems to be the year for wordless picture books, as all 2014’s Caldecott Honors books are wordless. This one has almost no color in the beginning, all white and grey illustrations, except for one item of importance that is colored in bright red. The basic storyline is a girl who is ignored by her parents and sister, so she finds a red crayon and draws a door on her bedroom wall. This opens and she finds herself in a forest somewhere else. It is here that the illustrations get more way more colorful. Her adventures continue until she meets a boy with a similar magical purple crayon. The illustrations, despite their lack of color, are full of imagination, whimsy, and lots of little details. I couldn’t wait to see what the girl would do next with her magical crayon. Recommended for ages 4+, 4 stars.

Juanita written and illustrated by Leo Politi


The author and illustrator Leo Politi can do everything. He creates delightful multicultural stories with adorable illustrations, and writes music and lyrics for his books (though some are traditional songs I believe). This is the third book I’ve read of his for the Caldecott Challenge, and this won a 1949 Caldecott Honor. The book is another book that starts on Olvera   Street (the same as his book Pedro, the Angel of Olvera   Street), which is the Hispanic part of Los Angeles. On the street are shops owned by Mexican families, including one named Juanita after the shop owner’s young daughter. Juanita is turning four years old and her parents have bought her a dove for her birthday, and her mother has sewn a beautiful pink and lace dress. Juanita takes the dove everywhere with her. On the day before Easter, the local Catholic Church has a Blessing of the Animals ceremony and all the local families and their pets attend, including Juanita in her new dress with her dove. After the day’s excitement, Juanita’s dress is hung back up for Easter Sunday and her mama sings her to sleep (the music/lyrics are included in the book). Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars.

Locomotive written and illustrated by Brian Floca


There was a bit of a wait on this book and I can understand why. This was a truly fascinating book and I know this, and the fabulously detailed illustrations, is why this book was the 2014 Caldecott Award Winner. The first thing I thought of while reading it was that it was like a G-rated version of the show “Hell on Wheels”, as it too is about building and traveling on the newly-created Transcontinental Railroad. We follow a family traveling from one end, which starts in Omaha, Nebraska and ends in Sacramento, California in 1869.

If you think about it, considering that sixty years earlier, people were using covered wagons to travel across the country, a steam-powered train was a pretty revolutionary way to travel.

Although the book was way too long for my son to sit down and listen completely through, he loved the up-close-and-personal brightly-colored watercolor, ink, and gouache painted illustrations of the train.

The end pages in the back of the book featured a diagram of a steam train and showed where all the components talked about in the book were, like the Johnson Bar (kind of like a car shifting control) and how the fire builds up the heat for the water, that is carried from the tender to the engine, to boil and create the steam used to power the train. The end pages in the front of the book show the route of the Transcontinental Railroad, which is helpful as they don’t always mention the state or territory in the book, usually just the city or town name that the train stops in. It also features the piece of legislation that created the idea for the Transcontinental Railroad, signed by President Lincoln. It is long for a picture book at 64 pages, but well-worth the effort of reading it aloud. Highly recommended for ages 5-10, 5 stars.

Henry, Fisherman: A Story of the Virgin Islands written and illustrated by Marcia Brown

Henry, Fisherman

One thing I love about the Caldecott Challenge is that I get to read and find all sorts of lovely new books, authors and illustrators. I have fallen in love with Marcia Brown’s work. This book was a 1950 Caldecott Honor. It is about a young boy named Henry who lives in the Virgin Islands. All of the male members of his family have been fishermen, and he can’t wait to be one himself. The story tells about Henry and his family, and what he does on a normal day. I love the bright and colorful illustrations! One day, Henry’s father lets him go fishing with him, and sends him down to unhook the fish traps, where Henry narrowly escapes from a shark. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

The Two Reds, written by Will, illustrated by Nicolas

I wasn’t a huge fan of their other book, Finders Keepers, but since this is also a Caldecott book, 1951 Caldecott Honors this time, I figured I would give it a try. It was a charming story. The Two Reds of the title are a young boy named Red (not his real name but he has red hair) and a homeless cat (whose real name equivalent is hilarious) also named Red that live in the same neighborhood. The boy and cat don’t like each other because they both like fish, but for different reasons. It is early in the morning and the cat is hungry, so he goes in search of food.

The boy goes out to play, and wants to ride a fruitman’s horse, but he is a work horse not a riding horse. Both Red the boy and Red the cat try to catch a pigeon. Red watches a group of boys called the Seventh Street Signal Senders performing a secret initiation, after he smells a fire, but they catch him watching and start chasing after him. Red the cat steals one of the fishman’s fresh fish and runs away, where he collides with Red the boy and each get away from their pursuers. They decide the other is not as bad as originally thought, and spend the rest of their time together. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

One Man Guy

One Man Guy


One Man Guy by Michael Barakiva

Published May 27, 2014

The blurb on Netgalley sounded interesting, so I decided to give the book a try. It was a really well-done book that through some brilliant quotes, it describes what it is like to be a shy Armenian boy in the process of growing up and becoming his own person. I have never met any Armenians before, so learning about a new culture is always a nice thing for me. The opening scene at the restaurant was hilarious, and the book definitely gives you a bird’s eye view of what it is like to grow up in an Armenian family. I especially like the whole emphasis on cooking your own food from scratch, and the author even includes a recipe for stuffed grape leaves Armenian-style.

Alek is a 14 year old boy whose parents just ruined his summer vacation by saying he can’t attend the tennis summer camp they promised he could go to (after forbidding him to join the team this year and cutting him off from his friends). Instead, he must go to summer school to get back on the Honor Track at his high school. Oh and on top of everything else, he is being left behind while his parents and older brother Nik go on their family vacation without him. Could this summer suck even more than it already does? Thankfully it does get better, after Alek meets Ethan, the coolest dude in school and they start hanging out. Ethan teaches Alek to relax and be his own person, and Alek finds himself unexpectedly falling for Ethan. Will Alek admit the truth about their relationship? Will they be able to stay together after Alek’s parents come home from vacation? Recommended for ages 13+, 4 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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