Tag Archive: Caldecott

Book Reviews June 2014

First off, I would like to apologize for the infrequency of my posts lately. I just finished my second week at my new job in the Youth Services dept of my local public library (which is awesome by the way) and even though it has less hours than my last job, I am more busy than before. Plus I’m also watching my son on my off days, so I don’t get as much computer time as I normally have been getting. I am really backed up on writing up book reviews as a result. I’ve finished all the ones for May and a few for June, but still have about 14 to do, so those will be on next month’s post. I kinda got burned out on the Newbery Medal/Honors List this last month, but will try to pick it up again after a break. I have managed to read 155 books so far this year, which is pretty good since the year is half over.I’ve been having pretty good luck with my Advanced Reader’s Copies too and there are a lot of interesting books coming out soon, so there will definitely be more posts about them in the future. I’m currently listening to Lloyd Alexander’s 3rd book in The Chronicles of Prydain series, called The Castle of Lyr. This sounds like it may be the most exciting book in the series so far! Crazy to think that these books were written in the late 1960s as they seem very modern and timeless. I just started an interesting nonfiction book called Sorry! The English and Their Manners by Henry Hitchings. I’m hoping to get some insights into the English, as I am an Anglophile and my husband and his family are from there.

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 Challenge, and with all the winners and honors. I’m down to 11 books left to read. I’m also completing a Newbery Challenge, where I’m reading all the award winners and at least one honor book.


Dog Loves Counting written and illustrated by Louise Yates

Dog Loves Counting

I adored her other book Dog Loves Books, so when I saw this in the library, I decided to get it for my son as his teacher says he needs to see more numbers in print form. It had the same precious illustrations as the last book, but even cuter (if that’s actually possible) with the addition of a dodo and a baby sloth! Dog loves books but loves reading so much he can’t fall asleep. So he picks up a book on creatures and starts counting them from 1 – 10 and back down again. I’m looking forward to checking out Dog Loves Drawing as well. Recommended for ages 2-5, 4 stars.

Little Chicken’s Big Day by Katie and Jerry Davis

Little Chickens Big Day

This book just grabbed my attention at the library with its bright happy colors and simple illustrations (I thought it was adorable), so decided to get it for my son. Little Chicken does everything his Momma orders him to do and always responds with “I hear you cluckin’ Big Chicken!”. One day while out with him Momma, he wanders off after a butterfly and gets lost. She soon finds him and they go home, where they read a story together and go to bed. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

Hey Mr. Choo Choo, Where Are You Going? written by Susan Wickberg, illustrated by Yumi Heo

Another train book I picked up for my son, the rhyming text and collage/painted illustrations really bring you into the story of this train taking children to the beach. My only gripe was that the book was a little long for my son. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

And the Train Goes… written and illustrated by William Bee

And the Train Goes...

I think my son’s favorite part of this book were the end pages with the many different colored train wheels. It’s kind of amazing that this whole book was done, illustration and text, on a computer. It’s also funny that without realizing till the end of the book that the author was English, I gave most of the characters English accents. The book is about a train leaving the station and all the people and cars of the train. At the end, a parrot repeats everything that was said, all the sounds and phrases. I liked the book but got bored with it as it just kept going on forever. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2-1/2 stars.

Waking Dragons written by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Derek Anderson

This has been a repeat read for my son, though the story is very simple. A young knight’s mother has left him a note to wake the dragons, so he does and gets them ready for the day. They take off their jammies, brush their teeth, eat breakfast, say goodbye to their mother and fly the young knight to Knight School (of course!). Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners written and illustrated by Laurie Keller

When I saw this at the library, I knew I had to check it out. I love otters and as always, my husband and I want our son to have good manners, so this seemed like the perfect vehicle for that. The book is about Mr. Rabbit and his new neighbors, an Otter family. He is telling another animal how he hopes the new neighbors aren’t rude, like his last neighbor, but have good manners and gives examples. It was a cute book but a bit long-winded. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Dinosaur Train written and illustrated by John Steven Gurney

Dinosaur Train

I think my son loves this book for the cover image alone. He kept going on and on about the giant feet and the T-Rex inhaling all the smoke. It is about a young boy named Jesse who really loved dinosaurs and trains (just like my son), and after drawing a picture of the two together, he gets invited on a real train operated by them. After exploring the train car by car, the whole train leans over to look at a volcano that Jesse has seen and it topples over. After helping to right the train, he gets to ride up front with the engineer and they head back to Jesse’s room. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

Mr. Putter and Tabby Take the Train (Mr. Putter and Tabby #8) written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Arthur Howard

I thought this was a pretty cute book, but I think my son was a little lost. Mr. Putter and his cat Tabby are friends with their next-door neighbors, Mrs. Teaberry and her bulldog Zeke. Mrs. Teaberry calls up Mr. Putter and asks him to join her on a short train trip. He reminisces and says how much he loves trains, even though he’s not been on one since he was a boy, and then agrees to go if they can take their respective pets. She assures him that it is possible but when they go to buy tickets, the ticket seller says no pets allowed. So they smuggle them on-board and have a grand old time. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss

Another Dr. Seuss book I’ve never read, I picked this up for my son because I know he likes the author/illustrator. This was an odd book. It was almost like he took all these single 2-page rhymes with illustrations that he had lying around and put them all in one book because it is not one continuous story, i.e. the fish, but a bunch of little stories. It was fun to read though, as it was rather silly, just a bit long for a nearly 3 year old. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2-1/2 stars.

Zella, Zack, and Zodiac written and illustrated by Bill Peet

I rather enjoyed this little story from Bill Peet, as did my son, who has become one of my favorite children’s book writers this year. Zella the zebra discovers an abandoned ostrich chick and rescues him by letting him ride on her back. She adopts him and names him Zack. As he gets older and can no longer ride on her back, they become distant. Eventually she has her own child, an awkward colt named Zodiac who is always tripping over his own hooves, a real danger when predators are lurking all around. Zella believes she has lost Zack forever until he rescues Zodiac from a lion. From then on, he is Zodiac’s protector. Recommended for ages 5-8, 3 stars.


Book of Mother Goose and Nursery Rhymes illustrated by Marguerite de Angeli

Book of Nursery & Mother Goose RhymesOld Mother Hubbard from Book of Nursery and Mother Goose Rhymes

I will admit since this is my 3rd out of 4 Nursery and Mother Goose books I’m having to read for the Caldecott Challenge, that I skimmed this one. It was massive, for a children’s book, at 192 pages! This book won a 1955 Caldecott Honor and I knew the illustrator because of her book Yonie Wondernose (which I rather enjoyed), that had won Caldecott Honor exactly ten years prior. I thought they were a delightful mix of black & white small pencil-drawn illustrations and full-color single page illustrations with a variety of known and previously unknown nursery rhymes. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

The Most Wonderful Doll in the World written by Phyllis McGinley, illustrated by Helen Stone

I will admit that I did not want to read this book for a long time because it is about dolls, as I’ve always found them a little creepy. This book won a 1951 Caldecott Honor book, and is about a little girl named Dulcy (this name really dates the book) who has a large collection of dolls to play with but has just lost a doll named Angela she just received as a gift from a friend of the family. She goes on and on about the doll, each time inventing better and better things that it does. When she finally finds it again, she realizes that it didn’t do anything of things she said it did, but she was just imagining it. Recommended for ages 4-8, 2 stars.

Mr. T.W. Anthony Woo written and illustrated by Marie Hall Ets

Marie Hall Ets, the bane of my existence. Just kidding. This is actually one of her better books that won some sort of Caldecott, this one having won the 1952 Caldecott Honor. It’s a rather random story though. The title refers to the name of a mouse who lives with a shoemaker, along with a cat and a dog that are constantly fighting with each other. One day, the shoemaker goes out to run some errands and his meddlesome sister stops by and sees the shop in an absolute mess from the cat and dog. She decides that she must move in with her brother and take care of him, so she and her annoying repeating parrot move in without his permission and the first thing she does is get rid of the dog and the cat. The shoemaker comes back home all confused but is too nice to tell her to leave. He rescues the cat and dog from outside and they all plot together with the mouse to get rid of the sister (she is scared of mice). They do and all three and the shoemaker live the rest of their days in harmony. The illustrations are rather plain in black and white but tell the story nicely. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

Young Adult

Dreams of Gods & Monsters (Daughter of Smoke & Bone #3) by Laini Taylor

First off, I would like to say that this book is very hard to summarize, especially for anyone who has not read the rest of the series. The author is so good at storytelling and universe-building that she reminds me of George R.R. Martin, as they’re universe and character lists are so huge. So I recommend reading the first two books first so you won’t be totally lost by what I am going to describe. Let us proceed to the summary.

The Angels (Seraphim) have come to Earth and humankind is freaking out, thinking it is the apocalypse. The Angel’s leader Jael heads right to Rome and tells the humans that the Beasts (Chimera) are coming. This is really just a ploy to get his hands on some human weapon technology to finally destroy the Chimera. Akiva and his sister Liraz have managed to convince the Misbegotten Angels to combine forces with their former enemies, the Chimera, so they have a chance to defeat Jael. The mysterious Stelian Queen Scarab tries to kill Akiva but can’t as she discovers that his mother was Stelian. Throughout the book, we learn more background about Akiva and his mother Festival, and the Stelian’s role in Eretz and beyond.

Meanwhile, humans have discovered the resurrection pits left behind by the Chimeras and are mystified and horrified by them. A young woman named Eliza is one of the scientists allowed to study the bodies, and she believes that the Beasts are from another universe. It turns out that she knows this because she is descended from an angel, which becomes evident when she starts spouting Seraphic in front of everyone. Will Eliza ever figure out who she really is and what her purpose is? Will Akiva and Karou be able to stop Jael and have a chance at peace and a better life? To find out read this exciting conclusion to the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series. Recommended for ages 15+, 5 stars.

It’s been at least a year since I last read the second book in the series, and it definitely took me awhile to remember what last happened in the book, as there were hardly any clues at the beginning of this one. I forgot how confusing this book can be trying to remember all the place and character names. It took me about 100 or so pages to really get into this book, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down. It’s nice that the romance between Akiva and Karou is still one of the main focal points. I liked that despite all the bloodshed and pain, there was still time to dream about hope, love and a home together. Cassandra Clare definitely has some competition for who can write the best kisses, as Laini Taylor is quite good with the lead-up to them and the description of love. I loved the section about Zuzane and her mad eyebrow warfare skills in Italy! If I had to fight at the end of the world, she is definitely someone I would want on my team because she fights so hard for the ones she loves. I also loved (and was totally blown away) by the encounter between Jael and Akiva in the Papal Palace. He is one badass angel. I loved the story and I was sorry to see it end, though I’m glad it ended the way it did.

Ask the Passengers written by A.S. King, narrated by Devon Sorvari

Seventeen-year-old Astrid Jones feels really unappreciated by her friends and family. Her younger sister Ellis gets all the love and attention from their mother. Their dad is too stoned to really care about anything other than his office supplies at work. No one can understand why her friend Kristy, one of the most popular girls in school, hangs around her. Astrid may possibly be in love with her best friend Dee, who is already out of the closet. She lives in a really small town where everyone gossips about every little thing you do, so she has to worry about that as well.

The only thing she really enjoys is her AP Humanities class, where she is learning about Greek philosophers. In an attempt to feel more wanted, she sends waves of love towards passengers flying in airplanes above her house and everyone she sees. She does this even if they ignore or hate her. When she is sending out love to the anonymous passengers of the airplanes, every now and again, we hear their stories. It seems at first that these people have no connection to her, but after awhile, we can see that their stories are kind of like an extension of Astrid, if she were older.

Astrid feels like she is straddling two worlds. The very private one she shares with Dee and the public one she shares with Kristy and her family. Will she be able to figure out who she is and what she wants? Can she be truthful with everyone? Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

I had gotten the idea to read this book from Tara, The Librarian Who Doesn’t Say shhh!, and because she raved about it so much, I decided to give it a try. I’ve never read anything by the author but have heard for years that her books were good. I enjoyed hearing about the AP Humanities class and her learning about Greek philosophers, and how well it surprisingly blended with the story. I loved that she gave Socrates a first name (Frank) and made him kind of her protection, when things get too weird in her life. I’ve lived in small towns before and I know how limiting and frustrating it can be, so I could really identify with Astrid’s views on living in one.

Astrid’s mom, wow, she was a piece of work. I can identify with one parent loving your sibling more than you, but getting drunk with your teenage daughter is a whole other thing. And she thinks she’s the normal one in the family, geez.


City of Devils: A Novel by Diane Bretherick

Bittersweet: A Novel by Colleen McCullough

The Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life: Cruelty-Free Crafts, Recipes, Beauty Secrets and More by Melisser Elliott

I’m always trying to get as much information as I can on the vegetarian/vegan lifestyle as I become more interested in joining it. I will admit also that after reading about how all types of meet including veal is processed in great detail, I was rather put off meat for a couple weeks. The book features useful information for those new to the idea of going completely vegan, which aside from eating a plant-based diet with no dairy or meat, also entails not wearing it in any form for clothing and shoes. For example, in addition to leather, you can’t wear wool from any animal, no fur naturally and silk. The author includes becoming involved with activism, profiles of vegans who have various food and apparel businesses and/or websites centered around the fact that they are vegans. I particularly liked the profiles as they not only had some good websites for references, but also seemed to profile real people and ask them why they went vegan, their favorite dish, favorite “accidently vegan” treat, item they can’t live without and more. She also discusses vegan companies that provide skincare products. The back section of the book is all about food and recipes, and I’d like the try the Tangy Cabbage Beet Slaw, Brussel Sprouts with Crispy Tempeh Over Soft Polenta, and Moroccan Chickpea and Kale Tangine with Quinoa. 3 stars.

Feast: Generous Vegetarian Meals for Any Eater and Every Appetite by Sarah Copeland

Ok, first things first. This is not strictly a vegetarian cookbook but rather a pescetarian (vegetarian + fish) one. That out of the way, the recipes I found were delicious-sounding and easy to make. The photos they had were gorgeous, though I wish there were more of them. I in particular wanted to try the Mushroom-Almond Milk Soup (as I’m trying to use more cow’s milk alternatives), Cheese Grits with Black Beans and Avocado, Artichoke Enchiladas, Sunny-Side Up Yam and Black Bean Tostadas with Avocado, Quinoa Bowl with Avocado, Red Cabbage and Walnut, and the Peanut Butter/Amaranth Cookies. 4 stars.

Book Reviews April 2014

I am taking a mini-break from poetry to write my monthly book review post. I am proud of myself for reading nearly 100 books so far this year. I’m reading David Leibovitz’s newest cookbook My Paris Kitchen and Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s Hitler Youth: Growing up in Hitler’s Shadow. I started listening to Robert M. Edsel’s Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasure from the Nazis, which is quite good, but will have to put this book on hold while I listen to another book I’ve been waiting ages to read, Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park.  I’ve not been reading too many award-winning books as I kind of got burned out on them, and am taking a bit of a break. I haven’t read many children’s books in the last month as before because I was reading for a Winter Reading Program last year with my son, hence many more books.

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 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 the award winners and at least one honor book.


Oliver and his Alligator written and illustrated by Paul Schmid

Most of the reason this book is getting any stars at all is because I love Paul Schmid’s illustrations. The story, however, left a little to be desired. The concept was that Oliver is going to his first day of Kindergarten, but he is scared, so he picks up an alligator along the way to school. Anything that scares him, the alligator eats. This could’ve been a really cute book, but the alligator eating everything just made it creepy to me, and a little bit like “let’s all ignore our problems kiddies and they’ll just go away (or rather be eaten by an alligator)”. The alligator eats everything, including Oliver’s new teacher and all his classmates, but then Oliver realizes that he’s kinda bored. It sounds like of cool things happening inside the alligator so he goes inside too and then he starts having fun. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Over in the Meadow retold by John Langstaff, illustrated by Feodor Rojankovsky

Over in the Meadow

Langstaff has once again created a delightful picture book with illustrator Feodor Rojankovsky. Their previous book Frog Went A-Courtin’ won the 1956 Caldecott Medal, and I loved the little detailed nature illustrations. It was based off a folk song and this book is based off a nursery rhyme counting song (the lyrics and music are in the back). The story/song is rhyming and through each verse, the animal, number and activity change. For example, for the number 7, there are one mother frog and her seven pollywogs who hop in the bog. I really enjoyed this book, though I was a little sad that my son wasn’t as enthused as I was. Recommended for ages 4-6, 4 stars.

I Wish I Had Duck Feet by Dr. Seuss (writing as Theo Lesieg), illustrated by B. Tobey

I got this for my son as he likes Dr Seuss and I only had a copy of his books at home. This was not as good as I wanted it to be. The boy uses his imagination to think about what his life would be like if he had things like duck feet, an elephant’s trunk and a whale spout, or even better all of them together. But then he realizes that he is better just being himself. Of course, it took him over 65 pages to realize this, and the story dragged on and on. My son got bored pretty quick, as did I. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.

Fox in Socks written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss

I knew there was a reason I never read this book. I’m not good at tongue twisters, and that is pretty much the entirety of the text. The story features a fox, in socks naturally, and a man named Mr. Knox. The fox loves to say tongue-twisting rhyming phrases, but Mr. Knox does not. However, eventually Mr. Knox gets so tired of the Fox that he out-rhymes him to end the game (which is my favorite part of the book, mostly because the fox is kind of annoying). In some ways, this book reminds me of the two characters that play off each other in Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham”. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 stars.

How to Train a Train by Jason Carton Easton, illustrated by John Rocco

I thought the book had a really cute idea for a story. Basically it is all about how kids can “train” a train like you would a pet. It’s funny because the storyteller kid is dressed up like an African game hunter. It goes step by step on how to find, catch, and the daily upkeep involved with a wild train. Even though my son doesn’t 100% understand what the book is about, he still is fascinated by it because it is a book about trains. I especially liked the naming process, my favorites being Sir Foomaloo and Picklepuss. I also liked that trains especially like being read aloud to, and reminded me of our dog who will sit with us while I read to my son. Recommended for ages 4-7, 4 stars

I Can Lick 30 Tigers Today written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss

I remembered this book, while I was reading the title story to my son, as another one of the Dr. Seuss books I had as a child. The first story is about a boy who believes he can beat up thirty tigers, but the longer he is with them, the less he thinks he can beat. I liked the story although my son I don’t think understood most of the nuances of it. The second story is about the king of cats who didn’t like his tail to drag on the ground, so he hired someone to carry it. And then they felt important and didn’t want theirs to drag either, and so they hired someone and on down the line until the smallest cat decides he’s had enough of carrying other people’s tails.  He quits quite loudly and the rest follow suit, and that’s why cat’s carry their own tails now.

The third story was hard to explain to my son, but I rather enjoyed doing the voices for it. A young girl usually imagines pretty fluffy things, and then uses her Un-Thunker to make them go away. One day, she decides that she wants something more substantial, and so thinks really really hard and comes up with the Glunk. He is a large green monster who immediately starts using the girl’s phone to call his mother long distance, even though it is dreadfully expensive and will make her father go broke. He ignores her and keeps talking until, with the help of her brother, they Un-Thunk the Glunk together. From then on, she is back to pretty fluffy happy things. In a way, that story is rather sexist. Specifically because the girl only has fluffy thoughts and the one time she tries to really concentrate, she creates a monster, that she can only get rid of with a boy’s help because she is too weak. Aside from that, overall the stories were ones that me and my son enjoyed. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

T-Bone, the Baby Sitter written and illustrated by Clare Turlay Newberry

T-bone the Babysitter

I’m glad I’m doing the Caldecott Challenge, even though it’s taking me forever to finish, as I get to discover so many awesome authors and illustrators. Newberry is just so good at illustrating cats, and T-Bone is the biggest fluffiest cat I’ve ever seen. This book won a 1951 Caldecott Honor, and it is a nice quick read. T-Bone is a great babysitter for Mrs. P’s baby girl. She’ll sit in the basket with her, sit on the dresser and purr during naptime and allows Mrs. P to get all her housework done. One day, T-Bone wakes up and decides she is tired of being a good kitty and decides to cause a little chaos. Her actions drive her owner to distraction, and she sends the cat away to the farm. T-Bone doesn’t like the farm as he isn’t given any special treatment. The baby does not like that T-Bone has left and won’t stop crying for days. So Mrs. P sends her husband to get the cat back. Everyone is happy. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 ½  stars.

America’s Ethan Allen written by Stewart Holbrook , illustrated by Lynd Ward

I will admit, that I was a little hesitant to read this as the last book illustrated by Lynd Ward (The Biggest Bear, which won the 1953 Caldecott Award), I was really not a fan of as it involved bear-killing for sport. This book won a 1950 Caldecott Honor. My biggest complaint about this book is the length. It’s about 96 pages, granted that’s with illustrations, but still, that’s a really long book for a child. This is especially true because the subject matter sounds like it was taken almost directly from a history textbook, with a bit of a dramatic flair added. I’ll be honest though, I didn’t know much of anything about how New Hampshire and Vermont were created, so that part was interesting. Despite the length, I found it to be an interesting read.

Ethan Allen, who I associate with furniture (although I don’t think there is actually a link), was in reality a man born in the early days of the American Colony. He had a great capacity for learning and business and succeeded in both. He eventually bought land through the New Hampshire Grants, and settled his family there. The only problem was that while they were selling it to settlers in Connecticut, they were also selling the land to New Yorkers. The Connecticut folks were settling there, while the New Yorkers were just using it to sell on to others and had no intention of actually living there. Ethan Allen became the head of the “Green Mountain Boys” an untrained militia that protected the New Hampshire settlers from the Yorkers. The year 1775 rolled around and Ethan Allen thought it would be a great idea to take Fort Ticonderoga, occupied by British troops. So he gathered a small army and set out for the fort, where they were met by an actual Colonial officer Benedict Arnold, who had been sent to lead the army. This didn’t sit well with the Green Mountain Boys and Ethan Allen, who allow him to be at the head with Allen but not lead. The patriots easily take the vulnerable Fort Ticonderoga and a smaller second fort. Allen tried helping the Continental Army take Montreal, but they failed and he was captured, along with about thirty of his men, and sent back to London for execution. But the English did not kill them, and instead sent them on a boat back to the Colonies. The British tried to offer Ethan a commission in the British army, but he turned them down, as he was a fierce patriot. He spent three years in a Colonial prison managed by the British until he was finally released back to the New Hampshire Grants, though Ethan’s home was now called Vermont. He died in 1789. Vermont became a state and part of the new United States in 1791. Recommended for ages 7-10 years old, 3 stars.

All in the Morning Early retold by Sorche Nic Leodhas, pseud. [Leclaire Alger], illustrated by Evaline Ness

This was another fascinating book by Leodhas, which was almost completely ruined by Evaline Ness’s horrible illustrations. This 1964 Caldecott Honor book is based off a counting Scottish folk song that the author grew up with. A boy is going to the mill to grind some corn into flour, and along the way he meets sheep, gypsies, farmers, geese, and all sorts of other things which join him on the way to the mill. I am very interested in reading more by the author. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

Wheel on the Chimney written by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Tibor Gergely

Wheel on the Chimney

This was a very unexpected book for me. I knew nothing about it, other than it was written by Margaret Wise Brown, whose work I’ve come to admire through the Caldecott Challenge. It won a 1955 Caldecott Honor and rightly so. I was pleasantly surprised with not only the story but also the illustrations.

The book is a story about storks, who like to nest on the unused chimneys of houses in Eastern Europe in the spring. The locals believe it is good luck for them to nest on their house and so they will tie wagon wheels to their chimneys to act as a base for the stork’s nests. The stork families built their nests, have babies and then in the winter, they all fly down to Southern Africa. The book also told the story of one stork that got lost and ended up staying on a boat heading for Egypt for a bit, then rejoining his stork brethren later on. I loved the happy detailed illustrations from Tibor Gergely, of the storks and the environments that they inhabit through the different seasons, which makes me want to check out more work of his.

Children and Young Adult

Newbery Challenge

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures written by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Flora and Ulysses

I absolutely love this book. I have no idea where the author came up with the idea for this book, but she is a genius. I enjoyed her other books, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Because of Winn-Dixie, and The Tale of Desperaux. However, this book won the 2014 Newbery Award, so I had to check it out. The chapters are short, only 1-4 pages. The book is hilarious, but the illustrations make the book even funnier. I think my favorite scene in the book is where Flora and her father are in the Giant Do-nut. I loved the epilogue!

Flora Belle Buckman is a nearly-eleven year old girl whose parents have been recently divorced. She lives with her mother, who writes romance novels on a typewriter. Flora loves reading comics, especially reading about Incandesto, her favorite superhero. One day, her neighbor Mrs. Tickham (aka Tootie) gets an incredibly powerful vacuum, which escapes the house, goes outside, and swallows a squirrel. The whole surreal scene is seen by Flora who rescues the squirrel, which miraculously survived, and names him Ulysses. She believes he is a superhero, as he can do some pretty amazing things, like picking up the vacuum by himself, typing and flying. Tootie has her great-nephew William Spiver, who has gone temporarily blind due to trauma, and Flora can’t decide if she likes him or not. The only person that really doesn’t like Ulysses is Flora’s mother, who demands Flora’s father gets rid of the squirrel, which he doesn’t. Flora’s father then tells her mother that the squirrel will be living with them, but after she comes upon the squirrel typing late one night, she cracks. What will be the fate of the furry defender of Flora? To find out, read this fantastic story. Recommended for ages 7-12, 5 stars.

Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata, narrated by Elaina Erika Davis

I would probably have not picked this book up on my own, mostly because I hadn’t heard of it, but the book had won the 2005 Newbery Award so I decided to give it a try. The book is interesting becauseit is told after the events of the book by the main character, looking back on her childhood and life with her sister. The narrator was really good at switching between her normal accent, a Japanese accent, and one from the Deep South.

Katie is a five year old Japanese-American girl in the mid-1950s who lives with her older sister Lynn and her parents in Iowa. They run a Japanese market in the town, but it closed down, and her parents decide to move to Southern Georgia. Her uncle lives there with his family and works in a chicken hatchery separating the males from the egg-producing females. This is where Katie’s father will work too. Her mother will work in a chicken processing plant. Lynn and Katie grow up in Georgia, are very close to each other. Her mother later has a son named Sammy, who completes their family. The whole family has to deal with racism while living in Southern Georgia, as they are subtly ignored by the white population there. When Lynn is sixteen years old, she starts to get ill and has to go to the hospital a lot. Lynn later dies and Katie, now eleven years old and her family must come to grips with Lynn’s death. The title comes from the Japanese and it means sparkling or glittering.  I think it refers to Lynn and how she was viewed by her family and in turn, how they looked at the world, especially Katie. Recommended for ages 9-13, 3 stars.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, narrated by Cynthia Holloway

I’ve known about this book for awhile, but never got around to reading it. It won the 2010 Newbery Award.  Frankly I was confused for most of the book trying to figure out who exactly was sending Miranda the mysterious notes, and even when they did reveal it, I was still a little confused. It definitely kept me on my toes though, which was nice.

This book tells about a twelve year old girl named Miranda living in New York City whose mother wins a spot on the gameshow, The $20,000 Pyramid in 1978. Miranda spends most of the time helping her mother drill for the show which is about a month away, with the help of Richard, her mother’s boyfriend. Miranda is dealing with problems of her own. Her best friend Sal is randomly punched by Marcus, another kid at their school, and they start drifting apart. She starts hanging out with Annemarie  and they ending working for lunch at the sandwich shop, known as Jimmy’s, down from the school. Someone starts leaving notes for Miranda and she can’t figure out who they are from. She is freaked out by the entire situation, as the person knows things they shouldn’t. Will she ever find out who is sending the messages? Will her and Sal ever talk to each other again? Who is Marcus and what is his deal? To find out read this fascinating book. Recommended for ages 9-13, 3 stars.

The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights written by Russell Freedman

I had heard of Marian Anderson before, but never had the opportunity to read a biography of the singer. I had also heard that Russell Freedman books were quite good, not only because he had won so many awards but because his books are well-researched and on interesting topics, so I was excited that he had written this book. It had won a 2005 Newbery Honor award, as well as the Sibert Medal for that year (which honors great nonfiction books for children). It was a very personal biography of a fascinating woman with great determination and perseverance, who opened the doors for future generations to experience new realms of possibility.

Marian Anderson grew up in Philadelphia at the turn of the 20th century. Her African-American family was poor, but she was a very talented singer from an early age and helped out her family financially throughout her life. It was hard for African-Americans to get recognition of any kind, and it was even harder in music performance. She had to suffer through many hardships related to Jim Crow Laws and segregation in America. She was a huge hit in Europe in the 1930s and came back to the US to conquer her native country as well.

She set about doing just that until 1936, after performing for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor at the White House (who thought she was amazing), when Howard University tried to get a booking for Constitution Hall on her behalf. It was the biggest auditorium in Washington DC and the home of the Washington Opera and the National Symphony. The Hall, which was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), allowed only whites to perform there. Eventually it was decided that Marian would have her concert no matter what, and so a free un-segregated concert was held outside in front of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939. It was attended by 75,000 people. After this event, Marian became more involved with the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) and the fight for civil rights for African-Americans. The setting of the Lincoln Memorial was used again in August 1963 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his I Have a Dream speech at an event that was also attended by Marian. She broke the color barrier in the operatic world in January 1955 when she appeared with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She eventually married Orpheus Fisher, who she had known since high school, in her 40s and they lived together on a farm in the Connecticut countryside until his death. Highly recommended for ages 7-12, 5 stars.

Young Adult

A Bride’s Story, Volume 1 written and illustrated by Kaoru Mori

A Bride's Story

I loved Mori’s manga series Emma, so I decided to give this one a try as I am on a bit of a book lull at the moment. This was a nice quick read, as most of the illustrations had very little words. It tells the story of a family in Turkmenistan in Central Asia, whose youngest son Karluk at age twelve marries a girl of twenty named Amir from a neighboring village. The girl is quite different from the boy who is shy and keeps to himself and his family, while Amir is outgoing, vivacious and a great bow-hunter. They are slowly getting to know each other, and you can tell they care about each others with the little gestures that they do. For example, she kills some rabbits for them to eat and then uses the fabric given to her by her in-laws to make him a rabbit fur-lined tunic, and he goes to search for her after he learns there may be wolves where she’s decided to hunt. His family is just starting to like her when her eldest brother stops by with some cousins and demands that her in-laws return Amir to them. They refuse and the grandmother, who originally came from their family, stops Amir’s family with an arrow. My favorite scene in the book was when they were on their way to Karluk’s uncles’s family, and they found pomegranates along the way and she was so excited. And the whole scene where they were going to sleep in the yurt (a movable house tent) was priceless. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series! Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

A Bride’s Story, Volume 2 written and illustrated by Kaoru Mori

Another well-researched and fascinating glimpse into the lives of young brides in Turkmenistan. This volume is a continuation of the story from the first volume, featuring the same bride, Amir. She meets a new friend Pariya, a younger girl whose parents are having trouble marrying her off because she is very vocal about who she is and what she wants, at the communal ovens. She can’t embroider, but makes amazingly detailed breads. Amir takes her under her wing and tries to teach her how to use the bow and arrow. On one of their outings with Amir’s husband Karluk and the English observer, Mr. Smith, they come across a sort-of shrine thought to bless women who want to have children. On the way out, they run into a riding party made up of Amir’s family, who have decided to come en masse and force her to marry a wealthier man. Mr. Smith comes up with an ingenious way to separate Amir and Karluk from Amir’s family, and temporarily saves them. They rush back to the village, and tell Amir’s father and grandfather the news. All of the villagers decide to take arms against the intruders. Even young Karluk helps to defend his wife. They are successful and the family is driven off again.

Mr. Smith asks about the cloth preparation, a term used by Amir’s family. It means that girls at a young age gather cloth, needles and thread to start creating the sheets, clothes and other embroidered material that will become part of their dowry when they marry. Karluk’s niece is of age to start this, so her parents start gathering the material. He follows the women in the family as they go to their storeroom to show the girl the patterns used by the family, and she finally finds one she likes. Letters from back home and a messenger soon arrive for Mr. Smith, who reluctantly leaves to go to his original intended destination. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

A Bride’s Story, Volume 3 written and illustrated by Kaoru Mori

I was a little sad to say goodbye to Amir in the last volume, as I really enjoyed getting to know her character, but thankfully she made an appearance in this one as well. Mr. Smith, who has taken a very backseat role in the first two volumes, is front and center for the next few books. I’m hoping they’ll give more back story on him to fill in a lot of the gaps. As in the other books, the artwork is stunning even in black and white, and full of so much detail.

At the end of the last volume, Mr. Smith had left Karluk’s family and was headed to a nearby city to meet up with his guide. When he gets there, he and a young woman both get their horses stolen. They are returned by the local magistrate and the woman named Tala invites Mr. Smith back to her and her mother-in-law’s yurt as a guest. The young woman has had a very unfortunate history, which her mother-in-law (who she simply calls mother) relates to him. The mother had five sons and Tala was married to her oldest son. He died of an illness after a year, and they had no children, so she married the next oldest. In time, all five of them had died and the mother’s husband was so heart-broken, he died soon afterwards. This left Tala and her mother-in-law to take care of their sheep and themselves. While Mr. Smith is there, he gets to know Tala and enjoys her company. One day, an uncle of the young woman comes in demanding her hand for as his son’s second wife. The mother refuses because she knows the girl will basically be a slave in the household and have no rights, and tells the uncle that Mr. Smith has asked for Tala’s hand in marriage. Of course, then Mr. Smith walks in and is rather surprised by it all. He decides that the best thing to do would be to leave.

So he goes back to the city and immediately gets arrested after the uncle, unhappy with the answer from the mother, got Mr. Smith put in jail on trumped-up charges (they think he is a Russian spy). After spending a period of time in jail, his guide, Karluk and Amir finally come to the rescue. Tala follows shortly afterwards. They try to make Mr. Smith look less foreign, so he won’t get into trouble in the future. Tala finds him again, worried after she learned that he had spent the time apart from her in jail. Mr. Smith has developed feelings for her during his long time to think in prison and ends up promising to come back and find her, leaving her with his gold pocket watch. As he escorts Tala back to her yurt, they find out that her mother has married the uncle to appease him and he is now considered the young woman’s father. He obviously dislikes Mr. Smith and refuses to let them see each other, and her mother-in-law tells him to forget Tala. He is heartbroken but leaves with the guide, and Amir and Karluk go back to their home after eating an enormous meal together.  It turns out Mr. Smith was originally destined to go to India, where he has a small house, but got sidetracked in Turkmenistan. He heads there now with his guide Ali, though it will be a very long trip. Recommended for ages 14+, 4 stars.

A Bride’s Story, Volume 4 written and illustrated by Kaoru Mori

After devouring the first three volumes in the series, I was anxious to get my hands on the fourth volume. This story was a little bit different from the rest, mostly because there wasn’t as many things going on. It starts out with Mr. Smith heading with Ali to Ankara (sp?) but they get sidetracked after he falls off his camel into the Aral Sea and is rescued by twins Laila and Leily. When they realize he is a doctor, they immediately take him to their grandfather, who has a dislocated shoulder. He quickly fixes that problem and soon everyone in the village is waiting for him to help them. Laila and Leily are trying to catch rich handsome husbands, but not having much luck in their small fishing village. Eventually, their father and his friend decide that they will be just fine for their father’s friends’ sons, Sarm and Sami. They’ve all grown up together but never really thought much of each other until they are forced into the situation. The twins decide that these boys aren’t so bad after all, and pick which one best suits them. They are preparing for the wedding at the end of the book.

My favorite part has to be a tie between the twins’ grandmother hoodwinking them into working hard, pretending she is giving them a “charm” for future suitors, and when their mother gives them a crash course in being wives. These girls look so young to me, way too young to get married or even thinking about it (though I know the average age was probably 12-14 years old). Recommended for ages 14+, 3 stars.

The Dark Unwinding (The Dark Unwinding, #1)  by Sharon Cameron

I got this book as a freebie from the Tucson Book Festival. It had been on my to-read list for awhile, so I jumped at the chance of getting a free copy. The author did a good job of keeping me in suspense, as I spent most of the trying to figure out what exactly was going on. She didn’t reveal the whole plot until the very end and then it was a total surprise. I’m so excited that there are more books in the series and more story about Lane, as I found him one of the most interesting characters.

Katherine Tulman lives with her widowed Aunt Alice and her fat lazy cousin Robert. She is an orphan and must rely on their charity to survive. As her aunt’s bookkeeper, she has been taxed with going to see her Uncle Frederick Tulman and asserting that he has gone mad, so he can be put into an asylum. Robert would then inherit his money and Katherine believes she would have some measure of freedom. But things are not as they seem at her uncle’s estate. Frederick, who goes by Uncle Tully, has an enormous estate that houses two villages that work at the gasworks on site and support the house. He is a little eccentric, but Katherine is still undecided whether he is insane until she has all the facts. She will take thirty days to collect evidence against her uncle, though she feels guilty since there are so many people depending on him for their livelihood. Will she rule in favor of Uncle Tully or her Aunt Alice? To find out, read this intriguing book. Recommended for ages 13+, 4 stars.

A Spark Unseen (The Dark Unwinding #2) by Sharon Cameron

I quickly devoured the first book The Dark Unwinding, so I was excited to learn that she came out with a second book for the series. I will admit that despite not finishing books I started earlier, I was totally engulfed in finishing this one instead. This one, like the other, is a little slow in the beginning, but suddenly all these mysteries are revealed and it really keeps you riveted. This one had even more surprises than last time, and I hope that the author decides to continue the series as I know I would love another book.

Katherine has now been at Strathwyne for two years now, after she miraculously received her inheritance from her father and grandmother. Things are just starting to return to some normalcy after the events of the previous book, when suddenly she is awakened in the middle of the night by masked men trying to break into her bedroom. The situation is quickly neutralized with her maid Mary’s help, but they’ve got bigger problems now. The government of Great Britain wants to take Katherine and her Uncle to London to help them build weapons against the French, but Katherine knows that is not possible, given her uncle’s unusual behavior and manners. So she plots with her solicitor Mr. Babcock to take Uncle Tully, Mary and herself to Paris, to her grandmother’s estate, away from the government’s control. She is also trying to find Lane, who disappeared over a year ago and whom the British government has reported as dead.

The biggest problem she faces, aside from not speaking the language, is that her reputation has proceeded her. Her aunt has been spreading around gossip about her in London and it has made its way across the pond to Paris, where the upper classes escaping London have retreated. One of her aunt’s friends is living right next door to Katherine. Will her uncle be discovered? And if so, by the French or the English? Just what exactly happened to Lane? To find out this and more, check out this awesome second book to “The Dark Unwinding” series. Recommended for ages 13+, 4 stars.

Ender’s Game (The Ender Quintet, #1) by Orson Scott Card, narrated by Stefan Rudnicki, Harlan Ellison and Cast

I’ve been wanting to read this for awhile, as I’ve heard it was good. Plus they recently released a movie version and I figured I should probably read the book before watching the movie. The speech of the students in the Battle School is hard to understand at times, as it is all slang. Honestly the first thing I thought while reading this is that it reminded me of a combination of the movie Starship Troopers (also a book by Robert Heinlein, though I’ve not read it yet), The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and  The Lord of the Flies by William Golding.

Andrew “Ender” Wiggins is a third child, in a futuristic world where you are only allowed two. His parents have high expectations for him, namely that he get a place in Battle School for the Imperial Fleet. Earth has waged two wars against the Buggers, an alien insectoid race that attacked Earth about seventy years ago, and barely survived. All parents put their children into training for Battle School at two years old, but few make it through. Ender wins a place in the school at age 6 and must go away from everything he knows in order to pass all his classes and tests and ultimately become a battle commander. He is pretty much a genius in IQ but still has a lot to learn about relationships and his peers. Just as he is starting to settle into his own at Battle School, he is graduated early at age 10 and heads to Commander School. There he is taught by the legendary Mazer Rackam, who saved Earth from the Second Bugger Invasion. Will Ender be able to save the Earth from a Third Bugger Invasion and live up the expectations of everyone around him?

The teachers of the Battle School have little private conversation at the end of each section of the book, about Ender. It starts with these two guys, Colonel Graff and his superior at the Imperial Fleet. They talk about Ender and his progress, but they make him sound like a test subject in an experiment, which I guess he is in a way, as they plan to make him the savior of the International Fleet.

The whole time I was listening to this book, I thought that the story was one of the weirdest ones I’d ever heard, yet at the same time it was also such a crazy study of human nature that I couldn’t stop. This was a very hard book to summarize as there is so much going on at once. For a really good insight into the book, check out this link (http://www4.ncsu.edu/~tenshi/Killer_000.htm – warning there are spoilers). The book started off as a short story, and was later transformed into a book, after the author wanted to write a book about an older Ender Wiggin, but needed some back story about the character first.  I am curious how they managed to pull this off as a movie, as I think it would be hard to abridge. Recommended for ages 12+, 3 stars.

Library Wars: Love and War, Volume 11 written and illustrated by Kiiro Yumi

Ever since I found out there was a Volume 11 (back when I got Volumes 9 & 10), I’ve had this on hold. So I was very excited to get the newest book to the series. This volume was way more high-octane than the others I’ve read, in more ways than one. I wish it didn’t take so long to get English translations, as I know I will have to wait forever for the next volume to come out L.

At the end of the last volume, the Library Task Force was set to guard a controversial exhibit from the Media Betterment Committee (MBC), who wanted to get rid of it. The MBC, in this volume, attacks the Task Force and Kasahara experiences her first real battle with guns, which leaves her a bit traumatized, thinking she has killed people (she just stunned them). Instructor Dojo helps her work through it. After the attack is over, the Task Force heads inside where they are ambushed first by the Anti-Violence League and then by a couple of MBC operatives, who try to destroy the artwork. Their commander steps in front of the work, physically protecting it with his body and they try to gun him down. In a work room, the director of the museum (who has been working with the Anti-Violence League) tries to burn the exhibition pamphlets but the leader of the local military base stops her, but is injured doing so. Once Kasahara finally comes back home, she realizes the depth of her feelings for Dojo and finally tells her roomie the truth (she is of course overjoyed having known forever). Dojo tells her that they are to meet up for tea (an actual date!!) in a few weeks time. My favorite part was the bonus manga (double check this) at the end where Dojo, Kasahara and the instructor who likes Marie (whose name escapes me at the moment) are trapped in this un air-conditioned basement helping with holds and they start hallucinating. Recommended for ages 13+, 5 stars.


Bohemians edited by Paul Buhle and David Berger


Published April 15, 2014

The book was about the history and culture of the people considered to be revolutionary in some way at the end of the 19th Century – early 20th Century. The book introduced me to a whole new group of people I’d like to learn more about, like Victoria Woodhull. Although I found the topic very interesting, it was hard to read. Not because of the subject matter (that was very well-researched) but because the text and graphics were so tiny. I thought maybe it was just the size of my Kindle, but I downloaded the book on my laptop as well to see if that improved the size, but it was the same exact size. I was not able to make it any bigger. I was straining my eyes to read each comic, which made me lose interest in it very quickly, and as a result only read about 30 percent. I hope the comics will be bigger in the paper format. I am not able to accurately rate it based on these conditions, but if the comics were enlarged and I could actually finish the book, I would probably give it 4 stars. As it is, I would give it 2 stars.

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

Samurai Gourmet by Kana Himiya

I picked this one up because I love books on Japanese Food and am always looking for new interpretations of the cuisine. This book is fascinating because it not only has a slew of recipes, it also gives the history of type of recipes, which were specifically created to assist samurai. The author is descended from one of these families, and is a historian on the subject. I liked that the recipes represented both the ying and the yang, and were meals specifically created for different reasons, i.e. to give strength, fertility, a calm mind and stamina to a samurai and his followers. The cookbook makes me want to cook more with Daikon Radishes, as I’ve only recently discovered them and they seem to be such a vital part of the cuisine. I actually enjoyed the history more than the recipes. 3 stars.

Slice of Life: A Food Writer Cooks Through Many a Conundrum by Leah Eskin

Slices of Life

Published April 1, 2014

The author is a newspaper food columnist, for the Chicago Tribune, and I really enjoyed this book for the most part. It is memoir based off her “Home on the Range” columns for the above newspaper. I enjoy cookbooks where the author uses predominantly stories from her life and molds them around a recipe, which follows afterward. It has more meaning and significance that way, in my opinion. We follow the author as she is married, has a couple of kids and both her and husband start their career in the newspaper world. They move all over the US, and this influences what they cook, as well as what crises she is dealing with at the moment.  The author also has to deal with some pretty major issues, such as breast cancer, the death of her beloved father and the family dog. Some of my favorite stories were the parenting stories like “Goodnight Room” the one about her son getting rid of his little kid books – which was reminiscent of Goodnight Moon, as well as “Good and Scared” about cancer, “Under the Influence” about good food and drink ideas, and “Table Surfing” about vacationing with her family in San Francisco. Some of my favorite recipes were for the Halva Crème Brulee, Dumpling Pillows, Casual Cherry Pie, Basic Brisket and Mango Bubble Tea.

My biggest gripe about this book is the length. While I liked the stories, the book just seemed never-ending. I lost interest in the book for awhile because of this, which is the reason for the delay in writing this review. Maybe if the author shorted the amount of recipes or made it into a two-part book, it would work better. I also wish that there were some photographs of the food she made, or maybe even photographs of the author and her family. 3 1/2 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.

Book Reviews Feb 2014

This year I am trying to read at least 300 books again. I’m doing pretty well so far, having read 39 books. I’m hoping to tackle more Newbery books in audiobook format as they are usually so short, and I’m on a bit of an audiobook lull at the moment (at least in regards to adult books). I finally finished Book 3 of the Song of Ice and Fire series (Game of Thrones to the uninitiated). I’m currently reading an ARC called The Setting Sun: A Memoir of Empire and Family Secrets by Bart Moore-Gilbert. I’m currently listening to another Newbery-winning book The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron.

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


The Goodnight Train written by June Sobel, illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

The Goodnight Train

Feeding into my son’s train fascination, this book is another great example of imaginative writing. Set to a rhyming text, the story is about a train full of beds and small children that is going through a magical countryside, on the way to Dreamland. My son loves this book and has requested it pretty much every night for a week. Recommended for ages 2-6, 4 stars.

I Love Trains! written by Philomen Sturges and illustrated by Shari Halpern

This was a cute but very simple book about a young boy who loves trains, not only the different parts of the train, but also because his daddy works in the caboose of one. I like the brightly colored blocky illustrations, which are perfect for toddlers. Recommended for ages 2-6, 3 stars.

No T. Rex in the Library written by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa

I like books about the library and am always on the lookout for picture books in that setting. I figured this one would interest my son as it has dinosaurs. A woman puts her daughter Tess in time-out for ten minutes for being a “little beastie” in the library and causing mischief, and while there Tess imagines a T Rex coming out of one of the books she knocked over and causing plenty more mischief and mayhem in the library, including ripping books. For this, Tess punishes the dinosaur by putting it in time out and back inside its book. I get that they’re trying to teach kids to have good behavior in the library, but that message kind of gets lost about halfway through the book.  My son loves it though, mostly just because there is a roaring rampaging dinosaur, so this book gets three stars from me instead of two. Recommended for ages 3-6, 3 stars.

The Boy Who Loved Trains written by Jill Kalz, illustrated by Sahin Erkocak

I picked this one up because my son likes trains. Not the best book, as I thought the story fell a little flat and the illustrations weren’t that good, but it would be good for a beginning reader, which is the intended audience. The book is about a young boy who is obsessed with trains, in fact the only words he will say is “Woo! Woo!”. It is his birthday and he gets a new present from his aunt, a shiny race car, so soon afterwards he is obsessed with cars and the only words he will say is “Vroom! Vroom!”. My son enjoyed the book more than me. Recommended for ages 3-6, 2 stars.

The Little Engine that Could written by Watty Piper, illustrated by Loren Long

I never really wanted to read this book, though of course I knew about it as it has been around since 1930. Again, influenced by my son, I picked it up in desperation after not being able to find many train books at the library. I actually enjoyed the story, though it is rather lengthy for reading out loud to small children. My son loved the story though, so that made it worth it.

A small happy train is pulling cargo of toys and good things to eat for the boys and girls on the other side of the mountain, when he suddenly breaks down. The toys ask three passing trains to help them to get to the children before daybreak, but each refuse. When all seems lost, a fourth smaller train happens by and she agrees to take them, though she has never hauled cargo before. All the way up the mountain, she chugs “I Think I Can” to herself, and manages to make it to the top. The toys are ecstatic as they make their way down to the little town in the valley of the mountain. This is a cute story that teaches children about determination and perseverance. Recommended for ages 3-7, 4 stars.

The Caboose Who Got Loose written and illustrated by Bill Peet


I’ve been fascinated by Bill Peet ever since I read his autobiography for the Caldecott Challenge. I knew he wrote some children’s books, but had no idea that he did so many (34 total). His work reminded me a lot of Dr Seuss, with the crazy rhymes for the book. I guess you have to get pretty creative when working with the word “caboose”. He worked for Walt Disney and you can definitely see the influence in the way he draws houses and even Katy Caboose, from his work on the animated shorts Susie the Little Blue Coupe and The Little House.  I loved the rhyming storyline and it had great illustrations. As this was a train-related book, my son kept wanting me to read it over and over to him.

Katy spends her day at the end of a very long freight train and longs to be free and surrounded by nature. It is only after she is near a switchman’s house that wants to be her because her life looks so glamorous that she gains appreciation for herself. Her wish for freedom is unexpectedly granted when the train she is hooked up to is coming up a steep curvy mountain track, and she is accidentally uncoupled. She flies off the track and is caught between two evergreen trees and the rescue team is unable to find her. And so she lives out the rest of her days in nature with a great view. Highly recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

Smokey written and illustrated by Bill Peet

Yay for Bill Peet! While I didn’t like this one as much as Katy the Caboose, my son kept wanting me to read it. Smokey is an old engine who is a bit worn down. After overhearing some other engines talk about how will be retired to the junk yard, he decides to go on an adventure. He is chased by Native Americans who misinterpret his smoke signals (this part was a little racist, but the book was written in the 1960s, so congruent with the times). He is almost run off the rails by a fast freight train and end up in a farmer’s duck pond. After the farmer complains to the North Central Line, they come and rescue him and bring him back to the train yard. His smoke stack has been bent in his fall into the pond, and now he can puff letters and numbers. A teacher returning from summer vacation sees the letters and gets her school board to buy Smokey from the North Central Line, where the kids fix him up. He goes from a sad black and white engine to a colorful one, after the kids paint him. He learns simple words and happily teaches the kids for many years. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 1/2 stars.

Steam Train, Dream Train written by Sherrie Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld

Steam Train Dream Train - Turtle Cars

I loved the book Goodnight Goodnight Construction Site, as it was a great book for my son, so when I found out the author/illustrator did a train book, I leapt at the chance to read it. She did not disappoint. How can kids not love a book with trains, animals, and dinosaurs! The book tells the rhyming story of a group of animals who help load a train with supplies and when the finish, they board the train and go to sleep. My son especially liked the polar bears and penguins loading ice cream, the elephants loading colorful paint and the dinosaurs. It has fantastic illustrations that really draw you into the story. Recommended for ages 3-7, 5 stars.

Sidney, Stella, and the Moon written and illustrated by Emily Yarlett

Sidney, Stella and the Moon

I picked this one up in the New Book section of the Children’s Room. It looked interesting and it was about the moon, which my son loves reading about, so I gave it a try. I must have British book radar, because I always seem to gravitate towards British writers, even if I have no idea where they are from are to begin with. I really liked the artwork, which was a blend of digital art and collage. The story was kind of boring though.

Sidney and Stella are twins who do everything together. One day, they are fighting over a bouncy ball, when it slips from their grasp, bounces way up and shatters the moon. What are two children to do! Why, they must fix it before anyone can find out. Of course, it is all over the news so it is not a secret for long. Sidney eventually finds a partially eaten round of cheese to replace the moon and with his sister’s help, the put it back in the sky. Recommended for ages 4-7, 3 stars.

No Such Thing written and illustrated by Bill Peet

This was an odd book. It was almost like Peet was trying too hard to be like Dr. Seuss with his descriptions of crazy original creatures and their abilities. My favorites were the colorful narcissistic horses called Fandangoes and the Snoofs, mountain goats whose horns are so long they can use them for skis. Recommended for ages 4-7, 2 1/2 stars.

The Adventures of Obadiah written and illustrated by Brinton Turkle

The Adventures of Obadiah

I love Obadiah! He is so precious. I was so excited after having read the Caldecott honor winning book Thy Friend, Obadiah by the same author, that he did a few more books on our Quaker boy Obadiah.

In this book, Obadiah keeps getting in trouble with his teacher and family for telling outrageous fibs. The family’s big event in the story is a sheep shearing and fair, where they go with all the other Quaker families to socialize. Obadiah is warned against going to the sideshow tents. While there, he is separated from his family but finally makes his way back to them at the end of the day. He tells them what seems like another crazy story about him riding an out-of-control sheep when he was saved by a sideshow performer who showed him around the area. He got to see fire-eaters and go dancing. That is pretty exciting stuff for a young Quaker boy. They don’t believe him, until his story is confirmed by a neighbor. Recommended for ages 4-8, 5 stars.

Tea Rex: A Young Person’s Guide to Tea Party Etiquette written and illustrated by Molly Idle

Tea Rex

I really picked this up for me rather than my son, though I thought he might like the dinosaur. I enjoyed the concept of this book, but the execution would be hard for small children to enjoy. A lot of the story ideas were visual, which were hard to explain to a two-year old. It would be fun for a slightly older child who can pick up on visual clues.

The book is a guide for children who want to have a tea party and shows the correct and not-so-correct ways to handle guests and put on a successful tea party. As a child who grew up with tea parties, both real and imagined, I found the idea of a huge roaring T Rex trying to be genteel and hold a cup of tea hilarious, and the pictures made it even more so. Recommended for ages 5-8, 4 stars.

The Flying Tortoise: An Igbo Tale retold by Tololwa M. Mollel, illustrated by Barbara Spurll

The Flying Tortoise

I found this book at the library book sale this weekend and picked it up because I love folktales and my son loves turtles. The story reminded me of the West African stories about Anansi the spider, as he is also a trickster, although Mbeku the tortoise seems much more greedy and unredeemable compared to Anansi.

The story comes from the Igbo people of Nigeria. Mbeku the tortoise had a beautiful shiny shell. He tricked the birds into giving him their feathers and becoming their spokesman after they were all invited to the Skyland for a feast. Mbeku got his friend the lizard to create some wings for him, which he uses to fly up with the birds and eat all their food. In punishment, they destroy his wings and leave him stranded in the sky. He plans on jumping down, but after the birds learn that he has fooled them for a third time, they sabotage his soft landing. Mbeku falls and breaks his shell, and his friend the lizard tries to repair it but it is now rugged and ugly. Recommended for ages 5-10, 4 stars.

Caldecott Challenge

Fish in the Air written and illustrated by Kurt Wiese

I managed to slip this short read into our bedtime story routine in one night. The book won a 1949 Caldecott Honor. This is only my second Kurt Wiese book but he seems to predominantly write books about China and the books are a little dated, as evidenced by the clothing in the story. This was a cute story about a young Chinese boy named Young Fish who wants to fly the biggest Fish kite. His father, Old Fish, buys it for him and on the way to flying it, Young Fish promptly gets swept away by a strong wind and end up in the river. He is caught by a napping fisherman, and rescued by his father. He quickly decides that he would much rather have the smallest fish kite. Recommended for ages 3-7, 3 stars.

Bambino the Clown written and illustrated by Georges Screiber

I wasn’t a huge fan of this book because it just came off as super creepy and slightly pedophilic to me, though I know it wouldn’t have been considered this way when it was written. It won a 1948 Caldecott Honor. Bambino the Clown is a man who sees a little boy crying and decides to take him under his wing by inviting him back to his house to see how he turns himself into a clown. He is invited to the circus the next day and we are treated to Bambino’s show with his seal companion Flapper. Recommended for ages 4 – 7, 2 ½ stars.

Children and YA

The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson

The House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus #4) by Rick Riordan, narrated by Nick Chamain

This book was a non-stop action fest, but also had plenty of character development as well to keep the story going. As usual, this series introduces me to lesser-known Greek and Roman mythology that I might not have seen unless I was very thorough. I applaud Rick Riordan for his addition of a gay main character, something I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting from a well-known children/young adult author who also happens to be Southern (I am also Southern and unfortunately we are not known for our open-mindedness – with exceptions of course).

The story picked up right where The Mark of Athena left off. Frank, Piper, Hazel, Leo, and Jason are taking the Athena Parthenos statue to Epirus, Greece to stop Gaia and close Doors of Death from the mortal side. Nico has joined the crew as well, as is the only one who can locate the doors. Meanwhile, Percy and Annabeth who fell into Tartarus in the last book are attempting to close the Doors from the Underworld. Only no mortal has ever survived walking through Tartarus, so there is a lot of pressure from their end. All of the demigods do a lot of growing up in this book, which in Frank’s case is literal and everyone else’s figuratively. The Greek and Roman gods are warring with each other, so they’re no help at all. The demigods must rely on themselves and each other if they are going to get through this. The book ended on a cliffhanger though, so I’m dying to know what happens next (have to wait a year till next book comes out L). Recommended for ages 10+, 5 stars.


The Dark-thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural written by Patricia C. McKissack, illustrated by Brian Pinkney

I probably would not have picked this book up except that it won a 1993 Newbery Honor and a Coretta Scott King Author award. But I’m very glad I did. The book is a fascinating glimpse into African-American folktales from the Southeastern US. I’ve never heard any of them. Patricia McKissack is a fabulous storyteller. There’s a little bit of everything in this book: ghosts, voodoo, Sasquatch, daring escapes, demons and protector spirits and monsters. The woodcut illustrations by Brian Pinkney are great, though I wish there were more of them. My favorites were “We Organized”, “The Woman in the Snow”, and “The Gingi”. Recommended for ages 7-12, 5 stars.

A Single Shard written by Linda Sue Park, narrated by Graeme Malcolm

At first, I was wondering why they picked this particular narrator to voice a story about a young Asian boy, but Graeme Malcolm had a very nice range of different voices and intonations and did an excellent job. I could picture Tree Ear in my mind after listening to his narration and really rooting for him to succeed. This book made me smile and cry, but still ended on a happy note.

Tree Ear is an orphaned boy about twelve years old who lives with his friend one-legged Crane-Man under a bridge in Ch’ulp’o, a small Korean village, a place known for its fine celadon pottery. One day, Tree Ear’s curiosity gets the better of him and he accidentally breaks a piece done by Min, the finest potter in the village. As penance, he has to do back-breaking labor for nine days for free. After completing this, he is taken on as an apprentice to Min, though he will not let him throw a pot on the pottery wheel. To create a beautiful vase is Tree Ear’s dream, so he is heartbroken. One day, an emissary comes to the village to select a potter for a royal commission. One of the other potters in town Kang has created a new style of incising designs into the pottery. He gets a royal commission because it is new and different, but the emissary prefers Min’s work as Kang is not as skillful. Tree Ear is charged with bringing two vases with the incised style done in Min’s more skilled hand to the emissary. Will he be able to make it? If he does, will he finally learn how to throw pots? To find out, read this beautifully written book, which won a 2002 Newbery award. Recommended for ages 9-12, 5 stars.

Young Adult

Library Wars: Love and War, Volume 9 written and illustrated by Kiiro Yumi

I had totally forgot about this series until I was browsing manga on my local library’s website the other day. This series is a little predictable, but I still enjoy it and want Kasahara to find true love, whether or not that turns out to be her “prince”.

In this volume, Kasahara is acting as bait for a groper in the library, who felt up the deaf girl Marie. Once the groper is caught, Marie is given a whistle to blow in an emergency. Since finding out that Instructor Dojo is her “prince”, things have been awkward between the two, especially after she blurts out that she’s grown out of her prince one day. The test for the next rank of Sergeant is coming up, and Kasahara and Tezuki have to take a written test and a skills test, which involves entertaining a group of kids. Kasahara passes the skills test with flying colors, and barely passes the written (thanks to tutoring from Instructor Dojo), while Tezuki aces the written and manages to hold the attention of the children. Kasahara realizes that despite her best efforts, she may be falling for Instructor Dojo for real. Recommended for ages 13+, 4 stars

Library Wars: Love and War, Volume 10 written and illustrated by Kiiro Yumi

In this volume, the enemy of the Library Task Force (the Media Betterment Committee) is censoring a piece of artwork in the Museum of Modern Art in the hometown of Kasahara, and she is chosen along with Dojo and the others to represent the Task Force in the town. They are going to protect the freedom of speech of the artist. The only problem with this is that Kasahara’s parents do not like the idea of her being in the Task Force to begin with, as they say it is unladylike. Once there, Kasahara is tormented by the female librarians, who do not like that she is there with the Task Force. She manages to work her way through it and holds her own, which Dojo praises. The bonus manga was very fascinating, and makes me wonder if Dojo really likes Kasahara as well. Can’t wait till the next volume comes out! Recommended for ages 13+, 4 stars.


Madam: A Novel of New Orleans by Cari Lynn and Kelli Martin

At the King’s Table: Royal Dining Through the Ages by Susanne Groome

As I am fascinated by British Royalty and food history, this seemed like a very appropriate topic for me to read. It gives a history of royal dining from the time of Richard II in the mid 14th century to the present day. As far as styles of cooking goes, there was a lot of French influence on the British court, depending on whether or not they were at war with the French at that time or not. The earlier courts pretty much up until King George II had prodigious appetites, then there was a lull during the reign of Mad King George III due to his illness and his wife’s pickiness. The banqueting picked up again during George IV’s reign as he was a prodigious eater, followed by a lull during the Victorian era due to Victoria and Albert’s strict upbringing of their children, and renewed again by their son Edward VI. He was a lover of all things French and it was during the Edwardian era that the French style of cooking really came into prominence in Great Britain. Once you get into modern times, the World Wars effectively put an end to the multiple-course menus. I loved all the illustrations in the book, which really set the stage for the history. Highly recommended, 5 stars.

A Storm of Swords: A Song of Ice and Fire #3 by George R.R. Martin

I thought the last book was crazy, but this one was even more so. I ended up giving this book 4 1/2 instead of 5 stars because it really dragged in the beginning and middle. I guess that’s because he was building up so much storyline to really sock it to you at the end, and boy did he. I mean how ballsy is the author to kill off 3 ½ major characters (the half part is explained in the epilogue) and at least two secondary characters all in the second half of the story!

This book picks up about where the other book left off. First, we visit the Starks and family, which leads into the rest of the major characters. Catelyn Stark has gotten this crazy idea in her head that if she releases Jaime Lannister to the care of Brienne of Tarth (her sworn protector after Renly Baratheon was killed in the previous book), and delivers him to King’s Landing that Cersei will give her back Sansa and Arya. So she does and that causes a mighty uproar with her son Robb, the King in the North, as he was a valuable bargaining chip. We actually get to see Jaime as a real person and not just as the “Kingslayer”. Jon Snow has joined the wildings, under orders from a Night Watch superior, to see what they are planning for the Black Brothers. He definitely gets a little life experience under his belt after he claims Ygritte for his own. I found the character of Mance Rayder to be particularly interesting as there were only hints of his character before. John really came into his own in this book and grew up a bit.

Arya is still on the run and falls into the hands of Lord Beric Dondarrion, the lightning lord, who runs with group of commoners. He is another follower of the Lord of Light. She spends some time with the Hound, who has been on the run ever since Stannis Baratheon was defeated at the Battle for King’s Landing. She also manages to tick a few names off her death wish list, some through her actions and some through others. Bran, Hodor and the Reed heirs (retainers of his father) have escaped from Winterfell and are heading North. King Joffrey breaks his marriage plans to Sansa and is engaged to be married to Margery Tyrell, the former wife of Renly Baratheon. Sansa spends most of the book being bullied by Joffrey and his thugs. After the Battle for King’s Landing, and despite his great role in protecting the city, Tyrion is essentially discarded and his father Tywin takes over the role of Hand to the King. Daenerys is becoming totally bad-ass after conquering a few eastern cities and getting a warrior-eunuch army to follow her. The dragons are growing up.

Davos Seaworth gets rescued and brought back to “King” Stannis who first throws him in prison and then names him Hand of the King. The Others, the undead horde that keep following the Night’s Watch, attack the small army set up by Lord Commander Mormont. Samwell Tarly kills one of the Others with an obsidian blade given to him by Jon. Afterwards, they are staying at Craster’s (a wildling who sometimes gives aid to the Black Brothers) house, when some of the remaining Brothers rebel, and kill Mormont. Samwell manages to escape with the help of Gilly, who has just given birth. He must bring them back to Castle Black to safety.  To find out more about the story, read this excellent third book in A Song of Ice and Fire series. 4 1/2 stars.

Murder as a Fine Art written by David Morrell

I picked this book on a recommendation from one of my favorite historical fiction/mystery YA authors, Y.S. Lee. She had read the book and gave it positive reviews for accuracy and I love this type of book so decided to give it a try. I had no idea that the author originally became famous for writing First Blood, the book that first introduced Rambo to the world. Morrell was very thorough in researching for this book, and shares his sources in the back. Although I had never read anything about Thomas de Quincey, I had heard of his famous book. I am definitely interested after reading this book.

A man brutally murders a young family and their servant in the East End of London and the city’s newly created Scotland Yard is on the case. Inspector Ryan and his associate Constable Becker are assigned to the case and begin to explore what might have happened. Eventually they decide to involve the author Thomas de Quincey in the investigation. He is the author of the infamous book The Confessions of an English Opium Eater, the world’s first real book about drug addiction, a very taboo subject during the Victorian era. Thomas de Quincy believes the murders are from a copycat killer of an earlier set of murders done in the same area of Ratcliffe Highway. They are meant to cause panic and riots so that the police won’t be able to catch who is responsible. De Quincey and his daughter Emily help Ryan and Becker, but De Quincey is himself implicated in the murders due to his continued laudanum use and the fact that he knows so much about the earlier killings. Will Ryan and Becker be able to stop the murderer before he strikes again? Will they be able to solve the case and free de Quincey? To find out, read this incredible Victorian thriller. 5 stars.

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman

How can you not love a man who is both detailed in research and precise in cooking directions? I’ve been a fan of Mark Bittman for awhile, and after reading his VB6 book and liking the idea but wanting more vegetarian options, I got this book. This book is a behemoth at about 900 pages, but like I said before, Bittman is very thorough in his description of every kind of vegetable and fruit imaginable, plus whole grains, different kinds of breads and a small dessert section. I figure I found at least 20 new ways to prepare things, but with recipes that won’t overwhelm me. Some of the recipes I’d like to try include Raw Beet Salad, Wheat Berry Salad with Roasted Peppers, Goat Cheese  and Mushroom Tart with Potato Crust, Smashed Edamame and Potatoes with Miso, and Plum Rosemary Upside-Down Cake. 5 stars.

1st Book Review Post of 2014

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

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