Saturday, December 31, 2011

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin

All These Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011
young adult, first in a trilogy

I read this months ago...I really liked it. You can read on as I try to make sense of my jumbled notes, or you can trust me that it is great, skip the review and just read the book!

First, I really like this title, and the way it plays into the story.

Set in the future, where chocolate is illegal and water is scarce, this never really feels like a dystopian novel, which was a plus for me. (Although that has been a negative for other readers.) There were simply little details and moments throughout the book that made me remember it was set in the future.

Anya Balanchine's father is dead, but when he was alive, he was a notorious crime boss, something that deeply affected the family. Her mother was killed in a car accident (meant to take out her father) and her older brother suffered a brain injury as a result of the same accident. Anya's got a lot of responsibility, but still, things are going okay until her jerk of an ex-boyfriend almost dies from eating chocolate manufactured by Anya's family. To further complicate the situation, while a suspect in the poisoning, Anya is also falling in love with the assistant DA's son.

I love the following conversation between Anya and her friend:
"isn't that OMG?"
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Um, it stands for something. Dad said it used to mean, maybe, 'amazing'? Or something like that? He wasn't sure. Ask your nana, okay?" (p. 15, 16)
and then later when her Nana explains:
"Oh my God," Nana said. "Life used to move much more quickly when I was a girl. We needed to abbreviate just to keep up." (p.227)
What Zevin does best here is create really well-developed characters, especially Anya. I worried about her! She has so much responsibility, and I'm just not sure who she can trust - her family, the Japanese chocolatier...I hope she chooses wisely and I'm really excited to see how things play out in the rest of the trilogy.

Here's what didn't work (or felt out of place): there's an aside on page 209 where Anya speaks directly to the reader. It's the first time this happens and it just seems random.  Then, later, Anya speaks directly to the reader again, ending with, "Unlike some, I pride myself on being a very reliable narrator." (p. 266). This left me going, "What? Did I miss an indication that she's not a reliable narrator?" Up to this point, I'd been believing her...and so I started to wonder if we'd find out some really different things in the next book.
The things I liked definitely outweighed the things I didn't, and I can't wait for the next book!

Reviewed from library copy

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lots of Reading, Little Blogging!

This week is where I play catch up...telling you about lots of great things I've read, so I can start the new year off on track!

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan - I really liked this! It's the start of a new series, back at Camp Half-Blood. I'm anxiously waiting for it to be my turn to get the second one. Funny story - I was at a high school for a visit, and I overheard a couple of girls talking this. I mentioned I was reading it, and one of them got really excited and started to say something. I cut her off, "I'm not that far into it...I don't know why Jason has no memory or where Percy is...don't tell me anything!" Her eyes got big and she literally put her hand over her mouth to keep from telling me something.

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos - Okay, before reading this, I wasn't a huge Jack Gantos fan...I've read some Joey Pigza and some Rotten Ralph, and they just haven't worked for me. But this book? This book I LOVED. It has great characters and is laugh out loud funny...yes, the plot kind of falls apart and yes, the "murder mystery" at the end didn't work so well, but it still manages to be a terrific read about a boy who is grounded for the summer and only allowed to dig his family's bomb shelter in the backyard and help an elderly neighbor write obituaries for the local paper. It's one of my favorites of the year.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys - A moving story of how 15-year-old Lina and her mother and brother are taken from their home in Lithuania and sent to Siberia, a time during Stalin's reign which I knew little about.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor - A story of angels and devils that manages to be so different from all of the other angel books that have been published lately. I absolutely never really knew where the story was heading and couldn't put the book down. One of the best young adult books of 2011.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater - Violent races with water horses (a "summary" that probably doesn't do the book justice)...what I liked most were the fully-drawn characters, the relationship between Puck and Sean, and the village life.

Flesh & Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Albert Marrin - A hugely detailed look at not just the actual fire, but the events leading up to it (immigration and why people left their home countries), immigrant life during this time, and then the reform movement after the fire. Lots of good sidebar information on related topics. If the Triangle Fire interests you, but you'd rather a more fictionalized account try Threads and Flames by Esther Friesner, in which 13-year-old Raisa leaves Poland to join her sister in America, and eventually takes a job for the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.

The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure - McClure takes the reader along as she visits all of the sights from the Little House books. Highly entertaining and chatty at times...other times, I skimmed. I didn't remember much about the surveyor's house, which is from By the Shores of Silver Lake, which I haven't read nearly as many times as all the others. So, I picked up a copy to re-read...Mary is blind, Jack dies...and I realized why this was never a favorite.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness - Conor's mom is dying...and he isn't dealing with it very well. A monster comes in the middle of several nights, and tells Conor stories to help him find the truth. Brilliantly written, this was so powerful and so emotional, it's hard for me to see beyond the strong reaction it evoked.

What have you been reading lately?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Wow! Said the Owl

Wow! Said The Owl by Tim Hopgood
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009

While not a newly published book, this is one that's new to me. I do an owl-themed storytime almost every year, and I came across this when looking for something different to use. It would also work really great for colors.

The book begins with, "At night, when we are feeling tired and ready for bed, owls are just waking up." I love the simplicity in this statement. It goes on to talk about how owls can see in the dark, giving just enough background information on owls for youngest listeners.

One night, this curious little owl decides she will take a nap and then stay up to see what the day has to offer. She wakes up just before dawn and says, "Wow!" when she sees the pink sky. Each new color that she sees makes her say, "Wow!" The repetition of the word makes for great interaction, as kids can say it with you each time. And when night falls, the owl finds that it has some pretty beautiful colors of its own.

The illustrations are big and bold and work well for a large group. Individual readers will notice a color wheel at the end of the book, with a note that all of the colors can be found in the book if they want to look through it again and notice and name them.

Reviewed from purchased copy

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Readers Are Everywhere!

You probably know by now that I'm a dog person. Cats aren't really my thing. However, even I will admit that this is a really cute story about a cat who reads.

I was in the "lobby" of an auto body shop the other day. (I was waiting for an estimate on some damage after being rear-ended, in case you were wondering. Body shops aren't my typical hangout.) Anyway, it was early and as the guys (probably mid-twenties to mid-thirties) were turning on computers, etc., I heard one mention that he's reading the second Enemy book by Charlie Higson, and that it's really good. I love unexpectedly hearing people talk about books, especially when they are adults talking about young adult titles.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Catching Up

Things have been crazy! Lots going on...I changed branches on October 1, and one of the things that came with that change is a new program - an afterschool program for elementary school age kids, at yet another branch. So far, it's going great and I'm having lots of fun with it.

I haven't been doing much reading...partly because I've had lots of other things to do, but also partly because of new fall t.v. shows...and watching t.v. cuts into my reading time...

Here's a little of what I have read:

The first three Myron Bolitar novels by Harlan Coben...and then I read his first young adult book that was recently published - Shelter. It focuses on Myron's nephew Mickey, and I liked it better than the others. I think in part, because it seemed to move faster. You can absolutely read it without having read any of Coben's adult titles...but after finishing, I read the newest Myron novel - Live Wire - which was really interesting because it parts of it were Shelter from a different perspective. While I'm not in a rush to finish the rest of the Myron novels, I always like having a series to fall back on.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles - This was smartly and gorgeously written. Really, some of the sentences were just so beautifully crafted. I do think the writing surpassed the actual story, which was good, but just didn't have the wow factor I was expecting. That being said, I'll absolutely read Towles's next book.

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier - a really fun ya time travel book...first in a trilogy

What have you been reading and really enjoying? Any recommendations? Or, what new shows are you watching? I'm really hooked on Revenge and am enjoying Pan Am, too.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Favorite Dog Picture Books

In honor of the birthday girl, here are some of my favorite picture books featuring dogs. (It is slightly ridiculous how much time I spent trying to take this picture - she got a treat to keep her sitting still and from trying to take off the hat, but then I could not get her to look at the camera. Oh well, she's still cute!)

The Great Gracie Chase: Stop That Dog! by Cynthia Rylant (who does great dog books), illus. by Mark Teague - Gracie Rose loves her nice quiet house, which is not so quiet when the painters come. Even though she knows it is against the rules, Gracie leaves the yard on her own, leading lots of people on a chase.

Dog's Colorful Day by Emma Dodd - Dog is white with one black spot. After a messy day, he finds himself with ten colorful spots. I love using this one in toddler storytime - with colors and counting, it provides for lots of interaction. Also look for Dog's Noisy Day.

Digby Takes Charge by Caroline Jayne Church - Digby, a sheepdog, tries all kinds of things to get the sheep in their pen. Nothing works, until he learns the magic word. A cute, understated story about saying "please."

Move Over, Rover by Karen Beaumont, illus. by Jane Dyer - When it starts to rain, animals begin to pile into Rover's dog house. Although they keep crowding in, all is well until the arrival of a smelly guest. An especially fun read aloud because of the rhythm and rhyme.

Bark, George by Jules Feiffer - Poor George. He can make a lot of animal sounds, but he can't bark. Poor George's mom. She is so frustrated! A trip to the vet gets everything sorted out...for a short while at least. Both text and illustrations are perfect; the end result is hilarious for kids and adults.

Please Take Me For A Walk by Susan Gal - One of my absolute favorites! A must read for dog owners of any age, it gives all the reasons you should take your dog for a walk.

Buster by Denise Fleming - Buster has a great life...until the day a kitten comes to live at his house. Buster is terrified of this kitten, and escapes one day to spend a fun, kitten-free afternoon. But when he gets lost, it's the kitten who comes to his rescue. Also look for Buster Goes to Cowboy Camp.

Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats - A classic tale of a boy who wants to learn how to whistle so he can call his dog. Like Peter, I cannot whistle to call for my dog; unlike Peter, I have given up trying to learn.

Daisy 1, 2, 3 by Peter Catalanotto - Mrs. Tuttle has 20 dogs in her obedience class and they are all named Daisy. Luckily, each dog has a unique characteristic. This is a clever counting book with a cute twist at the end.

Skunkdog by Emily Jenkins, illus. by Pierre Pratt - Dumpling has no sense of smell, and thus has a hard time making friends with other dogs. (She's not interested in smelling flowers or garbage or anything else.) When she and her family move to the country, she finally makes friends...with a skunk, much to the dismay of her people.

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion, illus. by Margaret Bloy - An oldie but goodie: Harry does not want a bath, buries the brush and runs off. When he comes home completely dirty, he has to take a bath to get his family to recognize him. Also look for No Roses for Harry, and my favorite, Harry by the Sea.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Reel Life Starring Us by Lisa Greenwald

Reel Life Starring Us by Lisa Greenwald
Abrams, 2011

As a fan of Greenwald's previous novels (My Life in Pink & Green and Sweet Treats & Secret Crushes), I was excited to read her latest. This one, Reel Life Starring Us, is just as delightful.

Dina has just moved to a new city and is starting eighth grade at a new school, a month late. She's artistic, enjoys filming videos, and is having to make the adjustment from a small school that encouraged differences (and where she was popular) to a bigger school filled with cliques. Chelsea is also starting eighth grade a month late, having just recovered from mono. Unlike Dina, she's starting school as one of the most popular girls, with tight group of friends. She's also starting school with a big secret. As the story unfolds, we get hints about this secret, such as her dad having traded his pin-stripe suits for work out clothes and her not having the latest pair of designer jeans.

Chapters alternate between the girls; one of the things Greenwald handles so well is changing the point of view. While Dina's chapters start with a film tip and Chelsea's start with a tip from a popular teen star, each girl also a distinct voice and you always know which one is talking.

Dina is aware of Chelsea from the moment the popular clique chants for during a badminton game as Dina watches from the sidelines. Their stories really begin to merge when the two are assigned to work on a video project together. Chelsea's reluctant about the project (she'd much rather be working with her friends than the unpopular new girl) and Dina's excited (she's got lots of great ideas and thinks this is her ticket to becoming Chelsea's friend and thus popular). Each girl thinks she can figure the other out in ten seconds, but slowly discover that's not the case.

Friendships, popularity, boys, school, family - it's all here. We (adults) hear so many real stories about kids growing up too fast, and a lot of them are...but a lot of them aren't. Greenwald excels (in all of her books) at capturing that true middle school experience for these kids - where you go over to a boy's house to study and are a little nervous about being alone in his room with him, and where parents ask about your day (even if you don't want to tell them).

Reviewed from digital copy provided by publisher on NetGalley

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ready for Fall

Maybe it's the gazillion days of triple-digit temperatures we've had, but I am so ready for fall. Definitely the cooler weather and sweaters and sweatshirts, but also the changing leaves, pumpkin spice lattes and yellow mums. Fall also has some of the best storytime themes: fall itself, as well as apples and pumpkins, and in October, spiders and monsters...I can't wait. Here are some of my favorite fall picture books to read aloud.


I Know It's Autumn by Eileen Spinelli, illus. by Nancy Hayashi
This book discuss all the things that signal autumn, going beyond changing leaf colors, to include "morning light that comes late," getting out jackets, classroom art projects, blooming mums and more. This will really make you ready for fall!

Every Autumn Comes the Bear by Jim Arnosky
Sometimes I wait and use this one closer to winter, with Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and other bear/hibernation books. It very simply tells, and shows, the activities of a bear and the animals he sees as he walks through the woods. As more and more snow starts to fall, the bear ends up asleep in his den.

Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert
The story of Leaf Man, who blows away - everything he blows past, such as chickens, orchards, and cows, is made of leaves. Perfect for reading before letting kids make their own leaf creations.

Mouse's First Fall by Lauren Thompson; illus. by Buket Erdogan
In this short and simple story, Mouse and his big sister Minka play in the leaves. It has basic colors, shapes and counting, and gorgeous illustrations. In the end, Minka hides in a pile of leaves, and kids will have fun looking for her and spying her tale. It's one of the "Mouse's First..." books, a great series for toddlers that introduces seasons and holidays.


 Fall is Not Easy by Marty Kelley
Such fun! Kids always get a kick out of this tale of tree who has a hard time with fall. His leaves never seem to do right thing, but instead change into displays that look like rainbows, hamburgers and other silly things.

Apples and Pumpkins by Anne Rockwell, illus. by Lizzy Rockwell
A young girl and her family visit a local farm to pick apples and pumpkins. When they get home they carve their pumpkin. The books ends with trick-or-treating, so I usually use this one closer to Halloween. (Or sometimes I simply end the book when the family leaves the farm...)

In November by Cynthia Rylant, illus. by Jill Kastner
This is a calm, quiet story about the things in November. It's not one I usually use for storytime, but it is a lovely book for one-on-one sharing, or a small group.

Fall Leaves Fall! by Zoe Hall, illus. by Shari Halpern
Two kids talk about their favorite season and how they know it's coming - by watching the leaves. When the leaves finally fall from the trees, the kids show us all the things they do with them.

Ska-tat! by Kimberly Knutson
Another book about leaves, this one begs to be read aloud, with words like sha-shoo and ska-tat, as three children play in the falling leaves.

Red Are the Apples Cover
Red Are the Apples by Marc Harshman & Cheryl Ryan; illus. by Wade Zahares
The illustrations, pastels on paper, are gorgeous in this book, which discusses the colors of fall as seen in a garden. Some foods are familiar, like apples and corn, and others, like eggplants and beets, may be new depending on your audience.


Friday, August 26, 2011

My New Favorite ABC Book

Apple Pie ABC by Alison Murray
Disney/Hyperion, 2011

ABC books are sometimes hard to pull off, and there aren't a lot of them that I really like - this one, I LOVE. And yes, it does have a dog in it...

The dog is curled up sleeping while the little girl puts the finishing touches on an apple pie. The dog wakes up when he smells it baking, and they both watch it "cool." While the girl gets a piece, the dog does not. The illustration here, of the dog determinedly pushing his bowl across the floor, "eager" for a piece, is one of my favorites. Soon, we see him curled up in his bed, "miserable" without any pie. But he is "not giving up", and we see him "pine for it", and "ogle it." X is often tricky, and in this case, a true X word isn't used (it's exit) but in this book, I'm not so bothered by it.

The letters are a good size, and each one stands for a word or short phrase. It easily works as a story, instead of just a collection of things to show off the letters of the alphabet. It's also a cute and clever introduction to new vocabulary - how often do you use the word ogle, especially when talking to a child?

The slightly retro-looking illustrations are just delightful, and the dog's personality just shines through in his antics.

This book is actually based on an old, really old, alphabet rhyme (yes, I did just do an un-librarian type thing and use wikipedia as my source) but it's been updated brilliantly and is a million times better than the books that use this rhyme and seem quite out-dated. You can also visit the book's website, where you'll learn the dog is named Georgie and the girl is Grace. You can also print a coloring page, and make your own Georgie.

Reviewed from library copy

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pottered Out

So, you may remember my goal to read all the Harry Potter books this summer. I read the first three really quickly and enjoyed them so much; I was surprised by how much I didn't remember.

And then I picked up Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. And it was long and it seemed like the book that would never end. I can't say for sure that I would have finished reading had I not found myself home sick for a couple of days. But I soldiered through, and when finished, was even more determined/obsessed with reading the rest. I read book 5 (while watching the first movie, the only movie I'd seen) and moved on to 6, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

Do you know what I remembered from book six? That Bill and Fleur were engaged and the ending, where Dumbledore dies. A lot happens in between! I'm really not the person that reads the beginning and skips to the end, but I'm wondering if I did that with this book. How could I have forgotten so much? And, the whole reason I didn't read the last book when it came out, was because I heard someone talking about horcruxes, and I thought, "Horcruxes? I don't remember those. Are they important? Maybe I better figure that out before picking up a book I'll be lost in." Well, we learn about horcruxes in the middle of book six. Which apparently I might have completely skipped. Anyway, I finished book six, and watched the movie, and now, I'm a bit tired and I still haven't read the last book!

Here's the thing - I read the first book not too long after it was published. I introduced several friends to Harry Potter. I went to a midnight showing of the first movie. I eagerly awaited the next book. And somewhere along the way, the books began to matter a little less.

I will finish this series. I'm determined. But, having read the first six in a little under two weeks, I'm taking a break. I'm reading something else (probably Rules of Civility by Amor Towles - New York, late 1930s - it couldn't be more different than Hogwarts). I'm pottered out.

Side note:
Here's an interesting article - Conjuring the Next Harry Potter, from The Wall Street Journal.

For A New School Year

Follow The Line To School by Laura Ljungkvist
Viking, 2011

I really, really like Ljungkvist's books, and this one is perfect for the start of a new school year, as readers follow the line throughout the school. The line leads to the classroom, and the science corner, and then to library. From the library, it takes us to art room, the cafeteria, the playground, the math area, the music room, and finally, back to the classroom for show and tell, before it's time to go home.

There are so many things to look at in these pictures, and so much to discuss. Each room/area has three questions to answer. One of the great things about this book, is that while there are basic questions asking about colors, and counting things, and looking for things, there are also questions that provide more of a discussion, such as, "Which of the foods shown here would you pack in your own lunch box?"

Be sure to also look for Follow the Line, Follow the Line Through the House, and Follow the Line Around the World.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray

Falling for Hamlet by Michelle Ray
Little, Brown & Co, 2011

I loved this fabulous retelling of Hamlet! In a modern-day setting, complete with tabloids, tv and the papparazzi, Ophelia has an on-again, off-again relationship with Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark. Ophelia, whose father is still an advisor to the King, lives in the castle, and finds herself caught between the drama of dating the prince, and trying to be a regular senior in high school. When Hamlet's father is murdered, Ophelia watches as her boyfriend slowly goes mad.

Ray manages to perfectly capture the essence of Shakespeare's story and cleverly add her own unique twist. The story is told in three formats - it alternates between an interview Ophelia does on a popular talk show (think Oprah) after everything has happened, the story as it plays out, and an interrogation (after everything has happened, but before the talk show) of Ophelia by agents with the Denmark Department of Investigation. While it may sound confusing, or jarring, to go back and forth between the three, it really works. The story flows, and it serves as a great way to draw out pieces of the story at a time.

There are original quotes used throughout the book, such as "To thine own self be true," and Hamlet scribbles his famous "To be or not to be" in a notebook - it's great to see these incorporated into this retelling.

The end has an author's note, in which Ray discusses her inspiration for this story, as well as other details such as why she used the original names, yet gave Ophelia friends and classmates with modern names, and why she kept Hamlet a prince. I loved getting her insight!

The author's website:

Reviewed from library copy

For a completely different, but equally wonderful, take on Hamlet, try Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery by Alan Gratz.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hello, August!

  • Here in Texas, it's a given that summer will be hot. But, we have now had 30 consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures - we may hit 107 later this week - and it is HOT. I would like nothing more than to hide in my air-conditioned house and read all day.
  • I am so excited for The Help to come out this month! Are you planning to see it?

  • I decided sometime last month to re-read all the Harry Potter books this summer (and read the last one for the first time). Summer is slowly ticking along, and ummm....I haven't started yet. But, I convinced a friend to re-read them, too, so she's supposed to keep me on top of this project. It's not that I'm not excited by this, it's just I have so many other things I want to read as well. My new plan is to get all the books read, watch the first part of the last movie, and see the second part while it is still in theaters. We'll see...
  • I'm currently reading Wrapped by Jennifer good! I was hooked from the very beginning, when the book opens with:
"Put the book down, darling," my mother said from her chair beside the mirror. "The chapter's end is only a short way off," I replied, reaching out with my other hand to flip the page. Despite the ache in my shoulder from holding the book at arm's length so the dressmakers could work on my gown, I didn't want to give it up. (p. 3)
Agnes Wilkins, an avid reader and huge fan of Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice, is getting ready for her debut. One of the first events of the season is a party in which a mummy is unwrapped! Guests take turns cutting the wrapping, and anything they find - trinkets, jewels, etc. that were wrapped with the mummy - they get to keep. Only it turns it this mummy might be cursed. I'm loving this!

Texas Forever*

Paradise by Jill S. Alexander
Feiwel and Friends, 2011
young adult

One of my favorite books of 2009 (and I use "favorite" kind of loosely sometimes) but in this case I mean favorite books, was The Sweetheart of Prosper County by Jill S. Alexander. I fell in love with 15-year-old Austin Gray who wanted more than anything to be a hood ornament in the annual no-Jesus Christmas parade, and joined the Future Farmers of America and raised a rooster named Charles Dickens. She is a strong, likeable character, and Alexander's Texan voice captured me from the start.

Needless to say, I was beyond excited to read her second book, Paradise, when it came out early in July, and it didn't disappoint. Paisley Tillery dreams of becoming a drummer in a band, of making it big and leaving her small-town life behind. Her mother, however, is not exactly supportive, and Paisley hides the fact that not only is she in a band, but that said band is going to play in Austin at Texapalooza, which she hopes will be her big break. Life gets a little more complicated when a cute boy joins the band as lead singer and accordion player, and soon Paisley is realizing she wants her family's support and that she must stand strong and tell them, especially her mother, of her plans for the future.

The characters and the dialogue and the challenges they face are realistic. The secondary characters are well-developed; interspersed throughout the book, between chapters, are lyrics written by Cal, one of the other band members. I think it was a great way for Alexander to share his voice and story.

POSSIBLE, SLIGHT SPOILER - I know some people haven't been happy with the ending. And all I can say is that while I didn't see it coming, I didn't have a problem with it - I don't think it lessened the story in any way - and, you know, sometimes that's the way life happens.

Have I mentioned the writing? I love when we get sentences like the following:
"Despite a dark cloud drifting southward, the sun set west of Austin and left in its wake a striking afterglow of dusty pink, lavender, and orange. The most beautiful part of the day isn't always the brightest." (p. 222)

Reviewed from purchased copy

*A shout out to one of the best t.v. shows, which doesn't have much to do with this post, except that both the show and this book capture the voice and feel and dreams of small-town Texas...I watched the last season of Friday Night Lights on dvd, so my ending came in between the endings of those who watched it on DIRECTV and those who watched it on NBC, but I got caught up in the ending all over again after the last episode aired, which was about the time I was reading this book...and listening to a little Pat Green and having Texas On My Mind.

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Walk in London

A Walk in London by Salvatore Rubbino
Candlewick Press, 2011

A mother and daughter spend the day exploring London - sights include Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Covington Garden, St. Paul's Cathedral and many more. The mixed media illustrations, a little retro-ish, are wonderful and provide lots to look at, although the pages never feel cluttered.

The book can be read straight through, focusing on the larger text, or you can stop and read all the fascinating facts and bits of trivia included in the scenes as well. For example, when the duo admires Buckingham Palace, the reader learns that there are two flags that fly over the Palace - one for when the monarch is away and one for when the monarch is in London, that the Palace has its own post office, as well as the number of rooms in the entire building, and details about the Changing of the Guard.

When the mother and her daughter see the Thames, the reader gets a fold-out of the river that offers a complete view of the river and surrounding areas. At the end of the book, the royals' car (previously mentioned) is shown again, and kids can go back and see how many other illustrations show the car. Because, after one reading, you'll definitely want to go back and look at everything again.

London is one of my favorite cities, but even though I'm a little partial, this is a great introduction to a fabulous city, and even adults are sure to enjoy it.

Also look for Rubbino's A Walk in New York.

Reviewed from library copy

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Soldier's Wife

The Soldier's Wife
Margaret Leroy
Hyperion, 2011

I came across this book shortly after reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I loved. This is also set on Guernsey during World War II, and I was intrigued. I found myself reading at night, at lunch, and whenever I had ten minutes to spare, although ten minutes was never enough.

Vivienne de la Mare is living on Guernsey with her two daughters and her mother-in-law; her husband is off fighting in the war. As the island is invaded by German soldiers, she must decide whether to remain at home, or leave for London. After making all of the preparations to leave, Vivienne, while waiting on the dock and seeing how many people are leaving and how small the boat is, changes her mind. The family remains on the island, much to the consternation of the oldest daughter.

The island residents face occupation, the bombing of the harbor, rationing and curfews...and several try to do something to make a difference, to stand up to the Germans. When Vivienne begins an affair with one of the German soldiers next door, she not only hides the affair from her family and friends, but also hides a big secret from the soldier, one that could possibly cause harm to her family.

The writing is so descriptive - you can see the island and the gardens, and you know the characters. "Daffodil-yellow mornings" is the phrase that still stays in my mind weeks after reading it. When Vivienne eats a piece of chocolate after not having had it for so long, you feel how much she enjoys it. Because the writing was so engaging, and brought the story to life in other parts, I really noticed the affair for being less so - it didn't seem as developed, and as real, as the rest of the story. But, I think that's okay. I picked this up expecting the story of a community, and more specifically, of a family dealing with the war. That's what I go, and that's what I enjoyed.

The novel explores the impact of war on the home front, on the soldier's wife left behind, but it goes beyond that, to question playing it safe versus living, to explore the things people tell themselves to get through difficult situations, and to wonder what is more regrettable - things done, or the things left undone.

Reviewed from an ARC (Maybe received in a giveaway from the publisher? I can't remember.)

Monday, July 18, 2011


Entwined by Heather Dixon
Greenwillow/HarperCollins, 2011

Isn't this cover gorgeous? The story inside is just as wonderful. In re-telling The Twelve Dancing Princesses, Dixon brings to life a magical story, though at times dark and unsettling.

When her mother dies, after the birth of the newest daughter, and a long illness, Azalea, the eldest and heir to her father's throne, promises to watch out for her sisters. When the family goes into mourning, and the girls are no longer allowed to dance, Azalea and her sisters deeply feel the loss of their favorite activity. Here's where I confess I skimmed the dancing scenes and explanations of the steps - if you're a dance fan, you'll love this added info, and if not, it never feels distracting to the story.

When the girls find a secret passageway off their bedroom that leads to an enchanted pavilion presided over by the Keeper, it seems they have found the perfect way to continue their dancing. The Keeper, however, turns out to have a hidden, and dangerous, agenda as dark magic comes into play.

Besides the engaging storytelling, one of the things I really liked was the subtle humor, which I wasn't expecting. One example:
Azalea stacked the empty bowls together so hard they knocked together. She told herself she didn't have favorite sisters, but if she did, Delphinium would not be one of them. (p. 67)
And, in the following example which takes place after Azalea has fainted:
"What happened? said Clover, wetting a cloth in the basin, and dabbing Azalea's face.
"She had a sort of fit," said the King. "I think her underthings may be laced too tightly."
All the girls, including Azalea, blushed brilliantly.
"Sir," said Eve. "You're not supposed to know about the U word!"
"Am I not? Forgive me." (p. 292)
This was such a satisfying story - Azalea's efforts to thwart the Keeper and protect her sisters, the ending, the development of the relationships. Highly enjoyable.

Reviewed from library copy

Friday, July 15, 2011


by Lois Ehlert
Beach Lane Books, 2011

Lois Ehlert has some great books for storytime - I use Waiting for Wings with butterflies, Leaf Man in the fall, and Feathers for Lunch for either a cat or a bird theme. She never disappoints, but I think RRRALPH is my new favorite.

An unnamed and unseen narrator tells us on the first page that his dog can talk. His dog, seen on the opposite page, is adorably and cleverly made of black and white textured papers with a pull tab nose and zipper mouth.

When his family first brought the dog home, our narrator asked the dog what is name was, and the dog stood up and said, "RRRALPH RALPH." Go ahead - take a minute and practice saying that in your best dog voice. It sounds like a dog, doesn't it?

What follows is a series of questions (each with a sentence or two for an introduction) asked by our narrator and answered by Ralph. My favorite is when Ralph's person asks what is on the tree, but all are so funny. The book reads like a kid telling a series of jokes, and in fact, the authors' note at the end mentions that the book was inspired by jokes her brother told to his grandchildren.

My library just got this in, and I can't wait to try it out in storytime. It's sure to be a hit.

Reviewed from library copy

Thursday, July 7, 2011


I'm reading Entwined by Heather Dixon - a young adult re-telling/re-imagining of The Twelve Dancing Princesses. Loving it so far - I'm racing through it, which is good, because it's overdue at the library and I can't renew it.

I'm also reading State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (adult fiction), which is just insanely brilliant. Highly recommended.

And, while I rarely listen to audiobooks, I'm trying out Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith, for something a little different.

What are you reading? Any good recommendations?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

June Recap

Goodbye June! You wore me out. Completely and utterly. I did, however, manage to read a quite a few books. Here are the highlights:

Chime by Franny Billingsley

The Liar Society by Lisa & Laura Roecker

Girl's Best Friend by Lisa Margolis

Sequins, Secrets, and Silver Linings by Sophia Bennett  - Let me point you to Trisha's review over at The YA YA YA S, which is what made me want to read the book, when she compared it to My Most Excellent Year, a most excellent book by Steve Kluger. Bennett's book turned out to be one of my favorites of this year; here's my favorite line, that I think just sums up what kind of lovely book this is - "Bad stuff happens, but every now and again miracles can happen, too...Life can be that kind." (p. 280) Can't wait for the next one!

The False Princess by Eilis O'Neal - magic, adventure, a conspiracy, a little romance...such a good book...Janssen's review at Everyday Reading is what made me want to read this, and I'm so glad I did.

The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson - I read 13 Little Blue Envelopes ages ago, but Johnson does a great job of reminding the reader about things from the previous book. Loved this one as much as the first.

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray - While I loved Bray's A Great and Terrible Beauty, I never finished Going Bovine, and I wasn't sure what to expect from this one, in which a plane full of teenage beauty pageant contestants crashes on an island. This is over-the-top, a satire that was so much fun. About thirty pages into it, I texted a friend telling her she had to read this.

We'll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han - Hmmm...The last book in Han's Summer trilogy, I included this because I'd waited so long for it, and was glad to see how story ended. While I'm happy with the brother Belly finally chose, this wasn't really the story I was wanting. There's a little epilogue at the end; that is the story I wanted.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Girl's Best Friend by Leslie Margolis

Girl's Best Friend by Leslie Margolis
Bloomsbury, 2010

Dogs are suddenly going missing in Maggie Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood, and she's on the case. As an after school dog walker (a secret job her parents don't know about), she's in the perfect position to figure out what's happening to these dogs, especially when her ex-best friend's dog also disappears. But what will happen when it starts to look like the boy she's crushing on might be involved?

I expected a good mystery; I got so much more and really ended up loving this book. Maggie is a fun and likable character, and while the mystery will keep readers guessing, this is also simply a great story about middle school. Margolis perfectly captures that changing time between being a little kid and a teenager. When Maggie and her twin brother celebrate their twelfth birthdays with a party, she says,
"Turning twelve means you're too old to have a party organized by your parents - with activities and games and goodie bags - and too young to know what you're supposed to be doing at a party when no one is organizing it for you. " (p. 68)
And my favorite example comes when Maggie is talking about not being ready to confide in a friend about her crush.
"I hadn't told Sonya yet, either, even though we've been good friends since the third grade and great friends since the beginning of sixth. I can't because of the unicorns. She's really into them and I have this theory: you can love unicorns or you can love boys, but you cannot love unicorns and boys." (p.79)
That, is perfection. And true. And it's one of the reasons I love this book. The voice is so spot-on, in the way distinguishes between the girls being good friends and then becoming great friends.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Maggie's take on Nancy Drew, whose books she never read, because everything just seemed to perfect.
"Nancy's whole world was one gigantic lovefest, but real life is messier. It's filled with clueless twin brothers and best friends who turn evil and mysterious dognappers and crushes who hardly know you exist and who won't even take out both earbuds to listen to what you have to say." (p. 123)
That's a perfect example of what you get with this book - a sometimes messy look at life and middle school with realistic characters and issues (even though not every seventh-grader is going to be out searching for dognappers.) And I love the line that follows, where Maggie puts her Nancy Drew issues aside because she's not "looking for a great read", she's "looking to solve a mystery."

Maggie has a great website, which has lots of fun features, including a cool map of her neighborhood with various places from the book highlighted.

Highly recommended; I can't wait for more books about Maggie Brooklyn!

Reviewed from purchased copy

Friday, July 1, 2011

For the 4th of July

How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A.
by Marjorie Priceman
Alfred A. Knopf, 2008

In order to make a cherry pie, you'll need a bowl, a rolling pin, a measuring cup, a pastry slab, a set of spoons and some pot holders. You can get these things at the Cook Shop...unless it is closed, and then you can journey through the United States collecting all of these things. You can stop in Hawaii for sand, which is used to make the glass for your measuring cup. You can visit Texas to get a little oil, which is used to make the plastic for your measuring spoons.

I love that interesting facts about the states visited are interspersed throughout the story. For example, when you stop in Washington, the only state named for a president, to get wood for your rolling pin, you learn that George Washington was rumored to have a set of wooden teeth.
The story ends perfectly with an all-out festive red, white and blue parade.

The end pages show a map of the United States with the cherry pie journey marked on it. And, of course, a recipe for cherry pie is included!

As much as I enjoy this book, and think it's perfect for the 4th of July, I really, really like How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, also by Priceman, in which the young baker travels around the world gathering ingredients for an apple pie. She starts in Italy where she gathers semolina wheat and then makes her way to France, Sri Lanka, England, Jamaica and finally Vermont.

Have a great holiday weekend!

Reviewed from library copy

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Too Many Books!

My library lets patrons have 50 items on request at a time, and I'm usually maxed out. It really only turns into a "problem" when I get a flood of books at once. Then, I play a juggling game, deciding what I have to read first, because I won't be able to renew it (others on the waiting list) and what I could possibly return without having read and then request it again.

Here's what I got the other day:

Through Her Eyes - Jennifer Archer - time-travel ghost story; I must have read a really great review of this somewhere. (young adult)
Sideways on a Scooter: Life and Love in India - Miranda Kennedy - travel narrative; I'm always drawn to tales of people packing up and moving off somewhere foreign. (adult)
State of Wonder - Ann Patchett - Bel Canto was amazing. I read and read and finishing was like coming up for air, in a good way. I read Run a little differently - one chapter each night, to really savor it. Have been anxiously awaiting this one. (adult)
Exposure: A Novel of Truth - Therese Fowler - has gotten mixed reviews, but I'm curious about this; drawn from real events, about sexting (adult)
Blink & Caution - Tim Wynne-Jones - 2011 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children's Literature, Fiction winner (young adult)
Sweet Jiminy - Kristen Gore - Gore's Sammy's House was a light, enjoyable read. This is really different, but I'm intrigued. (adult)
Cloaked - Alex Flinn - the author Beastly and A Kiss in Time, who always writes enjoyable fairy tale re-imaginings. (young adult)

And here's what will probably arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday:

Bumped - Megan McCafferty - I loved the Jessica Darling series. This is so completely different, but I can't wait to read it. (young adult)
Divergent - Veronica Roth - getting LOTS of buzz (young adult)
Moonglass - Jessi Kirby - Sarah Dessen blurbed this. It's got to be great. (young adult)
Sweetest Thing - Christina Mandelski (young adult)
Summer of Firsts and Lasts - Terra Elan McVoy - All I needed to know about this book to make me put it on hold is that it's about summer camp. (young adult)
Dreamland Social Club - Tara Altebrando - saw an ARC of this at TLA (young adult)
Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake - Michael B. Kaplan - a picture book that looks and sounds adorable! She loves chocolate cake so much wants to marry it.

So many great books!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Books From My Childhood

  • Any L.M. Montgomery fans? I thought I had read all of her books way back when, but I found one the other day that I haven't read - At the Altar: Matrimonial Tales. I'm guessing it's not as well known as some of her other books.
  • I did read the Emily of New Moon books, and just discovered it was made into a television series; there are four seasons that aired in Canada from 1998-2000. I'm going to give it a try. It's been so long since I read the books, I figure I won't really notice any major differences between the two.
  • I read on A Fuse #8 that Albert Whitman and Company are reprinting Flicka, Ricka, Dicka And Their New Skates by Maj Lindman, and, it will come with paper dolls! I read all of these books and the boy ones (Snipp, Snapp and Snurr), too. So, so excited! Watch for this in August and buy a copy for every little girl you know.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Thingamabob

The Thingamabob by Il Sung Na
Alfred A Knopf, 2008

Awhile back, Il Sung Na's A Book of Sleep was getting lots of great reviews, so I put it on hold at my library. When it came in, I read it, really liked it, and wanted to see if Na had done any other books. I found this, and it is wonderful!

An elephant finds a thingamabob. (While he doesn't know what it is, kids will delight in immediately identifying it as an umbrella.) Sometimes the thingamabob doesn't do anything; sometimes it surprises him. His friends don't know what it is, and he wonders about the things he might be able to do with it. Can he fly with it? Can he swim with it? Can he hide behind it? As he discovers he can't do any of these things with it, he cries out in frustration, "What are you, then?!" As rain drops begin to fall, the elephant and his friends finally find a use for the thingamabob.

The illustrations are gorgeous, and have a beautiful, textured pattern to them. The bright red thingamabob always stands out, and the illustrations are big enough for a group, and yet invite a closer look for individual readers. Elephant is a lovable character with such expression!

If you're in need of another bedtime book, definitely check out A Book of Sleep. And, don't miss Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit: A Book of Changing Seasons. Both have the same delightful illustrations and perfectly composed prose.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Amelia Earhart

Night Flight: Amelia Earhart Crosses the Atlantic
by Robert Burleigh, illus. by Wendell Minor
Simon & Schuster, 2011
grades 2-5

This beautifully illustrated book (gouache and watercolor) provides an account of Earhart's stormy 1932 flight across the Atlantic ocean. In the night pictures, you see a full moon and the gorgeous blues of the sky, and the vastness of crossing the ocean is very apparent. When the storm hits, lightning splits the sky, and then in the morning, as dawn breaks, "splinters of sunlight stab down through cloud slits and brace themselves on the vault of the open sea," and you see the golden hues of the rising sun. This is a perfect example of the text and pictures of this book melding completely and perfectly.

It's a shorter book, and, perhaps because of that, I'm even more appreciative of the afterword, bibliography, list of internet resources and quotes by Earhart included at the end. There is also a technical note by the illustrator, Wendell Minor, about the exhaust system on this plane of Earhart's. It was replaced when the little red plane was donated to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. (It was later gifted to the National Air & Space Museum.) Minor writes that on the sketch of the plane on the end papers, he included both exhaust systems, but that the replacement version was used in the paintings since that is what will be familiar to museum visitors. Would anyone have noticed this? I don't know, but the book scores huge points with me for mentioning this.

Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart
by Candace Fleming                                       Schwartz & Wade Books/Random House   2011                                                                          For older readers seeking more biographical information on Earhart, this is the book to choose. Fleming writes a chronological biography of Amelia Earhart, interspersed with the story of her disappearance. Written on gray pages to distinguish the story within a story, Fleming captures the fascination and mystery of Earhart's last flight.
The book begins with a chapter called "Navigating History." In it, Fleming writes, "Sometimes it's hard to tell fact from fiction," and that Amelia Earhart was a "celebrity with an image to maintain." The reader knows from the start that myths are going to be debunked - Fleming writes about just how carefully crafted Earhart's image was, and how she and her husband sought publicity and raised funds for Earhart's flights. Earhart endorsed various products, wrote a magazine column, and even had her own clothing line for a short period of time.

We see the training and preparation that went into Earhart's flights, as well as the times when she didn't seem to be as prepared as she could/should have been. Starting this book, I knew very little about Amelia Earhart, and I appreciate that with this, I had the chance to, as Fleming said, separate fact from fiction.

Also included in the book are sidebars, providing everything from a brief history of flight to an explanation of morse code, which serve to fully round out the story. There is a bibliography at the end, as well as websites for further information, source notes by chapter, picture credits and an index. These are great for readers wanting more information, but also give credit where it is due, and show just how much time and research Fleming invested.

For all of the information included, this book never overwhelms. It draws the reader in and provides a fascinating look at this pioneer of flight.

While very different from one another, both of these books are highly recommended.

Both titles reviewed from library copies


Friday, June 17, 2011

Dog in Boots by Greg Gormley

Dog in Boots by Greg Gormley
illus. by Roberta Angaramo
Holiday House, 2011

Dog is reading a book about a cat who wore "truly magnificent boots." (Puss in Boots, but you don't need any knowledge of that story to enjoy this one.) After finishing the book, he thinks for a bit, and then decides to make a visit to the shoe shop. (He's British, so it's a shop, not a store, which makes me love this book even more.) He shows the shopkeeper a picture in the book, and asks for something similiar. The shopkeeper has just the thing. Excited about his new boots, Dog heads home to dig up his very best bone, only to discover his boots are not that great for digging. And, not only are they not good for digging, they've gotten all muddy.

He takes them back to exchange them for something better for digging. His new rainboots turn out to be perfect for digging, and on top of that, the mud washes right off. But, they're not so great for swimming. Back to the shop he goes. Dog tries three more types of footwear, but there is a problem with each one. On his final trip to the shop, he asks for something good for digging and swimming and scratching and running and nice and furry. Dog leaves completely satisfied, and digs, swims, scratches and runs. Then, he begins a new book...about a girl with a red cape.

The illustrations are bright and colorful, and will work well with a group. The layout is perfect: on one page, you read what his footwear is good for, such as the rain boots being wonderful for digging, and then you turn the page and find out what they are not good for (swimming). Dog is adorable - he is always so excited when he gets each new set of shoes, and tackles each of his activities with lots of enthusiasm. Such fun!

Reviewed from library copy

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Paisley's Pick - Dog Friday by Hilary McKay

Dog Friday by Hilary McKay
Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster, 1994

Hi, it's me, Paisley! It has been awhile since I have had a book pick. Have you missed me? Are you ready for a good dog book? Amy really likes this book so I have been wanting her to share it with you.

Hilary McKay has become one of my favorite authors, but when I first picked this book up years ago, I hadn't read The Exiles, and Saffy's Angel, the first of the fabulous books about the Casson family, hadn't been written. And, I'm not sure why I picked this book up - it involves an abandoned dog, and a boy recovering from a dog attack, but I'm so glad I did.

It's really more than just a dog book, and the dog in question isn't really around for most of the book...we're calling it a Paisley's Pick anyway. :)

Ten-year-old Robin is recovering from a dog attack and in the process of making himself unafraid of dogs when a new family moves in next door. The Robinsons have four children - twins Ant and Perry, their younger brother Sun Dance (who marches to the beat of his own drum) and their younger sister Beany - as well as a dog named Old Blanket, who is probably the least threatening dog ever. He's so patient and good, the kids put socks on him and paint him to look like a tiger.

Robin befriends the kids, and whether creating Chop Bone Man, standing up to a bully or cooking for guests at the bed-and-breakfast Robin's mother runs, there is never a dull moment with his new neighbors.

One day, Robin finds a starving and abandoned dog on the beach. With the help of his friends, Robin takes the dog, now called Dog Friday,  home where his mother insists on notifying the police in case someone is missing him. The policy is that the dog will be kept at the shelter for a week, and if no one claims him by then, Robin can keep the dog. And of course, this leads to other adventures and mishaps.

This is really just madcap fun, and I feel like my review doesn't do it justice. There's lots going on in the hilarious book. It's British, slightly quirky and has an utterly delightful and charming cast of characters. If you've read McKay's other books, you're sure to like to this one as well. And if you haven't read anything by McKay yet, add some of her books to your summer reading list.
There are two more books in this series: The Amber Cat and Dolphin Luck (warning - Old Blanket dies in this one).

Reviewed from library copy

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summer Reading & A Confession

I still haven't read this book:

I know. Here's the thing - I was just getting started on the Lone Star Reading List committee when this book came out and I was busy reading other things. I could have fit this in, but I really wanted to go back and read book six before this one...and then I decided I should go back and re-read them all in a row before reading the last one...and then, I just never got around to it.

So, my goal for this summer is to read the entire series, and I'm really looking forward to it. What's on your summer reading list?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Owly & Wormy

Owly & Wormy, Friends All Aflutter!
by Andy Runton
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011

I don't read a lot of graphic novels, but last year I got hooked on the Owly series by Andy Runton, and I was delighted to find this wordless picture book featuring the same cute characters!

Best friends Owly and Wormy decide they want butterflies and head off to the nursery looking for a plant that will attract them. Once home, they create their little patch of garden to welcome the butterflies, even going so far as to make welcome signs. But all they end up with are green caterpillars. Wormy tells the green guys that the plants are for butterflies and the plants are not for caterpillars. Because this is a wordless book, the thought bubbles have pictures in them, and so for this conversation, we see a picture of a plant, an equal sign, and a butterfly. Then we see a picture of a plant, an equal sign with a slash through it, and a caterpillar.

While a little disappointed to not have butterflies, and a little puzzled as to why they don't, Owly and Wormy soon make friends with the caterpillars, only to have them disappear. And then the friends don't understand why the caterpillars left, and once again they're left wondering.

I've never tried a wordless picture book with a group, but I think is perfect for one-on-one reading; it gives the child a chance to help tell the story. I love these characters, their friendship, their facial expressions, their adventures...I hope we get more picture books of the two!

Reviewed from library copy