October 20, 2016

Vamperina Ballerina by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 6:48 pm by suebe2

vampirina-ballerinaVamperina Ballerina
by Anne Marie Pace
illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Looking for a fun Halloween book that can be read year round?  Then pick up a copy of Vamperina Ballerina today.

From finding just the right ballet school to how to behave your first day of class, this book is a fabulous and funny how-to on the art of ballet. Some of the helpful tips?

“Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth closed.”  Why?  So that your fangs don’t distract the other dancers.

“And a mistake here or there is not a reflection on your talent.”  Honestly, this was my favorite tip.  As with many an excellent picture book, Pham’s paintings add details not present in the text.  We aren’t told what specific problems our young dancer is having but the illustrations show her, awkward and struggling, as she eventually trips and tumbles through her peers.  To add insult to injury, when Madame tries to show her how to correct her posture, using the mirror, she discovers that Vamperina has no reflection.

There is really so much to love about this book. Vamperina isn’t an instant success as a dancer and continues to struggle until, slowly, she improves.  The whole time she has the support of her family.  We see her older sister placing a stack of books on her head to help with posture, Mom sculpting the young dancer, and Dad painting a picture that looks surprisingly Degas.

Pace’s text is spare and upbeat and oh so fun.  Pham’s watercolor and ink illustrations expand wonderfully on the story, adding all kinds of visuals that aren’t present in the text.  Honestly, if you’re the one reading this story out loud, you’re going to want to “read” it a second time focusing on the illustrations.

Share this with the spooktacular dancer in your life but don’t be surprised when she wants a ballet cape or a batty head band.


October 18, 2016

Nasreen’s Secret School by Jeanette Winter

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 4:25 pm by suebe2

Nasreen’s Secret School: nasreens-secret-school
A True Story from Afghanistan
by Jeanette Winter
Beach Lane Books

At one time, art, music and learning had a place in Afghanistan.  Under the Taliban, that all changed.  Soldiers from the hills moved into the cities.  They shut down the schools, especially the schools for girls.  This is the story of one of those girls.

Nasreen’s days were long and boring and sad.  The soldiers had come in the night and dragged her father into the street.  After waiting for him to return, Nasreen’s mother went looking for him.  It was forbidden for her to do this, no woman was allowed to go out alone but with just her and her mother-in-law and little Nasreen, there was no one who could go.

Months passed as Nasreen and her grandmother waited.  Nasreen no longer spoke.  All she did was sit and wait.

Her grandmother couldn’t let this go on.  She had heard about a secret school for girls.  In this school, Nasreen could learn as her grandmother had learned, as her mother had learned.  Nasreen and her grandmother slipped down the lanes to the green gate.  A lady teacher answered their knock and let Nasreen inside.

This isn’t a new book – it came out in 2009.  Yet, somehow I didn’t see it until recently.

Very few of us remember what Afghanistan used to be like.  70% of all teachers were women. So were 40% of the doctors and 50% of the students at Kabul University. With the Taliban, women could no longer work or go to school.  They couldn’t even travel in the streets unless they were accompanied by a male relative — an impossibility with your only male relative has been taken away by the soldiers.

Jeanette Winter was invited to write a book and chose this story to tell.  It is based on a real little girl and her real grandmother.  Obviously, Winter had to make some changes to the story to ensure their safety — or at least to avoid endangering them any further. I love that although this is a story about a girl and her grandmother and other girls and women, Winter shows the part that good men also play.  She tells about little boys who distract the soldiers when they see women and girls heading toward the school.

Share this book with your young readers.  It is truly a story that needs to be told and needs to be heard.


October 14, 2016

The Best Man by Richard Peck

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:49 pm by suebe2

Tthe-best-manhe Best Man
by Richard Peck
Dial Books for Young Readers

I have to admit that I was a bit apprehensive when I picked up Peck’s latest offering.  I’m a sucker for his historic fiction.  I absolutely love it.  Somehow I had consistently missed his contemporary novels.  What can I say?  It means I can be a bit narrow in my focus.  Still, I requested it at the library and eagerly sat down to read it Wednesday night.  I was only a chapter in when my husband turned off the light.  But I picked it up Thursday morning and read all the way through to the back cover.  It is that good.

Archer is a lucky kid and he knows it.  Yes, he has to put up with bullies — including the one that pulled a knife on him in the first grade.  And he’s had his share of heartache like when his grandpa had a stroke.  But he’s also got a lot of great people in his life.  The three men he looks up to most are:

  • His Grandpa, a great architect who walks him to school.
  • His Dad who restores antique cars and let’s Archer help.
  • His Uncle Paul whose just great.

Then he meets role model #4 and things start to get interesting.  Mr. McLeod is movie star handsome but when he shows up to his first day at work (student teaching) in full camo since he’s on his way to the National Guard for the weekend, the secretary panics.  Soon the school is on full lock down because of . . . a uniform.

Mr. McLeod is the most interesting not-quite-a-teacher that Archer has ever had and soon he’s seeing more and more of the man.  He and Uncle Paul seem to have struck up a friendship.  Finally Uncle Paul points out to Archer that he (Uncle Paul) is gay.  Archer’s a little surprised because he really isn’t the most observant guy ever. Still, Uncle Paul is Uncle Paul and if Mr. McLeod is what’s good for Uncle Paul, that’s good enough for Archer.

Before the book is over, it is obvious that these men are all helping Archer become the Best Man he can be.

As is always the case with Pecks books, he peppers them with amazingly funny and eccentric characters.  There’s Archer’s best friend Lynnette, whose unapologetically herself both before and after fat camp, and temporally wheel-chair bound Hilary who has personality to spare.

Young readers who enjoy getting to know the characters in their books and a good laugh will love Peck’s book. But it isn’t all laughter.  There are difficult moments and tears but  there is also laughter and love and hope.  I absolutely loved Archer in part because he can be so clueless.  He’s the perfect character for any kid who has been surprised by a family announcement or a revelation from his best friend.

But if your young reader doesn’t get anything done until the book is read, don’t blame me.  You were warned it could happen.


October 11, 2016

The Scraps Book by Lois Ehlert

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:03 am by suebe2

scraps-book-9781442435711_hrThe Scraps Book
by Lois Ehlert
Beach Lane Books

“Don’t read this book (unless you love books and art).”  So begins The Scraps Book.

Even as a child, Lois Ehlert had a special place to create her art.  She started with the folding table her father set up for her.  She even took the table with her to art school.

Ehlert explains where she gets the ideas for her books, how she uses her various collections in her art work, and how she plays with the point of view until she finds the story she wants to tell.  She shows young readers how she plans a book out, how the illustration changes from idea to finished piece, and how she plans and cuts out the pieces to piece together a collage. Peppered throughout the book, are pieces os art from Ehlert’s many books.  Fans will recognize pieces from Ten Little Caterpillars, Snowballs and Cuckoo.

Personally, I love that she admitted that she’s messy when she works.  She even included a photo of the bottoms of her shoes complete with the bits and pieces that were stuck there.

She also shows how, even after she’s started to work on a piece, sometimes she has to seek further inspiration.  Young readers who only see a finished book might not understand just how much trial and error goes into creating a finished product.  Without some knowledge of the process it is too easy to mystify the end result.

Instead, Ehlert separates the layers and shows how it is done.  She encourages young readers to create their own work as well. In addition to art work, Ehlert includes a treat for young readers to use to attract and feed wild birds and more.  Yes, she wants to encourage them to try their hand at art but what she really wants is to help them explore the world and discover their passions just as she found hers.

An excellent choice for your would-be artist and more.



October 8, 2016

Plants Can’t Sit Still by Rebecca E. Hirsch, illustrated by Mia Posada

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:44 pm by suebe2

plants-cant-sit-stillPlants Can’t Sit Still
by Rebecca E. Hirsch
illustrated by Mia Posada
Millbrook Press

We think of plants as stationary objects, anchored to one place.  Read Hirsch’s book and you will see plants wiggle, squirm and reach as they grow.  You be there when they climb and walk, snap and fold.

Readers will learn about the movement of plants as they grow, as they capture a meal (venus fly trap) and as they avoid being eaten (sensitive plant or touch-me-not).  There is information about how plants move throughout the day and how seeds are dispersed. Some of the movements are small, such as when a flower closes, and others cover vast distances, when a coconut floats across the ocean, coming to rest on a new spot of land.

I love books that make us rethink how we look at the world so this one was natural for me.  I also appreciate how the author uses especially simple text to convey so much information.

Mia Posada brings the plants themselves to life using a combination of cut paper collage and water-color.  Fibers in the paper are used to great effect as they mirror the fibers in the plants themselves.  The water-color lend graceful bleeds as leaves turn toward their autumn colors as well as the vibrant but changing colors within a venus fly trap.  I love cut paper collage and “read” the book through once just taking in the textures of the paper.

For those who want more information than can be found in the main text, the author has compiled extensive information on each plant in an author’s note.  My only complaint, and it is minor, is that in describing the Russian thistle she doesn’t clarify that it is also known as a tumble weed.  Since there is no image accompanying this particular description, some readers may have trouble making the connection back to the appropriate image. A glossary, reading list and web sites round out the back matter.

This book is an excellent choice for quite reading or for use in the classroom.  Share it with the young reader in your life today!



October 5, 2016

The Cookie Fiasco by Dan Santat

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:15 pm by suebe2

the-cookie-fiascoThe Cookie Fiasco
by Dan Santat
Hyperion Books for Children

Four friends with only three cookies makes for one great big problem.  Will they work it out before it’s too late?

A hippo, a crocodile and two squirrels are trying to figure out how to evenly divide four cookies.  (It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke!) I kept expecting the hippo to snap and just eat all the treats.  He does suggest that he should get a bigger share because he’s so much bigger than the others.

But as hippo gets hungrier and hungrier, his nerves snap.  Let’s just say that he has a nervous habit of fiddling with things.  With a snap, the breaks one cookie and then another.  The squirrels worry that soon there will be only crumbs.

Worrisome though it may be hippo’s habit saves the day.  It seems that it is much easier to evenly divide the pieces of cookies.

Work with kids and at least one of these characters looks familiar.  I definitely know hippo.  One of my son’s friends will carefully explain that because he is bigger he deserves more.  He NEEDS it.  Then there’s my niece aka the outspoken squirrel.  I am little and I am mighty.  You’d think Santat had spent time in my dining room.

Because this is another of the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading! early readers, the text is super simple.  The illustrations don’t build on it, as they would in a picture book, but they do give young, inexperienced readers the clues they need to decipher unfamiliar words.

As always, Santat’s illustrations are humorous and expressive.  As simple and straightforward as they look, there are always plenty of clues for young readers to use the gauge what is going on in a character’s head.

If you have a young reader who is working to decipher words for him or herself, request this book at your library. The text is simple and straightforward.  The characters are silly.  It will pull your new reader in and help to develop the skills needed to tackle longer books.


September 30, 2016

We Are Growing! by Laurie Keller

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:52 am by suebe2

we-are-growingWe Are Growing!
by Laurie Keller
Hyperion Books for Children

I have to admit that I was initially confused when I saw this one.  I had seen it advertised as a Mo Willems book but here was a different author’s name.  Now that the last book in the Elephant and Piggie series has been published (last as in there will be no more), the two characters will continue to appear at the beginning and ending of books in the Elephant and Piggie Like Reading series.  These parts of each book are written by Willems.  The main story is written by someone else.

This time around, Laurie Keller has written a story about eight friends. They are growing fast and changing every moment.  One is the tallest.  Another the curliest. Then there’s the one who is the silliest.  Each spread challenges children knew to reading to decipher a pair of words, tall and tallest, curly and curliest, etc.

But the last friend can’t figure out where he excels.  Everyone else is the best at something.  What is his special skill?

Now, you’ve probably looked at the top right and seen the cover of the book.  Yep.  The eight friends are indeed blades of grass.  Well, seven of them are.  The second from the right end has a surprise in store for everyone.

As is always the case with early readers, the illustrations help new readers decipher the text.  The illustrations are simple enough not to distract from the text but still loads of fun.  Obviously there has to be plenty of humor to get readers to watch grass grow.

The book design is also clever.  SPOILER ALERT.  SKIP THE REST OF THE PARAGRAPH IF MY REVEALING THE ENDING WILL FREAK YOU OUT. By the time the story ends, the last blade of grass has figured out that he is the neatest.  He proves it by sweeping things up – including the page numbers.  

This book is silly and fun and will keep your young reader turning the pages as they seek to find out what is so special about that last blade of grass.  Pick this one up for your young reader today.


September 26, 2016

Emma and the Blue Genie by Cornellia Funke

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 3:43 am by suebe2

emmaEmma and the Blue Genie
by Cornellia Funke
illustrated by Kerstin Meyer
Random House

Emma loved the ocean.  More than anything, she liked to sit in the dark on the beach and listen to the waves.  She had to sit on the beach because one of her four pesky brothers would usually crawl into bed with her.  Whichever one it was, his snores were usually enough to drown out the surf.

One night, Emma was on the beach when she spotted a glowing bottle.  When she opens it, out rolls a blue smoke that resolves into a genie scarcely bigger than Emma herself.  Karim is so small, and has so little power, because a yellow genie has stolen his nose ring.  He can’t even grant Emma three wishes.

Before long Emma and her noodle-tailed dog Tristan are off to take Karim home to Barakash. Once there, they are captured by the yellow genie who is stripping the city of everything of value. He carries them to his ruin of a palace, half-buried in hot desert sand.  It doesn’t take Emma long to realize that life in a golden cage isn’t much of a life at all. Fortunately, her new friend is determined to rescue her and get his nose ring back.

At only 90 pages this is a super quick read whether you consider it a chapter book or young middle grade.  It is a light-hearted fast-moving story full of Funke’s wacky trademark wit.

I loved the colors and details in Meyer’s paintings.  Her artwork reflected the descriptions in the text much more than did the cover art.

This would not be an incredibly easy book to read.  The names alone (Karim, Barakash, or Maimun) would make it a little tricky.  But the art work breaks up the text and the book as a whole is short enough to appeal to a reader who has skill but lacks confidence.  This would also make an excellent choice for a cozy, family read-aloud.

Share the magic with your young reader today.


September 23, 2016

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 6:44 pm by suebe2

the-lie-treeThe Lie Tree
by Frances Hardinge
Amulet Books

Nothing about the move to the island of Vale makes sense. The time is Victorian England and Faith Sunderly’s father is both a pastor and a naturalist.  Like many others, he struggles to reconcile the scientific findings of the age (fossils and clues of evolution) with his Bible and his God. Then she finds her father dead, draped across a tree beneath the edge of the cliff that overlooks the beach.

The local magistrate is convinced it was suicide.  But Faith had been with her father the night before.  They had moved to a botanical specimen to a hidden cave before he met with someone in the dark of the night. Whoever it was was the last person to see her father alive.

Picking through her father’s papers, Faith discovers that the specimen was a Lie Tree.  It thrives in darkness and dank air, growing when it is fed a lie.  The more people who come to believe the lie, the larger the fruit it produces.  The bitter, vile fruit grants who ever eats it a vision.  Her father believed it revealed a hidden truth.  Faith wonders about this even as she spreads lies so that she can eat the fruit and solve the murder.

I don’t want to go deeper into the plot because there are so many delightful twists.  Personally, I appreciated the thoughtful look at the men and women who struggled to study science in an age ruled by religious fear and chauvinism.

At the beginning of the books, Harginge’s characters seem straightforward but as the story progresses Faith and the reader discover their hidden agendas and reasons for distrust and manipulation.  By the end, Faith, like her father, suspects that the tree may be almost as old as time itself.

This book is a must for fans who live historic fiction as well as fantasy. My one complaint is the cover.  The tree’s fruit was described as a type of citrus, looking like a small lime. The cover image depicts an apple.  Inaccurate on one level, it does give a clue as to the possible identify of this mysterious, malevolent tree.


September 19, 2016

Around America to Win the Vote by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Hadley Hooper

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:45 am by suebe2

around-americaAround America to Win the Vote:
Two Suffragists, a Kitten, and 10,000 Miles
by Mara Rockliff
illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Candlewick Press

When Alice Burke and Nell Richardson set off to drive around America, they were doing it to draw attention to a cause.  They wanted women to have the vote.

No one had driven 10,000 miles before — no man and no woman either.  They hoped that by doing what no one had done before that they would show people that women could do more than anyone believed possible.

They set off on April 6, 1916 from New York City.  They drove a runabout, a small car built by the Saxon Motor Car Company.  Cars were quite popular but they weren’t used for long distance travel.  You still have to buy gasoline at country stores or farms.  The roads had yet to be mapped so the pair had to rely on instructions published in the “Blue Book.”  Unfortunately, these instructions might no longer be accurate if a barn had been painted a new color.

Alice and Nell drove all day, every day, pausing to give speeches and attend events such as parties and picnics.  They even won a medal at the World’s Fair in California because they had traveled farther than anyone else to get there.

It wasn’t until 1920 that women across the United States would win the right to vote.  Until that happened, women like Alice and Nell worked to draw attention and earn the vote.  These women were called Suffragists.

Hadley Hooper’s illustrations started out as drawings and then were recreated using print making techniques.  Digital scans of these prints were colored but the images still have an old-time feel appropriate for the story.

Although this picture book wouldn’t hold the interest of preschoolers, early grade schoolers would latch onto the travel aspect.  They’ll also spend some time looking for the kitten in every illustration.  Expect the book to spark discussions on how the women worked to draw attention and what the young book lovers would do in their place.


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