June 15, 2018

Alabama Spitfire: The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird by Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Erin McGuire

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 8:12 pm by suebe2

Alabama Spitfire:
The Story of Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird
by Bethany Hegedus
illustrated by Erin McGuire

I have to admit that I wouldn’t have automatically been drawn to a picture book about Harper Lee.  I like To Kill a Mockingbird just fine but my son loved her novel when he read it in middle school.  Loved.  It.

Little did I know that Harper Lee was my kind of girl.  She wasn’t about lace and frills as a girl – she called that life the pink penitentiary.  She was all about “dungarees,” the jeans I coveted but wasn’t allowed to wear until I was 11.  She spent her time with her older brother, climbing and playing and scraping herself up.

Her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama never had much money to spare.  Oddly the Great Depression didn’t hit Monroeville the way it hit the big cities.  Maybe it was because people were used to helping each other.  In spite of this, segregation ruled and it was obvious that separate was not equal.

Harper Lee went by Nelle and she spent a lot of time with her father, a lawyer.  It was from him she learned to love words and justice.  That’s why she was willing to stand up for the new kid, Tru.  With his white linen suits, it was obvious Tru was a city boy but they hit it off, spending time together making up stories.

Eventually Tru moved back to New York where Nelle, by then a young woman, would look him up when she made it to the Big City.  Tru, now known as Truman Capote, encouraged her to keep writing.  Eventually she drew inspiration from the soil and people of Alabama, writing To Kill a Mockingbird.  Even after her death, the book is still popular and still speaks out against injustice.

Books are funny things.  I read this as a whole stack of picture books from the library.  I expected to like several other books more but this one outshone them.  Hegedus has done a great job creating a biography that will help young readers see the importance of justice and being our own people.

Erin McGuire digital Photoshop illustrations do a great job bringing the story to life.  And this is definitely a story young readers need, about a girl who turned into a woman who did things her way, using her art to speak out against injustice.  A great choice for readers in the 3rd through 6th grade.  Add this to your classroom shelf today!




June 11, 2018

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective by Jason Gallaher, illustrated by Jess Pauwels

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:21 am by suebe2

Whobert Whover, Owl Detective
by Jason Gallaher
illustrated by Jess Pauwels
Margaret K. McElderry Books

Whobert Whoever, Owl Detective is bound and determined to keep his neck of the woods safe.  Because of this, he is always on the lookout for crime.  It isn’t surprising that he’s the one who found Perry the Possum lying awfully still in the forest.

Whobert examines Perry for signs of life, poking and prodding the poor possum.  Astute young readers will note that Perry’s eye moves as he keeps track of what Whobert is doing.  The first clue that Whobert finds are feathers, red feathers.

Again, young readers are most likely a step ahead of Whobert who accuses Debbie Duck of whacking Perry with her wings.  In the background, Perry is watching with both eyes open.  From one would-be clue to another, Whobert proves that what he’s the best at is jumping to conclusions.

Jason Gallaher has created a funny main character who so wants to be a big help but is actually a big problem.  Young readers who often dream big and then have troubles executing their plans will identify with Whobert, but they will also loving being one or more steps ahead of the Owl Detective.

For the most part, the clues are provided in Jess Pauwels’ illustrations.  Brightly colored and full of expressive secondary characters, Pauwels keeps the discovery of the possum’s body from being frightening both because the characters are cartoonish and it is obvious the possum is still alive.

The adult reader will appreciate the story’s puns including the character’s name but the story is an age appropriate mystery for preschool and kindergarten readers.  This book could work for story time with a small group but a larger group might have problems seeing the clues in the illustrations if they are too far from the book.

But expect this book to launch a discussion about clues and detectives and just how much better these young readers would be than Whobert.  A picture book mystery that is both fun and funny.


June 7, 2018

Wait for Me by Caroline Leech

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:56 am by suebe2

Wait for Me
by Caroline Leech
Harper Teen

Farm life is anything but idyllic in 1945 Scotland.  Both of Lorna Anderson’s brothers are in World War II.  That means that it is just Lorna, her father, and Nellie to get everything done.  Nellie is a Land Girl, sent from the city to the countryside to help out on one of Scotland’s undermanned farms.  Nellie’s learned small engine repair and she’s great with the cattle, but there is just too much work for one man and two girls. Lorna can see how exhausted her father is.

She’s still shocked when an Army truck pulls up and leaves behind a prisoner.  Lorna knows her father needs help but she does not want a Nazi on her farm.  Her first surprise is the prisoner’s face.  One side looks almost like it has melted and she realizes he has recovered from horrible burns.  Then he tells her in English that he is no Nazi.

Lorna tries to nurse her hatred, after all the Germans are the reason for this war that has taken away her brothers.  But her father befriends the young man giving him gloves to ward off the cold and making sure he has plenty to eat.  During lambing season when they work late into the night, Mr. Anderson arranges for Paul to stay on the farm instead of returning to the base prison each night.  Lorna sees how good he is with the lambs and watches him joking with Nellie and working beside her father.

When he comforts her after a date goes horribly wrong, Lorna realizes that she too cares for the young German, perhaps as more than a friend.

I don’t really want to say anything else about the plot because I don’t want to give it away.  But Leech has woven together a story that does an excellent job of examining issues of right and wrong and who is really a friend or an enemy.  Leech did her research, not wanting to create romantic tension where none was possible.

The characters in this book are three-dimensional and realistic.  Lorna’s fellow Scots are not all good people.  The Germans are not villainous caricatures.  And the emotions?  They are real.

Share this title with your young reader who likes history, romance or a great fictional story.  Leech has created a winner.


June 1, 2018

Bloom by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:38 pm by suebe2

Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designers Elsa Schiaparelli
by Kyo Maclear
illustrated by Julie Morstad

I have to admit that I had no clue who Elsa Schiaparelli was when one of my students recommended Bloom. No idea.

But in just a few sentences I was pulled into the story of a little girl whose parents wanted a boy and hadn’t even chosen a girl’s name. No big deal.  A lot of parents have been caught in such a situation.  But a lot of parents don’t call one daughter beautiful and the other ugly.  Right away I wanted this little girl to show them what true beauty was.

Granted, some of her ideas don’t succeed. At one point, she tried to plant flowers on her face.  This girl had a vibrant imagination!  Fortunately she has an uncle who is an astronomer and he encourages her ideas.  She discovers that when she dresses up, she can be many things.

She discovers dress making and she and her baby daughter move from city to city, settling in Paris. Soon Elsa has made friends with the group of visionary artists that include Picasso and Salvador Dali.

Her first big success is a sweater with a trompe l’oeil design.  It looks like a black sweater over a white blouse with a large bow at the neck.  It is really a sweater of two colors.  Women can now look fancy while riding their bikes through the city streets!  She encourages them to use their imaginations and they encourage her.

She combines materials – leather and lace, decorates her dresses with bold images, and even encourages a chemist to invent a new color just for her clothes.

Whether or not you are into clothing, Kyo Maclear has created a story about a visionary artist who did not let other people’s harsh words hold her back.  The story is enhanced by Julie Morstad’s illustrations.  I especially love the one where the chemist is inventing a new pink dye.

Elsa Schiaparelli is definitely someone who could inspire a young artist.  She was wildly creative, even wearing a shoe as a hat.  Hopefully children will also look at her photo in the back of the book and realize that hurtful words are so seldom true.

Share this book with your young visionary.  Give it a place in your home library and your classroom library.  Young readers need internalize the message.


May 24, 2018

Catwings Return by Ursula K. LeGuin, illustrated by S. D. Schindler

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 8:35 pm by suebe2

Catwings Return
by Ursula K. LeGuin
illustrated by S. D. Schindler
Orchard Books

In this, the sequel to Catwings, the four winged cats, Thelma, Roger, Harriet and James, have settled into life on the farm.  They are being cared for by Hank and Susan who check out the young cats daily and are careful to keep them a secret.  They are afraid how people would react to the wonder of flying cats.

For their part, the cats are curious about how their mother is doing.  James and Harriet decide to make the trip.  It is longer and more tiring than they remember, perhaps because James isn’t as strong as his sister because of an old injury.

In the city, they discover that their old neighborhood, a group of ramshackle slums, is being torn down.  The problem is that Mom is nowhere to be seen but they’ve discovered a winged kitten.  Finally she let’s them approach.  Together, they are reunited with their mother and discover that this is their little sister.

James and Harriet promise to care fo the kitten and slowly they make their way back to their new home.  All of the necessary background information can be found in this book, but the first book is such a pleasure. Why skip it?

Given the short format of this story, it is only 48 pages long, the characters are not as fleshed out as they would be a longer book.  But the writing is lyrical and poetic.  The short format and spot illustrations will be a great draw for third-grade readers who are still intimidated by full-length novels.

As in so much of Le Guin’s work, she explores good vs evil and what it is to belong.  She also delves into reality and how we perceive it because, although two workmen see the flying cats they do not think it was cats that they saw.  How could it be?  Cats don’t fly unless you are reading Ursula K. LeGuin’s Catwing books.


May 6, 2018

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Posted in Uncategorized at 3:27 am by suebe2

ghosts of greenglass houseGhosts of Greenglass House
by Kate Milford
Clarion Books

A year has past since the events of Greenglass House.  It is time for Christmas but Milo just isn’t feeling it.  Frost is not the same as snow and he’s missing Meddy.  Sure, his friend is a ghost, but she promised she’d be back and it has been a year.

Once again, Christmas isn’t going to be a peaceful time.  There’s someone at the end to study the stained glass and he just won’t leave.  He seems pleasant enough but something about him just isn’t right.

Then a group of carolers show up.  They are from the local asylum.  Tradition says that they can come inside and your home will be blessed.  When he was younger, Milo was afraid to invite them inside – one caroler poses as a skeletal hobby horse.  But this year Milo invites them in and things begin to go wrong.  Two carolers are clonked on the head, one is mildly poisoned and things start to go missing.

If your young reader likes mysteries, fantasy and adventure, pick this book up.  But you might want to start with the first title, Greenglass House.  Milford does a great job with the characterization but there are a lot of characters to keep track of.  That said, they are delightfully quirky and worth the effort to keep straight.

As in the last book, the plot is full of twists and reversals including who is a good guy, who is a bad guy and what is the difference?  And how do you tell the real ghosts from tricky living humans? Readers will also have the opportunity to examine the multiple meanings of the word asylum.  Things are not always as they seem in or near Greenglass house.

This would make a great book for family reading but don’t be surprised when no one wants to give you a break.  This is a tough book to put down.


April 26, 2018

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 2:47 am by suebe2

by R. J. Palacio
Alfred A Knopf

I know, I know.  Hasn’t everyone already read this?  The funny thing about young audiences is that they keep growing up and moving on. That means that there are a fresh group of young readers who need to get to know Auggie Pullman.

Because of his facial deformity, Auggie Pullman is home schooled until 5th grade.  He’s just had too many surgeries to make attending school practical.  That and the fact that just seeing him is a shock.  No really.  Even when people try not to react, they do.

Auggie isn’t sold on the idea of going to school but the principal asks several of the school nicest students to show him around.  He really likes Jack and is glad to find out that he and Auggie have several classes together.  Jack is funny and kind of popular but he still hangs out with Auggie except at lunch.  But that’s okay because Summer quickly moves to Auggie’s table and soon the two of them hit it off.

Then Halloween comes around and everyone gets to wear a costume. At the last-minute, Auggie changes what he is going to where so no one will know its him.  That’s how he overhears it when Jack says that if he looked like Auggie he’d kill himself. Auggie goes home sick and wonders why Jack would pretend to be his friend.

Okay, I’m not going to relate any more of the plot.  This book is amazing.  Truly amazing.

There’s no doubt about it but Auggie’s life is tough but he doesn’t ask for sympathy. He just wants people to give him a chance.  He knows he’s hard to look at but that can’t be the most important thing about a person, can it?

This is a book about love and family, kindness and friendship.  It shows how people can redeem themselves but also how friends can grow apart and new people come into your life.  I’m not sure you get it from what I’ve written above but this book is full of hope.

That said, it is incredibly real. It shows how the health of one person in the family effects everyone and how unforeseen events can pull people together.

This won’t be an easy summer read but it would make a great family read.  There is definitely plenty to discuss and young readers will have a thing or two to say.


April 6, 2018

Quackers by Liz Wong

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:06 pm by suebe2

by Liz Wong
Borzoi Books/Alfred A. Knopf


“Quackers is a duck.”

Why does this kitten think that he’s a duck? Because he lives at the pond with the other ducks.  He even eats duck weed although he can’t understand why he’s the only one who doesn’t like to get wet.

Then a kitten comes down to the pond. It can’t believe that Quackers thinks he is a duck.  The second kitten invites Quackers up to the barn where Quackers discovers the fun of chasing mice and lapping up milk.  Quackers is less than thrilled with bathing himself.  As much fun as Quackers has at the barn, he misses the wind blowing and even, do I dare type this?, duckweed.

So Quackers spends part of his time at the pond being a duck and part of his time at the barn being a cat.  But most important?  He spends all of his time being happy.

I love that this book has such a clear message without being preachy.  You don’t have to be just like your family or your friends.  You can *gasp* be yourself.  But because it is told through story, the message comes through without being too much.  Kids will get it.

Wong’s illustrations which were created digitally and with watercolor are perfect for this story. Young readers will love the silliness of the bipedal cats who revert to all-fours to chase mice and the huggy ducks.

This would be a fun book for reading aloud to a group. Use it to launch a discussion on how young readers feel like they are different from everyone else – in their families, on their teams, or in school.  I suspect that the adult may have to launch the discussion. “My husband and son love to camp but I can’t stand it.  I’m the only one who likes to craft.”

A fun book about an important topic.


March 27, 2018

Catwings by Ursula K. Le Guin, illustrated by S. D. Schindler

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:06 pm by suebe2

by Ursula K. Le Guin
illustrated by S. D. Schindler
Orchard Books

“Mrs. Jane Tabby cannot explain why all four of her kittens were born with wings.”  So begins Catwings.  

The tabby cat has her theories but the why of the wings is not what’s important.  What’s important is that the city neighborhood is not safe for her kittens as they grow.  Dogs chase them, and, even worse, they attract the attention of people with their grabbing hands.  Wanting her young to be safe, and because it is the way of cats, she sends them on their way.

Fortunately Roger, James, Harriet and Thelma have been practicing with their wings.  Granted, kittens, especially well-fed kittens, are not built for flying and it quickly tires them out.  But they are able to use their wings to fly to the countryside where pavement and buildings give way to streams, grass and trees.

Unfortunately the young cats don’t realize that all birds are not small and easily startled.  It isn’t until James is attacked by an owl that they grow more cautious.

If you’ve never read the Catwings books by Ursula K. Le Guin, check them out. The publisher lists the reading level as preschool – 3rd grade which seems like an odd age spread until you read the books.  Pre-reading preschoolers will love the playful fantasy element.  Older independent readers will love the books’ small size, much like Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit. The chapters are short but the language is poetic and complex enough to challenge a new readers.

As with so much Le Guin wrote, Catwings explores good and evil and “human” nature.  Given Le Guin’s beautiful language, the books would be a good gift for even an adult who loves fantasy and/or cats.  That said, young readers with similar interests are the books intended audience and will love that Le Guin does not write down to them, instead challenging her readers to stretch toward new heights.

A must have for the bookshelves of fantasy lovers and cat lovers alike.


March 23, 2018

After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 6:55 pm by suebe2

After the Fall:
How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again
by Dan Santat
Roaring Brook Press

Before he fell off the wall, Humpty Dumpty loved sitting up there among the birds.  But after the fall?  He just didn’t have the nerve.  He had to satisfy himself with bird watching.  Then one day he sees a paper airplane sail past.  Maybe that’s how he can reunite with the birds.

So he spends countless hours and numerous failed attempts to create a paper airplane that flies like a bird.  Unfortunately, on its maiden outdoor flight, it ends up on top of that wall.  Humpty Dumpty is tempted to leave it up there but he spent so long working on it.  He just has to try to get it back.  And as he climbs up the ladder, something happens.  [This is a huge plot spoiler so the last sentence of this paragraph will be below my signature.]

This is one of those amazing picture books that turns into much more than you expected.  I loved fractured fairy tales and fairy tale retellings and Dan Santat?  He creates such a rich variety of books for young readers.  I love that he is both author and illustrator because it allowed the final revelation to come about through the illustrations alone.

This is a more than a Humpty Dumpty story.  It is a story about healing and growing and reaching new heights.  It is a story about fear and dreams and achieving amazing things.

I don’t know what media Santat used to create his  illustrations but I love how expressive Humpty Dumpty is.  PIck up a copy of this to share with your young reader for Easter or for quiet reading time.  This one is a must but expect to spend some time studying just the illustrations for the subtle details they add to the story.


scroll down (follow the arrows that look suspiciously like v’s)










He turns in to a bird.


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