October 29, 2012

Find a Cow Now! by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:10 am by suebe2

Find a Cow Now!
by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel
Holiday House

After one more nap than he could stand, Dog has more energy than he knows what to do.  He chases the rug and his tail and then tries herding the chairs in his cozy city apartment.  To say that it doesn’t work is an understatement.

“Stop It!” screeched Bird.  

Stuck with Dog all day long, Bird has had more than he can stand.   He points out that cattle dogs, like Dog, herd cows.  Not chairs.  What Dog needs to to is find a cow out in the country.   Dog trots down the hall to the elevator and down the sidewalk.  He soon makes his way out into the country.  But he can’t find a cow which is made more difficult by the fact that he doesn’t know what a cow is.   First, he finds chickens.  Eventually, he finds a donkey.  Each encounter goes worse than the one before.

Finally, a kind brown-eyed creature gives Dog, slightly battered, a lift back into the city.   Dog jumps up on his new friend’s back and away they go.  But the trip into the city doesn’t go well because Dog’s new friend is really big and people don’t handle the sight of her very well.  Dog herds her back into the green fields of the country and only then does he ask her name.


I’m not going to give away the ending but it is a funny little twist that will definitely make the adult reader laugh but will likely tickle younger audiences as well.  After all, who hasn’t had a time they just want to kick back when someone else wants to play a pesky version of 20 questions?

The text in these book is super simple — short, sweet and to the point.  The illustrations, a combination of acrylic paint, pencil and collage, add depth to the story and are as beautifully complex as the text is simple.  The two, text and illustration, work together perfectly as do all the very best picture books.


October 26, 2012

Flora’s Fury by Ysabeau S. Wilce

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:20 am by suebe2

Flora’s Fury
by Ysabeau S. Wilce
AR 5.4

Flora just can’t shake the belief that somehow, somewhere Tiny Doom is still alive.

Never mind that her heart was cut out by a Birdie priest.  Never mind that she’s been missing for almost as long as Flora has been alive.  Flora is certain her mother is still alive and she’s going to prove it even if it means dabbling in the magic of the current and using forbidden Grammatica, words of magic and power.

Before Flora can take in what she has learned, the evidence is stolen by a man who isn’t just a man, he’s also a bear.  His mere existence as both bear and man is every bit as illegal as her mucking about in the Current and now Flora has to find out who and what he is even as she struggles to get back what he’s taken.  In this pursuit, she finds herself amid pirates, more magic than you can shake a sword at and more than a little romance.

As reviews go, this is probably a bit confusing and you feel like you’ve been dropped down in water over your head.  As good as this book is, that’s how you’re going to feel for more or less 50 pages if this is the first book in this series that you pick up.  You will probably eventually get your feet beneath you but it would probably be easier to simply start with book 1 (Flora’s Dare) and then book 2 (Flora Segunda) before proceeding to Flora’s Fury.

Is the journey worth it?  Every word, every page turn and the wait for each new volume.  Yes, yes and yes again.

Wilce has created a marvelously complicated world that is somewhat familiar and entirely amazing.  Wilce’s setting is a California that never was.  Imagine what would happen if the Aztec were never conquered and were also possessed of a terrible magic that they use to keep tribute nations in line.  Imagine what would happen if a handful of others also had this magic but magic itself was suspect and somewhat illegal.

Whatever you’ve managed to conjure up in your imagination, rest assured that it is nothing compared to the intricate plots and deeply drawn characters of Wilce’s imagination. Give these books to the young teen in your life, but don’t come complaining to me if she’d rather read them then do her chores.  You have, after all, been warned.


October 22, 2012

Pig Has a Plan by Ethan Long

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:23 am by suebe2

Pig Has a Plan
by Ethan Long
Holiday House
An “I Like to Read” title

Poor Pig!  There’s nothing Pig wants more than to take a nap, unless its the peace and quiet he needs to actually accomplish this feat.

But things are hopping in the barn yard with sawing and hammering and phone calls and food on the grill.  Finally, Pig spies Fly sipping from a glass on a tray.  Seeing the straws in the drinks, Pig hatches a plan and finally gets his nap.

If you have a young reader who is still in the earliest stages of independent reading, finding books can be tough.  Most books with interesting characters and fun stories are simply too hard for your reader to tackle on his own.  Find a simple enough text for him to conquer and you risk loosing his interest completely because the text and the story behind it are just so basic and blah.

Take a look at Holiday House’s “I Like to Read” books.  The text may not be complicated but the illustrations add to it to create a story that is much more than that told through the words alone.  Long’s Pig Has a Plan compliments all of this with a humorous twist at the end — just what were all of the animal’s in the barnyard up to and what is pig going to miss if he doesn’t wake up?

Check out Pig Has a Plan.  It is simple enough to let your beginning reader succeed.  But it also has a twist ending and humor that will make your reader happy that he actually managed to reach the end and that he did it himself.



October 18, 2012

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda By Tom Angleberger

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:02 am by suebe2

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda
By Tom Angleberger
Amulet Books
AR 4.7


               More than anything else, Tommy needs to know if Origami Yoda is real.  Okay, he knows Origami Yoda is real to the extent that it is a folded piece of paper that bears an eerie resemblance to one wrinkled, green Jedi master.

               But what Tommy needs to know is if the little paper project can actually come up with good advice.  Dwight, he who made Origami Yoda and wears it on his finger, is just plain strange.  He’s one of those kids who doesn’t really fit into any group at school, even the social outcasts.  He has absolutely zero common sense so Tommy doesn’t think he’d even think of the things that Origami Yoda says to people, speaking through Dwight of course.

               The problem is that Origami Yoda has given Tommy a piece of advice.  Follow the advice, and if its good, Tommy may actually end up with a girlfriend.  But if the advice is bad, he will get turned down and look like a complete idiot for listening to a piece of paper.

               Fortunately, Tommy knows how to figure this out.  He will collect case files from people, stories of the advice that they got from Origami Yoda and whether or not it was any good. 

               Angleberger brings readers an amazing cast of characters from brains to jocks and social misfits, all trying to find their place.  What emerges as their stories all come out is that the together kids may not be as perfect as they seem, and the social misfits?  Some of them have a few tricks up their sleeves as well.

               This one is a fast read.  The unusual format – case files illustrated with simple line drawing and side comments – all printed on what looks like wrinkled, lined paper makes for an approachable read that won’t intimidate even hesitant readers.

               Don’t be surprised if it sparks lively discussions about why some kids are in and others aren’t as well as how we “know” what we do about the people around us.


October 15, 2012

I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black and Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:58 am by suebe2

I’m Bored
By Michael Ian Black
Illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi
Simon and Schuester

Simply put, the narrator of Black’s tale is . . . bored.  This isn’t your average ho hum bored either, this is the overwhelming kind that makes you tired and super, duper cranky.  Especially when the most exciting thing you can find is a potato.

But then Black adds insult to injury.  Not only does the potato thump the narrator on the head, it tells her just what is wrong.  The potato, apparently, is bored.

The narrator then launches into a long list of the many fun and exciting things that they could be doing.  No matter, the potato is still bored.  If only there was a flamingo.  The potato, it seems, likes flamingos very much.

I’m not going to spoil the twist ending but it’s the sort of thing that will have your young reader howling or rolling his eyes.

The bold black lines of Ohi’s  illustrations compliment the simple straight forward nature of this story.  Light blue background compliment the vivid bold colors of the narrator’s imagination.

Adults will get the narrator’s frustration as she tries to amuse the surly potato.  Young readers will understand both the joys of wild imaginings and the annoyance of trying to amuse a playmate who simply refuses to get with the program. 

A fun, fast read, perfect for story time and a lead in for imaginative play.



October 11, 2012

Last Laughs by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen, illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 1:34 am by suebe2

Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs
by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen
illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins

A great choice for Halloween but it comes with a warning — yes, the format of this fun volume is 100% picture book but don’t let that fool you.  This is not suited to your preschool pink puff and butterfly crowd.  Lewis and Yolen’s endeavor is for an older picture book crowd, a slightly jaded crowd with an undeniable pull toward slightly macabre, dark humor.

These are, after all, humorous animal epitaphs.  My favorite absolutely must be read aloud.

Mourning a Dove

Go, wing,
go, wing . . .

From the delightfully short to the devilishly long, Lewis and Yolen have dug up a host of epitaphs, odes to animals long gone but not forgotten.  Why did the chicken cross the road?  Why was he a little horse?  All of these questions will be answered and more.

An excellent choice for the older child who still loves Halloween and even for reluctant readers.  Even with the longer poems, the text is brief.  The illustrations by Timmins are delightfully grim and sure to draw in those who delight in the offbeat and slightly off putting.  If you catch yourself chastising your son for one gross joke after another, present him with a book that celebrates his gruesome outlook on life and death even if this collection is more fun than frightening.



October 8, 2012

Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:44 am by suebe2

Bewitching Season
by Marissa Doyle
Henry Holt
AR 5.3

I have to admit that I really wasn’t sure what to expect from Doyle’s Bewitching Season.  I’m not a huge fan of romance novels or chick lit and the cover made me think that this was probably a frightening combination of both.  That said, the book had been highly recommended so I heaved a great sigh and settled down on the sofa.

Wow.  Am I ever glad that I did.

Soon I was pulled into the story of Persy and her twin sister, Pen.  Daughter of a Viscount in Regency/Early Victorian England, they are supposed to be studying dance and deportment for their introduction to society in just a few short weeks.  What they are actually doing, under the guidance of their tutor, is practicing their magic on their younger brother.  Magic may be something that a number of people can do, it isn’t something that polite society discusses but more of  a skeleton in the closet.  While no one has been executed for witchcraft in 100 years or so, it simply isn’t smart to take any chances.

While Pen practices her dance steps and chatters on about upcoming balls and card parties and more, Persy focuses on her magic.  After all, what’s the chance that Papa will continue to pay their tutor once the two young ladies have entered society.  She better learn all she can and learn it now before she falls victim to ballroom dancing and flirtation.

The two girls may be twins, but they have distinct personalities.  Persy is a devoted student and Pen the social butterfly whom Persy is certain will be the belle of the ball and quick to find a suitor.  When their neighbor, Lochinvar has returned from touring the continent.  He’s no longer the pesky slightly older boy who drug them through every bramble on the estate.  Nor is he the slightly handsome young man who chatted with her about books.  He is now the tall, handsome heir to his father’s estate.  When he seems to fall under Pen’s spell, Persy realizes that he is the one man who truly interests her.

I can’t say much more without completely spoiling the plot but a missing tutor, a witches curse, and young Princess Victoria make this story a fast moving tour through a magical England that sadly never was.

In spite of my initial misgivings, this book pulled me in and refused to release me until I had turned the last page and then gone back to read the climax once again.  As a parent, I did have to say that I was a bit put off by the fact that neither of these girls parents had a clue what they were up to or that they could use magic.  Not to worry, this “oversight” becomes crystal clear by the end of the book.

Yes, there’s romance but its pretty light and fluffy, keeping with the books middle grade appeal.  Fans of fantasy and historic fiction alike should give this one a try although I don’t see the book having much appeal for male readers.

Now off to start the sequel!


October 1, 2012

Hurricane Dancers by Margarita Engle

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:08 am by suebe2

Hurricane Dancers: The First Caribbean Pirate Shipwreck
by Margarita Engle
AR 6.6
Henry Holt and Company

I loved Engle’s Newbery Honor book, The Surrender Tree.  It tells the story of Rosa who works as a healer among those fighting for Cuba’s freedom.  So when I saw Hurricane Dancers, I checked it out from our library.  Of course, that was the same week that a huge stack of requested novels also came home with me and this one sat and sat.  How I wish I had gotten to it sooner!

Hurricane Dancers is a novel told in verse.  Quebrado is a mixed race boy, part Spanish and part Native Cuban.  When illness wipes out all in his village except him and his Spanish father, his father wanders off into the forest leaving Quebrado alone.  Pirates quickly realize what an asset the boy is — with a foot in both worlds he is fluent in both his mother’s flutelike language and the rolling sounds of his father’s Spanish.  Traded from ship to ship, Quebrado finds himself serving Bernardino de Talavera, a failed rancher turned pirate.   De Talavera is more cruel than talented when it comes to his ship and they are wrecked in a Carribean hurricane.

I don’t want to tell any more of the plot because that would leave you without the joy of discovering the life and name that Quebrado builds for himself.  Quebrado simply means a young ships slave of mixed Spanish and Taino, native Cuban, ancestry.

Told in verse, this is a very quick read.  In that way, it would be a good choice for reluctant readers because there is plenty of white space and limited time is spent on each individual page.

But this is a complicated story — it is after all the history of Cuba.  There are multiple point of view characters including:


Bernardino de Talavera

Alonso de Ojeda, a cruel conquistador

Narido, a Ciboney native fisherman who rescues Quebrado after the hurricane

Caucubu, a chieftan’s daughter

Why tells the story from the points of view of so many characters?  Cuba’s history is complex.  It isn’t Native Indian because the Spanish came.  It isn’t Spanish because they didn’t replace the various tribes although, in many ways, it would seem that they tried to do so.  The ways of Spain did not completely work here but with the incoming Spanish neither did the ways of the various tribes.  Those who truly thrived and who live on in Cuba today are those who combined both worlds, who adapted and changed no matter what their heritage.

This is definitely a book that I would encourage you to pick up for both reluctant and advanced readers.  There is so much in it in spite of its brief text.  It is a history of the Americas we should know much better than we do.




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