October 14, 2017

Madam President by Lane Smith

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:20 pm by suebe2

Madam President
by Lane Smith
Hyperion Books for Children

A confident girl takes the reader through a “typical” day for Madam President.  It starts at home as she makes an executive order for waffles.  It continues through the school day as she vetoes tuna casserole.  Honestly, I would vote for this kid.


She leads by example as she picks up her room but also knows when to delegate, letting someone else take over a task when she is just too tired to do it well.  And her cabinet?  Oh, just too funny. Her piggy bank is Secretary of the Treasury and Mr. Potato Head is Secretary of Agriculture.  Smith’s trademark humor comes into play because there is also a Secretary of Fantasy and a Secretary of Pizza.  Makes sense!


As is so often the case with Lane’s books, the text is spare and the punch is in the illustrations.  The look on the Boy Scouts faces when she pops in for a photo-op is priceless!

Unlike many picture books, this one is story light.  But that’s okay because Lane makes it work.  Young readers will come away from this with a much better understanding of everything that a president does.

Somehow I managed to assume that this was a very recent book, but it is 2008.  In spite of this, the book is both timely and timeless.  Madam President must attend to disasters and make sure that things get cleaned up – a task that she takes on herself instead of passing it on to an underling.  Of course, her desire to negotiate a treaty when no one asked her to butt in is a bit too American as well but that’s the beauty of Smith’s work.  He is willing to point out all manner of things, some that you appreciate and some that you might rather forget.

Definitely a good book to spark discussions as to what a president does, how they should behave and more.  Share this one with the young reader in your life today and sit down for a long chat!



September 29, 2017

The Nantucket Sea Monster: A Fake News Story by Darcy Pattison, illustrated by Peter Willis

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 8:10 pm by suebe2

The Nantucket Sea Monster:
A Fake News Story
by Darcy Pattison
illustrated by Peter Willis

In August 1937, a Nantucket newspaper, The Inquirer and Mirror, reported that a local man had seen something strange.  Bill Manville, a local fisherman, was out in his boat.  He hadn’t caught any fish and was looking around when he saw the head of an immense animal rise above the waves.  He had spotted a sea monster!

At the end of the story, the reporter asked anyone else who had seen something to come forward.  Several other people wrote in giving details about seeing the monster.  People were scared even before the giant footprints were found on the beach.  The monster had bene out of the sea walking around!

The story was reported all over the country. Things quieted down for a bit but then it happened.  In mid-August a local man captured the monster.  People flocked down to the beach.  Would it be a fisherman with sharks?  Wreckage from a downed ship?

No one expected what they saw.  It was a giant balloon.

It had all been a publicity stunt – the man who caught the balloon monster had made it.  He also made balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.  In fact the whole thing had been planned out ahead of time with full knowledge of the newspaper editors.  That’s why it wasn’t a hoax. They hadn’t been tricked into believing something.

They had willingly reported something that they knew was not true.  This was really and truly fake news.

Fake news is a tough concept to explain to young readers.  It isn’t an opinion that someone can choose to believe or not to believe. It isn’t a hoax where someone is tricked into believing something.  It is something that the publisher knows is false and they publish it anyway.

This is the perfect story to illustrate the concept. In part, this is because it doesn’t have any political overtones. Using a historic story also helps young readers understand that this is not a new situation. Fake news has been around for a long time and will be around for years to come.

Pattison has taken a complex topic (fake news) and brought it to life in a way that can be discussed by supporters of any candidate. This is a book for discussion over the dinner table and in the classroom and we all seek to help young learners understand how to evaluate the things they read.



September 22, 2017

Flame in the Mist by Renee Ahdieh

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:15 pm by suebe2

flame in the mistFlame in the Mist
by Renee Ahdieh
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers

From her youngest years, Mariko was always the curious one.  She wanted to know how and why.  She looked for better ways to do things.  Her brother on the other hand always knew his duty.

As a result of her curiosity, Mariko had a reputation for being odd.  Fortunately, she is the daughter of a high-ranking samurai so she has tutors and leisure time. At least until her father finds a suitable suitor.

And he isn’t just any young man.  He is the crown prince.  He will be the next emperor.

Mariko doesn’t know what to expect when she reaches the palace but she knows better than to ask.  No one cares what a worthless girl thinks.

But then her party enters the forest and is attacked.  Mariko is the only survivor but her survival is anything but guaranteed.  She can feel the eyes of the forest watching her.  She is told that the attack on her group was the work of the Black Clan, a band of bandits and murderers.  Mariko decides to find out why they wanted to kill her by infiltrating the clan.

As is often the case with fantasy, this is a hard book to describe without simply retyping the entire book.  Ahdieh has created a tale peopled with colorful 3 dimensional characters, powerful magic, and treachery.

Not only does Mariko have to find her way out of the forest, she also has to decide who to trust, who to believe, and who she truly is – passive daughter of a samurai or Mariko, inventor, planner and fighter.

This is the first of a two book series set in feudal Japan. The setting definitely comes to life, going so far as to reach out and threaten the unwary.  There is action, there is romance, and there is mystery.  Readers will definitely want to know what happens next.

And I have to admit that was my only problem with the book.  There is enough left hanging that you will want to immediately pick up the next book but that doesn’t come out until May 2018.

That said, this is definitely an excellent book for fantasy fans especially the patient ones who don’t mind waiting until May.


September 15, 2017

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet by Carmen Agra Deedy, illustrated by Eugene Yelchin

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:20 pm by suebe2

The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet
by Carmen Agra Deedy
illustrated by Eugene Yelchin
Scholastic Press

“Once there was a village where the streets rang with song from morning until night.”  The problem was that it wasn’t one person singing or even two.  Everyone sang.  Even the fountains crooned.  It got to the point that it was even hard to sleep.  So it wasn’t a surprise when they fired the mayor.

The new mayor promised that La Paz would be one thing — quiet.  He won by a landslide.  (Isn’t that gloriously ironic?)

He didn’t wait to start passing laws.  First you couldn’t sing loudly in public.  Then you couldn’t do it at home.  Before long, you just had to be quiet.  Shhh.

That’s when a little rooster, el gallito, came to town.  He heralded in the dawn with his song.  Kee-kee-ree-KEE!

The mayor wasn’t going to put up with such a noisy bird.  First he chopped down el gallito’s favorite mango tree.  The rooster still found a reason to sing. Then the mayor took away his family.  Kee-kee-ree-KEE!  One thing after another is taken away from the rooster but the mayor simply cannot take away his song.

The people of the town were drawn to the rooster. Something was waking up in their hearts.

Finally the mayor threatens the rooster’s life.  And then….

Ha!  I’m not going to spoil the ending.  You will definitely need to read the book.  It is such an encouraging, uplifting story.  Really, go get a copy.

Yelchin’s art work with its bright colors brings this story to life.  No one who sees this cocky rooster is surprised when he keeps singing.  He’s just to full of spark to silence.

Share this story with your class or with your own children.  Use it as a jumping off point for discussions on bullying and freedom of speech.  Although it will make a marvelously fun story time book – be prepared.  Your young learners will definitely want to  Kee-kee-ree-KEE along with el gallito.  I know I do!

This is a must have for the classroom and home.  Just remember to expect a little song.



September 12, 2017

Prudence the Part-Time Cow by Jody Jensen Shaffer, illustrated by Stephanie Laberis

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 7:09 pm by suebe2

Prudence the Part-Time Cow
by Jody Jensen Shaffer
illustrated by Stephanie Laberis
Henry Holt and Company

Prudence may look like the other cows in the herd but there’s a big difference between her and Bessie and Patty.  They are full-time cows.  Prudence is only part-time because even when she tries to fit in she just can’t shut off her mind.  Prudence is into science and she’s always making observations, calculations and ways to improve all their lives.

The tough part is that Prudence knows she isn’t like the others.  Their side stares and snide comments hurt. Still Prudence tries one last time to win them all over.

This book definitely belongs in both the home and school library.  It is a great jumping off point for discussions on bullying (how do we treat those who don’t belong), being true to yourself (what do you do when you don’t fit in) and STEM (try, try again!).

It also has something many teachers and librarians are looking for in a STEM book – a female character who is fascinated by science. One of the best things about Prudence’s passion for science is that it isn’t just passion for one field in science.  She’s an engineer, an architect and an inventor.

Stephanie Laberis has created digital illustrations that are silly and fun – that’s important in a book that could quickly be weighed down when the character feels picked on.  But the cartoony feel of these pictures, helped along by a wealth of bright color, are fun even when things are tense.  The characters, but Prudence especially, are very expressive which could also help lead a discussion on emotion and how to tell what people are feeling  and when we need to back off.

When you read this to your class, be prepared for a conversation that is sure to touch on a variety of topics and strong opinions!



September 6, 2017

Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin by Liesl Shurtliff

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:43 pm by suebe2

rump the true story of rumplestiltskinRump:
The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin
by Liesl Shurtliff
Knopf Books for Young Readers

When your name sets up your destiny, you want a good name, a great name, a name that makes people take notice.  In a good way.

Unfortunately, Rump’s mother was very sick when he was born.  She whispered his name to the newborn child but Rump was all anyone heard.  So Rump he became.

Do I really need to explain why this is a bad name to have?  No, I didn’t think so.

But life was okay.  Rump’s grandmother loved him dearly.  And he had one friend – a girl named Red, a name as fiery as his temper and only a little better than his own.  But food is scarce and if you don’t find gold in the mines your family will go hungry.

Rump has to feed his grandmother.  She’s simply too weak to survive the winter.  So in spite of her warning he gets out his mother’s spinning wheel.  He doesn’t know how.  He doesn’t know why, but he can spin straw into gold.  With gold, he can keep the only family he knows alive.

But with each whir of the wheel, Rump spins himself deeper into the curse.

A have to admit that it took me a little while to get into this one.  But once I did?  I was captured in a rumple, a tangle of threads, that wouldn’t let me go.

Spinning straw into gold may seem like a blessing but it is truly a curse and Rump knows that he needs help to break it.  He leaves behind his village and sets off in search of the town where his mother grew up.  Surely someone who knew her will be able to help him out.

Shurtliff has spun a story that is part fairy tale and fantasy and part mystery and tale of discovery.  With each fact Rump finds about his mother, he learns something about himself.  With each person he meets, he learns about the world he lives in. He learns about the difference between fact and fear.  He learns about friendship and trust.

Although this story involves a character who traipse across the country side, it is comfortably middle grade.  Young readers who enjoy fractured fairy tales but are ready for something beyond the realm of the picture book, this book is a must.


August 31, 2017

One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 5:04 pm by suebe2

One of Us Is Lying
by Karen M. McManus
Delacorte Press

As the story opens, five students are serving detention. They are a varied group with one thing in common – they are all in detention because a tech-hating teacher found a cell phone in each of their packs.  He has a no phones in class rule and all of them observe it but each was caught with a cheap phone that didn’t belong to them. Who could have set them up and why bother?

Bronwyn is the school brain.  She’s heading straight for an early acceptance from Yale.

Cooper is a jock with an amazing fast ball. He’s already being scouted by a variety of schools.

Addy dates the school quarterback. She’s sweet and pretty enough to be on the homecoming court.

Nate is the outlier.  A known drug dealer, he doesn’t care what anyone thinks.  He’s focused on convincing his probation officer that he’s doing everything right.

This question seems all important at the beginning of detention but it is quickly driven from one of their minds.  Simon, the outcast of the group, begins to cough.  Soon he is on the ground, red-faced and choking.  Nate realizes Simon is having a severe allergic reaction to something but can’t find the other boy’s epipen.  Cooper, star pitcher on the school baseball team, sprints to the nurses office but the epipens she keeps there are gone.

Now the police are looking at this group and trying to figure out who wanted Simon dead.  The problem is that Simon had only one friend in school.  So it could have been just about anyone.  Simon ran a gossip ap that he used to “out” whoever did anything they wouldn’t want someone else to know about.  Cheating on a boyfriend, casual sex, drunken anarchy.  All could be punished by a post by Simon.

These four students are the prime suspects simply because they were in the room.  The mystery deepens as the posts continue even after Simon’s death.  A post goes lives that implicates everyone who had been in detention.  In spite of the fact that their lawyers have advised them to avoid each other, the four start working together to figure out who really did it and why.

If you’re over a certain age, this will immediately remind you of The Breakfast Club but it’s the BC with a serious edge.  One of the students doesn’t make it out alive.

Because the author switches points of view, allowing each character to speak for him or herself, the reader gets the experience of seeing things from each character’s perspective.  This is an engaging technique that helps the reader identify with the characters.  Not that they need a lot of help.  With this array of characters, there is a great variety.  But this does make it easy to get into their heads.

Readers will find themselves debating, who did it?  Is one of them lying?

Warning.  Here comes a big spoiler alert.

Seriously.  Don’t read on because I may give something away.

In some ways this book is a lot like 13 Reasons Why.  So now you know.  It deals with suicide and mental illness. Because of this, it can be a tough read as the characters figure out what happened and why.  They are to blame but not in the “they drove poor Simon to suicide” way.  “It is a lot more like Simon was a bit unhinged but didn’t use a gun.”

But I think it is a really important read.  It shows how one persons actions impact another.  But it also shows how students can cross boundaries and reach out to help each other.  There is definitely a lot to love about this book.  That said, it is definitely a read for teens, not tweens.



August 29, 2017

Let Me Finish! by Minh Le, illustrated by Isabel Roxas

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 4:15 pm by suebe2

Let Me Finish!
by Minh Le
illustrated by Isabel Roxas

When our young hero sits down to read a long-awaited book, he is just getting started when someone comes along and tells him the ending. Time and time again, his reading is spoiled by someone who just can’t resist telling him all about it.  So he sets off in search of a quiet place to read.

If you’ve been reading my reviews for any length of time, you know how much I hate commenting on something that is going to spoil a book for the reader.  More than once, probably more than a dozen times, I’ve told you that you are going to have to go read the book for yourself to find out how it ends.

Guess what?  That’s the case with this one too because the author has created a fun twist for the ending.

The text is short and would make a great read aloud.  But be prepared for a lengthy discussion of the many ways that reading time can be ruined as well as what the boy should do to assure that both his time and his reading experience are respected.

Roxas illustrations are brightly colored and fanciful, adding a layer of silliness and fun to the story.  From the young reader clutching his new book to the birds and other animals swooping in to tell him all about it, the characters are both silly and expressive.

Anyone who has ever had their reading ruined by a plot spoiler is going to identify with this young character.  So will the reader who sits down to enjoy a book only to be interrupted, and interrupted, and again interrupted.  This book will make a great gift item for book lovers of all ages who consider their reading time special even if they have a hard time squeezing it in.



August 21, 2017

Wish by Barbara O’Connor

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 1:38 am by suebe2

by Barbara O’Connor
Farrar Straus and Giroux

When eleven year-old Charlie Reese gets shipped off, she has no idea what to expect.  The family services woman says these folks are her aunt and uncle but Charlie has never even heard of them. So she shows up with a fiery hot temper. She’s sure she gets it from her daddy who goes by Scrappy.  His temper may very well be why he’s in the local correctional facility. Again.

Charlie hates school because she is surrounded by kids with real families.  There are kids whose brothers and sisters go to the school.  Kids whose mamas slip notes in their lunch boxes.  All Charlie has is a backpack buddy – Howard.

Charlie doesn’t understand Howard.  He rather read or do a cross word puzzle than run or explore.  But maybe that makes sense since one leg is shorter than the other, giving him an odd up and down walk. Aunt Bertha describes Howard and his kin as good-hearted but Charlie doesn’t get it.  Why doesn’t he get mad when the other kids make fun of his walk?  He doesn’t even seem happy when she stands up for him and even gets in a fight.


But maybe his heart is a good thing.  Cause he doesn’t get mad when Charlie lashes out.  He spends all kinds of time helping her catch a stray hound that she’s nicknamed Wishbone.  In fact, every one seems to be helping.  Howard helps her build a huge box trap.  Bertha gives her meatloaf for bait.  Uncle Gus brings home a collar.  It’s like they all believe in her.

But Charlie only has faith in one thing. That if she wishes every day for long enough her wish will come true.  She’s been wishing for years and it is bound to happen sooner or later.  And when it does, she’ll finally have someplace to belong.

I seem to have stumbled across a number of books lately that explore family and home (see Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk and Hoot and Honk Just Can’t Sleep by Leslie Helakoski). Although the themes may be similar, the books are as different as different can be.  Wish is a contemporary novel set in rural North Carolina.  It isn’t as dark as Beyond the Bright Sea sometimes feels although both are for a middle grade audience.  That said, I think Wish is for slightly younger readers than Beyond the Bright Sea. 

It isn’t surprising that the first one Charlie bounds with is a stray dog.  After all, she doesn’t feel like she belongs and this feeling will  resonate with young readers whether they are struggling to fit in at home or at school.

Read it and get ready for some powerful discussions about what it means to fit in and the best definition of family.


August 15, 2017

Hoot and Honk Just Can’t Sleep by Leslie Helakoski

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 4:09 pm by suebe2

Hoot and Honk Just Can’t Sleep
by Leslie Helakoski
Sterling Children’s Books

High winds blow and two eggs are blown out of two very different nests.  Mama Goose and Mama Owl each retrieve an egg and return to their nests.

When Hoot hatches among the goslings, it is clear something is different.  Hoot doesn’t like the bugs and seeds the others relish.  When they go to sleep at night, he’s ready for adventure.

Mama owl finds Hoot playing with the other owlets and they all return to the owl’s nest.  And that’s where Honk hatches.

Poor Honk is just as out-of-place as Hoot was.  Little mice for dinner? Yuck!  When they others go to sleep, he wonders off to see what is what. Not too worry.  He too finds his family.

The book ends with a neat little summary:

Night and day.
Wake or doze?
Some eyes open.
Some eyes close.

Neither way is right or wrong.  They are simply different.

I first came across this book in a discussion of STEM reading.  For those of you who may not know the term, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  It is a tag used to label books and curriculum that can help young learners understand science.  How can a fictional book do that?

A lot of people mistakenly think that STEM books are always nonfiction.  But fiction like Hoot and Honk can be an excellent jumping off point for discussing STEM topics.  In this cast, the book sets up a world of comparisons and contrasts.  What do the two types of birds eat?  When do they sleep?  Where are their nests?

It is also a beautiful book.  Helakoski’s art work, done in pastels, is richly colored.  The pastels create a look of slightly furred edges that make the chicks look fluffy and fuzzy  – like chicks.

This book is super short and rhymes which will make it a great read aloud for either an individual child or a group.  Use it to spark discussions of comparison and contrast, fitting in, and more.


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