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.


March 11, 2018

I Got a Chicken for My Birthday by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Sarah Horne

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:31 am by suebe2

I Got a Chicken for My Birthday
by Laura Gehl
illustrated by Sarah Horne
Carolrhoda Books

Kids will probably bound with this particular picture book before the adult reader does.  Why?  Every kid gets gifts they don’t want.  And the adult reader may well be the one who buys these gifts?

Ana has just had heard birthday.  She carefully told her abuela that the gift she wanted was a trip to the amusement park.  She told abuela three times!

But does she get a trip to the amusement park?  Of course not or there wouldn’t be a story.

Instead Abuela Lola gives her a chicken.

Ana is, sort of, trying to make the best of it.  After all, it could be worse.  Abuela could have given her socks or underwear.  A chicken is better than that.

But as Ana discovers chickens are a lot of work. They have to be fed.  And they are very demanding.

Throughout the text of this particular story, the reader has to pay attention to the illustrations.  Early on, Ana’s father revealed that he too got a chicken.

The chicken is clearly up to something. She has commandeered all of the other animals and a bull dozer.  She makes Ana invite Abuela for a visit.  In the end, the narrator gets what she wanted and much, much more.  The fun part?  She’s got even bigger plans for her next birthday.  This girl is thinking big.

Sarah Horne drew the illustrations in ink, coloring them in Photoshop.  They are a colorful, playful compliment to this silly story. And pay attention to the art.  There are a lot of fun details, such as the roller coaster cars, throughout.

You don’t have to keep chickens to enjoy this book.  This is an excellent choice for dreamers.

It would also be a fun book for story time because the group would get very involved in trying to guess what that chicken is doing.


March 5, 2018

Peep and Egg: I’m Not Using the Potty by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Joyce Wan

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 5:31 pm by suebe2

Peep and Egg:
I’m Not Using the Potty
by Laura Gehl
illustrated by Joyce Wan
Farrar Straus Giroux

The next couple of weeks I’ll be reviewing books that are chicken/egg themed and would make great Easter gifts.  They are not Easter books per se but would still be a good fit.

As is always the case with Peep and Egg, Peep is ready for something to happen.  Egg, who doesn’t appreciate change one little bit, is not.

Peep has decided that it is time for Egg to start using the potty.  Egg?  No thanks!

As this point, I was more than a little worried that this was going to turn into a didactic potty training book.  Adult character knows what is best and ultimately coerces/tricks child character into using the potty.  But keep reading because that is not the case.

Peep does try to get her way.  Flushing, throwing toilet paper at the potty, nothing tempts Egg.  So Peep drags Egg around the barnyard where they drink the cow’s lemonade, sit near a flowing stream with the ducks, and so on.

Finally Peep does get Egg on the potty but in the end Peep wants Egg off NOW.

I have to say that I still find Joyce Wan’s illustrations super appealing.  The bold lines and bright colors give the work a cartoony feel.  And truly, a book about a chicken using the toilet demands a cartoony approach.  Wan’s illustrations keep things sweet and funny instead of over the top or slap stick.

Youngsters who are on the verge of being potty trained and will identify with Egg. Like Egg, they probably can’t articulate what about using the potty they don’t like, but the identification will be there. They will especially love that Egg manages to get the better of Peep in the end.

A silly, light-hearted look at what can be a very stressful time for both parent and child.  The illustrations paired with the text help create an appealing, pre-school appropriate book about overcoming fears.




February 22, 2018

Forest World by Margarita Engle

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 10:37 pm by suebe2

Forest World
by Margarita Engle
Atheneum Books for Young Readers

Hurt and confused, Edver doesn’t know what to expect when his mother ships him off to Cuba.  He knows that the two of them fled the island when he was just a baby and he knows that this is where his father lives, but what is the surprise about which his mother hints?

Before Edver gets on the airplane, his mother loads him down with gifts and warnings.  Don’t boast. Don’t flash around your money. Don’t ask for food. The people in Cuba have very little and she wants to help him fit in and connect with those around him.

But Edver doesn’t understand how he can hope to connect.  Not without the phone that his mother took away.  Sure, he was skateboarding while playing a game but if that biker had been paying more attention the guy wouldn’t have gotten hurt.

In Cuba, Edver discovers that his phone wouldn’t have worked anyway and that no one knows anything about the games he loves.  His grandfather, abuelo, teases Edver about the games but the most clueless of all is the one who was meant to be a pleasant surprise.  His sister.  Edver is only a year younger than Luza, a girl who loves art, magic realism and the forest on the family mountain.  She is proud of the work that their father does to keep the animals safe from poachers.

Not surprisingly, she resents Edver and the relationship he has with their mother.  Edver doesn’t understand her anger but he too wants to lure Mama to Cuba.  But she’s off looking for rare animals in a Southeast Asian jungle.  So the siblings invent a butterfly, never before seen, to lure Mama back to Cuba.  What they don’t expect is that before she arrives they will come face-to-face with someone much more dangerous.

If your young reader has never sampled Engle’s work, this book would make an excellent introduction to the Young People’s Poet Laureate as named by the Poetry Foundation. This book is a novel in verse, fast-paced and accessible.  Poems alternate between the point-of-view of Edver and Luza.  Readers learn about the sibling’s unusual names, how Cuban families were split, and the damage done by poachers who lure people into helping them.

For anyone interested in poetry, Cuba, human rights, or the environment.


February 16, 2018

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 12:55 am by suebe2

The Word Collector
by Peter H. Reynolds
Orchard Books/Scholastic

Collectors collect whatever it is that they are passionate about.  This means that some of them collect stamps.  Others collect coins.  Still others collect art, but that’s not what Jerome collected.  Jerome collected words.

Whenever he heard a word or saw a word that caught his attention, Jerome would write it down. He liked short words and long words.  Some words  sounded like songs.  Others were marvelous to say even if he didn’t know the meaning.  The longer Jerome collected words, the more scrapbooks he filled, each word written on a piece of paper and taped on the larger pages.

One day Jerome was transporting his collection when he tripped. Words flew everywhere.  Now his collection was a jumble with big words next to small words. Jerome looked at what words had landed together and began stringing words together.  Soon he was writing poems and songs and he discovered just how powerful words could be.  In the end, he knew he had to do one more thing…

Ha! I’m not telling you because I refuse to spoil this marvelous aha ending.

If Reynolds’ name sounds familiar, you may recognize it from another of his books – The Dot.  Reynolds plants a reminder of that one in the art work for this book.  When he discusses someone collecting art, the person is gazing on a collection of dots.  I admire Reynolds’ books both as a writer and a reader.  They are astonishingly simple on the surface but simultaneously quite deep.  That’s a hard trick to pull off but Reynolds has done it again just as he did in The Dot. 

In The Word Collector, Reynolds captures all that is amazing both about words themselves but also about sharing them with others.  A top-notch choice to encourage your pre-reader and celebrate the writer in your life no matter their age.




February 5, 2018

Fallingwater by Mark Harshman and Anna Egan Smucker, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:52 pm by suebe2

by Mark Harshman and Anna Egan Smucker
illustrated by LeUyen Pham
Roaring Brook Press

“No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.”  ~Frank Lloyd Wright

By 1934, it had been years since Frank Lloyd Wright had built anything worth mentioning in the newspaper.  In fact, someone had actually reported that he was dead.

When Wright received a letter from Edgar Kaufmann, owner of a Pittsburgh department store, he accepted the invitation to come discuss a new project.  Kaufmann welcomed Wright to Pittsburgh but then hurried him out to Bear Run. He wanted the architect to see the waterfall and the creek tumbling down the hillside.

Wright had dreamed of building near a waterfall and this was his chance to do even more. He made multiple trips to Bear Run.  He listened to the water.  He examined the rocks and the cliff.

Walking the familiar Wisconsin countryside back at home, Wright thought about the possibilities.  In his workroom, he studied the maps. And he thought some more.

Nine months after his first visit, he got a message from Kaufmann who was eager to see the plans.  He’d be there in two hours.  Wright’s assistants panicked but Wright was ready, finally, to put pencil to paper.  Although the plans had not been started, by the time Kaufman arrived, the house on the waterfall has taken shape on paper.

As a writer, I loved this story.  Sometimes I find myself thinking about a project for weeks or months.  Suddenly, facing a deadline, I sit down to work and things come together.  I know there has been controversy about Wright but this is an excellent book about his creative process. It shows young readers that success can follow a long dry spell.  It depicts the power of inspiration.

Pham’s paintings are watercolor, gauche, and ink.  I have to admit that I admire how nature is a bit dreamy looking while the architecture it inspired is concrete and more solid.  Yet they combine in Pham’s art much as they do in Wright’s architecture – to form an integrated whole.

Share this picture book with young artists and dreamers as well as older fans of Wright’s work.


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