February 14, 2019

Snails Are Just My Speed by Kevin McCloskey

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 9:50 pm by suebe2

Snails Are Just My Speed

by Kevin McCloskey
Toon Books

Looking for simple books for your early reader?  I hope you’ve explored the Toon Books catalogue.  Snails Are Just My Speed is a level 1 reader, written for children in Kindergarten and first grade.  That means that they’ll find sight words and short sentences.  And don’t be put off, as an adult, by the cartoon illustrations.  Fun and engaging, these picture will help pull your young reader into the story where they will not only refine their reading skills but also learn all about snails.

Did you know that:

  • Because of the mucus is produces, a snail can crawl over the sharpened edge of a knife blade?
  • That a snail’s mucus trail acts as an actual pathway, guiding other snails to follow along?
  • A snail’s mucus can actually act like glue and hold a damaged shell together?

Types of snails.  Sizes of snails. Warnings about not to eat raw snails.  All of this and more is in McCloskey’s book. While adults may be less than thrilled about the gooey snotty snail facts, these gross tid bits will draw many young readers in and all the while they are learning both reading and science.

This book could easily be used to launch a discussion on invertebrates, wildlife, gardening, and even bodily fluids.  Want to discuss the different ways that animals eat?  This book can be used in that discussion as well.

Don’t let the speech bubbles turn you off.  Yes, even the snails talk which is going to feel odd for some adults.  Isn’t this a nonfiction title?  But young readers will appreciate the snarky, snotty comments that the snails make.  This is, after all, a book in Toon Books’ Giggle and Learn series.

Pick up a copy today and share it with your young readers at home or at school.  They might not realize until it’s too late that they’ve been learning from the book the whole time.



February 8, 2019

Property of the Rebel Librarian by Allison Varnes

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 10:04 pm by suebe2

Property of the Rebel Librarian
by Allison Varnes
Random House Books for Young Readers

When twelve-year-old June Harper’s parents discover she is reading an inappropriate library book, it is simply too scary, they take helicopter parenting to a new extreme.  Not only do they go in to complain, the librarian ends up on suspension and the vast majority of the books are removed from the school library.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, they take June’s own books away.

June is an avid reader and, as any book-mad kid will understand, the idea of doing without books is unacceptable.  June is trying to figure out what to do when she spots the solution – a Little Free Library.

When another student spots June with a book, she realizes she isn’t the only book lover that’s been affected.  Soon she is stopping every day at the Little Free Library and bringing in books to share with her fellow students.  Before long, other students are bringing books in as well as bringing new readers to June for help.

But signs have gone up around campus.  Anyone caught reading a banned book will be in big trouble.  All books must be approved.  Scared, June is considering backing down when she gets her own books back from her parents.  June sits down to revisit an old favorite only to discover that pages are missing.  In some places an index card has been glued over a paragraph, removing old text and adding new.  Her parents won’t give up until every book young readers have access to is sweet, syrupy and inoffensive in every way.  June, to put it mildly, is offended.  This is censorship!

When June’s library is busted, her parents realize who the Rebel Librarian is – no one has messier hand writing than June. They demand a public apology and June realizes that it’s now or never.  She can stand up for what she knows is right or she can be the meek person who parents want her to be.  Whichever decision she makes, will mark a turning point in her life.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but June’s parents made my skin crawl.  It also appalled me just how onboard this Fahrenheit 451 program the school administration was.  That said, it is far too easy to believe that a couple of people can steer a community into territory no one saw coming.  And they can do it with the best intentions.

One of the things that I loved about this book was the emphasis on just how ordinary many banned books are.  They aren’t extreme. They aren’t terrifying.  They are simply stories that someone doesn’t entire agree with.  Included in the list in this book are Old Yeller, Brown Girl Dreaming, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

The right young reader will love picking up a book where the tweens have what it takes to stand up for what is right both in an underground movement but also in public.  Pick up this book to spearhead a discussion on banning, censorship and activism.


February 1, 2019

Unicorn on a Roll by Dana Simpson

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:55 pm by suebe2

Unicorn on a Roll
by Dana Simpson
Andrews McNeal Publishing

A unicorn is magical but even more magical is a friendship between a girl and a unicorn.  Phoebe and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils are best friends.  Not that they get to spend all day together.  Phoebe still has to go to school after all she is a typical nine-year-old.

But that’s the great part of this graphic novel.  It shows that it is okay to be a typical girl AND that amazing things can happen to ordinary people.

This is the second book in the series.  In book 1, Phoebe and Her Unicorn, Phoebe skips a stone across the pond and manages to hit Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the process.  The unicorn has to grant her one wish and Phoebe wishes that they are best friends.

In book 2, Phoebe competes with her frenemy, Dakota, for the lead in the play.  She competes against her crush, equally nerdy Max, in the spelling be, and much more.  But the book appeals to slightly older readers as well with Dad’s video game obsession and the intervention staged by Marigold’s fellow unicorns.

I picked up this book because I saw an interview with Dana Simpson.  Still I wasn’t sure what to expect and was surprised by how funny it is.  I laughed out loud repeatedly, earning many a funny look since I was reading in public.  I also loved the fact that Marigold is not an imaginary friend.  I discovered this in a panel where Dad and Marigold discuss Phoebe’s fashion sense, or lack thereof.  I also loved the fact that gender roles are not 100% traditional.  Yes, Dad loves video games but he is also the one that sews Phoebe’s costume for the school play.

It might have helped if I had started with book #1 but I had no story picking up book #2.   In addition to the strips published in graphic novel format, you can read them at Go Comics’ Phoebe and her Unicorn page. This series is definitely worth your time.


January 24, 2019

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M. T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 11:24 pm by suebe2

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge
by M. T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

Goblins and elves have been at war for over 100 years, this in spite of the fact that they used to co-exist.

But elfin historian Brangwain Spurge is on a mission.  He has been sent with a peace-offering, an artifact discovered while digging in a palace garden.

His host is the goblin archivist Werfel who is thrilled to be honored to host such an important guest.

But Brangwain Spurge is more than he seems.  He has been sent to spy on the goblins and scout out their weaknesses.  Each night he enters a trance and sends back images of the goblin kingdom.  And that’s where Yelchin’s detailed art work comes into play.  Readers will immediately wonder how the city Werfel is describing with such enthusiasm and joy can be the horror experienced by Spurge.

Cultural misunderstandings as well as willful double crosses fill this book.  When Spurge arrives both he and Werfel are certain that goblins and elves are very different. Their foods, their music, all of their habits are different.  Goblins even shed their skins.  Disgusting!

I don’t want to summarize any more of the story because I don’t want to give it away.  It is no wonder that this book was a finalist for the National Book Award.  Titles chosen for this award are timely.  They deal with topics straight from the headlines.  For this book those would include prejudice, assumption and misunderstanding as well as eventual hope.

The combination of text and art gives readers insight that they wouldn’t have in a story that was text alone.  There are also dual story lines with elven memos explaining why Spurge was sent, Spurge sharing his perspective based on what he was told, and Werfel filling in the goblin perspective.

This book is so hard to describe.  Tolkien meets Mission Impossible?

And its clear that Yelchin and Anderson had a blast in creating this book.  Blast.  It’s a bit of an inside joke – read the book and you’ll get it.


January 16, 2019

Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 9:36 pm by suebe2

Trail of Lightning
by Rebecca Roanhorse
Saga Press

Outside the wall, much of the world is now underwater, drowned beneath rising seas brought on by climate change.  Within the wall, Dinetah has been transformed.  What was once the Navajo Reservation in the four corners (New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and Colorado), is now a land overrun by magic.

That wouldn’t be all bad except some of this magic comes in the form of monsters and monsters can kill you.  Maggie Hoskie doesn’t want to use her clan powers but if anyone else goes after the monster that just snatched a young girl they will almost certainly end up dead. Maggie has speed and a fighting skill gifted by her clans and even she ends up getting chewed on. When Maggie learns that a witch created this particular monster and others like it, she reluctantly goes on the hunt.

At her side is an unconventional medicine man, Kai Arviso.  Maggie isn’t sure what it is about Kai but something makes him unique.  Just a few years older than her (she’s in her teens), Kai is just too shiny and pretty for the dusty land of Dinetah.  And a man who won’t fight?  Maggie worries he might be worse than useless until he manages to talk them out of a fix that could have easily been deadly.

This isn’t a young adult novel but it does have a teen protagonist that many young women will love.  She’s strong but flawed and by the end of book one realizes that she cannot stand alone.

Yes, book one.  This is the first in the Sixth World series.  Dinetah as portrayed by Roanhorse is postapocalyptic. Drinking and the wild life are still a thing but alcohol is even more important for fueling vehicles like Maggie’s truck. I guess now is as good a time as any to admit that I picked the book up because of the truck.  Don’t judge.

But I’m also a sucker for books set in the SW and with strong first nations characters like Maggie and Kai.  This is definitely a world I want to revisit.  I can’t say that I’m an expert on Dine (Navajo) culture but I was glad that I know as much as I do when Roanhorse unapologetically dropped in place names and various terms.  That said, it won’t be too much for devoted fantasy fans who are used to walking unfamiliar paths as they get to know new characters and worlds.

Maggie, Kai and Dinetah?  Definitely worth getting to know.


January 11, 2019

Devils Unto Dust by Emma Berquist

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 6:05 pm by suebe2

Devils Unto Dust
by Emma Berquist
Greenwillow Books

When I picked up Devils Unto Dust, I picked it up for the setting – the Texas desert.  I’ve got a sweet spot for the alpine desert of West Texas. Once I realized that this probably wasn’t my desert – too flat – I had been hooked by the story.

Willie is a survivors.  You have to be when you life in Glory, Texas.

Her parents homesteaded there looking to build a life for their family.  But after the Civil War the rains failed.  Farmers and families struggled.  Then came the sickness.  No one recovers and, before they up and die, the afflicted attack those around them biting and clawing with a savage hunger.

It’s what happened to her mother only she never got to the point that she attacked her own children.  Willie saw to that.

Now in 1877 it’s just Willie and her younger siblings.  Their father has disappeared again but before he goes he steals a gambler’s winnings and sets the law on his family.  Find the money to repay the debt or be put beyond the safety of the wall.

Willie uses money she doesn’t have to pay two young hunters to guide her across the desert after her father. If she can get the money back, she can pay everyone off.  Then she’ll have the space to find a way for their family to survive.

Willie loves the desert – the heat and the sun and the space.  But the space can also work against you because you can only carry so much water and sand storms are always a risk.  She isn’t even sure how far she can trust the two men she’s paid off.

I’m not going to say any more about the plot because there’s no way to do it without giving too much away.  This is definitely a teen book.  There are zombies and there is death.  There is also alcohol and there are references to sex and an attack but anyone who attacks Willie is a fool.  That said, before things are said and done, Willie learns that she can’t do it all on her own and that, if you pick the right people, it is okay to trust.

I have to say that I wish there had been more books for teens like this back in the olden days when I was a teen.  I could have used a heroine like Willie.  And if there’s a second book – I’ll be in line to get it.



January 5, 2019

Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt, illustrated by Vin Vogel

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:39 pm by suebe2

Maddi’s Fridge
by Lois Brandt
illustrated by Vin Vogel
Flashlight Press

Sofia and her best friend Maddi spend time at the local park.  They scale the climbing wall and have a great time before heading to Maddi’s apartment. Sofia, hungry for a snack, pops open the fridge only to discover that it is virtually empty.

Maddi explains that her mom doesn’t have enough money to buy groceries and makes Sofia promise not to tell.  Sofia wants to be a good friend but it is hard for her to see all the food they have at home, food her little brother refuses to eat, when Maddi and her family have next to nothing.

But she promised not to tell.

So she smuggles fish to school to share with Maddi.  Fish does not, to put it kindly, travel well.

But she’s still determined to solve this on her own.  This time she smuggles eggs.  Eggs?  They don’t travel all that well either.

SPOILER ALERT (the next paragraph gives away the resolution)

As writers we try to create stories where young characters can rise to the occasion and solve problems themselves.  But reality means that sometimes an adult is required to do adult things.  Sofia solves the problem by breaking her promise. Brandt does a great job of showing just how heavily this decision weighs on Sofia but once she tells she can help her mother take food to their needy friends.  

Because this really is a story about friends helping friends.

Vin Vogel’s art work takes a story that is all too real, hunger in today’s world, and makes it a little less threatening.  How so?  The illustrations are cartoony but not so cartoony that young readers will miss the emotions that these characters are working through.

This book came out in 2014.  I’m not really certain how we all missed up at the time because it won a number of awards including the 2014 Christopher Award, Books for Young People, 2014 ILA Primary Fiction Award, 2015 MLA Mitten Award Honor, and a Human Rights in Children’s Literature Honor.

Add this book to your classroom shelf.  Make sure young readers and their parents can find it in your library.  Together Brandt and Vogel have created a book about a serious topic that is age appropriate and accessible to young readers.



December 12, 2018

Harpy Eagle by Ellen Lawrence

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 6:58 pm by suebe2

Harpy Eagle
by Ellen Lawrence
BearPort Publishing

At over 3 feet tall and a wingspan of 6 feet, a harpy eagle is one of the apex predators in the Amazon rain forest. Monkey and sloth, coati and porcupine all fall prey to this winged hunter.  Yes, porcupine.  That one really surprised me.

Their nests are large enough to hold to adult people.  It can take up to 300 branches to build a nest that large.  In it, the female lays one or two eggs although only one chick will live to adulthood.  Raising a chick is a two eagle job with the mom staying with the chick and dad hunting for the family.  And chicks require a lot of food because they are growing fast.  They are the same size as their parents by 6 months old.

If you have an elementary school reader who loves books about animals, check out the books published by BearPort.  This is one of the books in the Apex Predators of the Amazon Rain Forest series which includes titles on the Arapaima, Black Caiman, Bull Shark, Electric Eel, Giant Otter, Green Anaconda, and Jaguar.

Each book discusses what the animal eats, its strengths, reproduction and family life.  Photos illustrate the book.  My favorite?  The one of the feathered out harpy chick – bright white with a fierce-looking black beak. Sidebars include questions, asking readers to observe and apply what they are learning as they read the book.  The back of the book includes activities that once again encourage thought and observation.

I read the entire series and I am one of those people who reads a lot of books about animals. Although I knew a little something about Caiman and Jaguar, I learned something in every book I read.

Share this series with your young reader to encourage reading as well as the development of STEM skills.


November 23, 2018

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle written by Leslie Connor

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 8:26 pm by suebe2

The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle
written by Leslie Connor

There’s a notebook that Mason is supposed to be writing in and it is way worse than school work.  School is bad enough.

Mason is the biggest kid at school and he sweats a lot.  It is so bad he brings an extra shirt to school.  And school work is a struggle.  Letters seem to swim around the page.  He can tell a story well enough but reading and writing are tough.  And that’s what the detective wants him to do – write.

Fifteen months earlier, Mason’s best friend Benny is found dead in the Buttle family orchard.  He’s laying beneath the tree fort where he and Mason spent so much of their time.  Mason knows that its important but he doesn’t know what the detective wants him to say.  He tried to tell about seeing pink when he is especially happy, like he was when he left Benny in the fort, but the detective thinks Mason is making things up.

Now the detective stops by every now and again and asks to see the notebook. He’s always disappointed and tells Mason that people are counting on him.  Don’t Benny’s dads deserve to know what happened to their boy?  Benny agrees, yes, they deserve to know but he doesn’t know how he can help.  The two  men act so sad and disappointed when they see Mason.

Then Mason’s other friend disappears.  They split up to run through the orchard and Mason thought Calvin went home.  But he isn’t there and now the police are looking for him.  And they are once again looking at Mason Buttle.

I’m not going to tell you how the book ends except to say that Mason figures it out.  He figures out what happened to Calvin and what happened to Benny.  And it isn’t the story the police expected to hear but they hear it anyway.

As a mom, this book was really hard to read.  It bothered me that the adults in his life didn’t seem to be tending to Mason’s needs.  Yes, they were hurting too but they didn’t seem to see how bad things were for him.  Fortunately, by the end of the book, they had come around but until then it was so hard for me to read.

Still Connor has created a vibrant world with a character you can’t help but love.  Mason had a good heart and is painfully honest even if not everyone sees his vision of the world.

Add this book to your library, at home and at school, and share it with the young readers in your life.  Be prepared to discuss bullying as well as creativity and belonging.  A top-notch book that begs to be read, appreciated and discussed with fellow readers.


November 16, 2018

Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln? and Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package by Kate DiCamillo, illus. by Chris Van Dusen

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 5:09 pm by suebe2

Where Are You Going Baby LincolnEugenia LincolnWhere Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?
Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package
by Kate DiCamillo
illustrated by Chris Van Dusen
Candlewick Press

If you have a young Mercy Watson fan on your hands, check out the chapter books about the fabulous characters on Deckawoo Drive.  I picked these two up at my local library because I’ve always appreciated the sisters, bossy Eugenia and spacy Baby Lincoln.

In Where Are You Going, Baby Lincoln?, Baby ends up going on a train trip without her big sister.  On your average day, Eugenia tells Baby what to do.  “Yes, sister” is Baby’s typical response.

But one morning Eugenia decided that they will make a list of goals for the day.  Eugenia loves making lists of goals.  And she’s perfectly willing to help Baby set her goals as well.  Goal number one – buy mouse traps.  But Baby hates the thought of trapping mice and refuses to write it down.

Soon she is up in her room where she finds a long unused suitcase.  Without a real plan, Baby packs the book that Eugenia has her reading, her toothbrush, her nightgown, reading glasses, and a sweater. Then she is off to the train station in search of adventure.

In Eugenia Lincoln and the Unexpected Package, a box arrives at the sisters’ home.  It is addressed to Eugenia. Eugenia doesn’t want to accept delivery. After all, she didn’t order anything.  But it has been bought and paid for and it is up to Eugenia to get to the bottom of things.

With the help of Baby and her neighbors, young Frank, Mrs. Watson and Mercy, she opens it to discover . . . an accordion.  Eugenia has never seen anything as frivolous or ridiculous in her life.  Who could possibly have sent her something like this?

In her quest to find the truth, Eugenia accidentally discovers that she has a real talent for making music.  Of course that means that people are going to dance and clap (ugh!), but when you have a song in your heart, sometimes you just have to play.

As always, DiCammillo has populated her stories with characters who are too silly to be believed but still manage to be wise and compassionate.  I love that there is much more to both sisters than is initially obvious and getting a look at their early lives and the love that motivates them both.

The short chapters and funny situations would make these books excellent read alouds for Mercy Watson fans.  Add them to your shelf this holiday season.


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