January 5, 2018

Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:42 am by suebe2

Stolen Words
by Melanie Florence
illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Second Story Press

A little girl is walking home from school with her grandpa when she asks him how to say grandfather in Cree. For several seconds he freezes and then he tells her the story of the boarding schools.  The government took him to live at a school away from his family. They punished children for saying words in their own languages.  Because of this, the children lost their words.  He no longer remembers how to say anything in Cree.

The next day the little girl comes out of school and pulled a small, battered book from her pack.  Introduction to Cree.  

Together they sound out words.  She tells him that her teacher helped her find this book so that she could share it with him.  So that together they could rediscover his beautiful words.

This is one of the sweetest books that I’ve read in a long time.  But not overly sweet.  The story of the boarding schools is harsh and bitter.  It is balanced with the innocence and love that this girl feels.  It is also balanced by contrasting his school experience with hers where she makes a dream catcher at school and brings home a book full of Cree words.

Gabrielle Grimard’s art work helps bring the story to life.  Rich colors depict this girl with raven wing hair and show the life and vibrancy that still exist.  Depictions of past events are created in washed out, weaker colors telling the reader without words that the past may impact the present but clearly this bright little girl is stronger than the heartless past.

This book was written for ages 6 to 9.  Although the boarding school reality is frightening, this retelling is age appropriate. The grandfather’s recollections will form a skeleton on which to hang additional facts at a later date.  Use this book as a jumping off point for discussions in Native Rights, language and culture, and even immigration.

A must read for any diverse classroom.




December 27, 2017

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 9:25 pm by suebe2

An Enchantment of Ravens
by Margaret Rogerson
Margaret K. McElderry Books

We’re used to thinking about artists as being temperamental but Isobel is anything but. A skilled portrait artist, the teen has to keep her wits even when she gets lost in her work because she has a particularly dangerous set of clients.

The fair folk crave things that are crafted – portraits, fancy clothing, jewelry, and sweet cakes.  But they don’t pay for these wares with gold or other coins.  They pay with magical enchantments.  Word the price for your work poorly and you may shorten your life by years or no longer be able to speak any words that begin in vowels.

Isobel is adept at wording the bargains she makes with her fair folk clients.  Her home is layered with protection spells and their hens lay a handy number of eggs on a regular basis. But then she is told that a new client, a prince of the Autumn Court, will be paying her a visit. Isobel begins to worry. Fair folk in general are intimidating with their unreal beauty, inhuman skills, and love of mischief. What will a prince be like?  As much as she fears Rook, the Autumn Prince, his humor and curiosity fascinate her.

It is only after the pair fall in love, a crime punishable by death, that Isobel realizes the client who recommended her to Rook is a prince in his own Spring Court.  Isobel is determined to find a way out, a way that will preserve both their lives and she knows it will have to be a way other than becoming Fair herself.  Because becoming one of the Fair Folk means losing her craft and never again being able to capture someone’s inner likeness in paint.

This may be Rogerson’s first published novel but I suspect it will not be her last.  From Isobel’s home village of Whimsy to the surrounding woods and the Fairy Courts, the setting is created with layer upon layer of detail, just like coats of paint.  The characters are just as complex from Isobel to Rook and even the Fair Folk who seek their deaths.

She has also taken the stories about fairy and created her own world of human and Fair Folk. Themes of family, love, loss, craft and knowledge are woven together in a rich novel.  Although, I will warn you, that it sat unfinished on my bedside table for two weeks.  With just two more chapters to read, I didn’t want the story to end.

Share it with the young fantasy lover in your life.




December 20, 2017

Manjhi Moves a Mountain by Nancy Churnin, illustrated by Danny Popovici

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 5:35 pm by suebe2

Manjhi Moves a Mountain
by Nancy Churnin
illustrated by Danny Popovici
Creston Books

In the country of India, a massive mountain separated two villages.  On Manjhi’s side of the mountain, nothing grew.  It was a 40 mile walk to the other village and that is where children had to journey to go to school. Adults ventured the same path to go to the market.

In the other village, life was good and the people were prosperous.

Manjhi believed that life in his village would be easier if people no longer had to travel up and over the mountain.  Manjhi traded his three goats for a used hammer and chisel.  Each night, after this work was done, he climbed to the top of the mountain and chipped away at the stone.

Night after night Manjhi worked.  His neighbors told him he was crazy.  But little by little his hole grew. A year passed and Manjhi had grown stronger.  His hole had grown longer and deeper. After 15 years, people could see the notch in the mountain from the village below. People started to leave him gifts.  Food.  A new hammer and chisel.  And he could tell that other people were now working on his hole.

When I checked this book out of the library, I thought it was a folk tale but this is a true story about a man who broke a hole through the mountain that blocked to way between two villages.  Manjhi started the project because his wife had trouble getting the medical care she needed in their village.

Danny Popovici’s art work helps bring this story to life. From the warm earth tones of the stone to the greys and blues of cloud and sky, his style is cartoon-like but very appealing.  Spread by spread, readers watch Manjhi age and the hole grow.  They also watch the attitudes of the people in Manjhi’s village change as they gain hope.

This is a must read for the classroom and for the home.  Share it with your children and then be prepared to discuss.  What mountain do they want to move bit by bit?


December 6, 2017

I Love My Purse by Belle DeMont, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:54 pm by suebe2

I love my purseI Love My Purse
by Belle DeMont
illustrated by Sonja Wimmer
Annick Press

Charlie is getting ready for school one morning when he’s looking through his closet for something to wear.  The problem is that there is only one thing in there that he really likes. It is the red purse that his grandma let him have.

Enough is enough.  Charlie decides to wear what makes him happy.  He packs his things up in the red purse and he is ready to go.  On the way downstairs, his father attempts to stop him. “Hold on, wait a second!” Charlie explains that the purse makes him happy but Dad’s a hard sell.  “I love Hawaiian shirts but that doesn’t mean I wear them to work.”

From Dad to Charlotte and Sam at school, person after person questions his decision.  Still, Charlie knows what makes him happy.

The next day, things are a little different.  Everyone notices that Charlie still has his purse but something about each of them is different too, starting with Dad. He’s decided not to wear a tie.

Day after day, Charlie’s impact grows.  Soon Dad is wearing Hawaiian shirts and Sam is cooking lunch for the other students.  DeMont’s message is clear without being preachy – be yourself and you will encourage others to do the same.  Self-confidence, and happiness, will spread.

Sonja Wimmer’s bright art helps bring this story to life.  It is fanciful enough to add to the fun mood of this story while still being realistic.

Share this book with young readers to spark discussions on individuality and personal expression. Invite them to discuss what they’d do “if they could” and what makes them think they cannot. Some answers will be obvious, such as having to follow school rules, but the conversation will also make them think about self-imposed limitations.

A fun fast-paced book that would be good for the classroom and the home bookcase.

For another book about individuality see The Sandwich Swap by Queen Rania al Abdullah with Kelly DiPucchio illustrated by Tricia Tusa.


December 1, 2017

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 6:07 pm by suebe2

all the crooked saintsAll the Crooked Saints
by Maggie Stiefvater
Scholastic Press

The Soria family doesn’t exactly welcome visitors to Bicho Raro, Colorado.  But still the visitors come, drawn by the promise of a miracle.  And visitors aren’t all that’s drawn to Bicho Raro.  So are owls of all kinds who gather whenever a miracle is imminent.  Good or bad, it doesn’t much matter to the owls but it does matter to the Soria.

Whenever Daniel Soria, the handsome teen who is the family’s current saint, performs a miracle for a pilgrim, it always does more than expected.  The first miracle addresses the pilgrim’s problem but it also unleashes their inner darkness.  A predatory priest who loves the ladies just a little too much finds that he now has a coyote’s head. A pair of twins who can’t quit bickering are joined by a cantankerous snake. Until they resolve this darkness, they are stuck with it and cannot leave.

But a Soria who tries to help may unleash his or her own darkness and Soria darkness is something to be feared.  This means that the family refuses to speak or interact with the bizarre cast of characters with whom they share their ranch.

And, as is always the case in a Stiefvater novel, the characters are amazing.

Daniel seems sweet but he was a hell raiser as a teen.  His cousin Beatrice has a scientific mind but believes she has no emotions.  Joaquin spends his nights running a renegade radio station with the help of his cousins.  His parents don’t know about his radio personality – Diablo Diablo – and would be horrified given the power of Soria words.

Stiefvater’s latest novel is set in Colorado in the 1960s.  It is a world of ranches, rodeos, and radios.  I’ve only touched on the characters because I don’t want to retell the entire novel and, as is always the case, it is hard to talk about a Stiefvater novel without giving too much away.

All the Crooked Saints is magical realism at its finest.  Magical things happen and no one bats an eye.  Unless, of course, the particular event warrants a reaction.  Out in the larger world, there may not be any magic but in Bicho Raro, miracles rule, a spirit owl can hold onto a person’s eyes until they need them again, and a radio DJ from back East becomes a towering giant.  And the desert is a character as influential as any human in the book.

This is a story, and a land, where magic and love are equally strong and capable of doing both great and terrible things.

I plan to add this one to my Christmas shopping for a particular niece who loves fantasy.  Share it with the readers in your life who love adventure but aren’t afraid to step beyond the world of the ordinary.


November 27, 2017

Creepy Pair of Underwear by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Peter Brown

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:08 pm by suebe2

Creepy Pair of Underwear
by Aaron Reynolds
illustrated by Peter Brown
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers

Jasper is not a little bunny so when he goes to the underwear store with his mother, he’s ready for big boy underwear.  And for Jasper, that means going with the creepy underwear.

The first thing he notices about his purchase is that they glow in the dark. The greenish glow keeps him up so he buries them in the bottom of his laundry hamper. But when he wakes up in the morning he is wearing none other than the creepy underwear.

He tries hiding them in a drawer and even cutting them into tiny squares but the underwear just keeps coming back.  I’m not going to tell you how Jasper finally succeed in ridding himself of the underwear menace but when he does he actually misses them.  His room is just too dark.

In the end, Jasper proves what a grown up bunny he is and surrounds himself with creepy underwear.

Like Reynolds’ Creepy Carrots, this is picture book horror at its finest.  The story is creepy but also funny because – underwear!   Preschoolers as a whole find the word and everything about it just plain funny.

As an adult, I had to wonder if this story was born of a pair of underwear that had a tendency to creep up.  Not polite, but it is something irritating that the wrong pair will do. As a parent, I realize how funny young readers will find these ridiculous underwear as well as the thought that underwear can be scary.

The creepy factor is emphasized by the black and white, picture book noir, effect with only the underwear being in color.   As always, Brown’s illustrations add tons of fun to the story.  That said, I was a tad disappointed when the cover did not glow in the dark.  Yes, I tested it.

Still a fun story to help introduce young readers to a discussion of what is scary and how what is scary to one bunny, or person, doesn’t phase another.  Share this one with a young reader in your life!  This pair also wrote and illustrated Creepy Carrots.


November 25, 2017

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoët

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 6:16 pm by suebe2

Malala’s Magic Pencil
by Malala Yousafzai
illustrated by Kerascoët
Little Brown and Company

Do you know a girl who needs inspiration?  This is the perfect picture book!

“Do you believe in magic?” That’s the question Malala asks readers.  She and her brothers used to watch a children’s program about a boy with a magic pencil. He drew food to feed himself when he was hungry.  He used the pencil to get people out of trouble.  Malala dreamed of having a magic pencil of her own.

Even as a young girl, Malala loved school.  She studied hard but couldn’t help noticing as the other girls dropped out. Powerful, dangerous men had said that girls should not be educated so they no longer felt safe in the classroom.

Malala didn’t have a magic pencil but she was a good writer and thought that she could help. She wrote about what it was like to be scared to walk to school. She wrote about her friends who had moved away to safer places. Her writing appeared online and in the paper.  She even did a tv interview.  She was scared but she believed she had to speak out for those who didn’t have the ability.

She drew attention and the powerful men wanted to silence her. Fortunately they failed.

Because many other people have joined Malala in speaking out, their voices have come together.  They make her voice is much stronger and she believes that this magic can change the world.

This is truly an amazing, inspirational book.  It is also perfect for a picture book audience.  Malala doesn’t go into what happened to her, only saying that the men wanted to stop her.  The backmatter includes photos of her and her family, all of whom now live in England.

The illustrations for this book were created by Kerascoët.  This is the pen name of the French illustrators and animation artists Marie Pommepuy and Sébastien Cosset. Their style compliments this story and helps bring Malala to life for young readers.

Share this story with the young readers on your list this holiday season.  Bring it into the classroom and use it to launch a discussion of the problems your students see in their communities and what they might do to change the world.


November 16, 2017

I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 8:33 pm by suebe2

I am Peace:
A Book of Mindfulness
by Susan Verde
illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Abrams Books for Young Readers

How do you explain to a young reader just how to chill the heck out?  With a great picture book like I am Peace: A Book of Mindfulness. Told in the first person, the reader follows the narrator through a journey of self-awareness.  And really, this kid could be any of us.

“There are times
when I worry about
what might happen next
and what happened before.”

We’ve all been there.  Fortunately, the young narrator knows how to go from feeling unanchored to noting the ground beneath his feet.

This book deals with a lot of abstracts — mindfulness, focus, and clarity.  But it does so in a way that young readers, and even older readers hung all over with their preconceptions, can understand. He notices the here and now. He inventories how he is feeling and names those feelings. He shares kindness, feeding birds, and then takes it easy beneath a tree that sprouts from a fallen birdseed.

In this book, small acts take root and have big consequences as they bless many.

The art may look familiar as it is provided by Peter H. Reynolds who wrote and illustrated The Dot. Reynolds’ fluid style is colored by watercolors and . . . you’ll never guess this one . . . tea.  His inked character is expressive, clearly showing as he lets go of tension and negativity.

Verde’s final note includes information on guided meditation for those who have never used this technique and want to give it a try. Reynolds and Verde worked together on another picture book, I am Yoga.  

Celebrate Picture Book Month by sharing this title with your young reader.  It would make a great bed time book but don’t limit it to quiet times.  It would also be a good launching off point for a discussion on dealing with negativity and how what we bring into this world, whether it is anger or peace, spreads to and impacts others.



November 12, 2017

A Single Pearl by Donna Jo Napoli, illustrated by Jim LaMarche

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:00 am by suebe2

A Single PearlA Single Pearl
by Donna Jo Napoli
illustrated by Jim LaMarche

How often do you get to read a story told from the point of view of a grain of sand?

A grain of sand falls into the ocean. There was so much sand that the single grain felt incredibly unimportant and wondered how it would ever have an impact.

As a hungry oyster drew water through its gills, it pulled in the grain of sand. The sand lodged between the oyster’s mantle and shell.  It could not get free.  Slowly the oyster covered the sand with a beautiful shiny layer.

One day, I diver dug the oyster up and found the pearl inside. The diver sold it to a prince.  The prince gave it to his wife and she gave it to their daughter.

The princess loved this gift and it the sand knew it had served a great purpose.

The story is loosely based on a medieval Persian poem and is complimented by the subtle tones of the acrylics and colored pencils.  The color shifts are subtle and warm like the beauty of a pearl and the rhythms and deeper meanings found in poetry.

I have to admit that I was less than enthusiastic when I realized I had picked up a book about . . . a grain of sand?  Seriously?  But November is Picture Book Month and I had scooped up a huge arm load of books at the library.

I’m truly glad that I didn’t put it down because the warmth and beauty of this story is something worth experiencing.  It is a gentle loving story, perfect for sharing with a special young reader at bed time or just during cuddling-and-reading time.

It would make a strong introduction to discussions about things that matter and have lasting value.  Add it to your shelf or bring it home from the library.  Celebrate Picture Book Month!


November 4, 2017

City and Country by Jody Jensen Shaffer

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:45 pm by suebe2

City and Country
by Jody Jensen Shaffer
National Geographic Kids

Kids in the country get green space and nature.  Right?

Kids in the city get to do exciting things with their friends.  Right?

We all have preconceived ideas about what it is like to live in the city and what it is like to live in the country.  This co-reader from National Geographic kids sets the record straight. It talks about everything from where people live to what they do for fun, green spaces and learning.

You may not be familiar with the term co-reader.  I wasn’t when the author told me about her book so I asked her to explain it to me. A co-reader is meant for the child who has just reached the point of reading independently.  The left hand page of each spread is for the adult to read.  It tells something about city or country life.  The right hand page is for the young reader.  Obviously, it is a bit easier to read but it also shared information.  The grown up doesn’t get all the fun facts!

Early readers are tricky.  You want them to be engaging but it is hard to introduce information when a reader is still developing their skills.  Fortunately there are lots of photos to help decipher the text.

And the photos added a lot to the book.  What I liked most about them was that they weren’t all from the US or Europe. But it was done in a way that felt natural not in a way that felt like diversity was added because “we have to do it.”  Honestly, I spent a lot of time flipping between the images and the photo credits just because I’m a fact hound.

Each section ends with a thought exercise.  One asks young readers to look at each photo and tell if it is city or country and how they know this.  Another asks the young reader to consider the sights and smells in the world around them.

Look for these books in your library.  Add them to your classroom shelf.  They provide not only help in developing food for thought but also encouragement to exercise those brains.


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