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.


February 1, 2018

Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:21 pm by suebe2

by Kate Milford
Clarion Books

Milo has done his homework and is all ready for a quiet Christmas holiday. After all, this is the off-season for the inn that his parents run. Most of their regular customers are smugglers and winter is the “off-season” for smuggling and staying in the inn both.  So Milo is shocked, surprised would be too mild a word, when the bell rings.  A guest has braved winter cold and snow to stay in the creaky old inn.  Twelve-year-old Milo just gets one settled in when another arrives and another.

Milo’s parents place a call and the cook returns, bringing with her not one but two daughters.  Milo had been expecting the older girl, an accomplished baker, but not Meddy who is about his own age.  Meddy crosses a line with Milo when she pushes him about not looking like his parents.  Since he looks like his Chinese birth parents, Milo isn’t surprised not to mistaken for the Pine’s birth son since they are both Caucasian but he let’s Meddy know just how intrusive her questions are.

And that’s before someone lets themselves into his room and sneaks away with a map he discovered after all the guests arrived. One of them dropped it and Milo was trying to figure out who without having to ask.  He’s still annoyed that they’ve all pushed their way into his home and holiday.

Yes, his parents run an inn but these aren’t their regulars and they all seem to expect something from Milo.  Milo realizes that they all have a connection to the house.  As he’s trying to figure out what, he and Meddy form an uneasy alliance that blossoms into a friendship. I’m not going to say anything more because I really don’t want to give away the mystery – why they are all there and how they are all connected to the house.

I have to admit, I’m not sure why I took so long to pick this one up since the sequel has just come out.  And Greenglass House won an Edgar Award for Best Juvenile Mystery.  And I can see why. Her characters have depth and most are redeemed by the end of the book. I say most because the villain, even after being unveiled, remains a villain.  Milo has warmed up to the other guests, even those who aren’t particularly likable at first.  I believe the reader will as well.  Especially to the house.

Because in this book the setting is so rich that it is truly one of the guests.  Like each of them, it is holding secrets tight.  Some involve heartbreak.  Some hope.

This is definitely a book worth reading.  Share it with your young mystery lover.  I would say this was a bit gothic because the house often has the moody feeling but although it is moody it isn’t consistently dark enough to feel truly gothic.  Fun, fast-paced and with a cast of characters the ready will want to revisit in the next book – Ghosts of Greenglass House.


January 22, 2018

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 9:43 pm by suebe2

How Mirka Got Her Sword
by Barry Deutsch
Colors by Jake Richmond
Amulet Books

Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl.

First it was a web comic but it is now a graphic novel for young readers.

More than anything Mirka wants to fight dragons.  She longs to be a hero.  She aches for adventure.  Yet her step-mothers insists that Mirka learn to knit, set the table and help with meals like a good girl sure to make a good wife.

But when it comes it isn’t exactly what she expected.  In the woods, Mirka spots a tall house.  Perhaps the woman she sees is a witch. She later heads back to the house with her sisters and brother.  As fourteen year-old Gittel lectures their brother about not stealing one of the enormous grapes, Mirka impulsively pops one off the vine and eats it.

A strange beast confronts them and chases Mirka through the woods.  Only stepsister Rochel, who has lived outside of Orthodox Hereville, recognize the monster as a pig.  The talking, vengeful animal chases Mirka through the woods and eventually she tumbles down a hill only to fall into the neighbor’s back yard where the men are gathered around the grill.

The pig is a reoccuring figure in the story as it chases Mirka again and again until she makes her  peace with the witch.  The witch explains that Mirka can get the sword she wants if she defeats a nearby troll.  But first Mirka must go to her stepmother to find out how to defeat a troll.

I don’t want to give away any more of the story. Suffice it to say that Mirka’s flaws, or at least weaknesses, almost cost her the sword but it is her greatest strength, or at least her strongest talent, that saves the day.

Deutsch has created a graphic novel that is authentically Orthodox (take the word of other reviewers for this) and also a strong fantasy. The interactions of the siblings also ring true.  After all, no one can annoy you quite the way your own sister can.

Mirka is a smart, determined character from a culture that is not often represented in books for young readers.  Add it to your shelf and share it with the young girl in your life who needs a bit of inspiration to go after her own sword, microscope, or fantasy.


January 18, 2018

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee! by Andrea J. Loney, illustrated by Keith Mallett

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 8:11 pm by suebe2

Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!
by Andrea J. Loney
illustrated by Keith Mallett

As a boy, James VanDerZee loved to paint but  he found drawing people incredibly difficult. They never looked quite right.  Then a photographer came through the town of Lenox, Massachusetts. When he returned later with the photo, James was amazed.  It perfectly captured his mother’s smile.  He was determined to learn to take his own photographs.

James worked hard to win a camera in the contest but the camera didn’t fit together right.  This time he worked to earn the money and bought his own camera.  James loved his family, friends and town so when he took and developed photos he worked hard to make people look their best.

At 18, he took this skill to Harlem. Harlem was where things were happening.  He took a job as an assistant photographer at a New Jersey studio. His boss worried that customers wouldn’t want to work with a black photographer so he sent James to the dark room. James knew he could take better photos than his boss and he got his chance when the man left on vacation.

James took his time posing people.  He retouched photos in the dark room.  James was the photographer people wanted! Soon he moved back to New York and opened his own studio in Harlem. Politicians, musicians and athletes came to him for photos.

I have to admit that although I’ve dabbled in photography, this book escaped my notice until someone recommended it to me.  But I’m so glad I picked it up.  In addition to being a ground breaking photographer, VanDerZee restored other people’s photos and captured the Harlem Renaissance on film.  This is what brought him back into the public eye when the Metropolitan Museum of Art put together an exhibit called Harlem On My Mind.  After this exhibit, VanDerZee’s skill as a photographer was once again in demand.

This is a fast-moving, touching slice of American history.  It chronicles African-American history as well as the history of photography. Loney’s text is smooth and flowing.  It is complimented perfectly by Mallett’s paintings.

This book is a must for the classroom and the would be artist.  Share it with the young reader in your life today.



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