Rapunzel Revisited: CRESS: A Review

March 1, 2014

CressCress  by Marissa Meyer, the third installment of the Lunar Chronicles, is hot off the presses.  For those of you new to this terrific  YA series, it’s a sci-fi saga set in the near future with retellings of familiar fairy tale heroines as the main characters, and details of their familiar tales are woven throughout.  We’ve been devotees since Cinder, the initial book–and also loved Scarlet, which followed soon after.

Cinder returns and brings with her Scarlet and their entourage of characters including Wolf, Captain Thorn, and Prince Kai.  And best of all, we meet Crescent Moon, known as Cress.  In this incarnation of Rapunzel, Cress is a computer hacker who has been locked in a space ship with no visitors to do the dirty work of the evil Lunar Queen Levana and her henchwoman, Sybil.  Can these strong and resourceful women save Earth?  Can the true Princess reclaim her Lunar title despite being a cyborg?  Stay tuned for the upcoming fourth book in the series.  I am trying to guess which fairy tale will be re-invented  in the next installment!

A Children’s Literature Love Song for Knitting Nerds

February 21, 2014

~posted by Ruth

knittingI admit it:  I am a knitting nerd. Whether it’s Lady Violet’s Dinner Gauntlets (fingerless gloves in “Christmas at Downton Abby ” wool yarn),  bunnies and foxes knit from scraps for Vivi and Lucca, baby sweaters, scarves, or even knit dishclothes, I am addicted to the world of yarn and knitting.   I love to knit for friends and family–and always hope they like what I have knit for them–but you never know! So, here’s to the knitters among us, with a handful of books that celebrate the art and craft of twisting and knotting yarn!

Extra-YarnExtra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

Annabelle knit clothing for everyone in her bare, colorless town, drawing colorful yarn from a magical box that always has more “extra yarn” to help transform her community.  She creates sweaters and coverings for people, then animals–and even trees and houses!  Enter the evil Archduke, who was “very fond of clothes” and manages to steal the yarn box.  A fairy tale happy ending, of course.   You’ll love the story of the power of a child to create a new world–and the delightful and whimsical illustrations by Jon Klassen.


Knitting-NellKnitting Nell by Julie Jerslid Roth

I can really identify with Nell: not only does she find solace and pleasure in her knitting, but she is an introvert who likes her quiet time and prefers to listen to her friends than take center stage.  Nell teaches her friends to knit–and takes a prize for her quiet skills as a knitter. Lovely watercolors are upbeat, and at the same time, reflect the shyness of Nell, with its calm and enticing–yet colorful–watercolors.


WoolburWoolbur by Leslie Helakoski, illustrated by Lee Harper

The story of a free-spirited little sheep.  His Maa and Paa would have preferred an offspring a bit more conventional.  Who else but Woolbur would actually card the wool while it is still on his back? That’s just one example of this unique sheep who has his own way of doing things, whether it is dying himself a bright blue or having un-sheeplike adventures that cause his parents to worry.  Very lovingly–and cleverly–illustrated.


PhoebePhoebe’s Sweater by Joanna Johnson, illustrated by Eric Johnson

I have to include at least one book that has actual knitting patterns “woven in” to the story!  While Phoebe and her family await the arrival of Baby Sister Mouse, her Mom is knitting. . .a new sweater for Phoebe.  But that’s not the only reason I chose this book.  In its own right, it’s a charming story of family bonds, changing dynamics, and growing love.  The illustrations are the perfect complement.   The actual sweater pattern is clear and easy to follow–not only for your little girl, but her doll.  If this picture book is just your cup of tea, you’ll also want to get your hands on Freddie’s Blanket.  Another sweet story, with knitting patterns this time for Freddie’s blanket, Freddie platypus, and even his sister May!


LesterLester’s Dreadful Sweaters by K.G. Campbell

Here’s a book that strikes a chord for me–and probably children every where, though for a different reason.  What happens when the recipient of the lovingly-knit gift doesn’t appreciate their sweater?  And what if it is completely understandable because the sweaters are, well, dreadful?  That’s the case for Lester when his knitting Cousin Clara comes to live with his family.  At first he thinks nothing of it, but then she begins to knit him sweaters, each more dreadful than the last. (I can only hope my family doesn’t harbor similar thoughts about my knitted gifts!) But I must admit, the extra arms, huge pompoms, and strange patterns are quite a shock!  Luckily, they are perfect (spoiler alert!) for a troupe of clowns and all ends well.  This book is just plain fun, with terrific (and award-winning) illustrations.  Makes a wonderful readaloud!

Baby Love

February 14, 2014

Bay-booksBabies in our lives?  You bet!  There’s little Boden in Colorado and Annabelle Lee in New Hampshire.  But close by in LA or Portland?  Not so much.  Our toddler friends June and Vivi are clearly in the toddler range now and we find ourselves missing the chance to hold and cherish babies.  So we are honoring babyhood with a few great books that feature the littlest ones and their special attributes.  Huggy Kissy is a board book, best for baby readers and their adult side-kicks.  The rest are also great for toddlers and young readers to share with their families.

BabiesA Book of Babies by Il Sung Na

Il Sung Na is the talented illustrator of delightful books like Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit, and A Book of Sleep.  In this, her latest contribution, she brings the reader on a world-wide tour of  the first day of life for 18 different babies. An ode to the joy of new life!


Baby-BearBaby Bear by Kadir Nelson

Baby Bear is a wonderful picture book for its compelling illustrations.  Young children delight in the animals that Baby Bear meets in his journey home.  He gets help from animal friends who bolster his self-esteem and give him courage.  And he gets help from other living things; my favorite picture is of him hugging a tree and thinking of home.  The story is slim, but sweet and you can’t go wrong with Kadir Nelson’s art work.


Baby-penguinsBaby Penguins Everywhere by Melissa Guion

A book of penguins–and of parenting.  Who wouldn’t love an adorable baby penguin when she pops out of a hat?  And then another, and another, and so many adorable baby penguins!  Can there be too many?   New Mama loves them very much, but “we all need time to be alone.”  Lots of fun to see the good-spirited chaos the babies create.  Beautiful illustrations  that match a unique story.


HuggyHuggy Kissy (a board book) by Patricia Patricelli

Ptricia Patricelli’s board books feature an adorable bald baby, and this one is perfect not just for Valentine’s Day.  This baby is loved by everyone, and families get to interact by encouraging baby readers to be cuddled, hugged, kissed, and tickled as they enjoy the bright (and sturdy!) pages of this board book.  Extra bonus:  your baby will also hug and kiss you, dear reader.

Sweet Monsters

February 7, 2014

Why not celebrate this season of valentines with a love letter to the sweet monsters in contemporary children’s literature?   This trio of picture books is sure to capture the hearts of the young readers in your life–and touch you as well.  Let us know other charming monster books on your book shelves!

Love-MOnsterLove Monster by Rachel Bright

It’s daunting to be a hairy, red, googly-eyed monster and live in Cutesville, where are the resident are, well, cute. . .not to mention fluffy and cuddly.  So Love Monster sets out on a journey to find someone who will love him for himself.   Like all of us, he yearns for love and acceptance as he searches the world for a kindred spirit.  Very British, no-nonsense but sympathetic tone.  The  print-making is bold and bright in reds and purples that reflect Love Monster’s emotional palette.  A lovely book for toddlers and their parents to enjoy together.  And there are more books to come for Ms. Bright and her sweet monster.  We’ll keep you posted.


LeonardoLeonardo, the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

Leonardo has a very different problem from Love Monster.  He wants very much to be a terrible and scary monster, but he can’t seem to frighten anyone.   Finally he meets a very timid little boy and manages to “scare the tuna salad out of him.”  (This is Mo Willems, after all.)  But it turns out that Sam is actually crying for a whole laundry list of reasons–not that Leonardo scared him.  In the end, Leonardo decides he’d rather be a wonderful friend than a terrible monster.  With Willems’ signature sense of humor and pacing, and not to mention delightful drawings with irresistible facial expressions, this one is a real winner.


Mostly-MOnsterMostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer and Scott Magoon

Bernadette would surely befriend Love Monster and Leonardo if they were to meet.  Like these other individualistic monsters, Bernadette’s interests are so different from her classmates at Monster Academy.  While they are perfectly content to uproot trees and eat fried snail goo, she prefers picking flowers, singing friendship songs, and baking cupcakes. On the other hand, she is “mostly monsterly,” lurching, growling, and causing mayhem with the best of them.  Can Bernadette both be herself and fit in?  With its humor, suspense, and beautiful illustrations, Mostly Monsterly makes a great read-aloud!


The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson: A Review

February 2, 2014

Knife~posted by Ruth

Eloquent and intense, The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her best.  I was immediately drawn into the story of Hayley, a teenager clearly scarred by her troubling life.  She has been on the road with her war veteran trucker Dad for many years, “home-schooled” by this brilliant but damaged alcoholic suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome).  She is trapped by her loyalty to him, her need to take responsibility, her anger. . .This is a riveting psychological read about children who must take on the role of parents.  There are clear moments of humor and pathos with Hayley’s growing affection for her friends and especially a young man, Finn, she is drawn to (after all, it is a YA novel!)

The knife of memory from the title refers to her returning memories of her childhood as they begin to resurface and her life spins out of control.  These memories are interspersed with her incisive, crisp–and often hilarious–descriptions of school life and being in the throes of adolescence and young adulthood.

An absolutely fabulous read, with enough compelling themes to read and discuss as kids–and as adults.

Aliens ! New Children’s Literature for UFO Lovers

January 24, 2014

Why celebrate aliens?  Mostly, because they are intriguing, creative, and keep our imaginations engaged.  It seemed to be too much of a coincidence that two of our favorite new books deal with our other-worldly counterparts.  So curl up with a (nearly) wordless picture book–or a longer novel–and take yourself out of this world!

Mr.-WufflesMr. Wuffles! by David Wiesner

Mr. Wuffles has devoted owners who provide him with lots of fancy cat toys.  Mixed in with these toys is the one plaything that intrigues our feline friend–a tiny metal spaceship that happens to be filled with alien space travelers.  He bats them around, though they do manage to escape injury.  Alas, not so their ship.  Luckily, they meet friendly house insects who communicate with them through various symbols, help them repair their ship, and save them from the probing claws of Mr. Wuffles.  I love the cryptographic alphabet, which elementary age kids could decipher and explore.  Fun to think about a side-by-side unknown world unfolding without our knowledge, too.  Wonderful illustrations, sly humor, and a great tale.


Fortunately,-the-milkFortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

How does a family end up with no milk for their breakfast?  Hint:  their mother has been called out of town and Dad is in charge.  Not only is their no milk for their cereal, but none for dad’s tea, so off he goes on what turns out to be an fantastic and outrageous adventure.  He is gone so long that the family is worried–but then gratified when they hear the tale of his adventures procuring the milk.  These (mis)adventures include time-travel, aliens (of course), pirates, ponies. . .and incredible machines like the Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier.  Charming, even for those who are lactose-intolerant.  A terrific read-aloud, too.

On Best Friends: A Book Flight

January 18, 2014

~posted by Ruth

Bff-elephantsThe New Year has brought us time for reflection–and gratitude for so many things.  Among them, our friends and family.  And our BFF’s.   Which sent us straight to our bookshelves to indulge in books that focus on that all-important relationship, in all its struggles and celebrations.  Perfect for a Book Flight.  So, we offer the following books for all the readers in your family, beginning with a read-aloud that’s a wonderful book in its own right, and is a fine exploration of the power of friendship.  (FYI:  I can vouch from personal experience for sixth-graders enjoying this book as a read-aloud.  Not to mention their weekly classroom volunteer, moi.)

Family (or Classroom) Readaloud:

IvanThe One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao

Ivan is a gorilla, who has pretty much accepted his life in captivity, with his only companions Bob (a stray dog) and Stella (an aging elephant).  All this changes for Ivan when a new baby elephant, Ruby, arrives and opens Ivan’s eyes to long-dormant emotions and a rising recognition of his urge to create.  This compelling tale has characters and themes that stay with you.  A delight for the adults reading the story aloud; all members of the family with be captivated by this one.

Nursery and Preschool:

RubyHello, My Name is Ruby by Philip C. Stead

Ruby is a small yellow bird who is eager to make friends with other birds.  She meets rejection from a striking and beautiful large bird, and also makes friends with a “curious bird.”  Ruby’s emotions are captured with very few words and expressive illustrations.  She meets many different birds–including some who look like her.  Ruby herself is a delight, and the power of friendship shines through the simple  yet compelling picture book.

Early Readers:

BinkBink and Gollie: Best Friends Forever by Kate DiCamillo and Allison McGhee

Bink and Gollie so perfectly capture the ups and downs of being “Best Friends Forever.”  Opposites in so many ways, they make a striking pair:  Bink, short with crazy hair and Gollie, smooth-haired and tall.  We get to know their personalities even better in this third installment of the series.  A perfect young reader chapter book, this one is also great for read-alouds, especially if you like using funny voices.  Whether they are putting on airs or breaking world records, Bink and Gollie are a winning duo.


Elephant-and-PiggieI Will Surprise My Friend ( Elephant and Piggie) by Mo Willems

All the Elephant and Piggie books are an ode to friendship.  But this one in particular focuses on their best friend status, despite their differences.  It’s incredible how Mo Willems can express emotion and humor with so few words, and simple but elegant line drawings.  Squirrel makes an appearance in this one, giving the friends the idea that it’s fun to jump out a scare your buddy.  Of course, hilarity ensues.  Loved by kids and parents alike.


Best-FriendsBest Friends by Jacqueline Wilson

You can’t have a longer life-time friendship than Gemma and Alice.  They were born on the same day in the same hospital.  Doesn’t matter that they’re every different in personalities and interests, they are inseparable.  Until– Alice’s family moves to faraway Scotland (500 miles, not over an ocean, but still pretty far!), and they can’t see each other every day.  Despite trials and tribulations, the girls learn that a friendship can last over time and distances.  Perfect for younger tweens (maybe grades 4th through 7th? )  Fun to read about British school girls for a glimpse of a different culture, too.


JoshuaJoshua Dread by Lee Bacon

Joshua and his  best friend Milton are working hard, trying to save the Dread Duo, a pair of supervillains. Yup, not a typo.  The Dread Duo happen to be Joshua’s parents!  It’s an action-packed page-turner about the ups and downs of  life in middle school–and trying to both save your parents–and keep them from destroying the world.  Oh, and Joshua is also “gyfted” with the power of spontaneous combustion.  Lots of fun–and best of all, the first in a new series!

Young Adult

An-AbundanceAn Abundance of Katherines by John Green

It might be a coincidence that Colin’s girlfriends have all been named Katherine.  That is, if the count was at 2 or 3.  But 19?  When the 19th Katherine dumps him, Colin and his best friend Hassan, just graduated from high school, decide the only cure must be a road trip.  Colin is convinced he is already a has-been–once a prodigy but no-longer. . .However, as readers we aren’t convinced of his washed up status.  He still works on mathematical puzzles and theorems, shares a great sense of humor with his road buddy–and ultimately with a new girl whose name is–wait for it–Lindsey!  If you haven’t read John Green before, what are you waiting for?  One of the brightest stars of the contemporary YA authors.


GuernseyThe Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie  Society by Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Another ode to friendship–and all things literary–set in 1946 in London and on the Guernsey Islands.   Tragic stories and letters of the Nazi occupation–and the power of stories and community to help us survive and be nourished during hard times.  Warm-hearted, genuine, and funny.  I loved the characters and felt as if they were my friends, too.



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