Winter is Coming

December 13, 2014

Books-winter~posted by Ruth

The Winter Solstice is approaching, and with it a celebration of coming light.  It’s one of my favorite holidays of the year, with its ancient roots in the seasonal transition.  Here in Portland, we can feel the transition from late fall to early winter.  And of course we hear from friends and family on the East Coast that they are already deep into winter weather, with snow and blizzards already.  Wherever you are, it’s wonderful to bring books along to celebrate the seasons–and the longest night of the year.  We are fortunate to have lots of great new books to share with the picture book lovers in our lives (read:  Everyone!)

So here is a trio of books to bring light and coziness to your winter reading pleasure.  I suggest a mug of cocoa on the side!

Winter-is-comingWinter is Coming by Tony Johnston, illustrated by Jim La Marche

Through the eyes of a young girl, readers see and experience the changes in nature.  From her treehouse perch, she listens and watches and describes how the chipmunks, the doe, the rabbits prepare for the winter.  Time slows down as we sit by her side and see the details of the animals adjusting to changes:  “The mother bear snuffles for food among the flaming leaves.  The cub snuffles too. . .but no luck.  Winter is coming.”   I love that the narator brings along her tools–binoculars, pencils and her trusty sketchpad.  The illustrations are rich with detail and simply gorgeous, using a combination of acrylic and colored pencil.  Definitely a book to return to over and over.


Winter-walkWinter Walk by Virginia Brimhall Snow

As a Grandma, I identify with the family in this sweet tale by Virginia Snow, author of another one of our favorite seasonal  books:  Fall Walk, which we reviewed last autumn. Once again, Virginia and her grandchildren tromp through the woods (and sometimes slide or carefully step through snow), learning about the natural world as they explore the wonders of winter in the woods. From glimpses of brilliant cardinals, to wonderings about why some trees lose their leaves and others are green all year, their winter fun is informative and entertaining.  At the end, we even learn how to build a pinecone bird feeder.


OutsideOutside by Deidre Gill

Brand new and a delightful addition to your winter –and ode to imagination–picture book collection.  Within its pages, a young boy creates whole worlds of adventure in a winter wonderland. His imaginary snow friend, a castle, and even a dragon takes flight across the wintery pages.  Though the text is brief, it has a lyrical poetic quality that works well to complement the really inspiring pictures.  Expect to have young readers demanding you reread Outside.


THE PRINCESS IN BLACK by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale: A Review

December 7, 2014

Princess-in-BlackThe Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

You might think Princess Magnolia is a typical princess of fairytale fame as the book opens with her having a dainty snack of scones and hot chocolate with the Duchess Wigtower.  But we soon learn how adventurous our young heroine is, not to mention clever and self-reliant.  Her everyday role as princess is actually her secret identity for when she becomes. . .the Princess in Black, fighter of blue monsters,  making solid and graceful ninja moves against an full array of pretty wacky creatures.  About time to find a young and feisty girl super-hero.  Why wait for the grown-up versions?

One review I read said that this is a great Zorro character for little girls.  I agree.  It’s a terrific read-aloud for the younger crowd, and a perfect early reader/chapter book for 2nd-grade and beyond.  More illustrations than the typical chapter book, which is another appealing quality.   Not just for girls, either; this one is loved by the boys I’ve shared it with as well.

If this has whet your appetite for books  about Precocious Princesses, check out our post from a few years ago.

YA Series Updates!

November 29, 2014

Hot-ReadsThere have been so many wonderful new picture books this fall, that we’ve been enthusiastically reviewing them.  But don’t think we have forgotten the older readers.  Like most of our adolescent friends, we are suckers for YA series, and there are some great additions this fall.  Rick Riordan never gets old, and we devoured his latest (and last in the Heroes of Olympus Series).  And Sarah Maas brings new adventures, characters, and revelations to her Throne of Glass series. And there are new series on the horizon.  Just in time for the holidays.  So without further ado, here are our latest updates:

 HeroesThe Heroes of Olympus, Book Five:  The Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan

Despite the hard work of the heroes, both Roman and Greek, Earth Mother Gaea and her giants continue to rise.  According to the prophecies, Gaea will rise when she sacrifices two demi-gods at the Feast of Spes in Athens.  And if Gaea rises, it means the end of the world as we know it! The action in this novel focuses on Jason, Piper, and Leo.  Lots of adventure, excitement, humorous dialogue, and twisting plots.  Nico and Reyna are the long-term characters who change the most and come to accept themselves for who they are.  In many a ways, a satisfying conclusion to the series, and a good read.  And yet. . .we were disappointed not to hear more from Percy and Anabelle.  They were enduring characters and deserved a bit more time devoted to their stories.  It felt to us that Riordan has already moved on to his new Norse series.  But don’t get us wrong, we are still devoted Riordan fans and look forward to the Norse adventures.


Heirof-FireHeir of Fire (Throne of Glass) by Sarah Maas

Calaena has survived and endured so much in her short life–and in this next installment in her journey, her trials continue.  She travels to a far corner of the realm with new dangers, revelations about her past, fascinating new friends–and frightening enemies.  Romance continues, as well as a fast-paced plot, and lots of twists and turns.  The new characters are ingenious, with depth and complexity whether they are heroes or villains.  Rowan is my favorite addition–a tough character that we come to understand more deeply as the novel progresses.  The magic in this fantasy world is riveting and believable, though quite scary at times.  We can’t wait for the next installment!


DorothyDorothy Must Die  by Danielle Page

Ready for a dark and magical re-imaging of the Oz series?  Amy Gumm is our new heroine.  Like the famous Dorothy, she hails from Kansas and is whisked away to the magical Land of Oz.  But wait!  It’s not the Judy Garland world, but a land where the beloved characters we thought we knew are very very different–in fact, quite dark and twisted.  Dorothy is actually a maniacal despot in this Oz, destroying the land with her crew of evil henchmen including the Scarecrow, Lion, and even Glinda.  Roles are reversed as Amy joins a revolutionary group with the wicked witches (not so wicked after all, it turns out) that is training her to assassinate the evil Dorothy.  A modern twist to a classic story.  The writing is good, the action fast-paced, and the plot twists surprising. Time to dig into this new series so you’ll be ready for the second installment this coming spring (The Wicked Will Rise).


Coming in January! The latest in The Lunar Chronicles:

Fairest:  The Lunar Chronicles:  Levana’s Story by Marissa Meyer


Mustache Fever–in Picture Books

November 22, 2014

mustacheMustache fever!  There seems to be an epidemic, in fashion, costumes–and yes, picture books!  With lots of family gatherings coming up, catch the mustache fever.  Here are a few books for little ones to get you all in the mood.  And don’t forget your fake mustaches to add to your reading pleasure. (You can even get baby pacifiers with mustaches.  Too cute!)

Mustache-BabyMustache Baby by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang

What is this?  Baby Billy is born with a mustache?  His parents are OK with it–after all, Billy comes in handy  at playtime as a terrific mustachioed cop or cowboy.  But they do begin to get nervous when the mustache ends curl up suspiciously like a villain’s mustache.  Could it be influencing him to be a bad-guy?  It certainly looks that way as he becomes bad, very bad.  He even becomes a “cereal criminal” and a “cat burglar.”  Luckily, his parents are able to reassure him that everyone has a “bad mustache day,” and he becomes a good little guy again.  He even makes friends with  his new neighbor, a little bearded guy!  The pictures are really fun, too, and help play on the puns.  This book is great as a readaloud, too.


Mr.-NashMr. Nash and His Mustache by Jamie Uyeshiro

Mr.Nash has lost his mustache, and the reader gets to journey with him as he searches for it so he can do the important things in his life.  Along the way, he keep thinking he’s found it–but it turns out to be. . .perhaps a squirrel’s tail, or a ninja’s nun-chucks.  Luckily, Mr. Nash also meets friends on his journey who teach him the importance of believing in yourself.  A fun and sweet book, with a message about having confidence in yourself.


MustacheMustache!  by Mac Barnett illustrated by Kevin Cornell

Meet King Duncan. . .handsomely dashing, but a terrible king.  He spends so much time admiring his handsome face, that he does no governing of his people, who need him. The country is falling apart but King Duncan just responds by posting more and more banners that show off his beauty.  When the people rebel, they do so creatively, by painting mustaches on all the likenesses of the king.  The king banishes them to prison, which he is forced to build, repaving roads, fixing towers–you guessed it, dealing with his crumbling kingdom. Readers will appreciate the humor and resolution of this silly but engaging story.


Mo's-mustacheMo’s Mustache by Ben Clanton

A book suitable for the littlest ones, yet enjoyed by the adults who read to them.  Mo the monster becomes a trend-setter when he dons a mustache and all the other monsters add mustaches as well.  While he is glad they appreciate his sense of style, he prefers being unique.  Hysterical pictures as the monsters all try out different styles in imitation of Mo–and then create their own for a very special fashion show!  Lots of fun for everyone.  And we even learn a new way to use mustaches:  the title page states that the artwork in this book was “rendered in watercolor and ink using a mustache as a brush.”



New Interactive Books for Young Readers

November 15, 2014

It’s a great time to cuddle up with a book and a young friend and take advantage of  the special coziness of entering a book world.  Outside, it may be cold (and in Portland, raining).  But you can chase the blues away with books that encourage interaction and fun.

Book-with-NoThe Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak

Best place to start:  B.J. Novak’s new hit.  Kids LOVE this book.  If you don’t believe us, check out the Youtube of the author reading to a group of 5-year-olds (posted on the book’s Amazon page).  Their laughter is contagious! It really is a book without pictures, but the words on the page make it fun and silly.  Everything written on the page has to be said aloud by the reader.  The kids I’ve shared the book with think they are playing a great trick on the reader, and they are in on the joke.  When we sent a copy to our dear nieces Hazel and Charlotte, we received a call when they received it and they were still in  hysterics. (And yes, it is  B.J. Novak from The Office fame has branched out to children’s books.)


Mix-it-upMix it Up! by Herve Tullet

In this follow-up to Press Here, Herve Tullet invites readers to, well, Mix it up–colorwise, that is.  Each page has simple instructions to make colors appear or vanish, splatter, mix. . .all at the command of the reader.  Besides being imaginative, it also instructive in what happens if. . .you combine colors, for example, or take colors away.  Made me want to break out the finger paints!


Messed-upA Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell

Poor little Louie!  He’s trying to tell a story.  Like many of us, he finds it’s really hard to tell our story perfectly.  But why tell it, he argues, if it isn’t just exactly right?  The water color pastels, along with pen and ink are an important part of the story, which frankly, keeps getting messed up.  The book is flat-out funny; fingerprints and scribbles magically appear as Louie addresses the reader.   The dialogue bubbles are great!  Do we ever get to hear Louie’s story?  No spoilers!  You’ll have to read it yourself and engage in the messy project.

Still craving more interactive books?  Check out our Book Flight:  Get Lost on a Book

Have a Party With Your Bear Day is November 16th!

November 8, 2014

Vivi-bearThere’s something about bears, those cuddly wise friends that often have a special place in our childhoods.  In our family, Jacob has always been particularly close to Beary-Bear, a big white stuffed sleepytime bear.  So in Portland, we have two knit Beary-Bear cousins who live with us in between twin visits, one green (for Molly)  and one white (for Jacob).  Sometimes, they come out to play with our neighborhood friends, like Vivi and Paddington and one of our favorite pastimes is a tea-party.

So on “Have a Party With Your Bear Day” this year, we are recommending you celebrate with a tea party!  We’ve chosen a few books to help you enjoy a tea party with your favorite bear.

WinnieWinne the Pooh (Original Edition) by A. A. Milne (Author), Ernest H. Shepard (Illustrator)

We recommend this edition: Pooh Library original 4-volume set, but the single volume of the original Winnie the Pooh also is a great starting point, and makes a wonderful gift. There is simply no comparison between the original characters and the more recent Disney version. Children still love gloomy Eeyore, excitable Piglet, and of course, the adventures that Christopher Robin and Pooh share.


TeddyThe Legend of the Teddy Bear by Frank Murphy, illustrated by Gisjbert van Frankenhuyzen

While lots of people know that the “original” Teddy Bear was named after President Theodore Roosevelt, the legendary story about Teddy Roosevelt’s refusal to shoot a bear that gave birth to a century of stuffed bear friends has been neglected and forgotten.  This is the perfect book to explain how the teddy bear got his name.  Its fascinating history as well as a charming and well-written text details the the story of the cartoon depiction that made Roosevelt’s unwillingness to shoot a cornered bear into a toy store phenomenon.  The illustrations hit just the right tone, too.  A great book for the whole family to enjoy!


Tea-Party-RulesTea Party Rules by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by K. G. Campbell

This is the perfect book for Have a Party With Your Bear Day!  A little cub wanders off from his mother’s sleeping side at the smell of cookies.  He follows his nose and finds a little girl’s tea party, the table set, and in one of the chair’s her stuffed bear.  The Cub decides to take this stuffed bear’s place at the table.  Sounds promising for Cub, but unfortunately, the little girl finds her new companion “too grubby” for a tea party.  Turns out there are lots of rules for tea parties that just don’t work for Cub:  “Tea Party Rule: you must be neat”; “Tea Party Rule:  You must eat daintily.”  Luckily for all, the little girl does change the rules.  The illustrations are lots of fun, and part of the charm of the story.


Tea-Party-TodayTea Party Today:  Poems to Sip and Savor by Eileen Spinelli, Illustrated by Karen Dugan

It’s never too early to introduce little ones to poetry, and this collection is perfect to add to the pleasure of your tea party.  Short lines with lots of repetition help children appreciate the fun of rhythms and lilting phrases–and early readers can read the poems by themselves. Spinelli’s  fine writing is a treat; she evokes wonderful memories of tea parties in a variety of settings.  Another treat:  Teatime Tips at the bottom of the pages.  The illustrations are as inviting as the poems and memories.  Enjoy!



November 1, 2014

~posted by Ruth

NateI have a special fondness for the series Nate the Great.  My own Nate the Great was born the same year as Marjorie Weinman Sharmat created the original character:  1977.  Though we called him Nathan (and now Uncle Nathan aka Uncle Hub),  the connection was strong.  Even as a little boy, Nathan was like our hero Nate with his ironic wit, clever detective skills, and yes, love of pancakes.

So it was with great pleasure I noted the publication this year  of the latest in Sharmat’s long-running series for beginning readers:  Nate the Great Where Are You? and decided to check it out after all these years.  And the good news is, it is as wonderful as ever!  Nate, of course, still relies on his canine sidekick Sludge, and the familiar characters are in on their latest case, which ends up multiplying into several mysteries, all needing Nate’s immediate attention. Rosamond is as odd as ever, Annie is still obsessing over her dog Fang (whose toothpaste is missing), and Claude’s request adds to the tangled case.

If you are new to this series, check out the original Nate the Great and share this and the many other Nate the Great adventures with the young readers in your life.


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