April 22, 2018
I Am a Cat by Galia Bernstein
I am always on the lookout for excellent new books for infants and toddlers, books that are enticing to young ears and eyes, and also clever and meaningful. That’s why I am so pleased to recommend new children’s author Galia Bernstein’s debut offering. And while it is a wonderful lap book read for little ones, it is also a hit with first-graders, who appreciate the theme of similarities and differences, compare and contrast–and can even take it to a higher level to think about in- and out-groups and the important message of inclusion. The illustrations are gorgeous; colorful cats pop out from the background and invite lingering looks. On the surface, the premise is simple: Simon the housecat wants to convince “the big cats” (Lion, Panther, Puma, Tiger, and others) that he is like them. They beg to disagree and cite “facts” to support their catness, and his lack of it. The book is filled examples of how each cat does have traits special for his or her species–and yet they are alike. It’s a lovely way to celebrate the diversity of each of the larger cats, yet still recognize that they are all part of the feline family, including Simon. I especially love how the eyes and expressions of the cats help tell the story. This one is a winner both a a read-aloud and read-to-myself book.
April 15, 2018
The Language of Thorns: Midnight Tales and Dangerous Magic by Leigh Bardugo, illsutrated by Sara Kipin
A collection of short stories is not something teens usually choose, but short texts are actually a great recommendation. Especially when written by terrific YA author Leigh Bardugo. Bardugo is well-known as a best-seller of superbly written fantasy novels for teen-aged readers (and older adults as well). Her short stories are in multiple anthologies, too, so this a a terrific collection to use as a springboard for other short texts, as well as for YA fantasy series.
This collection is a special treat, though. The stories have an air of fantasy, but more in the realm of myth and folklore. Some familiar tales are present, but with such a different tone that they are at first unrecognizable (think a very dark version of Clara and the Nutcracker). There is an air, too, of traditional fairy tale worlds, beautifully rendered and gorgeously illustrated, with full spreads and borders. Haunted town and talking beasts; bargains made, twisted, and even broken;love sought, betrayed; dangerous magic and moonlight nights. Highly recommend!
April 10, 2018
Baby Monkey: Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin
Brian Selznick’s latest is a ground-breaker: full-page illustrations and a semi-graphic novel format; chapters that can be stand-alone for different reading times, or all at once; large type-face and easy-to-read repetitive sentences. Yes! It’s a delightful easy reader, fun for young readers and also charming for the adults who are part of the reading experience. Baby Monkey is–well–a baby and a monkey, who is also a private eye. He takes on cases, one for each chapter, and uses visual clues to solve the mysteries. His clients include an opera singer, an Italian pizza chef, a clown, a spaceman. . .and a surprise mystery client. The black-and-white illustrations add to the private eye/noir-ish feel of the story. We love the way baby monkey’s cases are all reflected with special clues in his office that match the cases, sure to delight adult readers. The clues are helpfully highlighted in endnotes that name the themed paintings on the wall, bust on the desk, film posters and other hidden clues and jokes. Of course, the story works just as well without these objects, but it makes the reading so much more fun. The running joke of Baby Monkey struggling to put on his pants for each case will have readers chuckling –even the adults. Sure to be an award-winner!
April 3, 2018
Dory Fantasmagory: Head in the Clouds by Abby Hanlon
Dory is back with new adventures, and the heart of the story is her excitement, imagination, and down-right Dory-ness as she has her first tooth and explores the whole notion of the Tooth Fairy. Imagine, if you will, that the nefarious Mrs. Gobble Cracker becomes jealous and wants all Dory’s attention to herself. All our favorites return: Rosy, Dory’s school buddy, of course, Dory’s long-suffering brother and sister, and all the crazy beings from Dory’s imagination. The silliness and hilarity bursts from every page, as Dory plots to save the Tooth Fairy’s job, save children all over the world–and still get a dollar for her own tooth. We just bought this for our friend Vivian’s sixth birthday and can’t wait to share it with her. I imagine it will be like the last book in the series, where we read the last page and Vivi immediately begged, “Read it again!”
March 20, 2018
Invictus by Ryan Graudin
I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for time travel fiction, so it’s no surprise I was drawn to this novel, with its plot about the son of a 24th century time traveler and an ancient Greek gladiator. But wait! This is also a gripping sci-fi journey, with compelling characters, and enough twists and turns to qualify as a thriller.
The protagonist is named Farway Gaius McCarthy, and though everyone in his time honors his time traveling mother, his father is “unknown,” except to his mother, as it is a serious infraction against the code for time traveling. When Far fails the test to get into the government-sponsored time travel program that his mother is famous for, he becomes a blackmarket adventurer, captaining a time-traveling crew to steal valuables from the past. Terrific and complex characters, with a little romance and mystery thrown in. And then there is the mysterious Eliot, who pops in and out of time. As we learn her back story, Far’s becomes ever more complex.
These reluctant heroes end up being the only ones who can save the Earth itself from ultimate disaster. And I must admit, as much as I love series, this stand-alone is refreshing as it ties up all the loose ends in one intense story. Highly recommended.
March 15, 2018
One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus
The description in the “best book” award nomination tempted me; who isn’t interested in “Pretty Little Liars meets The Breakfast Club“? Five teens are sent to detention after school, all claiming they were innocent. Only four leave the room alive. Who committed the murder–and why? We hear the stories of the different characters through their own voices, creating of deepening of the facets of each of the characters, all suspects in the murder. I was sure I’d have a glimmer of the murdered, but though I carefully followed each clue, I never did guess until the last twisty turn. The mystery and intrigue made this a real page-turner, though I admit it might not be the best writing I have read. Still, it was strong and engaging and a lot of fun. And I’ll be on the lookout for this author’s next novel.
March 6, 2018
Dance by Matthew Van Fleet
Confession: I love all of Matthew Van Fleets extra-sturdy, interactive board books for toddlers. Really, they delight even newborn and primary school kids as well as older readers who get to plunk kids on their laps and delight in the fun of a reading adventure. So I was pretty excited to see his latest (which came out in 2017; I don’t know how I missed it!) Dance has it all: the lovely, lilting rhymes, the absolutely adorable animals, the big tabs, and slides, and plastic windows that are such a delight for little fingers ready to find new surprises on the pages. The pull tabs make the cute animals actually dance, which produces squeals of delight from little ones. Can’t recommend this one highly enough!