October 12, 2019
How to Put Your Parents to Bed by Mylisa Larsen, illustrated by Babette Cole
Last week, I reviewed a wonderful toddler and pre-school bedtime book, Goodnight Everyone. I had my youngest great-nephew in mind. Now I am thinking about books, bedtimes, and kids, I decided I’d look for one for my next-youngest family, Charlie (age 4) and Roger (age 7). And I have found the perfect book in How to Put Your Parents to Bed. I’ve read role-reversal bedtime stories before, but none like this! The illustrations are perfect complements to the text as the narrator talks to her audience about how to get those parents into bed. My favorite picture is of the parents clearly “not looking their best” as the child stresses the need for them to get into bed. Though her parents are clearly tired, they still put off their bedtime routines until their daughter takes them firmly in hand. It’s a story to read and reread with young ones, taking time to delight over the humor and the terrific pictures. Sure to be a hit with your family and friends!
October 5, 2019
Goodnight Everyone by Chris Haughton
The first time I encountered Chris Haughton’s delightful toddler books and brilliant artwork was his award-winning board book, Shh! We Have a Plan. This became a book beloved by my little nephews and a big hit with other family and friends who visit. I discovered the text and artwork were not only captivating for the toddler and nursery school set, but also fun for early readers. The sly wit, simple text, and intriguing illustrations made even grownups chuckle with delight as they turned the pages. My admiration has only grown as I’ve come to know Chris Haughton’s other books.
This week, I was choosing a book to send to my youngest great-nephew Elias. At two years old, he is a charming loving little boy who also adores books. (He also loves his Great-Uncle Jim, and has named numerous toys and stuffed animals “Jim.” ) So I definitely wanted to choose a winning book for the little guy. I knew I had found the right book when I reread Goodnight Everyone. I imagine it as the perfect bedtime read for Elias–and other two -year-old children who just want to stay a wake a little bit longer. Even though everyone in the forest is getting sleepy, Little Bear isn’t quite ready. The images of the different forest animals snuggling up with their families and getting cozy in their beds for the night are sweet and comforting. In a simple pattern, ideal for storytelling, Haughton sets the tone for how each animal gets ready for bed. Readers then say good night to each animal family in its home, starting with the mice. A dandelion appears, and a mouse’s gentle snores blow seeds into the air. Dandelion seeds rise slowly into the sky on each subsequent page until the final page, where the moon is high and all are asleep. Small dots trail across the endpapers, too, like a continuation of the seeds and the animals’ dreams. Magical!
Really, I can’t recommend this one highly enough.
September 28, 2019
Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty
Where to start in reviewing this book? There is so much to explore. Beatty weaves a magical tale, set in the Great Smoky Mountains, where Willa a night spirit, lives with her 137-year-old Mawmaw, one of the last surviving “wood witches,” who knows and understand the animal kingdom as well as the natural world and can communicated across many dimensions. Willa, though determined to honor the old ways and be at peace with her friends in the natural world (both plants and animals), must also survive in a world taken over by an evil Faeren leader (Pardon, )who sows division and forces the children like Willa to thievery for survival. Willa has become the clan’s best thief, though she is an unwilling one. She slips in unseen into the human folks’ homes and steals during the night, sometimes drawing on her affinity for understanding the trees, the wind, even the stars.
It’s hard to decide which genre Beatty is writing in: there are elements of folklore, science fiction, and above all, a mystery/thriller about what happened to Willa’s parents and twin sister. The writing is lyrical, and drew me into the descriptions and each character.
Willa is an inspiration for those of us who may need a reminder to respect nature and our environment. She learns how not to be judgmental and offers great lessons in kindness and unselfishness. A wonderful read-aloud for third-grade and above, and a terrific and captivating read for middle graders.
September 13, 2019
Mighty Jack and Zita the Space Girl by Mike Hatke
Over the last few years, we’ve reviewed (and recommended enthusiastically) several books by the wonderful graphic novel writer and artist Ben Hatke. We first met Zita the Space Girl several years ago and eagerly awaited each novel in the sequence. Here’s a clip from our blog on the first in the series: Zita becomes an intergalactic hero when she flies off to rescue her friend Joseph who was abducted by aliens. The cult of Scriptorians plan to sacrifice Joseph in a ritual to prevent the destruction of their planet. Picking up side-kicks along the way and encountering amazing sights and strange creatures, Zita, our spunky hero, prevails. It’s fun and funny, clever, and ultimately satisfying. Kind of a science fiction version of Alice and Wonderland/The Wizard of Oz. And there’s more in the series!
Of course, when we found that Ben Hatke was introducing a new hero: Mighty Jack, we had to dig into that series:
You don’t have to read more than a few pages to understand that Mighty Jack is based on the fairy tale Jack and the Beanstalk. But in this contemporary retelling, the old tale takes a decidedly compelling twist. First, there are the modern characters: Jack, who is dreading summer, since he has to care for his sister Maddie while his single Mom works; Maddie, who is autistic and never speaks–until she does one day! At the flea market, she tells Jack to trade their mom’s car for a box of mysterious seeds. Yikes! Big mistake–or is it? What happens when the garden that he plants from the seeds runs amok? And when a dragon enters the scene? We love the cliff hanging elements throughout the book, and the thoughtful themes that make the adventures and humor even more compelling. Great storytelling, wonderful artwork. . .this is the start of a not-to-miss series of books.
So now you have the background for the new book that combines these unlikely two heroes. And their quest is a mighty one indeed: to save the world! A delightful middle school reader book for fall. Highly recommended!
September 7, 2019
How to Read a Book by Kramer Alexander, illustrated by Melissa Sweet
A poetic ode to reading is perfect for the start of fall and the world of new books opening up to readers. Kwame Alexander begins his lyrical text inviting us into the wonderful journey that is reading:
Find a tree—a
black tupelo or
dawn redwood will do—and
(It’s okay if you prefer a stoop, like Langston Hughes.)
This taste of Kwame’s prose should be enough to tempt you to open the pages of this new book. But wait! There’s more! It’s illustrated by Melissa Sweet, with lush and vivid images, and the hand-lettered text goes hand-in-hand with Kwame’s evocative words. Perfect for reading and rereading.
September 1, 2019
It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firooz Dumas
I have to thank Molly for this recommendation. We were at Powell’s choosing books, when her eyes focused on it and she asked me if I had read it. When I said I hadn’t, she gently but firmly impressed on me that it was a favorite of hers, and she thought it would be for me as well. OK, sold! And she was right. I didn’t get to read it right away (because of course she had to reread it), but now that I have, I can add my recommendation to hers. Really, a perfect Middle Reader book, as the story spans the years between 6th and 8th grade for Zomorod (aka Cindy), a young girl from Iran living with her parents in Newport Beach, California. The time period is set in the late 1970’s, and we experience the startling and troubling events in Iran as seen through Cindy’s experiences. Though I lived through those times, I was invited to see the complex and truly horrifying changes in Iran, as well as the impact on the world of Iran’s revolution from a fresh perspective. The first part of the book has a lighter tone, as Cindy makes friends, and copes with adjusting to a new home and school. There are ups and down, of course, but Cindy is a smart and caring girl, and others begin to see her strengths.
But the revolution and taking of the American hostages in Iran cause a rise in anti-Iran sentiment. Worst of all, her father’s job as an engineer for the oil company is terminated because of the strain in US-Iran relationships. As their savings disappear, it looks like Cindy will have to return to a very different and frightening Iran. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens!
This brief summary doesn’t begin to show you the humorous dialogue, funny situations, and hearty warming encounters in the book. Firoozeh Dumas explains in her afterward that much of the book is a memoir, with a little fiction thrown in. She is the award-winning author of the adult book Funny in Farsi. Another book to highly recommend!
August 26, 2019
THE EVIL PRINCESS VERSUS THE BRAVE KNIGHT (BOOK 1) by Jennifer Holm vs Matthew Holm
Growing up with 3 brothers and a sister, there were plenty of siblings for me to make mischief with, to tease, and to squabble with. My own kids have been known to be quite contentious with each other, though they love one another dearly. And in the latest generation, what can complete with twins and their on-going frenemy relationship? This wonderful new picture book by the team that brought you Babymouse is sure to be a hit with the whole family. It’s a short funny read that will have siblings and their parents laughing. The Evil Princess is really acting pretty evil, especially to her brother the Bravee Knight. And while the Brave Knight does often try to be the rescuer, he has a bit of a mean streak (toward his sister) himself. The Magic Mirror finally has had it, and sends them to their own rooms in the Castle. But they soon became bored with no one to play with. Magic Mirror is willing to let them play together, but only if they can play nicely. . .Guess what happens when they plan their first quest? It’s the first in a new series by Jennifer and Matthew Holm. A fun book for kindergarteners through second grade.
And yes, the authors are siblings, best-selling siblings at that.