MALALA’S MAGIC PENCIL by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated Kerascoet

November 18, 2017

Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoet

Malala is one of the most famous young women in the world, and justly so.  The youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, she is renown for her courage and her devotion to the good of the people and her belief that all girls everywhere deserve an education. Her astounding book I am Malala:  How One Girl Stood Up for Education and Changed the World remains an international best seller.  (See our review of the Young Reader edition).  And now she has teamed up with extraordinary illustrator Kerascoet to create an inspiring picture book for all ages.  The watercolors create a compelling soft palette that draws young–and older–readers into the story.  So many threads in this book that call for deeper exploration:  the importance of standing up to violence, of educating girls, of recognizing and helping poverty in communities. . . and of courage.  The “magic pen” itself is also an important message, as it begins with Malala using the pen to draw a magic lock that keeps her brothers out of her room, and moves to drawing a world without war and conflict, where girls and boys are treated as equals.  The violence against her is treated simply and appropriately for the young audience: the page is black and the text reads:  “My voice became so powerful that the dangerous men tried to silence me. But they failed.”  The danger and hardship of Malala’s life and chosen path are framed by Malala’s overwhelmingly positive message of idealism and her belief in the goodness of people. Depending on the age of the kids you are reading the book with, the book can be an invitation to take them deeper into Malala’s story and experiences.  Let us know how your readers respond.


Rethinking Thanksgiving Through Picture Books

November 11, 2017

We’ve already published a list of children’s books that give a more compete version to “the Thanksgiving story” than the current predominant myth (see Thanksgiving Books With a Difference).

This year, we want to invite you to add to this list by checking out the suggested picture books from Indian Country Today, who recommend 5 Picture Books That Set the Record Straight.

The title of the piece is important, (“Beyond the So-Called First Thanksgiving “) and we recommend that you read the entire piece and bookmark Indian Country Today as a terrific resource.

If these books are new to you, we hope you’ll add them to your Thanksgiving bookshelf that counter the narrative of the first Thanksgiving.

November 13th is World Kindness Day: Picture Books to Read and Share

November 5, 2017

World Kindness Day is approaching, and what could be more important to remember and celebrate than acts of kindness and compassion?  For special inspiration, you might turn to the World Kindness Day website.  And then, settle down with our list of picture books for all the members of your family and community to enjoy–and to take to heart.

Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis

A picture book to spark deep conversations among a whole classroom or family.  In this poignant tale, a new girl to school, Maya, is introduced to the class, but she is not welcomed or talked to.  The story is told through the lens of Chloe, who is part of a clique who not only refuse to accept Maya, but call her “Never New” because of her hand-me-down clothes. Maya is cheerful and independent, but her offers to play are rebuffed by Chloe and her friends. The writing is subtle and provocative, rather than stereotypical bullying and good and bad guys.  No judgement is stated.  At the end of the book, the teacher invites the class to throw a pebble in the water and watch the ripples to symbolize an act of kindness they have shared wth the class. It is then that Chloe realizes that Maya is no longer there as her family has had to move again, and she ponders if she had ever been kind to the new girl.The watercolor illustrations are a perfect complement to the writing, and show a rural diverse classroom.  I appreciate the attention to detail, especially the expressions on the faces of the children.


Most People by Michael Leannah, illustrated by Jennifer E. Morris

The central theme of this book is an important one:  most people are kind.  Yes, it’s important to teach children to be careful in a sometimes scary world, but it’s also vital to believe in the kindness that most people harbor for others.  The book follows two families through their day, interacting with people in their community who show simple acts of kindness. The sense of community and messages of kindness embedded in the story are well-expressssed and never preachy.  The book also explains with simple reasoning that people who do bad things can change ― “there is a seed of goodness inside [each person] waiting to sprout.” The author’s note acknowledges that while children need to be careful of strangers, they also need to know that most people are good, kind, and helpful. Our children don’t deserve to be overly fearful of the world despite what they may see in the media. The illustrations celebrate a diversity of race, religion, gender, and class.


A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Phillip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

This is one you probably know since it is a “new” classic and winner of the Caldecott Award. But it’s worth returning to on World Kindness Day.  Amos is such a caring zookeeper, truly friends with all the animals, showing them care and compassion.  When he is sick, they return the favor.  A lovely and heart-warming book of compassion, empathy, and the power of kind gestures of friendship.  The text is one kids are drawn to, noting patterns, and recurring objects and characters.  Some of the best artwork you’ll see, too.


Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

We love this book and have declared it one of the very best picture books that came out in 2015.  Oh, and so did a lot of other people:

Winner of the 2016 Newbery Medal
A 2016 Caldecott Honor Book
A 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book
A New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of 2015
A Wall Street Journal Best Children’s Book of 2015

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg of this fine book’s medals and awards. While it’s a simple plot line, it is so lyrically written and beautifully illustrated, I guarantee you’ll get goosebumps.  A young boy and his grandmother take the bus after church each week.  At the stops along the way, they meet people of different cultures and talk about noticing the world around and being thankful. I really love that it talks about looking  closely at what you have and opportunities to give to others in a world where it easy to focus on what we don’t have.



THE WOLF, THE DUCK AND THE MOUSE by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

October 28, 2017

The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen

How did the publishing date slip past me? The book came out October 10th, and I just read it now, 2 full weeks later.  I am always on the lookout for the latest by this talented and funny duo.  If you were like me, and weren’t aware of this delightful picture book, don’t delay.  Time to add it to your classroom library or home bookshelf.  It’s that good.  As usual, the plot is decidedly off-beat.  It seems a duck, then a mouse get swallowed by a wolf.  But the duck has a courageous and optimistic outlook: “I may have been swallowed,” says the duck, “but I have no intention of being eaten.”  Turns out with a bit of scavenging, the duck has turned the wolf’s insides into quite a delightful place, cozy and inviting with good food–and with the arrival of the mouse–great company.  Very witty, both in words and pictures.  The eyes are expressions of the creatures’ inner thoughts, including the hunter later in the tale, relaying so much of the emotion as well as the irony of the story.  And speaking of the hunter, how can the duck and the mouse save their happy home when the hunter tracks down the wolf, who trips over a tree root?  You’ll have to read it to find out.  Vivian, my five-year-old friend, loved this book so much that when I finished reading it, she immediately told me to “Read it again!”


October 20, 2017

Magnus ChaseE and The Gods of Asgard:  Ship of the Dead, Book 3 by Rick Riordan

I loved returning to the adventures of Magnus Chase and his friends.  They’re all back:  Hearthstone the elf, and Blitz the dwarf are foremost as almost lifelong friends who looked out for him when he was homeless on the streets of Boston.  We also get to return to Samirah the Valkyrie, Thomas Jefferson, Jr., and Alex, a friend and demigod. not to mention updates on Annabeth, and Percy Jackson.  And old enemies like Loki, who is at the heart of this adventure.

Lots of excitement, tension, and great battles as Magnus and his friends try to put off Ragnorak and get Loki back in chains. Naglfar, Loki’s Ship of the dead, is particularly creepy, with lots of zombies, giants, and random undead creatures.

As usual, snappy dialogue, delicious humor,  and complex characters make the novel an engaging read, for adults as well as teens and tweens. The character of Alex is particularly fascinating, with the concept of being gender fluid.  We get more of the various characters’ back stories, and a chance to look closer at Magnus’ own inner demons.  Maybe Riordan’s best yet.  Enjoy!

And if you are new to this series, you have such a treat in store for you. But best to start with the two earlier books:    Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard:  The Sword of Summer, Book 1, and Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard:  The Hammer of Thor. 


October 14, 2017

Fairy Tale Reform School Series by Jen Calonita

Middle school readers have a lot to appreciate this fall, with engaging series like Fairy Tale Reform School.  Readers are treated to a mix of characters–some heroes of the tales, like Cinderella, and some created based on fairy tales and nursery rhymes.  Add in the fun of talking mirrors, spells and magic, and throw in a few ogres and fairies and you have a reading hit worthy of binging.

Flunked  The first book of the series introduces us to the world of Enchantasia and highlights the plight of Gilly, who lives in a shoe with her parents and multiple siblings. In order to survive, she steals small items and some food from the richer residents of the kingdom. When she is arrested for the third time, she is sentenced to Fairy Tale Reform School, a detention center for juveniles run by none other than Cinderella’s wicked step-mother and a host of other famous (and supposedly reformed) fairy tale bad-guys. Many have made amends and truly turned over a new leaf, like the Big Bad Wolf who is now Professor Wolfington, a popular teacher despite his bulging muscles and wolfish grin.  Fast-paced and fun, this series is a holiday treat for tweens. And you’ll want to follow up with Charmed, and Tricked, the next books in the series.

BLISS BAKERY Trilogy by Kathryn Littlewood: Cooking and Magic for Middle Readers

October 6, 2017

Cooking and magic are big cross-overs in our family.  Reading Harry Potter?  Time for pumpkin pasties or treacle tart (Harry’s favorite). If you’re a Mary Poppins fan (the original literary one, we mean), you’ll want to bake gingerbread stars.  Conjuring up  smells and tastes is  such a delightful way to immerse ourselves in the literary worlds we are inhabiting–especially when they are steeped in magic.  That’s one of the reasons we were drawn to the Bliss Bakery Trilogy: a delightful reading experience for young readers who appreciate the joys of cooking and magic.  Who wouldn’t want a special leather-bound volume to cook from with enchanting recipes like “Singing Gingersnaps”  “Truth Cookies?”  If this makes you hungry for more, read on. . .

Bliss by Kathryn Littlewood

The series begins with Bliss, and highlights Rosemary Bliss and her family who possess the amazing and magical Bliss Cookery Booke–never to be used when the parents are out of town.  What happens when a mysterious stranger  (“Aunt Lil”) rides into town on a motorcycle and whips up delicious meals for the family while the folks are away?  Rose and her siblings decide it would be fun to try out just a recipe or two from the forbidden cookbook.  It turns out there is lots of magic and mishaps to undo with hilarious results at every turn. Adventure and magic, wit and engaging writing, and a special sweetness makes this a series to fall in love with, even without Love Muffins. And you can extend the pleasure  by digging into A Dash of Magic and Bite-Sized Magic.  Great reading for the fall, or anytime of the year.