YA Series Updates: RED RISING and RED QUEEN

March 12, 2016

Two YA series that have been causing some serious binge reading among YA readers (including some of us older adults) are the Red Rising and Red Queen series.

(For our earlier reviews of these first books of a series, check out RED RISING: Making Dystopia Fresh and Red Queen in New Series for Tweens and Teens  .)

2016 has seen both these YA stars with the latest installments recently published.  (And Hollywood is already in pre-production for Red Rising, so you’ll want to be thinking of your casting choices as you read!)

Morning-starMorning Star by Pierce Brown

We found Morning Star to be a very satisfying conclusion to a fast-paced and well-told series.  It’s hard to talk about the book without including spoilers, but I’ll do my best.  Suffice it to say, there are some sweet moments and some heart-breakers–as well as some more than surprising plot twists that readers don’t see coming.  Thrilling space battles–and ingenious plans for escape, clever dialogue, and surprising depth to a range of characters as they grow and change. Some tantalizing elements of philosophy, too.  Devotion to honor is portrayed as possible to be either courageous or an easy out–or both.  What is the purpose and power of revenge?  Readers–and audiences–will be talking about this classic series for years to come.


Glass-swordGlass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

The Red Queen series also deals with a stratified society, but in this case, it is blood color that segregates the characters.  Mare, the heroine and Red Queen of the series–continues to lead a rebellion.  She’s the perfect person for this as her blood is the red of the common folk, but her abilities would mark her as a Silver blood. Her power to control lightening makes her a terrifying enemy to the Crown, yet she needs much more than this powerful weapon.  This second novel is fast-paced and filled with battles, strategy, and lots of betrayal.  I didn’t love it as much as the first book, but enough so I am looking forward to Book 3.


Hedgehogs: A Flight

March 4, 2016

hedgehogsHedgehogs!  Our whole family loves them (almost as much as those adorable sloths!)  Lisa re-invigorated our interest and we couldn’t resist dipping back into a favorite family readaloud from 30 years ago:  the delightful Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.  But as always, there are more books to engage the whole family in this flight about a curious and interesting creature.  Enjoy!

Family Readaloud:

Mrs.-TiggyThe Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle by Beatrix Potter

If you haven’t read any of Beatrix Potters’ classics, none better to start with than this charming tale first published in 1905.  A little girl named Lucie has lost her pocket handkerchiefs, and wanders high into the hills, discovering a little hidden home.  When she knocks on the door, she finds a little woman who does all the laundry for the neighborhood animals, washing and ironing their “garments.” After spending a lovely day helping Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Lucie discovers that the laundress is indeed a hedgehog! But was it true–or was it all a dream?  Enjoy the lyrical text and beautiful illustrations Potter’s readers have come to love.  A fine introduction to the hedgehogs in literature for the whole family!


Infants and Toddlers:

New-ArrivalThe New Arrival by Vanya Nastanlieva

Sam the hedgehog is on a quest for two important things:  a home and a friend.  Home, a lovely hollow at the base of a tree, is discovered quickly, but a friend proves more difficult to find.  He looks everywhere, but can’t see the wealth of possibilities around him–though we as readers are treated to clues through the lovely illustrations.  After a bit, Sam decides to post notices reading “Wanted: A Friend. Hedgehog at the Hollow Tree,” using his quills to tack them to trees. Soon, not only is he still friendless, he is bald to boot.  Happily, the other animals welcome him to the woodland and give him a knitted pullover (called a jumper here) to keep him warm until his quills grow back.  Lots of cute animals and heart-warming moments in this sweet book.

Pre-K through Grade 2

Learn-hedgeHedgehogs:  Amazing Pictures and Facts About Hedgehogs by Breanne Sartori

Non-fiction books can be a great complement to the literary delights of any subject.  This slim book brings to light a lot of interesting information about the hedgehog, like:  how  many spines they have, where they live, what they eat, all about the hedgehogs snout, how they defend themselves–and from whom,  and more. . .  Dig in!


HedgieHedgie’s Surprise by Jan Brett

Who doesn’t love Jan Brett’s picture books?  Her illustrations are charming without being sentimental, and her writing is appealing to readers and young audience alike.  This story, set in Denmark, is filled with needlepoint patterns of Scandinavian designs that frame the characters reacting from the borders.  Such a cool idea–and invites rereadings to pore over the pictures and meaning. Hedgie the hedgehog stars in this tale Hedgie stars  about a little Tomten (ancient gnome)  who gets tired of porridge for breakfast and starts stealing Henny’s eggs. But Henny wants a brood of chicks, so she enlists Hedgie’s help to trick the Tomten. She substitutes an acorn, a strawberry, a mushroom and finally a potato in her nest. But nothing stops that Tomten until the little hedgehog hides in Henny’s nest: when the Tomten reaches in to get his morning treat, all he gets is a handful of prickles!  This one is a great addition to your home library.


helpful-hedgehogThe Very Helpful Hedgehog by Rose Wellesley

Isaac is a sweet little hedgehog–and like Sam (above), doesn’t seem to have friends.  One day, an apple falls from a tree, and you guessed it–sticks in his prickles.  Alone, he can’t get the apple off–but help comes in the form of a donkey–who becomes a new friend. A delightful story about being open to surprising new friendships.


DarcyDarcy the Flying Hedgehog by Shota Tsukamoto

Darcy, named after the bassist for the The Smashing Pumkins, this cute and definitely, well, spiky, pet hedgehog became a genuine social media phenomenon.  The author/photographer/owner started photographing his little friend throughout her day–and night.  You’ll see Darcy basking in her owner’s hand, posing with a pineapple, pinecone or cactus, hiding from toy soldiers or snoozing fitfully. And readers of all ages will love the print, in both English and  (mostly) Japanese. For more information, you can check out the the Instagram photos.


hedgehog-fogHedgehog in the Fog by Yuri Norstein, illustrated by Francesca Yarbusoba

This special book was created on the basis of a famous Russian cartoon by Norstein and Yarbusova. The film of this story came first–30 years ago. In 2003, an international film jury in Tokyo declared ‘Hedgehog in the Fog’ to be the best animated film of all time. It is about the adventures of the philosophical little Hedgehog on his way to meet with his friend Bear.  Along the way Hedgehog enters into a mysterious fog in which he encounters a horse, a dog, an owl, and a fish. The illustrations are phenomenal: Francesca Yarbusoba is an award-winning artist, the wife and collaborator of Yuri Norstein. Exhibitions of her artworks successfully showed in museums in Russia, France, Japan, and beyond. She is the recipient of the Great Gold Medal of the Russian Academy of Fine Art.  So enjoy hedgehogs through the artistic integrity of this fine little book.

Teens and Adults:

dilemmaThe Hedgehog’s Dilemma:  A Tale of Obsession, Nostalgia,and the World’s Most Charming Mammal by Hugh Warwick

Hugh Warwick is an environmental writer and photographer.  Readers are fortunate that he turned his considerable talents to an exploration of the relationship between the hedgehog and man, and how the hedgehog became so beloved.  It’s a combination of memoir, nature study, and environmental investigation, all written with fascinating details and philosophical thoughts on human’s relationship to the world of nature.  I found it a thoroughly enjoyable light and interesting read that was peppered with Warwick’s wry sense of humor as he described everything from chasing hedgehogs across the English countryside as an undergradute biologist to his introduction to the American Hedgehog Olympics. A perfect companion to the stunning array of available hedgehog picture books.  Enjoy!


PHOEBE AND HER UNICORN: A Great Graphic Novel for Young Feminists

February 27, 2016

phoebePhoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson

We are always on the lookout for new graphic novels for young readers–especially when they are part of a series.  Phoebe and her unicorn–the amazing  Marigold Heavenly Nostrils– is such a treat, with two books out and a third in the series due in May.  You’ll want to read in order, at least I suggest you start with the first one, since it is here that Phoebe meets Marigold.  Phoebe is a somewhat awkward, but definitely precocious (and appealing) 9-year-old. And Marigold has her own brand of narcissism mixed with a healthy dose of sarcasm.  Phoebe frees  a unicorn held captive underwater by a magic spell. In exchange for her freedom, the unicorn Marigold Heavenly Nostrils grants Phoebe one wish, namely that the two will become best friends.  Their friendship complicated, because most people can’t see Marigold, as she is protected by a “Shield of Boringness.”  While the antics of the two are sure to delight young readers, there is a lot of side dialogue that will go straight over their heads (for example: “Terrible Vortex of Meh” and “summon your inner unicorn.”)  I don’t see that as a problem at all, but readers should be fore-warned.  I found the stories both funny and cute–not to mention touching.



February is STILL Library Lovers Month

February 20, 2016

Yes, we wrote about Library Lovers Month last year–and we are still delighting in the seasonal celebration in 2016.  If you missed it, in 2015, we recommended:

Miss Moore Thought Otherwise:  How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children by Jan Pinborough, illustrated by Debbie Atwell

This year, we would like to suggest a series that is sure to delight–and reaffirm your love of libraries:

LibraryEscape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein

In many ways, this book for the 8-12-year old range is a kind of updated Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Luigi Lemoncello, game-making genius, is constructing a new library.  Kyle Keeley is a fan of all kinds of games–especially video games. Imagine his delight when wins a coveted spot as one of twelve kids invited for an overnight sleepover in the library, hosted by Mr. Lemoncello and riddled with lots and lots of games.  But come morning, the contestants are surprised to find the doors locked; the only way they can escape is to solve clues and figure out secret puzzles.  It takes wit (including puns!), teamwork, and skill to succeed.  And what a cool library!  And you’ll want to learn about what happens next, in the sequel:  Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, just out last month.

For more Library Love, check out these past posts:

Cool Libraries of the World

Library Mouse

Library Love

More Library Love


February 20th is World Day for Social Justice

February 13, 2016

First observed in 2009, the United Nations’ (UN) World Day of Social Justice is annually observed on February 20 to encourage people to look at how social justice affects poverty eradication. It also focuses on the goal of achieving full employment and support for social integration. For more information, you can check out this link.

Over the years, we’ve posted several blogs of book lists that recommend social justice picture books.  We’ve put links at the end of this blog so you can take a look–and maybe check some out from the library or purchase them for your book shelves.  This year, we recommend a new book that would be a wonderful resource for the whole family, though it is especially written for tweens and teens.

a-z Rad American Women A-Z:  Rebels, Trailblazers, and Visionaries Who Shaped Our History. . .and Our Future by Kate Schatz, illustrated by Miriam Stahl

Chock full of heroes, role models, and people you would most like to meet, this new picture book is a sure-fire hit for feminists of all ages.  These dedicated promoters of social justice are “rad” in every sense of the word, including “radical.”   Any book that closes with an ode to my all-time favorite author Zora Neale Hurston is going to top my list of recommendations. But don’t just listen to me!  Here are a few of the great reviews by honored and enthusiastic readers (who happen to be children’s book authors):
“Any alphabet book for children where ‘P is for Patti’ Smith and ‘X is for the women whose names we don’t know’ is something I can recommend, especially when the book is as well written, representationally diverse and vividly illustrated as this one.”–Francesca Lia Block, author of Dangerous Angels: The Weetzie Bat Books

“I was totally in rapture reading this book. Bold women, bold colors, and fierce black paper cutouts. I cheer these histories of women who fight not for war or country or corporation, but for EVERYONE! I can’t wait for my son to read this.”–Nikki McClure, Illustrator of All in a Day

“This is not a book. This is a guest list for a party of my heroes. Thank you for inviting us.”–Lemony Snicket, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events books


And here are the links to social justice recommendations:

Book Flight:  People Who Made a Difference

Book Flight Update: People Who Made a Difference

Children Who Change the World

More Young People Who Made a Difference



Greek Gods and Goddesses for Kids

February 6, 2016

hestiaYou can tell your family is totally obsessed with the Greek Gods and Goddesses when they choose their email  names based on their favorite.  (And for Molly, that would be Hestia, Goddess of family, hearth and home).   Or when the favorite family game of choice is the fast-paced math game “Zeus on the Loose,” (which Jacob zeuswould be willing to play for hours on end.)

What sparked this preoccupation with all things Greek mythology?  You won’t be surprised to learn it’s Rick Riordan’s award-winning and best-selling series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians (Known to our family as The Lightening Thief series for the splendid and captivating first book of that title.)

We are very confident in recommending this as a perfect family read-aloud to introduce your tweens and teens (and even early readers. . . ) to this terrific series of tales.  No doubt about it, you and your family will be hooked and sucked into reading the entire series. You’ll need to make some rules about reading ahead if you don’t want spoilers to abound, as kids we know can’t help but talk about the surprising twists and turns. For those who enjoy these chapter books for their independent reading, it will be tough to wait for the next evening’s read aloud installment.

So in the meantime, for readers who want to enjoy the lives of the gods on their own,  may we recommend the following two series?

Goddess-girlsGoddess Girls by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Did you ever wonder what it was like for the pre-teen Goddess set?  Luckily, Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams have!  This is a perfect read-on-your own series (I estimate for 3rd though 7th graders).  It’s helpful to start with the first book in the series ( Athena the Brain ) to enter the world of Goddess girls and understand the context.  Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, has always known she’s a smart cookie, but is surprised when she is whisked away to Mt. Olympus Academy–and a bit nervous about fitting in and dealing with her dad (Zeus, of course).  But she becomes great friends with (most of) the other girl goddesses and godboys.  Of course there is the occasional mean girl (Medusa). . .Luckily, she excels in her studies and activities, meeting challenges in Hero-ology by ending the Trojan Wars, for example.  A light touch on the Greek myths and the relationship of the goddesses to each other.  Fun reading!  And definitely addictive.


heroesHeroes in Training by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Doom is the first book of this series with the Greek Gods as pre-teens.  Here we meet Zeus as a 10-year-old who is darn sick of getting hit by lightening every single year. In a clever re-interpretation of the origin myths of the Greeks, Zeus is kidnapped by the Titans to set a chain of events into play.  He sets off on a quest to rescue his youthful fellow Olympians from the evil Cronus. Armed with his trusty thunderbolt (named Bolt, of course), Zeus is on an adventure of a lifetime–and a journey to fulfill his destiny as King of the Gods. The series is lots of fun, and as addictive as the Girl Goddesses.

Of course, other resources abound, and we’ll be blogging about them soon.  But while you’re waiting for our posts, we suggest you dip into the two following resources (and terrific coffee table books):

DaulairesD’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaires

This over-sized picture book has introduced  at least a couple of generations to the Greek Gods over the last 50 years. The illustrations capture young readers’ imaginations, and the tales are more engagingly written than other retellings we’ve come across.  Even pre-readers can look through the pages and be mesmerized and eager to hear the stories that go with the pictures.


RickPercy Jackson’s Greek Gods by Rick Riordan, illustrated by John Rocco

Written from Percy’s insider point of view, this compilation of the Greek Gods and Greek mythology is awesome!  He explains how the world was created, then gives readers his personal take on a who’s who of ancients, from Apollo to Zeus. Percy does not hold back. “If you like horror shows, blood baths, lying, stealing, backstabbing, and cannibalism, then read on, because it definitely was a Golden Age for all that.”  Love the sarcastic asides.  A must-have resource for lovers of Rick Riordan’s take on the Greek Gods.


February is Grapefruit Month!

January 29, 2016


grapefruitWhat fruit is one of the most healthy treats you can savor?  The grapefruit, of course! February is a terrific time to focus on the pleasures of eating this fine fruit as Febuary is Grapefruit Month!  Lucky for me, my family members are already fans.  It’s Molly and Jacob and Meghan’s–not to mention my–favorite!  You might want to share Grapefruit’s Health Benefits with your family. And if you need a few recipes to try out this month, check out these ideas.

Oh, and of course you’ll want to bring the theme into your reading diet as well.

poppletonPoppleton and Friends by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Mark Teague

If your early reader is a Poppleton fan (and who isn’t?!), then this collection of short stories is perfect to welcome in the month of February and a celebration of Grapefruit!  I’ve always loved the Poppleton books as introductions to the genre of short stories and to chapter books for early readers (and as read-alouds for the slightly younger set).  When I realized that February is officially dedicated to my favorite fruit, I remembered that one of the Poppleton stories looks at Poppleton’s own introduction to the powers of grapefruit: Poppleton hears on TV that eating grapefruit can increase one’s lifespan. No spoilers here, but the puckerish taste of the fruit is a bit of a surprise to our hero.   This is a wonderful, easy-to-read chapter book that will leave children laughing out loud.




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