March 24, 2020

Mo Willems:  Lunch Doodles and More

We love Mo Willems, and have blogged about him often (see links below).  But right now, during social distancing times (2020!), what we want to talk about is his daily lunchtime live doodling show on YouTube.  You can also watch the recorded Lunch Doodles later in the day if you like.  Here’s what Willems says about his daily show:

When I became the Kennedy Center Education Artist-in-Residence, I didn’t realize the most impactful word in that title would be ‘Residence.’ With millions of learners attempting to grow and educate themselves in new circumstances, I have decided to invite everyone into my studio once a day for the next few weeks.Grab some paper and pencils, pens, or crayons.  We are going to doodle together and explore ways of writing and making.

Today’s episode (March 24th) is simply delightful.  Mo Willems dresses up in something fancy and silly and encourages his audience to do the same.  His rapport with children is wonderful; I appreciate his calmness and his acknowledgement that this is a strange time.  At the same time, he is comforting and funny and teaches some great little art lessons. Check it out!

And for your reading pleasure, a few posts from our archives:

Mo Willems, My Hero

Literary Vacations

More Mo:  Behind the Scenes with Mo Willems

SUPERMAN: DAWNBREAKER by Matt de la Peña: A YA Superman Coming of Age Novel

March 7, 2020

Superman:  Dawnbreaker by Matt de la Peña

If you haven’t yet heard of the new YA series, DC Icons, be sure to check it out.  Imagine Wonder  Woman through the eyes of Leigh Bardugo; Marie Lu’s reimagining of Bat Man; or Sarah J. Maas writing an epic Cat Woman tale.  Wait. . .you don’t have to imagine it; these stories already exist, with more to come from other YA authors.  The new Matt de la Peña Superman novel is a wonderful addition.  In fact, I might even recommend that you start the series here.  After all, Superman is DC’s first superhero.  In this contemporary retelling, Clark Kent is just coming into his powers, and struggling to understand them, as well as his changing role in the world.  Smallville is still rural, but has a far more diverse population than the 1950’s version, and Clark is very aware of his role as an “alien” in a parallel to the immigrants in his community.  I loved how compassionate and caring this version of the Man (Young Man) of Steel is as he teams up with his best friend Lana Lang to fight against racial prejudice, abduction, and genetic experimentation in Smallville.  They even encounter a young version of Lex Luther!

Wonderful for YA readers, as well as those in middle school. Not to mention those of us who grew up reading Superman comics.

THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF COYOTE SUNRISE by Dan Gemeinhart: Heartwarming Story for Tweens and Early Adolescents. . .and their Parents and Teachers

February 21, 2020

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

Some of the most compelling stories have at their heart a metaphorical journey, or a quest.  Coyote Sunrise’s hero quest is literal:  she and her father Rodeo are traveling from Florida to Washington state in their renovated school bus home-on-wheels.  Of course, the metaphorical side of their journey is also present.  Coyote and Rodeo are the only survivors of a horrific car accident that killed Coyote’s two sisters and her mother.  Since that tragic day five years ago, these two have been on the road, never looking back and never ever talking about the past.  (That’s one of Rodeo’s coping strategies, and a hard and fast rule, a “no-go.” ) But Coyote learns that a park where she and her sisters and mother buried a “memory box” is set to be demolished.  Coyote must travel thousands of miles in a few days and rescue the memory box–all without letting Rodeo know she (and their bus) are headed back to her original home.  Along the way, they pick up different travelers who join the adventure:  a gay teenager whose parents kicked her out, a young man traveling to reunite with his girlfriend, and a family of immigrants looking for work.  Oh, and the sweetest, smartest cat in the world, Ivan.

I put off reading this book since I bought it last summer.  Meghan read it right away–bingeing through it, with many a tear coming down her cheeks.  Though I often love a heart-tugging read, I put it off until just this week.  Big mistake!  I can only hope you don’t do the same.  It’s an award-winner and perfect family read, though of course, kids can read it on their own.  Here are some of the numerous accolades the book earned:

A 2019 Parents’ Choice Award Gold Medal Winner
Winner of the 2019 CYBILS Award for Middle Grade Fiction
An Amazon Top 20 Children’s Book of 2019
A Junior Library Guild Selection

Authenticity is a trait that shines  through all the characters, as well as their life experiences.  Beautiful writing and emotional depth are also characteristics of this fine book.  Highly recommended!


February 15, 2020

A couple of years ago, I heard about a new magazine for girls and I decided to give it a try for the girls in my life, family and friends alike.  KAZOO  is everything I hoped it would be, as you can tell from my rave review in the post “New Magazines for Girls.”   Fast forward to 2020, and I am a satisfied reader of Kazoo, and delighted to hold in my hands their new graphic collection:  Noisemakers:  25 Women Who Raised Their Voices and Changed the World. Whatever your passion (and those of the young people you know and love), you’ll find stellar role models:  activists, artists, scientists, explorers, chefs, and fascinating “Noisemakers” in lots of other creative endeavors.  Erin Bride, the Editor-in-Chief of Kazoo Magazine, writes in the foreword:  “The world is what it is today only because these Noisemakers dared to be strong, smart, fierce, and true to themselves.  And hopefully, just knowing they came before you will give you all the extra courage and strength you ever need to follow your own amazing path, no matter where it may lead.”  I quote her because it is so quintessentially “Kazoo”:  inspiring, and also including readers in the vision creators of the magazine are sharing.  I must admit, I am only half-way through the collection, but I am already relishing the artwork of the different artists, as well as the stories the cartoonists share.  Some are favorite role models, like Frida Kahlo and Nellie Bly, but others are fascinating new heroes, like Eugenie Clark, The Shark Whisperer, or Raye Montague, The Ship Designer.  Perfect timing for mid-winter inspiration and binge reading, especially for readers 8-13 years old (and their parents and teachers).


February 7, 2020

Point Blank (Alex Rider Adventure) Book 1 by Anthony Horowitz

Recently, we escaped the rain and cold of Portland for a visit with the twins in LA.  Ah, the warm sunshine!  And even better, the chance to talk books and learn young teen tips and advice.  We are now much better educated, for example, about K-Pop.  In preparation for the trip, we purchased some books we read and left there for them to read when they are caught up on the other series they are immersed in.  (“No hurry!” we insisted.) Because Jim and I are both loving all of Anthony Horowitz’s books (and TV scripts–check it out!), we decided to try his YA series about a teen spy.

So, we are confident in recommending the series for young teens and older teens as well (and maybe even adults).  Alex Rider is British and an orphan, and helps his uncle at times, an operative (well, spy) for MI-6.  The British version of the CIA don’t hesitate to draw him into dangerous and difficult cases, as this first in the series adventure attests.  Some mysterious deaths are connected with a prep school for super-rich ands troubled kids and MI-6 decides to send Alex undercover to find out what is going on.  It’s a little bit Stepford Wives, as the formerly rebellious kids become docile and obedient overnight.  And there is something eerily familiar about each kid. . .Luckily, Alex is able to discover what is behind these miracle transformations, but he needs to be ingenious, brave, and even rely on his fencing skills to get himself out of a jam.  I’m definitely hooked and ready to dig into more of the series.  Give it a try!

COUNTING BUGS AND BUTTERFLIES: INSECT ART by Christopher Marley and Zoe Burke: Wonderful New Board Book

January 25, 2020

COUNTING BUGS AND BUTTERFLIES by Christopher Marley and Zoe Burke

What to do on a dreary, rainy, raw January day in Portland, Oregon?  Head to an exhibit.  We love museums–science, art, whatever–and a trip to OMSI (Oregon Museum or Science and Industry) was just the right field trip to fire up our senses.  If you get the chance to view Christopher Marley’s Exquisite Creatures:  A Dialogue with Nature, Art, and Science, don’t pass it up.  It is a companion exhibit to Marley’s New York Times bestseller Biophelia  (literally, “love of living things”). The exhibit and the book are a thrilling and awe-inspiring tribute to the wonders of science and nature, relationships and patterns.

But what I (mostly) want to share with you in this post is the delightful board book to entice the youngest readers and their families into biophelia.  The construction is sturdy, as it needs to be; I imagine babies and toddlers immersed in the incredible images of bugs that look like jewels, butterfly wings that shimmer and glow, and an accessible rhyming text that helps readers and their parents interact with the words and images and count aspects of each page.  A delightful introduction to Marley’s work.  Enjoy!

And, to further entice you into Christopher Marley’s world: two samples from the exhibit, all created from bugs and butterflies (and other subjects) in an environmentally sensitive manner.  Marley has a worldwide network of people and institutions (such as aquariums) that help him honor these “exquisite creatures.” Read more about it in Biophelia.


January 21, 2020

The Queen of Nothing by Holly Black

Though I often delight in long-running series, I also find satisfaction in trilogies:  series with enough time to develop characters who grow and change as well as the depth that comes with more than a stand-alone.  Perhaps best of all for me is when the conclusion draws together the different plot points and holds some surprises as well as resolution, and a glimpse into the future of characters we have come to care about.  Holly Black’s The Folk of the Air Trilogy is just my cup of tea, it turns out.

We return to the drama of Jude’s life.  She is now an exiled mortal Queen of the Faerie–though no one around her knows.  Thus, she becomes the “Queen of Nothing.”  But Jude must return to the Faerie Court to try to rescue  her twin sister-and things are definitely changing as Elfame slips further and further into conflict.  But it is not just political treachery Jude must deal with.  She has yet to resolve her feelings for Cardan, especially in the wake of what she believes to be his betrayal.  But is it?

If you are like me, you will also delight in the character growth for Taryn and even Vivi.  Give it a read:  I think you’ll find the ending both surprising and satisfying.  What more could you ask of a trilogy?

And if this is a new YA series for you, you might want to read our review of The Cruel Prince, Book 1.