INVICTUS by Ryan Graudin: A YA Stand-Alone

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.


ONE OF US IS LYING by Karen McManus: YA Thriller

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.

DANCE by Matthew Van Fleet: Wonderful New Book for Toddlers

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!

African American Children’s Illustrated Literature: Recommendation by Tom Romano

February 26, 2018

African American Children’s Illustrated Literature:  A Recommendation by Guest Blogger Tom Romano

Stunned. That word describes my reaction to the exhibit at Miami University’s Art Museum titled “Telling a People’s Story: African American Children’s Illustrated Literature.” Museum hours are Tuesday – Friday 10:00-5:00, Saturday Noon-5:00. The exhibit runs until June 30.

You’ll be edified to learn how much quality children’s picture books are out there on so many topics of the African American experience. The exhibition is joyous, devastating, instructive, and triumphant. You’ll see the indelible moment when Rosa Parks was ordered off the bus.

You’ll see the cover illustration of a story you may not know. I didn’t. A book about an African American man who was a double agent for George Washington during the Revolutionary War. You’ll see a water color of Jackie Robinson stealing home.

I said that part of the exhibition was devastating. There was picture, part realistic, part surreal—an aerial view through the upper decks of a slave ship to its hold where newly kidnapped Africans were crammed for the middle passage. The surreal, haunting part was the just discernible background.

One of my favorite paintings was of Joe Louis in the ring after a bout, his hand raised in victory. I showed a number of the illustrations from the exhibit to my undergraduates. None knew Joe Louis. One student thought that Louis was Muhammad Ali. So I got to give a brief history lesson of Joe Louis knocking out German boxer Max Schmeling in the first round of their 1938 fight to retain his heavyweight crown. All citizens of our country rallied around the victory. Joe Louis had put the lie to Hitler’s vision of white supremacy.

I thank Jason E. Shaiman, Miami Art Museum curator of exhibitions. I thank Dr. Brenda Dales of the Teacher Education Department who provided her expertise in children’s literature to this exhibition committee. I hope you have the opportunity to visit this stunning exhibition.

Snow White and Rose Red: A Flight

February 17, 2018

After reading ( and loving) the new picture book Snow and Rose by by Emily Winfield Martin, we were drawn to revisiting the tale to see if there are picture book and YA authors who share our obsession.  And yes!  There are easily enough books across the readers’ ages to create a book flight. I’ve chosen my favorites for this blog.

I was thrilled to find images from the picture book my sister and I pored over as kids (Ruth here) and chose that picture to illustrate this blog.  Brought back so many memories!  In my recollection, this illustration is from a Little Golden Book, but I also remember reading about these sisters in The Blue Fairy Book, which includes a translation of the Brothers Grimm tale by Andrew Lang (1899).

I encourage you to check that story out as a starting place.  Then, dig into the luscious pictures books and retellings across the ages.  And let us know if we’ve missed a favorite of yours.

Primary Age Picture Books:

Rose Red and Snow White by Ruth Sanderson

My favorite retellings are usually illustrated with full-color oil paintings, and this version of Snow White and Rose Red is a wonderful example. The text adheres to the original Grimm version:  the two very different sisters live in a cottage in the woods with their mother, a cozy but simple life.  One night, a huge shaggy bear knocks on their door and asks to be let in to warm himself. Though they are initially frightened by his gruffness, they soon befriend him and look forward to his nightly visits. They are sad to see him leave in the spring, and take to heart his warnings about a little man coming their way.  Fairy tale adventure ensues (no spoilers here, just the bare bones of the story), including treachery, love, and magic.  I felt transported by the magical retelling and the incredible and lush illustrations.  A terrific read-aloud to start your Flight adventure with your family.


Snow White and Rose Red by Barbara Cooney

The same Brothers Grimm tale is told here, but the illustrations are classic Barbara Cooney. The Caldecott award-winning illustrator comes through with her characteristic humor and charm.  Readers will appreciate the chance to compare and contrast the different styles and interpretations.  Both illustrated picture books are superb.


Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia Wrede

If you like retellings set in different historical times, this romantic illustrated tale is for you. Blanche and Rosamund live with their mother, the Widow Arden, in the village of Mortals during the reign of Elizabeth I. The daughters help their mother gathering the herbs she sells to support them, sometimes crossing over into the Land of the Faerie.  Magic, romance, and medieval England are all evoked in both the language of the text and the captivating illustrations.


Teen and Young Adult:

The Shadow of the Bear:  A Fairy Tale Retold by Regina Doman

Definitely a retelling, but securely grounded in the original Grimm tale.  Two sisters, Blanche and Rose, move to New York City with their widowed mother and attend a contemporary (and quite realistic) high school.  Bear is the nickname of a young man who befriends the girls and visits them at their apartment through a long winter. Rather than give away the plot, I’ll just say that it does follow the story you have come to know in a very contemporary world.  I liked the writing style and cared about the characters.  One warning is that the book is steeped in Catholic faith.  It is never preachy, though, and I found the belief system to be woven through the story as part of the characters’ philosophy; it wasn’t intrusive.  I’d give it a try!



LOVE by Matt de la Peña, Illustrated by Loren Long

February 10, 2018

Love by Matt de la Peña, Illustrated by Loren Long

A complex and moving picture book for young children–and for everyone. I urge you all to read Matt de la Peña’s interview :  Why We Shouldn’t Shield Children from Darkness and Kate di Camillo’s response:  Why Children’s Books Should Be a Little Sad

Children long for realism as well as confirmation that they are loved.  This new poetic book by Matt de la Peña is rich in both.  I can vouch for the fact that the book speaks honestly to readers and audiences, and that it tugs at your heart strings.  Author and illustrator stress the power of love, even in the darkest times, even in the hard ups and downs that are part of our lives. My favorite line might just be: “A slice of burned toast that tastes like love.” The accompanying illustration is spot on.  This wonderful book reminds us that love is everywhere even in places we might not have bothered to look.


February 3, 2018

I’m Just No Good at Rhyming and Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Adults by Chris Harris, illustrated by Lane Smith

If you’ve been wishing there were a poetry collection for today’s kids that rivals the fun and joy in language that Shel Silverstein brought to generations of children, we have a recommendation for you.  In reviews, you’ll see this comparison to Silverstein is not original, but when you read the poems, we feel confident Shel will leap to your mind as well.  For me, though (Ruth here), I must say I actually prefer Harris.  I love the wit as well as slapstick, the clever wordplay, and the downright literate silliness. Here’s one of the shortest:  “Two Roads/Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–/I took the one less traveled by/Since then I’ve been completely lost./Thanks for nothing, Robert Frost!”

You can see why B.J.Novak loves the book when you read “Hey, Kids! Get Your Parents to Read You This Poem!”  Check out the first stanza:

I’m your parent, and I’m so dumb,/ I bite my tongue and I suck my thumb!/ I try to give my fist a kiss,/ But miss, and hit my nose–like this!

I keep finding examples I want to share with you, gentle reader, but I think I’ll just say loud and clear:  You and your kids will love this collection.  Check it out!