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Review: Over the River and Through the Wood by Linda Ashman


Over the River and Through the Wood: A Holiday Adventure by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Kim Smith (InfoSoup)

This modern take on the classic holiday song has family members from around the nation traveling to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for the holidays. One family traveling by car comes with 2 dogs, 2 pies and one enormous teddy bear. When their car runs out of gas, they are rescued by a horse and sleigh. The next family, a gay couple with older daughter and baby, travel from a major city via subway and then train. They discover there aren’t any rental cars, but again they are rescued by the same sleigh. Two more families join the pattern, both with diverse family members, and all needing the rescuing sleigh in the end so they can all make it to Grandma’s house by night.

I love the jaunty rhyme here. While it can seem stilted when read silently, once you try to read it aloud it is magically fun and the rhyme works to create a real rhythm to the story. The repetition for each family no matter how they are traveling to Grandma’s house makes for a book that even small children will enjoy. Each meets with a disaster and then is rescued by that same sleigh. Hurray!

The diversity on the page here is especially welcome. Nothing is mentioned in the text, it is the illustrations that bring this large family filled with different types of families together. There is the gay couple, the multiracial family, and one family that may or may not have adopted children. Staying open to interpretation also means that many families will see themselves reflected here.

A great addition to holiday book shelves, this take on a classic song adds a modern sensibility to heading to Grandma’s house. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Sterling Children’s Books.


2016 NCTE Children’s Book Awards

The winners of the National Council of Teachers of English Children’s Book Awards have been announced. Below are the two winners of the awards and there are honorable mentions and recommended books in each category as well.

Charlotte Huck Award for Outstanding Fiction for Children

Stella by Starlight

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper


Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans by Don Brown

Review: Friends for Life by Andrew Norriss

Friends for Life by Andrew Norriss

Friends for Life by Andrew Norriss

Released August 25, 2015.

One day when Francis goes outside to think in the bitter cold, he meets a girl named Jessica who doesn’t seem to feel the chill. He is shocked to find out that Jessica is a ghost and she is just as surprised because Francis is the first person whose been able to see her since she died. Francis doesn’t have any friends and is regularly bullied at school. He loves fashion and design, but keeps it as hidden as he can from those around him. Jessica though is delighted to find that he likes fashion, because she does too. Soon the two lonely teens are fast friends. When Andi moves in down the road, Francis’ mother asks Francis to meet her and talk to her about his school. Francis is very reluctant but then Andi comes over and is also able to see Jessica. A similar thing happens with Rupe a little later. But why can these people see Jessica and no one else? Could it have to do with Jessica’s death?

Norriss creates a modern ghost story here where there is little fright about seeing Jessica and a lot more friendship. The idea of a lonely and bullied teen loving having a ghost for a best friend is wonderfully refreshing. Their friendship evolves naturally as does that of the other teens who can see Jessica. While the book is fast moving, there is plenty of space to allow relationships to change and grow. As time passes and Jessica feels pressure to return to the site of her death earlier, everyone including the reader feels the tension build. The book shifts into a mystery to discover the cause of Jessica’s death in the hopes that it will help her. And yet, that same help may just be what causes her to leave forever. It’s a wonderful plot that has no simple answers.

My only quibble with the book is that the ending gets a little too much about telling and not showing. I would have loved less explanation and more demonstration of what is happening. At the same time, the weighty issues feel like they need real closure and the book does provide that. Bullying is put into its place as the teens discover that if they don’t care what someone says, it really has no impact on them and the bully moves along quickly. The power of friendship to change someone’s outlook is also shown clearly.

This British import is a fast read worthy of being shared and discussed in classes thanks to its engaging solution of friendship to combat bullying. Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

Waking Brain Cells Turns 12!


I’ve been blogging about kids books for 12 years as of today!

I was an early blogger, the strange librarian wandering ALA Exhibit booths and talking about blogging and getting lots of blank looks from publishers. That has certainly changed! And I am happy to see that blogging, particularly blogs that review books, have reached a new level of respectability from publishers and readers alike. We change the conversation at times, bring diversity to the forefront, discuss hard topics, insist on progress being made.

So thank you everyone. Thank you readers for following my blog and reading my reviews and my rants alike. Thank you publishers for the books you send and the respect you show. Thank you librarians for all you do for your communities but mostly for being a voice for reading and literacy always.

I am so proud to have been part of the flourishing blogging community for 12 years. Thank you for including me with such openness and kindness.

Review: My Family Tree and Me

my family tree and me

My Family Tree and Me by Dušan Petričić

A little boy talks about his family starting with his father’s side of the family and his great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother. Then his great-grandfather and great-grandmother. His great-grandfather clearly has genetic ties to his parents, including red hair from his father and the need for glasses from his mother. Then come Pops and Nana, where again Pops shows genetic ties to his parents too. And finally there are the three siblings who all show an intriguing mix of genetics. At the center of the book are all of the family members, including his mother’s side, cousins and more. Then the book moves from his mother to his grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents showing a different genetic line, this time Asian and once again there are characteristics that carry through the generations straight to the boy at the center of the story.

Petričić is a Serbian author and illustrator. This picture book has a distinct European flair that is very appealing. The focus on family and genetics is very clever along with the delight of it being a multicultural child and family. Petričić makes sure to be respectful of both the European and Asian heritage, showing the genetics at play on both sides equally. It is also fascinating to see time pass in reverse directions on each side of the family, one getting more and more modern while the other gets more old-fashioned with each page turn. That twist adds a strong dynamic to the book, showing that genetics can be traced in both directions in a subtle but strong way.

The illustrations are funny and add to the joy of the book with the red hair of one side of the family, the glasses, then the round faces and prominent ears of the other. Readers will enjoy spotting a characteristic and turning pages to see what generation had it first and which side of the family it came from.

Cleverly done, this will be a welcome book to share when doing units on family trees or even when preparing for visits to extended family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Kids Can Press and Netgalley.

2014 in Review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for Waking Brain Cells!

Here’s an excerpt:

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 62,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would take about 3 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.