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dead i know

The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner

Aaron has just gotten a job at a funeral home with a man who is happy to give him all sorts of opportunities like a new suit, help with getting a driver’s license, and even invites him to eat meals with his family. But Aaron has too much to hide to trust his new boss. Mam is slipping deeper and deeper into dementia, often forgetting who Aaron is. The two of them live together in a camper where their neighbors are violent. Aaron also has a recurring nightmare that happens every time he falls asleep, so he tries not to sleep. When he inevitably does, he sleepwalks. As Aaron finds stability in his job with death, his tenuous control of his life starts to fall apart. The question is when Aaron will be able to face the truth of his past and whether it will be before it destroys him entirely.

Brilliant. This winner of the 2012 Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year for Older Readers is an amazing read. Gardner creates a tense mystery yes, one that keeps the pages turning. At the same time though, the book is immensely poignant as a young man learns to trust others, figures out that sometimes people just do good for others for no other reason, and starts to trust himself too. It is a story of a person realizing that they are good at something, seeing a future where there was none, and finally being able to see their past clearly, dealing with the things they buried long ago.

Aaron is an incredible hero at least in part because he is so very human. From his lack of speech to the depth of his thoughts, he is trapped in his own head much of the time. As he works with the death around him, handling dead bodies, attending funerals, and putting together caskets, he finds that the dead are not the problem. It is the emotions of the living that are too difficult for him to handle, and that includes his own.  The secondary characters are equally well drawn, with no one as a caricature, even the police officers.

A beautiful book, one that is tragic and hopeful all at once, that combines death and life into one amazing read. Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

blown away

Blown Away by Rob Biddulph

Penguin Blue has a brand new kite but when he flies it, it lifts him right off the ice and up into the air. Two other penguins try to help and get swept along too. Wilbur the harp seal tries to catch them and joins the group flying along. Blue calls out for help from a polar bear and then Clive is riding along too, his boat and all. They are finally dropped on a lush warm jungle isle where they all agree it is way too hot. Blue has a great solution though, it will just take Clive’s boat, leaves and vines and one good gust of wind that is provided by the elephants on the island. Soon the group are back in their icy home, but there is one stowaway from the island who now needs to figure out how to get back to the warmth of the jungle.

This romp of a picture book is filled with a positive feel throughout. Each new challenge is playfully presented and merrily dealt with through clever solutions. The text rhymes and creates a jaunty cheer that makes this book great fun to share aloud. The rhyming story is written very strongly with a great story arc that solidly supports the humor. This is a book that is immensely satisfying to read.

The design of the book is stellar with playful word design and placement that enhances the strong illustrations. The book is beautifully illustrated with images filled with strong graphic elements, deep colors and also small playful touches. Children will enjoy lingering over the illustrations and spotting the penguins waiting for the bus on an ice floe and the bear losing his map immediately. The combination of strong vivid illustrations and small details make for a book that has its own unique vibe.

A great read-aloud for any penguin story time, this picture book will be enjoyed by preschoolers looking for a complete and playful story. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from HarperCollins.

if you plant a seed

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

Award-winning Nelson tells a story about the power of sharing in this simple and striking picture book. The story begins with a rabbit and a mouse planting a tomato seed, a carrot seed and a cabbage seed in their garden. Then the two wait through all kinds of weather for the seeds to sprout and grow. Until finally, they have three lovely plants and are able to feast on their bounty. Then the birds arrive and silently ask for the rabbit and mouse to share. But no sharing happens and instead there is a struggle and the plants are destroyed. One small red tomato survives and the mouse offers it to the birds. The birds in turn repay that kindness with seeds of their own which then sprout into a much larger and more diverse garden for them all to enjoy, along with even more animals.

Nelson’s writing here is simple but also to the point. He shows young readers what is happening in the story. Using the symbolism of the garden throughout, he explains the importance of sowing the seeds of kindness rather than selfishness and finally how beautiful it is in the end when you do that. There is little subtlety here and the symbolism is beautifully integrated into the story as a whole.

As always, Nelson’s illustrations are pure delight. His animals shine on the page, showing emotions clearly and beautifully both in their eyes and the positions of ears and tails. Other details bring the entire scene to life. Perhaps my favorite page is the birds silently watching the rabbit and mouse feast on the produce. It’s funny and yet the tension is clear too. The entire book is filled with small lovely moments like this told in images rather than words.

Community, sharing and kindness come together in this splendidly illustrated picture book that is sure to be enjoyed along with other spring gardening books. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

lunch witch

The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke

What is a witch to do when no one believes in magic anymore? She has her family’s potion recipes and cauldron, but that’s about it. Then she realizes that there is one perfect job for someone who creates horrible brews – being a lunch lady! So Grunhilda becomes a lunch lady, one who scares all of the children. But Madison isn’t scared of Grunhilda despite the fact that she is the one person who knows that she is not what she seems. Madison has enough knowledge to blackmail the witch, but that’s a dangerous course even when the witch wants to help you. Grunhilda finds a kinship with Madison, but her horrible ancestors are maddened to find their magic being used for good, so they step in and cause all sorts of trouble for both Madison and Grunhilda.

Lucke’s story is a delightful mix of horrible potions, bats that don’t listen, nasty dead ancestors with too many opinions, and amazingly also two people who may just become friends through it all. Lucke creates a story around Grunhilde that offers her back story and makes her transformation to an almost-good witch believable and organic. Madison too has her own story, one that also makes the story work well and makes her own role and connection ring true.

The art of this graphic novel is gorgeously strange and wild. Each chapter leads in with a differently stained page, from oily splotches to actual tomatoes. The pages too are dark and stained, as if Grunhilda herself had been using the book in her kitchen. Against that the white of aprons and speech bubbles pops. Other subtler colors are also used and create a subtle effect against the dark page.

A funny and heartfelt story of unusual friendships created during the most unusual of times. Appropriate for ages 7-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

question of miracles

The Question of Miracles by Elana K. Arnold

Iris and her family have just moved to Corvallis, Oregon where Iris longs for sunshine and warm weather but is constantly faced with falling rain. Iris is struggling with the death of her best friend and has very little interest in making new friends or exploring her new town. Iris meets Boris and the two slowly become friends despite the fact that Boris is a messy eater, breaths through his mouth all the time, and wants Iris to play Magic all the time. But Boris is also fascinating to Iris because his birth could have been a real miracle that the Vatican is investigating. Iris wants to know how some people get miracles and others don’t. And what’s with the haunting presence she feels in the cupboard under the stairs where her best friend’s tennis racket rests? Is it possible that there is another miracle about to happen and Iris will be able to contact her friend?

Arnold does a simply beautiful job of writing this novel. Her crafting of Iris’ world and family is done with a gentleness and detail that is inspired. And through it all, readers will feel the chill of the constantly falling rain, the loneliness of the tennis racket under the stairs, and the sorrow that leads Iris to fall asleep early often. Arnold also shows in imagery over and over again the impermanence of things. From snow angels that are stepped on to eggs that don’t hatch, she crafts moments of fragility that show the uncertainty of life.

At the same time, she uses intense moments of comfort and being together with others that are warming and stand brightly against the cold wet weather that Iris finds herself trapped in. Those moments show such hope for Iris in a way that is tangible and realistic. Arnold also allows readers to see Oregon through Iris’ eyes for the most part. While there are these moments of light and warmth, snacks and hot chocolate, readers will start to see the beauty of Oregon and the wonder of the rain only when Iris herself starts to lift out of grief. The entire process is done over time and very realistically.

Beautiful writing that is poetic and filled with imagery yet easy to read and understand, this book will speak to fans of Kevin Henkes. Appropriate for ages 9-12

Reviewed from library copy.

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr accounts this week that I think are cool:

Fiction Picture Books for STEM Girls (Via NaturallyEducational)

CHILDREN’S BOOKS

The Bay Area Reporter Online | Authors praise rise in LGBT-themed kids’ books http://buff.ly/1DrGqTG #kidlit #lgbt #weneeddiversebooks

Best children’s books to celebrate diversity http://buff.ly/1EYZS5d #weneeddiversebooks #kidlit

Cece Bell is a literary superhero http://buff.ly/1EUNuDf #kidlit

Chris Loker: Picture Books Across the Ages | On Our Minds http://buff.ly/1OEfJy8 #kidlit

David Cadji Newby’s top 10 quests in children’s books http://buff.ly/1DrD03j #kidlit

Fall 2015 Children’s Sneak Previews http://buff.ly/1OQdM1q #kidlit #yalit

Great books that inspire a love of reading in kids — recommended by kids http://buff.ly/1anE37T #reading #kidlit

How easy is it to write a definitive guide to children’s literature in the age of the internet? http://buff.ly/1OQaU4W #kidlit

The Rite of Spring: Top Ten Books for the Season by Jill Bryan http://buff.ly/1EUMOOe #kidlit

RT Bologna 2015: Photos from the Fair http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/childrens/childrens-industry-news/article/66075-bologna-2015-photos-from-the-fair.html … via @publisherswkly

RT The dialog between me and @roofbeam (author of MOSQUITOLAND) continues: …http://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2015/03/open-letter-to-david-arnold-author-of.html … @diversebooks @kurtisscaletta Pls RT.

Top 10 twins in children’s books http://buff.ly/1Nm2eQ8 #kidlit

"When I'm really into a novel, I'm seeing the world differently at that time. Not just for the hour or so in the day when I get to read. I'm actually walking around in a bit of a haze, spellbound by the book and looking at everything through a different prism."-Colin Firth

LIBRARIES

Libraries are special places in our communities http://buff.ly/1NyCkuq #libraries

Q and A: Shedding light on the library of the future http://buff.ly/1xyy6Pu #libraries

Renderings Reveal the Brand Spanking New MLK Library http://buff.ly/1ELrP5M #libraries

Swiss Army Librarian » Introducing Intergenerational Library Shelving :: Brian Herzog http://buff.ly/1Du4JPA #libraries

WI Libraries: ILEAD USA-Wisconsin Update http://buff.ly/1I1yYjp – How I spent last week. ILEAD Wisconsin Rocks! #libraries

TECHNOLOGY

Making Room for Making http://buff.ly/1a6GH1y #make

One in five American adults uses the internet only on smartphones http://buff.ly/1EFhus5 #technology #mobile #internet

YA LIT

Playtime Isn’t Just for Preschoolers—Teenagers Need It, Too http://buff.ly/1CmcKnA

Reading outside of school is very important for kids http://buff.ly/1aeZRT8 #reading #tweens

Top-Notch YA Novels with Male Protagonists │ JLG’s Booktalks to Go http://buff.ly/1NAAV6F #yalit

#VeryRealisticYA Shows Youth Life Outside Of Carefully Constructed Teen Narratives http://buff.ly/1ExA6tL #yalit

hop hop bunny on my beach

Hop, Hop Bunny by Lynn Seresin

On My Beach by Sara Gillingham and Lorena Siminovich

Two charmers from Chronicle Books have playful elements. The bunny book has a rabbit element on a string that hops through various holes in the pages and explores his environment. Introducing colors along with this interactive piece makes for a book that will keep the wiggliest toddlers interested. The crab book has a finger puppet at its center, and offers information on the life and habitat of a little crab. With limited text, the book moves quickly and the toy at its center adds to the appeal. Both books are parts of larger series.

i am the wolf and here i come

I Am the Wolf…and Here I Come! by Benedicte Guettier

The wolf puts on his clothes piece by piece, from his underwear all the way to a big coat. Toddlers will enjoy the steady progression of the clothes being added and will delight in the final page and its sudden change of tone! This is a great pick to read aloud to a small group of children and wait for the delighted squeals at the end.

rhymoceros

Rhymoceros by Janik Coat

Following her Hippopposites, this new board book introduces a new character, a blue rhino. He shows pairs of rhyming words visually. His situation changes over and over again, coloring him different colors, raining on him, making him inky, blurry and furry. With humor and tactile elements, this board book will be popular with parents and toddlers alike.

BBC Culture did a survey of critics from around the world about what their favorite children’s book for under ten-year-olds is. The list started at over 150 titles, but was trimmed down to a top 21. Here are the books in order:

Charlotte's Web The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (The Chronicles of Narnia, #1)

1. Charlotte’s Web by EB White

2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis

3. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

6. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

7. Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne

8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

9. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

10. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

11. The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder

12. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

13. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler by EL Koenigsburg

14. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

15. His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman

16. Matilda by Roald Dahl

17. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

18. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

19. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

20. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

21. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

 

Wow, the list certainly skews white and either American or British. I can think of many titles I would love to have seen there, and some that I would remove immediately, like #20.  Ugh.

tapper twins go to war

The Tapper Twins Go to War by Geoff Rodkey

Released April 7, 2015.

When siblings go to war, they both end up hurt especially if they happen to be twins! Claudia and Reese are very different from one another, but they are also alike. They both love toaster pastries and that is how the entire war began, when one twin accused the other of stealing their pastry. That was bad enough, but then it escalated quickly at their school cafeteria where Claudia was accused of being the one who farted and got the nickname “Princess Farts-A-Lot.” That led to Claudia trying to get Reese to be called stinky by the others and she put a dead fish in his backpack, perhaps a bit too well hidden. From there though, the war gets really ugly and turns virtual with social media and video games as the battlefields. A modern look at being a sibling and having one enormous fight, online and off.

Rodkey has created a very smart book that captures the digital age and being a tween. The book is in a unique format where Claudia is documenting what had happened during the war with Reese and Reese regularly interjecting his own point of view. The book has photographs, cartoons, and texts between different family members too. The result is a book perfect for reluctant readers who will enjoy the short blocks of text broken regularly with images.

They will also enjoy the humor of the book, including a very nicely done interplay between the two siblings. Their anger at one another and their relationship really works in the book and is life like. The escalating war between the twins is made possible by parents who are tired, inattentive and also lifelike. Their exchanges with one another are equally humorous as the twins’ exchanges are.

Funny and very friendly, this is a book that middle school readers will love. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

The shortlist for the 2015 Independent Book Shop Week book awards has been announced. 24 books are on the shortlist for this UK award with 12 in the children’s book category and 12 in picture books. Winners will be announced on June 20th. Here are the shortlisted titles:

CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARD

The 13-Storey Treehouse Apple and Rain

The 13-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, illustrated by Terry Denton

Apple and Rain by Sarah Crossan

The Apple Tart of Hope The Farm Beneath the Water (The Secret Hen House Theatre, #2)

The Apple Tart of Hope by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald

The Farm beneath the Water by Helen Peters

Five Children on the Western Front An Island of Our Own

Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

An Island of Our Own by Sally Nicholls

Itchcraft (Itch, #3) The Lie Tree

Itchcraft by Simon Mayo

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

Opal Plumstead The Parent Agency

Opal Plumstead by Jacqueline Wilson

The Parent Agency by David Baddiel

Running Girl A Song for Ella Grey

Running Girl by Simon Mason

A Song for Ella Grey by David Almond

 

CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOK AWARD

Bears Don't Read! Blown Away

Bears Don’t Read by Emma Chichester Clark

Blown Away by Rob Biddulph

 Monsters Love Underpants

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T. Smith

Monsters Love Underpants by Claire Freedman and Ben Cort

The Mouse Who Ate the Moon Never Tickle a Tiger

The Mouse Who Ate the Moon by Petr Horacek

Never Tickle a Tiger by Pamela Butchart and Marc Boutavant

Shh! We Have a Plan 

Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton

The Something by Rebecca Cobb

 A Walk in Paris

Use Your Imagination by Nicola O’Byrne

A Walk in Paris by Salvatore Rubbino

Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar 19324343

Wanted! Ralfy Rabbit, Book Burglar by Emily Mackenzie

The Way to the Zoo by John Burningham

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