Chime: Breathtakingly Beautiful


Chime by Franny Billingsley

Released on March 17, 2011.

Briony believes that she is the source of her family’s troubles.  She blames herself for her stepmother’s death and for her twin sister’s brain damage.  Her only solace is the swamp, where she can see and speak with the Old Ones.  But she can tell no one about her gift because it means that she is a witch, and witches in her village are hanged.  Everything changes when funny, gallant Eldric comes to live with them.  He is golden, lion-like and best of all, he appreciates Briony for just being herself.  However, Briony is filled with guilt and secrets that may be the death of her.  Unknown to her though, there are further secrets that need to be revealed, to everyone.

The writing here is so lush, so inventive, so layered that its language creates a unique world all on its own.  Billingsley uses unique metaphors that are arrestingly descriptive.  In fact, the writing is so lovely that my book is marked with many small bookmarks for amazing passages.  Wonderfully, the character of Briony also plays with language and words, using them as a game, a tool and a weapon.  It is this layering of imagery and wordplay that makes the reading of the book such a special one.

Right from the beginning, readers will know that something is amiss with Briony’s version of the events.  One wonders if the Old Ones are actually real, emerges confused by the relationship of the stepmother with her stepdaughters, examines the events of the library fire, and tries to follow the breadcrumb trail of details to figure out this puzzle of a book.  Briony is a great example of an unreliable narrator, leading readers through past events and present events with her own personal lens.  Delightfully, readers will struggle to remove the vividness of Briony’s perspective and view the world without it. 

Highly recommended, this is a book that mature teen readers will enjoy thanks to its blend of fantasy, romance and mystery.  My hope is that we see it winning some awards when award season rolls around.  It is definitely a winner of a read for me.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

Except If: A Puzzle of a Book


Except If by Jim Averbeck

Follow this twisting, turning puzzle of a book that has you thinking one thing and then transforming it into another.  It all starts with an egg that is cracking open.  It will become a bird “except if” it becomes a baby snake.  That snake will slither on the floor “except if” it is actually a lizard.  The lizard is actually a dinosaur, which is actually a fossil, which shelters a nest, where a familiar blue egg is resting.  What will be in the egg this time?

This book is pure fun.  The reader puts themselves into the author’s hands, unable to predict where this book will take them.  The fossil piece was one that I was happily surprised by, not expecting the book to head in that direction.  Averbeck’s use of spare language to great effect makes this a book that will read aloud well.  Its straightforward text is the perfect foil to the twists of the story line.

Averbeck’s illustrations are bright and bold.  The thick black lines and flat color evoke children’s coloring books, giving it immense child appeal.

Add this to any story time on dinosaurs or as the ideal ending book for any general story time.  It’s sure to be requested again and again.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Also reviewed by:

Chicks Run Wild: A Silly Bedtime Book


Chicks Run Wild by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen, illustrated by Ward Jenkins

Mama Hen tucks each of her five little chicks into bed with fluffed up pillows and kisses.   But when she leaves the room, the chicks run wild!  They jump, play, dance.  Even though they try to hide what they are doing from their mama, she figures it out.  Again, she tries to tuck them into bed, but again they run wild when she leaves.  Finally, she catches them in a wild pillow fight and that is when her response surprises the chicks.  She offers to play with them!  Now all of them go wild with dancing.  The chicks get tired and beg to return to bed, so now is mama’s turn to continue the wild evening in her own way.

Bardhan has written the book in a rollicking rhyme that is ideal for reading aloud.  At times the rhythm of the verse can be clunky and the rhymes may be a stretch, but the attitude of the book more than makes up for these small issues.   Her ultimately flexible parenting model in the book reminds all of us that sometimes rules are meant to be bent and broken. 

Jenkins’ illustrations are large and vibrant.  They will work well with groups of children who will also enjoy their frenetic energy.  The illustrations, done in pencil and painted digitally, have a great modern and cartoon feel that will appeal to young readers. 

This book will wake up bedtime stories or it can be used to enliven spring story times.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

Also reviewed by:

Battle of the Kids’ Books


School Library Journal is once again running their very fun competition: Battle of the Kids’ Books.  It pits 16 of the very best books for children and teens from 2010 against one another.  The judges are some of the top names in children’s books. 

You can check out all the details at their website

Right now, you can participate in The Undead Poll where you can vote to bring one previously eliminated book back into the competition.  And man, there are some great books waiting for you to rescue them! 

Round One begins on March 14th.  Enjoy!

Bedtime Monster


Bedtime Monster by Heather Ayris Burnell, illustrated by Bonnie Adamson

When Paul was told that it’s time to go to bed, he is too busy playing to hear it.  When Mom reminded him again that it’s time for bed, he grumbled, then screeched.  And then?  Then a strange thing happened and Paul turned into a monster, complete with scaly tail and sharp claws.  Paul acted like a monster too, banging and crashing around the house.  His parents knew just what to do.  They scooped him up, sang him a lullaby, and slowly Paul returned to being a boy and went to bed.  At the end of the book, Paul’s father admits that he too was once a little monster, and readers will delight in spotting his monster tail as he stands in the doorway. 

Burnell’s text is simple and straight-forward.  She keeps the text brief enough to be used with very small children at bedtime.  Adamson’s watercolor and ink illustrations are very successful with their textured background that adds depth and their bright colors.  She captures the transformation into a monster with a sweetness and non-scary approach. 

Thanks to the gentle humor of the text and images, children will understand that they can sometimes be monsters too.  The reactions of the parents is lovely and patient, something that is also great to see in a picture book.

Yes, there are many bedtime books to choose from, but this one’s quiet humor and lovely illustrations should get it added to the bedtime pile.  It’s very nice for those children who might turn a little green at bedtime themselves.

Reviewed from ARC received from Raven Tree Press.

Andre Norton Award Nominees Announced

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) have announced the nominees for the 2010 Nebula Awards.  The award winners will be announced on May 21, 2011.  The awards include the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy.  Here are the nominees for best novel and for best YA:




Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis

Echo by Jack McDevitt

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by NK Jemisin


The Native Star by MK Hobson

Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor


Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy


Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (my review)

A Conspiracy of Kings by Megan Whalen Turner

Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch


Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (my review)

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (my review)

White Cat by Holly Black (my review)

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Scars Is Being Challenged!

Sigh.  It always seems to happen to the best of the teen books.  The ones that really reach out to the teen experience, the ones that explore darkness, the ones that carry truth.

So it should come as no surprise that Scars by Cheryl Rainfield has joined the ranks of other incredible teen books being challenged.

What does come as a surprise is that it’s happening in a Public Library rather than a School Library.  At the same time, we must realize that a challenge does not mean removal.  It means that someone wants it removed and that the library must consider the challenge seriously, listen to the complaint, and then decide if it is in the right place in the library or should be moved.

With Scars as with other teen titles there is much to frighten overly-protective parents.  But that does not mean that it is not beautiful, powerful and exactly what teens should be reading. 

I encourage people to contact Boone County Public Library and make sure they know that there are people expecting them to do what is right for teens in their community.  As a librarian, I know that it would give me strength and energy to have people stand with me in defense of a book.  But hey, I’m from Wisconsin where we are definitely finding our power in action and community.

Mudkin: Muddy, Lively and Joyous


Mudkin by Stephen Gammell

A young girl heads outside after it stops raining to play, pretending to be a queen.  Suddenly, some mud turns into Mudkin, a jolly muddy creature, who asks the girl to be his queen.  Mudkin speaks in muddy phrases, splotches instead of letters, but happily the girl interprets for us.  Mudkin creates a robe and crown from mud for the new queen.  He also makes a carriage that carries the queen to the muddy castle on the hill.  From the parapet, she sees the large number of mudkins that she will be reigning over and pledges to rule forever.  Then the rain begins again and the mud dreams are washed away.

Gammell uses his signature style here to great effect with the swirls of color as shadow and the flying sprays of mud that follow every gesture.  Mudkin is a very friendly creature of warm brown, who smiles and drips.  Gammell has created a brown that celebrates the colors within it, turning to yellows, reds and oranges too. 

The book has very few words, most of them in the conversations between the girl and Mudkin.  Mudkin speaks a marvelous way, in smudges that almost are letters, but not quite.  It brings the pleasure of imagination and play into the text as well as the illustrations. 

A book sure to encourage children to head out in the rain, play in the mud, imagine, dream, and come back in resembling Mudkin! 

Reviewed from digital copy received from Carolrhoda Books via NetGalley.

Also reviewed by There’s a Book.

You can also check out the Making of Mudkin video to see watercolor magic:

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Emily Gravett Slideshow


The Guardian has a fabulous slideshow of some of award-winning illustrator Emily Gravett’s artwork.  Her illustrations are always filled with a warm humor no matter what the subject.  From multiplying rabbits to mouse-ravaged pages to a fear of wolves, her books are all gems to be enjoyed and shared.  Enjoy the slideshow!

For more Gravett art, you can also check out a previous slideshow of her work from 2008.

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