Review: Coral Reefs by Jason Chin

coral reefs

Coral Reefs by Jason Chin

Chin follows up the success of Redwoods with this equally fine read.  The nonfiction magical realism continues, this time exploring coral reefs.  A girl enters the New York Public Library and selects this same book from the shelves.  As she turns the pages, coral begins to grow around her on the tables and floor.  She learns new facts about coral reefs when suddenly the room is flooded.  She continues to read, happily floating with the fish and sea turtle of the reef.  The food chain is explored and sharks appear in the water.  Soon she is floating in the city, entirely flooded with the reef growing upon it, almost unrecognizable through the coral, blue water and the creatures.  The book ends with another group of children seeing the girl dripping outside the library, taking the book and reading it with her.  They all swim together into the coral reefs.

As a librarian, I always love books that are set in libraries and that speak, as this one does so clearly, to the power of shared reading and libraries in children’s lives.  Chin mixes nonfiction facts with his magical settings in ways that astonish and engage. 

The facts on each page work with the illustrations, which demonstrate the facts in picture form.  Chin’s art is lovely from the floating delight of the girl to the menacing sharks to the light that plays in the water. 

This is a book that invites you in and teaches you facts and information while you too are happily floating along.  Appropriate for ages 5-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.

Also reviewed by:

Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

girl of fire and thorns

The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

This one has been on my to-read list for awhile, after several blogging pals reviewed it very positively.  Then it was named a nominee for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award and I knew I had to get my hands on it. 

Elisa is a princess, but a rather reluctant one.  Her older sister is the one with the beauty and poise, and luckily also the one destined to be queen.  But Elisa has a destiny of her own, she is the bearer of the Godstone in her navel, a gem that appeared during her naming ceremony as an infant.  She is destined to be a hero, but she can’t see past her own weight and laziness to even glimpse a future where that would be possible.  On Elisa’s sixteenth birthday, she is given in marriage to the king of a nation at war.  Moving away from her family, Elisa discovers that her new husband is going to keep their marriage secret.  Elisa is caught up in the politics and cunning of the kingdom, something she has always avoided.  Now she has to figure out what her future holds.  One thing is sure, it will be a different destiny than she ever expected!

Carson’s debut novel is a stunner.  She writes with a confidence and skill, weaving together what could have been jarring combinations into a harmonious tale.  This is a story that reads as a medieval fantasy, but is set in a desert nation with camels and dunes.  It is a fantasy that is steeped in religion, something you rarely see in fantasy for teens. 

Elisa is a marvel of a character.  She is fat, something unexpected in a princess.  She is lazy, but then displays a quick mind, clever responses, and a knowledge of war and tactics.  She is dark skinned, something that she alone dwells on as it contrasts with her sister.  Yet, and this is important, the men around her are attracted to her despite her size.  Just as with most of the book, the answers are not simple.  It’s a complex world that Carson has built here.

And the world building is exceptional.  She has created a world that is similar enough to our own, but filled with magic.  It is also home to a religion that is fully realized and complicated.  It even has disparate sects that disagree. 

This book was subject to some cover controversy with an original cover that featured a very light-skinned and thin girl.  While the new cover avoids the color of skin entirely, I would have appreciated a cover that embraces a protagonist of color and of size.

Highly recommended, this book deserves its spot in the William Morris Award nominees.  It is one of the best written and most intriguing fantasies for teens this year.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by:

Review: Shhh! by Valeri Gorbachev


Shhh! by Valeri Gorbachev

When his baby brother is sleeping, the older brother is very quiet.  He walks on his tippy-toes and doesn’t make any noise.  Of course, this involves getting even the toys to be quiet.  So he has to tell the clown to stop laughing, the knights to stop battling, the tiger to stop growling, the pilot to stop flying, the train to stop rolling, and the pirates to stop firing their cannons.  Happily, when his baby brother wakes up, he can run around, play with his toys, and make plenty of noise.  Until… baby goes to sleep again.

There is no resentment in this book from the older sibling to his baby brother.  Instead the book embraces the differences between awake and nap time in a playful way.  The older brother sees being kind to his little brother as a way to demonstrate how much he loves him.  While parents are present in the book, this is much more about the self-control of a child and his own willingness to help by being quiet.  There are no lectures from parents or even reminders to be quiet.

Gorbachev’s art is colorful and fine-lined.  He sets a playful tone in the book that works well.  When readers are first shown the toys that have to be quiet, they are presented as if they are fully alive and life-sized.  Once the baby is awake, they are shown in their true forms, as toys. 

A positive book about being an older sibling and having to be quiet.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Philomel Books.

Also reviewed by A Picture Book a Day.

Review: Anton Can Do Magic by Ole Konnecke

anton can do magic

Anton Can Do Magic by Ole Konnecke

Anton has a real magic hat that he wears to do real magic.  He tries to make a tree disappear, but it doesn’t work.  So he decides that a tree is too big for the magic to work on it.  He tries to make the bird in the tree disappear.  His hat falls forward over his eyes, and when he lifts it again the bird is gone!  He believes he has made it disappear, but the reader knows that it flew away instead.  Anton tells Luke that he can make things disappear, but Luke does not believe him.  So Anton does magic to make Luke disappear.  The hat falls forward, Luke walks away, and Anton thinks he has done magic again.  But this time he regrets making Luke disappear.  He tries and tries to bring him back, but instead the bird reappears.  In the end though, Anton just might prove he is magical after all.

Originally from Germany, this picture book does have a feel of a European tale.  There is a great simplicity to the story and the illustrations.  Being in on the joke of what is really happening when Anton thinks he is doing magic, makes this book very enjoyable.   The story is told in a straight-forward way, the words never revealing the truth that the illustrations are showing.  The illustrations too are simple and they are responsible for conveying the reality of the magic.  Done in a limited palette of yellows and oranges, the illustrations have a 60s vibe to them.

A funny, playful picture book that will get audiences giggling and is a great pick for a magical story time.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Gecko Press.

Review: Sea of Dreams by Dennis Nolan

sea of dreams

Sea of Dreams by Dennis Nolan

This wordless book begins with a normal scene of a girl building a sand castle on a beach.  When the sun sets, she reluctantly leaves the castle with its turrets behind.  As the tide comes in and the waves batter the ramparts, a light turns on in one of the sandcastle windows.  Then faces appear as the waves surge again.  A boat heads out to sea, rescuing the stranded people.  It heads into the waves and one of the small people is lost in the sea, tempting large fish to eat him.  Happily, the boy is discovered underwater by some mermaids who rescue him and return him to the boat.  They make it safely to a beach where there’s a cave.  The scene changes to the girl returning to the beach to build a second castle.   Once again, she leaves it behind on the beach at sunset, the waves roll in, and a light turns on.

Nolan has created a captivating story line here that blends real life and magic together seamlessly.  When one starts the book, there is no sense that it will suddenly change into something utterly different.  Part of this is the success of the realistic paintings that illustrate the book.  It seems grounded in reality until that amazing light turns on. 

A wondrous book that entrances and delights, this is a great read to share on a trip to the beach or in any quiet time where there is room to dream.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: A House in the Woods by Inga Moore

house in the woods

A House in the Woods by Inga Moore

One pig had built a den for herself in the woods with another pig next door in a hut.  The two pigs went exploring in the woods and when they returned home, they found a bear and a moose in their homes.  Unfortunately, the spaces were not made for such large animals and both the den and the hut collapsed!  So the four animals talk about what they could do and decide to build a home where they all could live.  They had no idea where to start, so they called in the Beavers who only asked to be paid in peanut-butter sandwiches.  Everyone worked together to build a marvelous house and then worked together to get the sandwiches made for the Beavers.  In the end, they had a cozy warm home just right for the four friends together.

This book is so warm and cozy with an old-fashioned feel.  The story embraces a spirit of friendship and cooperation without ever being didactic about it.  Instead the lessons are woven directly into the story and shown, never told.  The tone of the tale is gentle and cheerful with small touches throughout that bring the story to life.  Here is the paragraph when the four friends are finally asleep in their own home:

Soon the only sounds to be heard were the soft cheeps of sleepy birds roosting in the rafters, the tiny rustling of wood mice in the fallen leaves outside, and, just now and then, the gentle snoring of Bear.

Moore’s art has the same warm, old-fashioned feel as the story.  The animals are individuals with interesting personalities, who each contribute differently to the project.  Through the entire work is a feel of nature and home.

This charming book is a joy to read aloud and will delight listeners.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by:

Top Reads of 2011

Here are my favorite books of the year broken into categories:


11 Experiments That Failed by Jenny Offill

Blackout by John Rocco

Blue Chicken by Deborah Freedman

Brother Sun, Sister Moon by Katherine Paterson

Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow? by Susan A. Shea

Emma Dilemma: Big Sister Poems by Kristine O’Connell George

Grandpa Green by Lane Smith

I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen

King Jack and the Dragon by Peter Bently

Mirror by Jeannie Baker

My Side of the Car by Kate Feiffer

Neville by Norton Juster

No One But You by Douglas Wood

Press Here by Herve Tullet

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

Subway Story by Julia Sarcone-Roach



Around the World by Matt Phelan

Balloons over Broadway by Melissa Sweet

Drawing from Memory by Allen Say

Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell

Queen of the Falls by Chris Van Allsburg

Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature by Joyce Sidman

If You Lived Here: Houses of the World by Giles Laroche



Addie on the Inside by James Howe

The Apothecary by Maile Meloy

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Junonia by Kevin Henkes

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis

Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck

The Summer Before Boys by Nora Raleigh Baskin

The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick



Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin

Amplified by Tara Kelly

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Chime by Franny Billingsley

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Island’s End by Padma Venkatraman

Legend by Marie Lu

Lost and Found by Shaun Tan

Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge

Pregnant Pause by Han Nolan

White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick

Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

Wither by Lauren DeStefano

Christmas in Children’s Books–A Quiz!


The Guardian has a quiz about Christmas in children’s books!  The answers for some are easy, others had me pondering, and still others were utter guesses. 

I managed a 9 out of 10, though I’m not sure how.  My guesses must have paid off!

How will you do?

Hunger Games READ Poster!

Librarians will want to add to their READ poster collections when they see the new Hunger Games poster and bookmarks.  Perfect for teen areas everywhere!