Review: Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

keeping the castle

Keeping the Castle by Patrice Kindl

Althea has grown up in a castle built by her great-grandfather who was much more about appearances than about functionality.  Now the castle is falling apart and repairs are too expensive for Althea and her mother to bear.  Her stepsisters could give them some of their money, or at least pay to cover their own costs, but instead they live in the castle too, for free.  There is eventual hope when Althea’s small brother grows up and can take charge, but she has to figure out how to get them to survive to that point.  All of her hopes lie in finding a wealthy young man to marry.  However, she lives in Lesser Hoo in Yorkshire, which makes eligible men unlikely and those who have ventured near have been turned off by her sharp tongue.  So when a young, handsome Baron moves in nearby, Althea is ready.  She’ll have to figure out how to pull together outfits that are fashionable but infinitely cheap, how to keep her mouth in check, and how to outmaneuver her stepsisters too.  This delight of a romantic book pays homage to Austen yet is entirely fresh and funny.

Kindl captured my attention immediately with the wry tone of her heroine.  Althea is what makes this book really work.  She is intelligent, slightly modern, resilient, and ultimately logical.  The romantic part of the book also works well, though lovers of Austen will immediately recognize the man who is her real match.

The setting is also a very compelling one with the castle itself playing a major role in the development of the story.  Just the frantic search for enough sturdy chairs to seat visitors and the desperate rummaging for food for them adds so much to the story.  This is not a family of genteel poverty, but one that is on the threshold of ruin.  That added to the need to keep the front in place while participating in a whirlwind of activities make for a book that is vibrant, romantic and great fun to read.

Perfectly timed for the fans of Downton Abbey, this book is the ideal combination of historical fiction and humor, making it a delight of a confection.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

Review: Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It by Gail Carson Levine

forgive me i meant to do it

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems by Gail Carson Levine, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Based on William Carlos Williams’s “This Is Just to Say” poem, these poems borrow the form and the apology but build upon it with a wild array of situations.  In each poem, an apology is offered, but all of them are done conditionally and many are completely insincere.  There is an apology for eating all of the ice cream and replacing it with anchovies.  There is an apology for turning a bully into a fly and having a swatter ready to go.  Then there are many apologies based on fairy tales or songs that children will enjoy seeing from a new and inventive perspective.  This is a book to pick up and read out of order, unless of course you stumble upon one of the apologies the author has included that might make you reconsider that approach! 

I’m always on the look out for funny poems to share with children, since I’ve found that Prelutsky and Silverstein make a great ice breaker when talking with groups.  Even the jaded upper elementary class can be caught off guard by a charmer of a poem, especially one that elicits guffaws and merriment.  I can see these very short poems being shared in groupings as part of a class visit.  Perhaps interspersed with information about the library and its offerings.

The entire work is very funny, though some of the poems work better than others.  The illustrations hearken to Silverstein’s work with the ink drawings done without additional color.  They have a wonderful frenetic energy to them and also a delight at the situations. 

This will be a welcome addition in elementary classrooms that are working with poetry.  It also makes for a great giggly bedtime read.  Appropriate for ages 7-10. 

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: When I Was Small by Sara O’Leary


When I Was Small by Sara O’Leary, illustrated by Julie Morstad

Henry asks his parents what they were like when they were small.  The book starts out normally enough with his mother explaining that she was called Dot because her full name, Dorothea, was too big for her.  But then things get creative!  Dot was so small she wore the same shoes as her doll.  She swam in the birdbath.  She jumped rope with a piece of yarn.  Her bed was a mitten.  Her father built her a doll house, and she lived in it.  At the end of this story from his mother, the two of them agree that one of the reasons that his mother looked forward to growing up was to share stories with a child of her own. 

O’Leary writes with a quiet joy that infuses the entire book.  There is a gentle playfulness throughout and children will immediately know that this is a story being told and not the truth.  Morstad’s illustrations have a delicacy to them that works particularly well with the more tall tale parts of the story.  The illustrations have a sweetness to them that make me think of the old Golden Books.  They are never saccharine thanks to their whimsy.

This is the third in the series about Henry, but the first one that I have read.  The first book in the series won the 2007 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award in Canada, so that one is definitely worth seeking out too.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from pdf received from Simply Read Books.

You can also view the trailer below:

This Week’s Tweets and Pins

Here are the links I shared on my Twitter and Pinterest accounts that you might find interesting:

You can check out the items I’ve shared about libraries and social networking on my other blog, Sites & Soundbytes.

9 Ways to Keep Reading in Summer from Being a Bummer | Lifetime Moms #reading #kidlit

(Almost) Everything I Need to Know About History, I Learned From YA Novels | The Hub #yalit

BBC News – Teachers’ concern over reading for pleasure #reading#kidlit

Bedtime stories: 6 children’s books best read out loud – Father’s Day Guide – #kidlit

The Best Young Adult Novels? You Tell Us : NPR #yalit

Building Up Your Book Muscle – The Book Whisperer

Dystopias for Grown-ups – Library Journal Reviews – what to read after you finish Hunger Games

Flavorwire » 10 Important Life Lessons We Learned from Children’s Books #kidlit

Flavorwire » Incredible Pop-Up Books for Grown Ups

Gossamer Obsessions: The Importance of Being Nice – Book Blogger as Critic not Promoter –

Names & Cultural Identities in Stories of Immigrant Children | kidworldcitizen #kidlit

Non-Traditional Families Book Banning Bonanza « Blogging Censorship #kidlit

Penelope Harper’s top 10 great grandpa books | Children’s books | #kidlit

PW Talks with Gordon Korman #kidlit

Reading Rainbow is Back: Can it Do for the iPad What it Did for TV? #kidlit

The Search for Distinguished by the great KT Horning — The Horn Book #kidlit

squeetus: The self-publishing paradox; or, why I love my editor #writing

Summer Reading Resources A to Z « Imagination Soup | Fun Learning and Play Activities for Kids #reading#kidlit

Teenage Brain: Gateway To A ‘Bright And Dark’ World : NPR #yalit

Teenagers deserve better says Patrick Ness I definitely agree!

Unshelved Interview with Faith Erin Hicks #yalit

Where are the stay-at-home dads in children’s books? – The Globe and Mail

Why it’s OK that some children think Aslan is a giraffe | Books | #kidlit

YA Pride: 2012 LGBT YA Books, April-June | Malinda Lo #yalit

2012 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Awards Finalists

The Canadian Children’s Book Centre (CCBC) has announced the finalists for their seven major children’s book awards.  I will list below the ones that are for English-language titles.  There is an additional prize, Prix TD de littérature canadienne pour l’enfance et la jeunesse.

TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award


The Dragon Turn by Shane Peacock

No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis

Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools around the World by Susan Hughes


Seal Song by Andrea Spalding

Stones for My Father by Trilby Kent


Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award


Cinnamon Baby by Nicola Winstanley, illustrated by Janice Nadeau

Picture a Tree by Barbara Reid

Pussycat, Pussycat, Where Have You Been? by Dan Bar-el, illustrated by Rae Mate


Small Saul by Ashley Spires

Without You by Genevieve Cote


Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction


Beyond Bullets: A Photo Journal of Afghanistan by Rafal Gerszak with Dawn Hunter

Biomimicry: Inventions Inspired by Nature by Dora Lee, illustrated by Margot Thompson

Loon by Susan Vande Griek, illustrated by Karen Reczuch


Off to Class: Incredible and Unusual Schools around the World by Susan Hughes

Scribbling Women: True Tales from Astonishing Lives by Marthe Jocelyn


Geoffrey Bilson Award for Historical Fiction for young People


The Hangman in the Mirror by Kate Cayley

I’ll Be Watching by Pamela Porter

Shot at Dawn: World War I by John Wilson


This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel

The Whole Truth by Kit Pearson


John Spray Mystery Award


The Case of the Missing Deed by Ellen Schwartz

Charlie’s Key by Rob Mills

The Dragon Turn by Shane Peacock


Held by Edeet Ravel

True Blue by Deborah Ellis


Monica Hughes Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy


Dreamline by Nicole Luiken

Hunted by Cheryl Rainfield

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier


Tempestuous by Lesley Livingston

What Happened to Serenity by P.J. Sarah Collins

Review: Bink & Gollie: Two for One by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

bink and gollie two for one

Bink & Gollie: Two for One by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile

Oh how I adore these two characters!  I was thrilled to see Bink and Gollie returning for a second book.  This time the friends head to the state fair.  Bink wants to play Whack a Duck but her aim is not as good as she might think.  She manages to hit the man running the booth with hysterically funny results.  The two girls then head to what Gollie wants to do, which is to enter the talent show.  She assures everyone that she has several talents and Bink continues to tell people that, but it doesn’t quite work out like Gollie had expected.  Finally, the friends head to the fortune teller’s tent where they are told just what they both want to hear most.  The entire book is a laugh-out-loud funny, warm and cozy work that is simply glorious.

I really enjoyed that the different chapters in the book have very different feelings.  The first is so wildly funny that I was chortling out loud to myself and had to share it with others in my family.  The writing throughout the book is smart, clever and funny.  Readers will be able to see the jokes coming, but the writing takes it to a different level.  Above all, these two are friends who stand together and celebrate their differences.

Fucile’s art is a huge part of both the humor and the warmth of the book.  Throughout the vaudeville humor of the first chapter, I was amazed at how much physical humor could be portrayed on a page.  He has his own sense of comic timing that adds so much.

Highly recommended, if you haven’t read Bink & Gollie yet, make sure to try both books.  Fans will adore this second in the series and long for the next one immediately.  This is a modern children’s classic.  Appropriate for ages 4-7.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry


The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry

This steampunk fantasy novel is set in the late 1800s.  Lena lives with her mother and grandmother and on her 18th birthday is given a letter that her father had left for her.  Her father left when she was a tiny child, leaving only one thing behind, Lena’s very long hands and feet.  Her hands are so long that they have an additional joint and she wears special gloves to make them less conspicuous.  The world she lives in is not accepting of “Peculiars” and Lena wonders if her hands and feet mark her as more than a genetic abnormality.  There are rumors her father was a goblin.  Along with the letter, Lena receives a deed to her father’s mine in Scree.  So she sets off on a journey north to Scree but before she can get there, the train she is on is attacked and her savings are stolen.  She met a very nice young man, Jimson on the train, and he mentioned working in a library.  She also met a handsome young marshal, Thomas Saltre, who asks her help in spying on someone who is experimenting upon Peculiars.  In exchange, he will help her find a guide to head to Scree.  Filled with steam powered machines, dubious inventions, and adventure this book asks deep questions that are not easily answered.

A lot of those questions focus upon what makes people different and whether genetics decide your personality.  There is also a strong look at persecution of people who are different, with laws that make them unable to own property and not be seen as really human.  There are even beliefs that people who are Peculiar do not have souls.  It is a fantasy lens look at a society moments before what could become a genocide.  This immense societal pressure adds to the tension throughout the book, and plays a factor in the way the story turns.

The book can be slow at times, though I was enjoying the world building enough that it did not concern me.   I enjoyed lingering in the library with Jimson and Lena, enjoyed unraveling the truth of what was happening.  The characters are intriguing and complex.

With the popularity of steampunk, this book should find an eager audience.  Readers may not expect such a complex society that poses such dark questions, and that will be a welcome surprise.

Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Amulet Books.

Review: Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff

baby bear sees blue

Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff

Baby Bear wakes up next to his mother in the den.  Sunlight peeks into the den, warming him and Baby Bear sees yellow.  At the entrance to the den, the oak tree waves its leaves at him, and he sees green.  The jays in the trees are blue.  The trout in the stream is brown.  The scent of the strawberries leads him to discover red.  The tickle of a butterfly on his fur shows him orange.  The storm clouds are gray, but then they leave behind a rainbow.  Finally, at the end of his day, Baby Bear sees nothing but black.

Wolff has created a lush and rich picture book that truly celebrates colors in very natural way.  All of the elements of color seem unforced and honest.  She embraces cadences that roll off of the tongue, giving this book a wonderful rhythm.  The patterns create a book that will be loved by toddlers who will enjoy exploring colors alongside Baby Bear. 

What makes this book really work are the illustrations that are linoleum block prints painted by hand with watercolor.  This creates a combination of strong black line and foundation and then colors that have light and glow on the page. 

A top pick for color concepts, this book is a work of art that has plenty of toddler appeal.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: I’ll Save You Bobo! by Eileen & Marc Rosenthal

ill save you bobo

I’ll Save You Bobo! by Eileen & Marc Rosenthal

Willy and Bobo return for their second book, following I Must Have Bobo!  Willy is trying to read a book with Bobo, his stuffed monkey, but Earl the cat keeps trying to steal Bobo away.  The rivalry established in the first book continues here as Willy starts to write his own story instead of reading one.  It is all about him and Bobo at first, with them in the jungle with plenty of snakes and living in a tent.  But again, Earl keeps on sneaking in and trying to take Bobo away.  So Willy adds Earl to the story, changing it to one of revenge!  In the end, Earl though is the one who takes a tiny bit of revenge.

Reading the first book is fairly critical here, since it explains the strained relationship between Willy and Earl.  The mood carries from one book to the next seamlessly and makes for great fun. Those new to the series though may not understand what Earl is trying to do.  This is a book that shows a kid who has real feelings, does not get sweeter as the book goes on, and one knows that this is not the end of his rivalry with the cat.  That adds to my enjoyment of the book, since Willy seems so much like a real child, rather than a picture book example of one.

This book also shows the creative process and will get children interested in writing their own picture books whether they have lots of snakes in jungles or not.  It’s a delight of creativity that is anchored well by the illustrations which have a frenzy and vibrancy that matches the story well.

Get this into the hands of fans of the first book, or hand them to children as a pair.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.