Vacation Time

I’m going to be taking some time off from work and from blogging to spend time with my family.  I’ll be back on Monday, August 6th.  Expect my Twitter feed to go dark too, since I’m unplugging for the week.

I hope to read some great books and have them to share when I return! 

Photo from

This Week’s Tweets and Pins

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

Best-Ever Teen Novels? Vote For Your Favorites : NPR

Flavorwire » 9 Unintentionally Terrifying Children’s Books – Very funny! #kidlit

Hunger Games Flowchart Helps You Find Your Next Book #yalit

I Hate This Book So Much: A Meditation | Entertainment | #reading

Malinda Lo: 10 LGBTQ Young Adult Novels To Make It Better #yalit

A Nerdy Book Club Confession « Nerdy Book Club #reading

Storyboard: Paolo Bacigalupi on Writing Political Sci-Fi for Young Adults | Underwire | #yalit

Too Edgy for Teens? Not Likely. #yalit

Top Ten Books to Share « Nerdy Book Club #kidlit

Ursula K. Le Guin: Still Battling the Powers That Be | Underwire |

What does YA mean to you? A discussion about definition | Kill Your Darlings #yalit

Review: Monet Paints a Day by Julie Danneberg

monet paints a day

Monet Paints a Day by Julie Danneberg, illustrated by Caitlin Heimerl

Told in the first person by Monet, this book explores his painting process when he was on holiday in Etretat, France.  Children waited for him when he leaves his hotel, wanting to help carry his canvasses to the seaside.  When they reached the strip of sand at the bottom of the cliffs, the canvasses were placed against the cliff.  Monet was unique in painting right in the middle of the landscape rather than sketching and then finishing the painting in his studio.  Because of his unique approach, he had many canvasses in process at the same time.  On this day, he got so involved in painting that he didn’t realize how quickly the tide was coming in.  Everything was taken out by the sea, so he had to begin again on a new day.

Danneberg manages to tell two levels of story here.  There is the day that Monet is painting which is explored in exquisite detail.  Then in small boxes that are offset from the rest of the story, there is historical context offered about how Monet differs from other artists of his time and how he was creating an entirely new style of painting.  The Author’s Note at the end offers even more detail as well as a copy of Monet’s Waves at the Manneporte so that readers can see an example of Monet’s work.

Heimerl has the challenge of doing a picture book based on a famous artist.  In her illustrations she manages to create illustrations that both are their own style and yet pay homage to impressionism.  She achieves this with small touches, daubs of watercolor, here and there, lightening and brightening the illustrations.

A very successful picture book biography of Monet, this will be enjoyed by elementary art teachers and students.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

Review: What to Do If an Elephant Stands on Your Foot by Michelle Robinson

if an elephant stands

What to Do If an Elephant Stands on Your Foot by Michelle Robinson, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

You must stay calm, if an elephant stands on your foot.  The last thing you want to do is startle it…YEEEOOOWWW!  Now you probably want to run away from the elephant, but resist that and don’t run.  After all, running attracts tigers.  Oops.  OK, so now that you have the tiger’s attention you have to be silent.  No sudden noises, like a sneeze.  And so the romp in the jungle continues with the poor character steadily making worse and worse choices, including climbing up a tree and jumping into crocodile infested water.  Finally, thanks to the help of some friendly monkeys, you arrive home safe and sound.  All you need to do is apologize to the elephant, but remember, don’t startle him! 

I absolutely adored this wild ride of a book.  It reads aloud beautifully, though I’d practice a bit before using it with a group because the timing of the jokes is everything here.  Robinson’s writing has a great comedic feel, and the book design maximizes the humor with the page turns.  The pace is wild and almost run away, suiting the subject.  The book is one long running gag, which will delight young readers.

Reynolds’ art adds to the humor.  He manages to take sedate and even friendly animals and with one sneeze or jump turn them alarmingly grumpy.  This creates a zany energy in the art and the book as a whole.

This is a book to keep in your bag for when the kids get restless.  Pull it out with a grin and a flourish.  I’d also keep it in mind for an option when reading to older elementary children, since they will love the humor too.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books for Young Readers.

Review: Grammy Lamby and the Secret Handshake by Kate Klise

grammy lamby

Grammy Lamby and the Secret Handshake by Kate Klise and M. Sarah Klise

Larry wasn’t very excited when his grandmother came to visit.  She invented a secret handshake for the two of them on the very first time she visited.  The three squeezes meant “I love you.”  His grandma also loved to talk and sew, and that’s what she did much of the time she spent at their house.  When they went to church, Grammy Lamby wore a big hat and sang louder than anyone else.  She even had big plans for trips they would take together when Larry was older.  But Larry didn’t want to go anywhere with Grammy Lamby.  The next time Grammy Lamby visited, a storm blew into town and tore a hole in their roof.  Grammy Lamby sprang into action, fixing and hammering.  It was a whole new grandma from Larry’s perspective.  And a whole new hero for him to admire.

The Klise sisters have created a winning picture book here.  The hesitance of a child with a relative their don’t see often is captured very cleverly here.  The way it is approached honors both of the people in the relationship:  Larry is cautious and overwhelmed and Grammy Lamby is friendly and trying very hard to be liked.  The use of an emergency to have the two of them come together works well, allowing Grammy to display her real skills and character.

The illustrations have a warmth to them that is wonderful.  They have small details that invite readers to linger a bit yet are large enough to work with a group. 

A great addition to story times about grandparents, this would also make a good present for any long-distance grandparent to give.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt and Company.

Review: The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith

great cake mystery

The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrations by Iain McIntosh

The author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series has written his first children’s book.  This one too stars Precious Ramotswe and is the story of her very first mystery as a child in Botswana.  When her father tells her a favorite story about when a lion got into their village, he notices that she has several characteristics of a detective: she asks a lot of questions and she can tell when people are telling the truth.  So when food starts disappearing at Precious’ school, she gets involved in solving the mystery.  She is shocked when one of her friends accuses another boy of being the thief because he has sticky fingers, literally.  It makes her even more determined to figure out exactly who is stealing the food. 

Told in very simple prose, sometimes a bit too simple, this story has a certain charm about it.  The book begins in a rather stilted way thanks to the wording, but quickly moves on to a more natural cadence that works much better.  I am pleased to see a mystery set in Africa with a young female protagonist who manages to solve the mystery without any adult help.  Smith captures the differences between societies as well as the special setting of Botswana.

McIntosh’s illustrations are block prints done in a limited color palette of red, black and gray.  They have a quality about them that speaks to the setting clearly.  They have a delicate and yet unfinished quality that is very appealing.

This book for young readers has plenty of mystery, detective work and an appealing heroine.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Seraphina by Rachel Hartman


Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Seraphina has a secret that she can tell no one.  It’s a secret that is marked on her very body, permanently and from birth.  Her mother was a dragon.  Her father had not known her mother’s true identity until she died giving birth to Seraphina.  So Seraphina has lived her life mostly in secret, tutored by her dragon uncle.  But someone as talented as Seraphina is difficult to hide.  Her music draws people to her.  She joins the royal court as a music teacher just when a murder happens that points directly at the dragons.  Seraphina starts investigating things, using her special mental abilities that even she doesn’t fully understand.  That’s how she meets Prince Lucian, who is also captain of the royal guard.  He’s also a person who seeks to solve every mystery he encounters, and what a mystery Seraphina is!  Now decades of carefully constructed peace between the humans and the dragons may be at an end.  The question is where a girl who is half human and half dragon fits into a world at war.

Hartman has created a book for teens that has all of the detailed world building of an adult fantasy novel.  The politics of the society are complex and pivotal to the plot.  The heart of the book is a mystery that is complex with many possible villains.

Her dragons are a delight.  They can change into human form, but never quite understand humans and their emotions.  They are beings that are purely intellectual, carefully structuring their minds to be in balance at all times.  Love is forbidden; music and art is something they cannot create.  They are a wonderful foil to the humans of the story who are awash in teen emotions.

But it is the humans who make this story work.  Seraphina is a heroine who is a mix of human and dragon in many ways.  She is prickly yet feels emotions fiercely.  She’s a study in contrasts.  She wants to be accepted, yet pushes people away.  She wants to perform and yet needs to stay hidden.  She is drawn to the prince and yet has to lie constantly to him.  Prince Lucian too is a complex character who is a worthy pairing with Seraphina.  Their relationship grows and shrinks, changes and matures throughout the book.  It’s organic and slow, unlike the many lightning-bolt love stories we see in teen novels.

This is a book that took me a long time to finish because I never wanted it to end.  Immerse yourself in this tale of dragons, music and mystery.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from library copy.

You can also check out the book trailer:

Review: It’s a Tiger by David LaRochelle

its a tiger

It’s a Tiger by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Jeremy Tankard

The story starts in the jungle filled with vines and trees.  You can look at the monkeys swinging around, but wait!  That’s not a monkey.  It looks like… a tiger! Run!  Whew.  Now we are safe inside a cave.  You’ll have to watch for bats and duck your head.  Wait, some of those shadows look like… a tiger!  Run!  The escapade continues through the jungle with snakes, but then you head on a boat to a deserted island.  Sure you are safe there.  Right?  Roar!

This fast-paced race through the jungle is exactly what squirmy toddlers need at the end of a story time.  The book has a great sense of timing and plenty of action.  The repetition of the tiger appearing over and over again, will have children merrily joining in and shouting along.  This is not a quiet book for contemplative reading, but instead a jolly book that will have children making plenty of noise. 

Tankard’s art is a huge part of the appeal here.  The thick-lined, orange ferocity of the tiger plays against the finer lines and subtler colors of the background.  The little boy who joins you in your trek through the jungle is also drawn in the thicker lines and pops on the page.  There is a feeling of motion and action throughout the book that brings the story even more fully to life.

A great pick for toddler story time, this is one book to have in your pile for when kids get restless.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

Margaret Mahy Dies

What a tragic year it has been for deaths of children’s literature greats. 

Mahy died at age 76 after a short illness.  She was the author of over 200 books ranging from the silliest of picture books to some of the darkest of teen reads.  Her books have been translated into a dozen languages.  From New Zealand, Mahy did not get published until an American editor launched her career. 

When I was in graduate school for Library Science, Mahy’s novel, The Changeover, was one of the first books I read for a children’s literature class.  It was eye-opening for me to read a book as an adult that was written for teens.  I found them just as captivating, wondrous and magical as I had as a teen.  Part of that, I know, is that it was Mahy.

Then I discovered the lighter side of Mahy’s writing with her silly pirates and zany antics.  That she could span such very different ages and subjects with such skill was astounding to me.  Both were risks, some may have seemed too dark and others too silly and wild.  But for me, they were both wonderful and just right.

If you haven’t read any Mahy, I’d encourage you start where I did, with The Changeover.   Make sure to follow it up with one of her silly picture books for dessert.