Review: Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher

obsidian mirror

Obsidian Mirror by Catherine Fisher

The author of Incarceron has returned with the start of another series.  This is the story of Jake whose father has disappeared.  Jake knows his father is dead and blames one person, Venn, the idiosyncratic wealthy man who was his father’s best friend and is Jake’s godfather.  So Jake gets himself expelled from his posh Swiss boarding school and sent back to Venn’s home in England.  When he gets there, he learns about the mirror that allows people to travel through time.  He also finds out that his father is not dead, but lost in time.  At Venn’s house, others are arriving.  There is a girl from the future with a tie to the mirror, a man from the past who used to own the mirror before it was stolen from him, and a boy tied to the Faerie World and living long past he should have died.  All of them have purposes for the mirror, but not everyone will succeed in their dreams.

Fisher is a consummate world builder.  Here she has created a decaying but splendid abbey that is located on the border of a vast woods.  It is a lonely and wild place, perfect for experiments with time since it seems to be timeless itself.  Readers are also invited into a faerie world and on journeys through time where honest depictions of the past offer real insight into places like Victorian England.  The mirror is the hub of this complex book, with everyone’s lives revolving around controlling and using it. 

Fisher also excels at creating complex characters and she has several in this book.  Jake himself is not completely likeable except in his devotion to his father.  Everyone has their own personal agendas and reasons for acting.  Because she creates characters who have an opportunity to really show how complex they are, the book does slow at times.  Yet it is this attention to detail and character that makes her books so intriguingly rich.

Get this in the hands of teens who loved Incarceron.  They will enjoy the twists of time travel and revel in the striking characters and vibrant world building.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from ARC received from Dial Books.

Review: Round Is a Tortilla by Roseanne Greenfield Thong

round is a tortilla

Round Is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by John Parra

Explore shapes with two young members of a Mexican-American family.  The book begins with circles as they are seen in nests, bells, and food.  Readers will also get to find squares, rectangles, triangles, ovals, and stars.  Spanish words are sprinkled throughout the book and engagingly explained within the context.  There is also a glossary at the end of the book to help.  This is an engaging look at shapes with a charming Mexican vibe.

Done in rhyming couplets, the book has a strong lilting rhythm and reads aloud easily.  The writing is strong and never suffers from the structure of the rhymes.  Thong invites us into their home where we are made to feel welcome throughout the book.  It is a warmly written book about shapes that has an additional dimension with the Spanish words.

Parra’s illustrations have a wonderful texture to them, often looking like traditional art and aging painted walls.  They add even more warmth and character to this already rich book.

This is an enjoyable and simple look at shapes and Spanish that invites the reader to learn and to try new words.  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Chronicle Books.

This Week’s Tweets and Pins

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


5 Tips For Getting Children Excited About Reading | Edudemic

Abrams Announces Wimpy Kid #8

BBC News – Children should be allowed to get bored, expert says

Creating a Common Language for Cross-Cultural Kid’s Book Collaboration | Publishing Perspectives

"Identifying exactly why a particular book is successful is hard but some of it is about the universality of a theme."

The It-Doesn’t-Matter Suit: Sylvia Plath’s Lovely, Little-Known Vintage Children’s Book | Brain Pickings

Tony Ross: My favourite children’s books – Telegraph


Accidental Discovery by Ursula Le Guin – on one important way print is different than digital | Book View Cafe Blog

Penguin Lifts Library Ebook Purchase Embargo – The Digital Shift


"Do you see why I love teachers and librarians so much?" Post at #nerdybookclub will make your day. …

Gray owl adopts library – The Bozeman Daily Chronicle: Dailyfeatures

Library of Congress digs into 170 billion tweets –

Putting Libraries on the National Stage | District Dispatch

Ten Easy Pieces on the Profession of Librarianship | Peer to Peer Review

Toronto gets its first ever tool library

What could a library do with a gigabit Internet connection? – Boing Boing


Chronicle Books Named Best Children’s Publisher of the Year – GalleyCat

Does Piracy Impact Sales? Not How You Might Think! | American Libraries Magazine


BBC News – Privacy ‘impossible’ with Google Glass warn campaigners

Google’s Google problem | The Economist

Internet Access for All: A New Program Targets Low-Income Students | MindShift

Is Pheed the next big social media "thing"? –

Presefy Lets You Control Presentations With Your Phone, No Software Required | TechCrunch

Thanks Google Keep! EverNote sees uptick in downloads, usage — Tech News and Analysis

Tumblr Now Hosts Over 100 Million Blogs


Ally Condie Lands Deal for Two New Novels – GalleyCat

First Theatrical Poster for Ender’s Game Revealed! |

I wish I had teachers like @yaloveblog in high school. Check out this awesome idea for literacy lockers she had

Kate Winslet joins upcoming young adult film Divergent | Reuters

Neil Gaiman & Marvel Back Together; Bounty Hunter Angela Returns For ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’

What Makes a Good YA Coming-Out Novel? – The Horn Book

Review: The Longest Night by Laurel Snyder

longest night

The Longest Night: A Passover Story by Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Catia Chien

This Passover picture book tells the story of the Exodus from the point of view of a young slave girl.  Readers first get a sense of the harsh environment and difficult lives of the Jewish people: the heat, the hard labor, the slavery.  Then come the plagues, one after another.  Finally there is the Exodus itself, the thrill and fear of fleeing in the darkness.  And finally, the miracle of the sea splitting in two, giving them safe passage away from Egypt. 

Written in rhyme, Snyder has created a book filled with rhythm and a story that moves swiftly along through the different parts of the Exodus.  Her choice of telling the story from the point of view of a child makes the story all the more personal and dramatic. 

Chien’s illustrations are just as dramatic with their deep color palette.  Especially moving are the natural moments, when the little girl finds openness and freedom in the world around her, though she can’t find it personally.  At these moments, the sky is huge and beautiful, but quickly the grit and sand return. 

A powerful and lovely exploration of the Old Testament tale of the Exodus given a fresh and personal aspect.  Appropriate for ages 5-7.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.

Review: Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore

lucky ducklings

Lucky Ducklings by Eva Moore, illustrated by Nancy Carpenter

Based on a true story, this book follows the walk of a mother duck and her small ducklings.  They follow her out of the pond, through the grass of the park, and into town.  They ate a bite from the overflowing garbage can and then headed off the curb and over a storm drain.  But while Mama Duck made it over the grate with no problems, her ducklings fell through one by one.  It could have been a sad ending to the story, but it wasn’t!  The people who saw it happened called for help.  It took firemen and someone with a winch on their truck to save all of the ducklings. 

Moore has created a story that has a real appeal.  It is the story of tiny ducklings that at first seems very sweet, then takes a very dangerous turn.  Throughout, she tells the readers that that could have been the end of the story, but it wasn’t.  Using this device, she creates both drama and also the assurance that thing will be alright in the end.  Her writing has repetition that makes it perfect for very young children.  The environmental message is subtle but profound.

Carpenter’s ducks seem to be drawn with a nod to McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings.  The book feels vintage with the small town coming together to save this small family of ducks.  Carpenter celebrates both the natural setting and also the people themselves.  Her use of separated images that form one larger image to name the little ducklings works particularly well. 

Ideal for a duckling story time and perfect for spring, read this one alongside Make Way for Ducklings.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Orchard Books.

Review: Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci

odd duck

Odd Duck by Cecil Castellucci and Sara Varon

Theodora was a very busy duck.  She exercised every day, she swam laps in the pond (with a teacup on her head), she ran her errands every afternoon, she rode her bike rather than flying, and in the evening she quietly watched the stars.  She had the perfect life of routine and quiet until a strange duck moved in next door.  Chad was not like Theodora.  He was an artist who made sculptures out of found objects, he colored his feathers, and he liked dancing and swimming in a wild fashion.  When fall came and the other ducks flew south, Theodora and Chad were the only two left.  Over the winter, they became fast friends.  But when someone implied that one of them as an “odd duck” the question became which of them they were talking about.

Castellucci beautifully tells the story of a duck who is obviously unique and then another duck who is unique as well.  Readers will at first think that it is about accepting others who are different from you, but the author has something deeper in mind here.  It’s about also accepting that you yourself are the odd duck.  As we all know we are!

Varon’s illustrations have wonderful small touches.  Make sure you check out the titles on her books, since they are good for an additional chuckle.  Her characters are winning and cheery, both so very comfortable in their own skin. 

Fun, buoyant and with plenty of depth, this children’s graphic novel should fly off the shelves just like a normal duck.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

Review: Stardines by Jack Prelutsky


Stardines: Swim High across the Sky and Other Poems by Jack Prelutsky, illustrated by Carin Berger

This poetry book takes the wit of Prelutsky and combines it with equally amazing illustrations.  Prelutsky tells of unusual creatures in his poems here.  He writes of creatures who are a mix of animal and inanimate objects.  For example, there are the Slobsters who are very messy lobsters who love being crude and dirty.  There are Plandas who are pandas that sit around and make elaborate plans but never do anything.  Tattlesnakes are snakes who are nosy and always tattling on others.  This menagerie of incredible creatures will be enjoyed by children who love puns and humor.

Prelutsky excels at creating poetry that both of interest to children but will also make them stretch their vocabulary a bit.  He throws in words like “slovenly,” “pretension” and even “lachrymose.”  Thanks to his rhythm and rhymes, these words slide by almost effortlessly and usually the definition can be figured out in the context.  He also has woven puns and humor into all of the poems, nicely creating creatures that speak more to the human condition than to the animal. 

It is Berger’s art that really makes this book an incredible read.  Thanks to her dioramas that show the creatures in collages and boxes, the book is a true exploration of the intriguing.  She has deftly incorporated pins and labels that make the illustrations look like lab specimens, but without hampering all of the action in the images by pinning down the animals themselves. 

Thrilling illustrations and superb children’s poetry create a poetry book that is wild, funny and a delight to read.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.

Reviewed from copy received from Greenwillow Books.

Review: The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson

highway rat

The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

The creators of The Gruffalo return for an uproarious version of a beloved poem.  Beware, for the Highway Rat is coming and he’s out to steal everyone’s snacks.  He rides along with food dropping out of his saddlebags, accosting poor travelers at sword point, demanding their goodies.  He steals clover from a rabbit who has nothing else, a leaf from some ants, even hay from his own horse.  Eventually though, the Highway Rat meets his match in a juicy-looking duck who directs him into a cave where the echo seems to promise food.  Then the Highway Rat rides no more.

I love a good riff on a traditional poem, and this one is very clever.  Those familiar with The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes will particularly enjoy the play Donaldson makes with its form.  She incorporates familiar phrasing like “And the Highway Rat went riding – riding –riding – riding along the highway.”  Somehow her other words which are quite different from the poem have a similar rhythm and evoke the poem effortlessly.

Scheffler’s illustrations have a wonderful bold quality to them.  The Highway Rat is truly a bad guy and his naughtiness is clearly shown in his actions and his aspect.  His googly-eyed horse is a pleasure, almost always making eye-contact with the reader and sharing the joke of this evil rat riding on his back.  The rich colors of the landscape add a depth to the illustrations that is very welcome.

The tale of an evil highwayman (or rat) makes for a great read.  Add in strong illustrations and the play on a well-known poem, and you have picture book magic.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Arthur A. Levine Books.

Review: Who Put the Cookies in the Cookie Jar? by George Shannon

who put the cookies in the cookie jar

Who Put the Cookies in the Cookie Jar? by George Shannon, illustrated by Julie Paschkis

Lots of hands can take the cookie from the cookie jar, but even more are involved in getting the cookies there in the first place.  There are the hands that mix the dough and put it on the cookie sheet.  Then there are the ones that made the cookie sheet and oven mitts too.  Hands feed and milk the cow that makes the milk. Hands churn the butter.  Hands plant and harvest the wheat.  Hands feed and gather the eggs.  Many hands doing important work, make that cookie arrive in the cookie jar.

This is a great spin on a traditional song.  I’d pair it with the more traditional version in a program to get kids to see it from both sides.  Shannon celebrates all of the hard work that goes into things that we take for granted.  He focuses on their efforts but also on all of us being part of a larger global community that really matters. 

Paschkis’ illustrations have a warm feel to them.  They hearken back to more traditional images yet depict a modern and multicultural world.  Their bright colors really make the book pop and will work well with a large group.

Perfect for a cookie story time, I’d advise having some cookies to share when reading this and other cookie books.  Yum!  Appropriate for ages 2-4.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt & Company.