Review: Becoming Babe Ruth by Matt Tavares

becoming babe ruth

Becoming Babe Ruth by Matt Tavares

This biographical picture book takes a look at Babe Ruth’s formative years.  It is the story of a small boy named George Herman Ruth who gets into lots of trouble, so much that his father puts him into Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys.  There he has to follow the rules and work hard.  Happily, there is also baseball and George gets to play it almost every day.  Best of all, there is Brother Matthias who serves as an inspiration and mentor for George’s baseball game and life.  As George gets better and better, he is finally whisked into the world of major league baseball, but he never forgot the school and the man who got him there. 

Tavares writes in such an engaging way that the pages fly by.  The sudden sternness of the school is told in short, abrupt sentences that enforce the martial feel of the establishment.  That contrasts directly with the long sentences that talk about the beauty of baseball.  Readers can almost feel themselves taking a big gulp of freedom on those pages. 

The joy Tavares feels about his subject is also palpable.  From eating ice cream with the boys from the school, to tipping his hat to them as he walks on the field, to the pleasure of hitting a ball, all are captured with a fondness and pleasure in the paintings that are the illustrations in the book. 

This is a baseball biography that children will find accessible and fascinating.  Play ball!  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

This Week’s Tweets and Pins

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


National Young Readers' Week, 1953. via words and eggs Illustration by Jan Balet

The Best Books For Kids Age 9-14? You Tell Us : NPR

Kids’ Books Stay Stubbornly White, Even as Demographics Shift – Atlanta Black Star #kidlit

Mark Lowery’s top 10 embarrassing moments in children’s books | Children’s books |

Should adults read children’s books? #kidlit


Digital ‘Library For All’ Brings Books to Developing World

Why Genre Rules e-Books, and What the Big Publishers Are Doing About It #ebooks #publishers


3M SelfCheck, NoveList Partner on Reader Recommendation #libraries

ALA to senate: “protect privacy and civil liberties” – District Dispatch #libraries #privacy


Have You Been Avoiding LinkedIn Like The Plague? Here Is How To Get Started — socialmouths

HootSuite launches an RSS reader, Syndicator, for social media managers | VentureBeat

How Women & Men Use Social Media Differently – Business 2 Community

Stephen King


10 Insane Facts About Marvel Comics – Listverse

10 Things to Know About Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl | Mental Floss

‘Divergent’ author Veronica Roth to release e-stories | Shelf Life | #yalit

Review: The Apprentices by Maile Meloy


The Apprentices by Maile Meloy

This sequel to The Apothecary continues the story of Janie, Benjamin and Pip.  It takes place three years after the first book and the three friends are all separated.  Janie is attending a private boarding school in the U.S. and working on a science project to desalinate water quickly and inexpensively.  But the closer she gets to a solution, the more danger she seems to be in.  Benjamin is traveling with his father, the apothecary, in the jungles of Vietnam, helping to heal the wounded in the war.  Benjamin has developed a powder that will allow him to communicate with Janie across the world, but it may reveal more than he is prepared to see.  Pip is now a television star in Britain, living a cushy life of fame.  But he is getting bored, and so is willing to head out to help his friends.  The three young people are up against a force that is ruthless, cruel and determined in this dynamic sequel in a great series.

Meloy writes with a great sense of pacing and plot.  She manages to keep so many different strands of the story active and interesting, allowing the story space to work itself out with a natural feel.  At the same time though, the pacing is tight and controlled, making the book readable and fun.  Her writing is both action packed and also intelligent, there are villains and heroes but they are nuanced and their motivations complex.  All of this creates a great read for fantasy fans.

A fabulous sequel in a very strong series, this series belongs in all public libraries.  Get it into the hands of children who enjoy fantasy mixed with adventure.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy received from Putnam.

Encyclopedia Brown–The Movie

Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (Encyclopedia Brown, #1) Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (Encyclopedia Brown, #1) Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective (Encyclopedia Brown, #1)

The Hollywood Reporter has the news that Encyclopedia Brown may just be made into a movie.  Warner Bros. is in negotiations to get the movie rights of this children’s series.  This is not the first attempt to bring Encyclopedia Brown to the big screen.  In 1989, HBO ran a short-lived TV series based on the books. 

We will see if this is the time that this boy detective finally makes it to the movies.

Review: The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore

water castle

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore

After Ephraim’s father has a stroke, the family moves to the Water Castle, an ancestral home in Crystal Springs, Maine.  Ephraim is convinced that coming from the big city, he will be more popular and seem smarter than he ever had before.  After all, his older brother has always been popular and his little sister is very smart.  But things don’t work out the Ephraim expects.  The house itself is unusual, filled with strange rooms and different levels; it glows blue at night and hums.  Ephraim is definitely not popular, quickly showing how awkward he is and then also demonstrating how little he knows compared to his classmates.  Luckily though, the mystery of the house draws in two other children his age who want to figure out how their own families are tied to the Water Castle and its connection to the Fountain of Youth. 

Blakemore writes with a wonderful mix of science and fantasy here.  The blend is compelling, making the book impossible to put down until the mystery is solved.  Readers will not know if they are reading a fantasy book or one that could have actually happened until the very end.  Told with flashbacks to the past that add to the understanding of the intertwined families as well as the fascination with explorers, this book is complex in the best of ways, keeping readers guessing right up to the end.

Ephraim is a character that has quite a few flaws.  Readers will flinch as he is too brash and too confident for his own good, especially when trying to make friends.  Happily, it is when he calms down and shows his feelings that Ephraim becomes entirely himself, a side that readers see long before the other characters in the book. 

Complex and multilayered, this middle grade book will be embraced by historical fiction, science and fantasy fans.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Octopus Alone by Divya Srinivasan

octopus alone

Octopus Alone by Divya Srinivasan

Octopus lives in a bustling reef filled with all sorts of sea life.  She watches the activity from her cave and three little seahorses come and visit her.  But Octopus just wants to be left alone, so she changes colors to hide and heads away from the reef.  As she travels away, the seahorses continue to follow her, watching her change colors and hide until Octopus finally leaves in a cloud of ink.  Eventually, Octopus comes to a very quiet part of the ocean where she can be left in peace with only silent jellyfish floating by and the drama of a whale zooming to the surface.  Nothing bothers her or watches her, so she falls fast asleep.  When she awakens, she starts to think about life in the bustling reef and she returns, ready to play once again. 

This is a shining example of a book where the writing and illustrations work seamlessly with one another.  The story of an introverted octopus who just needs a little time alone will speak to children who also feel that way at times.  Best of all, there is no lesson learned where being alone is dangerous or wrong, instead it is embraced as a time to see other beautiful things and recharge.  This is one undersea world where quietness and alone time is just fine, perhaps even spectacular.

The art in this picture book shines and glows.  Octopus and the other sea life pop against the dark blues and blacks of the watery background.  The art has a wonderful internal light that gives it a real sense of being underwater.  When Octopus heads out to be alone, the moment when she sees the whale is one of the most powerful and beautiful in the book.  It is handled with a lovely pause in the text and bubbles galore in the illustrations.

This is one glorious look at an underwater world that will speak to introverts and children who may feel shy at times.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Viking.

Review: Prairie Chicken Little by Jackie Mims Hopkins

prairie chicken little

Prairie Chicken Little by Jackie Mims Hopkins, illustrated by Henry Cole

One day out on the grasslands, Mary McBlicken the prairie chicken heard a deep rumbling.  She ran off to tell Cowboy Stan and Red Dog Dan that a stampede was coming!  That is the set up for this prairie version of Chicken Little.  The prairie chicken soon has a prairie dog, jack rabbit, and meadowlark running with her to report the oncoming stampede.  Then they meet the coyote, Slim, who offers to show them a shortcut.  The friends realize what is happening before they enter the coyote’s cave and attack, drawing the attention of Cowboy Stan and Red Dog Dan who come to their rescue.  In the end, the source of the rumbling is not a stampede of course!

Hopkins has written this book to be read aloud.  The entire book has a rhythm to it that works very well, quickly setting a playful but fast pace for the story.  Readers will not need to have read Chicken Little to enjoy this new version, but children who know both versions will enjoy this one immensely too.  Hopkins also uses rhyming names that take the place of rhyming lines.  This is combined with nice rhyming repetition in some of the text, making this a treat to share aloud.

Cole’s illustrations are playful and filled with action.  The animals are all cartoony and friendly, even the sly coyote is more sly than fearful.  Thanks to his bright colors and large format, the illustrations will work well with a group of children.

Energetic and funny, this book is a good one to share with children learning about habitats as well as those looking for a good giggle.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Peachtree Publishers.

Review: The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

thing about luck

The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

Summer Miyamoto is positive that her family is completely out of luck.  Nothing is going right for them at all.  Her parents had to return to Japan because of a family emergency, leaving her behind with her grandparents and little brother, Jaz.  Now the four of them are heading out to do harvest season for the first time without her parents.  Summer and Jaz have to get all of their homework assignments, so they really don’t have the time off.  Summer is also expected to help her grandmother cook for the others working on the harvest, so she is very busy.  But she isn’t so busy that she doesn’t notice the very cute son of the people they work for or the problems that her brother has making friends.  She is also worried about her grandparents from the pain in her grandmother’s back that incapacitates her at times to the exhaustion that her grandfather seems to be suffering from.  All of this weighs on Summer who just wants the bad luck to end but it may take Summer being something her grandmother would not approve of to save the family in the end. 

Kadohata has created a very compelling story of a family who travels the United States harvesting wheat with giant combines.  She offers just enough details about the machinery and the process for readers to understand it which helps make the work much more understandable.  But this book is far more about this particular family and its dynamics.  The grandparents offer a unique mix of sage advice and confusing world views.  Jaz, the younger brother, is a great example of a very smart child who has almost no social skills.  All of these characters are written as complete people, not ever stereotypical.

Summer herself is equally well drawn.  She is at a confusing time in life in general, being a pre-teen who is starting to notice boys.  That is complicated by her grandmother’s old-fashioned take on boys and girls as well as her own responsibility for her family that puts her in situations that require her to be more adult and less child. 

A beautiful and intense look at a Japanese-American family struggling with an interesting lifestyle and just surviving a year of bad luck.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.

Review: Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler

miss maples seeds

Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler

This book will sweep you up like a breath of brisk autumn air.  Miss Maple is a little woman who spends her entire summer searching for seeds that have not gotten planted in the spring.  She brings them back to her maple tree and nurses them back to strength.  She washes them off, warns them to take care because they are so small, takes them on field trips to learn about being a seed, and reads them bedtime stories.  In winter they all burrow down together and fill the time with songs and stories.  Then when spring arrives, the seeds learn to dance in the rain and sink into muddy ground.  In May, it is time for the seeds to find the places they will grow, so Miss Maple launches them off.  Miss Maple then starts her journey with the seeds all over again, heading off on the back of a bluebird to find another year’s worth of stranded seeds.  Lovely and warm, this picture book is a joyous celebration of the seasons and the plants around us.

Wheeler has created a tiny motherly figure in Miss Maple, someone who loves and cares just for the good of the earth.  As the book progresses, she becomes almost a Mother Earth figure as her world turns with the seasons.  Wheeler’s writing is filled with wonderful small moments and details.  Miss Maple reads bedtime stories “by firefly light” and during the winter her animal neighbors share “supplies of hot maple syrup, old corn husks, and juicy fruit rinds.” 

Her illustrations show that same attention to detail.  This small world is filled with little touches that make it come alive.  The frogs in the nearby pond have a house in a log complete with front door and paned windows.  The seeds all sleep in small, cozy beds that are perfectly designed for seeds their size.  Then when Miss Maple launches the seeds off, she does it with winged baskets and other vessels that glow and float on the water.  This is a completely formed world that all readers will want to linger in.

Cozy and lovely, this picture book is a celebration of seasons and the earth, but it is also a reflection on the skill and care of nurturing.  Get this one for your Earth Day units and pull it out when covering seasons too.  Though I think it would be best of all curled up under warm blankets and watching autumn arrive.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Nancy Paulsen Books.