Review: Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

eleanor and park

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

Eleanor is the new girl at school.  She is different from everyone else with her bright red hair and men’s clothes.  Park has gone to this school forever, he knows everyone on the bus and just wants to keep his head down and be ignored.  But Park can’t ignore Eleanor when she is standing in the aisle and needs somewhere to sit.  So he lets her sit by him.  They don’t talk though, until he notices that she is reading his comics too.  Their relationship slowly grows and they start talking together only about comics.  Eleanor doesn’t want to talk about her horrible home life that had her kicked out of the house for a year.  Park doesn’t want to scare her off by pushing.  Little by little, this becomes a book about first love between two teens who didn’t fit in anywhere else.  Little by little, this book steals your heart too.

I honestly don’t think I can voice how good this novel is.  Rowell writes with such truth and passion through the entire book that it makes your breath catch at times.  She does not turn away from the most horrible parts of being a teen, bullying, family crisis, the stumbles on the way to a connection.   These are the moments that cast the others in such light, that make the others shine and dazzle. 

Eleanor and Park both narrate the story in turns.  That decision was critical to this book, allowing each teen to talk about what they love about the other and the amazement they feel that someone likes them too.  The two characters are so different, from such differing backgrounds.  They are living people, ones who enter your dreams because you feel like they are part of you. 

Her book is just like first love.  It is stunning, honest and raw.  It is unforgettable.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: A Year with Marmalade by Alison Reynolds

year with marmalade

A Year with Marmalade by Alison Reynolds, illustrated by Heath McKenzie

One autumn, Maddy told Ella that she is going away for a year and asked her to take care of her cat, Marmalade.  Both Ella and Marmalade cry and cry when Maddy leaves.  Ella can’t find anyone to play in the leaves with her, pick and munch apples, or stomp in puddles.  Then one frosty morning, Ella wakes up to find her feet warm and Marmalade sleeping on her bed.  As winter arrives, Ella and Marmalade get closer and closer.  Spring comes and the two work together in the garden and head to the beach together.  Maddy returns with the autumn, but what will happen now with Marmalade?

This book is a smart mix of waiting for a friend to return and seasons.  Along the way, there is also the chance to make a new friend too.  The dance of the seasons moves the story along nicely, creating a timeline along which readers can see the relationship between Ella and Marmalade growing and changing. 

It is the illustrations that make this book more than just a book about friendship in a crowded picture book market.  McKenzie combines black and white line drawings with bursts of color.  Marmalade is always shown as a pop of orange, while the human characters remain black and white.  The effect has an appealing lightness.

A picture book about moving, friendships and change, this lovely little picture book would make a nice addition to units on seasons as well.  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

Review: Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane

deep in the sahara

Deep in the Sahara by Kelly Cunnane, illustrated by Hoda Hadadi

Released October 8, 2013.

Lalla wants to wear a malafa just like the other women in her family do.  Lalla tells her mother she wants to be beautiful just like her, but her mother says that a malafa is about more than beauty.  Lalla tells her sister that she wants to be mysterious just like her, but her sister says that a malafa is about more than mystery.  Seeing all of the women in their malafa, Lalla tells her cousin that she wants to be like all of them, but she replies that a malafa is more than that.  Her grandmother too says that a malafa is about more than tradition.  Finally, Lalla goes back to her mother and explains that she wants to be able to pray like her mother does.  Her mother agrees, saying “A malafa is for faith."  And the two face east and pray together in their malafa.

Set in Mauritania, this book celebrates the Muslim faith in a very beautiful way.  Written in the second person, readers are invited to see themselves as Lalla and learn about her faith and her world.  Cunnane writes beautiful descriptions of both the malafa themselves and also the community where Lalla lives.  There are donkeys, camels, and other exotic things, but Cunnane goes deeper than that and paints a world with pink houses shaped like cakes and silver heels that click on tiles.

Hadadi’s art is jewel toned and filled with details.  She has created a warm and loving community for Lalla to explore with the reader.  The beauty of the malafa are shown, the colors of the rooms, and the tangible love of an extended family.

An accessible and beautiful look at a Muslim community that dazzles.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and Schwartz & Wade.

Review: Nino Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

Nino wrestles the world

Nino Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

Everyone cheer for the incredible, the amazing Nino!  He is challenged to fight by wild opponents like The Guanajuato Mummy who is taken down by a tickle attack.  Next to challenge Nino is Olmec Head whose stony face is walloped by a Puzzle Muzzle move.  He has tricky moves to use on each one, taking one down at a time using all sorts of toys.  But finally, his real serious opponents arrive, Las Hermanitas!  Nino is going to have to use all of his wrestling and mental skills to beat these two little sister opponents.

Bold and colorful, this book evokes Lucha Libre, Mexican wrestling, right from the get go.  Morales celebrates this aspect of Mexican culture but puts her own child-friendly spin on it with wrestling different monsters using toys in Nino’s room.  She mixes the history of Lucha Libre masks with the actual monsters and the joy of a child who loves to wrestle any comers. 

The book nicely mixes Spanish and English and also switches fonts to further evoke the marquee effect of wrestling.  Add in the comic-book fonts for the various moves that Nino does and you have one very dynamic and inspired book.

This book shows everyone that books with multicultural characters can be wild fun to read!  Morales wins!  Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from library copy.

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:

Tips for reading wordless books to kids, plus questions to ask them to encourage storytelling.


12 Crazy Reasons Why Books Have Been Banned | HarperCollins Children’s Books #kidlit

CBC Diversity: Is the Race Card Old School? #diversity #kidlit

Dav Pilkey to Illustrate Picture Book of Inaugural Poem #kidlit

Gateway Books: Getting Latino Kids Excited About Reading | Libro por libro | School Library Journal #kidlit

Is having a strong children’s section a secret to success for indie bookstores?

Jen Robinson’s Book Page: Congratulations to Reach Out and Read #reading #kidlit

The Official SCBWI Blog: SCBWI’s Newest Award Is For Independently Published Writers and Illustrators #kidlit

Why science fiction isn’t just for geeky boys | Children’s books #yalit #kidlit

Why you should Register Now for the 7th Annual #KIDLITCON! (because KidLItCon is home)


8 tips and tricks to get the most of Project Gutenberg #ebooks

Don’t price your ebook at $1.99 — Tech News and Analysis #ebooks

Online Information, Ebooks, and Moral Panic | The Scholarly Kitchen #ebooks

Penguin makes its ebooks available to libraries through Overdrive once again — paidContent #ebooks

Simon & Schuster Begins School Test for E-books #ebooks

New shelving scheme.


Blackman: ‘ringfence library budgets’ | The Bookseller #libraries

Chicago Public Library offering programming to combat youth violence #libraries

CILIP, Blackman disgrace Vaizey in UK libraries revolt – TeleRead #libraries

I Don’t Need Two Forms of ID When I’m Standing at Your Door | Advocates’ Corner #libraries

Russian Libraries Get Less Scary, More Sexy | Russia #libraries

There’s No Such Thing as Library Leadership | Leading From the Library #libraries


7 Reasons Your Favorite Books Were Banned #reading #books

17 Ways To Find Good Books To Read #books #reading


Goodreads’ growing pains: Attempt to curtail author bullying angers many users — Tech News and Analysis

Pinterest Appeals To Publishers With New Article Pins, Pushes To Become A Bookmarking & “Read It Later” Service


8 Classic YA Books That Will Screw You Up For Life – Flavorwire #yalit

Book censors target teen fiction, says American Library Association | Books #libraries #yalit

Five questions for Rainbow Rowell – The Horn Book #yalit

Is there life beyond vampires for teenage readers? | Children’s books #yalit

What’s Your YA Name? Use This Generator To Find Out | Blog | Epic Reads #yalit

Review: Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

fortunately the milk

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Skottie Young

When Mum left to give a presentation on lizards, she made sure that Dad knew just what he had to do.  One item on the list was getting milk, but that didn’t happen.  So when the family woke to dry cereal and no milk for tea, Dad headed out to get the milk.  He didn’t return for a long, long time.  But when he came back he had quite a story about why he was late.  It involved time travel, a brilliant dinosaur, pirates who don’t have a plank to walk, wumpires with long teeth, and lots and lots of silliness.

Gaiman is a chameleon of an author, keeping us guessing what his next book will be like because one never knows what style he will try next.  Here he is in pure farce mode, something that will enchant young readers even as they can’t read because they are giggling too much.  The humor here is nonstop, one maniac moment after another until you can’t quite tell which way is up.  It’s a grand adventure filled with outright one-liners and puns.

Young’s illustrations are such a part of this book, it is like Gaiman illustrated it himself.  The results are wacky and purely funny.  The father character seems to me to be a marvelous mix of several Dr. Who characters with his dangling striped scarf, wild hair and rather dapper approach to things. 

Hilarious, wacky and wonderful, get this into the hands of elementary aged kids now.  Appropriate for ages 6-8.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Rotten Pumpkin by David M. Schwartz

rotten pumpkin

Rotten Pumpkin: A Rotten Tale in 15 Voices by David M. Schwartz, photos by Dwight Kuhn

A dynamic mix of story and nonfiction, this book follows the life of a pumpkin.  He has his shining moment as a jack-o-lantern lit for Halloween, but then is put into the compost.  That is where the story gets interesting.  First he is chewed on by mice, squirrels, slugs and vomited on by flies.  Now he looks a lot different and has fungi growing.  The various molds introduce themselves, explaining what they do, including the fascinating Penicillium.  Sow bugs, earthworms, slime mold and yeast work on the pumpkin too.  It is left as just a pile of seeds and little else.  Until spring arrives!

Schwartz shows readers just how fascinating science is with his in-depth descriptions of the decomposition process.  Children will adore the explanation of how flies taste and eat, the process of earthworm poop, and all of the molds seen up close.  But this book goes far beyond the gross and takes the reader right through the entire process, detailing it with interesting moments throughout. 

The photographs by Kuhn are particularly useful in a book like this.  Capturing the changing face of the pumpkin as it molds over adds real interest visually to the title.  At the same time, the close up images of yeasts and slime mold are grossly gripping.

Perfect for autumn and Halloween, this book will have kids looking at their slumping pumpkins with new eyes.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.

Review: Volcano Rising by Elizabeth Rusch

volcano rising

Volcano Rising by Elizabeth Rusch, illustrated by Susan Swan

Volcanoes can seem destructive, but in this nonfiction picture book they are shown to be sources of creation as well.  The process of eruption and magma is described and the book looks at the fact that different volcanoes move at different speeds.  The book is written in two levels, one for more of a picture book audience and the other for elementary students ready for detailed information.  While the simpler part stays general, the more detailed information includes specific volcanoes and stories of their eruptions.  The book makes volcanoes interesting rather than frightening, looking at how ash restores fields and how most creative eruptions can be out-walked by people.

Rusch’s two levels of text really stand apart from one another.  The simpler version really reads as a playful picture book complete with sounds.  It does still offer facts and information, but the deeper text is filled with those.  That longer text loses the playfulness of the shorter but is a wealth of information on volcanoes that even young enthusiasts will find fascinating.

Swan’s illustrations are done in cut paper and have a vivid color that really makes the volcanoes pop.  She shows various volcanoes in her art, contrasting them with one another nicely.  It is the images of eruptions that really explode on the page and will delight readers.

A double-layered book that can be shared in a storytime or in a science classroom.  Appropriate for ages 3-8.

Reviewed from copy received from Charlesbridge.

Review: The First Drawing by Mordicai Gerstein

first drawing

The First Drawing by Mordicai Gerstein

This picture book tells the story of how drawing first started.  Inspired by the the 30,000 year old paintings in caves in southern France, the story focuses on one boy who sees the world differently from everyone else.  When he looks at the clouds, he sees animals.  Everyone else just sees clouds.  When the firelight flickers on the walls of the cave as they go to sleep, he sees herds of beasts.  No one else does.  So he gets the name “Child Who Sees What Isn’t There.”  He tries to explain what and how he is seeing things, but it isn’t until he picks up a charcoal stick from the fire and actually draws the lines he is seeing that others can see it too. 

Beautifully told, Gerstein weaves the story of these caves into an exploration of how artists see the world in a unique and powerful way.  By choosing very tangible examples of how artists see, children reading the book will quickly realize that they are artists as well.  It is also helped by the use of  second person narrative, so that children are identified as the child who invented art.  The author’s note explains more about the caves as well as why Gerstein was inspired to tell the story of a child drawing. 

Gerstein’s art is bright and large.  He shows large swathes of sky filled with clouds, lands filled with animals, and makes sure that readers see the inspiration for the later art.  This contrasts with the tight closeness of the fire-lit cave that is all dancing flames and stone walls. 

A virtuoso picture book, this is a wonderful melding of history, possibility, and art.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.