The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller

The Science of Breakable Things by Tae Keller (9781524715663)

With Mr. Neely as her very enthusiastic science teacher, Natalie can’t get out of asking a scientific question and exploring it using the scientific method. But Natalie would much rather get answers about her family, about why her mother won’t leave her bedroom anymore and how her father can stop being in therapist mode all the time. So when Mr. Neely encourages Natalie to compete in an egg drop competition, she knows that if they can win, things will change. Natalie’s best friend Twig is on their team, offering creative solutions for the egg drop and they also become friends with the new kid, Dari. As the three become closer, Natalie continues to try to figure out how to help her mother, putting together a plan for the prize money that they hope to win that will inspire her mother and get her back to normal. But life doesn’t always go to plan and neither do science experiments as Natalie soon discovers.

Keller writes with a lovely mix of humor and science throughout this novel. She looks directly at the subject of a parent’s chronic depression and shows the impact of that on a child and a family. Natalie steadily learns to find her voice in the novel and express her own pain about the situation. Science is used throughout the novel as a bridge between people, a way forward and a solution to problems.

Natalie as a character is beautifully conflicted. While she yearns to have her mother back she is also very angry about the situation, something that she has trouble expressing. Even with the friends she has, she worries about Dari joining her and Twig at various times particularly as Twig and Dari seem to have a special connection with one another. None of this is overly dramatized, but feels natural and emerges as convincing times of emotional stress.

Smartly written and filled with glowing characters living complicated lives, this middle grade novel unbreakable. Appropriate for ages 9-13.

(Reviewed from copy provided by Random House Children’s Books.)

3 New Animal Picture Books to Love

If I Had a Horse by Gianna Marino

If I Had a Horse by Gianna Marino (9781626729087)

This poetic picture book dreams of having a horse. The entire book is dreamy and soft, a more spiritual and sense-filled look at horses than the reality of barns and saddles. In the images, the little girl meets a horse in a field and offers him the largest apple she can find. There are moments of shyness and quiet as the two meet. They admire one another’s qualities of strength and gentleness. The little girl does ride the horse but not so easily until they become better friends. Then they head out together to meet other horses. The illustrations are done entirely in silhouettes filled with rich watercolor washes. The hair of the little girl mirrors that of the horse’s mane and also the blades of grass in the field around them. A beautiful dream of a picture book. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

Many The Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies

Many: The Diversity of Life on Earth by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Emily Sutton (9780763694838)

This picture book invites readers to think about the wide amount of diversity in the animals and plants that live on our planet. The book offers a small scientific facts on some pages, giving a closer look at things like mushrooms, microbes, elephants, and habitats. The book moves on to fill pages with images of different types of animals, one fascinating two-page spread has animals that were discovered in the last 50 years. It also explores food cycles for several different species. The book ends with information on how humans are negatively impacting species in the world and encourages children to be aware of how they can make a difference. Filled with interesting facts and vibrant illustrations, this picture book is an invitation to explore nature even further. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Trio The Tale of a Three-Legged Cat by Andrea Wisnewski

Trio: The Tale of a Three-Legged Cat by Andrea Wisnewski (9781567926088)

Trio was a cat born with only three legs. Even though he was missing a hind leg, he still managed to fully explore the chicken coop that he lived in with his siblings and a flock of chickens. Trio liked to explore the world like a chicken would with dust baths and eating bugs. But he could not lay an egg like they did. When Trio finally got all the way up to the nesting boxes, he found that it was warm and cozy there. One day, Trio found an egg in the nest, one that cracked and moved. It eventually hatched into a very special chick. Told in the simplest of sentences, this picture book is filled with a warmth and strong sense of style. The story is based on a real cat who has three legs, though he may not have hatched a chick of his own yet. The illustrations are done in gorgeous paper cuts, that evoke the feeling of woodblock printing. With their organic feel, they add to the friendly warmth of the book. A lovely and accepting look at being differently abled. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Mary’s Monster by Lita Judge

Mary's Monster by Lita Judge

Mary’s Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created Frankenstein by Lita Judge (9781626725003)

The daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist author, Mary never knew her mother except through her writings. Sent away as a child to live in Scotland, Mary eventually returned to her family where her stepmother rejected her. Believing firmly in free love and the right for a woman to choose her own life, as a teenager Mary ran off with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, who left his wife behind to be with her. But things are not that simple and their lives were filled with Percy’s madness and womanizing. Soon Mary is a pregnant teen, unmarried and disowned by her family. But she does not give in and begins to write her masterpiece of a novel, Frankenstein. She pours all of her grief of losing several children, her love for a man who is unable to commit to anyone, and the wound of the loss of her mother.

This verse novel is pure wonderment. Judge illuminates each page with her illustrations, capturing the emotional anguish that filled many of Mary’s days. A few of the pages are voiced by the monster himself, the typeset crooked and voice uniquely that of the creature. It is beautifully handled, the words crafted to evoke emotion and to show the desperate choices that Mary was forced to make.

In my undergraduate thesis, I read the works of the early feminists and Mary Wollstonecraft was one of those writers. It is fascinating to see how her ideals shine in Mary’s life and yet played out into tragedies at times. The fact that Judge read Mary’s diaries is evident on each page of this book, since Mary’s voice rings so clearly on them and her passion for change, love and creativity shines through the darkness of her life.

A masterful look at one of the greatest works of literature and the woman behind it. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

(Reviewed from copy provided by Roaring Brook Press.)

This Week’s Tweets, Pins & Tumbls

Here are some cool links I shared on my TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr accounts in the last week:


8 Graphic Novels from Gene Luen Yang, Marissa Meyer, and Others

Announcing the 2018 CBCA Book of the Year Awards Notable Books! What an amazing selection of stories from Australia’s talented authors and illustrators

Children’s Publishing House Takes Food Literacy Literally

Congratulations to this year’s award winners!

Luke Pearson’s ‘Hilda’ is coming to the small screen

“Reading is not always an interpretation of words. It is sometimes an interpretation of pictures.” –


Abrams ComicArts will publish ‘Run: Book One,’ sequel to Congressman John Lewis’s award-winning graphic memoir

Inspiring Women in 3 Picture Book Biographies

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez

Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor by Patricia Valdez, illustrated by Felicita Sala (9780399557262)

Ever since she was a little girl, Joan Procter loved lizards and other reptiles and amphibians. She dismissed dolls in favor of her animals, even having a baby alligator as a pet and taking it to school with her. But Joan was born in the late 1800s, so girls were not expected to study science, still she sought out the curator of reptiles and fish at the Natural History Museum rather than going to dances. With England at war, Joan was asked to work at the museum and eventually took over as curator. She designed the Reptile House at the London Zoo, using her artistic and scientific skills and created a habitat for their new Komodo dragons. Joan grew especially fond of Sumbawa, one of the Komodo dragons, who was gentle enough to walk outside with her and attend tea parties with children.

This picture book biography takes just the right tone about Joan’s life, filled with delight at her bringing an alligator to school and also relishing in her series of high-profile successes. The final pages of the book offer more details about Joan’s life and her early death at age 34. It also has more information about Komodo dragons and a robust bibliography. The illustrations has just the right mix of playfulness and science, showing the reptiles up close and also Joan’s own connection with them.

A brilliant look at an amazing woman who broke into science thanks to her skill and passion. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Alfred A. Knopf and Edelweiss.)

A Lady Has the Floor by Kate Hannigan

A Lady Has the Floor by Kate Hannigan, illustrated by Alison Jay (9781629794532)

The incredible and impressive life of Belva Lockwood is depicted in this nonfiction picture book. Belva grew up playing outside with the boys and soon became a teacher in her community. Though women did not attend college, Belva did and graduated with honors in 1857. She taught school, but didn’t like that the girls in the class were not called on or asked to recite in front of the class. She worked with Susan B. Anthony to demand that New York public schools teach public speaking to all students and that girls be able to have physical education as well. Belva went to law school in a time when women were not allowed to be lawyers. She was at first denied her diploma, though she finished her courses. Even after becoming an attorney, some judges refused to hear her in their courtrooms. In 1879, Belva convinced law makers for women’s rights to be attorneys and got the laws changed. Belva fought for women’s rights to vote as well, becoming the first woman to run for president in 1884.

Belva Lockwood is a woman that we should all know better than we do. This biography of her is filled with impressive moments, ones that set her apart from even the other women working on the same issues. Belva is incredibly tenacious and resilient, never giving up and managing to get change to happen after years of work. She is a great model for today’s women’s rights movements. The illustrations by Jay have her signature folk style with cracked paint that perfectly evoke the time period and invite readers into the past.

A biography of an inspiring figure in American her-story. Appropriate for ages 6-9. (Reviewed from library copy.)

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington (9780062651730)

As a little girl, Dr. Mae Jemison dreamt of becoming an astronaut. Her mother in particular supported her dreams even when one of her teachers explained that someone like Mae should consider being a nurse instead. Looking at Dr. Jemison’s career through the lens of her childhood dreams makes for a powerful picture book for children who have their own big dreams for their futures. The focus here is on staying true to your passions and not allowing others to dash your dreams before you even begin to try. The mantra from Jemison’s mother is “If I can dream it, if I can believe in it, and if I work hard for it, anything is possible.”

Told in very simple sentences, this picture book biography is for younger children than many biographies. The illustrations have a luscious watercolor palette with images filled with stars and colors. A great pick to share aloud with young children and talk about dreams. Appropriate for ages 4-7. (Reviewed from library copy.)

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (9780062662804)

Released March 6, 2018.

Xiomara feels completely unheard and smothered by her mother’s high expectations, particularly those around church and confirmation. She knows how to use her fists to settle arguments, often coming to the defense of her twin brother. She ignores the lewd glances of the men around her who react to her curves far too often. Xiomara’s mother refuses to allow her to date, so when she catches her daughter kissing someone, there are real consequences. Still, Xiomara continues to find her voice. She asks questions at confirmation and eventually joins the school’s poetry club. Xiomara’s passion for words, slam poetry and speaking out won’t stay hidden from her mother for much longer.

Written by a famed slam poet, this book is ferociously written, taking life and putting it on the page with an honesty that almost hurts. The entire verse novel is beautifully written and each poem is a study in how to capture a moment in time with clarity. There are some poems that shine, the anger burning so brightly that they can’t be ignored. They beg to be read aloud into a microphone.

Xiomara’s character is complex and amazing. She is a girl just finding her voice, emerging from the huge shadow her mother has cast and finding her own way forward. She is a mix of sensuality, verse and anger that is completely intoxicating.

One of the best verse novels I have ever read, this one deserves a standing ovation. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and HarperTeen.


3 New Picture Books for Siblings to Share

Bamboo for Me Bamboo for You by Fran Manushkin

Bamboo for Me, Bamboo for You by Fran Manushkin, illustrated by Purificacion Hernandez (9781481450638)

Amanda and Miranda are pandas who live with their parent in a zoo. They love to eat bamboo for all of their meals, frowning at the meat that the lions eat. The two siblings frolic around in the bamboo, playing peek-a-boo, taking tumbles, and fighting with one another sometimes. When the fight becomes more serious, the two little pandas stop playing together until they realize they are much more unhappy apart than they ever are together. Besides, there’s more bamboo to eat together too! This book is filled with merry rhymes and a galloping rhythm that preschoolers will adore. They will also recognize the complicated relationships of siblings who fight and make up, share and then squabble some more. The illustrations are large and bright, making this a good choice for sharing with a group of little ones. Appropriate for ages 2-4. (Review copy provided by Aladdin.)

The Littlest Viking by Alexandra Penfold

The Littlest Viking by Alexandra Penfold, illustrated by Isabel Roxas (9780399554292)

Sven was the littlest Viking and also the loudest. He could pillage food from anyone and had the fiercest bite too. But one thing could distract Sven: stories! Eventually he learned to tell great stories too and all of the Vikings loved to stop and listen to them. Then one day, everyone was distracted by something. It was a new little Viking, a warrior princess who was very loud and very sad. No one could get her to stop crying, but Sven had an idea! This picture book is full of humor and parallels modern parenting with the equivalent in Vikings like taking a crying baby on a great ship ride to calm down, rather than in a car. The illustrations are equally funny with very grumpy tiny children insisting on their own way and finding storytelling just the ticket out of the grumps. It is also appreciated that Sven enjoys his new role as big brother too. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley provided by Edelweiss and Alfred A. Knopf.)

Snow Sisters by Kerri Kokias

Snow Sisters by Kerri Kokias, illustrated by Teagan White (9781101938843)

Two sisters enjoy a snowy day in very different ways in this picture book. One sister is always on the left page and the other on the right. The red-headed sister immediately heads outside into the snow to play while the brown-haired sister stays inside with her books, blankets and cocoa. They both stay busy throughout the day, one outside throwing snowballs and building forts, the other baking in the kitchen. Then the sister who has been playing outside gets chilled while the one indoors has noticed the animals outside her window. The two switch places and do similar things but each in their own way. Written with very simple wording, it is the twist in the middle of the book that makes it work so well. The repetition of each sister doing the “same” things is cleverly drawn in the illustrations that show how each still does it quite differently than their sibling did. The illustrations are bright, their world inviting and the entire book feels like a cup of cocoa on a snowy day. Appropriate for ages 3-5. (Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Alfred A. Knopf.)