The Little Blue Cottage by Kelly Jordan

The Little Blue Cottage by Kelly Jordan

The Little Blue Cottage by Kelly Jordan, illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle (9781624149238)

The little blue cottage on the bay waited patiently every year for the little girl to return. She came with the warmer weather, taking up her place in the window seat and looking out at the water. The cottage was her favorite place, filled with dolphins, seagulls, swimming and boats. When fall came, the little girl and her family left once again, leaving the cottage to face winter. Still, summer came each year and the girl arrived, growing ever bigger. Eventually though, she and the family stopped coming, leaving the blue cottage to fade to gray, empty and waiting for years. Then one day, the girl, now a mother, returned to her beloved cottage to repair it, repaint it a merry blue, and live in it once more.

Jordan’s text invites readers to really experience the seasonality of cottage life. She uses near rhymes and natural rhythms to share both the joy and loneliness of the cottage that mirrors the emotions of the humans in the story as well. The long seasons of neglect have a quiet dignity to them, while the triumphant return is a marvelous ending.

The illustrations are detailed and visually interesting. They show the cottage on its own little beach, the beauty of the busyness of the family and the light they bring with them. The growing weeds and fading paint are particularly well done. The family is multicultural, adding to the book’s appeal.

Just right for vacation reading, this one will have you dreaming of a cottage on the water. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Page Street Kids.

Review: The Book in the Book in the Book by Julien Baer

The Book in the Book in the Book by Julien Baer

The Book in the Book in the Book by Julien Baer, illustrated by Simon Bailly (9780823442430)

This picture book features three nested books, each smaller than the last. Thomas and his parents are on vacation at the beach in the first and largest book. His parents decide to take a nap and Thomas is bored, so he heads off and explores the beach. When he can’t find his parents, he stops and sits down, noticing a small book abandoned in the sand. He opens it and discovers the story of Thomas who is on vacation with his parents in the snowy mountains. His parents take a nap; Thomas wanders off. Thomas can’t find them and notices a book nearby. When he opens it, he discovers the story of Thomas and his family visiting outer space. Each book ends with Thomas finding his family right near him and as the smaller books close, the reader is once again back in the beach story and the family heads home.

Originally published in France, this book is very unique and exploring it for the first time is a remarkable experience. The nesting of the books physically represents the way that the stories nest together, rather like a Russian nesting doll where the smaller ones are on the inside. Still, in these books the stories get wider ranging as the books shrink down. The text is simple and accessible, feeling almost like a vintage tale until the nesting begins.

The art and book design here are fantastic. The nested books even feel right inside the larger images that form a frame around them. Each book has a cover that represents what is inside it, much like the main cover does with the boy in snow gear reading on a beach under a ringed planet.

Clever and funny, this is a rewarding book to explore. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from copy provided by Holiday House.

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins

Secret Sisters of the Salty Sea by Lynne Rae Perkins (9780062499684)

Released May 15, 2018.

Newbery-Medal winner Perkins returns with a charming story of a summer vacation on the beach. Alix and Jools are heading out with their parents for their first beach vacation ever. It means leaving Alix’s best friend behind as well as their dog for a whole week. Both Alix and Jools are nervous about the trip, but they soon discover the many pleasures of being on a beach: sandcastles, long walks on the shore, bike rides, a local bakery, and maybe even a new friend. There are also surprises for them like eating periwinkles they gather themselves, seeing horseshoe crabs, and making a connection with a wounded falcon. It’s a week they will never forget and one that they hope to repeat again.

Perkins writes with a light hand for young readers. There is a sense of adventure on the pages and yet the discoveries and experiences are wonderfully mundane and things that children might experience themselves. The two sisters are quite different with Alix being a person who jumps in and tries things and Jools being more mature about things and less likely to take risks. As their vacation week progresses, they both learn that the other sister wishes they had some of the same qualities.

The art in the book breaks the text up nicely for young readers and also invites the reader to better understand what is happening the story. From horseshoe crabs to the landlady to releasing a falcon, the images are sand-filled and merry.

A great summer read for younger readers. Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Greenwillow Books and Edelweiss.

Harry and Clare’s Amazing Staycation by Ted Staunton


Harry and Clare’s Amazing Staycation by Ted Staunton, illustrated by Mika Song

Released February 7, 2017.

Brother and sister, Harry and Clare, aren’t going anywhere for their spring break plus it’s raining. But they manage to visit exotic locales anyway, using their imaginations. Their living room turns into the volcanic surface of Mars. The next day they raced cars in the grocery store. The third day, they went to the local pool and Harry was forced to walk the plank. In fact, every day Clare decided on the game and then managed to eat Harry’s snack along with her own. As the week went by though, Harry started to plan a way to keep the snacks for himself and decide on the game.

The dynamics between these two siblings are wonderfully honest and accurate. The older sister who knows all and manages to be tricky too. The younger brother who loves the games that he plays with his sister at first and then slowly realizes that he wants some decision-making power too. The two children are the only real characters in the book with parents along the periphery but nothing more. Harry himself figures out the way to get his sister’s attention through food and then how to insert his own point of view into their play. It’s done gently and intelligently without drama.

Song’s illustrations embrace the imaginative play of the children, showing how a playground transforms into a jungle and a couch becomes the way to the volcano. The pictures have a playful lightness. The hair of the children is wonderfully wild, exactly the way that children’s hair really looks, particularly while on school break.

Perfect for your next staycation or any time that children are spending time at home, this picture book is exactly the snack kids will want. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Netgalley and Tundra Books.



Review: The Specific Ocean by Kyo Maclear

Specific Ocean by Kyo Maclear

The Specific Ocean by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Katty Maurey

Released on August 1, 2015.

A girl does not want to leaver her friends behind in the city and head off for summer vacation. There’s nothing to do in the little house near the ocean that she used to call The Specific Ocean instead of the Pacific. She starts out with a moping schedule and refuses to head to the water. The next day though, she does go down with her family and the water is cold but it also has warm spots. The next day, she races her brother down to the beach. They spend time floating in the waves, walking along the shoreline, and sitting on the rocks to watch the waves. The girl decides that she wants to have some of the ocean to call her own and to bring home, but that won’t work. So she has to figure out how to take the feeling of it home with her, deep inside.

Maclear has written a book about the process of change and the time that it takes to allow new experiences in. Time in the book moves slowly forward, allowing the girl the chance to change her mind in a natural way. Then the connection with nature becomes a delight, a way to spend the long days of vacation. The ocean becomes not just a source of activity for her, but a source of personal peace and joy. That process is honored here, that feeling of being connected to the world as a whole and wanting to keep that feeling with you every day. The prose in this book is exceptional. Maclear writes in first person and allows the girl’s voice to be poetic but still childlike and simple.

Maurey’s illustrations are filled with an inner glow that is helped by the pastel palette that is used. The sun shines on the page, the water beckons. The book has that dreamlike quality that many good vacations do, especially those filled with salt water and sand.

This quiet picture book speaks to those who don’t like change but is ultimately about nature and its power in our lives. Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Kids Can Press.

Book Review: A Good Knight’s Rest by Shelley Moore Thomas


A Good Knight’s Rest by Shelley Moore Thomas, illustrated by Jennifer Plecas

The Good Knight has had a very busy day of saving princesses and even rescuing a cat from a tree.  He is worn out and weary and decides to go on vacation.  When he goes to say goodbye to the dragons, they ask if they can come with him.  Being the good knight he is, the Good Knight agrees to bring them along.  As they travel, the dragons have them stop again and again to stretch and use the bushes.  Each time, the knight does not want to stop but ends up finding a peaceful spot.  Just when he starts to relax, the dragons want to leave again.  So it goes again and again until finally the dragons realize that the knight really needs some rest and they solve the problem perfectly.

I have long enjoyed the Good Knight series with its gracious and patient Good Knight and the three rambunctious dragons.  This book works particularly well with its strong structure, repetition and the ending that will have everyone smiling.  Thomas writes with a great touch for pacing and an ear for repetition so that it adds to the humor and the tone of the book.

Plecas’ art is bright, colorful and engaging.  Readers will be able to visually see the Good Knight getting more and more tired as they continue their travels.  The wide-eyed dragons are never frightening, rather they are child-like and goofy.

A great book to take on your own summer vacation or to share at naptime or bedtime.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Dutton Children’s Books.

Little Blog on the Prairie

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell

When Gen’s mother signs the family up for Camp Frontier, they don’t know what they are getting into.  Now they must live like they are 1890s pioneers.  Which means wearing authentic clothing, cooking on a wood burning stove, milking cows, raising chickens, and living in a tiny cabin in the woods with an outhouse.  All of their electronics are confiscated when they enter camp, but Gen manages to sneak in her cell phone.  From there, she texts her best friends one of whom turns her texts into a blog for an assignment.  All is not dull work on the prairie, there is handsome Caleb who seems interested in Gen but might like Nora, the daughter of the owners better, and then there is the competition between the families and the drive to not keep being in last place.  Maybe this family bonding thing isn’t so bad after all.

Bell has created a book with a sharp wit and yet a homely warmth.  Gen is a great protagonist whose texts are fun to read.  Bell also has a feel for humor with the killer chickens and the cow milking scene.  Both are worth reading the novel for.  She writes best when dealing with modern teens juxtaposed with the world of 1890.  Bell’s writing is stilted in other scenes where there isn’t humor.  Her scenes with Nora and Caleb don’t flow with the same effortlessness as her humor.

Another issue is her characterization of the secondary characters.  Caleb, the love interest, is rather dull and quite normal though nice.  I don’t see why Gen who is bright, funny and complex would be entranced by this boy.  Nora, the homeschooled daughter of the proprietors, is also a disappointment.  Left to be rather cardboard and mean, she could have been a great example of a homeschooled kid.  Instead, she is envious and lonely.  What a missed opportunity she was a character!

One of the big successes of the book is that it never becomes a moral story about the dangers of modern technology and the isolation of modern family life.  Just as the book was approaching that, it veered into an unexpected direction that kept the novel fresh and interesting.

Despite the issues with the book, I could not put it down.  The humor and Gen kept me reading.  Recommended for readers who enjoyed Little House on the Prairie but also modern teens who wonder what would happen if their cell phones, iPods and computers were taken away.  Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from ARC received from Bloomsbury.

Also reviewed by Semicolon.