Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Blessings of the Animals review

When an author combines love and animals in the same novel, I'm pretty much guaranteed to pick it up. But when there's love and animals AND one of my favorite bloggers raves about how much she loves the book, you know I'm going to be picking it up! 

The proverbial rug has been pulled out from under Cami Anderson. Her husband up and leaves her one day, without warning, moving in with a woman much too close to their daughter's age, and refuses to try to work things out. Cami, a veterinarian, throws herself into her work and into the lives of her many friends, determined not to be broken by this man and to set a good example for her daughter, though she feels like doing just the opposite.
What the reader witnesses is a transformation in Cami, in a beautiful horse, in a cat, and in a myriad of wonderful friends and family. Each character (and there are many) has a certain richness and love about them that makes you want to keep reading about their stories, even when they aren't shown in a particularly good light. You connect with Davy and David as they attempt to adopt their first child; with Tyler as he tries to move on from his breakup with Gabriella, while still working at Cami's clinic; and with Moonshot, a horse with an attitude, but a huge heart. You'll laugh with all of them and you'll be heartbroken as each moves through the hard parts of love. Love in its many wondrous and devastating forms.

Whether describing human emotion or animal emotion, Kittle will hit you hard with her beautiful writing and well-crafted storytelling. I was impressed with how well she was able to describe the connection between human and animal, and found myself in tears as I realized that I print...just how my own animal saved me. Cami and Moonshot? They were myself and Shae not too long ago. I didn't suffer from a divorce, but the pain of devastation and the pure sadness that I felt were hauntingly similar. And though I thought those emotions were indescribable, Kittle indeed described them.

You will not want to put this book down until you finished it all and even then, you won't be able to stop think about Cami or any of the other characters. And then you'll want to run out and get this for all of your girlfriends, your mom, your sister. It's that good. 

The Blessing of the Animals
Katrina Kittle
464 pages
Adult Fiction
Harper Perennial
August 2010
Book borrowed from my local library

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What Happened on Fox Street review

Mo Wren is an 11-year-old girl living with her widower father and younger sister on Fox Street. None of the residents of Fox Street have a lot of money or a super-nice house, but every takes care of one another in their own way. From Da across the way who has taken on the role of Grandmother to the neighborhood, to the Boggett boys that stick up for each other (even when they're being mischievous boys), and even cranky Mrs. Steinbott who attempts to make nice with her neighbors after being crochety for years. 

However, this particular summer, things start to get shaken up on Fox Street. A mysterious letter arrives for Mo's father, in which a businessman is offering to buy their house, Da is feeling out of sorts, Mercedes, Da's granddaughter from out of town and Mo's best friend, arrives with a new snotty attitude and some scary news, and Dottie, Mo's little sister, is acting like a complete wild child. Thrown in a first love interest and poor Mo is a wreck!

Let me just tell you, librarians, teachers, and parents everywhere, have been waiting for this book for a long time. Mo is not only a refreshing, thoughtful main character, but she is living the life that a lot of us are living during this economic downturn. Lack of money and the lure of more of it have become a part of our every day lives, children included, and this is a book that truly showcases that, without being in-your-face. Mo is an average girl, in a great neighborhood that just happens to be facing a lot of trouble. 

While reading this, I was constantly reminded of The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. The story is perfect for a read aloud with your family and features such a great cast of characters that you'll have a hard time picking your favorite. And you (and the kids) will love going on a personal journey with Mo as she has revelations about what it means to grow up on Fox Street, what it means to not have a mother, and just who she really wants to be in the world. 

I see awards in the future for this fabulous book by Tricia Springstubb!

What Happened on Fox Street 
Tricia Springstubb
224 pages
Middle Grade 
Balzer & Bray
August 2010
Review copy borrowed

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Invisible Order: Rise of the Darklings review

12-year-old Emily and her younger brother, William, have been on their own on the streets of London since their parents disappeared in separate incidences. Neither have returned to care for the children, so Emily wakes early each morning to sell watercress on the street, hoping to earn enough money to feed them for the day.

One morning, on her way to pick up her watercress, she comes across what appear to be tiny people, fighting in an alleyway. Emily has stumbled onto an unknown part of reality--the fact that members of the faerie kingdom actually exist among people and are attempting to take over the city. 

Emily quickly makes friends with members of The Invisible Order, a secret society who have made it their mission to protect the human world from those in the evil faerie world, and takes on a seemingly impossible fight for both her family and for the good of humans. Add in a really great mystery and this is one pretty awesome book!

Emily is such a likable character, you're going to get pulled into her internal battle immediately. Author Paul Crilley has managed to create a whole lineup of interesting, well-written characters, but most of all, you're going to love Emily and her story. There's even a bit of humor with some of the characters, which keeps the darkness of the setting and overall plot moving at a readable pace.

Combining a huge amount of magic and fantasy and blending it with a setting of Victorian England couldn't have been easy, but each part of the story is presented in a realistic you'll believe and easily fall into. I had been needing a good, middle grade fantasy read for awhile, especially with my presence on this year's Cybils YA panel guaranteeing to take up ALL of my MG reading time, and this hit the spot. 

There is a complexity to the story that isn't often found in middle grade fantasy books. Emily learns that trusting people quickly can lead to a horrible outcome and that a lot of the people she comes in contact with have more of a personal agenda than a desire for overall good. She must use her instincts to get herself out of tight spots and discover who really is good in the world.

I really enjoyed this one! I'm not a huge fan of the cover, but that's just a personal issue (I'm picky when it comes to covers, let's face it), but I was really impressed with the characterization and the fact that I didn't want to put it down, I needed to know what happened next. Definitely a fast read, one I would hand to fantasy fans AND reluctant readers. 

The Invisible Order: Rise of the Darklings
Paul Crilley
352 pages
Middle Grade
September 2010
Review copy provided by publisher

Monday, September 27, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday: Frozen Secrets

Ok, so call me a geek, but I think anything about Antarctica is just so, incredibly cool. No pun intended. It is just amazing that animals and organisms and all that science stuff can actually survive in such a freezing climate, successfully! I even went through a penguin phase in my teen years, where I was obsessed with anything that had to do with Emperor penguins, because I just found them so fascinating. I've since moved onto dogs, but I suppose that's irrelevant. 

When this book came for review, I knew I would like it for two reasons. For reason number 1, see above. Reason number two is that it's written by Sally M. Walker, author of the amazing Written in Bone, which I also really loved. This woman does her research! From page one of Frozen Secrets, with it's amazing satellite photograph of Earth, to the very end where you'll find an extensive index, glossary, bibliography, and source note references, you will easily be able to tell how much time went into creating an informative and interesting book about this crazy cold continent. 

Tidbits about the first expeditions to the continent in the early twentieth century are followed up with current methods of research of the region and how humans actually manage to survive when exploring there. Amazing photographs accompany each page, some of the tools used to first explore, some of what's under all the ice, and some of animals and landscape. All are fabulous. My favorite is on page 22 and features a tent pitched on the flat ice, with the Northern Lights illuminating the sky. I cannot imagine what it would be like to see those! 

This book would be an excellent classroom resource for units on exploration, Antarctic wildlife, and scientific research. Sally Walker has now twice proven herself to be a fantastic writer of non-fiction for teens and middle graders and I'm definitely looking forward to what she sends out next. 

Frozen Secrets: Antarctica Revealed
Sally M. Walker
104 pages
Carolrhoda Books
October 2010
Review copy provided by publisher

Sunday, September 26, 2010

IMM Week 11

 I got some fantastic books in my mailbox this week and am really hoping for some time to get to them before the Cybils get started here in a few weeks. I'm rushing to get anything read that is not YA Fiction and therefore couldn't be nominated in my category.

Look at all of these goodies:

The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney- I've been hoping to get a copy of this one since the buzz started and it finally came!

Delirium by Lauren Oliver- I know this will start some of you drooling! One of my bosses was able to score a couple of copies from the NAIBA conference this week and was nice enough to hand one over to me when she got back. Woohoo!

Selling Hope by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb- A middle grade novel publishing in November that I hadn't previously heard anything about, but after reading the description am very excited for.

The Wishing Trees by John Shors- an adult fiction novel with a blurb by Wally Lamb on the front. Intriguing, to say the least.

Small, Medium, & Large by Jane Monroe Donovan
First Dog's White House Christmas by J. Patrick Lewis
The Night Henry Ford Met Santa by Carol Hagen
The Legend of Papa Noel by Terri Hoover Dunham

All of the Christmas books are for a blog tour in November for Sleeping Bear Press. Look for those in a couple of months!

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi of The Story Siren.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Picture Book Saturday

I have a few of new books for you all this week. Enjoy!

Stalling by Alan Katz and illustrator Elwood H. Smith

I'm a big fan of Katz and his silly songs found in Take Me Out of The Bathtub. It's one that I always recommend when someone is looking for a really silly book for kids that aren't quite into the whole reading thing yet. This latest one is another that would a good choice for reluctant listeners, as it's a funny read and filled with great, mixed-media illustrations.

Dan is the master of stalling before bedtime and he goes through his huge list of all the things he has to do before getting ready to go to bed, like visiting the Nile, eating noodles, painting with glitter, and a whole bunch of other equally silly tasks. Some of the rhymes are a stretch, so as big group read aloud this might not be the best choice, but for those that are looking for a silly story about a kid that just doesn't want to go to bed, this is a great one.

I love mixed-media illustrations and these are really a fantastic use of that form. Each page includes drawings and photographs and other forms of art, making for an interesting visual mix.

Alan Katz
40 pages
Picture Book
Margaret K. McElderry
September 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Balancing Act by Ellen Stoll Walsh

A pair of mice build a teeter-totter and have fun balancing perfectly on it with each other. More animals come wanting a turn on the teeter-totter as well, making the act of balancing a bit more complex. As everyone works together, each one is able to enjoy themselves and have fun with the toy!

The illustrations remind me SO much of Leo Lionni's work, which is what made me want to review it in the first place. And then I realized that I recognized it from Mouse Paint! Never made the connection until I read the author blurb.

The story is really cute and super simple, perfect for those just moving out of the board book stage. The text is educational, working on the act of balance and all that fun stuff, but it's also a sweet read, with great illustrations.

I'll be gifting this one to several toddlers that I know!

Balancing Act
Ellen Stoll Walsh
32 pages
Picture Book
Beach Lane Books
September 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Animal House by Candace Ryan and illustrator Nathan Hale

What a fun book! In this one, we meet Jeremy, whose teacher, Mrs. Nuddles doesn't believe the stories he tells about his home being a true animal house, so she decides to make a home visit. And she is most certainly surprised when she realizes Jeremy was telling the truth about his armapillows, the floormingos, his homework-eating vulchair, and his kangaroom. 

Super silly! After reading the book, it would be fun to go through each page with your children and have them pick out the animals in each picture. Interactive AND giggle-worthy! And the illustrations are done by none other than Nathan Hale, which is, of course, fantastic!

Animal House
Candace Ryan
40 pages
Picture Book
Walker Books
September 2010
Review copy provided by publisher

Friday, September 24, 2010

It's that time of year again!

Four years ago, on a whim, I applied for a position on a Cybils panel, never expecting to actually be placed on my first choice, which that year happened to be the Middle Grade Fiction panel. I was, in fact, placed on that panel and every year since I have participated in the Cybils on a Round 1 panel. 

This year I've once again been lucky enough to be placed on the Young Adult Fiction panel, which some fantastic bloggers! I'm excited to get reading everyone's nominations, though (as always) a bit intimidated at the numbers of nominations that are actually going to roll in. I think last year we had 138, so we'll see what we get to this year. 

My fellow panelists are:

Organizer: Jackie Parker-Robinson Interactive Reader

Cherylynne W. Bago, View from Above and Beyond
Justina Ireland, The YA 5
Kelly Jensen, Stacked
Ami Jones, Three Turtles and Their Pet Librarian
Melissa Wiley, Here in the Bonny Glen     

It will certainly be a crazy few months, but I'm definitely looking forward to some great book discussions!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bamboo People review

Mitali Perkins has a knack for creating intricate, believable characters and has definitely done so in Bamboo People. The story of two boys, Chiko, a child forced into being a soldier for the Burmese government, and Tu Rei, a Karenni boy, whose people the Burmese are attempting to take over will give you both sides of a relatively unknown story. The boys are set up by society to be enemies, but both possess personalities that ultimately draw them into a strange, yet touching friendship. 

Not only will readers learn a lot about a culture they probably haven't heard a whole lot about, as well as an ongoing problem with child soldiers in that region of the world, but they'll also be taken by the personal stories of both Chiko and Tu Rei. They're written so realistically that one can't help but put themselves into the position of these boys. It's a terrifying concept to even think about, from either side of the war, and a true inspiration to spread the word about this subject. 

I did find portions of the story to be a bit wordy, going on for longer than I would have liked, but I have absolutely no other complaints. I loved this latest piece by Mitali Perkins from cover to cover (and even quite literally the cover)! I am always amazed at how much she is able to educate, as well as entertain with her books. 

A great choice to read aloud with your class for a unit on world conflict or something along those lines.

Bamboo People
Mitali Perkins
272 pages
Middle Grade
Charlesbridge Publishing
July 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Soft Place to Land review

Julia and Ruthie are typical sisters, growing up with parents that are still in love, in a beautiful home and ritzy Atlanta neighborhood. When a freak plane crash takes the lives of both their parents, the girls are obviously devastated, each beginning to deal with their grief in their own ways...some healthy, some not. When the girls are split up by decree of the will, Ruthie heading to San Franciso with a loving Aunt, and Julia to her biological dad's house in Virginia, their lives are completely overturned once again. 

Ruthie narrates the story and we're able to witness her progress through grief and her teen years while living in San Francisco. She worries about her sister (and rightly so), especially when Julia is finally able to come for a visit and ends up running away, drowning her sorrows in drugs and alcohol. These poor girls have a lot of craziness to deal with and neither is quite sure which way is right and which is wrong.

I had heard so much great buzz surrounding Susan Rebecca White's latest novel and had really high hopes that it would live up to the hype. After finishing it, I enjoyed the story, but didn't get a whole lot out of either Ruthie or Julia. No character connection. I felt so much of the story was spent on Ruthie and her feelings about just having lost her parents, being separated from Julia, and moving across the country, and then so little spent on Julia. 

The time of loss and subsequent moves took up so much of the book that the part of the story that took place at college or after Julia's experience at rehab was super short and rushed. Overall though, it kept me entertained and I was able to enjoy the plot. Definitely lacking of a "wow factor" though.

A Soft Place to Land 
Susan Rebecca White
352 pages
Adult Fiction
Touchstone Books
April 2010 
Book borrowed from my local library

Monday, September 20, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday: Is That a Fact?

A few months back, I reviewed a couple of books from a new series called "Is That a Fact?" and this Fall season, Lerner has published even more titles for it, which is very exciting. The series has all the makings of a huge hit among kids, from elementary school alllll the way up to high school, which definitely doesn't happen very often.

I was pretty thrilled to get most of the ones that are new to the series to peruse and share with you!

The first, Do People Really Have Tiny Insects Living in Their Eyelashes? and other Questions about the Microscopic World is by Melissa Stewart and answers questions regarding parasites, mites, and bacteria that have the chance to possibly make us sick (or at least really itchy).

Then I went through Did Greek Soldiers Really Hide Inside the Trojan Horse? and other Questions about the Ancient World by Carol M. Scavella Burrell in which the questions range from those on mummies and whether or not Mount Olympus was a real place, to Romans having such large meals that they had to vomit between course and what Julias Caesar's last words were.

Did Castles Have Bathrooms? and other Questions about the Middle Ages by Ann Kerns obviously focuses on all this Middle Ages. Robin Hood, King Arthur, and dentists all make an appearance in this one.

Can Rats Swim from Sewers into Toilets? and other Questions about your Home by Alison Behnke was probably the most interesting to me. From decapitating ceiling fans to "minute rice" and Betty Crocker, I had a good time learning about household facts and some fiction.

Finally, Does a Ten-Gallon Hat Really Hold Ten Gallons? and other Questions about Fashion, also by Alison Behnke, has all kinds of neat questions about corsets, hoop skirts, and footwear.

These books, like everything else Lerner puts out, are durable (great for libraries) and filled with bright photographs, lots of facts all over the pages, and a readable, appealing format. No long pages of text in these books! Facts and fact boxes galore! Even adults will learn quite a bit and it's fun to find questions that you've wondered about yourself for so long! A glossary is included in the back of each book for help with difficult words/concepts and a section for further reading is included as well.

These would be a really nice addition to any library or for homeschooling families. A non-fiction series that kids are going to WANT to read!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

IMM Week 10

I had a great week in terms of books and what showed up in my mailbox! Several I'm excited about, a few I hadn't heard of, and overall lots of new things to look forward to.

All are for review this week, as my bank account is screaming "NO" very loudly in regards to any purchasing. Could be that new lawn mower we just had to buy today and the huge bill we got from the motorcycle repair shop for my husband's bike. Yikes. Anyways, on to the books!

Animal House by Candace Ryan and illustrator Nathan Hale
Haven't heard much about this one, but was contacted by the author for a review. Looks really cute!

Scaredy-Cat, Splat! by Rob Scotton
Huge Splat fan! And this one looks to be fabulous for a Halloween-themed Picture Book Saturday.

The Boy in the Garden by Allen Say
It's by Allen Say. Enough said.

Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier
I know a ton of you have really been looking forward to this one. I'm not a huge zombie fan OR a huge unicorn fan, BUT I loved the Black and Larbalestier collaboration in Geektastic, so I'm anxious to see what this one will do for me.

The Fourth Stall by Chris Rylander
This one doesn't publish until early next year and I hadn't heard anything about it. It's described as "Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets The Sopranos," so we'll see what that actually means!

Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Another one for early next year and another I hadn't yet heard of. Seems to be about a 10 year old in Vietnam during the war...sounds like something I'll enjoy!

Pull by B.A. Binns
An inner-city Chicago teen dealing with the murder of his mother at the hands of his father. Sounds intense.

365 Days to a Prayer-Filled Life by Germaine Copeland
I've been looking for a new devotional for a couple of weeks, so hopefully this one delivers!

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi of The Story Siren.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Picture Book Saturday

I'm getting this to you a bit late this week, but Picture Book Saturday is here! I swear, I am totally off my blogging game this week. With any hope, next week will be much better...


In Front of My House by Marianne Dubuc

Such a simple idea, both in text and illustrations for this pint-sized book, but the simplicity is done SO well. Readers are given a tour of a house, beginning with a front yard, a rosebush, and a window, and moving into the narrator's room, a book of stories, what's under the bed, etc. Again, very simple, but a cute and fun premise. 

The illustrations were adorable, done with simple colored pencil drawings (or so it appeared) and the text was sparse on the page, often only one or two words. I was impressed with the wide range of children this could appeal to, starting with those just coming out of the board book stage OR those just beginning to read on their own. It's presented as a picture, so it doesn't look "babyish," but it has less words than some board books. 

A great book in a small package!

In Front of My House 
Marianne Dubuc
120 pages
Picture Book
Kids Can Press
September 2010
Review copy provided by publisher

Betsy Red Hoodie by Gail Carson Levine and illustrator Scott Nash

A hilarious fairy tale retelling by one of the best fantasy writers out there! Betsy Red Hoodie is taking cupcakes to Grandma for the first time by herself and brings along her best friend Zimmo (who happens to be a wolf), even though she knows that wolves aren't good for grandmas. 

As they get closer and closer to Grandma's house, Betsy feels she just may have made a terrible mistake in letting Zimmo come along and realizes that she must save her Grandma! Her sheep that came along for the trip as well keep distracting her, making it very difficult for Betsy to get to her destination and allow for Zimmo to run ahead...bad news for Grandma? Or a surprise for Betsy?

The illustrations are fun and interesting, especially the expressions on the different sheep faces. The little speech bubbles on several pages added the perfect amount of humor and the ending of the story was unexpected and a lot of fun. 

Cute for a read aloud, especially for those fans of fairy tales!

Betsy Red Hoodie
Gail Carson Levine
40 pages
Picture Book
September 2010
Review copy provided by publisher

Ruth and the Green Book by Calvin Alexander Ramsey and illustrator Floyd Cooper

This one is a definitely for your older kids, just due to the concept being a bit above the little ones' heads.

Ruth and her family are taking a trip in their new car, all the way to Alabama and she couldn't be more excited! It's 1952 and unfortunately, Ruth quickly learns that not all people are accepting of blacks in their restaurants or their hotels and often they have to search for a different place to eat or sleep for the night. 

A friendly gas station attendant finally shows Ruth's family The Green Book, a collection of places that would welcome black travelers. With the new book and some newfound friends, Ruth and her parents were able to safely make their trip all the way from Chicago to Alabama. 

The story is fiction, but The Green Book is definitely real! I had never heard of the book before, but I can imagine it was a huge blessings to black families traveling in those days. The last page of the book shares more information on how The Green Book got started and just what it include. 

A nicely done story with great information on a lesser-known topic.

Ruth and the Green Book
Calvin Alexander Ramsey
32 pages
Picture Book
Carolrhoda Books
August 2010
Review copy provided by publisher

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sleeping Bear new releases

I've been a bit MIA this week, as I forgot to schedule posts last weekend for all of these days that I'll be gone to work until late. I'll definitely remedy that for next week, but for now, I just wanted to share with you some new additions to one of my series.

I've written about Sleeping Bear's Alphabet books many, many times, so I don't think I need to write out reviews of each of these, gushing about how much I love them. Just trust me, I do! The latest titles are:

E is for Eiffel Tower: A France Alphabet by Helen L. Wilbur and illustrator Yan Nascimbene

D is for Down Under: An Australia Alphabet by Devin Scillian and illustrator Geoff Cook


S if for Scientists: A Discovery Alphabet by Larry Verstraete and illustrator David Geister

As always, great illustrations, simple rhymes and more complex educational facts for the older kids.

Review copies kindly received by Sleeping Bear Press.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Things a Brother Knows review

Levi has always looked up to his brother, Boaz, but when the elder brother joins the Marines and ends up gone, fighting the war for three years, things between the brothers change. Levi realizes that things have changed even more than he imagined, when Boaz returns home from the war and proceeds to sit in his locked room, speaking to no one, obsessively working on a mysterious project for hours on end. 

For the past three years, Levi had to deal with not only the absence of his brother, but also the concept of Boaz being a hero. Levi is tired of always being referred to as "Boaz's brother" and has been forced to go through high school as just that. And now that Boaz is back and acting very much anti-hero, Levi isn't really sure what his role as a brother is anymore. 

When Boaz sets off a strange and secretive journey, Levi does what any little brother would do and follows him. The pair end up on an emotional walk where one learns more about the other than either imagined. Levi has never really known what to believe, in terms of whether the war is good or bad, whether he's supposed to help his brother or leave him alone, but he knows he has to do something.

I took an emotional rollercoaster with Dana Reinhardt's latest book, but one I didn't want to get off. My husband, being a veteran of this current war as well, was in the back of my mind the entire time I was reading, making it a bit more difficult reading on that level, but I was so in love with the writing, that my own personal emotions just made the situation of Levi and Boaz feel more real.

There are certainly some funny moments with Levi's friends, Zim and Pearl, making the heaviness of the subject matter bearable. The author managed to create these amazing characters and make their emotions and dialogue feel realistic, by taking the sadness and mental hardships of Boaz and Levi and infusing sarcasm and wit from caring friends.

I've loved Dana Reinhardt's work since I picked up How to Build a House a few years ago and this latest book does not disappoint. One of the best I've read this year, I'm highly recommending it to all of you!

What a great cover too!

Things a Brother Knows
Dana Reinhardt
256 pages
Young Adult
Wendy Lamb Books
September 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday: Rainforests!

I've had two great books about rainforests sitting here, waiting to be reviewed, and today's the day! If you're a teacher or a librarian, I would definitely look into having both of these on your shelves, one for the younger age groups and one for the older.

Looking Closely in the Rain Forest by Frank Serafini is for the younger crowd, but is enchanting for older kids and adults as well. I reviewed Looking Closely Around the Pond several months ago and though this one is the same idea, I think it's even better executed.

We're given a super-zoomed in photo of something you would find in the rainforest, along with a little riddle teasing you about what it might be. The child can make some guesses and then flip the page for the answer. Another beautiful photo will show what we were trying to guess, along with a short fact blurb about the animal/plant.

The photos are great and the text informative, yet sparse (in a good way). Kids can start to get an idea of what a rainforest might hold, without being bogged down with a lot of info.

A great choice for classrooms!
Looking Closely Around the Rain Forest
Frank Serafini
40 pages
Kids Can Press
August 2010
Review copy provided by publisher

Seymour Simon's latest Smithsonian adventure is called Tropical Rainforests and features some really awesome photographs of the rainforest and what animals/bugs/flowers we find there.

Another introduction to non-fiction books, this one is a bit more advanced than Looking Closely in the Rain Forest, as there's more text and slightly more advanced concepts. We get into ecosystems, temperature, and the facts about rainforest depletion.

I've been a huge fan of this series since I started reading them several years ago (there's like 25 or something crazy like that) and am always impressed with the visual appeal and the factual content. Easy to read and presented in a beautiful manner, these Smithsonian books are winners for sure!

Tropical Rainforests
Seymour Simon
32 pages
August 2010
Review copy provided by publisher

Sunday, September 12, 2010

IMM Week 9

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi of The Story Siren. Head on over and see what a couple hundred others got in their mailboxes this week!

I had a slower week in terms of review copies, but I'm actually really happy about that. Starting this job at the indie children's bookstore has me needing to read THEIR review copies to prep for upcoming books on the shelves, so I've had double the books to read in half the amount of time!

For review:

Lulu and the Brontosaurus by Judith Viorst
I, Emma Freke by Elizabeth Atkinson
Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

What did you get in your mailbox?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Picture Book Saturday: New Favorites

Well, with the huge outpouring of support I received in favor of this Picture Book Saturday feature (thank you again!), I thought that this week I would do reviews of books I'm adding to my "favorites" list. And ALL of them came out pretty recently, which is a hint that this years book awards season is going to be super tough! So many good books this year!

Boss Baby by Marla Frazee

Hilarious! If you ever need a gift for a new mom, this would be the book to give them, as every page shows the reality of having a baby. Business suit and all!

As soon as the baby arrives, everyone knows that he is the boss. From putting his parents on a schedule and having them work long nights, to making demands, spending lots of time in the "lounge" and the "spa," and conducting meetings, the baby is most definitely in charge.

The illustrations are fantastic (as Marla Frazee's always are) and the story is just super cute. Older "new" siblings will also get a kick out of this one as they compare the boss baby to their little brother or sister. A great read aloud with perfect pacing and an awesome baby shower gift!

The Boss Baby
Marla Frazee
40 pages
Picture Book
Beach Lane
August 2010

A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea by Michael Ian Black and Kevin Hawkes

Definitely this author/illustrator pair's best! Listing all of the reasons a pig parade would be a bad idea, from pigs hating to march, to refusing to wear majorette uniforms and having horrible taste in music, the reader will not be able to stop laughing turning the pages.

The illustrations highlight the text perfectly (this could actually be a pretty awesome wordless book too) adding to the overall silliness of the book. It would make an absolutely fantastic read aloud for your family or for a storytime...I highly suggest it for a toddler storytime!

A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea
Michael Ian Black
40 pages
Picture Book
Simon & Schuster
September 2010
Review copy provided by publisher

Art & Max by David Weisner

Let it be said now, this is my choice for the Caldecott Medal come February. When I'm right, you can say that you read it here :)

Themes of imagination and creativity are definitely front and center, as we meet Arthur and Max, two artsy lizards, painting in the desert. Max is portrayed as the exasperating friend that wants to do everything Arthur is doing, until he decides that literally painting Arthur is the best idea of all. 

What ends up transpiring is a beautiful collection of illustrations featuring both bright and bold colors and no color at all. The amount of detail that went into each page is astounding, especially in the actual bodies of the lizards, I couldn't stop looking at them!

The actual story would be great for kids that aren't quite sure their methods of creativity are "correct." Max and Arthur show us that no way is "the right way" and that having fun and being silly are the most important rules of all. I loved this one!

Art & Max
David Weisner
40 pages
Picture Book
September 2010
Review copy provided by publisher

Friday, September 10, 2010

Half Brother review

Thirteen-year-old Ben Tomlin has been raised the only child of two scientists, each very dedicated to the world of science and progress. When his parents decide to bring home a newborn chimpanzee to attempt to teach him language, Ben is totally skeptical and unsure of how his life will be changed by an animal living in his house.

Zan integrates into the family much easier than anyone expected and his language skills grow at an incredible rate. Ben is surprised at how attached he has become to his "little brother" in such a short period of time and spends lots of time with Zan, in-between chasing girls, trying to make new friends, and attempting to be a typical teen boy.

Part coming-of-age story, part animal-interest story, Half Brother was an excellent read in terms of plot and character development. Ben is written in such a realistic manner, that I wanted to be his friend, as well as his
cheerleader. He has big ideas for a thirteen-year-old and his determination and heart definitely shine.

Humor is intertwined with the seriousness of the subject manner and you'll definitely want a tissue or two handy!

Half Brother
Kenneth Oppel
384 pages
Young Adult
September 2010
Borrowed ARC

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Crossing the Tracks review

It's 1926 and Iris is a charming 15 year old girl growing up in , sent by her neglectful, widower father to become a companion to an elderly woman living in the country. Iris is a self-proclaimed "city girl" and knows that moving to Missouri to stay with a country doctor and his mother is going to be difficult and even a bit scary, especially when she has to leave her best friend, Leroy, behind.

When she arrives, clueless to how to care for an aging woman or how to run a household, Iris is timid and keeps her thoughts to herself. The Nesbitts welcome her with open arms and as she becomes comfortable with the doctor and his mother and t(heir quirks), she slowly comes out of her shell and blossoms into the beautiful young woman her father had been holding back all of those years. 

When news of a tragedy at home is brought to Iris, her whole world is turned upside-down and her newfound comfort is upended. No longer sure where she fits in or who even wants her around, Iris does some deep soul-searching before finally allow her heart to feel again.

If I didn't tell you that Barbara Stuber was a debut novelist, you would never know it. The writing that comes off of these pages is that of a veteran, not a newbie to the writing world! The story is fantastic, beautiful and relaxing. And the characters are all done so well, that you'll have a hard time picking a favorite...I'm torn between Mrs. Nesbitt and Marie (the dog of course!). 

This is the type of book that you want to cuddle up with a blanket and read, with a hot mug of cider or tea and an animal at your feet if you have one (if not, I will rent mine for a fee). It's a cozy story, with a certain richness that just pulls you in and makes you want to know more about more about these people. You'll become friends with them as the story goes on and when the book is finished, letting them go will be harder than you think!

There isn't a whole lot of "action" or twists and turns, but you won't miss any of that page-turning stuff for a second. Every once in awhile it's necessary to slowly enjoy a story..and often those are the ones that stick with you the longest. I loved it!

Awesome debut Ms. Stuber!

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

Crossing the Tracks
Barbara Stuber
272 pages
Young Adult 
Margaret K. McElderry
July 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Wildthorn review

Louisa Cosgrove, a 17 year old from a prominent family, believes she is on her way to be the companion to a rich friend of the family doctor. Already not happy about the arrangements, she is incredibly upset to find herself at an asylum, where a mistake has obviously been made about her identity. She is continuously referred to as "Lucy Childs" and stripped of her belongings, clothing, and dignity. Her privacy is taken away completely, she is locked up, and continuously bullied by one of the nurses on her floor. 

Louisa knows she must find a way out and back to her family, who must be frantic about where she's ended up, but she doesn't know who to trust inside the asylum, including herself at times. She thinks she's sure about who she is, but with everyone else seeming to know a different identity, Louisa isn't quite sure what to believe anymore, leading her to question decisions she would usually have no trouble making.

Jan Eagland has a great knack for description, detail, and fluid writing. I was drawn in from the first page and found the entire story creepy and lovely at the same time. Hard to do, I'm sure! I really liked the idea of not knowing if we were following Louisa Cosgrove or Lucy Childs until quite a ways into the story as well as the dark and somewhat ominious mood set by the entire book. 

Wildthorn is a unique and very well-written story with an engaging main character, but also a look into what 19th century England was like for women. Wanting to be studious or taking a different path in decisions typically assumed was deemed strange by society and those themes tie in nicely with the creepy factor. 

Really enjoyed this one!
Overall rating: 4 out of 5

Jane Eagland
352 pages
Young Adult
Houghton Mifflin
September 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Monday, September 6, 2010

What I've been up to

These past couple of weeks have flown by in some sort of supersonic blur that I can only half remember, but know I enjoyed. I finally got a job working for our local children's indie bookstore and will now be occupied Monday through Friday. How awesome is that?! I'm ridiculously excited about it and have already loved my first two weeks there. It is definitely taking some getting used to for all of us, with me being gone and dinner not immediately being done at 5pm anymore, but it's working out.

I'll still be blogging and all that fun stuff, it just may not be quite as regular as it is now. I'm also considering possibly stopping one or both of my regular features. I participate in Non-Fiction Monday and host my own Picture Book Saturday each week, and I'm not sure if I'll continue with them. Feedback on that would be awesome, especially if you're a regular reader of either feature. I get a consistent amount of site hits on those days, but I'm not sure if those are actual readers of the features or just those browsing the blog.

In the midst of all the new job mayhem, the husband and I took a weekend trip up to NY in honor of Labor Day for a BBQ and some good family time. I think it was our fourth or fifth trip up there this summer! We've already decided that we won't be heading up there anymore until hours each way isn't a long time until you do it five times. I'm wiped!

We had a great time though, lots of relaxing and playing with our nephews, making s'mores, hanging out in the hot tub and all the guys flying their planes...and eating of course! The Snow's chicken BBQ is famous in the Canandaigua/Newark area and I'm thrilled to be able to get the recipe whenever I want! I read a lot too, especially now that my job requires a whole lot of ARCs to be read, so I downed about 3 this weekend. Reviews to come for some great titles in next month or so. 

So that's what I've been up to, anyone else doing anything fun and exciting lately?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

IMM Week 8

So, I'm currently on a quickie vacation to Upstate NY for some family time, so the IMM this week won't have a video or even a photo of the books I received. BUT, I did get some great titles, that I'm excited to read!

For review:
Smooch Your Pooch by Teddy Slater
A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea by Michael Ian Black
Through a Dog's Eyes by Jennifer Arnold
Annexed by Sharon Dogar
I Heart New York by Lindsey Kelk
The Limit by Kristen Landon

Sea by Heidi R. Kling (I had a Powell's gift card burning a hole in my wallet and you all convinced me this was the one to spend that on!)

In My Mailbox is hosted by Kristi of The Story Siren

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Picture Book Saturday

Happy Saturday everyone! Some great books I've enjoyed this week...hopefully you'll find something to share with your family!

Zen Ghosts by Jon J. Muth

I, like all of you I'm sure, am in love with Muth's "Zen" books and this latest one just might be my favorite. The illustrations are just breathtaking and the story will draw in young AND old readers. 

Stillwater, our beloved panda bear, enchants as usual, while he takes Addy, Michael, and Karl trick-or-treating. When they've finished receiving candy and have filled bags, Stillwater tells them that he has a surprise for them and is bringing them to a storyteller. What is told by the storyteller is an beautiful story that was actually written by a Chinese Buddhist monk in the 13th century. 

A timely story with a great message and AMAZING illustrations is the result of Muth's latest work. I don't think I will ever stop being impressed by this author/illustrator. All libraries should have multiple copies of these books on their shelves and if you need to buy a gift for a child, pick up a "Zen" book!

Overall rating: 5 out of 5

Zen Ghost
Jon J. Muth
40 pages
Picture Book
September 2010
Review copy received from publisher

Elsie's Bird by Jane Yolen and David Small

Jane Yolen is always awesome. Always. Her latest is the story of a girl who has lost her mother and her father move her from Boston to the prairies of Nebraska. She is quite lost without the bustle of the city, but when her beloved bird flies out the window, she's forced to confront the silence outside. She slowly starts to realize that Nebraska isn't quite so bad and she might just be able to call it "home."

David Small's watercolor illustrations are done beautifully and fit with the story perfectly. Though this one is probably best fit for a bit older readers due to the length, the illustrations will certainly please your younger ones. A really nice choice for a family read!

Overall rating: 3 out of 5

Elsie's Bird
Jane Yolen
40 pages
Picture Book
September 2010
Review copy provided by publisher

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Erica Perl stops by!

It's a special day here at the blog, as author Erica Perl is stopping by to share some thoughts on imagination with you! She is the author of the super-adorable new picture book, Dotty, which most definitely has some big ideas on what true imagination is. Enjoy!

As you know, my new picture book, Dotty, illustrated by the wonderful Julia Denos, begins on the first day of the school year.  A girl named Ida walks to school with Dotty, her big, spotted, extremely loyal imaginary friend.  At school, she meets her teacher, her classmates, and several of their imaginary friends as well!  But as the year goes on, the imaginary friends start to disappear… all except Dotty, who has no intention of going anywhere.  This leads to teasing and trouble on the playground, and a surprise ending.  Let’s just say that Ms. Raymond may be an even more perceptive and creative teacher than Ida ever could have imagined.

I’m really excited to talk about imagination, which is a central theme in Dotty.  Especially the enduring power of imagination, which I feel that kids are told they should have less of as they get older.  Imagination is both a useful thing (think of all the inventions we wouldn’t have without it!) and one of life’s greatest pleasures.  One of the things I love about Ms. Raymond is that she reassures Ida – and kids reading Dotty or listening to it being read aloud – while simultaneously positioning herself as a role model for adults.  I think we should all be like Ms. Raymond (I, for one, would like to look like her, too… isn’t she stylish?) and show kids our own silly, imaginative and even “childish” sides.  For example, I often change song lyrics when I sing along.  I also like to make up words when I can’t find the perfect one for the situation.  A family favorite is “floatknocker,” which is a big wind that comes up at the wrong moment and tips over your root beer float. 

When I was a kid, I loved Betty MacDonald's Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books because they featured a grown-up whose inner child was alive and well.  Ms. Raymond is different from Mrs. P-W in many ways, but I hope she will similarly encourage adults to show children that their silly, imaginative, “childish” sides are still alive and well.  And I hope Dotty will show kids that they can keep their imaginations – and their imaginary friends, if they like - for a long, long time.

Thanks for stopping by Erica! 
If you're interested in more of what Erica Perl has to say, she'll be over at Jean Little Library tomorrow!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Market gift!

I don't know about you, but I'm already gearing up for the holiday season with some purchases here and there. We have so many friends/relatives/kiddos to buy for that if I saved it all for December I would be paying off credit cards for the rest of the year! And Suze Orman tells me that's not cool.

So, Market Day! is a set of 4 board books, each focusing on an early learning subject (colors, shapes, opposites, and numbers) and would make a fun gift...or so I'm hoping...for a toddler. The books all come out of the envelope, which then folds out to make a market scene. Sheets of different characters can be popped out and used as great props for explaining the shapes/colors/opposites/etc. and as inspiration for imagination play. 

I can't see this holding up for years, the paper isn't exactly flimsy, but it's just like any lift-the-flap book that is bound to be torn eventually, but it's a unique concept, that the books and the playset can be combined into one. It's easily carried by a handle and isn't at all heavy, so your toddler could carry it himself. 

A neat gift for sure!

Market Day!
Gift set
Kane Miller
Review copy received from publisher