Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, picture books

Don’t Miss: Little John Crow

Little John Crow, by Ziggy and Orly Marley/Illustrated by Gordon Rowe, (Nov. 2021, Akashic Books), $18.95, ISBN: 9781617759802

Ages 5-8

Young vulture Little John Crow happily lives with his parents in Bull Bay, on the edge of Blue Mountains in Jamaica. Initially, he has no idea what his parents do for a living, but discovers – along with his friends – that his parents are vultures. Scavengers. This makes him an outcast among his friends, and a tragedy sends John off on his own, where he meets other vultures who welcome him into their kettle (a group of vultures!). With John and his parents no longer part of the Bay, the ecosystem is disrupted and the remaining animals realize that they were too quick and too harsh to judge their friend. They set out to find him and hope that he’ll be able to restore things to normal.

Vibrant artwork and emotional storytelling come together to create a readable, unputdownable story about prejudice, acceptance, and family – the families we’re born into and found families, with a subplot about disrupting ecosystems. A good addition to collections where animal stories are popular.

Ziggy Marley is a musician, philanthropist, and children’s book author, and the eldest of reggae artist Bob Marley’s children. Visit his website for more about his career. Orly Marley is Ziggy Marley’s wife, is also an entrepreneur and music industry manager. Gordon Rowe is a hip-hop influenced illustrator and designer. You can find his Instagram here.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

A new age-old question: How Did Humans Go Extinct?

How Did Humans Go Extinct?, by Johnny Marciano/Illustrated by Paul Hoppe (Oct. 2021, Black Sheep), $16.95, ISBN: 9781617759277

Ages 3-7

Ten million years, the Earth looks a little different. It looks really futuristic, and the inhabitants? Well, they look a little amphibious. They’re Nøørfbløøks, and according to the science museum, the theory is that they’ve evolved from frogs. But our story revolves around young Plib, a Nøørfbløøk who loves humans, as is obvious from his favorite human stuffie, Frank, and his books and movies (Human Park, How Do Humans Say Good Night, Planet of the Humans). He wants to know how humans went extinct, but his mother is reticent to tell him: it’s really not a story for kids, after all. But when Plib presses, she relents and tells him some pretty uncomfortably plausible theories: pollution, war, and worst of all, they just stopped caring about one another. Plib is crushed at these heartbreaking theories, but Mom shushes his fears away by offering her own theory, which is more comforting. But it’s food for thought, isn’t it? Comic book style artwork has great little details on what archaeologists may find in about 10 million years, and the reasons for our extinction are food for thought and discussion. A smart call to action from a different point of view.

Johnny Marciano is a New York Times best-selling author and illustrator, and the grandson of Ludwig Bemelmans, author and illustrator of the Madeline books. Marciano has continued the series with Madeline and the Old House in Paris, Madeline at the White House, and Madeline and the Cats of Rome. Paul Hoppe is an award-winning illustrator whose artwork regularly appears in the New York Times. See more of Paul Hoppe’s illustration work at his website.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

’80s storytime: Good Times Roll

Good Times Roll, by Ric Ocasek/Illustrated by Rob Sayegh Jr., (Oct. 2021, Akashic Books), $16.95, ISBN: 9781617758485

I’m a 70s and 80s kid, and Akashic’s LyricPop books give me such joy. This latest one is based on The Cars’s 1978 hit, “(Let the) Good Times Roll”. Rob Sayegh Jr. brings a playful spin to this song with two cats, a ball of yarn, and a lot of imagination. The two cats play together as they create waves, rainbows, and zooming planets and stars with the yarn, frolicking through lyrics like, “Let them leave you up in the air. / Let them brush your rock and roll hair. / Let the good times roll”. It’s playful, it’s bright, it’s just fun: just what your ’80s storytime needs.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Wordless wonder: Grand Isle

Grand Isle, by Kate Samworth, (Sept. 2021, Black Sheep), $18.95, ISBN: 9781617759765

Ages 3-8

In the great tradition of wordless adventure stories, Grand Isle takes readers on a big adventure, joining two sisters on a day at the beach for a day of fun. They discover a giant seed pod that just begs to be a canoe; sure enough, they climb aboard and journey to a mysterious island where everything is huge, from the plants to the bugs! When their seed pod canoe gets pulled back to sea, they discover they’re stranded: are they resourceful enough to get back home?

In the vein of books like Aaron Becker’s Journey trilogy, Grand Isle uses illustration to transport readers: the pages burst with color and scale; the characters go from typical size, as they build a sand castle together and roam the coastline, to smaller as they discover the seed pods and arrive at the hidden island. The shift is subtle, with no grand reveal; it’s never disruptive. When the girls arrive at the island, they are tiny and discover giant flora and fauna around them! The illustrations are lush and have beautiful movement to them. A rich story that invites readers to tell you what they see.

See more of Kate Samworth’s work at her website.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

More rockin’ storytimes with Akashic LyricPop!

Remember back in June, when Akashic released four picture books set to pop music titles? If visions of babies in revolt, set to Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It are still stuck in your mental gears, this post is for you. Akashic has released the next four books in their LyricPop series, and they are SOOOO GOOD.

Move the Crowd, Song & Lyrics by Eric Barrier & William Griffin/Illustrated by Kirk Parrish, (Oct. 2020, Akashic Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-61775-849-2

Ages 2+

The lyrics to Eric B. and Rakim’s 1987 hit Move the Crowd come to life in this story as we see a young boy get sucked into his boom box (I’m Gen X, I know I’ve dated myself with that reference) and dropped into a world that desperately needs his help: it’s a grey, dismal world he lands in, but he brings the music, and with it, a colorful vibrancy that transforms the surroundings! Everyone gets an instrument, there’s a riot of color and movement, and sure enough, the crowd is moving! Endpapers showcase giant boom boxes, and the mixed media/cut paper artwork is just incredible, with depth and movement all coming together to tell a story that you won’t want to listen to while standing still.


Respect, Song Lyrics by Otis Redding/Illustrations by Rachel Moss, (Oct. 2020, Akashic Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-61775-844-7

Ages 2+

All hail to the Queen! Respect, the song written by Otis Redding and made iconic by Aretha Franklin, gets its proper due as a picture book and a lesson all in one. A young girl, her family, and her friends all imagine different futures for themselves within the context of respect: a lawyer or a judge dispending justice; a doctor caring for patients; construction workers and scientists; teachers, and soldiers. All set to Otis Redding’s lyrics, with the freedom to dream of a world where everyone is equally respected and valued. Cute asides like family members, including the dog, chiming in with background “oohs” and “re, re, re, res” make this such fun to read and offer an open invitation for your littles to sing along – that’s the point! A multicultural group of children dance across the letters to the word Respect, and the artwork is colorful and cheery. A note on what “Respect” means to readers as a song and a concept, plus questions for further exploration, completes this book. Visit Akashic’s Respect page for more information on the Otis Redding Foundation, and interviews with illustrator Rachel Moss.


These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, Song Lyrics by Lee Hazlewood/Illustrated by Rachel Moss, (Oct. 2020, Akashic Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-61775-875-1

Ages 2+

The song made popular by Nancy Sinatra gets a new spin in this story of a possessive cat who isn’t thrilled when a new puppy joins the family. Front endpapers show the pampered cat enjoying her human’s sole attention, but as the story unfolds, a new puppy joins the household and the cat… well, the cats gets on their walkin’ boots to fight back! Gradually, the two pets gets used to one another, sharing their human’s affections, and the back endpapers reveal the two new friends equally spending time with their human, cowboy boots and all. Adorably illustrated, this is a sweet read for animal lovers and an invitation for kids to jump up and let their own boots start walking. Let kids color in some boots printables and hang them up!


We Got the Beat, Song Lyrics by Charlotte Caffey/Illustrated by Kaitlyn Shea O’Connor, (Oct. 2020, Askashic Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-61775-836-2

Ages 2+

One of my all-time favorite songs, the Go-Gos hit We Got the Beat comes to gloriously neon ’80s life in this book! People and animals alike all have the beat here as they rock up and down the book. The colors are bright, popping off the page, with sunglass-wearing flamingos, horses wearing go-go boots, and super-cool kids bopping across pages. You won’t be able to sit still as you read this. Have inflatable instruments? Hand ’em out and dance to the beat!

Each book is a musical experience in your hands. Play the songs, invite your kids to dance, and hold your very own storytime dance party!

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Akashic’s LyricPop series: sing to your kids!

Leave to Akashic to come up with LyricPop. After giving us board books like What is Punk and What is Hip-Hop?, assuring that the next generation will grow up far cooler than mine, Akashic has gone one better and created a series presenting song lyrics, set to pictures and situations that kids and parents will love. The first four titles hit shelves on Tuesday. Check these out:

African, Song Lyrics by Peter Tosh/Illustrated by Rachel Moss, (June 2020, Akashic Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-61775-799-0

All Ages/Birth-7

The classic reggae song by Peter Tosh lives on as a gorgeous story of unity. Peter Tosh wrote this song to remind all black people that they were part of the same community; the message powerfully resonates today. Rachel Moss uses earthy and vibrant colors to bring the world and people of Africa alive on the pages. Endpapers show proud African animals strutting across the pages, and interior artwork celebrates African culture all over the world: if you’re from Trinidad or Nassau; Cuba or America; Canada, or Taiwan. Different faiths, different colors, no matter. In Tosh’s words, “No mind your nationality, you have got the identity of an African”. Beautiful artwork, powerful lyrics to instill pride, power, and understanding. Add African to your Black Experience collections, your storytime collections, and your storytime rotations.



Good Vibrations, Song Lyrics by Mike Love and Brian Wilson/Illustrated by Paul Hoppe, (June 2020, Akashic Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-61775-787-7

All Ages/Birth-7

Wow, is my stepfather smiling down from wherever he’s spending the afterlife these days. He was the biggest Beach Boys fan I’ve ever met, and seeing Good Vibrations out in children’s book form makes me miss him all the more, because he’d have sat my kids down – yeah, even the 21- and 16-year-olds – and sang this to them. A summertime classic brought to picture book, Good Vibrations is all about a girl and her dog heading off to surf, spreading their good vibrations and excitations all around as they encounter a cast of wacky animals and people alike, from a theremin-playing alien to a polka dotted horse, to a thumbs-up giving cactus. It’s a beach party waiting for you and your little ones to dance along, and the bright, bold artwork and bubble-fonted lyrics make this just too much fun. Two-color endpapers offer a glimpse at the coast, just waiting for our main characters to jump in and surf some waves. So much fun for storytimes.



Don’t Stop, Song Lyrics by Christine McVie/Illustrated by Nusha Ashjaee, (June 2020, Akashic Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-61775-805-8

All Ages/Birth-7

Another rock classic, Don’t Stop is a never-give-up song that we all need these days. Illustrator Nusha Ashjaee creates the story of a sweet little rabbit who’s just not having a good day. Rabbit’s wakes up to see the first spring flower poking through the snow and heads out to coax all her woodland friends out of hibernation to enjoy the spring, enduring winds and snowdrifts; eventually, though, all Rabbit’s animal buddies gather ’round to provide some encouragement and head off to have some fun. Soft colors and gentle artwork make this a good bedtime story, a pick-me-up for a hard day, or a perfect cuddle time storytime. Endpapers show Rabbit’s home in the winter, and in the spring. Gather some stuffed friends of your own around for some atmosphere, and invite your little ones to get up and dance with you – make sure they all cheer “Don’t Stop!”



We’re Not Gonna Take It, Song Lyrics by Dee Snider/Illustrated by Margaret McCartney, (June 2020, Akashic Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-61775-788-4

All Ages/Birth-7

Is there a more perfect song for babies and toddlers than Twisted Sister’s We’re Not Gonna Take It? Hilariously and adorably brought to life by illustrator Margaret McCartney, We’re Not Gonna Take It shows a group of babies in full rebellion: the shenanigans start on the cover, with toddlers gnawing on letters, whacking them with mallets, and shoving them out of alignment. These kids don’t want to eat the food being shoved at them; they’re organizing a jailbreak from the baby yard they’re stuck in. But when the Mommies catch them and try to put them down for a nap, they have just enough energy for one… more… push… YAWN. There are such fantastic little details throughout this book, including the alphabet blocks spelling out the book title on the title page; the “I’m the little sister” tee shirt one toddler is rocking in a font similar to the music group’s lettering; the complete looks of disgust on our little rebels’ faces as lyrics like, “Oh, you’re so condescending / Your gall is never-ending / We don’t want nothin’ / not a thing from you”. Endpapers are fantastic, with pictures of the babies and their duckies teddies, and toys in colorful, explosive backgrounds, and the very ’80s metal horns decorating the back endpapers. The colors are bright, popping off the page, and will definitely set a mood. This book makes my aging Gen X soul very happy, and it’ll be a perfect storytime read for your little ones – just watch out for signs of revolution afterwards.


The next round of LyricPop books is due out in October. To see those, check out Akashic’s LyricPop page, and get your pre-order fingers ready to click.

Posted in Fiction

Helsinki Noir – Dark, Hard Hitting Crime Fiction from Finland

helsinki noirHelsinki Noir, edited by James Thompson (2014, Akashic Books) $15.95, ISBN: 9781617752414

Recommended for ages 18+

When I came across the Belfast Noir e-galley on Edelweiss, I also saw Helsinki Noir, from Akashic’s Noir series. Knowing that there’s a huge interest in Scandinavian noir, particularly thanks to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I gave it a shot. Never let it be said I don’t investigate literary trends!

Whoa. Where Belfast Noir was gritty with a touch of morbid Irish humor, Helsinki Noir is brutal, and often bleak. The stories are hard-hitting, often vicious, and leave you feeling wounded when you’re done. Crime fans, gird yourselves – these 14 stories take no prisoners. Split into three parts: Deep Cuts, Broken Blades, and Winds of Violence, each author seeks to peel back the bright surface of Helsinki’s streets to show readers a darker reflection of a city we often hear only the best of: their strong economy, their health care, their low crime rate.

As with Belfast Noir, shelve this with the grown-up books – this one’s not for younger readers. But by all means, shelve it, and look at more of Akashic’s Noir series. Mystery and true crime readers will appreciate the styles from all over the world, and embrace the darkness that every culture shares – no matter how hard they try to hide it.

Posted in Uncategorized

Belfast Noir – Gritty, dark stories from the Emerald Isle

belfast noirBelfast Noir, edited by Adrian McKinty & Stuart Neville (2014, Akashic Books) $15.95, ISBN: 9781617752919

Recommended for ages 18+

Belfast Noir is one of the latest in Akashic Books’ Noir series, spotlighting different cities across the globe. I hadn’t read a good noir story in a while, and I’m always interested in reading a good Irish author, so why not pick up an anthology of Irish noir?

This was my first entrée into Askashic’s noir series, and I was blown away with what I read. The stories, all by Irish writers, all take place in the city of Belfast – a city with a lot of history. That history, particularly the time known as “The Troubles” (the ethnic and nationalist conflict), finds its place here in Belfast Noir, as do other gritty crime stories. Many stories, while dark, are infused with the dark Irish humor I adore. There are 14 short stories in this anthology, including a story from Lee Child, who you may know from the Jack Reacher stories, or his work with Douglas Preston.

This is a great anthology of modern-day noir. The stories are gritty, exploring topics including drug use, brutality, death, and weapons-running. I wouldn’t suggest these for anyone younger than 18, but I do highly suggest them for any adult collection.