Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction

Books from Quarantine: Tag Your Dreams!

Tag Your Dreams: Poems of Play and Persistence, by Jacqueline Jules/Illustrated by Iris Deppe, (Apr. 2020, Albert Whitman & Company), $17.99, ISBN: 9780807567265

Ages 7-10

I’m getting that TBR under control a little more every day! Tag Your Dreams is a book of poetry about sports and play for kids, but it’s more than that. These are poems about endurance, self-esteem, community, and reaching goals. It’s about a girl reaching out to a new friend by reciting a rhyme that her Guatemalan grandmother taught her (“Clapping  Hands”); it’s about a girl, swimming gracefully, mermaid-like, as she remembers being bullied for her weight earlier that day (“Mermaid Manatee”); a father and son cruising through a park on matching scooters (“Kick Scooters”), and a playground where “Spanish jumps just as high as English” as the kids skip rope and sing together. A multicultural group of adults and kids come together on these pages to play, to laugh, and to inspire readers. Jacqueline Jules, award-winning author of the Zapato Power and Sofia Martinez book series, created 31 poems about the power of play and the power of persistence to motivate readers: motivate them to play, motivate them to embrace themselves, and work as part of a team while striving to be their best. Iris Deppe’s colorful artwork shows children and grown-ups together in various stages of play: clapping hands underneath a tree, reaching for a ball in the outfield, or walking a trail with grandparents. A nice addition to poetry collections, with positive messages that we need more than ever these days.

Jacqueline Jules’s author webpage has information about her books and plenty of free, downloadable activities connected to her books.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Operation Photobomb: Smile! (Plus, a giveaway!)

Operation: Photobomb, by Tara Luebbe & Becky Cattie/Illustrated by Matthew Rivera, (Sept. 2019, Albert Whitman & Co.), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807561300

Ages 4-7

Monkey and Chameleon love when jungle tours visit their jungle: they get toys! This time around, Monkey finds a camera and starts snapping away. Chameleon loves the spotlight a little too much, though, and when Monkey starts taking photos of their other jungle friends, Chameleon can’t resist a good photobomb. This gets on everyone’s nerves pretty quickly, so the animals plan a little comeuppance of their own.

This book is guaranteed to bring the snickers. Most people, certainly most kids, know what a photobomb is these days, and love doing it. They’ll love Chameleon’s spotlight-stealing presence, and they’ll get a kick out of the other animals’ retribution. There are a good discussion points to be found here, too, the biggest being to think about how one’s actions can affect others. Ruining other people’s pictures, other people’s fun? Not very nice. Talk about jealousy, and how that motivates Chameleon – what could he have done to let others know he was feeling left out? Light-hearted and fun, the story gets its point across without being preachy or melodramatic. The bright and bold illustrations feature striking colors and bold fonts, making this a storytime winner.

Speaking of storytime, Operation Photobomb went over well at storytime here, and a little too well at home: my little guy already appreciates a good photobomb; now I fear for his older brother even more. Stay tuned.

 

Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie are sisters and collaborators. Together they’ve written several picture books, including I Am Famous and I Used to Be Famous, illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, and Shark Nate-O, illustrated by Daniel Duncan. Visit Becky and Tara online at www.beckytarabooks.com.

Matthew Rivera began drawing animals when he was old enough to hold a crayon. His parents still prize the toucan he drew when he was five. He earned his degree in Fine Arts from the University of Arizona. Visit him on Instagram @matthewdidit, or at his website, matthewdidit.com.

 

Want a shot at winning your own copy of Operation Photobomb? (U.S. addresses only, please!) Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction

If I Were a Park Ranger introduces kids to a green career!

If I Were a Park Ranger, by Catherine Stier/Illustrated by Patrick Corrigan, (April 2019, Albert Whitman & Co.), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807535455

Ages 4-9

A diverse group of kids think of all the great things they’d do if they were park rangers in this picture book that takes readers across the United States for peeks at the beautiful national parks, while shedding some light on a career that you don’t often hear people talk about: the national park ranger. Catherine Stier and Patrick Corrigan provide kids with a history of the profession, and portraits of prominent figures in national parks history: Stephen Mather and Horace Albright, the founding directors of the National Park Service; Theodore Roosevelt, who created programs to protect land and wildlife, and Gerard Baker, a superintendent who brought Native American heritage to the parks, to name a few. Each child envisions himself or herself in ranger uniform, working across different locales; from desert to forest, from volcanoes to caves, battlefields and monuments; they help campers, they protect nature and wildlife, and they report emergencies that threaten our national parks.

Each spread is labeled, introducing readers to a different park. The group of rangers is racially diverse, as are the park visitors; the artwork is colorful and earth-toned, showing lush greens, calming blues, and warm browns of the lands. Deserts like Death Valley National Park get a beautiful orange and violet spreads. The author talks about her love of national parks, and how national parks contribute to STEM and art learning; there is also a note on how to become a park ranger, complete with a link to the National Park Service for becoming a Junior Ranger.

This is a fun addition to career sections, and an overall good book to introduce when talking about nature, environmentalism, and preservation. There are free, downloadable activity pages available, too! For kids interested in learning more about the US National Parks, recommend Ranger Rick’s Travels: National Parks.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Get ready for the season with First Snow with a giveaway!

First Snow, by Nancy Viau/Illustrated by Talitha Shipman,, (Sept. 2018, Albert Whitman), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807524404

Ages 2-6

A brother and sister join their friends for a day of fun when the first snow falls.

This rhyming story stars a brother and sister, both children of color, who wake up to discover that it’s snowing! With mostly two- and three-word rhyming sentences, we follow them as they get dressed and meet their friends for a day of sledding and snowplay. Their pup follows along, adding to the fun and games, and at the end of the day, the siblings and their dog head home to enjoy hot chocolate, chocolate chip cookies, and a story before bedtime.

A lovely companion to Ezra Jack Keats’ A Snowy Day, First Snow takes place in a more suburban settting than Peter’s famous city backdrop. The kids’ bright winter clothes stand out against the soft, white snow. The watercolor artwork is soft, lending a comfortable, hazy, snowy-day feel to the scenery. Brightly colored kids’ hats and mittens set the tone on the endpapers.

Perfect for snowy day reading, preferably with some hot chocolate and a warm blanket and stuffed animal. Great for toddlers and easy readers alike!

Nancy Viau is the author of five picture books, including City Street Beat, Storm Song, and Look What I Can Do!  Her middle-grade novels include her new release, Beauty and Bernice, along with Just One Thing! (2016 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Gold Award Winner), Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head (to be reissued in the spring of 2019), and Something is Bugging Samantha Hansen (fall 2019). As a member of the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature, Nancy volunteers with other council members to produce the Rutgers One-on-One Plus Conference every year. She works as an assistant librarian, and when not reading or writing, she hikes, bikes, and travels wherever her frequent flyer miles take her. To learn more, and to download a free Story Hour kit for First Snow, visit her website, NancyViau.com.

 

Talitha Shipman graduated with an MFA in illustration from Savannah College of Art and Design in 2008. She’s illustrated several books, including You Are My Little Pumpkin Pie, Everybody Says Shalom, and Applesauce Day. Talitha lives in Indiana with her husband, daughter, and dog. She can be found at talithashipman.com.

 

Praise for First Snow:

“A sweet suburban/rural contrast to the snowy day enjoyed by Peter in the city.”  — Kirkus Reviews

Relive the joy of the season’s first snow in this sweet trailer!

 

One lucky winner will receive a copy of First Snow, courtesy of Albert  Whitman & Co (U.S. addresses). Just enter this Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance!

 

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Workin’ the Mama- and Papa-razzi: I Am Famous!

I Am Famous, by Tara Luebbe and Becky Cattie/Illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff, (March 2018, Albert Whitman), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807534403

Recommended for readers 3-7

Kiely, a fabulous little girl, knows how to work her fame in this adorable picture book. She’s a true diva with her own sense of style and drama; her movies all go viral, and she gets tons of mail from adoring fans. Sure, the paparazzi are relentless, chasing her when she’s driving, photographing her while she’s eating, and barging in to catch a picture of her in the bathtub, but what do you expect? She’s famous! She’s got a performance at Grandpa’s birthday party, so she has to look and sound her best, but what happens when the grand finale has drama of its own? Pfft, no worries: the fans are loyal.

I Am Famous is just about every kid’s story; they’re little celebrities, as we see here; our world-weary, fierce, brown-skinned beauty tells us, her devoted readers, about the price of fame. I’ve long referred to myself as the Mamarazzi, and have more than a few pictures of each of my kids at the exact moment they’re sick of me and my camera. This light-hearted look at modern childhood comes with easy comparisons to modern celebrity: the viral movies via family Instagrams; the special treatment being a kid gets from just about anyone they meet (so many lollipops); the nonstop love from the fan club via letters and birthday cards from grandparents. Even when Kiely’s performance hits a snag, she gets the star treatment: unconditional love and adoration.

I Am Famous is fun storytime reading, with short, easily readable sentences and wonderfully expressive artwork that sweeps across the pages. This one’s a very cute add to storytime collections and a fun gift for the diva in your family.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, Preschool Reads, Tween Reads

More holiday shopping ideas!

The days are creeping closer – Hanukkah starts this evening! – but I’ve got your back with more book gift ideas! Read on, and get yourselves to a bookstore, stat.

Where’s Waldo? Destination: Everywhere!, Featuring 12 Classic Scenes by Martin Handford,
(November 2017, Candlewick), $19.99, ISBN: 9780763697266
Good for all ages!

This is a gift that’s perfect for kids who love mazes, puzzles, and those Seek and Find/I Spy books, or older teens and adults who grew up with old school Waldo. Destination: Everywhere! celebrates THIRTY YEARS of Where’s Waldo – pardon me while I go lay down after writing that – and showcases 12 of Waldo’s favorite adventures, plus a brand new challenge to keep us on our toes. This one’s going to my now 14-year old, who plagued me with I Spy books all hours of the day and night, as a toddler and preschooler. And I’m telling the 5 year-old that his big brother can’t wait to find ALL THE WALDOS with him. Muah hah hah.

 

Weird but True! Christmas, by National Geographic Kids
(Sept. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $8.99, ISBN: 9781426328893
Good for readers 6-12

One thing my kids, my library kids, and I have in common is a love of these NatGeo weird facts books. Weird but True! Christmas keeps it real for the holiday season, with full-color photos and crazy factoids like this one: “The town Gävle, Sweden, erects a giant straw goat at Christmas. The Yule Goat has its own social media account.” That social media account is @gavlebocken on Twitter, by the way. You’re welcome. There are 300 facts in here, including Christmas customs from around the world, weird and slightly gross animal facts, and Christmas decorating statistics. Perfect size for a stocking stuffer, and kids can’t get enough of these books.

 

Harry Potter: Magical Film Projects – Quidditch, by Insight Editions,
(Sept. 2017, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9587-3
Good for readers 7-10

This is just so cool. Black line drawings from the Harry Potter universe on acetate pages let you create your own reader’s theatre. Shine a flashlight, light bulb, or cell phone light through the window, and project images onto a wall, screen, your little brother or sister, anywhere, to create your own shadow theatre! Short, Quidditch-related scenes from three books in the series (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Half-Blood Prince) are broken out into script format, letting readers become Harry, Oliver Wood, Ron, or Cormac McLaggen. A final panel lets you draw and project your own Quidditch team. Give this book to a Potterhead, along with a dry-erase marker, and get ready for the love.

 

 

History’s Mysteries, by Kitson Jazynka, (Oct. 2017, National Geographic Kids),
$14.99, ISBN: 9781426328718
Good for readers 9-12

I loved this kind of stuff when I was a kid – okay, I still do.When I was a kid in the ’70s, Dynamite Magazine released these cool guides – digest-sized books – loaded with stories about Amelia Earhart, Anastasia, and other spooky, true stories. I watch Mysteries at the Museum on Travel Channel. I’m a sucker for a good, unsolved mystery; bonus points if it’s creepy. History’s Mysteries is the closest I’ve seen to my beloved Dynamite guides in a long time. Kids will love these quick, fully illustrated case files on a screaming mummy, a 50-foot snake slithering around Africa, missing Irish crown jewels, and more. An interview with archaeologist Chris Fisher gives kids some insight on the exciting – and sometimes, not so thrilling – parts of the job. Stick a calendar, plus a ticket for a local museum exhibit in here and you’re set.

 

Just Joking, by National Geographic Kids,
(Oct. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $14.99, ISBN: 9781426328794
Good for readers 6-10

Another home-run with my kids and my library kids. Yes, many of these jokes will make you groan: that’s the POINT. There are crazy facts (rats laugh when they’re tickled), puns that will make you wince, but giggle while you do it, full-color photos, and truly, terribly funny, jokes like this gem: Who did Darth Vader summon when craving ice cream? Storm Scoopers. See? You winced, but you laughed.

 

Knightology, by Dugald A. Steer/Illustrated by Ollie Cuthbertson, Fabio Leone, David Demaret,
(Nov. 2017, Candlewick), $24.99, ISBN: 9780763698485
Good for readers 7-12

The latest entry in Candlewick’s Ology series looks at the knights of old. Legend has it (actually, the publisher’s note says it, but I’m setting a mood here) that two children, while playing, discovered a book set into a mysterious stone. The book appears to be a secret book about knights from Elizabethan times, printed here for readers to read and discover more mysteries within. Beautifully illustrated, with margin notes, flaps and hidden notes throughout, this is a gorgeous gift book about the myths and legends surrounding the burial site of none other than King Arthur.  Put a plush dragon on the wrapped gift and put your feet up.

 

Don’t Wake the Yeti!, by Claire Freedman/Illustrated by Claudia Ranucci,
(Sept. 2017, Albert Whitman), $17.99, ISBN: 978-0-8075-1690-4
Good for readers 3-7

I didn’t forget about the little ones! What better way to greet the holidays than with the tale of a Yeti who’s just looking for a friend? This rhyming story stars a young girl who finds a Yeti under her bed – but he’s more afraid of her than she is of him! It’s a reader’s guide to the proper care and handling of one’s own Yeti, including details on how to get around that whole Mom finding out business. The illustrations are adorable: the Yeti is hardly a menacing figure; he’s covered in long, white fur, has a goofy, toothy smile, and big, blue eyes. Originally published in the UK, the story has a touch of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie to it – see if the little readers catch the rhythm!

 

Away We Grow!: Poems for Baby’s First Year, by Jeremy Eisler,
(March 2017, self-published), $12.99, ISBN: 9780989389075
Good for new parents

This is a sweet stocking stuffer for a mom-to-be or a new mom. There are 32 short poems, all celebrating milestones in a baby’s first year; that first grasp of your finger, that big gummy smile; that first, unimpressive meal: “In my mouth and out again / Down my cheeks and off my chin / I think I’ve had my fill of peas… / Now I would like my bottle please!” They’re simple and sweet, ready to welcome parents and babies on a new adventure together.

And that’s that for now!

Posted in Preschool Reads

Kwanzaa books for the holidays!

Continuing along with my multicultural holiday reading, I checked a few Kwanzaa books out this week. Any suggestions for more books I should read? Let me know!

 

Kevin’s Kwanzaa, by Lisa Bullard/Illustrated by Constanza Basaluzzo,
(Oct. 2012, Millbrook Press), $25.32, ISBN: 9780761350750
Good for readers 4-8

A young boy named Kevin and his family are getting ready to celebrate Kwanzaa! The family gathers around the candeholder – a kinara – and lights a candle each night, explaining the special principle for that night. Through the family’s celebration, readers learn the history of Kwanzaa, the meanings of each of the seven principles of the holiday, and kid-friendly examples of taking those principles to heart: solving problems can be helping keep a room clean; making decorations and gifts for one another, creativity. You can read the story to younger readers, and tweak it for older readers by pointing out the callouts on each spread that provide more information: the history of the celebration and meaning of the word Kwanzaa, the lighting of the candles, ways for families to celebrate together. Instructions on making a Kwanzaa drum provide a fun way to put reading into practice, and a glossary provides definitions for some words that come up in the text. The illustrations are cartoony and colorful; bright reds and pinks, deep blues and greens, communicating the festive mood of the holiday. The family is always shown working and celebrating together. This is a great introduction to Kwanzaa for younger readers.

 

Seven Spools of Thread: A Kwanzaa Story, by Angela Shelf Medearis/Illustrated by Daniel Minter,
(2000, Albert Whitman & Company),  $15.95, ISBN: 9780807573150
Good for readers 6-10

Seven brothers bicker over everything, day and night. When their father dies, they are charged with a task in order to receive their inheritance: each brother receives a different colored spool of yarn and are told to turn the thread into gold. The brothers work together to find a way to accomplish this, finding ways to brainstorm and complement one another as they form and execute their plan, which creates the woven Kente cloth. It’s a holiday legend that embodies each of the seven Kwanzaa principles and blends the history of the African Kente tribe in with the holiday. The illustrations are beautiful: rich colors, deep ebonies, and stunning woodcut art. This book appears to be out of print, which is a shame; I think this should be considered a holiday classic. It delves into myth and legend and embodies the spirit of the holiday just as much as Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas. If you can score a copy of this from your local library, do it; it’s worth the read. If you need a copy for your library, consider buying a gently used copy through a third-party seller. There’s a note about the origin of Kente cloth, and a weaving activity at the end of the book. This is an essential holiday book for your collections.

 

Li’l Rabbit’s Kwanzaa, by Donna L. Washington/Illustrated by Shane W. Evans,
(Sept. 2010, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780060728168
Good for readers 6-8

Li’l Rabbit isn’t having a great Kwanzaa: his grandma, Granna Rabbit, is sick, so no one is able to ready the big Kwanzaa feast, Karamu. Li’l Rabbit knows that Granna says Kwanzaa is a special time when everyone helps one another, so he decides he’s going to get her a special Karamu treat, and goes about asking his animal neighbords – orioles, rabbits, groundhogs, frogs, field mice, and squirrels – for different things to make Granna’s Kwanzaa better. The animals don’t know much about what Li’l Rabbit is asking for, but they do know Granna, so they come together to surprise Granna and Li’l Rabbit in the nicest way. It’s a story inspired by Brer Rabbit, a trickster from African folklore, and beautifully communicates the meaning of the season. The story offers great opportunities to discuss the seven principles and note where they see those principles in action throughout the course of the story; kids can also talk about the ways they can bring the principles to life during the holiday season (and beyond). The seven principles, plus illustrative examples from the text, are also noted at the end of the book, along with a prompt for kids to find other examples in the story. The story is fun, with an emphasis on empathy and community. This is a great storytime book for the holidays, with opportunities to talk with children about intentions that all of the winter holidays – family, community, faith – share.

If you’re looking for my posts on Christmas and Hanukkah books, here’s the place!

Posted in Preschool Reads

Stocking stuffers, snuggle time stories: Christmas picture books!

Happy Black Friday! While you’re deep into your holiday shopping, here are a few picture book suggestions for stocking stuffers or Christmastime snuggling. I’ll have Hanukkah and Kwanzaa book rundowns shortly; I just need to read a few and get a better idea of the good stuff out there.

And away we go!

Captain Bling’s Christmas Plunder, by Rebecca Colby/Illustrated by Rob McClurkan,
(Nov. 2017, Albert Whitman & Company), $16.95, ISBN: 978-0-8075-1063-6
Recommended for readers 4-8

Captain Bling and his crew are planning a big plundering trip, but their ship gets blown off course, landing them by the North Pole! Well, when they get a look at Santa’s elves loading all those toys and goodies up, they decide to steal everything for themselves – until Santa shows those buccaneers a little Christmas spirit! Rhyming text, cartoony art, and a sweet message about giving, plus a heck of a trip on Santa’s sleigh, make this a cute Christmas tale for pirate fans and Santa fans alike.

 

A Christmas for Bear, Bonny Becker/Illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton,
(Sept. 2017, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763649234
Recommended for readers 5-10

Bear doesn’t have much interest in Christmas – pickles are far better. But Mouse does, and when he shows up at Bear’s house for a Christmas party, he discovers that his surly friend Bear may have a little Christmas spirit after all. I love Bonny Becker’s Bear series; he and Mouse are wonderful foils for one another, and Bear always comes around to embrace the fun side of life (and pickles. Always pickles). Bear deliciously keeps Mouse in suspense, feigning total disinterest in the very idea of the holiday; when he thinks Mouse has had enough, he starts “a long and difficult poem” – The Night Before Christmas – and drops hints for Mouse that the ruse is up and it’s time for presents. The watercolor, ink, and gouache art creates a soft, cuddly feel for a winter’s evening storytime. It’s a great add to holiday picture book collections. A Christmas for Bear received a starred review from Kirkus.

 

The Christmas Fairy, by Anne Booth/Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw,
(Sept. 2017, Nosy Crow/Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9629-0
Recommended for ages 3-7

Clara is a lively little fairy with dreams of being a “proper Christmas fairy on a sparkly Christmas tree”, but her teacher seems to think she isn’t Christmas fairylike at all: she’s always singing, dancing, or laughing! Luckily, Santa sees things differently when the Christmas Show is in trouble; he tells Clara that he needs a “special fairy who is full of life and fun”; who cheers people up, and is contagiously happy. Clara steps in to save the day, and her teacher – and the reader – learn that not every fairy has to be perfect to be wonderful. The Christmas fairy is all about embracing who you are and not accepting someone else’s idea of perfect. The mixed media illustrations are absolutely adorable; there are towering flowers, little bugs, and a diverse little group of fairy friends. The rhyming text provides a nice rhythm to a sweet Christmas story. Add this one to collections where you have fairy fans (I’ve got a bunch here), and maybe toss in a showing of the Rankin-Bass Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animated show, with a a similar “Santa asks for help” moment.

 

Elf in the House, by Ammi-Joan Paquette/Illustrated by Adam Record,
(Sept. 2017, Candlewick), $15.99, ISBN: 9780-7636-8132-6
Recommended for readers 3-7

Jingle Jingle! A young girl hears a noise in her house on a snowy Christmas Eve, and creeps down to investigate. The cumulative, rhyming story leaves readers in suspense as she discovers who else is in her home with each turn of the page. Each reveal leads to another noise, another search, another reveal; the lyrical storytelling and the use of suspense ratchets up the excitement for readers, and the digital artwork is cute, with big-eyed characters and goofy expressions that will make younger readers giggle. A fun addition to Christmas storytimes, for sure.

 

Pick a Pine Tree, by Patricia Toht/Illustrated by Jarvis,
(Sept. 2017, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-9571-2
Recommended for readers 3-7

The perfect way to kick off the Christmas holiday season: pick a tree! Pick a Pine Tree chronicles a tree’s journey from lot to dazzling. The rhyming tale shows a family choosing a tree, bringing it home, and decorating it to get it ready for Christmas. The pencil, chalk, paint, digitally colored illustrations have a vintage feel to them and have fun visual references that we associate with the holiday: a cat in the tree, boxes of decorations coming out of storage, a tree-trimming party, with kids wearing garland boas. It’s all about the ritual of the season, and the greatest moment: when the tree isn’t a pine tree anymore, but a Christmas Tree, dazzling and bright, with awestruck observers peeking out from the page margins. Pick a Pine Tree may very well be a new Christmas classic. The book has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

Red and Lulu, by Matt Tavares, (Sept. 2017, Candlewick),
$17.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-7733-6
Recommended for readers 5-10

Red and Lulu are a mated pair of cardinals living in a beautiful evergreen tree; one day, Red returns to the tree to discover it’s being taken away – with Lulu still inside! Red follows the truck carrying the tree as far as he can, but the truck is New York bound, and the city is too big for Red. Overwhelmed, he sweeps through the city, tired and hungry, desperate to find Lulu. One day, he hears the song he and Lulu shared so many times: “O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, thy leaves are so unchanging…” and follows the singing to Times Square, where, as he soars over the Rockefeller Center tree and toward their favorite branch. This book is absolutely going to tug at your heartstrings. The watercolor and gouache art is just beautiful, and Red’s bright red feathers stand out on every spread. Matt Tavares beautifully captures New York City at Christmastime: the wreaths around the New York Public Library lions; the bright lights and nonstop action of Times Square, the resplendence of the Rockefeller Center Tree. The spread where Red circles the Empire State Building spire is just breathtaking. The story of unconditional love will resonate with older readers, and younger readers will enjoy the story of a bird who refuses to give up on a lost friend. Another Christmas classic for shelves. Red & Lulu has a starred review from Publishers Weekly. You can visit the Red & Lulu page on Matt Tavares’ website and view the book trailer and more art.

That’s it for now – more holiday books and shopping lists on the way!

Posted in Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen

Radium Girls meets YA fiction with Glow

Glow, by Megan E. Bryant, (Sept. 2017, Albert Whitman), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807529638

Recommended for readers 12+

Julie should be starting college in the fall, but she used up all her savings to bail her mother out of debt. Frustrated and embarrassed, especially when her friend drops money on crazy shopping trips while Julie counts every cent. They wander into a thrift store where Julie discovers an antique painting that reveals a hidden, glowing image in the dark. Locating the rest of the paintings becomes Julie’s obsession; as she tracks down the paintings and the painter’s identity, she discovers that the paintings were made by and tell the story of the Radium Girls – young women who worked in factories, using radium paint to make glow-in-the-dark watches for the soldiers in the trenches of World War I.

The dual narrative keeps the novel moving at a fast pace, but it is Liza and Lydia’s story – the Radium Girls – that gripped me even more than Julie’s. If you haven’t yet read Kate Moore’s Radium Girls, I highly recommend it; the story of the women who were slowly poisoned over time is heartbreaking and infuriating, but so important to read and know. Glow is a great introduction to the subject on a middle school/YA level; the letters from Lydia to her betrothed, Walter, a World War I soldier, give readers the full horror of radium poisoning. These girls – some as young as 13 – were led to believe that the radium paint was safe, even beneficial – one floor manager brags about mixing some into his pudding for health reasons; girls paint their nails, their faces, even paint jewelry on their bodies before they go out on dates. Hindsight, for the reader, is 20/20; I wanted to shriek at them as Lydia described each detail.

That said, there are some moments I felt could have been stronger. I didn’t love the romance that felt pushed into the narrative to make it more attractive to teen readers, and the subplot tension between Julie and her mother feels like it’s there just to make readers understand why Julie would be shopping in thrift stores. The driving story here is Lydia and Liza’s story, though; that’s what will stay with you long after the story has ended and you’ve closed the book. An author’s note at the end talks about the Radium Girls and the indignities they suffered when they became ill and tried to come forward.

This one is going on the shelves at my library, and I’ve already told my son’s girlfriend that she has to read it the second it hits shelves. Glow has a powerful, heartbreaking story at its core that you should not miss.
Posted in Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Dark middle grade fantasy: Room of Shadows

Room of Shadows, by Ronald Kidd, (Aug. 2017, Albert Whitman), $16.99, ISBN: 9780807568057

Recommended for readers 10-13

David finds himself with a lot of anger lately. I mean, it’s justified: his dad abandoned his mom, and they’ve been forced to move into this creepy old house. When a school bully messes with him on a bad day, David beats him up, earning some in-house grounding from his mom. That’s where he discovers the room: a secret room with an old desk and a carving of a Raven, signed, “EP”. The weird dreams start shortly after. When the incidents start at school, all involving people who David’s tangled with, everyone starts looking at him differently, including his mom and the police. How can David prove he isn’t The Raven – the person responsible for the incidents, who leaves a signed note each time? And how can he keep himself safe from The Raven, who’s fixated on him?

With a background in Edgar Allan Poe’s history, I dove eagerly into Room of Shadows. The author takes Poe into very dark territory here, for reasons that become clear as the story progresses. It’s an interesting concept, but one I had a hard time with. I didn’t really get to know David or his best friend, Libby; I felt like their character development took more of a backseat, allowing the Poe storyline to drive the plot. I did like the nod to some of Poe’s greatest hits in the story, including The Tell-Tale Heart, The Black Cat, and The Pit and the Pendulum; it’s always great to discover Poe in new fiction. This one wasn’t my book, but middle grade horror fans who are ready for something weightier than Goosebumps and Haunted Mansion may sit down with this one.