Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Chapter books to take on a camping trip

I know, right now, camping is probably the furthest thing from your minds, but why not? My older boys loved “camping out” in our living room, spreading comforters on the floor for cushioning, and staying up all night giggling and falling asleep while talking into the wee hours of the morning. My eldest “camps” in his little brother’s room in the dog days of summer, when Gabe’s air conditioner is a lot cooler than Will’s. And Gabe and his buddies have had sleepovers where they camp out, sleeping bags all over the living room, and stuffed animals, action figures, and assorted iPads strewn about. So why not consider a camping trip for your kiddos now? Hike on over to a room that can fit you all, and settle in with some snacks, some games, and some good books.

McTavish Goes Wild, by Meg Rosoff/Illustrated by Grace Easton, (May 2020, Candlewick Press), $21.99, ISBN: 9781536203318

Ages 7-10

Originally published in the UK, this is the second book in the McTavish Stories series, starring a rescued dog and his adopted family – although, as McTavish would tell you, he’s the one who rescued them. The Peachey family is a little quirky, as most families are; in this second installment, the family frets over where to go on vacation. Young Betty Peachey wants to go camping, but Pa Peachey is convinced that nature is far too dangerous to be out and about in. Teenage brother Ollie just wants to be somewhere where there are dance clubs where he can find a girlfriend, and big sister Ava wants to stay home and read German philosophy. Thank goodness for Ma Peachey, who sides with Betty. Once out in nature, McTavish sees that it’s up to him to get this family acclimated to the Great Outdoors, in sweet and fun fashion. The story is gentle, moves at a leisurely pace with humor throughout. Black and white drawings give life to the text. Intermediate readers will get a kick out of this quirky family and their canine companion, who seems to be two steps ahead of the game. You won’t need to have read the first book, Good Dog McTavish, to jump right into this series, but animal fiction fans will want to – make sure you have both on the shelf.

The Infamous Ratsos Camp Out, by Kara LaReau/Illustrated by Matt Myers, (May 2020, Candlewick Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781536200065

Ages 6-10

The fifth book in the Infamous Ratsos series Ralphie and Louie Ratso going on a camping trip with the Big City Scouts, with Grandpa Ratso as their guide. Even with Grandpa’s guidance and experience as a Scoutmaster, the Scouts learn that camping isn’t as easy as they think it is: pitching a tent, making a fire, and finding their way through the woods is hard! They have to learn to work together, and they have to learn that asking for help is the most important skill a Scout – or anyone – can have. With fun scout-meets-urban living references to badges like City Smarts and Cleanup, and scouting levels like Streets and Avenues instead of Cub and Weeblo, this is a cute addition to the series. Black and white cartoony illustrations of the Ratsos throughout the book really engage the reader. Enjoy a chapter sample from Candlewick’s page and consider adding this series to your intermediate collection if you haven’t yet.

Make some merit badges – all you need is paper, scissors, and imagination! Come up with fun merit badge ideas: ate a vegetable, read for 30 minutes, Kitchen Science, Minecrafter. The possibilities are endless, and we’re not going anywhere, anytime soon. Make it fun.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Preschool Reads

The Bear Who Wasn’t There and the Fabulous Forest: unbridled optimism!

bear_covThe Bear Who Wasn’t There and the Fabulous Forest, by Oren Lavie/Illustrated by Wolf Erlbruch, (Oct. 2016, Black Sheep/Akashic), $17.95, ISBN: 9781617754906

Recommended for ages 4-8

A bear searches for himself, using clues he’s discovered scrawled on a note in his pocket: 1) I am a very nice bear; 2) I am a happy bear; and 3) Very handsome too. As he searches, he discovers more about the world around him, seeing things with a childlike sense of wonder that all readers will enjoy. Originally published in Germany, The Bear Who Wasn’t There is a debut picture book by composer and playwright Oren Lavie and illustrated by German illustrator Wolf Erlbruch, both renowned for their crafts.

I adore this bear. He’s perpetually upbeat, excited to learn more about himself and ready to explore the world around him. He’s drawn with huge, wide eyes, eager to take in everything he sees, and his mouth is curved into big, happy red smile. He wanders through the Fabulous Forest and meets other creatures who help him on his quest for self-discovery: the Convenience Cow and the Lazy Lizard; the Penultimate Penguin, and the Turtle Taxi, all of whom guide him in some way. Bear is thrilled with everyone he meets; even the snappish Penguin. Lavie’s words are lyrical, beautifully curling themselves around the characters. I love the bantering between Bear and each character; it’s sweet and gentle, and shows kids how to respond to others, as is the case with the standoffish Penguin. Bear never loses his idealism, best seen when he counts flowers, deciding that the number is “beautiful”. When he’s told that “beautiful” isn’t a number, Bear has already moved on, thinking to himself, that it’s better to smell flowers than count them, and that “Flowers are more Beautiful than they are thirty-eight.”


This is such a happy, sweet book to read to younger kids and to older, school-age kids. Kids see things in a different way; a more inspiring, upbeat way. Books like The Bear Who Wasn’t There are a great reminder to kids and adults that sometimes, it really is better to smell flowers than to count them.

Add this one to collections where animal books are popular. The Bear Who Wasn’t There has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly.


Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

What Dog Knows

what-dog-knowsWhat Dog Knows, by Sylvia Vanden Heede, (Sept. 2016, Gecko Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781776570362

Recommended for ages 7-10

Wolf is tired of his cousin, Dog, always knowing more than he does, so he checks a book out of the library (never mind that he can’t read), and tries to outsmart Dog with his new knowledge about mummies, knights, and dinosaurs.

Mixing facts into the fictional tale of the Dog and Wolf, this seems like it’s geared toward younger readers, but then throws in the process of mummification, and a plotline where Wolf intends to mummify Cat, his antagonist, and suddenly, things take a little bit of a weird turn. This wasn’t really my book, and I don’t see the kids in my library really catching on with this one because it’s a bit disjointed and quirky. The art is very sweet, and I did love that Cat struck fear into Wolf’s heart, but overall, it didn’t work for either age group (4-7 vs 8-12) for me.

This is the second Dog and Wolf book from Gecko. Wolf and Dog was published in 2013.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade

The Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine: Animal Adventure!

sammy shineThe Somewhat True Adventures of Sammy Shine, by Henry Cole (Apr. 2016, Peachtree Publishers), $16.95, ISBN: 9781561458660

Recommended for ages 8-12

A young boy’s brother launches his pet mouse off in a homemade airplane, and starts the little mouse off on the adventure of a lifetime! Sammy, the mouse, lands in a field and discovers that life outside of his friend Hank’s room is very, very different. Thankfully, he meets a wonderful group of animal friends that help him in his quest to get back home, but he has to steer clear of the awful weasel, Mustela, who wants Sammy’s plane for himself!

This was another of my PLA goodies, and I’m so glad I listened to the rep and took an ARC. I love Henry Cole’s writing and illustration, and when she told me that this book was inspired by a childhood experience: Henry Cole did have a pet mouse named Sammy Shine, and his brother did launch Sammy off in a plane; this book is what Henry likes to think Sammy went on to do after that flight. What tribute to a pet is sweeter than that?

Illustrated with Cole’s beautiful black and white drawings, we get an animal adventure up there with The Rescuers, Stuart Little, and The Great Mouse Detective. The characters are sweet, even when they’re cantankerous (I always had a soft spot for Templeton in Charlotte’s Web), and the exciting sense of adventure leaps off the page, extends its hand to the reader, and invites you in to join the fun. Intermediate readers will adore Sammy, and middle graders will come back to Sammy to enjoy one more mission. I hope Mr. Cole dreams up more missions for Sammy and Co.; I’d hate to think that the adventure only lasted for one brief moment.

Get this one on your shelves for summer reading, and booktalk it with old favorites like The Rescuers, and new classics like The Tale of Desperaux, The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, and The Warriors series.

Henry Cole is an award-winning author and illustrator of children’s books. Among his more recent titles are Big Bug and Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad. He has illustrated such ground-breaking titles as And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, I Know a Wee Piggy by Kimberly E. Norman, and The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein. His author website includes information about all of his books and school visits, and games.

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

Our Love Grows: Perfect for Moms and Dads to read-aloud!

our loveOur Love Grows, by Anna Pignataro (April 2016, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492634188

Recommended for ages 2-6

Pip is a sweet little panda who can’t wait to grow up. He asks his mother, “When will I be big?” and his mother reminds him that he’s already grown from when he was a baby. The story takes place as Pip’s mother remembers important moments: his tiny paw prints in the snow, his blanket covered all of him, playing hide and seek and the passing of seasons; how his tiny face fit in her hands. As she goes back over how Pip has grown, Mother Panda reminds Pip that as he’s grown, so has her love for him.

This is the sweetest book. Pip is actually not assigned a gender in the story; I think of Pip as being a little boy because I have three of my own, and reading this story reminded me of many similar moments in my own children’s lives. Snuggling with my toddler as I read this, I remembered when his blanket covered all of him – the same blanket that his feet now stick out from under; I remember he and his brothers fitting so snugly in my arms; I remember how little their snow angels looked in the winter; and yes, I may have gotten a little teary-eyed. My little guy didn’t notice it, but I did get an extra tight hug when I read the line about my love for him growing as he grows.

Our Love Grows is one of those books I recommend for parents, because it’s a parent’s eye-view of our babies growing up. It’s bittersweet, yes, but books like this remind us of the sweet moments, and when we’re lucky enough to still have the little ones that sit on our lap when we tell stories, books like this also let them know that they’ll get big, eventually – don’t rush it. And we’ll be right there with them.

The art is sedate and intimate, with Pip, Mom, and Pip’s stuffed bird the main focus of the book, surrounded by nature. The text is a plain black font that doesn’t call attention to itself, making the characters the central point of attention.

A good choice for new parents, toddler parents, and preschooler parents whose little ones are desperate to be big, when we want them to stay small for just a little longer.

Anna Pignataro is an award-winning children’s book author and illustrator. Visit her author webpage to find out more about her books and artwork.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Help Babysaurus find Mamasaurus!

mamasaurus_coverMamasaurus, by Stephan Lomp (March 2016, Chronicle Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9781452144245

Recommended for ages 3-6

Babysaurus is out and about with Mamasaurus one day, snacking on leaves and hanging out on Mamasaurus’ back, when WHOOPS! He slides off, and can’t find her! Reminiscent of P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother, Babysaurus asks everyone he can find if they’ve seen his Mamasaurus, and they compare her to their own moms: does she fly the highest, like Ptero’s mom? Is she the loudest, like Rexy’s mom? No, but she’s Mamasaurus, and she’s the best Mamasaurus in the jungle.

Mamasaurus has been there all along, by the way – you know, like when your little one “loses” you in the department store, when you’re two steps away. And that’s what makes this story such a great read-aloud. It’s relatable to both parents and little ones. They’ll know what it’s like to lose Mom in public, and they’ll know that each Mom is the best Mom there is, because she’s their Mom. I loved this story so much, and so did my 3 year old, who snuggled up in my lap while I read it with him. The artwork is adorable; the dinos have huge eyes and friendly faces, cartoony and lovable, appealing to little ones. The white font jumps off the page, making it an easy storytime read.


Author and illustrator Stephan Lomp is a German illustrator and comic book artist. Check out some more of his artwork on his website.
Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Uncategorized

Olga da Polga – a favorite classic comes to Kane Publishing!

olgaOlga da Polga, by Michael Bond/Illustrated by Catherine Rayner (Oct. 2015, Kane Miller Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-433-1

Recommended for ages 6-10

The creator of Paddington Bear, Michael Bond, introduced Olga da Polga, an adventurous guinea pig with a bit of sass, in 1971. I don’t remember this book when I was growing up, so I’m not sure whether these were originally published only in the UK, but there are both picture and chapter books full of Olga’s Adventures! Kane Miller Publishing recently brought Olga back to readers with this beautifully illustrated edition. Greenaway Medal winner Catherine Rayner adds beautiful watercolor artwork to this collection of stories that new readers and their parents will love and want on their shelves.

Olga da Polga is a guinea pig who wants to go on adventures. She wants out of the pet store! She gets her wish when she’s adopted by the Sawdust family – that’s what she calls humans – who builds her a her own hamster run in their garden. She goes on adventures in the family’s backyard and meets the local wildlife, including Noel the housecat, Fangio the hedgehog, and Graham, the tortoise. Stories encompass all the seasons, also lending themselves to great seasonal storytimes.

Olga da Polga is one of those books that I feel like I missed out on, and that I need to get on the shelves here at my library to make sure today’s kids meet Olga and her friends! Give this to kids who love their animal fiction – Paddington fans, naturally; Olivia fans, and Corduroy fans can move up to Olga da Polga and enjoy another group of stories about a plucky little guinea pig and her adventures. Kids reading the EB White trilogy (Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, Trumpet of the Swan) will love Olga, too. The short chapters/stories provide for great read-aloud opportunities.

You can get your own copy of Olga da Polga at the Usborne books website. Amazon offers the book through independent sellers.


Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Mutt’s Promise- Animal Fiction about family, journeys, and finding your home

mutt_1Mutt’s Promise, by Julie Salamon/Illus. by Jill Weber (March 2016, Dial Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780525427780

Recommended for ages 8-12

A tired dog wanders the woods and saves a cat from a weasel attack. She’s taken in by the cat’s human, an older man living on his own, and he christens the dog, “Mutt”. The son of the migrant family working for the man bonds with the dog, who gives birth to a little of four puppies. He names them, cares for them, but when the family has to move on and tells their employer that they won’t be back, he gives the puppies away, saying they’re too much to take care for. Two puppies are adopted by one loving family, but the other two – a female named Luna and a boy named Chief – end up living a nightmare in a horrific puppy mill. Will they be able to keep their spirits and their bodies healthy enough to survive and escape?

Mutt’s Promise is an unexpected book. It starts in a most idyllic setting, only to move pretty quickly into some heavy social issues. While the idea of migrant worker families is lightly touched on, it’s there, showing that this is not something that died out with The Grapes of Wrath. The heavier topic here is animal cruelty, most notably the kind of cruelty that takes place in puppy mills. Luna, a spunky little female pup, also deals with crushing depression and post-traumatic stress disorder from her time in the puppy mill. All of these topics are handled in an age-appropriate manner, framed within the animals’ story and using vocabulary that doesn’t try to sugar-coat what happens in these places, but makes the situation comprehensible to younger readers.

The writing and illustrations made me think of the animal fiction I read as a child; books like Margery Sharp’s The Rescuers series, and one of my all-time favorites, Rosemary Weir’s Pyewacket. Kids who love animal fiction will enjoy this book, and it provides a gentle introduction to hot-button social issues today. For kids who have experienced trauma in their own lives, reading a book like this may help facilitate a discussion; guidance counselors and therapists should give this a read and have available to talk over with parents and children.

Author has written nine books for both adults and children, including Cat in the City (also illustrated by Jill Weber).  Jill Weber is a children’s book illustrator and designer, and has worked on two other books by Julie Salamon.

Enjoy a glimpse at some of the art from the pages of Mutt’s Promise.


Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Hamster Princess is back, and she’s saving twelve dancing princesses!

hamsterprincessHamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic, by Ursula Vernon (March 2016, Dial Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780803739840

Recommended for ages 8-12

Babymouse fans, where are you? Come on over and check out the adventures of Princess Harriet Hamsterbone, a hamster princess with enough snark and sass to stand toe to toe with our favorite Mouse.

Written by Dragonbreath series author Ursula Vernon, Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic is the second book in this new series about a hamster princess who has a battle quail, a poncho of invisibility, and a best friend, Prince Wilbur, who she totally does not like like that, okay? She’d rather be cliff-diving than sitting at court any day of the week.

Of Mice and Magic finds Princess Hamster bored stiff now that all the local monsters have retired. She happens upon a fairy who tells her about twelve mice princesses – daughters of a very odd king with loads of issues – who are cursed to dance all night long. She offers to help break the curse, but she may have gotten herself in too deep when she comes up against a witch that’s really calling the shots.

This series is fantastic! I’ve been a fan of the Dragonbreath series for a while, and the kids at my library agree; the series is in constant circulation. I can’t wait to introduce them to Hamster Princess – she’s awesome for boys and girls alike, thanks to Ursula Vernon’s snappy dialogue, loaded with side-of-the-mouth snarky comebacks and a great graphic novel/chapter book hybrid format. It’s everything we love about Danny Dragonbreath, with a new twist on a beloved fairy tale. Where Dragonbreath’s art is largely green, black, and white, Hamster Princess glams it up a bit, with shades of purple and pink thrown in with the black and white. Princess Harriet is a great heroine – she’s smart, independent, can think on her feet, and can fend for herself. I love her, and I can’t wait for the kids in my library to meet her.

Ursula Vernon writes the Dragonbreath series, along with other great books for kids. Her website offers an FAQ, her blog, and a shop where you can check out some of her amazing artwork. While Of Mice and Magic won’t be out until March 2016, you can get started with the first book in the series, Harriet the Invincible, right now!

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Max the Brave is FEARLESS!

max the braveMax the Brave, by Ed Vere (Sept 2015, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $15.95, ISBN: 978-1-4926-1651-1

Recommended for ages 2-6

Max is a fearless kitten. He is a brave kitten. He does not like being dressed up in cutesy bows. He is a kitten who catches mice… or, he would, if he knew what a mouse looked like. He sets off in search of a mouse, politely asking several animals along the way if they are mice. Somewhere along the way, though, it looks like someone told Max a fib…

This book is adorable. The cartoony artwork will grab little readers and storytime attendees right away. Max is bold and black, with big yellow eyes. The animals he encounters are largely bold and black, set against bright background pages. The minimalist artwork makes it easy for younger readers to follow along, and the plain black text makes for an easy read for storytime.

The story reinforces manners – even though Max is brave and fearless, he’s always polite when asking for directions to Mouse. The story’s end will make parents giggle along with their children, and they will cheer for Max on his quest. There’s just enough repetition on Max’s search to keep kids engaged and interactive with the story.

I read this story to preschoolers and toddlers, and each time, they LOVED it. There was a fantastic amount of interaction, with kids calling out the names of the animals Max encounters and calling out advice to Max. The toddlers giggled and clapped and asked me to read it again – so I did!

Bottom line: Put this one on your Fall reading lists. The kiddies love it. There are great activities available as a free download from the publisher, and there’s also a free Common Core educator’s guide.

Watch this space – there’s going to be a Rafflecopter giveaway on this blog shortly!