Posted in Librarianing

You CAN judge a book by its cover

I’ve been reading librarian Becky Spratford’s RA for All blog for a few months. She’s a horror fan – that’s how I found her blog – and she has some great Readers Advisory articles. Since RA is possibly my favorite part of librarianship, I get a lot out of her posts and I’ve started incorporating some of her ideas here. Today, I want to talk about book covers. Becky Spratford has some good posts on book covers; her Deep Dive Into Book Cover Design has links to interesting articles on book cover design, and her July post on making book covers work for us spoke to my soul.

See, I’m a merchandising fiend. When we were open to the public, I’d wander through my library shelves and put books that had great covers face-out, sure; I’d also put books face-out that needed some extra notice (read: low circ). I love making up displays with fun things to print out, and books to show off. Because in spite of the fact that we say we don’t want to judge books by their covers, we also say that a picture is worth a thousand words! A book cover is artwork, and we love to look at art. We’re largely a visual people, after all. Book covers appeal to visual learners, inviting them inside to see what lurks beneath the surface.

Even putting together my Bitmoji library, I put thought into book covers. I’m creating multiple displays, after all! Do I put new books down that the kids may not have seen, since we’re all under quarantine? Do I put down favorites that will bring them to the library website? Do I plop in a mixture of both? It’s a dance. (I ended up going with both established favorites and new books.)

Display your book covers proudly! Think of them like your own little art gallery, and invite others to enjoy them, too. You may pick up a few new readers along the way.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, picture books, Preschool Reads

Picture books by graphic novelists and a graphic novel to welcome your week

How’s everyone doing? Are you all getting the hang of school this year just yet? Me, neither. But I do have some fun books to share, so let’s greet Monday with cheery stories.


My Pencil and Me, by Sara Varon, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781596435896

Ages 3-7

I love a good meta picture book, and Sara Varon’s latest, My Pencil and Me, fits that bill wonderfully. Sara herself stars in this story, along with her dog, Sweet Pea, and her special pencil. Not sure what to draw, Sara turns to Pencil for advice, and Pencil is ready and willing to guide her! What unfolds is an entertaining romp through the creative process, where Pencil encourages Sara to “go around and collect ideas”, and “draw recent adventures”. Deciding on the setting of a baseball game she attended last week, Sara creates characters and adds a plot: in this case, a baseball game between imaginary and real friends. When an inevitable conflict arises, Sara must put her story in the hands of the imaginary friends to save the day! It’s adorable, it’s filled with humor, and is a smart guide to creative writing that kids will love. A photo of Varon with the real Pencil and Sweet Pea, and some imaginary friends hanging around, places the reader and makes things a little more tangible. Endpapers highlight different pencils, pens, and paintbrushes strewn about the white background, with our very own Pencil smiling up at us, illustrated, and standing out on its own.

Sara Varon’s artwork is always so much fun to enjoy, with imaginative creatures and animals alongside people and real(ish) situations. There’s overall narration and word bubbles, and panels throughout, making this another addition to picture book/graphic novel shelves. She’s great at capturing small moments, and she’s great at telling larger scale stories, all with her relatable author’s voice and charming artwork. Invite your littles to tell you their own story using Pencil’s guidelines – and, of course, have plenty of Pencils on hand for your littles to personify for themselves. (Or crayons, naturally!)


Julia’s House Moves On, by Ben Hatke, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250191373

Ages 4-8

In a sequel to Ben Hatke’s 2014 story Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, Julia, her house full of friends, and the House itself all realize that it’s time to move on. The only thing is, things don’t always go to plan, and when things get underway before Julia’s plans are ready, she’s got to do some quick thinking. Because Julia always has a plan. The story of what to do when life gets in the way of your plans, Julia’s House Moves On is about endurance, resilience, and maybe – just maybe – the fact that sometimes, it’s okay to throw your plans to the wind.

I have been a Ben Hatke fan for a long time now, and his work never ceases to bring the wonder. Julia’s House Moves On has stunning watercolor work and a story that brings heartache and joy in equal parts. Moments like Julia’s House soaring through the sky; a Sea Queen holding the House in her hands; moments like these and so many more are just breathtaking to behold. There’s magic in these pages. A must-add for your dreamers and your planners alike.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King: The Graphic Novel, by E.T.A. Hoffman/Illustrated and Adapted by Natalie Andrewson, (Sept. 2020, First Second), $18.99, ISBN: 9781596436817

Ages 7-10

Let the holiday book love commence! The graphic novel retelling of the beloved Nutcracker classic is both fantastic and surreal. Organized into 14 chapters, the story of Marie and Fritz Stahlbaum has all the characters readers have come to know – or discover: Fritz’s Hussar soldiers and Marie’s doll, Miss Clarette, the wicked Mouse King and his army, and the Nutcracker. The story unfolds like a fever dream, shifting between Marie’s dreams and the wide-awake storytimes told by their godfather, the children’s uncle Drosselmeyer. It’s manic, often creepy, and a new spin on the classic tale. Give this to your adventure and fantasy fans. An author’s note talks about the original story versus the adaptation that Natalie Andrewson ‘wanted to tell’.

A frenetic adventure that’s going to be read at Christmastime and beyond.

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction, picture books

Wonders of Nature opens a museum on your bookshelf!

Wonders of Nature: Exploration in the World of Birds, Insects, and Fish, by Florence Guiraud, (Oct. 2018, Prestel Publishing), $25, ISBN: 9783791373652

Ages 7-11

This book, originally released in French, is a stunning work of art. Inspired by 17th and 18th century natural history artwork, by scientists and explorers who hand-sketched their discoveries, Wonders of Nature is an illustrated “cabinet of curiosities”, as author/artist Florence Guiraud puts it, of the natural world. There are meditations on birds’ plumage and nests; butterflies and bugs’ wings; starfish families, and jellyfish. Seven chapters come together through 2-page spreads in watercolor and sketch artwork to create detailed, breathtaking illustrations of birds, insects, and sea life.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing some 16th and 17th century natural history sketchbooks – by the way, you can, too: the American Museum of Natural History has an online research library with Digital Special Collections, including selections from their Rare Book Collection – and one can easily see how the artwork is inspired by these early natural history explorers and scientists. This is such a great way to get kids interested in natural history; how to interest them in wandering around their local parks, zoos, and museums, notebook in hand, and encourage them to draw their world, their way.

Each section introduces a topic with informative text that entices the reader into turning the page; that turn of the page launches readers into exciting new worlds, with animals they may never have seen before. Each drawing is labeled, helping kids – and adults – expand their world. Each section concludes with a “random directory” that provides further nibbles of information about different fauna, with page references for easy location.

Learn your world, and share it. Wonders of Nature is a solid add to your natural history collections and a great gift for readers who love nature and art. Display and booktalk with Candlewick’s Welcome to the Museum books (Dinosaurium, Animalium, Botanicum, and others).

Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Paperbacks from Hell is a love letter to ’70s and ’80s horror fiction

Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction, by Grady Hendrix, (Sept. 2017, Quirk Books), $24.99, ISBN: 9781594749810

Recommended for readers 16+

I know you may be looking at this review funny: ’70s and ’80s horror fiction? For teens now? YES. Walk with me.

First off, Grady Hendrix is straight up hilarious. If you haven’t read Horrorstor or My Best Friend’s Exorcism, you haven’t yet been introduced to his brand of smart, snarky horror: a haunted Swedish furniture store (Horrorstor) starts out witty, and leaves you sleeping with the light on for a week. A YA novel about demonic possession in the ’80s (My Best Friend’s Exorcism) starts with insidious, creepy storytelling, takes it into sheer horror territory, and ends on the most ’80s of endings; you can practically hear the synths in your mind as you turn pages. And now, Hendrix writes a love letter to that crazy time with his retrospective of horror paperback fiction. We go back to a time when paperbacks were sold in the supermarket; when kids like me would sneak peeks at VC Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic while on line at the A&P grocery store. So many creepy children. So much Satan, with so many cultists. So many animals bent on our destruction.

Hendrix is one of those authors that make you pause, grab a friend – or your teenager, in my case  and say, “No, wait, you have to hear this.” Multiple times. Until said teenager finally asks, “Wait a minute: Gestapochauns? There was a book about Nazi leprechauns? Are you serious?” And that, my friends, is where you hook them. You pick a section – any section – and you show them some of the covers. Then you read some of the text, because Hendrix’s knowledge about these books – in conjunction with Too Much Horror’s Will Errickson – is encyclopedic. And the teen is laughing and kind of terrified and wants to know more, all the same.


Gestapochauns are indeed a thing.


Paperbacks from Hell is perfect for us readers of a certain age, sure, but it’s also a book that connects us with our teens. We can get them on board with the craziness and the overwrought drama of the art and the stories. You can point out authors that teens will know, like VC Andrews, who’s now considered YA, and RL Stine, who was writing horror long before Goosebumps made him a household name. Let horror build a bridge between you and your teens. As my teen told me, “You grew up in a different time, Mom.” Yes, son. Yes, I did. And it was amazing.

Grab a copy and take a tour through the bookshelves of your youth, and invite your teens to make the trip with you. And while you’re at it, share your best six-word horror story with Quirk Books on Twitter by this Friday (9/22/17) and maybe you’ll win your own copy of Paperbacks from Hell! Details are here.


Posted in Toddler Reads

Book Review: Mary Engelbreidt’s Mother Goose, by Mary Engelbreidt (Harper Festival, 2005)

Mary-Engelbreits-Mother-Goose-One-Hundred-Best-Loved-VersesRecommended for ages 3+

Mary Engelbreit’s Mother Goose brings together 100 nursery rhymes – some, well-known and loved; some lesser known – in one volume and illustrated in Ms. Engelbreit’s traditional nostalgic style. In a note at the end of the book, she writes about her granddaughter’s influence and the desire for the innocence of “simpler and slower times”. She created the illustrations by going with the first images that popped into her head after reading the poems over, and takes care to include images of children from different ethnicities. The colorful illustrations are laid out against a plain white background. The text is in a plain, black font, taking no attention away from the pictures. The illustrated characters are dressed in a variety of outfits, from medieval to modern, but always with a retro twist that Mary Engelbreit is known for. The endpapers feature popular nursery rhyme characters set against a sky blue backdrop.

There is usually one rhyme to a page, along with a companion illustration; there are two to a page for shorter rhymes, but the pages are never cluttered. More popular rhymes, like Humpty Dumpty, get their own spread. Some of the rhymes appear to be abridged, but this is not mentioned anywhere in the book. An introduction by Lenoard Marcus, an author, critic, and children’s literature historian, explains the history of nursery rhymes. There is a board book available for this title which is much shorter, for younger audiences. The book is also packaged with a CD, with Academy Award nominated and Golden Globe Award-winning actress Lynn Redgrave performing a full-length reading of the book.

A nursery rhyme storytime would be the perfect venue for this book, as the illustrations will draw young audiences’ attention. The popular nursery rhymes invite interaction, as the children and caregivers can recite rhymes along with the storytime leader. There are fingerplays for many of these rhymes. A reading can be enhanced by either a puppet show or a flannelboard, and there are many CDs with nursery rhymes that can can enhance a storytime craft; Prekinders is one of many sites that provide free nursery rhyme printables.

The author’s website features author information, a shop, and a crafts area where caregivers and educators can download coloring sheets and crafts.