Friday, March 30, 2012


By Laura Vaccaro Seeger

How many green things are there? How many shades of green? In this book, Laura Vaccaro Seeger addresses this question through the use of beautiful paintings and die cut pages. Children will be drawn to the colorful paintings and will enjoy trying to find the die cuts hidden on each page, as well as wondering what might be pictured on the next page.After reading this book, neither you nor your children will ever view green things the same way.

Laura Vaccaro Seeger has produced Caldecott Honor Books, Geisel Honor Books, and a Boston Globe-Horn Book award-winner. She is both an author and an artist, as her books prove.

Find Green at Macmillan | Laura Vaccaro Seeger

Thursday, March 29, 2012


By Patricia Intriago

Dot is a delightful book that facilitates for young children the learning of concepts such as stop and go, fast and slow, loud and quiet, hard and soft. The text is brief but rhythmic, impressive in its ability to convey so much with so little. And who would have thought there were so many concepts one could share just with pictures of dots? If I had children, I can imagine myself reading this book many times to my kids and loving it every time.

Dot is Patricia Intriago's first book. Besides writing fantastic children's books, Patricia Intriago is the principal of Intriago Design, which offers print collateral and Web designs for businesses. 

Howliday Inn

Howliday Inn
By James Howe

I looked forward to Howliday Inn with great anticipation, after being so pleasantly surprised by Bunnicula. I was, however, a little disappointed once I finally sat down to read it (but only a little disappointed, mind you).

In the second of James Howe's Bunnicula series, Harold the dog and Chester the cat are off on a new adventure. Their people are leaving on vacation, and Harold and Chester are off to spend the week at the Chateau Bow-Wow. 

Chester's over-active imagination has not taken a vacation, however.When dogs start disappearing from Chateau Bow-Wow, Chester has all kinds of theories as to who the dastardly villain is. The reader is left to try to figure out the mystery along with Chester and Harold.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. I guess I think of it as kind of a 'cozy' read for me, but as a third grader I would have been held in much more terrible suspense, wondering where all the dogs were disappearing to. The reader is not given enough information to solve the mystery, but enough tantalizing clues are given to keep the reader engaged.

Chester and Harold still have their quirks in this book: Chester's imagination is still over-active, and Harold is still a little bit slow. If anything, their personalities have been a little bit polarized from the first book. Because their personalities are exaggerated a little in the second book, I also found the humor to be less entertaining. And honestly, I think the illustrations in the first book contributed greatly to the humor, and I wasn't as impressed with the illustrations in this book.

I will be recommending this series to the young readers I encounter at the library. In fact, we may be reading Bunnicula in our 3rd-4th grade book club during our Summer Reading Program. This is a great series to get young minds hooked on. Two thumbs up from me!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An Argument for Imagination

I just read a delightful article: "Why Read? Sven Birkets on the essential link between literacy and the imagination."

I highly encourage any reader or anyone who is encouraging young people to be readers to head over to this site and read through the article.

Here's a quote from the article to whet your appetite:

"As much as our skills and practical accomplishments bolster a sense of independent identity, imagination fills out the inner counterpart. It consolidates the “I” by making plausible the other. Imagination enables empathy..."

The Hunger Games

Out of the ashes of what was once North America, a new society has risen: Panem. The Capitol rules the twelve districts of Panem with an iron fist, reminding them brutally of their failed uprising. The districts of Panem vary widely in level of affluence, but regardless of affluence, each year, two teenagers, one boy and one girl, are chosen randomly from each district to participate in the Hunger Games, a gladiator-inspired event in which the tributes fight to the death.  

Of the twelve districts of Panem, District Twelve is the farthest from the Capitol, and poverty and starvation always loom. Katniss Everdeen, who lives in District Twelve with her mother and sister, has learned to hunt and gather outside the electric wires surrounding their district. Her hunting is illegal but is one of the means by which her family avoids starvation. When Katniss is chosen to participate in the Hunger Games, she is taken on journey of preparation, during which she meets a spectrum of interesting characters and experiences the level of wealth and prosperity that those living in the Capitol enjoy daily.

Capitol residents are exempt from participating in the Hunger Games. Instead, they look forward to it as the biggest thrill of the year. The Hunger Games are also required viewing for the rest of Panem. Reading about the excitement of those living in the Capitol for the Hunger Games raises questions about reality TV shows. What appeals to us about reality TV shows? How should we feel when we watch people humiliated, brought to tears, or physically harmed on TV? How desensitized does realty TV make us?

Katniss is a steely character whose soft side is only brought out by her little sister Prim. Through the Hunger Games, she is confronted with unexpected self-revelation: stirrings of questions about the Capitol, questions about herself, and of romance. Don’t let Katniss’s obvious character growth fool you, however. This book is action-packed, leaving readers with barely enough time to draw breath between plot twists.

Suzanne Collins tackles tough issues in The Hunger Games, such as severe poverty, starvation, oppression, and the intricacies and horrors of war. Though parts of the book are brutal (hardly avoidable, given the subject), Collins handles the scenes of violence with taste. A delightful melding of action, adventure, sci-fi, mythology, and romance ensure that this book will appeal to a wide variety of readers. Though this novel is definitely geared toward teens, adults will find enjoy this book and find much to mull over after they finish reading.

In the wake of The Hunger Games movie coming out, if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend reading the book (first if possible)!

Saturday, March 24, 2012


Deborah and James Howe

I read this book for the first time when I was in, oh, 2nd grade, maybe. At the time I found it a little creepy and a little confusing. I never read the rest of the series.

Our library recently purchased an updated copy of the book, however, which sparked my interest. I checked it out, and read it in a matter of an hour, laughing, giggling, and chortling by turn. I am not the only person who loves Bunnicula, though, because the book went on to win more than ten Children’s Choice Awards.

I realized while reading it why I had been confused as a second grader. Although the book is short, the phrasing and word choices of the author are a little beyond your typical Magic Tree House and Geronimo Stilton series geared toward readers ages 9-12.

Bunnicula was written by James Howe and his wife Deborah. However, shortly after the book was published, Deborah died of cancer.  James Howe, on his own, went on to write a whole series based on the little vampire bunny who dines on vegetable juice.

I enjoyed the dry humor (and fantastic illustrations) in Bunnicula and I look forward to reading the rest of the series!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It
Gail Carson Levine

An exercise of imagination at its finest, Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It is a collection of poems based on the poem by William Carlos Williams, “This is Just to Say.” All of the poems put new spins on classic fairy tales and legends, imagining what might have happened if Snow White had gotten sick of living with the seven dwarfs, for example. Each poem is cleverly illustrated as well, in a way that reminds me of Shel Silverstein. Young readers who enjoy fairy tales will fall in love with poetry after reading this book!

Olivia and the Missing Toy

Olivia and the Missing Toy
By Ian Falconer

Olivia is a little pig who lives with her mom, dad, and two little brothers. She has a favorite toy that she likes to play with, and one day it goes missing. She looks for it everywhere. That night, a dark and stormy night, Olivia hears an awful sound coming from behind a door in her house. She goes to find out what the noise is, and discovers her dog, chewing her toy to bits! She runs crying to her parents, who promise her a new toy, but Olivia decides to sew her toy back together. She does, and she even eventually forgives the dog.

Though this story is pretty simple, it’s a lot of fun. Without the illustrations and the spice of sarcastic humor the author sprinkles on, this book would not have caught my attention. However, he does such a nice job with those elements so as to make the book worthwhile. Not every author can take a missing toy and turn it into a pseudo-suspense story!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Tunnel

The Tunnel
By Anthony Browne

When I think of books that made an impact on me as a child, one of the books that comes to mind the fastest is The Tunnel by Anthony Browne. This is a story of a brother and sister who are opposite in every way. The brother is rambunctious and extroverted. The sister is timid and introverted. And because they are so different, they fight. All the time. One day, their mom sends them out to play together, wanting them to get along, just once.

They go to play in a vacant lot, where the brother finds a tunnel. He crawls inside. The sister waits and worries, and then finally decides to follow him. She crawls through the tunnel and comes out in a dark forest. She walks, and as the forest gets darker and scarier, she starts to run. Soon she comes to a clearing and finds her brother, turned to stone. She reaches her arms around him and hugs him, sobbing. Pretty soon the stone becomes softer and warmer. Her brother is alive.

Maybe it was just because of my age when I first heard this story (maybe four or five years old?), but I still remember the feeling of the bottom dropping out of my stomach when the teacher reading the story turned the page to show the brother turned to stone. This story deals with sibling relationships in a unique way, showing the importance of love between siblings. Pretty dramatic setting for sibling relations, too! The artwork in this book is beautiful (as is the artwork in all of Anthony Browne’s books). I highly recommend The Tunnel!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Star of the Week

Star of the Week
Darlene Friedman & Roger Roth

Star of the Week is a story of a little girl named Cassidy-Li who was adopted from China as a baby. Now she’s in kindergarten and it’s her turn to be the star of the week. She gets to bring a poster about herself to school and share it with the class, as well as a treat to share. When Cassidy-Li sits down to work on her poster, she adds a picture of when her adoptive parents brought her home from China, pictures of different family members and activities she’s involved in, and friends. When she’s almost done with her poster, she realizes that she’s missing a picture of her birth parents.

This book takes complex subjects – how an adoptive child feels about her birth parents and how an adoptive child deals with letting other people know she’s adopted—and boils it down into a story that’s easy to understand and relate to. I also love that this story shows that asking questions about adoption is okay. This is an excellent book to share with kids who are adopted or who have siblings who are adopted. The pictures are bold and colorful, and the words are simple, but pack a big punch. I will be looking for a way to share this book with one of our preschool story programs!

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Flight of Gemma Hardy

The Flight of Gemma Hardy
By Margon Livesey

The Flight of Gemma Hardy, a retelling of Jane Eyre is set in Scottland and Iceland in the 1960s. The descriptions of Scottish and Icelandic landscape and culture were probably what held my interest the best in this book. Gemma resembles Jane up until she reaches young adulthood. Both Jane and Gemma are orphaned and taken in by their loving uncle and uncaring aunt. Both are estranged from the only family they know after the death of their uncle. Both are sent to an atrocious school where they are poorly treated. Both experience the death of the only childhood friend they know. As soon as Gemma leaves school, though, her story ceases to follow Jane’s as closely. Gemma becomes a nanny for a little girl named Nell, the charge of her employer, Mr. Sinclair.

In my opinion, The Flight of Gemma Hardy slides downhill after Gemma leaves school. Not only does the story not follow the original (which would have been OK if the new story had been well done), but the romance between Gemma and Mr. Sinclair didn’t convince me. Also, in the original Jane is forced to leave her beloved because a hidden marriage is discovered. That's a reasonable reason to run away. In Gemma’s story, Mr. Sinclair’s grave secret revealed on their wedding day is, at best, weak. Gemma goes on to lie to and steal from the nice people who take her in and care for her. She comes to realize that she can tell lies just like Mr. Sinclair (how wonderful for her), so she forgives him. Jane is full of integrity and strength. Gemma is full of... strength. I left the book feeling dispassionate about the romance between Gemma and Mr. Sinclair, and I felt like Gemma was someone I wouldn’t care to meet.

Overall, the beautiful descriptions of Scotland and Iceland and the fact that I was able to learn a great deal about both countries were the only things that kept me reading this story. As a Jane Eyre retelling, all I can say is, “Blah.”

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I made a road trip by myself last weekend up into Minnesota. Normally I don't drive well by myself, so I made sure this time that I had downloaded a couple of good books from LibriVox to listen to as I drove. I downloaded an audio version of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. I read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes back in junior high, and at the time I enjoyed that.

I loved The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. I really think those stories were the only thing keeping me awake as I drove on the mesmerizingly flat and straight I-90, across southern Minnesota. As a child, some of the language Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used was over my head, but that problem didn't exist in this encounter with Doyle's writing.

Some of the stories are more gripping than others, but they all display the inductive reasoning that Sherlock Holmes is famous for. I particularly liked the first story in the collection: "Silver Blaze." Murder, missing racing horses... wonderful. The last story in the collection, "The Final Problem" kept me on the edge of my seat, but I was incredibly disappointed with the ending.

(I'm giving something away here, so stop reading if you don't like spoiled endings.)

Sherlock Holmes dies. That in itself is an offense, but what is even more offensive is that I really didn't think he had to die. It almost felt as though he gave himself up for dead and walked right into the arms of a sinister criminal mastermind. (I read later that Doyle was irritated that he was becoming known as the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories. He wrote other things that he deemed more important, but the public loved this character. He killed Holmes off in this last story just to be done him. He concocted a lame story in vain, however, because the public outcry against Sherlock Holmes' death was so great that Doyle ended up reviving him for future stories.)

Check your weather forecast for an upcoming dark and rainy day, and check out a delicious Sherlock Holmes mystery to keep you company!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Hobbit

The Hobbit
By J.R.R. Tolkien

I've always been an ardent lover of fantasy stories, and when I was younger my brother and I had an old animated video of The Hobbit. You remember those videos where the animated characters' mouths don't quite match up with the words being spoken? And all their actions are sort of jerky and mechanical? Yep. The Hobbit. Regardless, we loved it, and I think it was one of the few movies we could agree on when we tried to pick a movie to watch together.

As a teenager I tried reading The Hobbit, but I sincerely disliked it. Slow-moving. Too much description. Impersonal characters. And now, after re-reading it, I still somewhat agree with my first assessments, but I'll add another: stilted language. However, over all, I must admit that I enjoyed The Hobbit more this time through. I suppose maybe I'm a faster reader, so I could get past the slowness of the novel and enjoy the story.

I've often heard C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien compared, but to be honest, after reading The Hobbit, I don't think that Tolkien can hold a candle to Lewis. My husband tells me I'll enjoy the Lord of the Rings trilogy more than The Hobbit. He says the series is really very good. I'm willing enough to believe him that I've committed to reading through the series.

What do you think? Is Tolkien a good writer? How does he compare to C.S. Lewis?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake
By Michael B. Kaplan
Illustrated by Stephane Jorisch

Betty Bunny is proud to be a handful. (She doesn't know what that means.) She thinks she doesn't like chocolate cake until she tries it. When she does try it however, she decides she wants to marry chocolate cake when she grows up. After her first taste of chocolate cake, Betty Bunny decides that chocolate cake is all she wants and she does not want to wait for it. She tries to make chocolate cake out of mud. She won't eat her dinner. She even throws mashed potatoes at her brother. Her mommy wants her to be patient, but it takes a gooey chocolate cake mess in her pocket to help Betty Bunny learn what patience means!

I laughed out loud while reading this book. I was sitting at the circulation desk at our library, and I still laughed out loud. This book offers a fun way to learn about patience (and it might make you hungry to eat chocolate cake). I think this book would work well as a read-aloud for a group or for a single child.

Friday, March 9, 2012


By Kathryn Otoshi

Booklist says about this book, "There are many stories about bullies, but few have looked at the subject in such an attractive, original way."

One does just that. The story is about colors who are friends. Yellow, Green, Purple, Orange, and Blue are nice colors who get along. Red, however, picks on Blue. No one tries to stop him. Eventually, because no one will stand up to Red, Red grows bigger and bigger. Then, along comes One (who is a big gray "1"). One finally stands up to Red. The Blue, Yellow, Green, Purple, and Orange all decide they want to count too; they become numbers, and they all stand up to Red. But then-- this is pivotal-- the colored numbers stop Red as he tries to roll away. One says, "Red can count too." Red becomes Seven and joins in the fun with the rest of the group. The book ends with the line, "Sometimes it just takes One."

I sincerely appreciated the way this book dealt with bullies. It clearly shows that bullies become bigger bullies when they are not confronted. Sometimes it just takes one person standing up to a bully to make everyone able to stand up to a bully. And, most importantly, it shows that bullies are people too and most of the time, they just want to belong, they want to count too. 

Who would have guessed that a book written about blobs of color could be so moving?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

I Want My Hat Back

I Want My Hat Back
By Jon Klassen

This is a simple story-- simple words and simple pictures-- about a bear who loses his hat. He wants it back. He goes to different animals in the forest, asking if anyone has seen his hat. He meets a rabbit, who, when asked about a hat, responds, "No. Why are you asking me. I haven't seen it. I haven't seen any hats anywhere. I would not steal a hat. Don't ask me any more questions." Though the bear doesn't notice, the rabbit is wearing a red hat. The bear continues on his journey, asking more animals about his hat. A question from a deer about what his hat looks like finally jogs the bear's memory. He runs back to the rabbit and apparently reclaims his hat. The ending, though, is a surprise, well worth reading the book to find out!

Over all, I enjoyed this book. I was impressed by Klassen's ability to create intense emotion with only a few words and simple pictures. The story is meant, I think, to be lighthearted and a little tongue in cheek. Sometimes I prefer books that has a subtle message to teach, but this book I enjoyed purely for its entertainment value.

A Butterfly is Patient

A Butterfly is Patient
By Dianna Hutts Aston
Illustrated by Sylvia Long

A Butterfly is Patient is another beautifully written non-fiction book for children. I wish I could describe to you exactly how much I love the books by this author and illustrator team. They make me want to jump up and down for joy. In this book, children will learn about the life cycle of butterflies, pollination and how butterflies help with it, how butterflies camouflage themselves, that a butterfly is not a moth (one of my favorites!), among other things. I appreciate the spectacular and accurate illustrations in this book! I also like the format: Each page has a large heading that can be read by itself for younger readers and then further description written below for older readers. This book will make you and your children simply fall in love with butterflies!

Look for other titles by this author and illustrator team:

An Egg is Quiet
A Seed is Sleepy

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Show Way

Show Way
By Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by Hudson Talbott

A Newberry Honor book, Show Way is like Alex Haley’s Roots for children. It tells the story of the author’s family through generations of women, dating back well into the time of slavery in the United States. Tying the generations of women together, even when children were sold onto other plantations when they were seven, were Show Way quilts. Show Ways told the route for slaves to take to escape to freedom.

Each woman passes the skill of quilting Show Ways to her daughter. Eventually, when slavery is abolished and Show Ways are no longer needed, the women learn to tell their stories in different ways. The author of this book tells her stories with words. She ends the book with:

And I grew up,
tall and straight-boned,
writing every day.
And the words became books
that told the stories of
many people’s Show Ways.

The author repeats phrases throughout the book in such a way that clearly demonstrates the bloodline through the generations. The rhythmic poetic chant in which the story is told also helps the reader to more clearly hear and picture the story as it unfolds.

I thought this was a beautiful story, one that I will remember and share with my children someday. Some of the ideas in the story may be hard for younger children to grasp, but I think it’s a book that families can come back to again and again!