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Julius Zebra by Gary Northfield Book Review


Julius Zebra: Rumble with the Romans by Gary Northfield
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: April 12, 2016

Julius Zebra lives the life of a normal young zebra, fighting with his brother and being a bit picky about where he drinks his water. Who can blame him either? The local watering hole is full of alligators and stinks. When Julius tries to sneak away though, he ends up as a prisoner of Romans whose mission is to bring exotic animals back from Africa to be part of the games at the Colosseum. At first, Julius is excited thinking they are headed to some kind of circus to see juggling monkeys. He quickly learns that this is no circus, there are gladiators and they are intent on killing Julius and all of his new animal friends. Julius isn't going to go out without a fight and soon finds himself a crowd favorite and in training to become a real gladiator.

The premise: Ridiculous. The execution: Hilarious. Julius Zebra is
the perfect hero in this utterly preposterous adventure about a Gladiotar Zebra. Julius is the kind of animal that kids can relate to. He's a picky eater, can't stand his attention-seeking brother, and just wants to some freedom. Couple that with a rather dower and dier lion and a know-it-all warthog and this is a recipe for fun. I loved the little tid-bits of history and Latin terms mixed in with the absurd notion that a zebra could ever hold a sword, let alone fight. And let's not even talk about how the animals manage to blend in for a bit by wearing hats and mustaches. The illustrations are great and really add a comic book quality to the story. Kids are going to love this irreverent animal adventure and they may actually learn something in the process. Added bonus for the page numbers being in Roman Numerals and including a guide on how to read them in the back.

The Stone Thrower by Jael Earley Richardson Book Review

The Stone Thrower by Jael Earley Richardson
Illustrations by Matt James
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Release Date: May 1, 2016

Chuck Ealey grew up in a segregated neighborhood of Portsmouth, Ohio. The chances of him being able to play football beyond the schoolyard, were slim. Yet, with dedication and perseverance he earns a reputation as a great quarterback, with unbeaten records in high school and university. Using a football scholarship, Chuck is able to get an education.

An inspirational story by Chuck Ealey's daughter, this is the story of rising above circumstances and one young man's dedication in the face of many obstacles. I absolutely love picture book biographies (and biographies in general) because they give us stories of people who don't show up in the normal school curriculum. For an aspiring football player, the sports-obsessed kid, and the African-American child, Chuck Ealey can serve as an important role model, Matt James' illustrations were beautiful as always, with an almost Snowy Day vibe to them. The only criticism I have for the book is how much time is spent on Chuck's childhood and doesn't really get to his high school and college accomplishments. Those details are in a short paragraph at the end of the book. I would have liked a little bit of that in the actual book. Another great addition to the world of children's biographies.

Flashback Friday: Jumper by Steven Gould

Jumper (Book 1) by Steven Gould
Publisher: Starscape
Release Date: February 18, 2002 (originally published 1992)

The first time it happened was like this: Davy lives alone with his father. It isn't much of a home though as his father is verbally and physically abusive. One night, just as his father is about to beat him with the metal end of his belt, Davy finds himself suddenly in the local public library. Davy assumes that he blacked out or something, the ordeal too terrible to remember. But he soon figures out that he has inexplicably developed the ability to teleport himself. Leaving his abusive father behind, Davy moves to New York City. But life isn't easy for a battered runaway teen who is always looking over his shoulder. Davy finds himself doing some morally sketchy things to survive, but his biggest test will come when he finally confronts the mother who abandoned him to abuse.

One of the downsides of running a book blog that reviews mostly new books is that you find yourself only reading new stuff and never re-reading the books you love. Hence, my newly formed Flashback Friday, where I will review books that I have already read before and ruminate over why the book has stuck with me and why I love it so much.

Forget the movie. That horrible piece of shit that came out in 2008. The only similarities that that vile thing had to this book was the teleportation and an abusive father. Not that they lingered on the abusive father for long as Davy of the movie moves on like it is nothing.

What I love about the book is that, within this fantasy, there is so much true-to-life reality. Davy moves away, he meets a girl, he gets money, and yet he can't shake the effects of being abused and abandoned. He's a good kid who worries constantly that his dad will somehow find him and wants to know why his mother abandoned him. Then there is the whole terrorist angle. After a tragedy, Davy spends a good half of the book tracking down terrorists and jumping (his term for teleporting) NSA agents all over the globe. I understand, with our current global climate, why the filmmakers shied away from this aspect of the story, yet it was so incredibly important to the character growth of Davy. Despite some of his mistakes, we need to see that Davy is a good person. A really good person who cares deeply for people. The moment of confrontation between Davy and his father is amazing, but Davy has to earn that moment and grow up a bit for it to happen.

This is an action story with a deeply resonant heart and soul. The best part? There is more than one. Book two (Reflex) follows Davy and his girlfriend Millie after Davy is kidnapped and conditioned to obey. Book three (Impulse) follows Davy and Millie's daughter Cent as she navigates a world that is very dangerous for their family yet desperately needs the human interaction and Davy fears. Book four (Exo) continues with Cent as she too struggles with her place in the world as a teleporter always being hunted.

I have read this book several times and every single time I fall in love with Davy and his story. It makes me sad that the movie, being what it was, may turn readers off. Please don't be turned off. Find a used copy or download the audio book and discover a book that is one part action and two parts psychology with a bit of humor, a love story, and a bank robbery.

The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller Book Review

The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller
Illustrations by Vincent X. Kirsch
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 3, 2016

In 1843, fourteen-year-old Hanson Gregory left home to work as a cabin on on the schooner Achorn. While on board, he made snacks for the sailors, round cakes that never cooked fully in the middle. Then, one day he had an idea, why not simply remove the middle? This way the entire cake would be cooked all the way through. And so began the humble doughnut that has became a breakfast staple.

A well-told story that gets to the truth behind the doughnuts' origins and even addresses some of the myths that have also formed. Over the years I have heard many stories about the doughnuts origins that honestly, people must have made up, so it was nice to finally get to the truth. The illustrations are cute and what I appreciate most about this picture book biography is that it can stand on its own as just a fun picture book. Every kid loves doughnuts and I think, much like the Balloons Over Broadway book, it will draw in young readers. It also one of those books like, The Old Black Witch, in which parents can (if they are so inclined) make donuts from scratch and make some lasting memories as well.

mmm...now I want a doughnut


Feathers by Jorge Corona Book Review

Feathers by Jorge Corona and Jen Hickman
Publisher: Boom! Studios
Release Date: January 7, 2015

An old man finds a small abandoned child in a alley, a child covered from head to toe in black feathers, just like a bird. Fearful of how others will treat him, the old man advises the child who he names Poe, to stick to the shadows and remain unseen. But Poe is curious, as any child would be, and forces beyond his comprehension are pulling the puppet strings on his destiny.

Bianca is a child of the city, safe behind the walls that separate their city from the maze outside. All her life Bianca has been warned about the riff-raff that lives in the maze, yet when she has the opportunity to visit, she uses it to run away and have an adventure. Little does she know, but that adventure is full of peril and a boy with feathers.

Reminding me of a Skellig, but with far more fantasy elements, Feathers is a wonderful graphic novel full of mystery, complexity, and wonder. Poe, despite being other, is relateable in his desire to make friends and be understood. Bianca, despite being a bit brash and overbearing, is also relateable as she too searches for friends and desires a degree of freedom that is not awarded her behind the city walls.

For me, the most interesting part of the story is the element of the winged goddess, who all the people pray to, including Bianca's mother. Yet, when Poe returns Bianca to the city and even though he is covered in feathers, the mother labels him a demon immediately. She doesn't listen to reason and no matter how often Bianca says that Poe saved her life, the mother cannot fit what he looks like into her realm of understanding. He is a demon because his feathers and black and for no other reason than this. There are definitely some real world parallels to be drawn there, but I will let you find them for yourself. I can't wait to get my hands on books two and three.



Oh No, Astro! by Matt Roeser Book Review

Oh No, Astro! by Matt Roeser
Illustrations by Brad Woodard
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 19, 2016

One grumpy asteroid named Astro is about to go on an unexpected journey. When Astro is hit by a satellite, it is thrown out of orbit and off on an adventure, one that ends with a serious crash landing.

A fun fictional take on how meteors end up on earth and their journey through space, Oh No, Astro! is perfect for the budding astronaut or astronomer. I liked that Astro was a bit grumpy, which felt different for reasons that would seem silly to explain. There are a lot of great space facts in the endmatter, which extends the age range of this book to upper elementary.




Because I'm Your Dad by Ahmet Zappa Book Review

Because I'm Your Dad by Ahmet Zappa
Illustrations by Dan Santat
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: April 2, 2013

Father's Day is right around the corner and I thought I would post one of my favorite new-ish Father's Day books. It is no secret that I am in love with Dan Santat's illustrations. However, I really just like everything about this one. The story behind it, the illustrations, the actual story. I'm sure many people have reviewed it, but I just wanted to put it out there.


The White Cat and the Monk by Jo Ellen Bogart Book Review

The White Cat and the Monk: A Retelling of the Poem "Pangur Bán" by Jo Ellen Bogart
Illustrations by Sydney Smith
Publisher: Groundwood Books
Release Date: March 30, 2016

A monk leads a simple life. He studies his books late into the evening and searches for truth in their pages. His cat, Pangur, leads a simple life, too, chasing prey in the darkness. As night turns to dawn, Pangur leads his companion to the truth he has been seeking.

I readily admit my ignorance in not knowing about this poem. The first read through I was impressed by the illustrations and liked the story, but something about it felt...odd. However, when I read the afterward, I realized that feeling was because this wasn't a modern type of story or poem. A second read through was required and this time, that oddness now explained, the book felt perfect. At its heart, this is a story of contemplation and peace. A world full of solitude in which the monk sees life in comparison to his pet and how the two are intertwined. 

The illustrations are in perfect sync with the text, capturing that ethereal quality of the poem without feeling heavy-handed in symbolism. Although this is a picture book, I think the audience is actually older than the average picture book audience. I can see it working really well to help teach poetry to older elementary school and even middle school students. 



Cleopatra in Space, Book Three: Secret of the Time Tablets by Mike Maihack Book Review

Cleopatra in Space, Book Three: Secret of the Time Tablets (Book 3) by Mike Maihack 
Publisher: GRAPHIX
Release Date: April 26, 2016

In the third installment the sci-fi graphic novel series, Cleo and her friends are headed to the city of Hykosis to seek out the legendary time tablets. When they run into an enemy fleet, plans change quickly and Clep and Akila are on their own to find the tablets. However, they soon run into an old nemesis who may turn out to be a friend and a friend who may be the enemy.

Action-packed as usual, Cleopatra in Space continues to be fantastically absurd. Ancient Egyptian Princess in space who at one point dons a cowboy hat. Yeah, it went there, but I think that is what I love about this series. Cleo is brave and impetuous and although she gets them out of a lot of scrapes, half of them are caused by her.

I do wish there was a bit more character development with Cleo as most of the pathos of the story exist in the secondary characters. Cleo is just Cleo which works for one or two books, but when you turn it into a series, I need a bit more than she is a good shot and savior of the universe. That aside, the series is fun and ridiculous and I can't wait to read number 4.


Monster & Son by David LaRochelle Book Review

Monster & Son by David LaRochelle 
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: April 12, 2016

Just in time for Father's Day, this adorable book follows all kinds of monsters as they spend time with their sons. Werewolves, yetis, giant lizards. Monsters with teeth and horns and fur.

This is a fantastic read-aloud for fathers and sons. (although I think it could include girls too) The rhymes are wonderful and roll off the tongue as if singing a song. It is easy to find the rhythm. Vibrant detailed illustrations fill every page, which may make it more suitable for a lap book rather than storytime. In the sea of Father's Day books that are out there, this one stands out.

The Thank You Book by Mo Willems Book Review

The Thank You Book by Mo Willems
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: May 3, 2016

Gerald is careful. Piggie is not.
Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can.Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to.Gerald and Piggie are best friends.
Everyone is getting a big thank you from Piggie and I mean everyone. All the animals featured in the other twenty-four Piggie & Elephants and even some that are not (how did Pigeon get thanked?!). But there is one person that Piggie is forgetting. It's not the frog. Or the flies. It's not even Gerald, although Piggie does almost forget. No, Piggie and Elephant want to thank YOU. The reader. 




Rumor has it that this is the last Piggie and Elephant book to be done by Mo Willems who is now handing it off to another writer and illustrator. Even without this knowledge, this book actually made me tear up. It really felt personal, as if they, and by extension, the author was thanking me for reading their books. Included in the book is a Thank You placard for children (or adults) to place on their shelves. (I imagine this will get lost with a library copy rather quickly) For those who have journeyed with Elephant and Piggie it feels like the right kind of send off for an author whose books have made me laugh so hard that I have cried. 

Thank You, Mo Willems. And Thank You Elephant and Piggie!


Echo Echo by Marliyn Singer Book Review

Echo Echo: Reverso Poems About Greek Myths by Marliyn Singer
Illustrations by Josée Masse
Publisher: Dial Books
Release Date: February 16, 2016

As someone who writes some of the worst poems known to man, I am complete awe over the work that goes into writing a Reverso poem. How do you even begin to create such a thing? Do you begin with the first line? What happens when you get halfway through and it isn't working? Obviously, with a Greek Myths theme you have more of a starting place and theme than some other forms of poetry. Read top to bottom and then reversed bottom to top, each poem takes on a new meaning with a simple reversal. It's a process that I will never be able to replicate as a writer and so I read them in awe, for they are things of beauty and double-meanings. 

Pandora's poem for example:

“She let loose those evils, 
but 
she didn’t collect them. 
She gets the blame. 
No matter that 
it might have been great Zeus’s game.” 




The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks Book Review

The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: April 5, 2016

Every thirty years or more, the City is invaded. This has happened over and over and so, instead of renaming the city with each new conquerer, it is known as simply The Nameless City. The natives of the city don't allow themselves to be caught up in the never ending wars if they can help it, yet they are swept up nonetheless. Their city is always full of outsiders and the citizens and the invaders are certainly not friends.

Kaidu is an outsider. He is Dao, a member of the latest occupying nation. He has been sent to the Nameless City to be a soldier, even though he isn't much good at it. Rat is a child of the city. At first, she dislikes Kai for everything that he is and stands for, but together they form a friendship that may just be the key to lasting peace.

The children's graphic novel scene has come alive over the past five years. So many wonderful book with terrific and imaginative storylines. The Nameless City reminded me of Avatar: The Last Airbender, with its Asiatic feel and bright detailed illustrations. Make no mistake, the attention to detail in this book was wonderful. I found myself slowing down in the story purposefully in order to take in all the scenes.

I also liked this world that Hicks has created. A fictional crossroads of sort that controls all trade for the area and is a source of constant turmoil. There are hints that the people who built this place may have left behind their knowledge in books....if only people could read them. I like the characters, but Kai did feel a little flat to me and I am hoping that we will go deeper with subsequent books. Like many first books this one was just setting up the various characters, the world, and delving a bit into the politics and tensions that exist in this world. A beautiful book that I hope gets many many readers.


Miss Moon:Wise Words from a Dog Governess by Janet Hill Book Review

Miss Moon:Wise Words from a Dog Governess by Janet Hill
Publisher: Tundra Books
Release Date: January 12, 2016

Miss Wilhelmina Moon is a dog governess. On a small island off the coast of France, Miss Moon takes in sixty-seven dogs of all shapes, sizes, and colors. It is her job to take this wild bunch and teach them all the important things hat a dog should know. And so Miss Moon begins to impart her twenty important lessons for this furry pack. All her lessons are perfect for creating a well-mannered dog, and perhaps a few humans too.

An adorable book that felt timeless in its execution. I hadn't even seen the video below, but could see from page one, the love that went into these illustrations. The story itself is simple. A woman teaching dogs, but despite these paintings not beginning their lives as a picture book, Hill gracefully crafted a story around them that is fanciful and fun. Perfect for children who aspire to be dog governesses or just like dogs in general.


Calling All Cars by Sue Fliess Book Review

Calling All Cars by Sue Fliess 
Illustrations by Sarah Beise
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Release Date: March 1, 2016

Big cars, small cars, let's call all cars! Whether they be zipping up cars or slow cars, this simple concept book goes from busy and vibrant to a quiet bedtime book by the end.

I am not entirely sure what I was expecting from this point, but I definitely got a lot more than I anticipated. It is busy and rush-houry with so many different kinds of cars and animals. Every page was full of life and energy, drawing me in. The poems were evenly paced and had the right rhythm, somehow capturing the feel of the different kind of cars on each page. This book would work as both a fun storytime read and a one-on-one bedtime story. I suspect parents may grow bored with this one rather quickly since kids are definitely going to want you to read this to them more than once.


Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Colo by Julia Denos Book Review

Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Colo by Julia Denos
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: March 15, 2016

A delightfully colorful book about one girl whose colors have gone wild. Swatch has a passion for color and she collects them also. It is hard to describe this book beyond that as it is one that leans so heavy on the visual element, so instead I will leave you with the book trailer and a recommendation to buy this book for the budding artist in your life.


Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood Book Review

Inherit the Stars by Tessa Elwood
Publisher: Running Press Kids
Release Date: December 8, 2015

Three royal houses, all on the brink of collapse must ally together for mutual survival. And so it is agreed that the heir to the House of Fane shall marry the son of the House of Westlet. Asa is the youngest of the three daughters of the House of Fane. When her eldest and closest sister is injured and in a coma, Asa never leaves her side, sure that with the right treatment Wren will wake. Her father has other plans though. If Wren is pulled from life support, Emmie, the middle daughter will then be the heir and can complete the blood bond between Fane and Westlet. Asa cannot allow that to happen. So she secretly drugs her sister and takes her place as Eagle's bride. However, Asa's actions, although possibly saving Wren from death, has ruined everything else.

This book was sent to me from a former classmate who, for some reason thought that this would be my type of book. She was right. Perhaps it was because of the vague Dune-like quality in the book with the various houses and their political allegiances. Maybe it was the fact that, for the first time in a long time, there is a character who actually goes into a marriage not kicking and screaming. Sure, the reasons are a bit unconventional, however Asa has very little worries about the marriage itself. This may be a bit of immaturity on her part, but I found it refreshing. Of course, there is a love story, but it progressed at a pace that felt realistic, rather than headlong Romeo & Juliet. Asa finds herself caring for Eagle little by little. The lie she tells about how they met becomes more and more tinged with words of love.

I also liked how the story centered around love, but not a romantic kind. A love between two sisters. After all, this is the reason she has done everything. Without giving too much away, Asa finds a deep love even for those that she had previously only felt vaguely connected to. A great sci-fi that I think would be accessible to those who aren't exactly sci-fi readers either. I am not sure what age level this is supposed to be, but I would place it in the young young adult category. Perfect for grades 5-8.

I also managed to "sell" this book to the woman who was drawing my blood at the doctor's office. She asked what I was reading, I told her about three sentences, and as I was getting ready to leave, she asked for the title to write it down. I just so happened to have the postcard that came with the book (thanks Polly!) and handed it over. Came back a week later and she said she had bought it.

Spot, the Cat by Henry Cole Book Review

Spot, the Cat by Henry Cole
Publisher: Little Simon
Release Date: March 1, 2016

In this wordless picture book, readers will follow a cat named Spot throughout the city, visiting a park and a farmers market. Meanwhile, just behind Spot is one boy who is looking for his pet, missing him in the hustle and bustle. No worries though, for Spot always returns home in the end.

I am not sure what the intention was of the author, but this book often felt like some kind of Where's Waldo?, I found myself growing bored as I searched through the busy pages for the cat and I found myself longing for a bit of color in this black & white world. Don't get me wrong, the illustrations were beautifully done, but with so much going on on every page, the "story" despite being wordless, was lost. Definitely the kind of book that a kid could spend long minutes poring over each page if they are so inclined.



Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat Book Review

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat
Publisher: Little, Brown Book for Young Readers
Release Date: April 12, 2016

It doesn't matter if the trip is ten minutes or ten hours, anyone who has driven a kid around will be asked this question eventually. In Dan Santat's newest book we follow one family as time doesn't just crawl by, but actually begins to go backward, sending the family vehicle back in time to pirates and dinosaurs and Ancient Egypt.

Santat perfectly captures the feeling of time dragging by with one very clever and imaginative boy. Readers are taken throughout history and as with all of Santat's book, it is so bright and lively, illustrated to perfection. There is also a great section of the book where they end up in the future where the robot speaks in QR code. That's right, readers will need to scan the book with a mobile device and a QR reading app in order to see what the robot is saying. Personally, I thought this was brilliant as it was a surprisingly interactive moment that you don't usually get with a print book. Such a fun book and the perfect present for any kid who finds road trips a little boring.


The Wildest Race Ever by Meghan McCarthy Book Review

The Wildest Race Ever: The Story of the 1904 Olympic Marathon by Meghan McCarthy
Publisher: Paula Wiseman Books
Release Date: March 1, 2016

It was 1904 and St. Louis was hosting the World's Fair and America's First Olympics. People traveled from all over the country and the world to watch and participate. One of the strangest things to happen at that years Olympics was the marathon. Forty-two racers registered, thirty-two showed up, and most managed to make it to the finish line one way or another. Unpleasantly warm weather conditions contributed to heat exhaustion in the runners since there weren't enough food and water stations. Cars drove by on the dirt road kicking up dirt and dust that made it hard to see or breathe. One runner from Cuba, showed up in street clothes and seemed more interested in chatting with people along the way than he did with running. One runner was run off the road by stray dogs. Another jumped in a car and drove some of the way before crossing the finish line looking rather refreshed. (He was later disqualified for cheating) And lets not forget the craziest bit, the notion that strychnine would give you strength and so the runners were being given doses of the poison...and still managed to finish the race.

This race was like a series of unfortunate events. It's a wonder anyone managed to finish at all. Make no mistake, most of these people weren't amateurs either. They had qualified to be in the Olympics. The race was simply ill-prepared. The road wasn't closed off to traffic, there weren't enough water stations, and some bad sports medicine added to this bizarre story. It's a wonder any of them managed to finish in such conditions. The cartoony illustrations worked will with this book, capturing the manic bizarre nature of this 1904 race. A lot of great information in the backmatter and will certainly spark the imagination of young Olympic hopefuls.