The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry Book Review

The Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: May 5, 2015

Wyatt Palmer is on a class trip to Washington, D.C., where things begin to go wrong almost immediately when he and his best friend Matt suspect two of their fellow air travelers are carrying a bomb. After Matt managed to swipe something that looks like a detonator, the kids become more and more convinced that the two guys from the plane are terrorists intent on blowing up the White House. As the kids get deeper and deeper into the mess, they slowly drag more and more people into the plot, one that promises at the very least, to be exciting.

I love Dave Barry. And I hated this book. Writing wise, it isn't bad and the characters were interesting and as annoying as Barry probably wanted them. The problem lies in the plot itself. In this post-9/11 era, the grown-ups in this story treat possible terrorist threats far too flippantly, as do the kids. This story falls into the rather typical children's book trope where the kids don't or won't talk to the grown ups in charge simply because "they will never believe us". Now, I know there are some adults who may ignore kids and their flights of fancy, but most wouldn't ignore two eleven-year olds, and definitely not after one is kidnapped. Seriously, one of the children is kidnapped and they don't tell the adults because the kidnappers told them not to. Because of this, I simply couldn't get into the story.

There was the additional juvenile fart jokes, which are popular with the target audience, but made the characters seem more like third graders rather than middle-schoolers. To be sure, there was plenty of improbable action, but nothing worse than a Fast and Furious movie so I believe there is an audience that will love this book, and that audience is definitely not me.

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton Book Review and Giveaway

The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: June 30, 2015

Rafflecopter Giveaway for the #PonyTime Prize Pack is at the bottom of this post.

Princess Pinecone wants to be a warrior princess and she knows that won't happen if she keeps getting sweaters for her birthday. This year she wants something awesome. Something awesome like a big strong horse. That's why she is so disappointed when the horse of her dreams is actually a cross-eyed rolly polly pony who farts a lot. How can she ever be a warrior princess with such a terrible present.

I love this book. More importantly, I love this pony. Although there are some that may take issue with this little farting pinto, I found this quality endearing not to mention it is sure to be a hit with youngsters. Seriously, never underestimate a good fart joke. Adorable as a very round pony, there isn't anything I would change about this one, which makes me even more excited that I get to give away a copy. I also would really like a stuffed animal of Princess Pinecone and the pony, preferably with farting noises.

ARC provided by Scholastic Books in exchange for an honest book review and book giveaway.

About the Author
Kate Beaton is the author of Hark! A Vagrant, her #1 New York Times bestselling collection of comics which began as a webcomic in 2007. The Princess and the Pony is her first picture book. She is the recipient of multiple Harvey awards, and her work has been featured in the New Yorker, Harper’s, and The Best American Comics Anthology. Kate lives in Toronto, and you can find her online at and on Twitter as @beatonna.

One Family by George Shannon Book Review

One Family by George Shannon
Illustrations by Blanca Gomez
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux
Release Date: May 26, 2015

How many is one? One box of crayons. One batch of cookies. One world. One family.

In this phenomenal picture book, George Shannon and Blanca Gomez treat their readers to a beautiful medley of one, with examples of all kinds of families. There is a ton of diversity throughout, along with depictions of things like single-parent and multi-generational homes. There is also some ambiguity with some of the families that could or could not be same-sex, but this only means that a teacher could read this book to their classroom without fear of being fired. (Personal opinion: People should never be fired or forced to resign over the reading of a children's book to children. Ever.) I also love the simple concept of the number one and how it has many different meanings, which is far more complex than it seems to a four-year-old.


Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter Book Review

Miss Hazeltine's Home for Shy and Fearful Cats by Alicia Potter
Illustrations by Birgitta Sif
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 12, 2015

Miss Hazeltine runs a very special school for very special cats. Ones that are especially shy and fearful. They come from all over. Some are brought in, others are given, and a few are strays. Miss Hazeltine teaches them everything from 'Bird Basics' to 'How Not to Fear the Broom'. Crumb is a particularly fearful little cat who finds his courage when Miss Hazeltine is trapped in the woods.

A story about fear and bravery, this book was adorably drawn and wonderfully told. Young readers will instantly fall in love with Miss Hazeltine and her clowder of cats. Of course, as a cat lover I may be a bit biased, but there was so mu1ch to love about this book. Sif even embraced the glowing eyes of the cats without making them scary.

Sewing Stories by Barbara Herkert Book Review

Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers' Journey from Slave to Artist by Barbara Herkert
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 13, 2015

Born in 1837, Harriet Powers was born a slave. She grew up to be a revered folk artist.

For some, art recognition doesn't come until someone is older though. Or dead. In 1886, Harriet exhibited her quilts for the first time at a cotton far in Georgia. A woman from the Lucy Cobb Institute (a local girl's school), saw Harriet's beautiful quilt and asked to purchase but Harriet wouldn't be parted with it. The two women did stay in touch though and when Harriet fell on hard time, she ended up selling it to the woman for $5. Harriet explained how she used local legends, bible stories, and astronomical events to tell stories on her quilts. Today, only two of her quilts exist.

This wonderful picture book biography captures the story of Harriet in a way that is easily accessible to young readers. Using historical information and letters from Harriet Powers herself, we learn of her childhood, life as a slave, and how she learned to read and write. Another great picture book biography that lends itself well to the classroom.

Firefight by Brandon Sanderson Book Review

Firefight (Reckoners #2) by Brandon Sanderson
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release Date: January 6, 2015

Killing High Epics was supposed to be impossible, but David did it. And then he did it again. Earning the reputation of being the premier Epic killer, David travels with the resistance to Babylon Restored, once called Manhattan. However, this time he doesn't want to kill an epic....he wants to save her.

I am absolutely unequivocally in love with Sanderson's young adult books. Cleverly crafted with plots that are intriguing and characters even more so, both books in this series have more than earned their keep. In the first book, David is a newbie, a force to be reckoned with for sure, but still learning the ropes. Now David is an old hat. At least that is what he thinks. There is so much that David doesn't know and as always, he has a tendency to act before he thinks. This trait helped with his success with Steelheart, but the players in Babylon Restored are smarter, faster, and far more ruthless than David understands.

There are old friendships that come bubbling to the surface. Within those friendships is Meagan, also known as Firefight, who David is supposed to help kill. He can't help but wonder though, instead of killing her, maybe he can save her.

I want to see these books as a movie. I want to know more about the comet, Calamity, that brought with it all these terrible powers. More important, I want to know the "science" element of this fiction. I want to know what Prof knows and I have feeling we only have one more book to go before we find that out.

Bug in a Vacuum by Mélanie Watt Book Review

 Bug in a Vacuum by Mélanie Watt
Publisher: Tundra Books
Release Date: August 25, 2015

A bug flies through an open door into a house. Just as he is sitting on top of the world, the unthinkable happens. Sucked up by a vacuum, bug goes through the five stages of grief--denial, bargaining, anger, despair, and acceptance. Perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnell though.

As with any great picture book, this story is the perfect blend between illustration and text. What a silly way for children to understand grief in a way that entirely age appropriate. The bug himself has quite a large personality and uses cute little puns both in word and visuals to illustrate his point. Each stage of grief is also treated like a chapter, keeping the pacing lively. Watt puts to use a variety of colors and techniques to keep things interesting, even within a dirty vacuum. Although this could be considered an issue book, I think it doesn't have to be. The story holds its own and kids are going to love it. 

Pool by Lee Jihyeon Book Review

Pool by Lee Jihyeon
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: May 5, 2015

On a hot day in a crowded pool, two children dive in and discover a beautiful world beneath the surface.

Have you ever arrived at the pool in the middle of the summer, only to discover that an uncomfortably large amount of people are basking in the semi-cool water? If you are lucky, the pool has banned floating devices and if you are may find yourself in similar waters as the children in this story. In this wordless picture book, the children imagine a world beneath the treading feet. A world of coral reefs and whales, fish and monsters. The striking juxtaposition between the colorless surface swimmers and the muted but colorful world beneath was quite striking. Although there wasn't much of a story, even where wordless picture books are concerned, but I found it quite beautiful nonetheless.

Jackrabbit McCabe and the Electric Telegraph by Lucy Margaret Rozier Book Review

Jackrabbit McCabe and the Electric Telegraph by Lucy Margaret Rozier
Illustrations by Leo Espinosa
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Release Date: September 8, 2015

With his extra-long legs, Jackrabbit McCabe can outrun anything on the American frontier from horses to trains to twisters. In the town of Windy Flats, Jackrabbit is the man to call when a message needs to get somewhere fast. That is, until the telegraph arrives in town. Feeling a bit obsolete, but confident in his speed, Jackrabbit challenges the telegraph operator to a race.

What first grabbed my attention with this book is the absolutely beautiful illustrations. Brightly colored and full of life, I found my first "read-through" to be more of a look through. Jackrabbit's legs take on a life of their own as they twist over his head and bend backward. The story itself is adorable. Any reader, even the young ones, are bound to know how a race between this boy and telegraph is going to work. He is bound to lose, yet the shame is quickly forgotten as Jackrabbit realizes that not only are his feet fast, but so are his hands. In the backmatter is some information about telegraphs as well as a handy Morse Code key for kids to bang out secret messages to their friends.

The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein Book Review

The Island of Dr. Libris by Chris Grabenstein
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 24, 2015

Billy is not happy about spending the summer with his mom in a lakeside cabin. Partly because his dad won't be there since his parents don't seem to be getting along. But also because there is nothing to do. No television, no Internet, a broken phone, and bullies next door, Billy is sure that this summer will be terrible. Little does he know that the owner of the cabin, Dr. Libris, is performing an experiment and he is the test subject. Following clues left behind my Dr. Libris, Billy finds a key to the private bookcase in the library. These books are not ordinary books though, because as soon as Billy opens one and begins to read, the characters spring to life on the island in the center of the lake. Robin Hood, Hercules, Tom Sawyer, Pollyanna, Jack. The question is, what is Billy going to do about this newfound magic and can it help save his parent's marriage?

Like Grabenstein's first book Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, this is a book for book lovers. Literary characters that come to life is a fantastic conceit, although not executed nearly as well as I would have liked. The fictional characters are as flat as the pages from which they were read. Billy himself is supposed to be clever, but they "mysteries" he solves are barely mysteries and his answers to them are barely answers. Billy's mother is so engrossed in her dissertation, that it is completely negligent of her to bring Billy along with her to this cabin. He is left to wander by himself, through places that could be dangerous, and rarely takes the time to find out what is going on with him, meet the neighbors, visit the island, row a boat, or anything else. As someone who spent many hours on a Master's thesis, I can tell you it is hard work, but if you don't take a break occasionally, you will go mad.

Billy's scheme to get his parents back together is complete and utter trash. Not only do I think it wouldn't work, but there is no explanation whatsoever as to why his parents are having trouble to begin with. I understand that divorce is a heavy topic for this age group, but the fairy tale ending seems to make light of the reasons behind a divorce. In other words, this book is full of divorce, but never really grapples with it. Wouldn't it be more interesting to have all these fictional characters, but realize that as awesome as books and this science experiment are, it is fantasy and fun. Those things can't fix the issues that lead to divorce.

The ending felt terribly rushed. The titular character is some kind of mad scientist who we see for a few moments in the end, where he offers the reader a hair-brained explanation for everything before leaving in a helicopter.

All in all, a bit disappointing. I look forward to Grabenstein's next book (hopefully with a literary twist), but with a bit more logic and some real world pathos.

The Stolen Moon by Rachel Searles Book Review

The Stolen Moon by Rachel Searles
Publisher: Fiewel & Friends
Release Date: January 27, 2015

In the sequel to The Lost Planet, Chase is still in hiding, protected by a family friend on a space ship. To everyone else, he is just an orphan recruit, but Chase and his sister are so much more than that. Following a series of clues, the children, along with their friends Parker and Marcus, set out to find the truth even if it means disobeying a direct command. How could they know they were walking into the middle of a war? How could they know that they enemy will do anything, even commit genocide, in order to get at their extraordinary escapees?

The reason I even read The Lost Planet was because this book sounded so interesting. It did not disappoint. One of my major issues with the last book was an extreme lack of answers, a problem that is solved in this volume. There is a lot of action/adventure type thing going on with kids who are willfully out of their element, which makes the story both interesting and infuriating in the same breath. Searles does a great job of keeping the pace moving along at a brisk pace without being overwhelming. Of course, as with all things, there are still unanswered questions that will be revealed in another book, but enough mysteries were revealed that I wasn't frustrated.

A solid fantasy for middle grade readers with just enough mystery to keep you wanting more.

The Tapper Twins Go To War by Geoff Rodkey Book Review

The Tapper Twins Go To War by Geoff Rodkey
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 7, 2015

It all began with a harmless prank. Soon it became a war. Well, not a real war, but close enough. Soon, feelings are being hurt, backpacks smell like fish, and virtual armies destroyed,

It's another one of those white kids who go to private school in New York City books. I've complained about this before, but since it seems to be so popular with the agents & editors, one cannot fault the book or the author for writing it.

This is not a bad book. It's not a good book either. It is fun and whitty, with the kind of venacular that kids use, but wasn't too memorable. Writing for this age group is difficult though because the story needs to be simple and easy enough to read with topics that they will relate to (Minecraft) without talking down to them. In that respect, this book is spot on. I'm not sure about the licensing issues, but I am assuming that the video game mentioned in the book that is exactly like Minecraft was changed because otherwise you would have to pay them money. I've never been quite clear on how this works in print, but I have always found it a bit jarring. Not the fault of the author of course, but I would prefer something like what Lou Anders or Ernest Cline does in creating their own game.

The Sock Thief by Ana Crespo Book Review

The Sock Thief by Ana Crespo
Illustrations by Nana Gonzales
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Release Date: March 1, 2015

Felipe is a sock thief, pilfering the brightly colored foot covers as he makes his way through the neighborhood on his way to school. In exchange he leaves behind little presents for those who are now missing a sock. What could a boy want with so many socks though? Then, with a few knots and some rolling, Felipe turns the socks into a soccer ball. In the end, the neighbors don't seem to mind so much. In fact, some may be leaving their socks out on purpose, either in hopes of a treat or to simply help a group of kids play their games.

As a former poor kid, I have to say, poverty helps children come up with some pretty unique ways of playing. Here is one boy's story of ingenuity when faced with the absence of something they need. I have heard of kids around the world playing soccer with everything from rag balls to tin cans. It is truly a sport that doesn't require much, but seems to open up a world of fun and athleticism to kids like Felipe.

I also loved the international setting (Brazil) as well as the Portuguese language, as a way to show how children play and create all around the world. The illustrations with their bright color palate are perfect for the book, with plenty to look at.

Thrones and Bones: Nightborn by Lou Anders Book Review

Thrones and Bones: Nightborn by Lou Anders
Publisher: Crown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: July 14, 2015

In this sequel to Frostborn, Karn Korlundsson has settled nicely into his life as the son of a Jarl, learning how to trade and bargain. His adventuring days are over, or so he thinks. When Karn is whisked away to have a (another) face-to-face encounter with a dragon, he finds himself on a quest to find his missing half-Frost Giant friend Thianna and another horn of power. However, finding a half-giant isn't as easy as he thinks it should be, especially with dark elves on his tail. Karn carefully traces Thianna's footsteps, not caring so much about the horn, but determined to solve the riddle in order to find his best friend. Perhaps Karn would have a bit more success if betrayal wasn't also on the path of his quest.

I am quite pleased with this sequel to Frostborn. Karn is no longer whinging on about how much he hates being a farmer. Thianna's hangups about being half-Frost Giant have changed to a quest do discover more about her mother's (a human) people. There is still some interesting board games in the story, but has been cut back considerably with more of an emphasis on the game of riddles.

New to the story are the Dark Elves. These trained warriors are ruthless and hard, at least they are supposed to be. The problem elf is Desstra, who we follow as she struggles with the idea of identity and her loyalties within her own people group. Desstra has known no other life than that of the darkness of her kingdom. Confronted with kindness and friendship for the first time, something that lurks within her own heart, Desstra struggles between being herself and being the warrior she thought she wanted to be. This seems to be the real theme of the books too. Identity, belonging, and becoming your own person. Or dragon.

Lou Anders has created a big world, full of history, games, adventure, and war, and he has done it with great panache. The pacing is perfect. At the back of the book, feeling much like Lord of the Rings in this aspect, is a beautiful map, a glossary, History of Katernia, timelines, a song, and game instructions for Charioteers. I think it would actually be fascinating to create these game boards and try to play them. 

A terrific fantasy adventure that promises much more to come, I can't wait to get my hands on a third.

An ARC of this book was provided to me by Random House Children’s Books in exchange for an honest review. 

Yard Sale by Eve Bunting Book Review

Yard Sale by Eve Bunting
Illustrations by Lauren Castillo
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: April 14, 2015

Almost everything Callie's family owns is spread out in their front yard—their furniture, their potted flowers, even Callie’s bike. They can’t stay in this house, so they’re moving to a much smaller apartment in the city.  Most of their things won’t fit, so today they are having a yard sale. But it’s kind of hard to watch people buy your stuff, even if you understand why it has to happen. 

A melancholy tale concerning a change in circumstances, this story really plucks at the heartstrings. It is painful to watch your stuff be sold, things that although not necessary to life, feel like a part of you. It is worse when the reason you have to get rid of these things are because you can't afford to live in your house anymore, not because you don't want them. When a man tries to buy her bike, Callie flips out, even though she has been told that she cannot keep the bike because there is nowhere to ride it. Then when another customer asks if she is for sale, Callie runs to her parents in tears. "I'm not for sale am I?" she asks as she clutches them. An understandable reaction for a child who feels like she is losing everything.

To be sure, this would qualify as an "Issues" book. It is not for everyone, nor would every child need or understand, but beyond its basic issue message, I think this book would be a great tool for conversations concerning empathy. The illustrations are beautiful and engaging, as I would expect from Lauren Costillo.

Uh Oh! by Shutta Crum Book Review

Uh Oh! by Shutta Crum
Illustrations by Patrice Barton
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 14, 2015

Uh-Oh! The favorite word of toddlers everywhere. In this beach trip picture book, readers follow two toddlers as they explore the many ups and downs that are the beach.

Just as the intro would suggest, this is a book for toddlers, the ones at an age where they will sit through something longer than a board book, but not for much longer. The illustrations are beautiful, although part of me wonders if this nearly wordless picture book would have worked better as a wordless picture book. The simplicity of the words works, but limits the audience to a much younger set of children. Perhaps this was its purpose and if so it works beautifully, but it is nice when a book has a broader reach.

Oddly Normal by Otis Frampton Book Review

Oddly Normal by Otis Frampton
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: March 11, 2015

Meet Oddly Normal, a not so normal ten-year-old with pointed ears and green hair, a half-witch. Oddly has never been to the magical land of Fignation due to her human heritage, but when she makes a disastrous wish on her tenth birthday, Oddly finds herself with a mystery on her hands and in need of a guardian. Used to being an outsider, Oddly is sure that she will fit in easily at her new school in Fignation, but it turns out school is the same whether it is normal or fantasy.

I like the idea of Oddly Normal, mostly because, despite the fantasy element, I think a lot of kids can relate to feeling a bit odd or out of place. The illustrations are vibrant, full of movement and color that flows easily from one frame to another. What I disliked was that, despite going to a fantasy world, the same stereotypes still exist. The geek looks like a stereotypical geek, complete with a pocket protector. Bullies look like bullies and jocks like jocks. As a geek myself, I find this disappointing and it seems to be alienating the very readers that it is trying to draw in--the odd balls. It's a fun storyline, but I wanted more out of it than it could give me.

Mosquitoland by David Arnold Book Review

Mosquitoland by David Arnold
Publisher: Viking Children's
Release Date: March 3, 2015

Mim Malone has witnessed the sudden collapse of her family, being dragged from her home in Ohio to the wastelands of Mississippi to live with her dad and new stepmom. When Mim catches wind that her mother be sick, she decides to take a bus back to Cleveland to me with her. Things don't work out so well on the old Greyhound line though. First there is the bus accident followed by the stalker poncho man who corners her in the bathroom and almost rapes her. She keeps it a secret though, not wanting her trip to end. Eventually she abandons the bus, deciding to hitchhike her way to Ohio. But not even that goes right because she meets Walt, a boy with down syndrome who clearly needs someone to take care of him too. Mim has her own demons too, struggling with what the definition of sanity is and searching for a way to love those who have hurt her.

I wanted to like this book, I really did. I ignored the kerfuffle concerning the trailer and cultural misappropriation. There was a great deal of excitement for the character with down syndrome, something not often seen in children's literature or literature in general. Add to that the promise of a good journey and mental health issues and I was sold. Sadly, I found the book to be rather confusing and quite a slog to get through.

First, I must be clear that the writing itself isn't bad. Mim has that typical YA teen voice that is snarky and standoffish, speaking in a way that most teenagers never would although they wish they did. This is, of course, a byproduct of adult writers writing books for teens, and so I usually give this a pass seeing as it is something that cannot be helped. The various characters introduced throughout the book are interesting and quirky, although a bit flat as far as characterization is concerned. Mim is the star and you won't forget it.

There were three major things that stuck out in the book that I think are important to talk about. The first being the aforementioned cultural misappropriation of Native American peoples. Mim (as you can see in the below trailer) uses lipstick as war paint, something that she knows is strange but thinks is permissible since she is 1/64th Cherokee or some such nonsense. What I never understood was why she feels like she is at war. Sure, things are not good at home. She has a father who keeps taking her to psychologists until one agrees that she is crazy and puts her on medication. That would feel terrible, but Mim holds onto this war paint and it's meaning very hard and after reading it, I have to admit, it did very much feel like cultural misappropriation. Mim's small connection to native peoples is so tenuous that it felt almost like an afterthought, although I suspect it was not.

The second issue is that of rape. Poncho man corners Mim in a bathroom and is creepy to the extreme and then begins to threaten her with rape. Even though this clearly is a problem and this man needs to be reported, Mim's mission to get to Ohio is far greater than her own personal safety or that of others. And it comes to a head when another girl is violated. Mim feels bad, but she still doesn't go to the police when she finds out, to tell what happened to her. Poncho man was arrested so all is right with the world, right? Right?

The handling of a Down syndrome and homelessness was downright disturbing. If you or I saw a random young teen with a clear disability, we would do something about it. Call the authorities and make sure they were taken care of. Mim? She semi-adopts him, lives on the streets with him for a bit, and when he gets sick, takes him to a veterinarian since the nearest clinic is closed. Instead of, you know, calling 911, taking him to the hospital, or finding another open clinic. In the end, he is left with her semi-boyfriend who she just met who promises to take care of him. Did I mention the part where he is a teenager? This kid needs a home, protection, and someone official who can track down his family. Never mind that he may have health issues that need to be addressed. Someone with a lot more experience than a college drop-out would.

Then there is the mental health stuff. Mim is on medication because she suffers from hallucinations. Maybe. From Mim's unreliable narrator perspective, she doesn't even see herself as sick. She portrays her father as a man who is so fearful that she will become crazy like her Aunt, that he takes her from one therapist to another until someone diagnoses her and puts her on medication. I have read through a number of reviews and the more positive ones seem to believe that Mim really has a mental illness. I was never sure. I mean, this is supposed to be a major plot point in the story, and was constantly confused as to whether she did have a mental illness or her father was just a paranoid weirdo who was willing to medicate his daughter to make himself feel better. Oh and let's not forget the truly mentally ill boy that Mim meets with Walter who is portrayed as a dangerous evil psychopath out to hurt people. And what about Mim's mom, who is clearly struggling with....something, although we will never actually know what. Is it mental illness too or just the result of really nasty divorce.

Were there good moments? Sure. The most compelling part of the story is the family dynamics that exist between Mim and all her parents, but I'm afraid that wasn't enough for me. Mim is such an unreliable narrator, that even though the truth does eventually come out, nothing really changed. I still think her dad is a horrible person, I can only feel so bad for her step-mom, and her mother really really does need help. Mim wasn't wrong about any of it, she just met a few new people on her journey to realization.

Last of the Sandwalkers by Jay Hosler Book Review

Last of the Sandwalkers by Jay Hosler
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: April 7, 2015

Lucy and her family are scientists, determined to prove that there is more to the world outside of the Oasis. They are also beetles, the kind that write books, run restaurants, and do scientific research. As they set out across the desert, Lucy knows she could discover something important, but soon learns there are much bigger things out there to deal with.

I don't know what I expected when I started this book. A quick flip and the synopsis promised an subject matter not often (if ever) drawn in graphic novels. What I got was a fantastic adventure full of scientific fact, fascinating characters, and a lot of winks at the reader. No surprise on the science front since Jay Hosler is himself an entomologist and biology professor. He has hit the enviable jackpot of also being a cartoonist and storyteller. There is every kind of beetle in this book too, some even include their latin names.

The real gem is that within the heavy scientific facts, there is a masterfully crafted story. Lucy's family is a bit of a hodge podge of beetles, which makes it clear that Lucy must be adopted. This isn't spoon fed to the reader though, as Hosler leaves the pictures and the things that aren't said to help explain. Their adventure into the desert includes a betrayal, one that almost ends up getting them killed. The reader will of course recognize things like a human skeleton, birds, bats, and other various bugs, but we are on this journey with Lucy and her family as they discover these things and their uses. What is amber? What history has been lost to time due to religious zealots who want to keep the past obscured? How are these Oasis beetles related to the ones they meet out in the world?

Then we have to add in the fact that these are technologically advanced beetles. Yes, you read that right. Robot beetles, scanners, cities, jet packs. These beetles have been rather productive during their time at the Oasis.

Fun, fascinating, and one of the few books out there that could really make the claim for originality, I think this book has a variety of uses the first being pure unadulterated entertainment.

Eat, Leo! Eat! by Caroline Adderson Book Review

Eat, Leo! Eat! by Caroline Adderson
Illustrations by Josée Bisaillon
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Release Date: April 1, 2015

Leo wants no part of sitting down with his family to eat Nonna's big, delizioso lunch every Sunday. "I'm not hungry," he insists. Not hungry? Hmm. Clever Nonna gets an idea. She'll use a story to lure Leo to her table. And since the pasta in her soup, called stelline (little stars), is woven into the story about a boy who journeys to his grandmother's at night, it works. But again on the following Sunday, Leo doesn't want to eat. So Nonna expands her story, this time adding some chiancaredde (paving stones), the name of the pasta she's serving that day, to create a path for her character to follow. Now Leo's hooked. So much that he begins to badger Nonna every Sunday to reveal more pasta-based details of the story. And week by week, as Leo's relatives crowd around listening to Nonna and teasing Leo to get him to mangia (eat), he slowly comes to realize just how happy he is to have a place at this table. 

Not being even remotely Italian, I have truly never understood (nor pronounced correctly) the many names of pasta, which is why I loved this book so much. It is a unique way to introduce readers to a subject that they didn't know they needed or wanted to know. This is a book about good Italian food and the importance of heritage. It is about the power of story and how it shapes our view of the world and our role in it.  Most importantly, it is about family. The illustrations were fantastic and I walked away feeling like I had not only read a good book, but had learned something important. For example, the Farfalle pasta I made last weekend, which I have always called bow-tie pasta, should actually be called butterfly pasta. And now I know.