Valentine's Day Picture Books to Love

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Here is a delightful and educational book about ... Valentine's Day shapes. I enjoyed the illustrations immensely and liked the educational content. This would be a household favorite, I think, though I found myself wishing for more actual story. I also was not crazy about the way the text was laid out on the page. Why not integrate it with the art more? I would not place this as a Valentine's Day book, regardless of the title. But as a concept book, it's fun with lots to look at and items and shapes to name. My trusty assistant* would consider this a favorite!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The adult reader will for sure relate to the bear who just wants some friggin QUIET! Throughout the story the poor bear is beset by his best friend with questions and requests and just a whole lot of chatter. Like the bear, I found his best friend irritating. And given how irritating, I wasn't entirely convinced in the bear's avowal of affection at the end. The illustrations were light and happy, the story simple enough, if long. A cute, non-love-and-hearts Valentine's find!

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The sweet illustrations perfectly match an equally sweet story of a surprising friendship. A bear finds surprises (edible ones) and eventually starts leaving gifts of his own. Of course the adult in me was thinking, "No, don't it's a hunter's ploy! He wants you for a bearskin rug!" But it wasn't a hunter. Nope, rather a sweet little... HAH I won't spoil it. The repetition was engaging, but overall I thought it was perhaps a bit too repetitive. The back and forth went on perhaps too long without anything else happening. My preference: this maybe should have been a 10-16pg board book instead of a 32pg picture book. Of the new Valentine's Day books however, this is a winner.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The adult me loves this book. Concept, illustrations spot on. The story of a zombie looking for love in all the seemingly right places is just what I'd expect. And the solution, zombie meets zombie, also expected. The twist on a popular pop song was less expected and highly funny (for me, the adult), but overall I found it a bit wordy and predictable. Slight, like an underfed zombie. So because I'm an adult, I'm giving it four stars for my own reading enjoyment. As a parent and for my inner child, I would give it three. For the simple reason that my four-year-old assistant would not let me read her this book. Too scary. And I think the dating theme was handled a bit too maturely for the audience. But the illustrations are boss. Can I say "boss"? Probably not. I'm probably too old. Sorry.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I absolutely love the illustrations, and the voice of the story and the story itself. I did not, however, fully "get" the abstract concept. I know the author doesn't want it to be pedantic, and I appreciate that, but if I didn't really catch on, I wonder how well a child will? I wanted more direction/author intrusion. Very pretty book, however.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sweet little heart-catching girl makes valentines for all her friends. What a delightful book! I love the happy illustrations, the craft-ability, and how well the illustrations and spare text work together. I was surprised to see who the valentines went to - perfect for a child's world. This is a classic. I can see why it's still a favorite after so many years.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A story of a girl whose Valentine's Day is nearly ruined all because ... Ha, I almost did it again. I love the explosion of pink in the illustrations. And I love the subtle switch-up of the valentine's with Daddy's work papers. The text could have been a bit trimmer, but this is a fun, girl-friendly Valentine's Day book.

*Four-year-old Little Miss Rowdy Britches

Mouse Scouts by Sarah Dillard Book Review

Mouse Scouts by Sarah Dillard
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 5, 2016

Meet Violet, Tigerlily, Hyacinth, Petunia, Junebug, and Cricket, six new Mouse Scouts who are trustworthy and strong, thrifty and brave . Best friends Violet and Tigerlily can’t wait to start earning their merit badges. But their troop leader, Miss Poppy, is one strict rodent. Earning their first badge—planting a vegetable garden—is going to be hard work for these little mice. 

I was never a girl scout, although I did do a uber-Christian version called Missionettes. Badges existed, but I don't really recall caring about them or doing much to get them. If I recall, I didn't have many. It is perhaps this ambivalence that also made me ambivalent towards this book.

Written on the same level as the Judy Moody series, this is a good bridger books for readers who have outgrown Junie B. Jones. However, I found the story to be a bit slow with a lot of gardening facts that didn't hold my interest. I imagine that the audience for this book is rather specifically tied to girls who like Girl Scouts and/or gardening. As this is going to be a series, I think there will probably be a focus on different badges for each book. For me, the book lacked a certain amount of humor that I am used to seeing in books for this age group, but the book wasn't bad though. I feel like I have a lot of caveats for this book, because the truth is, it just isn't my kind of book. Too quiet, too girly, and too focused on something that I care very little about. It has its audience, and that audience certainly doesn't include me. 

Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs Book Review

Mixed Me! by Taye Diggs
Illustrations by Shane W. Evans
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: October 6, 2015

Mike has awesome hair and a ton of energy. His loves that he is a perfect mix of his parents who are black and white. Of course, Mike has to answer a lot of questions about being mixed, but he doesn't mind so much because he loves his family.

An issue book that deals with a bi-racial that may have a rather specific audience, but is an important one. According to the last census, among American children the multiracial population has increased almost 50 percent, to nearly 4.2 million, making it the fastest growing youth group in the country. Yet there are so few children's books on the subject. Now, as the We Need Diverse Books movement has pointed out, diversity is still something that the children's book industry struggles with (and is making great strides in). Picture books have a tendency to have animals rather than children since one doesn't have to worry about what color a mouse or a bear or a rabbit is. As much as I like the animal books, there is definitely something to be said about children needing books that show people like them.

Normally, I am rather harsh when it comes to celebrity authors. What I felt like this book lacked in writing style, I think it made up for with the story itself and the illustrations. There is actually a really great rhythm to the story although some of the rhymes themselves felt a bit clunky at times. Shane W. Evans illustrates with his usual bright colors. And Mike's hair! Such fantastic red curls.

At times, I am thankful for books that have incidental diversity, like the father's day book (that I cannot recall the title of) that I read a few years back in which the parent's were multi-racial, but this is never addressed in the story. Yet, I also think books like this are also incredibly important. Age-appropriate and upbeat, I hope this book finds its audience and with a celebrity author, it just might.

The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk by Kabil Sehgal Book Review

The Wheels on the Tuk Tuk by Kabil Sehgal and Surishtha Sehgal 
Illustrations by Jess Golden
Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Release Date: January 16, 2016

An international twist on a familiar nursery rhyme, this book introduces use to a busy three-wheeled taxi in India. Anything and everything happens as the tuk tuk rolls through town--from an elephant encounter to a taste treat to a grand fireworks display.

Have you ever heard a song sung in another language that was originally written in English? Usually, the syllables don't all match the song, while close to the original version, sounds stilted and odd. That is the problem with this book. The idea of it is fantastic, but the words simply didn't go with the traditional tune of The Wheels on the Bus. I tried. I sang it out loud, trying to force the words to work with the melody, but I couldn't. Some were close, but most of the song felt like it was missing or had one too many beats. I applaud the attempt to make a multi-cultural story like this. I myself own a New Zealand version of The Twelve Days of Christmas. (A Pukeko in a Ponga Tree) However, if you are going to cram your story into a well-known tune, it must actually fit, otherwise the song and the story fall flat.

Cockatoo, Too by Bethanie Deeney Murguia Book Review

Cockatoo, Too by Bethanie Deeney Murguia
Publisher: Little Bee Books
Release Date: January 5, 2016

Two cockatoos meet two more cockatoos in tutus and two tutued toucans. And then two more! Can they all can-can? They can! The cockatoos and toucans join together for a dance and ask the reader: "Can you can-can too?" 

A fun play on words that will introduce the basic concept of homonyms as well as simple rhyme. There is a nice rhythm to the story that was refreshing after reading a few books with some bad rhyming schemes. What I especially loved where the bright watercolors set against large white spaces on the spreads that created an open and inviting feelings. In a way, the background of each picture reminded me a bit of theater, as if the fronds and trees were sets and the white was the open stage. This feeling was only furthered by the fact that the birds are dancing in tutus. 

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman Book Review

Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: April 1, 2015

Caden Bosch is on a pirate ship headed for the deepest point on Earth. He is also a brilliant high school student with friends who are starting to notice his odd behaviors.

Oscillating between present and past, Challenger Deep tells the story of one young man and his descent into madness. At first, the story felt disjointed, wrong. The pirate ship wasn't quite right, the parrot on the captain's shoulder a little too knowledgeable, the people on the ship a little more odd than one would expect, even on a pirate ship. As we go back to the past though, it soon becomes clear that what Caden is experiencing is some sort of psychotic break. It begins with the walking. Caden walks and walks, absorbed by the many thoughts in his head. Paranoid thoughts in which he thinks that a boy at his school wants to kill him, but of course he doesn't...that can't be right. Can it? His family and friends have no idea what to do and brush it off at first, but soon Caden can't hide his manic state of mind. Soon Caden finds himself in a mental hospital and as he sinks further away from the real world, the pirate ship becomes so so real.

This was not my favorite book, but it had nothing to do with the storytelling. It was because of how uncomfortable the story made me. Having known some people with various mental illnesses, I knew that no matter how this story ended, this kid will never fully escape the effects of his illness. I also knew that although the pirate ship was all in his head, to him it was very real and that too made me sad. I didn't like the book because it was a hard and harsh reality that I know is important, but was so heavy. I equate it to watching the movie Pan's Labyrinth. The movie is exceptionally well-done, but so dark that I have never been able to watch it more than once, even though I own it. If I find someone who hasn't seen it, I tell them that they must, but warn them that the story is dark and there isn't really a happy ending. And so I say the same to you. This is a wonderfully made book, but it is dark and it doesn't really have a happy ending.

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford Book Review

Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrations by R. Gregory Christie
Publisher: Little Bee Books
Release Date: January 5, 2016

As slaves relentlessly toiled in an unjust system in 19th century Louisiana, they all counted down the days until Sunday, when at least for half a day they were briefly able to congregate in Congo Square in New Orleans. Here they were free to set up an open market, sing, dance, and play music. They were free to forget their cares, their struggles, and their oppression. This story chronicles slaves' duties each day, from chopping logs on Mondays to baking bread on Wednesdays to plucking hens on Saturday, and builds to the freedom of Sundays and the special experience of an afternoon spent in Congo Square. 

A beautifully illustrated book that made me realize, yet again, that I really need to visit New Orleans. There is so much history there that I just know so little about and this is yet another glaring display of my ignorance. Congo Square, a place that still exists today, was a place where slaves could gather on their onw day off from work, as was required by law. Because such a law and a place existed, the slaves of New Orleans were uniquely able to pass on their music, language, and traditions from their African homes. It is perhaps one of the many reasons why New Orleans is so unique not only as a place, but because of the rich cultural heritage that was able to be passed down, unlike many other places where enslaved people lived. 

I think this book has finally inspired me (as any good book should) to read a book on New Orleans history and then perhaps start planning a vacation there. 

Icebreaker by Lian Tanner Book Review

Icebreaker by Lian Tanner
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Release Date: August 18, 2015

When people rose up to destroy the machines, scientists thought that eventually the anti-machine fervor would die down. So they made a ship with a secret machine aboard that would be able to help humanity once the tumult was over. Except they were wrong. The anti-machinests took over and the ship, called the Oyster, has been floating the southern seas for three centuries now. In that time the people have forgotten their original mission. The machine has turned into a legend that most don't believe anymore. The people have split into warring factions. Petrel is the only person not in a tribe as her parents did something terrible and were thrown overboard. She is a survivor on a ship that at best ignores her and at worst, would readily throw her overboard too. Perhaps her loneliness explains why she alerts the ship when she sees a strange boy out on the ice. Mister Smoke and Missus Slink, two large grey rats tell her it was a terrible idea and unknown to Petrel, they were right. The boy, who Petrel names Fin, has been sent on a mission to destroy the soul killing machines and he will stop at nothing to achieve his mission.

What I liked about this book are almost entirely wrapped up in the characters. We explore identity and belonging in the character of Petrel. What does it mean to be a friend? Who can you trust? It's also about belonging and despite many years of neglect, Petrel is still capable of connecting with others. Fin is dealing with massive amounts of cult-like indoctrination that have nearly destroyed any sense of self. Even the warring factions are a fascinating study on how humans can allow hatred to circumnavigate logic and reason.

Meanwhile, the internal logic of this world is completely nuts. These people eat bread and yet have no way to grow grain and as far I can tell, haven't made landfall in three hundred years. If they had no mysterious grain then these people's diet subsists of just fish. These people would also have one serious issue with scurvy. Beyond that, have hundreds of people living on a large ship and yet there are unexplored regions that no one, not even the little kids are aware of. As a child who was always curious I find it unlikely that this many people for this long have never found or don't use large swathes of the ship. I also find it interesting that not a single person took pity on Petrel after her parent's expulsion. It's like this ship is full of a bunch of assholes. Sure, there is a nice one or two, but even then, these people never did anything to help this tiny kid when she was abandoned. As for the anti-machinists. I'm just not buying it. There is no way that the entire world would fall for this. There would be places like North Korea that would be totalitarian about it and other places that would be the very opposite. Like the world in Raider's Ransom where some people are anti-science and the ones who aren't stick to themselves. I find it unbelievable that everyone on the planet becomes anti-machine.

For me, what this book has in character development is sorely lacking in world building. There were just too many unanswered questions and in the end, I found that I didn't care. Part of a trilogy, I am skeptical about future books in the series, but am hopeful that the author will answer some of the questions listed above.

Nellie Belle by Mem Fox Book Review

Nellie Belle by Mem Fox 
Illustrations by Mike Austin
Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Release Date: December 8, 2016

Nellie Belle is a loveable pup who has fun, fun, fun everywhere she goes.

The illustrations and story are simple and straightforward in this picture book about a fun-loving puppy. Written in a simple rhyme that desperately felt like it needed a melody to go along with it. In fact, I scoured the internet looking for such a song, thinking it would be like the Napping House, but no luck. Frankly, on its own the rhymes felt a bit clunky, as I had difficulty finding the non-existent beat. I don't think this ruined the story, it just felt like it was missing something. So somebody get on writing a song for this book, because it really needs it.

Donny's Inferno by P.W. Catanese Book Review

Donny's Inferno by P.W. Catanese
Publisher: Aladdin Books
Release Date: March 8, 2016

When Donny Taylor finds out that his dad might be a murderer, he runs away to an abandoned building to think. Of course, as these things go, it would be that night that the place would decide to go up in flames. Certain death is on the horizon, which is why Donny agrees to work for a mysterious girl who appears in the burning building promising to save him. What he quickly learns is that the girl is Angela Obscura, an ancient demon from the Underworld who needs the help of a mortal. Hades isn't what it used to be though. Lucifer has been gone for over a century. Gone are the pitchforks, fiery pits, and dismemberment. And not everyone likes it that way. Some of the other residents of the underworld believe that things were good the way they were and will stop at nothing to return hell to its previous terrifying incarnation.

When it comes to books about the underworld, most of them seem to focus on the Greco Roman versions of the fiery pit, which is why this Dante-esque underworld felt so refreshing. It wasn't a true Dante hell since it lacked most of the various references like a river of boiling blood and fire or a burning desert. Yet, it was different enough to set it apart from Percy Jackson and its ilk.

Donny is an interesting character in himself as he doesn't appear to miss his father that much throughout the book, although it is a bit understandable considering that he discovers at the very beginning of the book that his dad is not a good guy. He really is a normal kid though as he does make mistakes and, as you would expect, does have a hard time with the whole hell thing. Catanese manages to make some of the characters in Hades light enough to offset some of the creepier characters, the serial killing butcher being the main one. The set-up and politics of the story are probably the most interesting thing though. Angela is the one who made Hades the way it is now, where the dead are tormented, but in a way that eventually could lead to redemption. This is especially important as the story progresses and is the very thing that the antagonists hate. But the reason why they hate it is the most interesting. It isn't because they necessarily like torturing souls, it's that they fear what Lucifer will think should he return. Their fear is part of their faith, an interesting element to a story that could easily gone a different way.

A fun action adventure story that, despite some light moments, isn't afraid to take its characters to hell and back.

Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption José Domingo Book Review

Pablo & Jane and the Hot Air Contraption by 

Show of hands, who likes Where's Waldo? Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge Waldo lover. Also, I am really good at finding Waldo and all of his friends. Surprisingly, since I am also well-known to not be very observant. Well, apparently my Waldo finding skills are only tied to Waldo because I had a ridiculously hard time finding anything in this book, which made me love it all the more. I also love that this is a mash-up between Where's Waldo and a picture book. There is an actual storyline, but in-between you have to help find bits and pieces of a time machine and those bits and pieces get harder and harder to find as you turn the page. The first puzzle page was easy, but it was all downhill from there, I'm afraid. Perfect for those who love seek & finds and definitely one that could be a group project. 

My Life With the Liars by Caela Carter Book Review

My Life With the Liars by Caela Carter
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: March 8, 2016

Zylynn has lived in The Light her whole life. Behind the white-washed walls of the compound, life is simple and everything makes sense. Follow the rules, live in the light. Which is why she is so confused when she is roughly shoved outside the walls, ten days before her thirteenth birthday, ten days before she will become a woman of the Light, and driven into Darkness. She knows the truth about the outside though. Outside is The Darkness. The people who live in The Darkness are liars. If she doesn't return to the Light by the time she turns thirteen, she will be cast into eternal pain and torture in The Darkness. Yet, the longer she is in the darkness, the more confused she becomes. There is a man who claims to be her father. He seems to genuinely care about her too. And there are wonderful things like shampoo, colors, and strawberries.

This was one of the best books I have read in a very long time. The first-person perspective is on-point as this is a character has a lot of internal struggles and very little actual dialogue. After all, to speak aloud is to put words out into The Darkness and that is something Zylynn has no intention of doing. It is almost imperative to the story that we, the reader, travel with her as the veil of mystery is lifted on this life she has been taught so little about and the world she lived before. And what a dark world it is. Malnourishment, starvation, drugs, families separated, physical abuse, and some implied sexual abuses too.

Dramatic irony is used to the empth degree as we the reader know so much more than Zylynn. Of course, we know that food is readily available, but Zylynn does not and so she hordes food in her bedroom, fearing it may disappear. Fearing that there may be hungry days soon. Her new family, a word she doesn't know or understand, is trying desperately to help her, but they know so little about what she is thinking. Zylynn doesn't make it easy. There were some amazingly powerful moments throughout the book where readers are given a glimpse into the heads of the adults, not in a narrative shift, but by employing strong emotional moments to something that Zylynn doesn't understand. There is a scene when Zylynn is taken to the doctor's office, malnourished and small, and her Uncle, (a word she doesn't even understand) begins to cry. It is this truly heartbreaking moment as you the reader understand the heaviness of the situation. This man never thought he would even see his niece again and he is appalled at how small she is for her age, how obviously maltreated she is. There are so many of those moments throughout the book. As a fuller picture is revealed about Zylynn's treatment inside the compound, you find yourself rooting for everyone to escape and knowing, even before you reach the end, that they won't.

Although the end is predictable, it doesn't lessen the emotional journey that readers are taken on as Zylynn must learn the truth about the light and the dark. I know it may be early and it hasn't even been released yet, but I hope this book gets a lot of attention and maybe an award or two, because it deserves it.

MiNRS by Kevin Sylvester Book Review

MiNRS by Kevin Sylvester
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: September 22, 2015

Chris Nichols lives on an asteroid, one that is almost planetoid in nature as it is now in the sun's orbit and is in the sweet zone where it is actually habitable. Chris and his family, although with 100 other people work on the asteroid as miners and farmers on the first ever space colony. As it goes with these things, there are going to be two months where the asteroid will be incommunicado with Earth, which is ominously called the Blackout. In order to make the Blackout less scary, they plan a giant party for the countdown, but when they reach zero, instead of a party the colony is brutally attacked. Chris' father manages to get Chris and some of the other children down into the mines, but once there it is up to the kids to figure out how to survive.

It's funny that I was reading this book while also reading The Martian. Funny enough, the wonderful realistic science of The Martian, did not detract from this story although it may have pointed out some of the flaws that I otherwise would not have noticed. These kids are twelve and so I must give them some leeway.

Chris is the natural leader of the group, both because he thinks logically and isn't quick to do anything. He takes the responsibility of helping these kids with great seriousness, a good thing since the youngest among them is only five. Elena,Chris' friend and fellow survivor, is the more militant one of the group, insisting on attacking the Landers (as they end up being called), but lacks any sort of empathy or understanding for their situation. Although she was redeemed in the end, the constant urging from Elena to attack got old fast, especially when such things were being discussed with a five and seven-year-old around the corner. I kept wondering, if these older kids got killed, what would happen to the little ones? Sure, there was the one girl who always stayed back, but it seemed reckless in the extreme. Don't get me wrong, there are some very good reasons why they need to attack the Landers, but they are just kids and some of their plans are not always well thought out.

One of my few complaints had to do with some of the logic of this world. Chris is completely brainwashed by the mining company his parents work for, which on one level made sense, but I could never figure out why his parents didn't try to rectify such fantasies. It also made no sense that one of the kids, whose mother is a doctor, knows medicine herself. My dad repairs computers for a living. I've seen him do it, but couldn't for the life of me do it myself. Thus, I felt the medic character was a bit too convenient with her medical knowledge and thought that the story, which felt very realistic, could have done with a dose of realism in this one area too.

On the whole, I thought it was a fun adventure story full of a lot of what-would-I-do moments that kids will just gobble up. Of course, it will be a series, something that was not advertised anywhere on the book, but I guess I should just get used to that since this seems to be the way publishers do things now. It almost feels like a trick sometimes.

Clariel by Garth Nix Book Review

Clariel by Garth Nix
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: October 14, 2014

The only thing that Clariel wants to do with her life is become a hunter for the Border guards, which is why she is so abysmally unhappy when her parents move her to the capital. She feels trapped in this world of cliques and Guilds and politics. The streets and alleys feel claustrophobic. Plots and plans are constantly being made and Clariel is shocked to find out that some involve her. When a Charter Mage promises to help her the leave the capital in exchange for capturing a Free Magic creature, Clariel reluctantly agrees. Free Magic is a terrible thing though and for someone like Clariel, it is easily corruptable.

For those not familiar with the original Abhorsen trilogy, this is a world in which necromancers can be both good and bad. The good ones, called Abhorsen's, use bells to put the dead and monsters back to sleep. They use a magic called Charter magic which binds Free Magic into things that are useful and won't corrupt the soul. Free Magic is bad, and the creatures that can come from it are all kinds of terrible. In the original trilogy the kingdom has fallen apart and a girl named Sabriel is having to learn about being Abhorsen and another girl Lirael, learns how to be a Clayr, which is someone who uses Charter magic to see the past and the future.

In this prequel to the Abhorsen trilogy, I was excited to finally see the Old Kingdom up and running, functioning in a way that it didn't in the trilogy. Sadly, I didn't get this. Although things are technically functioning there is a King who refuses to rule, Guilds run everything, the rich refuse to use Charter magic, and the Abhorsens are more concerned with hunting than magic. Free magic creatures are still running amok.

For me, this book was most difficult to read because I truly disliked the main character of Clariel. Clariel is single-minded to the point of stupidity. Her desire to work in the Borderlands has pushed everything out. She has not learned how to use magic beyond what she needs to know for hunting. History, politics, manners, decorum, and everything else is completely disregarded. This meant that as she traveled throughout this world, we as readers only knew as much as she did, which it turns out, was nothing. Since she never actually cared to learn either, we as a reader, weren't given much more than glimpses into the various elements that were controlling Clariel's life. And she is so utterly clueless that is no surprise that when she is confronted with Free Magic, she not only doesn't know how to handle it, but succumbs to its allure. Even worse than all of this is how utterly emotionless this character. Perhaps she is supposed to be hard, but considering the kind of life she has led, it seems strange and unlikely. She has the emotional range of a wet dishrag.

I found the best part of the book to be when Clariel goes to the Abhorsen house, because I was at least familiar with this part of the story and understand what this place was and what it was like.

This prequel just didn't work for me and frankly, I really wish the story had been from the viewpoint of  Bel. Bel is a young man who lives in the castle as a self-appointed Abhorsen-in-training. He understands the politics, knows his way around the castle, has had heated moments with the actual Abhorsen, studies magic, and is so much of the book that you could have written the entire book from his viewpoint, with Clariel in it, and have had a much better story. There was a moment with Bel towards the end, the best moment of the book in my opinion, that gave me chills. There was nothing like that with Clariel. If only that book existed.

The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier Book Review

The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier
Illustrations by Douglas Holgate
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 13, 2015

When the monster apocalypse hit town, thirteen-year-old Jack Sullivan was abandoned by his foster family and forced to fend for himself. Moving into the backyard treehouse, Jack has been able to survive even when most of the town has been zombiefied or eaten by monsters. Although he seems to have everything under control, he is relieved when he finds his best friend Quint is still alive. Living off of Oreos and Mountain Dew, the two create a plan to rescue Jack's crush June. While they search for her they run into the school bully, Dirk, who isn't so bad and soon they are a quartet of zombie hunting monster killers, with a fully equipped tree house.

Catching onto the zombie obsession of late, the genre has now made its way down into the middle grade reading level. Of course, the best way to make a story full of the undead age appropriate is to add a bunch of goofy cartoon-like zombies and a lot of kid humor. Jack wasn't the coolest kid when he went to school, but it turns out that he is actually really good at staying alive and killing zombies. For him, it is almost like a game, which he later admits is the only way he could function in this new crazy world without going crazy himself. There are the usual stereotypes. Quint being the obsessed gadget geek and Dirk being the big bad bully turned friend. Even June, who defies the stereotype of damsel in distress isn't anything special. But the story is fun and action packed and that is really what the author was going for here.

My only big complaint concerns the circumstances surrounding Jack and his abandonment. Jack is in foster care and when the monster apocalypse happens, his foster parents jump ship, leaving him behind. As someone who is literally in the process of getting a foster care license, this bothers me greatly. Firstly, because it continues the horrible stereotype that foster parents aren't really parents and don't care about the kids in their care, or at least not like they would for their own children. It also served no purpose to the story. The story could just have easily said that his foster parents had been turned into zombies, or were eaten by monsters, or even (like June's parents) were evacuated and got separated from him. Finally, Jack admits that he is an orphan which in the foster care system may mean that the people he is living with were actually looking to adopt him. I know I know, it's just a goofy middle grade action book, but seriously why do we have to keep treating foster parents like they are horrible selfish people who don't care about kids when most of them are just the opposite. Rant over. Obviously, anything I read from now on that concerns foster care or adoption will be judged just as harshly. I am too close to it to not see it through this lens.

Kids will love this book though. Heck, I liked it even with the foster care issue. There are just too many laugh out loud moments not to like it.

Tombquest: Valley of the Kings by Michael Northrop Book Review

Tombquest: Valley of the Kings by Michael Northrop
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: August 11, 2015

In this third installment of the TombQuest series, Alex, Ren, and Alex's cousin Lucas are in Egypt trying to stop the Death Walkers. However, treachery and sabotage lurk around every corner. After a series of missteps in Cairo, the children head to the famed Valley of the Kings looking for Alex's mom. What they find instead of a very much alive mummy King and a Death Walker who will burn anyone who ventures too close.

I have said this before and I will say it again, Michael Northrop knows how to write a good action adventure tale. Leaving off from book two, I was thankful for a little bit of backstory as it had been a little while since I read the first two in the series. It didn't take me long to catch on though. At its heart, this really is pure unadulterated adventure, but Northrop doesn't skimp on character development either. Alex, who has been ill most of his life, is really beginning to enjoy his newfound health and is relishing every moment of it. Ren struggles greatly with how to use her Talisman as she has always resisted magic, leaning more heavily on logic. The idea that there is magic and she can use it really bothers her, unlike Alex and Todtman who have embraced it fully.

As an avid Egyptology enthusiast, I loved that they were now in Egypt and especially loved the Valley of the Kings. In fact, it got me so excited about it again that I have watched a couple of documentaries again regarding the subject, but I just love it so much.

These books are perfect for the adventure lover and anyone obsessed with Ancient Egypt.

I Really Like Slop! by Mo Willems Book Review

I Really Like Slop! by Mo Willems
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: October 27, 2015

Slop is a traditional pig dish that Piggie just looovvveess. Gerald thinks it looks disgusting. So when Piggie offers him a bite, Gerald just knows he isn't going to like it.

This is the first Piggie and Elephant book that I wasn't too keen on. I desperately wanted Gerald to think it looked disgusting, but then once he tried it, he discovered that it actually tasted great. This would have been a great message to send to kids as they often encounter strange foods that they aren't sure they will like, but can in fact be yummy. Another reviewer also pointed out that for kids from foreign countries who eat foods that aren't "regular" American fare, they are especially sensitive to eating foods that other kids would consider smelly and/or strange. The message in this tale is that even though Gerald knows he won't like the food, he tries it anyway because Piggie is his friend and that is the nice to do. This is wonderful, but it just didn't go far enough for me.

MARTians by Blythe Woolston Book Review

MARTians by Blythe Woolston
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: October 13, 2015

Zoë Zindleman, has just graduated. Early. She is lucky though, because she has two businesses that are interested in hiring her, both retail giants. She chooses AllMART. Her mother is gone, leaving Zoë behind in their empty abandoned neighborhood, which Zoë must too when she has no way to get to work. So Zoë moves into an abandoned strip mall with other kids who don't want to be complete slaves to AllMART. What happens when someone doesn't obey AllMART though? What happens when you don't toe the company line?

This is Idiocracy without the humor. Feed without the deep morality. I know that the author is writing of the dangers of a completely capitalistic society, but there was so much missing in this book. I had so many questions that went unanswered. Why are they graduating all the students early? Are schools becoming redundant? What about all the little kids? Why is Zoë so psychologically distanced from everyone and everything? I know she has a mood stabilizer that that doesn't really explain why she shows little concern for her mom, AnnaMom. Or why her mom just up and leaves for little reason and will never see her daughter again. Do they not have cell phones or communication in this world? Will her mother not ever be allowed to contact her daughter again? Why?

And where are all the people? This is a world in which there are giant Wal-Mart like shopping centers that basically run everything and yet everything in this place felt empty. Empty houses. Empty buses. There is never any mention of traffic and rarely even a mention of customers. Anyone who has ever worked retail knows how infuriating customers can be and yet Zoë rarely comes into contact with one. Who are all the people buying stuff at AllMART if everyone works for AllMART? Are they employees or are there actually other businesses out there that employ people? Who does AnnaMom work for? Why are so many businesses closed down? Abandoned strip mall, kids sleeping in cars, abandoned babies. Where are the parents?  Where are all the damned people? Why are they moving away from the suburbs? Where do they live now? If they are all working for AllMART and its competitor, where are they? 

I get not wanting to explain everything out in detail, but everything in this dystopian world just felt so empty. Empty of logic, empty of meaning, and empty of any kind of hope that these characters will ever get to be more than cogs in a machine.

Do I Have to Say Hello? by Delia Ephron Book Review

Do I Have to Say Hello? Aunt Delia's Manners Quiz for Kids and Their Grownups by Delia Ephron
Illustrations by Edward Koren
Publisher: Blue Rider Press
Release Date: November 3, 2015

Do I Have to Say Hello? is a light-hearted series of quizzes to help children understand manners. To an adult the answers to the questions seem like to brainers, but I imagine this will not be the case for a six-year-old. From table manners to car, playground to school, there is a quiz for every scenario. This is not a book to be read cover to cover though, but rather in pieces. I can see pulling this book out while eating a meal and asking some of the questions or pulling it out at bedtime perhaps. Although it appears that Aunt Delia has been writing such manners books for a long time, seeing as this is a reprint for the 25th Anniversary, but I was not at all familiar with her material. Of course, my manners book of choice was the Goops and I can still recite many of the poems today. However, I see the appeal of this format as well. Perfect for parents who are training to raise children who know how to behave in any situation.

Sitting Bull by S.D. Nelson Book Review

Sitting Bull:Lakota Warrior and Defender of his People by S.D. Nelson
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Release Date: November 3, 2015

From the viewpoint of Sitting Bull's spirit, he tells of his experiences with the white man and how his tribe was treated by the US Government. Starting with his childhood and leading up to him being named war chief, he details what life was like for his people before and after the wasichus arrive, finally culminating in the battles of Killdeer Mountain and Little Bighorn.

Telling the history of Native Americans to children, without glossing over the dark details of that narrative is tricky. Many non-fiction books seem to handle this simply by focusing on what the tribe was like. What they ate, drank, lived in, etc. Not that this isn't important within an anthropological sense, but it also glosses over the ugly truth. This book did a good job of finding the balance between cultural information and dark facts, making it appropriate for an elementary school reader while still addressing pressing issues.

Nelson has once again written a fabulous Native American story that mixes the rich cultural heritage of the Lakota peoples and the dark history that surrounds them.