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Telephone by Mac Barnett Book Review

Telephone by Mac Barnett
Illustrations by Jen Corace
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: September 9, 2014

It's time to fly home for dinner. In a classic game of Telephone a mother bird gives the bird next to her the message that it is time for little Pete to come home. As the message travels down the telephone wire, the message becomes terribly garbled.

I think I have become a total Mac Barnett fangirl. President Taft in the Bath, Oh No!Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World, Chloe and the Lion, Extra Yarn. Imaginative, clever, fun, and always accompanied by the best illustrations, these are the kinds of books that kids can laugh at and read over and over without parents getting too tired of it. It is also the perfect entry into playing your own game of Telephone with kids. Any book that has practical applications and activities gets a gold star in my book.

 

Remy & Lulu by Kevin Hawkes Book Review

Remy & Lulu by Kevin Hawkes
with miniatures by Hannah E. Harrison
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 9, 2014

Lulu and her master, Remy are passionate painters. Remy can't always find paying customers though, but not many people seem to appreciate his abstract style. That is until Lulu begins to secretly lend her paw to Remy's work, adding tiny paintings of her own in the corner of Remy's work. Soon, the pair are the most celebrated artists in France, but Remy can't figure out why. When Remy is finally given a pair of glasses, he sees that their popularity is because of Lulu's pet portraits. Upset, Remy refuses to paint with Lulu until he is commissioned for a portrait where the old woman loves his artwork because she herself cannot see.

Because the artists story seems to be universal, this is yet another story of a struggling artist. I found myself feeling rather melancholy about the whole thing though. Here is this wonderful abstract artist who is being shown as a half-blind fool with a dog who paints beautiful mini-portraits and is the only reason why he is finally gaining any acclaim. No wonder he is angry and hurt when he finally figures it out. Can you imagine? Then again, that is what the author is asking his audience to do and although it is a cute idea that this dog can paint things that eclipse his master's art, it made me sad for Remy. Getting out-painted by a dog would be the epitomy of failure in my mind. And this is the problem with an adult reading picture books sometimes.

This is a story, at its core, about painting from the heart and being true to yourself. It is about a cute dog that helps its master by painting beautiful miniature portraits and I think kids will gobble it up because if I know anything about kids I know this--kids like dogs.

I love the illustrations and thought that the addition of Hannah E. Harrisons little masterpieces adding a nice visual element to the story, but for all the bright colors, I couldn't let go of my empathetic melancholy.

5 Reason Why I Will Put A Book Down

Photo by David Whittle

5 Reasons Why I Will Put Down a Book


I read a lot of books. However, for every ten or so books I read, there is at least one book that I either couldn't finish or thought was terrible. Those are, as it should be, not reviewed. The guilt of giving up on a book remains though. Would it have gotten better if I had finished it? Did I really give it a chance? As it inevitably does with book people, this topic comes up often. How long do you give a book? Do you go by page count? Would you stop reading after the first chapter? What about the first page? For me, there is no set standard for when I "give up", but there are some definable reasons.

1. Not as Advertised
Nothing is worse than picking up a book that says one thing in the blurb or jacket flap and then feeling like you were lied to. Yes, perhaps I should have read some reviews online or looked at who the publisher was, but I didn't and now I am thirty pages in and I want to stop. Case in point, a few months ago I started reading a book that proclaimed itself as young adult dystopian sci-fi. Great! Any kind of sci-fi is right up my alley...or so I thought. What this book actually was, is a diatribe against science & scientists who are portrayed as godless, feckless, power hungry barbarians. This wasn't science, this was anti-science. I have no idea what the author has against science or scientists, but if you are going to write a novel in the sci-fi genre, perhaps you shouldn't alienate the fan base. Just saying. I stopped somewhere around page fifty.

2. Slow Pacing
There is no set rule for pacing. Sometimes a book needs a hundred pages to get going, although this tends to happen more in adult books than in kids. Perhaps the author has to do a lot of crazy world building that requires fifty pages before the story starts rolling. Maybe the book is character driven rather than plot driven. Whatever the case may be, nothing will lose my interest faster than a story that meanders in the beginning. Starting a book with a long journey or promising to reveal something that doesn't happen until page 75 is a problem. It's okay to world build, in many cases completely necessary, but you better have some awesome characters to hold my interest until you finally get around to a plot.


3. Don't Care About the Character
The previous reason leads me to this one. Nothing kills a book, television show, or movie faster than when I simply dislike the characters, particularly the protagonist. Oftentimes the reason why I cannot get into a particular show, like Lost, Walking Dead or Once Upon a Time is because I just don't like anyone in the cast. For the die hard fans, I know this is hard to believe, but I am sure we can all name shows, books, and movies that we didn't like because we just couldn't connect with the main characters. For example, I am not an anthropomorphized animal person. I have always disliked books in which the main character is furry. I loathe the ones where they talk. There are rarely exceptions, but if I like the story it is despite the talking animals and I am prone to not pick up books in which there are animals with the power of speech. The insertion of talking animals in the middle of a book may cause me to put it down. I also don't like rooting for the bad guy. He/She can be mysterious, jealous, passive, frustrating, and altogether too human, but I really don't enjoy being in the head of a serial killer or a sadist. I don't like to be torn about whether or not to like a character. I want to love them. That's why I am reading. If you create a really good character I am willing to read book after book about them.

4. Slogging Through the Book
Sometimes a book is neither good nor bad. It is just taking me forever to get through. I am not excited about reading it. Nothing about the book is beckoning me to return. It comes with me to work and then I end up reading news articles on my phone rather than reading the book I brought with me. Eventually, I end up stopping or skipping. Yes, you read that right, something akin to a fast-forward button for a book. I'll skip ahead and see if anything really interesting happens and go from there. I have been known to read the end of a book just to see how it ends and then be done with it, having skipped most of the middle. I will reiterate that I never review these books because this would be entirely unfair to the author. I am reading a book now that I am 2/3 of the way through and nothing about it makes me want to keep reading, so I am at the point where I am tempted to just skip to the end and be done with it.

5. Badly Written
I know people who say that they get free e-books from Amazon or wherever and even though some of them are terribly written, they read it anyway. I cannot do this. This could be the result of having a BA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing as well as an MFA in Children's Writing, but I just can't read a badly written book. That's like sitting for hours while someone runs their nails on a chalkboard. I cannot read an entire novel where the author doesn't know the difference between passive and active voice, or the tense keeps shifting, or all the characters sound exactly the same, to the point where you wouldn't actually know who is speaking if there weren't dialogue tags. How some of you do it, I don't know. What I do know is this, there are so many extraordinary books out there, by authors who are both talented and have honed their craft, that anything less is a waste of my very precious time. There are so many books out there that I want to read, so many that I will never get to. Those are the ones that are worth my time.

Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty Book Review

Happy Birthday, Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty
Illustrations by David Roberts
Publishers: Harry N. Abrams
Release Date: September 2, 2014

Madame Chapeau is a world-famous hat maker, who can make the perfect hat to match her clients, but doesn't have one of her own. Once a year, Madame Chapeau ventures out in her favorite bonnet, however this time a crow steals her adornment. As she chases after the crow, the people of Paris offer their own hats, but none of them is quite right. That is until one little girl offers her a hat that is knitted with love.

I have to say I wasn't overly impressed with this book, but not because there were any cardinal sins committed within its pages. The story just felt a little ho hum. Although an interesting study in occupations and style, there was nothing that really drew me in. The illustrations were interesting, but more from an artistic standpoint as I didn't feel they helped carry the story itself. Illustration and text are a careful marriage in picture books and if done wrong can lead to one dominating the other or neither working. In this case, it was the illustrations that dominated, to the point where the stilted rhymes were almost forgotten. On the other hand, the author does provide a very interesting author note in regards to the hat, so it should be noted that there is something to be learned within these pages, even if the story didn't leap off the page for me.

Stop, Thief! by Heather Tekavec Book Review

Stop, Thief! by Heather Tekavec
Illustrations by Pierre Pratt
Publishers: Kids Can Press
Release Date: August 1, 2014

Someone is stealing the farmer's fruits and vegetables. Not to worry, Max will catch the thief. After spying a tiny blue bug on a carrot, Max gives chase to the culprit. Along the way he meets other animals who try to help him, although it is very obvious that the real thieves are right under Max's nose.

I always thought that I was a rather unobservant person, but I believe the most oblivious award can now be handed to Max. Kids will like this fun book where they get to be *that* much smarter than the main character. That element alone makes this book work so well, because kids absolutely love feeling like they are smart and figuring out the mystery before the main character does. Perhaps the best "twist" is that the thief is never caught, which only adds to that satisfying mystery. There is also the element of determination, even if Max never finds the thief, that only shows his dedication. Pierre Pratt's illustrations, like his other books, are colorful and full of movement. With all the different animals and the built-in audience participation, I can see this book working very well in a classroom or story-time setting.

Lockwood & Co: The Whispering Skull by Johnathan Stroud Book Review

Lockwood & Co.: The Whispering Skull by Johnathan Stroud
Publisher: Disney Hyperion
Release Date: September 16, 2014

It has been six months since Anthony Lockwood, Lucy, and George survived a night in the most haunted house in England. Although they are able to pay the bills now, they still aren't as well known or as often called as some of the other ghost hunting agencies. When a new client calls needing some help with a grave excavation, the team is cautious but not concerned. That is until the grave is open, revealing a relic known as a bone glass which is subsequently stolen. On the trail of the thieves, Lockwood & Co. know they have stumbled across something big, but as things begin to spiral out of control, they realize they may be in over their heads.

I don't read horror. Mostly because my dreams are already crazy strange and I don't find nightmares to be particularly pleasant. So it is strange that I would pick up the second book in this series after the first one became nightmare-fuel. For those who like horror, perhaps this is the sign of a good book in this genre. I wanted to read it because my interest was piqued. Who was this whispering skull? What is Lockwood hiding in the room that no one can enter? Will they ever get uniforms?

Like the first book, this is a witty, character driven story with the same characters from the first thrown into another adventure. There is some character development, although not as much as I would have liked. Although the characters are all teenagers, they lack a certain amount of youthful vivre. I was also a bit confused with the parallel history, because at times the story feels very Victorian with swords and uniforms and then one of the characters mentions wearing flip flops. Often this felt very incongruous and jarring, which made that particular aspect of the book a bit confusing.

On the whole, the book was enjoyable, not quite as scary as the first, but I look forward to seeing where the author plans on going with this series. Oh and what a fantastic US cover! I would tell you who the cover artist is, but I can't find it anywhere.

Julia's House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke Book Review


Julia's House for Lost Creatures by Ben Hatke
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: September 2, 2014

When Julia and her walking house come to town, she loves everything about her new home. Except how quiet it is. Looking for a bit of adventure and something to do, Julia hangs up a sign that reads, "Julia's House for Lost Creatures". It doesn't take long for the lost creatures to begin finding their way to her either. Soon, quiet isn't a problem, it's getting her new housemates to behave.

Julia's story felt like an amalgamation of Pippi Longstocking and Howl's Moving Castle with a bit of Where the Wild Things Are thrown in for good measure. If you have been following this page for any amount of time you know that I am a huge Zita the Spacegirl fan, which is why I was so excited about this book. Ben Hatke picture book? Yes, please. Such a fantastic menagerie of characters within these pages and the illustrations are as vibrant as always. This is one of those books where I wish my nephews lived a little closer so I could do a test run of the book with them, because I think they would love it. That said, I read aloud to myself and my cat and we both enjoyed it immensely. Definitely one that I think I shall be adding to my bookshelves for future niece and nephew visits.



Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh Book Review

Edward Hopper Paints His World by Robert Burleigh
Illustrations by Wendell Minor
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
Release Date: August 19, 2014

Edward Hopper knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. An artist. With purpose and determination Hopper traveled from New York to Paris, studying and honing his craft. Despite little interest in his paintings, Hopper continued to dream.

It seems that no matter how famous the painter, the story is always the same. Years of struggle just to be recognized. Art critics telling the artist how terrible they are. Quiet reclusive artists toiling away in studios hoping that one day, someone will want to buy their art. Some manage to make a living as freelance artists and illustrators, however there are so many who for want of a paycheck and food on the table, must give it up. Their art gathers dust as they pursue other careers. Hopper seems lucky in that his work not only gained acclaim during his lifetime, but fairly "early" on in his career when he was nearly forty.

Hopper persevered, but from what I read, there were a great many unhappy years in which no one was interested in his art. As with many such biographies for children, the message is clear. Here is a man remembered for something great, but the only way he became great was through courage, determination, and resilience. A good message for young readers, if a bit simplified. Yet, it cannot be overstated that Hopper did have a vision and a goal in mind, one that he never quit working towards, no matter the amount of attention he received. In Edward Hopper's own words, "Great art if the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world."

Wendell Minor also does a great job of capturing the unique beauty of Hopper, while still making the illustrations his own. I was fascinated by the pictures of Hopper's own works compared against the illustrations within the book. The juxtaposition really displays the beauty of both artist's works.

Wendell Minor

Edward Hopper

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang Book Review

You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang
Illustrations by Christopher Weyant
Publisher: Two Lions
Release Date: August 5, 2014

Some things are about perspective. One animal may seem small to someone big, while someone small may see them as tall. When a third set of animals show up though, perceptions shift.

Reminiscent of How Joe the Bear and Sam the Mouse Got Together (I am aware that I may be the only person who is familiar with this book), this is your classic opposites book. The juxtaposition of the two sizes, the arguing, and adorable illustrations make this book very approachable with a sly message. Although this could simply be another opposites book, it also has an underlying psychological aspect of "other". We see ourselves as being the norm and quickly label those who are other as different. I think this book could really be a good jumping off point for bigger discussions, which also gives it a far wider age range than most concept books.

Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart Book Review

Death by Toilet Paper by Donna Gephart
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 5, 2014

Benjamin has had a really rough year. Almost a year ago, his father died of cancer. The grand plan was for his mother to pass her CPA exams and work as an accountant, but with tips not coming in from her waitress job, they have hit on some very difficult financial times and they could really use that CPA money. With hardly any food in the fridge and a looming eviction, the only comfort Benjamin finds is at his friend Toothpick's house. Not even Pick's house is refuge though when Ben's grandpa comes to live with them and is experiencing worrying signs of Alzheimer's. If only Ben could win the Grand Prize of one of the sweepstakes he has entered. Everything would be okay then.

With a string of terrible tragedies, this is one very heavy-hitting book. Too heavy--at least for this age group. Ben is dealing with a lot and although I think that there are a lot of kids out there who deal with many of these issues, I think that this book is too much for two reasons. *Spoiler Alert* First, this book has a rather tidy happily ever after ending. Ben's mom passes her CPA without a hitch, has a job already lined up, and they get to stay in their (obviously rent controlled) apartment in NYC because they were able to find the money somehow. The kids who would be able to relate to this book are often not so lucky. It is understandable that Ben and his mother have just fallen on some hard times, but it all felt so neat and tidy. Second, the target audience for this book would be intermediate readers ages 8-12 and I definitely think that a nine-year-old is just not going to be able to handle the psychological heaviness of this book. I am an adult and I had a hard time with it.

Let's make a list here of the awful things in this book:

  • Dead father from cancer (anniversary of death quickly approaching)
  • Mom has a low-wage waitress job
  • No money for food
  • Having to take charity food from neighbors and friends
  • Grandfather with early Alzheimer's
  • Ben feels compelled to try to make money to help his mom
  • Ben has hundreds of dollars stolen from a bully that was meant for rent (never tells his mom) 
  • Mom is fired from her job
  • Eviction notice/pending court date
  • Best friend knows absolutely nothing about Ben's situation
  • Ben's grandfather kills his fish Barclay

Oh, and let's not forget the two bits of added flavor--sweepstakes and Jewish culture.

Don't get me wrong now, this book was well-written and the author managed to weave a story together that felt true to her characters as well as the story she was trying to tell. I did wonder at some of the choices however. Ben should have told someone about the bully that stole all his money. I know he doesn't want to get into trouble, but they are about to be evicted and I would imagine that a kid like Ben would do anything to save his family, including getting into trouble, if it meant that they would not be kicked out of their home. I was also baffled by how hard this family was trying to stay in their apartment. They kept shelling out what little money they had, not knowing if they would even be able to stay. Financially speaking, it would have been a much better option to stop paying the landlord and set that money aside for moving somewhere else. I kind of wanted this to happen. Ben is so wrapped up in that apartment and the memories within it and I wanted him to learn that memory is held within us, not a place.

There were times where I also felt emotionally manipulated. I cried on four separate occasions and each time I thought, this author really knows how to create some tearjerker moments. These moments only added to the weightiness of the book and when I finished, I was a bit relieved. There were moments of levity, but with such intense drama, it wasn't enough. If that is how I felt afterward, I am curious as to how a nine-year-old will feel. Reminiscent of Sure Signs of Crazy in tone, I think there is a definite audience for this book, but I think they are far older than who this book is being marketed towards.

With Books and Bricks by Suzanne Buckingham Slade Book Review

With Books and Bricks: How Booker T. Washington Built a School by Suzanne Buckingham Slade
Illustrations by Nicole Tadgell
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Release Date: September 1, 2014

Booker T. Washington loved to learn. Born a slave and self-taught, Washington's dream of attending school went further than anything he imagined. After taking on a teaching job in Tuskegee, Alabama, Washington finds many eager students but no school. Working together, Washington and his students built the school--brick by brick. It was a lot of work. Some wanted to give up. But Washington knew how important it was and, as with everything, he made his students work hard to achieve their dreams.

You know how there is information that you know you learned in school, but until you actually read something about it, you don't remember that you know it? That is the case with Booker T. Washington. I remember, vaguely, lessons about Washington, his school, his achievements, but if you had asked me who he was before I read this book, I would have been hard pressed to come up with something concrete. Which just goes to show that we are always learning.

Very well laid out, With Books and Bricks focuses on Washington's dream and the obstacles that he had to transverse in order to achieve them. The author navigates Washington's nuanced life in a way that is easily accessible to young children, while not getting bogged down in politics and controversy. The watercolor illustrations, while muted, played on the 'brick' color palate, making the images an extension of the title and content.

Maddi's Fridge by Lois Brandt Book Review

Maddi's Fridge by Lois Brandt
Illustrations by Vin Vogel
Publisher: Flashlight Press
Release Date: September 1, 2014

Maddi's fridge has nothing in it except some milk for her little brother. Sofia makes a promise not to tell anyone about Maddi's bare fridge, but she also wants to make sure that her best friend gets some good food. Every day Sofia tries to bring her friend some nutritious food, but it turns out that tuna fish and eggs really don't do well in a hot backpack. Finally, Sofia makes the tough decision to break her promise to Maddi and tell her mother. Together they help Maddi's family fill their fridge with all kinds of nutritious food.

As a child, I was rather oblivious. I also happen to be a rather unobservant adult as well, but that is not important. As a kid, the level of our poverty wasn't that clear to me. It wasn't until I was in my pre-teens that I began to hear stories about government cheese and people doing a secret Santa drop of groceries on our doorstep from my parents. I was aware that we didn't have a lot of money, but my parents went to great effort to make sure that we had food in the house, even if it was just macaroni and cheese and Kool-aid. I can also tell you that I never read a book about kids who were like me.

This book is a wonderful issues book that I think everyone should be reading to their children. I think most parents hope to raise children who are kind and caring, ones who will notice and help when a friend is in need. Children know other kids like Maddi. They live in your neighborhood and go to your schools. Whether it is pride, illness, or just not knowing what kind of resources are available to them, there are children all over this country who go hungry every day. I liked how Sofia tries to keep Maddi's secret, but also learns that there are some things that cannot be kept a secret.

All that said, I would not read this story out loud to a classroom or group of kids. Unless you know that all your students are affluent, this is only going to embarrass and hurt the children who may be in the same situation as Maddi. This book is not for the Maddi's of the world. This books is for the Sofias. There are a lot of great programs out there that are helping families in their communities who need a little extra help and I highly encourage families to become involved in them. Let children see generosity and kindness first hand.

For more information about local food banks and other programs check out the links below:
Feeding America
FoodPantries.org
AmpleHarvest.org

And two that I am personally involved in:
BackPack Buddies
Durham Rescue Mission

Quest by Aaron Becker Book Review

Quest by Aaron Becker
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: August 26, 2014

A king emerges from a hidden door in a city park, startling two children sheltering from the rain. No sooner does he push a map and some strange objects into their hands than he is captured by hostile forces that whisk him back through the enchanted door. Just like that, the children are caught up in a quest to rescue the king and his kingdom from darkness, while illuminating the farthest reaches of their imagination. Colored markers in hand, they make their own way through the portal, under the sea, through a tropical paradise, over a perilous bridge, and high in the air with the help of a winged friend. Journey lovers will be thrilled to follow its characters on a new adventure threaded with familiar elements, while new fans will be swept into a visually captivating story that is even richer and more exhilarating than the first.

I borrowed that synopsis from Goodreads, because frankly I was having a hard time coming up with something "original" for a wordless picture book. After reading through this book three times, I realized that I had not read the first book and so I had to go check out Journey in order to know what the heck was going on. So there is one negative, you cannot read this book on its own because it simply doesn't make sense. That said, I love the Harold and the Purple Crayon-like use of drawings. Each page requires careful study as the story doesn't reveal itself in a quick glance, which gives it more depth than your typical wordless picture book. As a child who used to carefully study the illustrations of Dinotopia and Anamalia, I know there are some kids who will pore over this story and enjoy every minute of it.


The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm Book Review

The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 26, 2014

Eleven-year-old Ellie's grandfather has spent his life searching for a way to stop or even reverse aging. Everyone in the scientific community think he is a crackpot. Then one day her grandfather shows up, but instead of being a grumpy old man, he is a grumpy thirteen-year-old. He is bossy, cranky, and desperate to get back into his lab and collect his research. With the help of one the goth kids from school, Ellie tries to help her grandfather, but as she learns more and more about science, she also begins to wonder if reverse aging is really a good thing.

What's the difference between an cranky old man and a grumpy teenager? Not much apparently. Although he grumbles about how his daughter dresses, his other complaints feel very--teenagery. Don't let this preposterous idea of the fountain of youth fool you though, this little book packs a rather thought provoking punch. Ellie begins to think rather existentially about the consequences of anti-aging and not growing up. Honestly, I was surprised that I liked this aspect of the story because I was the kind of child who resisted growing up. My favorite book was (and is) Peter Pan and I desperately wanted Peter Pan to fly into my window and take me away so I wouldn't have to grow up. That said, I think Ellie's conclusion that growing up is important was nice although perhaps missing the point. Her grandfather didn't seem to be concerned about children not growing up, he just wanted to reverse the process once they got older. There is also the assumption by Ellie that if she doesn't age she won't get to experience life, which also seems flawed, but understandable from an eleven-year-old's perspective.

But let's talk about the best part. Science. This is a book that is just seeped in science and a little girl who is slowly falling in love with it. She is learning about the famous scientists of history, the truth behind their stories, women in science and that was really the best part. We have the grandfather who only loves science, seeing the arts as frivolous and a waste of potential. Ellie's mother is the thespian, who wears colorful clothing and hair to match. Ellie is a beautiful mix of the two. The author even includes a 'For More Research' section for the kids who have had their interest peaked.

A wonderful quick read with a deep message and a perfect place to pique a bit of scientific curiosity.

Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Gibbs Davis Book Review


Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
Illustrations by Gilbert Ford
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 2, 2014

The year is 1893 and America is going to be hosting the World's Fair in Chicago. The last World Fair in Paris brought the grandeur that is the Eiffel Tower. America wants something just as good. They host a contest, asking architects from all over to submit designs, but most just feel like repeats of the tower or too outlandish. When George Ferris presents his idea for a giant wheel made out of steel, the idea is originally rejected. With the clock ticking away though and nothing else that will work, eventually his idea is approved. No one is sure if it will work, except George. But it does. Everyone is amazed by the wheel, covered in new-fangled electric lights. They name it the Ferris Wheel and it was remembered as one of the most amazing things at the World's Fair.

I absolutely loved this book. The story itself was engaging, with a small fact on each spread for those who love facts (that would be me). Let me tell you that what I really loved though were illustrations with their twilight colors that added a magical feeling to the story. This is a weird parallel perhaps, but it reminded me of the colors that were used throughout most of the live-action version of Peter Pan. As it goes with some of my favorite books, other people I showed it to seemed rather lukewarm about it, but I thought it was beautiful and I hope that those who love beautifully drawn picture books and wonderful children's biographies will give it a go.




Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies Book Review

Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes by Nicola Davies
Illustrations by Emily Sutton
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: August 26, 2014

All around the world, in the sea, soil, air, and even your body, there live millions of tiny little things called microbes. They do all sorts of things like making yogurt to giving you a cold. If you could see them with your naked eye, you would see that they all look different and they are really good at making more of themselves.

This is an unusual topic for a picture book, one that if someone told me they were writing I would have answered with a...hmmm....interesting. However, in the right hands this is a fantastic topic done in a way that introduces very young readers to a complex scientific idea. Just like in If: A Mind-bending New Way of Looking at Big Ideas and Numbers, Davies makes the numbers manageable. This one could easily be slipped in with all the other fiction picture books and I don't think the kids will notice the difference.

Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance by Birgitta Sif Book Review

Frances Dean Who Loved to Dance and Dance by Birgitta Sif
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: August 26, 2014

Frances Dean just loves to dance. She hears birds singing, feels the wind, and spends every waking moment dancing away. But as soon as anyone is around, Frances Dean gets a becomes shy and she forgets how to dance. However, she soon unlocks the secret that allows her to dance even when others are watching.

Illustrated beautifully with pencil drawings and soft colors, I was completely drawn in by the movement of the story. The pictures danced on their own. The story itself was simple, but it is a universal story for the shy child. I don't know if I would introduce the idea that one should be ashamed of dancing to a effervescent child, but it is perfect for those with a bit of stage fright.

Hug Machine by Scott Campbell Book Review

Hug Machine by Scott Campbell
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 26, 2014

Who have YOU hugged today? One little boy has made it his mission to be a human Hug Machine. Whether big or small, soft or spikey, no one can resist his unbelievable hugs. Mission accomplished.

Although this was a a cute book with nice pictures, I am pretty ho hum about it. Don't get me wrong, it was sweet and funny. I mean, the measures this child goes to in order to hug a porcupine is a laugh out loud moment, but it wasn't standout. As an adult, I also thought it was a little strange that this little boy wanders around hugging everyone and everything. If you have a kid who doesn't seem to understand the phrase "stranger danger", then you may want to avoid this one. This child goes by the same rule that my mother lives by, "A stranger is just a friend I haven't met yet." My mother and I don't always agree.




Hermelin: The Detective Mouse by Mini Grey

Hermelin: The Detective Mouse by Mini Grey
Publisher: Johnathan Cape, Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 5, 2014

Hermelin is a noticer. He is also a finder. He is also a mouse. The occupants of Offley Street are delighted when their missing items are found, but not so happy to learn that their brilliant detective is a mouse. 

Perhaps it was The Great Mouse Detective that has given me a small soft place for detective mouses, but I absolutely loved this story. It was cute, memorable, well-drawn, that can be read over and over again. There was so much going on each page, but not in a way that felt overwhelming, but rather in a way that made you want to study each page carefully to be sure you didn't miss anything. I have to say, this is my favorite Mini Grey book so far. 

I really loved this book and I think it will find quite a few young readers who may also fall in love with detective mouses.


The Industrial Revolution For Kids by Cheryl Mullenbach

The Industrial Revolution For Kids: The People and Technology That Change the World with 21 Activities by Cheryl Mullenbach
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Release Date: August 1, 2014

We should make one thing clear here before I even begin. This book should be titled The Industrial Revolution in America for Kids. There is nothing wrong with this, but when I first began the book, I was a little disappointed that only the American Industrial Revolution was included, but it wasn't a major sticking point in the readability of the book. This educational activity book was a great introduction to a period of great change that stays solidly kid-focused. Carefully organized with an Introduction and then chapters on New Ways of Working, New Ways of Living, Kids at Work, Catastrophes, Unions & Strikes, Help and Hope for Better Lives, and the Emerging New Culture. Everything was covered from the Rockefellers to factories, detachable collars and cuffs to one-cent coffee stands.

I felt like the material was presented very well. Even when talking about subjects that were a bit grown-up centric, the author is careful to mention the children that would be involved in the situation. Also, it gave me a lot to ruminate over. A lot. It was a gentle reminder of how different things were and how time, accidents, disaster, protests, and cultural change really are necessary for forming and changing our world. Child labor laws didn't happen overnight, in fact some would probably say that it took far too long for laws to be on the books about child labor. The same could be said for any number of things that were happening in that era. This, of course, made me think of the present and how people continue to fight for change. I am sure that there were people who were fighting for children's rights as workers back in 1850 (the book does mention these) who never lived to see the first laws passed. We look back on it now as a piece of history. How too might people look back on our history? What moment will they say that a certain moment in time was the true catalyst for change?

Included in the book are 21 activities that, although not bad, were disappointing in the fact that the activities would be hard to replicate in a classroom. Most of the activities were things that a child could do from home, which made me think that the real target audience for this book would be homeschoolers or parents who are seeking supplemental instruction for their kids. I can't imagine there is a large subset of kids who pick up books like this just for fun, but my evidence is purely anecdotal so I will leave it be.

The book is a bit text heavy, which is why I think it would be good for homeschoolers, but none of it is written beyond an elementary reading level so I think it could fit easily into a history curriculum.