Flowers Are Calling by Rita Gray Book Review

Flowers Are Calling by Rita Gray
Illustrations by Kenard Pak
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 3, 2015

Flowers are calling to all the animals of the forest, "Drink me!"—but it’s the pollinators who feast on their nectar. In rhyming poetic form and with luminous artwork, this book shows us the marvel of natural cooperation between plants, animals, and insects as they each play their part in the forest's cycle of life. 

This is an absolutely beautiful book to look at. Kenard Pak has illustrated three books now that I have absolutely loved, The Dinner That Cooked Itself, Have You Heard the Nesting Bird, and now this. Each spread is full beautiful imagery, a feast for the eyes, full of so much detail that the eye wants to rest on each page, soaking it in. The text is a mix of poetry and information, making the book an interesting dichotomy of nature picture book and non-fiction. It threw me off a bit in the beginning, but once I got the hang of it I didn't mind so much. 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School by Davide Cali Book Review

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to School by Davide Cali
Illustrations by Benjamin Chaud
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: March 3, 2015

It begins with giant ants stealing breakfast. From their the excuses devolve into evil ninjas, massive ape, mysterious mole people, and giant blobs. But none of these are the real reason why this kid is late.

It's the classic story of excuses. Just like the-dog-ate-my-homework these tales prove to be more and more preposterous and for the young reader they are left wondering how much of it is true. The text alone is not terribly exciting, with a basic storyline that has been done a thousand times. What I enjoyed are the retro illustrations that reminded me of the books my mother used to read us from the 60s and 70s. I do wish the format of the book had been a bit larger though, typical picture book size, because it would have been great to see the illustrations in a way that didn't feel so compressed. The book had a bit of surreal feeling to it due to the illustrations, I only wish the text itself evoked the same feeling.


Unusual Chicken For the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones Book Review

Unusual Chicken For the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones
Illustrations by Katie Kath
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: May 12, 2015

Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown does not feel at home on the farm her family has inherited. Not only does her family know very little about running a farm, but they are also the only brown family in the area. Farm life begins to get more interesting though when Sophie discovers a hen that can move objects with her little chicken brain. Yes, she has a chicken that can use the force. It turns out that her great-uncle has more than one exceptional chicken. One can disappear. Another runs so fast that she can't catch it. Determined to take care of her unusual flock, Sophie learns how to feed her chickens, collect eggs, and even how to show them. That will be difficult though, because there is a woman in town who may just be trying to steal her chickens.

Being a city kid, what little I know about chickens could be summed up on one hand. Of course, as city chicken raising is becoming popular, I know a few people who have them in their backyards. (one of them will be receiving this book as a present) What I loved about this book was that it had all the trappings of a good story with some learning mixed in that never felt didactic. Throughout the story, Sophie is learning about how to feed her chickens and how much, to harvest the eggs, how to house them. She receives lessons from the person who originally owned her unusual chickens. Yet, the story is really about the fact that there is a chicken thief on the loose who is desperately trying to steal Sophie's extraordinary chickens. And I won't tell you the end, but I was very pleased with the outcome. With quick pacing, an interesting unique topic, a force-wielding chicken, and cute illustrations, this book is perfect for those who do and don't have chickens in their lives.

Float by Daniel Miyares Book Review

Float by Daniel Miyares
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 9, 2015

This week I babysat my niece and nephews, the oldest of which is in love with wordless picture books. "Remember, Aunt Venus," he said when I brought him a new Amelia Bedelia book. "Remember that book we made up our own story? I want to read that kind of book." And so, during our outing, we went to the bookstore and "read" through the various wordless picture books that we could find. I wish this one was available now, because I have a feelings it would have been the one we walked away with it.

The story is simple, a little boy and his paper boat that gets away from him. But as I have learned, these books, in the hands of a five-year-old become something entirely different and wonderful. In a School Library Journal article from last year, Bob Staake states that wordless picture books are a pulling back, "It's the child telling the story." For a child who can't quite read on his own yet, the ability to tell their own story and to be given permission by the author to do so, is an important tool for a new reader.

Beautifully drawn, Float joins a great list of wordless picture books.

Counting Crows by Kathi Appelt Book Review

Counting Crows by Kathi Appelt
Illustrations by Rob Dunlavey
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: March 3, 2015

One, two, three crows in a tree, bedecked in red scarves and hungry as can be. So begins this delightful, rhyming counting book who soon have a bigger problem than hunger--a cat.

This is a fantastic read-aloud book although not strictly a counting book. The rhythm matched with the lively illustrations on a simple color palette of red, white, and black made for an engaging read. I also see a lot of storytime potential with this one. Having done storytimes for years, I consider a good storytime book to be one that not only reads well aloud, but where I can also think of crafts to accompany the story. Making little striped scarves for crows on paper would be simple. If you wanted to get fancy (as I did sometimes) I imagine there are a few ways to make life size scarves for children as well.

All in all, a solid picture book, that may not necessarily teach counting, but is a great read aloud.

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman Book Review

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman
Illustrations by Zachariah O'Hara
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 17, 2015

Found on their doorstep, the Bunny family has adopted a wolf son. Dot, their daughter, is the only one who realizes that Wolfie can--and very well might--eat them all up! She tries to warn her parents, but they won't listen. And how far is Dot willing to go to protect Wolfie, the brother who could eat them?

Again, one of those stories about a new sibling where the other child doesn't like the new addition. As I have said before, I have a nephew who went through this very thing, but I still question sometimes the wisdom of introducing such a book to a child's vocabulary if they aren't already experiences these feelings.

That said, I did absolutely love this book. I love that Wolfie is dressed in a bunny costume, like Ralphie in A Christmas Story. Dot's fears are not completely unfounded either. Wolfie is a wolf. There is no question that he is. None of this magical stuff where in the end it turns out the wolf was really a rabbit all along and that was how the other child saw them. No, Wolfie could very well gobble them all up. But he won't, because this is his family and he loves them and while he is still young, he needs them to protect him too. Dot finds herself rescuing Wolfie and discovers that despite there being some danger, she loves her adopted brother.

Even though Wolfie is essentially adopted, I definitely would not read this book to adopted children. Adoption friendly it is not. After all, it shows Wolfie putting on a costume in order to look more like his family. As a new brother/new sister issues book however, it works. Or perhaps it can simply be read as a funny story about family and belonging.

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Honey by Sarah Weeks Book Review

Honey by Sarah Weeks
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: January 27, 2015

For a girl like Melody and a dog like Mo, life can be both sticky and sweet. Melody has lived in Royal, Indiana for forever. Her mother died when she was a baby, so it is just her and her father. But then she overhears a conversation in the middle of the night where he calls someone Honey. Now, Melody is desperate to discover who her father is secretly in love with. As with any mystery though, sometimes the things we uncover are not always so pleasant.

Meanwhile, a dog named Mo is new to Royal. He doesn't remember much from his puppy days, but he has always had a dream about a little girl with blond hair. It's not that he doesn't love his current owner, but this girl, he is sure, will change everything.

As is popular these days, this is one of those cutesy small town books with characters named things like Teeny and Bee Bee. The small town of Royal, Indiana could easily be set in the 1960s with children riding their bikes long distances (without the police being called) and hair salons shaped like bee hives. However, unlike other books with the same conceit, Honey felt a bit more realistic even if a bit old-fashioned.

Melody is a very interesting and fun character and there is a lot packed into this small book. Melody is not your girly girly, although her younger neighbor Teeny is. She isn't the kind of girl who does her hair (she has been cutting her own for years) nor is she the kind of girl who paints her fingernails. Which is why her visiting the Bee Hive, a new nail and hair salon in town, is a big deal. Also, Melody is enamoured with the idea of having a mother. The connection to her own mother is so slight, especially since her father never talks about her, so Melody has a bit of a mother vacuum in her life. The secondary characters are less drawn out, but with only 160 pages, I don't think that would have been feasible and convincing.

The mystery, if it can be called that, is rather transparent, but it didn't lesson the emotional impact in the end. I may have even teared up a bit over the inevitable reunion of two characters. All in all, a well-drawn bridger book about family, belonging, need, and misunderstandings that it both sticky and sweet.

The Adventures of Beekle by Dan Santat Book Review

The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat 
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 8, 2014

This magical story begins on an island far away where an imaginary friend is born. He patiently waits his turn to be chosen by a real child, but when he is overlooked time and again, he sets off on an incredible journey to the bustling city, where he finally meets his perfect match and-at long last-is given his special name: Beekle.

This happens to me every year. Every year the books that end up winning awards are the ones that I have not read. Of course, there are far too many books out there for me to read them all, but it does make one wonder whether the kinds of books I like just don't win awards. Ever. As a self-professed rookie when it comes to art and illustration, (this means that although I appreciate art, I don't have enough knowledge to critique it) I find the Caldecott to be both the most interesting and confusing award. Particularly this year since a young adult graphic novel won the Caldecott Medal. I thought this category was for picture books? But then again, there was Hugo Cabret a few years back.

Beekle is definitely beautiful to look at. Santat's illustrations have always been spot on in my opinion, reminding me of the Pixar/Disney cartoons of the past decade. But I couldn't tell you why this book was chosen instead of the ones that got the Medal or even ones not nominated. In my mind Rules of Summer, The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker, Beautiful Moon, and Edward Hopper Paints His World were just as beautiful and just as deserving. This is not to say that those who won weren't deserving, but rather to point out my own lack of understanding and knowledge in this area. I have no idea what the criteria is for winning or even being nominated. All I can say is the picture book format is one of my favorite art forms. I am just as enthralled by the intricacies of Rembrandt as I am by the simplicity of Mo Willems. 

A Violin for Elva by Mary Lyn Ray Book Review

A Violin for Elva by Mary Lyn Ray
Illustrations by Tricia Tusa
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: January 27, 2015

Elva wants a violin, but her parents say no. So she pretends to play, rehearsing for invisible recitals. She imagines herself playing on a stage, performing all the beautiful music. Yet, she never learns. As the years march by, Elva keeps promising herself that she will learn, but then doesn't. Until one day, she decides to learn. At first Elva tries to teach herself, but soon she finds herself a teacher and even though most of the students are young, Elva is proud of herself as she learns how to play, fulfilling her childhood dream.

Although I absolutely love the message that one is never too old to pursue a dream, as a violinist, I found this story incredibly sad. Parents, please please please, if your child wants to learn to play an instrument, try to find a way. My parents were just scraping by, but they found a way for me to rent a violin and take lessons at an affordable price. I begged them for two years to let me play and eventually they gave in. As an adult, I have had a few students over the years and I have to be honest, learning the violin is extremely difficult and even more so for a grown-up. I've never had an adult student progress beyond simple songs, which is as frustrating to me as it is to them. Elva, sadly will never play the music she dreams of playing (unless she is secretly extremely gifted), which is a shame because she probably would have been a talented musician if her parents had let her play.

All in all, I don't think this book is for children. If it was, Elva would have begged and begged and eventually someone would have let her play. Or perhaps she would have discovered that she was better at playing the flute. Or her parents would have made her try to play a whole bunch of instruments first, even though she had her heart set on a violin. No, this story is for the adult who fears that it is too late to pursue their dreams. Not to burst anyones bubble here, but there are some things that really should begin at a young age, that is, if you hope to move beyond a beginner level. Playing violin is one of them. Perhaps non-musicians will get a little more out of this story, but I found the whole thing rather depressing. 

Winnie by Sally M. Walker Book Review

Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker
Illustrations by Jonathan D. Voss
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Release Date: January 20, 2015

When Harry Colebourn saw a baby bear for sale at the train station, he knew he could care for it. Harry was a veterinarian you see. But he was also a soldier in training during World War I. Harry name the bear Winnie, short for Winnipeg, and brought her along to training in England. At first, the commanders in the army weren't sure about having a bear in the army, but soon she was the regiment's much-loved mascot. War is no place for a bear though. Heartbroken, but knowing she needed a good home, Harry found her a place at the London Zoo. It was only supposed to be temporary, but Winnie, who was a sweet and kind animal, thrived there. And so she stayed. She was there when a little boy named Christopher Robin came to visit one day and decided he needed a Winnie-the-Pooh of his own.

How in the world did I not know this story? Obviously, there is a ton of information out there about this and a movie, but how is this not common knowledge? I knew all about Christopher Robin's stuffed animal collection, which are now housed at the New York Public Library. I was aware that Roo was lost in the woods which is why he is missing from the collection. I even know about the supposed music box that may or may not be inside Winnie-the-Pooh, but I did not know about the real Winnie.

Beautifully illustrated, this story brought a tear to my eye not once but twice. Enchanting and sincere, Walker captures the heart of the story. More so than the movie I watched about Winnie, which wasn't bad but felt more like a movie that was simply rushing to get to the end. (see below) Isn't it amazing what one can do in the short medium of picture books? I was glad that the Winnie-the-Pooh tie-in was at the very end, focusing rather on the story of Winnie herself, which was already extraordinary. What an incredibly lucky bear to have found such an incredible man named Harry Colebourne. And lucky for readers everywhere that a little boy named Christopher Robin fell in love with a bear named Winnie.

I would also like to draw attention to another book on the same subject by Lindsay Mattick, the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourne, whose picture book Finding Winnie is coming out next fall.

The New Small Person by Lauren Child Book Review

The New Small Person by Lauren Child 
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: February 10, 2015

Elmore Green is an only child. Until he's not. When the new small person comes along, Elmore is not at all pleased. The new small person knocks over his things, licks his jellybean collection, and doesn't get in trouble for it because they are only small. Elmore wants to return the new small person to wherever it came from.

This is the story of one of my nephews in a nutshell. M was none too happy when O arrived, apparently threatening to kick her at one point. It took him a while to warm up to her, but they seem to be getting on now. A lot sooner than it takes Elmore to adapt to his sibling thank goodness.

The subject matter of this book is nothing extraordinary. I am never particularly thrilled by new sibling books that make the new sibling seem like a bad thing either. It would be perfect for those children who are already experiencing these feelings of jealousy and loss already though. (like my nephew) As with all her books though, there is this adorable quality to them, one that always makes me want to read the book in a British accent.

Perhaps the most interesting and unique aspect of this book, which probably shouldn't be a thing but is, is the skin tone of the characters. Fess up. When was the last time you saw one of these 'new baby' issue books featuring children of color? They exist, but they are definitely few and far between. I found two others in my Internet ramblings. This is not what the book is about, to be sure, but it draws attention because of its rarity. An issue that I am hoping becomes less and less unique as more and more books featuring children of all backgrounds and ethnicities becomes more widespread.

The Last Changeling by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple Book Review

The Last Changeling (The Seelie Wars #2) by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Release Date: November 28, 2014

In book one of the Seelie Wars, Prince Aspen and midwife's apprentice Snail tried to prevent the Seelie War, not realizing that they were starting one instead. Chased by two armies, both of which will kill him, one slower than the other, Aspen and Snail are forced to seek refuge with Professor Odd's traveling troupe. However, safety is an illusion because trouble seems to find these two wherever they go. A hungry troll, Border Lord berserkers, drow, boggles, and a cloaked spy to name a few. As if those weren't bad enough, there is something rather odd about Professor Odd, something more than magic tricks and acting. Something that could be just as dangerous as an army.

What I love about this series is that the authors do not spoon feed their readers. Although a knowledge of Seelie and Unseelie mythology is helpful, this information is also slowly revealed throughout the books, making it a great introduction to the myths. Although it probably obvious to most readers even in the first book, Snail is a changeling, as if the title didn't already let us know. Snail is completely blindsided by this news too, although Prince Aspen is not at all and is rather miffed that Snail didn't know. Isn't she aware that no Seelie or Unseelie has red hair?

What I dislike about this series is the absolute volatile nature of both Snail and Prince Aspen. One wrong word and the two are at one another's throats. Their miscommunications were okay in the first book, but I expected a deeper connection to have formed by the second and was constantly surprised when Snail in particular, treats her companion so poorly. It made her a hard character to like. At least Prince Aspen is trying to learn and grow.

I also felt like the pacing was a bit slow on this one. Although a lot happens, there were sections that felt unnecessary and I wasn't rushing to finish it. In fact, I started and finished two other books while still reading this one because I needed more. I wasn't willing to give up on it completely though because I was intrigued enough to see where the plot was going. I am not sure when the third installment will arrive, but I am interested enough to want to finish the series in its entirety.

One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck Book Review

One Word From Sophia by Jim Averbeck
Illustrations by Yasmeen Ismail
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 16, 2015

Sophia wants a giraffe more than anything in the world. She only has four problems though. Mom, Dad. Uncle Conrad, and the very strict Grand-mama. Her arguments fall on deaf ears though. That is until she says the right word.

Can I tell you how excited I am when I get to read picture books before they have been released? Usually, like all of you, I must get in line for books at the library, reading and reviewing them within the first month or two of release. However, every now and then someone at book club brings in a pile of galleys and I can barely contain myself.

One Word From Sophia is my favorite picture book this year, by far. Sophia is absolutely adorable, wonderfully drawn by Ismail with her little pom pom hairdo and facial expressions. Her family, in a variety of flesh colored hues are smart and witty. Sophia presents her proposals to each family member using their terminology to try and get her way. To her mother, a judge, she tries to argue like a lawyer. She tries pie charts and discipline. What a fantastic early representation of various professions and how they work. Sophia may even have argued that a giraffe would be good for fertilizer. The word poop is used. This will of course make the young ones giggle, as that word is prone to do.

In the end, of course, the magic word is please. And yes, Sophia does actually get a giraffe in the end.

With bright illustrations that will draw in young readers, I definitely think this deserves a place on the bookshelf.

I Don't Want To Be A Frog by Dev Petty Book Review

I Don't Want To Be a Frog b Dev Petty
Illustrations by Mike Boldt
Publisher: Doubleday Books for Young Readers
Release Date: February 10, 2015

Frog has decided that he doesn't want to be a frog. After all, frogs are slimy and wet. Perhaps a cat. Or a rabbit. Or an owl. All sound great, except for the fact that he is a frog. Turns out frogs do have their upsides though. Wolves don't like to eat them.

Be yourself. It isn't a subtle message, but it is told in a humorous and fun way. Sure to appeal to Mo Willems and Jon Klassen, I Don't Want To Be a Frog may just be one of those books that kids force their parents to read over and over and over and over again.

The Case for Loving by Selina Alko Book Review

The Case for Loving: The Fight for Interracial Marriage by Selina Alko
Illustrations by Sean Qualls & Selina Alko
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: January 27, 2015

Mildred loved Richard. Richard loved Mildred. The only problem was that Mildred was black and Richard was white and until 1967 their love was illegal. Unable to get married in their home state of Virginia, Mildred and Richard Loving went to Washington, D.C. in 1958 and tied the knot. But they grew homesick. Returning home was dangerous though and soon Richard, despite the couple being legally married in D.C. and having three children, was arrested. The Lovings decided to fight. They took their case all the way to the Supreme Court, fighting an unfair love that told them that their love was wrong simply based on the color of their skin. They won.

Reminiscent of last years Separate is Never Equal, this book is a fantastic picture book about laws that to the modern generation will seem absurd. Alko and Qualls did a great job of really making these "characters" come to life, a difficult task in a small picture book. There is such warmth in the text and illustrations that leaves no doubt that these two people, despite all the odds, despite so many people being against it, were determined to love on another and be a family.

The way it is written, one can't help but see the parallels for marriage inequality due to sexual orientation. Understanding our history and these stories in their context helps create a dialogue about current issues and I see absolutely no problem with a book that will help provoke in depth conversations concerning equality, diversity, and love.

Gabi, A Girl In Pieces by Isabel Quintero Book Review

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Release Date: October 14, 2014

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn't want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it's important to wait until you're married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, "Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas." Eyes open, legs closed. That's as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don't mind it. I don't necessarily agree with that whole wait until you're married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can't tell my mom that because she will think I'm bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

One of the more interesting books I have read in a while, Gabi has made it onto my list of favorite characters. Even though she has a very unique situation and ethnic flavor, I found her voice strongly resonated with my former teenage self. As someone who has kept a journal since she was eleven, the journal/diary format was very familiar. Gabi acts and sounds like an authentic teenager. This is a remarkable achievement considering that the author is, in fact, an adult. 

Gabi is going through a lot. Her dad is addicted to meth, her aunt is devoutly religious, her best friend is pregnant, and her mother wants Gabi to stay close to home at all protect her virginity. In the midst of all this craziness is one heavyset girl who hoards beef jerky, dreams of having a boyfriend, and is discovering her love of poetry. Sometimes Gabi feels like a spectator in her own life. All this crazy shit is going down around her and here is this Latina girl who is desperately searching for herself and a way out. This may not be our life, but there is something universally human in that. 

My only complaint is that on paper, if one were to make a list, this book hits all the "talking points" all the diversity issues. Mexican main character who is overweight, drug addict for a father, gay friend whose parents kicked him out of the house, pregnant best friend, abortion, rape, religious zealotry, sex education, dating, leaving home. All of this with a strong feminist slant, which doesn't bother me at all, but talk about not subtle.

Maybe it doesn't need to be either. Perhaps the beauty of a book like this is its lack of subtly. The understanding that although it is unlikely that all of this would happen to one person, it does happen. That there are teenagers out there dealing with some of this. It is one girl's story told with heartbreaking frustration and desire. Essentially, it is about finding oneself amidst turmoil. 

Wild Things! by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson & Peter Sieruta Book Review

Wild Things! Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature by Betsy Bird, Julie Danielson & Peter Sieruta
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: August 5, 2015

Did Laura Ingalls once cross paths with a band of mass murderers? Why didn't Maurice Sendak end up illustrating The Hobbit? Why was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory banned? This is a book for adults who love children's book and are seeking out the tidbits, the morsels, the gossip, and the anecdotes that surround the beloved genre.

When I was in grad school, Betsy Bird came and gave a talk about books and included a number of stories that she was already gathering for this book. I followed Peter Sieruta's blog religiously. Based on these two things along with my own knowledge of children's books and their history, there wasn't much that was surprising in this book. Those not familiar will find a treasure trove of information if they are patient enough to deal with the strange way in which this book is put together. There is a clear "agenda", for lack of a better word. The authors themselves have an idea of what they consider worthy children's literature and are quick to point out what they consider to be good both stylistically and morally. For example, an entire chapter praising LGBTQ literature and their authors, while poking fun at celebrity authors a few chapters later.

Missing from this book was a lot of psychology as well. The authors have a clear bias toward celebrity authors (I do too sometimes), but they don't delve any deeper than their opinions and that of other non-celebrity authors. I wanted to know the impact these stories and reading in general has on these children. Do more children read a book that has been banned? How did these books influence future generations? Are there titles in which a great deal of hoopla was raised about its moral superiority, only to never be heard from again? I imagine there are quite a few in that last category. The authors tell us about the conflict between good and bad fiction for children as perceived by critics and gatekeepers and not the children themselves, but as another reviewer put it "little exploration into the reasons why this dichotomy might exist."

To be clear, these three authors are experts in their field, well-versed in the way of children's literature and their histories. However, this book fails to do what it claims it will do, which is to reveal secret and sometimes naughty stories behind our beloved kids books. Instead, we are treated to three people's opinions in a book that keeps losing its focus. There's some good meat here, but there is also a lot of air, which made the book not very filling for me.

The Terrible Two by Jory John & Mac Barnett Book Review

The Terrible Two by Jory John & Mac Barnett
Illustrations by Kevin Cornell
Publisher: Amulet Books
Release Date: January 13, 2015

Miles Murphy is not happy to be moving to Yawnee Valley, a sleepy town that's famous for one thing: cows. In his old school, he was known as one of the town's best pranksters, but at his new school, Miles soon learns that Yawnee Valley already has a prankster and boy is he is good. The mystery kid offers to work with Miles, to combine their pranking skills, but Miles refuses. Thus begins the prank war where epic trickery that forces both boys to up their pranking games.

Mac Barnett writes some funny stuff. Jory Jon writes some funny stuff. The two together is just scary. This early middle grade reader is almost perfect in its conceit and wonderfully executed. The pranks are epic, with just enough fantasy adventure thrown in to not offend adults. The Yawnee Valley prankster is rather obvious, (not only because the cover gives it away) but one feels that Miles might actually deserve to have a couple of pranks played on him for once. He is so assured of his pranking genius, but what happens when you meet the ultimate prankster? Miles seeks glory, but his enemy seeks only the genius of the prank. I laughed out loud a number of times and would be perfect for the kid who may be a little too young for the Wimpy Kid series. I am not sure if this is a planned series, but I look forward to more pranks from Miles and Niles.  

Blown Away by Rob Biddulph Book Review

Blown Away by Rob Biddulph
Publisher: HarperCollins
Release Date: January 20, 2015

A brave young penguin take an exciting kite flight to a tropical paradise, but quickly realizes that what he really wants is home.

I have to admit, I wasn't blown away by this book. (heh heh, blown away...get it?) The illustrations with their bright colors, particularly the use of blues and oranges, flowed well throughout. There is a wonderful sense of movement. However, the story wasn't very inspiring with the usual cast of characters and a few that just didn't make sense. Where did the polar bear come from? The haiku like rhymes worked to move the story along, but again, it just felt like too much of the same. I always add this caveat though when I mention this "same" idea: Young children are usually not aware of what came before, not do they care if books repeat similar storylines or subjects. For them, everything is new and so I do see this book having a strong audience, particularly children with penguin obsessions.

The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill Book Review

The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Release Date: September 16, 2014

When Ned and his identical twin brother tumble from their raft into a raging river, only Ned survives. Barely. Villagers are convinced that the wrong boy was rescued, the wrong boy lived. His mother, keeper of an ancient magic and the local witch, saves Ned's life by sowing the soul of his dead brother into him. Perhaps this is the reason why Ned grows up weak and slow, unable to read, with a terrible stutter. While his mother is away, after saving the life of the Queen, bandits come for the magic. Not knowing what else to do, Ned takes all the magic into himself. He is sure that it will kill him and is a bit surprised when it doesn't.

Meanwhile in another kingdom, separated from Ned's village by a magical forest, a terrible boy King has decided that he wants the magic. He hires bandits to do the job, not knowing that the Bandit King he hired has some magic of his own and he wants more. Áine sees what the magic has done to her father though, so when Ned turns up, magic rippling on his skin, she is determined to get Ned as far away from her father as possible. Together they set out to return Ned to his kingdom, unaware of an even older magic and a prophecy that is already changing them.

From the moment Ned's brother's soul was stitched into him, I was hooked. The consequences of this magic are huge and dark. Despite warnings of what the magic can and can't do, should and shouldn't, those ideas quickly become twisted in this world where magic must be bent by will to do good. Once Ned takes the magic into himself, he finds that it has many voices and they aren't all good. Some encourage him to kill while others say to flee. Magic is dangerous and old.

The characters felt a bit archetypal at times, full of fairy tale tropes, but I found myself warming to them as the story progressed. I especially like Áine who is clever and no-nonsense in a way that made her relateable to me. Ned was a bit more of a silent (literally) mystery for a while. I was never entirely sure what his feelings were in regards to his brother or Áine or how he felt to be the vessel for such powerful magic. Frustrated to be sure, but his main goal was simply to return home with little thought of what he will do once he gets there. We were already in his head, I just wish we could have gone a little deeper.

There is a lot of great back story here too that the main characters never really know about. The Bandit King has no idea where his magic pendant comes from, only that it helps him and he wants more power because of it. It twists him. Stones, ancient and old, whisper of the wrong boy who is coming to free them. Although there was a lot of foreshadowing and it was predictable in nature, I never found myself frustrated by it. We know the Stones will take back their magic. It has been prophesied. The reader doesn't know however, how that will happen. Like a true quest story, it is the journey that matters.