A Year in Review 2013

Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud:
Winger by Andrew Smith
A Big Guy Took My Ball by Mo Willems
Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

New-To-Me Series That On One Hand I'm Glad To Have Found, But On The Other, I'm Seriously Horrified That I'd Missed Out On Until Now:
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Legend by Marie Lu

Sequel Happiness:
Shades of Earth by Beth Revis
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Impulse by Steven Gould

Book That Made Me Crave Food:
Fat Angie by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Most Enjoyable Bad Book:
Breath by Sarah Crossan

Forgettable Plot Saved By a Fresh, Honest Voice: 
Splintered by A.G. Howard

Book(s) I Was Most Surprised By:
Homesick by Kate Klise
The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Made of Pure Awesome:
Codename Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This Girl is Different by JJ Johnson
Fallout by Todd Strasser

Best Book Hidden Under the Worst Cover:
Below by Meg McKinlay
Impulse by Steven Gould

More Adorable Than Sparkling Puppies:
Robomop by Sean Taylor and Edel Rodriguez
Dream Animals by Emily Winfield Martin

YA Book Most Likely to be Loved By Adults More Than Actual YAs:
One + One = Blue by MJ Auch
Janie Face to Face by Caroline Cooney

Best Vampire Book for Twilight Haters:
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Biggest Disappointment: 
Fire by Kristin Cashore
Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things by Cynthia Voigt
The Eye of Minds by James Dashner

Books that Invoked Irrationally Violent Emotions in me:
Juvie by Steve Watkins
Fallout by Todd Strasser

Books I Loved For Their Imperfect Heroines:
Codename Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Fat Angie by E.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Best Book For Wimpy Kid Lovers:
I Even Funnier: A Middle School Story (I Funny) by James Patterson & Chris Grabenstein
Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett by Tom Angleberger

Favorite Roadtrip Book:
Viva Jacquelina! By L.A. Meyer

Best Action/Adventure Book:
W.A.R.P. The Reluctant Assassin by Eoin Colfer
The Hostage Prince by Jane Yolen & Adam Stemple

Books that were weird just to be weird:
The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

Sci-fi's that made me think there is still a future for this genre (future, get it):
Impulse by Steven Gould
Earthfall by Mark Walden
All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill

Books I lent out to people multiple times:
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

Worst Book of the Year:
Time Fetch by Amy Herrick
Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck Lee Tailfeather Book Review

Architecture According to Pigeons by Speck lee Tailfeather (aka Stella Gurney)

I am afraid that this is one seriously niche book. Entirely educational, this is a book the older child, that is if they want to read it themselves. Amazon says it is for ages 4-8, but unless a child is very interested in architecture, I can't imagine this being a go-to read. Or better put, I just taught my four-year-old nephew what architecture was a week and a half ago and he wasn't very interested in the concept and I know he wouldn't sit still for a book this text heavy.

That said, for the niche that the book is for, I think it is perfect. It has a wonderful perspective (the pigeon), beautiful illustrations, and lots of great facts. I am be no means an architecture expert, but I felt a little more educated on this subject and reading this book.

Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder Book Review

Fraidyzoo by Thyra Heder

Little T is afraid to go to the zoo, but she doesn't know why, so her family agrees they will not go until they figure out why she is afraid. With a lot of creativity and patience they set out to find Little T's fear.

The mark of any good picture book is the marriage between text and illustrations. Fraidyzoo is a perfect merge of the two. Cute and funny, I absolutely loved how Little T's family created all the animals from the zoo using various household items and a lot of imagination. As the story continues, the costumes get more and more elaborate too. Going back through it a second time I found all kinds of cute little things added into the illustrations and can I just say...the poor cat. There is a cat in every picture and the things this animal get subjected to. Adorable. And the things that a child could come up with. The storytime possibilities are endless.

Whale Shines by Fiona Robinson Book Review

Whale Shines: An Artistic Tale by Fiona Robinson

The big undersea art show is about to get under way and Whale wants to be a part, but he isn't sure how since he has no real talent, at least none like the hammerhead shark or octopus. However, with the help of his plankton friends, Whale discovers that he can bring his unique view of the world to all of his friends.

Apparently the ocean is a secret Greenwich Village where Jackson Pollock is a fish and hammerhead sharks use shipwrecks as their artistic canvas. I enjoyed this in spite of myself. The writing felt a little flat to me, but there was enough charm and some serious underwater trivia as well as some outstanding art that I found delightful.

Fossil by Bill Thomson Book Review

Fossil by Bill Thomson

In this wordless picture book, a little boy discovers a rock, but when he accidentally trips and the rock breaks open he finds a fossil, one that comes to life before his eyes. Yet, he invites disaster when he finds the fossil of a pterodactyl.

On the one hand I loved this book, simply because it was wordless. I love the idea of telling a story simply through pictures and Bill Thomson's illustrations are beautifully realistic. However, for a book that has a disclaimer at the beginning about what a fossil is, it concerns me that the book is basically encouraging children to smash rocks open to find fossils and then smash the priceless fossils...that is if you imagine a pterodactyl has come to life. So basically, although the book seems like a non-fiction title, it is not. Purely fiction here folks, which is fine and this is a fine addition to the wordless picture book genre.

Cheese Belongs to You by Alexis Deacon Book Review

Cheese Belongs to You by Alexis Deacon
Illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

This is Rat Law: Cheese Belongs to You
Unless another rat comes along who is bigger, quicker, stronger, scarier, hairier, dirtier...or the boss wants it.

I can't say I love pictures of hair, scary, dirty rats, but I like that in essence it is a concept book in that it teaches adjectives through a fun medium. And unlike some recent picture books that I have read, there is a nice solution that encourages sharing rather than a all-mine attitude. I think this would be a perfect storytime book.

An Otis Christmas by Loren Long Book Review

An Otis Christmas by Loren Long

It's almost Christmas and the farmer has given Otis his first real Christmas present--a shiny new horn. The animals are all excited because although a big storm is approaching, the horse is about to give birth. Then, in the middle of the night, something goes wrong and the horse is in desperate need of a doctor. But with the heavy snow outside, no one can make it to Doc Bakers...except Otis who begins the perilous trek on impassable roads. Upon arriving though, no one is awake and Otis has to use his new horn. Making it back in time the farm is given a wonderful Christmas gift--a brand new foal.

With the inundation of Christmas picture books, I still find it a wonder that anyone is actually allowed to publish new ones. There are so many out there and they all share such a similar theme that I get bored. And then I remember, children don't remember and don't care if this story may be similar to another story I read 10 years ago. They didn't read it. This is completely new to them. Otis is a cute tractor with an engine of gold and rather fearless. For those who are looking for a Christmas story with no particular religious slant or simply want a story about self-sacrifice and courage, this may be a perfect addition to your library.

Hey, Charleston! by Anne Rockwell Book Review

Hey, Charleston!: The Story of the Jenkins Orphanage Band by Anne Rockwell
Illustrated by Colin Bootman

In 1891, Reverend Daniel Joseph Jenkins opened an orphanage in Charleston, South Carolina. Needing a way to support them, he asked for the townspeople to donate old band instruments, sometimes left over from the Civil War  in an effort to start some kind of orchestra or band. He found teachers and soon the orphanage had a band. And what a band it was. The people of Charleston loved the Jenkins Orphanage Band whose unique style of music "rag", a rhythm inspired by the African-American people who lived on the South Carolina and Georgia coast. The band became world famous and performed as far away as Paris and London and still exists today.

What a fantastic biography. A little wordy, but told at a pace that would keep the 6-9 crowd engaged, I felt like I learned a ton after reading this story. How "The Charleston" came to be such a famous dance, where "rag" originated, and more importantly the story of the band and a very generous man who started it all. Illustrated to perfection , I think this is a must for anyone looking to add something to their collection of books dealing with subjects like music, history, biographies, or social-studies.

And since the band, not the orphanage, has been disbanded, here is a clip from the 1930's of the Jenkins Orphanage Band.

Bugs In My Hair by David Shannon Book Review

 Bugs In My Hair by David Shannon

As a child, I along with a number of classmates got Lice. The feelings of embarrassment and ickiness and baths with weird soaps created an indelible imprint on me. If only this book had existed then, to relieve me of my worries, to let me know I was not alone, and to let me laugh at these crazy bugs having a party in my hair. With his unique illustrations David Shannon sheds light on a rarely written about subject in a way that will bring a smile to your face whether you are currently suffering a louse problem or not. Not to nitpick (see what I did there?), but I kind of wished it had shown that other kids had gotten it too and that he wasn't alone...but hey.

Inhuman by Kat Falls Book Review

Inhuman by Kat Falls

America has been ravaged by a disease that has left the eastern half of the country uninhabitable. Protected by a wall in the west, sixteen-year-old Lane lives with her father, never having known the destruction of the disease that killed millions. When her father goes missing, Lillie learns that her father is a 'Fetch', someone who illegally travels into the east to collect items that were left behind like personal artifacts, heirlooms, and artwork. And Lane must find him or face execution. However, things have changed in the eighteen years since the wall went up, the virus that killed so many has weakened, and instead of killing its victims it mutates them into half-human half-animal variations that would boggle the mind. As Lane travels through the east she learns that her kindness, strength, and training are both a blessing and a curse and not everyone is what they seem.

This is a purely plot-driven book. The plot is set from the first few chapters. The disease, her father's sordid work in the east, and a time frame of 5 days to travel to Chicago and return with Lane's father and a family heirloom. It is this time frame that draws the story forward, rather than anything the characters say or do. This is not to suggest that a plot-driven book is bad, in fact as far as plots and story lines go, this one is quite intriguing and helps keep the pacing rolling along at a good speed. I found the idea of people who can be transformed into animals and may at any time go mad, to be very intriguing as is the question of what it truly means to be human.

What happens in plot-driven stories though is that the characters are thrown around like a pinball within the plot, ricocheting from one moment to the next and the reader is left scrabbling for scraps of characterization wherever we can find it. And as is apparently the standard in Young Adult novels, there is the usual love triangle. I am all for the rouge like character, in fact some of my favorite characters in novels have been rogues, however Falls made her rogue so unlovable and unlikable that all I could think was that if Lane ended up dating/loving/liking this guy, I would just be done with the story. I understand having a rough life and such, but Rafe had very little redeemable qualities and I would have disappointed if the author had gone in that direction.

All that to say, as far as plot-driven books are concerned, this was a fun quick read. I look forward to the second, with some hope as to more controlled characterization and some fun revelations.

The Mischievians by William Joyce Book Review

The Mischievians by William Joyce

Despite William Joyce's always solid illustrations, this was probably my least favorite among his collection. The initial premise is interesting albeit a popular topic within picture books--what happens to all the things that disappear? Joyce's concept is that it is creatures known as Mischievians the Homework Eater, Danglers, Lintbellians, RemoteToters, etc. What doesn't work is that not only are the naming conventions of these creatures rather uncreative, but the humor is limited and the text not so much. With explanations that go on for far too long and the length being much larger than that of a regular picture book at 52 pages, I was quickly bored and if I was bored, I can't imagine how much more a child would be. It's only saving grace was the encouragement for children to create and add their own mischievians to the back of the book, which would make it an interesting read for a storytime if it wasn't so darned long.

Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett Book Review

Kid Tea by Elizabeth Fiocelli Book Review

Kid Tea by Elizabeth Ficocelli
Illustrated by Glin Dibley

A lot of the picture books I have read lately have been written and illustrated by the same person, which I am wondering if this is a new trend or simply the kinds of books I have been getting my hands on. That is beside the point though.

Where you a messy kid growing up? How often did your mother have to dunk you in the bath to wash off your recent shenanigans? In my case it was usually tree related messes. I destroyed an Easter dress once when climbing in a tree covered in sap. In Kid Tea, each day the children get into various kid-related messes like mud, Popsicles, paint, makeup, grass, and blueberries and after being dunked in the bath they turn the water different colors as they bathe. I like the concept of kids in the tub being Kid Tea. Dibley, whose has illustrated Don't Laugh At Me, Tub-Boo-Boo, and The Stupendous Dodgeball Fiasco, was a perfect choice with his cartoon stylized illustrations.