Arlo Rolled by Susan Pearson Book Review

Arlo Rolled by Susan Pearson
Illustrations by Jeff Ebbeler
Publisher: Two Lions
Release Date: April 8, 2014

Arlo who is a pea who wants to be free, so off he rolls. He meets a slug who wants to eat him for brunch, a bunch of ants who want him for lunch, and still he rolls. Finally Arlo comes to rest by a wall and he sleeps beneath the earth until one day he grows to become a plant of his own, with his very own peas in a pod.

It's a story about independence that isn't heavy handed with the additional value of being about photosynthesis. It is a perfect springtime book with an anthropomorphized pea and fun illustrations that I think kids will want to read over and over again.

Reading Rainbow Kickstarter

If you haven't seen or helped fund this Kickstarter project then I highly recommend jumping on board. I have read about why they cancelled Reading Rainbow in 2009 and honestly, I find the reasoning to be very flawed. Let's bring Reading Rainbow back to kids and instill in the next generation a love of books, reading, and learning. 

Ben & Zip by Joanne Linden Book Review

Ben & Zip: Two Short Friends by Joanne Linden
Publisher: Flashlight Press
Release Date: April 1, 2014

 Ben is short, but his best friend Zip is even shorter. One day while strolling along the boardwalk a summer shower blows in. There's a clap of thunder, and Zip runs off in fear. Being short, Ben has a hard time seeing through the knees and bellies and no matter how high he climbs, he still can't find Zip. Eventually Zip is found beneath the boardwalk, where he and his friend enjoy some hugs and popcorn.

I must be a complete dunce, because when I first started reading this story, based on the cover, I thought Ben & Zip were the two little boys on the cover, not a boy and his dog. Who is that second little boy on the cover? Nobody. Just some random kid who has lost their ice cream to a dog. What a strange choice for the cover art if that child has nothing to do with the story.

Once I realized it was a dog not a kid who was missing, the story got considerably better. There is a fascinating array of different kinds of people that Ben encounters as he searches for Zip. This is both funny and also distracting as I wanted to linger on those pages and didn't really care if they found Zip. (It's a picture book folks. I assumed that Zip would be found eventually) The illustrations were cute, but I am still left wondering, who is that other little boy on the cover?

Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe Book Review

Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe
Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 4, 2014

Brother Hugo is unable to return his library book -- the letters of St. Augustine -- because a bear at it. Because of the bear's appetite, Brother Hugo is instructed to borrow another monastaery's copy and create a replacement by hand. However, once a bear gets a taste of a good book, it is difficult to quit and Brother Hugo barely makes it to the monastery and back without losing another copy of the precious book. Brother Hugo then sets about on the painstaking task of creating a twelfth-century manuscript using sheep skin, hand lettering, and careful transcription until he has a perfect copy.

As someone who works in book production, although clearly the 21st century type, I am fascinated by the construction of books. What then is more exciting than a picture book with a fantastic story that discusses early forms of writing, the creation of books, and how an inter-library system worked in monasteries. I was deeply saddened by Brother Hugo's lack of resolve in the face of a bear. Believe me, if I worked that hard on a book and it was one of the very few copies in the world, I promise I would not let a bear get anywhere near it no matter how letter hungry he is. The illustrations hearken back to medieval letter work, but have a nice modern flair as well.

The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell Book Review

The Castle Behind Thorns by Merrie Haskell
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Release Date: May 27, 2014

When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. Old stories say that the castle was abandoned after a terrible earthquake, but Sand quickly begins to wonder if those stories are true. Everything in the castle has been broken and split in half, from the apples to the anvils, hammers to stuffed birds. The food has not rotted away, no bugs or birds live inside the walls, and the thorny brambles have a mind of their own. Not sure what else to do and unable to escape, Sand does the only thing he knows how to do, he fires up the castle's forges and begins to mend things. However, as he begins to set things right in the castle, strange things begin to happen. Sand finds the body of a princess and after respectfully laying her back within her tomb, she inexplicably comes back to life. Along with the girl Perrotte, they continue to set the castle right, but there are some things that cannot be mended, especially the anger of a girl who was unjustly murdered.

This book was fantastic! That exclamation mark is there so that you understand how fantastic I thought this book was. Both characters were exceptionally bright, active, and determined. Sand never wallows in the fact that he is trapped in this castle. He tries to find a way out and when it becomes clear that he cannot, he begins to set things right. Like a survivor story, Sand spends his time trying to find food and water, repairing pots, and mending tables. He speaks of the imagination that is needed to be a blacksmith and I absolute love that this young man, despite his father wanting him to further his education at University, just wants to be a blacksmith. Sand loves the labor, the things he can produce, the artistic nature of blacksmithing and this is such a strong desire within him that he is willing to defy his father.

Perrotte, is different of course. Her story is one of pain, anger, and confusion. Someone murdered her, yet she desperately does not want to remember. To open that door will lead to more pain and anger. She is cautious at first, afraid to show Sand her pain and sorrow, but as their friendship grows, she begins to see things differently. In these moments, when dealing with Perrotte, Sand shows considerable maturity an wisdom.

There were so many things to love about this book. The characters, the pacing, even the little twists, were all so cleverly done. It reminded me of some of my other favorite fantasy books and although I love that it was a standalone novel, it left me wanting more. I think I shall go reread the Lioness Quartet now.

The Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G. Campbell Book Review

The Mermaid and the Shoe by K.G. Campbell
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Release Date:April 1, 2014

All of King Neptune's daughters boast a special talent, every one except Minnow. The only thing Minnow is good at is asking questions, which her sisters tell her is a useless talent. When she finds an odd object (a shoe), she sets out to find what it is and in the process, find out who she is.

Despite the obvious moral lessons that are supposed to be learned here, this book never read as didactic. It read instead like a classic fairytale with things set in threes and the answer lying just above the surface. The reader, being obviously a landmaid or landmen, would recognize what the shoe is, but the story is in the quest of the thing. Beautifully illustrated, with the mermaids hair waving in the ocean water and playful with the jellyfish plugging their "ears", I think this would be great for fans of Ariel or just princess stories in general.

Hidden by Loic Dauvillier Book Review

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust by

Publisher: First Second
Release Date: April 1, 2014

In this gentle, poetic young graphic novel, Dounia, a grandmother, tells her granddaughter the story even her son has never heard: how, as a young Jewish girl in Paris, she was hidden away from the Nazis by a series of neighbors and friends who risked their lives to keep her alive when her parents had been taken to concentration camps.

The Holocaust is a hard subject to broach with children. As a child, I was fascinated by the subject for reasons that I can't even put into words now, but it began with fiction. Devil's Arithmetic, Number the Stars, The Shadow Children, and many many more became part of my regular reading. This book is a fantastic addition to those stories. 

Told with honesty, simplicity, and from the perspective of a child, Hidden feels like an autobiography. It shows the people who were willing to help, loss, betrayal, and the continued pain decades afterward. More importantly, it showed these things through graphic novel style illustrations that will draw in young readers, even the reluctant ones. I can't say enough good things about this book and am so grateful that it has been translated into English. 

Poor Doreen by Sally Llyod-Jones Book Review

Poor Doreen: A Fishy Tale by Sally Lloyd-Jones
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Release Date: March 11, 2014

Mrs. Doreen Randoph-Potts is on a mission: to visit her second cousin twice removed who has just welcomed 157 babies. However, the day doesn't go as swimmingly as she planned and soon poor Doreen finds herself on the end of a hook and possibly soon to be dinner.

Poor Doreen is a rather oblivious fish. Even with the hook in her mouth, Doreen never realizes what kind of danger she really is in, and that is what makes the story cute. Children will easily pick out the dangerous situations that poor Doreen is getting herself into, but Doreen remains blissfully ignorant throughout the entire story. This is perhaps a bit concerning as Doreen does eventually have to go home, but with her chipper unobservant nature, I am sure she will arrive home just fine.

The Grudge Keeper by Mara Rockliff Book Review

The Grudge Keeper by Mara Rockliff
Illustrations by Eliza Wheeler
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Release Date: April 1, 2014

No one in the town of Bonnyripple ever kept a grudge. No one, that is, except old Cornelius, the Grudge Keeper. Ruffled feathers, petty snits, minor tiffs and major huffs, insults, umbrage, squabbles, dust-ups, and imbroglios-the Grudge Keeper received them all, large and small, tucking each one carefully away in his ramshackle cottage. When a fierce wind blows through Bonnyripple, the residents are forced to rescue Cornelius and actually deal with their various disputes.

Reading like a classic morality tale, The Grudge Keeper is simple and adorable. It is written with the sole purpose to teach children the importance of not holding a grudge and the value of settling disagreements. The illustrations have such a classical approach to them that at first I thought this was a reprint of an older book. As a logophile, I also loved the various words used to describe various kinds of grudges.

Sprout Helps Out by Rosie Winstead Book Review

Sprout Helps Out by Rosie Winstead
Publisher: Dial
Release Date: March 20, 2014

Sprout is small, but she knows she is good at helping. Sadly, sometimes Sprout's helping backfires like she makes her own breakfast only to overflow the cereal or almost vacuums up the cat. Yet, her mom loves her no matter how big the mess is that Sprout makes.

I loved the illustrations, especially the cover illustration where Sprout has picked a giant sunflower for her mother. The story itself felt more like a wink at moms than a story that children will really enjoy, but who knows, children's favorite picture books are rarely logical. My favorite involved a dog hatching from an egg and I don't even like dogs.

Big Ideas for Little Minds: Why Children's Literature Deserves Respect

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown
There is a lot of anti-children's book sentiment out there. Not that someone thinks children shouldn't read, but rather that children's and young adult books are an inferior form of writing and reading and should be mocked, ridiculed, and belittled by journalists and more "serious writers" (and their readers). Of course, this infuriates many people in the children's writing community as one would expect. There have been some great responses to this too. Some I have liked more than others. Honestly, as someone who has been working with children's books for years, I am so used to it and I simply can't get upset about the book snobs anymore. There are people out there who will read Salinger, Faulkner, and Sayers and to them, only high literary fiction is worth reading. Some will turn their noses up at the idea that anyone could find value in a book about teen superheroes or child detectives. As a lover of all the written word, I find immense value in all books, even the ones that I dislike or disagree with. I have a serious dislike of romance, especially in my action adventure stories, however I would never make fun nor tell someone a romance book can't be both good and literary. Here are some links of the articles and their rebuttles that I am speaking of:

The original articles:
     Out-of-Body Experience by A.J. Jacobs
     John Green and His Nerdfighters Are Upending the Summer Blockbuster Model
     MFA vs POC
     Adults Should Read Adult Books

The rebuttles:
     Teen Librarian Toolbox: Dear Media, Let me help you write that article on YA literature
     Anne Ursu: On 'The John Green Effect,' Contemporary Realism, and Form as a Political Act
     Beyond Relevance to Literary Merit: Young Adult Literature as "Literature"

Personally, I think Phillip Pullman put it best when he said, "One mistake that adults used to make about children's books, is to think that children's book deal with trivial things. Little things that please little minds, and little concerns about little people. And, so, nothing could be further from the truth. Quite the contrary, it's been my observation that a lot of highly praised adult books, or highly successful adult books, in recent years have dealt with the trivial things. Such as, "Does my bum look big in this?" or "Will my favorite football team win the cup?" and "Oh dear, my girlfriend's left me, whatever am I going to do?". Whereas the children's books have dealt with ultimate questions: "Where do we come from?," "What's the nature of being a human being?," "What must I do to be good?" These are profound questions, very deeply important questions. And they are being dealt with. Largely, not in the books that adults read, but in the books that children read."

The Living by Matt de la Pena Book Review

The Living by Matt de la Pena
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release: November 12, 2013

Shy took a summer job on a luxury cruise liner to earn some extra money to help his mom and sister out. It will be hard work, but Shy doesn't mind so much, after all there will be free food and maybe even a few hot girls. Then the Big One hits. An earthquake that takes out most of the west cost of the States and creates a tsunami that the cruise ship cannot hope to survive. Shy's life goes from worrying about getting the girl, to surviving when there is no hope of rescue.

That sounds like a rather promising premise, right? There is even this odd mystery where, in the first chapter, Shy is unable to stop a passenger from committing suicide, one that is somehow linked to him in more ways than he can understand.  With such an opening, I was surprised and bored to find that nothing much happened for sixteen more chapters. Sixteen chapters where Shy swoons over a girl who happens to be engaged, worries about someone following him, pines after said girl, meets some snotty teenagers, swoons some more, and we are introduced to a few of his friends.  There is some setup and world building, but nothing that I couldn't have gotten through a few flashbacks or just two or three chapters. Obviously, I am a little biased toward romance being in my action books though, so take that for what it is worth.

By the time the tsunami arrived, I was just dying for some kind of action. The book delivered in this aspect. A lot of people die. There are more tsunamis and sharks and very little in the way of provisions. I liked this full on survival mode part of the book and what's more, I liked Shy at this point too.

Then there is this third part that I don't want to spoil, but I will say this: I absolutely hate it when a character knows something and instead of bringing these people who are clearly on your side into the circle of trust, you just leave them hanging. There is a character in this book, who although I think is supposed to be good, is directly responsible for over 70 people losing their lives. The reason he is responsible is because he knew they were going to be killed and did not think it was necessary to tell a single person that their lives were in danger. Not a single one. This is either a setup for a really twisted and untrustworthy character or lazy writing. Considering I just started a book in which this happens, I am leaning towards lazy writing. Writers--please please please--if you have a character who has some solid information like say, someone is trying to kill you, let the other characters know. Let the other characters try to survive in a way that is believable for their character, but don't keep it a secret as a plot device because it is absolutely ridiculous. I will be checking my book shortly to make sure that I never do this.

Although there is an intriguing mystery although one that was pretty obvious, I found the romance cloying, the pacing to be all over the place, and characters who were sometimes good and sometimes overly secretive to the point of frustration. I probably won't be rushing to read the next one.

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires Book Review

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Release Date: April 1, 2014

No one said making the most magnificent thing would be easy, but why is it so hard? No matter how many different ways the little girl tries, she just can't seem to make the thing in her head come out in real life. However, sometimes you just have to walk away from something for a bit in order to discover the most magnificent thing!

This is the perfect book for a budding young inventor or engineer. For that kid who is always trying to make things or has an obsession with Lifehacks. It is about the creative engineering process and the perseverance to follow through even when things get maddingly frustrating. It is one of those rare picture books that includes math, engineering, and the importance of trial and error. It flies in the face of the modern concept of perfectionism, for even though the most magnificent thing is just what this little girl wants, it is not by any means, perfect.

Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood Book Review

Bad Bye, Good Bye by Deborah Underwood
Illustrations by Johnathan Bean
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 1, 2014

Moving is never easy, especially for kids. Bad trucks, bad moving guys, bad waves, and bad byes. However, at the end of that long drive is another place full of new friends, fireflies, and climbing trees.

As a person who moved almost nine times before I was nine, I appreciate a good moving story. In fact, this story brought back memories of one of those scary moves where we moved a couple states away. I remember not feeling well, mild depression, anger, crying, and a whole range of emotions in between. After not acclimating well to my new home, there were numerous tear-filled moments where I would tell my parents that I just wanted to move back home. It took many many years for my new home to really feel like that and another big move before I realized how much I had grown to like my adopted state.

The anxiety of moving, even for a child, can be considerable and anything to help alleviate some of those fears is much needed. This book handles it with understanding and clarity in a way that even a young child can understand and relate to.

The Day I Lost My Superpowers by Michael Escoffier Book Review

The Day I Lost My Superpowers by Michael Escoffier
Illustrations by Kris Di Giacomo
Publisher: Enchanted Lion Books
Release Date: April 1, 2014

Every kid can be a superhero although it does take a good deal of practice and a few mistakes. A cute book with winks to the reader, it wasn't groundbreaking, but it was fun. Strangely enough my favorite part was the heavy paper the book was printed on. Yes, you know I work in book production when I am noticing the weight of paper. Hear me out though, I like the heavier stock for a picture book because it would make it much more difficult to tear the pages, a real concern when you are reading a book with a three-year-old.

The Almost Fearless Hamilton Squidlegger by Timothy Basil Ering Book Review

The Almost Fearless Hamilton Squidlegger by Timothy Basil Ering
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: April 8, 2014

Hamilton Squidlegger is fearless! Well, almost. During the day he can best all the frackensnappers, skelecragons, and bracklesneeds in the swamp, but at night he quakes in terror. Will his father be able to help Hamilton remain fearless in his own mud all night? Timothy Basil Ering brings his signature energetic touch to this sweet story of father and son.

I am not entirely sure what Hamilton Squidlegger is although I am leaning toward frog. Whatever he is, he is fabulously drawn with a personality that just leaps off the page. The illustrations are so much fun and I was surprised to find out that this artist did the illustrations for The Tale of Despereaux and not so surprised to see that he also did Frog Belly Rat Bone. The story is about bravery and how to overcome fears with a nice bit of swashbuckling to make it fun and ridiculous. Fun and colorful, I think kids are really going to like this one.

Dangerous by Shannon Hale Book Review

Dangerous by Shannon Hale
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Release Date: March 4, 2014

When Maisie Danger Brown wins a contest to spend a week at an astronaut space camp, she can't believe her luck. After all, she only has one hand and who has ever heard of a one-handed astronaut? She even meets a boy at space camp whose name, Wilder, seems to match her own dangerous one. However, there is more going on at space camp than meets the eye and soon Maisie is sucked into plot of extraterrestrial proportions. There is only one way to stop it and Maisie is the key. If she is strong enough.

This book started out strong. Maisie, her family, and best friend were quickly established and Maisie was off to space camp before you knew it. Her team goes through training and Maisie falls for the rich and sweet-talking Wilder. They go up in a giant space elevator against all reason or logic and become infected with alien nannite technology that literally changes their DNA. All of that was interesting and snappy and then Maisie escapes and the whole thing fell apart. Kids working as assassins, alien takeovers, jet pack suits, Maisie on the run, and the weirdest and completely implausible ending ever. Oh and perhaps I forgot to mention that the second half of the book is basically one of the most ridiculous love triangle scenarios that I have read. The plot takes a backseat to Maisie's ever increasing obsession with Wilder.

You know what the problem in a lot of stories is? Communication. In order to carry the plot along, authors think that characters keeping secrets from another is how you can do that. I just started the Runaway Prince by Jennifer Nielsen and one of the characters lives was threatened and instead of letting the girl in on the plot, the main character immediately tells her a life, hurts her deeply, and sends her away, as if this strong character can't handle the truth or shouldn't know about threats on her life. That is what happened here. Wilder lies so much to Maisie, but the lies were completely stupid and he could have let her know the truth at any time. Sure the plot would have been different, there wouldn't have been this so-called twist, but it would have been better. Especially since, even when Wilder is such a scumbag that he really does deserve to die, Maisie still can't help but be in love with him. You know, because her heart pitter patters whenever she sees him.

There are also a whole lot of small details that feel like the book was just trying to fulfill the perfect (imaginary) YA novel checklist. Multiethnic character? Check. More than one multiethnic character? Check. Disability? Check. Odd name? Check. Romance? Check. Love Triangle? But of course. Despite all this, I could barely get through this one. When aliens are threatening to destroy humanity, all of it, and you (being a good person) are the only one who can stop it...well, you put on your big girl shoes, ignore the cute boy in the corner, and save the world. If all you can do the entire time is pine after the jackass who is treating you like dirt, you definitely don't deserve the title of heroine.

Surprise by Mies Van Hout Book Review

Surprise by Mies Van Hout
Publisher: Lemniscaat USA
Release Date: April 1, 2014

In this one-word-per-page picture book, Mies Van Hout creates a world of color of beauty. The simple idea of a bird dreaming of becoming a parent and the fruition of that dream is mesmerizingly simple and yet contrasts against the complex subjects of dreams, love, listening, and letting go. The oil pastels on the black canvas are striking and held the interest of my 2 year old nephew very well.

A Thirst For Home by Chrisine Ieronimo Book Review

A Thirst For Home: A Story of Water Across the World by Christine Ieronimo
Illustrations by Eric Velasquez
Publisher: Walker Books for Young Children
Release Date: May 20, 2014

Alemitu, whose name means world, lives with her mother in a poor village in Ethiopia, where she must walk miles for water as hunger roars in her belly. Even though life is difficult, she dreams of someday knowing more about the world. When the situation becomes too desperate, Alemitu's mother takes her to an orphanage hoping that her daughter can have a better life. Soon, an American family adopts Alemitu. In America she becomes Eva, where she has two brothers, a sister, a dad, and a new mom. Although in some ways her life is better, she cannot forget her homeland and the mother who gave up so much for her.

I wasn't originally going to post something today. However, this book showed up in book club yesterday and then I found out that today is Birthmother's Day and tomorrow is Mother's Day. Given the material, it felt rather a poignant book to review on such a day. First off I must say how incredibly happy I am to see a book about adoption that didn't feel like one of those didactic "issue" books on the subject. As I read it, I grew even more excited as it is the story of an older child adoption, from a foreign country, who is part of a multiracial family. It is honest and sad and beautiful all in the same breath. The illustrations are perfect, breathing emotion and beauty into each page.

The through-line about water was a great way to pull everything together. As Alemitu's birthmother says, "All over the world, the clouds make the rain and the rain brings us our water. This connects us to everyone and everywhere. Water is life." I was actually a little surprised by the author's note, because the subject of the story seemed to be about adoption, but the author clearly thinks that water and the lack of it is the real story here. Perhaps that is the big picture. Would Alemitu's mother have had to place her in an orphanage had they had access to regular drinking water? Would Amemitu's story have had so much loss and sadness? 

This story may seem a bit too melancholy, but it is so important. It is important for families like Eva Alemitu's. It is a gateway for deep discussions about birthmothers, adoption, water, multiracial families, poverty, hunger, and hope. Most important, it is about hope.  

At the Same Moment, Around the World by Clotilde Perrin Book Review

At the Same Moment, Around the World by Clotilde Perrin
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: March 11, 2014

At the same moment, all around the world children are doing all sorts of things. While Mitko is chasing after the bus in Sofia, Bulgaria; Khanh is taking a little nap in Hanoi, Vietnam. Clotilde Perrin takes readers around the world into each time zone, exploring not only the different times, but cultures and people, capturing them in a frozen moment.

Time zones are hard and explaining them can be difficult sometimes. Even as an adult I find myself ticking off the time in my head in order to call my friend on the west coast or estimating when would be the best time to send an email to my friend in Shanghai. This story does a great job of capturing those realities, introducing geography, time, and could also be used as an entry point for diversity as well. The art is expressive, filling up the entire page and really giving a sense of unique space. As a lover of maps, my favorite part was the pullout world map in the back of the book.

More Storytelling Tropes That Drive Me Bananas

About a year and a half ago I wrote a post concerning common tropes used in children's books that make me want to chuck a book across the room or at the very least, put down and never pick up again. Most are still true, but I have a list of a few more:

 1. Countdowns I get it. You need a plot device in order to keep the pacing moving along at a good clip. This is doubly important for action books apparently. Here's the thing though...the number is completely arbitrary. We are closing the gate in five days. You have five days to somehow get to Chicago and back or else. The disease takes 48 hours to run its course and kill you, so you have 48 hours to find the cure. Don't get me started with the moment coming down to minutes and seconds. You have 48 hours to find a cure for a deadly disease? Why in the world would you stop to take a nap? You can take a rest afterward and figure out which guy/gal from the love triangle you are going to go with. Two days without sleep isn't a big deal, not with the end of the world at stake. I'm pretty sure adrenaline would keep you going.

 2. Love Triangles Am I the only teen girl who wasn't involved in a love triangle? It seems that teen fiction these days is suggesting that every girl and guy has to be in love and not with just one person. No, one must have two love interests, usually polar opposites who the guy/gal spends most of the book pining after. Eventually at the end of the trilogy, he/she will decide on the more adventurous one who is also the one that would make for a horrible long-term boyfriend. The setting doesn't matter. High school, space, the ocean. Love is also basically that butterfly-in-the-stomach infatuation/lust that sounds so wonderful and romantic I am sure, but is also about as long-lasting as the book itself. Characters are trying to choose between the handsome ignorant jerk and their nerdy best-friend or some other strange combination that makes no sense for that particular character. Of course, we cannot forget that the character will agonize over these two at the most inopportune times and even when one is a complete jerk, will still get fluttery feelings whenever they are around which makes it impossible to think logically. Even if the character is extremely logical, all that disappears in the presence of said human.

 3. Plot Twist Foreshadowing Again, I get it. If you are writing a mystery you have to lay down some clues otherwise the reader is going to think the murderer came out of left field or something. Everything should make sense in the end. However, you cannot go around announcing that there is a plot twist, which seems to be the particular sin of children's books for younger readers. They will never get that this is a mystery so I am going to just tell them so on page one. "Little did Sammy know, but his life was about to change forever." What? Why would you announce something like that? That's the ultimate in telling rather than showing. Let us see how Sammy's life changes, you don't have to announce it up front. It kind of ruins the surprise you know?

4. The Perfect Superhero Grandparent No one stone me for this one, okay? There are a lot of older people out there trying to write kids books these days. Many of them are grandparents. For some reason, these grandparents find the role of grandparent to be a very important role in all the books they write. The grandparent is, of course, always benevolent and kind offering all kinds of sage advice, usually during extended trips to their awesome house. I am not saying grandparents can't be like this, but the truth is not all are. Some grandparents live very far away. Some are too old to go do "fun" things. Others are in nursing homes and retirement centers (loved how the Wimpy Kid series handled that one, by the way). There are grandparents who are wise and loving and others who are crass and judgmental. Some grandparents' homes are full of toys, while others have homes more like museums in which boredom is inevitable. If you are a grandparent trying to write for children, please remember that the story is about and for the child and the starring role really should go to the kid.

5. Unconsciousness In the world of fiction there is this fantasy place where people can be easily and instantaneously hit on the head and this will lead to immediate unconsciousness. The blow is always aimed perfectly and the character either sees black or white. Rarely, despite receiving a very serious blow to the head, do they suffer from a concussion or any other side effects besides a headache. There may even be a few more head whacks throughout the story as the protagonist or antagonist is beaten. Even in moments, like say a tsunami hitting your cruise ship (The Living by Matt de la Pena), where a character is thrown about and drifts in and out of consciousness for half an hour are there any real lasting side effects. In the real world, a head injury that is serious enough to knock a person out would result in a concussion, brain damage, bleeding on the brain, and possibly death. I know, it would be terrible for a character to get knocked on the head and then die. Solution: Stop knocking your characters out. Find another way for time to pass without your character suffering from irreparable brain damage. 

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks! by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen Book Review

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks! by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
Illustrations by Zachariah Ohora
Publisher: Abrams Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 1, 2014

In a classroom full of dinosaurs, everything seems to descend into chaos whenever Tyrannosaurus Rex Wrecks the place.

This is a very simple review. I absolutely love the play on words, the varied and authentic dinosaur names, as well as the colorful illustrations. The formatting, the use of space, and the utter chaos was fun, educational, and something little ones will definitely be able to relate to. After all, who hasn't had a Tyrannosaurus Wrecks kind of day?

Toucan Can! by Juliette MacIver Book Review

Toucan Can! by Juliette MacIver
Illustrations by Sarah Davies
Publisher: Gecko Press
Release Date: March 1, 2014

A tongue-twister of a book that simply asks, can YOU do what Toucan can?

The illustrations were adorable and there was this whole Toucan can mantra that is ideal picture book word play. There were quite a few exotic animals and I imagined the whole place taking place in a zoo because where else would you find a panda, salamander, goose, and Toucan all hanging out together? Despite all the energy of the story though, I wasn't blown away by this one and it left me wanting more. Perhaps something that would be interactive or at least some kind of glossary at the end to tell me what all these different animals were. Yeah, a glossary would have been nice. 

President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett Book Review

 President Taft is Stuck in the Bath by Mac Barnett
Illustrations by Chris Van Dusen
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: March 25, 2014

There are many myths surrounding our US Presidents. George Washington and the cherry tree. Honest Abe. Have you ever heard the one about President Taft who, despite having a special tub made for him, was still too large and got stuck in the bath? This story chronicles the late President's dilemma as he, his wife, and various government officials try to come up with a solution.

Part of me wants to say that this is a story in bad taste. After all, Van Dusen doesn't shy away from the many fat folds that encompassed Taft's girth. There are even two scenes, one involving a scuba diver in the tub (shudder) and one as Taft flies out of the tub that made me cringe. Also, isn't it just a little bit sad that the only thing we really seem to remember about Taft was how large he was?

However, I think kids will find it hysterical. Not only for its possible truth, but because Barnett tells the tale in a way that is reminiscent of the Tall Tales of old and isn't afraid to make the story just a little ridiculous. Then, at the end there is an author's note that includes some facts and a photo of Taft's bathtub. Captain Archie Butt (hahaha) in 1910 once said, "His [President Taft] sense of humor carries him over a good many pitfalls, and sometimes there is a touch of Lincoln in the way he makes use of anecdotes to illustrate a point." This leads me to believe that perhaps Taft himself would have gotten a kick out of this book and that is good enough for me.