Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds Book Review

Nerdy Birdy by Aaron Reynolds
Illustrations by Matt Davies
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release Date: September 22, 2015

Nerdy Birdy likes reading, video games, and reading about video games, which immediately disqualifies him for membership in the cool crows. One thing is clear: being a nerdy birdy is a lonely lifestyle. When he hits his lowest point, Nerdy Birdy discovers other nerdy birds, a whole flock just like him. But what happens when he meets a nerdy birdy who doesn't wear glasses? Why won't the nerdy bird flock accept her?

Rife with nerd stereotypes, Nerdy Birdy is a mix between building self-confidence for nerds while also drilling home the message that nerds aren't cool. As a self-professed nerd, I find depictions like this to be infuriating. I am a nerdy bird. I love reading, video games, Doctor Who, fantasy, sci-fi, and science. I have dabbled in role-playing, am introverted, and could have long drawn-out discussions concerning Star Wars, Star Trek, and Dune. As a hobby, I collect useless facts and information that I like to whip out when people are least expecting it. I also don't wear glasses, have never had braces, am not socially awkward, I don't have a pocket protector or a bow tie (or the female equivalent). In fact, from the outside, I don't look like a stereotypical nerd at all. Although I was by no means the most popular person as a teenager, I was also not the most unpopular either and I found it fairly easy to find others who had some common interests. Sure they didn't share them all, but then who can?

My point is this, I do not like books that even suggest to a child that someone who is nerdy is not cool. I don't like books that propagate this absurd notion that all nerds and geeks are social outcasts. The only time I would read this book to a child is if they were a bit nerdy and were being bullied because of it, which puts this book solidly into the "issues" category in my mind.

Over in the Wetlands by Caroline Starr Rose Book Review

Over in the Wetlands: A Hurricane-on-the-Bayou Story by Caroline Starr Rose
Illustrations by Rob Dunlavey
Publisher: Schwartz & Wade
Release Date: July 14, 2015

As the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina has come and gone, there has been a steady stream of hurricane related children's books. From picture books to young adult and everything in between. This particular story sifts through the experiences of animals in the bayou and how they react and whether the storms. For me the story was a bit deceiving though. In this story the animals just hunker down and wait out the storm. Sure, some trees are blown over and whatnot, but it read more like a bedtime story than one marking a natural disaster. Where was the saltwater intrusion that happens to bogs and inland fresh water? Or the birds that are blown from trees and sometimes hundreds of miles away from their homes? What about fresh water flooding or turbidity? It felt very much like the story was suggesting that when hurricanes come, animals just tuck into their homes and everything is all right, which felt do disingenuous for non-fiction.

The illustrations are lovely and do capture the darkness of a hurricane, but it wasn't enough for me to really embrace this book.

Bear and Squirrel Are Friends...Yes Really! by Deb Pilluti Book Review

Bear and Squirrel Are Friends...Yes Really! by Deb Pilluti
Publisher: Paul Wiseman Books
Release Date: September 15, 2015

Sure, sometimes bears eat squirrels, but they can be friends too. Yes really!

This is a simple story, but it is a cute one. I don't know about anyone else, but there have been times when people told me that I shouldn't be friends with someone, maybe just because we are different. What do you have in common? How are you two friends? It won't last. Yes, people have said these things and all those friendships are well into their second decade. And s I am a huge fan of any book that tells children that they should be friends with whomever no matter how unlikely.

The Marvels by Brian Selznick Book Review

The Marvels by Brian Selznick
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: September 15, 2015

The Marvels are a acting dynasty known throughout London, but they are also a family that seems to have quite a string of bad luck. Sunken ships, dead brothers, abandoned babies, and madness follow them throughout the generations. Fast forward to 1990, where Joseph has run away from his private school and is determined to find shelter with his Uncle. What he discovers is a very odd man living in a strange house that seems to be stuck in time. Birds seem to chirp out of nowhere, the food is left half eaten, and there are remnants of the Marvels everywhere you look. Joseph begins to scratch the surface and finds a mystery that is far more complex than he ever imagined.

As with his previous books, Selznick once again proves his astonishing ability to create a story that looks and feels like a film. From the close up snapshots, to the imagery within his prose, I found myself emotionally invested in the story from the very beginning.What I loved even more than the first half of the story that involved the illustrated Marvels and more than young runaway Joseph, is the semi-twist in which the real story is even more compelling than that of the Marvels.

As I read it became clear to me that Selznick has his own emotional attachment to this story, which is revealed in the author's note at the end of the story. What is revealed is Selznick's friendship with a man named Dennis Severs who ran a house in London at 18 Folgate Street that is the inspiration for this story. Although I thought this was an interesting side note, I did not find it relevant to the telling of the story, but it was obviously a homage to Dennis Severs and that makes the telling of it special.

How the Sun Got to Coco's House by Bob Graham Book Review

How the Sun Got to Coco's House by Bob Graham
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Release Date: September 22, 2015

As Coco sleeps, the sun creeps over a hill and skids across the water, touching a fisherman's cap. It heads out over frozen forests, making shadows in a child's footprints. It wakes furry creatures, comes across cities and countryside, until it finally barges into Coco's room and follows her throughout her day.

Cleverly told, this is a story that explores various cultures around the world all through the lens of the sun as our world spins around it. I like that this wasn't like the last several books I have read that are similar in that it doesn't use time and time zones, giving the book more freedom than most concept books. Graham explores the world using beautiful language and imagery, giving readers a peak into some of the many lives that it touches. Moreover, I would say that this book is actually a great introduction into scientific concepts regarding the rotation of the earth, the sun, seasons, and time zones.

Elephant in the Dark by Mina Javaherbin Book Review

Elephant in the Dark by Mina Javaherbin
Illustrations by Eugene Yelchin
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: August 25, 2015

Based on Rumi's classic poem, Elephant in the Dark is a retelling of the Three Blind Men and the Elephant. When the villagers hear of a mysterious creature that has come all the way from India, each sneaks into the dark barn to find out what it could be. Each returns reporting a different animal. A snake, a tree trunk, a fan. Who is right?

Don't you hate when the cover a book ruins the book itself. Of course, I am familiar with this classic tale, but the point is that most young children (for whom this book is geared) are not. They are let in on the secret from the beginning as there is an elephant on the cover. Now, to be entirely fair, the poem itself lets the reader know that it is an elephant from the beginning so the didactic nature of the piece is inherent, but it would have been fun, since this was a picture book, to use an element of surprise.

The story itself is timeless though, a message that I think a lot of people need to be reminded of. That sometimes we cannot see the bigger picture or only have a piece of the truth and so we base our opinions on minimal information. The illustrations are based on a classical Persian art, while giving itself a modern influence. In the end, I have seen better adaptations, but this one is nicely illustrated which is its saving grace.

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon & Tanya Simon Book Review

Oskar and the Eight Blessings by Richard Simon & Tanya Simon
Illustrations by Mark Siegel
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release Date: September 8, 2015

It begins with the Night of Broken Glass, an incident that forces Oskar's family to send him far away to New York City, to keep him safe. As young Oskar walks through the streets, searching for the home of his Aunt he encounters eight different blessings from eight different people that make his arrival special.

A beautiful picture book that weaves together many historical elements into a cohesive story that can be used for so many purposes. It is, at its heart, about looking for kindness in our fellow man, but more than that it is also about longing, home, refugees, religion, and family. The illustrations perfectly capture the cold and loneliness of this big new city, while also displaying the moments of warmth. I especially loved the moment when Oskar encounters Eleanor Roosevelt, who was in NYC during that time, even though the encounter with Oskar is purely fictional. And the moment when Oskar is reunited with his Aunt--captivating.

Poems in the Attic

Milo Speck, Accidental Agent by Linda Urban Book Review

Milo Speck, Accidental Agent by Linda Urban
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 1, 2015

When magic came to Milo Speck, it came in the form of a sock. “Figures,” said Milo.  Milo's adventures begin at home, where Milo who is rather small for his age, is charged by his nanny to find a missing sock. When Milo reaches into the dryer looking for a match, he finds himself being plucked through by a giant hand. In a flash, Milo finds himself in Ogregon, a place populated with hungry ogres whose favorite snack food is little boys. Not sure how to get back home, Milo manages to escape into the food pouch of the maintenance ogre and hopes that wherever he ends up, he won't be eaten. Things are definitely not as they seemed though and soon Milo finds himself caught up in an unexpected rescue mission that includes a bossy girl, dino-sized turkeys, and an evil Doctor who is making plans to bring even more snack-sized children to Ogregon. Milo Speck isn't an agent, but he knows he can't stand by and no nothing.

This is one of those fun light fantasies reminiscent of Roald Dahl's BFG (sans the friendly part) and Edward Eager, a fact that Urban is very open about in her author's note at the end of the book. Milo is smart and quick and the perfect foil to Tuck, the head of the agency and also a know-it-all brat. Tuck, by the way, has landed herself in a bit of trouble and is awaiting rescue. Milo isn't exactly what she was expecting, but he will do. What I love about Milo is that despite not being particularly talented or good at anything, he still ends up saving the day because he can't leave other people behind to get hurt. In other words, he is the true definition of a hero. Tuck's attitude did get a bit old and the plot wasn't entirely original, but with this kind of book the important thing is that it is fun and Milo Speck has that in spades.

Monster Trouble! by Lane Fredrickson Book Review

Monster Trouble! by Lane Fredrickson
Illustrations by Michael Robertson
Publisher: Sterling Children's Books
Release Date: September 1, 2015

Nothing scares Winifred Schnitzel, but the neighborhood monsters are causing her some problems, mostly because they won't let her sleep. Exhausted, Winifred has tried everything to get her growling companions to move on, but they will have none of it. The traps don't work. She can't scare them. Then Winifred stumbles upon a secret--Monsters don't like kisses.

How adorable is Winifred? The illustrations in this book are fantastic. Winifred is so vibrant and determined. The monsters just the right amount of scary, and just the right amount goofy, especially when it comes down to kisses. I love that instead of trying to teach about how not to be afraid (since Winifred is not), this story is about how to get rid of monsters once and for all. They are seen as nuisances rather than anything needing to be worried about. Seeing as monsters are a typical worry for young children, I think this book would fit in nicely with bedtime story cannon and is perfect for the child who needs a way to banish monsters, whether they are afraid or not.

Boats Float! by Georga Ella Lyon and Benn Lyon Book Review

Boats Float by George Ella Lyon and Benn Lyon
Illustrations by Mick Wiggins
Publisher: Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books
Release Date: September 1, 2015

In this companion picture book, the Lyons extend their transportation streak to all things boat related. From steamships to ghostships, and every little and big in-between ship, this rhyming picture book explores every kind of boat you can imagine and then a few you may not have thought of.

Illustrated in a 1920's style travel poster look, each spread is colorful and fun, capturing movement and life. Despite the sometimes forced rhymes and some stretching of the actual definition of boat (seaplanes are not boats), I felt like this book had a nice rhythm to it. I also liked the global aspect of it as we explored boats from around the world, which is a great way to introduce other cultures to young ones without feeling forced. If I still did storytime, I think this would be perfect for the preschool set and make some kind of boat craft. If I was feeling exceptionally crafty, I may have even brought a kiddie pool to float them in. Yeah, I was an awesome storytime storyteller if I do say so myself.

I Will Take a Nap by Mo Willems Book Review

I Will Take a Nap (Elephant and Piggie #23) by Mo Willems 
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: June 2, 2015

Gerald is careful. Piggie is not.
Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can.Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to.
Gerald and Piggie are best friends.
In I Will Take a Nap! Gerald is tired and cranky. Will Piggie be in his dreams? Or will she keep Gerald from dreaming at all?

This is my husband and I. I'm not kidding. As I read this book it began with a chuckle and by the end I was howling. My poor husband has insomnia issues and as a result is often tired and sometimes a bit cranky. He doesn't take naps, but at night, my poor hubby has to listen as his sweet wife snores away, ruining his already stilted sleep. 

What Mo Willems has done once again is to mesh together a perfect blend of adult and child. An adult will perfectly relate to these moments of interrupted sleep. And a child is given more tools in their vocabulary for expressing how they feel sometimes. We know children fight naps, but there are also the ones who admit they need it to. Another fantastic book in the Elephant and Piggie series. I'm never disappointed. 

Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson Book Review

Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: September 30, 2014

Emily Bird was raised to not ask questions. She is supposed to be the perfect child. Smart, obedient, and headed for an Ivy-league school. Then one night at a party, Bird meets a man named Roosevelt, a homeland security agent who may be linked to her parents and their secretive jobs. Eight days later she is waking up in a hospital with no memory of that night or the ones in-between. While she was unconscious, she also finds that a deadly flu virus has swept the nation. Roosevelt clearly believes that Bird remembers or knows something she shouldn't, but what is it? The only person Bird can trust is Coffee, a genius outsider who deals drugs to their classmates and is a firm believer in conspiracy theories. Coffee tried to help her that night. As Bird and Coffee dig deeper into what happened, Bird stumbles across one of the biggest government scandals in US history.

I like dystopian. Whether it is set while the pending apocalypse is taking place or far into the future, I am always entertained by the worlds that authors create. What made this story chilling yet entirely boring was that this world is our own. Nothing is different and I dare say, after the Ebola outbreak last year, a little too realistic.

There is a lot of emphasis placed on drugs in this story, with Bird eventually trying some hallucinogens in hopes of regaining her lost memories. What wasn't clear to me was why each chapter began with a drug chemical composition because in the end, none of it mattered. This story wasn't about drugs or at least it shouldn't have been. It was about cover-ups and mistakes. It was about what lengths some people will do to keep a secret and what others will do to find one.

Sadly, the pacing of this story felt very off. Things happened agonizingly slow. Almost a month passes between that one fateful night and Bird attempting to get her memories back and we get to be with her through all of those tortuous weeks. Also, lucky us, we get to watch as she slowly falls in love with Coffee and comes into her new identity that is no longer under her mother's thumb. To be clear this book was not badly written, it had complex characters and culture and paid great attention to detail. Bird's parents oscillate between sympathetic and cruel. Bird herself struggles with her identity not only as a woman, but also a woman of color, and her her place in her family and her family's expectations.

A thumb's up for the setting being somewhere besides New York City or California and two thumbs up for the fact that this is ultimately a light science fiction with a young black woman as it's main protagonist. Not to mention that most of the main characters in this book are people of color. I wish that this was a normal occurrence, but sadly it is not and so I will continue to hold books like this up high, even if I didn't like it, as a great example of what diversity can look like in any genre.

The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury Book Review

The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Release Date: February 26, 2015

Twylla is the Danem Embodied, the reincarnated daughter of two gods who now serves the Queen. Deadly poison courses through her veins and whomever she touches dies in agony, making her the perfect, but reluctant executioner. Everyone fears her, almost as much as they fear the Queen, but Twylla prefers this life at the castle over the life she would have led as the Sin Eater's Daughter. The only future Twylla sees is in the prince, an almost stranger whom she will marry one day and lift this poisonous gift of the gods. Perhaps Twylla's life would have continued on in this way, singing for the King and executing traitors, if the prince hadn't come back. If her guard hadn't gotten sick. If her new guard hadn't questioned everything she believed in. Letting go of one's beliefs is never easy, but for Twylla, it will change everything.

I started this book having heard a lot of bad and mediocre reviews in the back of my mind. Although I typically prefer my fantasy with a lot more action, but Salisbury did such a good job with world building that I was completely enamoured with it. From the long storied history of this kingdom and its neighbors to the well-established mythology, all it was so carefully constructed. The politics and cruelty of the Queen added to the tension without there being a lot of action.

Of course, there is a love story and one could argue, a love triangle, although I would say the triangle was more scalene in shape. And I was okay with this...until the last chapter. No spoilers here, but I absolutely loathed the ending. Hated it. It ruined the entire book for me, which made it all the more disappointing. Twylla wasn't a very strong character or even a bad-ass, but I was willing to forgive her because I believed that once she was given a choice to live her life, she would choose wisely. Sadly, I gave Twylla way too much credit.

Swan by Laurel Snyder Book Review

Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder
Illustrations by Julie Morstad
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release Date: August 18, 2015

The world is big.
Anna is small.
The snow is everywhere
and all around.
But one night...
One night, her mother takes her to the ballet, and everything is changed. Anna finds a beauty inside herself that she cannot contain.

So begins the journey of a young girl who will one day grow up to become the world's most famous prima ballerina.

A beautifully illustrated story that is also one of the most melancholy picture books I have ever read. I think it is a very special audience that will fall in love with this book. Considering there is very little biographical information included due to the sparse poetry throughout, I would honestly have not understood everything that happened to Anna if there hadn't been some backmatter explaining more. For example, Anna went to a special school for ballerinas, but the way it was worded and portrayed, I honestly thought she hadn't made it into the school and definitely did not understand that she was separated from her parents. Reading through some of the other reviews, it seems that adults are absolutely enamoured by this book, which leads me to believe that this is a book for adults, cleverly disguised as a work for children. For me, a book that ends with the main character dying in her bed is just a little too sad to be read aloud to the age group that picture books are geared towards.

It should not be overlooked that this story is absolutely beautiful and the sparse language does fit the way the story is put together. And for a child who may dream of becoming a dancer, this story of a great artist may set their imaginations on fire.

The Full Moon at the Napping House by Audrey Wood Book Review

The Full Moon at the Napping House by Audrey Wood
Illustrations by Don Wood
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 1, 2015

In the wide-awake bed in the full-moon house, everyone is restless! The moonlight is pouring in and no one can get to sleep: not Granny, her grandchild, the dog, the cat, or even a mouse. It's not until a tiny musical visitor offers up a soothing song does the menagerie settle down, and finally everyone is off to dreamland. 

The napping house was one of my number one go-to stories for storytime, back in the days when I did storytime at Borders. Partially because kids responded so well to the illustrations, but also because there was a song. I tried singing the song with this book, but for some reason the cadence didn't work out the same. 

I love the idea of this book, that although there are sleepy days in which everyone is asleep, there are also days where everyone seems restless. Sleep seems a million miles away. The story doesn't quite hold the same amount of magic as the first one did, but I love the return to the Napping House and also like that this book could work very well as a bedtime story unlike the first. 

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest Book Review

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest
Illustrations by Kali Ciesemier
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: May 26, 2015

Libby and May were best friends. Together they would make up stories of a superhero bad-ass they named Princess X. Princess X slayed dragons and scaled mountains and was everything the girls wanted to be. Then one night, Libby and her mother were in a car accident. Libby's body was found a few days later, washed up in the river. And May didn't believe it. Perhaps if she had been able to see the body or say goodbye. Perhaps if she had been able to get her hands on their Princess X journals, but instead May moves with her mother to Georgia and Libby becomes a sad reminder of her childhood.

That is until May goes back to Seattle to visit her father and sees a sticker that looks shockingly like Princess X. Libby's Princess X. Maybe someone found the journals? But then there is the website. Featured on the site is a series of comics with a girl that looks a lot like May and Libby. A comic that details what may have happened to her best friend.

Having just recently visited Seattle, I loved all the references of the Emerald City. From trolls to tourist locations to water taxis, there were so many great references to things that I have visited that this alone made the book a good read.

More than that though was the graphics throughout featuring the Princess X web comic and the mystery surrounding Libby. Sure, there were a few things that were a bit far-fetched, particularly a person not being positively identified through DNA and the police not listening when a girl says she has been kidnapped, but the mystery itself was fun. The pacing was quick. It should be noted that this book is solidly a plot-driven story, not a character-driven one. Finally, can I just say that the cover for this book is bad-ass, about as awesome as Princess X herself.

Big Top Burning by Laura A. Woollett Book Review

Big Top Burning: The True Story of an Arsonist, a Missing Girl, and the Greatest Show on Earth by Laura A. Woollett
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Release Date: June 1, 2015

On July 6, 1944, thousands of men, women, and children made their way to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Hartford, Connecticut. It was a hot day. The tiger show had just finished when someone noticed a fire on one side of the big top tent. Due to a series of mistakes from the water proofing being made of pitch to no fire extinguishers in the tent, the big top was soon ablaze. People rushed to escape, but the crush of people and a blocked exit caused even more chaos and confusion. Within 10 minutes the entire big top had burned to the ground and 167 people never went home.

This is the true story about the events surrounding that day as well as the decades worth of questions. Was the fire really the result of a carelessly tossed away cigarette or was it the act of an arsonist? And what happened to little Eleanor Cook? Was she the unidentified body that was nicknamed 'Little Miss 1565'?

Having not grown up in New England and since it happened so long ago, this is one particular historical account that I had never heard of. Carefully crafted, Woollett weaves together a historical narrative that is both mysterious and compelling. There were a number of times throughout the book that I found myself getting choked up, probably more than I would had this been fiction, because I knew these were not just some characters in a story. The first-hands accounts and careful scrutiny of the various mysteries made the story read more like fiction than non-fiction. Despite the heavy topic, Woollett makes the subject matter and corresponding photographs age appropriate and accessible.

Interesting side note: One of my co-workers is from Connecticut so I showed the book to her. She immediately knew of the incident as her father was in the National Guard at the time and was called to the scene to help with the clean up. That clean up including the sorting of bodies. According to her, people still talk about it.

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes
Publisher: Flying Eye Books
Release Date: August 11, 2015

There was once a little gardener and his garden meant everything to him. He worked hard, very hard, but he was just too little (or at least he felt he was).

As a fairly new amateur gardener, I have quite fallen in love with children's gardening books. Perhaps it is because the gardens in these books are fantastically beautiful in a way that my patio garden never could be. Perhaps it is due to how the illustrations bring these gardens to life. Or most importantly, it is because these stories are often the most magical while containing very little magic.

This book is charming in its simplicity and magical in execution