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Between the Covers / Shhhh... we're reading.   Photo of reading after bedtime
Christina Miller

Christina Miller is a librarian at the Parkville branch and can not remember a time when she didn't have a library card.  Audio books, e-books and print books, there is rarely a time when you will find her without some sort of reading material. When not at the library, Christina can be found spending time with her family or photographing headstones at local cemeteries for an online genealogy resource.

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Bring on Spring

Bring on Spring

posted by:
March 19, 2015 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Thing About SpringCover art for Sun Above and Blooms BelowAs the days get longer and the nights get shorter, we start to see evidence of the changing seasons which tells us spring is coming. On March 20, we will welcome the first official day of spring. What better way to shake off the winter doldrums than to dive into some children’s picture books about the changing of the season!

 

In Daniel Kirk’s new picture book The Thing About Spring, Mouse, Bird and Bear are excited to see the buds on the trees and the little tender shoots coming up from the ground. Their friend Rabbit does not share their enthusiasm. Rabbit loves everything about winter. He can find his friends by following their tracks in the snow. If spring comes and the snow melts, he won’t be able to make snow bunnies or snow forts. In order to keep some of his favorite season around, Rabbit scoops some snow into a bucket in order to save it. Will Rabbit’s friends be able to convince him that spring is going to be great? Digitally enhanced pen and ink illustrations help to bring the story to life as we watch the season change through pictures.

 

A school field trip to the country is just the thing to chase away cabin fever. It's also a great way to explore the opposites found on every page in Sun Above and Blooms Below: A Springtime of Opposites by Felicia Sanzari Chernesky with boldly colorful, collage-style illustrations by Susan Swan. Whether it’s open and closed, up and down or many and few, children will delight in seeing the seasonal changes that bring about new life on the farm.

Christina

 
 

A Tale from the Chinese Zodiac

Cover art for The Year of the SheepAccording to Chinese astrology, time passes in a 12-year cycle with each year associated with an animal. On February 19, it will be time to welcome in the Year of the Sheep (or Goat). Those born in the year of the sheep are believed to be cooperative, kind-hearted and creative. These aspects can be seen in the main character, Sydney, in The Year of the Sheep: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin.

 

The sheep family welcomes a new year and a new baby, Sydney, into their herd. The shepherd’s daughter, Zhi, and Sydney become great friends, and Zhi teaches Sydney how the people and the sheep take care of each other. Most of the sheep would stay together when going out to pasture, as there is safety in numbers. However, Sydney wants to explore and has a tendency to stray off the beaten path. Luckily, Zhi and her dog Dao come to her rescue as her curiosity results in Sydney getting stuck in a tree and later falling down a chimney. When a storm comes, it causes the land to become a mess. The pasture withers and the river no longer flows with water. Can Sydney discover what has caused this devastation and rally the animals of the zodiac to help Zhi bring the water back to the riverbed?

 

With themes that include cooperation, friendship, creativity and even a dose of engineering, this delightful picture book is an excellent choice to share with young children. The soft watercolor illustrations by Alina Chau are a perfect fit for the story. My favorite picture is towards the end of the story where the tiger is taking a “well-deserved rest” and is counting sheep with numbers written on their wool in Chinese.

Christina

 
 

There’s a Mystery in My History

The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan StratfordWhat would have happened if the author of Frankenstein and the world’s first computer programmer met as girls in early 19th century London? Why, they would have joined forces and become private detectives! Follow along as Mary Shelley and Ada Lovelace sort through a false confession, eliminate some odd suspects and finally solve the mystery of a stolen necklace in The Case of the Missing Moonstone, book one of The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series by Jordan Stratford.

 

Brilliant, yet socially inept Ada Bryon is not happy about the departure of her governess and the arrival of her new tutor, Peebs. However, this change does bring to Ada the first true friend she has ever known, the adventurous and kind Mary Godwin. The girls notice the newspaper contains several articles about crime so they decide to form a “private and secret constabulary for the apprehension of clever criminals.” It isn’t long after they run their advertisement for the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency that they accept their first case and begin their adventures.

 

A host of historical figures, including Charles Dickens and Charles Babbage, make appearances in this fun children’s book. While Stratford has admittedly taken liberties with regards to the timeline (Mary Shelley was actually 18 years older than Ada Lovelace), the setting and character behaviors are historically accurate. A humorous, action-packed story, this book features strong female characters who use math, science and deductive reasoning skills to solve the crime in a vivid, alternative historical setting. I wouldn’t be surprised to find this one on school reading lists this summer.

Christina

 
 

The Paths a Life Can Lead

The Paths a Life Can Lead

posted by:
January 5, 2015 - 8:00am

The End of Days by Jenny ErpenbeckWhen faced with a tragedy, it is common to reflect on what might have been if only we had done or said something differently. This is the theme explored by German author Jenny Erpenbeck in The End of Days. Set in Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, the story begins with the sudden accidental death of an infant girl. The tragedy tears the family apart. But what if her parents could have found the baby in her cradle in time, and by some miracle had managed to bring life back into that little girl? What path would their lives have taken if only their baby hadn’t died?

 

Erpenbeck’s story is written in five parts, exploring the possible paths that this one life could take if only something different had happened. While the first part is her death as an infant, the second part begins with the girl as a teenager in Vienna just after the end of World War I. Her fate stems from her choices made as a rebellious youth, getting mixed up with the wrong boy and paying for those choices with her life. What would have happened if different choices had been made? Each of the following parts explore those possible lives, and by the fifth telling, her life spans almost a century.

 

Readers who enjoy the works of Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy may be interested in this book for its complex style of writing and bleak, haunting themes. I was drawn to this book because of the thought-provoking subject matter and because I enjoy historical fiction set in Europe. It is human nature to think about what might have been, and Erpenbeck deftly explores this subject with grace.

 

Christina

 
 

Fiendishly Good Tales

Fiendishly Good Tales

posted by:
October 24, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Monstrous AffectionsWould you know a monster if you saw one? Are you sure? Sometimes these creatures are easy to recognize, such as a vampire, a harpy or even a kraken. Other times, they may look like high school students who play in a garage band that just so happen to also be demonic. Don’t forget the ones who appear to be ordinary people. To be on the safe side, you should read Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales, edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant.
 

A collection of 15 short stories, each author explores what it is to be monstrous. Whether it is a story about an actual supernatural entity, a human harboring an evil within or the horrors that lurk in the deep recesses of our own minds, no two stories address the aspect of being a monster in the same way. Some of the stories seem to be a retelling of a fairy tale or fable, while others are a refreshing new take on a folkloric creature. Link and Grant, known for their award-winning anthology Steampunk!, did an excellent job at bringing these various authors together and compiled their works into one cohesive book of tales that will leave the reader haunted, yet entertained. While focused on teenaged protagonists, this book is sure to appeal to adults who enjoy teen fiction or a wickedly good monster story.
 

So check under your bed, in the closet and deep within the shadows. You never know what kind of scary creatures may be lurking there. Just remember, you have been warned. Often, the monsters within are the most terrifying of all.

Christina

 
 

Quoth the Big Bird

Quoth the Big Bird

posted by:
October 21, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for Happy Halloween!Cover art for The Ghosts Go HauntingCover art for At the Old Haunted HouseIt’s October, and that means it’s time to carve the pumpkins, get out the spooky decorations and get the candy ready for the trick-or-treaters. It’s also a time for great Halloween-themed picture books! Stories that feature our television friends are always popular with the kids, but Sesame Street: Happy Halloween!, written by Lillian Jaine and brightly illustrated by Ernie Kwiat, has an added treat for grown-ups. One by one, Elmo, Big Bird and the rest of the monsters from Sesame Street rap upon the Count’s castle door to visit him on Halloween. After all ten of the friends arrive, they hear another tap, tap, tapping. “Deep into that darkness peering, long they stood there wondering, fearing.” Who could it be? With literary elements from Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven,” the lilting cadence of the text makes this a great story to read with your kids and discover the identity of the final guest coming to join in the spooky fun!
 

If your children enjoy songs as well as stories, then there are two great new picture books by Helen Ketteman to share! The Ghosts Go Haunting lends itself to be sung to the tune of “The Ants Go Marching.” At M.T. Tombs Elementary, things are getting a bit spooky as the ghosts go haunting one by one, black cats go hissing six by six and even the zombies are stumbling ten by ten looking for brains all over the school! With green faced witches and big eared goblins, Adam Records pictures are lively and fun. Ketteman’s other sing-along Halloween story is At the Old Haunted House, with darkly delightful illustrations by Nate Wragg. Anyone familiar with the children’s song “Over in the Meadow,” may find themselves singing the text of this story to your wee witchy one.

Christina

 
 

Off to School We Go

Off to School We Go

posted by:
August 19, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for EddaCover art for Monsters Love SchoolAs summer draws to an end, it’s time to start getting the little ones ready for school. This new adventure can be a little scary for kids. What will they do at school? Will they make any friends? Will their teacher be nice? Help your child prepare for the first day of school with these new picture books.
 

Being the littlest Valkyrie in Asgard is a lot of fun, but sometimes Edda wonders what it would be like to be with kids her own age. Fortunately, Edda’s papa knows just what to do in Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School, written and illustrated by Adam Auerbach. Flying down to earth for her first day of school, Edda is worried. She’s never been away from Asgard and isn’t sure that she will fit in. Things are a lot different at school on earth than they are in Asgard, but Edda is brave and, through a writing assignment, soon makes some new friends. Auerbach’s simple pen and ink illustrations have been digitally colored and help tell this mythology-meets-real-life story.
 

Monsters love adventures, but with summer coming to an end, Blue must prepare to go on his biggest adventure of all in Monsters Love School, written and illustrated by Mike Austin. With the help of his monster friends, Blue makes sure he has all the supplies needed to start school. But why does he have to go to school? “I already know my ABGs and 413s and XYDs!” says Blue. Children will be able to relate to Blue’s worries and cheer him on as he experiences all the wonders of his first day at school. Digitally enhanced illustrations with monsters reminiscent of Monsters Inc., Austin’s book is sure to please your little monster.

Christina

 
 

On Wings of Eagles

On Wings of Eagles

posted by:
August 8, 2014 - 8:00am

Henna HouseWith lyrical text and a moving storyline, Nomi Eve takes the reader along on a journey of a young Jewish girl and her extended family in her upcoming novel Henna House. Eve’s story is that of the Jewish community in Yemen in the early 20th century. Continuing through the far-reaching horrors of the Holocaust and to the birth of the State of Israel, it is a tale as rich and exotic as the warm and beautiful henna that adorn the characters.

 

Imam Yahya has renewed the statute known as the Orphan’s Decree. If the father of an unbetrothed Jewish child dies, that child would be taken from their family, converted and adopted into a Muslim family. The health of 5-year-old Adela Demari’s father is failing. Her parents are desperate to find Adela a future husband and have the marriage contract written in the hopes that it would protect her from the watchful eye of the Collector. Finding that future husband proves to be a difficult task. It is not until Uncle Zecharia, a spice and perfume merchant, arrives from a distant land bringing with him Adela’s cousin, Asaf, that her luck seems to change. With the betrothal in place and the children contracted to become married once they become of age, it seems Adela’s worries of being confiscated are behind her. But when Asaf and his father leave, young Adela feels abandoned and is only comforted by the arrival of her aunt, a henna artist, and her cousin, Hani.

 

Follow Adela and her extended family as she grows up and discovers the depth of female companionship, gains a deeper understanding of the world, feels the joy of love, the pain of loss and betrayal, and the power of forgiveness. Henna House is an excellent choice for someone who enjoyed Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent and anyone who enjoys historical fiction, family sagas and coming-of-age stories.

Christina

 
 

Your Underwater Adventure Awaits

Covert art for Deep Sea DisasterCover art for Lights! Camera! Hammerhead!Harry Hammer, a hammerhead shark, has created his list of the top five coolest sharks in existence. Of course, number one is the great white with their rows of pointy sharp teeth. Number two is the fast swimming blue shark. The stripy and scary tiger shark clocks in at number three, and number four is the ginormous whale shark. Finally, to round out the top five cool sharks, there's the bull shark, who can swim in rivers as well as the sea. So what could be cool about a goofy-looking hammerhead shark? That’s the question on Harry’s mind in the first book of Davy Ocean’s new series, Shark School: Deep Sea Disaster.
 

When Harry’s class goes on a field trip to a shipwreck for a group project, their sea turtle teacher has given them strict instruction to not go into the wreck because it’s too dangerous. However, Harry’s group ignores their teacher’s instructions and enters the rusty old ship anyway. Things turn bad and the students become trapped in the collapsing wreck. Can Harry use his special hammerhead sensory powers to find a way out and prove that he’s just as cool as all the other sharks in the sea?
 

In the second installment, Shark School: Lights! Camera! Hammerhead!, we follow Harry and his friends as they try to find something entertaining to do during school vacation. When the “leggy air-breathers” arrive to make a new movie, Harry hatches a plan to become famous, just like his hero Gregor the Gnasher. But Harry’s not the only shark with aspirations for stardom. Will Harry be able to nab a starring role in the film? Or will Rick Reef steal the show?
 

These fast-paced, action-filled, underwater adventures are sure to please first chapter readers. From dealing with bullies to embracing your own uniqueness, kids will be able to identify with the situations faced by Harry and his friends. As an added bonus you can enjoy some “Shark Bites,” fascinating facts about the animals that live in the ocean.

Christina

 
 

When Fairy Tales Fracture

Cover art for Princess PinkOnce upon a time there was a little girl named Princess Pink. Yes, her first name was Princess and her last name was Pink. Princess enjoyed mud puddles, monster trucks and giant bugs. She absolutely, positively hated the color pink. One night, after her mother tucked her in bed and turned off the light, Princess noticed that her tummy was grumbling. She tiptoed to the kitchen to find a snack, but instead of finding some tasty green-bean casserole, Princess opened the refrigerator door and fell into the land of fake-believe. Accompanied by Mother Moose and a green-haired girl named Moldylocks, Princess set off on a crazy-cakes adventure in Moldylocks and the Three Beards, written and illustrated by Noah Z. Jones.

 

Moldylocks took the still hungry Princess to the weird looking house of the Three Beards. Once there, the two girls tried the three Beards’ chairs and tasted the three different bowls of chili. They also tested out all three of the Beards’ beds, finding one to be just right to jump on and play Cowboy Caveman.  Suddenly, the Three Beards returned home and were not happy to find that someone had been sitting in their chairs, eating their chili and jumping on their beds!

 

Did Moldylocks and Princess escape the three angry Beards? Or did they end up ingredients in the next batch of chili? And what exactly is a tunacorn? If your child has recently transitioned into first chapter books and likes zany, action-packed stories with unusual characters and colorful illustrations on every page, then this book is perfect.  Parents will also enjoy the reading comprehension questions on the last page that will help you discuss the wonderful world of fake-believe with your kids. This book is an excellent pick for summer reading fun!

Christina