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.


A Tale from the Chinese Zodiac

posted by: February 23, 2015 - 7:00am

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.


There’s a Mystery in My History

posted by: February 17, 2015 - 7:00am

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.


The Paths a Life Can Lead

posted by: January 5, 2015 - 7:00am

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.



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.


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.



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