Argyle Fox by Marie Letourneau

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Written and illustrated by Marie Letourneau
(Tanglewood Publishing; $17.99, Ages 3-7) 

Cover image of Argyle Fox



Author illustrator Marie Letourneau’s latest picture book, Argyle Fox, has a distinctly European feel about it. Maybe it’s Marie’s French sounding last name, maybe it’s the language, or maybe it’s the artwork. It could even be a lovely combination of all three, so I was surprised to read in the jacket flap copy that she actually lives on Long Island in New York, where I grew up!

The tale, one about the payoff that comes from perseverance and resilience, introduces us to Argyle Fox, a well-dressed and determined forest animal. Eager to play outside despite the windy spring weather, Argyle is cautioned by his mama that his desire to make a tower of playing cards on such a blistery day might be in vain. Not easily swayed, the plucky creature tries to no avail. Four more attempts at fun outdoor activities include dressing up like a spider and using yarn to make a web, pretending to be a pirate setting sail on a log ship, playing soccer and kicking what is supposed to be the winning goal, and battling a fire-breathing dragon as a fearless knight. Every time he makes up a new game, Argyle’s pals watch and warn him that the wind might disrupt things. Still he persists. Of course all of Argyle’s creative efforts are ruined by a “Whoosh” of the wind so he heads home. Mama Fox suggests that there still might be something to play with in the wind and leaves her youngster to his own devices. 

There’s a reason Argyle’s name is Argyle and that’s because his mama’s a big knitter. And what do knitters have lots of? Yarn! “Argyle went straight to work. He cut, tied, knitted, painted, and taped. Finally it was finished!” With all his forest friends in tow, this imaginative fox shows off his handmade kite and then gives all his friends their very own custom creations, too! Now the “Whoosh” sound is a welcoming one indeed!

Letourneau’s charming picture book makes for a marvelous read-aloud. Even as I read the book alone I found myself saying “Whoosh” out loud each time it appeared! Parents and caregivers can use the subject matter to start a conversation about imagination, creativity, and persistence after sharing the story. Together they can also look at all the adorable details Letourneau’s included in her illustrations while enjoying the cheery color palette, not to mention taking time to play all the fun games Argyle has played in the book.
With summer break around the corner and kids wanting to be outdoors, Argyle Fox is a welcome inspiration.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel


Written & Illustrated by Marie Letourneau
Tanglewood Publishing 
Distributed by Publishers Group West 








Splashdance written and illustrated by Liz Starin

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Written and illustrated by Liz Starin
(Farrar Strauss Giroux $16.99, Ages 4-7)


Splashdance by Liz Starin book cover


Splashdance, a funny, wacky picture book by Liz Starin is reviewed today by Cathy Ballou Mealey.

One MILLION dollars! That is the prize awarded to the winners of the water ballet competition at the community pool. So Ricardo, a mustachioed, knobby-kneed gentleman and his water ballet partner Ursula, a well-groomed but furry polar bear practice their routine diligently. All at once, a new rule bans bears from the pool, and Ricardo summarily ditches Ursula for a new partner, a giraffe named Hortense.

Ursula is devastated at the betrayal and heartbroken to lose her chance in the competition. After all, she really loves water ballet! Eventually Ursula dons a striped bikini and sneaks down to the community pond for a quick dip. Alone, she executes her best double back albatross and half twist chanterelle in the weedy green swimming hole.


Interior_artwork_from picture book Splashdance

Interior spread from Splashdance written and illustrated by Liz Starin, Farrar, Straus Giroux BYR ©2016.


Then one day Ursula arrives at the pond only to meet a large group of water ballet enthusiasts practicing their routine. They, too, were cast out of the pool due to their ursine members. This group – this TEAM – has stuck together and continued to practice. Ursula is inspired to join them, and she devises a plan to ensure that they can participate in the water ballet championship after all.

Starin’s text is smart, vibrant and playful. A balanced mixture of short and long sentences filled with cut-to-the-chase emotions keeps the storyline popping along. Young listeners will remain eager to turn the page and discover what happens next. Starin’s illustrations are spectacularly funny, inventive and ridiculous, adding implausible wacky details that appeal to the eye and the funnybone. Clever signs, wild bathing costumes, and a hilarious menagerie of swimming critters mix together to produce a divinely humorous tale.

Ursula finally gets to perform her impressive triple banana flip in the water ballet competition – but will it be enough to win the million dollars? Or is there an even bigger prize at stake? Splashdance is a lighthearted, inspiring winner from beginning to end.

  • Reviewed by Cathy Ballou Mealey


Where Obtained:  I reviewed a copy of Splashdance from the library and received no other compensation. The opinions expressed here are my own.


Finding Forever by Ken Baker, A Blog Tour

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FINDING FOREVER: A Deadline Diaries Exclusive
Written by Ken Baker
(Running Press Teens; Trade paperback, $9.95, Ages 13 and up)



In Finding Forever, E! News Correspondent and SoCal resident, Ken Baker, has used his entertainment news background to enthrall readers with a riveting fictional tale of life inside the celebrity scene and its fascination with Hollywood’s Holy Grail, the elusive fountain of youth. His main character, a teen blogger named Brooklyn Brant, covers celebrity news in her blog Deadline Diaries, but in her latest quest she uncovers more than she bargained for.

When sixteen-year-old celebrity sweetheart Taylor Prince goes missing from her birthday party in L.A., tabloid blog STARSTALK splashes headlines that Taylor is in rehab for drug addiction. Taylor’s assistant, Simone, enlists the help of Brooklyn Brant to help find the missing starlet, as she insists Taylor is not on drugs and this is more of a conspiracy. However, with Simone’s shady past, it’s hard to know whom to trust. Brooklyn must use her sleuthing skills to uncover the truth before time runs out on Taylor.

While the mystery behind Taylor’s disappearance had my attention, what really drew me in was Brooklyn’s backstory, including her late father’s mysterious death and his legacy she is trying to uphold. As a police officer, Brooklyn’s father believed in getting at the truth. Ever since his death, Brooklyn has tried to follow in her father’s footsteps, finding the truth and revealing it with integrity, but as a journalist not a cop, trading the gun for a pen. Her blog Deadline Diaries began as an outlet for her to cope with his passing, but it grew into a passion and potential future. And the story of Taylor Prince’s disappearance, in all its web of secrets and lies, is perhaps the big break in her budding career that she’s been looking for.

Using a dual narrative, bouncing back and forth between Taylor’s and Brooklyn’s points of view, Baker kept me wondering what was going on and what would be revealed next. The more I read, the more I began to see that the rehab place was suspect and almost cult-like, and its head, Dr. Kensington, creepily Peter Pan obsessed. I found myself rooting simultaneously for Taylor to escape and for Brooklyn to save her. While the ending seemed a little rushed, it still provided the satisfying closure I would expect as a reader, and reinforced the fact that eternal youth is as much a façade as a Hollywood set.

Read more about Ken Baker here.

  • Reviewed by Krista Jefferies




The Perfect Percival Priggs by Julie-Anne Graham

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The Perfect Percival Priggs
Written and illustrated by Julie-Anne Graham
(Running Press; $16.95, Ages 3 and up)


            Everyone in the family will love this silly and heartfelt story about doing too much, and trying to be perfect!



Interior art from The Perfect Percival Priggs by Julie-Anne Graham, Running Press ©2015.

Percival’s parents are perfect and they have all the awards to prove it. Percival wants to be perfect, too. He enters every competition, for everything, including the things he doesn’t even like. He’s sure that if he doesn’t do this, his parents won’t love him anymore.

But, being perfect is quite exhausting! So, Percival comes up with a perfect plan to make things easier. Only, it doesn’t. It just makes a big mess!


Interior art from The Perfect Percival Priggs by Julie-Anne Graham, Running Press ©2015.

That’s when Percy finds out that being perfect is not what makes his parents love him. They show him all of their mistakes hidden away in the attic.

It’s then that Percy learns that doing what you love, and working hard at it, is what really matters.

With fun and wonderfully detailed illustrations, and just the right amount of text to tell the story, this book is, well … Perfect!

– Guest Reviewer Jo Ann Banks


Jo Ann Banks is a writer of children’s stories, poems, and silly songs. Jo Ann has such an incredible love of children’s stories that some people say she never grew up. When she hears that, she just covers her ears and sings, “I’m not listening, I’m not listening …”

To learn more silly facts about her, go to

Firebird by Misty Copeland

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Written by Misty Copeland
Illustrated by Christopher Myers
(G. P. Putnam’s Sons; $17.99, Ages 5-8)

Firebird won the 2015 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, received the 2015 Ezra Jack Keats Book Award New Writer Honor, and was an NPR Best Book of 2014.




In Firebird; American Ballet Theater ballerina, Misty Copeland, shows a young girl how to dance like the firebird. Copeland, author of Life in Motion, has written a spare but powerful picture book about a young African American girl who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. Daunted by the process, the young girl compares her ” gray as rain” self to the “swift as sunlight” Copeland, believing that she could never be as good as her idol. Realizing that the girl lacks confidence and is overwhelmed by what lays ahead, Copeland offers encouragement and support in a lyrical conversation between mentor and protégé:

“darling child, don’t you know

you’re just where I started …

your beginning’s just begun …”

Copeland assures the young girl that, despite the challenges and hard work (“…I  had a thousand leaps and falls …”), her ability will grow. One day someone will need her support:

“then they will look to you in wonder

and say …

the space between you and me is longer than forever

and I will show them that forever is not so far away”

Lovely ballet similes and metaphors are woven into a narrative as powerful, yet as graceful as the dancer’s art:

“ …Like me you’ll grow steady in grace

spread an arabesque of wings

and climb …”

And while the narrative is a conversation is between a beginning dancer and an experienced ballerina, Copeland’s message of determination and realizing your dream is an important and inspiring message for all of us.

Using bold and striking mixed media illustrations, award-winning illustrator Christopher Myers enhances the soaring and inspirational text by dramatically capturing the movement of the dance and Copeland’s amazing ability to stretch her body in extraordinary positions. Likewise, his illustrations also depict the tender and affirming relationship between Copeland and her protégé. Myers, the son of the late children’s author Walter Dean Myers, has received multiple awards for his illustrations. Visit Reading Rockets for a selected list of his books and a video interview.

The Afterword contains a poignant message from Copeland about her childhood struggles and how ballet “saved” her. Nevertheless, as an African American, she did not see herself in this almost exclusively white world. With hope, hard work, and support she made it and has turned to supporting other young dreamers like herself to enter the world of Classical ballet.

Copeland has just been appointed the first African American principal ballerina of American Ballet Theater. Visit Misty at her website and see her reading Firebird at the April 6, 2015 White House Easter Egg Roll. A search on YouTube will display many videos featuring interviews and performances. Click on the link to read an excerpt of Life in Motion and see a short video of Copeland discussing her determination to succeed. Earlier this week it was also announced that for two weeks this August, Copeland will star on Broadway in the musical “On the Town.”

– Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

Fish In a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

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by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
(Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Booklist & School Library Journal

Fish-In-Tree-cvr.jpgDyslexia, and other learning disabilities, can be invisible, isolating, and confusing. For a fifth-grader like Ally, it only adds to life’s problems. She’s also dealing with school bullies, a transient, military lifestyle, and missing her dad who’s been deployed overseas for several months. She copes with these difficulties by acting out in class, working very hard to hide her learning problems, and keeping to herself.

Enter Ally’s hero, 5th grade substitute teacher, Mr. Daniels. In Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Mr. Daniels is the first teacher who’s been able to see through her defiance and acting-out, and identify a learning disability. Mr. Daniels inspires Ally to realize her other strengths and to think of the “IM-possible” as “possible.” After receiving tutoring from Mr. Daniels, Ally finally begins to come out of her shell and enjoy life due to her newfound confidence.

Readers will recognize the authentic and endearing characters who eventually become Ally’s friends. Keisha is a sassy new student who is looking for buddies while trying to avoid mean girl Shay. Albert is a brilliant, kind, and very logical boy who might be on the Autism Spectrum and also has his own after-school bullies to avoid. There’s also Oliver, a hyper-active and kind boy who craves attention; Suki, a new girl from Japan; and Michelle, Shay’s toady who is beginning to see the light.

The author’s description of the teacher, Mr. Daniels, is particularly touching. Hunt has created a realistic character who is fair, intuitive, and devoted to his job.  In Fish in A Tree, we read of the many ways Mr. Daniels is able to bring out the best in each of his students (his “Fantasticos”). He creates a secret hand signal to tell Oliver to calm down. He creates class games and projects that reward the kids who might not typically succeed in the classroom. He also takes extra time to work with Ally and help her see her strengths.

Fish in A Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt will have you rooting for Ally while gaining an understanding of what it’s like to live with Dyslexia. If you’re looking for a realistic feel-good book about adolescence, this will hit the spot. The characters, their relationships, and their struggles are so real, and the ending will make you smile and wish for a sequel.

– Guest Review by Maggie Moore

Click here for a curriculum guide for FISH IN A TREE

Read Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s blog here.

Maggie-Moore.jpgAbout today’s Guest Reviewer: Maggie Moore is a third grade teacher
and a voracious reader. She lives in Los Angeles with her two rascally
sons and a small zoo of pets.

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

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Waiting For the Moment to Arrive:

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly
with illustrations by Betsy Peterschmidt
(HarperCollins Books for Young Readers, $16.99, Ages 8-12)

Starred Review – Kirkus
Junior Literary Guild Selection
The Independent Booksellers Association – Kids’ Next Pick for Spring 2015.

Blackbird-Fly-cvr.jpgI love the Beatles! I am a truly devoted fan, so when I came across Erin Entrada Kelly’s debut middle grade fiction novel, Blackbird Fly, I knew I was in for a treat. What I didn’t expect is that the book would address, with truthfulness and clarity, so many of the difficult issues of being in middle school.

After the death of her father when she was four-years-old, Apple Yengko and her mother immigrated to the United States from the Philippines. Apple’s one possession that belonged to her father is his tape of Abbey Road. Now that Apple is in middle school nothing is like what it was in elementary school. In middle school there are now mean girls who used to be Apple’s friends, new friends to make, and Apple is trying to discover who she really is meant to be when she is unexpectedly set apart from the crowd.

More than anything Apple wants to fit in at school, but maybe even equal to that longing is how much Apple really wants a guitar. When social pressures begin to mount up at school, Apple sees no way out of the veritable tornado of difficult times which include being placed on the “Dog Log” at school, a list that the boys make of the ugliest girls. Listening to The Beatles becomes Apple’s way of coping with the changing times she finds herself in. Luckily for Apple her new friends help her to find a way out of all the chaos. She learns that with music and a little help from her friends she can tackle this tough time.

This touching tribute to the power of music to transform a bad time into a better one and how much a true friend can help you had me nodding in agreement many times. I remember these middle school days very well. Who does not remember the days when you just didn’t seem to fit in anywhere, and when friends suddenly turned into popularity seekers? Blackbird Fly speaks right to the middle school student I was.

The message of the book is one that all middle school students should hear. Find out who your true friends are. Find out what you stand for and the kind of person you want to be. Find your passion in life. Follow the truth and be truthful with others. These are hard lessons to learn, but Erin Entrada Kelly presents a sympathetic heroine who is so easy to relate to. Apple is just learning to navigate the tricky waters of growing up. Kelly writes her character so well. Apple is not perfect, but she is trying her best to find her way. I was rooting for this character all the way through the book and the plot kept me so gripped that I read it in one sitting. It’s very seldom that I’ve read a book so perfectly pitched to the middle grade experience that I would hand it to a girl that age and say, “Here, take this book and you will learn so much about the time you are going through. Use this as a guide.” Blackbird Fly is that book.

References to the Beatles are sprinkled thoughout the book. Even though Apple’s favorite Beatle is George, I can still identify with this character. The best Beatle is of course Paul, but I’m open to debate. Still, you don’t have to be a Beatles fan to understand that sometimes you just want to fly away from difficult situations, but you need to learn how to, “Take these broken wings and learn to fly.” The moment you were waiting to arrive might come after a difficult time. However, if you can be strong like Apple is and stand for what you believe in then I promise you the moment you were waiting for will finally arrive. Blackbird Fly can be pre-ordered now and will be available on 3/24/15.

– Reviewed by Hilary Taber