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Hey, Kiddo – A Review and Interview with Jarrett J. Krosoczka

 HEY, KIDDO BY JARRETT J. KROSOCZKA
(Scholastic; $14.99, Ages 12-18)

A REVIEW & BRIEF INTERVIEW
COURTESY OF HILARY TABER

 

Hey Kiddo book cover art by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

 

 

REVIEW:

“It must be hard to write a graphic novel about one’s own childhood,” I thought to myself as I opened the book Hey, Kiddo. I remembered meeting the author, Jarrett Krosocszka, years ago in California. He was a bright, sweet man with an open demeanor and ready smile. He reminded me so much of my own brother. I had put that memory right next to his Lunch Lady books in my mind, and they sat on the shelf of memory happily together, side by side. I remember hearing about his forthcoming book, Hey Kiddo, and I knew both the writing about a troubled youth and the reading about it would be a challenge.

 

int_art_from_Hey_Kiddo_by_Jarrett_J_Kroscoczka

Interior illustration from Hey, Kiddo written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Scholastic Books ©2018.

 

As it turns out, Jarrett has written so beautifully about that time that I could not be prouder of him if he had been my own family. Jarrett’s mother, Leslie, suffered from a heroine addiction. She was in and out of jail, and in and out of Jarrett’s young life. He never knew who his father was until he was older. His amazing and often exasperating grandparents stepped in as true parents. This book feels close to home in my heart because it’s about family. It’s Jarrett’s grandparents that I wanted to hug for all the sweet things they did for him. And at times I wanted to sit them down for a good talk! Still, how wonderful they were to him. Wonderful because they loved him deeply and it showed. For all that they smoked, drank, and quarreled all the while they loved Jarrett with a heart and a hat.

middle school int art from Hey Kiddo by Jarrett J. Kroscka

Interior illustration from Hey, Kiddo written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Scholastic Books ©2018.

Hey, Kiddo sometimes reads as though Jarrett has written it from the perspective of a loving investigator of his own childhood. The author includes small and intimate touches like an image of the actual wallpaper pattern from his grandparent’s home. As we read we step into his childhood world. Also included are photographs of the family along with letters from his mother, Leslie, originating from her time in prison. There are drawings by Leslie just for Jarrett. It’s those letters that show how much she loved him and missed him. I read the book in one sitting, and when I put it down, I thought of Jarrett’s grandparents, Joe and Shirl. I thought that for all that Jarrett had been through, Joe and Shirl were always there for him. Actually, they still are in the way that love can never pass from us completely when it is given with such readiness and generosity. That kind of love death cannot touch. So, now on that same shelf of memory I have about Jarrett are his endearing personality, his ready smile, the Lunch Lady books, a difficult childhood and right beside that childhood is a place for Joe, Shirl, and their Love for him. That was, and is, a love with a capital “l” for sure.

Hey, Kiddo was a finalist for the National Book Award and is a highly recommended graphic novel for teens and grownups.

 

INTERVIEW:

HT: This is perhaps less of a question and more of an opportunity to tell us why author/illustrator visits to schools are so important. Clearly, a school visit from an illustrator changed your life. What would you say to a debut author or illustrator about what that school visit meant to you?

high_school_int_art_from_Hey_Kiddo_JJK_Studio

Interior illustration from Hey, Kiddo written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Scholastic Books ©2018.

JJK: Yes, I vividly remember being a third-grader and sitting on the creaky, wooden floor of my school’s auditorium and listening to Jack Gantos talk about writing. While he said, “Nice cat,” to me that day, I have since had so many opportunities to say, “Nice Lunch Lady,” to many young artists. When I was in college, working towards a BFA in Illustration, none of my professors taught me about school visits. From a business perspective, it is a great way to promote your book, but it runs so much deeper than that. To newly published authors I would say:

  • Work on an engaging presentation to keep the students’ attention.
  • Enjoy the quiet moments where you can connect on a more one-on-one with the students.
  • Make sure you bring hand sanitizer. There’s always that one kid whose finger is up their nose throughout the entire presentation. That kid is going to want a high five. Just sayin’…

HT:  I think what I learned from reading your book, and reading in general, is that when we feel alone in a painful situation we seldom are. I think this book will resonate with so many readers. Thank you for it. It’s beautiful. To a kiddo who identifies with you while reading your book, who struggles with a parent who suffers from addiction, what would you tell them?

JJK: For those readers, I left a little something for you in the Author’s Note at the end of the book. I hope that you take solace in those words.

Writing transparently is cathartic but self-care is paramount—so write within your comfort zone but push yourself when you are ready.

 

 

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A Sweet Bedtime Treat: Goodnight, Anne by Kallie George

GOODNIGHT, ANNE
Written by Kallie George
Illustrated by Genevieve Godbout
(Tundra Books; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

 

cover illustration from Goodnight Anne by Kallie George

 

Goodnight, Anne, a welcome tribute to L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, makes me smile! Everything about it is suitably comfortable, yet also dreamy.

interior spread from Goodnight Anne

Interior artwork from Goodnight, Anne written by Kallie George and illustrated by Genevieve Godbout, Tundra Books ©2018.

 

Anne (with an “e”) goes about her little world saying goodnight to everyone and everything around her. Page after page of Genevieve Godbout’s warm, winsome illustrations beckon the reader to join Anne as she remembers all the people and places she loves before she finally goes to sleep. Older readers already familiar with Anne will welcome the familiar names, but younger readers will not lose out. Marilla, Matthew, Gilbert, Diana, Mrs. Lynde and Miss Stacy all make appearances in the book.

interior artwork from Goodnight Anne

Interior artwork from Goodnight, Anne written by Kallie George and illustrated by Genevieve Godbout, Tundra Books ©2018.

 

Some of the things that Anne says goodnight to, such as stars, trees, and flowers, younger readers already know. There are just enough Anne references to please any fan, yet not so many that anyone would feel left out if they had not already heard Anne’s story. In fact, it will send them in search of more of Anne’s stories!

int illustration from Goodnight Anne

Interior artwork from Goodnight, Anne written by Kallie George and illustrated by Genevieve Godbout, Tundra Books ©2018.

 

Kallie George’s writing is simple yet lovely, making the book just right for children. It will see them off to bed beautifully. Anne would be so pleased to know that her story would see someone off to bed beautifully! All around it’s a treat of a book that cherishes the spirit of the original work. I have a feeling that both the author and artist worked very hard to honor Anne’s story and L.M. Montgomery’s writing. They certainly have accomplished that, and that was no easy task. Congratulations to both of them on a book Anne would have adored. Be sure to pick up Goodnight, Anne for any kindred spirit you might know who would enjoy Anne’s company at an early age. We all know someone who reminds us of Anne!

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 

 

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Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin

MUDDY: THE STORY OF BLUES LEGEND MUDDY WATERS
Written by Michael Mahin
Illustrated by Evan Turk
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Review – Booklist

 

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters book cover

 

Don’t miss the biography of the man and his music in Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters.

The story of blues legend Muddy Waters is told in prose which reads like one of his songs, filled with both sweetness and longing. Author Michael Mahin does a fine job of recreating for a young reader the life of Muddy Waters from his childhood days to one of the high points of his career, the creation of his first album.

All along the way through the book, beside those sweet and longing words of the author, are Evan Turk’s amazing illustrations that take your breath away. They look like the blues! They look like Muddy Water’s story and some of his soul. Strong lines paint the bold story of the legend, and color reaches out to convey the emotion that Muddy was going through at different times in his life. Truly these are some of the most unique illustrations to appear in a picture book. The people in Muddy’s life reach high in church, bow low over a harmonica, every movement is full of energy. Muddy’s grandmother appears as a larger than life character. She takes up so much room in one memorable two-page spread that one cannot escape the dominant presence she must have had in Muddy’s life. There is some kind of motion everywhere, in the playing of music, in the form of Muddy’s grandmother as she hangs her laundry while dancing to Muddy’s music, and in the movement of Muddy himself as he plays and sings.

 

Int art from Muddy by Michael Mahin with art by Evan Turk

Interior spread from Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters by Michael Mahin with illustrations by Evan Turk, Atheneum BYR ©2017.

 

The often repeated words, “But Muddy was never good at doing what he was told.” tell the story of a man who would not be dictated to by any boss but himself, and who successfully turned that persistence into a sound that the music world had never heard before, a precursor to rock and roll.  This is a story that shows a child that sometimes staying true to yourself is one of the hardest battles, but ultimately one of the best. Muddy never gave up on his music the way he heard it, never listening to naysayers. All of us have something like that call in our lives. Muddy teaches us through his experiences to listen to that call, be true to it and to never stop believing that one day it will enable each of us to add a new sound to the world. One passage accompanied by a striking depiction of Muddy singing reads like music:

He called up the sticky heat of a summer

night, the power of love, and the need

for connection in a world that was

so good at pulling people apart.

Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters is an incredibly powerful picture book in every respect and is highly recommended. At the bookstore where I work, this is a staff favorite because we all agree that it is one of the most extraordinary picture books we have seen this year. Muddy is a wonderful introduction to the life of a legend as well as an inspirational and evocative experience of art so well matched to the man and his blues that you can almost hear the music playing.

This hardcover picture book will be available September 5, 2017 but can be pre-ordered now.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

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Maybe Something Beautiful: How Art Transformed a Neighborhood

MAYBE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL:
HOW ART TRANSFORMED A NEIGHBORHOOD
by F. Isabel Campoy and Theresa Howell
Illustrated by Rafael Lopez
(HMH Young Readers; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

 

maybe-something-beautiful-cvr

 

My praise might be late in coming, but my love is not. Maybe Something Beautiful, a picture book from this past spring, simply stole my heart. I first saw it at the bookstore where I work and it was truly love at first sight. It happens with books, the great ones anyway and this is a great book.

Based on a true story, this picture book chronicles the transformation of East Village near downtown San Diego. Rafael and Candice Lopez helped  turn their neighborhood from a drab, gray place into one full of vibrant color. That’s exactly what you see in this book. The vibrancy of color washes over the dull world of one little girl named Mira. Her own room is full of light and color, even if her neighborhood is not.

As Mira begins giving pieces of her art away to people, the world becomes a little less gray. Mira herself is a child that seems to have come straight from a gorgeous box of paints. Her joy and life are seen visually in the brilliant colors with which she is depicted. Joyous paint splotches leave a trail behind her like pixie dust as she gives her art to more monotone community members. Still, how much gray can one person transform on her own? Enter one magical artist with a plan. A pocket-full-of-paintbrushes man, an artist, asks Mira what can she imagine being on a gray wall?

“Then, just like that, he dipped a brush into the paint. BAM! POW!
The shadows scurried away.
Sky blue cut through the gloom.
The man’s laughter was like a rainbow spreading across the sky.”

The Muralist and Mira happily go on painting the city’s walls, attracting a growing crowd of neighbors who all join them in painting just about everything. Soon that gray has no place to go! It was all something beautiful until a policeman arrives, looking quite stern. Not to fear, all is well as the policeman just wants to join in all the painting fun! The book ends with the whole city born again in colors and light. Mira wonders if just one more miracle is possible as she tries to paint a bird, a real bird, thinking maybe, just maybe that could happen too.

When you’re done reading the enchanting Maybe Something Beautiful  the colors stay with you, and so does Mira’s story. I find myself thinking, “Maybe something beautiful can come out of any gray day. Maybe today will be a full color day.” After all art, the great liberator, comes to visit any day I want. I just need the courage to practice it. So today was my full color day because I got to practice my art of writing. This makes me think that I need to splash a little color on those who made this book that I enjoy so much.

Campoy and Howell’s text makes the story burst into life! The short scene with the police officer added just enough shadow to make the story interesting, but not enough to ruin the fun. Lopez’s illustrations are amazing as always, his use of color replenishes my heart. The way his artwork shows the neighborhood and the people in it all absorbing the color around them is captivating. It makes me want to get a brush and join them. This is a wonderful book for anyone. What it taught me is that beauty is everywhere, but if you don’t see it then you need to be the one who makes it apparent. See some gray? Don’t look for a problem, but rather, see a canvas of possibility. Maybe something beautiful will come of it.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

Visit the website for Maybe Something Beautiful  here.
Visit F. Isabel Campoy’s website here.
Visit Theresa Howell’s website here.
Visit Rafael Lopez’s website here.

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Best Board Books for Kids – A Roundup

Serious Fun: Board Books With a Lot of Love
A Best Board Books Roundup
Selected by Children’s Bookseller Hilary Taber

 

As a bookseller I think that board books may be one of the most overlooked categories of books. Yet these books are a child’s first exposure to books and to art. So, I want to take some time to give some love to some favorite board books already out for your little ones that I’m really excited about!

 

Baby Tiger: Finger Puppet Book book cover of baby tiger finger puppet book
Illustrated by Yu-Hsuan Huang
(Chronicle Books; $6.99, Ages 0-3)

This combination board book and finger puppet is only one in a series of adorable animal stories. Short, sweet and sure to please a baby to two-year-old in your life. Follow Baby Tiger through a complete day from morning until night. Be sure to be on the look out for the Baby Reindeer version for a wonderfully sweet Christmas gift! Huang’s illustrations are winsome and welcoming with their gentle expression. These little books are a perfect addition to a little one’s first library.

 

 

Book cover of sleepyheadsSleepyheads
Written by Sandra J. Howatt
Illustrated by Joyce Wan
(Simon & Schuster/Little Simon; $7.99, Ages 2-4)

Sleepyheads caught my eye the minute I saw it, and stole my heart. This is an immensely soothing just-before-bed book. One by one the reader sees all different kinds of animals tucked into their beds. Each animal is plump and peacefully asleep or almost there. Every page is gently illuminated making the night seem welcoming and almost warm. The text encourages children to name each animal and to look for the one sleepyhead at the end of the book that we are still haven’t found for, “But there’s one little sleepyhead who’s not in his bed. Where, oh where, could he be?” A satisfying ending when that particular little sleepy child is finally found! A great baby shower gift.

 

Tinyville Town: I’m a FirefighterBook cover of tinyville town: i'm a firefighter
Written and illustrated by Brian Biggs
(Abrams Appleseed; $7.95, Ages 3 and up)

I showed this book to a friend who said, “What I like about it is that the firefighter’s moustache is like three stories tall.” Exactly! I love this firefighter and his enormous moustache. It’s a wonderful book for a little guy or gal who loves to see those firefighters hard at work. The book goes through the day in the life of a fireman and his co-workers (which include a female firefighter). They have an action packed day from the first ring of the alarm bell to the well deserved sleep at the end of a busy day. The team fights fires at a bakery and come home with baked goods! What’s not to love? The illustrations are full of action, but the text is simple enough that little children won’t loose attention. Full of excitement, yet cozy enough to read at any time of day this board book, though recommended for preschoolers, would actually make a great purchase for even a one to two-year-old.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 

 

 

 

 

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An Interview with Raymie Nightingale Author Kate DiCamillo

AN INTERVIEW WITH KATE DICAMILLO

ABOUT RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE

by Hilary Taber

Raymie Nightingale book cover by Kate DiCamillo

 

We’re back again today with more on Kate DiCamillo’s latest middle grade novel, Raymie Nightingale. Hilary Taber’s got some terrific questions lined up for a chance to get the author’s insights about writing this moving story.

INTERVIEW

Hilary Taber: Raymie is a character that is dear to my heart. She’s going through such a hard time, and at the same time she’s looking for what is true about life, what is real, what can be counted on. Is Raymie like you in this way or is that a particular facet of her character?

Kate DiCamillo: Raymie, oh Raymie. Raymie is very much like me. In particular, she is very much like me as a child.

HT: Raymie’s father’s secretary, Mrs. Sylvester, is such a sweetheart. It’s sort of like Raymie gets to have a very practical, straightforward mentor and encourager on the phone whenever she needs someone. Mrs. Borkowski is almost like the opposite of Mrs. Sylvester. She says such mysterious things that make you wonder if they are true somehow. Are these characters based on someone you know or are they both a symbol of the archetypal wise woman?

Novelist Kate DiCamillo, author of Raymie Nightingale

Children’s book author, Kate DiCamillo, National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature for 2014–2015 and winner of a Newbery Medal and a Newbery Honor.

KDC: I had the great good-fortune of growing up on a dead-end street in a small town. One side of the street was families with young children; and on the other side of the street there were three widows: Mrs. Lucas, Mrs. Lindemann and Mrs. Broadfield. These ladies all kept their doors and hearts open to the kids on the street. I could also go and sit on Mrs. Lindemann’s porch and talk with her. Mrs. Sylvester and Mrs. Borkowski are fictional characters, but they are also a way of thanking those ladies.

HT: Raymie, Beverly and Louisiana each have a problem of their own. Their shared suffering seems to unite them until they are almost a little family. Are these three friends going to make it? I believe that Raymie will make it, but I worry about Beverly and Louisiana. You’ve got me so invested in them!

KDC: I believe—absolutely—that all three of them will make it. I have no doubt about this.

HT: I’m fascinated by Louisiana’s bunny barrettes. They seem like Louisiana herself – present but also little, a tiny bit removed from reality. Did you make those up or did you ever see anyone who wore those?

KDC: Oh boy. And: bless you. I had bunny barrettes. I lost them in Mrs. Lucas’ backyard.

HT: As a child, did you have a book about a larger than life hero like Raymie did? Was there a particular person that you considered your hero when you were a child?

KDC: Librarians were my heroes. Teachers were my heroes. Anybody who put a book in my hand was my hero.

HT: Marsha Jean. Marsha Jean haunts me. Marsha Jean is not real, but yet she is. She’s the, “…ghost of what’s to come.” She’s a person that Louisiana’s grandmother has made up to keep her granddaughter on her toes. What made you think of writing about Louisiana who is pursued by the unknown?

KDC: Hmmm. I don’t know. So much of what happens in a story is not planned out by me, but is rather a surprise to me. So I don’t know how this happened. I do know that I am familiar with that feeling of being pursued by the unknown.

HT: Beverly is initially such a gritty realist, but she can be very sweet. Louisiana is more vague and kind initially, but she can be strongly adamant about how there is room to hope. Where do you see Raymie to be? Is Raymie somewhere between these two?

KDC: Raymie is somewhere in the middle, yes. She is an introvert, a hoper, a watcher. Like me.

HT: The more I read Raymie Nightingale, the more I realized that wisdom and truth are ever present in everyday life. Raymie is someone who listens for it. She listens for people to say something true, something wise. Were you like Raymie when you were a child? Did you listen for a certain phrase or words of truth like Raymie does?

KDC: I did. I still do.

Many thanks to Kate DiCamillo for answering my questions, and to the entire team at Candlewick! As Kate is my writing hero I treasure this chance to interview her. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity I will not soon forget. Summer reading is coming up! Be sure to go to your local indie bookstore and get a copy of Raymie Nightingale today. I can’t imagine anyone else that I would rather spend the summer with than Raymie, Beverly and Louisiana a.k.a. The Three Rancheros!
Click here to read Hilary’s review of Raymie Nightingale from Monday, May 16th.
Click here for Kate DiCamillo’s Facebook page.
Click here for Kate DiCamillo’s website.

  • Interview courtesy of Kate DiCamillo and Hilary Taber

 

Kate DiCamillo Raymie Nightingale Tour

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Raymie Nightingale written by Kate DiCamillo

RAYMIE NIGHTINGALE
Written by Kate DiCamillo
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo book cover

 

Reviewer Hilary Taber calls Raymie Nightingale, “A rare and hopeful song.” But after reading her review, you’ll discover, as with all DiCamillo’s books, it’s that and so much more

Raymie Clarke is preparing herself to enter the Little Miss Florida Central Tire competition. Her father has recently run off with a dental hygienist, and Raymie is determined to win so that he will see Raymie’s picture in a newspaper and will, of course, come back to his family. This is the initial plan, but like most plans it doesn’t turn out the way that Raymie originally intended. First of all she needs to learn how to twirl a baton in order to win the competition. It is during those baton twirling classes that she meets her “rancheros”, her new friends who become like family. Gritty, but sweet Beverly, and storyteller extraordinaire Louisiana, help her through this hard time. Maybe, just maybe, Raymie is more than just a little girl with a big dream to get her father to come home. Maybe, just maybe, Raymie is destined for adventures with her new friends that show Raymie that she is the hero of her own difficult time. Raymie finds that somewhere in her is a person who is stronger than the storms of life. She also learns that, with help from her friends, she can manage to make her way to a new life full of goodness and grace. It is a life that she could have never imagined when she began making her plans to turn things around. Kate DiCamillo delivers yet another wonderful novel that makes you believe again in the strong, incredible power of friendship and hope.

It is that rare quality of combining sorrow with sweetness that makes every book she writes life affirming. Every book is like watching a sweet spring creep over a winter world. Often as a children’s bookseller, I see an absolute faith placed in her books by the children who read them. Even though the story might be hard to read, the children show a willingness to take the journey with Kate. Time and time again I wonder what it is that they are feeling when they look at her books in their little hands. I think it’s something akin to knowing that she is telling them the truth. There is a certain peace in that. Kate tells us that life is hard, but you should always hope. Hope is real, hope is something to hold on to, hope is the stuff of life.

On a personal note I feel that Kate DiCamillo is the E.B. White of our generation. Like White she is adept in the art of condensing profound thoughts into short, but amazing sentences. I was honored to meet her recently and to have my copy of Raymie Nightingale signed. I think it’s worth noting that beyond the wonderful writing is a very brave writer. Kate has personally been through the very hard experience of having an absent father, and she has courageously taken up the task of writing about this time in her life. That had to be difficult. Ultimately I think her bravery in writing about this time in her life will help to heal others who have gone though something similar. So, here is to one amazing writer who is also incredibly resilient, just like Raymie.

Come back tomorrow to read Hilary’s interview with Kate DiCamillo to get the inside scoop.
Download a teacher’s guide here.
Download a book discussion guide here.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber
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Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

REBEL OF THE SANDS
Written by Alwyn Hamilton
(Viking BYR; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

The_Rebel_of_the_Sands_cvr.jpeg

Join the rebellion!

Rebel of the Sands is an amazing journey through a fantastical world that YA author Alwyn Hamilton has so vividly created. On the cover the main character, Amani, is described as “…more gunpowder than girl.” Well, that was just enough to get me interested, and I’m so glad that my curiosity paid off big time. This is a terrific book!

Amani is living in a town she is dying to get out of. Every day spent in Dustwalk is a day further from her dream of leaving. Amani is amazingly quick and precise with a gun though, and after meeting a handsome stranger at a shooting contest, her life quickly takes a turn towards adventure. Amani’s idea of a better life consists of reaching the town that her deceased mother’s sister lives in, but this girl of the desert has a much bigger life ahead of her. She has a role to play that only she can take on.

In the world that Hamilton has created, the dreams are big, the stakes are high and first beings called immortals are rumored to still roam the earth. There are stories that maybe even djinn are still working magic in the desert. Amani has heard some wild stories in her time, but I don’t think that any of the stories she has heard will ever quite measure up to the one that she gets to live. This adventure tale had me so hooked that I was determined to read it in one day. It’s true, I simply couldn’t put it down. Rebel of the Sands has so much to offer: romance, handsome strangers, girl power, gun powder, shooting contests, secrets, magic, fairy tales, politics. I’d call it a mix of the Wild West meets the Middle East, show downs meet genies in a wonderful, exciting re-imagining of two different worlds united by a desert life. It definitely lives up to the hype it is receiving, and a sequel is in the works! Yay! If you are a fan of Rae Carson’s books or frankly any book where a downtrodden girl finally gets to live her dreams, then this is a great book for you.

Alwyn Hamilton is an amazing author. Awesome just rode into town and I think she’s not going anywhere! What a debut book! Rebel of the Sands is such a gripping read that I think if you start reading it, someone you love will try to get you to take a break. Don’t listen. While you know you love them, it’s okay to love this book a lot, too. Make plans for sandwiches and snacks before diving into this novel because it’s truly one book you won’t be able to put down!

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 

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Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass

 

TWO FRIENDS:
SUSAN B. ANTHONY AND FREDERICK DOUGLASS
Written by Dean Robbins,
Illustrated by Sean Qualls & Selina Alko
(Orchard Books/Scholastic; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

TwoFriendscvr

 

Two Friends is an excellent and inspiring new picture book about the friendship between Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass. It’s told in such an immediate way that the reader is drawn right into the lives of these two legendary figures as they have tea together. Susan’s life is summed up best by the sentence, “And Susan had many things to do.” She really did. Author Dean Robbins looks back on Susan’s childhood noting that she did not get the education she wanted or deserved. This enables illustrators Qualls and Alko to portray Susan B. Anthony’s life in gorgeous and yet deceptively simple illustrations that show childhood pictures of Susan’s life at home that they’ve imagined her drawing. Susan’s journey to get the vote and to fight for equality got some mixed reactions by her peers, but it never stopped her.

 

Two Friends Interior Spread 1

Two Friends by Dean Robbins, Illustrations © 2016 by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, used with permission from Orchard Books/Scholastic.

Having taken us into Susan’s life, the illustrations return the reader back to these two friends talking over tea. Frederick Douglass tells Susan B. Anthony his exciting news about his newspaper. These magical words float across the page, “We are all brethren. Right is of no gender… of no color… Truth is of no color…” Frederick’s life is told as simply and as truthfully as Susan’s. Born a slave, he dreamed of learning to read and write. Qualls and Alko portray Frederick Douglass with a look of determination on his face as he reads a book. Like Susan, he wonders why some people have rights and others don’t. The illustrations clearly tell us that he has beautiful dreams of having something more. “The right to live free. The right to vote,” is what he is aiming for, something both Douglass and Anthony have in common. He was met with the same fate as Susan. Some of his peers liked what he had to say, but others didn’t. Frederick is shown standing proud while delivering a speech.

 

Two Friends Interior Spread 4

Two Friends by Dean Robbins, Illustrations © 2016 by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko, used with permission from Orchard Books/Scholastic.

 

The two friends have promised to assist each other in gaining the rights they deserve. One illustration that just may be my favorite depicts Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony in a circle of support, surrounded by so many loving friends of all colors. In another, as seen above, a charming blue and white tea set remains visible on the table between them as they discuss their plans. Two candles on the table glow, symbolizing each of their luminary presences to readers. So many things they both have to do, but friendship and tea comes first! My mother loves children’s books and as I showed her this one she said, “That’s the most beautiful children’s book I have ever seen. It’s my favorite one now.” High praise from someone who is a writer herself, and has very high standards! It is stunningly perfect in text and illustrations. I love the bit of peach that shines though Frederick’s hair and suit. Equally pleasing is the same peach in Susan’s cheeks and dress. Even both their skin tones have a bit of that lovely color that seems to join them together visually as united in their causes. Two Friends is simple enough for a small child to understand, and a wonderful conversation prompter about the important contributions of both these great people. I can think of no better picture book published recently that would be more important to add to your child’s library. Highly recommended!

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber
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Best Picture Books of 2015

 

THIS YEAR’S BEST PICTURE BOOKS

Making a List and Checking it Twice!
Bookseller and reviewer Hilary Taber’s Top 15 Picks

GRWRCoveted-Bookseller-Award

 Of course this list of 15 picture books is influenced by my own personal taste, but as a bookseller of many years I hope to guide you to some of my personal favorites from the 2015 publishing year. This is by no means a comprehensive list because I have so many favorites, but these are the picture books I would really love to give as gifts. I’ve tried to arrange these in age order and hope that helps you if you plan to give books as presents to children this holiday season. Happy Reading!

vegetables-in-underwearVegetables in Underwear
Written by Jared Chapman
(Abrams Appleseed; April 2015, $14.95. Ages 2-5)

What could be funnier than veggies in undies? Clever text pairs brilliantly with discussion of all different types of underwear and the text can help a child transition from diapers to underwear. Or it can just be a hysterical, giggly book about underwear. Consider Vegetables in Underwear appropriate for two-year-olds and up.

 

ItstoughtoloseyourballoonIt’s Tough to Lose Your Balloon
Written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka 
(Alfred A. Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Anyone who has ever taken care of a child knows this truth. It is really hard to loose your balloon to the sky above when you let go of it! In a simple and straightforward way Krosoczka points out that many childhood hardships are tough, but there’s an upside to a lot of them. You could scrape yourself, but you also might get a glow in the dark band aide! We grown-ups tend to forget how these common childhood dramas are powerful and important to children. The strength of this book is in affirming that the adult in their lives notices these hard times. At the end of the book the author encourages children to notice that when it rains you can look for the rainbow in all kinds of situations! A great reminder to get your kiddo to be able to reframe, stay positive, and look on the bright side.

Counting Crows counting-crows-cvr
Written by Kathi Appelt
Illustrated by Rob Dunlavey
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Black, white and red illustrations accompany perhaps the most perfect book about crows I’ve seen. With their red scarves on they fly to get some snacks. They snack all the way to a dozen. In the meantime a cat has been watching these crows with a possible snack in mine! Counting Crows is a charming counting book that I highly recommend!

IfYoureaRobotIf You’re a Robot and You Know It
By Ukelele and Drum Combo, Musical Robot
Illustrated by David A. Carter
(Scholastic; $16.99, Ages 3-5)

A new pop-up book! What fun! Carter delivers yet another wonderful book! Set to the words from the song, “If You’re Happy and You Know It” with “If you’re a robot and you know it clap your hands, jump and beep, shoot laser beams out of your eyes!” Children will delight in the familiar song set to a new theme, and the pop up elements are used to make the robot do everything that’s in the song. With the pull of a tab the robot claps it’s hands, jumps, shoots lasers out of its eyes, and more! Recommended for those children able to handle a pop-up book with care.

Butterfly Park 
ButterflyPark
Written and illustrated by Elly MacKay
(Running Press Kids; $16.95, Ages 3 and up)

This book gave me the chills because it’s that beautiful. A girl moves from the country to the city, and finds that next door is a Butterfly Park. She wonders where all the butterflies have gone! Soon all her new neighbors are helping her to discover that what is needed here are flowers to attract the butterflies. The park is restored and a special fold out page reveals the Butterfly Park full of children and butterflies once more. Each page is filled with light and glowing color. A science lesson on the side provides depth, while the illustrations provoke awe and wonder. A picture book that does not disappoint!

The Moon is Going to Addy’s House TheMoonisGoingtoAddysHouse
Written and illustrated by Ida Pearle
(Dial Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

This dreamy, magical book is a cut paper triumph. With gold swirls in the night sky on some pages, this book begins with the end of a play date. Addy begins the nighttime journey back to her own home. Addy and her sister play a game of hide and seek with the moon as they watch it seemingly disappear and then reappear on the car ride home. Under a bridge and behind a mountain the moon seems like a constant friend who follows you home. Rich colors and a masterful command of the cut paper style make this a perfect bedtime book. Is this book a possible Caldecott winner? Only time will tell!

OnceUponaCloudOnce Upon a Cloud
Written and illustrated by Claire Keane
(Dial Books; $17.99, Ages 3-5)

Veteran Disney animator Claire Keane, whose background includes her work on Disney’s “Tangled” and “Frozen,” brings to life Celeste’s dream journey on her
request to bring back the perfect gift for her mother. Along the way she meets the stars, moon and sun. However, the right gift for her mother just doesn’t present itself. The next morning she is inspired by all the beauty she has seen! She finds flowers that remind her of the stars in her dream and ties up the perfect gift with her own hair ribbon. A visual delight in purple and pink, Once Upon a Cloud makes a perfect gift for a thoughtful child you know who particularly delights in fantastic illustrations.

A Tower of Giraffes: AnimalsTower-of-Giraffes-cvr.jpg in Groups
Written and illustrated by Anna Wright  
(Charlesbridge  $17.95 Ages 3-7)

What a gorgeously illustrated book. Did you know that a group of geese is called a gaggle? Or that a group of owls is called a parliament of owls? Or that a group of peacock is called ostentation of peacocks? Each page introduces the groups by their collective names and gives a brief summary of each animal. A wonderful introduction to animals! Pen and ink drawings are combined with watercolor or fabric pieces. My favorite page is a group of sheep in sweaters made with a swatch of sweater fabric. You only have to look at each page to see how lovingly each page was created. I would be pleased to see this win the Caldecott!

The Bear Ate Your SandwichTheBearAteYourSandwich
Written and illustrated by Julia Sarcone-Roach 
(Alfred A.Knopf BYR;  $16.99 Ages 3-7)

This is by far one of the best picture books this year for gift giving. A narrator who is unknown at the beginning of the book directly tells the audience about who took your sandwich. A bear wakes up one eventful day in the woods to follow a truck filled with the delicious scent of berries all the way to the big city! Many adventures ensue with the discovery of the sandwich in question. Visual clues give away the fact that our narrator is in fact a dog seen in the park on one page. He is one unreliable narrator because guess what? He ate your sandwich! Sure he saw the whole thing happen. Blame the bear! Grin worthy text pairs nicely with illustrations infused with light and the bear’s epic journey from woods to city and back again.

Lenny and Lucy LennyandLucy
Written by Philip C. Stead and illustrated by Erin E. Stead
(Roaring Brook Press; $17.99, Ages 3-7)

Philip Stead brought us the Caldecott Award winning Sick Day for Amos McGee, and this new book is equally endearing. Peter and his dog, Harold, have just moved into a new house on the edge of a wood. Feeling that they need some backup, Peter wisely uses big pillows to create Lenny to guard the bridge that runs between their house and the woods beyond. Lenny is a wonder to behold! However, maybe Lenny is lonely out there all alone? Enter a new big, pillow friend for Lenny in the form of Lucy! The four of them become great friends and add one more to the group. Peter’s next-door neighbor is a little girl who is fond of owls. So, the woods beyond the bridge might not be so bad after all, especially with good friends by your side.

TheWhispercvrThe Whisper
Written and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski
(HMH Books for Young Readers; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

A girl borrows a magical book from her teacher, but when the words spill out, the little girl is disappointed. However she soon realizes that she can create her own story out of all the words that were once inside the book! A celebration of imagination married with absolutely stunning illustrations make me wonder if this might be a Caldecott winner this year.

 

One FamilyOneFamilycvr.jpg
Written by George Shannon and illustrated by Blanca Gomez
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

How many things can the number one be? A counting book and also an ode to all the different kinds of families out there make this multicultural picture book a must have for your family. Children will enjoy scenes they see everyday from doing laundry to going to the zoo. “One is one and everyone. One earth. One world. One family.” This strong ending helps us all to recognize how important all families are.

We Forgot Brock!
WeForgotBrock
Written and illustrated by Carter Goodrich
(Simon & Schuster BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

How I love this book. Phillip has an imaginary friend named Brock who is always up for adventure. Off goes Phillip’s family to the fair, along with Brock of course. Brock wants to ride the big kid rides, but Phillip and Brock get separated. When Phillip finds that his imaginary pal is missing, he goes searching for him. Luckily another little girl who has an imaginary princess friend with her at the fair sees Brock and takes him home with her. Phillip is at last reunited with Brock, and now they have two brand new friends. All imaginary friends are drawn in crayon which gives this book a special flair!

WaitingWaiting
Written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes
(Greenwillow Books; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

Caldecott Award winner Kevin Henkes hits another one out of the ballpark with this sweet story of five toys who sit on a windowsill waiting for things to happen. Each toy has a special thing that they enjoy seeing. The owl waits for the moon. A pig with an umbrella waits for the rain. This tale of friendship amongst toys is a special one with soft illustrations on rich, creamy paper. The toys move to different spots on the windowsill and it’s up to the child to say if they are being moved or do they move by themselves? What a treat! This is especially good for youngsters transitioning to longer picture books. I’m calling possible Caldecott on this one! Those gorgeous, but simple illustrations are simply genius. Henkes does it again.

TheSongofDelphineThe Song of Delphine
Written and illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel
(Candlewick Press; $15.99, Ages 5-8)

This story of an orphan named Delphine tells the tale of the power of a kind soul and a song sung from the heart. Delphine serves the Princess Theodora where they both live on the savannah. Delphine’s life is very difficult, so she sings to lift her spirits. When Theodora’s niece, Beatrice arrives Delphine’s expectations of having a playmate her own age are dashed when Beatrice proves to be spoiled and prone to blaming Delphine for her own mistakes. Delphine’s song is heard by twelve giraffes who take her on a journey across the savannah. When they return Delphine to her home they mistakenly put her in Beatrice’s room. There Delphine finds the reason for Beatrice’s unhappiness for Beatrice’s own mother had recently passed away. Beatrice is comforted by Delphine’s song and the two go on magical adventures together. Kraegel’s The Song of Delphine, a Cinderella story with a magical twist of visiting giraffes? I’ll take it!

 

We hope this helps you to make your list and check it twice! Wishing you and your loved ones a happy holiday season!

– Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 

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Good Reads With Ronna is proud to be an IndieBookstores Affiliate. Doing so provides a means for sites like ours to occasionally earn modest fees that help pay for our time, mailing expenses, giveaway costs and other blog related expenses. If you click on IndieBound and buy anything, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase supports our efforts and tells us you like the service we’re providing with our reviews, and for that we sincerely thank you.

 

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Best Board Books For Ages 1-5

THIS YEAR’S BEST BOARD BOOKS 
FOR AGES 1-5

Making a List and Checking it Twice
courtesy of bookseller and reviewer Hilary Taber – 

GRWRCoveted Bookseller Award
Looking for a great book for a young child in your life? Still have that hard to buy for niece, nephew or grandchild on your list? No worries! As a children’s bookseller I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to see a lot of children’s books all year long. So, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite board books from the 2015 publishing year to help you with your last minute shopping.

For Ages 1-5

StarWarsEpicYarnsEmpireStar Wars Epic Yarns: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi by Jack  & Holman Wang
(Chronicle Books; $9.95, Ages 1-4)

With the new Star Wars movie coming out soon what better way to indoctrinate or err…teach a new generation. Each soft, needle felted scene is a recreation appropriate for learning first words. Princess Leia teaches the word “princess,” Luke Skywalker is our example of the word “learn,” and so on. Each scene is so lovingly recreated that every page is of the utmost quality.

WhenIGrowUpcvrWhen I Grow Up by Tad Carpenter
(Sterling Children’s Books; $7.95, Ages 1-3)

This gem of a board book takes toddlers through several occupations from firefighter to teacher that they might aspire to in the future in a lift-the-flap format. By listening closely to the text, your little one may be able to guess the job of the person behind the flap. These are all people in your community as well, so it’s a nice roundup of all the people who help us!

Color Dogcolor-dog-cvr.jpg by Matthew Van Fleet with photographs by Brian Stanton
(Paula Wiseman Books; $19.99, Ages 1 and up)

This is an adorable book! Perfect for a one-year-old or early two this lift-the-flap, tactile book uses pictures of pups to teach colors. Pull out tabs through out the book make the dogs move (even the dog on the cover pulls on the shoe string in his mouth if you pull the red tab). Rhyming text, and a chunky, durable cover make this a great gift.

SharkvsTrainShark vs Train by Chris Barton with illustrations by Tom Lichtenheld
(Little Brown Books for Young Readers; $6.99, Ages 2-5)

The ultimate battle! Two boys meet. One has a shark toy and the other has a toy train. A hilarious imaginative battle ensues Of course if the battle is underwater then Shark is going to win, but if it’s on land then Train is going to have the upper hand! What about a visit to a library? Right, neither of them would win that one! Witty, funny, and it combines sharks and trains in one book. That’s a sure winner right there.

Red Light, Green Light by Yumi HeoRedLightGreenLightcvr
(Cartwheel Books/Scholastic; $6.99, Ages 3-5 )

Yumi Heo writes and illustrates such wonderful books! Red Light, Green Light is no exception. This board book has been one of my favorites to recommend this year because it’s both interesting and straightforward. Lift-the-flap elements combine with rhyming text about all the signs that youngsters can see on the road in the car while being driven around town. This book is perfect for the little transportation enthusiast in your life, and great for both girls and boys.

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber

 

Shop Indie Bookstores

Good Reads With Ronna is proud to be an IndieBookstores Affiliate. Doing so provides a means for sites like ours to occasionally earn modest fees that help pay for our time, mailing expenses, giveaway costs and other blog related expenses. If you click on IndieBound and buy anything, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your purchase supports our efforts and tells us you like the service we’re providing with our reviews, and for that we sincerely thank you.

 

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Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

CRENSHAW
by Katherine Applegate
(Feiwel & Friends; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Crenshawcover


Oh, this marvelous cover. The huge cat, the small boy, the dreamy purple all around them, and the feeling like they have known each other for a long time are all reasons that Crenshaw just pulled me in when I first saw it. Of course I knew that Katherine Applegate was going to write a terrific book because she wrote the Newbery Award winner, The One and Only Ivan. So, I just trust her to write something wonderful and she did!

Jackson, known to the family as Jacks, is a person who likes facts. In fact, he loves them. So when Crenshaw shows up one day Jackson is amazed and more than slightly freaked out. Crenshaw was Jackson’s imaginary friend when Jackson was a little boy. Jackson knows better than to believe in imaginary friends. However, now Jackson has a real problem because even though he wishes Crenshaw would just go away, it’s not going to happen. Crenshaw is going to stay for a while. It’s good that he does because Jackson is going to need his old friend again.

Jackson and his family aren’t doing well financially. Jackson’s family is going to have to make a decision about how they are going to cope with job losses and disabilities. It isn’t going to be easy to be able to make any sort of decision at all when there is hardly any money. Jackson and his family have had to live in the family minivan before, and Jackson is worried that they might have to do that again. While everything around Jackson seems out of control, Crenshaw is there. He’s a giant, imaginary cat and I’m so glad he is there for Jackson. Crenshaw guides Jackson. Crenshaw helps Jackson to find a way to tell a hard truth. Crenshaw likes purple jellybeans. Crenshaw is a cat that can ride a surfboard! In short, Crenshaw is a great friend.

There’s just tons to love about this book. It’s magical, full of facts (that’s what Jackson likes), full of imagination (that’s pretty much what Crenshaw is made from), and it has this amazing warmth to it. Jackson’s family may have financial troubles, but there is no deficit of love in this family. They love each other to the moon and back again. Crenshaw received well-deserved starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, and Horn Book. I’ll add another of my own. Highly recommended!

Read an excerpt by clicking here.

Click here to purchase CRENSHAW by Katherine Applegate

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber
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The Poe Estate by Polly Shulman

Wishing You a Pleasant Haunting!

THE POE ESTATE
Written by Polly Shulman
(Nancy Paulsen Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

 

ThePoeEstatecvr.jpeg

 

Take a bow, Polly Shulman! This latest and final installment in the New-York Circulating Materials Repository series had me turning pages late into the night. In The Poe Estate Sukie O’Dare’s life has been turned upside down. After the death of her sister, Kitty, the O’Dare family finds that they have fallen on hard times. It makes financial sense to move in with elderly Cousin Hepzibah, a relative on her mother’s side on the family, the Thornes. What Sukie’s parents don’t know is that the ghost of Sukie’s sister, Kitty, is still a part of Sukie’s everyday life. Kitty was Sukie’s protector in life and Kitty is not going to go back on that promise anytime soon. However, the longer Kitty is around, the less likely it is that anyone will want to be Sukie’s friend. Kitty feels that she should have a say in who is Sukie’s friend and who is not. With financial troubles, a move to a new house, and an overly concerned ghostly sister, it’s a wonder how Sukie is going to reorient her life.

Lucky for Sukie, her gift of being able to sense the supernatural is now going to come in very handy. Ancestors who are missing family treasure haunt the Thorne home! It is up to Sukie to lay the past to rest for all her family, including Kitty. Sukie is a goodhearted heroine with a gift that the New-York Circulating Materials Repository (a lending library of magical objects) finds extremely useful. Sukie is able to tell if an acquisition is haunted enough to be included in the Poe Estate which is a collection of haunted houses and items. The Poe Estate has its own problems with a wily collector of antiques proving to be a worthy nemesis for Sukie. Moreover, the librarians at the repository are trying to find Sukie’s family treasure before the collector does.

Enchanted broom sticks ready for flying, a dip into the literary realm of supernatural tales, making a new friend, and a family treasure hunt all add up to page turning adventure. This reader was kept up past her bedtime because she had to find out what happened next. Highly recommended for readers who enjoy a good mystery that never gets too scary. Although it’s not necessary to read the first two books  (The Grimm Legacy and The Wells Bequest) in the series, it is rewarding to find that some of the characters from the previous books make reappearances.

Fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society will find much to love in this latest and last book in the series. The Poe Estate is imaginative, daring and fun reading that suits the upcoming Halloween season perfectly!

  • Reviewed by Hilary Taber
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Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman

An Epic Journey

SHADOW SCALE
by Rachel Hartman

(Random House Books for Young Readers; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, & Booklist

Shadow-Scale-cvr.jpgIn this stunning sequel to Hartman’s first book, Seraphina, the author revisits the kingdom of Goredd. In the previous book the court musician, Seraphina, had to come to terms with the stigma surrounding her half dragon, half human ancestry. This book begins with Seraphina’s search for others of her kind, called the ityasaari. Seraphina hopes that gathering all the ityasaari together will help to protect the kingdom from the ongoing dragon-against-dragon wars. To find the other ityasaari, Seraphina must journey through many different kingdoms. However, with every ityasaari found, she comes closer to being controlled by one of her own. Jannoula, a powerful and highly manipulative half dragon, tries again and again to gain control of the minds of all the ityassari. It will take all that Seraphina has learned from her dragon uncle, Orma, and everything that she will learn along the way, to defeat Jannoula. Along the journey Seraphina encounters defeat, loss and hardship. Perhaps the greatest thing Seraphina learns is that set backs seldom mean defeat and that help can arise from the most unlikely places.

Hartman’s world is fascinating, complex and detailed. Spanning four kingdoms, each with its own unique customs, food, and sometimes even religion, Seraphina’s journey is a sprawling quest. Readers of the first book will remember her love interest with Prince Kiggs, which only grows more complex in this second installment. Seraphina’s dragon uncle and mentor, Orma, is mysteriously missing which also adds to the necessity of Seraphina’s search. With this parting of the guide, Seraphina must learn to navigate the world as an adult. Hartman examines the origin and function of religion in society to work for good or for evil closely in this sequel, which makes for a fascinating read. Shadow Scale is a tribute to the power of a talented author to create a fully realized fantasy world full of danger, tradition, sacrifice and love.

– Reviewed by Hilary Taber

Read our review of Seraphina here.

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Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

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

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