Tag Archives: book reviews

Book Blitz for July

I know that I called this the Book Blitz for July, and here it is August. Oh well. Mid-August is the new July. We’ve read lots of books since the last Book Blitz, but here’s what we’re loving:

Small Saul is a pirate. He is. He’s got the diploma to prove it and everything. Other things he’s got: a keen eye for decorating, cleanliness standards (no, our cabin should not smell like feet), and an appreciation for the healing powers of a bandage and lollipop during battle. What hasn’t he got? The respect of the Rusty Squid’s captain. By Ashley Spires. Ages 4-8.

If you love rocks, or you know a child who does, then you know that rocks are so much more than rocks. They are money, bases for fairy houses, berry mashers, and paint palettes in our house. In If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet, readers will see rocks that not only look like objects such as birds, ghosts, and igloos, but convey feelings such as joy and laziness (that would be the couch potato). By Leslie McGuirk. Ages 3-8.

I love How Things Work in the Yard, by Lisa Campbell Ernst. I love the array of topics covered: wagons, balls, and bubbles, to name a few. I love the way the clear, concise information is paired with collage artwork. I especially love that it’s so simple that even a science-challenged adult can understand it. Ages 4-8.

What do you do when you’re used to sprinting through life and that ability is suddenly taken from you? High school junior Jessica finds out when she loses a leg in a tragic bus accident on the way to a track meet. The Running Dream, by Wendelin Van Draanen, is a great choice for runners, anyone who has dealt with setbacks, and mother-daughter book clubs. Ages 12 and up.

Lupe loved to pretend she was the host of a television cooking show when she was about four years old. It was great fun, unless I was trying to concentrate on what I was doing in the kitchen. Which was most of the time. While Cooking with Henry and Elliebelly is the right level for Rue, it’s Lupe who identifies with the young protagonist who’s trying to host a cooking show in spite of his little sister’s annoying interruptions. Will the show go on? Written by Carolyn Parkhurst, illustrated by Dan Yacarino. Ages 3-6.

Me…Jane and The Watchers: while they sound like cheesy movie titles, both are actually lovely picture book biographies about Jane Goodall, who as a young girl dreamed of moving to Africa to live among and study animals. She faced many hurdles–societal, gender, and financial, to name a few. While both books can be read as stories, they are lovely presentations of the life and work of this significant scientist. Me…Jane written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell. The Watchers written and illustrated by Jeanette Winter. Ages 3-8.

Listen up, mama slugs. The boy in How to Teach a Slug to Read is going to teach you everything you need to know about, well, how to teach your young slugs to read. You’re too busy leaving holes in my garden plants and slime on my barbecue grill to take his advice? Well, it couldn’t be simpler with activities such as labeling things that interest your young slug, giving him or her fun books instead of tomes with dubious titles such as Mushy Love Stories and Homework is Fun!, and letting your slug underline his favorite words in his own slime. Most of these tips are even applicable to humans. But not the slime part, especially if you’re using library books. Written by Susan Pearson, illustrated by David Slonum. Ages 4-7.

If Inkling, the invisible bandapat in Invisible Inking, wanted to eat my squash, I’d let him live with me. After all, Inkling loves squash. But I suppose that helping fourth grader Hank deal with the school bully is more important than eating Pho Girl’s squash, so Inkling had better stay put. Written by  Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Harry Bliss. Ages 7-10.

Is bedtime a struggle in your household? Clearly you’re not offering the right incentive. In Mitchell’s License, Mitchell’s dad tells young Mitchell that he can get a driver’s license and drive to bed. At the age of 3 years, 9 months, and five days. Before you call Child Protective Services, check out what Mitchell’s dad is up to. WARNING: your child will want to imitate Mitchell. So you parents better be willing to imitate Mitchell’s dad. Personally, I love how relaxed Mitchell’s mom looks during the bedtime routine. Good for her. Written by Hallie Durand, illustrated by Tony Facile. Ages 3-7.

The young protagonist in My Dad, My Hero doesn’t harbor any illusions of greatness about his dad. He knows his dad isn’t a superhero. His dad is clumsy. Superhuman strength? Nope. His mom opens the pickle jars. Dad’s also scared of bees. And let’s not talk about the toilet paper problem. But none of that matters because this boy’s dad is always going to be his baseball-playing, movie-watching, hanging out together hero. By Ethan Long. Ages 3-7.

Hooray for 6 1/2 stories of love, laughs, surprises, and scares that Amanda and her alligator share in Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator!, by Mo Willems. There’s also one instance of alligator gnawing on human head, a shocking revelation about alligator’s past, and some panda bear-induced jealousy. Ages 4-8.

Speaking of Mo Willems, Gerald the Elephant ponders a question that I must admit has never crossed my mind: Should I Share My Ice Cream? Ages 4-8.

And for the adults, the newest offering by Pam Anderson. I know what you’re thinking. Not that Pam Anderson. Pam Anderson, award-winning and best-selling cookbook author, former executive editor for Cooks Illustrated, and Three Many Cooks food blogger. Her latest book is Perfect One-Dish Dinners: Everything You Need for Easy Get-Togethers. This cookbook’s got a great, user-friendly layout and scrumptious food photography. Anderson’s Cassoulet-Style Italian Sausages and White Beans, Jerk Chicken Chili, and Salsa Verde Chicken with Herbed Cornmeal Dumplings are going to be part of my regular fall and winter rotation. Those days will be here before we know it, especially since summer never officially made it to Seattle this year.



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Book Blitz for June 29

When I started this blog, I intended to post thoughtful book reviews on a regular basis. The thing about that is that after living my life and reading lots of books, I’m too tired to actually write lengthy reviews. So I’m going to see if I can sell you on a book in ten seconds.

On the quality of this photo…I must have been bleary-eyed after all that reading.

Froggy’s had so many other adventures, it’s only fitting that he’s finally on his way to paradise in Froggy Goes to Hawaii, written by Jonathan London and illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz. All his father asks of him is that he not behave like a nincompoop (meet Rue’s new favorite word), but if you know Froggy, then you know that might be a tall order. Recommended for preschoolers-grade 2.

On the subject of ocean life, check out what’s happening under the sea in Project Seahorse, by Pamela S. Turner and Scott Tuason. This is the latest title in an excellent nonfiction series for children called Scientists in the Field. Follow two female scientists who are trying to save dwindling seahorse populations. The photographs are stunning. Grades 4 and up.

While you’re waiting for Tom Angelberger’s Darth Paper Strikes Back, the much anticipated sequel to The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, read Horton Halfpott: Or, The Fiendish Mystery of Smugwick Manor; or, The Loosening of M’Lady Luggertuck’s Corset. One day, Lady Luggertuck instructs the help not to cinch her corset quite so tight. But is it the stay that maintains societal order? Find out in this delicious satirical mystery. Grades 4 and up.

Speaking of corsets, I had no idea that gentlemen of certain standing wore stays back in the day. It’s one of many fascinating facts I read in The Many Faces of George Washington, by Carla Killough McClafferty. Follow the work of scientists using cutting edge technology to determine whether the iconic image of Washington that graces the dollar bill is a good likeness. Grades 4 and up.

The inkblot finally gets the attention and respect it deserves in Inkblot, by Margaret Peot. Many of us have spent time debating what we see in a Rorschach inkblot, but did you know that Victor Hugo was an inkblot artist? Peot shares practical tips for creating the unexpected with inkblots. And chances are, you already have the art supplies necessary to start creating inkblot art. That’s my kind of art and craft book. Grades 5 and up.

If I Stay and Where She Went, by Gayle Forman. If you have the option,  listen to the audiobooks. I white-knuckled my way through the first several chapters of If I Stay while I was driving, which will make perfect, horrific sense to you if you do the same. Mia’s got it all: cool, supportive parents, an adorable little brother, a musical gift that’s about to take her to Juilliard, and a beautiful relationship with her polar opposite in the music world, her rocker boyfriend, Adam. In an instant everything changes, leaving her with the monumental decision that is the book’s title. You’ll wish you had a longer commute. You’ll sit in your car even after you’ve reached your destination because you just have to know.

Finish If I Stay (and you’ll definitely want to finish it) and delve right into Where She Went to find out what happens to Adam after…I can say no more. I really want to talk about how it was a satisfying end to all the heartbreak…I have to stop. Grades 9 and up.

How far would you go to save a farm? To save your mother? In 1896, Clara Estby walked across the country with her mother as part of a publicity stunt to raise money to save the family farm and prove that women were just as brave, strong, and capable as men, and therefore deserving of the right to vote. The Year We Were Famous is historical fiction based on the life of author Carol Estby Dagg’s great aunt and great grandmother. Equally inspiring as the story the Dagg tells is her perseverance in the face of years of rejection letters from publishers. Local author and former children’s librarian. Grades 7 and up.

At a recent school visit, I asked the kids to raise their hands if they like poetry. I could practically hear the crickets chirping. So I read them a few selections from Guyku: A Year of Haiku for Boys, written by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, and then I couldn’t hear anything over their laughter. How can you not like a book of poetry that celebrates all the joys of being a boy and the wonderful unique qualities of each season? You can’t. You just can’t. For boys and girls, preschool-grade 3.

Seasons make me think of schedules, and no one likes his schedule better than Mister Bud, the star of Say Hello to Zorro!, by Carter Goodrich. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it by bringing a bossy little dog named Zorro into the mix. But that’s exactly what Mister Bud’s human does. Economy of words at its best. Illustrations that could turn anyone into a dog lover. Preschool-grade 1.

And finally, take one bar, one tall, quiet cowboy, and one girl who’s just passing through town on her way to bigger and better, and you’ve got:

A. something so trite it should require a warning label

B. one saucy love story.

In the case of The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, you get B. And the reason it works is because it really happened. This one’s for the grown up ladies.

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The Trouble with Chickens, written by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

Trouble’s brewing.

Former search-and-rescue dog J.J. Tully wants you to know that chickens are trouble, with their beady, close-set eyes, nervous twitches, and ornery temperaments. How does he know this? Because trouble’s all he gets after Millicent the mama chicken darkens his doorstep. Seems that two of her chicks have gone missing and she needs J.J. Tully’s help.

J.J. Tully’s not interested in helping.

He is interested in the cheeseburger Millicent, whom he calls Moosh to annoy her, offers as payment.


That’s what you get when you mix a mama chicken with a twitching problem, two pesky chicks, two missing chicks, and a disgruntled, cone-wearing dachsund known as Vince the Funnel.

Think of this one as Guy Noir, Private Eye, for the newly independent reading set, except that J.J. Tully is definitely not enamored with his client. After a distinguished career writing picture books about labor relations for the preschool set and the innermost thoughts of worms, Doreen Cronin has created one of the most cleverly-written early chapter books I’ve read in a long time. The Trouble with Chickens is smart and laugh-out-loud funny. Kevin Cornell’s black-and-white illustrations are a perfect complement to the text.


Bring it on. And then some. Because kids will be asking for upcoming titles in this new series.

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Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, by Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern

I have a confession to make. I enjoy an adult book now and then. By that, I mean the intended audience, not the content. Even the most stalwart children’s librarian needs one once in a while. And lately, I’ve been gravitating toward biographical cookbooks. I don’t know if this is the official name of this genre, but it’s how I know them. A compelling life story and amazing recipes. I may or may not be inspired to actually try them–I’m the type of person who eats ramen while reading a cookbook–but at least I’m in the presence of greatness.

The gluten-free girl blog came into my life when I began to seek out information and recipes about gluten-free cooking for Lupe. When I learned that Seattle-area food blogger Shauna James Ahern had written a book, Gluten-Free Girl: How I Found the Food that Loves Me Back…And How You Can Too, followed up by Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, a collaboration with her chef-husband, James Ahern, I put them on hold at the library. I had to wait awhile for the follow-up book. Apparently one or two other people have heard of them.  Like The New York Times.

I can be a bit of a tortoise about these things.

After being diagnosed with celiac disease, Shauna James Ahern focused on her wellness, which included reconnecting with cooking. Healthy, gluten-free cooking transformed her. But something was missing. Nearly forty years old, she wondered if she would ever meet The One.

Then, she met The Chef. Daniel Ahern.

They had it for each other. Bad.

Their commitment to each other and to good food is evident in their stories and recipes. This book is a warm, funny, touching collaboration. Shauna provides the narrative of the progression of their relationship, which is peppered with mouth-watering recipes and luscious full-color photographs. Daniel shares sensible cooking tips that cover topics such as how to get the best value in cooking oil,  using mise en place to streamline the cooking process, and the proper way to boil and mash potatoes.

I opted to make the first meal Daniel made for Shauna: cannellini beans braised in olive oil. It looked so simple and satisfying. And the smell. Oh, the house filled with the aroma of olive oil and rosemary. I forgot all about the dreary weather that prevented us from playing outside. I wanted to be indoors, drawing deep breaths.

And the potato puree? A vision in white.

I’ve looked at a lot of gluten-free cookbooks and their evolution is hard to miss. Where once they appeared to have been run on the same printing press as a telephone book, it’s now common, even expected, that gluten-free cookbooks will contain high quality, full-color photos. The same goes for the recipes. The Aherns bring home the point that gluten-free cooking doesn’t just have to be about substituting flours to try to create an edible cookie or loaf of bread, although the couple have certainly worked on that as well. Gluten-free food isn’t about things lost, but things gained. It’s sumptuous, filling, and a multi-sensory experience.

Gluten-free? Yes. Digestible by anyone? Yes.

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Why Do I Have to Make My Bed? Or, a History of Messy Rooms. Written by Wade Bradford, illustrated by Johanna van der Sterre

Lupe and Rue ask The Question all the time.

Sadly, Nacho Man does, too.

This is Nacho Man’s bed-making at its best. The covers are on the bed. Zigity doesn’t have a problem with unaligned pillows. But he does have a problem with the paparazzi.

I certainly tried to argue my way out of this monotonous chore as a child by pointing out the futility of the act–a made bed will soon be unmade, so why bother?

“Because,” my dad would say, “there’s nothing better than crawling into a freshly made bed at the end of the day.”

I wonder if that’s what his parents told him. The balderdash we spread from one generation to the next.

The parents in Why Do I Have to Make My Bed? Or, a History of Messy Rooms have their own replies when their children whine about this particular chore. The modern-day boy points out that he’s already put away his racetrack and robot-monkey action figures. His mother is suddenly reminded of a story about her mother, when she was young, who complained to her mother that she had already dusted her rock ‘n’ roll records and picked up her Slinky. Which reminds her mother of how her father, when he was young, grumped that he had already fetched water and dusted the phonograph, which reminds his mother…

You get the idea.

How far back do you think the history of not-wanting-to-make-my-bed goes? First-time children’s book author Wade Bradford turns this menial task into an age-old tale, and Johanna van der Sterre’s period illustrations offer a humorous peek into life in other times. Author’s note about the history of chores included, which is a very very nice touch for a picture book.

Share with the cleaning-averse of all ages.

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Binky, by Ashley Spires

Oh, the places they’d go. If only we’d let them out.

But we want them to have a life expectancy that reaches double digits, so their outdoor time is supervised. At one point, we tried a kitty harness for Zigity, which proved to be completely emasculating for both cat and human.

The only thing worse than seeing toddlers on leashes is seeing cats on leashes.

Binky the cat knows our cats’ pain. To his humans, Binky is an ordinary cat–he gets underfoot, scavenges food, kneads their bellies, and revs his purr motor at inconvenient times. But Binky is so much more than that. He is a space cat who would like to complete his important mission to rid the world of aliens (bugs) in order to save his people. But that would require venturing into the deepest corners of outer space (outside). Poor Binky has never even set paw outside.

Will Binky ever have the opportunity to save his humans from aliens? See him in action to find out!

In the Binky series, Ashley Spires has created utterly delightful stories about a chubby indoor cat whose contribution to the world may never be realized. Binky is noble, he is helpful, he is courageous, he is misunderstood.This cat’s a winner with all ages, but definitely consider sharing with elementary kids, cat lovers, fans of graphic novels, and struggling readers.

And don’t miss Binky to the Rescue, in which Binky actually finds himself in “outer space.”

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Fearless: The Story of Racing Legend Louise Smith

I can always tell if Rue or the cats have been in the driver’s seat of our vehicles (emergency brake on, thank you very much).

Cats=cat hair all over the seat and paw prints on the windshield.

Rue=windshield wipers, cruise control, and high beams go haywire when I start the engine.

Is she imitating Nacho Man and me, or does the child have a need for speed? In 1923, seven-year-old Louise Smith decided that if other people could drive a car, then so could she. And so she did.


Did she stop?

You betcha.

When she crashed into a chicken coup.

It was an inauspicious sign for a young girl who was expected to conform to certain behaviors as she got older. She married (a junkyard owner with easy access to spare parts, ironically) and tried to maintain a respectable life. But racing kept curling a tantalizing finger at her. A race promoter used her as a joke for an event. A woman who could drive a car, much less drive it quickly in the company of experienced male drivers? What a lark.

Louise placed third. A racing career was born.

It wasn’t easy. There were crashes that she was lucky to survive. She was taunted. She wasn’t making the kind of money that today’s race car drivers earn.

But she was happy.

I love biographies–that peek into another life, another time, another place–a story that sounds too good to be true but is. Thanks to writer Barb Rosenstock and illustrator Scott Dawson, we have Fearless: The Story of Racing Legend Louise Smith, a great picture book biography that reads like a story and includes an informative author’s note about the history of female racers in the United States. It’s perfect for sharing with 5-8 year-olds, but don’t feel the need to limit yourself to that age range.

Louise Smith didn’t feel the need to be limited by her age or gender.

Just make sure you hide the car keys.

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