Happy Holidays! My family members begin arriving tomorrow, and I'm on a nice long break from work. I even brought home some adult books to read for my own enjoyment while I've got free time. Although I'm home being lazy, I've posted my latest audio book reviews on my Facebook page
if you'd like to check them out. [https://www.facebook.com/shelfemployed/]
I wish everyone a peaceful and joyful holiday season.
Below is my review as it appeared in the March, 2019, edition of School Library Journal. It was definitely one of my favorite books of the year.
FREEDMAN, Deborah. Carl and the Meaning of Life. illus. by
Deborah Freedman. 48p. Viking. Apr. 2019. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780451474988.
PreS-Gr 2--Carl is an earthworm who spends his day tunneling
through the soil. When a field mouse asks him why he does what he does, Carl
realizes that he does not know--but he is determined to find out. Carl visits
with Bear, Rabbit, Fox, and others who are aware of their own purposes, but
not Carl's. It takes a tiny ground beetle to enlighten him.
Nature-inspired watercolor illustrations are gentle and inviting. The text
appears in a simple black font, complementing the artwork. When Carl is busy
at his job, the text is white against the brown earth and meanders across the
pages, following Carl's tunneling track. Tiny black eyes and
communicative postures express the attitudes of Carl and the other animals.
But on the last page, when Carl finally learns his raison d'etre,
readers also see a hint of his satisfied smile. VERDICT This book is a
poignant example of the important contributions of even the smallest
creature, but it's better than that--it's a science lesson as well.
Freedman subtly explains the delicate balance of nature and each
creature's role in maintaining it. Carl is an endearing
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with Randi Hampson
Illustrated by Qin Leng Tundra, 2019
This is a book made for singing. If you don't know the song already, click the video below to hear it. The size is good for sharing, and the playful illustrations feature people and anthropomorphized animals from around the globe. Many races and ethnicities are featured, and a young girl in a wheelchair appears multiple times. Five verses to keep the fun going. Be sure to do the hand motions, too! Skinnamarink is a great choice for story time. If sharing one-on-one, spend ample time poring over the illustrations for fun details.
Thanks to Penguin Workshop for my review copy of Across the Bay by Carlos Aponte. A little boy in Puerto Rico misses his dad who lives "across the
Thanks to Silver Dolphin Books for my review copy of Margaret Wise Brown 5-Minute Stories by Margaret Wise Brown.Eight stories by a beloved author are collected in one book
designed for reading in 5-minute increments.
Thanks to G.P. Putnam's Sons for my review copy of Five Minutes (That's a lot of time) (No, it's not) (Yes, it is) by Liz Garton and Audrey Vernick.A little boy comes to
understand that the length of five minutes is highly subjective.
I don't usually review "easy readers" because I don't like many of them. However, it's hard to resist reviewing an easy reader by the writer and illustrator duo of Mac Barnett and Greg Pizzoli. I admire both of them for their quirky and irreverent sense of humor.
Hi, Jack! is the first in a series of easy reader books featuring Jack—a trouble-making rabbit, Rex—an adorable dog, and The Lady. In the promo materials, Jack is described as mischievous, and The Lady is described as cranky and old, however, that will be up to the reader to decide. With Jack's thievery, graffiti, and trickstering, you may find that The Lady has due cause to be cranky—the old can't be helped. While it's unusual to have an easy reader protagonist that is decidedly naughty, he also is quite capable of contrition and affability. In short, he's just like every kid.
The illustrations are simple and bright and are integral to the story's three chapters, "Jack," "Rex," and "The Lady." In the first chapter, Jack steals a purse from The Lady. Although he gives the purse back, he has purloined the lipstick. In the second chapter, we see Rex with bright red, curvaceous lips, and then discover Jack hiding behind him with a devilish grin.
Rex has red lips.
Rex! Why are your lips red?
Your lips are bright red! Who did that to your lips?
Parents will love him or hate him. Kids will definitely "get" him. Grab your sense of humor and enjoy the rascally humor of Jack. 😄
I have only read two A.S. King books to date (the phenomenal Glory O'Brien's History of the Future being the other), but I feel that I've read enough to know that A.S. King is a writer like no other. As such, her books are difficult to parse into a review that accurately captures the spirit of the book. You can find many reviews of this book that has garnered starred reviews from Bookpage, SLJ, Horn Book, BCCB, Booklist, and SLC. I instead, will offer a haiku review:
Girl appears. Helps weirds. Twisted stories buried deep. What truths does earth keep?
Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black is a book that defies categorization, and is one of the
most unique and affecting books that I've read this year.
Harry Black is a conscientious objector to the war; he is
also an artist. His brother Ellis is a soldier; he is also a writer. They don't
see eye-to-eye, however, both risk his their lives for his country. Harry is a
firefighter—tasked with responding to the fires that break out during the
devastating air raids on the city of London. In a rare wartime opportunity,
Harry and his brother meet up for a beer at a London pub. Soon after they
separate, the block where the pub stood is bombed to obliteration. Harry finds
himself in the hospital in a hazy, surreal state of shock. Ellis' whereabouts
are unknown. There is also a curious young German girl in the
It is in this otherworldly scenario that Harry draws and
thinks, and digs to the tune of an unknown musician who plays with great beauty
amidst the horrors. The reader has the benefit of understanding the musician's
purpose. The story is told in prose, in Harry's sketches, and in the haunting
speech of the musician, whose words turn often to song,
I've a story to tell of Harry Black,
who went to the Underworld and how he came back;
of the love for his brother, who'd pushed him away.
Of London by starlight, under attack,
of bombs falling, of people calling
through darkened streets,
of sirens and wayfarers, of lost souls,
of vicious women and mindless dogs.
These are the things of which I'll sing.
There are many books about WWII, the
Kindertransport, the bombing of London. None are like this one. Read it.
My copy of Voyages in the Underworld of Orpheus Black was provided by the publisher.
I try to squeeze in a few adult books between reviewing for SLJ and AudioFile.
My two latest adult reads were Where the Crawdads Sing and Convenience Store Woman. I loved them both. I won't post a review of Where the Crawdads Sing because it is wildly popular, and good reviews may be found almost everywhere. It has cross-genre appeal (nature, crime, mystery, society) and more than a few surprises.
Here's my short review of Convenience Store Woman, an homage to those who don't fit the mold.
Convenience Store Woman will give you greater respect for the perceived
"otherness" of others, and will compel you to examine the seemingly
benign social mores to which you likely adhere. Short and
by Jory John
Illustrated by Lane Smith
Random House, 2018
Below is my review of Giraffe Problems as it appeared in School Library Journal. Oct 2018, Vol. 64 Issue 10, p55, 2 p.
PreS-Gr 2-In a follow-up to Penguin Problems, John and Smith team up
again and bring their zany brand of comedy. Edward the giraffe has a
problem with his neck—it's just too necky. Who wants such a long neck?
"Everybody stares at it. This guy. That guy. Him. Her. Them. Whatever
that is. Her again." Edward envies his fellow African animals, who
generally respond unfavorably. When Edward admires the zebra's classic
stripes, the zebra snaps, "Quit staring at me," but it takes a
self-effacing turtle named Cyrus to convince him that his neck is just
perfect. A foldout page reveals Edward using his neck for its intended
purpose. In a beautiful introduction to the uniqueness of a giraffe's
spots, Smith has created large, block-printed spots in natural colors to
adorn the end pages. The textured print continues throughout, visible
in the hides of animals, the bark of trees, and the textured ground of
the African plain. Of course, there is the theme of self-acceptance and a
bit of sublime silliness as well, especially in Edwards's fruitless
attempts at camouflage and in the expressively simple eyes of Cyrus the
turtle. VERDICT This book will appeal to older preschoolers as well as
elementary school kids, and would lend itself perfectly to dramatic
interpretation or an art lesson in sponge or block printing.
Gideon Quinton is the book's main character, a rising middle-schooler whose
family has recently relocated to Nevada. He is the story's main character, but his new
neighbor, Roona, drives the plot. She and her mother are most everything that
the Quintons are not. Against all odds, she and Gideon become inseparable.
I don't want to say that this is a book about depression and incarceration
and a troubled family because I don't want that to put you off from reading it. What
I want to say is that if you have a child or were a child, or are a child, or
know a child that comes from a perfectly nice, safe, and boring family—be
thankful, be grateful, be kind—and read this book because you need to know that
there are other families that are just as loving as yours, but they're struggling
and they need you look on their struggles with compassion rather than
If you have a child, or are a child, or were a child, or know a child
that comes from a family struggling with depression or an incarcerated
parent—be caring, be resilient, be persistent—and read this book because you
need to know that there are other families out there that are just like yours. You
are not alone.
With a sprinkling of magical realism and hopefulness, Shaunta Grimes does a stellar job of tackling difficult topics for young readers. I hope you read or listen to her
is a free summer audiobook program for teens. Returning April 25, 2019,
SYNC will give away two complete audiobook downloads a week - pairs of
high interest titles, based on weekly themes. Sign up for email or text
alerts and be first to know when new titles are available to download at
Remember, these are completely free with no strings attached. Download now, listen whenever, keep forever. You can't beat that!
The complete lineup with available dates is below.
I'm particularly excited about this book, because it includes my story, "All the News That's Fit to Chew," featuring my dog, Annie! My story recounts Annie's desire to maintain her sense of purpose and duty after our family was displaced during Superstorm Sandy.
I hope you'll have an opportunity to read it. If purchasing the book is not in your budget, ask your library if they can acquire a copy.
If you're fond of dog videos and photos, I've included one below, but there will plenty to see on Twitter at the launch party for Life Lessons from the Dog, today at 2pm. Search for the hash tag #CSSLifeLessonsfromtheDog to follow along.
I'm so thankful to Chicken Soup for the Soul for including my story.
Queen of the Sea is a 400-page historical fiction, graphic novel adventure set in a time and place reminiscent of the sixteenth century British Empire. A prologue introduces a queen in mortal danger, and the story then shifts to Margaret, an orphan who lives on a remote island in the Silver Sea. She has been raised in a convent. The nuns, a few servants, a priest, and Margaret are the island's only inhabitants, and life for Margaret is peaceful, pious, and predictable. A ship with supplies arrives twice a year to bring supplies. However, one day, the ship brings a boy and a lady, and life on the island will never be the same.
Queen of the Sea is a rousing adventure, but it's also an education in sixteenth century politics and the lifestyle of a religious order in the early days of modern Western history. Though the destiny of women was often determined by men, Queen of the Sea offers strong, but believable, female protagonists in young Margaret, Lady Cameron, and the nuns. A sequel will be most welcome!
My advance copy of Queen of the Sea was in black and white with only a sample page in color. The first 3/4 of the book were finished black and white drawings, the latter portion of the book was comprised of sketches. I almost wish that everyone had an opportunity to see a graphic novel is this format. It makes one so much more aware of the work that goes into every aspect of a book.
My copy of Queen of the Sea was provided by the publisher.
It's baseball season—my favorite season of the year! What better way to kick off the season than with a review of a new baseball book? I'm no Yankee fan—anyone who knows me in person or online will attest to my affinity for the Phils, but it's hard not to admire Yogi Berra.
In this picture book for older readers, Barb Rosenstock offers a well-rounded look at baseball legend, Yogi Berra. Yogi is well-known for his many unintentionally humorous quotes, or "Yogi-isms," but no one would know of these if it were not for his phenomenally successful baseball career. From childhood to retirement, Rosenstock shows that there was more to Yogi than skill and humor. Yogi was short, unattractive, and the son of Italian immigrants during a time when that was often a cause for ridicule or discrimination—but that did not hamper his good nature, determination, or enthusiasm for baseball. When fans or players taunted him for being ugly,
"So?" Yogi said. "I don't hit with my face." He ignored the name-calling and let his bat do the talking.
Yogi loved his family, his friends, his country, and baseball. Terri Widener's acrylic illustrations eschew details in favor of creating illustrations that convey the mood or action of the the text on each page. The text is unobtrusive in a small black font, however, "Yogi-isms" appear in larger blue font with quotation marks. In most illustrations, Yogi is closely outlined in white, presumably so that kids will easily be able to pick him out of each illustration. Widener captures Yogi's endearing personality and his baseball prowess and acumen.
Author's Note, photographs, statistics, quotes, Bibliography, and Source Notes round out this picture book biography for older readers. Sure to be a hit for baseball season—especially for Yankee fans.
Some Yogi: The Life, Loves, and Language of Baseball Legend Yogi Berra extras are below.
According to USA Today Sports, Yogi once said, "I’m lucky. Usually you’re dead to get your own museum, but I’m still alive to see mine." If you're ever in the neighborhood of Little Falls, NJ, you can check out the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, too.
My copy of Yogi: The Life, Loves, and Language of Baseball Legend Yogi Berra was provided by the publisher.
There are not many middle grade books featuring deaf characters, and this one should be added to every library. Narrator, Abigail Revasch, and author, Lynne Kelly, convey in words and sounds what cannot be written or heard. The song of a unique whale and the linguistic beauty of American Sign Language (ASL) are treated with wonder and reverence in this insightful glimpse into deaf culture.
In nine chapters ranging from the beginning of recorded history, through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the modern era and the present day, Dog Days of History investigates the varied facets of the relationship between humans and canines. Whether as companions, antagonists, status symbols, or employees, dogs have been with us from the beginning. Dog Days uses a combination of dog photos and facsimiles of period artwork to illustrate our interactions with man's best friend.
Readers will learn a variety of wide-ranging facts such as the etymology of the words "cur" and "curtailed," and which dog was once exclusive to Chinese royalty and symbolized the lion. This middle grade nonfiction title will appeal to lovers of dogs and history and also to kids who enjoy compendiums and books of random facts. There are plenty of illustrations to break up the text in this well-researched, 112-page book.
Research Notes, Author's Note, Select Biblidography (yes, you read that right), Rufferences
(someone has a punny sense of humor), To Dig Up More Sources (other
books to read), To Sniff Out Places to Visit (a collection of websites),
Index, and Illustration Sources round out this glimpse of dogs
How wonderful to learn interesting historical facts through the medium of man's best friend! I highly recommend this one.
The “five easy steps” in the book’s title are more difficult than they sound when the cat refuses to cooperate! The title page shows a dark-skinned girl with pink hair striding purposefully with a limp white cat under her arm. All signs point to a successful bath experience until,
Fill the tub with warm water.
The girl fills the tub with too much warm water, prompting a new step one,
Put a little warm water in the bath.
As “step one,” changes with the circumstances, Mr. Flea, escapes. After a lengthy (and messy) search throughout the house, step one becomes,
Have some milk and cookies.
The steps change amusingly as the cat wreaks havoc in the house, the water cools to an unacceptable temperature, and the process continues through a multitude of steps before resolving in a way that pleases as least one of the two!
Simple ink drawings are digitally colored with a limited palette. The cat’s only coloring is a round pink nose that perfectly matches the girl’s hair buns. The same pink boldly lists the ever-increasing steps required to “give your cat a bath.” Pages are a soft beige with white comic book style margins. The text is witty and droll instruction,
Chase your cat down the stairs!
The girl’s comments appear in white word bubbles above her head,
“I thought you said there were only five steps!”
The girl and Mr. Flea burst with action and expression. The result is a hilarious confirmation of the well-known fact that cats do whatever they please. How to Give Your Cat a Bath in Five Easy Steps is sure to be a favorite for small group sharing, cat families, and children who appreciate nuanced hilarity.
Fox the Tiger
By Corey R. Tabor
Harper Collins, 2018
Below is my review of Fox the Tiger as it appeared in School Library Journal.
PreS-Gr 1--Fox yearns to be a tiger. "Tigers are big. Tigers are fast ... Tigers are the best." Fox and his friends, Turtle and Rabbit, spend the day pretending until a rainstorm washes away their disguises. Tabor uses pencil, watercolor, and crayon in a bright, but earthy palette. Most pages have a single illustration which provides context for one or two sentences. After Fox paints himself to look like a tiger, he admires his new stripes in a full-length mirror, can of paint nearby: "There. Now I am a tiger," says Tiger." The three friends have simple, but expressive cartoon features that add emotion to the story. Limited background details, creamy white pages, and an uncomplicated font are a perfect combination for an emerging reader. A humorous ending provides a positive message of self-acceptance that would have more power if Fox's epiphany came from within, rather than from the affirmation of others. VERDICT This is Fox's first appearance in an easy reader and it will surely be popular with children who enjoyed him in picture book format.
Sweep swept the journals, receiving starred reviews in Horn Book, SLJ, PW, Booklist, Kirkus, and School Library Connection.
In addition to AudioFile Magazine's Earphones Award for "truly exceptional titles that excel in narrative voice and style,
characterizations, suitability to audio, and enhancement of the text," Sweep recently won the Sydney Taylor Book Award in the Older Readers category. award honors "outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience."