Sunday, August 19, 2018


By Ingela P. Arrhenius
Published September 2016

Why we chose this book:
I've requested selections from Candlewick Press in the past, and the Candlewick Studio imprint provided us with this unsolicited review copy.

Mom's Review

Thirty-two adorable creatures are labelled in this enormous picture book. That's it.

With bright colors, fun fonts, and cute expressions, I'm not sure who enjoyed the whimsical renditions most. If it wouldn't destroy the book, it would be fun to decorate a kiddo's room with the poster-sized pages. My first thought upon seeing this book was, "So cute!" But then I asked myself what T would gain from a book of animals that he mostly already knew. Aside from reinforcing those animals, presenting a few new ones, and introducing the work of a Swedish artist, Animals provides a springboard for games. I recently found out that T never learned that a frog says, "Ribbit," (he does now), so we started with an animal sounds game. He has LOVED this! We just say the animal and then each make the noise if we know it. And if we don't, then I stream a video clip so we can see and hear the real thing. Have you ever heard a meerkat? Now we have! For our next read, we are going on a letter hunt, finding all the letters T can recognize. With a different font for each animal, it should be interesting. I had better expand my assessment of the book to cute and versatile!

Son's Review
(age 3 and 1/2)

Mom: Did you have a favorite animal?

Son: My favorite animal was the bear.

Mom: What did you think was the best thing about this book?

Son: I'll show you. So this is a meerkat. And this is a zebra.

Mom: What's the most important thing to know about this book?

Son: The important thing to know is that some animals bellow.

Mom: What's the best thing about this book?

Son: That flamingos are in the water.

Mom: This would be a good book for people who...?

Son: For G. Because flamingos are orangish reddish pinkish and G likes orange.

Mom: Did this book make you have any questions?

Son: Ummm. Not particularly.

comparing the illustration to Pink Bunny

picking favorite animals from the endpaper

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Allie All Along

By Sarah Lynne Reul
Published August 7, 2018

Why we chose this book:
To reinforce healthy ways to cope with anger. Sterling Publishing provided a review copy.

Mom's Review

Allie's brother helps her process her anger over a broken crayon.

T and I both like this book immensely. Since it arrived in the mail about two weeks ago, he has asked for it as his bedtime story almost every night. One of his favorite aspects is the endpaper. The front endpaper depicts a broken crayon against a backdrop of red scribbles. The back endpaper depicts that same crayon taped back together against a backdrop of a rainbow. He loves flipping back and forth, comparing the anger and happiness over the broken and repaired crayon. I have to limit how many times he may do this, or we'd never get to bed.

I've acknowledged before that my reviews tend toward strong praise. This is deliberate - I usually seek out books for specific reasons, and I often find what I am looking for. Allie All Along is no exception. It is narrated by a child observing his sister's anger. He validates her feelings, identifies with her, and coaches her on healthily handling them. From punching a pillow, squeezing a stuffed animal, taking a deep breath, and counting backwards, to finally hugging, he sets a positive, realistic, and doable example for not only his sister, but children reading the book. Observers will note that on the hardcover, beneath the book jacket, the brother has fixed the crayon (just like on the final endpaper). I could continue to laud different aspects of Reul's book, like the loving relationship portrayed between siblings, but I will just say that it is worth reading to kids who get angry. And what kid doesn't?

Son's Review
(age 3 and 1/2)

Son: I think the little boy drew Allie and then covered her up in a monster costume.

Mom: Why do you think he covered her up in a monster suit?

Son: Um, I don't know.

Mom: I don't think that he covered her up. I think that the artist, Reul, wanted to show that Allie's anger made her feel like a monster.

Son: Why was she angry?

Mom: Well, what happened to her crayon on the first page?

Son: It broke.

Mom: And that made her angry. What makes you angry?

Son: When it is time to go to bed.

Mom: Did you think those were good things she did to help with her anger?...What might be good for you to do?

Son: Yeah. I would want to blow at fingers.

Mom: If you met Allie, would you tell her anything else she could do to help herself?

Son: Yeah. She could read a book, a book about angry monsters because she's angry and the monsters are angry.

Mom:Would you want to be friends with Allie? What would you want to do with her?

Son: Yeah. I think she would want to color and go to Mohegan Sun.
(We took him to the arcade at Mohegan Sun, and now all his suggestions for what to do with guests include this destination.)

Mom: Sometimes when I'm angry I feel like growling like a monster. What do you feel like doing?

Son: Hitting a pillow or boxing a pillow. Let me show you...

Boxing a pillow.
Top: book jacket
Bottom: hardcover

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Midnight Monsters

By Helen Fiel
Expected publication: August 13, 2018

Why we chose this book:
T loves spooky things, so spooky (not truly scary) books are always on my radar. When I saw this, I thought it would be right up his alley. Laurence King Publishing provided a review copy.

Mom's Review

Midnight Monsters is a work of paper-cutting genius. Each layered pop-up casts shadows of different settings, such as a forest, a castle, or a seascape. The audience is then invited to find the monsters hidden in the shadows when the page is illuminated. Text and a silhouette example introduce the hiding creatures. There is an overarching narrative in which the audience is invited to travel from one setting to the next.

This is the perfect balance of spooky and fun. T loves spooky things, but does not actually like being scared.  This book walks that line perfectly. The monsters are not particularly fearsome or friendly, but are described matter of factly, staying true to their origins myths/literature. Diverse cultures serve as Fiel's sources (African, European, North American...).  T has his favorite pages and likes to take turns with me shining the light or finding the monsters. We have both been having a lot of fun experimenting with the angle and distance of light to change the images on the wall, so I guess this is also a practical lesson on the path of light!

I cannot imagine a book that fits T more to a T than this: it is pop-up, it is spooky, it is monsters, it is interactive, it has mythological creatures. These are all of his current favorite book characteristics. And I cannot be more impressed with the artistry and the variety of monsters. When I can learns something new from T's books, I count that as a real win.

Son's Review
(age 3 1/2)

Mom: Were you scared?

Son: I wasn't too scared.

Mom: What did you like?

Son: At the first I was a little scared, but then I realized monsters and ghosts aren't real.

Mom: That's right. They can just be fun, right?  What was fun in this book?

Son: Right...Yes. We knew what the different monsters did.

Mom: We learned some new monsters. I kind of liked the dingonek. Did you have a favorite monster?

Son: My favorite is all the ones.
(T refuses to pick favorites lately. He always wants to pick everything.)

Mom: What if you could only pick one?

Son: I would pick...I would pick...I would pick *points* [the knocker].

Mom: Wasn't it fun doing the seek and find? What did you like about it?

Son: Yeah. There are monsterrrrrrrrs!

Mom: What did you think of the game? Why?

Son: It's a great game. Because I love MONSTERS!

Mom: Was it easy to find them or hard?

Son: Easy. Because they were shadows, and I can make a monster out of my fingers.
(We've been making shadow images for the past couple of months, ever since we saw a shadow puppet show. T likes experimenting with all the different shapes we can make with our fingers.)

T's plan for our next read:
"So I'm gonna be the job of fighting the monsters and mommy's gonna be the job of shining the light."

Friday, July 27, 2018

The Star

By Amariah Dixon
Published in 2013

Why I chose this book:
I would like to expand this blog to include chapter books before T is actually reading chapter books. When a review opportunity arose to review a YA Christian fantasy novel, I was interested. I accepted a copy of the book from the author in exchange for an honest review.


You know that dream where something ominous is after you, but you don't know why? That is what sixteen-year-old Riley faces repeatedly in The Star: How the Magic Began. His story begins with abuse by a group of bullies at his school. Shortly thereafter, he wakes to find a star imprint over his eye. He hides this from his parents, but cannot avoid showing it to his friend Kelly. Almost immediately thereafter, they are chased by a malicious ghost army. Riley escapes from one horrific encounter only to be thrust into another: evil clowns, mad scientists, ghouls, grim reapers, and the like. Each creature must be battled, be it in Colorado, an alternate dimension, or the magical land of Zefa, which Riley and Kelly enter through a mysterious door in the forest. In Zefa, he is able to use magic against his adversaries. Although most new characters are abusive bullies, some are victims of bullies; these individuals he befriends. The novel concludes with many questions left unanswered; it is clearly intended to set the stage for another installment.

Billed as a Christian book, The Star is primarily a story of good vs. evil. Riley is pitted against various "evil" characters, many of whom avow their loyalty to the Vile One outright. I have asked myself why Riley must experience animosity from almost everyone he meets, animosity that leads to attempts on his life. Perhaps we are meant to read Riley as the messianic figure in this story: he is selected by the One of Light and comes into his power as a young adult, he stands against abuse of the weak, and he acquires followers as he travels through Zefa (and those followers become as close as brothers themselves). I wonder if he will need to die in a future novel in order to fulfill the purpose for which he was marked with the star.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

This Is Just My Face: Try Not to Stare

By Gabourey Sidibe
Published in May 2017

Why I chose this book:
I enjoy reading memoirs of contemporary figures. They are personal histories that help me better understand how other people think and view the world.  When I saw this among Harcourt Houghton Mifflin's Spring offerings, I requested a review copy, which was provided.


Gabourey Sidibe, the star of the film Precious, relates her struggles and triumphs from childhood and young adulthood.

From a young age, Gaborey struggled with healthy eating; she struggled through obesity and an eating disorder. She also struggled with her parents' divorce (when her Senegalese father engaged in his cultural norm of polygamy), financial hardship, and bullying.  Hand in hand with those issues, she suffered from depression, to the point that it became necessary to drop out of college. After improving her mental health, she was unable to re-enroll in college due to financial constraints and then struggled to find work due to her lack of a college education. She ended up working as a phone sex "talker" and helped to support her family. Through a series of fortuitous events, she arrived at an audition for the film Precious and became the actor she is today.

This Is Just My Face was eye-opening. I didn't know anything about Gabourey before reading this book. The synopsis of the book stated that it was about the star from Precious; I had seen the film, I like memoirs, and I especially like reading about inspirational or strong women, so my attention was caught, but that was all I knew going in. I couldn't have told you who Gabourey was a month ago. Now I think I know her as well as she is comfortable being known by the public, though her writing style is such that I felt like I was having a long conversation with a best friend. And she is funny! That was really my biggest impression of her, aside from her being an inspirational example, that is. She tackles serious topics, shedding light on how she has dealt with unhealthy relationships, what has precipitated her forgiveness, and about maintaining her mental health. Her strength and perseverance are heartening, and reading about her responses to different struggles has validated my own responses to similar issues, such as forgiveness and (unrelated) bullying. I devoured this book and have been recommending it to everyone I can. I am a new fan of Gabourey Sidibe after reading this.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Aiden the Basketball Star

Written by Suzan Johnson
Illustrated by Sana Freeman
Published in 2018

Why we chose this book:
We loved Aiden the Soccer Star, so when the author asked if we'd like to review this second book in the series, we enthusiastically said, "Yes!" The author provided a review copy.

Mom's Review

Aiden reluctantly tries out for the basketball team, makes the team, and finds pleasure in the sport by the end of the season.

Similar to the first book, Aiden has conflicting feelings about a new sport. He promised his father that he would try out for basketball even though he doesn't really want to. He follows through on his promise and makes the team. With help from his dad and from friends, he develops the skills to play point guard, but not the confidence. He questions his height and his abilities. With extra guidance from his close friend, he improves his shooting and gains some confidence, but remains hesitant during games. In the final game, he realizes that he could make a difference for his team if he would finally trust himself. He does and the team wins.

I liked this book for same reasons as the first. It realistically depicts a child's reluctance and insecurity when starting something new. It also shows that it takes significant time for a child to overcome his insecurity. Common sense says this is normal, but I feel like I often see picture books about new experiences fast-tracking the reluctance-to-exuberance change. Aiden the Basketball Star does not do this. Aiden's feelings are validated by friends and family, and then he receives their support and encouragement, including many hours of instruction. He must work hard to learn new skills. It is the combination of external encouragement and internal motivation that finally lead him to self-confidence. The story rings true and will likely resonate with children facing something new.

What is this book about? T says it best: "That it's okay to feel nervous."

Son's Review
(age 3)

Mom: What was your favorite part?

Son: I liked all the parts. All the parts made me feel extra good when we were reading it.

Mom: If you got to meet Aiden, if he said he was scared to play a new sport, what would you say to him?

Son: You can play the new sport with me.

Mom: What new sport would you invite him to play?

Son: I'd invite him to play baseball.

Mom: Do you think Aiden would like baseball? ... Why?

Son: Yeah. ... I don't know!

Mom: When would it be a good time to read this book?

Son: When it's lunch time!

Running around the court shouting,
"I'm Aiden! I'm Aiden!"

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Crowns of Croswald

By D. E. Night
Published 2017

Why I chose this book:
I would like to include more children's reading levels than just picture books, so when I saw that reviews for this children's chapter book were sought, I responded. The publisher provided a copy for review.

Mom's Review

High fantasy, sorcery without the sword. This magical mystery adventure features enchantments performed with quill pens and enchanted gems. Ivy Lovely, the sixteen-year-old protagonist, runs away from her lowly job in the castle kitchen, to be picked up by a representative from a magical school. She learns that she is enrolled to begin learning magic in a number of days, although she has no idea how this could come to pass, almost reminiscent of Harry Potter. Despite the improbability, she recognizes an opportunity not to be missed. 

Ivy's school year progresses as you might expect, with magical mishaps, a bully, a secret crush, and an unfair teacher. What sets this novel apart is the magic and mystery. Ivy is studying to become a scrivenist. This means that she can perform magic using a quill pen, has a particular talent for realistic drawing, and has magic flowing through her blood. Although I am a bit unclear on how exactly the students harness their magic and use their quills or gems, suspension of disbelief came easily. Ivy's studies, as well as many strange events, lead her to research an older scrivenist by the name of Derwin Edgar Night. Her investigation leads to more questions than answers, a search into her own history, and exploration of several forbidden places. She ultimately confronts the Dark Queen in a magical battle, learns her own history, and sets Derwin free from his enchanted prison. Excitement abounds in this novel for tweens and teens. I had fun reading it now, and I know I would have gobbled it up as a kid.

Reading The Crowns of Croswald as an adult, I particularly liked the depiction of Ivy's relationship with her roommate. Although they came from vastly different backgrounds, they were fast friends and always their authentic selves. Furthermore, each was ready to do what was right despite others' opposition. It's a prime example of supportive, healthy friendship between girls for a young audience to see.

On Our Street

Written by Dr. Jillian Roberts and Jaime Casap Illustrated by Jane Heinrichs Published February 13, 2018 Why we chose this book: Liv...