Adventures with best friends, even the annoying ones

Duck is a bit high-maintenance for a best friend.  Bear reluctantly goes along with Duck’s plans, after much enthusiasm (bugging) from Duck, and then still finds a way to make himself the center of attention when Bear calls a stop because he’s cold and wet and miserable.  “PLEASE TAKE CARE OF ME” is what Bear sees on Duck’s roof after he’s booted Duck out of his house.  Then Duck tumbles from the roof.  Sigh.

When you write it all down, Duck sounds sort of unpleasant, although it’s all mostly funny in the way that you snipe at people you love and then laugh about it.  Bear might really want to find a new neighbor, but you can also see how their friendship boosts both of them up.

And then there are Pine and Boof, off on a new adventure.  They are opposites, too.  Pine cares about the details and thinks about centrifuge training.  Boof mainly seem focused on the snacks.  Together, though, they will try to explore the universe to return a space egg (not really) to its mother.  Fun & silly in a different way.

Pine & Boof:  Blast Off by Ross Burach

All Right Already! – a snowy story by Jory John and Benji Davies


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The title says it all, people

bibliophileOddly enough, I think I first came across this book by way of some awesome note cards I found while looking for something else on line.  So when I saw the book, I was all “Um, ok, of course I’m reading this.”  While my tone here might seem very bored-cynical-sarcastic-difficult-to-impress-and-young, do not be fooled.  It’s a whimsical day here in Iowa, people.  We’re all a little goofy from the weather and using inappropriate tones and all that.

I mostly read this book while also watching TV.   And that’s not a criticism in this very specific instance.  It’s the perfect book for dipping in and out or chatting with someone about what you think the author missed or got 100% right.  The illustrations are, of course, superb, and the many book-related spreads about bookmobiles, bookstores, Little Free Libraries and the like are exceptionally groovy.

Fun!  We need some fun, right?  Also, you can find the note cards on Amazon or AND if you want to see more of her work, check out

Bibliophile by Jane Mount

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Just look at ME! ME! ME!

Sometimes we feel like we aren’t seen for who we really are – adventurers, individuals, really smart, creative, thinkers, doers…all that.  So it’s a joy to come across the sweet silliness you’ll find in these two stories of misunderstood identities:

Horse Meets Dog by Elliott Kalan and Tim Miller – Is it ever a compliment to call what is clearly a dog something else?  How would you feel to be enthusiastically called “tiny baby” because you’re clearly not a “normal” horse?  Oh, there is so much to work with here, people!  But mostly it’s just a completely ridiculous, confused conversation between two animals who think the other one must be like them, although the other is clearly not.  Kindergartners, here we come!

Penguinaut by Marcia Colleen and Emma Yarlett – If you are driven to build a spaceship out of a cardboard box – don’t try this at home, kids — all because you are little and your friends are all big, and you have something to prove – well, good for you!  Sometimes you have to travel the world or go to outer space to realize how much you love the life you have around you.  This one’s sweet but not gooey, if you know what I mean, so it’s definitely worth a read or two.

Both are also good reminders that how we see others is not necessarily how they see themselves.  Be yourself, giant dog!  Level up, tiny horse!  Take flight, penguin!

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A long span of history with much work left to do

Isabella was born into slavery but seemed to always see a path out.  When she was promised her freedom and then that promise was broken, she found a way to take it.  Later she used the law to force her former owner to get her son back after he was sold into the South.  And she was tall, so tall.

The woman who became Sojourner Truth, that same Isabella, used her voice to question and speak out, as did Clara Luper in Oklahoma many, many years later.  Clara Luper encouraged her students to use their voices, and eventually Katz drugstores all across the country integrated their lunch counters.  She continued to speak out against injustice for the rest of her life.

Wonderful stories about the power we all have to create change.

So Tall Within: Sojourner Truth’s Long Walk Toward Freedom by Gary Schmidt and Daniel Minter

Someday is Now:  Clara Luper and the 1958 Oklahoma City Sit-ins by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and Jade Johnson


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Those new scanners just mean I have to check out more books…

We recently got new circulation tech at our library that isn’t exactly like the old stuff — is it ever?  I am one of those people who doesn’t mind winging it on a lot of things, but I just know that if I don’t know really how tech stuff works, that’s the day I’m going to have five patrons ask me to help them navigate it.

So to avoid personal confusion next weekend when I work at a different branch which has slightly different new tech stuff, I decided to go peruse the new picture books at that branch so that I’d have an excuse to try out their machines in advance.  But really, that trip was all about was finding new picture books I’ve somehow missed in my own bubble.  It happens, friends.  All the bases just can’t be covered sometimes.

And what did I find?  At least 12 new books to look at.  Woo hoo!  Among them were these four really great picture book biographies, all about completely different kinds of people.  Even better!

Sewing the Rainbow: the story of Gilbert Baker and the Rainbow Flag by Gayle Pitman and Holly Clifton-Brown

Not only does this book actually look glittery (oh my!), but it turns out that Gilbert Baker, the creator of the rainbow flag for the LGBT community was originally from Kansas.  While Kansas mostly did not work out for him, he found a home and a career in San Francisco.

Thirty Minutes Over Oregon:  a Japanese pilot’s World War II story by Marc Tyler Nobleman and Melissa Iwai

What’s really wonderful about this story is what happened many years after Nobuo Fujita bombed (somewhat unsuccessfully) the Oregon coastline.  It’s a sweet story of forgiveness and the power of international relationships and friendship.

Hammering for Freedom by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and John Holyfield

Another amazing story, about William Lewis, an enslaved man who finds a way to free himself and his entire family, while also building a business and breaking boundaries.  The illustrations are especially wonderful.

Eliza: the story of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton by Margaret McNamara and Esmé Shapiro

Do you have any Hamilton fans in your life?  We have one young patron who is a little obsessed with anything Hamilton these days, and while this isn’t a Ron Chernow biography – it’s several hundred pages shorter for one thing – it is packed with information and gives a fuller picture of Eliza’s fascinating life after Alexander’s death.


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Because there’s really never enough Dolly, is there?

CoverReveals_F15_Dumplin.jpgHey friends!  This is just a reminder that today, TODAY, the movie version of Dumplin’ comes out on Netflix.  This is a perfect time to read or re-read it, and maybe squeeze in the follow-up, Puddin’, too.  And because it’s Friday, and I can, I’m tacking on my post from way back when I first read the book, just because.

I love Dolly Parton. Put Dolly Parton in a book, and I will read it. Seriously. Anyone looking at me would probably not guess how much I love Dolly Parton, because I’m pretty stereotypically Midwestern and middle-aged in my appearance. The last time I tried to add anything remotely glamorous to my wardrobe was probably about 1988, after getting back from a summer in Europe trying to see the Smiths in concert. (Unfortunately, one of the band members was having a bit of a drug problem and went into treatment, meaning I saw a lot of other late 1980s European favorites, but no Smiths.) Let’s just say I wore a lot of black then. During the brief period that followed, I might have tried to add some color to my wardrobe. Crazy!

Anyway, I’m not outwardly Dolly-like in any way, but I’m a fan. Why? Because every single time I’ve heard her talk to an interviewer, she is saying something positive about people who have struggled for one reason or another, mostly because they just didn’t fit into someone else’s picture of who they should be. (Also, she’s donated a lot of money for literacy programs, and that’s pretty awesome, too.)

So it’s easy to see how Dolly has become such an inspiration to Willowdean, who’s never quite lived up to her mother’s beauty pageant fantasy of who her daughter could be. Willowdean is overweight and awkward, and aware enough of how things work in her small town in Texas to understand that she’s never going to fit into the standard box of expectations set out for her.

She’s also losing her best friend and kind of obsessed with Private School Bo, who she works with at a fast-food restaurant. Entering the beauty pageant her mother’s so caught up in might not seem like the most obvious solution to any of Willowdean’s problems, but it’ll be life-changing in one way or another. And there will be Dolly, so it’ll have to be fun.

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

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Memories of a life lost

sea prayer“I said to you,

‘Hold my hand.

Nothing bad will happen.’

These are only words.”

So much is communicated in this beautiful book.  Though it is short, the text is powerful and it’s full of dramatic illustrations.  It reminds us of the lives refugees leave behind, lives once peaceful and made up  of small moments, just like ours.

Sea Prayer also speaks to the tragedy of what people experience when war arrives.   Does anyone really deserve this?  Do we all bear some responsibility to help?  What can be done?  How can this change?  Will we ever find peace?

Beautiful.  Just beautiful.  Powerful for readers of all ages, although you might want to preview it for the very young.

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

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No storytime crafts. Please no crafts.

just add glitterOh, the joy of glitter!  The sparkle!  The shine!

I am all for jazzing up your personal environment, adding some tinsel to the tree and so on.  But as we learn here, sometimes TOO much glitter can happen, especially if it obscures what is really beautiful about the world.

Also, it’s a pain to clean up.  It gets absolutely everywhere – clothes, cracks in the floor, stuck in the carpet – as a few of my library friends know, having bravely dived into craft projects with glitter and finding out how deeply and far it can spread.  But life is full of challenges, right?  You just have to decide when enough is enough, and too much is too much.  Or something like that.

Just Add Glitter by Angela DiTerlizzi and Samantha Cotterill

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Come for the illustrations, stay for the story

eye I really can’t gush enough about the illustrations in this one.

I’m not sure I’d even try to read it to a group of kids; there’s just too much to see that calls for a closer look.  (There’s also enough text on the page that it would work better with an older child or in one-on-one reading.)

It’s an interesting peek into history and brings the time period to life in a way you don’t often see in picture books.  We’ll learn about Allan Pinkerton and his network of detectives, including the first female detective, Kate Warne.  And we’ll also learn a little about the history around Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration and the fears that he would be assassinated.

And all the while, we’ll have those cool illustrations to enjoy.  Yay!

The Eye that Never Sleeps:  How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln by Marissa Moss & Jeremy Holmes

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Potatoes and their pants

potato pantsAnd eggplants and their pants, too.

This is a silly story about a potato that desperately wants some fancy pants.  As you may already know, potatoes don’t often have access to stylish pants. So when a fashion guru decides to create them, you had better find a way to get your spuddy derriere down to the pants store.  You might come across an eggplant with questionable motives – don’t they all have questionable motives, really? – but if you perservere, those pants might just be yours.  And you might learn a thing or two about forgiveness, too.

Ah, Laurie Keller.  Another fun one!

Potato Pants! by Laurie Keller

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We feel your pain, Lester.

lesters dreadful sweatersWhen I was very, very young, around the time of the Bicentennial, a relative really got into making things with granny squares she knitted out of patriotic colors.  So I’m in a 1976 family photo wearing a blocky red, white and blue vest and looking a tad annoyed.  If Grandma Dora knitted you something, you wore it at least once for a family picture or when you went to visit on Sunday or something.  Sigh.  The yarn was kind of strangely scratchy, although it was not made from anything remotely natural, and it was weirdly shaped and really fantastically ugly.  Fortunately, my siblings are wearing floor-length prairie dresses and lots of polyester in the same photo, so I’m not alone.

A librarian friend mentioned this book from 2012 to me in passing the other day, and wow, it’s fun.  Not only does it start off with a kid who’s got a list of Suspicious Stuff Starting with a C, there are groovy illustrations, funny moments, and even happy clowns, if you like that kind of thing.   Lester has a cousin — which oddly also starts with a C — is that a sign of things to come? —  who would love my Grandma Dora, and his parents seem to think like mine did.  If someone gives you something, put it on, mister, and get on with your day.

It made me realize that my whole life might have changed if we’d lived next to clowns and not large, boring families.  And, hey, there’s much to be thankful for, too — Grandma Dora didn’t find out about pom-poms until much later on.  By then, she’d moved on to making afghans.

Lester’s Dreadful Sweaters by K.G. Campbell

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A girl and her formulas should not be parted…

nothing stopped sophieSophie Germain was not a girl (or later a woman) to be stopped when it came to her love of math.  Her parents tried to dissuade her, thinking there was no way in France during the revolution she’d ever be able to live a “normal” life, getting married to someone appropriate, having a life that others could understand.

Sophie had other plans, however.  She had persistence in astronomical qualities, never giving up despite the fact that male mathematicians were only interested in her ideas until she turned out to be a woman.  But she loved math and the challenge of figuring out how things worked so much that we was revolutionary in her own way.

The story is fascinating, and the illustrations just add to the interest – numbers pop up everywhere, formulas and patterns flow across the pages.  Wonderful.

Nothing Stopped Sophie :  The Story of Unshakable Mathematician Sophie Germain by Cheryl Bardoe and Barbara McClintock

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When your mindfulness retreat goes off the rails…

nine perfect strangersLiane Moriarty captures her characters’ voices so well that I find myself cringing and laughing a little madly about them or with them or as them.  Is the bad guy really a bad guy?  Is the over-the-top mom really so awful?  Might she just be a little wounded?  And what would it be like to experience a stream-of-consciousness, down-on-her-luck, romance writer in an altered state? Hilarious?  Tragic?

Ah, the human condition in all its ugly glory…

What a treat!


Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

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Sometimes there are no happy endings

zenobiaHow can you explain what children around the world experience every day when they and their families find themselves in the middle of conflict and civil wars?

The larger world is challenging to discuss with younger kids.  Some parents want to protect their children from the ugliness of it all, but as they get older, many kids develop a compassion for others and a desire to take action to change some of that ugliness.  Reading stories is one way – research shows* – that we humans can develop empathy for others’ situations.

Zenobia  is not an easy book to read, because there is no happy ending here, but it’s powerful and beautifully illustrated, and it might be the perfect book for the right kind of kid or adult.  Interested in other books for children about refugees and/or how war affects people around the world?  Try these:

Illegal by Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin

The Treasure Box by Margaret Wild & Freya Blackwood

The Journey by Rebecca Young & Matt Ottley

Teacup by Francesca Sanna

* For more on this, do a quick Google search for “research on compassion and reading” or psychologists David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano.

Zenobia by Morton Dürr and Lars Horneman

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Travel the world with a stick wearing rose-colored glasses and a cuddly toy in a bad mood

huggie and stickPerhaps the word “hate” is too strong for how Huggie feels about Stick?

Not to Huggie.  Stick gallivants through life, happily thinking he’s making friends with pirates and sharks, getting knighted by the Queen, and loving his buddy Huggie the whole way.  Is that annoying?  Really?

Huggie is a special kind of angry stuffed animal, full of annoyed pronouncements about Stick’s idiotic tendencies.

It’s a funny book, and with the right kid, it would be a hoot.  Not sure every parent would love Huggie’s attitude, but it’s funny, especially if you’ve ever actually been on a trip with a relentlessly happy person who greets disaster with rainbows and glitter while you are just hoping to find a clean-ish bathroom and something to eat that isn’t fried.

The Epic Adventures of Huggie and Stick by Drew Daywalt and David Spencer

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Resistance is…

two roadsHuman.  Absolutely necessary.  Not futile.  (You have to give me a Star Trek reference now and again.)

Two Roads is one of those books which some reviewer will call “quiet and powerful.”  And it is.  But although the main character, Cal, is a pretty quiet guy – not a big talker even with his dad – the world in this story is also loud, brutal, unforgiving, and sometimes beautiful.

Until he’s on the way to a government boarding school for Native Americans, Cal doesn’t know he’s Creek.  So there are all kinds of levels of learning around what that new identity entails.  How can Cal survive and thrive in this new, not-new identity?  How will it make him look at others’ experiences?  Can an institution that wants to strip his identity from him actually be a place where he learns something about his heritage? Can it be a place where he finds a second family?

There’s also the truth of his father’s experience as a veteran of the first World War.  His father  wants to band with others to demand recognition from a government that doesn’t want to see them or their problems anymore and needs his son to be safe while he’s gone.

For a quiet, powerful novel, there’s a lot going on, and it’s well worth a look.  It adds a mirror for readers who share Cal’s heritage and another window for kids who lack exposure to non-white narratives of our history, and it’s a great story about a kind and loving young man who’s trying to figure out his own place in a troubled world.

There is also a fascinating author note on all the history at the end.  (Yay!)

Two Roads by Joseph Bruchac

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All the letters misbehave…

p is forV is for Five.

And that’s just one letter, people.  This language is a mess, you’d think, if you also thought too long about how the word “wren” starts with a W.  And there are so many other silent letters that start popping up in unexpected places.  Does it really have to be this hard?

It does.  For the word nerds that notice things like “manslaughter” being the combination of “mans” and “laughter”, this will be a fun book.  Maybe not so much for the kid who struggles with spelling.  But this one’s not for little, little kids working on “b is for ball”.  It’s more for the older kid (or adult or teacher or writer) who might love the words because they’re different.

P is for Pterodactyl:  the worst alphabet book ever by Raj Haldar & Chris Carpeter & Maria Tina Beddia

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Trailblazers, thinkers, smart girls

I woke up thinking about picture books today–specifically picture book biographies and how much interesting history and culture you can learn from them.  So instead of a lot of words today, I offer you a reminder of just a few amazing women’s lives:

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Some day I will shut up about this book.

vangoToday is not that day.

Way back in my younger days, I studied languages a lot, starting with French and German, dabbling in a little Spanish, leading up to some Thai and Vietnamese, which I somehow managed to include in my graduate degree program – which had nothing whatsoever to do with languages or linguistics.  I think the university didn’t really know what to do with me, since I didn’t appear to fit the mold of whatever they thought people in my degree program might do, and really it was just coincidental that they were even teaching Vietnamese the two summers I was there.  Life is like that, right?

Well, for me it is.  I don’t know about you.

But now it’s oh so many years later.  Aside from the occasional French language movie and German newspaper website views, I don’t actually use these languages every day, and they are sliding away from me as my brain is filled up with other stuff.  I fight back with an annual reading of Harry Potter in French or German, because somehow wizarding words are even more fun in German, but it’s hard to get around to working that part of my brain most days.

Now, thanks to the affordability of a global economy, I can also re-read Vango: Entre Ciel et Terre whenever the spirit moves me, reminding my brain that a hirondelle is a swallow and speeding through pages where I know what’s going on, but I’m not entirely sure what some of the words are.  Why would my brain love this?  Who knows?  It does.

I’m convinced that great books, great stories, are ways to do more than just escape our own present world.  Vango is more than a story of a boy with a mysterious past, a zeppelin, a secret island of monks, some Nazis, and maybe Stalin.  For me, once in a while, stories re-connect with an old me or find a new me through languages I haven’t spoken for years.  It’s especially wonderful when I need a break from this bizarre reality we find ourselves in.

Bring on the hirondelles.  Bring on the fun.

Vango, books 1 & 2, by Timothée de Fombelle

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Looking for a new fantasy series populated by really unhappy people?

winters promiseWe have a winner!

I don’t usually write about books I don’t like, friends.  Let me just be clear about that up front.  I do like this one, but it’s not likely to make you love humanity more, especially not if you’ve ever been a single woman with friends and family who are trying to marry you off.

Here we have a young woman, Ophelia, who is happily running a museum on her home ark, a sort of sky island.  She’s single and fine with that, even though her family has been trying to line up a husband for her.  Apparently, she doesn’t have much choice in the matter, though, because one day it’s announced she’s being sent to the Pole with an unpleasant man who is disliked by much of the ark population there.  Oh, and they’re leaving right away.  Well, yay!

This one’s a long sucker – 490 pages in the English translation I read.  Apparently, it’s been hugely popular in France and will eventually be a four book series.  It’s gloomy, vicious, and dark, but if you like that kind of thing, you’ll like this.  The characters are interesting, and while the world-building was a little much for me at points, I suspect I had less patience for it than others might, because I spend so much of my time reading middle grade and teen novels.  It’s meaty, but in a nice winter beef stew way.  So, pull out your crock pot and get reading, people.

A Winter’s Promise (Book 1 of The Mirror Visitor) by Christelle Dabos, translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle

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