Category Archives: book review

A totally brilliant pastry-maker with a secret

somewhere elseGeorge Laurent finds a lot of ways NOT to go south or north or any other direction.  He is a master of the éclair and the strudel, but he is possibly a homebody kind of a bird.  Perhaps he’s just too busy with yoga classes to visit the Alaskan tundra like his friends?

Oh my, well, there’s a story here.  Fortunately, George Laurent and Pascal Lombard get to talking one day, and the truth about George Laurent’s missed flying lessons comes out.  A good friend like Pascal Lombard might just be able to help – with training or an engineering project or something.

This is a wonderful story about overcoming or moving past the things you are bad at, making friends, and taking risks. It is also a completely delightful visual experience, with funny little realistic touches.  It’s probably a bit too detailed for most of my storytime listeners, but one-on-one, it’s a treat!

Somewhere Else by Gus Gordon

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Peter Reynolds wrote this book for me

word collectorYou might not see a white, middle-aged word nerd in the book, but I assure you, my younger self is right there on the page.  So that’s the story I’m going with.  Try it yourself — you will feel better all day knowing that Peter H. Reynolds wrote this book for YOU.

Jerome (the boy in the book) also loves words, collects them, even carries them around in large bags.  One beautiful, wonderful, dream cloud of a day, the words get jumbled.  From the jumble comes poetry, and Jerome shares it and his many other powerful words across the wind, out in the world, with all of us.

Especially me.  The woman Peter H. Reynolds wrote this book for.

The Word Collector by Peter H. Reynolds

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When superlatives are not enough…

the-philosophers-flight-9781476778150_lgThis book.  This book.  This book.

I don’t even know where to begin.  I brought The Philosopher’s Flight  home thinking my son might like it, because it’s kind of alternative history, kind of fantasy (not usually his thing, but it will work if it’s on the edge of sci-fi), and kind of different.  He likes that.  A day later, he announced that he loved it and that I needed to read it, too.  He’s a teenager, so if he likes something enough to suggest it to me, I try to read it and soon.  It’s really an honor when someone tells you about a book they love, and when it’s your teenager — who probably thinks you’re an idiot about half the time and doesn’t detach from the devices as often as you’d like — it’s worth taking the time to make some kind of connection, right?

The Philosopher’s Flight is a coming-of-age story set in an alternative early twentieth century.  Women empirical philosophers dominate human flight and sigilry—which is not exactly like signaling or casting spells, but can be used for transporting humans, creating smoke shields and other things, healing and more.  Robert has grown up with a mother and sisters who can do all of this, and he wants to fight for his dream of becoming a rescue and evacuation specialist.  There are all kinds of other things going on – a group of zealots who hate the women who do this, factional fighting within the women philosophers, war, love.  You know.  All the usual stuff.

I can’t shut up about this book.  I’ve told at least ten people about it already, including a few who I know don’t like reading things outside of their usual very limited boxes.  Oh well.  This is one to take a chance on, because it is just SO fun.  I can’t be friends with you anymore if you hate it.  Well, actually, I can.  But I’d be bummed you didn’t like it, because it’s just THAT good.

Also, the author is from our neighboring state of Wisconsin–Wauwatosa to be exact.  Having spent a delightful afternoon at a ‘Tosa city pool/biergarten some summers ago, I have an extra fondness for it, and I’ll be looking for the next one, Tom Miller.  Don’t make us wait too long.

The Philosopher’s Flight by Tom Miller

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Play and joy and fighting and forgiving

draw the lineI love a good wordless picture book – so many possible uses!  Whether you’re working with language learners or young writers or kids who are learning how stories work, they are so amazing for starting conversations and thinking through how things work.  And if they’re blessed with amazing art, that is awesome, too.

Draw the Line gives us a lot to work with.  Two boys drawing lines, a little imagination, some struggle, and suddenly they’ve created a canyon between them.  Will they be able to bridge this divide?  Yes, of course.  They’ll also give you an opportunity to talk about what happens when you fight, how you make up and move forward, and how much fun it is to play with new friends.  Also, you can use it as an excuse to revisit Harold and the Purple Crayon or the Journey series by Aaron Becker.

Draw the Line by Kathryn Otoshi

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Please slow down, Mr. Fox!

Hello+Door+CoverWhen you are a thief – especially a quick-moving, easy-to-distract thief – you might want to consider slowing down and paying attention to your environment to improve your chances of success.  If you see paintings of fancypants bears on the walls, for example, you might think, “Hmmm, does this homeowner just really like bears or could, maybe, possibly, there be bears living here?”  If you see a tell-all about Goldilocks, that might be another clue.

If you’re a fox, you might still miss all these clues, but in this case it won’t matter.  You will fly along with a sweet, silly rhyme, blissfully launching yourself through bright and cheery illustrations until suddenly, you realize there are bears.  But then maybe you just pick yourself up and start again, like we all sometimes have to.  It’s a bit of a stretch to make this a book on making mistakes and starting over, but whether you stretch or not, it’s simply delightful.

Hello, Door by Alistair Heim and Alisa Coburn

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More sassy sea creatures

planktonIf you somehow missed out on Barnacle is Bored, now’s your chance to catch up on sea creatures in their darker moments.  (For more on Barnacle, see here.)

Plankton is super pushy, calling Mr. Mussel rude when he doesn’t buy into Plankton’s enthusiastic greetings, slowing things down in what you have to assume is a tone of voice no one really likes to hear…  Oh, Plankton, why can’t you just let Mr. Mussel be Mr. Mussel?  There’s a fun little twist at the end, making this a fun one to read with some other snarky picture books — Jon Klassen’s I Want My Hat Back or This is Not My Hat or maybe Little Red or Rapunzel by Bethan Woollvin.


Plankton is Pushy by Jonathan Fenske

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We children led the way

let the childrenSometimes adults are afraid to speak up.  But when children use their voice, they can be heard, too.  Their message can be just as powerful or even more powerful.

This one’s a good reminder to kids that they can change the world, too, and it presents civil rights history in a way that young kids can understand and relate to.  The art is a much-appreciated bonus.

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson and Frank Morrison

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Come for the aphorisms, stay for the art

from the heartAfter reading this book, I tried – for about twenty seconds – to find some appropriate Midwestern or Iowa sayings on the level of the great ones in this book.  I only lasted twenty seconds, mostly because I haven’t had enough caffeine yet, so I can’t think of any on my own.  The first thing that seemed to fit my online search was heavily weighted towards Minnesota and Wisconsin, and the second was just some clickbait slideshow which kind of made fun of us goofy Midwesterners for calling water fountains “bubblers,” which, by the way, is a Wisconsin thing.  I’ve never known anyone in Iowa or Kansas who used that, so it’s not really Midwestern.  It’s state-limited.  So, I’m not up for heavy research today.  I’m not at work, people.  I’m just writing my silly blog, so I can let this research moment pass.

Having wasted a whole paragraph of your time already, I’ll be quick about the rest.  This is a beautiful book, and it’s full of wise sayings which are explained in simple and easy-to-understand language underneath.  You’ll know some of them already, but others may be new.  For kids who like inspirational quotes or teachers who are looking for a discussion on perseverance or community and the like, this one can be read all in one gulp or savored over a few days.

From the Heart of Africa: a book of wisdom by Eric Walters

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Of dreams and stars and unhelpful adults…

maeOne of Mae Jemison’s teachers suggested that she should maybe think about becoming a nurse instead of an astronaut.  Since the book’s about the first African-American female astronaut, we know how that advice worked out.  It’s an inspirational story, sweetly illustrated and simply told, and it’s a nice addition to any collection of biographies – of people who have overcome, of African-American leaders, of girls and women who resisted stereotypes, of dreamers.

I’m not picking on nurses or teachers here.  Nursing is a great profession for anyone.  So is teaching, and it’s actually the rare teacher now (I think) who would tell a little girl that she should maybe change her goals to fit with something more socially appropriate.  As an adult, it’s a good reminder of the impact we have in children’s lives and that they sometimes remember for a very long time when we show them that we don’t think they can be who they’re hoping to become.  It’s more helpful to support them, while letting them know what they actually have to accomplish to reach that goal.  As kids, we don’t really understand all the steps it takes to become an astronaut or a teacher or a nurse, but the right adult(s) can help a child nurture that dream into reality.

Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed and Stasia Burrington


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Graphics, comics, series for kids

knifes edgeI love learning that something new from a favorite author has come out without me noticing, because that means I can get it right away, and I don’t have to wait weeks or months for it.  Knife’s Edge was my bonus this week, and it’s a nice follow-up to Compass South.  Track them both down if you don’t know this series.

When you’ve got a super-reader on your hands, it can be hard to constantly come up with new things for them.  Enter the series.  Whether you’re looking at early chapter books like Magic Treehouse or something for older kids like the Wimpy Kid, multiple books with the same characters can be a lifesaver.  Some parents and teachers still resist graphic novels/comics, because they aren’t seen as “real” reading.  Well, if a kid’s reading anything these days, I don’t care what it is.  I just want them reading more.

After finishing Knife’s Edge, I got to thinking about how many fun series there are for kids who like more visual reading, giving me an excuse to make a collage.  Yay, graphics!

Knife’s Edge by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock

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