Category Archives: book review

Biodiversity, bad days, and you

life-9781481451628_hrLife can be amazing, even when it seems like you’re in a dark wilderness, right?  Maybe?

This book is sure beautiful, and it’s inspirational, too, in the best possible way.  We’re reminded that life starts small, but it grows – plants and animals and humans, too.  At our worst moments, can we think of the beauty and hope and remember what we need to care for and protect and be awed by?   It’s a lot for a child to commit to on a crappy day, but it could spark some interesting conversations about the power of nature to take us outside of ourselves and our bad moments.  It might not solve a big problem, but a trip outside to look at a tree or the clouds or a city-dwelling hawk circling in the sky might just give us a chance to breathe, regroup, start again.

Wonderful illustrations.

Life by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel

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Uni-sensors, FARTs, and Mr. X

incredible magicWow. Just wow.

Julian is special, but in so many ways that you don’t really even want to label them individually, because it might just make the greatness of who he is a little less.  His older sister Pookie is an angry teenage drama queen.  His moms have issues of their own.  And then there’s Mr. X, a neighbor who’s lost his wife and turns out to be special and mysterious in his own ways.

Julian is in the middle of all of them and on the outside all at once.  He loves science, space, and astronomers.  He wants to get a dog and name it Sirius after the Dog Star.  He wants to help his sister, his moms, and Mr. X, but he goes about it in ways that might be unexpected, funny, or slightly dangerous.

There’s a lot to like about this book—Julian’s funny and somewhat combative conversations with Mr. X, his “Facts and Random Thoughts,” also known as FARTS, Pookie’s fascination with Matt Damon and her biological father, the whole crazy family they are…

Just wow.

The Incredible Magic of Being by Katherine Erskine

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Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know

war i wonAda is finally in a safe place, after a whole lot of limbo – the state of uncertainty not the dance – in The War that Saved My Life.  It’s still World War II and she’s still in the countryside outside London, but now she’s got a horse, a guardian, and a safe place to live with her brother.

The war brings all kinds of confusing new things, but then, that’s nothing surprising for Ada.  So much is still new, since her mother had basically trapped her in their apartment in London for years before she escaped when children were sent to the countryside because of the bombing.

It’s hard for Ada, but over time, she comes to see how many of those around her struggle, too.  In her own awkward and uncertain way, she tries to help.  Sometimes it works; sometimes it’s harder.  She still struggles with fear and anger and not feeling safe.  Has she finally turned a corner at the end?  Maybe.  We hope so.

The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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Just when you think it’s safe on the color wheel

bluevyBlue vs. Yellow?  Who would win?

This book is like a version of “Who would win in a fight – The Hulk or Wonder Woman?” but for colors.  Blue and Yellow are confident and brash and loud and extremely sure they are right about how wonderful they (and everything colored like them) are, but would they be better as a team?  And what happens when Red shows up?

It’s funny and ridiculous and you might even learn that blue and yellow make green.  What’s not to like?

Oh, and Wonder Woman.  Obviously.

Blue vs. Yellow by Tom Sullivan

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Secrets and family and love


Priyanka, like many children of immigrants, lives between two worlds – one Indian, one American.  When she finds a pashmina with seemingly magical powers, she can travel to India, into other possible lives, and maybe even learn about the missing pieces of her past.

What’s fun about this book is the play between the black and white pages and those in color, the linked stories, all of the small ways we see Privanka live with and apart from others, the way her life connects to so many others.  And really, that could be all of us in one way or another, right?


Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani


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So many stories, so many mysteries–yippee!

ghosts ofIt’s almost always a wonderful thing to meet up with favorite characters again.  In this case, we’re back at Greenglass House at the beginning of another holiday season with Milo and his family, and eventually, with his ghost friend, Meddy, and some other folks, too.

Where to start on all the cool things in this book?  Milo and Meddy are soon back to their excellent role-playing game, because a mysterious group of characters (from a mysterious place) show up just as some old friends and thieves arrive, so things start happening.  There are smugglers and people pretending to be something they aren’t, some strange injuries and missing items, and just a whole lot of coffee and hot chocolate drinking.

There are a lot of characters and stories to unravel, and at times, I found it hard to keep everyone straight, but that didn’t really dim my enjoyment of the book as much as slow me down a little to figure things out.  It’s 452 pages long in print form, so you have plenty of time to figure out the relationships, the lies, and eventually, the truth.

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

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Where’s my stick when I need it?

bad mood stickI do actually have one – a big stick.  I acquired it years ago, when I was supposed to be supervising students in a college semester program.  I found it on a group retreat, cleaned it up a bit, brought it back to the dorm, and then leaned it against the makeshift bar several of the students had built in my “office.” I was the worst enforcer of rules ever.

I could have used that stick the other day at the library to poke a problematic patron – as Curly pokes her brother Napoleon in the book.  Unfortunately, my stick was at home, and you can’t really go around poking your patrons with a stick, even if they deserve it, can you?  Supervisors hate that kind of thing.

As it happens, though – much as in the book – the bad mood traveled right along with him when he left in a huff.  Those bad moods, they can really poison an otherwise nice enough day!  Fortunately, though, they don’t have to stay with YOU.

So this might be just the perfect book to talk about moods with kids.  Turn that smile around, people.  Let the bad mood travel on around the world.  Get some ice cream.  Poke your brother with a stick.  Spread the joy.

The Bad Mood and the Stick by Lemony Snicket and Matthew Forsythe

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I’m useless after 100 billion

hundred billionI admit it.  I have to count out zeroes to figure out billions and trillions, even in a book where they’re written in words below for me.

This does not make such a book any less cool, though, since it reminds my brain of how huge and amazing the world really is, kind of like the information in the book.  It’s perfect for lovers of numbers and math and people who like making connections between the big-ness of the world and the smallness of an individual and all of the things that tie us together.

The art is also vibrant and diverse and detailed when it needs to be and simple when that works better.  There won’t be only one of me reading it, though.  I might have to share it with a few people.

A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars by Seth Fishman and Isabel Greenberg


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When S is the letter of the day

Sleep-Well-Siba-and-Saba-COVERSiba, Saba, sisters, sweaters, slippers, shillings.  There’s so much more to the letter S, but you’ll find a lot of it in this book, winding across sandy beaches and past seven speeding buses.  The sound of the words carries you along, so this would be a wonderful book to use while talking about the English language, alliteration, poetry….  And then you’ve got the joyful, colorful, comical pictures to look at.  And a chance to talk about things lost, found, and dreamed of.


Sleep Well, Siba & Saba by Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and Sandra van Doorn

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Humpty Dumpty self-help

AfterTheFall_JCKT_09a.inddHumpty’s life is shattered, much like his shell.

The freedom he felt at the top of the wall?  Gone!  The power of looking down on the city and seeing the birds fly?  Vanished!

Fortunately for Humpty, a serendipitous accident will bring him back to his true self and set him free.

After the Fall by Dan Santat

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