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On My Nightstand: Monday Book Review — “Skippyjon Jones and the Big Bones,” “A Perfect Mess,” “The Perfect Dog,” “Full of Beans” and “Coloring For Moms & Moms-to-Be”

August 22nd, 2016

* The Skippyjon Jones series was always popular with my students. The Spanglish bugged me at first, I thought it was a little much… (“Then, using his very best Spanish accent, he added, “My ears are too beeg for my head, and my head won’t fit into my bed…”) but the kids responded to it, and we would turn the books into fast Spanish lessons, along with a fun story time. Judy Schachner is the author and illustrator of the series. (Scholastic, 2007, $4.99.) Dinosaurs? A Siamese cat who pretends he’s a Chihuahua? A fun, fast rhythm to the words? We’re in.

* “A Perfect Mess,” written and illustrated by Steve Breen (Penguin Random House, 2016, ages 3-5, unpaged, $16.99) is a really cool picture book. (You may recognize the art of Breen, who also writes the comic strip “Grand Avenue,” and is the author of the children’s books “Pug & Doug,” “Stick” and “Violet the Pilot.”) Kids’ books are usually described as “heart-warming,” “tender,” and blah-blah sweetness deluxe, but this one is. Henry McHenry, “one messy rhino,” is so ready for class picture day. He’s wearing his nicest shirt, he has an emergency pack of wet wipes. He’ll be clean by the time pictures are taken… but what about the rest of his class? Good pick for back-to-school.

* “Who has the best dog in all the land?” I was cooing at our new puppy last week. My son, cheerful as heck, says, “I don’t know who, but not us!” He’s wrong. Wacky Dog 2.0 is pretty, pretty good. If only she would learn to stop peeing in the house. And eating the cat food. And devouring the garbage. (She’s got a lot in common with Angus, aka Wacky Dog 1.0.) So Kevin O’Malley’s “The Perfect Dog” has arrived at Wacky House at a very opportune time. And look! Open the bookjacket, look inside, lower right-corner… There’s a Yellow Labrador Retriever, just like our dear Wacky Dog 2.0. Hers a big girl, y’all. (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2016, $17.99.)

“My parents said we could get a dog. ‘And I know the perfect dog…’”

Uh. Is it one that doesn’t pee all over everything? Just wonderin’. Anyway. This book makes me happy, and I’m sure the kiddies will love it, too.

O’Malley also co-authors and illustrates the Miss Malarkey series, which is super fun. Check it out if you’re not familiar with the titles. #booksteachersandkidslove

* “Full of Beans” is the newest by dear, sweet and funny Jennifer L. Holm. Do you know the very talented Jenni Holm? If not, you should. She and her equally-talented bro, Matthew Holm, co-author the “Babymouse” and “Squish” series. Her book “The Fourteenth Goldfish” was a big hit, and she also writes some very cool historical fiction (“Our Only May Amelia”) and now, “Full of Beans,” (Random House Books for Young Readers, 2016, ages 8-12, $16.99, 208 pages), the sequel to “Turtle in Paradise.”

Now comes Beans Curry, a Depression-era kid whose family, along with lots of others, is destitute. He needs cash fast and doesn’t really care how he gets it. How far will he go, though? Who will he trust? And who will find out? Great read — one of those high/low’s I loved as a teacher. (High interest for low reading level.) Holm works in a lot of interesting info about Roosevelt’s New Dealers, along with a great story and funny sidekicks. “What in the history of cheese?”

* And now, the best for last: “Coloring for Moms and Moms-To-Be” (Doubleday Books for Young Readers, Little Tiger Press & Bethan Janine, 2016, $9.99.) I’m one of those freaks who never stopped coloring. I used to hide it from people, so now that it’s “a thing,” I’m super happy. Break out the colored pencils and start doodling in the butterflies, flowers and onesies, hot-air balloons, elephants and cupcakes. You may have to hide this one from the bigger kids. :) Awesome baby shower gift, of course. Pages and pencils or crayons would be cute decorating the tables.

Bon appetit, babies.

– wm

Saturday Book Review: For the Kids! “Day Dreamers, A Journey of Imagination,” “Ninja Bunny: Sister Vs. Brother” & “The Opposite Zoo”

August 6th, 2016

New on the nightstand this week…

* We begin with “Day Dreamers: A Journey of Imagination,” by Emily Winfield Martin (a Portland, Oregon author!). (Random House Children’s Books, 2016, ages 2-5, $8.99.)
This really is a day dream of a book, all soft colors and lyrical words. (My former students were fond of yelling, “It’s a rhyming book!” when I would ask, What sort of book is this?) This is a rhyming book, and it’s darling.

* “Ninja Bunny: Sister Vs. Brother” is here! (Random House Children’s Books, 2016,32 pages, $16.99.) Even though I write, I sometimes do wonder where writers get their ideas. (Harlan Ellison said he got his from a “mail-order house in Schenectady.”) The premise of this book is pretty cute, hi-YAH!. The art is colorful, playful, and engaging. Ninja Bunny (aka a big brother who likes to dress up) is in search of The Carrot of Awesomeness. A little ninja (baby sister) decides to tag along because of course she does. “Play with your sister, dear,” calls Mom. How will it end?

* “The Opposite Zoo,” by Il Sung Na, is a very cool picture book for the littles. (Random House, 2016, 24 pages, $16.99.) Each page, with one or two animals, contains one word. AWAKE!, Asleep, Hairy, Bald, Shy, Bold and so one. I love the stripped-down approach — it gives kids a chance to fill in their own stories for each page. The detail in the drawings is exquisite, rich and inventive. This would make for a great bedtime story.

Bon appetit, babies!

– wm

On My Nightstand: Wednesday Edition… for the grown-ups! “Southern Gothic: A Celine Caldwell Mystery,” “Life Without a Recipe,” “Brain on Fire” & “War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace & Other Missions Impossible”

August 3rd, 2016

Now the time has come to review a few books for the majors, not the minors. Yeah, I read grown-up books. Sometimes. But let’s ease into it with a review of a young adult book that I really enjoyed:

* “Southern Gothic: A Celine Caldwell Mystery,” by Bridgette R. Alexander, is a quite cool novel. (Paris 1865 Press, 2015, $16.99, ages young adult and up, 310 pages.) It took me awhile to finish, because I read it at work during breaks and lunches in fits and starts. The tone of this book is just so different from anything else out there. It’s… I don’t know what, exactly. It’s conversational. Direct. Modern. Hip without saying, Look at me, I’m so hip! Heh. I liked the characters. Celine’s mom is a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This is a modern version of one of those “New York kid” books that I’ve adored my whole life. (“From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler,” “Harriet the Spy,” etc.) When some paintings go missing, Celine’s mom is blamed — or framed? Which is it? Great read. Looking forward to seeing more from this author.

* “Life Without a Recipe” is the newest book from Diana Abu-Jaber. This is her second memoir, and oh, man. I loved the first one so much, I didn’t know if it would be possible to top it. But this is a strong follow-up, genuine and true in its own right. Such beautiful writing.

* “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness,” by Susannah Cahalan, was recommended to me by a co-worker. I’m glad I came across it. It’s a really different memoir — the writer lost her mind, and can’t remember much of what happened during that time, so she looked through her medical records, watched video footage from her hospital stay, and interviewed family and friends. She’s relentless and fierce and spoiler alert — she lived to write the book. Fascinating read.

* “The War at Home: A Wife’s Search for Peace (and Other Missions Impossible),” by Rachel Starnes is another intense memoir that was completely, unexpectedly, beautifully different from what I expected. I read this back-to-back with “Brain on Fire” and it made for an interesting week, lol. Oh, my God, the writing chops this woman has. It’s her story of being the wife of a Navy fighter pilot/Top Gun guy. Gripping, with insights into a world that I really know little about, and so, so, so good.

Bon appetit, babies.

– wm