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On My Nightstand, Wednesday Edition: Kids’ Books Galore… “Pretty Minnie in Hollywood,” “Douglas, You Need Glasses!” & “Three Magic Balloons”

June 1st, 2016

2016-05-30_04-34-44

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Books for summer, people… Here they are, all for the 3-7 set, and all sweetness and light:

“Pretty Minnie in Hollywood,” by Danielle Steel (the Danielle Steel), with illustrations by Kristi Valiant, for ages 3-7. (Random House Children’s Books, 2016, 32 pages, $17.99.) (A brief digression: Ms. Steel’s bio informs us that she has sold more than 600 million copies of her books, in 69 countries and 43 languages.) (Whoa.) This sequel to “Pretty Minnie in Paris” is pretty, pretty cute. I could have done with fewer! exclamation points! but I don’t think the kids will mind. Teacup chihuahua Minnie and her best friend, Francoise, travel to Hollywood with Francoise’s mommy, who is a dress designer. (Pretty clothes figure prominently in the book.) They meet the nasty, nasty Fifi. How will this end? Sweet, funny, reminiscent of the Eloise books, and the illustrations? They just couldn’t be more pink and sparkly. Darling book.

“Douglas, You Need Glasses!” written and illustrated by Ged Adamson, for ages 3-7. Random House Children’s Books, 2016, 40 pages, $16.99.) Doggie Douglas and his BFF Nancy love to watch TV. But he has to sit so close. Also? He sometimes confuses leaves with squirrels. And he walks into things a lot. So off to the optometrist they go. Funny story, cool illustrations, and a good way to talk with the littles about glasses. The publisher is doing a social media tie-in with this one: Use the hashtags #douglasyouneedglasses and #RandomHouseKids and submit pix of your kids wearing glasses. Ged Adamson also wrote “Meet the McKaws” and “Elsie Clarke and the Vampire Hairdresser.”

“Three Magic Balloons, as told to Julianna Margulies and Her Sisters,” by Paul Margulies, for ages 3-7. (Random House Children’s Books, 2016, 40 pages, $17.99.) Illustrations are by Grant Shaffer, who, by the by, is married to my boyfriend Alan Cumming. (Yes, I read every last word of the press release.) OK, this is a cool project. Ms. Margulies, who recently broke my heart when her show “The Good Wife” ended after a seven-year run (yours truly watched every damn episode omg i loved that show)… Anyway, my heartbreaker has a cool story to share with us. Her dad, Paul, was a writer (and an ad exec) who published two kids’ books in his lifetime: “Gold Steps, Stone Steps,” and “What Julianna Could See.” Ms. Margulies and her sisters, Rachel and Alexandra, found this manuscript after he passed, wanted a friend (Mr. Shaffer) to illustrate, and voila!

This is a magical little book about three sisters who love their trips to the zoo with their dad. One day, they’re gifted with three balloons. What happens next? Get a copy of the book and see :) I love the story, I love that the author doesn’t talk down to kids, and the illustrations fit in so well, I thought at first the author was also the artist who drew them.

Nice work.

Best, bon appetit, babies, and talk more soon.

– wm

Thursday Book Review: A Big Stack of Everything on My Nightstand (“The Accursed,” Joyce Carol Oates; Sue Miller; “The Importance of Being Little,” Teacher Thai)

March 24th, 2016

Cherry blossom concordance

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

And what’s on the nightstand this week? I’m going with bullet points, because it’s a big stack.

* “The Accursed,” Joyce Carol Oates. I love Oates, which I guess explains why it’s taken me a couple of years or so to get through this book (I bought it when it was first released in 2013). It’s a cool book — based on the “true” story of Princeton, turn of the 20th century. I like historical fiction, and this one has it all — curses and vampires, goth and Grover Cleveland. It’s crazy good. So why the forever-read? Oates is like candy to me — I nibble a little here, a lot there. I don’t want the candy to go away, see? The way my reading mind works is God’s own mystery.

* Anything by author Sue Miller. I’m starting with “The Arsonist,” and “The Good Mother” and “Lost in the Forest.” My own good mother recommended her. Miller’s very good. Different. I like her style.

* “The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need From Grownups,” by Erika Christakis. Great read about preschool child development, language, bonding, etc. Doesn’t read like a textbook, but has loads of information, stats, facts and thoughts.

* “The Four Agreements,” by Don Miguel Ruiz. Again, still, always. This is single best motivational books I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot over the years. It’s astounding. You should pick up four or five copies and hand them out at parties, just sayin’.

* “Cultivating the Mind of Love: The Practice of Looking Deeply in the Mahayana Buddhist Tradition,” by Thich Nhat Hanh (I can recommend any other titles by Teacher Thai, too.)

Happy spring, my lovelies.

– wm

Tuesday Book Review with my old buddy, Harry Potter (“The Character Vault,” Jim Kay illustrated version of “The Sorceror’s Stone” & the HP coloring book)

March 22nd, 2016

Blue sky between squalls

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

“Harry Potter: The Character Vault,” Jody Revenson’s astounding encyclopedia (Harper Design, 2015, $45, 207 pages), was a holiday gift to my children from their loving grandmother. Then I had to steal it from them because oh, it is so fantastic, this book. You know when a book isn’t just a good read, but it looks neat-o (that’s what the cool kids say nowadays, “neat-o”), it feels good, it makes you happy? That is this book. Loads of info about the characters, the movies, the props, weapons, special effects. Lots of great art and illustrations, plus two posters in the back of the Order of the Phoenix members and the Death Eaters. Super! So maybe I should buy my own copy and give theirs back now?

“Harry Potter Coloring Book” (Hot Topic, $10, need I say more?) I bought one for the kids; one for me. Then I donated mine to my library because the students loved it so much. There you have it.

“Harry Potter and the Sorceror’s Stone Illustrated” (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015, illustrated by the incomparable Jim Kay, $40, 246 pages). Lovely, this book, everything about it. Quite a find. It’s like the man looked into my mind and knew what I was imagining, then drew it. Thanks, sir. Nice work!

Have a great day, reading lovers.

– wm

Saturday Book Review: “Summerlost,” by Ally Condie

March 19th, 2016

shelter in the understory

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Ally Condie (“Atlantia” and the “Matched” trilogy) is a new author to me and I’m thrilled to have found her. I was sent a review copy of “Summerlost,” and what luck it was sent my way. Beautiful book, characters, setting, writing. All good. Our heroine, 12-year-old Cedar Lee, is spending the summer in Utah with her mom and younger brother, Miles, a year after her father and brother, Ben, were killed by a drunk driver in a car accident. It’s her mom’s hometown, she has extended family there, but is still so alone. Then she meets a friend… gets a summer job… and discovers a mystery that she’d really like to solve. And off she goes.

It’s an intense story, but “Summerlost” is a fantastic book. I hope readers aren’t scared off by its serious subject. Kids go through dramas and loss, large and small, just like the rest of us, and I appreciate Condie’s fearlessness as a writer. In a blurb on the cover, Brandon Mull (“Fablehaven,” “The Candy Shop War” books) called it, “A moving tale of friendship and loss. I loved these characters — I wish we could have been friends when I was a kid.”

Beautiful. I felt the same way. I don’t want to quote the whole book to you, but I could. Passage after passage that are just so concise, lovely, hard.

“When I was small I used to pretend that I had to tell my body everything it had to do or it would stop. Lungs, breathe, I whispered. Heart, beat. Eyes, focus. Tummy, digest. Legs, walk. Arms, move. I was so glad then that everything did what it was supposed to do without any conscious help from me. But after the accident I wished that my heart wouldn’t keep hurting so much. Wouldn’t keep going like this without my telling it to. Beat. Beat. Beat.”

The ending, and how we get there, is a good, healing trip.

Brand-new Monday Book Review! “Balto of the Blue Dawn” (Magic Tree House #54) & “Dogsledding and Extreme Sports” (Magic Tree House Fact Tracker)

February 29th, 2016

Extra, extra: A fantastic NPR story about one Marley Dias, who wants to know why there aren’t more African-American girls starring as main characters in children’s books. I love this kid.
And on to today’s review:

The year: 1925
The setting: Nome, Alaska
Our heroes: Jack and Anna
Our author: The one, the only, our girl Mary Pope Osborne

Yes, it’s time for a new Magic Tree House novel and companion non-fiction book. “Balto of the Blue Dawn” (illustrations by Sal Murdocca, 2016, A Stepping Stone Book, Random House, $12.99 hardcover, 117 pages) is historical fiction based on the true story of the dogsledding teams transporting medicine to Alaska to help stop an outbreak of diptheria. Will they make it in time? Can they survive the freezing cold? And what about our friend Balto? Wonderful book — as always, Mary Pope Osborne comes through with a book that’s engaging and just right for her young readers, with a story and plot that will keep their grown-ups interested, too.

“The wind started to blow.
The tree house started to spin.
It spun faster and faster.
Then everything was still.
Absolutely still.”

I like all of the non-fiction companion books with the MTH series. Subjects have included everything from critters to pirates, from the Titanic to pilgrims, and now, extreme sports. Fun! “Dogsledding and Extreme Sports” (illustrations by Sal Murdocca, 2016, A Stepping Stone Book, Random House, $5.99 paperback, 121 pages). I learned many cool facts thanks to this little book. In the Iditarod, for instance, racers travel more than 900 miles. Get out! The word musher? Comes from the French Canadian traders to called “Marche!” (“Move!”) to their dogs. There’s a section on endurance swimmer Diana Nyad (hero!), the Ironman triathlon, snowboarder Chloe Kim (superpipe hero!) and lots of other fun stuff.

Bon appetit, readers.

– wm

PS — It’s very cool that author-sisters Mary Pope Osborne and Natalie Pope Bryce recently donated 5,000 books to Reading is Fundamental (RIF) program in honor of its 50th birthday. (Lots of resources on the author’s site for parents and teachers.)

Thursday Book Review: “Mr. Hare’s Big Secret,” “The Almost Terrible Playdate,” “Weather” & “Solar System”

February 18th, 2016

I kind of love reviewing kids’ books. I do. I don’t know how I was lucky enough to land this gig, but I like it, my friends. First up today:

“Mr. Hare’s Big Secret,” (2015, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, unpaged, $16.99) a new title from Hannah Dale, is a darling book. (Reminds me very much of a longtime favorite, “The Golden Egg Book.” My copy looks a lot like the copy pictured in this blog.)

“In the wild, wild wood there stood a big, tall tree. And under that tree lived a very hungry hare.”

He’s clever, he’s a little scruffy, he looks like our beloved Wacky Cat 2, and he knows “a big, fat, juicy secret.” What is it? Read and find out… You might even be able to dance to it.

This is a really beautiful picture book that the kids will love.

Richard Torrey wrote and illustrated “The Almost Terrible Playdate,” another brand-new picture book (2016, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, unpaged, $16.99). I love it for a few reasons: It’s funny. It has a girl hero and a boy hero, both equally complex and animated. It has a purple and green color scheme, and those are my two absolutely favorite colors of all time.

Yes, they are.

So there you have it: Purple and green for the win. The author grew up in a large family of boys, and says he learned from his brothers that compromise is a big part of play. Smart man. It’s fun to watch how the characters learn to come around to each other’s way of thinking. (He doesn’t want to be a ballerina, frog, or a pony; she, on the other hand, doesn’t care to be a wolf, or a dinosaur, or a race car.) Sweet book, and not preachy.

A pair of new board books just arrived, both by Jill McDonald, both science titles: “Weather” and “Solar System” (2016, Hello, World! series, Doubleday Books for Young Readers, unpaged, $7.99 each). Non-fiction titles are great for even the youngest of readers. Let’s say you know a kid, a little kid, who loves encyclopedias, dinosaur books, books about astronomy or what-have-you, up to the sky and back. Do not give this kid a hard time. Don’t say, Seriously, kid, you want this guidebook for your bedtime story? Be patient. Look at the pictures. Read a sentence (or two or three) from each page.

Some of us are science/non-fiction geeks, that’s all. These two little-kid-sized books are pretty much perfect. They’re reminiscent of Colorforms, all blocky and bright colors. Very cute.

“Is it a crisp, cool morning? (tweet) Bundle up with a sweater, jeans, and warm socks. Your pet might like a sweater too!”

Happy reading, babies.

– wm

Thursday Book Review: “Q&A a Day for Moms,” “The Only Child,” “All I Want for Christmas” and “Crenshaw”

November 26th, 2015

This sweet little journal, “Q&A a Day for Moms,” showed up for review. (Potter Style, 2015, $16.95, unpaged.) It’s a five-year journal, with “365 questions and 1,825 answers.” Well, good. Ex: January 11: When was the last time you were at the library?

I like it already. Great gift for any of the moms in your life. Next?

Mariah Carey, an author! Exciting :) “All I Want for Christmas is You” is a lovely book, illustrated by Colleen Madden and based on Carey’s hit song. (Disclaimer: i love that song because i love “Love Actually,” yes I do.) (Doubleday, 2015, unpaged, $17.99.) The little sweetie who stars in this book doesn’t want a boyfriend, she wants a puppy. Ah, who can blame her? (I think they made this book for Wacky Girl.)

“Crenshaw,” by Katherine Applegate (“The One and Only Ivan” and the Animorph series, among others) is one of a kind, and that’s too bad. We need lots more children’s books like this one. Jackson, a 5th grader, is worried that his family is heading toward homelessness again. He’s protective of his little sister, he’s about as anxious as a kid can be, and even though he’ll tell you he’s “not an imaginary friend kind of guy,” here comes a big cat named Crenshaw, who no one else can see.

This book thoughtfully and concisely deals with the topics of poverty and homelessness. I hope it finds its way onto library shelves, and into kids’ hands, around the world.

“The Only Child,” by Guojing, is in the same vein. (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015, $19.99, 112 pages.) Guojing, like many, grew up as the only child in her Chinese family. From the intro:

“The story in this book is fantasy, but it reflects the very real feelings of isolation and loneliness I experienced growing up in the 1980s under the one-child policy in China.”

The book is wordless, but with illustrations this lush, no words are needed.

On My Nightstand: Fall Book Round-up for the Younger Set (“Ruffleclaw,” by Cornelia Funke; “ABC Dream,” by Kim Krans; “Space Dog,” by Mini Grey; “Toys Meet Snow,” by Emily Jenkins & Paul O. Zelinsky)

October 11th, 2015

Funke is a cool, talented illustrator and author — the kids really respond to her work. When it comes to certain authors, readers (of all ages) just grab them up and claim them as “theirs.” It’s kind of funny. Funke is one of those. Ah, that territorial feeling you get over a certain book or author. I get that. She’s the author of the “Inkheart” series, which are for more advanced readers, but her new book, “Ruffleclaw,” is a chapter book for kiddos who are transitioning to chapter books. (Random House, 2015, $9.99, 102 pages.) Ruffleclaw is a wicked smart, icky lil monster, who has a “scrumptiously smart plan” to live with some humans and sleep in their cozy beds and eat their yum-yum food. Will he succeed?

Here is a YouTube clip of an interview with Funke. I show it to my students when I booktalk her work, along with some of the J.K. Rowling interviews, and Lemony Snicket. He’s a lot of fun in video clips. Neil Gaiman is another one who is a great interview. I read the first few pages of “The Graveyard Book” to the 5th and 6th graders the other day and gave everyone the shivers. And “Coraline” is still never checked in. I tell the kids that she and Babymouse — the Jennifer & Matthew Holms’ series of graphic novels — just stop by the library to say hey and then leave again.

(Always a good sign for a book.)

By the way, the Goosebumps book are getting a new surge of interest, too, with the Jack Black movie coming out in time for Halloween.

Now, on to some beautiful art…

Galleys for a book by Kim Krans appeared on my doorstep. (love.) “ABC Dream” is one of the best picture books I’ve come across recently. (Random House, 2016, unpaged, $16.99.) (Yes, I’m reviewing it even though it might only be available for pre-order at the moment.) Wait, she’s a Portland, Ore. girl like moi? Fantastic.

The art is precious. Beautiful, thoughtful, bright, just lovely. No words, just letters. I like books that the littles can enjoy, savor, and not have to worry about “Wait, I can’t read yet!” I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again… I love picture books for the big kids and the grown-ups. Anything that inspires us to do art makes me happy. I am really happy about the new coloring craze that’s going on. Titles? OK, here, here and here. My favorite letters in the book: R & T (and the key in the back that tells me, “rain, red, reflection, ring, robin, rope, rose” and “tigers, tired, tree, trunk, two”).

Mini Grey’s new release, “Space Dog,” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2015, $17.99, unpaged) is a wild ride through space, but of course. It’s always more interesting when a little conflict is introduced in a work of literature, and our conflict in this picture book is between Space Dog, Astrocat and the darling lil Moustronaut.

“It’s the year 3043 and for as long as anyone on Home Planet can remember, Space Dogs, Astrocats and Moustronauts have been sworn enemies.”

When the Queen of the Cheese Ants comes along, you know it’s going to get extra lively.

“Toys Meet Snow: Being the Wintertime Adventures of a Curious Stuffed Buffalo, a Sensitive Plush Stingray, and a Book-Loving Rubber Ball” is a new collaboration between author Emily Jenkins and illustrator Paul O. Zelinsky. (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015, $17.99, unpaged.) Their previous series, “Toys Come Home,” has been a long-time favorite with young readers. This one is for the littler-littles — ages 3-7. The art is sweet, the story is good, and it’s nice Jenkins and Zelinsky paired up for the younger kids in the crowd.

Words of wisdom (they sent an interview along with press kit):

Zelinsky says: “I’m not an expert in this, but I say read to your children, and don’t stop. Nobody is ever too old to be read to. Picture books make good out-loud reading for any age.”

And from Jenkins: “Oh! Am I opinionated on this topic! Don’t shame their reading choices. Ever. I see this happen so often in bookstores and libraries, or at school book fairs. ‘You’re too old for that.’ ‘That’s too easy for you.’ ‘Why do you like that junk?’ ‘That’s a book for girls, not boys.’ Instead, I recommend parents try this approach: Don’t try to get your child to choose appropriate books. At all. Just bring them to the library, where they can choose inappropriate books at zero cost to you.”

Hear, hear!

Bon appetit, babies.

– wm

On My Nightstand

August 3rd, 2015


Thursday Book Review: “The Bump: Book of Lists for Pregnancy and Baby,” “The Bump: Pregnancy Planner and Journal” and “Mission: New Baby… Top-Secret Info for Big Brothers and Sisters”

June 11th, 2015

New to the bookshelf: “Mission: New Baby… Top-Secret Info for Big Brothers and Sisters,” by Susan Hood, illustrated by Mary Lundquist, 2015, $16.99, Random House Children’s Books, unpaged; “The Bump: Pregnancy Planner and Journal,” by Carley Roney and TheBump.com, Potter Style/Crown Publishing, 2015, 95 pages; and “The Bump: Book of Lists for Pregnancy and Baby,” by Carley Roney and TheBump.com, Potter Style/Crown Publishing, 2015, 191 pages.

“Mission: New Baby” is a charming new picture book that helps prepare the big kid (brother Mason) for the little kid who’s arriving soon. The author (Susan Hood) and illustrator (Mary Lundquist) have collaborated nicely on this one. Mason and his robot toy “train” by briefing themselves on the new baby, testing “gears and gadgets” (crib, stroller, etc.), meeting the “new recruit” and everything else that’s involved with transitioning to becoming a sibling. Sweet art, and a fun story.

Now, working backwards, we have “The Bump Book of Lists.” Pregnancy can make a girl hyperventilate. You don’t want that — it’s bad for you and the bebe. For some of us, making lists helps; for others, it can bring on a panic attack. This is a handy book — good size, good format. Chapters are broken down from conception, through months 1-9, delivery, newborn and “Baby’s Next Steps.” The crew from the Bump have included lots of details on knowing what to eat, what you’ll need for vitamins and supplements, and some fun stuff, too (announcing the gender, making baby announcements). I would recommend scribbling away in this one. The accompanying planner and journal is great for scrapbooking — lots of room for photos, notes, ultrasound pix and all that.

Great gifts for yourself, or as gifts for any mamas-to-be you might know.

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