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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, Potter Style/Crown Publishing, 2015, 95 pages; and “The Bump: Book of Lists for Pregnancy and Baby,” by Carley Roney and, 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.

Book Review: The Brothers Grimm

April 12th, 2015

(Photo by Steve Rawley)

Sunday Book Review
On My Nightstand

“Grimms’ Fairy Tales,” illustrated by Fritz Kredel

I picked up this copy from the free shelf because I liked the cover (red, cloth, not battered) and I’m always on the lookout for something my students might like. They love old books and anything they consider “primitive.” I did a lesson this week on stamp collecting, with the third graders, and had to dial it way back when I realized how few of them knew what postmarks were. The stamps were from “the olden days” (circa 1980), and once they realized a few of the stamps were dated from the ’40s and ’50s, they were in awe. Old books, coins and stamps are all treasures to them.

So the Grimm collection is a find — pristine condition — but they’re not getting their hands on it, sorry, kiddos. I’ll take it in for them to look at, but I’ll keep it as part of my permanent collection. The translations were done by Mrs. E.V. Lucas, Lucy Crane & Marian Edwards. Fritz Kredel’s illustrations are cool — simple, with some splashes of color. It was published in MCMXLV (for those of you who aren’t up on your Roman numerals, that’s 1945) (according to Google, anyway).

Those Grimms… they were kooky, eh? Here are openings from a few of the stories:

“There was once a forester who went into the woods to hunt, and he heard a cry like that of a little child. He followed the sound and at last came to a big tree where a tiny child was sitting high up on one of the top branches. The mother had gone to sleep under the tree, and a bird of prey, seeing the child on her lap, had flown down and carried it off in its beak to the top of the tree.
The forester climbed the tree and brought down the child, thinking to himself, ‘I will take it home, and bring it up with my own little Lina.”

“Jorinda and Joringel”
“There was once an old castle in the middle of a vast thick wood. In it there lived an old woman quite alone, and she was a witch. By day she made herself into a cat or a screech owl, but regularly at night she became a human being again. In this way she was able to decoy wild beasts and birds, which she would kill and boil or roast.”

“The wife of a rich man fell ill, and when she felt that she was nearing her end she called her only daughter to her bedside and said, ‘Dear child, continue devout and good. Then God will always help you, and I will look down upon you from heaven and watch over you.’
Thereupon she closed her eyes and breathed her last.”

“The Wren and the Bear”
“Once upon a time a bear and a wolf were taking a walk in a wood. It was summer, and the bear heard a bird singing most beautifully. He said, ‘Brother Wolf, what kind of bird is that singing so beautifully?”

– 30 –
(which means: The End o Fin)

an all-new book review: “The Bump Book of Baby Lists,” “The Bump Pregnancy Planner,” “Knit Wit: 30 Easy & Hip Projects,” “Tell Me What to Dream About” and “Careers: The Graphic Guide to Finding the Perfect Job for You”

March 16th, 2015

What’s On My Nightstand, the March Edition

Ha! Leading off with the baby books is funny, funny, funny, because I am not pregnant (thank you, Jesus) (and science) and I am certainly not knitting any baby booties. (Both of the baby books are cute, by the way, and would be great baby shower/new mom gifts. The knitting book would be a sweet gift, too, for a new mom or anyone who’s wanting to get crafty.)

The review books have been arriving and I need to start keeping track, y’all. So here we go.

“Tell Me What to Dream About,” by Giselle Potter (“The Boy Who Loved Words,” “Kate and the Beanstalk”) is a whimsical new picture book about two sisters, and the littlest one just cannot fall asleep. But she doesn’t like any of the dreams her big sister comes up with. (Ages 3-7, Schwartz & Wade Books, 2015, $17.99, 40 pages.)

Amy R. Singer ( put together 30 pretty cool projects that even beginning knitters (such as moi) can tackle in “Knit Wit” (Harper Resource/Harper Collins, 2004, 127 pages). Wait. Is there some way to describe a knitter who is “almost” a beginning knitter? Because that would be me. I have fun with it, anyway, and over the years have taught tons of students at various schools how to knit. Seriously. Not exaggerating. Supplies, donated by the lovely ladies and customers of the Naked Sheep Knit Shop helped us on our way.

And, as is so often the case when you teach, they were showing me up within a matter of minutes. We knitted on chopsticks, donated needles, our fingers — astounding work. Beautiful work. I got them started, but I cannot take credit. It was them. One of my best, happiest memories from that time were the teenage boys who wanted me to teach them to knit.

“My granny won’t teach me.” (lol.) Followed by… “It’s a craze around here!” I did what I could and sent them on their way.

So imagine my delight once I finally learned how to purl (thank you, Ms. Singer!). That little “missing link,” so to speak, has not stopped me from knitting the ugliest scarves you’ve ever seen in your life, though. I’ve been doing that for years now.

Going into it, I make sure to tell my students exactly what I’m capable of: “I knit really, really ugly scarves,” are my exact words. So, hello, they’re not expecting much. But you know what I’m wicked good at? Casting on and teaching how to cast on. Seriously. Once you have that, you’re gold.

Steve bought me this book several years back, and I tucked it into my knitting basket so’s I’d look like I knew what I was doing. The other day I finally opened it up and lo and behold — it props itself up! Hands free! Next thing you know, I’m knitting one, purling two, like a hipster fiend.

It may be awhile before I make a pixie hat, though, or a birdless boa.

I’m also reading an interesting book called “Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer’s Search for Wonder in the Natural World” (Penguin Press, 2015, $26.95, 276 pages). It’s a new release by Leigh Ann Henion.

Steve and I are both reading “It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War,” by Lynsey Addario (Penguin Press). Intense book, beautifully photographed and well-written.

And an intriguing little how-to book, “Careers: The Graphic Guide to Finding the Perfect Job for You” (how did they know?) also arrived. (DK US/Penguin Random House, 2015, $19.99, 320 pages.) Love this one — I’m taking it to school tomorrow and sharing with the 5th grade teachers, who are working on a college unit with the students. Most any career you can think of (teacher!, product designer, social worker, vet, lawyer, makeup artist, etc.) are all listed, along with pertinent details:

* How much $$$ you can make
* How much schooling/training is required
* What the job entails
* Skills guide
* Related careers

The format is easy to use, and the book is woven together well. I would recommend this one for school and public libraries, teachers, parents, and of course college counselors.

All good reading. See you soon…


did you know no one ever blogs anymore? and here’s a book round-up for you… On the Nightstand

October 6th, 2014

that’s right. Blogging is so four years ago, with the exception of those of us who still keep our online journals: Zoot, Y from the Internet, who I’ve known for so long I call her that, Amalah, Doocie, and me.

The big five, baby, that’s where we’re at. Not the big 5-0, the big 5. Kidding.

I will persevere.

I mainly blog nowadays because I need the archives — especially for updates on my kids (my daughter is driving now, btw) (uh, it’s true. This little girl…), a cookbook (you can always buy a hard copy), school work, and whatever else I need. Quotes of the day, funny jokes. Ha. Funny to me jokes.

So you know that your Facebook archives aren’t really archives, right? And that your photos might or might not disappear eventually, if that’s where you’re storing them? Just saying.

So here’s what I’m working on reading this school year. And first things being, as always, first: the potboilers.

I read Theodore Dreiser’s “Sister Carrie” when I was an 18-year-old college freshman and knew everything. I would like to talk with that girl and have her answer a few of my several hundred questions, now that I know nothing. Dear Lord, what a difference between 18 and 50.

“You should see her ass in that dress.” — my friend Nicole, to my then-lover, talking about me and my brand-new little black dress, circa many years ago. We were at a bar downtown. It may have been the Virginia Cafe. Or Hamburger Mary’s, or the Veritable Quandary, or that place where they served the delicious little Cornish game hens? The Vat & Tonsure. Then (to me): “You hit 27 and your ass just falls. I don’t know what it is.”

My main concerns then:
1) how am i going to get these bills paid?
2) where are the parties this weekend?
3) what about this “27 changes everything” thing? (defer)
4) why does she (neighbor/friend/family member/co-worker) put up w/ that shit? (from spouse/children/grown children/neighbors/co-workers)

I have to go water the yard now, and write more when I get back. No more bars, just chores, out here on the farm. I could really use another load of manure for the east 40.

Back! So. “Sister Carrie,” which I always throw together with “Portrait of a Lady,” “Anna Karenina,” “Madame Bovary” and “The Awakening”… Well, it’s its own animal. I just love the book.

Finished it up, and on to “An American Tragedy” (also Dreiser), which I’ve been meaning to read ever since I saw the Elizabeth Taylor/Montgomery Clift classic, “A Place in the Sun.” God, it’s brilliant, too. So I’m happy, with lots to read. And I have a good excuse (for the moment) to put off reading all of these for work (ps check out this week’s issue of The Nation. On the cover: “Saving Public Schools: A Growing Movement Confronts the Failure of ‘Reform’”:

Being Bad: My Baby Brother and the School-To-Prison Pipeline: Being Bad (Teaching for Social Justice)
by Crystal T. Laura

Bon appetit!

– wm

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