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Sunday Book Review, on a quiet November morning

November 19th, 2023

Summer 2021 + throwbacks

(Baby me with Dad, 1964, family photo files)

Hello, kids and kittens, what’s up?

This week:

Alex Willan’s “Elves are the Worst!” is a comical and fun new picture book (Simon & Schuster, 2023, all ages, $18.99). Willan, the author and illustrator, brings us a unique twist on what the world of elves looks like. Wait, what’s Gilbert the Goblin doing here? And wait, again… because there’s a “worst” series? Yes! “Unicorns are the Worst!,” “Yetis are the Worst!” and “Dragons are the Worst!” Check them out.

Next:

Author Zoe Tokushige and illustrator Jennifer Naalchigar bring us the newest in the awesome and hilarious Airi Sano series: “Airi Sano Prankmaster General: Public Enemy Number One” (Philomel, 2023, ages 3rd grade and up, 273 pages, $14.99). I love this kid, she’s a lot of fun, and her friends and family are, too.

This one isn’t skedded for release until Feb. 27, 2024, but keep an eye out for “Hooray for She, He, Ze, and They!” (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2024, all ages, $18.99.) Learn about the importance and happiness of pronouns with writer Lindz Amer (they/them) and and illustrator Kip Alizadeh (they/them). Joyous and timely story, super-cool illustrations and an empowering message.

“Our Italian Christmas Eve” is a new picture book about food, family and love. Siblings Danielle Sedita and Francesco Sedita wrote the story, with plenty of love and care, and sweet art by Luciano Lozano. (Viking Books for Young Readers, 2023, all ages, $18.99.) (Includes a cheesecake recipe!)

So… bon appetit! And happy happy holidays. Love, peace, and Bobby Sherman!

WM

Book review #1,247

November 14th, 2023
2022 Photo by Rawley; reprint with permission only, please) Yeah, I have no idea how many book reviews I’ve actually written. Is it a thousand? More? Less? I don’t always remember to tag them. But I’ve been at this awhile so there you have it. We’re in the hundreds now, I bet. Up this week: The “She Persisted” series is based on the picture book series by Chelsea Clinton and Alexandra Boiger. The latest book, written by Laurel Goodluck, with drawings by Gillian Flint, is about Congressperson Deb Haaland. (Philomel, 2023, ages 6 and up, 67 pages, $6.99.) Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo Nation, one of the first Native women to be elected to Congress and also a military kid (dad was a Marine; mom was Navy). She is now President Biden’s Secretary of the Interior! OK, that’s all pretty cool. Check out the other books about Haaland, too, including “What Your Ribbon Skirt Means to Me.” Biographies are pretty great, and autobiographies, too. This series is well worth reading, and keep the picture books in mind, too. “Holy Night and Little Star: A Story for Christmas” is a gorgeous new picture book by author Mitali Perkins, with stunning illustrations by Khoa Lee (Waterbrook/Penguin Random House, 2023, all ages, 40 pages, $15.99). “He determines the number of the stars; He gives to all of them their names.” — Psalm 147:4 The story of the birth of Jesus is told from the star’s point of view. Awww… love it. Yes, I’m ready for holiday books. So moving right along we have… “Merry Christmas, Red Truck” is a new board book by Kersten Hamilton, with illustrations by Valeria Petrone (Viking/Penguin Random House, 2023, ages baby and up, $8.99). Sooooo cute. Only why is it always a female getting rescued and a male tow truck driver? A switch-up would have been nice, but this is a happy little book and mom gets home safe and sound. Two thumbs up. I am not trying to love germs, they kind of stress me out, but I do appreciate this new picture book by author-illustrator Bethany Barton. “I’m Trying to Love Germs” is a new release that will change the way you look at… everything. Yikes. (Viking/Penguin Random House, 2023, all ages, $18.99.) The writer describes herself as an “artist, author, illustrator, mommy, wife, and perpetual optimist.” Great description. She puts together very cool STEM books, and when she’s not doing that? She is a prop master (shows include “The Muppets Mayhem” and “Obi-Wan Kenobi”). Now that, my friends, is a well-rounded human being. Talk soon! WM

YA novels make me happy

November 12th, 2023
Winter 2021-2022

(Photo by Nancy Ellen Rawley; do not reprint without permission, thank you)

Good afternoon, my lovely readers. That photo is from a couple of years ago. Am I looking forward to the snow? Only if I get to stay home, ha. I’ve been reading grown-up books lately, what a treat! And I have some cool young adult books to delve into next. All would make great holiday gifts, I’m just saying.

On the nightstand this week:

“Walkin’ the Dog,” skedded for release March 12, 2024 (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, ages 8 and up, $17.99). This new novel from Chris Lynch, an author who lives in Boston and Scotland, is pretty fun and insightful, too. Louis has been homeschooled, and is not sure about what public high school will be like. He accidentally starts a dog-walking business, landing new canine and human friends along the way.

“Your Pal Fred: Low Power,” the sequel to “Your Pal Fred,” is another cool graphic novel from writer/illustrator Michael Rex (Viking, 2023, ages 7 and up, $22.99). Rex, a New Jersey guy, has written and/or illustrated more than 40 (forty!) children’s books, including the Fangbone series.

“Beneath the Swirling Sky,” presented by the Restorationists Series, is a cool read from Carolyn Leiloglou (Waterbrook & Multnomah, 2023, ages 8 and older). Vincent wants to be done with art, then he and his little sis, Lili, get stuck spending spring break with their uncle, who is an art conservator… of sorts… and his second-cousin. Lili disappears — into one of the paintings! — and things get crazy.

The Lia Park series continues with “Lia Park and the Heavenly Heirlooms,” by Jenna Yoon (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2023, ages 8 and up).┬áLia is now 12, and she and her best friend, Joon, are full-time students at International Magic Academy. Fans of the Harry Potter and Aru Shah series will love this one, and will have fun learning about Korean and Korean mythology. (I reviewed this earlier this year, too. Highly recommend.)

I geek out on authors — I think you already know this — especially when retired or former librarians and teachers take a dive into writing books for kids. Yeah, it makes me do the happy dance. Author Jessica Kim’s (“Stand up, Yumi Chung!”) bio says that before she became an author, she studied education at UC Berkeley. She taught 3rd, 4th and 5th grades in public schools. A woman after my own heart; those have always been my favorite grades to teach, too. “Make a Move, Sunny Park!” is her new novel and it’s a lot of fun.

Sunny, a 7th grader at Ranchito Mesa Middle School, loves K-pop, her granny, shrimp chips, and her BFF, Bailey. Sometimes things change. Thoughtful story about friendship and middle school life.

“The Bravest Warrior in Nefaria,” by Adi Alsaid, takes on loneliness, life and friendship (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2023, ages 8 and up). The cover art is beautiful, and the story sounds funny and intriguing. Alsaid’s other YA books include “North of Happy” and “Come on In: 15 Stories About Immigration and Finding Home.”

“Looking Up,” by Stephen Pastis (the creator of one of my favorite comic strips, “Pearls Before Swine”) introduces us to Saint, a girl growing up on the poor side of town, who takes on gentrification when the neighborhood toy store is threatened. (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster, 2023, all ages, $13.99.)

Bon appetit!

WM

Daily poetry… give it a try

October 28th, 2023

Books

I’ve been trying to follow my late friend Loran’s lead and read poetry first thing every morning. I alternate with affirmations and meditations, too.

It works.

It makes me calmer, keeps me from rushing into the world, hyperventilating; it makes me take a little minute and a little breath. Inhala/exhala, inhala/exhala, inhala/exhala… keep going.

Highly recommend for all ages. If morning doesn’t work for you, try a different time. Here are some titles (new and old favorites) that I’ve been reading:

“Joyful Noise: Poems for Two Voices,” by Paul Fleischman, with illustrations by Eric Beddows

“Ten Poems to Change Your Life,” by Roger Housdon

“The Little Book of Prayers,” edited by David Schiller

“Brave Enough,” by Cheryl Strayed

Shakespeare, always

“The Book of Delights,” by Ross Gay

“A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings,” Coleman Barks

“Teaching with Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach,” edited by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner, with an introduction by Parker J. Palmer and Tom Vander Ark

“Prayers for Hope and Comfort: Reflections, Meditations and Inspirations,” Maggie Oman Shannon

Picture books/two, no three! biographies/plus one graphic novel, yay, team!

October 19th, 2023

Winter 2021-2022

(Sweetie-pie of mine/photo by Rawley, use with permission only, please and thank you)

Yes, I have a super-cool selection of books for you today. But when is that not true? (Smiles.)

  • “Little Black Hole” — written by Molly Webster, illustrated by Alex Willmore; Philomel/Penguin Random House, 2023, all ages, $18.99. Inspired and fun picture book about our hero, Little Black┬áHole, and her galaxy of friends. She wonders, though, what’s it all about? Good way to introduce some complex science to the littles.
  • “Flora’s Wish” — story/art by Fiona Halliday; Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House, 2023, ages little and up, $18.99. Flora’s best friend is Lion (as in Dandelion). The little field mouse and the flower love each other. One day, though, things change for Lion, and Flora, forever. Lovely, beautiful illustrated book about friendship and grief.
  • “There Was a Party for Langston” — Jason Reynolds, author, and Jerome Pumphrey and Jarrett Pumphrey, artists; A Caitlyn Dlouhey Book/Atheneum Books for Young readers, 2023, all ages, $18.99. Do you know Amiri Baraka? Maya Angelou? Zora Neale Hurston? Claude McKay? Alice Walker? Richard Wright? Octavia Butler? You will hear their names and want to know more about them, and other writers, after reading this fantastic new book. You will also, of course, get a glimpse into the life of one of my favorite poets and storytellers, Langston Hughes. *** Highly recommended for classroom and library purchase.
  • “Amazing: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders Who Inspire Us All” — written by (Olympic Medalist siblings) Maia and Alex Shibutani, and Dane Liu, with illustrations by Aaliya Jaleel. (Viking/Penguin Random House, 2023, all ages, $18.99.) Thirty-six Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are profiled in this new, beautiful, much-needed book. Learn about movie star Anna May Wong, Congressman Daniel Inouye, composer Robert “Bobby” Lopez, astronaut Dr. Kalpana Chawala and so many other beloved heroes. *** Highly recommended for classroom and library purchase.
  • “Contenders: Two Native Baseball Players, One World Series” — by author Traci Sorell, with illustrations by Arigon Starr; Kokila/Penguin Random House, 2023, all ages, $18.99. Lovingly researched and illustrated story of baseball players, and Native American men, Charles Bender and John Meyers, whose paths crossed during the 1911 World Series. Astounding book. *** Highly recommended for classroom and library purchase.
  • “Witches of Brooklyn: Spell of a Time” — Sophie Escabasse, author/artist; book four in the series; RHKidsGraphic, 2023, all ages, 217 pages, $13.99. I love when I get specifics on how the art was done. This one was “drawn with pencil, and then all the pages were scanned. Inking and coloring were done with Procreate and Photoshop.” Our hero Effie is pretty cool and collected, but when her school trip to Coney Island does not go according to plan (and a mermaid is missing)… yeah, buddy.

All for now, more reviews in a few days!

WM

Let’s go! More book reviews, y’all.. “Sankofa” and other new releases

October 18th, 2023

Fall Books, 2023

“Sankofa: A Culinary Story of Resilience and Belonging,” is an inspired new release from Eric Adjepong, with cool illustrations by Lala Watkins (Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House, 2023, ages 4 and up, $19.99). This story is based on the childhood stories of the author, who is from Ghana and grew up in New York City. Recipe for Jollof Rice (so delicious) is included in the back of the book. Adjepong is also known as a celebrity chef. He was a finalist on Bravo’s “Top Chef,” and is the host of “Alex Vs. America” on the Food Network.

“The Power of Yeti,” by Rebecca Van Slyke, with illustrations by G. Brian Karas, is a fun new picture book for all ages. (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, 2023, $18.99.) Learning to tie your shoes? Not a problem, small-footed human, when you have a Yeti friend to help.

Amy June Bates (“The Big Umbrella”) has a new book on the shelves: “The Welcome Home.” (A Paula Wiseman Book/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2023, ages 4-8, $18.99.) Introducing the Gargleson-Bittles, who are missing a little something in their home. What could it be? You may be surprised by this one. Dreamy, soft illustrations and an engaging story.

Have a wonderful rest of your week, everyone.

WM

Saturday morning, reading, reading

October 14th, 2023

Fall Books, 2023

“Saving H’Non: Chang and the Elephant”: Great new graphic novel, based on a true story, about animal conservation. (Trang Nguyen and Jeet Zdung, Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House, 2023, 128 pages, $13.99.)

“Little Bear (You Are the Light)”: Awwwww… sweet new board book for the littles, about a mama and baby, living their best lives… catching fish… sniffing honey… from author Lisa Edwards and illustrator Kat Kalini. (Viking/Penguin Random House, 2023, $7.99.)

“Jose and Feliz Play Futbol” is the newest release in this sweet, bilingual (Spanish and English) chapter book series from Susan Rose, Silvia Lopez and Gloria Felix. (Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House, 2023, all ages, $9.99.) Includes a list of Spanish words and phrases.

“Flubby Does Not Like Snow,” is the latest in the Flubby series (words I have never before said), by J.E. Morris. Flubby is a sweet fluffy cat who would rather be inside than out in the cold, but his friend Kami is ready to play. We will have to see how this goes! (Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House, 2023, all ages, $9.99.)

“Cory and the Seventh Story,” a tale of diverse neighbors trying — and failing — to get along, is from authors Brian D. McLaren (a speaker and activist) and Gareth Higgins (a storyteller and writer who grew up near Belfast, Northern Ireland. Anita Schmidt, an artist from northern Germany, designed beautiful art for this picture book. (Convergent Books/Random House, 2023, all ages, $13.99.) Peace/love/understanding/please.

Picture Books (just discovered) on a rainy evening

October 11th, 2023

Bok!
St. John’s Wort, Willamette Valley (Photo by Rawley/use with permission only, please)

Good afternoon, dear ones. That’s St. John’s Wort, a very useful plant that grows wildly in my front yard. I barely noticed it this summer. It was hot and dry, and I watered daily, but didn’t get as much water on some of the plants as I would have liked. That pic is from Independence Day, 2022, and it bloomed maybe half as much this year. We will see about next year.

I need some wildcrafters to come by and help harvest it next time it blooms, because I have no idea what to do with the stuff. It helps with all kinds of conditions.

OK, what’s up with y’all this week? It’s raining here. There? Everywhere? As always, praying for peace. Send love out there into the universe, would you, please?

Picture books today, an interesting set:

“Beulah Has a Hunch! Inside the Colorful Mind of Beulah Louise Henry” is a new biography written and illustrated by the incomparable Katie Mazeika. It is scheduled for release Oct. 17, 2023. (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster, 2023, all ages, $18.99.) This great nonfiction picture book introduces readers to Beulah Louise Henry (1887-1973). First time I had heard about this cool inventor, who had both hyperphantasia (when you see things in your mind in extreme detail)and synesthesia (where you brain routes things through two or more senses simultaneously, like being able to “taste” words, or linking color with numbers).

This one looks fun. “Zilot & Other Important Rhymes,” written by one of my favorite actors, Bob Odenkirk, with illustrations by his talented and lovely daughter Erin Odenkirk (Little, Brown, 2023, $18.99). Whimsy and cheer for all ages.

“The Seasons Within Me” is a fantastic book about dealing with moods, brought to us by the skilled artist/author Bianca Pozzi. (Rise x Penguin Workshop, 2023, all ages, $18.99.) A little girl feels alone, in the rain and cold, until a dog comes long and changes life for both of them.

“Mouse & Giraffe” is another thoughtful picture book about friendship, and misunderstandings. Kelly DiPucchio wrote this one, with illustrations by Jen Corace that remind me of a longtime favorite, Richard Scarry. (Viking/Penguin Random House, 2023, $18.99.)

I’ll start this next review with a warning, listed in the back of the new science book “Fungi Grow”: “Warning! NEVER eat mushrooms that you’ve found outside unless their identity is verified by a mycologist, an expert in mushrooms. The mushrooms could be poisonous. Many poisonous mushrooms look very similar to edible ones.” (Quote used with permission.) This book — with beautiful art and so many science facts — will be released Oct. 17, 2023 (written by Maria Gianferrari, with illustrations by Diana Sudyka; Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster; 2023; all ages; $18.99).

“Kin: Rooted in Hope,” “The Quiet and the Loud” & more 2023 releases

October 9th, 2023

Books

This has been a great year for kid and young adult books, and this week’s picks are no exception.

“Barely Floating,” by Lilliam Rivera (Penguin Young Readers, 2023, middle grades and up, 229 pages, $18.99) caught me off guard. I don’t know what it is about this particular young adult novel, or the others I’m reviewing this week, but this… unexpectedness… seems to be a common thread with the new fiction on the shelves for young adults. Pretty amazing stuff.

In “Barely Floating,” our angry young heroine, Natalia de la Cruz Rivera y Santiago, wants to compete with the local synchronized swimming team. The L.A. Mermaids are the coolest, but Natalia’s parents, being parents, don’t understand. Her cousin has an even bigger secret. Great story, with well-rounded characters.

“Kin: Rooted in Hope” is a heartbreak, gorgeous, inspiring book from mother and son team Carole Boston Weatherford and Jefferey Boston Weatherford. (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster, 2023, middle grades and up, 202 pages, $18.99). Combining Carole’s poems and Jefferey’s art, “Kin” is an extraordinary book about family, ancestry, roots, love and hate and always, hope.

“Give Me A Sign” is a love story set at a camp for Deaf teenagers. Sweet and thoughtful debut novel by Anna Sortino. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2023, ages middle grade and up, 303 pages, $18.99.)

Kaija Langley’s “Order of Things” an exquisite novel written in free verse, introduces us to best friends April and Zee. We learn about their mutual love of music, meet their parents and their community, and discover there are some challenges no one should have to face alone. Poignant and real. (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, 2023, ages middle grade and up, 269 pages, $17.99.)

We have another knock-out of a novel, “The Quiet and the Loud,” from Australian author Helena Fox (Dial Books/Penguin Random House, 2023, ages middle grade and up, 380 pages, $19.99). George loves to paddle in the quiet water, alone and content. Who can blame her? Laz, her best friend, worries about everything because the world, as we know, truly is going to hell. (Love you, Laz. You’re right, and it all sucks.) George’s other BFF is Tess, who is being pretty nonchalant about impending teen motherhood; she has her mums; her gramps; her dad-gone-missing who has suddenly reappeared and… Calliope. Calliope, who does handstands and cartwheels through the water.

Trigger warnings for all of these books, but also? So much love.

Have a great week, friends. Keep reading.

WM

“Dinnertime SOS: Yummy Toddler Food” yes yes yes

October 1st, 2023

Fall Books, 2023

Toddler mommies are under a lot of stress. I remember. It’s been a few years, but oh, I remember. My trick was telling the kids they were having snacks, “not dinner!”, appetizers, hors d’oeuvres, canapes, oh so many fancy words for “not dinner.”

They weren’t keen on dinner, my two — the commitment, the conversation, the all-being-seated-together gah i need to run *around* the table, mama, not sit still at it! Gotta go, Spocky! And off they’d run.

But snacks? Appetizers? A charcuterie board? That, they liked.

Additionally, everyone laughs at ya because hahaha it isn’t like they eat very much! How hard can it be, they’re so tiny and cute. Your job, though, parents, is stressful. Because you have to keep them alive. Mommies of littles? Daddies of littles? I love you, I support you, and I wish I was there to fix you dinner.

“Dinnertime SOS,” fresh off the press, is a delight and will help you, I promise. (Created by Amy Palanjian, Rodale Books/Penguin Random House, 2023, all ages, 100 glorious recipes, 255 pages, $28.) So many good ones, including Skillet Lasagna, Broccoli Melts, and a yummy Family Charcuterie Board. (Now you’re talking.) Tips on being creative with leftovers and all kinds of fun stuff.

Homemade Pesto

Makes: About 1 cup

1 cup lightly packed basil leaves

1 cup lightly packed parsley leaves

1/4-1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup roasted sunflower seeds

Fine sea salt

In a blender or food processor combine the basil, parsley, 1/4 cup of the olive oil, Parmesan, and sunflower seeds. Blend until smooth, adding the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil as needed to make a velvety mixture. Season with salt. Transfer to an airtight freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to 6 months.

NOTES

  • Use baby spinach in place of the herbs for a more mellow-flavored pesto.
  • Add 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavor.

Recipe courtesy of Amy Palanjian; reprinted here with the author’s permission.

I say this, and I say it sincerely, Bon appetit, babies!

WM

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