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Book reviews d’jour

April 22nd, 2024

go zoom zoom

“Go zoom zoom”/photo by Rawley, use with permission only, please and thank you)

Book reviews for this week, all young adult titles, coming up…

  • “Finally Fitz,” by Marisa Kanter (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; scheduled for release April 23, 2024; ages 12 and up; 389 pages; $19.99). A young woman who is bisexual, Ava “Fitz” Fitzgerald, is on track with everything, exactly as she has planned. And then everything goes sideways.
  • “The Sherlock Society,” by James Ponti (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster; scheduled for release Sept. 3, 2024; ages 8 and up; 337 pages; $18.99). Mystery set in Miami, in the tradition of Nancy Drew. Four kids plus their grandfather decide that starting a detective agency is exactly what they need.
  • “Punk Rock Karaoke,” by Bianca Xunise (Viking/Penguin Random House; scheduled for release April 23, 2024; ages middle grade and up; 248 pages; $17.99). Wow! The color and design of this new graphic novel? Pretty cool. Ariel Grace Jones and her bandmates are ready to take their garage band right into the big time. Let’s see what happens…
  • “Summer at Squee,” by Andrea Wang (Kokila/Penguin Random House, 2024, grades 5 and up, 308 pages, $18.99). Come along with our heroine, Phoenny Fang, and a cool cast of characters as they take part in SQUEE: Summertime Chinese Culture, Wellness, and Enrichment Experience. New friendships, fun, and learning and understanding the meaning of being Chinese American.
  • “The Last Comics on Earth: Too Many Villains!” (Viking/Penguin Random House; with Joshua Pruett, illustrated by Jay Cooper and Douglas Holgate, color by Joe Eichelberger; scheduled for release April 30, 2024; ages 10 and up; 253 pages; $14.99). Super fun new graphic novel, second in the series. This one is also from “The Last Kids on Earth” team.
  • “Cancelled,” by Farrah Penn (Viking/Penguin Random House, 2024, grades 9-12, 366 pages, $19.99). Brynn Whittaker, a high school senior, is proud of her matchmaking business, her grades, her life. And then an inappropriate video (that she swears is *not* of her) shows up on social media. How do you deal with the things you think you’ll never have to deal with?

I’ve started reading all of these and send them along to you, recommended. Interesting selection of books. All for now, bon appetit, babies!

Wacky Mommy, Book Reviewer to the Stars

What are you reading this week?

April 20th, 2024

autumn in Portland

(Flowers/photo by Rawley, please use by permission only)

What’s on your nightstand this week? I’m still on my M.E. Kerr spree, I love her stuff. If you’d like, leave me a note, please, in comments. Tell me what titles you’re reading this week, or lately. Peace and books and reading forever. Permission granted from authors/illustrators to discuss these fine new titles.

Reviewing… for Mental Health Awareness Month, which (since 1949) has been observed in the United States every May:

  • Pan Cooke, @thefakepan on Instagram, is an incredible talent who just published his first book. This Irish artist and writer, who resides in Dublin, grew up with undiagnosed OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). “Puzzled” is the cool new graphic novel-memoir from Cooke about the struggles of his early years. What if you say the wrong thing? Do the wrong thing? Get in trouble? Thoughtful work, with super good art. (Rocky Pond Books/Penguin Random House, 2024, please note that this book contains content about disordered eating, ages middle grade and up, 224 pages, $13.99.)
  • “Lola and the Troll” (I reviewed this one end of January, it’s so very, very good. I love that her little dog’s name is Tank.) (Razorbill, 2024, all ages, $18.99)
  • “Pieces of a Girl” is the newest from Stephanie Kuehnert (“Ballads of Suburbia” and “I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone”). Memoir about jumping from Laura in “Little House in the Big Woods” to “Degrassi High” to Bikini Kill and 7 Year Bitch. Been there, chicky. Highly relatable, Interesting read. But at this point, I wish someone would write a super cheerful book with lots of shiny happy people, jokes (clean) and big smiles. Maybe some recipes and some lists re: “how to work yourself out of a funk/if you’re in a funk?” If I could use that, I’m assuming the kids could, too. Maybe I’ll write that one this summer. (PenguinTeen/Dutton Books/Penguin Random House, 2024, ages middle grade and up, 309 pages, $17.99.)
  • “Are You Mad at Me?” (I reviewed this one last September. I love my Opal.) (Rocky Pond Books, 2023, ages 5 and up, $18.99.)
  • “Monster Hands” will scare off those pesky monsters you and the kids fear (or know!) are living under the bed. Great new picture book from Karen Kane, Jonaz McMillan and Dion MBD. Be brave and learn with our young heroes (and neighbors) Milo and Mel, and discover a bit of American Sign Language along the way. (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House; scheduled for release May 7, 2024; all ages; $18.99.)
  • Great new picture book, “Neat Nick’s Big Mess,” about the sweetest little kid who struggles with anxiety. (Just reviewed this one the other day.) (Rocky Pond Books/Penguin Random House; scheduled for release May 7, 2024; all ages, $18.99.)
  • Author Jonathan Van Ness and illustrator Kamala Nair treat us to a wonderful new picture book with their new work, “Gorgeously Me!” (Flamingo Books/Penguin Random House; scheduled for release June 4, 2024; all ages; $19.99.) I’m a bit enamored with this bright, shiny, happy book. Be you!! Everyone else is taken. LOL.
  • “Queer and Fearless: Poems Celebrating the Lives of LGBTQ+ Heroes” is a stellar, beautiful, fun, and sweet new picture book-poetry book from author Rob Sanders and illustrator Harry Woodgate. Learn about 17 heroes from the queer community, including Pauline Park, Richard Blanco, Pete Buttigieg and others. Great book, and I’m so glad it exists, and that a new generation will learn about these inspiring folks. Nice bonus list of additional reading materials is included. (Penguin Workshop, 2024, all ages, $18.99.)

Bon appetit, babies.


Spring books, part 2…

April 14th, 2024

Mt. Hood (view from University of Portland, North Portland, Ore.)
(Mt. Hood, as seen from the University of Portland, North Portland, Oregon, USA. Photo by Rawley/use with permission only, please and thank you)

Now where were we? Ahhhhhh… spring time books! Ready for the new titles? I have a big stack of them. All info provided with permission by the authors and illustrators.

  • “Los Monstruos: Rooster and the Dancing Diablo,” a new young adult novel from author Diana Lopez (Kokila/Penguin Random House; scheduled for release May 7, 2024; middle grade readers; 240 pages; $18.99). This new twist on Mexican folklore is something really different and inspired. Tres Leches, Texas, is a magical, loopy place for kids (and readers) looking for adventure. This one picks up where “Los Monstruos: Felice and the Wailing Woman” left off.
  • “Tell Me About Oceans,” an awesome sweet little board book by Lisa Varchol Perron, with illustrations by Jennifer Falkner. (Little Simon/Simon & Schuster, 2024, for the babies and little kids, $8.99.) Learn all about why the waves crash, how useful seaweed is, find out facts about huge blue whales and more. Lovely art and lots of science facts.
  • “Caged,” by Hmong American writer Kao Kalia Yang, with illustrations by Hmong American artist Khou Vue (Kokila/Penguin Random House; scheduled for release May 28, 2024; all ages; $18.99). This one will make you cry and make your heart soar at the same time. Based on the author’s youth, a young girl born and raised in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, hoping for escape and freedom. It’s important for kids to hear these stories.
  • “Lost Stick,” written by and illustrated by Anoosha Syed (Viking/Penguin Random House, 2024, ages 3-7, $18.99). Louise and Milo are playing fetch at the park, but things go sideways when Milo goes after the stick and can’t find it! Bright, cheerful art and a happy little story.
  • “Jam, Too?” is a lively new title from author JaNay Brown-Wood and illustrator Jacqueline Alcantara (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, 2024, all ages, $18.99). “Out on the shore/in warm brown sand/walks one lone man/with a conga in hand.”
  • “Nothing Special” was recommended to me by my friend Anne. Great suggestion. (Wayne State University Press, 2022, all ages, $18.00.) This extraordinary title from author Desiree Cooper and textile art by Bec Sloane came out in October, 2022, and is a big, big award winner (Top Ten Children’s Book of 2022, the New York Public Library; a selected title from Social Justice Books (a Teach for Change project); Winner of the 2023 Paterson Prize Books for Young People; a 2023 Summer Reading List book, selected by the Association for Library Service to Children; and a Next Generation Indie Book Award Finalist. Kids will learn about the Great Migration and reverse migration taken by many African American families. Words do not do this book justice — it’s perfect and something special.
  • “Neat Nick’s Big Mess,” is a colorful, messy, gorgeous new picture book, written and illustrated by Chad Otis (Rocky Pond Books/Penguin Random House; scheduled for release May 7, 2024; all ages, $18.99.) Our hero, Neat Nick (get it? Neatnik? Cute) likes his surroundings to be thus and so. But the new big puppy in his life has some different thoughts on housekeeping.
  • “Would You Dare Put a Diaper on a Bear?” written and illustrated by Lillias Kinsman-Chauvet (Boxer Books/Union Square Kids, 2024, ages 3-5, 32 pages, $18.99). Goofy and sweet book for the potty training crowd.

Talk soon, xo


Spring Books, part 1: “The Boy Who Said Wow” and other new titles

March 21st, 2024


(Photo by Rawley/use with permission only, please)

  • “The Boy Who Said Wow” (Written by the talented Todd Boss, with sweet art by Rashin Kheiriyeh; Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster; scheduled for April, 2024 release; $18.99) is on the top of this week’s stack of new picture books. Spring = lots of new book releases, and for this and other reasons (daffodils, cherry blossoms, fresh vegetables, more sunshine), I do love spring. No spoilers, but about this book? Mozart is magical and Ronan and his grandfather are, too.
  • We have three new board books today, here we go… Speaking of magic, la luna is the star of “When Moon Blooms,” a cool new bilingual book that draws on Indigenous wisdom from Mexico. Aida Salazar provides the story; Caribay M. Benavides provides the art, which is vibrant and colorful. This is the first read in the My Living World series. (Rise x Penguin Workshop, 2024, ages newborn-5, $8.99.)
  • “It’s Your Time to Shine,” by Dianne White, with art by Nanette Regan, is a helpful and positive guide to life’s little challenges. (Little Simon/Simon & Schuster, 2024, ages newborn-5, $8.99.)
  • Hannah Eliot (author) and Airin O’Callaghan (illustrator) have done a nice job with “The Mommies on the Bus,” a new variation on the song “The Wheels on the Bus,” of course. Whether it’s encouraging the littles to “please sit down, please sit down, please sit down,” providing snacks, or finding the right stop, mommies are there for the babies and kids. (Little Simon/Simon & Schuster, 2024, ages newborn-5, $7.99.)
  • “My Name is Long as a River,” by Suma Subramaniam, with illustrations by Tara Anand, is another gorgeous and insightful picture book about a young girl and her family, who live in South India. (Penguin Workshop/Penguin Random House; scheduled for May, 2024 release; all ages; $19.99.) Introducing Kaveri Thanjavur Jayalakshmi Ganesan (who prefers to be called Kav), with her smart, beautiful self, and her beautiful long name. (Thirty-three letters and you’re welcome to double-check my math. Great name.) Her Paati named her for her great-great-grandmother, and the Kaveri River. That’s what they will travel across for the Pushkaram festival, a celebration that honors the river. This is such a thoughtful book, I enjoyed it and know that your family will, too. The bonus pages in the back are great, and add details about names, vocabulary, and some geography, too.

Thank you, friends, and see you next time.


“Drawing Deena,” “A Bite Above the Rest” and my M.E. Kerr

March 17th, 2024

scary kitty
(My spooky Baby; photo by Rawley/use with permission only, please)

Welcome back to the World of Books, folks, where we read and read and then read some more.

  • “Drawing Deena” is an outstanding new book from author Hena Khan (“Amina’s Voice,” “Amina’s Song”). When it comes to mental health-themed books for children, there are some great non-fiction, fiction and picture books on the shelves now. (And all I can say to this is… thank you.) Authors address anxiety, LGBTQ+ issues, PTSD, suicide and ideations, drug/alcohol issues, grief, family stuff, any and all topics you can think of. “Drawing Deena” does a great job of dealing with what worry and anxiety looks like for Deena, a Pakistani middle-school student whose family is struggling with bills and life. (Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster, 2024, grade 4 and up, 232 pages, $17.99). Great cast of supporting characters, too, including Deena’s parents, aunties, little brother and cousins. This is an extraordinary book, with believable dialogue and settings.
  • “A Bite Above the Rest” isn’t scheduled for release until August of this year, but add it to your list if you’re a fan of Halloween, books about weirdos and vampires, and off-kilter, fun reads. (Aladdin/Simon & Schuster; scheduled release date Aug. 6, 2024; grades 3-7.) After losing his father, Caleb and his mom move to Samhain, Wisconsin, her hometown, for a fresh start. Awww… I like do-overs, don’t you? Only wait, yikes. The mayor of the town keeps City Hall open only from sundown to sun-up. Because he might be a vampire? And the kids dress in costume for school every day, because it’s always Halloween… OK. Slow down, folks. This doesn’t look like Hometown, U.S.A., at all. This is Virnig’s debut novel, and is a great read.
  • I happened upon “me me me me me,” M.E. Kerr’s memoir, on my bookshelf, and went on a beautiful trip down Memory Lane. No, I’m not coming back. Speaking of dealing with real kids, and real issues — M.E. Kerr introduced readers to kids of all sizes and shapes, ethnic and economic backgrounds, all of it. Kids who loved school, kids who didn’t, kids whose families were there for them, kids who were so alone. Teen sexuality, violent parents, unrequited love, no topic was off limits, and as a teen? You know I needed this and loved it. Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton, Norma Klein and M.E. Kerr were my A-Team.  I never knew Kerr’s back story, I just knew I loved her books. Go look her up and read about her illustrious and somewhat wild writing career. (“The Son of Someone Famous,” “Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack!”, and “If I Love You, Am I Trapped Forever?” are my top faves, and there are so many excellent other titles under her various pen names.) She was the only queer kid she knew, and what she created from her loneliness and fierce and gorgeous nature? MARIJANE MEAKER FOREVER. Peace. (And yes, Louise Fitzhugh swiped the name/character “Harriet the Spy” from her — they were BFFs.)

All titles used by permission.

Have a superfine day, talk soon, now get out of here.


“Puff: All About Air” and some other excellent new reads

February 27th, 2024

mist over the trees

(Photo by Rawley/use with permission only, please)

Emily Kate Moon’s new science-themed picture book, “Puff: All About Air,” is a fun one. (Dial Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House, scheduled for release March 19, 2024, all ages, $18.99.) Puff and his friends surround our planet with air:

“Like tiny shields, they protect us from dangerous things, like space rocks and radiation. And like puffy little blankets, they hold in heat and keep out cold.”

Great illustrations and an approachable, deft style. Moon also wrote “Drop: An Adventure Through the Water Cycle.”

“The Great Puptective” hits the shelves on March 19, too. (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, ages 6-9, $12.99.) Author and illustrator Alina Tysoe brings the kids a fun pair of adversaries in Truffles the cat and Poppy the Puptective. Truffles wants her “me time” back, but what will she do to retain the status quo? Sweet illustrations and a frolic of a tale.

And now one for the big kids: “Daughters of the Lamp,” a new book by Nedda Lewers, is book one of two of a new series. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/ Penguin Random House, 2024, ages 8 and up, 336 pages, $18.99.) Cool mystery starring Sahara Rashad, who travels to Cairo with her dad for a family wedding. A bride-to-be (who might be a witch? What?), a glowing necklace, and Ali Baba’s treasure… and that’s just a little bit of what readers can expect with this well-written and entertaining novel.

And now for one of my favorite subjects: Mariposas. There are so many lovely words in Spanish, but mariposa (butterfly) is one of the best. “A Flicker of Hope: A Story of Migration,” was written by Cynthia Harmony, with illustrations from Devon Holzwarth (Viking, 2024, ages 4 and up, $18.99). Las monarcas (the monarchs) are traveling north, as they do every year, and so is Lucia’s papa, to look for work. This is a sweet, wistful story that will speak to anyone who is anxious, hopeful, and struggling with change.

Great new reads, and more to come. What are you reading this week? Talk soon. All titles used by permission.


“Sleepy Sheepy and the Sheepover” and other new titles

February 26th, 2024

moon over cedar tree

(Pic by Rawley, use with permission only)

“Sleepy Sheepy and the Sheepover” is kinda a great title ever, eh? I love it. Say it five times fast, woot! (Written by Lucy Ruth Cummins, illustrations by Pete Oswald, Flamingo Books/Penguin Random House, 2024, ages 3 and up, $18.99.) Sweet little picture book that helps kids get used to the idea of staying over at someone else’s house. It can be a little much, aight?

You know what’s cool? Sleepovers are fun, sure. Well, unless you don’t want to stay anywhere but in your very own bed, which is the case for a lot of us. Copyright laws! Yeah, you never saw that coming, did ya? Many publishers are now including copyright notes in with their Library of Congress info. Here is Peguin’s (used with permission, of course):

“Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.”

And now, for five brand-new board books:

“One,” an awesome little book, was written by Ruth Forman (“Curls,” “Glow,” “Bloom” and “Ours,”… I love this series) with beautiful illustrations by Katura Gaines. (Little Simon; 2023; ages infant and up; $8.99.) Counting/friends/community/love, perfection.

“My Little Lamb” is a puffy little board book from writer Hannah Eliot and illustrator Jennifer A. Bell. (Little Simon; 2024; ages infant and up; $7.99.) Vintage feel to this one, which stars a wee lamb who is happy to venture out… and happy to return home to mama, too.

“’90s Baby” is a second cute new release from Hannah Eliot, this time with art by Alyssa Nassner (Little Simon, 2024, ages babies and big kids, $6.99). Wicked, fly, iconic as can be, as the kids used to say. (I’m not old, you’re old. Now get off my dang lawn and get out of here.)

“Hey, Little Night Owl” was written by Jeffrey Burton, with illustrations from Joy Hwang Ruiz (Little Simon, 2023, ages baby-baby and up, $8.99). “Hey, little night owl, up with the stars. These hours are perfect, all quiet and ours.” Awwww… and the art is warm, amber-colored and happy. Sweet.

Double-down! “Easter Bunny, Where Are You?” is another darling one from Jeffrey Burton, with art by Juliana Motzko (Little Simon, 2024, for babes in arms and older, $8.99). Get a copy of this lift-the-flap book for the Easter baskets, and remember… “Easter Bunny, here we come hopping down the trail. I think I see some bunny ears behind the shiny pail.” Now I’m ready for spring. And candy.

Bon appetit, babies. The titles in this post were all reviewed with permission.


poem of the day — Merwin

February 18th, 2024

For the Anniversary of My Death


“Every year without knowing it I have passed the day   

When the last fires will wave to me

And the silence will set out

Tireless traveler

Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer

Find myself in life as in a strange garment

Surprised at the earth

And the love of one woman

And the shamelessness of men

As today writing after three days of rain

Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease

And bowing not knowing to what”

W. S. Merwin, “For the Anniversary of My Death” from The Second Four Books of Poems (Port Townsend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 1993). Copyright © 1993 by W. S. Merwin. Reprinted with the permission of The Wylie Agency, Inc.

Source: The Second Four Books of Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1993)

Spring books, on the way…

February 17th, 2024

Spring Books 2024

  • Chickens! Bok. “Family is Family,” written by Melissa Marr, with lovely, vibrant art by Marcos Almada Rivero, is a sweet delight about Little Chick, who is becoming aware of other families. (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House; skedded for release 3/5/2024; picture book for all ages, $18.99.) He’s confused when the first-day-of-school-letter from Miss Walrus says to have your mom/dad/big brother or/big sister walk you to school. “First days can seem scary!” But all Little Chick has is his two moms? No dad, no siblings, hmmm… Thoughtfully written and most definitely inclusive.
  • “Wild Places: The Life of Naturalist David Attenborough,” is a new gorgeous picture book from the author-illustrator team of Hayley Rocco and John Rocco. (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Penguin Random House; scheduled for release 2/27/2024; all ages; $19.99.) “If we take care of nature, nature will take care of us,” Attenborough said. This British biologist, naturalist, broadcaster and documentarian has been doing the astounding work he does for seven (7) decades. SEVEN DECADES. This is thrilling. Here’s some more info about him. Happy reading, happy viewing, and what a great story. “We must rewild the world,” he said, “If we act now, we can yet put it right.” Please, and thank you. (Includes author’s note, photos, bibliography and more. Peace.)
  • Hello, beauties. “Sourgrass” is a sweet and delightful book about the friendship between two little girls, Sofia and May, who share a love for each other, their homes, playtime and sourgrass. (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster; skedded for release 3/26/2024; $18.99.) Written by Hope Lim, with illustrations by Shahrzad Maydani, this is an ethereal, delicate and powerful picture book. Highly recommend all three of these titles.

Bon appetit, babies. Enjoy your weekend.



February 11th, 2024

“A time it was, and what a time it was, it was/ a time of innocence/ a time of confidences…” — “Old Friends/Bookends,” Simon & Garfunkel

Steve and I split up a few years ago and I still can’t really write about it, wrap my head around it. So I won’t.

(All photos by Steve P. Rawley/use with permission only, please)

Apple Blossom time


Keeping a watchful eye

A little help from our friend

berry patch

Onion bed Work in progress work in progress North Portland transplant Chicks and hens Planted!! Progress Florette Getting established Finally ripening World's smallest watermelon? Columbine Stepping out granny smith
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