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Daily poetry… give it a try

October 28th, 2023


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!


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.


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

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


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.


“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.


  • 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!


New books! “Amy Wu and the Ribbon Dance” and others

October 1st, 2023

Fall Books, 2023

“Amy Wu and the Ribbon Dance,” by Kat Zhang, with illustrations by Charlene Chua (Simon & Schuster, 2023, ages 4 and up, $18.99) is the fourth book in this sweet series about one Miss Amy Wu. She is Chinese American and goes at life with gusto. She’s kinda my hero.

Several books have arrived lately that deal with grief, loss and trauma. “Mouseboat,” written by Larissa Theule, with pictures by Abigail Halpin, is one. (Viking, 2023, all ages, $18.99.) A young girl heads to the comfort of the water to deal with the loss of her mother.

“The wind is your voice. You whisper to me. I can’t understand what you’re saying.”

Thoughtful and beautiful book. I hope it finds its way into the hands of people who need it. It’s so good. Also recommended to help readers whose family or friends are dealing with grief. The illustrations are lovely.

“My Cat Does Ballet” is a lighthearted new picture book that will be released Oct. 17th. Written by Robert Heidbreder, and illustrated by Matt Schu, this book is beyond delightful. (Atheneum, 2023, all ages, $18.99.) Fun that the author name-drops and introduces readers to famous dancers, and the ballet terms are a big help.

Sometimes I take it for granted, that publishers send me all of these cool books in the mail and I get to read them, review them, share them. I keep a few for my library, but I pass most of them along to friends, other teachers, students, neighbors. Books/books/more books. (I do not take payment or bribes, lol, for my book reviews. Not into “product placement.” It’s just a labor of love, and I don’t make any money from it.)

Some days, though, ah, some days I spend just a little extra time counting my blessings… because it’s a sweet life, getting so many review copies in the mail. Y’all know I love books. Especially when it’s a copy of “One Smart Cookie,” the new Norma and Belly book by Mika Song (RH Graphic, 2023, all ages, 99 pages, $12.99). Do you know this series? It’s a comic book series, and this is the fourth book. Yay for graphic novels, they’re a pretty, pretty cool art form. Belly and Norma are squirrels on a quest for snacks. Yes, they’ll do whatever it takes. Wouldn’t you?

Also a fan of Rob Hodgson’s “When Moon Became the Moon” (Rise x Penguin Workshop, 2023, all ages, 64 pages, $18.99). It’s written in a style called “long form picture book.” It’s a picture book, only fancier and with more details. So let’s learn about the moon and the sun, lightness and darkness and how it all works.

Like little kids, and big kids, I enjoy knowing all the facts, and asking loads of questions. This book makes me happy. The art is so cool, and I love how the facts are laid out.

You will also find inspiration with Mazie McGear, the hero, engineer, and all-round excellent helper from “Mazie’s Amazing Machines.” Her fave tool? The crank drill. Woot! This title was written by Sheryl Haft and illustrated by Jeremy Holmes. (Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Random House, 2023, ages 4 and up, $18.99). Mazie’s awesome machines include the “Food-O-Matic,” the “Roly Ramp,” the “Teeter Lever” and others.

Bon appetit, loves. Keep reading.