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Book reviews: “Bloom,” True History & “What Is Juneteenth?”

May 29th, 2022

December 2019 + old shots

(Photo by Nancy Ellen Row Rawley)

It was a horrible week. I think I’ve cried more in the past few days than I’ve cried in the past few years. What good will my tears do? They won’t bring back the 19 children and 2 teachers who were slaughtered (while the police refused to go inside the school) in Uvalde, Texas.

But i had to let my tears go. I needed to wail so I did.

Assault rifles need to be banned in America. Completely, thoroughly, totally banned forever. I can vote yes on this, but I can’t make it happen. The officers who stayed outside? They’re going to have to live with that forever. How much collateral damage are we going to see? How much survivor guilt? Post-traumatic stress? Anxiety? How much depression and how many suicides will follow? I am shaking, but I will keep saying, See something/say something. Some people are homicidal/most of us aren’t. Are you that way? I’m not that way, either. Hold strong, hold your children and loved ones tightly.

Don’t give up.

These books, all new releases, give us some insight into America, its past and present. Hopefully things will get better in the future, but I don’t think it’s going to happen in my lifetime. I don’t mean to be bleak, but it’s hard to be positive right now.

“Bloom,” by Ruth Forman, ilustrated by Talia Skyles

“True History: The Founders Unmasked,” by Jennifer Sabin, with introduction by Christopher Sebastian Parker

“True History: The Legacy of Jim Crow,” Clarence E. Haynes, introduction by David Ikard

“What Is Juneteenth?” by Kirsti Jewel

Picture Books for Spring 2022

May 9th, 2022

Summer 2021 + throwbacks

(“oh hai deer” photo by moi Nancy Ellen Row Rawley)

How about some beautiful picture books on this rainy Monday evening? So many great releases this spring. Here are a few:

“Poopsie Gets Lost” (2022, Dial Books for Young Readers, $18.99). The author/illustrator of “Poopsie” (and yes I did love typing that) is one Hannah E. Harrison, who also brought us “Extraordinary Jane,” “My Friend Maggie” and several other fun titles. Poopsie is a sweet little thing who reminds me of one of my all-time favorite cartoon characters, Marie from “The Aristocats.”

She has a lovely home, and a lovely basket to sleep in. Then the narrator asks, “Tell me, Poopsie — are you a snoozy house cat or are you a daring adventurer?” and off we go. Next thing you know, Poopsie is staring down snakes, making it through a pack of crocodiles, and bopping a sleeping tiger on the nose.

This fantasy book will appeal to the kids. Bright colors, a strong heroine, and a good adventure.

I enjoyed Portland, Oregon writer Margaux Meganck’s wildly drawn, imaginatively written “People Are Wild” (Alfred A. Knopf, 2022, $17.99). We know how we see animals (“LOOK AT THE BABY HOW CUTE IS THE BABY? I want to hold it, can I hold it, Mom?” etc.) but how do they see us?

“So loud. So messy. So smelly. So nosy.”

Sounds spot on to me. A fine book, I liked it, and the animal facts in the back, too. Great approach.

Edward Hemingway’s “Pigeon & Cat” (Little, Brown & Company, 2022, ages 4-8, $17.99). Poignant, well-written and beautifully illustrated book that is going to appeal to a wide audience of reader. This one, like Katherine Applegate’s “Crenshaw,” would also be a good therapy books for kids of all ages who are faced with homelessness. It’s easier, sometimes, when the protagonist is a cat, or a pigeon, and that is the charm and power of “Pigeon & Cat.”

Cat lives alone in a box, scrounging for food, trying to stay safe. One day he comes across a cool egg, and keeps it. This is how Pigeon comes into his life. When Pigeon disappears, everything in Cat’s world changes.

I never ceased to be amazed at the power of children, children’s books, and their authors, illustrators, editors and publishers. Just thought I should mention that.

When people ask me what I’ve been reading lately, well. I always am reading some grown-up books. But when I say I review titles for kids and young adults, people look a bit confused.

“Children’s books,” I tell them. “I mostly read books for kids.”

Nothing better in the world.

Bon appetit and have a lovely week, my friends.



Wednesday Book Review: “How to Survive Middle School” series

May 4th, 2022


(“Miaow” — photo by Nancy Ellen Row Rawley)

Hey, hey, hey y’all. It’s almost summer, which means summer vacation and a big break for the kiddies. Or does it…? I received a stack of cool books (I think they’re cool, anyway. The kids might disagree) and thought I’d give one of the sets a shout-out.

Middle school/high school/college… all can be tough when you’re just beginning. Let’s be honest here — preschool and kindergarten can be extremely big and scary for our young friends, too. So don’t minimize it, please, just help them where and when you can.

Here’s a new series, “How to Survive Middle School: A Do-It-Yourself Guide” (Bright Matter Books, New York, 2022, $16.99). Well-written and researched, these resource books will give kids a boost as they’re heading into middle school. Summer, as we know, is when our students can take a big slide backward. This is even more of a risk after two years of pandemic/Covid setbacks. Pick up these titles for your children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. No pressure, please. Just let them know that extra help is available.  (Love the subtitle, by the way: “Beware! This Book Might Make You Smarter Than Your Parents.” It would not take much around here, people. Ha.) 

“How to Survive Middle School: A Do-It-Yourself Study Guide — U.S. History”  

“How to Survive Middle School: A Do-It-Yourself Study Guide — Math”

“How to Survive Middle School: A Do-It-Yourself Study Guide — Science” 

“How to Survive Middle School: A Do-It-Yourself Study Guide — World History” 

“How to Survive Middle School: A Do-It-Yourself Study Guide — English” 

All for now, much love,


Wednesday Book Review: “Every Missing Piece” and other new favorites

April 20th, 2022

Winter 2021-2022

(“Gleneden Beach, Oregon Coast,” photo by Nancy Ellen Row Rawley)

“i’d rather learn from one bird how to sing/than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance…”

ee cummings, from the poem “you shall above all things”

Reviewed today:

“Every Missing Piece,” the newest young adult title from author Melanie Conklin, (Little, Brown and Company, 2020, 284 pages, $7.99) just knocked me out. Fans of Lois Duncan, Jodi Picoult, and “Fault in Our Stars” author John Green will love this one. Middle-school student Maddy Gaines, is what therapists call “hyper-vigilant” — she sees trouble or possible trouble everywhere. She’s not crazy about her new stepdad, Stan, who is probably nice enough? Her mom tries to understand but isn’t quite in the know; and when she thinks that a new kid in town might be a kid who went missing from across North Carolina, where she lives… well. Maddy doesn’t really feel like telling anyone.

Because the sheriff and everyone else is starting to see her as the girl who cried wolf. Is she right? Is her best friend playing both sides? We will see…

This is just a great read, I finished it in two sittings. Looking forward to the author’s next book, “A Perfect Mistake,” which is scheduled for a July 2022 release.

Found another awesome young adult read in “A Kind of Spark,” by Elle McNicoll, an up-and-coming talented young author. (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2020, 179 pages, $16.99.) Addie is a kid who is neurodivergent, and does us the kindness of explaining, in a direct and thoughtful manner, exactly what that means to her, and should mean to us.

She has a teacher who is not so thoughtful, and when they talk in class about the women tried as witches in Scotland, where she lives, she decides to honor them in her own style, keeping it local. Great, provocative book. Looking forward to reading more from this author.

“The Woman All Spies Fear: Code breaker Elizebeth Smith Friedman and her hidden life,” by Amy Butler Greenfield, (Random House Studio, 2021, 328 pages, $18.99) is a new biography of an interesting woman who worked relentlessly during both World Wars as a code cracker. The book has been called “a real-life thriller” and that it is.

Bon appetit, babies! More spring reads on the way soon…


Tuesday Book Review: What’s New, or New to You?

April 5th, 2022

Winter 2021-2022

Preview of Coming Attractions (Photo by Nancy Ellen Row Rawley)

Reading reading reading… here’s my current list. Thank you, St. Vinnie’s in Albany, Oregon, for the huge, inexpensively-priced collection. I picked up a few titles, received a few titles in the mail, and donated a load of books to friends, neighbors, and the Little Free Library.

Smiles, everyone, smiles!



Tuesday Book Review: “No Pants!”

February 22nd, 2022

Great book for these times when almost everyone seems to be boycotting pants, ha.

Jacob Grant’s picture book, “No Pants!” is a new title from the author/illustrator of “Bear Meets Bear,” “Cat Knit” and other picture books. (Viking, 2021, ages 3-7, $17.99.) Pablo’s dad tries to get Pablo ready for a family cookout, but Pablo doesn’t wanna wear pants. Why should he? he reasons. Grandpa doesn’t! And so it goes. Grant’s art pops with red, yellow, blue and other bright colors. Cool style — he used charcoal, crayon, pencil and cut paper, then colored his art digitally.

“Strut, Baby, Strut” (Little Simon, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2021, $8.99) is a great board book that affirms females of all types and ages. Written by Amika Kroll and illustrated by Ebony Glenn, we meet baby girls, toddler, teens and grown-up women who are encouraged to shimmy, scoot, stand and lean toward tomorrow. Just a positive and happy book.

“The Monster in the Bathhouse,” written and illustrated by Sina Merabian, is on the shelves today. (Simon & Schuster for Young Readers, 2022, ages 4-8 and older, $17.99.) Outstanding picture book, set in an Arabian bathhouse the night before Persian New Year. Three kids explore a mystery-adventure when they find a huge mess, hear strange noises and set off to investigate. Whatever it is, does it want to ruin Nowruz?

Check this one out, it’s fun and different.

Happy Tuesday, friends. Bon appetit!

Wacky Mommy

Friday Book Review

February 18th, 2022

rosemary in our yard

(Rosemary photo by Steven P. Rawley)

Hello cats and kittens,

We’re having false spring in Oregon, it’s beautiful. But the rains will return this weekend, looks like. February showers/March flowers around here.

How about another book review? Or maybe just a fast round-up? Spring brings us a new crop of releases, they’re popping up all over like the snowdrops in my yard. No rosemary, though, the chickens destroyed it for fun, along with the strawberries, the succulents and whatever else they could dig their claws into. Here are the titles I’m reading currently:

Everything by Maira Kalman, as usually. “The Principles of Uncertainly,” “Next Stop Grand Central,” “Sayonara, Mrs. Kackleman” and on and on. I love that woman and her amazing art.

“How a King Plays: 64 Chess Tips from a Kid Champion” by Oliver Boydell

“Original Sisters” by Anita Kunz

“Explosive Eighteen” by my girl Janet Evanovich (one of my faves in the Stephanie Plum series)

“Living Beyond Borders: Growing Up Mexican in America,” edited by Margarita Longoria (great collection of stories, comics and poems, so brilliant and much needed)

“How to Live. What to Do: In Search of Ourselves in Life and Literature,” by Josh Cohen

Bon appetit, babies! Have a great weekend. Read, read, read.


Wednesday/Thursday Book Review

February 17th, 2022

All the feels today.

One of my library kids, years ago when I first went into teaching, really, really wanted to help shelve books. I noticed her take books from the cart, copying how the other children did it, and then walk to the stacks. She spent a lot of time looking at the books in her arms, the books on the shelf, back to the books in her arms, and then casually returned them to the cart.

She waited until the other students left to return to class, then asked me, again, so chill, “Ms. Nancy, the books? You organize them by color, right?” So we took a few minutes to re-learn the Dewey Decimal System. I loved that experience, because it had never occurred to me that someone would see just the colors in the stacks, not the classifications (Fiction, Non-Fiction, Easy Readers, etc.), not the titles, not the authors.

“You know that one book, with the bright red cover?” “Sure, it’s right over here in the red section.”

Later, I was flipping through interior decorating/home design magazines and noticed a trend with the bookshelves — books arranged by color. That kid was onto something.

Which brings me to “Thankful” (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021, ages 4-8 and older, $17.99), a recent title from Elaine Vickers, with pictures by Samantha Cotterill. I want to climb inside this book, for real. Shrink myself like Alice in Wonderland and venture in. The snow falls, and a little girl begins her family’s annual tradition of cutting out slips of brightly-colored paper and writing out everything she is thankful for. The list includes her home, her parents, the poem they whisper to her nightly, love, dreams, her dog, stars, candles, everything. All of it.

The story is lovely, and the art is really special. The artist made paper dolls, tiny sets, dioramas, little beds and bedding, and just for me? A bookstore and bookcases with the teensiest books, arranged… you guessed it… by color.

Thanks for this title, Cotterill, Vickers and the team who put it together. Highly recommend, not just for the littles, but for the artists and dreamers in the audience, too.

“The Blessing of You” (WaterBrook & Multnomah, 2021, ages 3-8, 40 pages, $12.99) is another new release, this one from authors Mark Batterson and Summer Batterson Dailey, with illustrations by Benedetta Capriotti. Rhymes and illustrations guide children in learning about God’s generosity and grace. Sweet book.

Glorious illustrations by Khoa Le grace “Bare Tree and Little Wind: A Story for Holy Week.” The book is written by Mitali Perkins (WaterBrook & Multnomah, 2022, $15.99). The new release hits the shelves on Feb. 2022, be sure to look for it.

Wednesday Recipe Club: Chocolate Drops & Snow Snakes

January 26th, 2022

Here, have a couple of awesome recipes.

Chocolate Drops

Snow Snakes

Bon appetit, babies.


Tuesday Book Review: Board Books for the Babies and Little Kids

January 18th, 2022

Summer 2021 + throwbacks

(My sis and me selling lemonade, circa 1969; photo by our dad, James David Row)

Books! Yeah, as always I have books piled up everywhere. Ready for some reviews?

“Nom Nom Nom: A Yummy Book with Flaps,” by Jeffrey Burton, illustrated by Sarah Hwang (Little Simon, 2021, $7.99) is a kooky little book featuring a kitty, a puppy, a cub, a shark, a crocodile, a baby dino, lion cub and a little alien. They’re here, they’re hungry, what do they want to eat? The choices are… interesting. The kids will get a kick out of it.

“This Little Rainbow: A Love-is-Love Primer,” by Joan Holub and Daniel Roode (Little Simon, 2021, $7.99) is way overdue. This board book is a great introduction for “little rainbows” who have big, loving hearts. We’re introduced to lesbian, trans, bisexual, queer and gay heroes, including my hero, Freddie Mercury of Queen; performer Josephine Baker; computer pioneer Alan Turing and others. About time. Peace/love/peace/love to all of us.

Hello, “Mermaid Dance”! Nice to meet you. This cool, colorful, interactive book with pull tabs, is full of  beautiful images of mermaids, mermen and sea creatures. It was written by Matthew Van Fleet and illustrated by Mara Van Fleet (Paula Wiseman Books, 2022, $21.99).

Best, always,

Wacky Mommy

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