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Best picture book of the year: “Brown is Warm, Black is Bright”

September 21st, 2022

What are we reading this week? Let’s take a look…

One of the sweetest picture books ever created, ever, in the history of picture books, showed up in my mailbox: “Brown is Warm, Black is Bright.”

This lovely meditation of a book was written by the gifted and thoughtful Sarah L. Thomson and illustrated by the amazing and talented Keith Mallett.

(Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2022, all ages, but especially ages 4-8, $18.99. Websites: Sarah L. Thomson and Keith Mallett)

A little girl and her father rake leaves, she plays with her puppy, splashes in puddles and lets her imagination run wild. The book follows their day, into the night. It’s autumn, it’s beautiful, it’s wistful and dreamy. So much is conveyed through the poetic words and gorgeous art of this sweet, peaceful, and long-overdue book. Go buy some copies.

Thank you. That’s all for today. Happy equinox and enjoy your fall.


“Chupacarter” and other fall titles

September 15th, 2022

Summer 2021 + throwbacks

(“My Dear Deer,” photo by Nancy Ellen Row)

Fall is in the air, the heatwave we’ve been having on the West Coast/best coast is finally subsiding (I hope) and there are loads of new titles to review.

Do you know about chupacabras? (Here’s some info for you.) They’re mythical (or are they?) crazy-wild vampire creatures in Latinx mythology and you’d better watch out. We meet a friendly one in “Chupacarter” (Viking/Penguin Random House, 2022, middle-grade readers, 255 pages, $16.99). The book was a team effort between actor-comedian-writer George Lopez, writer Ryan Calejo, and illustrator Santy Gutierrez. Good storytelling about a lonely boy, Jorge, who is new to a small New Mexico town and contending with his abuela, who means well but is pretty fierce. The comic book-style illustrations work well with the novel.

Hello and welcome “Airi Sano: Prankmaster General — New School Skirmish,” another 5th grade and up book about a hero who is also (according to her mother) something of a juvenile delinquent. Author Zoe Tokushige has a great ear for dialogue, and the characters come right to life from the first introductions. Jennifer Naalchigar did a great job with the illustrations. The book is designed in a graphic novel, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” style, but is actually a novel with illustrations, not a graphic novel, per se. No matter, it’s a great ride and a good read. (Philomel/Penguin Random House, 2022, middle-grade readers, 292 pages, $14.99.)

And last but not least, check out “Totally Random Questions” Volumes 1 & 2, by Melina Gerosa Bellows (rhcbooks.com @randomhousekids, 2022, 214 pages, $8.99 apiece). Magazine style glossy books with funny and kooky pictures, loads of facts and information presented in a kid-friendly, appealing style.

Bon appetit, babies! Happy fall!


Friday Book Review: Animal Books

August 26th, 2022

Summer 2021 + throwbacks

(Sis, dad and me, circa 1970, Larch Mountain, Oregon)

What’s up this week, kiddos and dear readers?

Do you know what sharks and puppies have in common?

Yeah, me, neither. But I did receive review copies of two books about sharks and also two about dogs! So there’s that. LOL.

“Mako & Tiger: Two Not-So-Friendly Sharks,” written by Scott Rothman and illustrated by Mika Song (Random House Studio, 2022, $17.99). is about two fierce sharks who can never be friends. Mainly because they’re too much alike. Do you know that story? Yeah, me, too. When one of them is in trouble, though, will things change? Beautiful under-the-sea pictures, and fun rhymes to go with a serious theme.

“I Am the Shark ,” is a great new release from writer Joan Holub (the Goddess Girl series) and illustrator Laurie Keller (who drew one of my old faves, “The Scrambled States of America”) (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2021, $17.99). The kids will learn about angel sharks, hammerheads, great white sharks, tiger sharks and others in this sweet little encyclopedia-style picture book packed with facts.

Ready for puppies? Author Danica McKellar and illustrator Josee Masse have put together a funny, sweet new picture book, “Double Puppy Trouble” (Crown Books for Young Readers, 2022, 40 pages, ages 4-7, $17.99). Moxie Jo is a rowdy, smart little girl who thinks she wants “more, more, more” until she gains powers to double everything in sight… including fuzzy little yellow pups. When and how will the craziness end? As always, McKellar sneaks a cool math lesson into a fun book, and Masse’s illustrations are great.

Sports star, special needs advocate and writer Tim Tebow, with A.J. Gregory and illustrator Jane Chapman, have brought families a cool new book with “Bronco & Friends: Mission Possible.” Bright, cheerful pictures and a meaningful story.

Sunday Book Review: Back to School, babies

August 21st, 2022

Summer 2021 + throwbacks

(Kris, Julie, me and Dan, with our awesome grandfather, Eugene. Photo by my Dad, I’m guessing.)

Hello, dears, how are you?

Summer just started, so that means one thing: It’s time for back to school, and the book reviews that go along with the school supplies. Time to take a shower, scrub off the sand and dirt, find some real shoes, and head back to the classroom. You can do it, I have faith in you.

First up, kindergarten!

In “The Queen of Kindergarten,” we meet a smart, awesome little girl named MJ, who is ready, ready, ready for school. Author Derrick Barnes and illustrator Vanessa Brantley Newton have brought us a treat with this new title. In their companion book, “The King of Kindergarten,” we are introduced to a handsome and intelligent little boy who is royalty, and ready for school and his future. These beautiful picture books will help prepare the littles for school, reading, friends, math, recess and festivities and will be great additions for the classroom, too. (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House, 2022, $17.99.)

“A child must learn early to believe that he is somebody worthwhile and that he can do many praiseworthy things. The child must have the love of family and the protection they give in order to LIVE and FLOURISH.” — Benjamin Mays (from intro to “The King of Kindergarten”)

“Children must have at least one person who believes in them. It could be a counselor, a teacher, a preacher, a friend. It could be you. You never know when a little love, a little support, will plant a small seed of hope.” — Marian Wright Edelman (from intro to “The Queen of Kindergarten”)

“Abdul’s Story,” written by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow and illustrated by Tiffany Rose, is a great book for students first grade and up. (Salaam Reads, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2022, ages 4-8, $17.99.) Learning about (and teaching) writing can be tough, and I’m not the best one to advise on this, because my take on it (as a lifelong writer who just does it, la la la, see how easy writing is?) is this: You just start scribbling. How is that hard?

Writing is hard for normal people, or it can be, anyway. For weirdos like me, it’s just in our blood, see? Yeah. I can’t not write, y’know? I cannot go without writing, because it’s like breathing to me. Also I’m a little hypergraphic. Obviously. And no, I do not think it’s a disorder. 


Some of us are writers, some are visual artists; some are cartoonists, some are musicians. Some are gardeners, some are chefs, some are gifted at quilting… on and on and on. There is a lot of lovely art in the world, and a lot of terrifying art, that yes, still has merit. It doesn’t all need to be landscapes.

OK, sometimes landscapes can be scary as heck, too. But I digress. Again. Art is art is art, is what I’m saying. I do think it’s good to “cross-train,” as it were, but I can’t stand the shaming that goes along with teaching art and writing. (Writing is art, y’all, but don’t ask me to draw you a picture, because it will contain stick figures.)

“Abdul’s Story” is a blessing. It’s down to earth, it’s straightforward, it’s inspiring. It teaches you how to work to get there, and gives good tips on how to lighten up on yourself to make it happen. Honestly, I would use this book to teach students of any age some writing tips.  Abdul, our hero, loves to make up stories, but finds it challenging to get them down on paper. When he meets Mr. Muhammad, though, things change for the better. Writing can be anxiety-provoking, especially for young writers who are just learning how to put the words to paper. Bravo for Thompkins-Bigelow and and Rose for bringing Abdul’s story to life.

Moving right up the grades, “Zara’s Rules for Record-Breaking Fun,” by Hena Khan (Salaam Reads, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2021, ages 7-10, $17.99) is the first in a new series for readers who are just learning to read novels. Super fun (lives up to the title) book about a girl, her family, what it’s like to get to know new neighbors and how to go about setting a world record. 

Bon appetit, babies, and have a fantastic school year.


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

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