Tuesday, January 28, 2020

14. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. Catherynne M. Valente. 2011. 247 pages. [Source: Libary] [J Fantasy; MG Fantasy; J Speculative Fiction; MG Speculative Fiction]

First sentence: Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog.

Premise/plot: September is whisked away (though not kidnapped) by the Green Wind and taken to Fairyland. She’ll meet dozens of people (very few human like herself) some friends, some enemies. Adventures are had. Dangers faced. Hard choices made. Truths realized. In other words this is a fairly typical children’s fantasy novel. Is it delightful and charming? Yes!

My thoughts: I definitely enjoyed this one. I wished I could have found a way to read it in one sitting. I think if I could have read it within one or two days, the characters would have stayed fresh in my mind. I would not have forgotten what each character was. Since not all are human and fairyland is peopled with a diverse variety of magical creatures. I also misplaced September’s mission at one point—her quest. I knew she’d been sent on one, but forgot the details. Jumping back in was tricky. But that is all on me. I know that! The writing was delightful.

I think my favorite character was A-L.

There are plenty more books in the series, plenty of more adventures to be had. I think this series would be a good match for many young readers. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, January 24, 2020

13. Welcome, Baby!

Welcome, Baby! Karen Katz. 2019. 14 pages. [Source: Library] [Board book]

First sentence: When you came home, we dressed you in the softest...pajamas.

Premise/plot: Karen Katz is a prolific writer of books for the very young, for babies. This board book with flaps is for parents to share with little ones as they perhaps look back on when Baby was very new. The text is simple, near timeless, but perhaps not universal. (For example, not every baby will be fed a bottle upon arriving home. No doubt some will. But not all. Every baby will need burping and diapering. But this book doesn’t go there!)

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I did. I think it would be great to share with your little one on your lap. Parents can read the text and perhaps elaborate with stories of their own to make the story more personal. The story is sweet.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

12. The Crayons' Christmas

The Crayons' Christmas. Drew Daywalt. Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers. 2019. 52 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book; Christmas; Novelty]

First sentence: One snowy December day, Duncan was making Christmas cards with his crayons when the mail carrier brought a letter, only it wasn’t for him...

Premise/plot: As a novelty Christmas book this one offers a good time, especially if your little one already loves Duncan’s crayons. It offers several built in activities: peach crayon paper doll with wardrobe, a game board, punch out Christmas ornaments, a dreidel to assemble, etc. The crayons receive a good amount of mail and a box of decorations is fetched from the attic.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I did. I recognize it for what it is—a novelty holiday themed read—not exactly great literature. The story is flimsy at best. But all the activities are cute. I loved the “recipe” that Beige receives from his parents for gluten free cookies. (Beige is now intolerant of gluten because he’s colored in too much wheat.) The first step is to go to the store and buy gluten free cookies. But there are four more steps.

Text: 3/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Total: 6/10

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, January 20, 2020

11. Keeper of the Lost Cities

Keeper of the Lost Cities. Shannon Messenger. 2012. 496 pages. [Source: Library] [MG Fiction. MG Fantasy. MG Speculative Fiction, J Fantasy, J Speculative Fiction]

First sentence: Blurry, fractured memories swam through Sophie’s mind, but she couldn’t piece them together. She tried opening her eyes and found only darkness.

Premise/plot: Sophie, our heroine, has spent her life—all twelve years—trying to be invisible, stay invisible. This isn’t easy since she’s a prodigy—a senior in high school at age 12. But on a class field trip she’s mesmerized by a stranger and his message to her. His name is Fitz and—like her—he’s an elf. She may live with humans, been raised by humans, but she’s an elf and belongs with her own kind. Surprise! Sophie believes him realizing all the zillions of clues in her life pointing to how she’s not like her parents, her sister, or even her classmates. Of course she’s an elf!!! So away to a lost city and elf school she goes...her life may never be the same. But her gifts may not protect her from those that wish her harm. (She’s a telepath.)

My thoughts: As an adult who has read hundreds of middle grade fantasy novels this one has a same same feel to it. This isn’t terrible, especially if you’re in the target audience. If you enjoy this one there are literally dozens of other series that are similar. You can move from one series to the next, enjoying them all immensely. No doubt this one is enjoyable and entertaining. Plenty of humor, a dash or two of suspense, a sprinkling of surprises. I didn’t love, love, love it as an adult reader. But I definitely liked it. Just not as much as say The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. I would recommend it to kids.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, January 17, 2020

10. The Bad Guys: The Baddest Day Ever

The Bad Guys: The Baddest Day Ever (#10) Aaron Blabey. 2019. [December] 176 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Early chapter book; Graphic Novel; Animal fantasy]

First sentence: That’s lovely.

Premise/plot: Question: Should readers be able to pick up any book in a series and make at least some sense of it. Should they be able to grasp at who the main characters are, how they relate to each other, and what the general plot of this specific book is?! This book is the tenth in the series. I couldn’t tell you anything about the characters—though my guess is that it is a team of somethings (could not for the life of me tell you what animal/creature any is supposed to be). Nor could I tell you anything about the plot with the exception that a character named Snake is dead and then not dead?!

My thoughts: Answer: I think good writers make an effort with each series book to help readers out. Even a little effort is a good thing. Because the truth is readers don’t always read books in a series in order. Even if they’ve read book one in a series, they may pick up book seven or eight next. It might be a case of what books are on the library shelf—either school or public. The more popular a series, the greater the chance that the books won’t be able to be checked out in order. Even if readers have read most if not all the books in the series, time might have elapsed between books. If it has been months even a year since reading the last book, readers can start a series a bit fuzzy with only a vague recall of what happened last. Recaps can be woven into many books seamlessly or near so. This book is a total fail in my opinion.

This one will appeal to fans of the series who have read the previous books and who enjoy the graphic novel style.

As an introduction to the series it is a terrible.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, January 16, 2020

9. Pig the Tourist

Pig the Tourist. (Pig the Pug #7) Aaron Blabey. 2020. [February] 32 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Animal fantasy; picture book]

First sentence: Pig was a pug and I’m sorry to say, when he went on vacation he’d cause great dismay.

Premise/plot: Pig the Pug has his own series. It is a long series. Blabey is kept busy writing this and other series. The story is written in rhyme. In this adventure, Pig causes trouble, trouble, and more trouble.

My thoughts: I am not a fan of the series. I think the illustrations keep me from actually enjoying the books. The text is enjoyable enough. For little ones that do love the series, that do love dogs, that do like comic mischief...this one will probably be a hit.

Text: 4/5
Total: 5/10

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

8. The Return of Thelma the Unicorn

The Return of Thelma the Unicorn. Aaron Blabey. 2019. [December] 36 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Picture book; animal fantasy]

First sentence: Thelma felt a little shocked. In fact, she felt quite torn. You see, she’d made the whole world sad—WE MISSED OUR UNICORN!

Premise/plot: Thelma, our heroine, returns to “being” a unicorn, returns to the spotlight, in Blabey’s sequel. This time Thelma has the support of a very good friend, Otis.

My thoughts: I have not read the first book. (If I have it was so forgettable that I don’t remember doing so.) I enjoyed this one. I enjoyed Thelma and Otis. I thought the rhyming worked well. Did I love it? I would not go that far. Unicorns aren’t quite my thing. I thought it was cute and enjoyable. Little ones that do love all things unicorn will find it super appealing.

Illustrations: 4/5
Total: 7/10

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

7. A Trio of Tolerable Tales

A Trio of Tolerable Tales. Margaret Atwood. Illustrated by Dusan Petricic. 2017. 52 pages. [Source: Library] [Short stories; children's book; humor]

Premise/plot: A Trio of Tolerable Tales is a collection of three short stories—or tales. The stories are Rude Ramsay and the Roaring Radishes, Bashful Bob and Doleful Dorinda, Wandering Wenda. Each story is premise driven. This is how I imagine the book’s origin: I dare you to write a story using alliteration! Atwood: I accept that dare! I’ll write THREE stories and show you who’s boss!

Each story is an adventure if you define adventure loosely. The characters aren’t really shaped in any traditional way—the characters , the plot, everything is driven by the need to start with a particular letter. In the first story, it’s the letter r with a few wr words thrown in. In the second it is the letters b and d. In the final story, it’s the letter w.

My thoughts: If the use of obscure or mostly obscure vocabulary words matters more to you than story, sense, or characters...then do I have a book for you. There’s nothing wrong with premise driven books, I just wish it wasn’t marketed to young readers. I doubt that a new reader—say second grade—would have the patience to endure such a tedious, no, TOLERABLE book. The more reluctant a reader is, the worse this one will go. I do see it being appealing to the Matilda-like and Amy-like precocious and voracious reader.

But essentially I don’t recommend this one to most young readers. It would be a tiresome read aloud, I imagine.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, January 10, 2020

6. Miep and the Most Famous Diary

Miep and the Most Famous Diary: The Woman Who Rescued Anne Frank's Diary. Meeg PIncus. Illustrated by Jordi Solano. 2019. 40 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book biography; biography]

First sentence: Footsteps on the secret back stairs. The worst sound Miep Gies has ever heard.

Premise/plot: This one is a picture book biography of Miep Gies, one of the young women who helped hide the Frank family (and the others in the secret annex) during the Second World War. She didn’t work alone, but she is responsible for rescuing the diary of Anne Frank after the families were discovered and captured. She kept the diary safe until it could be returned. Sadly, the father was the only one to survive. Miep returned the diary to him; it was published in the late 1940s.

My thoughts: I definitely feel that stories like this one need to be told and heard. All voices matter. Despite the picture book format, it is definitely for older readers—upper elementary students. The amount of text per page not to mention the subject matter makes this better suited for an older audience.

I am not sure which book I would recommend to introduce the subject of the Holocaust to children. This one or a picture book biography of Anne Frank might be a good choice. Then again, I love Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars.

Do you have a favorite book on the Holocaust? I think my introduction was The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

5. Mary Blair's Unique Flair

Mary Blair's Unique Flair: The Girl Who Became One of the Disney Legends. Amy Novesky. Illustrated by Brittney Lee. 2019. 40 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture Book Biography; Biography]

First sentence: Mary Browne Robinson loved color. Even her name had a color in it. All she wanted was to paint.

Premise/plot: This is a picture book biography of Mary Blair, artist and animator. The picture book is slightly oversized, bright, bold, and beautiful. The book focuses on her art and career. It has just the right amount of text. It isn’t so text heavy that preschoolers couldn’t sit through it and enjoy. The subject matter is one that could easily appeal to readers of all ages. Recommended to the whole family.

My thoughts: I definitely enjoyed this one. I was semi-familiar with her work and remembered which Disney films she worked on and influenced. I also remembered the connection to the It’s A Small World After All attraction. I loved this introduction to her work. I loved how stylized the illustrations were.

Text: 4/5
Illustrations: 4/5

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

4. This is Baby

This is Baby. Jimmy Fallon. Illustrated by Miguel Ordonez. 2019. 40 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book]

First sentence: This is BABY. Let’s laugh and play and sing! What are the parts of BABY? Well, I’ll tell you EVERYTHING.

Premise/plot: This is Baby is a picture book—not a board book. This “concept” book “teaches” the parts of baby: eyes, ears, nose, lips, hips, toes, knees, etc. It sometimes rhymes, but not always. It rhymes just often enough that you come to expect it, enough that when it doesn’t it’s weird.

My thoughts: I think this is a great example of an almost for me. I think it would make much more sense as a board book. The intended audience should be toddlers and very young preschoolers. This in board book or cloth could be one of the first books you share with a little one on your lap. As a picture book, it doesn’t work as well for that young audience. By the time little ones are ready for picture books the subject matter is too babyish. The text isn’t that charming and delightful that it carries over to an older crowd. Now adults may actually care that it is by Jimmy Fallon, but that’s the last thing little ones would care about.

I didn’t hate the text. I didn’t. But I just wish Fallon could have made up his mind if the book was going to rhyme or not. Either would work.

Text: 3/5
Total: 5/10

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, January 3, 2020

3. Sisters First

Sisters First. Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush. Illustrated by Ramona Kaultizki. 2019. 40 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book]

First sentence: Before there was you, there was only me, and life was becoming a little lonely. There were friends to laugh with and dogs to chase, but I still said a prayer as I pictured your face...

Premise/plot: This celebrity penned picture book celebrates sisterhood. The text is super sweet and super predictable. This one is safe to judge based on the cover. You get exactly what you’d expect. It is written in rhyme.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this one. I didn’t love, love, love it. But I liked it. The text felt a little forced to me because of the rhyming. Sometimes it felt natural and smooth. Sometimes it was a bit awkward. It worked more than it didn’t. So overall I liked it.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, January 2, 2020

2. The Favorite Book

The Favorite Book. Bethanie Deeney Murguia. 2019. 32 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture book]

First sentence: How do you choose a favorite, a best?

Premise/plot: Don’t let the title confuse you. This book is not about having a favorite book. I repeat it is not about books or reading. It is an abstract concept book about having favorites. It encourages readers—potentially of all ages—to think about the subconscious process of having favorites, of choosing or preferring this to that. Why do you love what you love? How does something become your favorite? Is there a science to it? It is both simple, kid-friendly and complex. The text is simple enough in its rhyming that readers can enjoy it and interact with the book—the illustrations and text. But it can also be read at a much deeper level.

My thoughts: I definitely have favorites. Favorite authors. Favorite illustrators. Favorite subjects. Favorite genres. Favorite hobbies. Not to mention more obvious favorites—favorite foods, favorite drinks, favorite people. I have never really thought much about how or why. I am not sure that it’s necessary to do so...but it can be fun.

I really enjoyed the text. It was great that it works on multiple levels. I thought it was fun and playful.

I definitely enjoyed the illustrations too.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

1. Two for Me, One For You

Two for Me, One For You. Jorg Muhle. 2019. 32 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture Book]

First sentence: On her way home, Bear found three mushrooms.

Premise/plot: Bear and Weasel both love, love, love mushrooms. So when Bear brings three mushrooms home, both are excited—but not excited to share. Bear thinks she should get two mushrooms since she found them. Weasel thinks he should get two mushrooms because he cooked them. Will these two friends stay friends if they can’t agree on what’s fair?!?!

My thoughts: This one was recently translated into English. I am not sure if many little ones would understand why anyone would fight over mushrooms!!! But all ages can relate to conflicts and fights over sharing and what is “fair”.

I love, love, love mushrooms. I do. I have had many many many conflicts over dividing up mushrooms fairly. I feel I have lived out this one! I think this story would get two thumbs up from any hobbit!!!

Text: 5/5
Illustrations: 5/5

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers