Wednesday, February 26, 2020

31. Red Riding Hood

Red Riding Hood, Retold by Beatrix Potter. Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. 2019. 48 pages. [Source: Library]

First sentence: Once upon a time there was a village child who was so pretty—so pretty as never was seen. Her mother was fair silly about her, and her granny was sillier still.

Premise/plot: Beatrix Potter’s retelling of the folk tale is newly illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. Don’t expect a happy ending for granny or Little Red.

My thoughts: This story is dark, dark, very dark. I won’t say it’s unrealistic. Sadly, it is. Not about wolves eating and cross dressing, but in people going missing, or being murdered. The world can be dangerous and dark; not all wolves appear as wolves.

I appreciated the language especially in the beginning before the darkness descends.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

30. Fry Bread

Fry Bread. Kevin Noble Maillard. Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. 2019. 42 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book; poetry]

First sentence: Fry Bread is food./ Flour, salt, water/ Cornmeal, baking powder/ Perhaps milk, maybe sugar/ All mixed together in a big bowl.

Premise/plot: A Native American family celebrates a favorite, traditional food in this picture book written in poems. Fry Bread is Food; Fry Bread is Shape; Fry Bread is Sound; Fry Bread is Colorful; Fry Bread is Flavor; Fry Bread is Time; Fry Bread is Art; Fry Bread is History; Fry Bread is Place; Fry Bread is Nation; Fry Bread is Everything; Fry Bread is Us; Fry Bread is You.

My thoughts: The first five poems can be read literally. I get the sense that the poems are actually describing something real as opposed to figurative, symbolic, Artsy. The poems are rooted in the five senses. There is something special about these poems.

But the poems progressively become less literal and more symbolic. For some readers perhaps this shift becomes a grand magical thing—bring on the praise and acclaim. The book has transcended the ordinary and evolved into ART.

Fry Bread stands in for every native nation, every native tribe, every native tradition, every native art, every native family, every native individual.

I will be the first to admit that poetry isn’t quite my cup of tea. I like my poems easy to understand, a bit on the literal side. There are exceptions, of course there are, poems can transport readers emotionally even if you don’t grasp everything. You don’t know how the magic was done—just that it was. I didn’t love, love this one. The first five poems, yes, I could get on board. But by the end ... I wasn’t loving it.

It is not my place to be offended or to give my approval. But I didn’t really get the reducing of an entire ethnic group—groups in fact, since it’s a large, massive list of native tribes and nations—to one thing. Nor does it quite seem right that an individual could be reduced to just one thing. A person is more than one thing, especially when that one thing is food. I know I am probably overthinking and being too literal. But still. What is cute and praise worthy in this award winner might be taken too far if you start assigning food representatives to other ethnic groupings and cultures.

Overthinking can happen when I read....

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, February 24, 2020

29. The Little Airplane

The Little Airplane. (Mr. Small #3) Lois Lenski. 1938. 56 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book]

First sentence: Pilot Small has a little airplane. He keeps it in the hangar at the airport.

Premise/plot: Pilot Small stars in Lois Lenski’s The Little Airplane, a picture book originally published in 1938. While there was something simplistic about Cowboy Small and the Little Sailboat, I found this one to be technical and complex. It offers a perhaps dated but nonetheless detailed look at piloting a small aircraft.

My thoughts: This one offers the slightest of stories. It is packed with information. I can imagine little boys with dreams of flying one day might have really enjoyed this one.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, February 21, 2020

28. Cowboy Small

Cowboy Small. (Mr. Small #7) Lois Lenski. 1949. 56 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book]

First sentence: “Hi, there!” calls Cowboy Small.

Premise/plot: Cowboy Small is a picture book originally published in 1949. This simple book for new, young readers follows Cowboy Small over a few days and night. What does a cowboy do? How does he dress? What does he eat? Where does he sleep?

My thoughts: Context is key. When this one was published westerns were super popular in books (especially for older readers), on the radio, at the movies, and soon to be television. I can imagine little boys reading this in the 1950s and really enjoying it. It is written and illustrated by Lois Lenski an author I typically associate with children’s novels like Strawberry Girl.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, February 20, 2020

27. The Little Sailboat

The Little Sailboat. (Mr. Small #2) Lois Lenski. 1937. 56 pages. [Source: Library][picture book]

First sentence: Captain Small has a sailboat. He keeps it anchored offshore.

Premise/plot: The Little Sailboat stars Captain Small; it was originally published in 1937. It gives readers a day in the life of Captain Small. He rows in a rowboat (twice) and sails in a sailboat. He fishes, naps, swims, and eats lunch. The text is super simple. The book packs a lot of information about boating.

My thoughts: I found this one to be a dull read. Tinker the dog is by far the most interesting part of the book. The illustrations are cute if you enjoy vintage Illustrations.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

26. The Little Fire Engine

The Little Fire Engine. (Mr. Small #6) Lois Lenski. 1946. 56 pages. [Source: Library] [picture book]

First sentence: Fireman Small has a little fire engine.

Premise/plot: There is a fire in town! Fireman Small and the other firemen rush to the scene. Can this house be saved?!

My thoughts: What a mess of a book. While the other books offer some seemingly real information that seems legitimate, this one tells you how not to fight a fire, how not to react to your house catching on fire. The sad thing? You can’t tell if Lenski meant this book to be so ridiculous?!

For example, this family goes in and out of their house bringing out furniture and possessions. But they only bother rescuing two out of their three children. Did they not do a head count? Was she the middle child? Is she not their own child but a visiting friend? Perhaps this thoughtlessness could be excused if they weren’t intent on bringing out all their stuff. If they had escaped the flames and were standing on the side pleading save my child!!! But no. They seem unaware there is even a third child. Another example is that within two minutes of the fire being put out, he tells them they can move everything back in.

Total: 4/10

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

25. My Father's Words

My Father's Words. Patricia MacLachlan. 2018. 112 pages. [Source: Library] [coming of age; middle grade; children's book; realistic fiction; animals]

First sentence: My father, Declan O’Brien, beloved shrink to many people, sings as he makes omelets for our breakfast.

Premise/plot: Fiona and Finn are devastated by their father’s death. This early chapter book focuses on the healing and grieving process. One way both mend is by giving their time, attention, and love to shelter dogs.

My thoughts: I would recommend this one to anyone and everyone who loves dogs. I can’t imagine an animal lover not loving this one. It is sad, but not despairing. It has just the right amount of hope. The process can’t be rushed. The mom, Fiona, and Finn—all three grieve in their own way at their own pace. They experience the loss differently in terms of expression. They support one another.

My mom read it first. She loved, loved, loved it. I definitely loved it too.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, February 17, 2020

24. Undefeated

Undefeated. Kwame Alexander. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. 2019. 40 pages. [Source: Library] [poetry; picture book; Newbery honor; caldecott medal]

First sentence: This is for the unforgettable. The swift and sweet ones who hurdled history and opened a world of possible.

Premise/plot: Undefeated is an illustrated poem written by Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. The poem celebrates black lives and black history. To get the most of this one, it is essential, in my opinion, to read the back matter, specifically historical figures and events featured in The Undefeated.

My thoughts: If I had to describe this one in just a couple of words, I’d choose stunning for the illustrations and compelling for the text. The poem is masterfully written even when you haven’t taken the time to read the back matter and considered the context. The narrative style is just excellent. The illustrations are definitely have the wow factor. When you reread the book and examine the illustrations in light of the back matter, they are even more impressive. Together the text and illustrations are worthy of acclaim and the many awards and honors.

Text: 5/5
Total: 10/10

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Friday, February 14, 2020

23. Scary Stories for Young Foxes

Scary Stories for Young Foxes. Christian McKay Heidicker. Illustrated by Junyi Wu. 2019. 320 pages. [Source: Library] [Newbery Honor; J Fantasy; MG Fantasy; J Fiction; J Fantasy; Animal Fantasy]

First sentence: The haunted season had arrived in the Antler Wood.

Premise/plot: Seven kits sneak off for story time in Heidicker’s new animal fantasy. The stories aren’t for the timid, these are SCARY stories (for foxes). The storyteller, an old fox, tells a series of stories—seven or eight. The stories star other fox kits...and as the book progresses, readers realize the stories are related to each other and tell one big story.

Mia and Uly are the two stars of the stories...

My thoughts: Scary Stories for Young Foxes was named a Newbery Honor book in 2020. It is definitely an action-packed, character-driven fantasy novel that is intense. I loved the perspective; for whatever reason I had never seen Beatrix Potter as a super scary villain. This is just one example.

Overall it was a satisfying read. That being said it is as grim and gruesome as watching a nature special. If the thought of some kits (and some foxes and vixens) not making it disturbs you, this might not be the best choice for you.

I am definitely glad that I read it in one sitting. 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, February 13, 2020

22. Pippi Longstocking

Pippi Longstocking. Astrid Lindgren. 1945. 160 pages. [Source: Library] [Children's Classic; J Fantasy]

First sentence: Way out at the end of a tiny little town was an old overgrown garden, and in the garden was an old house, and in the house lived Pippi Longstocking.

Premise/plot: Pippi Longstocking is a hoot of a book. This orphaned nine year old has enough adventures for the whole town. So Pippi, our heroine, lives on her own and by her own rules. Sometimes—okay most of the time—she tells taradiddles. Her two best friends, Tommy and Annika, can tell the difference, mostly.

My thoughts: I can’t believe it took me so long to reread this one. I just loved, loved, loved it. Pippi is like the exact opposite of Anne Shirley. Both are charming and delightful characters. But Pippi needs no one and can’t be bested. She’s way over the top. The two can’t really be compared though; it’s like comparing chocolate and roller coasters.

My favorite scene? Would it be Pippi attending school or playing tag with the police officers? Probably the school incident.

“You ought to know about the schools in Argentina,” said Pippi, looking down at the children. “That’s where you should go. Easter vacation begins three days after Christmas vacation ends, and when Easter vacation is over there are three days and then it’s summer vacation. Summer vacation ends on the first of November, and then you have a tough time until Christmas vacation begins on November 11. But you can stand that because there are at least no lessons.” (59-60)

Other favorite quotes:

“I am a Thing-Finder, and when you’re a Thing-Finder you don’t have a minute to spare.” (26)

“Why do you have a horse on the porch?” asked Tommy. All horses he knew lived in stables. “Well,” said Pippi thoughtfully, “he’d be in the way in the kitchen and he doesn’t like the parlor.” (19)

“I have got along fine without any pluttifikation tables for nine years,” said Pippi “and I guess I’ll get along without it from now on, too.” (41)

“He says that anybody who can lick that big man will get a hundred dollars,” answered Tommy. “I can,” said Pippi, “But I think it would be too bad to, because he looks nice.” “Oh, no, you couldn’t,” said Annika, “he’s the strongest man in the world.” “Man, yes,” said Pippi, “But I am the strongest girl in the world, remember that.” (99)

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

21. Remarkables

Remarkables. Margaret Peterson Haddix. 2019. 304 pages. [Source: Library] [Speculative Fiction; Realistic Fiction; J Fiction; MG Fiction]

First sentence: Marin stared at the towering wall of cardboard boxes that ran down the middle of her family’s new living room.

Premise/plot: Marin, our heroine, is nervous about making new friends in her new school in her new town in her new state. She left her old town, old school far behind her...and her old friends, well, she’s not sure they’re even friends now. Friendship is super complicated at this age—she is eleven. Owen, her brand new brother, is awesome. Her parents are incredibly awesome. No conflicts in the home—as far as she’s concerned. All she really needs for life to be perfectly perfect are friends her own age.

Something strange is going on in her neighborhood, near her yard, there are teens that appear and disappear. She watches them come and go on a fairly regular basis. The only other one who sees these Remarkables is her next door neighbor, Charley. Charley, unlike Marin, has a less than perfect life. He can’t decide if Marin is a bad intrusion or a good one. Charley shares with her his theory that these teens are time travelers from the past.

My thoughts: I liked this one. I thought it was weird and thought-provoking. Weird because of the teens that appear and disappear and are only visible to Charley and Marin. If you’re looking for this whatever it is to actually be explained in a satisfying way to an adult, you’ll be disappointed. If you’ve read a description that makes it sound like a time travel adventure, you’ll really be disappointed. It is a coming of age novel that touches briefly on serious topics like bullying and drug addiction.




Thought-provoking because this novel asks the question...would it help to be able to see yourself happy and well seven years in the future. Would that take away the stress and anxiety of your current worries?! 

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

20. A Bear Called Paddington

A Bear Called Paddington. Michael Bond. 1958. 159 pages. [Source: Library] [Children's classic; animal fantasy]

First sentence: Mr and Mrs Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform.

Premise/plot: Paddington Bear has travelled all the way from darkest Peru (with the blessing of his Aunt Lucy) as a stowaway. This adorable, homeless bear is adopted by the Brown family. Judy and Jonathan are the Brown children; Mrs Bird is the housekeeper. Adventures and misadventures are had: all the time, everywhere he goes. I would say he’s less mischievous than Curious George.

My thoughts: This one was first published in 1958. It easily could have been a part of my mom’s childhood—and its sequels. Mom recently rediscovered this first book at the library. She said I HAD to read it because it’s awesome. She regretted never reading it aloud to us when we were kids. It is a great book. Perhaps not quite as quotable as Pooh, but still quotable. I will definitely be recommending this one.

“It wasn’t so much that he didn’t like baths; he really didn’t mind being covered with jam and cream. It seemed a pity to wash it all off quite so soon.” (27)

“After a few seconds he decided quite definitely that he preferred riding on an escalator. They were nice and smooth. But lifts! To start with, it was full of people carrying parcels and all so busy they had not time to notice a small bear—one woman even rested her shopping bag on his head and seemed quite surprised when Paddington pushed it off. Then suddenly half of him seemed to fall away while the other half stayed where it was. Just as he had got used to that feeling the second half of him caught up again and even overtook the first half before the doors opened. It did that four times on the way down and Paddington was glad when the man in charge said it was the ground floor and Mrs Brown led him out.” (67-8)

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, February 10, 2020

19. Fever Year

Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918. Don Brown. 2019. 96 pages. [Source: Review] [Graphic Novel; Historical; World War I]

First sentence: America was at war.

Premise/plot: Fever Year is a nonfiction narrative in graphic novel format. It tells the story of the killer flu (aka Spanish flu) which devastated the world is 1918/1919. There are no central characters, it just follows the spread of the flu and its effect on communities. It is well researched. The speech bubbles in red are direct quotes.

My thoughts: I have read adult nonfiction on this subject. I find it fascinating and horrifying in equal doses. It’s scary to read about such a deadly and contagious flu.

The adult read was a bit more compelling. I’ll have to search my blog archives and try to find the title so I can possibly reread. But this one was great for the middle grade audience.

There were definitely not any nonfiction graphic novels when I was young. You were lucky if a book had eight illustrations and slightly larger print.

I would not have read this one as a kid—I scared super easy. But as an adult I enjoyed it.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Thursday, February 6, 2020

18. Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum. Kevin Henkes. 1991. 32 pages. [Source: Library] [picture books; animal fantasy; school; friendship]

First sentence: The day she was born was the happiest day in her parents’ lives.

Premise/plot: Chrysanthemum loves, loves, loves her name until she starts school and is teased by her classmates. Will Chrysanthemum find a way to love her name again and make a few friends in the process?

My thoughts: I don’t know which Kevin Henkes book is my favorite. There are so many great, timeless stories that he has given readers over the years. Chrysanthemum is a charming character that needs a bit of a confidence boost when she starts school. She is just as lovely and unique as her name.

I recommend this one. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it since it was first published. I am a bit surprised that no one has made an animated series starring a class with all his characters—perhaps minus siblings. I think they all take place in the same world.

Text: 4/5

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

17. Owen

Owen. Kevin Henkes. 1993. 32 pages. [Source: Library] [Picture books; love objects; security blankets; animal fantasy]

First sentence: Owen had a fuzzy yellow blanket. He’d had it since he was a baby. He loved it with all his heart.

Premise/plot: Owen loves, loves, loves his blanket. Life is good—no, life is great! But school threatens to change all that. Owen’s parents are being encouraged by a nosy neighbor that Owen absolutely has to lose the blanket before he starts school. Can Owen keep his Fuzzy and start growing up into a big boy (big mouse, I suppose) too?

My thoughts: Owen is a great book. I love, love, love the writing, the story, the characters, the illustrations, just everything. It really is a timeless story. Highly recommended.


© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

16. Running Out of Time

Running Out of Time. Margaret Peterson Haddix. 1995. 184 pages. [Source: Library] [action, adventure, speculative fiction]

First sentence: The light woke Jessie, though it was just a glimmer downstairs.

Premise/plot: Running Out of Time is a premise-driven, action-packed middle grade coming of age novel. Jessie, our heroine, is thirteen and about to be sent on a mission by her mother with life and death implications.

Jessie’s family is one of the families living in Clifton. To Jessie, it’s home, just home. To the world, however, it’s a tourist attraction, a field trip destination. In 1984, give or take, a group of adults decided to move to this new town, Clifton, and live like it’s the 1800s. (The starting year was in the mid to late 1820s. The year now is 1840.) Jessie’s parents were part of this group. Jessie’s mom is now having major regrets. Their lives are in danger, Jessie must escape and get help.

How will Jessie cope with the real world? Can she find help? Will any adult believe her? Who can she trust?

My thoughts: I was shocked that I only gave this one three stars the first time I read it. Why? Because it’s been almost ten years and I haven’t forgotten the story and characters. The premise intrigued me. The idea of a community living “in the past” and their children and potential grandchildren being clueless that they were being watched as education or entertainment. Something very Truman Show about it (though this was published in 1995). It has a dystopian thriller tone to it.

Technically it may be weak in that it is premise driven. It has a few info dumps that aren’t all that subtle. But I found it compelling all the same. I found Jessie brave and resilient.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers

Monday, February 3, 2020

15. The City of Ember

The City of Ember (Book of Ember #1) Jeanne DuPrau. 2003. 270 pages. [Source: Library] [futuristic; dystopia; mystery; series book]

First sentence: In the city of Ember, the sky was always dark.

Premise/plot: Lina and Doon have come of age—along with their classmates—and are ready to receive their work assignments. It’s a big day: the mayor himself is there to witness. Doon longs to draw a great assignment like electrician, to perhaps work on the big generator himself. Lina, well, she wouldn’t mind being a messenger and running around the city every day. Could there be a more important job for a kid than helping to keep Ember’s residents in touch with each other?! Doon gets the job messenger; Lina gets a job in the Pipeworks. Eew! Fortunately these two are friendly and eager to trade jobs. If Ember wasn’t a dying city perhaps they’d have little contact with each other. But. Ember is dying. Doon is observant, not gullible, and doesn’t believe the propaganda put out by the mayor. Lina comes to believe Don’s instinct is right. She happens to find a typed official looking document that might be of great importance. The problem? It’s a little chewed up thanks to Poppy—Lina’s baby sister. But she has salvaged some of it and is prepared to solve the puzzle. Could this document be the salvation the community needs? Or will it cost her her freedom or even her life? Doon and Lina will have to work together to solve the mystery before Ember loses its power forever.

My thoughts: I love and adore this book. It’s one of my absolute favorites to reread. I love the alternating narratives. I love both Doon and Lina. I love the glimpses of life in Ember. We are given hints here and there, but not a huge info dump. We learn about this world as we experience it, not a big history lesson. I do wonder what it would have been like to live in Ember when it was new and thriving. I actually think it would be a great video game, to play out a generation or two in Ember...before playing the events of the book. This world fascinates me.

© 2020 Becky Laney of Young Readers