Monday, November 30, 2020

Middle Grade Monday and Audiobook Review: Tristan Strong Destroys the World by Kwame Mbalia

Tristan Strong Destroys the World by Kwame Mbalia. Tristan Strong #2. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~9 hours. Read by Amir Abdullah. Listening Library, October, 2020. 9780593149614. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from public library.)

Middle Grade Monday features Tristan Strong Destroys the World by Kwame Mbalia. This sequel to Mr. Mbalia's debut blockbuster, Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky is even better. That's saying something because I loved the first book. If you've read it, you will definitely want to read the sequel and if you haven't, what are you waiting for?

Tristan Strong has been back from Alke for a month, still staying on his grandparents' farm and still training with his grandfather. He's still filled with self-doubt and acknowledges that he's probably suffering from PTSD. After a "friendly" sparring match gets a bit rough, Tristan's grandmother is kidnapped and taken to Alke. Reluctant as he is to return to Alke, he has to rescue his grandmother! He hopes to get advice from John Henry, but he is a shell of the man Tristan came to admire. So, it's up to Tristan, Ayanna and the irrepressible Gum Baby to get things done. 

Mr. Mbalia seamlessly weaves African mythology and African American folklore into a seat-of-your-pants adventure. While often humorous, there is real trauma here both cultural and personal. Perceptive readers will appreciate the power of storytelling and remembering. The mind-blowing ending of this installment will leave readers panting for the next!

Amir Abdullah's performance does not disappoint! It's perfectly paced and emotionally engaging. 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

November is Picture Book Month! Review: Latkes for Santa Claus by Janie Emaus

Latkes for Santa Claus by Janie Emaus. Illustrated by Bryan Langdo. unpgd. Sky Pony Press, October, 2020. 9781510759886. (Review of finished copy courtesy of the author.)

Anna emails Santa for the first time on her iPad. She informs him that she's celebrating Christmas for the first time with her new dad and stepbrother and thinks he might be tired of cookies, so she's planning on leaving him the best treat ever. The only problem is, she's not sure what. It doesn't help that Michael, her stepbrother assures her that his cookies are the best Santa treat ever. He also informs her that Santa doesn't answer emails.

At first, she zeroes in on matzo ball soup as the best, but Michael reminds her that, "Santa can't eat soup with his fingers."  When Anna imagines Santa attempting this, she realizes that matzo ball soup won't do. How about Aunt Bea's noodle kugel? That can't be eaten with fingers either. Tzimmes? Nope!

Finally, Anna realizes the perfect finger food! Her mom's potato latkes are the perfect treat for Santa. She adds them to Michael's plate of cookies. Not only is the plate empty on Christmas morning, but Anna receives an email from Santa!

Ah, the December dilemma. Thirty-five years ago, I married a Jewish man in a civil ceremony. He wasn't particularly religious and both of his older siblings married outside the religion. His parents were accepting and welcoming. I suggested that we choose the Jewish holidays over Christmas and Easter. I was not at all religious and didn't mind. My husband did. He adored Christmas. He wanted a tree and presents. He also wanted Hanukkah, so we merged the two holidays. Our tree doesn't go up until Christmas Eve and all our decorations are decidedly secular - Santa, snowmen, birds, and the like. Years when Hanukkah and Christmas overlap are challenging. We found our way. We also celebrated others and observed Shabbat in our own way. 

I would've loved to have had this book when my kids were small. The cheery, energetic illustrations are appealing, as is the rhyming refrain each time Anna imagines Santa handling the various foods. The recipes for sugar cookies and potato latkes are an added bonus! This is such a fun book and not just for families who merge the two holidays!

Saturday, November 28, 2020

November is Picture Book Month! Picture Book Review: My Favorite Color by Aaron Becker

My Favorite Color by Aaron Becker. unpgd board book. Candlewick Studio/ Candlewick Press, September, 2020. 9781536214741. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

I love how the title of this book asks "Only one?" I feel the same way. I have lots of favorite colors. They usually match my mood.
Aaron Becker follows his lovely, You are Light  with this magical book. Simple, tactile and intriguing, this inviting board book will have readers young and not-so-young, returning again and again to flip pages to watch the change in hues with each page-turn. So many shades of color to enjoy and name! Indeed, how can only one be a favorite?

My Favorite Color is a terrific gift book and should find a place in pre-schools and art classes as well as comfy laps to explore, discuss and appreciate color. Here's a short video of the creator talking about his book. Don't miss this gem.

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

For Review:

Image: Macmillan

Never After by Melissa de la Cruz. 324 p. Roaring Brook Press/ Macmillan, December 1, 2020. 9781250311214. 

Publisher synopsis: Real life and fairy tales collide in Never After: The Thirteenth Fairy, book one in the new middle-grade Never After series from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Descendants series, Melissa de la Cruz.

Nothing ever happens in Filomena Jefferson-Cho’s sleepy little suburban town of North Pasadena. The sun shines every day, the grass is always a perfect green, and while her progressive school swears there’s no such thing as bullying, she still feels bummed out. But one day, when Filomena is walking home on her own, something strange happens.

Filomena is being followed by Jack Stalker, one of the heroes in the Thirteenth Fairy, a series of books she loves about a brave girl and her ragtag group of friends who save their world from an evil enchantress. She must be dreaming, or still reading a book. But Jack is insistent—he’s real, the stories are real, and Filomena must come with him at once!

Soon, Filomena is thrust into the world of evil fairies and beautiful princesses, sorcerers and slayers, where an evil queen drives her ruthless armies to destroy what is left of the Fairy tribes. To save herself and the kingdom of Westphalia, Filomena must find the truth behind the fairytales and set the world back to rights before the cycle of sleep and destruction begins once more.

Rocket Science: a beginner's guide to the fundamentals of spaceflight by Andrew Rader, PhD. Illustrated by Galen Frazer. 58 p. Candlewick Press, November, 2020. 9781536207422. 

Publisher synopsis: Earth’s gravity keeps our feet on the ground, and also prevents us from soaring into space. So how do we explore that vast frontier? We use rockets! Discover how rockets work—from staging to orbits to power generation, from thermal control to navigation and more. Learn how rockets and other spacecraft travel to and explore the moon, Mars, Jupiter, and beyond. Speculate about the future of space exploration—and the possibility of extraterrestrial life. In a guide ideal for aspiring rocket engineers, planetary scientists, and others who love learning about space exploration, Galen Frazer’s distinctive yet accessible illustrations pair perfectly with Andrew Rader’s straightforward text, together taking readers to the edge of our knowledge of space travel.

Sometimes it takes a rocket scientist to offer young readers the most engaging introduction to space travel, the solar system, and the universe.

Purchased: Nothing!

If you leave a comment, leave the link to your stack. I will pop by and to check out your stack! 

Friday, November 27, 2020

Fact Friday: When They Call You a Terrorist: a story of Black Lives Matter and the power to change the world by Patrice Khan-Cullors

Image: Macmillan

When They Call You a Terrorist: a story of Black Lives Matter and the power to change the world by Patrice Khan-Cullors and asha bandele [sic]. Adapted by Benee Knauer, with a forward by Angela Davis. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~7 hours. Read by the author. Macmillan Young Listeners/ Macmillan Audio, September, 2020. 9781250772077. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from public library.)

Fact Friday features When They Call You a Terrorist: a story of Black Lives Matter and the power to change the world by Patrice Khan-Cullors. This emotionally gripping memoir is adapted from Ms. Khan-Cullors' best selling, award-winning memoir originally published for an adult audience in 2018. This book is absolutely required reading for anyone who is interested in social justice, equity and equality. 

Ms. Khan-Cullors' was a social justice advocate who, with several like-minded friends posted a hashtag that became a movement that, incredibly, branded her a terrorist. Through journal entry excerpts and photos, readers learn about circumstances and events that shaped Ms. Khan-Cullors' life. The reading isn't always easy, her life was hard, her family was economically insecure, her brother was troubled; but her resilience is impressive and her attitude is hopeful.

By choosing to read this one with my ears, ably narrated by the author, I missed out on the viewing the photos, but will remedy that when I purchase the book for my school library. This book is a first-purchase for any library seeking to provide anti-racist, social justice informational literature for patrons.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

#tbt: Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson

Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson. 240 p. Delacorte/ Penguin Random House, March, 2010. 9780375895920. (Own.)

Happy Thanksgiving! I'm a little late posting b/c I was prepping my turkey! I hope you all have a wonderful day! #tbt features Saving Maddie by Varian Johnson. This book was published in 2010 and was the first book of the author's that I read. After devouring it at the beach, I read My Life as a Rhombus and his debut, Red Polka Dot in a World Full of Plaid.

Saving Maddie centers around two preacher's kids, Maddie and Josh. Josh has always had a crush on Maddie, but she's been gone for five years. Suddenly, she's back in town with a reputation for being bad, so bad that she was kicked out of school. Josh is a "good boy." He also thinks that Maddie can be redeemed, even if it means lying to his parents to do so. 

Saving Maddie was named a Bank Street College Best Book in 2011.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Waiting on Wednesday: Amina's Song by Hena Khan


Amina's Song by Hena Khan. 288 p. Salaam Reads/ Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, March 9, 2021. 9781534459885.

Publisher synopsis: In the companion novel to the beloved and award-winning Amina’s Voice, Amina once again uses her voice to bridge the places, people, and communities she loves—this time across continents. 

It’s the last few days of her vacation in Pakistan, and Amina has loved every minute of it. The food, the shops, the time she’s spent with her family—all of it holds a special place in Amina’s heart. Now that the school year is starting again, she’s sad to leave, but also excited to share the wonders of Pakistan with her friends back in Greendale.

After she’s home, though, her friends don’t seem overly interested in her trip. And when she decides to do a presentation on Pakistani hero Malala Yousafzai, her classmates focus on the worst parts of the story. How can Amina share the beauty of Pakistan when no one wants to listen?

Monday, November 23, 2020

Teen Tuesday: Student Recommendation: The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani

The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. 495 p. HarperCollins Publisher, May, 2013. 9780062104896.

Teen Tuesday is a student guest post. Lia recommends The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. It's a book/ series I keep meaning to get to but haven't yet read. Here's Lia's recommendation: 

Teen Tuesday features The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. This funny and intense fantasy was published in 2013. The School for Good and Evil tells the story of Sophie and Agatha, two best friends. Agatha is hideous and lonely, whilst Sophie is proper and beautiful. Legend has it that every four years, two children, one humane and one sinful, get kidnapped to go to the fabled School for Good and Evil. Students learn how to become heroes and villains to graduate into fairy tales. Sophie expects to go to the School for Good and Agatha the School for Evil, but the scenario is very different. When things get uncontrolled with princes, friends, and most of all, magic, the girls have to find a way to go home before it's too late.

Thanks Lia! I really want to read this series now!

Middle Grade Monday: Twins by Varian Johnson

Twins by Varian Johnson. Illustrated by Shannon Wright. Twins #1. 252 p. Graphix/ Scholastic Inc., October, 2020. 9781338236132. (Review of finished purchased copy.)

It's a rainy Monday! I hope you had a fantastic weekend! I got to rake my leaves and finish a few books. Middle Grade Monday features a graphic novel called Twins by Varian Johnson and illustrated by Shannon Wright. This is Mr. Johnson's first graphic novel. You may have read some of his other middle grade fiction like, The Great Greene Heist or The Parker Inheritance. Come to think of it, he has also written a few YA titles, which are old enough to feature on #tbt so stay tuned.

Twins, Francine and Maureen do everything together. They share a room and have shared a classroom all through elementary school. Now that they are entering middle school, Francine is pulling away. Maureen expects things to go on as usual and is hurt, first when she discovers that they don't have the same schedules, then when she learns that Francine has something to do after school each day and isn't including her. Francine has even shortened her name and wants to be called, "Fran" now!

So what happens when to two decide to run for class president? Read this delightfully relatable, gorgeously illustrated graphic novel to find out. I know this wouldn't sit on my shelf were we not in a pandemic and my library closed. 

Both girls are immediately likable, relatable and endearing. Their family is blended, consisting of an older half-brother, and happily supportive. The girls' parents are attentive and involved. The tween dialogue and middle school drama are spot-on. Some of the sisters' fights are so eerily familiar even to this old reviewer! But so is the evident bond between to the two.

The art is vibrant and engaging, with subtle bits of visual humor sprinkled about, such as a store named "Temporarily 22." This smile disappears however, once the girls are ignored in the store by a white salesperson. Luckily for them, the white customer the saleslady rebuffed the girls for called her out on her behavior before stomping out of the store, causing other customers to do the same. It was a subtle example of white allyship in action. This was followed by Mama Bear storming into the store to give the clerk a piece of her mind after Maureen's friend tearfully recounts the experience. The panels are dynamic and the bright palette is quite pleasing. The student body is diverse in many respects from race to body types. 

I hadn't realized when I bought the book that it was a series starter. This pleases me. I look forward to visiting with Francine and Maureen soon. This book belongs in all library collections! Fans of friendship graphic novels like Real Friends and Smile and Sunny as well as the kids of Berrybrook Middle School, will just gobble Twins up and ask for more.

Visit Varian Johnson's website and Shannon Wrights website for more information about each and their body of work. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

November is Picture Book Month! Review: Eric by Shaun Tan

Eric by Shaun Tan. unpgd. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., October, 2020. 9781338622089. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Exchange student, Eric, arrives at the home of our unnamed narrator, who arrogantly assumes he/ she will be his "local expert." The family cannot pronounce his name and so they call him Eric. (My school is nearly 40% Asian and I am always a bit sad when students choose an American name.) Eric chooses to sleep and study in the pantry. "'It must be a cultural thing,' said Mum." Oh, the arrogance. Our narrator is flummoxed by Eric's constant questions. The host family drags poor Eric on countless excursions, but he seems focused on small and seemingly insignificant details, much to their frustration. Then, Eric leaves abruptly and the family discovers the gift that Eric left in their pantry.

This picture book is an excerpt from Mr. Tan's Tales from Outer Suburbia, which I have not read. It was published several years ago in Australia in a small book format and now comes to the U.S. in standard picture book size. It is just lovely. Eric is a being of unknown origin and thus, can stand in for any "other." While our narrator is concerned for Eric's happiness, he/ she is clearly unhappy about his numerous questions. 

The cross-hatched black and white illustrations depict a small, slight figure with a curious three-pronged head. It isn't until Eric leaves that color is introduced. And yet, Mother insists on stating, "It must be a cultural thing." 

Wow. Mind blown. Some years ago, I gave a copy of The Arrival to the ESL teacher, who loved it and shares it regularly with her students. This book though, goes a bit farther and explores the self-centered (presumably) white majority. While the story is amusing and off-beat, it is quite deep and wryly observant.

Eric is a conversation starter for sure. It's also beautifully designed from it's embossed jacket through intriguing end pages and it's uncluttered layout featuring plenty of white space. Highly recommended.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

Well, I just finished the last full week before Thanksgiving break! Phew! I sat in a Zoom collaboration meeting yesterday afternoon with my LA colleagues to plan, as we do on Fridays, and we all were beat! 

For Review: A surprise came in the mail for me! The author had a FB contest and I won! I totally forgot about it. I enter lots of these and occasionally win. Yay! This book will be a wonderful addition to my sixth grade pb biography unit once we return to school and I get back into my library.

The Only Woman in the Photo: Frances Perkins and her New Deal for America by Kathleen Krull. Illustrated by Alexandra Bye. 48 p. Atheneum Books for Young Readers/ Simon & Schuster, February, 2020. 9781481491518.

Publisher synopsis: Most people know about President FDR, but do you know the woman who created his groundbreaking New Deal?
As a young girl, Frances Perkins was very shy and quiet. But her grandmother encouraged Frances to always challenge herself. When somebody opens a door to you, go forward.

And so she did.

Frances realized she had to make her voice heard, even when speaking made her uncomfortable, and use it to fight injustice and build programs to protect people across the nation. So when newly-elected President Franklin Delano Roosevelt finally asked Frances to be the first female Secretary of Labor and help pull the nation out of the Great Depression, she knew she had to walk through that open door and forward into history.

In this empowering, inspirational biography, discover how the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet led the charge to create the safety net that protects American workers and their families to this day.

Image: Scholastic

Heartstopper 2 by Alice Oseman. 320. Graphix/ Scholastic Inc., November, 2020. 9781338617498.

Publisher synopsis: Nick and Charlie are best friends, but one spontaneous kiss has changed everything. In the aftermath, Charlie thinks that he's made a horrible mistake and ruined his friendship with Nick, but Nick is more confused than ever.

Love works in surprising ways, and Nick comes to see the world from a new perspective and discovers all sorts of things about his friends, his family... and himself.

I thought Heartstopper 1 was adorable!

Purchased: Nothing!

If you leave a comment, leave the link to your stack. I will pop by and to check out your stack! 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Fact Friday: Life in a Frozen World: wildlife of Antarctica by Mary Batten

Image: Peachtree

Life in a Frozen World: wildlife of Antarctica by Mary Batten. Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. 40 p. Peachtree, November 1, 2020. 9781682631515. (Review of finished copy borrowed from public library.)
Happy Friday! The temperatures dipped this week and hopefully you broke out the layers as well as hat, scarf and mittens. Cold temps shouldn't prevent you from getting out of doors every day! Speaking of cold, Fact Friday features Life in a Frozen World: wildlife of Antarctica by Mary Batten and illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez. Antarctic is a biodiverse home to many organisms, from microscopic bacteria to the blue whale. They have adapted to the extreme cold at the southern pole of planet Earth. 

The succinct text provides a brief overview of animal life from krill to the penguins we all know and love. But it's the illustrations that are the stars here. Thomas Gonzalez's pastel and water colored pencil spreads are breathtaking. Really, each one is immersive - the textures, the colors, the drama - all transfix. Back matter includes a map; 10 more facts about Antarctica; an author's note; a glossary and a list of books, websites and films to learn more.

Life in a Frozen World is a must-read for all fact-hounds and readers who are fascinated by extreme conditions. I just loved this one.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Waiting on Wednesday: Almost There and Almost Not by Linda Urban

Almost There and Almost Not by Linda Urban. 224 p. Atheneum Books for Young Readers/ Simon & Schuster, April 6, 2021. 

Waiting on Wednesday features Almost There and Almost Not by Linda Urban. Here's the publisher's synopsis: California Poppy has been dropped off, yet again, with an unsuspecting relative. This time it’s her eccentric Great-Aunt Monica, a woman she’s never even met. Aunt Monica has no idea what to do with an eleven-year-old, so she puts California to work researching their ancestor, the once-famous etiquette expert Eleanor Fontaine.

California soon discovers that Great-Great-Great Aunt Eleanor is...not exactly alive and well, but a ghost—and a super sensitive one at that. The grand dame bursts into clouds of dust whenever she loses her composure, which happens quite often. Still, an unexpected four-legged friend and some old-fashioned letter writing make this decidedly strange situation one that California can handle.

Just as California’s starting to feel like she’s found a place for herself, life turns upside-down yet again. Thankfully, this time she has some friends almost by her side...

I really enjoyed the author's earlier books, Hound Dog True and A Crooked Kind of Perfect, so I'm looking forward to reading this after is releases on April 6, 2021.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Teen Tuesday: Long Way Down: a graphic novel by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down: a graphic novel by Jason Reynolds. Illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff. 208 pl Atheneum/ Caitlyn Dlouhy Books/ Simon & Schuster, October, 2020. 9781534444959. (Review of finished purchased copy.)

Teen Tuesday features Long Way Down: a graphic novel by Jason Reynolds. Illustrated by Danica Novgorodoff. I didn't think that Mr. Reynolds' stunning novel in verse needed adaptation. The imagery painted by the poet's words is vivid. I was wrong. 
Ms. Novgoroff's watercolors are simply stunning. The palette veers toward blues and greys with judicious pops of color. I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Will's older brother, Shawn has been shot and killed. Will knows the rules though - no crying, no snitching and get revenge. So, even though he has never held a gun, he retrieves his brother's gun from its hiding place and takes the elevator down to the lobby of his building intent on finding the dude he "knows" killed his brother and killing him. Only the elevator stops at each floor and the impossible happens. 

The entire novel takes place in the time an elevator travels from the seventh floor to the first. This is a graphic novel that is not to be missed, even if you've already read the original. The panels and illustrations beg to be lingered over. Long Way Down: a graphic novel is an absolute first-purchase.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Middle Grade Monday: Class Act by Jerry Craft

Class Act by Jerry Craft. 256 p. Quill Tree Books/ HarperCollins Publishers, October, 2020. 9780062885510. (Review of finished purchased copy.)

Happy Monday! I hope you enjoyed the amazing weekend! After five days of rain, Saturday was brilliantly sunny and I spent the day raking and blowing all the leaves that came down with the rain while listening to an audiobook. I finished on Sunday before the wind and rain combined forces to bring more leaves (and some neighborhood trees) down, obliterating the work I did. Such is autumn.

Middle Grade Monday features Class Act by Jerry Craft. This is the sequel to his Newbery-winning, and I believe MG debut, New Kid. Jordan returns to ritzy RAD for his second year. He's now an eighth grader. He notes all the changes among his classmates, Drew got taller and sports a new haircut that attracts unwanted attention and touching. Liam remains oblivious to his own white privilege, though we do learn thanks to the triple POV of this graphic novel, that life at home is not great. He's closer to his driver than his own dad. We also learn more about Drew and his home life. The school administration has launched a diversity initiative that is laughably inept. 

Mr. Craft seamlessly weaves serious issues, such as racism, microagressions and classism into an engaging text that never feels burdened by the messages. The full-color art just pops. The chapter breaks contain amusing parodies of popular graphic novels that most gn fans will recognize and an an Easter egg that is metaphorical genius and absolutely tickles.

Class Act is an absolute must-purchase. You'd do well to buy more than one copy.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

November is Picture Book Month! Review: Addy's Cup of Sugar by Jon Muth

Image: Scholastic 

Addy's Cup of Sugar: based on a Buddhist story of healing by Jon Muth. unpgd. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., October, 2020. 9780439634281. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

A young girl named Addy loves a kitten named Trumpet. The two are inseparable until Addy moves to a new house and poor Trumpet gets hit by a car. Devastated, Addy calls for her friend, Stillwater and begs him for medicine to bring Trumpet back. Stillwater gives Addy an empty measuring cup and asks her to bring back a cup of sugar. The catch is, that it must be from a home "where death is a stranger." Addy hurries out, intent on carrying out her task, only she finds in house after house, that the inhabitants have all lost someone dear. 

In an Author's Note, we learn that this lovely story is based on "The Mustard Seed," a Buddhist legend about the grief of a new mother, who lost her infant. The shimmery watercolor spreads beg the reader to linger. Sharp-eyed young readers will spot Trumpet in a few. Stillwater's comforting presence and sad, patient eyes add to the appeal of this lovely contemplation of loss. 

Addy's Cup of Sugar is absolutely stunning. Surely a must-read.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

For Review:

Latkes for Santa Claus by Janie Emaus. Illustrated by Bryan Langdo. unpgd. Sky Pony Press, October, 2020. 9781510759886.

Publisher synopsis:

To: Santa

From: Anna

My new dad and stepbrother celebrate Christmas, so you’re coming to my house for the very first time. And I think you must be REALLY tired of cookies. I’m going to leave you the best Santa treat ever.

Anna is excited that Santa will be visiting her house for the first time, and she wants to leave Santa a treat that blends the holidays her new family celebrates: Christmas and Hanukkah.

She expresses this idea to her stepbrother, Michael, who insists that Santa doesn't need anything but his sugar cookies. Anna imagines Santa has to be bored with cookies by now and is determined to find a Jewish recipe that he'll enjoy. The catch? It has to be something easy for Santa to grab and go.

It can't be matzo ball soup—soup in a sleigh with galloping reindeer will never do.

It can't be noodle kugel—imagine that by the handful. What a mess!

And as certain as Anna is that Santa would devour tzimmes, she knows he just doesn't have the time to sit and enjoy a hearty stew on Christmas Eve.

Anna retreats to her thinking corner to figure out the perfect finger food for Santa, not wanting to disappoint him on his very first visit to her house.

In this humorous and endearing picture book, blending both Christmas and Hannukah, a little girl and her stepbrother compete to leave Santa the best treats ever.

This "book" popped up in my email! I was approved to read The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell! I actually despise reading e-arcs, but have been forced to since the pandemic. (And, it looks as though physical arcs may never return:-( ) I just don't read as carefully or deeply when I read on a screen. Oh well. Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows that Jordan Sonnenblick is a favorite of mine, so it's all good. Hoping to hunker down with it this weekend. Also, I usually go to the publisher page for cover images, ya know copyright and all, but I could only find the cover reveal on Mr. Schu Reads. It's worth a side trip to that website to read a short interview. 

The Boy Who Failed Show and Tell by Jordan Sonnenblick. 224 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., February 1, 2021. 9781338647235.

Publisher synopsis: An unbelievably hilarious middle-grade true story from bestselling author Jordan Sonnenblick.

The genuinely funny true story of Jordan Sonnenblick's fourth grade year, in which he deals with, among other things:
— Asthma and inhalers
— A teacher who really hates him
— A pet snake named Hector giving birth to way too many baby snakes
— The start of his drumming obsession
— A Thanksgiving nearly ruined by a freak swing set accident
— And more!

Purchased: nothing!

If you leave a comment, leave the link to your stack. I will pop by and to check out your stack! Happy reading!

Friday, November 13, 2020

Fact Friday: Mary Seacole: bound for the battlefield by Susan Goldman Rubin

Mary Seacole: bound for the battlefield by Susan Goldman Rubin. Illustrated by Richie Pope. Unpgd. Candlewick Press, October, 2020. 9780763679941. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Happy Friday! What a rainy, dreary week this has been around here! The weather app promises a sunny day tomorrow, so make sure you get outside and stretch! Me? I have a date with a rake and a leaf blower. All that rain caused most of the leaves to fall and carpet my lawn. Plus, my hold on the audiobook of Rick Riordan's The Tower of Nero dropped into my phone and I can't wait to dive in to that!

Fact Friday features Mary Seacole: bound for the battlefield by Susan Goldman Rubin and illustrated by Richie Pope. This picture book for older reader highlights an unsung hero of the Crimean War, as well as of the history of nursing. You've most likely heard of Florence Nightingale and her efforts to serve the wounded during the Crimean War; but even she refused Mrs. Seacole's offer of help. This may have been due to Mrs. Seacole's treatment methods, which included herbal medicine and good food; but was more likely due to the color of her skin.

Mrs. Seacole was born in Jamaica to a Creole mother and a white father. Her mother was an herbal healer and her father was a Scottish officer. She grew up listening to his stories of war. Her father died when she was ten. She helped her mother run a boardinghouse and learned about medicinal herbs. As an adult, she packed up her supplies and headed to Panama, where there was an outbreak of cholera. Even as she successfully nursed many victims of the dread disease, she faced racism, not from her patients; from officers and doctors and other administrators. Undeterred, she focused on her mission to serve the sick.

The engaging text is broken up by brilliant full-page color illustrations featuring Mary, who loved colorful dresses, in a variety of situations. Quotes taken from Mrs. Seacole's autobiography, first published in 1857, are liberally sprinkled throughout and sourced in the back matter, which also includes two other books for further reading.

It's important for students to learn early that history books are often incomplete and favor the white, male story. Picture book biographies, such as this one, expand a reader's intellectual horizon. Mary Seacole: bound for the battlefield belongs in every school and classroom library. 

Thursday, November 12, 2020

#tbt: Bystander by James Preller

Image: Macmillan

Bystander by James Preller. 256 p. Square Fish/ Macmillan, 2009. 9780312547967. (Own hc.)

#tbt features Bystander by James Preller. Bystander was published in 2009 and was named to multiple state book award lists. It is the story of Eric Hayes, newly transplanted to Long Island from Ohio. His fears about being the "new kid" are allayed when he meets Griffin, the charismatic leader of a pack of kids who regularly torment David, the kid that everyone "loves to hate," but who only wants to fit in. Griffin seems to like Eric and it looks like Eric will have a place at the table in Griffin's circle of friends. But Eric's discomfort over David's bullying grows and Eric wonders if being a bystander is as bad as being a bully. This short book offers no easy fixes and should resonate with middle school readers. Here's the link to the review I wrote on another platform back when I was a baby blogger.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

November is Picture Book Month! Review: The Boy and the Gorilla by Jackie Azúa Kramer

The Boy and the Gorilla by Jackie Azúa Kramer. Illustrated by Cindy Derby. unpgd. Candlewick Press, October, 2020. 9780763698324. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

Don't be too quick to flip past the title page in this exquisite picture book. The story starts there, followed by two wordless, double-page spreads. The first depicts a gorilla following a group of people who are following a boy and his father. The second depicts a scene inside a living room where the father and son sit alone among a crowd of people dressed in black while the gorilla sits quietly in the middle of the room. 

Eventually, the boy wanders out to his mother's garden and the gorilla follows. The story is told in dialogue, with the gorilla's words italicized. He tells the boy, "Your mothers garden is beautiful. May I help?" While the two quietly work the garden, the boy opens up because the gorilla gave him room. The boy is filled with questions he cannot ask his father; such as how someone knows a person has died or whether we all die. The gorilla answers each question simply and honestly. The gorilla reminds the boy that his mom is always with him. When the boy misses his mom reading to him, the gorilla suggests that his dad might enjoy the story. He allows the boy to be alone and, most importantly, listens. Eventually, the boy connects with his father. Once that happens, the gorilla's job is done and the story ends with a final wordless spread.

I don't know why I love books about grief. I can't stop reading this one. It has to be my favorite ever. The text is reassuringly simple and the illustrations are utterly mesmerizing. The watercolors are somber and blurry, as if viewing through tears (and I was viewing through tears at times). The palette is filled with grey and purple but little pops of color draw the eye. 

The best way to convey difficult concepts to young children is simply and honestly and as concretely as possible. The Boy and the Gorilla is a godsend for any adult who needs to comfort a child, or, even themselves. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Waiting on Wednesday: Upstander by James Preller

Image: Macmillan

Upstander by James Preller. 256 p. Feiwel & Friends/ Macmillan, May 11, 2021. 9781250251527.

Waiting on Wednesday features Upstander by James Preller. This standalone novel is a companion to Bystander which was published in 2009 (Guess what #tbt will feature?) Upstander is the story of Mary O'Malley, who is having a tough seventh grade year. Her older brother is using drugs and running with a rough crowd, things aren't great at home and her friends have turned on her. Cool and charismatic Griffin Connolly has been spending time with her. Can she trust him? Her older brother hangs out with Griffin's older sister and Griffin has a bit of a reputation. 

Upstander releases May 11, 2021.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Teen Tuesday: What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera

What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. Unabridged e-audiobook. ~9 hours, 48 minutes. Read by Noah Galvin and Froy Guitierez. HarperTeen, October, 2018. 9780062855091. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from public library.)

Teen Tuesday features What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera. This dual narrative is told from the POV of Arthur, an Atlantan with Ivy-league aspirations who is in NYC for an internship in a high-powered law firm and Ben, a native New Yorker who lives with his working-class parents in Alphabet City and is stuck in summer school with his ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend. The two meet cute at the post office where Ben is trying to mail a box of his ex's belongings back to him. Unfortunately, they go their separate ways without exchanging contact info. But neither of them can stop thinking about the other. With the help of some internet savvy friends, the two finally reconnect. Their first date is a disaster, but they decide on a do-over - twice before wondering if the universe is toying with them. 

This rom-com is laugh-out-loud funny and sweet, but also explores issues that can get in the way of romance. Arthur and Ben are surrounded by smart and supportive friends (OMG, Dylan!) and family and the NYC setting is vibrant and hip. 

The performances were perfectly paced and added to the appeal of the book. I was definitely late to the party with this, but sure am glad I finally got here. Fun, breezy, angsty, and endearing. 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Middle Grade Monday: Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai


Image: Macmillan

Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai. 332 p. Henry Holt and Company/ Macmillan, September, 2020. 9781250314116. (Review of finished purchased copy.)

Henry Khoo is twelve-years-old and tired of being treated like a baby by his helicopter mother and overbearing sister. He's also tired of feeling invisible at school, so he created a gossip website about his classmates and he's upset that his bff has been distant lately. When his anticipated trip to Singapore to visit his dad is cancelled, Henry decides to go anyway since he is now old enough to travel alone according to the airlines. 

As in her debut, Pie in the Sky, this graphic novel hybrid is fast-paced and humorous. While fart jokes abound, Henry is dealing with a myriad of issues. Henry is cringingly relatable. The art and notebook background have "Wimp appeal." Fly on the Wall is a terrific addition to any middle grade collection.

November is Picture Book Month! I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott

I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott. Illustrated by Sydney Smith. 40 p. Neal Porter Books/ Holiday House, September, 2020. 978823445592. (Review of book borrowed from the public library.)

A boy awakens each morning dreading having to speak. He stutters and school, as well as the letters, P, C, and M are torture. His dad calls these days, "bad speech" days and he takes his son to the river, where they walk companionably. The quiet and alone time work their magic. His dad tells him that he talks "like a river." As the boy contemplates this, the reader opens a stunning gatefold. 

This first-person picture book caught me by surprise. I was unprepared at how emotional I got. The spare, evocative text is utterly heartbreaking and just when you feel you might be crushed, Dad comes quietly to the rescue. This was such a beautiful depiction of a father-son relationship - so comforting and hopeful. 

In the author's note that follows, readers learn that the author stuttered and the book is autobiographical. His dad took him to the river on bad speech days. 

I Talk Like a River belongs in all school and classroom libraries. I am gifting it to each young person in my life and will probably read it aloud to my fifth and sixth graders! I think it will be a perfect read aloud to tie in figurative language as well as a bit of SEL (social-emotional learning.) It's also a wonderful antidote to the vicious unkindness that has flourished the last four years and a celebration of hope for the next four.

Visit the publisher website to view a short video of both creators talking about the book. There's also a terrific discussion guide.This is definitely high up on my faves list. Too bad the book can't be considered by the Caldecott Committee. It's not to be missed. 

Saturday, November 7, 2020

November is Picture Book Month! Bringing Back the Wolves: How a predator restored an ecosystem by Jude Isabella

Bringing Back the Wolves: How a predator restored an ecosystem by Jude Isabella. Illustrated by Kim Smith. unpgd. Kids Can Press, March 2020. 9781771386258. (Review of finished copy borrowed from public library.)

When wolves were annihilated in Yellowstone in the 1800s, little did folks know the impact that the removal of this apex predator would have on the park's ecosystem. This gorgeously illustrated picture book for older readers succinctly explains the food webs and how the removal of the apex predator adversely affected the Yellowstone ecosystem. Engaging illustrations, text boxes, and terrific back matter will encourage young conservationists to revere the balance of nature.  

What's New? Stacking the Shelves

Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

For Review:

My Favorite Color by Aaron Becker. unpgd. Candlewick Studio/ Candlewick Press, September, 2020. 9781536214741.

Publisher synopsis:People always ask for your favorite color. But who said you can only have one? Open this gorgeous board book to find an ode to ever-changing colors, offering a spectrum of hues evoking the sun, the sea, clouds, and dew-dappled fruit. In colorful grids of small squares—some translucent inserts, some painted on the page—Aaron Becker uses layering to make colors shift and transition from spread to mesmerizing spread. As fun to look at as an alluring paint-chip display and as inspiring as an artful concept book can be, My Favorite Color promises to be a favorite, well-thumbed read and a prized art object in itself.

The Caldecott Honor–winning creator of the Journey trilogy celebrates color and nature with a joyously simple die-cut book.


This is a Book of Shapes by Kenneth Kraegel. unpgd. Candlewick Press, September, 2020. 9781536207019.

Publisher synopsis:First comes the circle. Then the square and the triangle. Then the . . . emu pushing a pancake wagon down a hill? What begins as a concept book about everyone’s geometric favorites soon defies expectations with a series of funny and imaginative twists. Award-winning author-illustrator Kenneth Kraegel pairs a deadpan text with simple wood-grained shapes, interspersed with vibrant illustrations of animals engaged in hilariously absurd pastimes. Each page turn builds on the delicious anticipation the contrast creates to make this a unique and rollicking story-time hit.

The creator of King Arthur’s Very Great Grandson and Green Pants switches gears with a slyly silly introduction to shapes—just watch out for the emus!

I also received a big box of books from Scholastic with tons of titles I can't wait to read and review. 

Purchased: nothing, though I do have a list and I'm just about out of gift cards;-)

If you leave a comment, leave the link to your stack. I will pop by and to check out your stack! 

Friday, November 6, 2020

November is Picture Book Month! The Spirit of Springer: the real-life rescue of an orphaned orca by Amanda Abler

The Spirit of Springer: the real-life rescue of an orphaned orca by Amanda Abler. Illustrated by Levi Hastings. unpgd. Little Big Foot/ Sasquatch Books, March, 2020. 9781632172129. (Review of finished copy borrowed from public library.)

In 2002, a lone orca, named Springer, or A73, was discovered in Puget Sound. Scientists in the U.S. and Canada worked together to rescue and heal the orphaned calf who was more than 300 miles from her pod. She was nursed back to health and re-introduced to the wild gradually. She was accepted into her pod in Canada. She eventually had her own calf, named Spirit and later, another named Storm. Back matter includes a map, more information about Springer's pod, identifying marks and extra orca facts.

This picture book for older readers is gorgeously illustrated and its prose is accessible and inspiring. 

Fact Friday and Arc Review: Welcome to Your Period! by Yumi Stynes & Dr. Melissa Kang

Welcome to Your Period! by Yumi Stynes & Dr. Melissa Kang.170 p. Walker Books US/ Candlewick Press, January 12, 2021. 9781536214765. (Review of arc courtesy of publisher.)

Fact Friday features Welcome to Your Period! by Yumi Synes & Dr. Melissa Kang. The human body undergoes tremendous change over the course of a lifetime. Perhaps no time is more challenging than puberty. It's a challenging and confusing time for both boys and girls, who are often embarrassed to ask questions about the changes happening. This fun, frank book was originally published in Australia. It explains everything curious (and terrified) girls might want to know. The reassuring, conversational tone makes the reader feel like she's listening to a big sister. 

Lots of art (B&W in the arc, but full color in finished books) informs as well as entertains. Gender issues are addressed in one chapter. There's even a chapter for boys, who really should learn about this stuff too.* The book concludes with a list of vocabulary and resources including who to follow on social media, apps and podcasts.

Welcome to Your Period! releases on January 12, 2021 and belongs on every library shelf. Knowledge is power. 

*I sat all four of my sons down as they hit puberty. I put a box of condoms and a banana on the table and demanded that they use one every single time AND learn all about the menstrual cycle and ovulation. #1 son laughingly told me that he was shocked to learn that his college gf and her sorority sisters had no idea when they ovulated! 

Thursday, November 5, 2020

November is Picture Book Month! Review: Lift by Minh Lê

Lift: Disney/ LBYR

Lift by Minh Lê. Illustrated by Dan Santat. unpgd. Disney/ Hyperion/ Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, May, 2020. 9781368036924. (Review of finished copy borrowed from public library.) 

It's Iris' job to press the elevator button. Period. Up and down. Each day. Every day. But one day, an interloper in the form of her little brother presses the button before she can and she's mad.  Betrayal! In this spread, we see Iris' proud parents hugging her little brother as he hugs his stuffed tiger that was apparently Iris'!

After she's betrayed yet again, she decides to push all the buttons and doesn't care about her parents' ire. Unfortunately, she breaks the elevator. While she and her parents wait for the repairman to finish fixing the elevator, she watches as he tosses the dysfunctional button into a nearby trash can. Inspiration strikes and Iris snatches it. She tapes it to the wall of her room, presses the button and... whoa!

While Minh Lê expertly taps into the psyche of the older sibling, Dan Santat adroitly and humorously portrays the dynamics in a variety of panel sizes a lá graphic novel style. Iris is clearly put upon but not without love for her brother. 

This is an absolute must purchase for any library. It's an absolute joy! One a parent won't mind reading again and again.

#tbt: Twelve Rounds to Glory: the story of Muhammad Ali by Charles R. Smith Jr.

Twelve Rounds to Glory: the story of Muhammad Ali by Charles R. Smith Jr.. Illustrated by Bryan Collier. 80 p. Candlewick Press, 2007. 9780763616923. (Own)

Happy Thursday TMS Readers! I hope you're planning a wonderful day off this Teacher Convention Weekend. #tbt features Twelve Rounds to Glory: the story of Muhammad Ali by Charles R. Smith and illustrated by Bryan Collier. This verse biography of the original G.O.A.T., was published in 2007 and won a Coretta Scott King Author Honor. Twelve rap-style poems capture the energy and essence of Ali and are accompanied by brilliant collage illustrations by one of my favorite illustrators.