Tuesday, March 29, 2016


"You going back for your home or for your pet?"
"They're the same thing."

Well I just finished the emotional journey that is Pax, by Sara Pennypacker (Balzer & Bray). Now, I've cried while reading books before -- but this is the first book that had me sobbing during the first few pages. Read it with a box of tissues.

Peter has raised Pax, a red fox, since he was a kit. But now his dad has joined a military operation, and Peter must go live with his grandfather. Peter's dad says there is just no way that Pax can go, too, and the novel opens with the heart-wrenching scene of Peter having to leave his beloved pet -- who is fully tame and has only ever known humans as his family -- by the road. Cue big emotions. 

As each chapter shifts between the perspectives of Peter and Pax, you learn about the sadness and confusion for each of them leading up to and surrounding the abandonment. When Peter arrives at his grandfather's, it hits him that he should have fought harder for Pax, and he sets out on a long journey to find him. Set back by injury, he meets Vola -- a veteran who knows all-too-personally the costs of war -- and she helps him get back on his feet. Simultaneously, Pax is making new acquaintances, himself, and learning how to survive in the war-torn wild. He knows his boy will come back for him, and hope spurs them both on.

With touching, black-and-white illustrations by Jon Klassen sprinkled throughout, the novel does not shy away from exploring the devastating effects of war. And Pennypacker's unique shifts in perspective between the two main characters not only heighten interest in their journeys, but help to shed light on aspects of the other's life. Add to that her ability to approach the story with an understanding of the emotions of one who has dearly loved a pet as family -- as home -- and you have a densely emotional novel.

The film rights to this novel were acquired by Sidney Kimmel Entertainment. I will certainly see the movie, but, again, it's a heavy one. I would liken it to my reading of Where the Red Fern Grows many, many years ago -- a middle-grade novel that will stick with the reader through the ages.

Have you read this book? Let's discuss!


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Interactive Picture Books

Over the past few months, William and I have come across some books that have had him so engaged and asking to read them over and over. These books are highly interactive and hands-on, but they aren't lift-the-flap or touch-and-feel books. These are geared toward an older audience and obliterate the wall between author and reader. Today, I want to highlight three of these books and urge you to run out and get them for your preschooler or early-grade kiddos pronto. :)

1. Press Here

Press Here by Herve Tullet (Chronicle Books, 2011) is an impressively simple book that had William extremely excited. Full of gentle commands to "press the yellow dot" and "tip the book to the right," the simple primary-color dots react to each action at the turn of the page. They multiply, or get all jumbled up in a corner, and young readers will laugh and push your hand out of the way so they can do as prompted. In the end, the dots build to full-color excitement and the text urges the reader to do it all again. Which they do!

2. Please, Open This Book!

Please, Open This Book! by Adam Lehrhaupt (auth) and Matthew Forsythe (ill) (Simon & Schuster, 2015) features a cast of animal characters imploring the reader not only to open the book, but to never close it again! Someone once closed the book, and, well, they will show you what happened then. With each turn of the page, the animals get more panicky that you are about to close the book, and they are very disappointed in you. With delightfully engaging illustrations and playful text, this is another book that will have your child asking to do it all again.

3. Welcome to Mamoko

Welcome to Mamoko by Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski (Big Picture Press, 2013) is a feast for the eyes. Truly, your child can enjoy this book unaided (but you may enjoy the adventure just as much!). There is trouble in Mamoko, and a large cast of animal and alien characters, and the reader is urged to "follow the adventures of each of these characters in every scene." Each page is densely packed with illustrations and winding paths, and the reader follows the antics of each character with their eyes to reveal the story. It is truly a unique and exciting way to discover and enjoy the unraveling of a story. Brilliant!

If you enjoy these books, other hands-on titles include: Don't Push the Button by Bill Cotter, Tap the Magic Tree by Christie Matheson, and Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg.

And other titles of books that break the fourth wall include: the pigeon books by Mo Willems, The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak, and Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book) by Julie Falatko.

I hope that you and your child can bond over these interactive books. Are there any other unique, must-read interactive books that you'd recommend?

Happy Wednesday!


Sunday, March 20, 2016

I Am With You

"It's going to be all right, sir," Harry said over and over again, more
worried by Dumbledore's silence than he had been by his weakened
voice. "We're nearly there. . . . I can Apparate us both back. . . .
Don't worry. . . ."
"I am not worried, Harry," said Dumbledore, his voice a little stronger
despite the freezing water. "I am with you."
~from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

My very, very favorite lines from the whole series! I have not forgotten them since I first read them, and they are part of what makes book six my favorite. The mutual admiration that Harry and Dumbledore have for each other, despite their difference in age, made stronger by their shared trials and triumphs and sacrifices, make this moment so powerful. I just love these books.

Happy Sunday!


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Dead Bird

The Dead Bird by the beloved Margaret Wise Brown (author of Goodnight Moon), was originally written in 1938, with text renewal in 1965. Reissued in 2016 with contemporary illustrations by Christian Robinson (award-winning illustrator of Last Stop on Market Street, Leo: a Ghost Story, and Gaston, to name a few), this book tells a sweet story of children who find a dead bird in the park.

The text and story in this book is simple and relatable. I'm sure most of us have had the experience of coming upon a dead animal, and the story is told by someone with an obvious grasp of how children think and process.

Wise Brown gently explains what happens when something living has died, and what people do to honor someone's passing. The things that the children do in the book are playful and sweet -- and also realistic ("And every day, until they forgot, they went and sang to their little dead bird and put fresh flowers on his grave.").

Truly as powerful as the text in this book are the illustrations. Robinson's simple, whimsical and tender pictures depict the children as truly childlike. They have a kite, and a dog, and some costumes, and their lives are pure and innocent. They learn a tough lesson when they encounter death, and Robinson shows their innocence and concern. Even their dog companion shows sensitivity to what is going on. But just as children do, they are able to be distracted by play and joy in the midst of a somber situation.

I think it is the combination of text and illustration in this book that so powerfully hit me. The simplicity and subject of the text set a solemn mood, but the colorful, playful illustrations help to bring levity. And for reading this with children, that is so very important. I highly recommend reading this visually appealing, gentle approach to dealing with death with your children. 


Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Wild March Morning

All in the wild March-morning I heard the angels call,—
It was when the moon was setting, and the dark was over all;
The trees began to whisper, and the wind began to roll,
And in the wild March-morning I heard them call my soul.

~from The May Queen by Alfred Lord Tennyson

It's been another lovely Spring weekend here: warm and rainy with buds popping all over. We have enjoyed some down time and relaxation after such a busy season of life. Hoping to curl up with a book and blanket this rainy afternoon.

Happy Sunday!


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Terrible Two

I have really enjoyed reading chapter books with William, and we recently finished The Terrible Two, co-written by Mac Barnett and Jory John.

The book opens with Miles Murphy's transition to a new school. He and his mom have just moved from a beach community to a small cow town ("Somewhere in the distance, a cow mooed."), and he's not thrilled about it. At his old school, he was the "prankster," a role that he was proud of and worked hard to achieve. And he has every intention of being his new school's best prankster, as well.

But there's a problem: the first day of school starts with -- a PRANK! Someone has parked the principal's car at the top of the steps, blocking the school entrance. Miles is worried that there is another prankster, but somehow gets the blame for the car stunt from purple-faced, self-important Principal Barkin. Regardless, Miles is determined to show this town who's prank boss, and devises a scheme.

When he pulls a prank on the whole school, though, his prank is hijacked. He receives a message on a rubber chicken, and goes to meet the messenger. It is none other than Niles Sparks, the goody-two-shoes school helper. Niles proposes that they team up as a force-to-be-reckoned-with pranking duo: The Terrible Two. At first Miles rejects the idea, but only after a pranking war leaves him in awe of Niles' impressive pranking skills does he agree.

This book is soooo funny. From Principal Barkin's "principal pack" to the elaborate pranking journals kept by the two main characters to the clever writing, you will enjoy the story just as much as your child. Barnett and John have created flawed characters that are real and relatable -- and always funny. As intense as Principal Barkin can be, you can't help but like him! And all of the pranks and sticky situations that the characters find themselves in keep the pages turning. The chapters are short and quick, with illustrations sprinkled throughout, courtesy of Kevin Cornell.

I highly recommend this book for early or even middle-grade readers. And, if you are at all interested in hearing from the authors, check out this entertaining interview via the School Library Journal. In it, Barnett and John talk about how they see themselves in the characters, how their writing process worked, and the pranks they pull -- and have pulled on them! -- when they do school visits. Engaging books coming to life -- I love it!

Happy reading,

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Happy Un-birthday!

"They gave it to me — for an un-birthday present."
"I beg your pardon?" Alice said with a puzzled air.
"I’m not offended," said Humpty Dumpty.
"I mean, what is an un-birthday present?"
"A present given when it isn’t your birthday, of course."
Alice considered a little. "I like birthday presents best," she said at last.
"You don’t know what you’re talking about!" cried Humpty Dumpty. "How many days are there in a year?"
"Three hundred and sixty-five," said Alice.
"And how many birthdays have you?"
"And if you take one from three hundred and sixty-five, what remains?"
"Three hundred and sixty-four, of course."

~from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
Well, we are having a busy birthday/unbirthday weekend around these parts. My husband and my oldest share a birthday on Monday, and my baby, Vivian, turns two on Tuesday. So in addition to the regular busy-ness of basketball, soccer, and choir performances, this weekend has also featured an 11-year-old slumber party and a family gathering to celebrate the multitude of early-March birthdays. Good times!
Happy Sunday,

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Sentimental Dr. Seuss

Happy World Book Day! And happy birthday (yesterday) to Dr. Seuss! I'm sure you can ask most anyone what their favorite Dr. Seuss book is, and they will have an answer. Or a memory of a book from their childhood. Or just an overall feeling from how his work made (makes?) them feel.

One of my favorite Dr. Seuss books is a sentimental one for me.

I Wish That I Had Duck Feet (Random House, 1965) was penned under the name Theo LeSieg and was illustrated by B. Tobey, rather than Geisel, himself. In it, a boy wishes for duck feet because of all the fun and special things he could do with them that nobody else could. But then he realizes the problems that could arise from having duck feet, and wishes for other things instead: a whale spout, a long, long tail, horns on top of his head... But they all have their problems, too. In the end, he realizes that being himself is really best of all.

This book isn't just special to me because of its cute story, the rhyme, or the pictures. It's because it is one of the few books I vividly remember my dad reading to me as a kid. When I hear the words and see the pictures today -- even when I pass this book displayed on a stand in a bookstore -- it takes me back. I can see the illustrations and remember how I felt seeing them as a child. I can hear the words, and it's my dad's voice reading them. It feels like I'm laying in bed in my green childhood bedroom, ready to drift off to sleep with nary a care in the world.

This may sound a bit dramatic, but it's true. I can't think of another book that takes me back to my own childhood like this one.

As I grew up and moved away to college, I didn't think much about this book. Then, one birthday, my dad gifted me with my own copy! I was so surprised that you could even still get this book, because I had never heard of anyone else reading it. Now, I see it all the time in bookstores and read it to my own children.

Is there a book in your life that takes you back like this?


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Those Darn Squirrels!

Well, this book tugged right at my heart. An old man...his love for birds...his loneliness...and fuzzy little geniuses. Add 'em together and you've got one adorable little story:

I know -- Those Darn Squirrels! was published in 2008 (Clarion Books) -- but I just now read it for the first time! Old Man Fookwire is a grump, but he loves birds. He loves to paint them in the summer ("Fookwire's paintings weren't very good, but the birds never said anything."), and grows sad when it is time for them to fly south. So he constructs beautiful birdfeeders to keep them around longer. Only there's one problem: those darn squirrels! The squirrels are eating all the food, and Fookwire is not happy -- until a very sweet gesture unites them all.

Adam Rubin has a talent for creating a heart-warming story with a lot of hilarity thrown in. From the names of the birds, to the squirrels' nighttime snack, to the strategizing of those clever geniuses, the story is so entertaining. And Daniel Salmieri's charming illustrations make the story alive and endearing: the crooked old man, the fuzzy-tailed squirrels, the ensemble at the end. It's truly a work that will make children smile. Just looks at those adorable squirrels:

If you haven't read this one with your kiddos, yet, I highly recommend it. Other books by this team include New York Times bestseller Dragons Love TacosSecret Pizza Party, and newly published Robo-Sauce. They make a great pair!