2015: A Year in Review

Final Reading Count for the Year:
Picture Books - 125
Nonfiction - 11
Middle Grade - 54
Young Adult - 20 
Total: 210

Books That Made Me Laugh Out Loud: 
I Will Take a Nap by Mo Willems
Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson
Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey
Bug in the Vacuum by Melanie Watt
Moone Boy by Chris O'Dowd & Nick V. Murphy

New-To-Me Series That On One Hand I'm Glad To Have Found, But On The Other, I'm Seriously Horrified That I'd Missed Out On Until Now:
The Lost Planet by Rachel Searles

Sequel Happiness:
Standoff by Andrew Smith
Firefight by Brandon Sanderson
Thrones & Bones: Nightborn by Lou Anders
Wild Rover No More by L.A. Meyer

Books That Made Me Crave Food:
The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury
A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins

Most Enjoyable Bad Book:
Cakes in Space by Philip Reeve

Forgettable Plot Saved By a Fresh, Honest Voice:
Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Books I Was Most Surprised By:
I am Princess X by Cherie Priest
Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill

Made of Pure Awesome:
Seven Dead Pirates by Linda Bailey
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

Best Book Hidden Under the Worst Cover:
Friends for Life by Andrew Norriss

More Adorable Than Sparkling Puppies:
Dory Fantasmagory by Abby Hanlon

YA Book Most Likely to be Loved By Adults More Than Actual YAs:
Girl Defective by Simmone Howell

Biggest Disappointments:
Armada by Ernest Cline
Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Books that Invoked Irrationally Violent Emotions in me:
The Honest Truth by Dan Geimenhart
Revolution by Deborah Wiles

Books I Loved For Their Imperfect Heroines:
Believarexic by JJ Johnson
Sparkers by Eleanor Glewwe

Best Books For Wimpy Kid Lovers:
Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth by Judd Winick
Kenny Wright: Superhero by James Patterson & Chris Tebbetts
The Terrible Two by Jory John and Mac Barnett
Teddy Mars: Almost World Record Breaker by Molly B. Burnham

Best Supernatural Book For Twilight-Haters:
The Hollow Boy by Johnathan Stroud
The Diviners: Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray

Favorite Roadtrip Book:
Moone Boy by Chris O'Dowd & Nick V. Murphy

Best Action/Adventure Books:
Seraphina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty
Surrounded by Sharks by Michael Northrup
Tombquest: Book of the Dead by Michael Northrup

Book that were weird just to be weird:
The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

Sci-fi's that made me think there is still a future for this genre (future, get it):
Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall
Stolen Moon by Rachel Searles

Books that had way too much going on:
The Marvels by Brian Selznick
Pennyroyal Academy by M.A. Larson

Picture Books that are just beautiful to look at:
Flowers are Calling by Rita Gray
Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder
Butterfly Park by Elly MacKay

Books I lent out to people multiple times:
A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord
The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton
Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones

Best Books of the Year:
The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton
Stand Off by Andrew Smith

Worst Books of the Year:
My Near-Death Adventures (99% True) by Alison DeCamp
Worst Class Trip Ever by Dave Barry
Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson

Have a question about this list. Wonder why I loved or hated a book? Leave a comment...let's discuss.

Is Mommy? by Victoria Chang Book Review

Is Mommy? by Victoria Chang
Illustrations by Marla Frazee
Publisher: Beach Lane Books
Release Date: November 3, 2015

Is Mommy tall or short?

Is Mommy fun or boring?

Is Mommy pretty or ugly?

You get the idea. Intellectually, I know this book is supposed to be funny. I understand what the author is trying to do with the children teasingly saying that mom is boring and short. For me, the humor felt a little tasteless though. I mean, this poor mom can't catch a break. Her children think she is short, ugly, boring, messy, old, mean. Of course, they love her anyway, despite all these flaws. Now, I get that they are being facetious and teasing, but me and my kids would be having a serious talk if they thought it was funny to call me these things. Kids can be mean enough as it is, let's not teach them that it is okay to make fun of mommy. 

Lair of Dreams by Libba Bray Book Review

Lair of Dreams (The Diviners #2) by Libba Bray
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: August 25, 2015

The cat is out of the bag. The world knows all about Evie O'Neill and the other diviners like her. In 1920s New York City diviners are considered the cat's meow, making Evie an instant celebrity. Evie isn't exactly being the best of friends with anyone though. Haunted by her experiences with a serial-killer ghost, Evie is self-medicating with alcohol and celebrity.

Meanwhile, something supernatural is happening within people's dreams. The sleeping sickness is sweeping through Chinatown and beyond, the people falling into dreams and being consumed from the inside out. Within they are experiencing the best fantasy they have ever had, but if they should resist, it quickly turns into their worst nightmare. Dreamwalker Henry DuBois and Ling Chan find themselves in the dream world often, but have no idea that they are getting dangerously close to the source of the sleeping sickness. As Henry searches for his lost love and Ling becomes friends with another dreamwalker, their friends are trying to protect them from themselves. But they too are struggling with diviner powers. Theta is having trouble controlling her ability to set things on fire. Memphis, who is also in love with Theta, can heal again. Sam accidentally reveals his powers to manipulate people. Jericho is a walking, breathing miracle thanks to a secret elixir.

I love these books. Terribly creepy with complex characters that left me wanting more while giving me enough closure to feel complete. Evie is wholly unlikable in a way that was believable. Basically, this girl has some PTSD issues and is just a little too selfish to not self-destruct. The sweetest storyline was in Henry DuBois who is searching for his lover, George, within dreams since he has been unsuccessful in the awake world. It is heartbreaking the levels that Henry will go to to find the one he loves, no matter the cost. I could go on and on about each character and the things they are each struggling with, but should leave it with a simple note that every reader will probably have their favorites and unlike the first book, there is no clear main character this time.

Also, the amount of diversity and attention to each diverse character's story should be noted. Henry is a gay man in 1920-something and issue that was dealt with by his father exactly how you would imagine. Theta is a runaway wife who is in falling in love with a black man. There is a point in the story where they are walking together planning a date and when some people walk by, Memphis falls back behind her, knowing how people might react. Ling is a half-Chinese half-Irish girl whose legs have been weakened by Polio. She wears braces and uses crutches and has to deal with the growing anti-Chinese sentiment in the city. The complexity of it made the characters feel so well-rounded and real, rather than the caricatures they could easily have become.

A fantastic ghost story where you will never think of the song "Beautiful Dreamer" in the same way again.

My Story My Dance by Lesa Cline-Ransome Book Review

My Story My Dance: Robert Battle's Journey to Alvin Ailey by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Illustrations by James E. Ransome
Foreward by Robert Battle
Publisher: Simon & Schuster/Paul Wiseman Books
Release Date: October 27, 2015

When Robert Battle was a boy he wore painful leg braces. He never imagined that one day he would go to Julliard or become a director of a dance company, the very same one that motivated him to dance in the first place. This is the story of that journey from leg braces to martial arts to dancing. It is about passion and dreams. For Robert Battle dance was a way to tell stories and in this book it is just another way to share this rich tradition with a new generation.

When it comes to picture book biographies there is always a careful balance that must be made between the amount of textual information and illustrations. For me, there was far too much text for a picture book. Although I thought the information and story of Robert Battle's journey was fascinating there were times where I felt like there was too much information and at others, I felt like I was missing a piece of the puzzle. For example: It was a bit confusing who was raising Robert and why he was being passed around from family member to family member. Worse than missing this information was that this would have been a good moment to let the reader know how Robert felt about this, but what was strangely lacking throughout most of the story were feelings. Instead the story just felt glossy. Full of dreams and the fulfillment of them and not much else.

But let us not forget that Robert Battle has created some beautiful dances and although this book doesn't work for me as a picture book biography, it doesn't take away from the amazing accomplishments that he has achieved in the world of dance.

The Most Wonderful Thing in the World by Vivian French Book Review

The Most Wonderful Thing in the World by Vivian French 
Illustrations by Angela Barrett
Publisher: Walker Books
Release Date: June 1, 2015

A King and Queen promise to marry their daughter Lucia to the man who can show them the most wonderful thing in the world. Suitors descend on their Venice-like home trying to wind the hand of the princess, but even a display of a mermaid doesn't seem to be enough. While her parents are busy looking for a proper suitor, Lucia has been exploring the city with a young man who claims to know all of the city's secrets. When he finds out that the girl he has fallen in love with is the Princess, he panics, for surely someone like him could not possibly marry a princess. What he soon realizes though is that he has found the most wonderful thing in the world.

A very sweet romantic parable that feels a bit like a fairy tale and a bit like historical fiction. What makes this book really stand out though are the majestic illustrations. There were times where I wished the book was twice the size so that I could more closely examine the classical illustrations that filled each page with whimsical detail.

Robo-Sauce by Adam Rubin Book Review

Robo-Sauce by Adam Rubin
Illustrations by Daniel Salmieri
Publisher: Dial Books
Release Date: October 20, 2015

4 cups of Tumbleberries. 1 sprig of Sparkenfarfle. A few other random things added in and Flash Bang Boom, you have a recipe for Robo-Sauce.

This book is fantastically fun. One kid plays robots until he turns everyone into robots, with a fun...and quite literal twist at the end.

What we really need to talk about with this book is the production quality. For those who need reminding, book production is what I do for a living and after reading this book I took it to work the next day to show my boss and all our designers, because it was that cool. Let's tick off the things that make this book different...and expensive. First is the fact that this book is printed with five colors, the fifth being a bright orange neon spot color that really stands out in the world of traditional CMYK. The second is one of the most fabulous flaps I have ever seen. About 2/3 of the way through the book, a page pulls out and turns into an alternative jacket. (see the video below for an example). This pullout has metallic spot color and turns the story into another a way. Now, let's be honest, this book is not going to hold up very well to multiple reads at the hands of grabby little ones. On a design level it is awesome, but on a practical level, not so much. Don't get me wrong, kids are going to love this one, it's just a book that parents should probably keep on a high shelf to be read with supervision and librarians will probably pass on.

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older Book Review

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: June 30, 2015

Sierra Santiago was planning on a normal summer of hanging out with friends and making art. Specifically a dragon mural on an abandoned building that the city will be tearing down soon. However, with Sierra's abuelo nearly comatose upstairs and a weird guy creeping around the neighborhood, things are certainly not normal. Then Sierra begins to notice that the murals around the neighborhood are starting to fade. And then one of them starts to cry. Sierra soon learns about a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers who can connect with spirits using paintings, music and stories. Her grandfather is the key, but with him barely conscious, Sierra will have to find her answers somewhere else. With the help of her new friend Robbie, Sierra finds herself dodging a power-hungry madman while learning how to harness her own Shadowshaping abilities.

Have you ever read a book that came highly recommended and even though the book is dragging, you keep reading in hopes that it will redeem itself in the end and life up to the hype? That was Shadowshaper for me. So much had been made of this book, from the fantasy to the rich diversity and cultural influences. In the respect of diversity and culture, this book has it down. The language, the racist aunt who has problems with dark-skinned people even though they are brown too, the myths and stories from the Caribbean, and even the issues of gentrification and prejudices.

The problem lay within the plot. Despite seeing numerous demonstrations of shadowshaping it takes forever for her to "get it". This was frustrating in that there wasn't very much to get. Once the reader is made aware that drawings can be brought to life and there is a big baddie who wants to kill anyone else who can do this, the only other thing to learn is how Shadowshapers actually work the magic of it. There wasn't much of a mystery in the character of Robbie, although I think he was supposed to be mysterious. Sierra trusts him from the beginning, which means that the reader does too. Not that there isn't a reason to trust him. In fact, she trusts him so implicitally that when he tells her how to do the actual shadowshaping she doesn't question it for a second. He said it so it must be true.

There were the usual young adult romance tropes. Girl falls for boy ridiculously fast. Girl seems to be more focused on kissing boy than finding bad guys. Girl loves boy even though she barely knows anything about him. Because someone only needs to have one thing in common to develop a crush that turns serious in just a few days. Ugh.

Overall, I think this book's biggest issue is that despite the rich cultural aspects in the story, the characters were boring. Sierra is full of tenacity and talent and the author did a good job of making her feel like a real teenager, but she is so slow to catch on that I found her cloying. Robbie was supposed to be this mysterious artist, but once the mystery was revealed he was nothing more than a plot device. Beyond these two, the secondary characters were so flat that I cared very little about what happened to them.

My favorite moment of the book is when Sierra finally tells off her racist aunt in the epic way that many of us wish we could to those family members who are a little too judgmental. Don't get me wrong, Sierra has plenty of sass, but this was the only moment where I really liked her and desperately wanted more of that girl.

I would like to point out how amazing this book cover is though. The girl, the chalk colors, the juxtaposition of the city...perfect.

The Dragonsitter by Josh Lacey Book Review

The Dragonsitter by Josh Lacey
Illustrations by Garry Parsons
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 1, 2015

Dear Uncle Morton: You'd better get on a plane right now and come back here. Your dragon has eaten Jemima. Emily loved that rabbit! I'd better go now. I can smell burning. --Eddie

Babysitting a dragon shouldn't be this difficult, or at least it should have come with an instruction manual. The mailman isn't delivering mail anymore. His poop is well, huge. He's burning and breaking stuff. And Uncle Morton isn't answering Eddie's letters. 

Whether Uncle Morten really left the dragon because he was on vacation or because he simply needed a break isn't clear in the beginning, but it soon becomes clear that Uncle Morten failed to leave some very important instructions behind. The fantasy element, a dragon, is a bit confusing for clearly this is the kind of place where dragons exist and can be dragonsitted, yet no one has ever heard of them when Eddie calls for help. I don't think this matters in the slightest because kids aren't going to sit around deconstructing the internal logic of a dragon fantasy chapter book. And they aren't going to question the convenient ending either. 

This is a fun easy-to-read chapter book with the right mix of magic and humor.

The Gingerbread Man Loose on Christmas by Laura Murray Book Review

The Gingerbread Man Loose on Christmas by Laura Murray
Illustrations by Mike Lowery
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 13, 2015

Everyone at school is busy practicing their songs and making goodies for their trip to town to thank the community helpers, but the Gingerbread Man wants to make a gift for someone who is extra special. Weather gets in the way though and when you are made of cookie, things like snow aren't so awesome. Determined to thank his special someone, Gingerbread Man trudges on even as he feet begin to crumble.

What I liked about this book was the focus on gratitude. In a world that is so so busy, it is important for children to understand the importance of a simple thank you and the many different ways we can thank someone. More than that, there are so many people in a child's life that they can thank. The illustrations, as in the other Gingerbread Man books, are bright and busy. As an adult I did find the story to be a bit preachy and definitely pandering to the gatekeepers who will be buying this book. Kids won't pick up on this, but it was an element that I couldn't ignore. This would be a good book for teachers and parents to use if they need something to help teach their children an attitude of gratitude.

Samurai Santa by Rubin Pingk Book Review

Samurai Santa: A Very Ninja Christmas by Rubin Pingk 
Publisher: Simon & Schuster for Young Readers
Release Date: September 22, 2015

It's Christmas Even and all Yukio, the little ninja wants is an epic snowball fight. But when his friends are too worries about being good little ninjas to join in, Yukio decides to sabotage Santa. It turns out that Santa can be quite a formidable enemy though.

For those who are martial arts purists, you will be happy to note that this book does know the difference between a ninja and samurai and they are not the same thing, despite the confusing title. And in true Santa fashion, even a Samurai Santa can give one little ninja the desire of their heart. Cute and fun, this will appeal to the kids who want a bit more action in their Christmas picture books. The real gem of this story was the illustrations though. The color pallet was perfect and despite not being able to see the ninja's faces, Yukio was full of expression.

The Trouble In Me by Jack Gantos Book Review

The Trouble In Me by Jack Gantos
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Release Date: September 1, 2015

Fourteen-year-old Jack is sick of himself. When his military family moves to a new house in Fort Lauderdale, Jack realized this may be his opportunity to become someone else. Sadly, that someone else might turn out to be a bad kid. Jack decides that who he wants to be is his insane, juvenile delinquent next-door neighbor, Gary Pagoda. Gary steals things, lights things on fire, does dangerous stuff, and he doesn't give a shit about anybody. Not even Jack. This is it though, Jack can feel it. This is the moment he becomes someone else, someone who may not be a good kid but at least he is interesting.

A fictional memoir, this is supposed to be the moment when Jack Gantos went from good to bad. He made the shift consciously and with zeal. The problem is that it is boring. The book is just over 224 pages and it takes nearly 100 pages for Jack to light a damn fire on the grill. Readers are treated to 100 pages of Jack having flashbacks and filling us in on his family life, none of which is very interesting and could have easily been summed up in a page or two. Now, if something really interesting happened in the book, I may have been more interested, but beyond some well-placed lies and a desire to be like Gary, I never actually saw him become like Gary. Since the whole point of the book is the moment Jack "went bad", I kept waiting for it to happen, but it never did.

There are some disturbing scenes where Jack obviously makes the wrong decisions and is saved by random happenstance, but I never got the impression that Jack would ever be like Gary. Want to know why? Because Gary is a complete and total psychopath. Gary enjoys hurting people. He can't stop himself from compulsively doing horrible things to other people. He is in a constant need for a rush and usually that means doing something dangerous.

Of course, this "autobiography" is fictional too because there were far too many times that I as a reader thought, there is no way that this guy remembers everything in such vivid detail. It's not like he kept a journal back then to help remind him of things. And unlike A Hole in Me, there is no redemption for these characters, which made the whole thing feel rather pointless, like some kind of writing exercise that just went on for too long.

The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi Book Review

The Story of Diva and Flea by Mo Willems and Tony DiTerlizzi
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: October 13, 2015

Diva is a small dog who lives at 11 avenue Le Play in Paris, France. Her whole world is her home and the courtyard right outside. That is until she meets Flea, a streetwise wandering flaneur who has traveled all of Paris and shows Diva world beyond her little courtyard.

A kind of Lady and the Tramp story sans the romance, with a hint of Aristocats, and a smidgen of Oliver & Co., this is the tale of friendship, boundaries, and bravery. A simple chapter book that may be a bit challenging for its targeted audience, but no less captivating in its telling. Diva and Flea, despite being very different challenge each other to do things that make them uncomfortable. What each discover is a world they couldn't imagine. Diva sees the Eiffel Tower for the first time and faces her fear of feet. You would be afraid of feet too if you were a very little dog. Flea, always having been an outdoor cat, cannot imagine an indoor world where food is brought to him whenever he pleases. I love these two characters and there is definitely the usual Mo Willems humor. More than that though are the beautiful four color illustrations. I am a bit confused as to who did the illustrations since both authors are also illustrators, so we will just assume that they worked on the illustrations together.  Kids are going to fall in love with this little duo and I am really hoping to see more adventures from Diva and Flea in the future.

Feeding the Flying Fanellis by Kate Hosford Book Review

Feeding the Flying Fanellis: And Other Poems from a Circus Chef by Kate Hosford
Illustrations by Cosei Kawa
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Release Date: October 1, 2015

What kinds of food keep a circus going? What else? Hot sauce for the fire eater. Ostrich a la mode for the gourmet lion. A rather strict diet for the tightrope walkers.

A book of poetry that tries hard to be Shel Silverstein, but felt rather hit or miss throughout. The rhymes felt forced at the poems were overly long, each idea going on longer a few stanzas past interesting. Some of the poems were interesting though and the kinds of foods that each circus act and animal ate were punny enough o get a few chuckles. On a better note, the illustrations by Cosei Kawa were fantastic, full of vibrant colors that made the turning of each page a feast for the eyes.

Lailah's Lunchbox by Reem Faruqi Book Review

Lailah's Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story by Reem Faruqi
Publisher: Tilbury House Publishers
Release Date: May 1, 2015

Lailah is finally old enough to fast during the month of Ramadan like her family and friends, but finding a way to explain that to her teacher and classmates in Atlanta is difficult. She wants to tell them because she is proud, but since they are all non-Muslim, will they understand? Mr. Scrabble, the librarian, has some good advice for her though and is able to help her tell her friends about her beliefs.

I wish I had run into this book last July during Ramadan, but alas I did not, so I must review it now in hopes that people will find it in time for the next year. The author, like Lailah, had the same experience as her young character. Moving is difficult enough, but when you start adding in language, culture, and religion, things can get hard. What I love about this book is that rather than be a didactic story to teach children about Ramadan, it serves two functions. The first is to teach, but this book can also be used for children who are having a difficult time in a new place as someone of a minority faith. There are quite a few children who may be able to relate to this story and some who may never feel comfortable sharing theirs, but this is a wonderful little book that definitely deserves attention for all students, Muslim and not.

Believarexic by J.J. Johnson Book Review

Believarexic by J.J. Johnson
Publisher: Peachtree Publishers
Release Date: October 1, 2015

When fifteen-year-old Jennifer tells her family that she has an eating disorder and wants to be admitted to a hospital for eating disorders, her family doesn't believe her. Still they drive an hour and a half to the Samuel Tuke Center where the doctors confirm that yes, Jennifer is sick. Once there though, Jennifer starts to think she has made a horrible mistake. In here she isn't even allowed to go to the bathroom on her own. One of the nurses hates her and is accusing her of all kinds of terrible things. She can't call home when she wants. The treatment program is insane, but Jennifer knows that this place will save her life. Forced to examine her relationship with her parents, friends, and herself, Jennifer slowly begins to find herself again.

When I first became aware of this book's existence, my very first thought was, "I'm not going to read that."It's not because I thought the book sounded bad. I absolutely love the author and her books. It's that I have spent most of my adult life being very careful to avoid anything that would trigger my own eating disorder. When I was struggling with anorexia, books were the first place I went to get tips and tricks. I attended the book launch for this book and even though I bought the book, I did so mostly out of support, still unsure if I would be able to read this book. Then Jen started to speak and she spoke about all my fears and how careful she had been to not add tips and tricks (because she too read eating disorder books as guides) and how she never wrote down weights. And I knew then that maybe I could read it.

Like Jennifer, my parents were not aware of my eating disorder. I was proud of how well I hid it from them and a little bothered that they hadn't noticed. Was I not thin enough to warrant their worry? Like Jennifer, I sought help on my own, although I attended an outpatient support group rather than admitting myself to a hospital. Yet eating disorders are so incredibly individual. No one experience can encapsulate them all and Jennifer didn't try to. She took that time of her life, carefully crafted into a story that is both fiction and non-fiction and created a deeply moving and transcendent tale. Although there are lessons to be learned here, due to its autobiographical nature, not everything is tied up in a perfect bow, which makes the story all the more authentic. The hospital stay feels real and sometimes unfair and very very hard. Unlike some of the other girls in the EDU, Jennifer actually wants to recover and this puts her at odds with them sometimes. I cried with her when she was accused of cheating the system and rejoiced when she made progress in her recovery. I loved the people she loved, like Chuck, and loathed Nurse Ratched...err..Beverly.

The book itself is organized extremely well. Split into parts by the Stage that Jennifer is in at the EDU. More interestingly is how the book is written in third-person stilted free verse poetry in the beginning, but as Jennifer recovers and learns more about herself, it turns into a first-person narrative. As I understand it, this is because the author herself thinks of herself in this way. Pre-eating disorder vs. Recovering from eating disorder. I understand why the book was fictionalized, mostly for visibility within the YA genre, but I did wish it had been purely autobiographical. Mostly because setting this fictional story in the 80s makes it strangely historical fiction, which (as someone born in the 80s) I am not okay with.

This is the story about a flawed heroine who knows that she needs help, but discovers that recovery is a lot of work both physically and mentally. Jennifer has clearly put her heart and soul onto these pages and I think it will speak to many people, not just those with eating disorders.

Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho! by Doreen Cronin Book Review

Click, Clack, Ho! Ho! Ho! by Doreen Cronin 
Illustrations by Betsy Lewin
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 22, 2015

It’s the night before Christmas and all through the farm, not a creature is stirring, not even Farmer Brown is busy decorating his home in preparation for Santa’s arrival on Christmas Eve. All seems calm in the barnyard, but Farmer Brown isn’t the only one who is getting ready...Once again, Duck has gotten the whole barnyard STUCK in quite a predicament. Will anyone be able to un-stuck Duck and save Christmas?

As is the custom with other children's picture book series, it was only a matter of time before the Click Clack Moo animals became a Christmas story. In this installment of the Click Clack Moo books, we are treated to duck getting stuck in a chimney for reasons that are a bit vague. Just like other Christmas books, these kinds of stories often feel uninspired and gimmicky, which made it my least favorite in the series. It's not that the story was terrible it was just a bit Ho! Ho! Hum. 

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano Book Review

Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano
Illustrations by Marjorie Priceman
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 22, 2015

It's Christmas Eve and Mami wants to make a Christmas roast just like she remembers from Puerto Rico. The feast may never come when the roast won't fit in their small apartments oven. Jose and Papa decide to take their roast to the local pizzeria to see if they will cook the roast for them. As they walk down the stairs of their apartment one can see that the residents of this building have clearly not in the Christmas spirit. Yet when they return a few hours later with a cooked roast, the smell of such a feast lifts the spirits of everyone they pass. Soon, Mami's house is full of cheer just like back home in Puerto Rico.

Ah the first Christmas book review of the season and what a one to start on. Although this is set during Christmas it could very well have been set at any time. At its core this is the story of friendship, community, and how all of those things can be brought together with food. It is also a story of longing and homesickness. Mami doesn't just want a good Christmas, she wants to provide her family with the kind of Christmas she remembers from her childhood. This is a sentiment that I can relate to as I am the kind of person who clings to holiday traditions, even the ones that may seem silly to some people.

A great deal of emphasis is placed on the multi-cultural nature within this community, which was both believable and refreshing. The illustrations are bright and lively and I swear as I read it, I too could smell that cooked roast.

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel Book Review

The Nest by Kenneth Oppel 
Illustrations by Jon Klassen
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Release Date: October 6, 2015

The baby was born sickly. Steve's parents worry and fret as they drive the baby back and forth from one doctor's appointment to the next, never sure if the news will be good or bad. Steve has always been a worrier though, so what's one more thing to worry about? That is until he is stung by a strange wasp and begins to have eerie dreams. The Queen says that she is going to replace the baby with a new one, one that isn't sickly. At first this seems like a good idea, but as he gets more and more details, Steve begins to realize that things are not right. That new baby isn't going to be his brother. He doesn't know what it will be, but it won't be Teddy. And then he learns what the wasps intend to do with his real brother.

Much like David Almond's Skellig, The Nest weaves a creepy tale that feels just a tad too close to home. The initial situation, one of a sickly baby and an anxious child who is just a little too young to be told everything that is going on is firmly believable and understandable. Which is why when the wasps are first introduced, like Steve, the reader wants to believe that it is just a dream. Who has ever heard of wasps making a baby in their nest? In the beginning, when this element was introduced, I truly hoped that it would all turn out to be real and not some kind of dream or hallucination and the book delivered. This is no dream. There is a Queen wasp who is creating a new baby in a nest attached to Steve's house. She is going to replace the sickly baby with it and all she needs is for Steve to say yes and open a window. That's all.

Steve is also a great character in that he clearly has some OCD issues, has difficulty making friends, and is very anxious. Although this could mean that Steve is on the autism spectrum, I like that Oppel didn't label it. Besides there are plenty of kids out there who have these issues and aren't labeled with any particular disability. It just speaks to a larger audience that way and doesn't turn it into a "disability" book. (Disclaimer: Nothing wrong with these types of books, but I do like the idea that disabilities can be in a book without the book being about disabilities)

There were a couple of times when I may have said, "Holy shit" out loud, but mostly because I don't do creepy very well (don't ask my why I am reading the second Diviners book). I did have one issue with the Knife Man and not feeling like his presence was explained fully enough, but it wasn't enough to ruin the book. Perfect for kids who love a bit of horror and are middle grade readers of David Almond, Mary Hahn Downing, and Neil Gaiman.

Your Alien by Tammi Sauer Book Review

Your Alien by Tammi Sauer
Illusatrations by Gorō Fujita
Publisher: Sterling Children's Books
Release Date: August 4, 2015

When a little boy meets a stranded alien child, they immediately strike up a friendship. Together they explore the neighborhood, go to school, and have many adventures. Not even a great friendship can cure an alien who is homesick though. The little boys knows what he must do in order to help his friend, even if it means having to say goodbye.

This classic alien friendship story written in second-person point of view has all the fun of Home and the pathos of Earth to Echo and E.T.. As a young child, one of the hardest things to learn about friendship is how to help someone when they are sad, sick, or lonely. Some children possess this empathy naturally while others need a bit more help in knowing what is the right thing to do when their friend is sad or homesick. On the flip side, this would also make a good book for children who experience homesickness often whether that be because they stay away from home often (babysitters, grandparents, split families) or because they miss something even bigger due to a move or change in circumstances. The illustrations are lovely and help convey the close bond between this child and his alien friend as well as the familial ties that bind us to one another.

Dino-Swimming by Lisa Wheeler Book Review

Dino-Swimming by Lisa Wheeler 
Illustrations by Barry Gott
Publisher: Carolrhoda Books
Release Date: October 1, 2015

The Land Sharks take on the Algae Eaters in a dino-swimming showdown. Raptor and Stegosaurus start it off in the individual medley, while the Ptero twins battle it out in the butterfly race. Then Galli and Diplo wow the crowd with their flips and tricks off the diving board! But which team will win the swim meet? It comes down to the last event, the backstroke. Both Stego and Galli think they'll take the prize. Let's hope these dinos remembered their goggles―this swim meet is bound to make a splash!

Kids love dinosaurs, which is probably why so many picture books exist with dinosaurs doing everything from eating, brushing their teeth, getting lost in New York City, and now...swimming. It's the usual fictionalized tale with lots of dinosaur names and not much else. Not that this makes the book bad, because kids will absolutely love it, but it is just another dinosaur book in a weird setting. I know that doesn't sound fair because really, there are so many dinosaur books out there it's not like originality can even be a thing. Any dinosaur loving kid will want to get their hands on this book and double bonus if some of those kids also have a love for swimming.

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon & Dean Hale Book Review

The Princess in Black and the Perfect Princess Party by Shannon & Dean Hale
Illustrations by LeUyen Pham
Publisher: Candlewick
Release Date: October 13, 2015

Today is supposed to be the perfect birthday party, but as the guests arrive so do the monsters. Princess Magnolia must rush to her broom closet and change into the superhero Princess in black. Of course, running off in the middle of a birthday party is going to make some people suspicious, but Princess Magnolia is able to do so...although she may have lost a shoe in the process.

Book two of The Princess in Black is the same formula as the first. Princess Magnolia must keep running off to fight monsters while her guests wait impatiently for her return. And as with the first, she is able to convince them that she is just really good at hide and seek. Perhaps it is just me, but I think it is a bit sad that The Princess in Black must hide her identity. As a superhero fan, I understand the purpose of secret identities, but I would like to think that people would only love her more if she revealed her superhero status. Besides, she doesn't appear to live with anyone and the only "bad guys" are ogres who don't see something like the Princess in Black as much of a detterant. Just saying.

I love these books. I love that there is a female superhero for this particular age group of readers. They do exist mind you, but they are so few and far between that we must champion the ones that are out there. I absolutely adored seeing some of the Princess in Black Halloween costumes that were featured on A Mighty Girl.

The Hollow Boy by Jonathan Stroud Book Review

The Hollow Boy (Lockwood & Co. #3) by Jonathan Stroud
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: September 15, 2015

After some success, Lockwood & Co. made up of Anthony Lockwood, George, and Lucy have been busy. Plenty of cases, but nothing big and they still aren't being taken seriously as a real ghost hunting agency. All that begins to change though when Lockwood hires a new assistant, annoyingly perky and hyper-efficient, to help them manage their cases. Now, they are starting to get bigger jobs, like the bloody footprints that keep appearing at a fancy house. Nothing is quite as it seems though as Lucy's psychic powers seem to be growing stronger and she is beginning to attract unwanted attention of a ghostly nature. Meanwhile, in Chelsea, most of the big agencies are looking for the source of a ghost outbreak with no luck. With the bloody footprints case newly solved under their belt, Lockwood & Co. is sure that they can solve this one too.

One of the many reasons why I love this series is that it is so nuanced. Although this could easily be just a fun ghost hunt adventure, Stroud is careful to give each of his characters a bit of mystery and depth. Except George perhaps, since George is exactly as he seems. Lucy's powers are growing stronger and stronger and she struggles with letting Lockwood know about her new abilities and exploring them more. Perhaps she would be a bit more open to sharing with Lockwood had he not hired Holly who seems to have captured his attention. This was both a positive and negative for me. One of the things I have always loved about this series is the absence of a love story. It never felt necessary and I am a proponent of the idea that people can work together and be friends and not be romantically involved. It seems that this is where the story is leading to. Lucy is terribly jealous of Holly and since we are in her head much of the time, we are just as suspicious of Holly as Lucy is. This drove me nuts because Lucy, who is usually cool, calm, and collected becomes careless and compromising all because of Holly.

As for the ghost stories, although I would state that none of their jobs were as scary as the Screaming Staircase from book one, I would posit that the buildup to whatever is really going on is promising to be awesome. Where did all these ghosts come from? What is the true source of everything? What is the room that Lucy finds at the end? Who set it up? I have no idea how many books Stroud is planning on writing for this series, but so far they have all been fantastic so I am okay with he keeps on writing them, just as long as we begin some more answers here and there. And if Lucy is going to pursue a relationship with Lockwood, I think it is time for Lockwood to be a little more trusting and a lot less secretive.

Zen Socks by Jon J. Muth Book Review

Zen Socks by Jon J. Muth 
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: September 29, 2015

As with all books in Muth's Zen series, Zen Socks features Stillwater and his usual parables that are meant to help illustrate a Zen-like attitude toward a particular problem. In this story that problem is patience and kindness and how we can help each other to be better people. These gentle reminders, while seemingly preachy, are gentle reminders that even a small act of kindness can mean a great deal to the one who is the recipient of that kindness and that instant gratification is not a wise way to live. I like these simple truths and think they are very accessible for young readers. Muth's illustrations are as always hauntingly beautiful.

Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler Book Review

Beyond the Pond by Joseph Kuefler
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Release Date: October 6, 2015

Just behind an ordinary house
filled with too little fun,
Ernest D. decides that today will be the day he explores the depths of his pond.

Beyond the pond, he discovers a not-so-ordinary world that will change him forever.

Like any classic fantasy, the pond behind Ernest D's house is a portal to an amazing world. There are the usual things that one expects to find in a small pond: fish, sharks, squids, and birds. Yes, birds. Like Max in Where the Wild Things Are, Ernest discovers a magical world on the other side of his pond. As much fun as he has there though, he soon finds himself missing home and so he returns. 

Fantastically fun and beautifully illustrated, Beyond the Pond felt very classic in its execution, but will feel brand new for its intended audience. 

Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead Book Review

Lenny & Lucy by Philip C. Stead
Illustrations by Erin E. Stead
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Release Date: October 6, 2015

Peter and his father are moving to a new house that is within a dark and unfriendly wood. Peter does not want to be there and not even his dog Harold is helping. Scared of the things that may be hiding in the woods, Peter makes a tall pule of pillows. He stitches and sews, pushes and pulls, and when he is done he has created Lenny, Guardian of the Bridge, to protect him and Harold. Lenny is a great guard, but Peter worries that Lenny is lonely and so he makes Lenny a friend, Lucy.

Philip Stead's books are always a hit or miss for me and I think with this book, my adult sensibilities were getting too much in the way. All I kept thinking was, where is this kid getting all those pillows? Why is his dad letting him put that stuff out there? All of those blankets and pillows are going to get dirty and moldy.

The illustrations were lovely as Erin E. Stead always delivers in that respect, but I just couldn't get into the story. I understand that this is supposed to be a story about loneliness, fear, and friendship, but there just wasn't enough to it. What is Peter afraid of? The dark woods? Leaving home? A new place? Why isn't Henry enough company? And let's add to all of this, two giant creepy-looking pillow people who may or may not be alive. Shudder. Then we add Peter's new friend who appears so suddenly that she feels like an afterthought. There is so much that could happen in this book and yet nothing does.

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins Book Review

Mother Bruce by Ryan T. Higgins
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: November 24, 2015

Bruce the bear likes to keep to himself. He is a bit grumpy and the only thing he does enjoy is eating eggs. But when his hard-boiled goose eggs turn out ot be real, live goslings, Bruce begins to lose his appetite. Now the goslings think Bruce is their mother and they aren't going away.

Absolutely adorable, Mother Bruce is familiar and yet different enough to feel original and fun. I think anyone would lose their appetite if their meal was to hatch into adorable baby geese. I also love that poor Bruce has to not only deal with being a very unprepared and unwilling mother, but then he has to help his gosling family go south for the winter. Poor grumpy Bruce. I mean, bears are supposed to hibernate in the winter, not fly south. The illustrations were cute and lively, the real gem being Bruce's many expressions and his unibrow. Oh and Bruce with four goslings strapped to his front was perfection.

This book is coming out at just the right time because I forsee it being a perfect present to go under many a Christmas tree.

Not Mother Goose, meet Mother Bruce! Enter to win the adorable new picture book, Mother Bruce.

Giveaway open to US addresses only.
Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion.

Learn more about Mother Bruce here

About the Author
Ryan T. Higgins is an author/illustrator residing in Southern Maine. He lives with his three dogs, three cats, two geckos, one tortoise, one son, one daughter, and one wife. He has wanted to be a cartoonist since as far back as he can remember. (Actually, that’s not entirely true—he wanted to be a tiger until he was three, but, sadly, that didn't really pan out.) Ryan’s first picture book, Wilfred, was named a 2013 Wanda Gág Read Aloud Honor Book. Visit Ryan online at

Waiting by Kevin Henkes Book Review

Waiting by Kevin Henkes
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Release Date: September 1, 2015

An owl, a puppy, a bear, a rabbit, and a pig all sit arranged on a child's windowsill--waiting. The owl is waiting for the moon. The pig waits for rain. Bear is waiting for the wind. Puppy snow. And rabbit just enjoys looking out the window because he enjoys waiting.

Sometimes there are stories in which nothing really happens. Of course, in a book about waiting one does expect there to be a bit of a drawn out conclusion. Unlike Toy Story this menagerie of knick knacks seem to be happy with their lot in live, content sitting on a windowsill. This is what I would consider a "quiet book", a term I usually reserve for books that end up as Newbery award winners and nominees. Nothing happens until the very end and even then the conclusion isn't very exciting. It is a wonderful notion to think of toys as being alive, but it turns out the toys in this child's bedroom look like they are grandma's hand-me-downs and boring to boot.

Poems in the Attic by Nikki Grimes Book Review

Poems in the Attic by Nikki Grimes
Illustrations by Elizabeth Zunon
Publisher: Lee & Low Books
Release Date: May 15, 2015

While she is visiting her grandma, a young girl discovers a box of poems in the attic, written by her mother as she was growing up. As her mother moves around the United States as a "military brat" her mother used her poems as a way to record her experiences. The connection to her mother feels closer and closer and the girl decides she should leave some poems of her own for another young girl or boy to find and bond over.

The most embarrasing thing I have ever said to an author was to Nikki Grimes. "I love your books," I had gushed and then added, "I don't usually like or read poetry but yours are great." I'm sure I am not the only one who has said something similar, but the look on Ms. Grimes' face was withering and I immediately knew how stupid that had sounded. It was also untrue. I read poetry a lot. I have numerous poems memorized which I can (and have) pulled out at parties. I have enjoyed novels in verse, understand the difference between a sestina and pantoum, and have read most "classic" poems. When I began at Hamline University, I felt challenged by all these wonderful advisors to really understand poetry and so I read a couple of books about the history of poetry, forms, and analysis. All that said, I am a terrible poet and gave up writing anything decent long ago. I imagine that to a poet, someone, especially someone who claims to be a writer, saying they don't like poetry is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

I know that is a lot of unnecessary information for a book review, but it is important that I let you know (and Nikki Grimes) that I do enjoy poetry greatly and what I really meant was, I am a terrible poet and I am in awe of people who can use language so wonderfully.

This story is such a lovely combination of words and pictures, carefully drawing out the pathos of the characters using two styles of poetry. Although there were moments when the poetic forms felt limiting as I would have liked more descriptions of the places that her Mama found herself in, I felt that the collection as a whole was complete. Obviously this book is relateable for kids whose parents are in the military, but I found myself relating simply because my parents moved me around a bit when I was a kid. I especially love that this book encourages child to write out their feelings and that writing can bring us closer to the people we love.

Lizard From the Park by Mark Pett Book Review

Lizard From the Park by Mark Pett
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Release Date: September 8, 2015

While walking through the park, Leonard finds an egg. Inside is...a lizard! Leonard soon has a problem, though, and it's bigger than you can imagine. Will Leonard be able to keep his lizard under wraps, or is it becoming too much trouble to handle?

Let's just say it. Leonard hasn't found a lizard...Leonard found a dinosaur. Which is awesome. It does take a few pages for the reader to realize that this lizard is not what it seems, but this only adds to the comic factor. For those who are in love with books set in New York City, this one is right up your alley, hitting up most of the NYC highlights like the NY Public Library, subway, The American Museum of Natural History, and even a stop for a cronut. The illustrations are adorable as all of Mark Pett's work is, playing on the same color palette as The Girl and the Bicycle and The Boy and the Airplane  sans the brown background. And Leonard is just way too cute. Perfect for dreamers, travelers, and kids who have visited or live in NYC, Lizard From the Park is a simple story with big character.