March 28, 2017

I would have been a runaway

Firstly, I have to apologize for Friday's missed post and the lateness of this one. Things have been a bit hectic (more so than usual) at work and I just haven't had the desire or energy to read. Actually, I tried to read two books which I ultimately decided I had no interest in before I picked up today's book. Just goes to show that the heart wants what the heart wants... *cue segue music*

Terms & Conditions: Life in Girls' Boarding Schools, 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham is exactly what I was looking for this week. As the title suggests, this is a non-fiction book about what it was like to attend a boarding school for girls from the years of 1939-79 (in the United Kingdom obviously). The author conducted numerous interviews of women who attended these school who recalled startlingly vivid memories (both ill and pleasant) of their time there. From what it was like to be separated from family at a young age (some incredibly young) to the traumatic recollections of the horrible food they were forced to eat to what really went on when a bunch of hormonal girls were kept sequestered without any boys in sight this is a book that is both informative and interesting. (It's also super funny.) I've read some fanciful stories about what it's like to live in a boarding school but never true accounts from the girls themselves about what actually went on behind those austere facades. (Seriously a ton of them were in manor houses and castles which makes me super jealous.) There are many similarities between the institutions and also some gargantuan differences. For instance, some of the places (Cheltenham for instance) were strict, highly academic, and the girls that left there were more likely to continue into higher education. Others were more practically minded (or obsessed with horses and sports) and the girls that left there were generally encouraged to go to secretarial college and then look for a husband almost immediately after entering the workforce. It's an eye-opening read about what it was like for these upper-crust girls who were sent away by their families and then suppressed by these same people into wanting less for themselves. I highly recommend this not only because it's extremely well-written and researched but also because it's so fascinating comparing it to the way young women of today are educated and their expectations after leaving school. 10/10

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

March 21, 2017

I seriously need to know what the teacups signify

I tried explaining the Caldecott Honor to a group of pre-k children the other day. (It was pretty funny.) If you're unfamiliar, the Caldecott Medal and the Caldecott Honor are awarded to American illustrators whose work is singled out by the ALA as being "the most distinguished picture book for children". [Note: This does have a bearing on this post.]

I had decided to use a different style of picture book for my storytime and I chose to use Henry & Leo by Pamela Zagarenski. Two of the books that Zagarenski illustrated have been awarded the Caldecott Honor (Sleep Like a Tiger and Red Sings From Treetops: A Year in Colors). You might have guessed that because she was both author and illustrator that Henry & Leo is most likely a visually stunning book...and you'd be correct. However, the kids weren't overly impressed with the storyline. :-/ I don't think this was so much the fault of the author but more a mistake on my part for trying this out with a group of pre-k aged children (solo reading for this age would most likely work fine though). It's a bit too introspective for such a large age of young children. The story centers on Henry who has a best friend named Leo...who is a stuffed lion. To Henry, Leo is absolutely 100% alive and he can't understand why his sister and parents fail to see this simple fact. Through a series of adventures, the reader learns just how much Leo and Henry mean to each other. I encouraged the kids to point out the crowns and other little treats that Zagarenski uses in all of her illustrations (without any explanation I might add). This was everyone's favorite thing to do but none of them could tell me much about the story after we'd finished so it wasn't as successful as I would have ultimately liked. Personally, I felt it lacked the heart that I had expected based on the premise and the beautiful artwork. I recommend that you check it out for yourself because I (and the children) might be overly harsh in our judgment. :-) For the record, this doesn't mean that I won't be checking out more of Zagarenski's work just that this one wasn't my all-time favorite. 3/5

To give you a little sample of the art style:

Source: Today's Little Ditty
**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

March 17, 2017

Does lion rhyme with iron?

Would you be shocked to learn that I have another picture book to review today? Well, no matter what your emotion (I hope it was excitement though) I do indeed have another picture book that I'd like to tell you all about. The book is Frog on a Log? by Kes Gray with illustrations by Jim Field. This is my favorite picture book of 2017 and that's saying quite a lot. I liked it so much in fact that I bought a copy for myself and a copy for my mom (if you know mom then you know why I did this). It's a hilarious, rhyming story about a frog who thinks that the rule that all frogs sit on logs (told to him by a wiseacre cat) is unfair because logs are uncomfortable. What follows is the cat informing the frog about the rules of where certain animals are allowed to sit. (Look out for the fleas and make sure you ask the little people you're reading with to find them for you.) If you're using this in a storytime, I encourage you to read with panache and infuse the cat with lots of exasperated attitude. It's a fantastically fun experience when you get your audience invested enough to be shocked by the ending (which is hysterical by the way). The illustrations are absolutely adorable (I'm going to be looking for more works by Jim Field I think) and create another layer of playfulness which I appreciated. I highly recommend this book for anyone and everyone (but especially those who work or live with small children). 10/10

Note: It seems that in the UK where this was originally published it was titled Oi Frog! which puzzles me mightily. Also, there's a sequel which is out and which I must get my hands on titled Oi Dog! (I don't get why they would change the name here in the US).

I mean how can you not love this little guy?

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

March 14, 2017

Gives new meaning to "What's in the fridge?"

A few weeks ago, I read a book called Dear Dragon which was about a pen pal relationship between a little boy and a dragon but they had no idea they were writing to someone of a different species. The illustrations were on point but it was the storyline that had me looking to see what else the author had written. (His name is Josh Funk by the way.) Turns out he had another book by the snazzy title of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast (with a sequel called The Case of the Stinky Stench due out on May 2nd). This book has fantastic illustrations by Brendan Kearney which truly bring the fridge food to life. If you're reading aloud to pre-school age children, I highly encourage you to have the kids make predictions and point out their favorite (and least favorite) food items. Otherwise, this book might be a bit of a daunting read-aloud because there are quite a few challenging words (and lots of them) per each page. It follows our two main characters, Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, on an epic quest to reach the last drop of syrup remaining in the syrup bottle. Lots of ridiculous rhyming, competitive taunting, and delicious food items abound. 9/10 for frolicking foodie fun.

Note: If you do decide to use this as a storytime read-aloud and/or you utilize this in a lesson I recommend you check out Josh's website which has a free downloadable activity kit to complement the book.

A/N: I'm trying to space out the picture book reviews but there might be a few that get clumped in the same week. That's good news for all of the picture book fans among us! :-)


Source: Blue Bunny Books
The end-papers give a hint to the artwork inside

I love these Brussels sprouts. [Source: Jana The Teacher]

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

March 10, 2017

Tiberius is a pretty cool name for an arachnid

The following book was kindly sent to me by the author, Michael W. Garza, who requested a review. This book is out now and you can get a paperback or ebook copy by visiting Amazon. :-)

The Last Shadow Gate is the first book in The Shadow Gate Chronicles and begins the story of Gavin and Naomi who are agnate siblings (i.e. they have the same father). On the face of things, there is nothing truly remarkable or strange about these two kids...and then they are sent to spend the summer with their great-grandmother. This is when they start to become interested in the mystery revolving around their great-grandfather, Papa Walker. As they delve deeper into what really happened to him they get closer and closer to a danger that will change their lives irrevocably. Without giving too much away, there is a swashbuckling, coming of age adventure mixed with fantastical creatures, political intrigue, and magic wielding. Garza has clearly spent a lot of time on world building and it shows. If you're a fan of books that consist of character names each more wild sounding than the last then you have stumbled onto the right book. I will offer one criticism which is that after the midway point I felt that the writing quality diminished significantly. It felt rushed and not as well thought out as the first half which is a shame as I had started to really get into the narrative by that point. I know that Garza is hard at work on the second installment of the series so I hope that the books continue to show improvement. (Note: I don't want to sound like this was horrifically written because it wasn't. It just became markedly more muddy and repetitive towards the second half.) For middle grade fantasy lovers, this would be a fun book to sink their teeth into this winter (especially if they're into series books which everyone seems to be these days).

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

March 7, 2017

The hard choice: Dmitri, Mason, or Adrian?

Not too very long ago, I read and reviewed Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead. As mentioned in that post, Vampire Academy is the first novel in a young adult series about the Moroi (vampires) and dhampirs (guardians of Moroi) who attend St. Vladimir's Academy. Specifically, it's about Lissa and Rose who are shadow kissed and trying to figure out just what that means as there's nothing officially documented about the use of spirit. (I realize this will make no sense unless you read the first book in the series so you'd better go and do that first.) In the second book, Frostbite, Lissa and Rose are continuing their studies so that they can learn how to survive while the Strigoi begin to organize their attacks on Moroi royals. However, the biggest problem that Rose is facing is not against the Strigoi but against her own traitorous heart. (I hope that came across as dramatic as I imagined.) There is not one, not two, but three men in her life and she is very conflicted about her feelings. Ah, that teenage angst! If you were fans of the first novel in the series then undoubtedly you will enjoy this continuation because more of the mythology is unraveled and the characters continue to be fleshed out. It's still bordering on a bit too racy for me but it's the vampire lore which I'm here for primarily (although I am definitely team Dmitri). I'm most likely going to continue reading this series but I'd love to hear your opinion on the books, the reviews, and what you'd like to see me read next. Basically, I just want you guys to talk to me. :-P

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **

March 3, 2017

What it takes to be a rogue

My aim for this blog is to try and read as diversely as possible (without reading things I'm completely uninterested in) so that more people might start reading for pleasure. One of the reasons why I've been trying to read more middle grade fiction is that I realized how woefully under-read I was for that age group. This jump start into middle grade has been made possible because of John David Anderson (I reviewed Ms. Bixby's Last Day Sidekicked ) who I think is a really great gateway into reading for this age group (boys in particular might find him enjoyable but I try not to pigeonhole genders).

Therefore, it will come as no surprise that today's post includes a review of another J.D.A book entitled The Dungeoneers. This is the first book in a series (although there's no set date for the next book or even a premise so don't get too excited yet) about a group of kids who are learning the craft of dungeoneering (don't worry the book will explain precisely what this entails) in Thwodin's Legion (you probably haven't heard of it because it's pretty elite). Each of the main characters has a different specialization (rogue, druid healer, barbarian, and mageling). Anderson continues to impress with his characterization and believable 'voice' for this age group. Reluctant readers would do well to check out his writing. Fantasy lovers especially will enjoy this one and Sidekicked (PS He's also written a companion novel set in the same universe as Sidekick entitled Minion which I'm hoping to read soon.). Colm Candorly is the main protagonist and maybe one of my favorite characters ever written because he's flawed and instead of fighting that he embraces it willingly. There's plenty of humor but alongside that is a healthy dosage of dramatics (and violence). It's a fast paced, fun read that can be enjoyed by middle grade to adult readers. If you didn't guess already, I'm a fan. 10/10

**If you're interested in buying this book or any books really, you can click here or here. The first will re-direct you to AbeBooks and the second will re-direct you to The Book Depository. These are great websites for purchasing books (AbeBooks carries inexpensive used and out-of-print books and The Book Depository ships free everywhere in the world). Full disclosure: I will receive a commission on all sales made by following either of these links. I wouldn't recommend a site that I didn't use and you are under no obligation to purchase anything. :-) **