The Week in Picture Books

These are some of the notable picture books I read and discovered this week:

25861929Tell Me a Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee: On the Hennepin County Library’s list of best books for children this past year, McGhee’s (a Minnesota author) sweet, simple story about a father telling his son the stories behind each of his tattoos is beautifully illustrated by Eliza Wheeler.  The prose is simple and sparse, making it a quick read for story time or bedtime, and the last little bit is so sweet that I actually teared up. I really enjoyed this contemporary tale and think it’s a versatile read.

27206454The Storyteller by Evan Turk: Another one that I saw on a best-of list somewhere, this story feels a bit like the 1001 Nights tale, only this time, it’s a boy who listens to a storyteller tell a continuing story each day relating to water during a time of drought. A much longer picture book than the other ones on this list, this is best used for older children who can read on their own (but it would still make for a great read-aloud together!). The illustrations are layered and collage-like, and they’re very vivid and different. There’s lots of good stuff here.27409559

Wake Up, Island by Mary Casanova: The simple prose about the natural things on an island waking up after a night’s sleep is fairly lovely and would work as a title for a science or nature themed storytime or lesson. The book uses painted woodcuts for illustrations, and some of them are absolutely gorgeous, especially when featuring birds taking flight, but others are jarringly weak in comparison.

6527979The Thingamabob by Il Sung Na: By far my favorite discovery of the week, this clever picture book offers readers simple text and absolutely beautiful illustrations. An elephant has discovered a thingamabob, but can’t figure out what it’s for. The series of attempts to discover the use of the thingamabob will delight youngsters and adults alike. It’s a perfect pick for storytime, and I can’t wait to use it for just that purpose.24612727

Monster Trouble by Lane Frederickson: A cute, rhyming book about a girl and the monsters she faces every night at bedtime. The illustrations are bright, vivid, and would lend themselves well to being animated, and the upbeat story deals with scary things without ever veering into the truly frightenting.  The silly ending will have kids laughing, and the book is on the whole a total delight.

Book Review: Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley

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Ted is a lonely writer in his early 40s, and his longtime companion is his dachshund named Lily.  The two spend much of their time together, playing board games, talking about which boys they think are cute (Ted likes Ryan Gosling; Lily likes Ryan Reynolds), and watching movies.  One day, Ted notices an octopus on the side of Lily’s head, and the two embark on an adventure to try to defeat the sinister eight-legged creature.

The octopus, of course, is really a tumor, and the book is really about love, loss, grief, and all the stuff in between.  Rowley’s debut novel is funny, smart, weird, and blisteringly sad at times (this reviewer ugly cried through much of it), but it’s also a celebration of the unique bond between human and canine, and it’s ultimately a very beautiful tribute to dogs everywhere.

Some readers are going to struggle with one of the novel’s central issues: the “octopus,” which Ted refuses to call by any other name, and the willingness of those around him to also refer to the tumor as an octopus.  There are moments where this becomes a little grating, but the novel’s venture into magical realism helps sell it. Even if it didn’t, the book’s strengths far outweigh this sometimes irritating affectation.

Far and away the book’s strongest moments are the ones in which Rowley creates a fully-realized character in that of Lily, a dog who loves her owner as much as he loves her. She’s a lazy little snuggler, a lover of ice cream and turkey (TOFURKEY!), and she’s stubborn, too, in the best ways that dogs can be.  She talks to Ted, and she sounds exactly as one would expect a dog to talk.

Rowley is a gifted writer, and this is a strong debut. He’s one to watch, and this excellent novel is one to stay up late reading (and crying). Recommended.

Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowely. Simon & Schuster: 2016. Library copy.

 

Book Review: If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

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Amanda Hardy is new to Lambertville, Tennessee.  Determined to have a fresh start for her senior year, she wants to make friends and fit in.  But she’s harboring a secret and a past that threaten to disrupt her new life, and she’s determined to keep her secret safe so that she can remain safe.  But she doesn’t bank on meeting Grant Everett, and she doesn’t plan on falling in love with him.  Grant seems different, and the two have an undeniable connection. She wants to share everything with him, but she’s not sure she can share the one thing she wants most to tell him: she used to be Andrew Hardy.

Hailed as one of the best YA books of 2016, Meredith Russo’s debut novel about a trans girl trying to make a new life for herself after a brutal attack has earned its extensive praise. This novel offers trans teens and adults a story that is at once sweetly romantic while also very believable, grounded in enough realism without ever veering into the horrifically tragic. The novel offers enough friction in the plot to offer readers insight into the real dangers that Amanda faces as a girl without ever overwhelming the narrative.  There’s good writing here, although at times the dialogue feels a bit clunky, and the exploration of new friendships helps flesh out the narrative beyond the typical romance.

The plot moves quickly, the characters are engaging and interesting, and this is a necessary novel for all readers.  It’s one to stock your shelves with and push into the hands of teens.  There’s lots to discuss here as well, and it’s going to garner those discussions.  Highly recommended.

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. Flatiron Books: 2016. Library copy.

 

Book Review: Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

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In Furiously Happy, Jenny Lawson entertains readers with stories about her strange, wonderful, and weird life.  Tackling issues such as depression and anxiety as well as a bizarre number of anecdotes about encounters with wild possums, Lawson’s memoir is full of stories that will make readers laugh uproariously and commit to being as furiously happy as Lawson is herself.

Like most collections of essays, some of the pieces in Lawson’s follow-up to Let’s Pretend this Never Happened are stronger than others, and some are much, much funnier than others, but all of them maintain Lawson’s unique voice and particular brand of humor. In this collection of essays, Lawson devotes much of her attention on living with a variety of mental illnesses, including depression and anxiety, as well as spending some time talking about some of her other ailments, including rheumatoid arthritis.

Lawson’s voice is authentic and unique, but it won’t work for all readers, as some might find her crude or even a bit grating at times.  But there’s a brilliance to many of her offbeat observations about the world, even as they spiral out into the truly weird.  Her personality is juxtaposed by her much more grounded husband’s logic, and the conversations Lawson includes between the two of them are some of the book’s best moments.

The strongest moments are when Lawson digs deep into the symptoms of her depression and anxiety and explains how they impact her day-to-day life. There are moments of deep insight and clarity as she goes into detail about how her symptoms manifest (this is especially true of scenes in her therapist’s office, which some readers might find deeply uncomfortable).

There’s a lot here that’s genuinely funny, and Lawson is a good writer, but there are moments where the content feels a bit thin, and reading all of this at once only serves to underscore that weakness.  Much of this works better in smaller doses (much like on Lawson’s blog), but that shouldn’t deter her diehard fans.  On the whole, this is a funny, frank, and sometimes moving look at mental illness.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Terrible Things by Jenny Lawson. Macmillon: 2015. Library (audio) copy for review.

Reading Goals for 2017

Last year, I read over a hundred books, but it was a slog. I stopped blogging, changed jobs, and found myself in a public library gig where reading diversely and outside of my comfort zone is essential to performing my job as best as I can.  This year, I hope to read more diversely than ever before, selecting titles from a ton of genres, including ones that generally don’t even interest me. I want to read books for all ages, including board books, early readers, middle grade titles, teen, and adult offerings.

I’d like to start blogging again, and reviewing what I read, because it makes me a better reader and it also helps me help patrons find what they’re looking for.  So here’s to 2017, and to reading widely and bravely.

 

Best Books of 2016

My reading, much like my blogging, took a hit this year.  But I still read a lot (way more than the average American, anyway), especially after I started working in a public library in August.  So here are my best books of 2016, totally unscientifically chosen.

Best Picture Books

25785760Ida, Always by Caron Levis: I actually cried at the reference desk when I read this one, which was pretty embarrassing. The book is beautifully illustrated and written, and explores the lives and friendship of two polar bears at a city zoo. It’s gorgeously done, and it’s so incredibly moving.  This was my favorite picture book of the year.

We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen: The third and final book in Klassen’s darkly funny Hat 28473874trilogy, this one finds a pair of turtles obsessing over a hat they find.  Klassen’s artwork is stark and striking, and the sparse prose makes for an easy, funny read-aloud for kids and grownups alike.  All three books in the series are worth reading and can be done in any order, but it’s worth it to check them all out.

28101612They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel: A great lesson in the concept of perspective, this inventive, simple tale of many creatures who saw a cat and how differently that same cat looked through all their eyes. It’s smart, clever, and a great teaching tool to explain differences to kids. I loved it.

Best Middle Grade Fiction22098550

Pax by Sarah Pennypacker:  I ugly cried through this one, but don’t let that dissuade you from reading it. It’s a powerful story about the love between a boy and his fox and their separate journeys when they’re forced apart during a time of war. It’s beautifully written, told in alternating chapters by the boy and the fox, and Pennypacker’s sensitivity to each character’s journey is beautifully done. It’s a great book, and worthy of the heaps of praise it has received.

Best YA Fiction

17998474After the Woods by Kim Savage: A girl goes for a run in the woods with her best friend and ends up kidnapped by a man only to escape from him 24 hours later. She barely survives her flight through the woods, but that’s just the beginning of her struggle as she works hard to reconcile the traumatic experience with the largely unchanged world she returns to.  Savage’s book is smart, whip-fast, and compelling stuff with more than enough mystery to keep readers hooked. She’s an author to watch, and this one gripped me from start to finish.

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The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon: Taking place over the course of one day, Nicola Yoon’s sophomore novel offers teens much more of what made her first novel so successful: swoony romance, realistic characters, and just a touch of the magical. Yoon’s writing is also stronger and tighter here, and she plays around with narration styles and blends multiple perspectives to provide a rich, nuanced, fully realized story that is full of hope and love.  It’s a moving book, and it’s one that will satisfy even the most reluctant reader of romantic books.

 

Best Adult Fiction25251757

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott: Abbott is the queen of writing characters that get under your skin and plots that won’t leave you alone. I couldn’t put this one down, and although the mystery is certainly part of the novel’s appeal, it’s her attention to her characters and her nuance in writing real people in compelling ways that makes her such a standout author.  This is an explosive novel that readers won’t be able to stop thinking about. I’m still thinking about the characters months later.

27189194One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid: I discovered Taylor Reid Jenkins this year and tore through all her books. Her latest offering is one of her strongest, sweetest, and ultimately hopeful novels yet. A woman whose first love (and husband) disappears in a helicopter accident has moved on with her life nearly a decade later. Then her husband reappears, and suddenly her new life–which has a new fiance–is completely overturned. Instead of hitting cliches, Reid allows her characters to be deeply flawed, incredibly realistic and sympathetic humans. There are no easy answers here, but Reid finds a conclusion that is not only satisfying but very realistic.

Best Adult Non-Fiction29340182

Shrill by Lindy West: Like most books of non-fiction, not every essay in this collection by humorist and feminist West is a knockout, but the book as a whole is strong, smart, and funny, and makes West completely relatable. She’s a gifted writer and this is a great collection of stories about feminism, being a woman in the world, and being a person.

What 2016 reads made your cut?

 

Storytime Recap: Fall/Autumn

Last week’s storytime focused on fall and autumn. We sang songs, read books, and did a bunch of action rhymes about fall.  Here’s how it went:

Books:
mouse-first-fallMouse’s First Fall by Lauren Thompson:
This one was a hit with its bright colored pages and simple text. I had the kids help me find Mina when she hid in a pile of leaves. They loved it.

Who Loves the Fall? by Bob Raczka: They also liked this who loves the fall.jpgone with very simple, rhyming text. The pictures are bright, and the kids liked pointing out what was on every page.

Action Rhymes:

The Wind is Blowing All Around: I had the kids do this one twice so they could get the hang of the hand motions. (Source)

Scamper Little Squirrel: This was my favorite one to do because the kids got so into it. We repeated it so they could really get into it. (Source)

Songs:
The Leaves Are Falling Down Today (The Ants Go Marching): This one was fun to have the kids stomp around to in a circle. They did great.

I’m a Nut (Clack Clack): This one was a total hit because the kids loved to make the clacking noise at the end. (Source)

Brown Squirrel, Brown Squirrel: For this one, I asked the kids what colors they saw in fall. They did red and then someone yelled green, so we did the song twice with each color. It was very fun and I would definitely use this one again. (Source)

How did it go?

Very well! They were super well behaved for this storytime, sitting quietly for the stories and participating a lot when it was time to do so. It was a total success of a storytime, and I had about 35 kids and caregivers, so we had a full house.