books and reading

The Best Picture Books I Read in January

As part of my goal of reading 365 picture books this year, I’m trying to start off strong (and maybe get a little ahead for when I inevitably slack in the future). This month, I read a lot of great picture books, and these were the best of the best:

31019568Lexie the Word Wrangler by Rebecca Van Slyke: Lexie is the best wrangler in the West–the best word wrangler, that is. She can turn a SPOT into a POST and make a CAT a CATTLE. When she finds that some bandit is changing words around her ranch, she sets off to solve the mystery.

Vivid, quirky illustrations and genuinely clever and funny wordplay make this one a hit. Kids and adults will like playing with the words in the book (there’s even a dictionary of “wrangler words” in the back) and pouring over the illustrations.


Far Apart, Close in Heart: Being a Family When a Loved One is Incarcerated by Becky Birtha: A close look at what kinds of feelings and emotions children can experience when a parent is incarcerated. Told from multiple perspectives, the book aims to answer questions about what it’s like when a parent is away, and provide helpful tips on how to process and deal with feelings.

Exceedingly well done, with a diverse cast of children and parents, multiple perspectives are presented. A helpful author’s note at the end provides additional resources and tips for adults caring for children with incarcerated parents. It’s an issue book that’s done with great care and compassion.

34144489Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes: The barber shop is where boys go in “like lumps of clay” and come out princely in their form. It’s magic, and this book is magic, too.

Gorgeous illustrations accompany Barnes’ smart prose. This is a sweet, clever look at barbershops, black boys, and the power of a good haircut. I loved this one and think it’s an important title for every library serving kids to have on its shelves.


After the Fall: How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again by Dan Santat: The story of Humpty after he falls off the famous wall. The king’s men put him back together, but he develops a fear of heights, which puts him at a disadvantage as an avid birdwatcher.

Lots to like here as Santat twirls together his text and his images. There’s a lovely message to the story that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative, and the images, especially near the end, are breathtaking.





books and reading

Stand-Out Picture Books in October

31145060Stay: A Girl, a Dog, a Bucket List by Kate Klise: Eli the dog has been with Astrid the girl since her parents brought her home from the hospital. Astrid is getting older, and so is Eli. Knowing that Eli won’t be with her forever, Astrid wants to create happy and fun memories with him, so she creates a bucket list of activities for the two to experience together.

I straight up ugly cried through this one, but even if stories about dogs and their stupid mortality weren’t my emotional kryptonite, this would have been a standout. Beautifully illustrated (by Klise’s sister), with simple, sweet text, the book allows readers to fully experience the very real relationship between the book’s two main characters. Hands down one of my favorite picture books of the year.



You Must Bring a Hat by Simon Philip: The one rule for attending the party of the year is that attendees must bring a hat. But what if you don’t have a hat? Will a monkey wearing a hat suffice?

Cute, silly, and full of vivid pictures, this one will be a hit with kids who like their stories repetitive but very funny. I really liked this one and thought it might work for a storytime in the future.

Not a lot of stand-outs this month, but I didn’t seek them out, either. I expect I’ll be reading a lot of picture books over the next two months as “best of” lists start appearing.


books and reading

The Week in Picture Books

These are the best, most interesting picture books I read this week. Without further ado:

30199433The Storm Whale in Winter by Benji Davies: I read this brilliant little picture book right after reading its predecessor, and both were moving and wholly engrossing. The illustrations are beautiful, the text is sparse and effective, and kids and adults will love how much these books reflect the beauty of life and friendship and family.

I seriously loved this one.


Mr. Fuzzbuster Knows He’s the Favorite by Stacy Mcanulty: This super cute book about a cat that’s sure he’s the favorite pet in the house will captivate readers with its bright pictures that could easily translate to TV screen and smart, funny, repetitive text that will engage early and beginning readers. This is super cute, super fun, and one that a lot of kids will be begging for again and again.

6527980A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na: Na’s illustrations in this simple book are striking and definitely the best part of it. It’s a perfect bedtime book, and fit perfectly into my theme for storytime this week of “Animals at Night”.

books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz

Just like all the A-Z books that have come before this one, this book illustrates the alphabet.  But instead of A standing for something obvious and lame, it stands for Angela Davis, the iconic–and radical–political activist.  Z is for Zora Neale Hurston, famed writer.  You get the idea.  This list of 26 amazing women who have shaped history and defied stereotypes is a thing to behold.  Full of diverse individuals representing all sorts of countries, colors, and professions, this is a primer that should be on every bookshelf.

Believe the hype.  This colorful, riveting look at women throughout history lives up to the good buzz it received prior to publication.  Because of its focus on a diverse array of women, there’s something here for every reader, and it should do exactly what it aims to: empower young people, both boys and girls.

The portraits are colorful and stand out, and the short text accompaniments to each featured woman provide just enough information to whet the reader’s appetite without overwhelming them or getting bogged down in the details.  Accessible, memorable, and full of useful information, the book’s epilogue lists ways that readers can stand up and speak out and get involved in their own communities.

Highly, highly recommended.  This is a pure joy to read from start to finish and is sure to inspire even the most jaded of readers.  I can’t wait to buy this for all the little kids in my life.  It will definitely work for a range of ages, but elementary school students seem to be where this one will fit best.

Rad American Women A-Z by Kate Schatz. City Lights: 2015. Library copy.

books and reading · reviews

Mini Book Reviews: Children’s Lit Class Edition

I’m reading something like 45 books for my children’s lit class this semester, and while some of them are picture books (which I don’t count in my reading totals each month), some are chapter books.  I’m not reviewing all of them here (I don’t have the time, and when I’m unimpressed with the book, I don’t usually feel like reviewing it anyway), but I have reviewed a couple.  I thought that today I’d do a couple of mini-reviews of some of the books I’ve read for the course.  Onwards!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl

I’m sure that I read this book as a child, but I have no memory of it.  Despite the issues I have with the book (the colonial undertones relating to the Oompa Loompas, the subsequent editing that was done to their descriptions in later editions), this is a very enjoyable book.  Dahl was a creative man, and this is arguably his most iconic book (still love The Witches and Matilda, though).  Who doesn’t want to tour Wonka’s factory?


Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

I read this book in one sitting and sobbed through the last portion despite knowing how it would end.  I don’t know what it is about this book that moves me so–the altruistic nature of Charlotte’s friendship, White’s beautiful, simple prose, the fact that he captures the innocence of childhood so beautifully?  I’m not sure, but I do know that this book is timeless, gorgeously written, and damn near perfect.  Definitely one of my favorite reads from the class.


Ramona and Her Father by Beverly Cleary

Ramona was never my thing as a kid.  I know that my sister was really into the Ramona books when she was young, but I never followed suit.  As a boy-crazy kid obsessed with romance from a young age, I had always set my sights on books that featured romance (I’m looking at you Sweet Valley).  This time around, I found certain aspects of the book particularly apropos of suburban life for middle-class white girls.  However, Ramona’s antics bothered me and Beezus seemed melodramatic.  The book left me feeling cold.