Picture Book Review ~ Bear Snores On

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First SentenceIn a cave in the woods,
in his deep, dark lair,
through the long, cold winter
sleeps a great brown bear.

Said bear sleeps (and snores) through the day and night, through storm and a host of uninvited guests. A tiny mouse stumbles in and builds a fire and is quickly joined by a hare, a badger, a gopher, a mole, a raven and a wren. They share food with each other, pop popcorn, laugh and visit while bear snores on unaware until a rogue pepper flake makes its way to his nose and he sneezes himself awake. I’ll let you read this yourself to find the ending but it’s got a fun little twist, just perfect for preschoolers.

There are a lot of rhyming picture books out there and a lot of them are just mediocre. They look great on the page and even sound good in your head, but when you try to read them aloud the words and rhythms just fail to flow smoothly. Not so with our Ms. Wilson. She has a veritable gift for verse. And she uses some lovely words to do it. Nothing about her vocabulary is trite or tired, another reason why I love her so much. At an age when children are gaining words in their own vocabulary at the rate of +/- 5 or so words a day,  the more rich language they are exposed to the better. So the bear’s cave is also referred to as a lair and a den. The animals ‘pitter-pat,’ ‘creep-crawl,’ ‘sneak-peek,’ and ‘scuttle;’ and they ‘divvy’ up their snacks, in the ‘damp’ ‘dank’ cave. There are also lots of fun action sequences for varying voice volume and pitch. And a host of sequels!

Wilson has a bunch of other titles that are all quite good as well but the bear books are my favorites. There are currently 10 (if I counted right!) with several board book variations and sets available.

Chapman’s illustrations are friendly, the animals at once recognizable for what they are but with a definite cartoonish quality in their faces and posturing—I think little mole is my favorite–(and ability to be friends without eating each other!) Highly, highly recommended!!

 

Bear Snores On Book Review

Bear Snores On

Written by: Karma Wilson

Illustrated by: Jane Chapman

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2002

Age Range: 2-5

Rating: 5/5

Spooky Tales for All Ages

Spooky Books for All Ages

When I was ten or eleven years old I came across an entire shelf of Agatha Christie books in my grandpa’s basement. He graciously allowed me to borrow one and I devoured it, eventually moving through the whole collection over the course of the next few months. And I’ve been a sucker for a good mystery ever since.  This past month I re-read Murder on the Orient Express in one of my book clubs and was reminded of why she’s a master.

With colder weather and Halloween right around the corner it’s the perfect time to curl up with a spooky story or mystery and forget everything else happening in the world outside. So I wanted to share a few of my favorites for all ages. My tastes now run the gamut from the cozy mysteries to thrillers (but I have to take the stronger stuff in smaller doses–I can only take so much of the blood, guts, and truly twisted characters) so there should be something for everyone!  Have a favorite I missed or you think I would like? Let me know in the comments below!

(Most of these authors have written multiple books that could fit on this list. Be sure to check out their complete works for more options.)

Adult–

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury

The String Diaries by Stephen Lloyd Jones

In the Woods by Tana French

Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart

Rebecca by Daphne Du Marier

Love Talker by Elizabeth Peters

 

Young Adult–

House of Furies by Madeleine Roux

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan

The House of Dies Drear by Virginia Hamilton

Jackaby by William Ritter

In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters

Scary Stories by Barry Moser

Chime by Franny Billingsley

 

Middle Grade–

Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn

Ghoulia by Barbara Cantini

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

Doll Bones by Holly Black

The Book of Elsewhere: The Shadows by Jacqueline West

Juniper Berry by MP Kozlowsky

Bunnicula by James Howe

The Dark Thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia McKissack

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty

 

Beginning Reader–

The Spooky Old Tree by Stan and Jan Berenstain

In a Dark, Dark Room by Alvin Schwartz

 

Picture Book–

Creepy Carrots by Aaron Reynolds

Inside a House That Is Haunted by Alyssa Satin Capucilli

The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman

Black Dog by Levi Pinfold

Skeleton Cat by Kristyn Crow

Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg

Nightlights by Lorena Alverez Gomez

Ghosts in the House by Kazuno Kohara

Wolves by Emily Gravett

The Scariest Book Ever by Bob Shea

The Dark by Lemony Snicket

 

And check back to these posts for a few other ideas.

Psychological Thrillers

Truly Devious 

The Devil in the White City

Nighttime Musings

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a small commission if you click through and make a purchase.     

A Parade of Elephants end pages

One of the perks of not being able to sleep (if it can be thought of as a perk) is that you get the house, and often the world, to yourself at odd hours of the night. A few nights ago I was up wandering around 3 am or so, reheating a heat pack and making me some chamomile tea. The house was silent aside from the sounds of settling that seem to happen only when it thinks no one is listening. There was a hint of horizontal light peeking through the blinds from the streetlamps out front and the odd glow of an alarm clock and charging laptop, enough to light my way to the kitchen without having to turn on an overhead light.

As I was waiting for my water to heat I looked out the back window and realized I wasn’t alone. Across the road and through the trees I could see not one, not two but three windows illuminated in the darkness. I wondered at the circumstances behind the too-early-morning shine. Did my neighbors have jobs that forced them to be up at this hour? Were there new babies in the house that needed feeding or comforting? Perhaps they’d received bad news, a late night phone call that forced all sleep from them? Or, like me, did they simply have nights when sleep, no matter how welcome and wished for, wouldn’t come?

I leaned my forehead against the cool pane and let the steam from my mug fog the glass as one by one the lights winked out and I was alone again with the night. Misery, no matter how brief, loves company and it was a comfort to share my insomnia with strangers. And with that feeling of unknown of alliance and companionship I headed back upstairs to cuddle under the blankets and drift off to sleep.

A Parade of Elephants

 

*Both images are taken from this adorable book by Kevin Henkes.

 

Picture Book Review ~ The Street Beneath My Feet

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When I was little I used to spend hours poring over the illustrations in the books on our shelves.  Some of my favorites were the Richard Scarry books with all their little labeled worlds filled with intricate details and happenings in every nook and cranny of the page. I also loved to look through the various National Geographic resources my parents had bought through the years, especially the atlases. We had books showing pictographs of every country’s revenue, imports and exports, flags, national symbols and so on. There was one that had cellophane overlays showing either the cities and landmarks or the natural topographical features over the outlines of the countries or showing relative sizes of the various planets, moons, and constellations within the solar system. I was entranced by this huge world of ours and how vastly different (or similar) places so far from each other could be. I think that’s probably where I first got the travel bug thought I didn’t recognize it as such at the time.

If you’ve got any readers in your house who can relate to my description above then you’ve absolutely got to get your hands on this book. From it’s gorgeous embossed cover to the flipped layout to the inside-out and back again format there’s a lot to take in and hours’ worth of discussion and study to be had.

We start out with a young child walking along the city street wondering what’s happening below him, just out of sight. The illustrations lead us down through a maze of sewer pipes and storm drains, electric cables and phone wires down to the bugs, rats, and microorganisms that make up the first layers of topsoil. Then we venture farther down on our own archaeological dig past bones and coins and pottery. Next there’s discussion of the various layers of clay, rock (igneous, sedimentary, and metamorphic all get their chance to shine), coal, caves with underground water, until we make it to the earth’s core.

Then our pages start folding the other direction (take a look at my post on Instagram for a better idea of how this works) and we head back out from earth’s fiery center to learn in more detail about minerals, fossils, the dinosaurs, and how plants and other creatures use the soil. When we make it back above ground we can see how the things happening beneath us can affect the world we see around us.

There’s so much here it’s almost impossible to take it all in in one reading, making it an ideal one to re-visit before a trip to the museum or a rock collecting adventure. Perfect companions for Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner, The Skies Above My Eyes by the same duo, or Zommer’s Big Book of Bugs or Big Book of Beasts.

The Street Beneath My Feet

The Street Beneath My Feet

Written by: Charlotte Guillain

Illustrated by: Yuval Zommer

Number of Pages: 20

Published by: words & pictures/Quarto, 2017

Age range: 4-10

Rating: 5/5

Street Beneath My Feet detail

Picture Book Review ~ What If

What If

What If?

Written by: Samantha Berger

Illustrated by: Mike Curato

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Age Range: 4-10

Rating: 5/5

A young artist is compelled to create, drawing and writing everything her heart and mind can conceive. But what if her pencil disappeared, how would she create then? She’d fold her paper until she’d found a way to make her stories appear. And what if the paper was gone too? Well, she’d find another way to tell her stories and create something for the world to see. She takes us through 8 or 9 other options including sculpting, singing, dancing and simply holding everything in her mind. But she knows no matter what she’ll always find a way to create and tell her story.
The powerful message is told in simple rhyming couplets and the illustrations are stunning. But I absolutely loved the note from the author and illustrator about how the story came to be. A flood forced Berger to evacuate her apartment and she was unable to create the way she usually did and she had to think outside the box using found objects and unconventional tools to make her art. This experience is replicated in the book and inspires the creators in us all to keep creating!
This is the perfect vehicle for beating off any summer boredom. Grab your favorite child and all the goodies you can find (head outside, raid the craft room, the world is your oyster!) and start creating whatever strikes your fancy. And I’d love to see your results. Post them down in the comments for us all! Happy reading/creating!
What If book review

Picture Book Review ~ Mela and the Elephant

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I spent several months in Thailand teaching English to pre-schoolers at an international school and absolutely fell in love with the country and the people. Reading this sweet story (and the fantastic back matter) made me more than a little homesick. I want nothing more than to go back to wander the streets and wild places before ordering Pad Thai from a street cart and revel in the land of Smiles. Take a step into the wonder that is Thailand and enjoy this great little story.

 Mela and the Elephant book review

Mela and the Elephant

Written by: Dow Phumiruk

Illustrated by: Ziyue Chen

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press, 2018

Age Range: 3-9

Rating: 4/5

Mela learns an important lesson when she heads out one day to explore the river near her home. She gets pulled downstream and off course by a big fish and then gets tricked by a crocodile, a leopard, and some monkeys as she tries to make her way home. Finally, a kindly elephant comes to her rescue and reminds her what kindness is all about.

Mela and the Elephant book review1

This book has all the flavor of a folk tale re-telling though it’s an original story. The author (a Thai native) provides a note about the country, its culture and customs in a detailed note in the back. Give it a read and let me know what you think! (And when you’re ready to start planning your trip to Thailand, give me a holler…I’ve got lots of tips and suggestions!)

 

Mela and the Elephant book review2

Picture Book Review ~ Write to Me

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I have a bit of a weak spot for books and stories from World War Two. Both of my grandfathers served in the military (one in Japan, the other primarily in Africa), my uncle and great uncle were both stationed in Japan (one during the war and the other during my childhood and we were treated to Japanese food and the occasional exchange student at family parties), and my grandfather and father both served religious missions in Germany so I grew up seeing their slides and photos, reading letters and journal entries, hearing their stories and imagining how such beautiful countries with rich cultures and warm, generous people could be the settings for such atrocities.

Something I didn’t get into until I was an adult was learning more about what happened here in our own country during the War.  Here in Utah we had an interment camp in Topaz, but I never learned about in school (or at least I don’t remember learning about it). With so much of a similar vibe pulsing through our world these days, these reminders of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come are more and more important (the whole, ‘those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it’ idea sound familiar?) Which brings me to today’s book spotlight.Write to Me book review

Write to Me: Letters from Japanese American Children to the Librarian They Left Behind

Written by: Cynthia Grady

Illustrated by: Amiko Hirao

Number of Pages: 32

Publisher: Charlesbridge,  2018

Age Range: 5-10

Rating: 4/5

When the Japanese American children of San Diego are relocated to internment camps their faithful children’s librarian encourages them to write her letters and tell her all about their new lives and experiences. She used that information to write newspaper and magazine articles to alert the population to the plight of the children. She visited, delivered packages of soap, books, food and more.

The story focuses on the time from the interment through their release, their letters and correspondence but there’s also an author’s note, multiple time lines in the back that details more of Clara Breed’s life (from birth to death and posthumous awards), the history of the Japanese in America (including events leading up to the war and through to President Obama’s designation of a monument in Hawaii in 2015), bibliography and a list for further reading. The end pages include photographs of the camps, President Roosevelt signing the declaration of war against Japan and more. This book is a great discussion starter appropriate for any age (you can focus on or skim over the cruelties alluded to as much as you need, the crux of the story is the relationship within the circumstances.)

Write to Me book reveiw1

 

For an adult perspective, try Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Any other books on the subject that you’ve read you’d recommend? Tell me about them in the comments!

Happy Reading!

Picture Book Review ~ The Rabbit Listened

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The other day I shared a few books that I qualified as “shelf-esteem” books. Those with stories that help to build or encourage a healthy self-esteem in children. There are also tons of books that would qualify as “lesson” books. Some are very pedantic and preachy but the best show by example how to handle situations that come up in every day life. Today’s spotlight is one of the best of the best.

Taylor builds something wonderful but when it gets ruined his friends come by and offer to help. The chicken just knows Taylor wants to talk about it and clucks non-stop but Taylor doesn’t feel like talking. The bear feels angry and starts shouting, the elephant wants to remember exactly the way things were, and each other animal has their own ideas of how to help Taylor cope but he’s not ready to do any of those things. When the Rabbit comes by Taylor doesn’t notice so he snuggles up close to the boy and soon Taylor opens up. He listens as Taylor talks and shouts moves through all his stages of grief and anger and recovery and dreams of the next great thing he plans to build.

This is absolutely the sweetest little story and a great lesson in friendship. So often we figure that our way of dealing with something is the best way rather than really listening to what our friends need. It’s a great reminder for kids and adults alike.

The Rabbit Listened book review

The Rabbit Listened

Written and Illustrated by: Cori Doerrfeld

Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2018

Number of Pages: 40

Age Range: 3-100

Rating: 4.5/5

The Rabbit Listened book review2

Picture Book Review ~ Natsumi!

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I’ve never been one to live by the adage “Never judge a book by its cover.”  In fact, I’ve discovered a ton of favorites that I picked up based solely on the cover. This book is one of those new favorites. Just look at this adorable little face and that fantastic umbrella (where can I buy one of those in a grown-up size?!)

Natsumi does absolutely everything in her life with exuberance and that tends to be a tad much for most of the people around her. She’s constantly being shushed and admonished to not be ‘so’…not so loud, not so fast, not so hard. While her family is loving they just don’t seem to understand her. Enter Grandfather. He knows just what she needs and helps her find the perfect way to shine.

Natsumi’s adorable spunk is infectious and the message is subtle and non-preachy; be true to yourself! This needs to sit on every shelf beside Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, Leo the Late Bloomer, and Amazing Grace.

Natsumi book review

Natsumi!

Written by: Susan Lendroth

Illustrated by: Priscilla Burris

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018

Number of Pages: 32

Age Range: 3-8

Rating: 5/5

I love the tag “shelf-esteem.” There are so many fabulous books that showcase underdog characters who succeed in various ways. Often they grow and progress, learn and achieve their goals all without having to change who they are fundamentally. Or there are the stories that simply celebrate our differences and uniqueness in big ways. (Check out my instagram feed today for a different but just as fabulous example of that.) What are some of your favorites?

Picture Book/Audio Book Review ~ Tolkien

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How many of you have succumbed to the lifestyle trend that is Hygge? (Pronounced “hooga” it’s a Danish word basically meaning coziness…it involves lots of candles or firesides, fuzzy blankets, books, board games, walks on the beach, connecting with people and unplugging.) There are all sorts of books, pins, articles and whatnot to give you ideas on how to do it with kids, during all the seasons, in small spaces etc. I love the idea of slowing down, being more present and aware and any tips to do it are always welcome.
Well, when I picked up this book I hadn’t realized that’s what I would be getting but I was pleasantly surprised. The author walks us through various traditions, cultures, and habits of the characters of Middle Earth (specifically focusing on the Hobbits of the Shire) and tells us how we would benefit from modeling our own lives after theirs. Everything from relishing the drinking and eating we do (emphasis on the relishing, slowing down, while at the same time doing it with gusto and our whole being and attention) to gardening and being close to nature, walking, staying home more often (yet being open to adventure occasionally to help us be more grateful for what we’ve got), singing regularly and taking naps. He also delves into some advice on how to deal with the Gollums that surface in our own lives, advises us to give gifts on our birthdays rather than to focus on receiving them, and keep a full larder (or at least a pot of tea and some cookies) on hand for any visitors.
I listened to this as an audio book which was read by Simon Vance (who has a lovely British accent which always makes things seem more credible and authoritative…plus it’s Tolkien, you need a British accent for Tolkien. No offense to the author who is American. 🙂 )
It’s full of Tolkien quotes, tidbits and explanations about the who and what of Middle Earth. Anyone who is a mega fan will probably be bored by the references but those with a passing knowledge will find something that resonates even if it’s just that simple reminder to slow down.
Wisdom of the Shire book review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Wisdom of the Shire: A Short Guide to a Long and Happy Life (Audio book)

Written by: Noble Smith

Read by: Simon Vance

Publisher:  Blackstone Audio, 2013

Number of Pages: 222 (4 hours 47 minutes audio)

Age Range: Adult

Rating: 3.5/5

For those of you looking for a little more information on the creator of the aforementioned Shire or if you’ve got a younger audience you’d like to start introducing Hobbits, Ents and elves to, then this next book is for you.

 

This is a fantastic bio of the father of modern fantasy with bits of magic on every page. The text and illustrations effortlessly showcase the magic and devastation of Tolkien’s life. Both pulling from his experiences and trying to escape them, John Ronald created worlds, creatures, languages, and stories that have become a cultural phenomenon with lives of their own opening the door to other phenomenon such as Dungeon’s and Dragons and Harry Potter.

 

There’s some detailed back matter including author’s and illustrator’s notes providing more details about Tolkien’s life and the creation of the book. There’s also a bibliography and catalog of the dragons that influenced and appeared in Tolkien’s stories. A brilliant and beautiful addition to any home or classroom library, particularly for Tolkien or fantasy fans.

John Ronalds Dragons book review

John Ronald’s Dragons: The Story of J.R.R. Tolkien

Written by: Caroline McAlister

Illustrated by: Eliza Wheeler

Number of Pages: 48

Publisher: Roaring Brook Press, 2017

Age Range: 6-12

Rating: 4.5/5