Friday, March 24, 2017

Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel by Kimberly Willis Holt

When thirteen-year-old Stevie Grace’s life is uprooted from Taos, New Mexico to live with the grandfather she never knew existed in Little Esther, Texas, she is not happy about landing at the Texas Sunrise Motel. The motel is rundown and the people that live there are charming, if a bit odd. Little by little, Stevie starts to trust the community around her, as they welcome her. There’s Miss Violet, who always wears clothes from the “Lost and Found collection” at the motel, and who loves classic movie marathons. Horace and Ida, both in wheelchairs, are constantly complaining about the broken washing machine and threatening to leave. Arlo and Roy, a father and son who help with the upkeep of the motel, are also among the first to befriend Stevie. Stevie begins to learn who her mother was as a young girl, as she is tutored by the elderly and narcoleptic Mrs. Crump, who also taught Stevie’s mother too. The trouble is, Mrs. Crump falls asleep before Stevie gets to ask her anything! And when Stevie’s aunt invites her to stay in Louisiana, she is torn between living with her father’s sister, or returning to her grandfather and the Texas Sunrise Motel, where a little garden she has planted is starting to bloom.

Kimberly Willis Holt won the National Book Award for her middle grade novel, When Zachary Beaver Comes to Town. Her stories are always filled with humor and heart, and Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel for kids 8-12 is no exception.

Kimberly Willis Holt

Friday, March 17, 2017

This House, Once by Deborah Freedman

Deborah Freedman, an architect turned picture book writer and illustrator, has written and illustrated a new picture book that takes a poetic look at houses and homes. This House, Once explores all of the elements that go into the history of a house and asks the reader to think, “where do you live, and what was your home, once?”
The house on the cover is drawn page by page, and brick by brick, the illustrations appear. The first lines read: “This door was once a colossal oak tree/about three hugs around/and as high as the blue,” and on the opposite page is a square door with a red doorknob. Turn the page, and that door is now a square in an oak tree. The house, blanketed in snow, has a warm fire that warms the house from within, and the bricks and the stones and the slate are all drawn individually, and then come together to create a beautiful home.
Freedman’s illustrations evoke splashing in the mud, looking up high at the tall oak tree, and sitting cozily in front of a fire during a blizzard. This gorgeous book makes you think about your own history, and how often, what the earth gives us, we need to give back in return.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Dance by Matthew Van Fleet

Are you ready to….dance? Shake a tail feather with Matthew Van Fleet’s adorable interactive board book, titled DANCE. The entire premise of the book is that a little newborn chick does not know how to dance, so it is up to the other older and wiser animals to teach him!

From the first page, you’ll be clapping your hands to the beat.

“Hey, Chickie Baby,” said the rhino at the door. “How ‘bout we shake some tail feathers out there on the floor?”
“I’d love to,” said the little Chickie Baby, “but I can’t. I just hatched yesterday and I don’t know how to dance.”

Hula Hippo teaches Chickie how to shake, Bunny teaches the Bouncy Bunny Hop, Gator teaches Chickie the Gator Mashed Potater. There are even tap-dancing pigs! Make all the animals dance by pulling on the tab. By the end of the book, you’ll be shaking, tapping, hopping and bopping around. Get up and DANCE with Matthew Van Fleet’s newest interactive board book. Find the song that accompanies the book at VANFLEETBOOKS.COM

Friday, February 24, 2017

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

“It took seven years to get the letter right.”

This is the first line of Carval, the enchanting and mysterious Y.A. novel written by Stephanie Garber.

Every year for seven years, Scarlett writes a letter to the master of Caraval, Master Legend. She begs him to visit the Isle of Trisda, so that she can give her sister Donatella the best birthday present ever: a ticket to Caraval. Scarlett and Donatella grew up listening to their grandmother’s stories of Caraval. And on the eve of her marriage, Scarlett writes one last letter to Master Legend, telling him she’s given up, and that it will be the last letter she writes. And in return, she receives tickets to attend Caraval with her sister and her fiance, a man she has never met.
Caraval is both spectacle and dangerous game. Nothing is as it seems in the world of Caraval, and nobody is to be trusted. Scarlett has decided that going to Caraval is too much of a risk, and would ruin her chances of escaping a brutal father. So her sister arranges for Scarlett to be kidnapped, with the promise that she will be returned before her wedding in ten days time. When Scarlett arrives at Caraval, she learns that this year’s game at Caraval is to find Donatella, who has gone missing.

Luscious description, funny and vibrant characters, and a mystery at every turn, readers will find themselves sucked into the world of Caraval that Garber has created. For fans of The Night Circus, readers will not be able to put Caraval down.

Stephanie Garber, author of Caraval

Fish Girl by David Wiesner & Donna Jo Napoli

Fish Girl is an incredible collaboration between Donna Jo Napoli and David Wiesner. A modern-day fairy tale told as a graphic novel, Wiesner’s illustrations show the reader a house that is also an aquarium, known as “Ocean Wonders,” and inside Ocean Wonders lives Fish Girl. Napoli’s words accompany the illustrations, giving the glimpse into the mind of Fish Girl, who cannot talk. There is a room, perfectly preserved underwater, and visitors to the aquarium try to catch a glimpse of the elusive mermaid while “Neptune” swings a trident that controls the waves, calling out:

“The Fish Girl! She is the mystery that lives in that lovely room. Look at her beautiful dresses and jewelry--all underwater! The Fish Girl! What is she? Is she fish or is she girl? You are fortunate to be here, for she is the last of her kind, and she can be seen only at Ocean Wonders!”

This is the only world that Fish Girl has ever known. Her only friends are the other fish in the aquarium, and an orange octopus. If, during visiting hours, she does a good job swimming around so that she’s not seen, but gives curious visitors a glimpse of her tail, Neptune rewards her with a story of how he rescued her when she was a baby. When Livia, a girl about the same age as Fish Girl goes to the restricted area of the aquarium, she actually sees the mermaid. Fish Girl is also curious about the human girl, and Livia gives her a name: Mira. Mira and Livia become friends, and Mira starts to see Neptune for who he really is: a fraud. How can she escape her house tank, when Neptune controls the air filter, the water, and her food? Mira starts to yearn for real friendships after meeting Livia, and begins to take her destiny in her own hands.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima

I knew as I saw this cover I was in for a treat: a little unicorn floating underwater, wearing an oxygen mask, with the words, “Not Quite Narwhal.”

Kelp was born deep in the ocean, but he isn’t exactly like the other narwhals. He is very clearly a unicorn, and kids will find this fact amusing--after all, a unicorn living with narwhals isn’t something you see everyday in a picture book. Yes, Kelp also has a “tusk” but it wasn’t as long as the other narwhal’s tusks. And he wasn’t the best swimmer, as is shown by him wearing yellow floaties. But one day, when the current whisks him to the surface, he sees a majestic creature standing in the moonlight--and this creature looks just like Kelp! Kelp is frightened of walking on land, and it isn’t easy, but he perseveres. He journeys through a dark forest, worried he will never find the majestic, sparkling creature he saw from the ocean.

In perhaps one of the cutest and funniest scenes, Kelp happens upon a field of creatures just like him and yelps, “Land Narwhals!” To which a unicorn replies, “Actually, we’re unicorns. And, by the looks of it, so are you!” But can Kelp be both a land narwhal or a sea unicorn? Will he have to choose?

Jessie Sima’s precious illustrations and delightful characters, and the fact that the children reading this story are complicit in the secret that Kelp is a unicorn, not a narwhal, will delight young readers ages 4 to 7.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Love Is by Diane Adams, illustrated by Claire Keane

How do you explain the concept of love to a child? There are many ways to say what love is, and Diane Adams’ picture book Love Is explains love to children in a way that they can understand. Claire Keane’s illustrations are bright and full of childhood whimsy. In Love Is, a little girl learns what love is by caring for a duckling that has escaped from a park.

“Love is holding something fragile,
tiny wings and downy head.
Love is noisy midnight feedings,
Shoe box right beside the bed.”

"Love is waking up together,
side by side, and beak to nose."

Eventually, the duck grows larger and must leave the shoebox beside the little girl’s bed and return to the pond. And the little girl learns that sometimes, that’s what love is too.

This is the perfect little story for Valentine’s day around the corner, but will work year-round as well.

Illustration by Claire Keane from Love Is