Category Archives: Reading with J&H

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

Recommending books – to students, teachers, colleagues, friends, neighbors – is the bread and butter of any librarian worth her or his salt.  But as a librarian MOM, it’s a bit different.  Because Mom comes first, and not often will one’s child take mom’s advice – be it about slowing down on the slick grass or wearing a coat on a rainy day or trying a new title – without some resistance.  However, ‘resistance is futile’: this librarian mom doesn’t give up when it comes to books. My two children are starting to figure this out.  Case in point: James Nicol’s The Apprentice Witch.

At ALA in Orlando in June, I’d picked up a pre-release copy. Printed on 8×11 paper and bound by plastic combs, logic said that a book shared in such an early state must be exciting. After a quick read, the first person that came to mind was my daughter – this was similar to some of her favorite books.  But she was not interested in Mom’s opinion, even with a stellar booktalk.  So I tried a new tactic and started reading it aloud one night (this, by the way, is a great trick).  Within two chapters she was hooked, and so was my 7 year old son.  That night, they stayed up and she read aloud to him about Arianwyn and her “friends”.  She finished it less than a week later to rave review.  See for yourself.  🙂

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol

summary & review by JMD, age 9

The Apprentice Witch by James Nicol is a fascinating book to read. A young girl that is about 16 years of age named Arianwyn is becoming a witch, and according to schedule, every young girl that is her age that she can test to see if she can become a real witch. Everything seems to be going right when then something goes wrong… Arianwyn fails the test. Her punishment is to protect a small town, Lull, that Arianwyn soon finds out is a town with big problems.

I enjoyed reading The Apprentice Witch because there is a lot of magic and fantasy put into the book and those are things that I look for when I look at books. I recommend this book for ages 8 and up. Also, this book is for fans of the series Upside-Down Magic and Fairy Tale Reform School.

The Apprentice Witch is out July 25, 2017 in the US and released July 6, 2016 in the UK

And a little side note: It was serendipitous that I picked up this advance copy at Scholastic’s Chicken House reception. Chicken House is Scholastic’s publishing arm for titles originally published in the UK.  Little did I know at that time that I’d be moving to the UK!

 As seen at the 2017 London Book Fair at the Scholastic booth.

Cheers, y’all! 🙂 arika

Triangle by Mac Barnett

There’s something special about a book cover that has no text on it. It may well be the eyes.  Martin’s Big Words, by Doreen Rappaport and illustrated by Bryan Collier, stands out as the larger-than-life portrait of Dr. King emits radiant life through his smile and eyes. Similarly, Jerry Pinkney’s Lion and Mouse depicts a lion’s strength – and ultimate downfall – through reproachful yet alert eyes.

It stands to reason, then, that there would never be any text on the cover of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s latest collaboration, Triangle.  Because Klassen is, if anything, the master of the picture book eye. With a (not-so) simple dot, he lets readers know how characters feel and think. Paired with Barnett’s always-unique storyline, this hotly-anticipated book didn’t disappoint.

Triangle by Mac Barnett, pictures by Jon Klassen

Triangle lives in the land of triangles: triangle-shaped house, door, even art. Wide eyed, he gives an innocent vibe.  But don’t be fooled: he is a sneaky fellow and, one day, sets off to play a delightful trick on his friend Square.  Square, seeking revenge, chases Triangle back to his house.  Readers will delight in predicting Square’s predicament of not fitting through Triangle’s door and inferring whether Square’s intentions were to play a similar sneaky trick on Triangle.  Square’s legs and – yes – eyes give it away: he is a square, after all.  The first in a planned trilogy (lucky us!), Barnett continues to create inventive, unique storylines and, paired with Klassen, he’s at his best.  Highly recommended.  Share with ages 3+.

The case design stands out, too: a board over paper cover, with rounded corners and heavier-than-average stock pages sewn into the binding. With no dust jacket, there is no chance to a peek underneath for any additional insight into the mind or actions of either character. A well-played choice.

Let’s circle back (pun intended) to Martin’s Big Words and Lion and Mouse.  The two covers shown earlier were upon initial publication. Today, however, they look like this:

People – librarians, booksellers, teachers, students – saw something in those eyes.  They stood out.  Were memorable.  Impactful.  One can only speculate if Triangle will join their esteemed ranks.

One thing is for sure: kids won’t be able to take their eyes off this one!

Triangle was published March 14, 2017 in both the US and the UK

One of the previewed titles at 2017 London Book Fair at the Candlewick/WalkerUK booth.

Cheers, y’all! 🙂 arika

We’re Full…of Beans

Oh, Jenni Holm. How I am thankful for you.

As a parent, your books make reading fun. Babymouse was J’s first graphic novel that she loved. Proof: her 2nd grade diorama.  H, like any younger sibling, followed suit. He doesn’t care if a book is pink or blue. He’s all about fun. And Babymouse is fun to read.

When your new chapter book came out – Full of Beans – I read it. LOVED it. Talked about it. And gave it to J – now a 4th grader – to read. And she did: she likes Jenni Holm books, after all. And like the little brother he is, H picked it up. He started reading it a week ago, then said he was almost done the other night. Like a good teacher-parent, I asked what he liked about it. Turns out, there was a lot that went over his head. So: FAMILY READ ALOUD.

Full of Beans is a brilliant read aloud: fast-paced, diverse characters, memorable setting. And as we read, we sometimes talk. About Key West. Rum-running. Choices. Through your story, we’re building understanding and empathy for others whose lives might be different from ours.  We are inferring (who DID paint “Queen Dot’s Throne” on the outhouses?). Learning. Enjoying. And, ultimately, connecting.

History is a tricky subject to teach and to learn. (My childhood report cards are evidence of this.) I truly believe literature – specifically kidlit – is a magic portal for learning and understanding historical events and outcomes.  Full of Beans is a brilliantly accessible novel to introduce readers to the Depression, the New Deal, and how lives are impacted by economics. This was not my goal; rather, it is a happy result of our time spent reading and reflecting on Beans, his choices, and his family.

Our reading and conversations about Full of Beans has really stuck with my kids. Yesterday, while grocery shopping, there was a kid-initiated discussion on which character each child would choose to be and why. Ultimately, H chose Termite…because everyone loves dogs, even flea-ridden ones. J was Beans. Naturally.

So Jenni, thank you. Our family is full – full of appreciation for the stories you share with us readers year in and year out. Full of gratitude for creating memorable characters who have depth and flaws.  Full of admiration for writing historical fiction that is appealing and informative.  The bright, shiny 2017 Scott O’Dell Historical Fiction Award is truly deserved.

Du Iz Tak?

There’s been a lot of  buzz about Carson Ellis’s newest picture book, Du Iz Tak?: it seems like every journal, Best Of list, and bookstore has it listed as a top picture books of the year.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis

You may have noticed that it wasn’t part of my Best Of 2016 list (it’s there now).  Yes, I’d read the book. It took longer expected, for a book having so few “words” (we’ll get to those in a moment).  My verdict: it was okay. Not Best Of worthy. I could leave it.

But I hadn’t stopped thinking about the book (there’s a sign).  So last night, we read it during Family Story Time.  Telling J&H (ages 9&7) that it had no real words in it piqued their interest. And 25 minutes later, we sat back, completely amazed and blown away by what Ellis created…and I admitted I was wrong.  This book is so, so worth of Best Of honors.

Let’s start with the illustrations. Ellis shows readers the passage of time – and the unfurling of Mother Nature’s gifts – with a simple, accessible ease. Grass grows, characters enter and exit with appropriate speed, seeds fall (then grow), seasons change. The cycle of life is clear, which is needed in order to make sense of the words.

The words – yes, words. You can read this story of 100% nonsense words…with a little work. And that was what made this book a grand slam to my kids. Du Iz Tak?, in our house, translated to What Is That?  Look at the cover: two insects (or oodas, as we figured out), one pointing at the green sprout – and a question mark as punctuation. It *had* to be asking What Is That?  As we read, flipping pages back and forth, we slowly figured out Ellis’s language. Using body language and gestures as well as capitalization and punctuation, we deciphered the insect’s conversation. What an exemplary example of using text features/illustrations to infer language. And for students working on decoding…it doesn’t get any better. This book is a teaching dream.

My gut says that sharing it as a whole-class read-aloud maybe tricky, but it’s totally doable. Maybe share on a doc cam would work well – to allow all to really “see” the illustrations. I’d certainly read it twice: first, without stopping, having children really pay attention to the pictures. The second time, we’d try to figure out the language. I think it’d be super-fun AND educational. Imagine pairing with an insect unit!

Fantasy. Insect Story.  ©2016.  Recommended for ages 6+. Plan on spending 20+minutes reading – and thinking through – this one.

Barnacle’s Boring Bubble Blog Tour!

Jonathan Fenske, Geisel Honor author, has written and illustrated his first picture book, Barnacle is Bored. It’s my pleasure to host Barnacle on his Boring Bubble Blog Tour!

Summary & Review:

Bored children, meet your comrade Barnacle. He experiences the same things every day: high and low tide, sunrise and sunset.  Nothing changes in Barnacle’s stationary life under a dock, until a new polka-dot fish swims by.  Filled with imaginative longing, Barnacle fancies him in exciting adventures: “I bet he dives with dolphins. I bet he soars with sailfish.” When the active fish is caught off-guard by the unexpected arrival of a hungry predator, both Barnacle and the polka-dot fish get new outlooks on life.  Fenske tackles a common childhood foe – boredom – in an appealing, engaging story that reminds us that things are not always as bad – or good – as they seem. The speech bubbles with straightforward vocab and crisp design with cutaways make this picture book perfect for newly independent readers….or anyone who has ever been bored.

Jonathan on Barnacle, boredom, and picture books.

I think Barnacle… is no different than most of us. We all have that person or group of people whose lives, from the outside, look so much more exciting than ours. Sometimes we find out things on the other side might not always be as awesome as they seem! But who am I kidding?! I know contentment is a lesson I never seem to learn!

Boredom ismy own fault! There’s always something to do. Sometimes you just have to use your imagination when finding what that “something to do” is! My mom says I ALWAYS complained about being bored. And now my own kids complain to me, so I guess there has been some justice in that (and book inspiration, too!). 

 Picture books...are eye-popping portals to magical new worlds. I spent hours and hours lost in picture books when I was a kid, and now I get such joy from reading them to my own children. I’m so very grateful to have such a fulfilling art outlet! Mixing words and pictures to create a book, and knowing parents and children are reading them together….I can’t think of any career I’d rather have! Hooray (and “thank you”) to everyone who reads picture books (and any books, for that matter)! 

Barnacle is Bored is in bookstores TODAY – May 10, 2016!

Kid Feedback:

Quotes from kids:

  • H, age 7: “I wonder what the polka-dot fish will do next? Maybe the barnacle gets loose and helps save the fish.”
  • J, age 8: “I think the polka-dot fish will have a plan to escape. Or maybe he’ll get digested and come out as droppings.”
  • J, age 6: “Maybe Barnacle will escape the eel’s stomach using the hook!”

BIG Thank You’s to Jonathan for sharing his book (and Barnacle swag)! And congratulations for being an Amazon Best Books of the Month for May 2016!

Mid-Winter break – staycation success

This morning was tough. Last week was mid-winter break: no school, no schedules, no alarms. Pure bliss.

Seattle did its usual: gray, cold, peekaboo sun bursts. So we did our usual, when given time: trips, treks, and treasured moments in our home state.

Finding out who’s wilder: the zoo animals or children who’d been cooped up inside.

Discovering that there are much cooler cars than Teslas and Porsches (the unofficial cars of the Eastside of Seattle) at LeMay.

Remembering just how beautiful our city is from high in the (Issaquah) Alps…and reaffirmation that snacks are the most important part of the trek.

Dropping by our neighborhood pool, “bubbled” for the winter, to play and splash and swim in solitude. Great Wolf Lodge, it isn’t…but it’s free and local!


Trekking into the city to a local “bookstore” to browse and play. And buy. It’s impossible not to buy. (Side note: The book selection available in the Ages 6-8 section is quite impressive. Though if I could give feedback, I’d label it for Ages 6-9.)

Creating something new with books and technology. Because we can only take so much rain before breaking out the electronics  – it is the rainiest winter on record here – J&H asked to play with the iPad. In return, they were asked to do something creative with it (read: not just Temple Run or YouTube). Scrolling through old videos, they were inspired by student projects from last year make using ChatterPix.  Result: talking books.

Strolling the aisles of the neighborhood library for new favorites and old stand-by’s. Eating lunches out. Making new dinners. Watching movies, snuggled in cozy-tight. Staying up too late. What a week. What. A. Week.

Now it’s Monday. Back to the world of school, sports, and no sleeping in.

But what a lovely week.

What’s new in Valentine books

Love is (almost) in the air, according to every mass retailer.  But hold the candy, save the flowers: it’s books that foster the feeling of love that make me swoon.  Here’s are a few titles from the last two years that have me feeling the love. Can’t wait to pick these up at the local library or bookstore and share with J-girl, my boy H, and the children at #ReadAloudTuesday!