‘Wreck this Picture Book: How to make a book come to life’ by Keri Smith takes a book on an adventure

“Wreck This Picture Book: How to make a book come to life” by Keri Smith is a different kind of picture book. We just watched the movie, “The Trial of the Chicago 7” and it was fabulous. I was reminded that Abbie Hoffman wrote the book titled, “Steal this Book.” I think he might have liked this book.

Smith explains that books that aren’t read are lonely and bored. They wait for someone to read them and take them on adventures. She encourages children to explore this book, to ruffle its pages and smell the unique book smell it has. Readers will rub the book, touch the pages with fingers, noses, elbows, and perhaps even toes (yuck). They might (horrors!) fold the pages. What they will never do again is take a book for granted.

The illustrations are bold and eye-catching. Bright colors against white space; Smith cleverly uses recycled materials like cardboard, old magazines, fabric, nails, cork, old lids, newspapers and more to create a collage of color. Even the book jacket opens to instruct readers on how they can build their own cork people (It’s assumed that the adults in their life can supply the corks.)

This is a unique and joyful picture book that will delight readers. It encourages kids to be involved, active participants in reading. It’s main point is that a book has no meaning or use unless somebody reads it, so you, the reader, make the book whole.

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Dial Books for Young Readers, the publisher, for review purposes.

‘Spellbreaker’ by Charlie N. Holmberg is a delightful blend of mystery and fantasy with a touch of romance

I have to begin by admitting that historical novels featuring an alternate fantasy world usually are not my cup of tea. But this novel, an historical/fantasy/mystery with a soupçon of romance set in Victorian England, grabbed me from the start. The main character, Elsie Camden, is a wonderful, complex creation: someone who has lost her family, managed to leave the workhouse where orphans go, and hidden her ability to be a spell breaker in a world where women don’t get to be wizards unless they are aristocrats. Above all, Elsie is a really, really likable character, and her Robin Hood-like tendencies make her even more admirable.

The world in which Elsie lives is in some ways very much like England was; but with the addition of magic spells, somehow it seems even more “British,” in the sense that the aristocrats are still the upper class wealthy, but added to the mix are wizards who, after they complete their testing, may also be eligible for a title, thus transforming them into members of the upper class. Continue reading

‘Fireborne’ by Rosaria Munda is a splendid combination of fantasy, friendship, political intrigue, and bloodshed

“FIreborne” by Rosaria Munda is a young adult fantasy with two main characters who alternately share their narrative. The story takes place nine years after a revolution that is very reminiscent of the Russian revolution, wherein the Czar and his family were executed. In a like manner, the “royalty” of Callipolis were murdered. These rulers were called dragonlords, and had their own dragons that served to terrorize their people, including their serfs, basically slaves, the lowest of the classes. Now, post-revolution, instead of being born into being a dragonrider because of your royal family, children of any class can be chosen by a young dragon to be a rider.

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Perfectly diverse picture books: One for a boy and one for a girl

It’s that time of year when we are thinking of holiday gifts. But these two 2020 picture books are perfect books for any time of year and any occasion. Both celebrate possibility – the possibility inherent in every child no matter the gender, no matter the color of their skin, no matter their religion. Each book celebrates the fact that we are all unique and we all have unique and unlimited possibilities.

“I Am Every Good Thing” is by celebrated author Derrick Barnes and illustrator Gordon C. James. The combination of metaphor and brilliant colors and powerful brush strokes make this a book that calls for reading and rereading again and again. Each reading of the prose and examination of the illustrations will elicit new observations and new discussion. This is definitely a book aimed at boys, and most of the illustrations are of Black boys, adorable boys, with bright colorful backgrounds. They are swimming and hugging little sisters and peering through microscopes and in space suits exploring the deep blue. The constant metaphor will cause teachers to salivate at the perfect text for teaching students what poetic language can be. “I am good to the core, like the center of a cinnamon roll. Yeah, that good.”

This book is sweet and beautiful, but there is one page that drew my attention. It’s the page that illustrates that sometimes, the first person narrator is afraid. He says, “I am not what they might call me, and I will not answer to any name that is not my own. I am what I say I am.” The first time I read the book, I simply looked at the illustration of a Black boy in a polo shirt with a star radiating from his head. I didn’t really stop to reflect on the background, behind the star. I certainly didn’t connect it with the text. And that’s my fault for reading it too quickly and missing the deeper meaning of that page. For behind the star, there are white faces that look angry. We don’t see much of it, and the emphasis is on the beautiful portrait of the boy who is looking forward, not towards the leering faces behind him. But upon reflection, I understand what the author communicates when the boy refuses to answer to any name that is not his own.

And that is something that many of us can relate to. While my own status as someone who is reviled by bigots and haters is less apparent because of my white skin, I have seen those chanting “Jews will not replace us” and other hateful words so recently that it still horrifies me. There are daily accounts of people of color enduring not just names, as the narrator denounces in the text, but dangerous, too often deadly, actions by the haters. This is a page that, unlike the positivity that characterizes the rest of the book, addresses the darker side of growing up as a male African American.

This is a book for those of us who want to share books with our children, grandchildren, and students, books  that vividly and powerfully declare that we are all the same. We all are unique. We all have desires and dreams and plans. We all deserved to be loved and cherished. We are all equal in these truths, and our children must be educated in this reality. (Nancy Paulsen Books)

“A Girl Like You” by Frank and Carla Murphy and illustrated by Kayla Harren is unabashedly aimed at girls. (There is a previous book, “A Boy Like You.”) In this book, the message is that every girl is unique, and every girl’s desires and looks and clothes and talents are unique, too. It’s about having empathy and friendship, and working hard whether it’s at fixing things, lifting weights, or studying the moon. It’s about following your dreams and picking yourself up when things go wrong. The illustrations are of diverse children with diverse skin colors, including some girls who are disabled and some who wear hijabs. The message is:

“And remember, the world needs a girl…
a caring and strong girl,
a bold and brave girl,
an unstoppable girl.
A girl like you.

This is a perfect choice for any girl who deserves a message about determination and spunk. In short, every girl. (Sleeping Bear Press)

Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover books provided by the publishers for review purposes.

‘Piece of My Heart’ is Mary Higgins Clark’s last book

“Piece of My Heart” starts with a bang. A missing child, a postponed wedding, and a convicted murderer accusing her father of falsifying a confession — all these throw Laurie Moran, whose investigative television show “Under Suspicion” delves into unsolved crimes, into a frenzy of work and fear.

In this last book by Mary Higgins Clark, who passed away ten months before its publication, cowriter Alafair Burke offers a lovely tribute to the prolific and venerable author. It’s just one tribute of many, for Higgins Clark is known not just for her superb mysteries and her wonderful ability to create memorable characters; she is also remembered and loved for her kindness and her determination to give each book her very best efforts, and to engage with her readers even past the point when she needed to do so for publicity’s sake. Continue reading