Monday, May 23, 2016

Picture Book Review: Leo Can Swim by Anna McQuinn, illustrated by Ruth Hearson (ARC)

Leo Can Swim
by Anna McQuinn
illustrated by Ruth Hearson
2016. Charlesbridge.

Quick Booktalk

In his latest adventure, Leo, little brother of Lola from Lola Loves Stories and Lola Loves the Library, and star of Leo Loves Baby Time, joins a swim class with his dad.

About the Illustrations

As in Leo Loves Baby Time, artist Ruth Hearson uses soft colors and warm, cheerful faces to illustrate Leo's story. The pictures show diverse parent/child pairings - moms and dads, with boys and girls - enjoying themselves at swim class. The pages alternate between close-ups of Leo and his friends and group scenes of the babies going "swish and swoosh" and "splish and sploosh" in the pool, and later, washing off and heading out for a snack. The art perfectly suits the text, and the target age group, who would certainly enjoy looking at these images during story time.

Read-Aloud Possibilities

The straightforward text is very easy to read aloud, and it works nicely as an introduction to swim class for young children about to attend for the first time. Its focus on father/son bonding, make it a perfect choice for dads to read aloud to their babies, and also a good option for Father's Day story times. 

Readers Advisory 

This book is a great fit for this summer's On Your Mark, Get Set, Read! theme. It will appeal to fans of the previous Leo book, as well as to any family taking an infant to swim lessons this summer. 


I received a digital ARC of Leo Can Swim from Charlesbridge via NetGalley.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Old School Sunday: Canadian Summer by Hilda van Stockum (1948)

In this second of three books based on a fictitious version of author Hilda van Stockum and her family, the Mitchells relocate to Montreal for Father's new job. To Mother's chagrin, the only house available to rent for the summer is a remote and rustic building near a lake without any modern amenities. Despite her initial reservations, however, she, Grannie, and the children have a wonderful time exploring nature and befriending the locals, Mr. Magee (whom the children call Mr. Magic), Mr. Purcell, a young man who uses a wheelchair after being wounded in war,  and Pierre, an artist who lives nearby and delivers the family's groceries.

Like The Open Gate and Miracles on Maple Hill, this is a great family story about kids exploring a new rural environment. The Mitchell children greet their new surroundings with gusto, and their enthusiasm makes for some nerve-wracking and suspenseful scenarios involving injuries and worried parents. French Canadian culture and language permeate the story in a natural and engaging way, and for kids who have never really had to "rough it" the conditions the family must endure are novel and appealing.

I read through this book every bit as quickly as the first one, and loved it for its wholesome portrayal of family and its comforting resolution of all major problems and concerns. It's a good book to curl up with during a summer thunderstorm, and would also make a great read-aloud for those whose French is good enough to pull off a convincing accent.

I own a copy of Canadian Summer.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Sequels and Series Spotlight: Tales from Maple Ridge Book 1: Logan Pryce Makes a Mess by Grace Gilmore

Quick Booktalk 

When eight-year-old Logan Pryce hears that his father might have to find a new job because the family farm is failing, he really wants to help. When his father gets a job at the general store, however, Logan's eagerness to help him succeed causes a big mess instead.

Reading Level

This is a beginning chapter book that is formatted very similarly to the Greetings from Somewhere books by Harper Paris, with very large type and lots of black and white illustrations. I couldn't find the Guided Reading level, but the publisher does provide a Lexile rating of 600L, which correlates roughly to N or O, making the text suitable for those reading at a third grade level.


The illustrations are endearing and functional, though not necessarily terribly memorable. They do provide some visual clues as to how Logan and his family would have lived during their time (late 1800s), and there are hints at the characters' personalities as well, but my connection to the book was primarily with the text.

Kid Appeal

Kids probably are not looking for a chapter book in the historical fiction genre, mostly because there aren't many available and they are not used to seeing them. This book is engaging, however, and will especially appeal to kids who have fallen in love with history through reading series like Magic Tree House, or by having the Little House on the Prairie or Bo at Ballard Creek books read aloud to them.

Additional Note

This book has a major flaw that cannot be overlooked. Nowhere on or in the book does it explain precisely when the book is set. Goodreads and the publisher's website both have it clearly stated as taking place in 1892, but this information does not seem to be readily available to the child reader. For kids with minimal knowledge of history (which is probably most third graders), it would be impossible to even begin to guess the setting. I can imagine some kids would be as likely to guess 1792 or 1992 as they would be to land on the correct year. Even just putting the year on the cover a la the American Girl books would have been enough. To omit that information altogether just seems careless.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

8+ Kids' Books Illustrated by Erin McGuire

I first discovered Erin McGuire's artwork when I reviewed French Ducks in Venice in the early days of this blog. Ever since then, I have kept an eye out for her distinct style and have discovered that she has done the covers - and sometimes the interior artwork - for many chapter books and novels. Today's list is a sampling of some of the wonderful covers she has done!

  • A Song for Bijou by Josh Farrar
    When Alex develops a crush on Bijou, he does not realize how her strict family, her experiences during the 2010 Haitian earthquake, and the judgmental attitudes of their classmates will impact their budding relationship. 
  • Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu
    When Hazel's best friend Jack is hit by a snowball containing a shard of glass, he suddenly becomes cruel and callous, then disappears into the woods with a mysterious woman. In this retelling of The Snow Queen, Hazel realizes she must be the one to save him and bring him home again.
  • The Hard Pan Trilogy by Susan Patron
    In this series, which begins with the 2007 Newbery Medal winner, The Higher Power of Lucky, a young orphan from a very small town in California struggles to come to terms with the loss of her mother, the love of her guardian, Brigitte, and various other problems that befall her community. The first two books were originally illustrated by Matt Phelan, but Erin McGuire redid the covers when the third book was published in 2011. The titles in this trilogy, with links to my reviews are below:
  • Nancy Drew Diaries series by Carolyn Keene
    This latest middle grade reboot of the Nancy Drew series represents a return to the traditional sleuthing associated with the character, without relying on a lot of technological gadgets and other modern aids to solve her cases. There are ten titles in the series. (Links are to my reviews, where available.)

    • Saranormal series by Phoebe Rivers
      Sara Collins is a twelve-year-old psychic who tries to lead a normal life while also communicating with ghosts and discovering more and more of her own supernatural powers. There are 11 titles in the series. (Links are to my reviews.)
      • Ghost Town
      • Haunted Memories
      • Mischief Night
      • Spirits of the Season
      • Moment of Truth
      • Giving Up the Ghost
      • The Secrets Within
      • Kindred Spirits
      • Playing with Fire
      • A Perfect Storm 
      • Yesterday and Today

    • Shelter Pet Squad series by Cynthia Lord
      In this chapter book series, Suzannah, a second grader, can't have a pet of her own due to her landlord's strict rules, so instead she joins the Shelter Pet Squad, where she is the youngest member. In each book of the series, the squad works to find a home for a specific animal by researching it needs and finding the best potential owner to meet them. There are three books so far. (Links are to my reviews.)

    For samples from these books, and more art by Erin McGuire, visit her website. See more illustrator book lists here.
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