Friday, October 31, 2014

Chapter Book Review: Lulu and the Hedgehog in the Rain by Hilary McKay (Cybils Nominee)

Lulu and the Hedgehog
in the Rain

by Hilary McKay
2014. Albert Whitman & Co.
ISBN: 9780807548127
In her latest animal adventure, Lulu rescues a hedgehog during a terrible rainstorm, then feels personally responsible for his well-being thereafter. By enlisting the help of all of her neighbors - even the grouchy ones - she finds a way to keep him safe while giving him the proper habitat.

What makes this such a great series is that it does not rely on a set formula, and it focuses on character development and problem solving in addition to the enjoyment of animals. Though Lulu has met many animals throughout the volumes of the series, she has never had the same experience twice. This new story not only introduces an animal not often represented in fiction, but it also provides an opportunity to learn more about Lulu's community and her role within it. An animal may be at its center, but this is undoubtedly a story about people. 

Lulu and the Hedgehog in the Rain shares similar themes with Violet Mackerel's Natural Habitat, and fans of one would easily enjoy the other. Even kids who do not traditionally enjoy animal stories will find themselves drawn to Lulu's unusual plan and the quirky people she must win over to make it a success. 

I borrowed Lulu and the Hedgehog in the Rain from my local public library.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

NOTE: This book was nominated by DLacks for the 2014 Cybils Awards in the Easy Reader/Early Chapter Book category. I am the organizer and a first-round panelist in this category, but this review reflects my opinions only, not those of any other panelist, or the panel as a whole. Thanks!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Middle Grade Review: Somebody on this Bus is Going to be Famous by J.B. Cheaney (ARC)

Somebody on This Bus is
Going to be Famous!

by J.B. Cheaney
2014. Sourcebooks.
ISBN: 9781402292972
Each of the kids in the motley group that rides Mrs B's bus to and from school every day has his or her own personal aspirations, difficulties, and connections to the other riders. What the kids don't realize as they struggle with popularity, family strife, and friendship drama over several months is that before long, somebody on their bus is going to be famous!

The cover of this book is terribly misleading. This is a serious - even somber - story but the image on the cover implies upbeat, possibly humorous, subject matter. Readers expecting a light-hearted romp will quickly need to adjust their expectations.

The language itself is pleasant to read, filled with interesting character insights and clever turns of phrase. Each character, even if he appears unlikable at first glance, is shown to be sympathetic, and clues to who might prove to become famous are dropped throughout each chapter. Unfortunately the delightful language, careful attention to detail, and unique setting will not be enough to make up for the book's colossally disappointing ending. The big reveal at the end is groan-worthy even amidst the emotional experience of a bus accident, and it is not what kids are looking for in a story with so much build up, or in any story written for children.

I received a digital ARC of Somebody on This Bus is Going to Be Famous from Sourcebooks via NetGalley.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Middle Grade Review: The Top Secret Diary of Celie Valentine: Friendship Over by Julie Sternberg (ARC)

The Top-Secret Diary of
Celie Valentine:
Friendship Over

by Julie Sternberg
2014. Boyds Mills Press.
ISBN: 9781590789933
Ten-year-old Celie Valentine has a lot going on in her life. Her best friend, Lula, has stopped speaking to her, she has trouble getting along with her older sister, Jo, and her grandmother is beginning to show signs of dementia. As she struggles to make sense of it all, Celie writes her feelings in her diary.

With so many novels being written in diary format, a book really needs to do something new in order to set itself apart. This book, though sweet and visually appealing, doesn't really accomplish this feat; rather, it relies on cliches and overused situations to tell a story all kids in grades 3 to 5 have heard a thousand times. Many kids will read this book because they can't resist a Wimpy Kid/Dork Diaries read-alike, but they won't miss anything if they skip it.

Julie Sternberg's talent for tapping into tween emotion has been established by her successful series beginning with Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie. This book just does not have the same depth, spark, or insight. The fact that it is the first of a series leaves some room for hope that it will improve with future volumes, but it might be wise to see how the next one looks before making a purchasing decision.

I received a digital ARC of The Top Secret Diary of Celie Valentine: Friendship Over from Boyds Mills Press via NetGalley.

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

10+ Kids' Books Illustrated by Marc Brown

Marc Brown is best known as the author and illustrator of the Arthur books, but he has illustrated many more titles written by others as well. Below is a partial list of these works.

Picture Books by Judy Sierra


Marc Brown has illustrated several titles by author Judy Sierra. 

Wild About Books is a rhyming story in which a librarian introduces a love of reading to the animals living at her local zoo. In its companion story, Wild About You, an unhatched egg arrives at the zoo, and when the new baby arrives, it is readily adopted by the tree kangaroo and her friends.

Another zoo-themed story, ZooZical, tells what happens when a group of bored animals come together to put on a musical.

In Born to Read, a book loving boy named Sam  reads non-stop, leading him to experience many happy successes in life.

Other Picture Books

In 2007, Marc Brown teamed up with Rosemary Wells to create The Gulps. Brown's illustrations bring to life a family of rabbits with unhealthy eating habits. While on a family road trip, the  rabbits discover that their RV can't carry all the junk food they packed, and while stranded, a farmer helps them learn how to replace their favorite fast foods with healthier alternatives.

Marc Brown has also teamed up with author Lindsey Craig to produce two musically-oriented picture books: Dancing Feet and Farmyard Beat. In Dancing Feet, the text provides an onomatopoetic expression of the sound made by a particular animal's dancing feet, and the reader is invited to guess who it might be. In Farmyard Beat, the animals have a wild middle-of-the-night party in the barn, which wakes up Farmer Sue. Both of these books use a unique collage style which is different from Brown's typical illustrations.

Using the same style, Brown provides the pictures for Ten Tiny Toes by Todd Tarpley, which celebrates a variety of foot-related baby milestones.


Marc Brown's wife, Laurie Krasny Brown has written a series of Dino Life Guides for Families, which provide child-friendly information about important topics including divorce, death, safety, making friends, and going green. Marc Brown's dinosaurs help make the information more palatable to young readers and they share the same sweet faces as the well-known Arthur characters.

When I was in first grade, I loved to read the Little Witch series by Deborah Hautzig. It wasn't until years later that I made the connection between these books and Marc Brown's style, but it should have been obvious based on the color palette and characters' faces.  (Note: some of the later books are illustrated by a different artist in the style of Marc Brown.)



Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young is my favorite poetry collection to share with babies. Brown's sweet style contributes to the book's cheerful and enticing qualities and his plentiful pictures provide context to help young readers understand the poems more fully.

In the 1980s, Marc Brown collected and illustrated several popular books of children's  rhymes: Finger Rhymes, Hand Rhymes, Party Rhymes, and Play Rhymes. Many of the rhymes from these books were included in his 2013 collection, Marc Brown's Playtime Rhymes: A Treasury for Families to Learn and Play Together.

Brown is also the illustrator of  The Family Read-Aloud Christmas Treasury edited by Alice Low.

For more illustrator booklists, click here.