A beautiful picture book about the power and magic of books.

Picture book
Interest level: probably more adults; Reading level: 6.0
4 out of 5 stars

The text and illustrations of this book are a loving tribute to the wonder of written stories. The pages start as plain white with black text. The reader is told

This is a book.

Black words. On white paper.

No buttons.
No bonus levels.
Not a single sound, in fact.

It’s the most quiet, ordinary
thing that could be
until you learn to look closer

As the text on the page gets larger the reader can eventually see that each letter that was originally plain black is actually made up of beautiful storybook images.
The main character is a boy who climbs a ladder down into the fantasy world of the book where he explores all the possibility and comfort of reading. As the time comes for the child to return to the real world, we are reminded not to be sad that we have to leave the magical world of reading because we “can come back as often as you wish.”

I felt that while some children might be able to appreciate this beautiful book, the higher reading level and formal language geared it to older readers.

Where imagination scrapes the skies of opportunity, the forests of what-could-be stretch beyond the horizon, and the friends of fact and fiction make believe all night long under the milky stars of possibility.

This would make a wonderful gift for a teacher, librarian, or any bibliophile. The illustrations are stunning and perfect for the fantastical tone of the text.

by David Miles; illustrations by Natalie Hoopes
Familius, 2015
ISBN 978-1-939629-65-4

Swing It, Sunny

Wonderful second book featuring Sunny and her family! I couldn’t put it down!

Graphic novel, fiction
Interest level: grades 3-6
4 out of 5 stars

This is a strong follow-up to Sunny Side Up. I would recommend reading Sunny Side Up before reading Swing It, Sunny. The story carries on where the first novel ended and readers need the back story for this book to make complete sense.
Sunny’s brother, Dale, has been sent to a boarding school where his family is hoping he can overcome his drug problems. Sunny struggles to deal with Dale’s feelings of being abandoned.

Grandpa visits and it is wonderful to see the multigenerational relationship that he has with Sunny. A new neighbor also provides friendship and gives Sunny some guidance and purpose.
The book is set in the 1970s, which is a historical period that many children today are not familiar with. Sunny and her friends and family are almost obsessed with the television shows of the time, which are prominently featured in the book. The Holmses incorporate the old TV shows into the story in a fun way.

In the end, Sunny discovers that persistence and love can pay off. I really enjoyed reading this second book and had a hard time putting it down. I hope a Book 3 is forthcoming because I am really rooting for Dale!


Young adult fans of dystopian fiction will love the story of Day and June and their battle to find the truth.

Fiction, dystopian, science fiction
Interest level: young adult
2013-2014 YHBA middle grade nominee
5 out of 5 stars

Set in some unspecified time, Legend is a fascinating look into a futuristic world. Some cataclysmic event has occurred which changed both the physical and political landscape of the United States. The area of the country that we know as California is now called the Republic, and the two main characters hail from very different classes.

June is an brilliant prodigy, born into an elite military family. Day is her opposite — born in the slums, he failed the his Trial and was scheduled to die. He is street smart with a true strength of character. Day is accused of killing June’s brother, and as she sets out to seek revenge and destroy him, she learns more about the Republic and herself.

I find the worlds that authors create in dystopian fiction to be fascinating. Marie Lu has done an amazing job envisioning a society based upon class struggles, propaganda, and mystery. She gives the reader brief glimpses into what might have happened to lead to a fractured United States, but she does not offer any type of complete picture or description. A deep cover-up is also briefly hinted at, which I am assuming becomes more central to the story as it continues in the next two books in the trilogy.

Legend is told in alternating points of view between Day and June. This lets the reader into the thoughts and motivations of both characters. The characters are well-developed and multidimensional, causing readers to become highly invested in their story.

Due to a more mature theme and high levels of violence, I would recommend this book to readers grade 7 and older.

by Marie Lu
Scholastic, 2011
ISBN 978-0-545-57052-7

Peanut Butter & Cupcake!

This is a very inventive picture book about friendship and perseverance.

Picture book, fiction, friendship
Interest level: K-3; Reading level: 2.1
5 out of 5 stars

This book has a lot going for it, which I must admit I didn’t expect before I read it. I thought it looked like a silly read, and there are some moments with humor and fun plays on words, but it has a special and important message that it conveys as well.

Peanut Butter is new to town and just got a ball for his birthday. He starts searching for someone who will play with him. As he comes to each potential playmate, he recites a repetitive rhyme each time:

Hello, I’m new here, and I’d like to play
Maybe now, maybe later–or even all day
I’ll make you chuckle deep down in your belly
And we’ll go together like Peanut Butter and …

Each rhyme ends with Peanut Butter naming the new potential food-related friend. He encounters Hamburger, Cupcake, Egg, Meatball, French Fries, and Soup.

Children will love that they know who Peanut Butter’s special friend is supposed be, especially since it rhymes so well, but Peanut Butter almost gives up before his special someone is found. What makes the book even more wonderful is that while Peanut Butter and Jelly have a close relationship, they also make sure they include all the other friends in their fun.
Terry Border’s illustrations are also very unique and make the story even more special. The images are comprised of created objects that have been photographed. It is especially fun to look at closeups of images to come up with ideas of how they were constructed.

This would be a great book to read at the start of the school year as children are worrying about making friends in new classes or schools.

Connection: Terry Border and his family live in Indianapolis, Indiana. It’s always a good thing to support local authors.

Peanut Butter & Cupcake!
by Terry Border
Scholastic, 2014
ISBN 978-1-338-03820-0

Ada’s violin: the story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay

This is an amazing story about a young group of magicians who discovered compassion, creativity, and music among the trash in a landfill in Paraguay.

Picture book, non-fiction, informational
Interest level: K-5; Reading level: 4.0
5 out of 5 stars

Ada’s Violin is an absolutely amazing story of a young girl who lives in Cateura, Paraguay. Her town is the main garbage dump for the capital city of Asuncion, and her family works in the landfill, picking through the trash and hauling away items that can be recycled and sold.

For the youth of Cateura, there is not much to do so gangs and fighting are a way of life. Until Favio Chavez comes to town and offers to teach the children to play music. There are not enough instruments to go around, so he got the people in the community to help him make instruments out of trash they could recycle from the landfill.

Word of this amazing Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay began to spread, and the children were invited to travel all over to play. They have performed in concerts around the world, and even opened for Metallica.

Sally Wern Comport’s collage illustrations perfectly fit the tone and style of the book.

The back of the book contains an Author’s Note with more details about the Recycled Orchestra, a photo, and sources for more information.

Book trailer:

Ada’s Violin: The story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay
by Susan Hood; illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2016
ISBN 9781481430951

That is My Dream!

That Is My Dream! combines the beautiful gouache illustrations of Daniel Miyares with the 1924 Langston Hughes poem, Dream Variation, to depict a young child’s dream of racial equality and freedom.

Picture book, poetry
Interest level: grades 3 and up; Reading level: 3.0
5 out of 5 stars

Dream Variation is a two-stanza poem that was written by Langston Hughes in 1924. Both stanzas express the desire to feel free in the world, yet Miyares interprets each stanza of the poem in a slightly different way.

To fling my arms wide
In some place of the sun,
To whirl and to dance
Till the white day is done.
Then rest at cool evening
Beneath a tall tree
While night comes on gently,
Dark like me—
That is my dream!

UntitledIn the first stanza, Miyares focuses on the idea of “the white day” and shows the inequalities faced by a young African-American boy and his family as they go about daily tasks. Images of the Black family are juxtaposed with images of a White family, clearly depicting the racial inequalities of the times — Black people sitting in the back of the bus behind White people; White children dancing and enjoying sweets while the Black children are quietly going to shop for groceries; and two children getting drinks at segregated water fountains.

Miyares has used the line “That is my dream!” at the end of the first stanza to transition into depicting the boy’s dream of the future. Miyares’s muted colors from the first stanza, transition into more brilliant colors and dreamlike images of all the children, Black and White, riding on different birds and playing together.

To fling my arms wide
In the face of the sun,
Dance! Whirl! Whirl!
Till the quick day is done.
Rest at pale evening . . .
A tall, slim tree . . .
Night coming tenderly
Black like me.

UntitledOne of the illustrations shows the two boys drinking together from a stream, which is in direct opposition to the earlier image of them drinking from the separate water fountains.
As the boy awakens from the dream of racial integration and harmony, Miyares depicts him holding onto a single feather. For the boy, and for readers in 2017, this feather represents the very real hope that racial equality is within our grasp.

It is disheartening to realize that Langston Hughes’s poem depicts a hope for racial equality that is still not realized today. Daniel Miyares has created a picture book that vividly depicts this dream and will hopefully infuse young readers with empathy and the desire for a better and equal future for all.

An Illustrator’s Note is in the back of the book that talks about Miyares’ thoughts about Dream Variation and what it means to him.

That is My Dream!
by Langston Hughes and Daniel Miyares
Schwartz & Wade Books, 2017
ISBN 978-0-399-55017-1

Harriet the Invincible 

A fun retelling of Sleeping Beauty where the princess doesn’t sit around waiting for the curse to happen to her, but instead goes out and kicks some butt! Oh, and she’s a hamster…

Hybrid novel/graphic novel, fiction, fantasy
Interest level: grades 2-4; Reading level: 4.9
2017-2018 YHBA Intermediate nominee
4 out of 5 stars

Harriet Hamsterbone is a spirited hamster princess who decides that she isn’t going to sit around and wait for a hamster wheel to appear on her twelfth birthday so she can prick her finger, fall into a deep sleep, and then have some prince come to her rescue. Quite frankly, she’s a little skeptical that princes are capable of being heros, and she reasons that “the curse needs me alive until I’m twelve, or it can’t operate! I’m invincible!”

So Harriet sets out on her faithful riding quail, Mumfrey and spends the “next two years cliff-diving, dragon-slaying, and jousting on the professional circuit.” Harriet turns the usual fairytale hero/damsel in distress stereotype on its head. She empowers herself and determines that she won’t let anyone dictate how princesses should act.
Ursula Vernon injects a ton of humor into Harriet’s story. The format of the book contains paragraphs of text interspersed with graphic novel style panels. The illustrations are single color in the style of Dragonbreath (also by Vernon), Babymouse, and Lunch Lady. All these features combine to make a book that is perfect for readers who may not want to read traditional, text-only novels.

Harriet the Invincible
by Ursula Vernon
Scholastic, 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-91343-0