Tuesday, August 9, 2022

My Life Begins! by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrations by Daniel Miyares

My Life Begins! by Patricia MacLachlan,
illustrated by Daniel Miyares
Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2022, 128 pages

Jacob, 9, is an only child, and while he thinks his picture hanging on the living room wall by itself looks lonely, he's pretty sure that loneliness could be cured with a litter of puppies. Instead, he is reminded that soon there will be new babies in the house - three little ones named Charlotte called Char, Katherine called Kath, and Elizabeth called Lizzie, or the Trips as Jacob refers to them. 

At school, his teacher announces that Jacob's class will be learning to do research and that each student should choose something that interests them, which could even be "a subject that is surprising and new." Since the finished project isn't due until two weeks before school ends, Jacob decides his topic will be "A Litter of Trips - From Birth On," diligently observing and recording how the triplets change and grow over the school year. 

Seeing how tired caring for his sisters has made his parents, Jacob becomes not just an observer but a real helper, quickly learning how to change diapers, warm bottles, and can even pick up and comfort a crying Lizzie. Eventually, Jacob's parents hire a nanny, a French woman named Mimi who brings experience, peace and order to the chaos of having triplets. And it is Mimi who helps Jacob understand the importance of names, calling him dear Jacob, which he loves. The triplets calls their mother Mama, their father Da, but what will they call Jacob? What will be the forever name they give him, and what will be the forever name he calls them? This turns out to be the most important part of his research project and it is Lizzie who gives him the answer.
What is interesting about this small chapter book is not so much how the triplets change and grow, but how the experience of observing and recording their first year changes Jacob as he goes from being an only child to being a big brother. MacLachlan has poignantly captured the way Jacob's sibling relationships form and grow depending on the personality of each of his sister's, inviting readers into Jacobs thoughts and feelings to show how all this all unfolds. 

However, the first year of the triplets lives may feel somewhat unrealistic at times. The babies are unusually happy, Jacob has no sibling jealousy, although he continues to hope for at least one puppy, if not a litter, and those sweet little girls never get sick, throw up, or produce one of those unforgettable poopy diapers. But young readers won't care about these things. The story uses simple language age appropriate for Jacob, the chapters are short yet full of information told from Jacob's point of view, and it is all complemented with Daniel Miyares rough sketches in black and white ink.  

My Life Begins! is a very sweet, very tender story about family and sibling relationships and is sure to bring on more than one smile and perhaps a tear or two. It is an excellent choice for a read aloud, at school or as a family book, and will definitely appeal to fans of Kevin Henkes' Billy Miller series. 

 Sadly, Patricia MacLachlan passed away on March 31, 2022 at age 84 a few months before the release of My Life Begins!

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The Pleasure of Wordless Picture Books

I'm going through books, getting ready for when my young readers are back from vacation. I have found that one of the most successful category of books to use with younger kids is wordless picture books. They provide kids with a way to tell a story in their own words, eliciting language and using imagination. Here are four I plan on permanently adding to our small Wordless Picture Book Library now that they have been read and enjoyed by my young readers.  

A Day for Sandcastles by JonArno Lawson,
illustrated by Qin Leng
Candlewick Press, 2022, 48 pages

A family - mom, dad, and three siblings - arrive by bus to spend a warm summer day at the beach. Pails and shovels in hand, older brother, middle sister and a toddler are ready to build a sandcastle at the water's edge. Proud of their first small castle, it is quickly washed away when a wave comes in. And so they begin again, and again, and again. Each sand castle meetings it own beachy fate. But the siblings never give up, working together as a team. What I love about this book is not just the message of teamwork and perseverance, but the feeling of being at the beach that each illustration brings. The ink and watercolor illustrations are detailed and while the focus is on the three siblings, there is the usual beach activity all around them - people swimming, others walking along the shoreline, people reading under umbrellas, kids playing ball - all captured on one and two page spreads, some with smaller, close up montages. And who hasn't encountered pesky seagulls while eating lunch at the beach, or the wind blowing someone's hat away. This day at the beach was anything but static. I could feel the sea breeze and the feeling of it blowing sand into my hair, and smell the sun screen, and the tide coming in as the day worn on and the position of the sun changes. This is a beautiful wordless picture, (and for me, nostalgic) day at the beach and I can't wait to see what my Kiddos have to say about it.     

All Around Bustletown Nighttime
written and illustrated by Rotraut Susanne Berner
Prestel Publishing, 2022, 14 pages

Welcome back to Bustletown! Previously, we read book about Bustletown throughout the seasons, and no matter what time of the year it is, it is a pretty busy, busy place. It is, after all, a wimmelbook. Is Bustletown just as busy at night as it is in the daytime? This book follows the same format as the previous books, beginning with a home where everyone is getting ready for bed, and the kids are camping out in the backyard. But, there is still activity on the street. The bus is still running, the gas station and the train station are open, just not quite as busy as in the daytime. The market is closed, and there is a sleepover for kids at the Cultural Center. But, uh oh, someone is trying to break into the bookstore. Luckily, the police have just arrived. The department store is closed, but there a window shoppers out for an evening stroll. Cara and John are out and strolling through the pages, but where are they going at night? It seems the Park Cafe is open and there are lots of people enjoying a meal with friends, plus they can watch the fireworks lighting up the night sky. Bustletown has a different look to it at night than it has during the day, but readers will meet the same people and see the same places as in the earlier books, giving all the Bustletown books a nice continuity. The illustrations are just as charming and colorful as before, but with a dark blue nighttime sky. And each of the two page spreads are elaborately detailed and each page connects to the one before and after it, providing lots of stories that kids can make up as they read their way through Bustletown, making this a great interactive book. 

The Depth of the Lake and the Height of the Sky
written and illustrated by Kim Jihyun
Floris Books, 2021, 24 pages

In her afterword, the author says she hopes this book will help readers connect to nature much the same way she did one summer and experience the same serene feeling she felt. In this story, a young boy, his parents, and their dog leave their bustling city behind and drive to the countryside to visit his grandparents. Soon after arriving, the boy and his dog go for a walk on a winding trail in the forest behind the house. The further they walk, the more the boy notices the wonders of nature around him. Eventually, he and the dog discover a lake with a dock, and the boy dives in, exploring the wonders of underwater nature. Afterward, boy and dog lay on the dock to dry off before heading home at the end of the day. What is remarkable about this wordless picture book how the author manages to convey so much in each illustration, all of which are done using writing ink and a slow-drying blending medium in a palette of grays and whites, with only touches of blue. Each image is filled with details, whether it is the street where the family lives, or the lushness of the forest with it varied flora, the long late afternoon shadows over the countryside, or a sky filled with stars. My only problem was that the boy went swimming alone in the lake. I have drummed it into my Kiddo's head to never ever swim alone, and had to give the same warning to my young readers when we read this book. Otherwise, it is a brilliant wordless picture book that really elicited lots of talk among my kids.     

The Dog Walk
written and illustrated by Sven Nordqvist
Floris Books, 2021, 32 pages

Follow a young boy in a red cap as he takes his Grandmother's big white dog for a jam-packed adventurous walk in this wordless fanciful Wimmelbook. Pulled along by the dog, the two ride a train to places where there are tree houses piled one on top of the other, people from different time periods, people and animals of exaggerated size (both large and small), and all kinds of animated objects, among other  imaginative things. Boy and dog climb mountains, cross tropical seas, explore toy and antique shops, visit overgrown villages and castles surrounded by moats, and a town where only cats live. The sights the boy and dog see are wildly imaginative, at times fun, at other times rather dark. And just like that, they return to Grandmother's house at the end of their adventure. I was a little hesitant about reading this to my young readers, but they loved exploring the pictures and I guess they've watched enough silly things on TV that they had no problems making up stories about the boy and dog on each page after they found them in all the chaos, all of them brilliantly illustrated using watercolor, acrylic, and ink.  

What are some of your favorite wordless picture books?

Friday, July 22, 2022

The Marvellers (Marvellerverse #1) by Dhonielle Clayton

Ella Durand comes from a prominent New Orleans family of Conjurors and although she is only 11-years-old, she is about to make history. She will be the first Conjuror to enter the Arcanum Training Institute for Marvelous and Uncanny Endeavors and Ella is beyond excited about it, even if her mother isn't. And she isn't the only one not happy about Ella attending this school. Once Ella arrives, she finds she has three roomates, two of which believe Conjurors don't belong in the school and only one of which is even remotely friendly. She is also assigned a mentor, Masterji Thakur, who will help her learn the Marvellian Way, and a guide, Jason Eugene, the youngest of an illustrious Marvelling family and the youngest of four siblings in the school. At first, Ella rejects Jason's help, determined to do everything on her own as part of her need to prove that she belongs. 

The first thing that happens is that Ella is moved from her dorm with three roomates to one she will share with unfriendly Brigit Ebsen from New York City. Unlike Ella, Brigit does not want to be in the Arcanum Training Institute and plans on running away as soon as she can. Brigit also continuously knits images onto squares, but doesn't know why, who the images are, and seems to go into a trance when she is knitting. 

It's not just students who don't want Ella at their school, some of the teachers feel the same way and she begins to get demerits for things she hasn't done. But, little by little, she and Brigit become friends, and Ella warms up to Jason enough to call him friend too. But when a prisoner, Gia Trivelino, who calls herself the Ace of Anarchy, escapes from the Cards of Deadly Fate, a prison made out of powerful conjure cards and then Masterji Thakur disappears, students and teachers are quick to point their finger at Ella. All the while, Ella keep wondering just what her Marvel is. 

Click to Enlarge
Marvels are a light within a person that is strongly linked to one of five Paragons. Paragons are similar to the five senses (vision, touch, sound, taste, smell) except smell has been replaced by spirit. At the end of the school year, there is an exam where kids find out their Paragon. Since all of the kids who are in Ella's class come from Marvelling families, they already have an idea of what their Paragon will be, with the exception of Ella and Brigit. I found myself wondering just what Ella's Paragon would be that would really work for a series. Then I thought, duh, she has at least two friends who can help with their Paragons. And then it occurred to me that wondering what will happen is part of the fun of reading The Marvellers

And there is a lot of fun stuff in this book because Clayton's worldbuilding is just so wonderfully imaginative. Sure, some of it may remind you of Harry Potter, but there is just so much originality that the comparisons fall away quickly until you are only left with one - they are both fantastic school stories. And astute readers will definitely chuckle at the names of some of the teachers in Ella's school.

But don't get me wrong, there is plenty of serious stuff going on. Ella is marginalized right off the bat when she must change rooms and live with Brigit, the other marginalized student. And with marginalization, comes bullying by students and collecting demerits because Conjurors are not welcomed by every teacher in the school.  

I have to admit when I first began reading The Marvellers, I had a hard time getting into it, but after a few pages, I was totally hooked. And I could go on and on about how great it is because there is just so much to this story, but maybe you should just read the book. It is well worth your time. Maybe I'll reread it.  

Monday, July 18, 2022

End: 48 Hour #MGReadathon


First, I would like to thank Karen Yingling at Ms. Yingling Reads for bringing back and hosting the first #MGReadathon in a long time. It's been fun and even though I wasn't very good a doing check-in during the 48 hours, I did get a lot (for me) of reading and in some cases, rereading books this weekend. It was just the diversion I needed while caring for someone with cancer. 

Here are the books I enjoyed reading and I hope to write reviews on them soon:

Friday, July 8, 2022

National Geographic Kids' Ultimate Food Atlas Blog Tour and Giveaway

Welcome to the Ultimate Food Atlas Blog Tour!

This week, join us for a fantastic food journey around the globe as we celebrate the release of the Ultimate Food Atlas (National Geographic Kids Books, ages 8-12).  Five blogs across the web are featuring posts from the book as we "travel" from continent to continent to discover a rich diversity of foods and food celebrations from many different countries. Ready for a captivating around-the-world culinary adventure? Read on!


Australia, the smallest continent, is also a country. Because it’s in the Southern Hemisphere, its northern coast—closer to the Equator—is tropical. Sugarcane and tropical fruits such as bananas and mangoes are produced in the northeast. The south of Australia has a mild climate, good for producing wheat and other grains. The interior, or outback, is largely desert. About 1,300 miles (2,092 km) east of Australia is New Zealand, a lush green country known for its many sheep. Thousands of other islands of Oceania are scattered to the north and east across the Pacific. On these islands, coconuts, papayas, and many other tropical fruits thrive, and fresh seafood is plentiful.

Traditional Australia and Oceania Seafood Delights

Australians along the coasts take full advantage of the fresh seafood available to them. On the islands of Oceania, men and women continue traditional fishing practices. Across the continent, freshwater lakes and streams offer other tasty local options. Batter-fried fish, grilled crustaceans, and succulent seaweed are just some of the dishes made from this region’s seafood.

BUGS (Australia) In Australia, local species of lobsters are the Moreton Bay Bug and Balmain Bug. Unlike other types of lobsters, these flat-shaped crustaceans do not have big claws, and only their tail meat is edible. Grilled with herb and garlic butter, you’ll find these seafood bugs served at picnics and in fine restaurants.

KOKODA (Fiji) Any fresh, locally caught fish, such as mahi mahi, can be turned into kokoda. Just marinate it in citrus juices and mix it with some coconut cream, onions, tomatoes, and chilies. This favorite festive dish is often served in a large clam shell of coconut shell. 

SEA GRAPE SALAD (Fiji)  The seaweed called nama in Fiji is known as sea grapes, or even green caviar, elsewhere in the world. The little bubbles of green on this algae are soft but pleasantly crunchy when eaten. Nama is usually eaten topped with lemon juice or a little coconut cream as part of a fresh salad.

WHITEBAIT FRITTER (New Zealand)  This fish dish specialty of New Zealand is made using tiny freshwater fish such as inanga or other fresh catch from local rivers. The fish are cooked with eggs and butter and served with lemon. There’s a friendly competition between North Island and South Island folks as to who has the better recipe. 

POISON CRU (French Polynesia) This island specialty is freshly caught raw fish, usually tuna, diced and marinated in lime. For a Tahitian version of fish-and-chips, try it with a side of taro chips.

Ultimate Food Atlas

Buy | Add on Goodreads

Exploring the world has never been more yummy and fun! Discover how unique foods are grown, eaten, and celebrated by people all over the planet, get recipes for delicious dishes, and so much more!

Pull up a chair and dig into this bold and vibrant world atlas full of fun food facts, fascinating information about crops and farming, easy-to-read maps, recipes, and games from around the world. On the menu: vegetables, grains, meats, dairy products, and foods harvested from the water. Highlights include appetizing attractions, cool places to eat, and food festivals, and sustainable eating is promoted throughout. It's a treat for kids who are interested in food and a valuable reference about geography, agriculture, and culture across the continents. Absolutely stuffed with mouthwatering tidbits for every reader! Kids are sure to come back to the table hungry for more!

About the Authors

Nancy Castaldo has written award-winning books about our planet for over 20 years from New York’s Hudson Valley. Her love of reading and writing outdoors began in her childhood, when she wasn’t searching for frogs, turtles, and salamanders, and climbing trees. Her curiosity led her to study science. As an environmental educator, Nancy combined all of those interests. She still enjoys spending her time exploring in the wild as she did while researching over two dozen books and many articles. Nancy writes to inform, inspire, and empower her readers about the world around them. Visit her online at nancycastaldo.com.

Christy Milhaly's book Diet for a Changing Climate: Food for Thought (co-written with Sue Heavenrich) explores this issue and offers pointers on preparing environmentally friendly―and tasty―meals using invasive plants,animals and insects.  She has published other nonfiction books on topics including nature, history, politics, and crafts. Milhaly earned degrees from Dartmouth College and the University of California, Berkeley. Visit her online at christymihaly.com,


Ultimate Food Atlas

  • One (1) winner will receive a hardcover of Ultimate Food Atlas
  • US/Can only
  • Ends 7/17 at 11:59pm ET
  • Enter via the Rafflecopter below
  • Visit the other stops on the tour for more chances to win!

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Blog Tour Schedule:

July 4th From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors
July 5th YA Books Central
July 6th Pragmatic Mom
July 7th Mrs. Book Dragon
July 8th Randomly Reading

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