Friday, March 24, 2017

Blog Tour: Brobarians written and illustrated by Lindsay Ward

Starting with a hand drawn-in-pencil-and-crayon map of Brobaria, that clearly shows the backyard territory divided between Iggy's Land and Otto's Land, young readers are plunged into the tale of two brothers, the mighty Brobarians, once at peace, now bitter enemies.

Sporting a mop belted to his head, an orange towel cape, and a diaper, Iggy the Brobarian is the younger of these two gladiator brothers. Older brother Otto the Big Brobarian prefers a blue towel cape, a viking hat complete with horns, and a t-shirt that says Tough Guy on it.

But what terrible thing caused these two Brobarians to turn against each other? A broken cookie jar and each blamed the other for the mishap. Now at war, younger Brobarian Iggy, master of a rattle-shaped sword, seized the great warrior Otto's plastic army. Consulting his advisors, a stuffie and the family dog, Otto waits for just the right moment to strike back at Iggy, not just stealing his most precious bottle, but drinking it all up - every last drop. The result is a true clash of the titans.

Will these two mighty warriors ever make up and restore peace in their realms? Or will it take the neutral arbitrator Mamabarian to bring them together in the a nice warm bubbly negotiating bath?

Brobarians is a really humorous, warmhearted look at sibling rivalry, a book any reader, young and old, who has a brother or sister can appreciate. I can remember drawing a crayon line down the center of the bedroom I shared with my sister and how much trouble we got in for doing that, and yes, we pointed the finger at each other, just as Otto and Iggy do.

So, Brobarians is really a true-to-life tale, (and probably also a tale as old a time). I found myself laughing out loud the first time I read it, but the real test was with the young readers I read it to who absolutely loved Otto and Iggy. I think it was not just the story about these two brothers that appealed to them, but also the boys vivid imaginative playing and especially their warrior costumes.

To add to the fun, author/illustrator Lindsay Ward's page-turning illustrations were done with cut paper, pencil and crayon giving them a rather playful feeling, as though created from a kid's point of view. My kids loved discovering and talking about the different toys the boys used that are found on each page.

Brobarians is a lot of fun and is a book that kids will want to hear again and again (and I know this for a fact), and might even prompt only children to declare, as one of my young readers did, "oh, man, I wish I had a brother."

A Bit About the Author:
Lindsay Ward would never have written this book if she hadn't stayed up late one night watching Conan the Barbarian. She finds the idea of baby barbarians to be very funny...and hopes you do too. Lindsay's recent books include Rosco vs. the Baby and The Importance of Being 3. Most days you can find her writing and sketching at home in Ohio with her family. Learn more about her at or on Twitter: @lindsaymward

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Two Lions

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Only Road by Alexandra Diaz

After his cousin Miguel is beaten to death by a gang called the Alphas for refusing to join them, Jaime, 12, and Miguel’s sister Ángela, 15, receive a note from the gang instructing them to show up a a certain place in six days. Though the note doesn’t say it, both children know that they will meet the same fate as Miguel if they aren’t there.

The Alphas are a powerful gang of young people dealing in drugs and death, and even the drug addicted police chief is unable to do anything about their reign of terror in this small Guatemalan town.

Not wanting to lose more children to the gang, Jaime’s parents, together with Miguel’s parents decide to send them to live with Jaime’s older brother Tomás. Tomás has been legally living and working in New Mexico on a ranch. After gathering as much money together as they can, the two families say good-bye to their children one night as they climb into the back of a pickup truck that will smuggle them across the border into southern Mexico.

Arriving in Tapachula, Mexico, Jaime and Ángela realize they still have a long, dangerous journey ahead of them. They decide to take a bus from there to Arriaga, but even that proves to be an ordeal when corrupt immigration guards board it at a checkpoint not far from Tapachula. There, they watched a woman taken off the bus, while a guard tests Ángela's pronunciation to see if she sounds Guatemalan not Mexican.

Arriving in Arriaga, the cousins make their way over to a church that offers shelter to others who are also heading north, hoping to cross the border. The “priest’ at the church also helps runaways meet coyotes who will take them across the border for a price. From Arriaga, the cousins travel by train in a locked, airless freight car which takes them to the border of Mexico and New Mexico. Once again, they need to pay a coyote to take them across the border, finding work for a while to make the money to pay for the trip. Eventually, they do cross the Rio Bravo, only to find themselves in another refugee camp, awaiting Tomás’s arrival.

The Only Road is not an easy book to read despite being narrated by 12 year old Jaime, but he does humanize the plight of why Central American refugees are trying to get away from gang and drug infested towns for a better life. After Miguel’s death, it becomes clear that there are only three choices available for Jaime and Ángela are join the Alphas or be murdered by them, or runaway. I can’t imagine being put into the same position as their parents and having to make the decision to send them on a dangerous, iffy journey alone and so far away, with no guarantees they won’t be killed, or caught and sent home. 

Sneaking across the border becomes understandable when people find themselves in the kind of untenable situation that Jaime and Ángela's families faced and who had no recourse with the local governments that could not or would not protect the. In that respect, The Only Road shows how very vulnerable these young kids are to the people who will take advantage of them financially, with no compunction about leveling physical and sexual abuse on these desperate runaways. 

The Only Road is a very timely and poignant novel, especially with all the talk in Washington about building a southern border wall. It was inspired by real events, Jamie and Ángela's story reflecting the many young people trying to immigrate to the United States, a phenomena that has increased in recent years as gangs and gang violence has proliferated in Central America. One needs only to read the newspapers to understand what is happening.

There are lots of Spanish words used in this book and readers will find an in-depth Glossary in the back matter. There are also suggestions for Further Reading for All Ages, from picture books to YA, as well as Online Resources for more information. Diaz also includes a separate section of Further Reading for Teachers that may not be appropriate for children.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+ 
This book was an EARC received from NetGalley

Monday, March 20, 2017

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It's Monday! What are you reading? is the original weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, but is now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date It's Monday! What are you reading? - from Picture Books to YA is a kidlit focused meme just like the original and is hosted weekly by Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee at Unleashing Readers .  The purpose is the same: to recap what you have read and/or reviewed and to plan out your reading and reviews for the upcoming week. Twitter for #IMWAYR

I love a good picture book, and last week, I had lots of exciting picture books adventures to read that I would like to share with everyone. First up is
A Bus called Heaven written and illustrated by Bob Graham
Candlewick Press, 2011, 2012, 42 pages, age 4+
When an abandoned bus with a hand painted sign that simply says Heaven on it is discovered in front of Stella's house, the whole neighborhood is abuzz with curiosity, including Stella. Loaded with trash and in desperate need of a good wash, Stella sees nothing but possibility. Soon, the bus is transformed to a little bit of heaven as everyone pitches in and fixes it up. And what a wonderful community center for these very diverse neighbors to gather in and spend time getting to know each other. Even the birds settle in, building nests in the old engine. It's all good until...the tow truck shows up and off goes Heaven to the junkyard. Will the concerted efforts of Stella's friends and neighbors be enough to save their community bus from a crushing fate?
I loved this book. Not only does it shows how one person can make a difference, but also how a united community with a shared interest can also effect change. The ink and watercolor illustrations add just the right amount of whimsy and young readers will find much to explore in them. Pair this with The Night Gardener by Terry and Eric Fan, another fable in which a young boy helps transform and unite his diverse neighborhood.
The Tree, a Fable written and illustrated by Neal Layton
Candlewick Press, 2017, 40 pages, age 4+
A large tree stands on land that has been bought by a couple, who plan to build their new home there. But first they must cut down the tree in order to do that. As they begin to saw the tree down, they have a big surprise - the tree is already a home to rabbits, owls, birds, and squirrels. Horrified that they almost displaced all these residents, the couple go home and redo their house plans. Kids are in for a big surprise when they discover the solution this nature-loving couple comes up with that will give everyone a home, thanks to the tree.
This is a really nice environmental/conservation fable, perfect for Earth Day programs on April 22, 2017, and it will be fun to see what the kid's think the couple's solution to their problem will be before reading the end of the book. Layton's illustrations are done in earth tones using a pen and ink wash. Though the illustrations have a somewhat humorous quality to them, they still capture all the excitement, surprise, fear, disappointment, and finally hope and happiness of all God's creatures here. There's a lesson to be learned here and it's a good one. 
Layton says that writing this book began with a feeling, and you can check out pictures of his writing process HERE
Rain by written and illustrated by Sam Usher
Templar Books, 2017, 40 pages, age 4+
Sam really wants to go out and play in the rain, there are raindrops to catch, puddles to splash in, adventures to have. But when he asks Grandpa if they can go out and play, Grandpa says to wait till the rain stops, But will is ever stop? Meanwhile, Grandpa sits and writes his important letter, over and over and over, trying to get it right. Until, finally, the rain stops and Grandpa's letter is finished. Did Sam and Grandpa miss all the fun of a rainy day? No siree bob, they did not. The rain just wasn't finished, after all.
You couldn't ask for a more perfect rainy day book. Every kid will relate to Sam's desire to get out of the house and have some fun. More than that, young readers will have some fun spotting Sam's stories and toys in his adventures when he finally gets out of the house. Fans of Sam Usher's Snow are already familiar with Sam and his Grandpa, and Usher follows the same story structure in Rain as in that book, and newcomers are sure to want more Sam and Grandpa after reading Rain
Usher's ink and watercolor illustrations reflect the wetness of the rain, the dryness of the house, and vividness of Sam's imagination.
Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury
Candlewick Press, 1996, 2017, 40 pages, age 4+
Poor duck! The lazy farmer just stays in bed all day long reading the newspaper (tabloids?)and eating boxes of candy. And to make matters worse, each time Duck does a chore, Farmer yells out "How's the work going?" All the hoeing, gardening, taking care of the other animals, ironing, washing dishes, cooking are really wearing Duck down. The other farm animals really like Duck, and so one day they come up with a plan for helping him out. And what a plan it is!
I love Farmer Duck. I remember reading it to my Kiddo when she was young and we had lots of discussions about it. Oxenbury's watercolor illustrations really communicate Duck's feelings and his weariness as he takes care of the farm despite the fact that all he ever utters is Quack. The slovenliness of the farmer and the empathy the other animals feel are also well represented mainly by facial expressions.  There is a true revolutionary spirit in this wonderful tale that seems to reflect today's world more than was intended, I'm sure. I was so happy to see this classic reissued for today's young readers. I know they will Quack along with duck every time it's read.

This week, I am reading The Warden's Daughter by Jerry Spinelli

What are you currently reading this week?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Blog Tour: Matylda, Bright & Tender by Holly McGhee

Sussy (short for Susquehanna) Reed and Guy Hose have been inseparable best friends since that day in Kindergarten when he showed her how to make a never-ending Mr. Potato Head. The two friends have done everything together ever since - with one exception. They have never been allowed to have a pet.

Now in fourth grade, Sussy and Guy manage to talk Mr. Reed into letting them get Guy's choice of a leopard gecko. They find the perfect one at Total Pets, a gecko that seems to have been as immediately attracted to Guy as he was to her. And he thinks she should be called Matylda "of the Ancient Face and Starfish Toes."

Although Matylda lives in a tank on top of Sussy's dresser, she seems to like Guy so much more than Sussy, much to Sussy's dismay. The friends even give Matylda a warrior history, in which she is victorious in battle and her master grants her one wish -  to be loved, a wish that is granted when Sussy and Guy find her in Total Pets.

Then one morning, Guy decides Matylda needs some vitamin D3. The two friends hop on their bikes and start riding, when a dog runs out and goes after Sussy on her bike. Guy gets off his bike to yell at the dog just as a car is coming down the street. Next thing Sussy knows is that her best friend is dead.

After the funeral, Sussy suddenly finds herself alone for the first time since Kindergarten. She begins to obsessively focus on Matylda, trying to figure out how to love Matylda the way Guy had, believing that if she does everything right, she could hold on to Guy.

When summer comes, Sussy isolates in her bedroom, every day dressing in the same red capri pants and sunflower shirt she wore the day of the accident, reliving it over and over and over. The only time she leaves the house is to go to Total Pets to buy something for Matylda, something that she hopes will convince Matylda that she loves her just like Guy had, and that will make Matylda love Sussy just as she had loved Guy, enabling Sussy to continue to hold on to him.

At Total Pets, she finds herself stealing food and toys for Matylda, egged on by the stealing girl's voice in her head. As each thing fails to do what she wants, Sussy returns to the store more frequently, until she realizes the store clerk, who had always been so friendly and helpful, is on to her and Sussy's world, as carefully constructed as the never-ending Potato Heads, comes flying apart. But it was a world constructed by Guy, and now, Sussy must find a way to construct her own world without him.

Sussy and Matylda are the central characters here, and both are believable. Sussy's first person narrative feels natural and realistic as she tries to navigate her new life without Guy while still not letting go of him. Her story is interspersed with memories of the two friends, giving the reader a real sense of what their friendship was like. As Sussy recalls more and more about Guy, the reader begins to realize that this was an uneven though dear relationship, with Sussy frequently letting Guy take the lead and acquiescing to his ideas - like insisting that they must get the vitamin D3 for Matylda.

The other characters, including Sussy's parents, Guy's mother, Mike from Total Pets are satellite characters, secondary to Sussy's struggle, much of which is experienced in her thoughts. These other characters don't need to be fleshed out, but they are needed to be there for support and love, which they all do well.

McGhee has written Sussy's grieving process with a mixture of anger, confusion, guilt, and magic thinking. Sussy begins to find herself so very tired from have to go on without Guy, suddenly not really knowing how to do things by herself. The world has lost all its color, and Sussy experiences everything around her as grey. It doesn't take long for her to endow Matylda with thoughts and feelings that a gecko is just not capable of having. The fact that Matylda would rest on the back of Guy's neck probably has more to do with hiding and warmth than with the love Sussy thinks the gecko has for him.

Matylda, Bright & Tender masterfully explores the very sad, very poignant grieving process of a child, and while Sussy's pain is palpable, McGhee has infused her story enough humor so that it doesn't overwhelm the reader. Sussy's story does end on a note of hope and new friends who will help her move on and discover who she is without Guy.

Matylda, Bright & Tender is a well-done, heartwarming, tender story, and one not to be missed.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Candlewick Press

Monday, March 13, 2017

2016 Cybils MG Finalist: Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

It's July 1934, and times are hard for the Curry family. Poppy's out of work and in New Jersey looking for a job, and mom is taking in laundry, so son Beans Curry does what he can to help out. But after sifting through garbage, collecting empty cans and expecting to get 10¢ for every twenty cans, he is cheated out of 5¢ by the wily Winky, who now claims he said 50 cans per 10¢. One thing that Beans knows for sure is that grown-ups lie and Winky is a good example of that. Angered, Beans is determined to find another way to help his family out. Luckily, "businessman" Johnny Cakes happens to be looking for Beans with a job proposition.

Turns out, Johnny Cakes is a rum runner, and Beans's job is to help him get the illegally gotten Cuban rum off ships in the middle of the night. All Beans has to do is set off the fire alarm to divert any possible attention from the docks. It job pays good money and Beans doesn't mind doing it, but after so many false alarms, the fire department stops responding to them.Which is too bad, since one night there is a real fire, destroying the house of one of Beans's best friends. Racked with guilt, Beans never confesses his part in the fire, but he does stop working for Johnny Cakes and turns his sights toward more positive work trying to assuage his guilt.

At the same time, the federal government has sent down some New Dealers to decide whether to simply evacuate Key West, or clean it up and turn it into a warm, sunny tourist attraction. As the transformation of Key West begins, and houses get painted, a playground gets built, and stray dogs are rounded up, Beans manages to find a way to help in the beautification of Key West rounding up his gang of friends to collect garbage and rake seaweed.

But perhaps Beans's real saving grace will be his uncanny ability to take care of babies, after all, he certainly has a way with them.

Jennifer Holm returns to depression-era Key West, Florida in this fun prequel to Turtle in Paradise. It's a place she is familiar with, since her family had lived there since the late 1800s. The story is told in the first person by Beans, who draws the reader right in the midst of the sights, sounds and smells of 1934 Key West.

I thought Beans was a wonderful character. He's got a great sense of humor, a deep sense of loyalty towards friends and family, and despite his brief foray into crime, he actually as a moral compass and conscience to go with it, and, amazingly, he never complains when he is asked to help out at home, no matter what is is asked to do.

I loved the historical references, the mention of movie stars and writers of the time - Ernest Hemingway is already a Key West resident, Robert Frost a visitor, and with money in his pocket, Beans escapes life for a little while at the local movie theater. As he tells readers, Shirley Temple is just beginning to make it big and he is sure she will be a star.

I thought it interesting that Holm mentions leprosy. Sitting in the dark theater at night, Beans notices a man who seems to vanish in thin air after each movie ends. It turns out that the man, named Murray, has leprosy, and can't go out during the day: "It's not safe...They'd send me to the leper hospital in Louisiana. Nobody ever comes back from that place." (pg 125) (as a middle grader, I had read a book called Miracle at Carville by Betty Martin. This is the hospital that Murray is referring to).

Since this novel is grounded in the real history of Key West during the Great Depression, Holm has included an extensive Author's Note, with a number of photographs, and there is even a list of Beans's Favorite Kid Actors and his friend's Pork Chop's Best Sayings.

All in all, Full of Beans is definitely full of fun.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to my by the publisher, Random House BFYR
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