What I Read: January 2016

I read 12 books in January – 10 were fiction, 2 were non-fiction. 3 were on the Kindle, 9 were in print. Two were by writers of color (gotta work on that).

The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter’s Notebook by Ellen McCarthy (2015).

I got this book through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program. I found it occasionally trite, as books about love can sometimes be, but I also found lots of great food for thought in this slim volume. I really enjoyed it and it was a quick read!

For Your Love: A Blessings Novel by Beverly Jenkins (2015).

This was another Early Reviewer book! Beverly Jenkins has written over 30 books (including 5 in this Blessings series), but this is the first I’d read – and it was delightful. It sort of reminded me of Maeve Binchy books I’ve read – just about a small black community in Kansas, focusing equally on a bunch of different people and their parts in the cohesive whole of the town. I really enjoyed it. Will definitely read more.

Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson (2015).

I’ve been meaning to read this series for a while and when I saw Task 17 of the Read Harder 2016 challenge (Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years), I knew this would be a perfect match for that. I LOVED it – this comic is set at a girls summer camp and has adventure, mystery, supernatural creatures, and just a hint of budding lesbian love. Will totally be reading them all.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik (2015).

Picked this up based on a NPR Book Concierge recommendation and it did not disappoint. I totally loved this tale of a village girl, Agnieszka, who lives on the edge of an enchanted wood and is selected by the local wizard (known as the Dragon) to be his servant (he picks a new girl every 10 years). Rather than a live of servitude, Agnieszka discovers her own magical powers and soon needs to join together with the other witches and wizards in the kingdom to battle the Wood. Great strong female protagonist and wonderful world building. I will definitely need to check out what else Novik has written.

Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein (2016).

I read and enjoyed the first Mr. Limoncello book (Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library back in 2013, so I snatched this one right up when I saw it in the library’s new books display. It was equally delightful – a nationwide competition of library skills. So fun! I used this one for Task 5 of the Reader Harder Challenge (Read a middle grade novel) – although it is certainly not the last middle grade novel I will read this year!

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (2015).

After Astrid’s mom takes her and her best friend, Nicole, to the roller derby, Astrid decides she wants to sign up for Junior Roller Derby camp that Summer – despite having no roller skating experience! Nicole prefers to go to ballet camp, and so Astrid finds herself navigating roller derby alone, while also worrying about the possible loss of her best friend. A great middle grades graphic novel, sure to be enjoyed by fans of Raina Telgemeier. This is the first graphic novel that I read on my Kindle and I… didn’t hate. Will probably still mostly stick to print though!

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 4: Last Days by G. Willow Wilson (2015)

Man, do I love Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, NJ teenager and superhero saving the world, or at least, Jersey City. Another great entry in the series. Really love how Marvel seems to have realized there is a market for kickass female superheroes.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Volume 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North (2015).

Continuing my snowy graphic novel weekend, I finally checked out The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, and I totally LOVED it. Squirrel Girl is upbeat, fun, and unbeatable. She’s also totally normal girl sized (yay, for a superhero that is not Barbie-like). Love, love, love.

Princeless: The Pirate Princess by Jeremy Whitley (2015).

The third in the series about a princess who rescues herself and her sisters from patriarchy and dragons. The one introduced Raven, the pirate princess, who gets her own spinoff series – yay, more graphic novels to add to the list!

Lumberjanes: Friendship to the Max by Noelle Stevenson (2015).

The second Lumberjanes book, just as weird and wonderful as the first.

March: Book One by John Lewis (2013).

Graphic memoir by Congressman and civil rights hero, John Lewis about his childhood and introduction into the civil right movement. Exceeded my expectations. I look forward to reading book two!

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (2015).

YA fantasy at it’s best – magical powers, a gang of thieves, an impossible heist. Great characters, world building and adventures. Recommend.

What I Read: January 2016

Read This! Water is Water

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We read this sparse, lyrical book about the water cycle for bedtime last week and I knew right away I was going to post about it. First of all I love that Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul is a science book that is readable as a bedtime story. Yes, please! Second the illustrations by Jason Chin are BEAUTIFUL. I think this is the first book we’ve read illustrated by him, but I will definitely be on the look out for more. Third, the book features a biracial family (black dad, white mom, two kids) which can be hard to find in picture books, especially ones that aren’t specifically about different families. A win all around.

Read This! Water is Water

Preschool Reads: Valentine’s Day

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There just aren’t a ton of great Valentine’s books out there. I tried to find a good mix that focused on the basics of the holiday: love, hearts and sending cards! Here are a few that we enjoyed. What are your favorites?

If You’ll Be My Valentine, written by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Fumi Kosaka (2005).

A little boy makes Valentines for his family, friends, even his teddy bear, in this cute rhyming tale.

Mama, Do You Love Me?, written by Barbara M. Joose, illustrated by Barbara Lavallee (1992).

What better time for a tale of unconditional parental love than Valentine’s Day? This is one of my favorite reads year round – so reassuring to all kids that even if Mama is mad, she still loves you!

My Heart is Like a Zoo, written and illustrated by Michael Hall (2009).

A simple book that compares the emotions of the heart to animals – but OH SO fun to find all the hearts in the illustrations. Would be a great tie-in with a craft project.

A Secret Valentine, written and illustrated by Catherine Stock (1991).

A girl and her mother make and send Valentine’s Day cards to family and to her elderly neighbor. In return, on Valentine’s Day, she gets many cards back – including one from a secret Valentine.

Valentine’s Day, written by Anne Rockwell, illustrated by Lizzy Rockwell (2000).

Ms. Madoff’s class makes Valentine’s Day cards for a classmate who has moved to Japan. While they create, they remember all the fun things they did with Michiko.

Note: I tried and failed to find a Valentine’s Day book that featured a Latino/a child. If you know of one, please let me know!

Preschool Reads: Valentine’s Day

Read This! My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay

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First grader Zulay, who is blind, loves going to school with her best friends, Maya, Nancy, and Chyng. When their teacher, Ms. Seeger, announces that the class will be having a field day in a few weeks, each child must decide which event they’d like to compete in. Maya chooses capture the flag, Nancy tug-of-war and Chyng the egg-and-spoon race. Zulay decides she wants to run a race in her new pink sneakers, so she practices with her aide, Ms. Turner, on the track every day. By field day, she’s got it down! A wonderful, inclusive tale written by Cari Best, with lovely illustrations by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

Read This! My Three Best Friends and Me, Zulay

Read Harder 2016: Middle Grade Novels

I so enjoyed doing the Read Harder challenge in 2015, that I am thrilled Book Riot is doing it again! Task 5 is to read a Middle Grade Novel, and those are my JAM. So I thought I would make a list of recommendations of MG books that I think are great and would appeal to folks who don’t usually read them.

All Four Stars by Tara Dairman (2014).

Who can resist a book about a sixth grade restaurant critic? Gladys Gatsby *loves* food, but after an unfortunately creme brûlée incident, she is banned from the kitchen by her non-culinarily inclined parents. When an essay she wrote for a newspaper contest is mistaken for an actual job application, Gladys finds herself reviewing a restaurant for the New York Standard. Fans of Ruth Reichl’s Delicious, should sample All Four Stars.

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George (2007).

When Creel’s family sacrifices her to the local dragon, they never would have imagined that she’d talk her way out of his cave and head off to the capital with a pair of magical slippers. She arrives just in time to save the kingdom. If you like YA fantasy, then you should give the MG’s Dragon Slippers a try!

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson (2014).

Middle School schemer, Jackson Greene, swears he has reformed his ways, but when he suspects that the Student Council elections have been rigged against his friend, Gaby de la Cruz, he decides to pull off one last con for the greater good. If you like heist capers like Ocean’s Eleven, you’ll enjoy The Great Greene Heist.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford (2014).

Sometimes good things come from judging a book by it’s cover. I picked this one up because I liked the way it looked, and found such an engaging tale inside. Milo lives in a smuggler’s inn with his adopted, innkeeper parents. The holidays are usually a quiet time, but for some reason, this year, the inn has filled up with some very eccentric characters. It’s up to Milo to figure out what they are seeking before something bad happens. If you are a mystery reader, pick up Greenglass House!

I Lived on Butterfly Hill by Marjorie Agosin (2014).

Celeste Marconi is forced to flee her home in Valparaiso, Chile after a brutal dictator seizes control. This book does a great job of showing life under/around a dictatorship through the eyes of a child. If you’ve avoided middle grade books, because you thought they couldn’t deal with serious topics, you should check out I Lived on Butterfly Hill.

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy (2014).

A fun (and often funny) family tale of two dads and their four sons, who range in age from 6 to 12. If you have found memories of Ramona Quimby, or if you just really want to read a story where two dads are just life and not a plot point, I totally recommend The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher.

Moving Target by Christina Diaz Gonzalez  (2015).

Middle school student, Cassie Arroyo, is at school in Rome where her art historian father is doing research. All of a sudden her world is shaken when her father picks her up unexpectedly from school and then is shot in their attempted escape. Her injured father sends her to see a Monk, while warning her against a secret group – the Hastati – who are out to get her. If you enjoyed the action and art of The Da Vinci Code, give Moving Target a try.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (2010).

Delphine and her two little sisters travel from Brooklyn to Oakland, CA in the summer of 1968 to spend time with their mother who abandoned the family when the youngest was a baby. Their “crazy summer” include Black Panther summer camp and a mother who wants little to do with them. This Newbery Honor book is a lovely mix of a historic moment in time and normal childhood. If you like historical fiction, you’ll enjoy One Crazy Summer. And bonus: This is a trilogy, so if you like this one, there are more to read!

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer by Kelly Jones (2015).

When Sophie Brown’s parents inherit her Great Uncle Jim’s farm, they move from LA to a more rural, agricultural part of California. Sophie discovers some of Great Uncle Jim’s very special chickens and starts a self-education campaign to become an exceptional poultry farmer. If you enjoy magical realism, I like you’ll like Unusual Chickens!

Read Harder 2016: Middle Grade Novels

Read This! A Penguin Story

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Our weather this weekend calls for a snowy read. In A Penguin Story, written and illustrated by Antoinette Portis, Edna, our penguin heroine, is on a quest. She wants to find something that is not white or black or blue, like all the things that surround her in the snowy Antarctic. She sets out alone and discovers something amazing! Lovely illustrations and great fun. You can find a few more recommendation for great picture books about snow here.

Read This! A Penguin Story

Books for Queer Families: Heather Has Two Mommies

Heather Has Two Mommies (written by Leslea Newman) was first published in 1989, making it a CLASSIC of lesbian children’s literature. It was reissued with new illustrations last year. Reviews of the reissue (illustrated by Laura Cornell) focused heavily on the fact that Heather’s mommies were now married (this portrayed through weddings band in the pictures, not mentioned outright), but as someone who actually read the first edition, I’m here to tell you that the big news is that the awkward pages on Mama Jane’s artificial insemination are now gone! Plot-wise, this is your basic, kid with two moms goes to school, discussion of family structures ensues story.

Pros: First of its kind! Plot is pretty basic and boring, but since it was first children’s book about two moms EVER that was in fact a novel concept at the time, so I will forgive it. It’s very respectful and having two moms is never presented as weird or a problem, just a thing to talk about, which is how you can tell the book was written by lesbian and not a straight lady.

Cons: I’m not that crazy about the new illustrations. The old ones were like some sort of tribute to 1970s lesbian feminism, so I can get that they needed an update, but the new ones are just kind of… messy. Not my favorite illustration style.

Bottom Line: If your kid has two moms, you should probably read this to them at some point (otherwise someone may reclaim your toaster), but you can totally get it from the library. Public/school libraries and non-two mom families could do way worse than the reissued version of this book if they are looking for a book about two mom families to share. Basically, go for it!

Books for Queer Families: Heather Has Two Mommies