Julia Child: an Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures

juliachildJulia Child: an Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures by Erin Hagar and Joanna Gorham. Duo Press, 2015.

It’s true: I was convinced to read this book by chatting with the author at Kidlitcon in October, after which I asked the library to purchase the book so I could read it.  I didn’t really know much about Julia Child – I haven’t read her book, though we have it on our cookbook shelf as a classic, nor have I seen her cooking show.  I do have a vague memory of seeing her kitchen at a long-ago visit to the Smithsonian.  But there is this: we are a family that cooks, and I’ve always had a deep if uneducated respect for Julia Child for re-popularizing real cooking in America as well as for having the guts to learn her cooking in a male-dominated world.

This is a short and very kid-friendly biography, perfect for both school reports and biography lovers.  It’s done in a style that the author told me was inspired by Brian Selznick, prose chapters interspersed with full-page wordless illustrations that look rather like movie stills, which depict significant moments.  (They look to me like colored pencil and watercolor, in a highly realistic style, though I could be entirely wrong about the medium.)  After showing the moment in France when she ate the meal that changed her life, it goes back to her childhood, her awkwardness and height, explaining the expected role of women at the time and Julia’s difficulty fitting in with it.  It talks about her spy work in WWII – something of which I was entirely unaware – before moving on to the part, much later in her life, where she falls in love with French cooking and starts on the journey that made her famous.  I found the book very engaging, great at emphasizing Julia’s skills and her contagious enthusiasm.  The final chapter covers her legacy and the lasting impression she made on food culture.

I’ve long recommended children’s nonfiction to adults looking for concise treatment of a topic as well as to kids. For reference, I looked up “Julia Child biography” on Amazon.  There are several, the most popular of which is currently the 2012 book Dearie by Bob Spitz.  It clocks in at 576 pages in paperback.  This sounds great for the serious Child fan, or the dedicated biography reader (there are many of these).  For me, preferring my steady diet of fiction as I do, I found this book to have just the right balance of depth and length – enough to leave me with more knowledge and a deepened affection for Julia.  I’d definitely recommend it both to kids and to adults looking for a more casual but still engaging look at this cooking pioneer.  I guess I’m not the only who felt this way, because this book developed hold list and hasn’t been checked in at the library since I brought it back.

Try pairing this with some of Jim Ottaviani’s more traditionally comic-book style biographies of ground-breaking women: Primates and Dignifying Science.

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Moon Rising, Valiant, and The Toymaker’s Apprentice

There are only a few more weeks until the Cybils winners will be announced!  I’ve been reading finalists in other categories trying to prepare, and I’ll try to get reviews of those up soon.  In the meantime, here are more of the middle grade speculative fiction nominees that I enjoyed, including the last of the finalists.

moonrisingMoon Rising. Wings of Fire Book 6 by Tui Sutherland. Scholastic, 2015.
This sixth book in the series starts a new sub-series, so that even though I haven’t read any of the previous books, I was still able to understand what was going on.  Now that the war between the different types of dragons is over, work is underway to bring them together.  The first step is to have young dragons go to school together, sharing rooms with dragons of other tribes.  It’s really hard to break distrust, though, when dragons are asked to make friends with the very dragons they fought against and who killed their relatives.  Our main point of view character here is Moonwatcher, a member of the hated Darkwing tribe, who was raised hidden in the rainforest and isn’t used to being around anyone at all.  She has the gifts of the Darkwings that no one believes in anymore – the ability to read thoughts and have visions.  This plays out as serious sensory issues – she’s immediately overwhelmed by all the dragons around her and their thoughts.  Plus, will she ever make friends with her wingmates whether or not she tells them the truth about herself?  Meanwhile, she’s overheard conversations about someone planning to attack the school, and the voice of an ancient, probably evil, but encouraging dragon that keeps talking in her head.  I was quickly caught up in Moon’s story, and am now considering going back to the other books.

valiantValiant by Sarah McGuire. Egmont, 2015.
Hooray, a fairy tale retelling!  The Brave Little Tailor is retold in a setting that feels like Eastern Europe in the 18th century.  Saville and her borderline abusive father are journeying to the capital city, Reggen, where her father is convinced that the innovative techniques that got him banned from the local guilds will make him the king’s favorite tailor.  Saville isn’t happy about any of it, but when her father has a stroke and is unable to care for himself, it’s up to her to dress as his apprentice and try to earn the king’s custom herself.  She also takes in a homeless boy, Will, and trains him to help a little, taking satisfaction from knowing that her father would disapprove.  Trying to survive pretending to be a boy and taking care of two people ought to have been enough, but Saville also finds herself caught up in dangerous politics when the city is attacked by the giants no one really believed were real.  The king is weak, his advisors divided, and his sister being prepped for use as a mindless pawn. There’s a touch of romance, and a lot of looking at the importance of diplomacy and real listening.  There’s quite a bit of violence, and between that and discussion of marriage, I’d say this is better for the older middle grade to teen crowd.  Lovers of fairy tale retellings will find this right up their alley.

toymakersapprenticeThe Toymaker’s Apprentice by Sherri L. Smith. Putnam, 2015.
Stefan is not dealing well with the death of his mother. He’s about to leave his father, a master toymaker, and head out to be a journeyman on his own – when his uncle Christian Drosselmeyer appears, with the Moorish Royal Astronomer of Boldavia.  Christian is a master clockmaker, and offers to take Stefan on and travel with him, catering to Stefan’s wish to make brand-new toys that use clockwork.  But Christian isn’t his own man, either – he’s bound to find the magical Krakatook nut, which will free the Princess Purlipat, who was turned to wood by the Mouse Queen’s curse some years before.  His quest will now be Stefan’s as well.  Meanwhile, we also hear part of the story told from the point of the view of the travelling rat tutor who is hired to train the monstrous seven-headed son of the queen mouse – each head named after a fearsome human leader, each with its own personality.  Though the tutor doesn’t really believe this can end well, he still does his best to train the prince to take over the world of men.  (Take Charlotte’s warning to heart: do not read this if you’re squeamish about rodents.) This is a story inspired by the Nutcracker – very faithfully, from what I remember from my childhood reading of the original novel – but without any touch of dancing snowflakes and candies.  I quite enjoyed it, and kids interested in history, machinery, and epic inter-species battles should enjoy it as well.

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Carry On

carryonCarry On by Rainbow Rowell. Read by Euan Morton. MacMillan Audio for St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015.

Fangirl was Rowell’s captivating look at a highly introverted geek girl trying to make it in college. Said geek girl, Cath, spends most of the book working on an unofficial series ender to a Harry Potter-like series, starring Simon Snow and his rival Baz, the Draco-like vampire he falls in love with. Carry On basically is that novel. We join Simon Snow, the Chosen One and the Mage’s Heir, for his final year at the Watford School for Magicks.


I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve never been a reader or writer of fanfic myself, nor has the idea of a Draco/Harry pairing in that universe ever made much sense to me. But I am a sucker for Harry Potter and a sucker for a well-written, convincing romance, and Carry On caters to both of those interests in spades. It works quite well as a story on its own, whether or not you’ve read either Fangirl or any of the Harry Potter books. At the same time, as a conversation around Harry Potter, it speaks volumes – a “but what if instead?” on top of the standard “what if” that makes speculative fiction. Continue reading

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Diversity for Daisies

In the spirit of Multicultural Children’s Book Day, I thought I’d share a project that I’ve been working on for a couple of months now. It’s not done yet, but I would like to ask for input from you, dear readers. Here is the situation:

I am the fourth assistant leader and troop librarian for my daughter’s Girl Scout Daisy Troop, currently all first-graders. The main project the girls work on is earning their petals – one petal for each line of the Girl Scout Law. The handbook has a story for each line of the law, but the main leaders’ experience from last year was that the stories, while beautifully illustrated, aren’t well-written enough to hold the girls’ attention. Could I, as a librarian, find better books? Continue reading

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day

For the first time ever, I missed signing up to participate in Multicultural Children’s Book Day.  While I’m super sad that I missed out on the fun in advance, there’s no reason for you to do so now!  Follow the links and read more to find reviews of multiultural children’s books, opportunities to win them, a twitter party and more!

Multicultural Children's Book Day

Multicultural Children’s Book Day was created by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from Pragmatic Mom in 2014. As the official website states:

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day, Mia and Valarie are on a mission to change all of that. Their mission is to not only raise awareness for the kid’s books that celebrate diversity, but to get more of these types of books into classrooms and libraries. Another goal of this exciting event is create a compilation of books and favorite reads that will provide not only a new reading list for the winter, but also a way to expose brilliant books to families, teachers, and libraries.

The MCCBD team’s mission to spread the word and raise awareness about the importance of diversity in children’s literature. Our young readers need to see themselves within the pages of a book and experience other cultures, languages, traditions and religions within the pages of a book. We encourage readers, parents, teachers, caregivers and librarians to follow along the fun book reviews, author visits, event details, a multicultural children’s book linky and via our hashtag (#ReadYourWorld) on Twitter and other social media.

Here are all of the sponsors of this year’s events:

Multicultural Children’s Book day 2016 Medallion Level Sponsors! #ReadYourWorld

Platinum: Wisdom Tales Press * StoryQuest Books*Lil Libros

Gold: Author Tori Nighthawk*Candlewick Press,* Bharat Babies

Silver: Lee and Low Books*Chronicle Books*Capstone Young Readers T

Tuttle Publishing ,NY Media Works, LLC/KidLit TV

Bronze: Pomelo Books* Author Jacqueline Woodson*Papa Lemon Books* Goosebottom Books*Author Gleeson Rebello*ShoutMouse Press*Author Mahvash Shahegh* China Institute.org*Live Oak Media

Multicultural Children’s Book Day has 12 amazing Co-Hosts. You can use the links below or view them here.

All Done Monkey, Crafty Moms Share,Educators Spin on it,Growing Book by Book,Imagination Soup,I’m Not the Nanny,InCultural Parent, Kid World Citizen,Mama Smiles,Multicultural Kid Blogs,Spanish Playground

Finally, here are my Multicultural Children’s Book Day posts from 2015 , 2014 part 1 and 2014 part 2.

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The Forgotten Sisters and Nomad

I always have the best of intentions about reviewing all my Cybils books as I read them – but I’m still behind.  Here are a couple more middle grade fantasy books from my December reading, both sequels in beloved series.

forgottensistersThe Forgotten Sisters. Princess Academy Book 3 by Shannon Hale. Bloomsbury, 2015.
Miri is finally going to return to Mount Eskel after the eventful year told about in book 2 of the series, Palace of Stone. Then, the country is under threat of war from a much larger neighboring kingdom. As a last-ditch effort to make peace through a diplomatic marriage, Miri is sent to start a princess academy for three wild cousins who have been raised in a far-away swamp. Miri has extra incentive to do this as the king’s advisor wants to sell the rights to Mount Eskel’s stone to merchants, taking away the recently won rights to living wages for Mount Eskel’s workers.  Once in the swamp, though, Miri realizes just how desperate the situation is: she’s coming in looking like a privileged rich girl, and the girls she’s supposed to be teaching are too busy foraging for food to have time to learn anything.  Before Miri can begin, she’ll have to figure out where the allowance and the mail that the girls are supposed to be getting has been going… On the downside, most of the familiar characters from the first two books aren’t here, but the flip side is that the story stands quite nicely on its own.  The ending is not quite believable, but highly satisfying – another story of girls winning through perseverance, brains and diplomacy.

nomadNomad by William Alexander. Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2015.
I loved, loved, loved the first book in this duology, Ambassador, though it did have a very abrupt, cliffhanger ending.  The sequel opens not with the previous main character, 12-year-old Gabe, but with the 1970s ambassador to the universe, Nadia, a Russian Jew.  She risked huge amounts to try to figure out how the enemy that’s still threatening the Earth in Gabe’s time, the Outlast, can travel so quickly through space, getting stranded and losing her sight in the process.  Gabe is able to meet her, still his age, when the Kaen ambassador takes him to meet her government.  This second book is even more space travel and learning about the different space cultures.  Gabe’s deported father is mostly at the back of Gabe’s mind, and it isn’t until the very end of the book that Gabe is able to think of a way to save him.  The only real problem I have with these books is that they split somewhat awkwardly into two – the first with more action and equal focus on Gabe’s family and his life as an ambassador, the second introducing Nadia (also a very interesting character) and having not much to say about Gabe’s family.  I would have appreciated getting to know Nadia in the first book, and hearing more of Gabe’s family earlier on the second book as I was very anxious about them.  However, it’s still a very strong story, with deep thinky-thoughts on what it means to be an “alien” – is Gabe’s father, in the US illegally, somewhat by accident?  Is a non-human race from another planet?  How should we treat aliens of either type?  My mother found the ending highly problematic, and I’d appreciate hearing thoughts on this from others who have read the book! But these thoughts are embedded in an exciting plot with well-drawn characters and equally fun, more theoretical thoughts on space travel.  I do highly recommend the books, especially read together.

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State of the Book Basket – January

Someday soon, I will have some reviews to share – but I’m working a Sunday at the library, and that means it’s time for me to take a look at what’s in our library book basket, in between helping frantic teens find a quiet table where they can study for their exams.

Mango, Abuela and MeMy daughter and I are listening to The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder in the car.  We’ve been doing assorted picture books at bedtime, including The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak (specifically requested by herself), Hoot Owl: Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor and Jean Jullien,and Last Stop on Market Street  by Matt de la Peña and Christian Robinson, this last checked out for a second time so I can share it with her class at school.  She’s been having a great time reading A Pig, a Fox and a Box by Jonathan Fenske to us. We have a couple more picture books that we haven’t gotten to yet – Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi and Mango, Abuela and Me by Meg Medina and Anglea Dominguez, as well as an early chapter book that I think she feels is too scary for her, Cybils Finalist Big Bad Detective Agency by Bruce Hale. I just realized that somehow we missed reading Lulu and the Hamster in the Night by Hilary McKay, so I’m bringing that home with me today. She has a handful of Rainbow Fairy books out from her school library, which she enjoys looking through on her own even though she can’t really quite read them yet, as well as an Alice in Wonderland pop-up book.

We’ve been exploring Alice – I’m not quite sure how it came up, but she asked to listen to the book, and then watched the Disney version of the movie.  Oh, Alice!  That early attempt at fantasy has never really worked for me as a story, but a love for it is so firmly woven into the texture of children’s literature and especially children’s fantasy, that I’ve now listened to the audiobook with both of my children.  We’ve had good conversations, though, about how the book doesn’t work for us and why it was written in such a way, as well as enjoying the poetry.

The DungeoneersMy son and I are still working our way slowly through The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. (And I’m sending her good thoughts – she’s been having such a rough go of it.) We’re listening to The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman in the car. He’s reading lots of Cybils finalists to himself – mostly The Dungeoneers by John David Anderson, which is a really long book for him, so he’s taken little breaks to read some of the graphic novel and nonfiction finalists, including Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCool and Emily Carrol, Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. and Matthew Holm, Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang and Mike Holmes, and Kid Presidents by David Stabler and Doogie Horner.  He’s been re-listening to some favorites while in his room, including The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex and Winterling by Sarah Prineas.

My love has been listening to Circle of Magic by Tamora Pierce in the car with the kids and The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold for himself.

serpentineFor myself, I have the usual pile, even if it seems smaller after the massive amounts of Cybils reading.  I’m reading Speculative Fiction 2014 edited by Rene Williams and Shaun Duke and Serpentine by Cindy Pon in print, with Secret Coders, The Marvels by Brian Selznick, Ms. Marvel vols 2 & 3 by G. Willow Wilson, The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard and Winter by Marissa Meyer all waiting their turns after them.  I’m listening to Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett in the car and Carry On by Rainbow Rowell (for the second time) in the house, in between podcasts.  I feel like I’m doing pretty well with my diversity goals with this current batch, and now need to figure out what middle grade speculative fiction has come out recently that might be fun for me.

What are you reading?

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2015 in Review – the Books

In the efforts of getting my favorite books of 2015 posted this month, I’m going to quote myself from last year:

“I have never liked doing a public scale rating of books – the librarian in me would rather describe what’s in the book and let you decide if it sounds good for you. But this year, for the first time since high school, I gave books number ratings on my own private spreadsheet. I shamelessly borrowed the Book Smuggler’s 10-point rating system for this, where 0 is “I want my time and my money back”, 5 is “meh” and so on. For my purposes, 7 is a book I enjoyed, 8 is one I loved and 9 is one I really, really loved. 10 only gets given out retrospectively to books I find myself re-reading and thinking about a lot – a true personal classic.”

Here are my 9 and above rated books from 2015.  Continue reading

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2015 by the Numbers

This is my post where I take my lovely spreadsheet of all the reading I did last year, make Excel do some number-crunching, and share the results with you. (Here’s 2014 and 2013)

First, the blog.  I published 125 posts in 2015, down from 175 in 2014, with (sadly) a corresponding drop in views and comments.  My life has gotten undeniably busier, and I need to figure out how to balance that with the blog. Please scroll down to the bottom of the post for where I need your suggestions on books to read this year!

I read 260 books this year, just a bit up from last year’s 255.  Here’s how that breaks down:

The Books

Age Level Graph

We are not surprised that most of my reading was middle grade.


I am a little surprised that I read more realistic than sci-fi.


Yes, I am a library reader.


Audio books are slower, even if I spend more time on them. Also, my e-reader was lonely this year.

The Authors



Ouch!  And this is trying to read diversely.  I did a much better job of looking up authors, but this is based on studying the authors’ self-reported bios and photos, which don’t generally include their ethnicity.  This year I’m keeping track of characters, too, though, as this doesn’t include white authors writing diverse characters.


Just a little better here, mostly because I like British fiction.

I don’t usually try to do a lot of planning my reading except during Cybils season – but here are some goals for this year:
– Try to be more conscious of balancing the different kinds of books I like to read, so I don’t end up reading all the teen books at the beginning of the year and all the middle grade at the end, like I felt I did this year.
– Make an effort to keep my want-to-read board on Pinterest up-to-date.
– Keep up with reviewing the books I read.
– Seta specific goal to help me read more diverse books, rather than just telling myself to “read more”. It looks like I read 37 ethnically diverse books last year. This year I’ll aim for 60 books by diverse authors, as well as reading books about LGBT themes and disability as well as ethnic diversity.

I’m noticing a distinct lack of these kinds of books on my want-to-read list right now, so I need your help! I prefer speculative fiction, but I’m open to any age range as long as it doesn’t get into hopeless, dark and grim territory. What should I read next?

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Top 10 2015 Releases I Didn’t Get To

It’s Wednesday, but my Tuesday was a little nuts, so I’m just now posting my Top Ten Tuesday post.  This is hosted, as always, by the good folks over at the Broke and the Bookish.

Top Ten Tuesday

I always want to read all the books.  I don’t know why I can’t read all the books, especially I am so very particular about my taste in books… but there it is.  These are just some of the books that I meant to get to last year and didn’t. I am deliberately leaving off the recent Cybils shortlist books and the Newbery honor books that I’m planning to read – just know that those are an additional dozen books or so on that I’m definitely planning on reading.  And I’m sure there are more that I’m missing.  Anyway, here, in alphabetical order, are my picks. Please do share yours!  And what do you think I should read first of the ones I don’t yet have out?

Currently Checked Out


Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt – because my colleague S told me I must, especially because it deals with dyslexia.


The Marvels by Brian Selznick – because not only is it Selznick, but my goddaughter reportedly couldn’t put it down.


Shepherd’s Crown by Terry Pratchett – the last Tiffany Aching book!  I will probably cry.


Speculative Fiction 2014 by Renee Williams and Shaun Duke – this collection of essays with thinky thoughts on spec fic and its fandom was published last year, and I love Renee’s podcast, Fangirl Happy Hour! I bought it for my 800s collection and am only checking it out now that it’s not on the new shelf and everyone has had a chance to notice it.  (They did – it went out a satisfying number of times.)


You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day – my love and I have enjoyed lots of Felicia Day stuff together, from the Guild to the Flog, and Melissa of Book Nut liked it lots, too.  This one will be on audio.


Still Waiting On

ashandbrambleAsh & Bramble by Sarah Prineas – Sarah Prineas’s first foray in YA, and a fairy tale setting to boot!

blackwolvesBlack Wolves by Kate Elliott – I love Kate Elliott.  And this is in the same world as the Crossroads Trilogy, which I worked my way through over as many years, I think. I even had it checked out when Cybils reading started and had to take it back.

courtoffivesCourt of Fives by Kate Elliott – and Elliott tries YA. I’ve heard mixed reviews from friends on this one, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

gonecrazyinalabamaGone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia – I read the first two in this trilogy last year and loved them, but the Cybils hit and I never got around to reading this one or reviewing the first two.

hiredgirlThe Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz – thoughtful historical fiction, with lots of good reviews from friends.

serpentineSerpentine by Cindy Pon – It’s been years since I’ve had a new Cindy Pon!  And take a look at her column on Whatever.  I had this one out, too, when I got sucked into the Cybils vortex.

sorcerertothecrownSorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – many of my friends loved this, and it sounds right up my alley – multicultural regency fantasy!

towerofthornsTower of Thorns by Juliet Mariller – I still haven’t read Dreamer’s Pool, either, but as much as I loved Wildwood Dancing, I really need to read more of her work.

underapaintedskyUnder a Painted Sky by Stacy Lee – a super-fun sounding multicultural, feminist Western adventure.

winterWinter by Marissa Meyer – I was reading this series with everyone else, and totally lost track of this one.

I’ve already thought of more… but I think I’ve stretched my 10 far enough already. Please do share yours!  And what do you think I should read first of the ones I don’t yet have out?

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