Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Hears It All for MCBD 2019

It’s time for Multicultural Children’s Book Day!!!  This is a longer post – keep reading for information on giveaways, the twitter party, and my review of the book I was sent by author sponsor Jacqueline Jules.

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2019 (1/25/19) is in its 6th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

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MCBD 2019 is honored to have the following Medallion Sponsors on board!

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The Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst

Continuing on with reviewing our 2018 Cybils finalists.

The Stone Girl's Story by Sarah Beth DurstThe Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst. Clarion Books, 2018.
The stone girl Mayka is the oldest of the stone creatures carved by the Stonemason she called Father, who knew the secret of carving marks into the stone to bring them to life and give them personalities.  Mayka can’t remember exactly how long he’s been gone, with all the stone creatures taking care of his little farm on a remote mountain.  When Turtle’s marks fade so that he can no longer move or talk, Mayka leaves the mountain sanctuary to find a stone mason who can refresh them.  Two rowdy stone birds, Jaklo and Risa, sneak along with her.  On their way to the city, they also meet a translucent red stone dragon, Siannasi Yondolada Quilasa, or Si-Si for short.  She wants to come along because she’s quite upset that her marks limit her to being beautiful, with no other set purpose in life.

Mayka may be centuries old, but her life has been quite sheltered.  Even though carved stone beasts of burden or guard dogs are common, fully intelligent, free-willed – and flying in the case of the birds – stone creatures or people are not.  A friendly apprentice, Garit, takes them to a master carver who doesn’t see them as people – just interesting experiments, ready to be taken under his control.  Mayka will have to learn, and quickly, before she and her friends are made captive forever.

This starts off a little on the slow side, with descriptions of the beautifully carved stone creatures and buildings, and of the countryside.  But it picks up once they’re in the city, with the danger of captivity and a rampaging stone monster.  There are deep themes here about slavery and the ability to write one’s own story that are beautifully handled.  The topic of artificial intelligence or AI is one that’s more often handled in adult science fiction books like Ancillary Justice or the Murderbot Diaries. Illuminae is a teen book that deals with the question of whether or not AIs can be considered real people.  It was a delightful surprise to see the same issue dealt with in a fantasy setting, and for middle grade, even if the creatures here are clearly sentient and need to be treated as such. I was not sure we needed the human romance that came at the very end of the story, but the ending before the end – Mayka’s own story – was beautiful.

I also enjoyed some of Sarah Beth Durst’s other work, including Journey across the Hidden Islands and Queen of Blood (this one is for adults and is indeed quite bloody.)

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Sweep by Jonathan Auxier

Back to some Cybils books while I tabulate more end-of-year things.

Sweep by Jonathan AuxierSweep: the Story of a Girl and her Monster by Jonathan Auxier. Amulet Books, 2018.
Nan Sparrow lived with the Sweep, a kindly man who took care of her, teaching her the chimney sweep trade, and making story soup for her when they couldn’t find food.  But he disappeared, leaving behind only a small char that always stayed warm.  Then, Nan found work as one of the gang of mostly boys working for the cruel Crudd, who wouldn’t hesitate to light a fire under a kid stuck in a chimney to “encourage” them to find a way out.  Then her char grows into a living, talking creature made of char – Charlie – and she knows she has to get away from Crudd for both their sakes.

The story is filled with the good and bad of Victorian London, painting a well-researched and captivating picture.  There are also lots of memorable characters, including Nan’s mudlark friend and admirer Toby Squall and Miss Bloom, the kind teacher at a private school – both of them keeping their Jewishness a secret from almost everyone except Nan.  There’s the cruel Crudd, the sweet and innocent new sweep boy Newt, and most marvelously, Charlie the soot golem.  An afterward explains the origins of the story, the horrible truth of child sweeps in Victorian London, and the sad truth that child labor continues to this day.

Pair this with Catherine Jinks’ How to Catch a Bogle series, or Rose by Holly Webb (also a Cybils finalist) for more tales of hard-working orphans in fantasy Victorian-era cities.

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My Top Nonfiction Read in 2018

I don’t often get around to writing full-on reviews of the nonfiction I read, especially if it’s for adults.  Here’s a selection of my favorites from last year, handily separated into knitting and non-knitting books.


Faerie Knitting by Alice Hoffman & Lisa Hoffman – Short tales with intrepid, knitting girls and women and the wise witches they turn to for help, with a pattern for each story and beautiful photography with models dressed as the character wearing the item.

The Mitten Handbook by Mary Scott Huff – Mix-and-match your own mitten from variations on cuffs, bodies, and finger and thumb styles, or choose one of the many great pre-made patterns.  I couldn’t resist knitting the baby goldfish cracker mittens.

Vogue Knitting Ultimate Knitting Book A tome full of everything you’d want to know about knitting, with clear instructions and photography.

The Opinionated Knitter by Elizabeth Zimmerman – A classic from the woman who convinced American knitters that they could do it, consisting of a decade of her newsletters, with patterns re-knit, updated as needed, and photographed in color by her daughter.

Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly – About time I got to this!

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese – I’d been noticing this on the shelf at the library for years and finally took it home – lots of testing on the taste and effort difference between homemade and store bought food, with recipes and very entertaining writing. I was inspired and have been making my own yogurt at least most of the time since reading this.

Middle School Makeover by Michelle Icard – I didn’t make the school parent discussion of this, but it had good thoughts on dealing with common middle school struggles.

You Need a Budget by Jesse Mecham – I use the software, and have watched a lot of the videos, but the book has a nice summary of the theory, told with understanding and humor.  I still also refer to Elizabeth Warren’s All Your Worth, even if their philosphies on tracking money are completely opposite.

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12 more Cybils titles I loved

One of the things I love about the Cybils awards are the many books I get to try that I wouldn’t get around to otherwise.  One of the hardest parts is making a shortlist of only seven books, because I always love more than seven books (see my 2018 post and my 2016 post on the same topic).  Here, with links to my reviews if I have them, are a dozen more books that I wish we could have included:


The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle by Christina Uss

The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin

Bluecrowne by Kate Milford

Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

Dactyl Hill Squad by Daniel José Older

Endling: the Last by Katherine Applegate

Ice Wolves by Amie Kaufman

The Lost Books: Scroll of Kings by Sarah Prineas

Nightbooks by J.A. White

Peasprout Chen: Future Legend of Skate and Sword by Henry Lien

The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta

The Turning by Emily Whitman

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Cybils Finalists Announced!

Happy 2019!

The 2018 Cybils finalists have been announced!


Here are the titles that my panel selected for the Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category:

Inkling by Kenneth Oppel

Love Sugar Magic: A Dash of Trouble by Anna Meriano

Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend

Snared: Escape to the Above (Wily Snare) by Adam Jay Epstein

Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

The Stone Girl’s Story by Sarah Beth Durst

Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain by Zac Gorman

Thanks to my fellow panelists for being such a great team to work with!

I was super geeked to find out that three of the books I nominated in other categories made it to the finals – a record for me.  Here they are:

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill in Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels
The Parker Inheritance
by Varian Johnson in Middle Grade Fiction
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland in Young Adult Speculative Fiction (and Tess of the Road, which I reviewed in the same post, also made it!)

[1/18/19: updating this post to add links to books reviewed since the original.]

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New Books at Christmas!

Here are the new books received for Christmas at our house. I’ve always enjoyed curling up with a new book after the gifts are opened, and it’s delightful to see my children carrying on the tradition.

My books:

My son’s books:

My daughter’s books:

What books did you get or give for the holidays?

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Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain

I’m not having a lot of time to write reviews with my kids home from school and seeing friends and family for the holidays, but here’s one more Cybils nominee review to tide you over until the finalists are announced next week.

Thisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain by Zac GormanThisby Thestoop and the Black Mountain by Zac Gorman. Harper Collins, 2018.

Thisby Thestoop was found as an infant, abandoned by the stoop of a dungeon, and named for a misinterpretation of the note – “Found this by the stoop”.  Like Wiley Snare, she’s grown up working in the dungeon, though her job is gamekeeper to the many and various creatures of the dungeon.  She travels around with her enormous backpack full of supplies, and her glowing slime friend Mingus in a jar.  Unlike Wiley, she doesn’t have any special talents for her job, but survives by taking lots of notes.

Just now, the big project is preparing for an inspection by the prince and princess of Nth: the well-liked, charming Prince Ingo and the very unpopular, even mean-spirited Crown Princess Iphigenia.  Then, Prince Ingo and Thisby’s unpleasant boss both go missing.  Thisby is Iphigenia’s only hope of getting out of the dungeon alive.  And as creatures from the Darkdeep, the even more dangerous realm below the dungeons, start to escape, Thisby’s goal of making it to the surface seems even less possible.

Michigan author and graphic novel artist Zac Gorman’s illustrations add a note of whimsy to the book, showing two girls with different shaped noses as well as numerous non-human dungeon inhabitants.  All humans in the book appear white, though dungeons do seem likely to produce pasty skin.  The book is focused on the difficulty that Thisby and Iphigenia have going beyond their differences in class and upbringing to come to a place of trust and friendship, even as their lives depend on it.  It’s also got a fine feminist theme to it –refreshing since most of the books I’ve seen that feel aimed at a D&D crowd also focus on the male characters.

This would of course pair well with Escape to the Above, as well The Dungeoneers.  The combination of humor and illustrations also reminded me of previous Cybils finalist Castle Hangnail.

This book has been nominated for the Cybils award.  This review reflects my opinion, not that of the Cybils committee.

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3 Holiday Picture Books + Bonus Craft Book

This year, I was given a last-minute request to read a Christmas book to the Girl Scout Junior troop. Here’s what I found on the shelves.

underthechristmastreeUnder the Christmas Tree by Nikki Grimes. Illustrated by Kadir Nelson. HarperCollins, 2002.
This is Coretta Scott King award-winning powerhouse of a team.  Nikki Grimes write 23 poems of Christmas time, centering on the African-American experience and illustrated beautifully as ever by Kadir Nelson.  We didn’t have time to read the whole book – I read a poem about an ice skating fantasy, since we’d gone ice skating as a troop in the past, and a funny one telling the Christmas tree that the popcorn and candy canes belonged to the child telling the poem.  With poems ranging from that humor to meaningful, this is one to look for.

Here Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood and Claudia RuedaHere Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood and Claudia Rueda. Dial Books, 2014. We read Here Comes the Easter Cat when it first came out, but I hadn’t read this one.  Like the other, the cat appears on the left page, holding up signs to communicate with the text, on the right side.  In this story, Cat has decided s/he is too naughty to get presents from Santa, so dressing up as Santa must be the only solution!  Can the narrator find a way to help Cat?  This is hilarious and touching, and went over very well with my group of fourth graders even though it’s probably aimed at a younger audience.

emmaschristmasEmma’s Christmas by Irene Trinkas. Orchard Books, 1988.
I dug back into my memory, when my good friend A- recommended this to me 20 years ago.  In this twisted picture book version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” Emma is a farmer’s daughter being courted by a very determined prince.  She’s just as sure, though, that life in a castle isn’t for her.  Will they find a way?  What will she do with the flocks of fowl and troops of dancers, lords, pipers, and drummers that keep showing up?  This was just background reading while the girls were crafting, but lots of fun. It looks like it’s really popular with teachers, as it makes for a very good multiplication lesson along with the silly story.

I also brought a couple of books on Kwanzaa, because the girls had been asking what it was, and my favorite winter solstice-y picture book, Lucia and the Light. Over the River and Through the Woodanother favorite for reading aloud to groups, was checked out, but I still enjoyed re-reading it myself when it came back!

Doodle Stitching: the Holiday Motif Collection by Aimee RayDoodle Stitching: the Holiday Motif Collection by Aimee Ray. Lark Crafts, 2014.
Not a picture book – I found this craft book at the library and have been selfishly keeping it at home for a couple of loan periods.  It’s filled with fairly simple embroidery designs, some with full projects like a sweet shop tea cozy or a stocking with a scene of cute woodland animals sledding, but also some just motifs with instructions that you could put on any project you want.  Many of them are Christmassy, but there are plenty of just winter designs and a full page of Hanukkah motifs as well.  My daughter and I are dreaming of doing some fun embroidery together over the holidays!

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The House with Chicken Legs

The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie AndersonThe House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson. Scholastic, 2018.
Marinka has lived in the house with chicken legs all her life, helping Baba Yaga.  Others may see her as an ugly and dangerous hag, but Marinka knows her as kind and caring, if strict.  Every day, Marinka repairs the fence of human bones and skulls around the house and helps prepare a feast of mostly Russian food for the spirits of the newly dead.  Every night is a party as the spirits flock in, celebrating their lives, with Baba Yaga listening to their stories, helping them to distill what they’ll take with them from their lives as they pass beyond the Gate.  Every few days, the house moves, so that they can help the dead from another area.

It sounds like a nice life, but Marinka is tired of not being allowed beyond the fence and of friends that last only one night and are rarely her own age.  One night in England’s Lake District, she sneaks away, meeting a boy named Benjamin whose lamb she borrows for the night – only to have the house move away in the night.  It’s used to Marinka spending more time with it, and jealous of her new friends. The more Baba tells Marinka that she’s destined to be a Yaga herself, the more uncomfortable she grows, until a series of bad choices lead her to a very bad place indeed, on her own and with no choices that seem good.

Marinka was so unhappy, and the choices she made so clearly leading her on a path to even more unhappiness, that this wasn’t the most pleasant of reading experiences for me.  I appreciated that Marinka’s travels and attempts to make friends exposed her to people of many different cultures and ethnicities.  But I really loved the world-building here, with an international society of Yagas in their sentient, literally globe-trotting houses, as well as the positive way death is treated, enough so that in retrospect, my overall feelings for the book are quite positive.

Try Baba Yaga’s Assistant by Marika McCoola and Emily Carroll for another fun take on Baba Yaga.

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