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Kill Me Softly by Sarah Cross

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Cross, S. (2012). Kill me softly. New York: Egmont USA. ISBN: 9781606843239

Annotation: Mira’s godmothers have forbidden her from visiting Beau Rivage, where her parents were killed when she was a baby, but as her 16th birthday approaches, she decides to disobey their orders and return to the place she was born.

Reaction: I really enjoyed this book, and once I really got into it, I couldn’t put it down. I think Cross did something really clever with fairy tales, through her creation of a world in which fairy curses and blessings are real and passed out to people descended from fairies. In this world, the cursed/blessed are destined to reenact the original story from which the curse came.

The heroine, Mira, battles against “fate” and falls in love and finds herself and new friends in the process. All the other characters are great, and I love seeing how they deal with their own curses. Blue (as in Bluebeard) is delightfully snarky and tragic. Freddie Knight, a Prince Charming in waiting, is sweet and innocent, almost to the point being insufferable. And you just can’t help feeling sorry for the Beauty whose Beast is awful and whose father is clueless. Not to mention watching the interactions between Snow White and her Huntsman and how Jewel deals with actual jewels and flowers falling out of her mouth.

I’m sure I could find nitpicks with the story, plot and structure if I wanted to, but I don’t want to. I enjoyed this book almost without reservations, I would probably be willing to read it again someday, and I would totally recommend it to friends of mine who are into fairy tales or urban fantasy.

HOWEVER, I do have one major issue: WHY does NO ONE care that 21 year old Felix is hooking up with a 15 year old girl?! Everyone warns Mira away from Felix because he is also of the Bluebeard get and has embraced his role in the story, but NOT ONCE does anyone say, “Dude, that’s illegal.” I get that the dream of an older, college age boy is alluring to 15 and 16 year old girls: they’re mature and wise in the ways of the world, but it’s still icky. Ladies, just say NO to statutory rape.

Also be wary of men with naturally blue hair.

(Sidenote: Here’s a great retelling/reworking of the Bluebeard story by Ursula Vernon.)

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One Green Apple by Eve Bunting

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Bunting, E., & Lewin, T. (ill.) (2006). One green apple. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN: 9780618434770

Annotation: Farah feels lost during her first field trip on her second day at a new school in a new country. She dresses differently than the other kids and speaks a different language, but she learns that not everything is different.

Reaction: This book is quiet and sweet, and Bunting really captures the way it probably feels to be a new immigrant who doesn’t know any English or any way of connecting with the people around her. Farah worries that she doesn’t fit in and that people won’t like her because of her home country, but her classmate Anna makes an effort and includes her. By the end of the day, Farah discovers that things like laughs and belches and fun are the same, and she has new hope about fitting in and making friends.

Lewin’s illustrations are lush and gorgeous. The paintings are very detailed and allow the reader to feel like they are part of the story.

I think this would be a great book to help teach kids about diversity and tolerance and how all people are really the same, even though they seem different.

Arab American National Museum Book Award 2006

Media Used: Watercolor

Author’s Website: None

Illustrator’s Website


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Diary of a Wombat by Jackie French

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French, J., & Whatley, B. (ill.) (2003). Diary of a Wombat. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN: 9780618381364

Annotation: When people move in, breaking up Wombat’s regular routine of sleeping, scratching and eating grass, the mischevious Wombat trains them to be the perfect pets.

Reaction: This book is so adorable! The illustrations of the wombat going about her daily life are cute, and I love all the different positions in which she sleeps. This book is pretty repetitive, and I think younger readers would find Wombat’s antics hilarious. The illustrations really make the story: all the chaos caused by Wombat and the people’s reactions to her. I love how serene Wombat is through everything.

I think this would be a fun story time book, that would also introduce a new animal to American kids. Plus, I feel confident that a Wombat puppet exists in the world somewhere.

And apparently, Diary of a Baby Wombat is a thing that exists, which is a thing that I need to read.

Media Used: Acrylic paints

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Art & Max by David Wiesner

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Wiesner, D. (2010). Art & Max. Boston: Clarion Books. ISBN: 9780618756636

Annotation: Art is an experienced painter, and Max decides he’s can paint too! Unfortunately, his enthusiasm outweighs his skill, and he makes a huge mess. Things only get worse when he tries to clean it up.

Reaction: I think young kids would love this book. Watching Max try to clean Art up after painting him only makes the situation worse and more ridiculous, and I could imagine little kids cracking up at how the situation deteriorates. The text is pretty minimal and is a conversation between Max and Art, with each characters words in a different font and color. I was expecting this to be a wordless book, as that’s what Wiesner usually does, so I was a little surprised by having text.

Wiesner’s depictions of desert lizards are wonderful. He’s able to make them expressive, detailed and unique, and I love that Art is a horny toad. I also really enjoy the desert landscape, for which y’all know I have a soft spot.

Media Used: Acrylic, pastel, watercolor and India ink

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Jazz Age Josephine by Jonah Winter

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Winter, J., & Priceman, M. (ill.) (2012). Jazz Age Josephine. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN: 9781416961239

Annotation: Josephine was a natural performer and became a hit on Broadway, but as an African American woman in the 1920’s, she only received humiliating roles. So she moved to Paris, where she was embraced as a symbol of the American Jazz Age.

Reaction: I didn’t know anything about Josephine Baker before reading this story, but as I learn more, her life was fascinating. She used her natural skills to change her own life, and she held onto her dignity by not performing the degrading acts New York audiences wanted to see. She became hugely famous in France, and then had a major role in the 1960’s Civil Rights movement. More than that, Wikipedia says she helped the French Resistance in WWII and earned a military honor. I feel like this is a woman that more schools should teach, as she is a great role model. I think this book would be great to use in a classroom to teach 5th graders about different styles of poetry as well as history of both the 1920’s and as a segue into the Civil Rights Movement.

This is a long poem, full of repetition, rhythm and rhyme. Winter’s style and Priceman’s illustrations made me think of those fast, frantic jazz songs. It felt like a scene in some movie, a whirlwind of sound and movement. I love the way Winter includes onomatopoeia by spelling out the jazz music Josephine dances to in Paris: “Boh doh doh-dee-oh,” “boodle-am boodle-am boodle-am SHAKE!” and more.

I loved Priceman’s art in this book. She used lots of bright colors and fluid lines to get across the tone of the story and movement that makes up Josephine Baker’s history. The reader can imagine all the illustrations going on to finish the dance steps drawn. The art is full of energy and excitement. Also, looking at pictures of Josephine, Priceman really captured her smile and expressive eyes.

Media Used: Gouache and ink

Author’s Website: None

Illustrator’s Website: None


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Basketball Belles by Sue Macy

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Macy, S., & Collins, M. (ill.) (2011). Basketball Belles: how two teams and one scrappy player put women’s hoops on the map. New York: Holiday House. ISBN: 9780823421633

Annotation: During the first women’s collegiate basketball game, Agnes Morley, a guard for Stanford, must prevent University of California, Berekley forwards from scoring, and hopefully, she’ll help her team to victory.

Reaction: This was an interesting read for me. I’ve been reading so many biographies recently, and I was sort of expecting this to be another one of those. Really, though, this book is more a biography of women’s basketball, told from the perspective of one of the players from the first women’s college basketball game. I like the way Macy frames the story; it’s different from most of other books I’ve read, and I think her use of the present tense to describe the game allows the reader to feel the same suspense and anxiety of the players.

The illustrations were created with a computer program, but they look like the could pass for oil paintings. They’re very realistic and detailed. I enjoy seeing the period dress, especially the basketball uniforms, but I think the scene with the janitor adjusting the hoop is my favorite. I love the expression on the men’s faces as they take in the vision of so many women playing and enjoying such a physical sport.

I would recommend this for 5th and 6th grade boys and girls who love sports, especially basketball. Also, I could see this working as part of a school project about the history of basketball and/or women’s professional sports.

Media Used: Corel Painter

Author’s Website

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Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow by Gary Golio

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Golio, G., & Steptoe, J. (ill.) (2012). Jimi: Sounds like a rainbow: a story of the young Jimi Hendrix. Boston: Clarion Books. ISBN: 9780618852796

Annotation: Growing up in Seattle, Jimmy Hendrix saw music and colors all around him, and when he received his first guitar, he learned how to combine the two into a new experience. Forty years after his death, his music is still influential in the lives of many.

Reaction: I am pretty familiar with Jimi Hendrix’s music, though not what I would necessarily consider a fan (in the “fanatical” sense of the word), but no one can deny the effect his music has on it’s listeners. He uses his guitar in ways that very few people today are able to, and he pulls huge emotion from the strings. I LOVE that people are writing picture books about artists like him, and I will definitely be on the lookout for books about other influential, modern musicians.

This is a fascinating look at his early life and the circumstances that lead him to becoming one of the greatest guitarists in the world. I immediately handed it to my Feller because he’s a lover of Jimi’s music and would enjoy reading such a short biography. Golio presents a lot of information about Hendrix that the casual fan, like myself, wouldn’t know and gives a quick, easy to digest description of where he came from.

The mixed media illustrations are eclectic and cluttered, in the best possible way, creating almost abstract scenes from Hendrix’s life. I like the way Steptoe distinguishes the people from the background on what appears to be light, thin pieces of wood or cardboard. I love the way the book changed orientation to fit the lake scene and its crazy array of colors. Steptoe uses lots of bold colors and patterns to illustrate Hendrix’s dream of painting with sound, and it fits with the sound Jimi’s music. I also enjoy the way the text sometimes waves across the page like music floating on the air.

I think it would be fun to read this book to a class of 4th-6th graders as part of a music segment with Hendrix music playing in the background. The class could discuss his music and history, and since the author includes resources about alcohol and substance abuse, also talk about the dangers of alcohol and drugs.

Media Used: Mixed media

Author’s Website

Illustrator’s Website