Monday, March 28, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 The Problem with Not Being Scared of Kids


A great companion book to The Problem with Not Being Scared of Monsters, this story turns the situation around and shows what monsters deal with when they try to befriend kids. No matter what they do, it doesn't work out. Sleepovers end because all the kids run away. Games at recess don't work out when you're always stuck being IT. Even reading books on how to make friends doesn't help.  But maybe, if you keep trying, you might find someone that will change everything.

These are the same monsters shown in the earlier book, but here they are trying to find human friends. Nothing works, even when they all break out the advice books like How to Win Friends and Influence Humans.  This is a story that could be read just for fun, but would also be good to read aloud to a class that has a new student who is trying to fit in. It puts the situation in a different perspective while still making the point that sometimes finding a friend is hard.

The illustrations in both books are wonderful and show all sorts of monsters. Some have tentacles, others have claws. They are different colors and sizes and shapes. The page on monsters trying to make friends by sharing made me laugh with the picture of monster holding out an ice cream cone with a giant eyeball on top; it's really eye-scream. (Haha)

Whether you read the books together or separately, they are loads of fun and a sure hit with fans of Mike and Sully from "Monsters Inc."

For a free read-aloud event kit, visit Curious CityDPW.

*Update 08/01/2016 We have added this book to the Fairview library.

Spring Reading 2016 The Problem with Not Being Sacred of Monsters

The Problem With Not Being Scared of Monsters

Most people probably think that being afraid of something is a problem. Being frightened of spiders or the dark or clowns can really disrupt your life, and sometimes get you laughed at by others. But did you know that NOT being scared can also be a problem sometimes? It's true, especially if you are not scared of monsters. Because if they don't scare you, then the monsters want to hang out with you and treat you as one of the gang. The boy narrating this story has the worst trouble with monsters hogging the bed, trying on his pajamas, misplacing his homework - it's always something with those monsters. When he finally sends them out of his room, then he has a whole new set of problems to handle.

Perfect for young readers who may be a little nervous about the monster under the bed (or in the closet). This doesn't downplay their fear, but it shows them that there are other problems when it comes to monsters in your life. It might even convince them that monsters are cool, or at least a little funny. For fans of "Monsters. Inc." "Monsters U," and Where the Wild Things Are, this book will tickle their funny bones in just the right way.

*Update 08/01/2016 We have added this book to the Fairview library.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Robin: Son of Batman, Volume 1: Year of Blood


"Change isn't only in a single moment. It takes a lifetime of moments to weave together the final tapestry of who we will become." How do you redeem a wrong? Is it even possible? Robin a.k.a Damian, is trying to atone for the Year of Blood (glad that one isn't on any calendars), that he undertook to prove his worth in the house of Al Ghul. With the faithful Ravi and his enormous protector Goliath, he begins returning the trophies he collected from around the world during that year. But someone is tracking him, or I should say Nobody is tracking him. It seems that Robin isn't the only one trying to live up to his father's legacy. The original wearer of the mask may be dead, but his daughter Maya has decided to wear it as she seeks revenge for her father's death. Readers are caught up in the action as Robin, Goliath, and Nobody take on South American cartels, cliff swifts in Iceland, mercenaries, and even Robin's own mother, Talia Al Ghul. Will the two of them ever settle their differences, or will one of them have to die?

Redemption is a tricky theme to work with, and so are forgiveness and family. Are we the result of nature, nurture, free choice? What voices do we hear in our heads? Should we listen to the words of our fathers, our mothers, the outside world, or our own hearts and consciences? As Damian and Maya try to sort out their futures and come to terms with their pasts, the only sure thing is that the world will not let them do so in quiet contemplation - there are always more battles to fight.

Juicy action scenes. Snarky comments. Secrets of the past revealed. Fans won't be bored as they follow along. Whether you are a newcomer to Robin stories or a faithful reader, there is plenty to capture your attention and hold it from cover to cover.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Spring Reading 2016 Shadow Magic


A squire, a royal hostage, and a princess walk into a courtyard. Sounds like the start of a medieval joke, doesn't it? But those three characters are at the heart of Khan's book. Thorn is a peasant boy purchased as a slave in a distant land by a man named Tyburn to be his squire. This man works for the House of Shadow, rulers of Gehenna. Since the death of her family, Lilith is now Lady Shadow and promised in marriage to Gabriel of House Solar. When her intended groom arrives, his retinue includes K'leef, a captive prince being held for ransom by Gabriel's father. Together Lily, Thorn, and K'leef must find the truth about who killed Lily's parents, who poisoned Lily's goblet at the betrothal feast, and who is rising the dead in the outlying villages. There seem to be enemies all around. What can three teenagers do?

If you enjoy fantasy stories set in worlds full of swords and sorcery, then this is your kind of book. Each of the six kingdoms specializes in a different sort of magic. Lily's land of Gehenna is a place of shadows and necromancy. K'leef's desert sultanate has fire magic. House Solar works with light. There are great druids drawing from the power of the natural world in Thorn's land. With poisoned rings, cursed masks, giant bats, zombies, and specters, this story covers a lot of ground in more ways than one. From the docks of Port Cutlass to the lands of Castle Gloom, readers will find a world filled with brigands, nobles, peasants, soldiers, secret passages, and magic. But the three teenagers may find that friendship is the greatest magic of all.

Besides being a good tale with lots of mystery and misdirection, Shadow Magic is also a coming-of-age story. Thorn is trying to find his father and keep his family together, learning how to navigate in a world outside the forest. Lily has to become a ruler at the age of thirteen and decide what is best for the kingdom not just for herself. And K'leef wants to do the honorable thing in each situation, even when others around him are plotting and scheming. All three are fighting against the restrictions placed on them by their roles in society - peasants can't befriend nobles, girls can't wield magic, etc. Those struggles are just as important to the story as the actual fighting with spells and weapons.

Highly recommended for readers who enjoy series like Harry Potter and Percy Jackson, middle-grades and up.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Nice Work, Franklin!

Nice Work, Franklin!

"Do presidents have challenges? You'd better believe it." What a great way to start a book about a president who overcame some incredible challenges. Franklin, or FDR, overcame an incredible challenge when he was stricken with polio when he was thirty-nine. So many people died or were permanently lamed by the disease, but he worked and worked to strengthen his legs. He went on to be elected the governor of New York, because that job required brains and not legs. While he was busy trying to help the people of New York, the country got sick. The US didn't have polio, but it had the Great Depression. Franklin didn't let that stop him; he was elected president of the United States, and his motto of "Above all, TRY SOMETHING," was put to the test as he tried to help the country get better. He put many programs into place to help people find jobs and help the economy recover. When there were places he couldn't go very easily because of his legs, his wife Eleanor went instead. Just as his family had cheered him on when he was recovering from polio, Eleanor supported him in the presidency. And even though his legs were not as strong as they once were, he still made "big steps to help America."

Picture book biographies are an easy way to introduce famous people to younger students. They are short enough to be read-aloud during a class period. They have illustrations to capture the attention of young readers and help with words or concepts that may be unfamiliar. And they bring history to life for students. Books like this one can show what a particular historical period looked like through the clothing, cars, and other objects pictured. Nice Work, Franklin! also shows that even presidents were once children and had their own heroes and role models, as well as having to overcome their own challenges.

Highly recommended for elementary school students. Great for introducing a study of FDR or the Great Depression. The introduction and the Author's Note provide additional information about other presidents who faced challenges and about the results of all Franklin's programs to fight the economic problems of the Depression.

*Update 08/01/2016 We have added this book to the Fairview library.

Spring Reading 2016 Groundhog's Dilemma


Teachers are always looking for a read-aloud for Groundhog's Day and this is a fresh new title they are sure to love. Not only does it show Groundhog checking on his shadow and making his prediction, but it also has a valuable lesson about friendship. Groundhog wants to make his friends happy, and no matter what prediction he makes, someone will be disappointed. When some of his friends see Hare bringing Groundhog berries, they begin to worry that he will predict 6 more weeks of winter (because everyone knows that Hare likes to wear her white winter coat). Before we know it, Groundhog is receiving invitations to ballgames, picnics, and bonfires, not to mention having fresh-baked pies dropped off at his house. Pretty soon the situation is so complicated that even Owl can't help him decide what to do. How in the world can he keep all his friends happy at the same time?

This is a very good story to read and discuss. Friendship can sometimes be difficult for children to understand. They wonder if they have to like all the same things their friends like, or always do what their friends ask. And although we enjoy making our friends happy, we also need to be ourselves and be truthful. Real friends don't like us for what we can do for them, but for our own sake. The book also makes it clear that the tradition of looking for the groundhog's shadow is a prediction, the groundhog doesn't actually control the weather. Very young students are not always clear about the difference between predicting and causing the change of seasons.

Perfect for elementary ages and for reading at home or in class. Teachers may wish to have students research the animals in the book and figure out which ones prefer a long winter or an early spring. They may also investigate the history of the holiday and the famous prognosticators like Punxsutawney Phil.

Visit Curious City DPW for book activities.

*Update 08/01/2016 We have added this book to the Fairview library.

Spring Reading 2016 How to Put Your Parents to Bed


"Have you looked at your parents? They need to go to BED." Larsen has created a hilarious book full of advice on how to get your unwilling parents to go to bed at night. She points out that they are not looking their best and they they will offer one excuse after another. They will try to do the laundry, or the dishes, or check their email...anything but go to bed. You will have to take charge and make sure they actually get some sleep. Brushing teeth, getting into pajamas,  everything takes longer than you think it will and they are easily distracted. But if you are patient long enough, and remove all distractions (like cell phones), and handle each delay firmly and calmly, you may finally manage to get them tucked in.

The text is funny enough on its own, with statements like "Sleeping parents are extremely hard to move. Some of them SNORE." The illustrations add so much more to the story, showing the girl dragging her sleeping father across the living room floor, for instance. And children will have fun looking for the dog and cat in each picture to see what they are doing (digging through the laundry basket, cuddling between mom and dad for a bedtime story, etc.) It is all a complete role reversal, with the child nudging the parents along and the adults jumping on the bed, having pillow fights, and begging for one more story. Readers of all ages will appreciate the humor and the happy ending.

Perfect to read for bedtime, or for any other time. This is a story sure to make everyone laugh and ask to hear it again.

*  Update - 08/01/2016 We have added this title to the Fairview Library.

Spring Reading 2016 The Nocturnals: The Mysterious Abductions


Imagine life as a nocturnal animal, sleeping by day and active by night. How different the world would be if you only saw it in shadows and silvery moonlight. What would you do if suddenly other animals started disappearing? Perhaps you hear rumors, a faint call for help, or even the sound of a scuffle. Who could be doing this and why? That is what happens to the characters in The Mysterious Abductions. Three very different animals - Tobin the pangolin, Bismarck the sugar glider, and Dawn the fox- work together to save themselves from a hungry snake on the very first night they meet. That success leads to the formation of the Nocturnal Brigade, with the three new friends ready to help others. And the brigade is formed just in time, because animal after animal is disappearing from the area near the river and no one knows who is taking them or why. Following the trail of missing animals, the brigade must face hungry crocodiles, swiftly flowing rivers, sharp rocks, and even sonar-addled bats. Will they be able to find the missing animals and return them to their families?

The Nocturnals features a wide variety of nocturnal animals - foxes, coyotes, sugar gliders, bats, pangolins, wombats, crocodiles, jerboas, kiwis, and tarantulas. It also features some wonderful vocabulary, especially from Bismarck (the sugar glider). He wants so much to impress everyone, even though he is such a small creature, that he uses very large words such as stupefying,  precarious, and tardiness. Along with the extra-large words, he also sprinkles words and phrases from other languages into the conversation like absolument, ma cherie, amigos, and mio amore. Tobin is impressed by him, but Dawn sees through the theatrics and just gives him a look or a sigh to show that she isn't falling for his charm. The relationship between the three friends and the other animals has many humorous moments, even while they are on their mission to find and rescue the missing creatures.

Readers who enjoy animal adventures such as The Guardians of Ga'Hoole may have a new series to add to their bookshelves. The Mysterious Abductions is merely the first book featuring the Nocturnal Brigade, and there will be plenty more danger and laughter for the friends to share. There is a website for readers and educators with plenty of resources at

I read an e-book provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Spring Reading 2016 The Frog that Lost his Croak and Other Books from Anne Toole

The Frog That Lost His Croak

We've all known people who couldn't stop showing off or bragging about themselves, and it happens with characters in stories, too. In this instance, it is a little frog who has a loud croak that he uses all day long. All the other animals are very tired of listening to him, but he is oblivious to their feelings and indulges himself all the time. When he loses his voice, he is forced to listen to the world around him and notice things like the beauty of birdsong or the sound of the wind whispering through the trees. By the time his croak is restored, he has learned to appreciate the sounds around him, to croak less and listen more.

This is similar to Marcus Pfister's Rainbow Fish with the proud character so taken with himself and his abilities (or appearance), that he has no time to make friends or listen to anyone else. And just like the Rainbow Fish, the little frog has to learn his lesson before his situation can change. The story is told in rhyme and supported with brightly colored illustrations. Some of the wording may seem a bit awkward to adult readers, but the target audience of beginning readers will probably not notice.

Author Anne Toole was a first grade teacher and ESOL instructor before she began writing children's books. She understands the issues that children deal with on a daily basis - making friends, what makes them special, fitting in, etc. This is the type of story that parents, teachers, and guidance counselors can read with a child (or a group), and then discuss the moral of the story.

I received a copy of the book for review purposes.


Children all dream of what they want to be when they grow up. Some want to be firefighters, others imagine being sports stars or actors. Playing make-believe is a great way to try out different roles, and so are looking at characters in stories and TV shows or movies. This particular story shows a little bird who has decided that he doesn't want to be a bird, even though his mother tells him that a bird is what he is meant to be. So he explores the area and checks out the other creatures, trying to find one that he would enjoy spending the rest of his life in their place.

As older readers will guess, there is no other life that would suit the little bird better than the one he already has. Human beings have a lot more choices open to them than animals, obviously, but trying to be something you're not is still something we have to deal with. Developing a sense of identity and being comfortable "in the skin you're in" is a life skill we all need. The story is told in rhyme and supported with brightly colored illustrations. Some of the wording may seem a bit awkward to adult readers, but the target audience of beginning readers will probably not notice.

Author Anne Toole was a first grade teacher and ESOL instructor before she began writing children's books. She understands the issues that children deal with on a daily basis - making friends, what makes them special, fitting in, etc. This is the type of story that parents, teachers, and guidance counselors can read with a child (or a group), and then discuss the moral of the story.

I received a copy of the book for review purposes.


As you can guess from the title, Mean Mike is about a bully. He cuts in front of the line, puts gum in peoples' hair, steals money, picks fights, and all the other things bullies tend to do. When Katie O'Toole tries to tell him that he should change, he covers his ears and ignore her. But after an accident leaves Mike stuck at home for several days, he begins to realize that he has no friends and no one to care about him. The loneliness gets through to him in a way that words never could and he actually cries over his situation. Luckily, Mike gets another chance when his class comes to bring him get-well cards (thanks to a very nice teacher).

Children learn pretty early what a bully is. There are lessons about it in school; teachers explain that bullying is against the rules and lay out the consequences. But sometimes kids don't realize that the bullies are damaged by their actions, too. Students see bullies as being powerful and unfazed by the actions or opinions of others. Books that show the isolation and loneliness that bullies bring on themselves may help to deter children from making such poor choices. The story is told in rhyme and supported with brightly colored illustrations. Some of the wording may seem a bit awkward to adult readers, but the target audience of beginning readers will probably not notice.

Author Anne Toole was a first grade teacher and ESOL instructor before she began writing children's books. She understands the issues that children deal with on a daily basis - making friends, what makes them special, fitting in, etc. This is the type of story that parents, teachers, and guidance counselors can read with a child (or a group), and then discuss the moral of the story.

I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Hey, Little Ant

Can you believe that the 20th-Anniversary edition is already out? Phillip and Hannah Hoose created a great book to talk about bullying and the Golden Rule when they wrote Hey, Little Ant. The boy in the story decides to squish the ant because it is so small, it is a game his friends play, ants steal food from humans, etc. He has plenty of reasons to list, including "ants can't feel." How many times has that been used as an excuse for mistreatment of someone or some group? If they are different from us, then they must not feel things the way we do. But the ant has reasons not to be squished, including - "you are a giant and giants can't know how it feels to be an ant."

Picked as a Reading Rainbow book, this is a story that helps showcase the need for empathy. If the roles were reversed, would you want someone to squish you? And it is easy to put another verb in place of squish, perhaps hit, push, call names, etc. The use of books to help deal with emotions and difficult situations has been well-known for a long time, but this could be a poster child for bibliotherapy.

Highly recommended for parents and teachers of elementary age children, whether they are dealing with bullying and empathy issues or simply enjoy a good story.

*Update 08/01/2016 We have added this book to the Fairview library.

Spring Reading 2016 My Dog Is the Best


My dog is the best. Doesn't everyone think that about their furry companion? But the narrator in Thompson's book presents lots of reasons why the dog in question is the absolute best. There are all the things he can do - play dead, roll over, play ball or tug or chase. There are his amazing qualities - he's brave and strong, he's smart, he reads books. But best of all, "he's mine." And that says it all.

The clean, spare illustrations don't clutter up the page with extra details. The child, the dog, and a few props show everything that is important. The style reminds me of Harold and the Purple Crayon. The child is not named or identified by gender, so any reader can picture themselves in that role. The round, sleepy dog is sure to make even the most canine phobic reader feel safe. And the humor of the story comes through between the lines in the way that the child labels what the dog does. For instance, "He blows bubbles." is depicted as the dog asleep on his back and the child holding the bubble wand over his mouth so that when he breathes (or snores), he makes the bubbles without even trying.

This is a book that will have even the youngest readers laughing at the child's statements and actions. They may even try to replicate some of the scenes, such as taping paper spines to the sleeping dog to make him into a dinosaur. Be prepared to have this book asked for at bedtime again and again because children will love the book almost as much as they love their dogs.

Visit for a read-aloud and canine craft kit.

*Update 08/01/2016 We have added this book to the Fairview library.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Fluffy Strikes Back


Imagine the agents of CONTROL as furry house pets and then the agents of KAOS as insects and you have the basic idea of PURST (Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel). These fearless pets each have their assigned space station (home) where they defend their humans from alien attack (insects). If you have read any of the Binky the Space Cat stories, then you know all about PURST. But Binky is just a field agent. The pet in charge of the whole operation is Fluffy, that's Sergeant Fluffy Vandermere to you. Fluffy rose through the ranks and now oversees the safety of our entire planet from his desk. But time working behind a desk is bound to dull event the sharpest agent, right? When HQ itself comes under attack, Fluffy is the only one who can save the day.

Filled with pets practicing their skills with fly swatters and bug spray, or waiting in line at the restroom (on the poop deck, of course), HQ is a large complex. Watching Fluffy whip out the flypaper or squeeze through secret passages, we can cheer for our hero to take control back from the enemy. The scene of the aliens torturing the cadets by spritzing them with water bottles is an hilarious scene.

Readers who enjoy funny stories about pets or secret agents will have a great time reading the latest adventure of those daring agents from PURST and their fearless leader.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

03/04/17  Update: We now have a copy of this book in the library!

Spring Reading 2016 Gotham Academy, Volume 2: Calamity


Olive Silverlock returns to Gotham Academy following her mother's funeral, but things are even stranger than when she first arrived on campus. There are sightings of a werebat, a werewolf, and a ghostly figure that some believe is the villain Calamity. Damian Wayne is a new transfer student, but he immediately gets drawn into strange events with Maps and the others. Could there really be a cursed quill pen? Is Calamity responsible for the problems with the play that the drama club is trying to perform, or is it just the normal run of bad luck when any group tries to put on "the Scottish play"? And why is Katherine acting so odd? Does she suspect that Maps and the others are up to something, or does Katherine have her own secrets? Between ghostly sightings, eerie howls in the night, clumps of mud where none should be, and kidnapped is never dull at Gotham Academy.

While written for a younger crowd, there is still plenty of action in this series. Whether it is solving the mystery surrounding Olive's mother or rescuing kidnapped friends, the kids have extra-curricular activities to spare. The relationship between Olive and Kyle offers a bit of teen romantic interest. Everyone seems to be either keeping secrets or looking for answers; and they all have some sort of talent that contributes to the whole. Maps has her skill at ferreting out secret passages and creating floor plans, Pomeline knows about witchcraft and magic, Colton has his gadgets and scientific theories, Kyle is athletic and protective, and Olive has her friends and her determination to find the truth. What we're all wondering is - will they be able to find the answers before someone gets killed?

DC fans of Batman, Robin, and Gotham in general will enjoy this story line that expands on the Gotham backstory and has ties to many of the characters from the established series.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Wandering Witch (Diary of Anna the Girl Witch #2)


What would you do if you found out that your grandmother was a notorious witch? That her fence was made of bones and topped with skulls? That she was rumored to eat people? You probably wouldn't be planning a family reunion any time soon. But if you found out that she had captured your father and was planning to do something evil to him, what then? This is the dilemma Anna Sophia is facing. She has only recently learned that her father and grandmother are still alive. All the years she was in the orphanage she never knew she had any family left. So when she gets word that her father is in danger, she immediately sets out to find him and do what she can to save him.

This second book of Anna's adventures shows her growing knowledge of her magical powers and of her background. Accompanied by her friend Laraleigh, she travels to Russia to meet with her Uncle Misha, the man who rescued her as a baby. From there, her journey will take her to a haunted castle, a witch's hut, and even the middle of Lake Baikal. Along the way she encounters ghosts, a wizard, a golem, a water spirit, evil horsemen, and a giant cat that likes to toy with humans before stealing their souls. It sounds like more than any 13-year-old is meant to deal with, but most teenagers aren't witches.  

I recommend this book for middle grade readers who enjoy magical fantasy stories that are set in the real world (rather than an alternate dimension or other worlds). Anna wrestles with questions of identity, the temptation to the dark side of magic, and what it means to be a friend or part of a family. There are plenty of dangerous, magical, desperate situations to keep the book moving along quickly from one event to the next.

I read an e-galley provided by the author for review purposes.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Scar: A Revolutionary War Tale


"Scar. A healed wound...Do the wounds of war ever heal, leaving only a scar where we once bled?" That's an excellent question, and it's one to keep in mind when we study history and look back at the conflicts of the past. In this well-written piece of historical fiction, Mann shows just one skirmish from the American Revolutionary War, but she makes it very real to readers. The story takes place over the course of four days in July 1779, near the settlement of Minisink (near present day Deerpark, NY). The events are seen through the eyes of 16-year-old Noah Daniels, who lives with his mother and sister on the farm his father carved out of the wilderness before dying in 1778. Now their home and others in the area are being attacked by Mohawk warriors allied with the British. Daniel sets off with the militia to find the attackers and is caught up in a terrible battle between the two forces.

One of the problems with studying early American history is that it is so distant, and the conditions are so different from today, that it is hard for students to identify with the figures they study. Daniel is easy for young people to identify with. He works hard to keep the farm going, knowing his father would want the family taken care of. But he also wants to fight with the colonists, and all his mother's excuses cannot override the patriotism his father instilled in him. There is also his acquaintance Eliza Little, who is the same age and visits with him during his daily walks. Her family moved to the area because her father thought it was safer with more of a militia presence, and they share the loss of a parent (his father, her mother). When the warriors following Joseph Brant enter the area, Daniel worries for the safety of Eliza and her family as well as his own. All of this is understandable - worrying about parental expectations, the importance of friendships and possible romance, yearning to be seen as an adult (or at least as capable) - these all make sense in any time period.

Another problem with covering historical conflicts in the classroom is that students often see the situations as very cut and dried, good guys versus bad guys. This story also shows that things are much more multi-dimensional than that simplistic view. Once the men from the settlement actually meet up with the enemy, Daniel has his idealistic notions of the encounter thoroughly ruined. And the aftermath of the battle will shake up readers as much as it does the protagonist.

Highly recommended for grades 4 - 7. Excellent for units on the American Revolution. The epilogue shares the historical facts that the story is based on, and the author also provides biographies for some of the more significant historical figures included in the story. The bibliography offers a list of all the print sources used by the author. The publisher also plans to offer an educator's guide for use with the book.

I received an advance galley from the publisher for review purposes.

*  Update - 08/01/2016 We have added this title to the Fairview Library.

Spring Reading 2016 You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen

You Can Fly: The Tuskegee Airmen
Weatherford has put together the story of the Tuskegee Airmen through a collection of poems. Each poem marks another step in the journey that took these servicemen from being stuck as support personnel to owning the skies as Red Tail Angels. Although the poems work as a whole to tell the story, each one captures a specific event or impression that can also stand on its own. There is the irony in "The Civilian Pilot Training Program," which mentions the recruiting posters showing Uncle Sam, but everyone knew that the young black men were not wanted for any of the glamorous jobs. "The Other War" reminds us that these pilot trainees not only fought to succeed in ground school, but still had to face racism every day, too. And "A Long Line" sounds a roll call of heroic black men from the pharaohs of Egypt, Crispus Attucks, Robert Smalls, the Harlem Hellfighters, up to the Tuskegee Airmen.

It's not just the poetry, but also the extras that make the book so useful. Jeffery Boston Weatherford's scratchboard artwork provides images of recruiting posters, the Joe Louis/Max Schmeling fight, and other visuals to support the content of the poems. The Author's Note gives a brief explanation of the history of African-American soldiers serving in the U.S. military up to the time of World War II. A timeline covers major events from the end of the Civil War to the invitation for the Tuskegee Airmen to attend the inauguration of President Obama. The resource section lists books, films, and primary source documents for further information.

This would be an excellent book to use in social studies classrooms when the students are studying World War II or the Civil Rights Movement. It could support student understanding of the issues, but could also be used as examples for students to mimic in creating their own responses to the material they are studying. And the same applies to the artwork - the scratchboard style could be imitated, or other styles could be used to illustrate key scenes from the time period.

Highly recommended for 5th grade and up.

I read an advance galley provided by the publisher for review purposes.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Mothman's Curse


Ever gone on a haunted house tour? Whispered "Bloody Mary" into a bathroom mirror? Stayed up all night at a sleepover telling ghost stories? Josie isn't the type of girl to do any of those things. Since her mother died of cancer, she has been busy helping her Aunt Barb take care of the family and helping her father with the family's auction business. But when they are chosen to handle the estate auction of John Goodrich, everything changes. She and her brother Fox find an old Polaroid camera that mysteriously prints out photos, even though it is out of film, and the photos show Mr. Goodrich! When they begin to investigate, they find out that Goodrich is tied to the spooky Mothman, who appears in an area before a major disaster. Does that mean their town is next? 

Hayes has created an intriguing story that mixes the supernatural, the world of estate sales, and family bonds. As the siblings investigate the history of Mothman sightings and try to unravel the connection Goodrich and their own family have to the apparition, we get to see the way they support each other and their younger brother, father, aunt and uncle. There are typical sibling rivalries (I love their "last doughnut standing" competition), but also loyalty and love. What makes the story seem more real is the backdrop of the family trying to go on after their tragic loss. And that loss also makes it easier for the kids to understand Mr. Goodrich's sorrow at the loss of his wife, even though it happened back before they were born.

Recommended for middle grade readers who enjoy spooky stories, especially the kind where kids have to take charge and try to save the day. For help creating Mothman selfies, visit Curious City DPW.

*Update 08/01/2016 We have added this book to the Fairview library. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Counting Thyme


Middle school is hard. There are so many things to deal with - harder classes, hormones, feeling stuck between being a little kid and being a teenager - being a tween is tough for nearly everyone. But it's harder for Thyme. Her younger brother had cancer and has been accepted into a drug trial, so the entire family has to move from San Diego to New York. Talk about culture shock! It's nearly the middle of the school year, they have to move at Thanksgiving and go from their house to a 3 -bedroom apartment. No dinner with Grandma. No sleepovers with Thyme's best friend Shani. Everything is different and all she wants is to go back home. So she comes up with a plan. She begins saving the slips for special time that her parents give her for doing chores and being helpful. When she has enough saved up, then she'll cash them in for a trip back home. In the meantime she will just have to hang on in this strange place and new school.

Thyme's story reminds us of that famous line, "Life is what happens while you're making other plans." She doesn't mean to get attached to any of her classmates, or care about the Valentine's Dance or the school play, or to make friends with the grumpy neighbor in the apartment below theirs, but it happens. And there she is, feeling guilty for wanting to leave and, at the same time, feeling guilty for starting to feel at home in New York. The normal middle school events like the dance, the play, the drama between friends, the crush (?) on a boy, seem to make the extraordinary things her family is dealing with stand out more in contrast. We can see why she doesn't tell anyone at school about her brother, because she doesn't want to become known as the cancer boy's sister rather than having an identity of her own.

This is such a well written story that it actually seems we can smell the peanuts from the vendor on the corner, hear Mr. Lipinsky banging on his ceiling, and taste the fresh-baked Italian Cream cake that Mrs. Ravelli makes. More importantly, we can feel the same lump in the throat that Thyme feels when things become strained with Shani or when her homesickness wells up. One of my favorite parts (besides Val's superhero costumes), is when Thyme reads No Fits, Nilson! to Val. Book references within a story, ahhh.

A great middle grade read for those who enjoy realistic fiction featuring family and friends.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Being a Captain Is Hard Work (A Captain No Beard Story)


"Being a captain is hard work," is one of Captain No Beard's favorite sayings. And in this adventure his crew is pretty large, so there are a lot of tasks to keep straight. He has Zach raising the flag, Polly at work in the galley, Hallie is swabbing the deck; everyone is doing something. They are a good crew and follow orders, but whenever they try to share a concern with the captain, he refuses to listen. Captain No Beard is so intent on making the trip to Dew Rite Volcano that he won't admit there are storm clouds on the horizon, that the wind is really gusting, or that the seas are too rough. Because of his stubbornness, he almost loses a crew member. Can he learn from his mistakes before it is too late?

Everyone can agree that being a leader is hard work, but it can be even harder when you won't listen to anyone else. Smart leaders surround themselves with capable people, just as First Mate Hallie reminds Captain No Beard. Even if you are just playing a game of make-believe, everyone wants it to succeed, so a leader should listen to advice when it is given. That is a lesson that the Captain and readers can learn from this adventure. Mongo the monkey is on lookout and spots what he thinks are storm clouds. He and the captain disagree about whether they are cumulus or stratocumulus. For readers who are not well versed in cloud types, there is a Cloud Key at the end of the story with names, pictures, and descriptions of ten different types. That would make this a nice story to tie in with a unit on weather for the early grades.

I received a copy from the author for review purposes. For more information about the author and her books, please visit .

Spring Reading 2016 Captain No Beard: An Imaginary Tale of a Pirate's Life


Captain No Beard and his hearty crew are off for high seas adventure. They are very busy swabbing the deck, pumping the bilge, and climbing the mast to keep a lookout. What they think could be ship on the horizon turns out to be a terrible storm - and they almost lose their First Mate overboard! Being the captain is hard work, but No Beard pulls his crew through the danger and even leads them to some doubloons. Overall, it was a voyage that got a bit rough, but was a success in the end.

Who hasn't gone on an imaginary voyage or set up clubhouse of some sort with their friends? The author has recaptured some of that childhood imagination and created a story about a boy and his cousin having fun pretending to be pirates. One of the nicest parts of the story is that his mother plays along when they decide she is a mermaid bringing them treasure. Cool mothers who still remember how to play are a great treasure all by themselves, but when they bring fresh-baked cookies, that is even better. I remember draping a quilt over a picnic table to create a fort, or a spaceship. Perhaps this will be the story that encourages children to use their own imaginations and set sail to places unknown.

I received a copy from the author for review purposes.

Author Interview with Zac Lange (writer of the "What Was I Thinking?" series)

Zac Lange

1. Why did you decide to write a book?

A: The whole idea to write this book really came out of the blue. The main inspiration has been the 10 years spent raising my son. There would be many times when he might do something he shouldn't, and I would ask him "What were you thinking." The answer was always a dismissive "I don't know," which isn't a whole lot of help. One day I had a random idea to ask him that question in a different way to see if I could possibly get him to think about his answers a little more closely. I told him "Imagine that your Brain is a character in a book or a movie that you can actually talk to. If you asked him what he was thinking at those moments, what would he say to you?" That approach seemed to really get him to analyze his own thought process, which helped a lot in our communication. I thought, if this worked for us, this could probably help a lot of kids and families communicate better. A book seemed like the best way to get the concept out, as well as being a good resource to look back at any time.

2. How long did it take you to finish it?

A: The time from first coming up with the idea to actually writing the story, drawing the pictures, and finally getting it published probably took about six months. I had no background in illustrating at all, so a lot of that time was spent practicing drawing. Each picture in the book was tried again, again, and again. Practice definitely pays off. Even if it's something you never thought you would like, you can always surprise yourself by finding something new you love.

3. What were your favorite books/ author when you were a child?

A: I absolutely loved the "Goosebumps" series when I was in elementary school. I was obsessed with the goal of having every book in the entire series, and I did for awhile. Now looking back, I see the author R.L. Stine is still making new ones, so it looks like there may be quite a few I have missed since then.

4. How many more books do you plan to have in the series?

A: I really see no end in sight for "What Was I Thinking?" The second one is done, but not published yet, and I'm currently working on the third book. The plan for each volume is to address a different issue or topic that pretty much every family has dealt with at one time or another, and to do it in a funny and relatable way. The list of universal experiences is very long, and these characters are extremely fun to write and draw, so I'd really love to keep making them as long as I'm able to. My son is always there to provide new ideas and inspiration, so I'm very grateful for his help.

5. Do you have to make a lot of corrections after your first draft?

A: Oh, yes, definitely. And that is actually a very good thing! Corrections in writing shouldn't be looked at as 'mistakes,' but rather chances to make your writing better each time. I read over everything at least 10 times, and probably more, just to make sure things are exactly how I want them. I also want to make sure all the spelling and grammar are correct. It may not seem like it when you first learn these things, but spelling words correctly and using punctuation correctly are seriously important. If those things are ignored, then language can become just a mess. Language is how we communicate effectively and express everything we think and feel. It's important to keep its structure intact.

6. Were you good at writing when you were in school? Did you plan to be a writer?

A: I think writing was always something I was decent at, and English was my first major in college, so it's something I've always been drawn to. As far as planning to be a writer, no, not at all, it never even crossed my mind when I was younger. It has been one of those truly wonderful surprises in life for me, and it has become something I truly love doing. It's an incredible creative outlet, and writing lets the author have complete control of the vision in their mind. Even if you don't love writing, it is something that can become easier and improved with practice, just like with me and my illustrations. Writing is truly something anyone can do, and if it turns out to be something you love, practicing becomes a whole lot of fun.

**A big thank-you to Zac for doing the Q&A!**

Spring Reading 2016 If You Were Me and Lived in... (A Child's Introduction to Culture Around the World)


Egypt is an exciting country to study. It has a history stretching back ten thousand years. This book in the series (A Child's Introduction to Culture Around the World), tells about what life is like for children who live in Egypt. They might live in the capital city of Cairo, near the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx. You could travel on the Nile River in a felucca and listen to your grandparents tell stories of famous pharaohs from long ago. Or you could shop in the market and buy a snack like falafel or kushari. Imagine visiting the local museum and seeing toys that belonged to King Tut! Visitors from around the world visit to see the largest city in the middle-East and the second-oldest university in the world. Can you imagine living in the middle of all that history?

Italy is the home of Rome, Vatican City, and famous for its influence on Western Civilization as the center of the Roman Empire long ago. Carole P. Roman's book introduces young readers to all these facts and many more. A map shows Italy's location, and the illustrations show sites such as the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, and Olimpico Stadio. Children are shown that life in Italy is very similar to their own; kids visit their grandparents for dinner, cheer for their favorite team, and enjoy a trip to the ice cream parlor with their parents. Some things will seem very familiar like going to school or mother making ham and cheese sandwiches. Others will seem a little different, such as giving mimosa blossoms to women on International Women's Day.


The author's most award-winning title so far in her series, the book on Russia shares many of the foods and customs children living there enjoy. Meals with borscht, blini, or piroshki would be served by your parents. You might wear a fur hat called a shapka ushanka to keep you warm during the winter months. Perhaps your grandparents would come over to see what presents Grandfather Frost left under your New Year tree. It could be a new chess set, a soccer ball, or a set of nesting dolls. If you lived in Moscow, you would take visitors to Red Square to see the Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral. Just imagine living in the most populated city in Europe! 

This series is great for a first taste of other countries and cultures. The length is short enough not to overwhelm young students. The pronunciation of foreign words is shown in parentheses within the text as well as in a guide at the back of the book (which also gives a definition or explanation). The balance of things that are similar and different between the two cultures keeps the information interesting without feeling too strange. A good set to have in an elementary school library or classroom.

I received a copy from the author for review purposes. For more information about the author and her many books, please visit

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Spring Reading 2016 Let's Go Outside

Let's Go Outside

Katja Spitzer has created another bright and colorful book for very young readers. This time we are taken outside and each double-spread shows us something different. From flowers and toadstools to hedgehogs and snowmen, outdoor scenes from throughout the year are shown in vivid detail. Whether it is the leaves from different trees or the variety of insects with their wings and legs, we see how much there is to discover right outside our own front doors. The final scene transitions from spring to winter as our eyes travel from left to right and we see many of the items from the previous pages.

A bright, fun book for young readers who can use the picture clues to decode the word or phrase for each illustration. The small size also makes it easy for little hands to hold or carry.

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

*Update 08/01/2016 We have added this book to the Fairview library. 

Spring Reading 2016 How Many Legs?


Spitzer has created a small colorful book perfect for little hands and curiosities. The bright yellow cover featuring a smiling caterpillar will capture the attention of young children and draw them into this counting book. Inside are pages full of unicorns, ice creams, cakes and other attractive items that make counting an adventure rather than a chore. After showing sets from 1 to 10, the presentation shifts to asking "How many?" and has children putting their numerical skills to work. This book is the perfect size for small hands to comfortably hold and the illustrations are brightly colored and fun to count over and over. 

Recommended for parents and teachers of youngsters learning to read and work with numbers.

I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

*Update 08/01/2016 We have added this book to the Fairview library. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 Kuma-Kuma Chan's Home


This is a simple book at first glance. There are only one or two sentences per spread. The illustrations are done in a spare style. And there are only two characters, the narrator and Kuma-Kuma Chan (the little bear). But it has a comfortable feel to it. We learn that the narrator has been invited for a visit and then we watch the visit unfold. The two friends spend the day together and share everyday activities. They have tea. They talk. They eat dinner (salmon, because it is Kuma-Kuma Chan's favorite). They watch TV and share the chocolates that the narrator brought. And then it is time to go home. We are left satisfied with a day well spent, much like the way we feel after reading one of Arnold Lobels' Frog and Toad stories. 

Young readers will appreciate the easy flow of the day and looking at the predictable sequence of events. Adults will understand the quiet joy of sharing the pleasure of a meal or a conversation with a loved one, and also how those quiet moments can become the memories we treasure most. This will probably be a book picked as a bedtime story, as that seems like a logical progression from the good-byes at the end of the story. It is also one of those books that will be read together with a favorite adult, then read again and again as the child memorizes the story word-for-word.

Perfect for preschool and early elementary children.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Winter Reading 2016 I Wonder: A Book for children, parents, and other grownups

In "I Wonder," Jane Altman has created a poem that children will feel is familiar from the start. It has a similar structure to that of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" that will help young readers easily catch on to the rhythm of the text. Each verse opens up the possibility for discussion about the various animals that are mentioned, elephants, mice, bats, etc. And the illustration for the final verse also allows the child to paste a photo of him/herself into the book and making it very personal. There is also a fantasy story titled "The Glow-Stones," which portrays the ability of children to perceive the magical when adults only see the commonplace.

Within the second part of the book, Altman has a collection of poetry that is tailored for the adults in the family. Some are nostalgic in tone - pieces wondering over how children will grow up, how one would feel on the very last day of the one-hundredth year of life, or why youth fades away. Others reflect on more everyday occurrences such as admiring flowers or pondering why grass can be so much work to maintain. And then there is the comedic piece about an undergarment that t'aint fittin' any longer. The whole book feels like a peek into someone's journal and catching their changing moods from day to day. 

This is a book meant to be read together and enjoyed together.

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 What Was I Thinking? Volume 1: My Brainy Best Friend


"As much as I love my brain, sometimes it seems like it takes a break for a while and forgets to tell me." Who hasn't had that feeling at one time or another? The narrator of the story imagines his brain snoozing in a hammock under some palm trees while taking a break. That is the reason he decides to kick a ball inside the house and winds up breaking his mother's favorite vase. As soon as his mother sees the damage she asks, "What were you thinking?" Of course he didn't think, he just did it. And then, when the damage is done, his brain decides to show up again. Kids and parents alike will recognize such a familiar situation and the results. Our narrator and his brain come up with a plan to avoid this trouble in the future; a plan which begins with STOP and THINK. 

Readers will find plenty to laugh about in the story and the illustrations. The boy and his brain do everything together (except when Brain takes those unexpected breaks). A picture of the boy when he was a baby shows his brain nearby, also wearing a diaper. When the boy is at the playground, he is on one end of the see-saw and his brain is on the other. His mother is also shown in humorous ways. When she hears the vase break and runs into the room, she is shown dressed as a police officer and the boy is in a prison uniform. When he claims it was an accident, the picture shows his mother behind the desk at "Moms' Olde Tyme Excuse Shoppe" pointing to 'No Sale" because she does not buy his excuse. (That's probably my favorite of the illustrations.)

Youngsters will enjoy the story line and see the similarities to their own experiences. Parents and teachers will appreciate the suggestion to stop and consider consequences before acting. Talking about what happens in the story can lead to a very helpful discussion on thinking things through instead of acting impulsively. It could also spark a class discussion where students might share their own memories of times when they should have taken a moment to consider their actions, but didn't. 

Recommended for children up through elementary school age, as well as the adults who care for them.

I received a copy from the author for review purposes.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Winter Reading 2016 The Lost Twin (Scarlet and Ivy #1)


Ivy is trying to come to terms with the terrible news that her twin sister Scarlet has died. Before she can even do so, a letter arrives saying that she will be taking her sister's place at the private school where she died. Ivy is in shock over both pieces of news, but the headmistress of the school comes to pick her up and deliver her to the school. Miss Fox tells Ivy that she will actually be assuming Scarlet's identity, and that she is not allowed to tell anyone the truth. How is she supposed to pull off this charade? She doesn't know any of the students or teachers, or even how to find her way around the school. 

Things are difficult from the first day. Scarlet has some enemies among the other girls and they begin their attacks of whispering, pranks, shoving, and name-calling without wasting any time. Ivy can't tell them that she isn't actually the girl they are angry with, so she has to find a way to stand up to the bullying. Scarlet's diary was hidden inside the mattress, but when Ivy finds it, all the pages have been torn out. How can she find out what really happened to her sister without those clues? She begins searching the school for the missing pages, and what she learns from each new discovery only makes the situation more complicated and dangerous. With only her roommate Ariadne as an ally, can Ivy uncover the truth before she winds up sharing Scarlet's fate?

This is a wonderful mix of historical fiction and mystery. The setting in the rambling old school leaves plenty of places for the girls to explore while looking for the missing diary. The characters are all easy to like (or dislike, in the case of the bullies and Miss Fox). The occasional moments of laughter add contrast to the tension, which keeps building until the final climactic confrontation. A good read for middle grades and up.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

*  Update - 08/01/2016 We have added this title to the Fairview Library.

Winter Reading 2016 Diary of Anna the Girl Witch (Foundling Witch #1)


A baby found in a bear's den. The only information about her family is included in a locket around her neck. A trust fund that pays for her place in a private boarding school. It all seems very mysterious from the start, but then the suspense really kick in. It is Anna's thirteenth birthday and she receives a packet of odd things - a faded drawing, a card, and carving of a hand. At her birthday party, she is pretty sure that she saw everyone freeze in place, but no one else seems to have noticed anything. Anna's former roommate and best friend, Gaelle, has been adopted by a wealthy couple in their town. When Anna visits their home for a sleepover, she becomes sure that someone is imprisoned in the basement. Could it be some of the other children that they have adopted over the years? Who will believe her if she decides to share her fears with an adult? 

This is a short, quick read. It is perfect for younger middle grade readers who have enjoyed the Harry Potter movies, but are still a bit daunted by the size of the books. Although there is danger, and there are sinister adults, it is not gory or overly frightening. The story is presented through the narrative and from entries in Anna's diary, as well as illustrations that show Anna and some of the other characters. The moral dilemma of how to use the magic she is discovering is a good point for discussion. Anna is a typical early teen - a good kid, but not too "goody-goody."

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Author Interview with Andi Watson from First Second Books

As part of the 10th anniversary celebration for First Second Books, author Andi Watson has been kind enough to let us interview him.

Image result for author Andi Watson

- Why did you choose to do all black & white illustrations in Princess Decomposia?

Mostly because it's set in the Underworld so a stark black and white seemed appropriate. The cold slabs of rock and deep shadow to contrast with the warmth and vitality of the characters. Also, I love black and white!

- Will you be doing another book with Decomposia so that it becomes a series?

That is out of my hands, unfortunately. But, yes, there're potentially lots more fun stories for those characters.

- Was it hard for you to write a main character that was a girl?

Nah. My first instinct is to write characters. It's no different writing anyone who doesn't share my personal experience, whether it's a talking cat, firefighter, superhero or a sweet-toothed vampire chef. I try and imagine what it's like to be them in their situation and draw on something similar, but not the same, that I've felt myself.

- What were the books you loved as a child?

The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner, The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr, Grimble by Clement Freud, The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien. I read a lot as a kid. There were precious few books at home so I was a member of my local library and of a book club run from school called the Puffin book club. I loved it when my new books would arrive in a paper bag.

- Who is your favorite author? Your favorite illustrator?

I like a lot of different authors, from Raymond Chandler, to Jane Austen, Henry James to Stella Gibbons. J.P. Martin, Tove Jansson, Evelyn Waugh Kelly Link, Edward St Aubyn,  It's a long list. And there's always someone new to discover. I picked up a copy of Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym in a second hand bookshop and loved it. Now I have to track down all the Pym books I can.
Again, I like lots of different artists, from Quentin Blake to the Golden Age illustrators (Kay Nielson, Dulac, Rackham), Degas, Vermeer, Hokusai, Ingres, Goya...lots.

- Do you see yourself more as an author, an illustrator, or a combination of both?

I guess the corny answer is storyteller. I enjoy telling stories through words AND pictures. The drawing is as much "writing" as the words. You can communicate a lot through the art alone. Sometimes the writer and artist parts of my brain are in conflict, a good comic is where the different elements work together and work in concert.

- How long does it take you to complete a book?

It depends, but if I take out the thinking time, then upwards of six months. I have to write it, then with Princess Decomposia I thumbnailed it all out, figuring out the pacing, and length of scenes though rough versions of each page. Then I aim to get at least two pages of finished art drawn a day, that includes the hand lettering. After that there's scanning and cleaning up the pages, correcting typos, re-drawing panels and generally tweaking. The finished book is the tip of a mountain of discarded paper. The time it's hard to quantify is the time spent doodling and thinking over ideas. I'd had Count Spatula in my sketch book for several years beforehand but couldn't find the right story for him. It was only when he was introduced to Princess Decomposia that it began to come together.

- Do you work on more than one book at a time?

Generally not. One graphic novel at a time is enough to fill my head. I enjoy doing smaller projects alongside to change things up, though. Drawing a hundred and odd pages of comics is a marathon. It's also nice to be able to pay the bills.

- Where do you find inspiration for your stories?

I wish there was single source I could return to to guarantee good ideas. Unfortunately it's more of a mix of different factors: sketchbook work, other books I've read and real life experience that interact and produce ideas, generally when you're not expecting it.

- Do you have a favorite genre?

I do like humour, although I'm not necessarily a funny 'ha ha' writer. There's a vein of humour in everything I do. I also like character and dialogue, those are more important to me than genre. If I feel that I 'know' the characters then I have a solid foundation for a story. 

- What was your major course of study in school?

The only subject I really enjoyed at school was art. I also enjoyed English Lit, but I wasn't the best student. I think I learned the most from those English classes, though. Being taken to see stage productions of Hamlet, learning how to study a text, appreciate language, being made to read something other than fantasy trilogies! All good stuff that I appreciate more now than I did then. One of my teachers at the time said she was ill for a week and stayed in bed reading War and Peace. She described it as a really long, really good soap opera. That really stuck with me, "literature" wasn't something to be scared of, it could be entertaining, difficult and enlightening. Just give it a try. As a not-at-all-academic working-class kid, I found that attitude liberating.

- Have you had other jobs besides being an author and illustrator?

Unfortunately, no. I really should have listened to my parents and 'learned a trade'. The freelance life is pretty up and down and it'd be nice to know that there's a back-up in the down times. 

- Do you have any kids of your own?

Yep, I have a fourteen-year-old daughter who is way smarter than me. She takes after her mom.

- What is your favorite food? 

 I have a real sweet tooth, so would have to say candy, desserts and all the stuff that's not very good for you.

- What is your favorite from the foods that Count Spatula makes?

I'd find the currant buns a handy pick-me-up mid-afternoon. Trouble is I don't like currants. I don't know if they'd have the same effect if I changed the recipe to chocolate chips.