It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2021 Picture Book Edition

This year has been an odd one, full of unexpected plot twists. Some months dragged on forever, while others raced ahead. I’m pretty sure we skipped August completely. At any rate, we are tiptoeing closer to Christmas, and with shipping issues being what they are, now is probably a good time to start on any planned gift shopping. Here are a few picture books that are loved in my house. Any of them would be a winner under the tree. If you’d like more suggestions, you can read my list from last year here: It’s Beginning to Look a lot Like Christmas 2020 Picture Book Edition.

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

Goblin, a cheerful little homebody, lives in a cosy, rat-infested dungeon, with his only friend, Skeleton. Every day, Goblin and Skeleton play with the treasure in their dungeon. But one day, a gang of “heroic” adventurers bursts in. These marauders trash the place, steal all the treasure, and make off with Skeleton―leaving Goblin all alone!

It’s up to Goblin to save the day. But first he’s going to have to leave the dungeon and find out how the rest of the world feels about goblins. (taken from Amazon)

We read this one with my youngest for the first time this year. It is so cute! It is the perfect length for an emerging reader, although it’s also perfect for before bed story time as well. The illustrations are adorable and the storyline is creative and fun. It follows Goblin as he sets off to rescue his best friend, Skeleton, from the evil clutches of a group of heroes.

Bach to the Rescue!: How a Rich Dude Who Couldn’t Sleep Inspired the Greatest Music Ever by Tom Angleberger, illustrated by Chris Eliopolous

Every famous piece of art has an origin story—even Bach’s Goldberg Variations! When the richest dude in town can’t sleep, he hires a much-less-rich dude named Johann Gottlieb Goldberg to play him lullabies on the harpsichord. Goldberg does an OK job, but as the Rich Dude hollers for Goldberg each night, he wakes up the whole town in the process. As the town gets sleepier and sleepier and grumpier and grumpier, Goldberg worries he may be out of a job soon. But then, the one and only Bach enters the scene with a series of lullabies composed specifically for the Rich Dude. And, thus, the Goldberg Variations are born! (taken from Amazon)

My kindergartener loves historical figures. From U.S. presidents to famous writers, from authors to artists, if a person has made a mark on history, he is excited about it. This is a fun (and true!) story about Bach, written by the author of the Origami Yoda series. The pictures are zany and entertaining, and the book gets bonus points from me for adding an afterword with the historical facts.

Good Knight, Mustache Baby by Bridget Heos, illustrated by Joy Ang

Knights in shining armor go full baby (and full mustache) in this silly and soothing bedtime adventure. Young knaves will fall blissfully asleep after hearing the tale of two brave knights: Baby Billy, House of Mustache, and Baby Javier, House of Beard, and how they fought to conquer their biggest foe: bedtime! The babies fight their enemy valiantly, but eventually even gallant Baby Billy falls victim to sleep, foiled by, of all things, an enchanted book. Though Billy succumbs to the magic of the story, in his dreams, he rejoins his bearded co-knigh . . . and they became the stuff of legend. (taken from Amazon)

The Mustache Baby books are so stinking adorable! This is the latest in the set, releasing on December seventh. I’ve already ordered a copy to give to the youngest.

Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods that Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis, illustrated by Laura Cornell

Jamie Lee Curtis’s zany and touching verse, paired with Laura Cornell’s whimsical and original illustrations, helps kids explore, identify, and, even have fun with their ever-changing moods.
Silly, cranky, excited, or sad—everyone has moods that can change each day. And that’s okay! Follow the boisterous, bouncing protagonist as she explores her moods and how they change from day to day. (taken from Amazon)

My youngest has experienced a lot of changes this year, and sometimes he struggles to know the appropriate way to express himself. I wanted him to know that whatever he feels is okay, that he isn’t “bad” if he is sad or angry. Today I feel Silly! to the rescue! The pictures are so bright and energetic and there’s a little “mood wheel” at the back, which is a lot of fun.

Sir Lilypad by Anna Kemp,illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

Once upon a time, in a deep dark bog, lived a teeny, tiny speckled frog. Now, he might be tiny (the other frogs call him stuff, like ‘weedy pants’ and ‘sugar puff’) but his ambition is great. For he wants to be known henceforth as Sir Lilypad! Sir Lilypad the brave and wise! Slayer of the – er – dragonflies. And all he needs to effect this transformation? A kiss from a willing princess, of course…(taken from Amazon)

My husband gave me a copy of this book because he knows that I love dragons in any form I can get them (I also love children’s books). I loved it! I read it to my youngest, who was equally delighted. It would be a perfect Christmas gift for any little one!

Lives of the Writers: Comedies, Tragedies (and What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull, illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt

Shakespeare wrote with a feather quill and ink; Emily Dickinson wrote with a fountain pen; Isaac Bashevis Singer wrote on a Yiddish typewriter. But what did such writers do when they weren’t writing? What did Jane Austen eat for breakfast? What could make Mark Twain throw his shirts out the window? Why would Zora Neale Hurston punch a fellow elevator passenger? Lives of the Writers tells all that and more. (taken from Amazon)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this book. It’s part of an entire series and they’ve been my youngest’s favorite books this year. They give information in an accessible and engaging way. They’d be a good gift for any nonfiction-loving little readers.

Spooktacular Books for all Ages

I suppose October is when all the ghosts and ghoulies come out to play. I’ll be honest: I’ve never been big on Halloween. More power to people who are, but it’s just not my jam. I am a fan of a good spooky book, though, and my youngest went through a phase when he loved all things Halloween related (it was an odd choice for a three year old, but…okay?)

Here’s a roundup of some spooky and not-so-spooky books for fiends of all ages. Enjoy!

For little monsters:

Spooky Pookie


It’s Halloween! What will little Pookie decide to be this year? Pookie tries on costumes one by one, but somehow can’t find just the right thing. The resolution to Pookie’s dilemma will delight toddlers and their caregivers alike. Told and illustrated with Sandra Boynton’s celebrated charm and pizzazz, Spooky Pookie has all the makings of a beloved Halloween classic. Boo! (taken from Amazon)

Most parents are familiar with the Sandra Boynton books. There are about a million of them, all with cute little critters and fun storylines. The number of times I sang the Pajama Time song with the kids is truly astonishing! Spooky Pookie is another sweet little story, this time about a pig who can’t figure out what costume to wear. It’s great for three years old and under.

The Ghost-Eye Tree

One dark and windy autumn night when the sun has long gone down, a young boy and his older sister are sent to the end of town to get a bucket of milk. As they walk down the lonely road, bathed in eerie moonlight, all the boy can think about is the ghost-eye tree.

Oooo…
I dreaded to go…
I dreaded the tree….
Why does Mama always choose me
When the night is so dark
And the mind runs free?

What will happen when they come to the tree? Can they run past it or will it reach out and grab them? (taken from Amazon)

This book scared the snot out of me when I was young! This is a perfect cuddle-up-and-read-aloud kind of book, and the illustrations are amazing.

The Monster at the End of this Book

Carve out family time for this Halloween read as Grover begs you not to turn the page — because there is a monster at this end of this book!

Lovable, furry old Grover is distressed to learn that there’s a monster at the end of this book! He begs readers not to turn the pages, but of course kids feel they just have to see this monster for themselves. Grover is astonished–and toddlers will be delighted–to discover who is really the monster at the end of the book! (taken from Amazon)

This has all the trappings of a good horror book: monsters, tension, a twist at the end! All it’s missing is the spookiness. Instead, it has something better: a great sense of humor. This one is so much fun! It’s one I think all parents should read with their littles.

For older elementary ghoulies/ middle grade ghosts:

Bunnicula

Beware the hare!

Harold the dog and Chester the cat must find out the truth about the newest pet in the Monroe household—a suspicious-looking bunny with unusual habits…and fangs! Could this innocent-seeming rabbit actually be a vampire? (taken from Amazon)

I love this book so, so much! The Bunnicula books are a blast! They are clever and creative, full of some of the most memorable pets in print. I have fond memories of this book and I loved reading it with my oldest for the first time a few years ago.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

This is a new edition of the complete original book. Stephen Gammell’s artwork from the original Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark appears in all its spooky glory. Read if you dare!
Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark is a timeless collection of chillingly scary tales and legends, in which folklorist Alvin Schwartz offers up some of the most alarming tales of horror, dark revenge, and supernatural events of all time. (taken from Amazon)

Ah, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark! I think every adult of a certain age read these when they were young. This is the sort of book that begs to be read while eating s’mores.

The Beast and the Bethany

Beauty comes at a price. And no one knows that better than Ebenezer Tweezer, who has stayed beautiful for 511 years. How, you may wonder? Ebenezer simply has to feed the beast in the attic of his mansion. In return for meals of performing monkeys, statues of Winston Churchill, and the occasional cactus, Ebenezer gets potions that keep him young and beautiful, as well as other presents.

But the beast grows ever greedier with each meal, and one day he announces that he’d like to eat a nice, juicy child next. Ebenezer has never done anything quite this terrible to hold onto his wonderful life. Still, he finds the absolutely snottiest, naughtiest, and most frankly unpleasant child he can and prepares to feed her to the beast.

The child, Bethany, may just be more than Ebenezer bargained for. She’s certainly a really rather rude houseguest, but Ebenezer still finds himself wishing she didn’t have to be gobbled up after all. Could it be Bethany is less meal-worthy and more…friend-worthy?

This book is such fun! It reminds me of nothing so much as a lighthearted, kid-friendly take on The Picture of Dorian Gray. The characters are delightfully nasty, the Beast is brutally entertaining, and the illustrations are a perfect addition. Plus, there’s a sequel coming before too long! Review

For Young-adult vampires:

House of Hollow

A dark, twisty modern fairytale where three sisters discover they are not exactly all that they seem and evil things really do go bump in the night.

Iris Hollow and her two older sisters are unquestionably strange. Ever since they disappeared on a suburban street in Scotland as children only to return a month a later with no memory of what happened to them, odd, eerie occurrences seem to follow in their wake. And they’re changing. First, their dark hair turned white. Then, their blue eyes slowly turned black. They have insatiable appetites yet never gain weight. People find them disturbingly intoxicating, unbearably beautiful, and inexplicably dangerous.

But now, ten years later, seventeen-year-old Iris Hollow is doing all she can to fit in and graduate high school on time–something her two famously glamourous globe-trotting older sisters, Grey and Vivi, never managed to do. But when Grey goes missing without a trace, leaving behind bizarre clues as to what might have happened, Iris and Vivi are left to trace her last few days. They aren’t the only ones looking for her though. As they brush against the supernatural they realize that the story they’ve been told about their past is unraveling and the world that returned them seemingly unharmed ten years ago, might just be calling them home. (taken from Amazon)

If you’re looking for eerie, this dark fairy tale/ horror is for you. It actually creeped me out a little, which is not an easy feat. I didn’t love the wrap-up at the end, but the rest of the book was great. Review

Tales from the Hinterland


Before The Hazel Wood, there was Althea Proserpine’s Tales from the Hinterland…

Journey into the Hinterland, a brutal and beautiful world where a young woman spends a night with Death, brides are wed to a mysterious house in the trees, and an enchantress is killed twice―and still lives.

Perfect for new readers and dedicated fans alike, Melissa Albert’s Tales from the Hinterland features full-page illustrations by Jim Tierney, foil stamping, two-color interior printing, and printed endpapers.

Tales from the Hinterland is a creepy and clever book of shorts stories that take place in the world of author Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood. While I didn’t like the final book in the Hazel Wood duology (at all), this collection of fairy tales that take place in that world are fantastic. You don’t need to read the original series to understand or enjoy this book at all, which makes it even better. Review

The Devouring Gray

After the death of her sister, seventeen-year-old Violet Saunders finds herself dragged to Four Paths, New York. Violet may be a newcomer, but she soon learns her mother isn’t: They belong to one of the revered founding families of the town, where stone bells hang above every doorway and danger lurks in the depths of the woods.

Justin Hawthorne’s bloodline has protected Four Paths for generations from the Gray—a lifeless dimension that imprisons a brutal monster. After Justin fails to inherit his family’s powers, his mother is determined to keep this humiliation a secret. But Justin can’t let go of the future he was promised and the town he swore to protect.

Ever since Harper Carlisle lost her hand to an accident that left her stranded in the Gray for days, she has vowed revenge on the person who abandoned her: Justin Hawthorne. There are ripples of dissent in Four Paths, and Harper seizes an opportunity to take down the Hawthornes and change her destiny—to what extent, even she doesn’t yet know.

The Gray is growing stronger every day, and its victims are piling up. When Violet accidentally unleashes the monster, all three must band together with the other Founders to unearth the dark truths behind their families’ abilities…before the Gray devours them all. (taken from Amazon)

Uncanny happenings, monsters, and townsfolk who are not who they seem make The Devouring Gray a fun-filled, creepy book. It’s a quick read too, which makes it a great palette-cleanser after a heavy book. Review

For adult zombies:

Meddling Kids

In 1977, four teenagers and a dog—Andy (the tomboy), Nate (the nerd), Kerri (the bookworm), Peter (the jock), and Tim (the Weimaraner)—solved the mystery of Sleepy Lake. The trail of an amphibian monster terrorizing the quiet town of Blyton Hills leads the gang to spend a night in Deboën Mansion and apprehend a familiar culprit: a bitter old man in a mask. 

Now, in 1990, the twenty-something former teen detectives are lost souls. Plagued by night terrors and Peter’s tragic death, the three survivors have been running from their demons. When the man they apprehended all those years ago makes parole, Andy tracks him down to confirm what she’s always known—they got the wrong guy. Now she’ll need to get the gang back together and return to Blyton Hills to find out what really happened in 1977, and this time, she’s sure they’re not looking for another man in a mask.

A mad scientist’s concoction of H. P. Lovecraft, teen detectives, and a love of Americana, Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids is a story filled with rich horror, thrilling twists, outright hilarity, and surprising poignancy. (taken from Amazon)

Meddling Kids is a love letter to the Scooby Gang, the Goonies, or the Hardy Boys. It’s a mystery-meets-supernatural book that answers the question: what happens when those meddling kids grow up and return home to solve one last case?

In the Garden of Spite

An audacious novel of feminine rage about one of the most prolific female serial killers in American history–and the men who drove her to it.

They whisper about her in Chicago. Men come to her with their hopes, their dreams–their fortunes. But no one sees them leave. No one sees them at all after they come to call on the Widow of La Porte.

The good people of Indiana may have their suspicions, but if those fools knew what she’d given up, what was taken from her, how she’d suffered, surely they’d understand. Belle Gunness learned a long time ago that a woman has to make her own way in this world. That’s all it is. A bloody means to an end. A glorious enterprise meant to raise her from the bleak, colorless drudgery of her childhood to the life she deserves. After all, vermin always survive. (taken from Amazon)

I think books about serial killers fall into the “spooktastic” category. I was enthralled by this book from page one. I knew nothing about the Widow of La Porte before reading this and I was shocked to learn that it was based on a real person. Yikes! Review

Nothing but Blackened Teeth

A Heian-era mansion stands abandoned, its foundations resting on the bones of a bride and its walls packed with the remains of the girls sacrificed to keep her company.

It’s the perfect venue for a group of thrill-seeking friends, brought back together to celebrate a wedding.

A night of food, drinks, and games quickly spirals into a nightmare as secrets get dragged out and relationships are tested.

But the house has secrets too. Lurking in the shadows is the ghost bride with a black smile and a hungry heart.

And she gets lonely down there in the dirt.

Effortlessly turning the classic haunted house story on its head, Nothing but Blackened Teeth is a sharp and devastating exploration of grief, the parasitic nature of relationships, and the consequences of our actions. (taken from Amazon)

While this never managed to flat-out scare me, Nothing but Blackened Teeth was nonetheless an interesting read. It had a bit of a Shirley Jackson vibe (though with gore). Review

Creepy Classics:

The Lottery

A cautionary short story about the dangers of unexamined traditions and the dark side of human nature.

I read this for the first time not all that long ago and holy crap! I still find myself uneasily examining it. It is engrossing and thought-provoking. It’s also believable, which makes it even more unsettling.

Frankenstein

If I cannot inspire love, I will cause fear!

The idea of a reanimated corpse was famously conceived by an 18 year old Mary Shelley on holiday with her future husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron near Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The three were tasked with writing a ghost story, which resulted in one of the most famous novels to come from the 19th century. Published anonymously in a three volume series, Frankenstein instantly set the standard for a true literary horror and its themes led many to believe it was the first true science fiction novel. In 1831 and after much pressure, Mary Shelley revised the text to be more fitting to contemporary standards. Presented here by Reader’s Library Classics is the original 1818 text of Frankenstein.

Young scientist Victor Frankenstein, grief-stricken over the death of his mother, sets out in a series of laboratory experiments testing the ability to create life from non-living matter. Soon, his experiments progress further until he creates a humanoid creature eight feet tall. But as Frankenstein soon discovers, a successful experiment does not always equal a positive outcome. (taken from Amazon)

Of course I had to have Frankenstein on this list! There’s nothing quite so scary as watching a human play God.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

A morality tale or a cautionary tale against the dangers of excess and vice? In the Picture of Dorian Gray, the protagonist sells his soul for youth and eternal beauty. While Dorian lives a decadent and deceitful life, only his picture portrait is affected by the traces of his wickedness and decadence. Oscar Wilde’s only novel offended the moral sensibilities of most of England in 1890 and over a century later, the story endures as one of the most popular classics of the gothic horror genre. (taken from Amazon

I generally prefer thought-provoking gothic horrors to gore-fests, and The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of the best examples of a smart gothic horror that I’ve read. If you haven’t picked this one up yet, I highly suggest you do.

There are many other great spooky reads that didn’t make this list, mainly because it would be way too long if I added everything. What are some of your favorite spooktastic reads?

Banned Books Week 2021: Read Dangerously

Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance. – Laurie Halse Anderson

Ah, it’s that lovely time of year. The time of year where I pull out my soapbox, climb on it, and start yelling about how much I disagree with the banning and censoring of books. That’s right- it’s Banned Books Week!

According to the American Library Association, “a challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.” I think most people can understand why this is a dangerous concept. Banning a book allows us to silence people we disagree with. It allows history to be ignored. It takes away the chance to learn from or connect with a different point of view.

Let me start with a little backstory here. The banning of books is nothing new. In fact, it’s believed that the first widely banned book in the U.S. was Uncle Tom’s Cabin, banned for having a “pro-abolitionist agenda”. (via lithub) Howl was actually put on trial. The defendants were told to prove that the book had “literary merit”. Ender’s Game was challenged in 2012 for pornographic content despite that fact that there is no sexual content in the book at all, much less content of a pornographic nature. Even the children’s book Where the Wild Things are has been banned in the past.

Books are banned and challenged for a myriad of reasons. These include sexual issues, the idea that a book has content that is unsuitable for its intended age group, language that is considered offensive, LBTQIA+ content, or any topic that might be considered divisive, really.

Courtesy of The American Library Association

The banning and challenging of books still happens. In fact, you can read about a recent incident involving a full list of books being banned in a York, PA school district. Incidentally, every single book was either by or about a person of color. ( via Penn Live Patriot News) Thankfully, the huge public outcry pressured the schoolboard into reversing the ban. While authors including Brian Meltzer were closely involved in the protest, it was originally led by students. How cool is that? I tell you, the younger generation will shake this world.

When you ban a book, you reveal yourself.– Brad Meltzer

The list of banned and challenged books is huge. It includes ‘classics’ such as To Kill a Mockingbird and Catch 22. Children’s books as ubiquitous as Where’s Waldo and A Light in the Attic have also made the list. Some of the most commonly challenged books in recent years include And Tango Makes Three, the Harry Potter series, The Hate You Give, Thirteen Reasons Why, The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Captain Underpants series. To Kill a Mockingbird seems to be constantly challenged or banned. The reasons are varied, but I think they all have something in common: those who are challenging are doing so because they are scared. They are scared of reading things they don’t understand, don’t agree with, or don’t want to think about.

Choosing not to read a book is always an option, of course, which leads into a conversation on canceling, as the words canceling and banning tend to get a little confused. I think we’re all familiar with the term “cancel culture” by now. According to Miriam-Webster, cancel culture is “the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure.” Canceling and banning a book are two very different things. Canceling is basically a boycott and it is a personal choice. Book banning involves having your choice to read or not read a book taken from you by others. I am unequivocally against the banning of books. No group of people should be able to deny others the opportunity to read books.

So, what can we do? Read banned books. Buy banned books. Speak out against the banning of books. You can find an excellent list of commonly banned books to get you started here. I also went to social media to see what people’s favorite banned books are. You can find the results of that at the end of this post. It’s a great list, and there are a few on there that I haven’t read yet (I plan to change that).

There are many experiences that I haven’t had, shoes that I haven’t walked in, or situations that I haven’t dealt with…but books can help me understand and empathize with those who have. They teach us compassion and broaden our horizons. So, are they dangerous? I should hope so. After all, growth and change generally are.

Live dangerously. Read.

Social media’s favorite banned and/or challenged books:

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Bible

The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Peig: The Autobiography of Peig Sayers of the Great Blasket Island by Peig Sayers

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’engle

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair by Mariko Tamaki

Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Howl and other Poems by Allen Ginsberg

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Picture Book Picks: What Caught My Youngster’s Eye in May

My littlest, who loves history books and biographies more than anything else, has finally started reading picture books every now and again as well. I’m so relieved, simply because it’s hard to work on reading skills with a little kid when the print from the very adult history book he’s picked is miniscule. While books about people such as Confucius or President Taft are still his go-to, here are a few picture books from May that he picked out, as well as what we thought of them.

Great, Now We‘ve Got Barbarians! by Jason Carter Eaton, Illustrated by Mark Fearing

I bet you thought that leaving dirty dishes out could attract ants. And never picking clothes up off the floor causes mold and bugs. Nope! Being slobby attracts…barbarians! Barbarians who eat the food, destroy the room and basically become a hilarious nuisance. This kid learns the importance of cleaning up after himself after dealing with a barbaric infestation.

This book was a hit! My youngest giggled his way through it, and objected to returning it to the library. I enjoyed it too. The pictures are so much fun. There’s a lot going on that can be enjoyed and talked about. The language was simple enough the my little guy could read it, but not so simple that it read like an early reader. I give this cautionary tale points for creativity and would happily read it with my youngest again.

The Yawns are Coming! by Christopher Eliopoulos

This book is about a sleepover that is interrupted by the YAWNS (insert gasp here). These two children have a list of fun things they want to do and they aren’t going to let a little thing like sleep get in the way. They try to find ways to avoid those pesky yawns, but the next thing they know, they’re also being bothered by DOZES.

My youngest loved this one. I was a little less enthusiastic, but I didn’t hate reading it with him. The pictures are cute and so is the concept, I just would have like to see a little more happening. As far as reading level, I’d suggest this one to children who are learning their very first sight words, as it was a little simpler than some of the others on the list.

My Symphony by William Henry Channing, Illustrated by Mary Engelbreit

My Symphony happens to be one of my favorite poems and I thought the colorful illustrations would delight my youngest. Boy, was I wrong! He didn’t like this book at all. I’ll forgive him for his lack of taste (ha!) just this once: I’m pretty sure he’s not the intended age group for this particular book.

The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snickett, Illustrated by Carson Ellis, Contributed to by Nathaniel Stookey

A dastardly deed has been discovered: the composer is dead! I realize this sounds absolutely awful, and not the sort of book a five year old should read, but it’s actually great fun. A detective must figure out what has happened to the composer and who is responsible, introducing kids to different parts of the symphony as he investigates. With just a tiny touch of the macabre, and an enormous helping of creativity and fun, this was a favorite of my oldest when he was young and my youngest loved it too. In fact, you can find narrations of it on YouTube to go along with the book, if you’d like the sound of each instrument to accompany the pictures in the book.

I would love to eventually own this one.

The Traveler’s Gift: A Story of Loss and Hope by Danielle Davison, Illustrated by Anne Lambelet

I fell in love with this book. Yes, it’s a picture book and I’m an adult, but so what? It was beautiful. Liam is told magical stories of faraway lands by his father, who is a sailor. One day, his father’s ship sinks and he doesn’t return. Liam feels like the magic has been drained from the world, which is brilliantly shown by shades of gray. Eventually, he meets the Traveler, a man with a wondrous, multicolored beard filled with bits of amazing stories of the magical places he’s been. Liam travels with him and begins to see the magic in the world again. He learns that even the sad things in our life make us who we are and that our experiences shape our perspectives and give us stories that only we can tell.

My youngest was fascinated by the gorgeous illustrations and I was floored by the beautiful story and how it was told gently, but never in a condescending way. This is another one that I want to add to our large collection of picture books.

There were several rereads throughout the month, of course, and the usual deluge of historical books, but these were some of the new ones that we read together. Have you read any of these with your little one? What did you think?

Picture Book Picks: What Caught My Youngster’s Eye in March

My pre-kindergarten child has different interests than an average youngster. He prefers nonfiction books to fiction, and generally chooses adult books about historical figures when at the library. Obviously, this makes working on his reading skills a little difficult (he can read words like “constitution” and “liberty” on sight, but struggles with “form” vs. “from”, for example, and the font is quite a bit smaller in adult books). I would never tell him not to read the books that interest him, but I am also trying to push a picture book or easy reader here and there. Here are a few picture books that caught his attention this month!

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

Goblin, a cheerful little homebody, lives in a cosy, rat-infested dungeon, with his only friend, Skeleton. Every day, Goblin and Skeleton play with the treasure in their dungeon. But one day, a gang of “heroic” adventurers bursts in. These marauders trash the place, steal all the treasure, and make off with Skeleton―leaving Goblin all alone!

It’s up to Goblin to save the day. But first he’s going to have to leave the dungeon and find out how the rest of the world feels about goblins. (taken from Amazon)

Nobody Likes a Goblin is adorable. It was a win for my youngest, and I enjoyed it too. The imagination of the storyline, combined with the charming illustrations, kept him entertained. He happily read it to his dad and then to me afterward. The text is simple enough that an early reader can sound out the words and grow their vocabulary, which is a major plus. Nobody Likes a Goblin was a great choice for this geeky household.

Everybody’s Favorite Book by Mike Allegra, Illustrated by Claire Almon


Anyone who says, “You can’t please everybody,” isn’t trying hard enough. At least, that’s what the cheeky narrator of this meta picture book thinks!

A “good” book may have a spaceman or a ninja or a cowboy, but Everybody’s Favorite Book has something better: a Space Ninja Cow. And that’s only the beginning. You like princesses? We got ‘em. Prefer a mystery? No sweat. Want the definition of “gallimaufry”? A good poop joke? A giant, carnivorous guinea pig? Check, check and check. And there’s more! Much more! This book has everything, for everybody!

Here’s hoping things don’t go awry. (Spoiler, they do.)- Taken from Amazon

This one had mixed reactions. My youngest enjoyed the pictures, but seemed a little less interested in the story itself. The way some of the text was set up confused him, as far as which part he should read first. He did laugh at some of the shenanigans that ensued, though. Personally, I was happy that he only wanted to read it once. It was cute, but I felt it was a little abrupt in its ending.

Mustache Duckstache by Amy Young, Illustrated by A.J. Young

When a mustachioed rabbit spots a mustache contest, he’s sure he has the competition beat. That is, until a pesky frog hops up with his own fine mustache. And a duck waddles up with a…duckstache? Soon, the competition is full of moosestaches and mousestaches, whalestaches and tailstaches–and every kind of ‘stache in between.

Readers will love following this simple tale of hirsute havoc with a laugh-out-loud twist ending. Plus, there’s a fun guide at the end to every kind of mustache imaginable! (taken from Amazon)

Mustache Duckstache was just plain cute. There’s a facial hair competition between a bunch of animals (because why not?), with moostaches and duckstaches galore. There wasn’t a lot in the way of wording, so my youngest didn’t get much reading practice in, but so what? He thoroughly enjoyed the book, which I think makes it a win.

The Duckling Gets a Cookie? By Mo Willems

The Duckling asks for a cookie — and gets one! Do you think the Pigeon is happy about that? (taken from Amazon)

One of the many titles in the hilarious and adorable Pigeon series, my youngest and I had a great time cuddling up and reading this together. The words are simple, and the story is funny. One thing that I love about this is that it teaches about exclamation marks vs. other punctuation without being obnoxious about it. My youngest loved yelling the parts that were bolded with exclamation marks added. He’s developing his own “reader voice”, which is a blast to hear.

Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman

I have fond memories of Go, Dog, Go! from my own childhood. Watching my youngest read it was a lot of fun. There aren’t too many new words presented at once, and the vocabulary used is repeated several times throughout the book, helping those sight words stick. The illustrations are fun, and my youngest has read this many times.

It’s exciting to see my youngest mixing it up a little, and reading both nonfiction and fiction. I’m curious to see what catches his eye next. Have you read any of these with your children? What are some of their favorites?

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas: 2020 Picture Book Edition

Despite 2020 being the year that just won’t end, we’re coming up on “that time of year.” I like to give my kids at least one book for Christmas each year, so last year I posted a little list of suggestions (you can find that post here ). Here are some of my family’s picture book winners for this year, ones that are sure to make little readers happy.

The 1,2,3’s of D&D and The A,B,C’s of D&D by Ivan Van Norman and Caleb Cleveland

So, if you didn’t already know that I’m a major nerd, this will definitely give it away. These books are so much fun and I – ahem, my kid-loves them. If you look closely, you’ll find an homage to a certain red wizard hidden in one of the pages of The 1,2,3s of D&D. These books are great for little learners with big imaginations.

I’m Afraid Your Teddy is in Trouble Today by Jancee Dunn, Illustrated by Scott Nash

This adorable book is about a naughty stuffed bear and the shenanigans he gets up to with his stuffed buddies. The pictures are bright and engaging and give little ones so much to talk about. There’s no overtly-forced rhyme scheme, which is a huge plus for me. This book is a popular one in our house, and for good reason.

100 Inventions that Made History:Brilliant Breakthroughs that Shaped Our World

My five year old marches to the beat of his own drum. Not only that, he wants to know who invented the drum, when they invented it, and why. He just really enjoys nonfiction and this series of books is great. It gives a lot of really interesting information in a way that is accessible. I actually originally bought this book for my older child to use in school. My youngest has adopted it and looks at it constantly.

You are My Work of Art by Sue DiCicco

I love this book so, so much! This is a great cuddling- before- bed read. Each illustration shows a child with a sweet rhyme, but when you lift a flap, there’s a famous painting, along with information about it. It’s such a wonderful way to introduce kids to art! When my youngest outgrows it, I’ll probably save it in case he has kids some day. (Please ignore my horrible photography skills.)

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, Illustrated by Michael Martchenko

My husband actually bought this one for me because I collect all things dragon-related (I also have quite the collection of fairy tales, and this sort of fits in). Not only does the princess save the prince in this one, she decides she’s better off without him (he’s a shallow jerk). The ending is hilarious and the pictures add to the fun. This has become a family favorite.

So, there you have it: some books that I think would make great gifts. Are you planning on gifting any children’s books this year? What are some you’d recommend? You can find these great books, and more at Bookshop.org , which supports indie bookstores instead of Amazon. That’s pretty nifty. I’ll also get a little kickback at no extra cost to you, if you use my link (above).

National Young Readers Week: Reading is Fun-damental!

Did you know that the second week in November is National Young Readers Week in the U.S.? This is a week to encourage and promote the love of literature in young readers. While mainly celebrated in public schools, I think all of us everywhere should get in on the fun. I’m a homeschool parent (going on seven years of homeschooling!), so my “classroom” looks a little different. Here are some ways that I encourage my young readers:

Book It! Program – This has been around since I was young and it’s as much fun now as it was then. Basically, you sign your kid up and give them a reading goal based on age or skill level. When that goal is reached, Pizza Hut provides the child with a certificate for a one-topping personal pan pizza. Yum!

Lego Magazine– I believe that this is only available in the U.S. and Canada (please correct me if I’m wrong). My kids love getting mail and this magazine, while in essence a long advertisement, still has little comics and such whatnot for young kids to read.

Origami Yoda– My oldest loves the Origami Yoda books by Tom Angleberger. They’re a blast to read. After reading them, have your kids check out the Origami Yoda website for free origami instructions. They can make their own origami Star Wars characters, and (with parental supervision) even create and submit their own foldable fun on the site. Warning: you will go through a ridiculous amount of paper while your kids fold away.

Lunch Doodle with Mo Willems– If you have a little reader, you’re probably familiar with the Pigeon books by Mo Willems. If not, you definitely need to fix that. They’re a blast! Well, author Mo Willems has a delightful YouTube channel which he started back in March when the U.S went on Quarantine lockdown. It is just a fun, calm way to encourage kids to get creating along with Mo Willems. There is also an email address where kids can send their own doodles.

I think it’s important to encourage reading of any kind. Yes, I mean that comics are just as valid as picture books, or even The Great American Novel. Reading is reading. If it excites your kid, then there’s a bigger chance they’ll keep reading. What are some great free reading resources for kids that I’ve missed? Are you doing anything special with your littles to spark a love of reading?

Happy reading!

The Serpent Slayer: And Other Stories of Strong Women by Katrin Tchana, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman

This volume is an anthology of 18 stories about heroines with as much courage, wit and intelligence as their more familiar male counterparts. It includes Li Chi, the serpent slayer, and the old woman sly enough to outsmart the devil. (taken from Amazon)

I love a good fairy tale collection, and The Serpent Slayer delivers! As the title suggests, this book highlights female heroes. There are no heroic knights or true love’s kisses. Rather, these women kick butt all on their own.

One of the many things I love about this collection is that the stories come from all over the world. There are tales from Indonesia, China, and India, to name a few. Each one is so original, and very different from the average fairy tale fare. Let me tell you-this book has it all! There are dragons, devils, fey folk, and more.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the illustrations. Trina Schart Hyman is one of my favorite illustrators anyway, and she outdoes herself in this book. Everything comes to life and a beautiful and fantastical way. The colors are bright and beautiful, and each illustration strives to capture the place of the story’s origin. The pictures elevate the book from good to freaking amazing!

Obviously, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves fairy tales, especially lesser-known ones. Go ahead and buy it; you’ll want to be able to read this one again and again.

The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips-The Write Reads Book Tour

Beauty comes at a price. And not one knows that better than Ebenezer Tweezer, who has stayed beautiful for 511 years. How, you may wonder? Ebenezer simply has to feed the beast in the attic of his mansion. In return for meals of performing monkeys, statues of Winston Churchill, and the occasional cactus, Ebenezer gets potions that keep him young and beautiful, as well as other presents.

But the beast grows ever greedier with each meal, and one day he announces that he’d like to eat a nice, juicy child next. Ebenezer has never done anything quite this terrible to hold onto his wonderful life. Still, he finds the absolutely snottiest, naughtiest, and most frankly unpleasant child he can and prepares to feed her to the beast.

The child, Bethany, may just be more than Ebenezer bargained for. She’s certainly a really rather rude houseguest, but Ebenezer still finds himself wishing she didn’t have to be gobbled up after all. Could it be Bethany is less meal-worthy and more…friend-worthy? (taken from Amazon)

I’m so excited to be joining in The Write Reads blog tour today! The Beast and the Bethany will be available for purchase on December eighth (Psst! This would make a great Christmas gift!).

Take The Picture of Dorian Gray , and make it less gothic and more fun, and you’ve got The Beast and the Bethany. This book follows Ebenezer Tweezer, a 511 year-old who is ridiculously rich and remarkably spry for his age. His secret? He has a beast hidden in his attic. Ebenezer feeds the beast in exchange for a potion that keeps him young. At first, the beast wants small things, but as time goes on its appetite grows and…well, let’s just say that the beast is not a vegetarian.

Eventually, Ebenezer is asked to put a child on the beast’s menu. Ebenezer finds this vaguely upsetting, but not enough to keep him from bringing Bethany home. Bethany is a brat. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Then again, can someone who’s planning on feeding his houseguest to a monster really make judgments? Ebenezer can handle her staying with him prior to the Big Meal. It’s only for a little while, after all. Then it’s bon apetit! But then something unexpected happens: Bethany and Ebenezer start to become friends! Whatever shall Ebenezer do?

This book is monstrously delightful! Bethany and Ebenezer are the most likable jerks that I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. They’re good for each other, and it was wonderful seeing them slowly change (just a little!) and learn to appreciate each other. I particularly loved Ebenezer and seeing how he’s basically been going through a mid-life crisis for the last fifty plus years.

The way the story is told is perfect for older elementary and middle-grade kids, but it will keep any age group entertained. The language is simple and snappy, and the book is a quick read, though the concepts are most understood and appreciated by the slightly older crowd. My oldest will be reading The Picture of Dorian Gray in school this year and I’m adding The Beast and the Bethany to his curriculum. I know he’ll love it! I may have to make it a read-aloud so I have an excuse to enjoy it again.

Much like the beast, I gobbled this up and I’m hungry for more. This author is fantastic! I most definitely recommend picking this book up. If you have kids, buy this for them. If you don’t, buy it for you. It’s a great read!

Timothy Mean and the Time Machine 2 by William A.E. Ford, illustrated by Marcelo Simonetti

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Thank you to the author for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. This is the second picture book following little Timothy Mean. You can find my review for book one here. Both books are available for purchase now.

Timothy Mean has an amazing imagination and a penchant for trouble. Both of these qualities send him on some fantastic time-traveling escapades, courtesy of his trusty homemade time machine. The first book saw him visit dinosaurs, vikings, and more. The second book included more historical figures, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, and Albert Einstein.

My little Toddler Tornado loves historical figures. This book is right up his alley. It’s silly and fun, but it also offers the chance for a parent to explain a little bit about who these historical figures were (or not: I think that’s the homeschool parent in me taking over).

The narrative rhymes and has a nice cadence to it. The book tells the story simply and well, without becoming too wordy to keep a little one’s attention. Of course, a picture book needs good illustrations, and the ones in this story are amazing! The author and illustrator worked together to tell a fantastic tale through both words and pictures.

As much as I enjoyed the first book, I think this one might be even better. I highly recommend picking up both books in this series. They are perfect for younger elementary-aged children.