A trio of delicious middle grade novels

award books

Flora and Ulysses, The One and Only Ivan, and The Year of Billy Miller. Yum.

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Books I read this week

Psst: This is an interruption from our regularly-scheduled programming (“Books That Make You Cry Cry [While Your Kids Remain Annoyingly Dry-Eyed]“). I’m hoping to make this a weekly post.

Picture books:

watermelon seed
The Watermelon Seed
, by Greg Pizzoli. The bottom line: A very Mo Willems-esque style. Funny. Great choice to read in a kindergarten class to get them howling. (A first book for this author–impressive.)

exclamation mark
Exclamation Mark
, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld. The bottom line: Similar tone to some of their other creations, such as Little Pea. Modern and clever, sure to please teachers and librarians as well as kids.

mitchell goes bowling
Mitchell Goes Bowling
, by Hallie Durand and illustrated by Tony Fucile. Full of action and movement, with emotion and conflict and a satisfying resolution. Dynamic illustrations and a little-covered subject make this fresh and fun. The illustrator also does the Bink and Gollie books.

Chapter books:

vanishing coiin
The Vanishing Coin (Magic Shop),
by Kate Egan. Bottom line: Cute new series (this is the first) about a fourth-grade boy with learning issues who discovers that performing magic may be the first thing he’s really good at. Excellent dialogue and plot, likeable themes of friendship, and fun magic theme to keep readers interested. I enjoyed this one.

hank zipzer
Hank Zipzer, the World’s Greatest Under-Achiever: A Brand-New Me
, by Lin Oliver and Henry Winkler. Bottom line: Like The Vanishing Coin, stars a boy with learning challenges. This one lives in New York City and is about to move on to middle school. This is the 17th in the popular series. With snappy, sassy dialogue, this is a good pick for boys who may have similar learning problems at school. If you don’t like kids tossing barbs back and forth at each though, this may not be for you.


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Kids books that make you cry–in a good way!

I can’t be the only one who does this: I’m reading a picture book to my kids, and suddenly it gets sad. I tear up, I choke up, I stop reading. They look at me curiously to see what’s going on. I manage to squeak, “Sorry, guys, this is just so … sad,” and then I’m at it again. It’s so bad that when we re-read certain books, my daughter will peek over at me expectantly when she knows the crying part is coming up. It’s slightly humiliating, and yet, at the same time, I love a good cry over a book! In the next three posts, I’m going to mention some of the major culprits in the Kids Books That Will Make You Cry (While Your Kids Remain Annoyingly Dry-Eyed) category.

where wild things are

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

Short but oh so honest and true, this used to make my throat go tight with empathy when our son was young and rascally and I felt that he’d be able to relate to the naughty-but-endearing Max.

‘Now stop!’ Max said and sent the wild things off to bed without their supper. And Max the king of all wild things was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.”

His mother, it’s his mother that loves him best of all! Sigh.

 ten little fingers

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, by Mem Fox

All babies are sweet, but the sweetest one of all is mine, think all moms (or at least thus thought I, when both my kids were tiny). The combination of the rhyme and illustrations make the ending of this book tug at your heart.

“But the next baby born was truly divine,
a sweet little child who was mine, all mine.
And this little baby, as everyone knows,
Has ten little fingers, ten little toes,
And three little kisses
On the tip of its toes.”


Someday, by Alison McGhee

I dare you to read this one without sobbing. It’s not really a great read for kids, as it’s big on lyricism and sentiment. Oh, and also, kids tend to tire of adults breaking down by page 10. But I can’t think of many other picture books that cultivate such a sense of nostalgia—real and imagined—for childhood and motherhood and the passing of the torch to the next generation.

“One day I counted your fingers and kissed each one,” it begins.
“One day the first snowflakes fell, and I held you up and watched them melt on your baby skin.
One day we crossed the street, and you held my hand tight.
Then, you were my baby, and now you are my child.”

It just gets more bittersweet from there, ending on a devastatingly affecting note:

“Someday I will watch you brushing your child’s hair.
Someday, a long time from now, your own hair will glow silver in the sun.
And when that day comes, love,
You will remember me.”

Nopt crying yet? I guess you just had to be there.

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I Didn’t Do My Homework Because…

homeworkI Didn’t Do My Homework Because…

By Davide Cali
Illustrated by Benjamin Chaud

This breaks so many American picture book rules (possibly because the author and illustrator are both French?). There’s almost no plot or narrative arc. The illustrations are old-fashioned and European in style (I saw Edward Gorey, Maurice Sendak, and Ludwig Bemelmans in the vivid pen-and-ink drawings). The humor is direct (no post-modern stuff here). And some of the illustrations border on scary and violent, in a Pierre-esque sort of way. In short, this book is a blast-from-the-past wonder.

“So, why didn’t you do your homework?” asks the teacher on the first page. The remainder consists of a litany of excuses the young boy uses to explain his missing homework, ranging from, “An airplane full of monkeys landed in our yard” to “We had a problem with carnivorous plants” (use your imagination). This is a book that an older child will enjoy reading alone, and that will require much explaining when read to a younger one. Either way, it’s a good time.

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I See Kitty, by Yasmine Surovec

i see kittyThis sweet and simple winner has a cartoonish style of art that will resonate with today’s kiddos, and an ultra pared-down text that makes it almost a sort of easy reader. Unlike many picture books, that utilize complicated narratives and sophisticated vocabulary and are really meant to be read aloud by adults, this one features repetitive structures with basic words. I read it once to my kindergarten daughter, and then she read it aloud to me. There’s not much plot here (Chloe loves kitties and sees them everywhere), but the illustrations are imaginative and appealing. And who doesn’t like kitties?


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Fun new series from Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee

With a byline like this one (I worship these two ladies, and I know I’m not alone), a series is bound to be good. This one, Bink & Gollie, has gotten rave reviews (which I only realized after picking this one up at the library and reading said rave reviews on the back cover). This seems to be a sort of hybrid chapter book/graphic novel series for girls. A mismatched pair of best friends, Bink (a short, spunky, always-up-for-anything gal) and Gollie (taller, more demure, but equally up for fun) tackle projects, seek adventure, and work through friendship roadblocks. It’s a little like Ivy and Bean: The GN version. The vivid illustrations by Tony Fucile are a huge part of the appeal, and girls who are resisting reading longer works may use these as a launching pad. Side thought: What’s up with all the weird character names in books these days? Bean, Bink, Gollie, Dink? No one I know has names like that!bink and gollie

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Creepy Carrots! and One Cool Friend

creepy carrots one cool friendCreepy Carrots! (Aaron Reynolds and Peter Brown) and One Cool Friend (Tony Buzzeo and David Small) were both on the short list for the Caldecott Medal last year, so I had to check them out. Like so many awesome picture books these days, these two are big on offbeat humor. By coincidence, they also (spoiler alert!) conclude with totally unexpected, laugh-out-loud funny surprise endings. Creepy Carrots! is goofy and silly, with cartoonish illustrations and deadpan text that takes a little getting used to. Is Jasper really surrounded by killer vegetables, or is it all in his head? One Cool Friend employs a completely different, but equally effective, sort of humor. Like the boy in Billy Twitters and his Blue Whale Problem, this protagonist suspends reality when he “adopts” a live penguin from the aquarium and sneaks him home. The lively, old-fashioned pen-and-ink illustrations and the faux-erudite tone complement each other delightfully.

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