children's books · Fantasy · middle grade · Uncategorized

The Silver Arrow: an unremarkable middle-grade


The Silver Arrow

author : lev grossman

pages : [paperback] 164

summary :

Kate and her younger brother Tom lead desperately uninteresting lives. And judging by their desperately uninteresting parents, the future isn’t much more promising. If only life was like it is in books, where you have adventures, and save the world! Even Kate’s 11th birthday is shaping up to be mundane — that is, until her mysterious and highly irresponsible Uncle Herbert surprises her with the most unexpected, exhilarating birthday present of all time: a real-life steam locomotive called The Silver Arrow.

Kate and Tom’s parents quite sensibly tell him to take it back, but Kate and Tom have other ideas — and so does The Silver Arrow — and very soon they’re off on a mysterious journey along magical rails. On their way, they pick up a pack of talking animals: a fishing cat, a porcupine, a green mamba, a polar bear, and the sweetest baby pangolin in the world. With only curiosity, fear, adrenaline, and the thrill of the unknown to guide them, Kate and Tom are on the adventure of a lifetime — and they just might save the world after all.

review :

I received a copy of this book as an arc and was eager to dive into this story, which is sort of like The Polar Express if the message there was about conservation.

It’s Kate’s birthday and everything in her life is utterly boring, which is why she writes a letter to her rich, estranged uncle asking him to send her a gift. What she receives isn’t what she expects: a train engine appears in her backyard! Her parents are furious; Kate and her brother Tom are delighted. At least until the train starts moving and they find themselves swept up in a fantastical journey where they are the conductors on a train helping animals travel to different stations around the world.

The concept of this book was cute. It’s not a bad idea. But the book is promoted for ages 8-12 and thinking back on my own reading experience, coupled with what I know of current middle-grade readers, the book skews too young. The writing and plot feel suitable maybe for the eight year-old end of that scale; The Silver Arrow might have done much better as a picture book. The message here is so blatantly obvious (and I think children are perhaps the ones who least need to be lectured about conservation these days) that I don’t think 8-12 year-olds would get much from this book. It feels like it talks down to children.

The characters are fairly basic and . . . boring. Kate, the main character, often goes chapters at a time without mentioning her younger brother, Tom, so sometimes it’s easy to forget he’s on the train at all. Kate might feel so simplistic because it would be easier for young readers to imagine themselves as her–putting themselves in her shoes, saving the animals. But she doesn’t feel like a realistic person, much less child. Somewhere alone the line (route? train tracks?) the story loses its emotion and becomes more of a step-by-step explanation of Kate’s day. First she did this, and then she did this, and then . . .

Honestly, the message delivered in The Silver Arrow is nothing that hasn’t been done before, and better, by other books. It’s a quick read, and the lesson behind it is very important, but this isn’t the book to use to demonstrate such things to the intended age group. I think they’ll lose interest quickly and won’t find the book fascinating at all.

2/5 stars


5 stars · children's books · fairy tale · graphic novel

Rapunzel Comics Collection: BEST. COMICS. EVER!


Disney Princess Comics Collection: Rapunzel

published by The Walt Disney Company

other Disney princess comics:

belle jasmine ariel 

favorite character : eugene fitzherbert

summary :

Take adventure to new lengths with Rapunzel, Pascal, and all of your favorite Disney Tangled characters. How does Rapunzel manage to dry seventy feet of hair? What happens when she has a staring contest with Pascal? Find out the answers to these hair-larious questions and more in this colorful comics collection sure to delight Disney fans of all ages.

review :

I think it would be nearly impossible for me to dislike a book featuring my favorite Disney movie.

This collection of comics featuring Rapunzel, Pascal, Max, and Eugene, takes place before, during, and after the events of the movie. A lot of the jokes are very punny, which of course I love because I have a very refined sense of humor. Many of them are tied into key moments of the film. Obviously you’ll enjoy this more if you’re familiar with Tangled, but I think even if you don’t remember all of the pieces of the plot you’d still like these cute comics.

One of my favorite things is getting to see how Rapunzel more practically deals with all of that hair, as well as what she does to use up all of that extra time she has while trapped in her tower.

And I have to mention Eugene–aka Flynn Rider. He’s my absolute favorite. His feature in the comics shows off his sense of humor while also poking fun at his enormous ego. It might be cheesy, but I also love how it shows how much he loves Rapunzel. What he’ll do to ensure that she’s happy, to make her smile–it’s just the kind of adorable happily ever after you look for in Disney things.

The artwork is adorable. As always, the style is perfect for something Disney is putting out, and it leaves me wanting more. Every princess needs her own comics collection. I can’t wait to see what they’ll come up with next!

How I feel about this book:


clearly I’m Rapunzel and the book is Pascal

5/5 stars


children's books · fairy tale · graphic novel

Jasmine Comics Collection: explore a whole new world with this Disney Princess


Disney Princess Comics: Jasmine

pages : 89

summary :

Like a shooting star . . .

Explore a whole new world with Princess Jasmine, Rajah, Aladdin, and all of your favorite characters from Disney Aladdin. What does Jasmine find when she explores a mysterious cave with Iago? What happens when Jasmine goes on a shopping spree with Genie? These adventures and more await in this collection of colorful comics and are sure to delight Disney fans of all ages.

review :

These comics are adorable and fun–perfect for every Disney fan!

I think we all know how bold and outgoing Jasmine is in her role in Disney’s Aladdin. In these short comic strips, we get to see more of her palace life, after the movie. She’s incredibly witty, sassy, and speaks her mind. I loved getting some insight into the dynamic that happens after Aladdin begins to stay at the palace. But some of my favorite moments came between Jasmine and Rajah–her pet tiger is really just a giant kitty, who gets very jealous when anyone else tries to take the attention away from him!

These comics can be enjoyed by any Disney fan, young and old. They’re simple enough to be read and beloved by kids, and still have the quick wit and humor that adults will appreciate. The art is incredibly cute; all of the characters are stylized and bubbly. I loved seeing their different iterations in this book.

Jasmine truly has the chance to shine as the main character here. We get to see the world through her eyes, now–not Aladdin’s. This is an exciting shift for fans of the princess. I highly recommend picking this up!

5/5 stars



5 stars · children's books · fiction

imaginary fred by eoin colfer & oliver jeffers is the book all kids and grown-ups need


imaginary fred

authors : eoin colfer & oliver jeffers

pages : [hardcover] 48

summary :

A quirky, funny, and utterly irresistible story from Eoin Colfer and Oliver Jeffers, two of the finest children’s book creators on the planet.

Did you know that sometimes, with a little electricity, or luck, or even magic, an imaginary friend might appear when you need one? An imaginary friend like Fred.

Fred floated like a feather in the wind until Sam, a lonely little boy, wished for him and, together, they found a friendship like no other.

The perfect chemistry between Eoin Colfer’s text and Oliver Jeffers’s artwork makes for a dazzlingly original picture book.

review :

I never had an imaginary friend when I was younger. Maybe because I had books instead.

That sounds incredibly corny, but it was true. Whenever I was lonely, I could always find someone to be friends with me, and maybe fictional characters are their own kind of imaginary friends. I’ve been obsessed with them long enough to not really know the difference.

Imaginary Fred is an amazingly cute, quirky story about what it is to be a friend, what it is to be recognized, and what great things the imagination can do for you. Sam has always wanted a friend, and Fred has had many people befriend him during his imaginary friend gig . . . but they all, inevitably find real friends for themselves. And forget all about him.

Sam and Fred have an amazing relationship and friendship and I love all of the messages told in this story. I don’t want to spoil any of them (and, really, this book is short enough, so you need to go and read it yourself if you’re so curious, and just because it’s that good). Messages about friendship, about identity, creativity, love, caring, altruism . . .

And, yes, I know children’s books always have some kind of hidden agenda, right? They’re always trying to teach something. Or at least a lot of tiny little things. Imaginary Fred does it right because while the messages aren’t hidden, they aren’t spelled out for the kids, either. It lets younger readers do all of the critical thinking on their own.

But, really, the illustrations and story are cute enough for readers of any age.

5/5 stars


5 stars · children's books · fiction

Book Review: The One and Only Ivan


The One and Only Ivan

author : katherine applegate

pages : [hardcover] 307

favorite character : ivan

memorable quote :

Memories are precious … they help tell us who we are.

summary :

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

review :

I honestly can’t get over how great this book was. Sure, it’s a children’s book, but it’s the kind of book anyone can benefit from reading, especially because I feel like everyone has their own opinions on animal rights nowadays. When do you ever get to read a narrative by the animal himself?

Ivan is a very smart, very underappreciated gorilla who was captured when he was young and dragged off to live with humans, eventually ending in a small enclosure where three walls are glass, one wall is a poor, painted depiction of a jungle. He has plenty of food to eat, a TV to watch if someone remembers to turn it on for him, and sometimes he has the chance to draw. The other animals are his friends and some of the only creatures he’s ever known, particularly now that business is slow and not many humans come to ogle him anymore.

His voice is just so incredibly unique. His understanding of human traits and objects comes from either seeing people use them or figuring out what he himself can use them for. He doesn’t know much of a life apart from this captivity, and might not have been tempted to try to change it for himself–but he wants more, and better, for his friends. I ached for Ivan and the others in this little stop off of the highway. There’s a huge difference between zoos/sanctuaries that give animals plenty of room, try to rehabilitate, or are keeping creatures from extinction, but these roadside attractions (I hope) are steadily disappearing. After living in Florida for a few months and seeing the advertisements for some areas there–I’m sure there are plenty of places around the world still in existence where people pay to, basically, see animals being mistreated.

The narrative is so simplistic, yet powerful, that I think it’s wonderfully done as a children’s book. Kids will definitely feel for and relate to Ivan; he’s grown, in captivity, but his mindset is still rather childish because he hasn’t had grown gorillas to teach him. I’ve seen this book used in children’s literature classes and full-heartedly support that; this is the kind of book everyone needs to go through school reading. No matter how old you are, or what your preferred genre typically is, I suggest picking this up. It can be finished within a few hours, but the personal impact can last a lifetime.

5/5 stars




5 stars · children's books

Disney Princess Storybook Collection is cute for any Disney lover!


Disney Princess Storybook Collection

variety of authors for the short stories

pages : [hardcover] 304

favorite story : one about flynn rider and rapunzel getting cupcakes together and it’s adorable

summary :

Get ready for an enchanting collection of stories, starring all the Disney Princesses! Solve a mystery with Rapunzel and the gang from the Snuggly Duckling. Gallop along with Merida after she meets a mysterious horse. Travel to Paris with Tiana as she competes in a global baking contest. Filled with wonder, excitement, and discovery, each princess’s tale is a royal delight!

review :

If you love Disney Princesses, you’ll definitely like this collection. Each of the 11 official Disney princesses are given a short story and some (like Tiana and Ariel) are given up to three each. There’s certainly something in here for everyone. I was initially drawn to it because of the two immensely cute Tangled stories in here, one about Rapunzel freeing Flynn from being framed for a crime and another about what Rapunzel and Flynn do when they reach Corona before they see the floating lanterns.

There are so many good messages contained in these stories that are the exact right size to read to a child before bed each night. There are stories about love, stories about adventure, stories about being true to yourself. They teach children about how to make their dreams reality or how to fix things when you and someone you love are angry with each other. There are great new side characters introduced in these little stories, brave men and women who are inventors, explorers, and–most of all–dreamers. I just loved it so much!

The writing is extremely simple, which makes for good read-alouds as well as a great collection for young readers. The text is pretty large and easy to read, though I love that Disney didn’t lessen the vocabulary and there were some great words in here that I think would be an awesome learning opportunity.

I’d recommend this to anyone, with kids or not!

5/5 stars


4 stars · children's books · fiction

Children’s Book Chat: The Day the Aunts Disappeared


The Day the Aunts Disappeared

author : KayeC Jones

pages : [ebook]

summary :

Hungry and tired of bug bites, Greg the Anteater decided to go to town to find an easy meal.

He quickly finds out that there are aunts all around the town! But “aunts” and “ants” are not the same thing, as he quickly finds out.

Find out what happens to Greg and all the aunts in town in this colorful and nonsensical story that will make you laugh and giggle.

review :

This book was adorable! I’ve read one other of Jones’ picture books (Kitty Conquers the Big Bully) and I love the artwork in both. Greg is cute (even when he’s kind of terrifying the town) and the little details really make the story unique. I like the little things that you only notice if you really engage with the picture, like Greg’s tongue forming a heart, because it’s cute, tells so much more about the story, and shows us more about Greg.

I have to admit at first I was a little taken aback that Greg was actually eating people. He didn’t really mean any harm (no one would want to eat bugs ALL their life) but I feel like adults reading this book to or with their children will find it funny on a different level. We can imagine an anteater doing something like this and find it hilarious; kids might find it funnier that Greg thinks people are tasty, or because he’s so confused, or because of the (accidental) chaos he causes.

I’ve never read anything like this, so I think it’s great and unique just in that respect. Pair that with the great artwork and it’s a cute, fun little book. I think that a lot of people would enjoy it, so I highly recommend it!

4/5 stars


4 stars · children's books · Uncategorized

Children’s Book Chat: Kitty Conquers the Big Bully by KayeC Jones


Kitty Conquers the Big Bully

author : KayeC Jones

pages : [ebook] 33

summary :

Meet Kitty, a daring and sweet little girl who won’t take anyone talking mean, especially neighborhood bullies who make all the kids cry.

Kitty finally goes face-to-face with the biggest bully who declares to her that girls can’t do anything but “clean and bake cookies”. Instead of flourishing fists and sinking to the bully’s level, she uses her wits and thinks her way out of the situation.

This wonderful story teaches everyone, not only girls, to believe in themselves and not to doubt their dreams and wishes, no matter what those dreams and wishes happen to be.

review :

I really enjoyed this book! It’s a unique twist on a positive story about how to react to a bully. Kitty is told that girls can’t do ‘anything’–sexism at its finest, which even kids are subjected to and need to know how to push back against. Kitty doesn’t for a moment doubt herself and instead begins to think of all of the different things that she is able to do, no matter what anyone else thinks or tells her.

An adorable little addition to the book is the appearance of her two stuffed animal friends, a bear and a bunny, on every page. If it was fun for me to look to see where they’d be or what they would be doing on each page, I’m sure children would love to point out where they are or discuss what they’re doing in relation to their good friend Kitty.

One thing that was slightly distracting about the text and that made me take a star off for my review was that sometimes the text suffered a little from straining to make the lines rhyme. Something the rhythm would be thrown off because it wouldn’t be a perfect rhyme or odd words would be used to successfully complete the rhyme pattern.

Overall, this is such a cute story. The pictures are adorable and then the message of the story is a great and empowering one. I would definitely recommend this picture book!

4/5 stars




5 stars · children's books · paranormal

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman is AMAZING


The Graveyard Book

author : neil gaiman

pages : [paperback] 286

favorite character : nobody

memorable quote :

Face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken.

summary :

I’m so glad that I finally read this book. I’ve tried a few other books by Neil Gaiman in the past (Coraline, The Ocean at the End of the Lane) and really loved them, so I feel like he’s going to become one of my favorite authors. I actually already have another book of his to read now that I also fell in love with The Graveyard Book.

This book is written in a way that it could be enjoyed by younger readers. But, as I’ve always believed, it’s a sign of a great children’s story if it can be enjoyed by older generations, too. There was so much to this book–not just the creepy murderers and the paranormal elements–that I feel would most closely touch older audiences. There’s fear of being separated from a family, the adventure of growing up and coming into your own, and over all of that there lies the question of what happens to us after death. Even thoughThe Graveyard Book is filled with ghosts, there are still so many questions you’re left with as you’re piecing together this world. There are much stranger creatures out there besides the ghosts. In fact, those will start to look quite normal and natural compared to what Bod has to face.

Main character Nobody, or “Bod”, is just adorable. He grows up in the graveyard with all of the ghosts (and stranger creatures) to protect him from the mysterious man who murdered the rest of his family. I was torn between thinkingwow, that life is so cool and wow, Bod isn’t going to know ANYTHING if he ever leaves this place. It was breathtaking to see how unique his life was, how he loved learning about the ‘real world’ and the things that could only be taught in the graveyard. All of that compared to the rather mundane and boring world where people went on without knowing the existence of all of these magical things. The place his parents’ and sister’s murderer lurked, waiting for him.

I loved never being able to predict anything in this book. Bod’s little adventures are interspersed with bigger plot elements. He slowly explores the graveyard, as well as his personal limitations, and that teaches him things that will help him to survive against the forces that (for a reason that’s revealed at the end of the book) are out to kill him. I really wish that I could read more about him, now that the book is over. This book really captured my imagination so I feel like part of me is still stuck in that world.

I’d definitely recommend this book, to anyone. It’s full of creepy adventures, wonderful stories, and characters that are almost so interesting they pop off of the page.

5 stars · children's books · Uncategorized

Children’s Book Chat: The Umbrella by Jan Brett


The Umbrella

author/illustrator : jan brett

pages : [hardcover] 32

summary :

A walk through the Costa Rican cloud forest provides a wonderfully lush setting for Jan Brett’s beloved animal illustrations. When Carlos drops his umbrella to climb a tree for a better view of the animals, they all cram into the banana-leaf umbrella as it floats by–from the little tree frog to the baby tapir to the big jaguar and more. It gets so crowded in the umbrella that there isn’t even enough room for a little hummingbird! So over the umbrella tumbles, everyone falls out, and poor Carlos comes back wondering why he didn’t see any animals all day.

In the spirit of Jan Brett’s The Mitten and The Hat, this cheerful tale of escalation will have readers poring over every illustration for the world of details Jan packs in. With its classic story, exotic jungle setting, and brilliantly colorful menagerie, The Umbrella is sure to take its place among Jan’s many family favorites.

review :

This book is incredibly adorable and captivating. Jan Brett’s gorgeous, painstaking illustrations definitely take the story above and beyond.

What I loved about this story was how the illustrations really play against and with the text. Brett designed the pages to not only show what is happening in the text directly on the page but to also hint at what animals will come next in the story as well as what is happening with Carlos as he climbs, when possibly the text isn’t mentioning him at all. I think those are cute details that will especially keep younger readers pouring over the images.

The story is really cool, too, in that it takes place in the jungle and mentions animals that I don’t think most children are typically taught about. They’ll learn something while reading and of course it won’t feel like the lesson is being forced upon them.

It’s also kind of funny to read about Carlos complaining that there are no animals (in the jungle of all places) where if he’d just gone back for his dang umbrella he would have seen ALL of the animals.

I really think Jan Brett’s work for children is awesome and the amount of time and effort it takes to make her paintings is amazing.

5/5 stars