the things that i love about trees

I’ve mentioned this on Instagram before, but one of my local indie bookshops is just down the street from the place I get my hair done. I stop by to browse their picture books nearly every time I walk by, and thus I buy their latest selection, because I have several little ones in my life and no self-control in bookstores. I picked up Chris Butterworth and Charlotte Voake’s The Things That I Love About Trees the last time I was there, and I really adore it.

the things that i love about trees by chris butterworth, illustrated by charlotte voake book cover
In an exuberant text accompanied by gorgeous, windswept illustrations, two esteemed picture-book creators celebrate the mighty tree.

Journey through the seasons and discover how much there is to love about trees! From brand-new buds in spring to the sound of the wind whooshing through the leaves in summer, from the fall colors to the feel of winter's rough bark and the promise of spring returning again -- no matter what time of year, there's always something extraordinary to notice about the trees around your neighborhood. Chris Butterworth's text, gently sprinkled with facts, captures the wonder of a child as Charlotte Voake's busy, buoyant artwork conveys how something as simple and common as a tree can feel like magic taking root around you.

There’s just something wonderful about trees, isn’t there? I’ve always thought so, and I especially thought so growing up in the Pacific Northwest with a front yard full of trees, forts, and pine needles. Chris Butterworth’s nonfiction picture book about trees leads readers through the seasons, starting with spring, and describes how trees act and grow in the changing environment.

The Things That I Love About Trees invites engagement with the senses – Butterworth tells readers how trees react to hot days and storms, reminds them what to listen for, and describes the feel of bark and leaves. It may be printed on traditional paper, but it is a sensual buffet. It made me want to go outside on a tree-spotting walk, and I’m sure others will feel the same!

This book is perfect for a range of young readers – very little ones will love the illustrations and simplicity of the big text story that goes on a seasonal journey. Slightly older and independent readers will enjoy the brief tree facts in smaller text on each page. Adults will appreciate the book’s year-round readability, as each season in a tree’s life cycle is represented. The combination of beautiful art and interesting tree facts ensure that this book will be re-read over and over with love.

Oh, did I mention the art? Charlotte Voake’s illustrations are done in beautiful ink and watercolor, with broad, abstract strokes contrasted with precise, tiny details. The illustrations allow for generous white space on most pages, and the humans and animals included in the illustrations provide scale to trees (and keep the book from being an overwhelming smorgasbord of greenery).  The human figures are mostly fairly indistinct – trees are the focus of the book, after all! The pages depicting enormous summer-time tree trunks were perhaps my favorite – they reminded me of the great trees I’ve seen in my life.

My two personal favorite things about the book were the endpapers, which feature close-ups with different kinds of tree leaves and their identifying information, and the final page spread at the end which suggests tree-adjacent activities and guides younger readers in how to do research! The author doesn’t talk down to his young readers, and that’s always nice to see.

In all, The Things That I Love About Trees is full of facts that will delight curious kids, and perhaps prompt them to want to learn more (and see more)!

Recommended for: tree-lovers and -huggers of all ages, young readers who want to know how things work, fans of Kate Messner's Over and Under the Snow, and teachers doing environmental, natural world, and season-focused units.

the prime of miss jean brodie

I’m currently in Scotland with my mother – a trip that I planned as a gift for her 70th birthday. How did I sneak a pilgrimage to the home of Hogwarts and the book capital of the world (Edinburgh) past my non-reading mother?? Well, there are ancestral ties, and history, and lots of mountains, lochs, and sea to hike, swim, and kayak in (maybe)(if we’re brave enough!). In preparation for our trip, I read a few books by Scottish authors, and my favorite by far was Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

the prime of miss jean brodie by muriel spark book cover
At the staid Marcia Blaine School for Girls in Edinburgh, Scotland, teacher extraordinaire Miss Jean Brodie is unmistakably, and outspokenly, in her prime. She is passionate in the application of her unorthodox teaching methods and strives to bring out the best in each one of her students. Determined to instill in them independence, passion, and ambition, Miss Brodie advises them, "Safety does not come first. Goodness, Truth, and Beauty come first. Follow me." And they do—but one of them will betray her.

Unconventional schoolteacher Jean Brodie is in her prime, and the group of girls she selects as her set is destined… for what, they do not yet know. But Miss Brodie has assured them she will mold them into the crème de la crème.  The school years of the Brodie set form the background of a comedic, incisive, and thoroughly enjoyable coming-of-age novel – one that never falters in excellence or execution.

At first I thought (as maybe you are thinking now), after reading that description: What is there in this book about a group of girls and their schoolteacher that is so universal, that has won so much acclaim? Also it’s a short book… what can be so enchanting about it? But by chapter two I was a convert. It’s delightfully, perfectly succinct, and it doesn’t need another word added to it at all.

What first caught my attention was the careful unspooling of the personalities of each of the girls in the set, measured by the chronological storyline, but also enhanced by semi-frequent flashbacks and flash-forwards (mostly the flash-forwards). As a reader you are figuring out a central mystery (the betrayal of Miss Brodie! *gasp*) as you go, and Spark leaves a breadcrumb trail that employs repetition, economy, and small twists to outstanding effect.

Here’s how my reading experience went: I knew I was reading a Great Book, but I still spluttered with laughter and raised my eyebrows and thought to myself, “this is FUN” at regular junctures. And mixed in with the absurd and hilarious, there was commentary about classism, religion, and morality – nothing heavy-handed, but threads to tease out and provide context to the world of the novel, the world of 1930s Edinburgh.

I ended my reading happy and refreshed, but also with the wish that this title had been paired with Jane Eyre in my school days – it might have shaken me out of my pious seriousness a bit, and given me some perspective for the stack of Great English Novels I was steadily working my way through. There’s no doubt that The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is brilliant – it is simply so in a sharply edited, comedic sort of way.

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is beyond my powers of description. I adored it.

Recommended for. fans of classic literature, novels, literary fiction, historical fiction, novellas, and coming-of-age fiction. Or really anyone ages 14 and up.

izzy gizmo

Monday, May 21, 2018 | | 2 comments
For almost a decade I’ve been talking a big game about how when my friends and family have kids I fully intend to be “crazy Aunt Celia.” A defining characteristic of Aunt Celia is that she brings a new picture book with her whenever she visits. Well, the dream is now reality (and I’ll stop talking about myself in the 3rd person!). My friends have coached their little ones (parent: “What does Aunt Celia like to do?” child: “READ!!!”), picture books have become my #1 book buying category, and I couldn’t be more pleased (they’re so fun!). I’ve been really impressed by the recent crop of picture books, including Pip Jones’ Izzy Gizmo, beautifully illustrated by Sara Ogilvie.

izzy gizmo by pip jones, illustrated by sara ogilvie book cover
Izzy Gizmo just loves to invent, but her inventions never seem to work the way she wants them to. When she finds a crow with a broken wing she just has to help. Izzy tries again and again to build him a new pair of wings, but nothing is working. Can Izzy overcome her failures? Or will her new crow friend never fly again?

This wonderfully feisty new character from bestselling author Pip Jones is brought to life by acclaimed illustrator Sara Ogilvie.

Precocious young inventor Izzy lives with her supportive grandfather. She designs and builds machines of all kinds, though they don’t always seem to work as they ought. When Izzy finds an injured crow one day, she takes it home – and so begins her most ambitious project yet – to fix its wing.  However, some problems can’t be solved easily. Izzy will need to learn to try and try again before she succeeds.

Izzy Gizmo’s smart, quirky protagonist and her will to carry on despite setbacks will please plenty of children and their parents. The story is rhymed, which could annoy/delight depending on the reader. For my part, it lent the book charming, rhythmic pacing. I look forward to seeing what my nieces think about it – though I expect they’ll be focusing mainly on the vibrant illustrations (and possibly the crow sidekick).

Of course the pictures matter as much (or more!) than the story in some cases, and the art of Izzy Gizmo is eclectic, funny, and possibly inspiring for junior inventors in the wild. Beyond the bright colors themselves, I loved the small details in Ogilvie’s art, like a flying pig lamp, the grandfather’s recognizable Ikea armchair, a picture of an animal with a whole pot stuffed in its mouth at the vet’s office. These subtleties will make rereads a pleasure for both children and adults.

The single thing I loved most about the book? Izzy is a black girl with natural hair and glasses. Though the book has a light tone, Izzy learns serious lessons about coming up with original ideas, getting frustrated, researching to come up with a better solution… and in the end, going back to fix any messes you’ve made along the way. It’s positive picture book representation for smart little girls, and that’s important.

On a personal note, I may have been predisposed to like Izzy because I read this book the day I found out that I have a new niece with that name. This will (of course) be one of her gifts in the coming years.

In all, Izzy Gizmo is a smart, fun picture book with verve. It’ll pair excellently with Rosie Revere, Engineer and other Andrea Beaty books.

Recommended for: readers aged 4-8 and their adults, and especially young ones interested in how things work and/or inventing.

Fine print: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

scarlett hart: monster hunter

I have the United Kingdom on the brain these days. First, there’s the royal wedding this Saturday (I’ve been invited to an early-morning watch party, and I’m making a Victoria Sponge). Second, next Saturday I’m headed to Scotland with my mom for a 12-day tour/adventure (!!!). And thirdly, I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor’s England-set middle grade graphic novel Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter.

scarlett hart: monster hunter by marcus sedgwick and thomas taylor book cover
Scarlett Hart, orphaned daughter of two legendary monster hunters, is determined to carry on in her parents’ footsteps—even if the Royal Academy for the Pursuit and Eradication of Zoological Eccentricities says she’s too young to fight perilous horrors. But whether it's creepy mummies or a horrid hound, Scarlett won’t back down, and with the help of her loyal butler and a lot of monster-mashing gadgets, she’s on the case.

With her parent’s archrival, Count Stankovic, ratting her out to T.R.A.P.E.Z.E. and taking all the monster-catching rewards for himself, it’s getting hard for Scarlett to do what she was born to do. And when more monsters start mysteriously manifesting than ever before, Scarlett knows she has to get to the bottom of it and save the city... whatever the danger!

In his first adventure for middle-grade readers, acclaimed YA author Marcus Sedgwick teams up with Thomas Taylor (illustrator of the original edition of 
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) to create a rip-roaring romp full of hairy horrors, villainous villains, and introducing the world’s toughest monster hunter—Scarlett Hart! 

As you can tell from the title, this is the story of Scarlett Hart, the orphaned heir to a monster-fighting legacy. She has a trusty butler and housekeeper on her side and an old mansion filled with cool gadgets to her name, but not much else. She’s too young to officially fight monsters, and her fellow monster-fighting bounty hunters don’t respect either her age or her family name.

In Sedgwick’s first foray into graphic novel territory, the action is pretty much non-stop, there are plenty of fight sequences, and cool gadgets, discoveries, and mysteries make their way into the narrative as well. It’s basically Sherlock Holmes crossed with Batman, with fantastical monsters and a preteen protagonist. In other words, reliable fun. The first page features a sea monster chomping down on a sailor, so it’s pretty clear from the get-go what you’re getting into.

Young readers will identify with wanting to fight their own battles and make a difference, and the frustration of not being taken seriously by adults. Adults will want to take it at face value as a fantasy, and not murmur too much at the irresponsible parenting. All readers will enjoy the transitions from one monster emergency to the next, with some extra big-picture mysteries and a possible open door left at the end for further adventures.

Now, the art! It was my favorite part of this book. The monsters were by far the best part – everything from zombies to ghostly dogs to sea monsters and more. It’s a field day for the imagination, but nothing gets so gory that a younger crowd can’t enjoy it. The color palette also enhance the story – darker, muted tones set a serious mood that complimented some of the lighter moments and contributed to the background scenery.

In all, Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter is a graphic novel with rousing adventure art that will appeal to monster-obsessed kids.

Recommended for: graphic novel aficionados ages 10 and up, those who think a girl-powered Batman/Sherlock Holmes mashup sounds like fun, and fans of Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. and Maryrose Wood's The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series.

Fine print: I received a copy of this book for review consideration from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.

how to trick the tooth fairy

When did you lose your first tooth? I think I was in first or second grade, and it happened on a camping trip (or was it at an outdoor swim meet? my memory is fuzzy). Like many children, after the shock and pain of losing a tooth had worn off I got super excited for a visit from the Tooth Fairy – I’d heard all about it from older friends. Erin Danielle Russell’s adorable How to Trick the Tooth Fairy combines the legend of the Tooth Fairy, pranks, and Jennifer Hansen Rolli’s charming art in one gorgeous picture book package.

how to trick the tooth fairy by erin danielle russell, illustrated by jennifer hansel rolli book cover
Kaylee loves pulling pranks: from dropping water balloons on passers by to even tricking Santa Claus, she’s a prize-winning prankster!

But is she the Princess of Pranks? No! That title is held by none other than the Tooth Fairy. But when Kaylee loses a tooth and the Tooth Fairy goes about her usual tooth-taking business, Kaylee pranks her with a fake frog. As Kaylee and the Tooth Fairy try to out-prank one another, things get way out of hand, until the two finally see eye and eye and decide to share the crown!

Kaylee loves to play pranks – she has a twinkle of mischief in her eye, her favorite holiday is April Fool’s Day, and she’s a prank princess in training. The only person who might be better than her at pranking is the Tooth Fairy herself!  When the Tooth Fairy arrives to collect one of Kaylee’s teeth, a truly epic prank battle begins. But how will it end? Will Kaylee be named reigning prank princess?

How to Trick the Tooth Fairy will tickle kids’ funny bones and (possibly) inspire future prank wars. There’s a mounting sense of competition throughout the story as both Kaylee and the Tooth Fairy try to one-up each other – though of course the Tooth Fairy has the ultimate advantage as a magical being. After some truly disastrous pranks, Kaylee and the Tooth Fairy join forces, which should cause readers to speculate long after finishing the book – which pranks would they pull next?

Young readers will love the flood of frogs, ice cream food fight, and thunderstorms that rain actual cats and dogs. Adults will appreciate the way that each page invites interaction – and that the story can be tweaked with every read through. There’s also a good lesson by the end – that cooperation and friendship can be better than even a prank war. The book invites year-round reading as kids lose teeth, but would be perfect in the lead up to April Fool’s Day as well.

I haven’t even mentioned one of the best parts yet – the art! Illustrator Hansen Rolli’s painted pages include lots of pink, frills, and trimmings and embellishments galore. The Tooth Fairy has pink hair and a handbag full of tricks, and Kaylee is a black girl with natural hair who is smart and cute and wears pink pajamas covered in crowns (truly, a princess). I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the dust jacket is also delightfully glittery. How to Trick the Tooth Fairy is the whole package – it’s so cute that you can’t help but be drawn to it, and the insides won’t disappoint.

In all, this fantastical picture book is full to the brim of hijinks, fun, and beautiful illustrations.

Recommended for: spirited 5-8 year old kids (especially girls!) everywhere, and their designated adult readers.

Fine print: I received a copy of this title for review consideration from the publisher. I did not receive any compensation for this post.
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