Saturday, December 24, 2016

Kid Lit: Cody and Grandpa's Christmas Tradition

I received this book for free from the publisher. That fact in no way influenced my opinion of the book or the content of this review.




Published on September 1, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
On Christmas Eve, Cody helps Grandpa, a Vietnam War veteran, carry out a Christmas tradition in remembrance of his unit.

My Review:
I really enjoyed this sad but sweet Christmas book. Cody's family is having a big family gathering on Christmas Eve. It's full of traditions, some that Cody doesn't understand. Why is there meat in a pie? But there is something more puzzling worrying Cody. His Grandpa still hasn't emerged from his room, and it's close to midnight. When he goes to investigate, he learns that his grandfather served in the Vietnam war. He has a picture of himself and his 5 friends from the service. Some of them didn't come home. He shares a story of a Christmas Eve many years ago, and a promise that he and his friends made to each other. Cody decides to have everyone in the family share in Grandpa's tradition and remember the men who didn't make it home from the war.

This book is geared towards older children - ages 6-10 - who can understand the concepts of death and war as discussed in this picture book. It's a great introduction to the difficulty of celebrating holidays amidst sadness. But it's also a fun lesson in traditions - both sentimental and bizarre - new and old. I loved the author's note at the end of the book explaining the origins of the story and the importance of traditions. This book was a rather non-traditional Christmas story, but I think it's one that many families will be able to relate to.

My Rating: 4 stars



I'm linking up with Booking Mama today for Kid Konnection. Every Saturday Julie hosts this link up for all things relating to children's books.


On the blog last year...

Kid Lit: Here Comes Santa Cat

Friday, December 23, 2016

Cybils Fiction Picture Books: Batch 15

This is it. Finally! The last of the Cybils nominees for the Fiction Picture Book category. Wow. That was a lot of reading. I got through 211 of 212 books.


Here are the final 12 mini-reviews.

The Prideful Papillon by Heather Phillips (ages 5-8)

This book teaches a valuable lesson - don't be too prideful, there's nothing wrong with asking for help. It's a cute story although a bit preachy, and I could have done with the Bible quote at the end.

3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.



Time for Bed, Sleepyhead by Daniel G. Amen, M.D. (ages 3-5)

This book is actually a visualization game and kind of hypnosis meant to help kids fall asleep. It has the child imagine a day at the beach with some animal friends. Everything is meant to make the feel sleepy, including some well placed yawns by the reader. I especially liked the explanation on why sleep is important.

4 stars


The Wish Tree by Kyo Maclear (ages 3-5)

This book follows the standard explore-and-find-many-animals type story method. A boy and his sled (Boggan) set off to find a wish tree, whatever that is, and on the way the encounter and help several animals. When they do find the wish tree, the boy ties a hand written wish to the tree, and then there is a feast with the animals. I was left with many unanswered questions.

3 stars


Rainbow Weaver/Tejedora Del Arcoiris by Linda Elovitz Marshall
(ages 5-8)

Young Ixchel wants to be able to weave like her mother and grandmother. She knows her family needs money, and she wants to help. There is no thread to spare, so she tries weaving with grass and bits of wool she finds stuck to plants. Neither is very pretty. Then she has an idea to make plastic thread from the colorful bags littering the town. She makes a beautiful rainbow to sell at the market. Great story.

4 stars

Cat on the Bus by Aram Kim (ages 2-4)

This story is cute and almost wordless. A cat gets on a bus after being kicked out of several earlier places, and he makes a friend. It's simple but fun with great illustrations. It's a good first paper page book for young readers.

3 stars




Hattie Peck by Emma Levey (ages 3-5)

Hattie is obsessed with eggs. Since she can't lay her own, she searches the world to find all of the abandoned eggs she can, and then she raises the animals herself. Kind of strange, but cute.

3 stars

I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


My Big Tree by Maria Ashworth (ages 3-5)

An adorable counting book, this story shows all of the animals that can fit into one tree - 1 blue bird, 2 black bears, etc. all the way up to 10. There's an additional story line about the bird thinking it's his tree and getting annoyed, but it ends with counting backward and a friendship statement.

3 stars

I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


Happy Mamas by Kathleen T. Pelley (ages 3-5)

This book is cute, but I didn't love the limiting message it told of what makes mothers happy. The animal and human mamas in the story are happy when their babies are fed and cared for and ready for sleep. But what about other interests outside of mothering? A little too anti-feminist for my taste.

3 stars

I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher to judge for Cybils.

Step One, Step Two, Step Three and Four by Maria Ashworth (ages 4-8)

I enjoyed the sentiment of this book - a story about merging families and changing from an only child to the only girl with 4 stepbrothers, but I didn't love the negative tone at the beginning and the overly simplistic rhyming stanzas.

3 stars

I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


Wolfy and a Toothache by Dr. MC (ages 3-5)

This story attempts to illustrate why kids shouldn't be afraid of the dentist. The story is too preachy and too quickly resolved with no explanations beyond you should tell your parents if you have a toothache. Wolfy fears getting in trouble for eating too many sweets at his birthday party, and that isn't even addressed at the end. I was not impressed with this book.

1 star

I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher to judge for Cybils.

The Three Lucys by Hayan Charara (ages 6-10)

This story is about bombings and war, but it's also about the worry and loss of losing a pet.

3 stars

I received a copy of this ebook from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


Who What Where? by Olivier Tallec (ages 3-6)

Fun! You have to guess the right character for each page. My son and I had a fun time reading this book together. We got all but 3 pages right.

4 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.



On the blog last year...

Best Books of 2015

Thursday, December 22, 2016

8 Great Christmas Picture Books



Delightful Christmas Picture Books



Christmas Wishes by Tony Mitton

This book is a modernized version of The Night Before Christmas. I wasn't sure how I'd like it, but it's really adorable. It features a family of mice and more than just an upgrade on the language of the original poem. It embodies the spirit of Christmas and all of the essential elements of the tale.

Ages 4-8


Here Comes Santa Cat by Deborah Underwood

This book is a lot of fun. The narrator talks to Cat who's worried about not getting presents for Christmas. He's been a little bit naughty, you see. Underwood's writing style is just fantastic. The narrator encourages Cat to do something nice, but all of his attempts go awry. He finally gets it right. The humor in this book is just perfect. It holds kids' attention. I loved the moral.

Ages 3-6


The Christmas Spider's Miracle by Trinka Hakes Noble

This story is a folk tale about the origin of tinsel on Christmas trees. A peasant mother brings home a tree for her family, but she is too tired to decorate it. She did not know that a mother spider hitched a ride indoors on the tree. The spider spins webs all over the tree through the night, and in the morning the tree is a beautiful sight to behold. Filled with beautiful illustrations, this story is heartwarming and memorable.

Ages 6-10


The Lost Gift by Kallie George

When a gift falls out of Santa's sleigh, the animals of the forest take it upon themselves to deliver it to the new baby that it's meant for. This book is a tale of ingenuity, teamwork, and perseverance. It's about believing in yourself and trying to accomplish a task. But it's also about the adorable illustrations and the animals saving the day for Christmas. Santa even has a little reward for them in the end.

Ages 4-8


Winter Candle by Jeron Frame

This multicultural holiday book is a great introduction to other cultures. The families of Juniper Court all celebrate different holidays that involve candles. The neighbors borrow from each other throughout the winter and one stubbly candle participates in many different celebrations - Thanksgiving, Sabbath, the Feast of Saint Lucy, and Kwanza. The candle saves the day in more ways than one at the end of the story. This book is a simple yet wonderful read.

Ages 4-6


Mooseltoe by Margie Palatini

Moose wants everything to be perfect for Christmas. He has been busy for many weeks getting everything ready, but somehow he forgot to get a tree. When he goes to the tree lot to find one, they're all sold out. Not wanting to disappoint his children, Moose lets them turn him into a Christmas tree. They use his incredibly long mustache to make branches of a sort that can be decorated. And then he stays up all night, so Santa will have somewhere to delivery the presents. This book is a little silly, but the love Moose has for his children shines through. He knows the true meaning of Christmas.

Ages 4-8


A Night of Great Joy by Mary Engelbreit

This book tells the story of Jesus' birth as acted out by a group of children. The illustrations really make this book. The kids' expressions are priceless. And there are many small mishaps. It's certainly reminiscent of real life Christmas performances. For Christian families this is a must have addition to your holiday book collection - although there is glitter on the cover.

Ages 4-8


The Polar Bear Who Saved Christmas by Fiona Boon

When one of the reindeer is sick, the elves are worried about how Santa will deliver all of the presents. A little polar bear steps in to save the day. With a little magic dust, he is even able to fly. There isn't much substance to this book, but it's really sweet. Kids will love it.

Ages 3-6


What are some of your favorite Christmas books?


On the blog last year...

Unpopular Opinions Book Tag

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Cybils Fiction Picture Books: Batch 14

We're nearing the end! This batch is almost entirely books from publishers again.


After this post I've read 199 of the 212 books nominated for the Fiction Picture Book category, and I have 24 books on my shortlist (aka 5-star reads).

Before Morning by Joyce Sidman (ages 3-5)

With very few words, this book is an invocation of a young child. Instead of the busy morning that has to take place, with a parent rushing off to an early flight, the child wants the snow to delay everything. She hopes for a morning of fun in the snow with her parent. It's cute, and the illustrations are very unique.

3 stars



What Matters by Alison Hughes (ages 3-6)

I love this book! It's about the impact of recycling one soda can found lying on the grass in a park. That small, small thing matters to many creatives and to the plants and sea, etc. It's such a positive message that kids can make a different with little acts.

4 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


Gabby: Wonder Girl by Joyce Grant (ages 4-6)

This book reminded me of the show Super Why. It's about a super hero girl and boy who use letters and question words to solve a mystery. It's fun and includes extra activities at the end of the book.

3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


There's a Cat in Our Class! by Jeanie Franz Ransom (ages 4-8)

This book is about accepting differences. A class of dogs gets a new student...a cat! The dogs are unsure at first. They have many preconceived notions about what cats can and cannot do. But Samantha proves them wrong, and in the end they're very accepting.

4 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


Albert's Almost Amazing Adventure by Marty Kelley (ages 5-8)

This book captures the essence of kids' imaginations. Albert has just come back from a trip to Maine, and he's telling his friends about the amazing things he did and saw there. When he pauses for dramatic effect, his friends jump in with wild guesses. I really enjoyed it.

5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


The Old Library Cafe by Veronica R. Tabares (ages 5-8)

This book is cute, but very wordy and perhaps more for adults than kids. It's the story of an older couple who open a library/cafe. The man is determined to bake the right desserts, and the woman builds a machine that changes books into dessert. Gasp!

3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


The Worst Breakfast by China Mieville (ages 4-8)

Umm. I'm not even sure what to say about this book. Two girls are recalling the worst breakfast with one doing most of the telling and the other trying to remember. Some seriously crazy stuff happened, but it was just too random for me.

2 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


Lump Lump and the Blanket of Dreams by Gwen Jackson
(ages 6-10)

This book was way too long. It's about a mother bear and her child, who do favors for the other animals, so they'll collect what they need to weave a blanket of dreams. The execution wasn't great.

2 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


Armstrong: The Adventurous Journey of a Mouse to the Moon by Torben Kuhlmann (ages 7-10)

This long picture book tells the story of the first mouse to visit the moon. It's a story about experimentation and persistance. About never giving up on your dream even when others don't believe you. It's a great story for kids interested in space travel with lots of actual history at the end.

4 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.

Journey by Emma Bland Smith (ages 6-10)

Very interesting story of a wolf's journey away from his pack to find a mate. It's told in alternating perspectives - the wolf and the girl who named him and followed his journey. Lots of facts at the end.

4 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.

Bartholomew Quill by Thor Hanson (ages 3-5)

A crow compares himself to all the other birds trying to find out who he is. The rhymes were a bit awkward. I didn't love this one.

3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


Sled Dog Dachshund by Laura Atkins (ages 3-6)

This story is cute. A dachshund, Jasper, is determined to be in a sled race, but the other dogs laugh and tell him he's too small. He ends up riding on the sled and helping with encouragement when he can. His team wins by a nose...Jasper's nose...at the end. It's silly but fun.

3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.



On the blog last year...

New Holiday Traditions

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Very Merry Christmas Survey

Ok, I know I said I hated Christmas, but not that it's getting closer, I am enjoying the elements that make it not so bad. I saw this survey on Rebel Mommy Book Blog, and I thought it would be a fun way to get a Christmas post in this week.

Favorite Christmas song(s)?

Baby, It's Cold Outside
Jingle Bell Rock

Favorite Christmas movie(s)?

All I Want for Christmas
Love Actually
It's a Wonderful Life

Rudolph, Frosty, the Grinch, or Charlie Brown?

Why do I have to choose? When I was young it was definitely Rudolph, but since meeting Jim and comparing him to Charlie Brown (he's SO Charlie Brown), I've switched, and Charlie Brown is my favorite Christmas cartoon. We have yet to watch it this year.

Best and/or most memorable Christmas gift you ever received?

Cabbage Patch Doll

Real tree or artificial tree?

I have always insisted on a real tree, but this year I gave in (rather easily too), and we got a fake tree. To be honest, it looks pretty fantastic, and I am loving the idea of not having to pick out a tree in years to come. But it was expensive!


What tops your tree? Star? Angel? Bow?

A star. We had a homemade (by Jim) Flying Spaghetti Monster for a few years, but his tentacles broke off when our tree fell over a couple of years ago.

Do you send out Christmas cards? Do you go photo card or traditional?

Yes. We have done a photo card since Christopher was 2 years old, but I send a Christmas Letter along with it. I've been writing those since 2005 when we got engaged.

When did you stop believing in Santa?

I don't remember believing in Santa. I know my brother told me the truth when I was really young. It didn't really matter to me though. I still always loved getting presents from Santa and my parents. Jim had to convince me to do Santa with Christopher. I didn't (still don't) like the idea of lying to him, but I have to admit, I love being Santa.

Do you have any special Christmastime traditions?

Since 2004 Christmas has always been Jim's holiday, and Thanksgiving was mine. I never minded this arrangement. My family has many more traditions around Thanksgiving than Christmas. With Jim's family, we celebrate Christmas Eve - gift exchange, grab bag, tons of food - and then we always host a Christmas brunch, which is a little more low key and usually turns into a full day of eating and playing games.

Do you have a favorite type of decoration — snowmen, trees, Christmas village, etc.?

Snowmen for sure!

Do you have any sentimental decorations or ornaments?

Yes, tons of ornaments. See my ornament posts from this year and last year. Ornaments are my favorite gifts every year. I also give ornaments as gifts every year to Christopher and my nieces and nephews (on my side of the family).

White lights or colored lights? Big old-fashioned lights or mini lights?

Inside on the tree - colored mini lights always.
Outside on the house - white lights, icicle lights currently.

When do you start decorating for Christmas?

The first weekend in December, never earlier.

Favorite Christmas treat?

Cookies - cutout cookies, pizelles, snow ball cookies

Do you like sugar cookies? Gingerbread cookies?

Yes, both. I love my grandmother's sugar cutout cookie recipe. They have nutmeg in them, so they're extra spicy.

Do you have cocoa or hot chocolate? Do you like your warm chocolate-y beverage with marshmallows?

No. I don't like chocolate.

What do you eat at your Christmas feast?

Christmas Eve with the Ungers usually consists of an abundance of appetizers. We've tried many meals over the years, but they're a family of grazers, so we always seems to return to the appetizers.

Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve or do you wait until Christmas morning?

We exchange presents with Jim's family on Christmas Eve, but we keep our presents for Christmas morning when we're usually alone, just the 3 of us.

Favorite Christmas-y scent?

Gingerbread.

If you could ask Santa for any gift this year — and know that he’d bring it — what would it be?

I just posted the bookish gifts I want this year over on Opinionated Book Lover. I'd be pretty happy with any of these gifts. In general though I am much more about gift giving than gift receiving. Except for ornaments - those I absolutely love getting, especially snowmen ornaments.


Merry Christmas, everyone!


On the blog last year...

2016 Reading Challenges

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book Review: The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation (Chapter Book)

I received this book for free from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 




Published on November 8, 2016.

Goodreads Summary:
Even monster-battling princesses get tired sometimes! But a peaceful time away is hard to find as the humorous New York Times best-selling series continues.

After battling monsters all night, a sleepy Princess in Black decides that she needs a vacation. After all, the Goat Avenger, a new hero who looks oddly familiar, has offered to protect the goats while she takes a much needed break. The very next day Princess Magnolia rides her bicycle to the seaside, where the air is salty, the sun is shiny, and the sea is as blue as monster fur. But just as Princess Magnolia is about to take a nap on her hammock, she hears a "ROAR!" Seriously? A monster? On the perfect beach? Impossible! Could a sea monster really ruin this vacation for the Princess in Black?

My Review:
The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation is another delightful installment of this terrific super hero series. After constant battling with goat-eating monsters from the monster world, The Princess in Black (aka Princess Magnolia) is exhausted. The Goat Avenger (aka Duff the Goat Boy) convinces her to take a vacation. He'll manage the monsters while she's gone. Princess Magnolia does just that, and she runs into Princess Sneezewort while she's relaxing at the beach. Only her enjoyment doesn't last long. A giant sea monster comes along and disturbs everyone. The Princess in Black saves the day again, while the Goat Avenger is left with little action back at home.

As always the chapters are short, the story is engaging, and the illustrations add to the fun. My son and I enjoyed reading this book together. We alternated chapters a little bit, so he could do some reading, although in the interest of time (because we always want to read these books in one sitting), I read the majority of the book. As the mother of a boy, I was happy to see Duff featured a little more in this book, but as always the Princess in Black in the true hero. It's a great feminist story for both boys and girls to read and love.

My Rating: 4 Stars


On the blog last year...


Announcement for 2016: Family Book Club Co-Host

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Cybils Fiction Picture Books - Batch 13

All of the books listed in this Cybils Fiction Picture Book roundup were sent to me by the publisher. Many are publisher nominated entries, which means that they're from smaller publishers.


I am giving some of these books as Christmas gifts, I'm donating some to my public library since these were the books they didn't have in their catalog, and I may use a few for marketing via Little Free Libraries.

Butterflies Keep Flying by Ali Pfautz (ages 3-6)

This book was published after a Kickstarter campaign. It is beautiful story about a delicate butterfly that sometimes wishes she were a lion, an elephant, or a giraffe. It's a story about "Butterfly Children," children with Epidermolysis Bullosa, but really it works for any child whose body can't always do what he/she wants it to.

4 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.

Fishing with Grandma by Susan Avingaq (ages 6-8)


This story is very interesting. A Inuit boy and his sister learn how to jig for fish (ice fish) from their grandmother. It's a cute story about learning from elders, and it includes some Inuit terms. A great book to expose kids to another culture.

3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


Worm Loves Worm by J.J. Austrian (ages 4-8)

I love this book! Worm and Worm are in love and want to get married. Their friends keep stopping them and saying they need things: flowers, rings, a veil. The worms decide they can both be the bride and the groom. It's a celebration of love, no matter what form.

5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


Putting Bungee to Bed by Linda Neptune (ages 3-6)

This book is meant to help parents who struggle to get their preschoolers to sleep on their own. Ben's monkey Bungee loves bouncing, and he has a hard time stopping to sleep at night, but he's keeping Ben up all night, and he's exhausted. He comes up with rules, and eventually Bungee gets it.

3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


Sanctuary by Wendy Marloe (ages 4-8)

This book highlights many places that might be one's sanctuary. Everyone needs a special place, and this book will help children and their parents think about those places that are sacred to them. It's simple, but powerful.

4 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.




Pug Meets Pig by Sue Lowell Gallion (ages 3-6)

Pug is happy in his dog house. He has everything he needs. But then Pig comes along and gets in the way. Pug moves into the house through the doggy door, but Pig can't fit. Pug widens the door for Pig, and they coexist happily inside together. It's a cute friendship story.

3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.

What Color Is the Wind? by Anne Herbauts (ages 3-6)

This book is full of abstract illustrations and textures pages. It would be perfect for a sensory child. A little giant seeks to find out the color of the wind. Everyone/everything he asks has a different answer. The conclusion is that the color of wind is everything in the book.

3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


A Most Mysterious Mouse by Giovanna Zoboli (ages 4-6)

This book is very strange. It features a cat who cannot stop thinking about mice. All different kinds of mice. But there's one mouse he cannot seem to imagine, but also cannot stop thinking about. When that mouse comes knocking on his doors, he's astonished. And they become friends. Say what?

2 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


Mittens to Share by Emil Sher (ages 2-4)

A little girl loses her mitten in the snow. She heads inside to find a new pair, and then she's right back out again looking for the lost mitten. When she finds it, a bird has been using some yarn for her nest. With very simple text, this story is sweet and wintery.

3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


Scribble by Ruth Ohi (ages 3-5)

Circle, Square, and Triangle has opinions about the way shapes should be. When Scribble arrives with too many points but no shape, they're scared and unsure. Circle joins in playing with Scribble first and realizes what fun he can help create. It's an imaginative and relevant story.

3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.

Cordelia by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt (ages 4-8)

Cordelia can fly and the more she believes in herself, the higher she can go. But then other people start to tell her she's wrong. She cannot fly. And she believes them and starts walking like everyone else. But her world gets gray and she misses the sky. She decides not to care what others think, and she can fly once more.

3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.


Another Chicken Story: The Stranger Danger by Kenneth R. McClelland
(ages 4-8)

This book is meant to help illustrate the danger of strangers. It expands on the Stranger Danger concept that many people teach their children. The story of the chicken who crossed the road and is eaten by a sly fox is meant to show the harm that could come to a child who goes off with a stranger. It's a little intense and still too vague on the lesson for my taste.

3 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher to judge for Cybils.



On the blog last year...

Book Review: Let It Snow (YA)