Thursday, May 31, 2012

Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love

By Lauren Tarshis
Published by Dial Books for Young Readers
Copyright © 2009

“Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell in Love” is the sequel to the successful young adult novel entitled “Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree”.

In the first installment of the Emma-Jean Series we meet a somewhat odd young girl. It wasn’t her appearance which makes her odd, for she is considered by some to be very pretty, but it is her detachment from her classmates. While Emma-Jean thinks well of her classmates in general, she finds them to be quite illogical. In her attempt to mingle with them and be of help she ends up causing a lot of trouble for them and herself.

In this second installment we find Emma-Jean in the company of her 7th grade classmates. To some extent she has come to understand and accept the eccentricities of her teen peers. But now she is coming up against a new problem school dances and boy-girl relationships.

Emma-Jean finds herself having weird and irrational feelings when she is around Will Keeler. She is drawn to him and her heart skips a beat when she is around him. She even considers asking him to the upcoming spring dance. She is not quite sure what it is she is going through though, and she doesn’t seem to like the way it makes her lose her concentration.

Emma-Jeans friend Colleen suffers from self-esteem issues and doesn’t know who would want to go to the dance with her. Then she finds a mysterious note in her locker from a nameless boy who really likes her, and she begins to transform into someone more confident in herself and less concerned with what others think of her. She is only concerned with what her boy thinks of her, and he thinks she is great. But how will she ever find this boy who likes her? Colleen can think of only one person smart enough to figure out who it is, Emma-Jean.  But will Colleen like what she finds out?

While Emma-Jean’s Spock like tendencies (“that is illogical”) seem to be a little unrealistic for a modern teen, she does make for a character that you want to root for. And, while the book does have a relatively agreeable ending (I won’t give it away) I did want the school dance to turn out a little differently. But all-in-all in this second novel Lauren Tarshis presents us with a young girl who is smart, who is confident, who knows what she is ready for, and who is just fine being herself and that is the type of character that more young girls should be exposed to.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Don’t Call Me Ishmael

By Michael Gerard Bauer
Published by Greenwillow Books
Copyright © 2007

“Call me Ishmael”, so begins the classic novel by Herman Melville. Ishmael might have been considered normal in good old Herman’s day but today, at the very least, it qualifies as interesting and it just might cause a syndrome when paired with the name Leseur.

At St. Daniels boy’s school, somewhere in suburban Australia, Ishmael Leseur is in his ninth year of school. By his seventh year he had learned that a name like his is like social death, because it causes large football playing jocks to stretch their vocabulary to say it. So they come up with easier alternatives such as “Fishtail Le Sewer” or “Fish-whale Manure”. Ishmael decided a long time ago to stay out of the spotlight. Don’t do anything to get noticed and it will lessen the likelihood of having to deal with Barry Bagsley – was his main coping device. But then James Scobie came to St. Daniels; the self-proclaimed boy with no fear. And even though he was small and quite the nerd, amazingly enough he really didn’t have any fear. With the help of James, his new English teacher, and a couple of new friends Ishmael not only learns how to have no fear, but also just how much power the English language has. Unfortunately, Barry Bagsley will push him into discovering just how to use that power of words. Will he use it for good, or will he use it for evil?

Though the situations aren’t as extreme as many students face today, “Don’t Call Me Ishmael” expresses how difficult it can be to deal with a bully. It shows students standing up to a bully in a non-violent way. While this won’t always be successful it shows that no one should be living in fear especially at school. It also shows that it is okay to be yourself, and the importance of having friends who accept you for who you are.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Omnivores Dilemma

The Omnivores Dilemma:
The Secrets Behind What You Eat
Young Readers Edition
By Michael Pollan
Published by Dial Books
Copyright ©2009

Where does your food come from? Does it taste good as it should? Is it good for you? These are just some of the questions that Michael Pollan asks, questions that we should be asking too.

In search of the answer to these questions Michael decides to follow his food from beginning to end. He wants to know where his food is grown, what does his food eat, how is his food treated, in the case of animals how did it become food, and how does my food affect the environment?

This book pinpoints 4 distinct food chains that we all eat from: The industrial meal, the industrial organic meal, the local sustainable meal, and the do-it-yourself meal. The industrial meal is our widespread, corn fed, fast food system. The industrial organic is the growing number of formerly idealistic farms that sold out to large corporations (the food is still organic, but it is now being produced with industrial efficiency). The local sustainable meal is built on buying our foods from local environmentally conscious farms. And finally the do-it-yourself is built on extremely local products that are hunted/gathered/grown all by ourselves.

In examining these 4 eating options the Omnivore’s Dilemma aims to make us think critically about what we eat. We think of eating as such an inconsequential matter, when really it affects our current and future health, and it affects the health of our planet. It also will make you question the efficacy of eating meat. I think you will be quite surprised by the author’s choice and the sound reasoning behind his choice.

In the end the author is really encouraging you to make the best food situations you can given the circumstances that you live under. So maybe you are financially strapped and can’t afford to buy organic food, but you can make wiser choices at the supermarket such as buying less processed whole foods and learning to cook your meals from scratch rather than buy overly processed prepared goods that can be microwaved. This is a thought provoking book that I think all people should read cover to cover.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Moon Moth

By Jack Vance
Adapted by Humayoun Ibrahim
Published by First Second
Copyright © 2012

What can I say about Jack Vance? Not a thing. The forward to this graphic novel by Carlo Rotella entitled “The Genre Artist” (originally published in Time magazine in 2009) extols the virtues of a Jack Vance story because of his way of creating an occasion and opulent speech in what some might consider just lowly genre fiction. I could not attest to any of this having never read a Jack Vance novel. Then out of the blue comes “The Moon Moth” a graphic novel adaptation “Based on the Classic Short Story,” and I begin to believe that their might be something to the praise heaped upon him.

In "The Moon Moth," Edwer Thissell has been assigned to be the new consular representative to the planet Sirene. Sirene is a place where everyone wears masks and everyone converses by singing with the accompaniment of various instruments. Every mask and every instrument used signify something about the user’s status in relation to others and it is with status, also known as Strakh that one gets what they need. Thissell threw himself into studying and preparation for his new post, but such endeavors did not truly prepare him for the odd customs and quick, harsh justice for missteps in custom. In addition to having to awkwardly stumble through the customs of this new planet he has received orders to apprehend an assassin who has made his way back to Sirene. This man is an Out-Worlder like Thissell, but in a world of masks he is going to be hard to find.

Based on the story premise and the dialogue I certainly now believe that Jack Vance is an unheralded master of words that transcend the sci-fi and mystery genre in which he writes. Just the idea of such a planet with such customs and the dialogue he creates for it speaks to a very imaginative and exacting mind.

What I still cannot speak to is Vance’s ability to set a scene. In this adaptation I am only getting Ibrahim’s take on Vance’s world. In that I am quite disappointed. What this story really requires in a graphic novel is greater detail and a more refined color palette. Just one example of why I say that is found on page 19 and 20. Thissell is preparing for life on Sirene and the computer is telling him about the planets ways; it educates him of their occupation with intricacy; their intricate craftsmanship, symbolism, language, and interpersonal relationships. On page 19 it refers to the intricately carved panels of the houseboats and the intricate symbolism of the masks they wear. These two items are visual in nature and therefore, visually, should be intricately rendered; however I did not find this to be the case. I appreciate simplicity in some graphic novels, but this story begged for more detail.

If nothing else, this graphic novel adaptation has moved me to want to read the original short story. And, maybe I missed it, but why hasn’t anyone made this into a movie?

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Little Mouse Gets Ready

Little Mouse Gets Ready
by Jeff Smith
Published by A Toon Book
Copyright ©2009

Jeff Smith is the creator of many comic books. Most notable among them is the Bone series. Here though Jeff Smith has been tapped to write a first comic for brand new readers. I for one think it is wonderful.

The illustrations scream Jeff Smith and the story is short (no pun intended) and sweet. Little mouse has to get ready to go to the barn with his family, so little mouse shows us how he gets ready. I don’t want to give it away, but there is a nice little ending that will even give adults a quick chuckle.

A Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book 

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Dangerous Book for Boys

By Conn & Hal Iggulden
Published by Harper Collins
Copyright 2007

Are you a boy between the ages of seven and thirteen? Are you a man who is still a kid at heart? (Most of us still are.) Or, are you parents who are tired of your children whining that they are bored, or who sit in front of the television all day playing video games? If you fit into any of these categories this book is a must read. I spent my formative years in rural New England, before video games were really big. My siblings, cousins, and I all spent much of our free time outside playing games, riding bikes, fishing, building forts, and scouting out the forests for Indian mounds (which were actually remnants of old stone walls). We were the last of a dying a breed, the independently stimulated. For everyone of the Play Station generation, or adults who want to relive a little of their youth (and maybe even learn something new) I recommend this book: “The Dangerous Book for Boys”.

“The Dangerous Book for Boys” does contain some dangerous activities like building a tree house, making a bow and arrow, and hunting and cooking a rabbit. Things every boy should learn, if not do. It also contains less dangerous instructions on things like making the best paper airplane, five important knots, and skipping a stone properly. There are also sections of the book which encourage exploration into Science, History, Geography, and English. For instance there are instructions and information on a simple electromagnet, famous battles of the world, the fifty states, and Shakespeare. This book even provides information on something that boys have never been able to understand and that is…Girls. While boys may never fully understand girls this book gives boys a head start on how to treat them and impress them.

This book contains many weeks worth of reading and activities that boys (and girls) of all ages will love. There is also a website set up for this book, and I think the video alone makes the case for at least a quick glance at this book. Go to and click on view trailer.

Snowflake Bentley

By Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Illustrated by Mary Azarian

Published by Houghton Mifflin Company

Copyright © 1998

When I was a child I loved snow. I loved Snow balls, snow forts, snowmen, snow angels, and even just snow tunnels. But Jacqueline Martin has shown me someone who loved snow even more than I did. “Wilson Bentley was born February 9, 1865, on a farm in Jericho, Vermont.”

Vermont is generally considered a winter wonderland from November to March when it is most often covered in snow. Snow is probably the only thing more plentiful than cows in Vermont. And yet something that was so common, and to many Vermonters obtrusive, was beautiful and magical to William Bentley. He was so taken with snow that he devised a way to take photographs of individual snowflakes. Of course William Bentley liked to photograph nature at all times of the year spring, summer, and fall, but his most notable photographs are of winter’s snowflakes. So, he became known as “Snowflake Bentley”.

This is a wonderful non-fiction picture book that instills a child like sense of wonder in even the oldest reader, taking them back to the days when they loved snow too.  This book is not just about snow though, it is about doing what you enjoy because you love it, not because it makes you rich. Great book for children ages 4-8.

Cliques, Hicks, and Ugly Sticks - Book Giveaway

Free Book! - "Cliques, hicks, and ugly sticks" by KD McCrite

Cliques, hicks and ugly sticks
Confessions of April Grace Series
Published by Thomas Nelson
Copyright © 2011

“A clique of mean girls, a grandma – yes, you heard it – a grandma stuck in a love triangle, a church pageant run by a dictator, and a mom who is acting very mysterious – it all sounds like a disaster, but it’s just another day in the super funny life of April Grace Reilly.” (From the book cover)

I am giving away a signed copy of “Cliques, hicks, and ugly sticks” by KD McCrite to a GR8 RēDZ follower. To enter the giveaway send an e-mail to with the words "Cliques Giveaway" in the subject line and include your first and last name in the body of the e-mail. Entries must be received by May 28th, 2012.

The winner will be contacted soon after by e-mail. Since  GR8 RēDZ  pays for the shipping, this giveaway is limited to my readers within the US and Canada. I never distribute e-mail addresses or mailing addresses.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear

by N.M. Bodecker
Illustrated by Erik Blegvad
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Copyright © 1998

Here in Somerset, Pennsylvania we know what it is like to have to prepare for winter. In “Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear” Mary is the person who has to make all the preparation for the impeding cold.

N.M. Bodecker’s a native of Denmark who moved to Connecticut was well familiar with this yearly ritual as well. His quaint and entertaining silly poetry is the fuel for this wonderfully illustrated book. Mary has such a list of things to do that she exhausts herself doing it as if in one day. All the while you catch little peaks of her husband whiling the day away inside. When she finishes though, he gets his comeuppance. “Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear” is a very entertaining picture book children will love and that wives and mothers will relate to.


By Ashley Spires
Published by Kids Can Press
Copyright © 2012

I have always had an affinity for the Sasquatch legend. I will freely admit that there is a little part of me that believes that Sasquatch is out there. But even if they aren’t, to believe in them is to retain that sense of unexplainable wonderment in the natural world. So when I saw “Larf,” by Ashley Spires, in our latest children’s book order I knew I had to read it.

Larf, as you may have guessed, is a Sasquatch. He likes the fact that no one knows he exists, and even when they see him they don’t really believe he exists. Larf is the only Sasquatch in the world and he loves his privacy.

While reading the newspaper one day he reads an article that says that “a Sasquatch is scheduled to make an appearance today in the nearby city of Hunderfitz.” Larf wonders how this could be, and then he wonders how this could affect him. Larf has no choice; he must go to Hunderfitz to see this Sasquatch. Larf is in for a surprise.

The story of Larf is cute. As much as I hate the word “cute” there is no other word that fits. There is no deep layer of morality to this tale it is just cute. Sure you could look at it as a tale about getting out of your own head and letting others in so that we can make friends, but that is merely an aside to the cuteness.

Fortunately, “cute” is not the only thing that “Larf” has going for it. This story is very humorous. Most of this humor shows up in the illustrations. Spires’ line art is reminiscent of the work of Craig Bartlett on the Nickelodeon cartoon “Hey, Arnold” (which I loved), but she lightens it up and makes it more whimsical and fluffy with her use of what seems to be water color. The funny comes not just in her way of drawing people and Larf, but in the way she juxtaposes the text of the story with the illustrations. For instance when we read “Larf knows no one would ever leave him alone if they found out he was real.” And then we see an illustration with his face on the cover of magazines, newspapers, and tabloids with the addition of a book featuring his pet bunny Eric on the cover with the title “Bigfoot’s Bunny: Shocking Tell-All Memoir.” It made me laugh.

In addition to the humor, if you pay close attention to the illustrations Spires shows us what is coming at the end of the story, but you really have to read the pictures. So this makes a great little activity for kids while reading this book, especially the second time around.

This book will definitely get five stars on my book sharing accounts. It will be a welcome addition to the story time rotation for children’s groups or individual children ages 3 and up.  

Friday, May 18, 2012

You Killed Wesley Payne

By Sean Beaudoin
Published by Little Brown
Copyright 2011

Pulp Fiction P.I.'s meet high school in this mysterious and funny novel. You'll never look at high school cliques the same again.

Dalton Rev is a teenage private detective with a serious case to crack. Macy Payne has hired Dalton to find out who killed her brother and upon being intercepted by the principal (Principal Inference) he has also found a second case – tracking down $100,000 in stolen racket money.

Wesley Payne was found dead, wrapped in duct taped and hanging from a goal post at the Salt River High School football field. It becomes apparent to Dalton very soon that Wesley’s death is not the suicide it was cracked up to be. Salt River High is out of control with two raging cliques that want to rule the school, the Balls and the Pinker Caskets, and the various fringe and hangers-on cliques. The Fack Cult T is more than willing to look the other way as long as their price is met. The only thing that keeps the school from full scale violence is the looming threat of the Lee Harvies, who thwart violence with the threat of violence. This is going to be a tough case for Rev to crack by himself.

Sean Beaudoin has written your classic pulp-fiction novel that is updated with a seriously modern and off the wall cast of jocks, geeks, nerds, preps, goths, psychopaths, and depressed loners. And don’t forget those tough as nails police detectives that inevitably have to be circumnavigated. “You Killed Wesley Payne” is prison rules high school with high fashion, tough mystery, snarky Ironic humor, and witty banter.

This is an awesome book for high level teens (grades 9-12). While some content in this book is a little edgy, I applaud him for accomplishing this without the excessive use of foul language which tends to find its way into high level YA Literature. I love Beaudoin for bringing back the hard-boiled mystery/crime genre. This book is going to resonate with teens of every ilk because of Dalton’s anti-superhero, how many times can I be beat unconscious, everyman persona, as well as for the plethora of cliques that will enable most teens to find someone they relate to.

The Beastly Arms

By Patrick Jennings
Published by Scholastic Press
Copyright © 2001

“The Beastly Arms” is an intriguing book about seeing more than what is obvious and learning to trust. Nickel is an observant boy who loves to practice photography. He and his friend Inez also love animals – Miriam, a Kangaroo rat, can usually be found hiding in Nickel’s shirt pocket.

Nickel and his mom have to move because their current landlord keeps raising their rent. His dad wants them to move to the suburbs near him, but they don’t want to leave the city. The only problem is that it is so hard to find an affordable apartment that isn’t in a horrible neighborhood. One day while Nickel and his mom were out apartment hunting they stumble across a creepy building called the beastly arms. This building piques Nickel’s curiosity and he just has to know more about it and it’s owner Mr. Beastly.

While not full of action or magic this book is certainly brim full of imagination. When you find out what Mr. Beastly’s secret is you will be amazed.

A Hen for Izzy Pippik

By Aubrey Davis
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
Published by Kids Can Press

A folksy multicultural tale of honesty and integrity replete with chickens, but no chicken soup or fricassee for you, these are Izzy Pippik’s chickens.

Shaina lives in a poor village. One day she finds a beautiful hen at her doorstep and she learns that it belongs to Izzy Pippik. Even though her family wants to eat it, she knows that she should save it for Izzy Pippik because he will surely return for such a fine chicken. Her family relents, but when the hen has many chicks, and the chicks have chicks of their own, they become a nuisance to her family and to the whole town. Shaina still believes she must care for the chickens until their owner returns. Slowly though, the town begins to like the chickens because they returned good fortune to the town, but will Izzy Pippik ever return for his chickens?

“A Hen for Izzy Pippik” is a wonderful tale about doing the right thing even when it is unpopular. Shaina does the right thing not just once but many times. In Shaina we also find a selfless example of a young person doing what is right, not for what she will get out of it, but because it is the right thing to do.

This universal moral, is derived from “Jewish and Islamic traditional text.” Marie Lafrance’s illustrations really add to the universality of this story as they have a very simplistic French/European appeal. This multicultural tale will be a pleasure to read to your children, and not only will they get the moral, but I think they just might have a blast trying to find and count all of the chickens that Lafrance has drawn into this book. (For children 4 years and up.)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Magnificent 12: The Call

By Michael Grant
Published by Katherine Tegen Books
Copyright © 2010

Mack is afraid of all the wrong things. He has phobias of things that he would rarely, if ever, be forced to encounter, but the things he deals with everyday, like bullies, don’t seem to faze him. But thanks to having some “enlightened puissance,” which he is unaware he possesses, he is going to meet scarier bullies than he has ever met in his young life.

In “The Call,” the first book in this series, Mack finds out that he is a new member of an old order called the 12 Magnifica. The old order of 12 Magnifica have been dead for a long time, save for Grimluk the lone survivor.  Some died in the Battle with the Pale Queen whom they imprisoned in the earth for 3,000 years,  others died in search of the Pale Queen’s Daughter, and still others just died of old age. Grimluk alone has been preserved alive so as to be able to summon 12 more Magnifica when the Queen’s imprisonment is over.

Unfortunately for Mack he is the new leader of the 12 Magnifica, and the task before him is to find the other 11. Stefan, his former bully and current body guard, will help him get to Australia’s Outback where he will meet the second Magnifica and have his first real show down with Princess Eriskigal.

While it seems he is trying too hard at times, the author achieves a moderate level of humor. I found some of the texts of his Golem doppelganger (who happens to made of clay if you didn’t know) to by quite funny – especially this one:

“Dear Mack,
It seems a stomach alone is not enough. You can’t just put food in, all the time. Anyway, mine became too full and I needed a way to get the food out of my body. Dad’s power drill was very useful, much better than a spoon.
Your friend,

I also found the back story of Grimluk and the original 12 Magnifica to be necessary, but the continuous back and forth between the present and the past every other chapter is not my favorite way to get it, at least not in this story.

However, I love that this series will seemingly navigate the globe in search of Mack’s 11 companions, providing children with just a tiny geography and culture lesson as he did in this first book writing about Uluru, or Ayer’s Rock, in Australia.

Overall Michael Grant’s story is fast paced, funny, and smart. (You have to be smart to write stupid. You’ll see what I mean.) Mack is just the kind of kid we all root for. Much to my chagrin I have been sucked in, and now I must read the second book in this series to find out who and what they will find in China.

The Twits

By Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Copyright © 1980

What happens when 2 of the meanest old people come up against 4 young boys, 4 monkeys, 1 roly-poly bird from Africa, and hundreds of European birds? They get outwitted.  

Mr. and Mrs. Twit are old, mean, and ugly. Mr. Twit has a long, unkempt, food littered beard and Mrs. Twit has a screwed up face and a glass eye that always stares in the wrong direction.  These two used to be decent looking people but years of bad thinking has made them look as ugly as their thoughts. Mr. and Mrs. Twit love to torture each other with mean spirited practical jokes. They like to catch unsuspecting birds and make bird pie. And they like to train monkeys to perform upside down. All of this meanness is going to catch up with the Twits when the birds conspire with the monkeys to give the Twits what they deserve.

Giving mean and obnoxious people consequences of their actions is what Roald Dahl Does best. In “The Twits” Dahl gives us two people who are laughably mean. The practical jokes that they play on each other pretty old fashioned and low-tech by today’s standards, but still very funny. That said, however, the retaliation of the monkey’s and birds was in general predictable, so the first half of the book was more enjoyable than the last half.

After reading this and many other Roald Dahl books, I have to say that to me his writing style seems very giddy. It is not always pleasant to read because bits and pieces are always added, and sometimes you never do realize why they are there. I think this is what makes his stories enjoyable for children though, because when they read his books, they read as if a child was telling the story. That, I believe, is a hard thing to accomplish, and it is why he remains one of the most loved children’s authors of all time.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Danny the Champion of the World

By Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Published by Puffin
Copyright © 1975

Champion of the world? Well, maybe the champion of a small town and a patch of forest full of birds. But, it’s good clean fun nonetheless; at least if you are old enough to know better.

Danny lives with his dad (William) in a little caravan behind a filling (gas) station and garage.  It isn’t the most beautiful home in the world but it is warm and snug. William loves Danny very much. He has taken care of him by himself ever since his wife died. William protects Danny and teaches him everything he knows. One of the things he teaches Danny is about poaching pheasants, and this is going to make Danny the champion of the world.

While, in my opinion, some of the characters are a little flat or unnecessary (e.g. Danny’s school teachers) and the chapter that ties in the story of the BFG was a little pointless, I still thought this was a good example of Roald Dahl giving us a little champion with a big heart. (With that in mind click here for a blog post about Dahl’s stories and rural class structure in Post-WWII England. I thought it was very interesting.)

I have some hesitations in recommending this for very young children because the moral is a bit skewed. A father and son love each other immensely (good). The dad teaches his son a skill (good). They fight against the oppression of a self-important, upper class, jerk (good). They bond (good) by working together (good) to steal from the aforementioned upper class jerk (bad). My mother always taught me that two wrongs don’t make a right, and that it is never okay to steal. These are two things that I still believe in.

That being said the audience for which this is intended, kids age 7 and up, should already be grasping principles of right and wrong and will understand that it is a work of fiction. Besides that, there are so many pointless and horrible books out there that I don’t believe this one can do much damage. “Danny the Champion of the World” has a really likeable main character, some mild adventure, and a bad guy getting what’s coming to him. How could any child or adult not like a story like that?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Dead & The Gone

By Susan Beth Pfeffer
Published by Harcourt, Inc.
Copyright © 2008
“The Dead & the Gone” is the sequel to “Life as We Knew It”, but it is not your typical sequel. Most sequels begin where the original story left off, but “The Dead & the Gone” is a parallel story. Pfeffer takes us back to the beginning of the story when the Moon is moved closer to the earth by an asteroid. Where “Life…” tells the story from the viewpoint of a teenage girl in small town Pennsylvania, “The Dead…” gives us the same event story but from the diametric viewpoint of a teenage boy in the big city, New York, New York.

Alex has just come home from his job at the pizza shop, and the electricity has gone out. His sisters are at home, but his father is Puerto Rico for a funeral and his mother is still at her job at the hospital. This crisis could not happen at a worse time for Alex who must now take care of his younger sisters until his parents make it home. The question is though, will they make it home.

If you’ve read “Life as We Knew it” you are familiar with the type of difficulties that ensue, but how one copes in the city is just a little different. If you liked “Life…” then you should definitely check this book out. However I don’t recommend reading both books back to back, read something a little happier in between. They are great books, but they could be a little depressing if taken in large doses.

The Three Questions

Written and Illustrated by Jon J. Muth
Published by Scholastic Press
Copyright © 2002

            When is the best time to do things?
            Who is the most important one?
            What is the right thing to do?

In this picture book young Nikolai wants to be a good person, but he feels that he needs the answers to the above questions in order to be good. His friends (a heron, a monkey, and a dog) try to help him but their answers don’t seem satisfactory, so he sets off to talk to Leo the turtle. Leo helps Nikolai to see that he had the answers to the questions all along when he compares it to Nikolai’s selfless actions.

“The Three Questions” is based on a Leo Tolstoy story of the same name. The watercolor illustrations are muted and subtle, yet beautiful. Unlike many picture books where the story plays second fiddle to the pictures, the illustrations in this book serve to accentuate the story. The use of personification in animal characters rather than using humans makes the story more appealing to children and hopefully it will help them understand the goodness that comes from giving of oneself.