my bed is an air balloon

When I was a little one, prime read-aloud hours were from 6-8am, when my mother read to us before the day truly started. Those are some of my favorite memories – the world not quite awake, snuggled in and listening to a story’s twists and turns. Now that I’m an adult I can see that my mom was bribing us to wake up with a story! And it worked. That said, I know that storytime for most families is at bedtime, and there’s a whole subset of picture books produced just for the end of the day. Julia Copus’ and Alison Jay’s My Bed is an Air Balloon is just such a bedtime tale, and its poetic flights of fancy will delight both parents and children.

my bed is an air balloon by julia copus, illustrated by alison jay cover
When night falls my bed is an air balloon.
I sail through the slipsiverse, close by the moon.
I float above treetops where fluttertufts are sleeping
And flowering hills where the whifflepigs go creeping;
Ponds strung with starlight that glitter like glass,
A floog with her velvet nose bent to the grass.
Such treasures I spy on! My bed in the trees
Swings me up high, like a circus trapeze.
Now the cool, night-rustling air
Slips through my finger-gaps, ripples my hair;
Now we glide over water, the moon’s silver light
Blown by a cloudpuff into the bight,
Adrift on the sea where the dream-shapes float;
When night falls my bed is a sailing boat.

A beautifully presented picture book with two front covers, the text can be read from front to back and vice versa. The mirror form poem meets in the middle in a stunning centerpiece image as the two children in the story (twins, one in an air balloon, the other a sailing boat) meet in the clouds!

My Bed is an Air Balloon imagines a world of nighttime travels and adventure, where children’s beds turn into air balloons and sailing boats, floating over a land full of whimsical imaginary creatures. Told in poem form that may be read front to back, or back to front, the format of the book will engage readers as much as the text, and prompt many requests for rereads.

Julia Copus’ poem employs wide-ranging vocabulary, invents new words for make-believe creatures, and charms with its lyricism and rhythm. It’s curious and at the same time lulling – reading through it twice (in different directions!) in the space of the book’s pages should encourage little listeners into dreams. The fantastical nature of the poem may also inspire further storytelling, as kids and adults alike discuss what a whifflepig or floog is, or how cloudpuff might live.

And the art! The art is truly a highlight. Alison Jay has taken the format and the poem and created gorgeous dream landscapes that fit this fanciful story. The book is a beautiful, dreamlike/real mash-up of the familiar and the imaginative with soft edges. The details are delicious, and each page has something to savor, be it boat slippers, floating teapots, or flying laundry. Jay’s art perfectly melds the bizarre and charming for dreamscapes we can identify with and wonder at, and on top of that it’s adorable.

In all, My Bed is an Air Balloon is a slightly strange and all the way wonderful picture book that’s destined to be a bedtime classic. I can’t wait to gift it to the little ones in my life.

Recommended for: bedtime reading for children ages 3-6, and anyone who likes fantastical picture books filled with exquisite art.

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

the language of spells

I, like almost every other reader in the known universe, can be swayed by a pretty book cover. And when a pretty book cover also happens to have the words “language” and “spells” in the title, and a DRAGON on it, well. Shut the front door, as the saying goes. I came in to the reading experience ready to love Garret Weyr’s middle grade fantasy The Language of Spells. I cried-at-the-end ADORED it.

the language of spells by garret weyr, illustrated by katie harnett cover
Grisha is a dragon in a world that’s forgotten how to see him. Maggie is a unusual child who thinks she’s perfectly ordinary. They’re an unlikely duo—but magic, like friendship, is funny. Sometimes it chooses those who might not look so likely. And magic has chosen Grisha and Maggie to solve the darkest mystery in Vienna. Decades ago, when World War II broke out, someone decided that there were too many dragons for all of them to be free. As they investigate, Grisha and Maggie ask the question everyone’s forgotten: Where have the missing dragons gone? And is there a way to save them? At once richly magical and tragically historical, The Language of Spells is a novel full of adventure about remembering old stories, forging new ones, and the transformative power of friendship.

Benevolentia Gaudium, or Grisha for short, is the youngest dragon alive, in a world where magic and dragons have become obsolete. Maggie (Anna Marguerite, properly) is a girl of eleven with a famous poet for a father and an even more famous, though dead, painter for a mother. Both Maggie and Grisha live in Vienna, and it is there that a friendship forms, a mystery unspools, and an adventure is undertaken. The Language of Spells is necessarily about magic, but it’s also a little bit about history, a lot about friendship, a smidgen about education, and a tiny bit about heartbreak. In other words, it is marvelous.

After reading the official summary I was under the mistaken impression that this book was about invisible dragons. It took me a few pages at the beginning to realize that that was *not* the case. No, instead it’s a coming of age story for both Grisha and Maggie, with a lot of fun dragon lore and magical creatures, historical bits, anecdotes about living in a hotel, and talking cats, among other delightful elements. It is (I would think) almost impossible not to fall in love with Maggie and Grisha. They’re very different characters, yet very kind to each other, and it has been too long since I read such a lovely portrait of friendship.

Theme-wise, The Language of Spells is about finding what is special or different about yourself and celebrating it (in Grisha’s case), making friends, and finding ways to solve problems and do the right thing (in Maggie’s case). It also has several fable-like messages woven in about judging people based on their “usefulness,” the innate dignity of rational beings, remembering the past, as well as some musings on freedom and happiness. It could have been quite complicated, but the author’s skill and touches of humor kept the tone cozy and the story moving.

As any good middle grade story is, this one is true (even if it does feature magic and dragons and talking cats), and at the same time absolutely heart-wrenching at the end. It’s the perfect read for a rainy day, with a cat at your feet and a mug of hot chocolate at hand. It’s also a great pick for a chapter-or-two-at-a-time storytime or bedtime, or independent reading for the 911-year-old crowd.

I can’t close out my review without mentioning the gorgeous art! At the beginning of each chapter there are illustrations by Katie Harnett (also the artist of the gorgeous cover!) which complement the text. The overall book design is just fabulous as well – the end papers, mustard-yellow boards, and gold foil on the dust jacket all make for a delightful keepsake of a book.

The Language of Spells has a timeless feel and quality to it, and is sure to earn a permanent spot on many shelves with its gentle, quiet brilliance.

Recommended for: fans of Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland books and Laura Ruby’s York, and anyone who likes cozy, imaginative books that are perfect for curling up with on wintery days.

Are you interested in other reviews of this book? Check out the TLC Book Tour! Or you can learn more via the author's websiteInstagramFacebook, or Twitter.

Fine print: I reviewed this book as part of a TLC blog tour. I did not receive any compensation for this post, and I bought my own copy of the book.

how to make friends with a ghost

In general I am not a Halloween sort of person (didn’t grow up celebrating it, never really caught the fever), but I will make exceptions for spooky + funny and/or spooky + cute. Rebecca Green’s picture book How to Make Friends with a Ghost fits firmly in the latter category – it’s an adorably illustrated guide to ghostly friendship, tailor-made for this time of year.

how to make friends with a ghost by rebecca green cover
What do you do when you meet a ghost? One: Provide the ghost with some of its favorite snacks, like mud tarts and earwax truffles. Two: Tell your ghost bedtime stories (ghosts love to be read to). Three: Make sure no one mistakes your ghost for whipped cream or a marshmallow when you aren’t looking! If you follow these few simple steps and the rest of the essential tips in How to Make Friends with a Ghost, you’ll see how a ghost friend will lovingly grow up and grow old with you.

A whimsical story about ghost care, Rebecca Green’s debut picture book is a perfect combination of offbeat humor, quirky and sweet illustrations, and the timeless theme of friendship.

Ghosts are attracted to people who are sweet, warm, and kind, according to Green’s guide to lifelong (and beyond!) friendship. While directed at the reader who might want to make a cute ghostly friend (the illustrations really do make it seem desirable!), How to Make Friends with a Ghost also contains many friendship insights even if you plan to keep your pals strictly among the living.

With themes of friendship and supernatural sweetness, and sprinkled with funny anecdotes and properly cited “tips” from fake guides, this delightful picture book is sure to be a hit with the 7-10 year old set, adults, and aspiring artists. While a friendship guide is not your typical ghost story, this one charms with notes on care and feeding, growing together, hiding places, hazards, and even a recipe (a gross one, but still)!

While the text will win over many readers, it is the whimsical, witchy illustration style that elevates this book to something special. Green’s pages are filled with colored pencil, gouache, and hand-lettered text, and the clear pencil strokes can be studied/copied with ease. The whole book brims with love and care. I especially loved the busy endpapers full of spooky ingredients (Halloween-friendly)(and the “friendly” bit really is true!).

So, if you’re in the mood for a cute, cuddly ghost story that is not scary at all, How to Make Friends with a Ghost is the book for you. It is made with love, and perfect for autumnal reading.

Recommended for: independent picture book readers, aspiring artists, and anyone who likes Halloween (minus the creepy stuff).

cucumber quest: the doughnut kingdom

Do you ever think about how your reading habits have evolved? I used to be a strictly prose-only reader, but in the past two years I’ve been reading a lot of picture books, graphic novels, and I’ve even dipped into poetry. I have several friends who are branching out into audiobooks as well (and I know that’s a growing category for publishers, so it’s not just them!). This change means that I’m trusting different sources for recommendations – but one publisher that always publishes great graphic novels is First Second. When they sent me Gigi D.G.'s middle grade graphic novel Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom, I knew it was going to be a fun read right off the bat.

cucumber quest: the doughnut kingdom by gigi d.g. book cover
What happens when an evil queen gets her hands on an ancient force of destruction?

World domination, obviously.

The seven kingdoms of Dreamside need a legendary hero. Instead, they'll have to settle for Cucumber, a nerdy magician who just wants to go to school. As destiny would have it, he and his way more heroic sister, Almond, must now seek the Dream Sword, the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Queen Cordelia’s Nightmare Knight.

Can these bunny siblings really save the world in its darkest hour?

Sure, why not?

In the Doughnut Kingdom, where this story begins, magic student Cucumber just wants to go off to school. However, his ineffectual mother Bagel and bad dad Lord Cabbage insist that he challenge the evil usurper Queen Cordelia. Never mind that he has no interest in becoming a hero! Luckily, Cucumber’s little sister Almond doesn’t listen to those who insist she can’t be a hero (what nonsense!), and decides that a quest is right in her wheelhouse. She drags Cucumber along with her straight into adventure, travel, and kingdom-saving exploits.

While the series is titled Cucumber Quest, in this volume Almond is the undisputed star. Cucumber plays her foil, worrying and asking important questions, while Almond makes decisions and keeps the action moving along. In a kingdom where almost every creature or place is named for food, you would expect the story to lean to fluff – and while it is super cute, it’s also funny, a little sassy, and there are some unexpected twists to liven things up. In other words, there’s plot to rival the art!

Speaking of art: the world of Dreamside is filled with folks who have different kinds of bunny ears, and that isn’t really explained (they don’t seem to have any other bunny attributes). The art itself is digital and soft-edged, with no lines to speak of. Most of the buildings are foodstuffs (Tiramisu Tower, for instance), and the whole book is, in a word, adorable.

As far as weaknesses go, I have two tiny, tiny nitpicks. First, the cover doesn’t do the story justice. You can’t really tell what’s going on? And the art is kind of a weird shape? But like, it’s such a tiny complaint it doesn’t really register. Second, there are a bunch of extras at the end of the book, and they’re kind of a mishmash. I think that with a little more editing/organization it would have made a lot more sense. But you’ll notice that neither of these had anything to do with the story, which is a great sign. The story is a lot of fun, and stands well on its own. It’s also available online for free as a webcomic!

In all, Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom is a charming fairy tale adventure of a graphic novel, with several more volumes available or on the way!

Recommended for: fans of the 5 Worlds and Mighty Jack graphic novel series, and any readers ages 8-12 who enjoy fun, sassy protagonists, and quests to save the world.

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

the day you begin

Friday, October 5, 2018 | | 1 comments
How are you doing, fam? Today has been rough for a bunch of reasons, but I have to keep my head up, keep on believing that I can make the world a better place.  And what better way to do that than to read a book? One of the most affirming, wonderful books I’ve read lately is Jacqueline Woodson's picture book The Day You Begin, beautifully illustrated by Rafael López.

the day you begin by jacqueline woodson, illustrated by rafael lopez cover
There will be times when you walk into a room and no one there is quite like you.

There are many reasons to feel different. Maybe it’s how you look or talk, or where you’re from; maybe it’s what you eat, or something just as random. It’s not easy to take those first steps into a place where nobody really knows you yet, but somehow you do it.

Jacqueline Woodson’s lyrical text and Rafael López’s dazzling art reminds us that we all feel like outsiders sometimes-and how brave it is that we go forth anyway. And that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our stories, others will be happy to meet us halfway.

A black girl with curly hair enters a classroom and doesn’t see anyone who looks like her. She feels left out when she realizes that everyone else’s family traveled for the summer while she was at home babysitting. A boy named Rigoberto is laughed at when he speaks in his native tongue. An Asian girl feels less-than because no one understands the delicious food her mother makes for her school lunch. These are the interwoven narratives in The Day You Begin, a picture book about recognizing your differences, finding your place in the world, and beginning to tell the stories only you can.

Ms. Woodson is the 2018-2019 National Ambassador for Young People's Literature and a National Book Award winner, and it shows. The Day You Begin is poignant, earnest, poetic, and needed. Written to and for children whole feel separate and apart because of their differences (due to race, class, language, or culture), this picture book tells children 1) that they are brave, 2) that they can share their unique stories (and the world will make a place for them when they do), 3) that they will find themselves and find friends, and 4) that there is beauty in similarity AND difference.

On the writing itself: Woodson’s similes are reflected seamlessly in López’s art. Words like a song are reflected in musical notes on the page. Getting picked last is depicted in every heart-wrenching detail. The thoughts that kids tuck away so that they will hurt less are here, on the page, and it is enough to make you cry… until you realize that every difference and moment of other-ness is being turned into an opportunity to connect, in vibrant tones. Woodson’s words and López’s mix of textures, colors, and mediums are the perfect fit for this book.

"There will be times when the world feels like a place that you’re standing all the way outside of…"

In all, The Day You Begin is an affirming, heartfelt, and brilliant picture book for everyone and all-ages, but especially for children who feel isolated and different (and who hasn’t felt that way, one day or another?).

Recommended for: all picture book collections, classrooms, storytimes, and for children ages 6-9 need the encouragement that our differences make us special, in the best ways.

in other lands

Monday, September 24, 2018 | | 2 comments
I am on the best sort of streak right now – I’ve been reading one lovely book after another! And the latest in line is Sarah Rees Brennan’s In Other Lands, an affectionate send-up of popular fantasy tropes with lots of hilarity and snark added in. It’s gosh darn entertaining, and I kind of loved it a lot.

in other lands by sarah rees brennan cover
The Borderlands aren’t like anywhere else. Don’t try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border — unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and — best of all as far as Elliot is concerned — mermaids.

Elliot? Who’s Elliot? Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands.

It turns out that on the other side of the wall, classes involve a lot more weaponry and fitness training and fewer mermaids than he expected. On the other hand, there’s Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, an elven warrior who is more beautiful than anyone Elliot has ever seen, and then there’s her human friend Luke: sunny, blond, and annoyingly likeable. There are lots of interesting books. There’s even the chance Elliot might be able to change the world.

Elliott Schafer is a short, obnoxious know-it-all of thirteen when an agent of a magical school finds him and escorts him into the Borderlands. He’s glad to go because his home life is pretty terrible, and also: mermaids. And then it turns out that Serene-Heart-in-the-Chaos-of-Battle, a beautiful elven warrior, is in his cohort. So that’s alright. Still, Elliott has to grapple with: a tech-primitive world, a war-obsessed society, issues of gender, race, and sexuality, and the annoying existence of golden boy Luke Sunborn, Serene’s other best friend. In this portal fantasy-turned-parody Elliott’s years in magic school are formative, transformative, and endearingly comical.

I think the first and most important thing about this book is that it made me laugh, a lot, unexpectedly. I probably sounded like a demented loon, barking out a laugh every 5-10 minutes while reading, but the dialogue and Elliott’s inner narrative were just that good. Elliott is uncharitable, sarcastic, and dramatic – and he says everything that comes to mind. I guess you could call him unlikable (he certainly says and does some unlikable things), but I loved him immediately for identifying and highlighting uncomfortable truths, all while pointedly not observing the social niceties. I identified with him.

The second thing about this book is that like any good parody, it interrogated its source material (popular portal fantasy and fantasy fiction at large) and turned tropes on their heads. The elven matriarchal society and its unique prejudices served as a direct foil to the familiar paternalistic human Border Guard. Elliott’s pacifist stance in a military camp raised sometimes obvious questions about who gets to make the decisions and what sorts of actions we value. And as a desperately earnest believer in love, Elliott breaks his heart and makes romantic missteps with partners of both sexes instead of automatically finding his “one” soulmate. I also appreciated that a typical YA fantasy trope (dead/absent parents) was interrogated as well.

Weakness: the copyediting. This book originated as a serial online, and though it made a pretty serious jump to book form with aplomb, I found several errors. Still, that’s nothing when you’re in the flow and really enjoying a book. Which I was.

In Other Lands was ridiculously enjoyable. Although I know not every reader will love Elliott (or the book), I did. Sarah Rees Brennan has a knack for writing comedy, and this book is FUNNY and fun.

Recommended to: fans of science fiction and fantasy parodies (think Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On with 100% more snark), and anyone who likes portal fantasies, LGBTQ+ inclusive young adult fiction, and grappling with big questions while maintaining a sense of humor.

check, please!: #hockey

Friday, September 21, 2018 | | 1 comments
When I held Ngozi Ukazu’s debut graphic novel Check, Please!: #Hockey for the first time in my hands, I thought about how much I loved it already (the entire comic is available online for free and I’ve been reading it for years), how perfect it was for my interests (hockey + baking + LGBTQ+ representation), and how it was going to solve all of my holiday gifting needs. I adore this story, and I think you will too, even if your preferred reading doesn’t include anything mentioned above. It’s just that loveable.

Helloooo, Internet Land. Bitty here! 

Y’all . . . I might not be ready for this. I may be a former junior figure skating champion, vlogger extraordinaire, and very talented amateur pâtissier, but being a freshman on the Samwell University hockey team is a whole new challenge. It’s nothing like co-ed club hockey back in Georgia! First of all? There’s checking. And then, there is there is Jack—our very attractive but moody captain.

A collection of the first half of the megapopular webcomic series of the same name, Check, Please!: #Hockey is the first book of a hilarious and stirring two-volume coming-of-age story about hockey, bros, and trying to find yourself during the best four years of your life.

Let’s get down to it: WHAT is in this book that makes it so beloved? I’ll level with you here: this is a cute story about a baker with a video channel who is also a former champion figure skater, who is ALSO a gay boy and a Southerner, and who is just starting college and joining a serious, competitive hockey team. In other words, it’s about a character with a lot of varied interests and identities, at a pivotal point in time. And Bitty (Eric Bittle, to be precise) isn’t special or perfect, he’s just a guy making friends, learning his new environment, and trying to be himself. It works because author-illustrator Ngozi has tapped into the best parts of the tropes referenced above (coming of age, coming out, etc.), deleted toxic masculinity from the equation, and presented the reader with a bunch of lovable goofballs as Bitty’s support system, hockey miscellany for laughs, and hijinks that will be familiar to anyone who has spent too much time with one group of people. It’s FUN. Good, clean fun (swearing and references to college-aged-shenanigans aside).

What does it do best? It’s funny, the angst is realistic, there are moments of tension and then superb hits of relief, the art is focused on the characters’ faces (so you see a lot of emotion). And, as mentioned, there’s acceptance, friendship, and eventually falling in love. The majority of the book is panel by panel storytelling over the first two years of Bitty's college career, and at the end there are extra comics from specific times and/or explanations of hockey lingo. There is also a section full of Bitty's tweets listed chronologically (for a good chunk of time Ngozi was into multi-platform storytelling, tweeting in character as Bitty). Taken as a whole, you really get a sense of Bitty's life and voice, and it's 100% endearing. 

Shortcomings... hmm, this is a tough one. This book was tailor-made for me, and so it's difficult to take a step back from it and evaluate it fairly. I will say that because this book started life as a webcomic, there are things that didn't make it into the final published edition that add to the context, liveliness and overall fun. Ngozi's Instagrams of personalized bookplates (with hilarious captions), commentary during live-drawing streams (available to Patreon patrons), and the blog posts (one for each "episode" of the comic, posted a day or two after they go up) all add to the world of Samwell, and I missed them as I reread the comic for review. Also I don't think Bitty's love of Beyoncé comes through as much. Weird!

In all, #Hockey is a kick, and graphic novel fans ages 14 and up will love it, even if they don't care much (or at all!) about hockey or baking.

Recommended for: hockey fans, graphic novel fans, and readers who like found families, happy/hopeful coming of age stories, and fun.

good morning, neighbor + apple-raisin cake

Does reading about food make you hungry? Sometimes (often) I will salivate over a meal I’ve come across in a novel. So obviously, the only option left is to make it. I once stopped reading Neil Gaiman’s Stardust mid-book to bake bread, and I learned to make cinnamon rolls (and other treats!) because of their descriptions in Robin McKinley’s Sunshine. Last year I made dinosaur cookies after reading Cookiesaurus Rex. My latest picture book read, Good Morning, Neighbor by Davide Cali and illustrated by Maria Dek, inspired me to make an apple-raisin cake.

good morning neighbor by davide cali, illustrated by maria dek cover
A mouse decides one morning to make an omelet, but needs an egg, and sets out to find one. On his search, he eventually finds everything needed to bake a cake, including apples, flour, and sugar, but also those most precious ingredients—community and friends, from a hedgehog to an owl to a raccoon—and learns about the unexpected gifts of asking for what you need and sharing what you have.

A mouse wants to make an omelet but doesn't have an egg. That is how this adventure begins! Mouse visits various animal neighbors asking for an egg, but instead gathers all of the ingredients for an apple-raisin cake. In the end, a bat has an egg, an owl has an oven, and a cake is baked! But... who will get a slice? Ideas are important contributions, and the animals agree that sharing is the order of the day.  

Good Morning, Neighbor is a story about asking your community for help, sharing the results of a group project (in this case, baking a cake), and being fair to everyone who contributedall great lessons for little readers and their adults. The messages are "baked in," so to speak (see what I did there?), and all of the talk of cake is enough to make you want to bake your own (as I did), and reflect on the story. Reading + baking would be a fun, parent/grandparent/friendly adult-kid activity this autumn.

Mouse's travels from neighbor to neighbor grow with every page as he adds another animal to his entourage. The repetition of each animal involved during each stage of the egg search is a child-friendly device, but may weary adults by the end. Otherwise, the prose is unexceptionable, and even includes a funny aside on the last page. This book is made to be read aloud, and the illustrations pored over.

Speaking of the illustrations! Maria Dek's watercolors are the absolute star of the book. The quirky designs have a cute/eccentric vibe with lots of little forest-y details. My favorite page spreads were those with closeups where an animal almost covered the page, and showed them in their home environment. The book design is also top-notch, with text placement, size, and weight varying based on the action. In all, a visual feast of a book (I will keep going with these food puns until someone yells "Put a fork in it!").

Recommended for: anyone looking for read aloud books about sharing, baking, or being a good neighbor for the 3-6 year old set, and picture book fans with an eye for art and design.

And now... cake!

Apple-Raisin Cake (adapted from this Better Homes & Gardens recipe)


INGREDIENTS

1 cup apple juice or sweet wine (I used Moscato di Asti)
3/4 cup raisins
2 medium tart apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced (I used Granny Smith)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
3 egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 egg whites
1/3 cup honey

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan; set aside.

In a small saucepan heat 1 cup apple juice or sweet wine just until simmering. Remove from heat. Add raisins; let stand for at least 20 minutes. Drain well, discarding liquid.

In a medium bowl combine apple slices, the 1 tablespoon sugar, the lemon juice, and ginger. Set aside.

In a large bowl combine the 1/2 cup sugar, the melted butter, egg yolks, and vanilla; beat with an electric mixer on medium-high speed about 2 minutes or until thick and light yellow (I did this with a handheld mixer). Add flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt, beating just until combined. Set aside.


If reusing the beaters, wash thoroughly (I did this next bit in my KitchenAid). In a separate medium bowl beat egg whites with an electric mixer on medium speed just until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight). Stir about one-third of the beaten egg whites into the flour mixture to lighten. Fold the remaining egg whites into flour mixture. Drizzle the 1/3 cup honey over batter; fold in until combined.

Spoon half of the batter into the prepared springform pan, spreading evenly. Top with half of the apple mixture. Spoon the remaining batter over apples, spreading to cover apples. Top the batter with the remaining apple mixture (discard any lemon juice remaining in bowl). Arrange raisins over apples.

Bake for 35 to 55 minutes or until top of cake is evenly golden brown (the time is quite variable because the original recipe called for 35-40 minutes, but my cake took around 55 – I did the toothpick test). Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes (center may dip slightly). Loosen and remove sides of springform pan. Cool completely on wire rack.

Serve with ice cream or whipped cream, split with friends, or eat a slice for a decadent breakfast treat – this is a versatile, and delicious, recipe!


Recommended for: an autumnal treat to share with friends and neighbors (obviously!), an ambitious weekday night if you want to be the star of the dinner table, or a simple-ish but impressive weekend/dinner party dessert.  Also would be especially good after an Italian family-style meal (the recipe is adapted from a torta di mele).

Interested in other food related recipes? Check out Beth Fish Reads’ Weekend Cooking!

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

am i yours?

One of my favorite picture books when I was tiny was P.D. Eastman’s classic Are You My Mother? My mother claims that most of my first words were question words, so it makes sense that I’d like a book full of them. But I also think (from hearing her read the book to subsequent siblings) that I just liked the way my mother read – not in “voice” so much but emphasizing the interrogative so far that it became hilarious. She played it straight, but the child she was reading to always laughed. She also had so much patience with the book, which she must have read dozens of times. Anyway, I loved that book, and I’ve since gifted it to many friends’ children (who maybe didn’t have as many positive associations with it as I did)(oh well!). And when I read Alex Latimer’s Am I Yours? nearly the first thing I thought of was Are You My Mother?

am i yours? by alex latimer cover
A heartwarming story of community, family, and finding your way home.

A group of friendly dinosaurs helps a lost egg search for its parents after it’s been blown out of its nest. But if the little egg is to be reunited with its family, first they must discover what kind of dinosaur lies inside. What does that egg look like inside its shell? Surely, there must be a way to tell!

This fun and unique tale featuring Alex Latimer’s signature bold art style will keep dinosaur lovers and fans of Are You My Mother? enthusiastically following along and guessing who is inside the shell.

In this delightful picture book, an egg has fallen out of a nest and lost its way. It is pretty sure it’s a dinosaur, but it doesn’t know what kind – so it asks for help (the titular “Am I yours?”). Along its journey the egg meets all kinds of dinosaurs – from the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the Brachiosaurus, to Triceratops! Finally, with help from new friends the egg is identified and returned to the correct nest – just in time to hatch.

This picture book is beautifully done. The illustrations in vivid pencil and finished digitally are very appealing, and the text is both familiar-fun (rhyming, options for lots of voices!) and scientifically accurate (proper dinosaur names included as a matter of course). The pacing is spot-on, and while there are lots of repeated “Am I yours?” questions throughout to make an impression on younger readers, there aren’t so many as to make adult readers weary. Another highlight: as each type of dinosaur is eliminated there are identifying details shared, so readers learn about the characteristics that make each kind of dinosaur unique.

There’s also a possible classroom science experiment tie-in, as the baby dinosaur is finally identified by light shining through its eggshell. I’ve seen lesson plans that incorporate doing this with chicken eggs, and Am I Yours? could work well as a read along for a unit of that nature.

Am I Yours? will appeal to dinosaur-obsessed kids and parents who haven’t outgrown their dinosaur days yet (who has with a new Jurassic Park film every couple of years?!), little ones with questions about family and how they fit into it, and anyone looking for a well-paced rhyming read that doesn’t condescend to readers, no matter how young. I can see it being adapted to board book form at some point as well.

In all, Am I Yours? is sure to be a hit with the 3-6 year-old set, especially during any storytime!

Recommended for fans of The Pout-Pout Fish and Are You My Mother?, and anyone looking for a fun, rhyming picture book for read aloud storytime.

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

this one summer

Summer is over? Already?? How did that happen? I know I shouldn’t be surprised as this has been the case every year since forever, but summer really did seem to fly by. If you’re still in the mood for some summery reading (say… if you’re at the beach this weekend and looking for a quick recommendation), I’d like to suggest This One Summer, a poignant graphic novel by cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki.

this one summer by mariko tamaki and jillian tamaki book cover
Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It's their getaway, their refuge. Rosie's friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose's mom and dad won't stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. One of the local teens - just a couple of years older than Rose and Windy - is caught up in something bad... Something life threatening.

It's a summer of secrets, and sorrow, and growing up, and it's a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.

This One Summer is a tremendously exciting new teen graphic novel from two creators with true literary clout. Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, the team behind Skim, have collaborated on this gorgeous, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful story about a girl on the cusp of childhood - a story of renewal and revelation.

Rose and her parents head to the lake every summer – it’s tradition. It’s where Rose sees Windy, her friend and surrogate little sister, every year. This year’s visit is different, though. Rose is in that in-between stage between kid and teenager, and the atmosphere at the lake is fraught with tension. Her parents might be fighting. Her friendship with Windy doesn’t hold as much appeal. The locals have their own drama. And while secrets are being traded and/or coming to light, Rose and Windy are growing up.

This One Summer is an award-winner, and for good reason. It’s a beautifully-written and -illustrated coming of age tale. Rose and Windy are entirely believable characters and friends. Rose is on the cusp of womanhood, with all of the angst and feeling that entails. One of the book’s strengths is the way it outlines how familiar places and social landscapes can change shape faster than you can imagine. The book also shines in its portrayal of family conflict – resolved or not. Another strong point is unpacking the words society uses for girls and women. This book does so many important things well, it’s really impressive.

This One Summer was the most banned book of 2016. And that is because the Tamakis not only told a beautiful story, but a true one. There’s so much honesty in the text and the art – and in telling a story around the sorts of secrets that are real and terrible. This One Summer is a slice of summer life as it really is, not sugarcoated, but perhaps heading in a positive direction. I would not hesitate to give this book to any child aged 11-and-up – it will spark important conversations and questions.

I mentioned the art, so let’s talk about that. It’s great! The facial expressions in particular are fantastic – rendered in blue and purple colored pencil line work on white pages. There’s visceral feeling imbued in each of the panels, and the choice of subject is subtle and tender at some of the most anxious moments. This book shines in a lot of ways, but the harmony between text and art is really fabulous.

In all, This One Summer is an incredible book, and one that should rightfully become a classic. If you haven’t picked it up yet, do yourself a favor and relive the summer-ness of it (and maybe cry a bit too).

Recommended for: fans of excellent graphic novels and anyone who enjoys affecting coming-of-age fiction, á la Melissa Walker’s Unbreak My Heart.

cenzontle

Thursday, August 9, 2018 | | 0 comments
Here is my truth: I don’t read poetry often, but I wish I did. I want to be that person who reads poems and religious texts and essays on important cultural topics regularly. And it’s not because I think that sort of person is better or more serious. No, I just know that when I read more widely, because I had to (school, for so many years), I was a more interesting on the inside. I absorbed it all and tried on different ways of thinking and my dreams were varied and colorful.

So every now and then I try to make myself into that person again. I try. I read poetry, I linger on a prayer, and I purchase a book of essays. And when I do, I sometimes come across a text that is… abstruse? I can’t get into it at all, though I enjoy the language and drink in the words with my eyes. They just end up traveling right through me without leaving a permanent mark. When I read novels, if they are any good, they scoop out my feelings with a spoon, and that is its own delightful pain/pleasure. I return to that over and over. Lighting up my brain with poetry takes more effort (usually), and I am loath to loan myself the time if the pleasure is fleeting. In this case I took as long as I needed to. And my reading experience turned into something meaningful.

I asked my library to order Marcelo Hernandez Castillo’s volume of award-winning poetry, Cenzontle, because I read a lovely review of it in Shelf Awareness. And then, because I kept it so long, the library declared it lost (don’t worry, I eventually returned it). I finished it, and though I don’t think I “got” all of it (poetry is hard), I enjoyed it. I tried. I am maybe becoming the person I want to be. I adored the way Hernandez Castillo’s words made me play with mine (even here in this “review”), and I’ll be amazed by the vivid dreams I’m probably going to have for the next few weeks because those words painted the inside of my brain in electric neon.

Hernandez Castillo writes about growing up, and sex, and birth and death, and birds and honey and words and dreams. He writes about having a brown body, and sorrow (unrelated)(?), and being an undocumented immigrant. His poems are peppered with prayers, and internal/external juxtapositions. Maybe I didn’t absorb it all, but I could appreciate the lyricism and flights of fancy and maybe I understood a few metaphors. I understood enough to like, to keep reading. I think it was beautiful. I kept rereading one line here, maybe two, pondering if that one or this one was something I’d copy down and keep. Okay, I know it was beautiful.

God, I don’t have anything else to say. Read that Shelf Awareness review. Read the book yourself (it’s compact). Let me know what you think of it. I am going to work on reading more poetry and I plan to come back to Cenzontle again. I’ll even buy my own copy this time so that the library doesn’t think it’s lost.

cenzontle by marcelo hernandez castillo book cover
In this lyrical, imagistic debut, Marcelo Hernandez Castillo creates a nuanced narrative of life before, during, and after crossing the US/Mexico border. These poems explore the emotional fallout of immigration, the illusion of the American dream via the fallacy of the nuclear family, the latent anxieties of living in a queer brown undocumented body within a heterosexual marriage, and the ongoing search for belonging. Finding solace in the resignation to sheer possibility, these poems challenge us to question the potential ways in which two people can interact, love, give birth, and mourn―sometimes all at once.

ice wolves

I have, for the past several years, considered myself a dragon person. Not that I am personally a dragon (though I admit to entertaining thoughts about books as a hoard in place of gold), but that I will read practically any book that contains dragons. So along came this middle grade fantasy Ice Wolves by an author I already admired (Amie Kaufman), combining both shapeshifting dragons and wolves, and I knew it would be just my sort of comfort reading. And it was, along with fun, readable, and a solid start to a series with an interesting premise.

ice wolves by amie kaufman book cover
Everyone in Vallen knows that ice wolves and scorch dragons are sworn enemies who live deeply separate lives.

So when twelve-year-old orphan Anders takes one elemental form and his twin sister, Rayna, takes another, he wonders whether they are even related. Still, whether or not they’re family, Rayna is Anders’s only true friend. She’s nothing like the brutal, cruel dragons who claimed her as one of their own and stole her away.

In order to rescue her, Anders must enlist at the foreboding Ulfar Academy, a school for young wolves that values loyalty to the pack above all else. But for Anders, loyalty is more complicated than obedience, and friendship is the most powerful shapeshifting force of all.

Anders and Rayna are twins surviving on the streets of Holbard, the biggest city in Vallen. Holbard’s harbor is famous for being protected by magic, and so it has a diverse populace from all over the (fictional) world. Anders and Rayna steal to eat, run across the city’s rooftop meadows, and rely solely on one another – the only way of life they’ve ever known. As orphans of a dragon fire fight that destroyed part of the city when they were very young, they must make it on their own – coexisting with other street kids, but never joining them. When the city’s typical trial for twelve year olds to see if they can manage a wolf transformation upends their lives, Anders will have to step out of his more independent sister’s shadow, make his own way, make new friends, and concoct a daring rescue/escape plan.

Ice Wolves is an action-packed adventure with plucky orphans, a wolf school, mysteriously failing magics, secretive enemies, kidnappings, ice and fire fights, and scorch dragons and ice wolves. It’s definitely an electric mix, and the plot is fast-moving to match the subject matter. Anders is the focal point, and his frustrations and explorations introduce the reader to a world full of contradictions.

Anders himself is the typical unlikely hero who discovers something remarkable about himself, but cannot capitalize on it (and is the weakest link in his new environment). Meanwhile he’s trying, for the first time in his life, to be the twin with initiative and rescue his savvier sister. It’s a fairly standard setup for the middle grade fantasy genre, and I would not say it is groundbreaking…

EXCEPT, Kaufman’s writing is solid and the concept (dragon- and wolf-shifters at war!) is terrific. Ice Wolves will introduce young fans to a cool fantasy world based a bit on Norse history (marked by Holbard’s turf roofs, runic magic, and location far enough north that there’s plenty of snow). Kaufman also has Anders mull the moral quandaries of stealing to eat, saving and acknowledging society’s most vulnerable, his city’s class hierarchy, the divide between magical and regular humans, and misinformation campaigns spread by those in power. In addition, Anders and Rayna are brown, which challenges the white-as-default stereotype I read as a young fantasy fan (and which still pervades today). All while keeping the plot moving and including plot twists!

In all, Kaufman’s execution, world-building and attention to detail in Ice Wolves generate something out of the ordinary. The Elementals series is sure to make new fans of fantasy, dragons, and werewolves, and delight current ones.

Recommended for: fans of dragon books, those who like middle grade fantasy and science fiction along the lines of Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy or the How to Train Your Dragon films, and anyone with a soft spot for shapeshifting and adventurous orphans.

hortense and the shadow

For as long as I can remember I’ve been an admirer of things whimsical and/or strange, especially when it comes to books and art. When I saw the cover for sisters Natalia and Lauren O’Hara’s picture book collaboration Hortense and the Shadow, I thought, “That looks like my kind of book.” And when I read it all these months later, I realized I was right! Love when that happens.

hortense and the shadow by natalia and lauren o'hara book cover
A haunting, original fairy tale from two dazzling debut picture book talents, in the spirit of Neil Gaiman and Carson Ellis.

Hortense is a kind and brave girl, but she is sad–even angry–that her shadow follows her everywhere she goes. She hates her shadow, and thinks her shadow must hate her too. But one cold, dark night, when bandits surprise her in the woods, Hortense discovers that her shadow is the very thing she needs most.

This stunningly illustrated story stirs the soul with its compelling, subtle exploration of self-esteem, self-identity, and finding inner strength.

Hortense lives in a large house deep in the snowy woods, but she’s sad because she hates her shadow. It follows her everywhere! One day, she becomes so upset that she cuts her shadow off. Then! Well, then she sings with happiness. Until… something terrible arrives in the night. Hortense learns that her shadow, like her sometimes sad, mad, and wild feelings, is another part of herself.

Hortense and the Shadow is a wintry sort of book, with a bit of a contrary personality. Hortense herself is a singular, stubborn figure: she’s kind and brave, and at the same time deeply unhappy with a part of herself. There are sinister forces at work, as well as magical. Hortense acts – in what adults might label a foolish way. Overall the book is a bit odd, a lot creative, with a dash of menace mixed in (like a proper fairy tale).

While the prose is lovely (“sad as an owl” is my favorite new simile), the art is, hands down, the best part of this book. The cover has rose gold foil detailing on the dust jacket and the boards themselves are a light peach. Inside, Lauren O’Hara has created beautiful, muted watercolor illustrations full of Eastern European-style buildings, gingerbread-like detailing, and woodland creatures. Eagle-eyed readers will also notice menacing men hiding in margins, adding to the juxtaposition of beauty and darkness throughout.

All in all, Hortense and the Shadow a delightfully dark fairy tale of a book in a charming package.

Recommended for: fans of fairy tales – all ages, anyone who has enjoyed Bethan Woollvin’s picture books, and those looking for magical stories no matter the time of year.

cece loves science

I’ve had a copy of Kimberly Derting, Shelli R. Johannes, and Vashti Harrison’s picture book Cece Loves Science sitting by my desk at work for a few weeks now. Whenever anyone sees the title, they smile and ask 1) if I love science, and/or 2) if I know the authors (Cece is one of my nicknames). That in turn makes *me* smile, and the circle is complete. I’ve found that the combination of cute cover and title make this book nearly irresistible for adults to page through, and I think kids will enjoy it as well.

cece loves science by kimberly derting, shelli r. johannes, illustrated by vashti harrison book cover
Cece’s parents say she was born curious. She asks: Why? How? What if? When her teacher, Ms. Curie, assigns a science project, Cece knows just what to ask—do dogs eat vegetables? She teams up with her best friend, Isaac, and her dog, Einstein, to discover the answer. They investigate, research, collect data, and analyze, using Einstein as their case study. Their final conclusion is surprising, and a lot of fun!

Illustrated by Vashti Harrison, whose Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History is a New York Times bestseller and an NAACP Image Award winner. Cece Loves Science is just right for fans of Rosie Revere, EngineerWhat Do You Do with an Idea?; and anyone who loves learning.

Cece loves to ask questions about the world, to find out how and why things work. When her teacher asks students to try an experiment and record their results, Cece and her friend Isaac brainstorm ideas. Are bears ticklish? Do pigs know that they are smelly? But eventually Cece and Isaac decide to test if animals eat vegetables, and experiment on Cece’s family dog Einstein. Through the process Cece and Isaac learn about observing, asking the right questions, thinking outside the box, and never giving up.

Cece Loves Science is a charming, informative picture book featuring a curious scientist-in-training as main character. Cece's questions, frustrations and discoveries will please teachers, librarians, parents and kids (especially those learning about the scientific method for the first time). This title is a great candidate to read aloud during science- and STEM-related classroom units. Cece’s teacher Ms. Curie assigns a project worksheet that is very similar to ones found in most science lesson plans, and the folks at HarperCollins have created a fun tie-in activity kit for download as well.

A couple of other things that stand out: Cece is biracial girl from a blended family, and it’s great to read about her and her friend Isaac carrying out their experiments creatively in a supportive family environment. I also appreciated the final page of the book, which is a glossary of terms, or “Cece’s Science Facts” – this will prompt further interest in famous scientists and branches of science. Finally, I think this would be a fun read-aloud book or even a good candidate to act out – there’s dialogue assigned to each character that would be ideal for doing voices with.

Let’s talk about Vashti Harrison’s art! Harrison’s illustrations were created in a digital medium, and the effect overall is colorful and soft (not line-heavy) – with cute human figures and the feel of a well-drawn animated short. In addition, the book design pops – I loved the endpapers and the softer crayon-drawn figures on some pages that represented Cece’s internal thoughts. Great art to match a good book, in other words!

In all, Cece Loves Science is a fun science-laden adventure that will appeal to 5-8 year olds and pair well with Izzy Gizmo and Ada Twist, Scientist.

Recommended for: parents, teachers, and librarians looking to beef up their STEAM- and STEM-related libraries for kids, and any child that likes to ask “How?” “Why?” and “What if?”

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

tiny, perfect things

I love to escape into books at any time, but when there’s a lot going on in the world and in my day-to-day life, that escape becomes more precious and important. Or, if an escape isn’t going to cut it, a book reminding me to savor beautiful everyday moments is even better. M.H. Clark and Madeline Kloepper’s picture book Tiny, Perfect Things encourages readers young and old to take a walk outside with a loved one, pay attention, and celebrate the act of discovery.

tiny perfect things by m.h. clark illustrated by madeline kloepper cover
The whole world is a treasure waiting to be found. Open your eyes and see the wonderful things all around. This is the story of a child and a grandfather whose walk around the neighborhood leads to a day of shared wonder as they discover all sorts of tiny, perfect things together. With rhythmic storytelling and detailed and intricate illustrations, this is a book about how childlike curiosity can transform ordinary days into extraordinary adventures.

A girl and her grandfather take a walk along a nature trail and through their neighborhood. Along the way they take turns pointing out the tiny, perfect things they see – a spider web, a bottle cap, a group of crows, and so on. As the sun begins to go down, they head home to celebrate their discoveries with family, and to plan another adventure.

Tiny, Perfect Things is a quiet, contemplative picture book that revels in the wonder of the commonplace. It urges readers of all ages (but especially very young ones) to become everyday observers as they move through the world, and to look for so-called “hidden” marvels. On each page there are unexpected or partially concealed details for readers to find. Uncovering these elements one by one will prompt interaction beyond the text.

For children too young to read, this book will be a good one to page through by themselves – with its pages full of treasures it invites telling a story to oneself. It is also a good candidate for a bedtime story – the rhyming text ends as the day ends, and the characters muse about what the next day may hold. I’d put the ideal reading age at 2-5.

Let’s talk about the art! Kloepper’s art is exceptional, warm, and unaffected. The colored pencil-filled pages are full of delightful details, and yet the lines and strokes are visible enough to prompt kids to mimic them. It’s art, but it’s also artful – the whole book is a feast for the eyes. I include in that the gorgeous production (there’s a yellow cloth binding and embossing on the cover), beautiful endpapers, and a fold-out page spread at the end. It’s pretty enough to be a gift book and practical enough to be a kid-favorite, and that’s the best of both worlds, as far as I’m concerned.


Other (good) things to mention: the family in the story is blended, there isn’t a dust jacket, and while it isn’t nonfiction, this would be a good book to pair with other nonfiction nature-filled picture books, such as The Things That I Love About Trees and Over and Under the Snow, and as a precursor to STEM-friendly titles like Ada Twist, Scientist.

In all, Tiny, Perfect Things is a delightful, tranquil picture book, and should be a hit with most of the preschool set.

Recommended for: children ages 2-5 and their respective adults, and especially any kids whose favorite/first question is “What’s that?”

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

as the crow flies

When I was researching my all-ages guide to girl power graphic novels, I expected to come across some amazing books. I could not have predicted how much I would love Melanie Gillman’s young adult graphic novel As the Crow Flies, though. It’s beautiful in so many ways: from art, to story, to emotional honesty, to tackling tough subjects. I LOVED it, and I think you will too.

as the crow flies by melanie gillman book cover
Charlie Lamonte is thirteen years old, queer, black, and questioning what was once a firm belief in God. So naturally, she's spending a week of her summer vacation stuck at an all-white Christian youth backpacking camp. As the journey wears on and the rhetoric wears thin, she can't help but poke holes in the pious obliviousness of this storied sanctuary with little regard for people like herself… or her fellow camper, Sydney.

Queer black teen Charlie’s parents have signed her up for a week at an all-girls Christian backpacking camp. Charlie has misgivings, but when she arrives and sees a room full of white girls she feels even more like an outsider. Charlie determines to stick it out – but along the way she questions her faith, her presence in the group, and whether she’s truly alone. How will the week end?

One of the strengths of this book is that it is truly Charlie’s story. She’s at the intersection of a couple of marginalized identities, and very aware of that fact. Add in to the mix what is sometimes a hostile (or seemingly hostile) environment and faith into the mix, and the result could have been a muddle. But Gillman’s careful storytelling avoids that. Charlie’s internal dialogues are key to the story, and her honesty (both with herself and with others) is the key to moving forward and finding something positive to carry with her.

A thread throughout the book is questioning the narratives that are being taught by society and the authorities in our lives – and in Charlie’s case, this means the camp story of the women who have gone before and been transformed by the journey (as told by the hike leader Bee). Charlie – sometimes openly and sometimes not – asks important questions that reveal racism and a limited version of feminism. Those around her react in a variety of ways that reflect reality: sometimes people learn and change, and sometimes they stick to their comfort zones. Meanwhile, Charlie’s struggling with her faith through prayer. I found those panels heartbreakingly earnest and honest.

If it’s not clear already, I believe Gillman tells Charlie’s story with sincere, heartfelt grace. Readers will see that and respond to it. As the Crow Flies is quietly magnificent.

And the art! I haven’t even covered it yet. The art is colored pencil and lovely – done in a warm color palette that works with the setting. The beauty of the art elevates the story. Gillman chose to illustrate some key scenes in creative ways – from overhead shots, to emphasizing tiny details, to grand panoramas. Seriously, the book is worth reading for the art alone.

In all, As the Crow Flies is notable for its gorgeous illustration, unusual story in a usual setting (summer camp!), and the kind, open, and unaffected way it tackles important topics.

Recommended for: all readers ages 12 and up, and especially anyone interested in seeing religion, LGBTQ+ representation, and black teens navigating white spaces together in a graphic novel format.

the city on the other side

Fairyland has figured heavily in my pleasure reading for almost as long as I’ve been reading. First, because it is and was a staple of English-language fantasy (a favorite), and secondly because it was the sort of thing I didn’t have to hide from my mother (she never really took to fantasy, but fairies were okay because it’s classic myth!). But complicated feelings about fantasy aside, I read some really fabulous fairy stories as a young one, and I know kid me would have loved Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson’s The City on the Other Side.

the city on the other side by mairghread scott and robin robinson book cover
In The City on the Other Side, a young girl stumbles into a pitched war between two fairy kingdoms, and the fate of San Francisco itself hangs in the balance!

Sheltered within her high-society world, Isabel plays the part of a perfectly proper little girl—she’s quiet, well-behaved, and she keeps her dresses spotlessly clean. She’s certainly not the kind of girl who goes on adventures.

But that all changes when Isabel breaches an invisible barrier and steps into another world. She discovers a city not unlike her own, but magical and dangerous. Here, war rages between the fairies of the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Only Isabel, with the help of a magical necklace and a few new friends, stands a chance of ending the war before it destroys the fairy world, and her own.

From Mairghread Scott and Robin Robinson comes a colorful fantasy graphic novel set in early twentieth century San Francisco.

Isabel is a young girl growing up in post-1906 earthquake San Francisco. She lives a sheltered and privileged life, though not necessarily a happy one. She’s admonished not to be a bother, to be silent, and to stay clean. Meanwhile, she’s shuttled between two distracted and/or absent parents. So of course, she ends up in the middle of a fairy war!

One of the strong points in this story is Isabel’s development. Isabel finds purpose and lives through more action in the course of her adventures in fairyland than she has seen in her whole life, and it changes her. She develops her voice, decides who to trust, comes up with plans (even if they’re bad ones), and speaks up to those she loves. In the end she finds a way to live in both worlds.

Another great element of the story is the art. The art in a graphic novel tells just as much (if not more!) of the story as the words on the page, and this book has PHENOMENAL art. Robin Robinson has illustrated fairy creatures of all stripes and looks and mythological traditions. The fairy that can travel through walls and the ground? Super cool! Fairyland also has a direct counterpart in the real world, and the parts where they are overlaid with each other or set side-by-side are wonderful.

On the list of weaker story elements, I’d put the character development of Isabel’s parents and the set-up for and consequences of the fairy war (we see lots of broken down buildings, etc., but the true reason for the war wasn’t revealed until too late in the story). I would also have liked to see more historical elements (rather than just dress), since the story is set quite far in the past.

In all, The City on the Other Side is an enjoyable, beautifully-illustrated middle grade graphic novel featuring protagonists of color, a fairy war, and a race to save the world(s).

Recommended for: fans of graphic novels and fairy art, and readers ages 8 and up who are looking for a quick, fun read.

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