Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner

3.5 stars Children’s

I’m on the fence on this one.  This is a sweet, slow story which might not capture the attention of some children (like my young grandchildren) but I liked that it actually shows how animals live in winter.  This might be a good picture book for older readers who are looking for information on animals or a good bedtime story but my little readers didn’t care for it when I read it to them.

The story is told from the point of view of a young boy who is snow-skiing with his father out on the fresh-fallen snow.  Quietly they are alone, using hand-poles and navigating around trees and up and down hillsides throughout the story.  The story begins when the boy notices a squirrel scamper by and then, it vanishes.  The boy asks his father, “Where did it go?”  The story takes off as the father explains all the different wildlife that is hiding under and around the snowy area.

There are lots of animals included in this story: from the owls on the branches which the boy can see, to the hidden tiny shrews and voles in the chilly tunnels under his feet, and the fat bullfrogs sleeping under the snow, the duo continues on their journey through the snow.  They’re thinking about all the creatures that are around them in this white landscape.  You’ll need to stop and look at the illustrations in this book as many of the pages, the illustrator has layered the landscape so the reader can see the chipmunk under the snow with his nuts and leaves, the queen bee safely sleeping under the roots of an tree, and the mice cuddling up together to stay warm (just a few of the examples).  While not a bright and colorful book, the book hues take on the warmth of the story and the quietness of the snowy day.  3.5 stars

Paradise Sands by Levi Pinfold

5+ stars Children’s

Cover Love!  I fell in love with the cover of this book while browsing the new picture books at my library.  As I thumbed through the book, I knew I had to read it as the illustrations were just spectacular!  I flipped to the back of the book, to read the author’s bio and then, I headed to my library’s website and placed all of the author’s books that they had on hold.  Levi’s debut picture book Django was the Winner of the Book Trust Best New Illustrator Award and her other book, Black Dog also won a different award.  I think Paradise Sands should also win an award as the illustrations are magnificent!  Great artist detail and I loved how the author combined real world with fantasy to create such stunning artwork.  Ok, on with the book.

The story is labeled, “A Story of Enchantment” and it definitely is.  A girl is taking a car trip with her three brothers. From the faces on the children and the tone of the book, this is a serious trip.  The siblings are visiting their mother.  Sister wants to take their mother flowers so Bill pulls the car over and they all get out. 

In the desert, this is a destination that they all recall, there’s white roses in Teller’s Hollow and they’ll take them.  I liked how the text and illustration came together to show the family’s relationship.  On foot, the four siblings climb the sandhills and rocky hills to gather flowers on this deserted rocky ledge.  They spot a building in the distant.  Sister wants to continue on their journey, they need to go see their mother while the brothers want to quench their thirst from the building.  The brother’s thirst wins and they travel toward the building. Sister refuses to get a drink from the fountain but she watches as they do.  They can’t leave now, the brothers feel the building calling them to enter, a feeling the boys can’t deny.  Sister is on edge, memories from her mother flood her head and she knows they should be leaving.  Her brothers seem to have forgotten about their original plans as they are now charmed by the paradise that this building is providing them.     

It seems a bit odd why Sister is not behaving like her siblings in the building and why do mother’s comments pop into her head.  Is there something more sinister happening here?  When Sister is approached by the Teller, he tries to understand why she’s not accepting this “wonderful, safe place” that he’s offering them. 

She tries to explain yet the Teller wants to strike up a deal with her.  As she accepts this deal, I wonder what the Teller was capable of doing?  Was Sister strong enough for this deal?  Will they see their mother, wherever she was?

The illustrations inside this book were phenomenal!  The way she captures the characters on the page was just remarkable and bringing in the element of fantasy, I was whisked away to where anything was possible.  The story comes full circle and I had to start the book over again to experience the joy all over again.  What an experience!  I need to share this book with everyone I know!  So yes, definitely pick this book up, I highly recommend it.  Pick it up for yourself and then, share it with everyone that you know.  I can’t wait to read the author’s other books! 5+ stars

A Starlight Trip To the Library by Andrew Katz

5 stars Children’s Picture Book

Such a sweet story.  A young girl, a forest of friends, and a trip to the library, what more do you need?  The illustrations are colorful and bright and they just pop, right off the page.  This would make an excellent bedtime story. 

As Julia settles into the forest with her friends, they’re getting cozy for the night awaiting the “night’s most eagerly awaited event.”   They love how Julia reads to them; she does such an excellent job.  Freida, the skunk enjoys how she shows them the pictures, Abigail, the   loves how softly she reads the ending and her friend Scotty Squirrel thinks she does an excellent job with all the different voices inside the books the chooses for them.  Her friends eagerly wait for Julia to take tonight’s book out of her bag.  But wait……there is no book inside the bag.  Disappointment settles in as they realize that Julia left the book at home. 

Bertrand, just so happens, to be floating down the river and is headed to the library. Julia and her friends accept Bertrand offer and join him on his journey, hoping to find a bedtime story for tonight.  It’s quite an adventure for these friends as they make their way on the water until they finally arrive at the “library rising majestically in the moonlight.”   What a beautiful sight.   Box upon box, Julia and her friends search, looking for the perfect bedtime story.  Bertrand is busy searching through the stacks also looking for his own stack of page-turners.  Will they find what they are looking for before the night is over?

I adore the relationship that Julia has with her forest friends.  They are so caring and considerate to one each other. They had such a great adventure.  What a fun book  5 stars.   

Insect or Spider?: How Do You Know?

5 stars Children’s Nonfiction

I always knew that spiders had 8 legs, that’s how I knew a spider, was a spider.  Not that I would try to count a spider’s legs, if I was encountering one just to make sure it was a spider.  I just knew that fact.  After reading this fun, educational children’s book I know much more about spiders.   What about their senses?  What do they eat? What about their bodies? 

As the author compares and contrasts a spider to an insect, I learned a great deal how these two are different.   A spider seems much more aggressive to me yet after this book, he doesn’t have much of an advantage than an insect.

This was an interesting book and I would recommend it to any child.  I’m sure they’ll learn something exciting inside this book.  I think children would enjoy looking at the photographs too as they fantastic.  These pictures aren’t drawings or cartoons but they’re photographs of real spiders and insects (with their name listed beside them) in their own environments which just adds to the enjoyment of this book.  An educational book with bright, colorful pictures with easy-to-read text makes a fantastic book by my standards.  5+ stars

Wildoak by C.C. Harrington

5 stars YA/ Middle School

Twelve-year old Maggie has been to over three different schools and she has come to the conclusion that one wants her.  Her parents argue over her and she has no friends.   She finds comfort in the tiny world that she has created at home, surrounded by the little critters that welcome her just as she is.   School Nurse Nora knows Maggie all too well, for Maggie finds refuge in her office when the time is right.  See, Maggie stutters and her disability is not accepted.

I cringed, oh……. did I cringe!!  Maggie would do anything and I mean anything to get out of reading.   The author got my attention as these words fell across the page:

“ she drove the keenly sharpened

point deep










“Shock. Pain. Tears. The pencil protruded from her hand. The blood dripped.  Those sweet words.  Relief. Her Escape.  It had worked. Again.” 

As Maggie was dismissed from class, excitement and relief filled her head as again, she had dodged the bullet.  She had found her way out of the classroom when it was close to her turn to read out-loud in the classroom.  Maggie didn’t register the pain or discomfort that ran through her body for she was used to it, anything was easier than reading out loud. 

Her parents feel there are two options for Maggie now:  an institute for treatment or her grandfather who she hasn’t seen for years.  All I knew was that Maggie would be leaving her tiny world at home.  The only place where she felt comfortable, with her little critters, were staying home with her mom.   Her grandfather was a doctor who lived in the country so I hoped that Maggie would find some new animal friends in her new surroundings.    

We also meet Rumpus in this book.  Rumpus was a birthday gift and what a surprise this was to both Rumpus and Anabella.  Unprepared for her new snow leopard, Anabella orders Rumpus removed from her home when she returns home to find her home in disarray.  Finding himself in another new surroundings, Rumpus is now in Wildoak Forest and he must learn how to survive on his own.

Even though she didn’t know her grandfather very well, I felt that Maggie was relieved and comfortable around him.  She seemed to fit right into his world and he accepted her without trying to “fix her.”   Maggie and her grandfather create a special bond based on acceptance and love.

Maggie discovers Rumpus inside Wildoak Forest and I loved their relationship.  “Something was wrong.  He stared at her and they were quiet, saying lots of things without saying anything at all.”  It was supposed to be two weeks spent with her grandfather learning to overcome her stuttering yet during these two weeks, I felt Maggie was empowered and she totally forgot about her disability.

This was a fabulous story filled with struggles, emotions, and journeys.  I highly recommend this book.

Odder by Katherine Applegate

4 stars Middle School/Children’s Chapter

He was warned yet the temptation was too great.  He heard his mother’s words, for she had said it to him many times yet he thought he’d be safe. He wanted to go to the open sea and now, Odder finds himself at a rescue, facing the consequences for not listening to his mother’s warning.  This new world that Odder finds himself in, is so different from the bay, will he ever make it back home? 

Written in prose, I think this writing style helps convey the author’s message while making the book more approachable to more readers.  Readers don’t give so overwhelmed with words and they can read the prose in sections.   I feel that prose can create more emotion and response from its readers and I was glad to see that the author chooses this method to write this book.   

This was an entertaining story about one otter yet I learned a great deal about his species in the process.  Learning about rescue operations with these marine mammals was educational and enlightening also. I liked how this book was based on true events and how the events in the book came full circle. The last chapter of this book was my favorite.  This would make a great read aloud, bedtime story or just a book to read on your own.  

Snack, Snooze, Skedaddle: How Animals Get Ready For Winter by Paula Salas

5 stars Nonfiction Children’s

This is a very informative book and I liked that it covered more than just hibernate.    Normally when we think of animals in winter, we think of hibernate but this book talks about what other animals do beside hibernate and this is greatly appreciated.  I also liked that it covered some nontraditional animals which is always good to learn about.   The illustrations are bright and colorful and the pages weren’t too busy and disturbing.   Told in verse, this is a fun informative book.  5 stars

National Geographic Birding Basics: Tips, Tools, and Techniques for Great Bird-watching by Noah Strycker

5 stars Nonfiction

This is a good basic book.  It provides a good starting point to bird watching as it doesn’t give you too much information but gives a lot of different information to get someone started.  There was a lot of different topics, some topics that I haven’t even thought about or cared about but I read through them and I can see why they were included in here.  This book is very thorough which is too be expected from National Geographic.

As I have said before, there are a lot of topics covered in this book.  Every two-page spread covers a topic and with 239 pages, you have many subjects to read about.  On these two-page spreads, you might find some Fun Facts, ID Tips (how to identity tricky birds), or some Try This ideas (ideas for you to try to actually put that two-page spreads topic into reality). There is also an Introduction, Glossary, an Index, some acknowledgements and some information about the author in the back.  Throughout the book, you’ll find some two-page spreads scattered about that are titled “In the Field with Noah.” These pages feature Noah’s own pictures with captions of actual footage he has captured out in the field. 

I did find some interesting topics while reading this book and I did find myself frustrated, as I wanted more information on a topic but the book was just the basics.  I realize I will have to research those topics further, hopefully in another National Geographic book to find more information.  I do think this would be a good starting point for someone who thinks they like birds.  There is a lot of think about and look at when thinking about birds. 

The book talks about 15 terms that they recommend you learn to identify birds, I thought that was interesting. They mention the website BirdCast which uses radar to show the migration forecasts of birds and I think that this would be cool to check out. I know that squirrels hate chili pepper so you can put that in your bird feeder to keep squirrels out but now I know that it’s the capsaicin in the chili powder that the birds can’t taste.  I liked the Pronouncing Bird Names pages. The book also mentioned the Merlin Bird ID app that you can download for free to help identify birds, I need to check into that one.  I think my grandkids will also like to use that one.  There are a few sections devoted to eBird, a free website that helps you track your own bird sightings.  The book also lists other websites that might be helpful.  See, I told you there was a lot of fun interesting information in this book.   One more little piece of information:  “ when you see an unfamiliar bird, keep it in view as long as possible and make conscious observations of its characteristics.” Then, before looking it up in a book, write down what you saw.  Well, I don’t do that.  I grab the book and start looking up the bird as I’m watching it.  I’m going to have to change that.  As I find myself confused and just like the book says, “it’s easy to see an illustration and suddenly “remember” something you never really noticed.” 

The illustrations/pictures are beautiful.  Most of the pictures are photos but there are some drawings and models of birds with the different parts of the bird labeled.  The realistic photos provide great detail and I think they definitely add to the book.

This is another excellent resource book from National Geographic but just remember, it’s just the basics.  It’ll get you started and, on your way, to bird watching.  5 stars.

15 terms to identify birds: Crown, nape, supercilium, lore, auricular, malar, eye ring, wing bar, primaries, secondaries, tertials, rump, undertail coverts, rectrices, and flanks

Cat & Mouse by Britta Teckentrup

5 stars Children’s Picture Books

Oh, my goodness!  What a cute story about mouse and cat.  I think about a few readings of this book, a couple children could probably retell this story in their own words.  With cute little cutouts on each two-page spread this rhyming story tells the story of a cat chasing a mouse. 

This big board book is an older book but it’s one that would never get old with time.  Black cat begins chasing white mouse in the blue house and it continues outside in the yard. 

Mouse tries to hide in some boxes but cat also fits in the boxes so mouse is not safe there. The mouse is fast but the cat is not far behind.  I didn’t understand how there was a” hole in the ground” inside the house but who knows, this might be an old house. I liked the simple illustrations and the action within the illustrations.  A nice fun book to read and the ending was very cute.  5 stars

Home: a Peek-Through Picture Book by Britta TeckenTrup

3 stars Children’s Picture Book

I don’t even know where to begin with this review.  This children’s book is packed with a variety of different animal homes.  I enjoyed taking a walk with the bear cub as he saw all the animals in the forest.  I remember reading about beavers, ovenbird, salmon, rabbits, wolves, terns, and bears in this book and the homes that they make in the forest. 

You will find yourself catching a beat as you read this rhyming book and looking at everything on the pages before you.  There are numerous cut-outs on each page so take your time when you look through this book, you don’t want to miss anything.

I really wished this book would have been printed on heavier paper.  There were tons of cut-outs in this book and in the back of my head, I’m wondering how this book will hold up over time.

I liked the language in this book as the author gives the reader some great vocabulary words as he helps the reader become connected to the forest (snout, dome, weaves, warren, eerie, prowl, unfurled, swarms, etc.).  I had a problem with some of the text being printed on a dark background, I wish they would change the color of the text to a brighter color instead of black when they print on a dark background, it helps the text stand out and helps kids it better.

These illustrations were busy, I mean really busy.  I thought the illustrations took away from the text.  The text seemed swallowed up by the illustrations which was a shame to me.  The cut-outs were great but again, I thought there were perhaps too many of them.  Not every page needs to have cut-outs nor so many.  Again, this is my opinion as this is my review.  The book felt so busy to me.  3.5 stars.