How to Train a Train, written by Jason Cater Eaton and illustrated by John Rocco

How to Train a Train is written by Jason Carter Eaton and illustrated by John Rocco, author and illustrator of the fantastic Caldecott Silver Medal winning Blackout and illustrator of The Flint Heart : A Fairy Story, a retelling of Eden Phillpotts's 1910 fairy tale by John and Katherine Paterson. Oh yeah, and Rocco has created the cover art for all of Rick Riordan's series.

How to Train a Train is part field guide, part pet care manual that very cleverly tells kids how to best locate a pet train ("Different trains live in different places,") how to get a train's attention (smoke signals) and how to get it to follow you home by making the call of the wild train (CHUGGA-CHUGGA-CHUGGA-CHUGGA!). Then, once you get your train home, you'll want to give it a name. This is my favorite spread in the book and I wish I could share it with you here, but I can tell you that there is a great illustration of a train with fairy wings. There are tips on how to help your train fall off to sleep, how to play with it and, of course, how to train your train.

The anthropomorphized trains seem to have a mix of dog and horse characteristics. Being a wild train, a sign of trust comes when you get to ride your pet train. The narrator cautions taking it slowly and not trying to jump right into the engineer's car. Start at the caboose! Teach your train manners, enjoy it when you bump into other kids with their pets - trucks, planes and even submarines - another great 2 page spread I wish I could share.

The book closes with the question, "How will you know if your train is happy?" The final image, above, answers that question wonderfully.

Eaton's text is charming and well adapted to this concept, with Rocco's illustrations making How to Train a Train  a truly special book. For some reason, there are so few train picture books for kids. Even of there were a slew of them,  How to Train a Train would take a place at the top of the list. If you do have little train lovers at home, don't miss the amazing books of author and illustrator, and former story editor for Disney during the Peter Pan / Alice in Wonderland / 101 Dalmations era, Bill Peet.

And, if your kids enjoyed How to Train a Train, don't miss this fantastic book written by Elise Broach and illustrated by David Small, When Dinosaurs Came with Everything</a>.

Source: Review Copy


The Silver Button by Bob Graham

The Silver Button is the newest picture book from Bob Graham, author of the wistful April and Esme Tooth Fairies, the sweetly powerful A Bus Called Heaven. Graham is also the author of the wonderfully uplifting How to Heal a Broken Wing of which Graham said, "In troubled times, when many of us are losing contact with the natural world, I wanted to show that there is still hope in a coming generation of children who have curiosity and empathy with the world around them, and that care and attention can sometimes fix broken wings." Graham's stories eloquently express the quiet, sometimes overlooked, deeply meaningful moments in childhood that send ripples into adulthood while his illustrations are equal parts cartoonishly simple and intricately detailed at the same time, a mix of rich, vibrant colors anchoring airily washed watercolor earth tones.

The Silver Button is a telescopic book that, as the jacket flap notes, "celebrates the extraordinary in the everyday," and is "at once intimate and universal," with Graham inviting readers to join as a "whole-world vision unfolds in a single minute." It's hard to imagine an author and illustrator being able to encompass this range in a picture book, but this is exactly what Graham does with seeming effortlessness. The Silver Button begins (and begins before the title page), "At 9:59 on Thursday morning, Jodie drew a duck. She gave the duck a top hat, cane, and boots of the softest leather. On the boots, she put silver buttons: one . . . two . . . Her pen hovered in the air before the final button."

As Jodie's pen hovers, her baby brother Jonathan tentatively, tipsily, took his first step and he "looked like he was going somewhere." The following page begins, "At that moment,"and, page by page, the text and illustrations pull back from this moment, showing the reader everything else that is happening in the house, on the house, in the neighborhood, on the street, in the city, at the shore and on the seeming edge of the world.

Mom plays a tune on her pennywhistle, a pigeon builds a nest in the rain gutter, an early morning jogger puffs by - if you look closely, on the preceding page you can see the jogger zipping past outside the window of the room where Jodie and Jonathan are going about their day. There are other repeitions and moments seen from different perspectives throughout the book which makes it a joy to read over and over again.

Graham brings this delightful attention to detail to his words as well. Out in the street, "Joseph Pascano avoided the cracks in the sidewalk so the sharks wouldn't get him," and, one block away, a "soldier said good-bye to his mom." Under an oak, Sophie and her granddad make a house of leaves. She sits in the living room while Granddad sweeps the bedroom while, nearby, an "old lady shuffled by, pushing everything she owned in a cart." A baby is born in a hospital, kids and dogs play and explore on the beach and, far out in the bay, a tanker head to China. Graham returns to where his story began. Jodie puts the last silver button on her duck's boots as sunlight "from all over the city streamed through the window, and the kitchen clock struck ten."

On a final note, one thing I adore about Graham, besides his masterful storytelling gifts, is way that he  integrates people of all colors and beliefs into his books. As he finished reading The Silver Button, my nine year old son exclaimed, "Everyone in this book is brown!" In reality, slightly less than half the people in The Silver Button are black or brown, but anything more than the one or two non-whites in a picture book is so uncommon that it is noticeable, even to a child. 

Source: Review Copy


Captain Cat by Inga Moore

Captain Cat is the newest picture book by Inga Moore, author an illustrator of A House in the Woods and illustrator of the best adaptation The Wind in the Willows of that I have read and third best illustrated version after Ernest H. Shephard and Arthur Rackham's editions. Moore's illustrations are magically pastoral and domestically cozy, creating a world you can step into and live in and one that will linger with you long after you have left. Captain Cat is the kind of book that your children will read now, over and over, then remember well into their adulthoods with fondness.

The story of Captain Cat is fairy tale-like in its setting and straightforward telling. Captain Cat and his ship, the Carlotta, sail the seas, making trades in ports all over the world. But, Captain Cat's favorite time of day comes in the evening when he settles into his cabin with his many, many cats, poring over maps and charts and dreaming of the lands he would like to visit.When the day finally comes for Captain Cat to pursue his dreams, he finds himself (and all his cats) swept off course and headed for an remote and lonely island.

Fortunately for Captain Cat, the young Queen of the island is welcoming and gracious, excited for the new company. The Queen immediately invites the crew of the Carlotta, cats included, to lunch but chaos ensues when their meal is overrun by rats. Captain Cat's cats make quick work of the vermin and the delighted Queen rewards him with sacks of diamonds and rubies, begging to keep his cats. The cats make the decision for Captain Cat and the Queen, which Moore illustrates beautifully with Captain Cat on a row boat headed back to Carlotta, the cats milling about on the shore, deciding not to walk the gang plank to the row boat. 

At this point, the story gets really special. While it could have gone sin one direction, Moore writes, "But, the story doesn't end here. Not at all. If anything, this is where it gets really good." And indeed it does. The treasure that the Queen gives to Captain Cat changes his life in more and the cats change hers - happily for both. But, happiest of all is the reunion of the Captain, cats, Queen and kittens at the end.

Captain Cat is an absolutely charming picture book that I definitely recommend, along with everything else that Inga Moore adds her magic touch to!

The Wind in the Willows

Source: Review Copy


Toys Galore by Peter Stein, illustrated by Bob Staake

Toys Galore is the third fantastic "Galore" book from Peter Stein and Bob Staake. Stein and Staake are perfectly paired - Stein's adjective packed rhymes are often as colorful and kooky as Staake's generously populated illustrations. Despite the title, Toys Galore is so much more than a cataloguing of toys.

Stein's quatrains highlight the functions of toys and the fun you can have with them, always emphasizing the benefits of sharing toys while playing. Staake's illustrations support this sense of communal play and mutual fun. What I love most about the text, though, is the way that Stein and Staake feature homemade-creative-thinking-toys like blocks, clay, tin can phones, go carts and cardboard box robots.

The final stanzas of Toys Galore end brilliantly, pondering what the best toy in the world could possibly be. In tune with the rest of the book, readers discover that the best "toy's found inside yourself. It's there - right now! A toy SENSATION! Your very own imagination." 

I'm not sure what other GALORE explorations Stein and Staake can pursue, but you can be I will be the first in line for the next picture book this duo decides to publish!

The other GALORE books by Stein and Staake!

Bugs Galore. This review also includes a great round-up of other fantastic picture books by Bob Staake.

Cars Galore. This review also includes an extensive list of picture books that feature cars and trucks and things that go.


The Screaming Staircase: Lockwood & Co., Book 1, by Jonathan Stroud, 400 pp, RL: MIDDLE GRADE

Lockwood & Co. : The Screaming Staircase is the new series by Jonathan Stroud, author of the amazing fantasy novels, The Bartimaeus Trilogy and the prequel, The Ring of Solomon. I greedily read The Amulet of the Samarkand, the first book in The Bartimaeus Trilogy when it was released in 2003 (and each book afterwards) and they have been on my mind non-stop for the last five years, nagging to be re-read and properly reviewed. 

While you will still have to wait a while longer for my review of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, I am thrilled to be able to review Stroud's new series, Lockwood & Co. : The Screaming Staircase, the first four chapters of which can be read on the website. When I first read The Amulet of the Samarkand, I was four or five books deep into the Harry Potter series and was excited to find that Stroud had set his book about a young magician's apprentice in a modern day London, albeit alternate, where magic was known to all. This felt so different to the almost quaint world of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade and seemed somehow darker and grittier. Also, Stroud subtly raises thoughtful questions about the unsavory way that magicians in this world derive their power - through summoning and controlling demons. This imbalanced relationship is examined and altered over the course of the novel in the characters of the protagonist, eleven year old Nathaniel, a magician's apprentice, and Bartimaeus, the djinn that he prematurely and illegally summons and controls. While I may be pulling more meaning out of this than Stroud intended, in Lockwood & Co. : The Screaming Staircase I see a world where, if you choose to look (somewhat obliquely) beyond the engrossing ghost story/mystery that is completely age appropriate, the consequences of a violent culture literally come back to haunt and in some cases destroy the creators, consumers and perpetrators of this violent culture while putting children at the front of the fight against this epidemic. With Lockwood & Co. : The Screaming Staircase, Stroud has once again built a detailed, layered alternate version of present day London and once again he has created compelling, complex, imbalanced relationships between humans and non-humans, this time ghosts. One part Ghostbusters, one part Sherlock Holmes, with a dash of Dickens and a touch of the Industrial Revolution, Stroud's London is a dark and dangerous place dependent on the work of children to address "the Problem." The structure of this world is so fascinating, so intricate and so realistic that it's hard not to get caught up in explaining and describing it down to the last detail. I have tried to reign myself in, but it was tough. You can find a brief synopsis of Lockwood & Co. : The Screaming Staircase in the next two paragraphs. After that, I geek out on all the cool details of this world, from the ghosts themselves to the government bureaucracies that pop up to deal with them to the industries that thrive making items to ward them off and the children who are exploited in the process as a nation tries to deal with a deadly epidemic.

Synopsis: Born into a fatherless, impoverished family, Lucy Joan Carlyle, the seventh and last daughter,  exhibited her Talent at an early age. When she was eight years old (the age at which children with Talent can be hired to work) her mother put her to work at the agency for fighting and protecting against Visitors in her small town. When Lucy does not trust her instincts and a tragic accident (really a case of neglect on the part of the adult supervisor working with her crew) results in the deaths of several of her fellow agents, Lucy packs her bag and moves to London to find work. Failing to land a position with the more prestigious agencies, Lucy answers the advertisement for the position of "Junior Field Operative" with Lockwood & Co., which turns out to be a two man, or boy, operation. Not quite what she expected, the agency is run out of a house that is filled ghost-fighting artifacts from all over the world and no sign of adults. Anthony Lockwood is equal parts dashing and mysterious - Indiana Jones meets Sherlock Holmes, as embodied by Benedict Cumberbatch. The slumpy, slouchy George Cubbins, described by Lucy as having a face that is "uniquely slappable," and "handsome as a freshly opened tub of margarine," does research on job sites and ghosts for Lockwood & Co. George's prized possession is a "ghost-jar" (a demijohn made of "silver glass," something that keeps the powers of Visitors contained, that contains a human skull and the ghost of the deceased owner of the skull, which appears as a swirling mass of smoky clouds, capable of communicating with children who have Talent) that he experiments with, including taking it in the bath. In his short career, George had worked for the Fittes agency and I suspect that, as with Anthony Lockwood, we will learn much more about these two in future books in this series. But, Lucy is the narrator of Lockwood & Co. : The Screaming Staircase and it is through her eyes and her Talent, which is the ability to hear the Visitors and a  burgeoning ability to experience emotional flashbacks from their lives when making contact with their Source (the object or place through which a ghost enters this world, the most important thing to the ghost, usually the corporeal body but sometimes an object.) Lockwood can see the Visitors as well as the "death glow" that is left behind on the spot where they perished. Together, Lucy and Lockwood make a seemingly good team, especially when George is able to do research prior to heading out on a job. However, Lockwood rarely gives him time to do this and things rarely seem to go as planned.

Lucy begins her narration by telling the reader, "Of the first few hauntings I investigated with Lockwood & Co., I intend to say little, in part to protect the identity of the victims, in part because of the gruesome nature of the incidents, but mainly because, in a variety of ingenious ways, we succeeded in messing them all up." In a world where the government regulates and runs the investigation and elimination of Visitors, there isn't much room to mess up and, after a case that ends with the destruction of half of a house, a ghost-touched arm for Lockwood and bruises all over for Lucy, the government is threatening to shut down Lockwood & Co. for good. And, the owners of the house are demanding reimbursement of £60,000, putting Lockwood in a situation that only increases his seeming recklessness. A discovery made before the house went up in flames and a the unwitting theft of this object by Lucy give Lockwood the lead he needs to solve a decades old murder and hopefully drum up business for his agency. As Lucy, George and Lockwood search for clues, including a visit to the National Newspaper Archives (a very cool chapter) they are approacehed an elderly iron magnate to locate the source of a centuries old haunting at his country estate, Combe Carey Hall, the site of many, many deaths, including those of three Fittes agents, two children and a man, sent to locate the source some thirty years earlier. After some truly creepy, breathtaking, heart-stopping moments of ghost-fueled action, seemingly disparate story lines come together and the trio survive their night in a haunted (that's putting it mildly) house. And, while the resolution of this mystery and the success of Lockwood & Co. was completely compelling, I think I would have been happy to listen to Lucy talk about even the most mundane aspects of everyday life in this amazing world that Jonathan Stroud has constructed. I can't WAIT for the next Lockwood & Co. book!

Details: The Problem, which officially began in the middle of the last century, refers to the epidemic of hauntings (that often result in deaths) currently affecting Britain. In the 1960s, two young researchers, Tom Rotwell and Marissa Fittes, were able to trace the hauntings, some of which were violent and resulted in deaths, to their "Sources," the location of the corporeal remains of the ghost. The resulting Fittes Manual became a famous instruction book for ghost-hunters with Fittes herself founding Britain's first and most prestigious psychic detection agency with Rotwell founding the second most. Being Stroud, and I suspect being British as well, government plays a prominent, interesting, often laughable, role in this novel. Early on in the epidemic the government steps in, issuing some Blitz-type actions and items like curfews for adults at nightfall and the production of "ghost lamps," which send out beams of strong white light to "discourage" ghosts at intervals over the course of the night. The government also establishes DEPRAC - the Department of Psychic Research and Control which investigates the nature of ghosts, attempts to destroy the most dangerous ones while also monitoring the activities of the many agencies that have popped up all over the country offering services that contain and destroy the ghosts, of Visitors, as they are now called.

The aspect I find most fascinating about the epidemic is the fact that the only people who can see, hear or otherwise detect ghosts, referred to as the Talent, are exclusively children. Something about crossing out of puberty and into adulthood dissolves any ability to detect ghosts, thus creating an entirely new and sadly necessary workforce made up of children. Children with better-than-average Talent join the night watch, taking jobs guarding factories, offices and large public areas after dark, using their iron-tipped spears to keep apparitions at bay. Exceptionally gifted children join the agencies, which are run by adults and send adult supervisors along on each job, although it is the children who ultimately track, trap and destroy the Visitors. And the job is not without danger. Children and even adults die on the job often as there are many ways to be affected by a Visitor, the most deadly of which is the Ghost Touch. This occurs when bodily contact is made with an apparition and a sensation of sharp, overwhelming cold that swiftly spreads through the body, eventually causing vital organs to fail and a bluish-tint and swelling in the body. However, immediate medical intervention can reverse the effects. Visitors can also spread malaise, a feel of despondent lethargy experienced when a ghost is approaching and the more insidious "ghost-lock," a dangerous power that saps victims of their willpower and causes them to be overcome with despair. In most cases, the victim is transfixed by the ghost-lock and unable to escape the Visitor. Visitors can also tempt people into jumping off cliffs and other high places as well as push them to their deaths down stairs and the like. Visitors have many forms and abilities and are classified as Type One (Shades, Gray Hazes, Lurkers, Stalkers, Cold Maidens, Gibbering Mist and Stone Knockers) which are the weakest, most common and least dangerous. Type Two ghosts (Phantasms, Wraiths, Changer, Poltergeists, Raw-bones, Screaming Spirit and Solitary) are the most dangerous commonly occurring grade of Visitor. They have some sort of residual intelligence, are aware of the living and may attempt to do them harm. Type Three ghosts are very rare and, the subject of much controversy, are allegedly able to fully communicate with the living.

The ways in which adults protect themselves and their homes agains the Visitors and manage to find ways to go out at night and be safe are also fascinating and work to create an oddly old-fashioned version of London. Silver, iron and salt, lavender, bright light, and running water are all known to repel ghosts. Men wear lavender in their botton-holes and women wear it in their hats while "silver brooches and tie pins winked and glittered beneath the neon lights" as Lucy, Lockwood and George ride the Jubilee Line train to the NATIONAL NEWSPAPER ARCHIVES to do research. In this haunted London, there are no cell phones or computers or internet, but being able to research the lives and deaths of citizens over the last 50 years is vital in order for agents to locate their Sources and put and end to the hauntings. Streets are salted regularly and runnels of water crisscross many of the great shopping streets in the West End because the wandering dead dislike running water. But, as Lucy says, "earlier governments had hope to extend this system across the city, but it had proved prohibitively expensive. Aside from ghost-lamps, the suburbs fended for themselves." The weapons of ghost fighters are fascinating, although very low-tech, as well. Iron is used in every aspect of life, from the nob on the head of walking stick to bed frames to furniture. The Sunrise Corporation, Satchell's and Mullet & Sons are all providers of anything from rapiers made of iron and used by agents with a Grade Three ranking or higher, to Greek Fire, also known as Magnesium Flares, to salt bombs to silver nets and iron chains used to entrap and extinguish Visitors. When the epidemic was first acknowledged, there was a rush to bull-doze graveyards and sew them with salt to keep the Visitors from leaving their Sources, but this proved too expensive and controversial so all graveyards were ringed with iron instead. While most Visitors seem to be the victims of violent deaths at the hands of others, untimely deaths seem to create ghosts as well. In fact, the government even enacts Untimely Death regulations that must be followed to the letter. When Lucy's father, a railway porter, falls under a train and dies, priests are called in to scatter iron on the tracks where the accident happened, then put silver coins on the corpse's eyes and hang an iron charm around its neck to break the connection with his ghost.

I have gone on here for too long, but I haven't given away too many plot details - I assure you. If you or your middle school aged children are fans of fantasy, really good, richly detailed fantasy that makes you think, I strongly suggest that you read (or listen to) The Bartimaeus Trilogy, and, of course, Lockwood & Co. : The Screaming Staircase. Then sit tight and wait 12 months or so for the next ghost-filled adventure!

Source: Purchased Book and Purchased Audio Book


Love and Other Fiascos : Popularity Papers #6, by Amy Ignatow, 208 pp, RL 4

Love and Other Fiascos by Amy Ignatow is the sixth book in her fantastic series, The Popularity Papers. Lydia Goldblatt and Julie Graham-Chang have to be my favorite middle schoolers and I don't say that lightly. Just in case you don't know these two lovely young ladies, let me take you back to the first book, the full title of which is, The Popularity Papers: Research for the Social Improvement and General Betterment of Lydia Goldbaltt and Julie Graham-Chang. About to embark on their middle school careers, the bold, outgoing Lydia and the shy, artistic Julie decide to study the popular girls and emulate them in the hopes of learning how to be popular too. Lydia will be the guinea pig and Julie will take scientific notes - notes that become the book itself. The journal format of the series lends itself perfectly to the personalities of Julie and Lydia, who takes over writing and illustrating duties when pressed, and is completely, totally engaging and always entertaining. In fact, since I started reviewing books back in 2008, The Popularity Papers is one of the few series where I have written individual reviews for each and every book as they are published - that's how much I love these books and want to share them with other readers! (Just in case you were wondering, the five book Forever Friends series by Julie Bowe and the six book Daisy Dawson series by Steve Voake and Jessica Meserve are the other two.)

At this point, Julie and Lydia have been separated by the Atlantic for a semester, traveled across the country in a car together, learned eskirma, knitting, create a graphic novel, star in the school musical, form a band, kiss a boy, get blue hair and, oh yeah, become sort of popular. And in Love and Other Fiascos things start to get kind of, sort of serious - Lydia and Julie style.

Julie and Roland are figuring things out after their kiss at the party (see the triumphant band performance and party at the end of book 5, The Awesomely Awful Melodies) a few weeks ago. Jane, Lydia and Julie's difficult friend who is still part of the roller coaster ride that is her on-again, off-again romance with Chuck, takes it upon herself to coach Julie in the ways of "dating." I put dating in quotes because, as always, Amy Ignatow is sensitive to the (mostly tween) age of her readers and honors their interests in the pursuits of older kids while remaining appropriate and accurate in her portrayal of their (often confused, bewildered) emotional lives. Thus, "dating" for Julie and Roland means a lot of wondering about what it means to be dating, trying to "date" like the other kids and, in the end, finding the kind of "date" that best suits them and their parents, who are present and active in their kid's lives. Speaking of parents, Papa Dad has some serious issues (read, freak outs) about the idea of Julie "dating," and he makes some pretty crazy rules. There are also some really great flashbacks to when Julie was a baby and toddler that further illustrate the extreme nature of Papa Dad's concern for the well being of his daughter...

When Jane's instruction makes Julie uncomfortable, she turns to Mrs. Goldblatt for some advice. This doesn't go so well either, mostly because Mrs. Goldblatt has a really big secret that is influencing the way she things about love - she is engaged to Coach Eric (see Book 2,  The Long Distant Dispatch.) The wedding is planned for New Year's Eve so that Eric's kids can fly over from England. Melody pulls Lydia aside to tell her that she thinks it's really wrong for Coach Eric to abandon his kids by moving to America the same way their dad abandoned them when he moved to Colorado and started a new family. Melody enlists Lydia in her plan to make her mom see the truth in this in some ways that are funny at first, then deeply poignant by the end. At some point in almost every book in this series, Amy Ignatow manages to elicit a tear or two (or five) from me and Love and Other Fiascos is no different.

Love and Other Fiascos wraps up with some really wonderful connections and comings together. When Mrs. Goldblatt is sidetracked from her wedding preparations, Papa Dad and Daddy step in to help with Julie and even Roland adding to the team. The book ends with a really awesome two page spread that you just have to read to see!

And, as always, Amy Ignatow sets up some hilarious situations for her characters that I always forget to write about because I get too wrapped up in the emotional aspects of the plot. But, favorite funny moments from Love and Other Fiascos include knitting a wrap for a tree and everything about the super-awesome Jamie Burke.

In the weeks leading up to the publication of Love and Other Fiascos, Amy took pictures of her book on top of all sorts of crazy things and posted them on the facebook page for her books. Here's one that's seasonally appropriate!

The Popularity Papers Books 1 - 4 
are available in paperback!!

The Popularity Papers Books 5 and 6 
are in hardcover - for the time being!

The Awesomely Awful Melodies     Love and Other Fiascos

The Doodle Circle: A Fill-In Journal for BFFs to Share by Dawn DeVries Sokol

The Doodle Circle: A Fill-In Journal for BFFs to Share by Dawn DeVries Sokol is not your typical doodle book. First off, despite the title, The Doodle Circle: A Fill-In Journal for BFFs to Share is really a place for art journaling. But, that might sound a little stuffy or academic to the intended audience, which I would guess are the same girls who read Amy Ignatow's fantastic Popularity Papers series, books that could be described as graphic-journal-novels in which the middle school aged characters Lydia and Julie take turns recording (often quite artistically) the details of their lives. With The Doodle Circle: A Fill-In Journal for BFFs to Share, Dawn DeVries Sokol gives girls a chance to do something similar.

Meant to be used yearbook style, meaning the book should be passed around and filled in by the owner and her friends, The Doodle Circle: A Fill-In Journal for BFFs to Share seems like the perfect party theme for a tween sleepover or birthday. Set up a table filled with supplies (after the introduction which tells readers how to use this book, Sokol provides a great list of supplies needed) crank up the tunes and let the girls get started journaling, doodling and sharing. The great thing about The Doodle Circle: A Fill-In Journal for BFFs to Share, besides the fantastic prompts and exercises that Sokol has come up with, is the fact that the background of every page IS NOT that daunting, pristine, blank white page, but a collection of very cool swirly, tie-dye-ish, colorful washes that are very pretty and definitely inspirational. Sokol also hand letters her prompts and includes border drawings on many of the pages as well. While the journal is a great memento of special friendships, it's also filled with words of love and  encouragement from friends, which is great anytime, but especially during the middle school years.

Before the doodling and journaling begins, Sokol gives the owner and contributors to The Doodle Circle: A Fill-In Journal for BFFs to Share a place to record information like name, age and birthplace and a photo. She also gives the Circle Sisters (contributors to and owner of the books) a page of guidelines for what and how to answer the prompts, encouraging honesty and kindness. There is also a page for the Circle Sisters to invent their own symbols that will indicate their doodling on a page.

In Chapter 1, the prompts and exercises are to be answered by each friend about herself. One of the first prompts in The Doodle Circle: A Fill-In Journal for BFFs to Share asks the Circle Sisters write and illustrate their favorite word. Chapter 2 is for the owner of the journal where she can write, doodle and collage all about herself.

In Chapter 3, each friend doodles, writes and collages about the owner of the book. The Fun Fact page asks the Circle Sisters to put down one fun thing about the owner of the journal that makes her HER.

In Chapter 4, all the Circle Sisters work together to doodle group masterpieces. The Fear Factor page  in Chapter 4 encourages the Circle Sisters to doodle or collage something that scares them or symbolizes a fear for them. Once this is done, the Circle Sisters go back and doodle over the symbols and images, making them less scary.

In Chapter 4 the Circle Shorthand page prompts the Circle Sisters to create their own shorthand by doodling symbols that represent words.

Source: Review Copy


Accessorize by Hennie Haworth

Accessorize by Hennie Haworth is yet another amazingly fun Big Picture Press book that is guaranteed to engange and entertain kids and adults. With over 600 stickers and 16 art cards, the options and hours of fun are almost endless. So how does it work? The art cards each feature a unique illustration and instructions. So, the page below, which tells you to "Spec these Spectators," becomes...

Spectacular! (Sorry, couldn't resist...)

The image above (and those below bordered in hot pink) was created by a workshop participant at the Cheltenham Literature Festival where Hennie was a guest speaker.

You also have the opportunity to accessorize some photos of parakeets on the page that instructs you to, "Take a Bow." And you can fill the compartments of a jewelry box when you "Stock this Box Until It Rocks."

Another art card gives you the chance to "Pack Your Backs" and "Pack it In." My favorite page, which I couldn't find an image of, features some garden gnomes and asks that you "Find Every Hat a Gnome."

Below are images of some of the pages of stickers to accessorize from. In addition to glasses, jewelry, bags, bows and hats, there are shoes, scissors, cell phones, scarves, umbrellas, key chains, turtles, press-on nails and more. Lots more.

Source: Review Copy