Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein, 278 pp, RL 4

In the summer of 2013 I enthusiastically reviewed Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein. While there wasn't much of a set up for a sequel, I was equally excited to read Grabenstein's next book, again with superb cover art by Gilbert Ford, The Island of Dr. Libirs. Set on an island, and not in a library, The Island of Dr. Libris, is rich with literature, mystery and adventure. So, I am especially happy to be reading and reviewing Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics - especially since now I am a librarian and I can feel a sense of pride and connection with the outpouring of library and librarian love in Grabenstein's newest book.

I have to say that I think that Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics is a stronger, more meaningful book that Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, reminding me in many ways of a childhood favorite I continue to love as an adult, Ellen Raskin's, The Westing Game. There is a game, a mystery, and benevolent benefactor secretly hoping to bestow a fortune on a worthy youngster. Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics has everything that Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library has - puzzles, problems, competitions, cheating, action, adventure, excitement, and references to scads of great kid's - and more. At the start of this new book, kids from all over America are writing to Mr. Lemoncello asking for the chance to compete in a library competition just like Kyle and his crew, winners from the first book and minor celebrities, having starred in commercials for Mr. Lemoncello's newest games. Mr. Lemoncello agrees and conceives of the Library Olympics or the duodecimalthon - a decathlon, only with twelve games instead of ten. And, naturally, the Library Olympics are broadcast on "many PBS stations, the Book Network cable channel and NPR."

Children from all over the country compete for a spot on one of the teams representing seven regions who will compete at the library in Alexandriaville, Ohio. In addition to a solid knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System, shelving, kid's books, research and, of course, puzzles like pictograms and more. Grabenstein weaves in a plot thread of censorship, banned books and ideas about what makes a library a library, which I especially appreciated. In this digital age, libraries have to change from dusty book warehouses in order to stay relevant. Things like makerspaces, and creatorspaces are things that I research regularly and work to incorporate into my library, which almost always functions at a level of cheerful, low grade chaos. There is no shushing going on in my library. Grabenstein incorporates characters, both children and adults, who are shocked by the library that Mr. Lemoncello has created. Upon winning a spot on her regional team, Marjory Muldauer, a gangly seventh grader from Michigan with a passion for organizing, says of Mr. Lemoncello, "I don't think he loves libraries qua libraries . . . He thinks they need to be tricked out with gadgets and gizmos and holographic displays. That library in Ohio reminds me of Disneyland with a few books. I think Mr. Lemoncello is seriously immature. He probably still believes in three-nine-eight-point-two." 398.2 is the call number for fairy tales, folk tales and myths, my second favorite section after 745.1, graphic novels. 

There is also Charles Chilington, expelled from the original games for cheating, and his mother who thinks that the library, the public library, needs a board of directors, one without the presence of Luigi Lemoncello. Add to this Andrew Peckleman, the boy that Charles bullied and pressured in the last games, ruining his love of libraries. Andrew is working at the Blue Jay Extended Stay Lodge, now known as Olympia Village for the duration of the competition. The contestants, who are competing to win a full college scholarship, are shuttled from Olympia Village to the library each day in a bookmobile. Finally, an Arthur Slugworth (the pseudo bad guy in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who tries to woo away Golden Ticket winners to the dark side) type character rounds out the plot and ties up some threads - including stollen books and more cheating - in a very satisfying way. Grabenstein gets in some great quotes, such as Neil Gaiman's, "Google can bring you back one hundred thousand answers. A librarian an bring you back the right one." And, in a poke at the Patriot Act, a great plot twist where a culprit could be nabbed IF Mr. Lemoncello didn't "protect each library user's right to privacy and confidentiality with respect to information sought and received and resources consulted, borrowed, acquired or transmitted."

You don't have to have read Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library to enjoy Mr. Lemoncello's Library Olympics, but I hope you will read both. This is definitely a book that I will never forget and one that I plan to read a second time, something I rarely do. If you loved Grabenstein's books and are looking for more of the same, check out this label for book reviews on my blog: Mysteries with Puzzles

A peek at Gilbert Ford's process:

Source: Review Copy


Tiger and Badger by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Mary Louise Gay

Tiger and Badger, written by Emily Jenkins and illustrated by Mary Louise Gay, perfectly, powerfully presents (in both words and pictures) the intense emotional highs and lows of toddlerhood and friendship in a way I haven't seen before in a picture book. Best of all, there are no adults to stop Tiger and Badger from experiencing these highs and lows and learning to work through them on their own.

Tiger and Badger are best friends, enthusiastically so. This enthusiasm can swing from love to hate without much to tip the scales. When Tiger sits in Badger's chair and eats two of her orange slices, they manage to work things out, helped along by the presence of Bad Monkey, Tiger's stuffie. 

But, when the two decide to take a break from playing to enjoy an ice pop, the scales tip again. There is only one ice pop. The frenzied fight over the ice pop (it IS a red ice pop, after all) is comparable to the Tasmanian Devil taking off. And, in this swirling whirlwind, Bad Monkey gets tossed up in the air and stuck in a tree. Equally concerned for the fate of Bad Monkey, the friends work together to get the stuffie down, but this unity doesn't last long. Another fight ensues and, "Badger hits Tiger. Tiger pushes Badger. Badger pulls a tail. Tiger pounces." Words are said and, "Tiger throws himself on the ground. He is so sad and mad." This has to be one of the truest expressions of feelings I have seen in a picture book and, as someone who has parented three toddlers (none at the same time, thankfully) it rings so true. Badger throws herself on the ground, too, and they both "yell and they yell." Again, such familiar territory.

And then, as suddenly as it started, it is over. Tiger stands up to go home and Badger watches him. Then, "Tiger does his funny face" and Badger laughs. Tiger and Badger closes with these words, "They really are best friends." Besides just being a very fun story to read out loud, Tiger and Badger provides so many topics of conversation and in a straightforward enough way to engage a  very young child or even a school age child. What I appreciate most about Jenkins's book is the absence of an adult figure. Even the most well meaning adults sometimes step into a situation between children that they might have been better off working out amongst themselves. The beauty of Tiger and Badger is that young readers get to see the two "children" of the story working through anger and jealousy and working out physical and verbal battles on their own.

Source: Review Copy


The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie by James Kochalka, 128pp, RL 2

James Kochalka's Glorkian Warrior and his best buddy Super Backpack debuted in The Glorkian Warrior Delivers a Pizza. In this epic space adventure, the Glorkian Warrior successfully delivered a pizza to himself. In the second book in the series, The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie, the Glorkian Warrior is once again his own worst enemy, but this time he has an actual foe - fellow warrior, Buster Glark.

After Buster Glark takes out the the pie factory destroying space snake that he was trying to put an end to, the Glorkain Warrior and Super Backpack find their way home where they are greeted by Gonk, a mini-me version of the Glorkian Warrior and a lime green baby alien who affixes himself firmly to GW's head and makes a sucking sound.

Some serious absurdity ensues, including rearranging the furniture by flipping it upside down, a poke in the eye for Gonk, a consultation with Mr. Elbow and backpack for Gonk made from the house phone. The gang head out for Glork Patrol but, of course, things don't go as planned. GW falls over, from extreme hunger or from the baby alien sucking all his brains out, leaving Gonk and Super Backpack to save the day.

Not an easy task by any means, things get even more complicated when Buster Glark returns and uses a freeze ray on the baby alien. Ships are crashed, holes are made, elbows are thrown and, incredibly, the baby alien attacks the Space Snake resulting in the head crashing down right in front of the gang and spitting out pieces of pie!

Kochalka's sense of humor (and plotting) is completely bonkers and perfectly paired with the Easter egg colors of his illustrations. There are fart jokes, a few butt jokes and all sorts of ludicrous antics that kids love. The Glorkian Warrior Eats Adventure Pie might not be everyone's sense of humor, but for those who dig it, it's a stellar treat!

Source: Purchased

Books 1 & 3 in the Glorkian Warrior Series!

Coming in March!

The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny


Officer Panda: Fingerprint Detective by Ashley Crowley

Ashley Crowley's debut picture book, Officer Panda: Fingerprint Detective is pretty clever and out of the ordinary, if the illustrations call to mind the widespread influence of Oliver Jeffers. Crowley begins his book with a map of Officer Panda's Patrol Plan and ends this first book in a projected series with a page of "fun facts" about fingertips

There's not much to the story in Office Panda, and don't expect too much serious sleuthing either. But, Crowley's mixed media illustrations are fun to peruse, with fingerprints incorporated into the designs.

Upon noticing an unusual fingerprint as he cycles off from the police station at 3pm, the start of his shift. Office Panda questions a farmer in his field, some pandas playing in a park and even a deer in the woods as the fingerprints pile up. Arriving him, Officer Panda sees even more fingerprints all over his house! Getting to the bottom of things, Panda points his finger straight off the page and at the reader, he exclaims, "IT'S YOU!" With the case closed, Officer Panda tucks himself into bed.

I'm not sure where Crowley will take Officer Panda next, but I'll be keeping my eye out for him.

Source: Review Copy


Alan's Big Scary Teeth by Jarvis

Alan is an alligator with impeccable personal grooming skills and an a gift for scaring his neighbors. After all, he comes from a "long line of very scary alligators" and is "known throughout the jungle for his scaring." But, Alan has a secret.

Alan's Big Scary Teeth is the second picture book from British author and illustrator Jarvis and I love it! I love looking at the richly layered, humorous illustrations, I love reading it out loud and all the voices it allows me to do and I love the way that Alan recasts himself after a dramatic event.

I read Jarvis's debut picture book, Lazy Dave, and, while I was drawn to the the illustrations and the idea of a sleepwalking dog, in the end, Dave's somnambulist ways reminded me too much of the Curious George formula - unsupervised character gets up to no good but saves the day in the end and wins the appreciation of his human. With Alan's Big Scary Teeth, I think that Jarvis has taken another somewhat familiar formula and made it his own.

One day in the jungle, Barry the beaver, dodging a potentially frightening encounter with Alan, finds himself face to face with an enormous set of false teeth. Barry steals the teeth, leaving Alan to do his scaring with a wobbly, empty, gaping maw. Met with laughter, Alan dissolves in tears. Lots of tears. In fact, he "howled and yowled more than all the jungle babies put together." Faced with an existential crisis - "scaring was all he had ever known. What would Alan do now?" - he overcomes, with the help of his neighbors. Drawing on his personal grooming skills, Alan becomes a gardener, hairdresser and dentist! But, his favorite new occupation is that of, "BIG, SCARY STORY TELLER - thrilling the jungles with his terrifying tales."

I love Alan's Big Scary Teeth because, when his singular sense of self is stripped away, Alan finds more things about himself to love, embrace and share. But, I think what I love most about Jarvis's second picture book is that Alan finds his greatest joy from sharing stories, something I can definitely relate to!

Source: Review Copy


Flashback Four: The Lincoln Project by Dan Gutman, 240pp, RL 4

Although his is a prolific and much loved author, I had not read any of Dan Gutman's books until my son and I started reading The Genius Files together in 2014. We were both immediately hooked by Gutman's sense of humor and I was especially impressed with the amount of fascinating factual information he packed into his books. Taking a cross country trip from California to Washington D.C. in a motorhome with their parents, twins Coke and Pepsi (of course there is a funny, interesting story behind their names) see some of the stranger (real) sites in the U.S., like the Pez Museum, the world's largest ball of twin and the House on the Rock in Wisconsin. With his new series, Flashback Four, Gutman brings the same sense of humor and way with the fact to this story of four twelve-year-olds from Boston who get the chance to travel through time, with great cover art by Scott Brundage. For years I have wondered why no one has taken the formula of the Magic Tree House books and applied it to middle grade novels, which is what I think Gutman is brilliantly doing here.

Gutman begins Flashback Four: The Lincoln Project with and introduction that gives readers a peek at the climax of the book. It's Thursday, November 19, 1863 and Abraham Lincoln is delivering the Gettysburg Address. In the crowd, a boy holds a small device in his hand, "silvery and metallic, it's small enough to fit in one hand, but powerful enough to change every history book ever written." Chapter one introduces the four main characters, David, Luke, Isabel and Julia, each of whom receive a mysterious yellow envelope that contains an invitation to a meeting with the CEO of the Pasture Company and four crisp five dollar bills. Assembled in the office of Chris Zandergoth, the four are a bit surprised when the CEO turns out to be a woman. Gutman writes, "Although we've come a long way in the last fifty years, here in the twenty-first century, most of us still assume that any rich, powerful person is a man." And the assumption is an accurate one: as of this writing, there are only 23 women who are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, making up a whopping 4.6%. But, that's pretty heavy for a kid's book. And hopefully Gutman and his very cool character Chris Zandergoth, a prodigy who dropped out of Stanford to start Findamate, helping people find their "love match" by hacking into the computers of the NSA, will inspire young readers to break through the glass ceiling.

Julia, Isabel, David and Luke learn all this about Zandergoth when they Google her while she is, strategically, in the bathroom. Returning, she tells the kids, "I figured that letting you kids do a little research would be a lot easier than telling you my own boring life story." She goes on to tell them that she has chosen them very carefully using her powerful software algorithms. This revelation is followed by my favorite scene in the book during which Gutman brilliantly uses his characters to directly address a somewhat cynical observation I had made. David somewhat sneeringly responds, "Two boys. Two girls. I guess you picked me because you needed a black kid?" Isabel chimes in with, "I suppose I'm the token Hispanic?" Luke caps it by saying, "What, no Asian? How do you expect to win Multicultural Humanitarian of the Year?" Miss Z laughs it off, telling the four that she matched them up for their, "compatibility, not your ethnicity." Diversity in kid's books is a front burner issue these days, especially with Matt de la Peña becoming the first Latino to win the Newbery Medal for his picture book Last Stop on Market Street. de la Peña has said that this book is representative of his new approach to featuring diverse characters in his books, where he strives to continue to feature diverse characters but "now I try to place them in stories that have nothing to do with diversity, not overtly anyway." Not only is that what Gutman is doing here, but he is also letting us know that he is doing it in a very funny way that I think is great. 

Miss Z., who has a passion for photography, a love of history and a great collection of photos from important moments in time, has enlisted the four kids to travel back in time and take pictures of monumental moments using a very smart smartboard, known as the Board, that she and a team worked years to perfect. The first assignment for the Flasback Four, as they name themselves: travel back to the Gettysburg Address and take a picture of Lincoln as he delivers it. This is not as easy as it sounds since the speech lasted less than three minutes. And, understandably, David has some serious concerns as an African American, despite the fact that he will be traveling to the Free North, saying, "I saw that movie Twelve Years a Slave. That guy was in New York when he got kidnapped. I'm not about to get myself sold into slavery just to take a picture." Miss Z. reassures him and prepares the kids for their trip, giving them a list of expression from the era and, of course, clothes. She also gives them a Text Through Time device that looks a lot like a smartphone and allows the kids to communicate with Miss Z and a snazzy new Nikon camera. Everything should go swimmingly.

But it doesn't. Miss Z. makes a typo and sends the Flashback Four back in time a day early. Instead of spending a couple of hours in 1863 they now have to spend twenty-four. Then there is the problem of Julia, who seems to be a bit of a kleptomaniac who is obsessed with making money, even though her family is wealthy. She manages to sneak into the home of David Wills, the man responsible for creating a cemetery honoring Union soldiers who died in the Battle of Gettysburg, and the place where Lincoln spent the night before the address. Luke, David and Isabel stop her from stealing Lincoln's draft of the speech, but not before they encounter Tad Lincoln and his toy gun.

I learned quite a bit reading Flashback Four: The Lincoln Project, and not just boring stuff like dates and places. At one point, the kids end up in jail next to the town drunk who just happened to be one of the civilians who tried to bury the dead after the battle. He tells the kids of the gruesome facts of the battle, the amputations, and worse. Gutman includes a "Facts & Fictions" at the end of the book where he sheds more light on interesting aspects of the book and fesses up about some liberties he took. Does the Flashback Four get the picture? Do they make it back to Boston safely? And where are they headed next? I can't wait to find out!

Source: Review Copy


Baking with Kids: Make Breads, Muffins, Cookies, Pies, Pizza Dough and More! by Leah Brooks, photographs by Scott Peterson,

I love to cook and bake as much as I like to read recipes and peruse cookbooks with beautifully photographed delights. Working at a bookstore for almost 20 years, I had plenty of opportunity to peruse (and purchase) cookbooks but it was next to impossible to find a cookbook for kids that I would buy and use with my own kids or recommend to customers. Part of this is because of my particular taste in cookbooks but also because the reality is that there just isn't that much you can really cook with an average kid - or have your average kid cook alone. And, while I am always lookout for good cookbooks for kids as well as cookbooks for adults that might also have kid potential, I have only reviewed a handful of cookbooks here in the last eight years. Because of this, I am thrilled to have found Quarry Books, publisher of fantastic cooking, art, science and gardening books FOR kids! They also have a great line of doodle and drawing books that I hope to review here soon. I reviewed Noodle Kids: Around the World in 50 Fun, Healthy, Creative Recipes the Whole Family Can Cook Together by chef and dad, Jonathan Sawyer, last year and am excited to be moving on to Baking with Kids by Leah Brooks, photographs by Scott Peterson, this year!

For me, a good cookbook has great pictures, and this is especially the case for a kid's cookbook. One of the things I love about Quarry Books are the crisp, contemporary, abundant photographs in all of their instructional books, from cooking to art to science. Being a cookbook for kids, Brooks begins with kitchen safety and respecting the kitchen where she provides a breakdown of knife safety and appropriate knives for different ages. Brooks has great instructions for teaching a child how to use a knife as well as other sharp utensils like peelers and graters.She also has a great list of kitchen rules that includes a favorite of my mother's that I try to embrace, CLEAN AS YOU GO!

"Useful Kitchen Tools and Handy Pantry Ingredients," is yet another great chapter that parents and kids should read together and it even includes a kosher to table salt conversion. From there, Brooks breaks her recipes down by Healthy Breakfasts Baked Goods, Breads and Snacks, and Delicious Desserts, ending with a wonderful chapter on How to Throw a Fun Cooking-Themed Party that includes various cookie, pizza and cupcake party ideas.

Another aspect of Baking with Kids that I love is the variety and complexity flavors in the recipes that Brooks presents. There is a recipe for blueberry and lemon poppy seed muffins as well as roasted strawberry muffins and there are recipes for sweet and savory scones. The chapter on Bread and Snacks includes recipes for soda bread and French baguettes as well as pretzels, cheddar crackers, olive oil crackers and "Good For You Graham Crackers." I especially love the chapter on desserts, featuring hand pies as well as a flourless chocolate cake and "Easy-Peasy Mini Cheese Cakes." Having spent a lot of time in the kitchen and even more time working with my kids and niece and nephew, it is challenging to find recipes where you can step back and let the little people do the work and feel ownership. Baking with Kids truly achieves this with an added plus that I think is especially great: in every recipes, when applicable, Brooks includes a step called, "For Smaller Hands," that give the tinier chefs the opportunity to get in on the fun. Baking with Kids is a must have if you, the adult have little ones who want to bake. Even better, it is a magnificent, uniquely special gift that will make any junior masterchef smile!

Source: Review Copy


Dinosaur Rocket by Penny Dale

Dinosaur Rocket! is the fourth book in British author and illustrator Penny Dale's dinosaur-transportation series and I just had to review it because, well, dinosaurs in space!

Dale's text is energetic, with a sing-song-y pace. While she keeps her text simple, her illustrations are filled with details that little listeners will love. Reading Dinosaur Rocket!, I almost forgot that this was a dinosaur book as I was poring over every page. My favorite, which I couldn't find an image of, is the dinos boarding the capsule after taking the long elevator ride up to the top. A helicopter hovers nearby and emergency vehicles, hangars and buildings can be seen on the ground below - a great perspective. Once on the moon, there is all sorts of equipment for doing research, lunar rovers and some laughing, "playing and floating in space! Floating in space and playing soccer!" Dale keeps a sense of playfulness throughout that young readers will love. 

Dale ends Dinosaur Rockets! spectacularly, with the capsule landing in the ocean, an aircraft carrier nearby, sea helicopters taking off to pick up the space travelers. And best of all (as if it could get much better) the end papers for Dinosaur Rockets! begins with images and names of the dinos in the book and ends with the images and names of the vehicles and equipment used in the book!

 More DINOSAUR books by Penny Dale!

Source: Review Copy

And, if your little dinosaur-transportation lover needs more, don't miss Deb Lund and Howard Fine's Dinosoaring

My Wild Family by Laurent Moreau

My Wild Family is yet another extraordinary picture book in translation, this time brought to us by Chronicle Books, another fine importer of foreign children's books. Laurent Moreau, an author, illustrator, artist and graphic designer has a background in print making that is evident in his bold lines and limited color palette. With My Wild Family, Moreau takes readers on a tour through the narrator's family album that is also a bit like a walk through the zoo.

She begins by telling us, "I have a very special family." Her older brother is "strong and respected. (Just don't upset him.)" By listing only the qualities of the animal/family member and never mentioning the actual animal by name, Moreau turns My Wild Family into a fun guessing game for younger readers as well. Our narrator ends the book with these words, and a delightful illustration of herself, "My family is truly special. And me . . . well, you might say I'm unique too. And you? What makes YOU special?"

In My Wild Family, the animals are not anthropomorphized, despite being plunked down into a very human environment in every illustration. My Wild Family is marvelously oversized, giving readers every opportunity to scour the pages for details, from the many patterns displayed on each page to the little asides, like a child sneaking a bit of her dinner to the dog to the games being played on the school playground. And, being such a bold and big book, My Wild Family is perfect for reading to a crowd!

My Wild Family is a gorgeous and fun book you are sure to read over and over. I hope that more of Laurent Moreau's books are headed our way!

Source: Review Copy


The Quickest Kid in Clarksville by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Frank Morrison

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville, written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by Frank Morrison is a story of competition, friendship, and teamwork framed by a homecoming celebration for three-time Olympic gold medal winner, Wilma Rudolph. 

It's 1961 in Clarksville, Tennessee, Wilma Rudolph's hometown and Alta is practicing to be the fastest women in the world. Then Charmaine shows up, "strutting hard enough to shame a rooster" with "brand-new, only been worn by her shoes with stripes down the sides and laces so white they glow." Charmaine's daddy went uptown to buy them and they are just like Wilma Rudolph's. Alta doesn't have a "shoe-buying daddy" and her sneakers have holes in the soles.

An instant rivalry leads to a challenge. Alta knows that shoes don't make you fast - after all, Wilma wore a "leg brace and a flour sack dress before she got big." The girls race, feelings are hurt and knees are skinned. But, when it's time for the parade and Alta is racing to get her banner to the parade route, Charmaine joins her and the do it like "Wilma's relay. Three people ran it with her, you know."

The relay team makes it and are in front of the crowd in time for Wilma to see them and smile and wave, making the girls, "sashay like we own the sidewalk and everything on it. And maybe - just maybe - we do." 

The author's note provides great information about Wilma Rudolph and her Olympic wins. What is especially interesting is the fact that, when Clarksville wanted to honor her with a parade and banquet, Rudolph said she would not attend unless events were integrated and open to everyone. The organizers agreed, and the celebratory events for Rudolph were the  first major events for blacks and whites in Clarksville history!

Source: Review Copy