Hippopotamister by John Patrick Green, color by Cat Caro, 96 pp, RL: 3

Hippopotamister is the fantastic new (and his first for young readers) graphic novel from the multitalented John Patrick Green. Opening endpapers show a zoo in a sad, sorry state. Green's illustrations remind me of the work of New Yorker cartoonist and picture book illustrator Harry Bliss, with the energy of animation. Colors by Cat Cora are mostly subdued, but pop when needed. Enclosures at the city zoo are rundown, amenities are in disrepair and the inhabitants are lethargic and despondent. Red Panda, neighbor to Hippopotamus, decides to hit the road and find a new gig. Red Panda returns often to visit Hippo, a new job and fresh enthusiasm each time. Finally, Hippo decides to join Red Panda and make a fresh start. Red Panda insists that Hippo, when entering the human world, must become Hippopotamister.

After a few hirings and firings, readers begin to understand why Red Panda has held so many different jobs. Watching Red Panda try and fail at a series of jobs is hilarious. Working as chefs, Red Panda makes a new dish, Antipasto A La Red Panda, with ingredients like mushrooms, red licorice, "twigs, pebbles and burnt rocks," bugs, lint and mismatched buttons... 

Hippopotamister makes a delicious looking Hippopastqa Primavera. I honestly could have read a whole book of the mismatched Red Panda and Hippo succeeding and failing at a series of jobs, but every story does need a resolution. After getting fired from a final job working at a daycare center where Red Panda is a huge hit with the kids but Hippopotamister's size proves dangerous, Hippopotamister decides to return to the zoo. Happily, his work experiences in the outside world inspire him to help his neighbors and begin fixing up them and the zoo! Best of all, Red Panda returns to the zoo to apologize to Hippo and, feeling a little left out of all the improvements, is offered the job of Head of Customer Relations.

TeenBoat by Dave Roman and John Green!

Source: Purchased


Hocus Focus by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost, 40pp, RL 1.5

Hocus Focus is the fourth in a series of  high interest graphic novels that are perfect for emerging readers and a spinoff of the fantastically funny Adventures in Cartooning series, all of which are by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold and Alexis Frederick-Frost. As always, the endpapers offer drawing lessons for the characters in the story, including the stars, The Knight and his horse, Edward. In Hocus Focus, we find The Knight getting a lesson in magical potions and spells from the Wizard and his phoenix. As usual, The Knight is impatient and impulsive and very unhappy about the amount of turnips, which make Edward sick, that he has to peel before getting on to the serious stuff.

Foolishly, the Wizard leaves The Knight to stew in his bad attitude while he finishes peeling the huge pile of turnips. Of course The Knight and Edward take the opportunity to get into some serious and seriously funny trouble. . .

The Knight & Edward Series

 Source: Review Copy


The Cookie Fiasco: An Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! Book by Dan Santat

As an elementary school librarian, I was definitely sad to read The Thank You Book, the 25th and final Elephant & Piggie book by Mo Willems, to my students. One of the first purchases I made with my book budget when I started two years ago was to get two copies of each and every  Elephant & Piggie book on the shelves and they are always checked out. Kids love these books, they actually try to read these books and I love reading them out loud. Kindergarten story time always ends with pleas for one  Elephant & Piggie story and I always oblige. I was ecstatic when I walked into the children's section of a bookstore and saw The Cookie Fiasco by Caldecott winner and all around talented funny guy Dan Santat on display, looking very much like an Elephant & Piggie book in trim size and format.

However, I was skeptical. Was this just a gimmick to keep selling books by using beloved characters as a hook? Whether it is or not, the fact is there is always more room on the shelf for highly entertaining beginning readers and, if done right, using  Elephant & Piggie to introduce readers to these new books (much like the Cat in the Hat is used to sell books not written by Dr. Seuss) is just plain smart. Happily, Hyperion Books has some very smart editors and publicists working for them. Choosing Dan Santat to kick off the Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! series was a brilliant move. With The Cookie Fiasco, Santat brings the same excitable personalities to the page along with a gorgeous palette and a very fun illustrations style - along with a great story. Best of all? Willems generously recreates Elephant and Piggie on the end pages as well as the first and last pages of the book, during which they introduce the book then comment on it. And, of course, Pigeon pops up where you expect him and even where you don't...

Cookie time turns out to be fiasco (and math) time when four friends try to share three cookies in The Cookie Fiasco. A hippo, a crocodile and two squirrels are excited for cookie time but not sure what to do when they are one short. Anxious over the tempers that seem to be heating up, Hippo worries the cookies, breaking them in half. Things go from bad to worse when Hippo breaks them in half again! But, when Hippo hands the cookie pieces over, the friends realize that they can now divide them evenly, three pieces each! The final gag of the book comes when a cow walks in proclaiming, "MILK TIME," and carrying a tray with three glasses of milk on it.

More books in the 
Elephant & Piggie Like Reading! series

Source: Purchased


I Dissent! Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddeley

The challenge of writing a biographical picture book is taking your subject, distilling it and finding a starting point and, if you are lucky, a theme. Debbie Levy, the author of I Dissent! Ruth Bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark does a superb job with all of these points, illustrator Elizabeth Baddeley perfectly capturing the time period of RBG's early life and emphasizing her opinions, passions and struggles with marvelous hand-lettering that is loud and empowering.

Maybe I've been reading more biographies about women who do or have done great things than usual, but I'm feeling a little depressed by the universal fact that women (still) have the hurdle of being born a woman to contend with and overcome before they go on to any other great things (and, more often than not, while they are going on to great things...) Levy begins her book, "Ruth Bader Ginsburg's life has been . . . One disagreement after another. Disagreeable? No. Determined? Yes. This is how Ruth Bader Ginsburg changed her life - and ours." Here Levy makes the subtle point that women often have to disagree with what is presented to them to move around, under or over discrimination, actions that can lead to name calling much worse than "disagreeable." Ruth had a mother who took her to the library, where she found role models in women who did big things.

Ruth took her first stand and protested when she was in elementary school. As a lefty, she was forced to use her right hand and failed her penmanship test. She protested and used her left hand, exhibiting handwriting that was quite nice. Being a rule breaker isn't always hard, but knowing which rules and when to break them is a talent and Ruth had it. She was sensitive to prejudice and unfairness, fuel for her fire.

Ruth lost her mother the day before her high school graduation, but continued on to Cornell University, knowing that this was what her mother wanted. There she met Marty Ginsburg, who inspired her to attend Harvard law school with him where she was one of nine women out of 500 men. By the time she graduated she had three strikes against her: she was a woman, a Jew and a mother. She struggled to find a job. Eventually, she found herself arguing for equal treatment of women before the Supreme Court.

The challenge of I Dissent! Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark is presenting her work as a Supreme Court judge in a way that young readers can grasp and Levy does this briefly and well. The inequality and prejudice that RBG dealt with as a child, young woman and professional is the main focus of Levy's book, but it does all lead organically and integrally to the end and her tenure as a Supreme Court judge. Levy even takes two pages to feature her friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia, a Justice she disagreed with often in court. While this is a unique detail from RBG's life, it also feels very needed and important in a time when there is so much disagreement and friction, to put it nicely, between fellow Americans.

There's no question that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an inspirational figure to girls, women and anyone discriminated against or subject to injustice. Debbie Levy and Elizabeth Baddeley have created a book that is the prefect first look at this invaluable human being.

Source: Purchased


How Things Work: Discover Secrets and Science Behind Bounce Houses, Hovercraft, Robotics, and Everything In Between by T.J. Resler, 208pp, RL 4

This was true with my own children, but especially now that I am an elementary school librarian, I see how much kids love a highly visual non-fiction book with chunks of information scattered across the pages. National Geographic Kids recognizes this as well and has become a go-to publisher of encyclopedic books. With How Things Work: Discover Secrets and Science Behind Bounce Houses, Hovercraft, Robotics, and Everything In Between by T.J. Resler, this format gets an extra layer of (shh! educational material) with features on innovators in their industries and a really cool "Try This!" section in each of the five chapters that gives kids easy experiments and crafts to create at home.


Resler's approach with How Things Work is to grab kids with flashy, fun things like bounce houses, hoverboards and rollercoasters and explore the science related to these marvels. I especially like how Resler begins Chapter 1, Beam Me Up, "Cool gadgets and scientific discoveries don't just come from laboratories. Many are dreamed up in the minds of storytellers." There is even a timeline of science fiction imaginings that have come to fruition in one way or another.

Every chapter of How Things Work includes a "Just the Facts" page where readers can find quick answers about how things work s well as a "Tell Me More" page where they can delve deeper into the science of it all. I really enjoyed the section on tablets and touch screens, particularly a factoid about British novelist E.M. Forster, author of A Room with a View, among others, an a science fiction story he wrote in 1909 (who knew?) where "people communicated through handheld round plates, a type of live video call." There is also a great feature in each chapter, Tales from the Lab, where I learned that Hollywood starlet Hedy Lamarr and composer friend George Antheil patented an invention that allowed secret communications to be transmitted during WWII, thwarting the Nazis.

How Things Work includes an extensive glossary as well as a great "Find Out More" section with websites, videos and books for kids to explore. How Things Work is a great appetizer, filled with images and ideas that will get kids thinking. It's also a great jumping off point for deeper explorations and experiments!

Source: Review Copy


10 Fun Facts About Kier Graff, author of THE MATCHSTICK CASTLE

Ten Fun Facts about Me
By Keir Graff, author of 

My name means “dark one” in Scots Gaelic. (It also rhymes with “ear.”) My parents wanted to honor my mom’s Scottish ancestry and learned the name when they saw Keir Dullea in the movie David and Lisa. Seventeen years after I was born, I played the same role as Dullea in a play at my high school. I have met three other Keirs in my life: one was a boy who lived nearby for a brief time while I was growing up; one was a woman working in a Denver hotel (she upgraded me to a suite; we Keirs stick together); and the third is a fellow fan of my favorite soccer team and also lives in Chicago.
I grew up next to a mountain in Missoula, Montana. The neighborhood kids played on the mountain all the time, and when our moms wanted us to come down for dinner, they used different signals. One of them blew a whistle, one of them just yelled, and mine rang a bell.
The hospital I was born in and the grade school I attended have both been torn down and replaced with new buildings that have the same names. My high school is still standing, though: Hellgate High School. It takes its grisly name from a nearby canyon where French trappers found so many human remains that they named it accordingly. Blackfeet Indians ambushed the Bitterroot Salish at the narrow canyon mouths.
I left Missoula a couple of days after I graduated high school, in a van with a band that was passing through town. I had $350 in my pocket. The van broke down the first night and we had to spend most of my money to get it repaired. When we reached San Francisco a few days later, the band broke up. I returned home at the end of the summer with fifty cents in my pocket.
I played in many bands over many years, where I was most often the lead vocalist and guitar player. I wrote hundreds of songs and could almost sing in key. My brother and I once played in a band whose biggest claim to fame was opening for the Flaming Lips in a Mexican restaurant.
I have done many different kinds of writing, from magazine articles, columns, and book reviews to novels, short stories, screenplays, plays, poetry, and one picture book that made my then agent think I’d lost my mind. I think poetry, picture books, and funny fiction are the hardest things to write well.
My first book for adults was published under a fake name. My second one was going to be published under a different fake name—the cover had even been designed—but at the last minute the publisher talked me out of it. I am convinced I will publish more books under more different names but I’m not going to tell you what they are.
I have spent most of my adult life rooting for terrible sports teams. But then the Cubs won the World Series, something I’m still trying to get my head around.
When my wife and I got married, we lived in a basement. When we moved to Chicago, we lived for awhile on the 56th floor of a building designed by our favorite architect—we had dinner parties on a balcony more then 500 feet in the air!
These days I spend most of my time in front of a computer, but if I had my wish, I wouldn’t even own a cell phone. I’d spend more time outdoors and a lot more time in Montana. Reading, writing, running, hiking, and spending time with friends and family is all I really need to be happy.


The Matchstick Castle by Keir Graff, 276pp, RL 4

With The Matchstick Castle, Keir Graff has written the perfect summer read for kids, although anyone who likes adventures with larger-than-life families will love this book no matter what the season. In narrator, soon-to-be-sixth-grader Brian Brown, Graff creates a believable, every-kid voice, drawing you into the story immediately. Instead of a summer filled with soccer tournaments, staying up late and eating junk food, Brian finds himself stuck in Boring, Illinois with his straight-A cousin Nora and his Uncle Gary, who needs subjects to beta-test his educational computer software, Summer's Cool, on. But, a lost soccer ball and a jog into the nearby woods changes Brian and Nora's summer in more ways than they could have imagined.

Hidden in the woods is the Matchstick Castle, a rambling, ramshackle, hazardous seven storey house with a boat perched a top the highest point. Living in the Matchstick Castle are five brothers, the great-grandsons of the architect, Archibald McCulloch van Dash, who happened to find, then hide too well, a chest filled with Confederate gold. Ivar, Kingsley, Roald, Montague and Dashiell van Dash, along with Dash's son Cosmo and Anthea, his missing aviatrix wife, are all adventurers and explorers, traveling by boat, foot, on the fiercest seas and darkest jungles. Kingsley von Dash has even explored what he calls "the depths of the most frightening place: the human brain," and documented it in his book, The Cerebral Conundrum. The brothers van Dash aren't good at more practical things like keeping the Matchstick Castle livable and safe, answering the mail or using a computer, and when Brian and Nora stumble into their crumbling abode, they also stumble into a few serious problems. The Matchstick Castle is just days away from being torn down by the city of Boring for numerous code violations and Uncle Kingsley, who has been missing for over a year, sends word that he is trapped - inside the Matchstick Castle!

Graff does a marvelous job in creating the Matchstick Castle, making it feel just real enough to be believed and imagined, but packed with an array of oddities like a mushroom garden and a candlepin bowling alley along with a grand ballroom and a massive library with a hilarious cataloguing system with directions like, "On the third or fourth shelf above the spot where Roald spilled the bowl of Artillery punch at Christmas" instead of call numbers. And of course, many many staircases in varying degrees of usability and safety. While Brian and Nora lead the battle to save the Matchstick Castle (among many battles, one of which involves giant Amazonian killer wasps) the van Dash family steal the show. Graff wraps up the story nicely, with some surprises and discoveries that help the cast save the day - and the castle. I hope that Graff has another book planned with this setting and these characters - I need to know more about the remarkable van Dash family.

Source: Review Copy


Giant Days Volume 1, created & written by John Allison, illustrated by Lissa Treiman, colors by Whitney Cogar and letters by Jim Campbell, RL: TEEN

Several months back I started an Instagram account (@books4yourkids) with the intentions of sharing my book reviews there. It turned out to be very time consuming and it has morphed into posts about what I want to read, what I'm deciding between and fun stuff from my school library. Being a very visual person, I have found a few feeds with really stunning pictures of books as well as books and illustrators new to me. I discovered Giant Days by John Allison and Lissa Treiman at Laci Long's feed, @bookpairings, where she listed a character from the series as her fictional crush of 2016. I was feeling a bit tired of kid's books but not wanting to dip a toe into the serious world of adults, and Giant Days hit the spot, precisely. In fact, the moment I finished reading Volume 1, I bought Volumes 2 & 3.

When the graphic novel begins, we meet Daisy Wooton, Esther deGroot and Susan Ptolemy, three weeks into their freshman year at university in England. All different - Daisy was homeschooled and is innocent and naive, Esther is edgy and a bit mysterious and Susan is practical, if often disgruntled - but the immediate acceptance and strong bond that is created amongst strangers at college is evident and instantly believable.

Of course this graphic novel series is going to be about relationships, romantic and platonic, and relationships that start (and end) at university are always interesting. In Volume 1, the person Susan hates most in the world shows up on campus, the girls get the flu, Esther finds herself on a college "lad" website where she ranks third hottest first year and Daisy turns eighteen, making her legal for all things in the UK.


One thing that John Allison does amazingly, especially well, is create a rich, compelling story populated with characters you want to know more about in a quick, short time. Of course, he has Lissa Treiman's superb illustrations bringing the characters to life and moving the story forward. Sure, in this first volume (which is comprised of issues 1 - 4) the cast of characters are more types, promising to evolve, but it's a shorthand that draws you in and keeps you reading and wanting more. Of all the characters, McGraw (the fictional crush of 2016) is the most curious and unexpected. With his mustache and love for (reverence for?) women as well as his unflappability in the face of Susan's rants, he is intriguing...

With Volume 2 of Giant Days, Welsh illustrator Max Sarin takes over from Lissa Treiman and I can't wait to see the changes!

Giant Days, Issues 1 - 21

 Don't miss this special one-shot holiday issue for 2016  which poses the question:

What if Susan, Esther, and Daisy hadn’t become friends on their first day of university?? The world as we know it would be completely different! Or at least...moderately different! It’s the darkest timeline for our favorite students. Daisy is an Enya-blasting hermit, Susan violently dislikes her, and Esther falls in with the awful League of Former Head Girls. Original artist Lissa Treiman returns for this oversized special with 40 pages of story and art!

Source: Purchased