Middle Grade, picture books, reviews, Young Adult

Mini-reviews: The Year of the Beasts, A Greyhound of a Girl, and Her Mother’s Face

The Year of the Beasts

Cecil Castellucci and Nate Powell

192 pages

Published in May 2012 by Roaring Brook Press

Source: Library

I decided to read The Year of the Beasts since I loved Castellucci’s earlier book, The Plain Janes. Unfortunately, this book fell short of the magic of that previous read. The Year of the Beasts is the story of Tessa, a teen girl, and her younger sister Lulu. It’s supposed to be a great summer with the carnival in town and the chance for Tessa to snag her longtime crush. But things don’t go awry (at least to Tessa) as her crush ends up with Lulu. Her sister’s happiness brings out the worst in Tessa even when things go her way. Will Tessa ever realize that sometimes it’s a blessing when you’re dreams don’t come true?

Like I said before, this turned out to be a disappointing read. It may have been the fact that as a twenty-something, I’m not the intended audience for this. After a few chapters of reading about Tessa’s jealousy and anger toward Lulu, I was ready to either abandon the book or slap Tessa a few times and tell her to get over it. I spent most of the book tired of Tessa. Or maybe my disappointment comes from the fact that The Plain Janes left me with expectations that were too high. Castellucci and Powell take the story back and forth between that summer of change and its affect on everyone around. I do like that with this back and forth, the format changed. One chapter consisted of mostly words while the next was in graphic novel format. I thought it was a nice change that left readers wondering why Tessa’s hair is suddenly made of snakes. Too bad my curiosity wasn’t enough to change my feelings for the book. Recommended to middle-grade and teen readers only. My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

A Greyhound of a Girl

Roddy Doyle

208 pages

Published in 2012 by Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams Books

Source: Publisher and public library

“She hated the hospital. She hated walking through it. She hated everything about it. Except for one thing. Her granny. She hated the hospital, but she loved her granny.”

Mary O’Hara wishes that her life would go back to what it once was. Her best friend has moved and her grandmother, Emer, is dying. One day on her way home, Mary meets a strange woman. The woman looks young but wears clothes from a different era. After a few more meetings, Mary finds out that this woman is the ghost of her great-grandmother, Tansey. Tansey is bidding her time until she’s able to take Emer to the afterlife. Until then, Tansey has a message for her dying daughter. . .

This story might sound a little creepy but it’s not. I found A Greyhound of a Girl to be a short and sweet read. Looking back at this book that I read just a week ago, I’m finding that I don’t have much to say about it. The strength of this book can be found in readers learning more about Tansey and the life she lived as a young woman who’s newly married and with young children before dying suddenly of the flu. As a mother, I could feel her dying worries for her children and their well-being. I also enjoyed reading about the midnight ride that Mary, her mother Scarlett, Emer, and Tansey take together from Dublin to the family’s old farm in the country. The problem with this story is that it’s not very memorable. I hate writing that but it’s true. Tansey’s life and the ride is what stand out in this tale of magic realism. One more thing that I want to note: while this book is for the middle grade crowd, Doyle has a book with a similar theme of family and love for younger kids.

Doyle’s picture book, Her Mother’s Face, was published four years before A Greyhound of a Girl and is much more memorable. Siobhᾲn is a young girl who misses her mother and it doesn’t help that her father refuses to talk about her. All of Siobhᾲn’s friends have moms but none understand the sadness that she feels. One day, a mysterious woman tells Siobhᾲn that if she wants to see her mom to look in the mirror. As she ages, she’ll see what her mother looked like at that age. Siobhᾲn’s heart gets a little lighter as she realizes that every time she looks in the mirror, her mother is right there. I first read this book years ago and found myself tearing up by the last page.

My rating for A Greyhound of a Girl: 3 out of 5 stars.

My rating for Her Mother’s Face: 5 out of 5 stars.

picture books, POC Challenge, poetry, Uncategorized

Book Review: Tan to Tamarind

Tan to Tamarind: Poems about the color brown
Written by: Malathi Michelle Iyengar
Illustrated by: Jamel Akib
Publisher:  Children’s Book Press
Pub Date: January 2009
32 pages

When I first read this book, I knew this would be the perfect book to kick-start National Poetry Month. Tan to Tamarind is a celebration of brown skin in shades from tan to tamarind, ocher to beige. There’s a small afterword by the author, where she explains why she wrote this book,

When I was a little girl in North Carolina, I hated waiting for the school bus. Every day at the bus stop a group of older kids would call me names and make fun of my brown skin, saying brown was a dirty, ugly color. I longed to trade in my brown complexion for peachy-pink. . . As I got older, though, I began discovering lots of wonderful stories and poems about the color brown, written by and about proud brown people. When I read their words, I didn’t feel ugly or dirty anymore. . .”

I read this book to my children who felt the poetry was easy to read and listen to. The book features so many shades of brown and also people and words from a few different cultures to illustrate that brown is everywhere. Each poem is just a few stanzas long, perfect for kids with short attention spans and aren’t used to poetry. The illustrations by Akib features masala tea, adobe buildings, fall leaves, and more. The illustrations complimented the author’s message of beauty.

I found this book at my library and I’m grateful that my librarian ordered it. Tan to Tamarind is a book that has a place in my personal library. It’s worth buying. I’m also going to look out for more books by the publisher, Children’s Book Press.

From Tan to Tamarind:


Milk-tea brown.
Spicy-sweet masala tea brown.

Tea leaves and cardamom,
ginger and clove.

Amma steeps them in hot-hot water,
adds lots of cream and sugar.

Sweet, milky brown.
Delicate, fragrant brown.

My milk-tea brown hands
hold a cup of spicy tan masala tea,
to sip on a golden-brown summer afternoon.

Other reviews:

Bedtimes Stories, children's books, picture books, reading, reviews, Young Readers

Three books by Sarah Stewart

I learned from the last read-a-thon that a great way to pass time and feel like you’re accomplishing something is to read children’s books. They help to settle your mind between the readings of bigger, more intense stories. Within a small amount of time children’s books can give you a glimpse of someone’s life and story without weighing you down.

stewart-moneyThe Money Tree (1991)
Illustrations by David Small

The Money Tree tells the story of Miss McGillicuddy and the unusual tree that suddenly starts to grow into her backyard one January. As the seasons change the tree grows larger and larger. When Miss McGillicuddy realize that the tree’s strange leaves is paper money, she starts giving them away. Soon crowds of people are coming to pluck the money off the tree. Will it ever end?

The was a great book to read. Simple and perceptive, The Money Tree shows kids and adults what’s really important in life.

stewart-libraryThe Library (1995)
Illustrations by David Small

I found out about The Library from my kids. Told in rhyme, The Library is the story of  Mary Elizabeth Brown’s life from a child to an elderly woman. Brown loves books and would rather read than do anything else. Does that sound like anyone you know? One of my favorite passages from the book,

Books were piled on top of chairs

And spread across the floor.

Her shelves began to fall apart,

As she read more and more.

I wish I could show you the beautiful illustrations by David Small, Stewart’s husband. They compliment the story perfectly. My favorite illustrations of the story are a two-page spread that has the illusion that Mary Elizabeth Brown has so many books they’re about to fall off the page.


The Gardener (2007)
Caldecott Honor Medal

Out of all three of the books I’ve read by Stewart, The Gardener is my favorite.

Lydia Grace Finch is a little girl living during the Depression who loves to garden. After her father loses his job and money stop coming in, Lydia Grace is sent to the city to live with her Uncle Jim.

Jim owns a bakery and never smiles. He allows Lydia Grace to grow flowers and vegetables around the bakery. A transformation takes place and no one is the same in the year.

Told in letters to uncle Jim and her family back at home, readers get to see Lydia Grace’s life and the resilience of a little girl to make the things she touch beautiful.

Bedtimes Stories, children's books, Dewey's weekly geeks, meme., picture books, Young Readers

Weekly Geeks: Your inner child and poetry

This week’s Weekly Geeks is the brainchild of Becky. I have to say this week’s assignment is tied with my absolute favorite assignment which is a quote a day.

Option A: Be a kid.

  • You could read a picture book (or two or three) and share what you read.
  • Write up a post sharing your favorite books from childhood.
    Write up a post about reading together with your child(ren).

Option B: Be a poet.

  • Write your own poem and share with us!
  • Write bookish ABC poems–ABC’s of favorite authors, favorite books, favorite characters, favorite book blogs, or any combination of the above. Maybe even an ABC’s of a bibliophile or book addict. (A is for…B is for…etc.)(For example, ABC’s of Dr. Seuss)
  • Review a book you’ve read recently in haiku. (It doesn’t need to be a poetry book you’re reviewing, any book will do.) See Emilyreads for an idea of what I mean.
  • Read a poetry book and review it.
  • Participate in Poetry Friday (This week’s host will be Carol’s Corner.)

Isn’t this a great assignment? I think throughout this week I’ll attempt to do every idea.


About two years ago I came up with the idea to start a book club in my home. Mind you the only members are everyone who lives here but the kids loved the idea.  So we came up with a name and agreed or I decided that every night, right before bedtime, we would get together and share our favorite books and read to each other. Even the boys, who are the youngest, could pick out a book to share and read. I thought it would be nice to share with everyone our favorite picks of the week.

Van’s pick is Princess Peepers by Pam Calvcalvertert (2008). Illustrated by Tuesday Mourning. 40 pages.

Princes Peepers is a girl who knows who she is. She loves wearing glasses and has one for each of her favorite outfits. But when she starts a new school and gets laughed at, she throws every pair of glasses into her trunk and promises never to use them again.

The story started out great until the end when the princess meets Prince Peerless and go away with him. Van loved the book but I felt the end wasn’t necessary. Don’t we have enough books with princess riding off with princes? Princess Peepers didn’t find confidence with herself until she met the prince.  What really kills me is the fact that both prince and princess look like they are no older than ten. *sigh* This is one that won’t be added to our home collection.

spinelli-eVal’s pick is Someday by Eileen Spinelli (2007). Illustrated by Rosie Winstead. 32 pages.

Someday is about a little girl’s longing for more than what she has in her life presently. One of the things she longs for us to be a great artist who paints by the sea but instead she’s helping her dad paint the shed. At the end of the book, the little girl finally thinks it’s okay to be mindful of the present.

Av’s pick: Dinosaur vs Bedtime by Bob Shea (2008). At three sheayears old, Avi’s the baby of the family but don’t tell him that. He won’t believe you. For the last two weeks I have been reading Dinosaur vs. Bedtime every morning, noon, and night. Imagine my surprise when Avram read the book to me yesterday. I’m surprise I didn’t cry.

martin-claudia-and-mean-janinePip’s pick is The Baby-Sitters Club: Claudia and Mean Janine(2008). Written by Ann M. Martin. Illustrated by Raina Telgemeiser. 176 pages.

One of the funny things that never fails to surprise me is that motherhood makes you go full-circle in your life. I was the same age as Pip (7) when I discovered this series.  Claudia and Mean Janine is actually book seven in the original series.

Claudia and Janine are sisters who can’t get along. Janine is a genius who lives at her computer desk while Claudia is the artist with a passion for junk food. When their grandmother has a stroke after having an argument with Claudia, Claudia blames herself. The sisters come together to help their grandmother get better.

Oli (age 5) doesn’t have a favorite  pick. I think it might bepattou because he’s been going to sleep earlier than everyone this week, so I’ve been reading to him from my own reads. I read the first several chapters of East by Edith Pattou and several poems from various poets like Raymond Carver, Langston Hughes, and Christina Rossetti. I haven’t bored him yet so I’m calling it a success.

picture books, Sunday Salon

Sunday Salon

My reading week started out great with me reading the first two books in Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files series: Storm Front And Fool Moon. Harry Dresden is a young wizard living in present day Chicago, fighting demon-calling sorcerers, vampires, werewolves, fairy godmothers, and many more creatures of the Nevernever, a land just for special creatures. Everything was going okay, until someone started sending these creatures Harry’s way. . .
These were great books, fast-paced with a great plot. In the first book, Storm Front, the only thing that turned me a bit off was all of Harry’s sarcasm. You know the character is doing it so he won’t be so serious, but a couple of times I wanted to just close the book because it started to become a cliche. Run-in with a strange creature, almost get killed, sarcasm. Fool Moon had less of the sarcasm and was just as well-written as Storm Front.

We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball by Kadir Nelson is a beautiful tribute to all the men who played Negro League Baseball and those who organized it. The book is a non-fiction picture book aimed at readers eight and up. The illustrations are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. I don’t know anything about baseball now or then, but the conditions these great athletes played in for the love of the game was astonishing: because of segregation many times there was no place to sleep after a game so many players slept crammed in a car with other teammates, sometimes there was no place to get a meal or take a shower. . . Not to mention the sixty-year agreement by white major league owners to not allow any African-American to play in the major leagues. This is one of my favorite books of the year and I am so glad I read it. I don’t normally buy hardcovers, but I will definitely be buying this book soon.

Have a great week and happy readings!