Wednesday, December 29, 2010


By Jennifer Donnelly. New York: Delacorte Press, 2010.

Boy, oh boy, what an amazing book! First, let's talk plot. It's present day. Andi Alpers is 17 years-old, living in Brooklyn, and she is deeply grieving the loss of her younger brother, Truman. She has a lot of anger towards her father for never being around, her mother for being basically catatonic and unable to cope with life without her son. Andi has so much anger and grief, and it consumes her everyday life. She isn't able to talk about her feelings with anyone, and anti-depressants are barely keeping her functional. Due to her inability to cope, she is falling behind on her classes and is very close to getting expelled from St. Anselm's, the private school she attends. Her father intervenes, and takes Andi to Paris with him for a work trip with the goal of working on her thesis so she can graduate. While in Paris, Andi discovers a diary hidden in a guitar case that was written by a young girl, Alexandrine, who lived during the French Revolution. It's this discovery that changes Andi's life.

This book grabbed me from the first page and didn't let go! I was captivated by the story, the characters, and the setting. The writing is so strong, you can almost jump into the pages. One of the things I really liked was the two distinctive voices Donnelly gave to Andi and Alex. Andi's pain and grief is so heartbreaking, and you feel her mourning and sadness so fiercely. I also really loved the music element to this novel. Andi is a gifted musician, and music is her way of dealing with her feelings. On Jennifer Donnelly's website, she has a playlist of all the songs mentioned in the book. I also loved the setting and mixture of present time and the past. I highly recommend this to anyone who wants to read a fabulous story. Also, if you're not a fan of historical fiction, please, give this book a try. You won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cooking With Henry and Elliebelly

Written by Carolyn Parkhurst. Illustrated by Dan Yaccarino. New York: Feiwel and Friends, 2010.

Oh, the joys of siblings! Anyone who has a younger brother or sister will relate to this spot-on book. Henry is five years old, and his little sister, Elliebelly, is two. They are playing at having their very own cooking show, "Cooking With Henry and Elliebelly." On the menu today is raspberry-marshmallow-peanut butter waffles with barbecued banana bacon (I don't know about you, but that sounds pretty awesome to me). As they "record" their show, Elliebelly keeps interjecting "suggestions" - like wearing a pirate hat instead of a chef hat, adding pizza to the list of ingredients, and including her doll in the show. Henry yells to his mom, who is presumably in the other room, off camera, and she gives him very helpful, "mom" advice, such as "work it out, you two" (that must be in the mom manual, because I've heard that expression before from my own mom). The show continues on, as Henry patiently works with his sister, and soon the pretend food is ready. Thankfully, Mom made some real waffles, because they are both hungry.

This book is delightful! The interactions between Henry and Elliebelly are very accurate, and I found myself chuckling at Henry's expressions and Elliebelly's joyful insistance on doing things a certain way. As the oldest of three, I found myself looking back on how my sister and I used to play together when we were little, and I could totally relate (although we never played a cooking show, thank goodness). The characters are perfectly illustrated to display their personalities. Elliebelly is so exuberant with her butterfly wings, big smile, and curly hair, while Henry has a look of resignation, as his show gets very off-track. The dialogue is also very clever, with Henry's text in black, and Elliebelly's in red. This is a perfect package of sibling togetherness and playing pretend. Check it out, and I promise you'll laugh in recognition!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Grumpy Badger's Christmas

Written by Paul Bright. Illustrated by Jane Chapman. Intercourse, PA: Good Books, 2009.

It's almost Christmas, and all the animals in the forest are busy getting ready for this special day. They are decorating the tree, wrapping presents, and making treats. It's a joyful time. Everyone is happy...except Grumpy Badger. Christmas is such "piffle." All Grumpy Badger wants to do is sleep through the winter, and not be disturbed. If anyone does bother him before spring, he'll be "very, very grumpy!" Before he goes to bed, Grumpy Badger checks the pantry and makes sure he has plenty of food for the spring. He is just closing his eyes, when someone knocks on the door. Mole is trying to get the lights up on the tree, but he needs to borrow Badger's ladder. "Piffle and double piffle!" replies Badger as he bangs the door shut on poor Mole. Badger is continually disturbed by other animals as he is trying to sleep, and he gets grumpier and grumpier, until finally he shouts "PIFFLE...and triple piffle on top of that! Why can't everyone just leave me alone?" He finally falls asleep, but has a horrible dream that Mole is about to fall from the top of the Christmas tree. Badger jumps out of bed and rescues Mole just in time. He apologizes for being grumpy, and throws a wonderful Christmas party for all his forest friends with all the yummy cakes, pies, and other goodies he was saving for spring. And of course, he promises next year if you don't come to his party, he'll be "very grumpy indeed!"

I LOVE this book! My library has so many Christmas books for kids, but this one just stood out for me. I can relate to Grumpy Badger, because everyone gets a little grumpy sometimes (especially during the holidays), but it's important to remember to be kind to your friends. The illustrations are adorable, full of detail, and they have a softness to them that just makes you feel cozy when you're reading this story. I love Badger's expressions of "piffle" - it makes for an entertaining read-aloud, and the reader can really get their "grump" on! But, I really hope everyone has a grump-free, merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Llama Llama Holiday Drama

By Anna Dewdney. New York: Viking, 2010.

Christmas is always a stressful time of the year. There's so much hustle and bustle, as people try to prepare for this holiday. There are presents to buy, food to prepare, decorations to set up. It's alot of work! It doesn't help matters that retailers start their Christmas displays a month ahead of time. This is no exception for poor Llama Llama. All the planning and prepping, and waiting for Christmas Day. As Llama Llama helps his mom bake cookies, decorate, and shop, he is wondering how many more days until Christmas. Is it time for presents yet? All this waiting, waiting, waiting. It's more than Llama Llama can take, and he has a "Llama, Llama, HOLIDRAMA!" But Mama knows just the thing to say. She and Llama Llama take a rest and reflect on what this time of year means. It's not about the presents; it's about family and being together with the ones you love.

This is another winner in the Llama Llama series, and just a perfect story for Christmas! I relate to Llama Llama and his feelings. It's so hard to be patient, especially when everyday seems to be filled with Christmas preparations. Mama's advice to slow down and reflect on family is a good reminder of what Christmas is about. A great book to share with your children!

Thursday, December 2, 2010


By Audrey Couloumbis. New York: Random House, 2010.

For as long as 10-year old Jake can remember, it's just been him and his mom. His father died when he was a baby. Right before Christmas, while Jake and his mom are at the grocery store, his mom falls and breaks her leg. There's no one available to take care of him, except for his grandfather, who he hasn't seen since he was a baby. Granddad also brings his dog Max with him, who isn't overly affectionate, and kind of scares Jake. While his mom has surgery and heals in the hospital, Jake and his Granddad awkwardly navigate seeing each other again. As they get to know each other, neighbors and friends show Jake that even though his mom is not home, this might not be a horrible Christmas after all.

This is a cute, sweet story. It's very short, and perfect for the holidays, and not just because it takes place right before Christmas. This book deals with family, which I absolutely loved. What makes a family? What does family mean to you? Family isn't just about blood relatives; it's about friends and neighbors that are an important part of your life, and who truly care about you. A truly heartwarming story, Jake is a winner!