Awake Beautiful Child


Image Credit: McSweeney’s, Amy Krouse Rosenthal/Gracia Lam


Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s new book is sweet and clever. All of her books are very clever so I’m not surprised at how awesome this one is. Awake Beautiful Child follows the day in the life of several children and is an “ABC” book in that she writes the story only using words that begin with the letters A, B and C; “All Begins Cheerily” and leads to “Amusing Breakfast Chatter” with “Apples, Bananas and Cantaloupe.” And so the story continues with several more children as we learn how they spend their day. Rosenthal even begins the book (check the copyright page) with “Alert: Boring Copyright” Haha. Children are also encouraged to look closely at the illustrations to find more words that start with A, B, and C; this book is excellent for multiple readings and exploration.

Lam’s illustrations are very quaint and retro-inspired. For every child’s story, she sticks with a color palate and her illustrations seem to be a combination of screen print, digital and hand drawings. For the human figures, she focuses mostly on profiles, with their large beautiful eyes as the focus. One thing I would’ve LOVED to see in this book is more children and families of color. The story follows multiple children, so it would’ve been very easy to show not only diversity in daily activities but diversity in children’s ethnicities as well. I hope that Lam’s next children’s book is more diverse.

I just might add this book to my favorite “ABC” book list along with Take Away the A. You will enjoy the calm illustrations, the excellent vocabulary (so many great words!) and the thrill of looking for “ABC” words in the illustrations. Be sure to check out Awake Beautiful Child with your child.

Recommended for: Toddlers to 1st/2nd Grade
Great for: ABC Learning, Colors, Family, Vocabulary
Book Info: Awake Beautiful Child by Amy Krouse Rosenthal/Illustrated by Gracia Lam, 2015 McSweeney’s, ISBN: 9781938073922


The Circus Ship

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Chris Van Dusen

Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Chris Van Dusen


The Circus Ship is inspired by the real shipwreck of the Royal Tar in 1836 off the coast of Maine (author’s note included in the back of the book). Van Dusen writes the story in rhyme which makes it excellent for reading aloud. There are also lots of great vocabulary words like thrashing, helm, daft, bothersomebedraggled, menagerie!

The story begins with a ship carrying fifteen circus animals bound for their next show in Boston. Despite the dangerous weather, the mean Circus Master pushes the captain on through the fog. The ship crashes and the animals are left to fend for themselves in the waves. Luckily they swim to shore but unluckily, the people of the small town they land in are annoyed by their presence! One night, a shed goes up in flames, one animal saves the day and in the process, changes the minds of the townspeople. There’s a page where all the animals hide from the Circus Master and you have to look carefully to find each animal in the illustrations; it’s so very clever and interactive!

Van Dusen is a masterful illustrator; I love his attention to detail and characterization. Pay attention to how sad the animals look while aboard the circus ship compared to how happy they are to be accepted as members of the community. The gouache paintings are lush; this is the “perfect” animal book and your child will enjoy pointing them out. I love the page where the Circus Master stomps into town, legs astride, fingers pressed into his chest, with a haughty expression on his face. The Circus Ship is an excellent story of community and friendship that is sure to please and become a favorite.

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Adventure, Friendship, Read-Aloud, Animals, Community, Vocabulary
Book Info: The Circus Ship by Chris Van Dusen, 2009 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763655921

Thanksgiving PSA


My Korean students’ hand turkeys. Assignment was to write what they were most thankful for. 🙂 Click image to view more closely, then click again to zoom! 


Well, it’s that time of year when teachers and parents look for books that celebrate Thanksgiving. Ultimately, Thanksgiving in the United States is a holiday to give thanks, eat copious amounts of food and spend time with family. The history of the holiday however is very much sugar coated and this is evident in a lot of Thanksgiving children’s literature…

If diverse literature is necessary for our children’s growth, we must be sure to let diverse voices speak, and speak clearly and true.

Most people don’t even know that the Pilgrims interacted with Wampanoag Indians. People just know about “Pilgrims and Indians.” There is rarely any discussion about what happened after the sharing of food (broken treaties, take-over of land, violence and disease). Some people think that children are too young to know the real history but I beg to differ; almost any topic can be brought to a level that children can understand and handle. The relationship between the Pilgrims and Wampanoag involved understanding and protection. There were treaties, agreements and opportunities for celebration. The Wampanoag taught the Pilgrims how to harvest and survive on their land. The first “Thanksgiving” as we’ve come to call it, happened in 1621 and was a result of the Pilgrims shooting off guns to celebrate a successful harvest. Wampanoag leader Massasoit sent warriors to check out the ruckus but realized they were just celebrating, so he and his men joined in on the celebrations, hunted and brought food.

Perhaps many teachers are anxiously waiting to see their students dressed up as Pilgrims and Indians but please keep in mind that 1) There is a long and problematic history of “playing Indian” and cultural appropriation in our country’s history 2) dressing up as Native peoples reinforces the idea that Native people are only in the past; most people in the U.S. can’t name any contemporary Native American activists, musicians, writers, actors, lawmakers, etc. Also, many children’s books don’t bother to accurately illustrate the regalia (not costumes) of Wampanoag people; any old “Indian outfit” will do as long as it is cute. Representation is important.

Listed below is one really cool book and several GREAT links and resources for your consideration this Thanksgiving season.

Happy Thanksgiving! Gobble Gobble!


1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving (I Am American) by Catherine O’Neil Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac, 2004 National Geographic Children’s Books, ISBN: 9780792261391

American Indian Perspectives on Thanksgiving– Really great resource from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

The Real History of Thanksgiving Teacher’s Guide– History Channel Resource

Best Thanksgiving Books for Children– Good list of books

Are You Teaching the Real Story of the “First Thanksgiving?”– Great Education World article

What Really Happened on the First Thanksgiving? -Indian Country Today Media Network Article Thanksgiving article and book list

Rex Wrecks It!


Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Ben Clanton


What a gorgeous cover, right? I know we’re thinking the same thing. 😉

In Rex Wrecks It, Rex is a WRECKING MACHINE. He can’t really help it; he just gets so excited around blocks. His friends Gizmo, Sprinkles and Wild are builders but Rex, well he’s a naturally-gifted wrecker. After building their masterpieces, Rex destroys them…every time and they get awfully frustrated. Finally Gizmo, Sprinkles and Wild come up with the best plan ever! They invite Rex to build something awesome with them. Sometimes it’s better to work together and it sure is more fun.

This book is adorable. I discovered it tucked in the picture book stacks at my bookstore and it’s one I always keep in the back in my mind for a great story about friendship, understanding and working together. I love Clanton’s art style; clean lines, splotchy watercolors, cute creatures and lots of dynamic wrecking scenes. Do you have one of those kids who loves to destroy things? If so, they’ll love this book! RAWR!

Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Friendship, Teamwork, Animals, Dinosaurs, Humor, Read-Aloud
Book Info: Rex Wrecks It! by Ben Clanton, 2014 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763665012

The Art of the Recommendation


2NE1, YG Entertainment

Recommending books is like a dance; you give a little, they give a little, you try to figure out what it is they want and why.

Sometimes people don’t really want recommendations, they just want someone to brainstorm with and then they pick what they want. Some people come in with open arms, and take ALL THE BOOKS because they simply want to be done with THIS BOOK GIFT THING. Others listen intently, they seem excited about all the books you give them, and half an hour later you find all your awesome books hidden in a corner. Ah, that one always hurts…Amirite booksellers? Haha

We booksellers have the ability to effectively use our book knowledge to give you what you need; you generally trust us, so thanks for that. 😉 The perfect recommendation is when you see how happy the customer is with the books you place in their hands; it’s in their faces and body language (they keep smiling down at the books). You know that you did well; that they’re leaving store with EXACTLY what they came in for and that’s a great feeling!

Who Holds the Power?

“I want to get this book!”
“I don’t think that’s a good one for you. Try this one.”

After reading author Cynthia Lord’s thoughtful blog post about the importance of positive reinforcement when a child chooses a book, I started to reflect on my experiences as a bookseller. I observed SO many  instances where a child happily ran up to their parents with their book choice and the parents shot it down quickly; not because the book was expensive but because they didn’t think the book was a good choice. During the bustling holiday season at our store, I helped grandparents looking for book recommendations for their grandchildren (“Where are your girl books?”). These experiences showed me just how much influence adults have on what children read, especially at a bookstore, where a purchase will be made.

Adults bring preconceived notions, biases, wishes and expectations for what they believe the child they’re shopping for, should be reading. Countless times I heard “Meh…I don’t think he/she’d like that.” Of course they knew the child better than I did but…I just needed a bit of their trust. Occasionally I had the pleasure of actually helping a child find a good book and though it was often really tough, it was the best! I also recognize that as a bookseller, I brought to every recommendation, my idea of what a “good book” is; this is why I read broadly, diversely and kept an open mind. Booksellers have some power in this way…what a big responsibility! Phew  >_<

So parents, please trust your kids a bit and if they pick up a book that may be a little above their reading level, talk about it and if you still see a twinkle in their eye, encourage that reading spirit! 🙂


Hermelin the Detective Mouse

Image Credit: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children's Books, Mini Grey

Image Credit: Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books, Mini Grey

Oooh Hermlin is the cutest and smartest mouse around. 🙂 I love this book so much. I think I’ve found a new picture book niche that I enjoy; mysteries! I recently reviewed the book Shark Detective which is also a great one.

As you read Hermelin the Detective Mouse, pay attention to the first few pages; really look at the illustrations and read the text. It just might help you solve the mysteries! Hermelin is a little mouse who one day realizes that he can read. Off he goes typing with the typewriter in the attic of his house. He notices that his neighbors have quite a few stolen and lost things in the neighborhood so he sets out to solve some mysteries. Hermelin deftly solves all the cases and his neighbors, not knowing his identity, invite him to a party in his honor. BUT…let’s not forget that Hermelin is a MOUSE…and guess what many people are afraid of? You guessed it. Oh no Hermelin, be careful!

Mini Grey is a clever storyteller and illustrator. There’s so much going on in her illustrations and this is a GOOD thing. You can read the book several times and find new things like little notes on trash, letters on discarded paper, and facial expressions of important characters. She is amazing at composing a scene. They’re busy but very interesting to look at; like when solving a mystery, the closer you look, the more clues you’ll find. Your family will really enjoy reading Hermelin together and soon you’ll have little detectives running around your house!


Recommended for: All Ages
Great for: Mystery, Friendship, Discussion, Animals, Storytelling, Community
Book Info: Hermelin the Detective Mouse (as told to) Mini Grey, 2013 Alfred A. Knopf (Random House Children’s Books), ISBN: 9780385754330


The Stories Julian Tells


Image Credit: Bullseye Books (Alfred A. Knopf), Ann Cameron/Ann Strugnell

The Stories Julian Tells is fantastic. It’s a story full of poetic lines, vibrant imagery and is simply magical. It opens with Julian and Huey’s father making a lemon pudding for their mother; you’ve never seen such enthusiastic cooking! He says “Leave the pudding alone!” and then almost instantly falls asleep on a chair. His boys disobey of course, one taste leads to another and before they know it, the whole pudding is gone! The Stories Julian Tells features several interconnected stories that showcase Julian’s fantastic stories, his brother Huey’s imagination, their parents’ love for them and friendship. I love the Catalog Cats! Who knew invisible cats help your garden grow?


New Cover…cute but I’m partial to the original

This short novel is an excellent example of a story that features a family of color but doesn’t focus on the fact that they are a family of color and is not “historical.” They’re just a super cool Black family in the 80s! Perhaps many readers grew up with this book and love it. Ann Strugnell’s illustrations are magical and suit the story perfectly. Newer editions have an “updated” cover but I really love the original. The Stories Julian Tells is a great read aloud book and is also good for the classroom; so many discussions to be had about Julian and Huey and their fabulous stories.


Recommended for: 1st Grade and up
Great for: Diversity, Fantasy, Friendship, Morals, Discussion, Family, Read-Aloud, African-American
Book Info: The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron/Illustrated by Ann Strugnell, 1989 Random House Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 9780394828923

Math Curse


Image Credit: Viking (Penguin Group), Jon Scieszka/Lane Smith

To celebrate 40 POSTS on Read It Real Good, I invited my good friend Nida to write about one of her favorite books. I met Nida while teaching English in Korea and she is particularly great with languages and linguistics.  I didn’t know about Math Curse until she started raving about it BUT I do love Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith, or as I like to call them, the 90s Picture Book Dream Team. You might be familiar with their classics The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and The Stinky Cheese Man. Welcome Nida and please enjoy her review:

Have you ever sat in a class (or meeting) and stared at the clock, counting the minutes, pondering and planning the rest of your day? If the answer is yes, then welcome to the Math Curse.

Math Curse opens with Mrs. Fibonacci telling her students, “You know, you can think of almost everything as a math problem.” One girl discovers just how true those words are as she wakes up the next day to find that everything around her makes her think in mathematical terms. The reader follows her thoughts throughout the day where she can’t help but regard everything in her daily routine as a problem to solve, including her other subject classes. Despairing that she’ll never escape the math curse put upon her by her math teacher, she finally solves the ultimate math problem (with the help of a clever little pun) that frees her. She learns that although math may be everywhere, it’s no longer something to dread.

Math Curse is one of my favorite books ever. I love books that are designed to make you think, and this book definitely does that! But it’s not all about the math. The book is also filled with clever wordplay that will appeal to any little linguists out there. The best part is that this book can grow with a child. I first read it when I was 8, before I knew what the Fibonacci sequence, binary numbers, or the quadratic formula were. When I finally learned about those things in middle school, I remembered the Math Curse, went back to read it again, and appreciated it on a whole new level. Even as an adult, I am often plagued by a math curse as I try to figure out how to do everything I need to do within the hours of the day. Talk about a book for all ages!

This book will obviously be a hit with anyone already interested in math or language, but I also highly recommend it for parents who wish to engage their children with an interactive, relatable story. It’s important to understand: It’s not about getting the right answers (which can be found on the back cover, by the way), but rather exercising your brain and challenging yourself to see things in different ways.


Recommended for: 1st/2nd grade and up
Great for: Mathematics, Problem Solving, Language, Discussion, School Life, Frustration
Book Info: Math Curse by Jon Scieszka/Illustrated by Lane Smith, 1995 Viking (Penguin Group), ISBN: 9780670861944



Image Credit: Templar Books (Candlewick Press)

Image Credit: Templar Books (Candlewick Press), Emma Dodd

Okay, I might get some flack for this but here goes; I think Love You Forever by Robert Munsch is overrated and slightly creepy. Even though I personally feel this way, it’s one of the top selling books for baby showers and because it has been around for a long time, many people have an emotional connection to it. That’s fair, but I always try to introduce Emma Dodd’s books in place of Love You Forever because I believe they are better books.

Always is my favorite. Just look at that precious cover! The story is told by a momma elephant to her mischievous little elephant. She tells her child about all the things she observes about his or her personality and all the silly things he or she does! She lets her child know that no matter what, she will always love them. Well, I absolutely love Emma Dodd’s art style. She really knows how to do cute, and bold and sweet. The digital illustrations in this book also include silver foil which adds an extra level of shiny beauty.

This is a nice gift book not only because of the story and art, but also because the gender of the baby elephant is not specified and cute baby animals are great fill-ins if you’re looking for and can’t find characters that match the ethnicity of the child (it can be hard finding quality baby books that feature children of color but a really good one is Ten, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang).

Be sure to check out the rest of  Emma Dodd’s “Love You” book series: Forever, Everything, When You Were Born, More and More, When I Grow Up, Happy and Wish.

Recommended for: Babies, Toddlers and Pre-schoolers
Great for: Animals, Opposites, Bedtime, Baby Shower, Gift, Colors, Family
Book Info: Always by Emma Dodd2014 Templar Books (Candlewick Press), ISBN: 9780763675448