Merry and Bright

SATURDAY SMORGASBORD: Christmas books for 2017

I’ve mentioned before that this is my favorite time of the reading year because all of the new holiday books releasing in the fall. I love watching Christmas movies and reading Christmas books to help me get into the spirit of the season. I’m not going to include descriptions for all of these. But the covers are usually what grabs my attention anyway! Many of these have been highlighted in Book News over the last few weeks if you want to know more about these stories.

For Kids

For Older Kids/Teens/Young Adults

For Adults


Escape Claws

SATURDAY SMORGASBORD: York Children’s Literature Festival.

A few weeks ago I attended a local Children’s Literature Festival (you can see my post from last year here) and it was delightful!

There were four authors/illustrators this year – John David Anderson, Jeff Stone, Louise Borden and Loren Long.

I was most excited to hear from John David Anderson. I have read – and loved – several of his books. His presentation was inspiring and a lot of fun! The pop culture references – like Star Wars and Harry Potter – were so fun. It really solidified my high opinion of him. Anderson does skype visits with schools for FREE. If I was a writing teacher, I would get on his schedule asap because he had great things to say about his writing process.

Jeff Stone was a new author to me. I have seen his books in book stores, but I have not read them. Since my son does taekwondo, I was interested in the pieces of his talk that centered on his own martial arts training (he has a black belt in kung fu) and how he wove that into his stories. He has one series that takes place in the past and another that is contemporary. If I was still teaching, I would put these books into the hands of kids who love adventure stories as well as the ones interested in martial arts.

I hadn’t heard Louise Borden speak before but I was familiar with her book on the back story of the author of Curious George. Borden’s presentation felt like she was reading a book; there was a lovely rhythm to her talk. And the research she does for her books made me want to run to the library and start researching something myself. Her presentation was inspiring. If you are looking for excellent nonfiction picture books, look up her material.

Loren Long was the only illustrator in attendance this year. I had never read an Otis book before the conference, but I was familiar with his art work from the covers of Otis books, which I have seen in bookstores, as well as his work on the Obama book, Of Thee I Sing, and Matt de la Pena’s 2018 release, Love. My favorite part of the presentation was when he talked about the evolution of Otis, from his first sketch to the final product.

Any of these four folks would be amazing presenters at schools. If you are a teacher or librarian, be sure to check them out!

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library


I am such a book geek. And I say that with pride. I love finding people and authors and communities that love books as much as I do. Here are some books – for all ages – that share a love of books, reading and bookish places.

Books for Kids

Bunny’s Book Club – There are a couple books on this list that are TBRs rather than books I have read. This is one of those. I haven’t found this one in person to check it out, but it looks perfect. I hope to read this one soon.
Doris the Bookasaurus – Doris’ love of books is annoying to her little brothers because it keeps her from playing with them. When she shows them a book they love, though, everything changes. This is darling.
Library Lion – I always looked forward to reading this story about a lion in the library to my students. It’s lovely, and students really connect with it.
Madeline Finn and the Library Dog – Madeline struggles with reading, but a program at the library where she can practice her reading with a dog helps her grow as a reader. This is delightful. You can read my review here.
Wild About Books – This is one of the picture books we often by for new babies. Sure, it’s not a book they can enjoy right away, but it is such a great love letter to books that we are confident families will grow to love it like we did. This was another favorite to read aloud when I was teaching.

Books for Older Kids/Teens

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library – The epitome of books about books! This outstanding middle grade story about kids competing in a book-based contest in a futuristic library has been a hit with every student I ever handed it to. Book 3 in the series comes out this fall and a movie of this first book will be coming to Nickelodeon soon.
Finding Serendipity – First in a series about a girl who discovers a land where stories live. In book one, Serendipity gets help finding her missing mother by the main character in her mother’s famous books. I enjoyed sharing this series with students.
Fish in a Tree – The main thing I remember about this book is the origin of the title which is a quote reportedly from Einstein that says if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it will always think it is stupid. The main character in this book has dyslexia and finally has a persistent and observant teacher who discovers it and helps her. This was a fantastic story!
The Losers Club – I just finished this AWESOME story (I’m still trying to find a review slot for it here on the blog). At the center of the story is a boy who is getting in trouble every day at school – for reading. So he starts a club for kids who want to read, but he calls it the Losers Club so a lot of people don’t join and mess up his quiet reading time. Not only did the story highlight reading, but it also talked about a lot of books kids might enjoy.
The School Story – Andrew Clements wrote The Losers Club and also The School Story which is about a girl who writes a book and secretly tries to get it published. This is one of my favorite early Clements stories along with Frindle, No Talking and The Last Holiday Concert.
Bookishly Ever After – Earlier this year I reviewed this book for older teens about a book nerd who tries to use the characters from her favorite books to help her negotiate a romance.
I Kill the Mockingbird – I adore this book about a group of teens who hide copies of To Kill a Mockingbird in order to get everyone talking about it.  While this one is written for a middle grade audience, I found that my older students connected with this better than the younger ones. This works for all teens.

Books for Adults

Classified as Murder – This is the second book (my favorite) of the Cat in the Stacks mystery series about a college librarian who works in the archives. Fantastic mystery series, terrific cat that adds a fun component to the series. Here you can read a review of the most recent book in the series.
A Dark and Stormy Murder – Outstanding mystery series about two writers collaborating on books while solving mysteries. You can read my review here.
The Eyre Affair – This is the other book on this list I have not read. I have several of the books in this series about a literary detective, but I haven’t tried it yet. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s Nursery Crimes series.
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops – This nonfiction book is laugh-out-loud funny while also being a little sad when it comes to true stories from folks who work with books.
The Writing Desk – I recently read this fantastic Christian novel about two writers in different time periods and the ways their stories connect. Excellent.


Do you have any favorite books about books?

Tracking notebook


In my experience, voracious readers develop systems to keep track of their reading lives – what they have read and what they hope to read. I have tried many different systems over the years to keep track. Some have worked well and others have been busywork but not very helpful. Here are the systems I am using today to keep track of my reading life.

READING NOTEBOOK – My first tool is a reading notebook. I have been keeping one since 2007, so I have a lot of material to go back through when I am feeling nostalgic or if I want to check on a book I read ages ago. Initially I wrote detailed reviews in these notebooks, but now I generally note a rating, age level/format (picture book, middle grade, adult), genre (mystery, scifi, dystopian, nonfiction), source (TBR, library, ARC) and any red flags that might matter if I recommend this to someone (alternate lifestyle, language, trigger warnings, etc.). This notebook allows me to track my reading stats for the year, track progress on reading challenges, etc.


PHONE: Another tool I use all the time is my phone. I use it to take screenshots of books I read about online (like this one from Twitter) so I can go back and look it up at another time. Since I want to buy 10x more books than I can at any given time, I also take pictures of titles at the book store so I can remember them later.



TRACKING NOTEBOOKS – I adore writing things down, and in order to keep track of all the things I write, I use various notebooks. These three get used the most for my reading life. One I use for writing up reviews for the blog. I feel like my posts are much better when I write them fresh after finishing the book. If I try to do it a couple days later, the reviews feel flat and repetitive. I use another for setting up my Monday BOOK NEWS posts about upcoming books. The third is where I transcribe all the titles from the pictures on my phone. Then I can regularly clean off the photos and clear up space on my phone. The titles are saved until I do a batch of research on them every few weeks.

NOTECARDS – Lately I am a 4×6 notecard fiend. I use them for everything! These sets here are part of my ongoing tracking system. One set tracks the days I have scheduled my reviews. This helps me when I need to move things around to accommodate a new ARC in the schedule so I can post my review as close to release day as possible. Another set includes one card for each ARC so I can keep track of where it is (kindle, computer), when the book releases, when the ARC is archived, and when I post various reviews. Before I started this, I would send a book to my Kindle and I would forget about it. It would sit there, unread, until it was archived. This system is helping me stay on track. When I finish reading those books, they move to a second stack where I track them until all of the reviews have been posted (some sites let you post reviews early and others make you wait until release day). I have another stack for books I want to request from the library. I can only request three e-books per day, and I often have 2-3 times that after a strong BOOK NEWS week. This is where I jot the titles down so when I am ready to request a few more books, I know which ones were top of my list.

GOODREADS: Goodreads is a great place for me to track books I would like to read someday. I don’t do as much with my to-read list as I do with my notecards, but Goodreads will flag things for me based on what’s on my lists, so I try to keep up with it.



BOOK CRAWLER – This is the app I use to keep track of books as I buy them. I keep up with this probably 80% of the time. My hope is that this will keep me from buying a book more than once, but that still happens now and then. I’m not as good about deleting books off of the app when I get rid of them. When it comes down to a couple free hours when I can do that, I usually decide to read instead. 



PAPERLESS – Paperless is a list-making app that we use for everything from tracking what we need from the store to the list of errands for the day or what TV seasons we have on DVD. I used to use Paperless – or Evernote – to track all of my upcoming releases. Then, when I bought something, I would just check it off. Now that I am not teaching, and therefore not buying books as often, it was simpler to go to this system where each month is one checklisted item. Inside that item I can list the books I want to buy that month. Now that my local bookstore has stopped setting new releases off in their own section, I needed a place to track authors, too, along with the titles, so having this list is much easier than relying on my brain. I can sometimes forget to update this, but when I know I am heading to the bookstore soon, I am quick to check in and make sure I have all the titles I want to check out.


So, how about you? How do you keep track of your reading life?



Escape Claws


I’ve noticed a trend lately of stories with service dogs central to the plot. I have read several of them and have really enjoyed them, so I thought I would  collect some of them here. If you have enjoyed any of these, you might enjoy some of the others!

Sadie: The Dog Who Found the Evidence – These early reader books are great for introducing kids to stories about service dogs. In this series are also books about a dog named Gabe who is a military dog and one named Stella who is a therapy dog.



Ranger in Time  – This is a terrific series for elementary school readers about Ranger, a dog who almost passed the service dog training (darn squirrels). Now, thanks to a magical first aid box, Ranger travels in time to disasters and helps kids. Book one is Rescue on the Oregon Trail. This is book pictured is the most recent Ranger story.



Dog Diaries: Barry – In the Dog Diaries series, the dogs tell their own stories. In Barry, kids can read about a St Bernard who rescues travelers in the snowy Swiss Alps.




Chester and Gus – I adored Chester! Chester is adopted by a family to help their severely autistic son, Gus. You can read my review here.



Ellie’s Story – Ellie tells her own story here about becoming a search and rescue dog. It’s a cute, fun, emotional story from start to finish. I thoroughly enjoyed Ellie’s voice throughout.



A Dog Like Daisy – This is a new release from June. I haven’t read it yet, but it sounds fantastic. Again, the dog gets to tell the story. This time, Daisy is working as a therapy dog for a veteran with PTSD.



Hero – Hero is a series of books, two so far, with a third releasing this fall. In this book, Hero is a retired search and rescue dog who has to use his skills to save a puppy. In book two, Hero has to find a boy and the puppy during a hurricane.  This series sounds great for kids who love adventure stories and dog stories.



Secret Service Dogs – For adults, here is a highly rated book about the dogs used in the Secret Service to protect the president and our country.




If you are a fan of heroic stories starring dogs, be sure to check these out!

Summer Challenge 2017


I am a planner by nature.

I always have a to do list, and I faithfully check things off as they are completed. Summer is a prime time for me to make a few lists.

There’s the list of projects I want to finish while school is not in session. Then I have the list of fun things I want to be sure we do before school starts up again. And finally, I have my summer reading plan.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago in my post about summer reading recommendations, a list or a challenge isn’t a great idea for every reader. For some folks, that would make the reading seem like a chore. But I LOVE a challenge. I was the kid who loved the March of Dimes reading challenge at school or who responded well to a sticker chart. Anything where I could track my achievements.

So I set a reading challenge every year in January, and I have another one that covers my summer reading. Here are some of the things on my 2017 Summer Reading Plan:


If you are on Twitter, you can find a number of teachers tweeting about their reading year-round, but especially in the summer, with this hashtag. The idea is to try to read one book for every day of your “summer” (and you get to choose what qualifies as “summer). This year, my summer will run from June 5 to July 30, which is 56 days. This is pretty standard for me. It gives me a week or so after the school year ends to do whatever I want, which usually includes some reading, but is less structured for the transition from school year to summer. This also gives me whatever non-school days I can get at the start of August to shift my thinking from summer back to school year. So, my #bookaday goal this summer is to read at least 56 books.  The library is a great resource for #bookaday, although my TBR shelves at home easily hold 56 books.


I tend to read in pretty rigid categories. I like new books – the newer the better – and I stick with mysteries and fantasy/science fiction with some realistic fiction thrown in. This summer, I am challenging myself to read some classics. In most cases, these are re-reads – books I read ages ago but can’t remember. These are the classics on my list:

  • Sense and Sensibility – I’ve never read Austen, and I don’t like Pride and Prejudice, but I love the Sense and Sensibility movie
  • Jane Eyre
  • Wuthering Heights
  • Wrinkle in Time – I’m going to read the graphic novel
  • Much Ado About Nothing – One of my favorite Shakespeare plays

Family Challenge

Last summer my son and I chose 5 books for the other person to read. He did a fabulous job and read all 5 I recommended. I, however, did not. I ended up only reading 3 in the summer, and picked up a fourth one this spring when he insisted. This summer my husband is getting into the act. We are each choosing 2 books for the other two people in the house. I will be reading:

  • Rebels by David Liss (Book 2 in the Randoms series) – chosen by my teen
  • Planet Thieves by Dan Krokos – chosen by my teen
  • The Innocent by David Baldacci – chosen by my husband
  • The X-Files Origins: Agent of Chaos by Kami Garcia – chosen by my husband
  • I have assigned my son The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes and Alcatraz vs the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson (a book from my TBR shelves)
  • I have assigned my husband Alien Tango by Gini Koch and The Fixer by Jennifer Lynn Barnes
  • My husband has assigned my son The Haunting of Barry Allen by Clay and Susan Griffith and The Recruit (CHERUB) by Robert Muchamore
  • My son has assigned my husband Randoms by David Liss and Quantum Prophecy: The Awakening by Michael Carroll


I love learning new things, but I am not a good finisher when it comes to nonfiction. So I am challenging myself to read the following:

  • A Mile Wide by Brandon Hatmaker (My husband recommended this one)
  • The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  • Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson (I have started this but haven’t finished)
  • Uninvited by Lysa TerKerst (I’ve read this but I want to read through it again)
  • Daring Greatly by Brené Browning


When I was teaching, my students were always so excited about summer break because they could re-read some of their favorite books without penalty. I love to re-read my favorites in January and also over the summer. Some of my re-reads this summer will be:

  • The Fixer and The Long Game by Jennifer Lynn Barnes (I LOVED The Long Game but I’ve only read it once.)
  • The Big Over Easy by Jasper Fforde (a nursery rhyme based mystery)
  • StarFleet Academy – The Edge by Rudy Josephs (this is the first in a four book series with the new JJ Abrams cast in mind)
  • Talons of Power by Tui T. Sutherland (this is the most recent Wings of Fire book. I want to read it again before the last book comes out in July)
  • The Amber Photograph by Penelope Stokes (This is one of my comfort books that I read over and over)

New books

Of course, there are all sorts of new releases coming out this summer that I hope to read! If you check out my Book News posts on Mondays this summer, you’ll see some of the ones I am most looking forward to.


What are you hoping to read this summer? Do you like a challenge or do you prefer to read whatever comes along?

Escape Claws


I have mentioned many times that I love fractured fairy tales. These are the stories that take the well known tales like Cinderella or the Three Pigs and gives them a fresh look or a new twist. I have talked about some of these before when I wrote about the picture books I miss reading to students. Here are some of my favorites for all ages:

The Three Ninja Pigs – This book is perfect. It’s funny, the rhyme scheme is fantastic (not an easy feat), and it takes the basic story and gives it a fun martial arts shake up. My students always loved that it was the girl pig who saved the day in the end.



The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf and Grandma – A cat is enjoying the story of Red Riding Hood, but the dog has a lot of questions about the story. This would be a fantastic story to turn into a readers theater. It is funny! There’s lots of drama as the cat gets frustrated that the dog just doesn’t get this great story. My students loved this one every time I read it!



Don’t Read this Book! – One of the things I did as a librarian was a unit on fractured fairy tales where my students and I compared and contrasted different versions of a familiar story. This book was a favorite because it doesn’t come right out and tell the story of the Princess and the Pea. Instead it is about a royal storyteller who has lost the story for the king. The pompous king tells the reader to go away while they retrace their steps to find the story. This is unusual and a lot of fun to read out loud!


Ninja-rella – This is one book in a line of graphic novel fractured fairy tales. I picked these up for my students towards the end of my time as a librarian, and the kids almost wore these out. Graphic novels were tremendously popular with my students anyway, but they especially loved the twist on familiar fairy tales. The series is called Far Out Fairy Tales. They published a Goldilocks story and a Sleeping Beauty one back in December 2016. They are releasing some new ones later this year called Far Out Fables. They look very fun!


Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible – I adore this middle grade series about a hamster princess who wants to fight dragons and save the day. I reviewed the most recent book in the series, Ratpunzel, here. The next book, Giant Trouble, comes out next week.



Rump, the True Story of Rumpelstiltskin – This is a terrific take on the story of Rumpelstiltskin. This time Rump is a kid who is trying to overcome an unfortunate name and therefore an unfortunate destiny. This is a fun quest story. The author has also written the true stories of Red Riding Hood and Jack of beanstalk fame.



The Wide-Awake Princess – I love this series about the sister of Sleeping Beauty. Princess Annie is completely immune to magic. This makes her the perfect person to rescue her kingdom from the sleeping spell or save a prince who has been turned into a bear. The sixth and final book in the series came out this spring. Lots of fractured fairy tales to enjoy in this series!



The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom – This series is hoot! Have you ever noticed that most of the princes in fairy tales are just called “Prince Charming?” Well, in this series you find out that they all are different guys with different names. It’s the singing, story-telling bards who have focused on the princesses and ignored the princes. But this time, the princes are going to be the ones to make a name for themselves when they save the day. There are so many fun twists and surprises in this three book series. I highly recommend them!


The Sisters Grimm: Fairy Tale Detectives – This series is celebrating its 10th anniversary with new covers and touched up stories. I read these faithfully when they were first released. If you like a certain TV show about fairy tale characters in the real world, you should check this out. Some of the ideas in the show were in these books first. I’m hoping my library invests in the re-issues so I can read them all again and not miss out on any revisions!



Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles) – This series for teens takes the stories of Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel and Snow White and sets them in a dystopian future. The main characters are trying to save the Earth from an evil queen from the Moon, Levana. The third book in the series, Cress (the Rapunzel character), is my favorite, but the whole series is solid if you like your fairy tales mashed up with some romance and science fiction (which I totally do!).


Geekerella – This book just came out this spring and I reviewed it here. This is an awesome ComicCon/Fandom mashup with the story of Cinderella. I loved it!




The Big Over Easy – I wish there were more than two books in this series! I have several Jasper Fforde books (Tuesday Next series and Chronicles of Kazam) that I haven’t read, but the books in the Nursery Crime series I have read more than once. In fact, I think I might just read them again right after I finish this post. These are great mysteries for adults. The first book looks into the murder of Humpty Dumpty.




So, those are some of my favorite fractured fairy tales. There are BUNCHES more out there. What are your favorites?



Escape Claws


Happy April Fools’ Day! I have never loved this “holiday,” especially as a teacher. But I do like to READ about pranks and pranksters. Here are a few prankster books to enjoy this month:

My Lucky Day – Hilarious picture book about a hungry fox who finds a pig on his front porch. How lucky! By the time it is all over, though, it just might be the pig who is the lucky one!





April Fools’, Mr. Todd! – I haven’t had a chance to read this one yet, but I LOVE Judy Moody. This early reader series with Judy and her friends is perfect for kids in lower elementary grades who are growing as readers and are ready to try some longer stories. The illustrations are full color and fantastic. I can’t wait to read this one!




The Terrible Two – A prankster arrives at his new school ready to show the other kids his skills. But there is a pretty impressive prankster already there. Is this school big enough for TWO master pranksters? I get a huge kick out of this series by Mac Barnett. There are two books already with a third slated for 2018. Great for fans of the Wimpy Kid books.




The Last Boy at St. Edith’s – This book about the only boy at an all-girls school (the school tried to go co-ed and it didn’t work, but his mom teaches at the school, so he is stuck) who tries to prank his way to expulsion is on my TBR! I’ve been trying to get to this one for awhile. This might be the perfect time to read this one!





Codename Zero – A prankster is recruited to help a secret government agency. This is on my TBR, too, This is the first book in a series. I love books where the grown ups have to seek out a kid to save the day!

Escape Claws

SATURDAY SMORGASBORD: Picture Books I Miss Reading

Something magical can happen when you read a book out loud to a group of kids. It’s a shared experience. You might laugh together or get teary-eyed together. The story can be inspiring. The story can make you remember something or can describe an experience you have had better than you could describe it.

When I was an elementary school librarian, there were many books that I read every year. They were my favorites. They were my students’ favorites. They were books that my students connected with no matter how many times we read them.  I looked forward to sharing these with students year after year. Since I am not teaching right now, here are 15 picture books I miss reading to students:

The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur –  This is a fantastic story of a small dinosaur getting pushed around by a larger dinosaur for a jar of jelly beans. The small dinosaur isn’t too worried about the bully because he has a “friend” who is much bigger than the bully. The best part of the story is set up in the illustrations. It’s fun to see which students catch on from the pictures alone. Then others will go back later and see what they missed. Such a fun story!


Read to Tiger – While the boy is trying to read his book, Tiger does all sorts of things that disturb him – chomping gum, pretending to be a bear, playing with a loud train set, etc. Every time the boy gets upset, the Tiger apologizes. The kids got to the point where they would try to match my “Tiger voice” and do the lines with me.  I discovered this book at the school when I took the library job. There are actually two books about this Tiger, but this is my favorite.



Arnie the Doughnut – This is probably one of the silliest books I read to my students consistently. It’s long for a read aloud, but good for many laughs, as Laurie Keller’s books often are. In the story, a donut is surprised to find out that the man who bought him plans to EAT him!  Arnie does not want to be eaten, but the man paid for him, fair and square. Can they figure out a way for both of them to win? Keller’s books are even better for lap reading than read-alouds because of the side conversations characters have in the illustrations.


Library Lion – This book is so outstanding, it will captivate a room of kindergarteners even though there isn’t a lot of “action” in the story. In it, a lion comes to the library for story time. The head librarian says he can stay as long has he follows the rules like staying quiet in the library. One of the other librarians is certain that there is no place for a lion in the library. One day, the lion breaks the rules for a good reason, but he knows he will have to leave anyway. But no one is happy when the library lion is gone.  This is delightful. If you haven’t read this one, check it out!


Duck and Goose – A young duck and goose find an “egg” and squabble over the proper way to care for the egg and the occupant inside. We read this book to our son when he was little – along with the sequel, Duck, Duck, Goose. The fussing between the two characters is great fun to read aloud. And the ending is a hoot! Duck and Goose have a full line of picture books, board books, stuffed animals and such now.



The Totally Secret Secret – Ballet Cat doesn’t want to do anything her friend Sparkles wants to do. She only wants to do Ballet! What happens when she discovers that Sparkles… doesn’t like ballet?! I can’t get enough of this book. Even though I have no picture book readers in my house, and I am not teaching, I still bought myself a copy of this book! It cracks me up every single time I read it! To me, this is an example of the perfect kids book because it entertains on a kid level and on an adult level for the person reading the book (over and over).  I think the third book in the series, What’s Your Favorite Favorite works on these two levels, too.



Silly Doggy! – A girl finds a “silly doggy” in her back yard. The doggy doesn’t want to do any of the doggy things the girl thinks he should, perhaps because it is a bear. No one in the story seems to recognize Doggy for what he really is until the zoo comes to collect him at the end. My students always found it hilarious that this girl thought this huge bear was a dog. This is a sweet and silly story. The very funny ending was later turned into a new picture book – Naughty Kitty.



The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, The Wolf and Grandma – I asked my family for this Little Red Riding Hood-ish book for Christmas this year because I adored it when I was reading it to students. It is sarcastic and funny and points out some of the inconsistencies in fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood. I am a huge fan of any sort of “fractured fair tale” and this one of my all time favorites!



This Orq. (He Cave Boy.) – I saw this book on display at a conference and I kept walking past the booth over and over and over again because I was completely captivated by the illustration on the cover. At the end of the conference, I stood in line for over 30 minutes to be sure I could take this book home to my students! The book is told in choppy “cave man” talk which is fun to read. At its core this is a pet story, well told with very few words and a lot of heart.



Mustache Baby Meets His Match – Sequel to the awesome Mustache Baby, this book is my favorite of the two. The mustache premise is a brilliant metaphor for the “dark side” that can come out with toddlers when they test boundaries or don’t get their way. I especially liked this book when I was teaching at a Christian school because the story helped us talk about how we can be tempted to fall into sin and our “bad guy mustaches” appear. If you are a fan of smart, clever picture books that adults AND kids can enjoy, these two should be high on your list of books to read.


The Three Ninja Pigs – My favorite part of the school year when I was teaching (after Book Fair) was the end of the year when I would do a fractured fairy tale unit with my students. The stories are great fun, and we could practice our comparing and contrasting skills when we looked at the original and our fractured versions together. One of the highlights for the age group that did The Three Pigs was when we would read this book. The language is precise and perfect. And when one pig promises the wolf, “I’ll kick your big butt,” my students would roar with laughter! This is outstanding!



I Will Surprise My Friend! – When I introduced my kindergarten students to Piggie and Gerald, I couldn’t keep the books on the shelves for the rest of the year. I often had spare copies tucked in the library office so I could replace the library copy when it finally crumbled from extreme use. If I could only pick one Elephant and Piggie book to read, this would be the one. Piggie and Gerald decide to scare/surprise each other by the big rock. But it doesn’t go as planned and the results are hilarious! In my opinion, this is the best of the best.



This Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown – I’m not sure my students loved this one as much as I did, but I adore this book. Emily Brown is a bright, creative and imaginative girl who plays all sorts of cool things with her bunny, Stanley. A princess sees Stanley and decides she wants him! She sends all of her servants to convince Emily to give him to her, but Emily kindly but firmly says no each time. Until the Princess steals Stanley. It’s fun to read with different voices for the servants and a long-suffering voice for Emily Brown.


It’s the Bear! – There are three Bear books by Jez Alborough. In the first, Where’s My Teddy?, a boy named Freddie tries to find his bear but finds a huge teddy bear that belongs to a wild bear instead. In the third book, the boy and the bear become friends. This is the middle story, and it’s my favorite. Freddie and his mom are going on a picnic and he’s afraid of the bear in the woods. His mom doesn’t believe there is a bear. In fact, she leaves Freddie alone while she runs back to get a pie she forgot. Of course, what bear can resist a yummy picnic? We read these books to our son when he was little and when he outgrew them, I took them to the library and used them year after year when I introduced Jez Alborough books to my kindergarten students.

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs – Another favorite from my fairy tale unit is this twisted tale by Mo Willems (author of the Piggie and Gerald books as well as the Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny books)! In this version, Goldilocks stumbles into a house of dinosaurs instead of bears. And those dinosaurs seem to be up to some mischief! My students loved slowly looking at every picture for hints of what the dinosaurs were up to. My older students picked up more of the subtle humor and sarcasm of this story than the younger ones did.



There are so many fantastic books out there for teachers to read to students and for parents to read to children. If you are looking for a great read aloud, look for these favorites of mine!


Escape Claws


I sometimes have a complicated relationship with books. For the longest time, I kept each book I read. Eventually this created a space issue. Then I decided to just keep the “special” ones. There were no criteria for this designation – just a gut feeling. I kept all of my mystery series for certain. And then books I enjoyed so much I thought I might re-read them. Since I enjoy a lot of books each year, this meant I was still keeping a lot.

Eventually, I realized there were so many books I wanted to read for the first time that it was unlikely I would actually re-read everything I kept. But there are some…

My comfort books. The ones I go back to because I love the story or the character. Books I associate with certain events or seasons of life. The ones that leave me feeling wistful when I see them and I know it’s been forever since I read them.  Books that make me want to drop everything and dive into them all over again. And every January I try to read through as many of them as I can. It’s like visiting with old friends. Here are some of my favorite re-reads.

1. Andrew Clements books – These are some of the first books for kids that I read and loved. Clements tells great school stories about kids and teachers you want to cheer for. Frindle and No Talking are my favorites, but most of his older books are re-reads for me!



 2. Wings of Fire series – I remember the year I was setting up my library’s book fair and saw this book. I was captivated by the description and read it right away. Then I told all of my students about it. This is a special series! The first five books deal with the war for Sand Wing (a dragon tribe) succession. The second series picks up with a new set of young dragons living in a post-war world. This series just launched book 9, with book 10 slated for this summer. There’s also a stand alone book that fills in some backstory as well as some short e-books. And I think the series gets better and better as each book releases. I’ve taken to re-reading the books in the second series (books 6+) in anticipation of each new book, and that helps me remember all the cool details that are going to matter when the next book comes out.

3. The Westing Game – I read this mystery as a kid and fell in love with the twists and turns. This is the sort of book that you finish and have to read again right away to see where you missed the clues to the solution. I’m thrilled to say this stands up to the test of time. My son read it and loved it, prompting me to read it again as an adult. It was just as awesome as I remembered. In fact, it has become a go-to re-read for my teenage son as well!


4. The Harry Potter Series – I can’t tell you how many times we have re-read or listened to these books at our house! Each of us has a physical set of the books. Then we also have all of the outstanding audio books read by the amazing Jim Dale. The antics of the kids and the fight for good to triumph over evil never gets old.



5. The Fixer series – I have raved about this series multiple times on this blog in the short time since it went live. Book two is even better than book one. The main character is feisty and sticks up for the underdog and I love her. I look forward to spending time with the characters in these books – sometimes more than once a year.



 6. The Amber Photograph – I have three books by Penelope Stokes that I re-read periodically (this one, The Amethyst Heart and The Blue Bottle Club), but this is my most consistent re-read of the three. This is my sick-day book. If I’m in bed and don’t care to watch a movie or anything else, I will pull this book out. It’s an emotional one about a young woman driving across the country in search of information about who she is and about another woman hiding from her past. God’s redemption weaves through the whole story. It’s outstanding.


7. Deadline – Amazing suspense/mystery with a strong salvation message! This is a long, intricate book that covers a lot of issues including abortion, woven around a mystery of why the main character’s two best friends are dead. I love the passages that show one of those friends exploring Heaven. Deadline is a fantastic and inspiring mystery that I love to read over and over.



8. Touched by an Alien series – This is a very different book from the last two. And I love these just as much. This is a science fiction/romance series that over time has evolved into a science fiction/romance/mystery/suspense series. In book one, Kitty Katt discovers there are aliens on earth and she helps them take down a major villain. Over the course of the series, Kitty and her friends have to puzzle out who the true villains are and take them down as well. With two books releasing each year, and 500+ pages in each, this series gives readers a LOT to enjoy. I have several volumes in this series that are my ultimate favorites, but I usually re-read the last few before a new release and then re-read my favorite passages (don’t tell – I dog-eared them in my books!) when I want to enjoy some of Kitty’s best moments. Unlike the last two books in my list, this series is not Christian. The world view is much more open and the romantic passages are quite detailed. They are easily skipped over for any reader who isn’t interested in that portion of the story.

9. The Sons of Destiny series – Eight brothers with magical powers are exiled on a remote island because there’s a prophecy that if the eldest beds a woman, disaster will ensue and other prophecies about the other brothers will start to come true. Each book in the series focuses on one of the brothers. Two of the books are told concurrently (a pretty cool idea) but the rest go in order over time so that by the last book, the last of the prophecies are coming to pass. I adore this fantasy series. I have my favorite books and others that are less so, but I love the world where these take place and the main characters are fascinating. This is another book with a secular perspective. The romantic scenes are spelled out in detail, but again are easily skipped past if you want to get back to the magic and the story.

10. The Katie Chandler series – The last of my re-reads list is another fantasy series. Katie lives in a contemporary New York City and discovers that wizards, fairies and other magical beings really exist. Katie, though, is an immune. She has no magic whatsoever, so not only can she not DO any magic, but she can see through the illusions that the magic community uses to stay hidden. This makes her an important asset to the magical community when less-than-ethical forces try to take control. I just started reading through these again and I was thrilled to discover an 8th book came out at the end of 2016! So not only do I get to enjoy re-reading a favorite series, but I get a new installment at the same time!


So, those are my favorite re-reads. Do you have any books that you go back to time and time again?