Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Shai and Emmie dance their way into a new adventure!

Shai and Emmie Star in Dancy Pants!, by Quvenzhané Wallis with Nancy Ohlin/Illustrated by Sharee Miller, (Jan. 2018, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $15.99, ISBN: 9781481458856

Recommended for readers 6-9

This is Academy Award-nominated actress Quvenzhané Wallis’ second outing in her Shai & Emmie series. This time, the two third graders and their friend Rio are getting ready to strut their stuff for a dance competition – but Shai’s frenemy, Gabby, decides to make things more competitive by challenging Shai to a bet: whoever’s team “wins” will bring the other a cupcake every day for a whole month. Shai’s determined to win, but Emmie and Rio don’t even know they’ve been sucked into this bet, so when Shai becomes a taskmaster about practice, things get a little interesting. Can the friends work it all out?

This is an enjoyable series for kids ready to graduate from simple chapter books and easy readers – Jasmine Toguchi readers, the Ivy and Bean audience, and Whoopi Goldberg’s Sugar Plum Fairies fans will dive right in. Shai has supportive, loving parents and a big family, with siblings and pets aplenty; there’s always something going on in Shai’s bustling world. Her group of friends are diverse, as illustrated in the black and white illustrations throughout. This is a highly readable series for newly confident chapter book readers.

Posted in Preschool Reads

Rock Away the Night with Granny!

Rock Away Granny, by Dandi Daley Mackall/Illustrated by Mike DeSantis, (Apr. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5107-0835-8

Recommended for readers 3-6

A little girl gets dropped off at Granny’s, and she isn’t looking forward to the evening. She misses her toys and TV, and Granny just sits there in her rocking chair. But once Mom pulls away, Granny taps her blue suede shoes, paints her granddaughter’s nails, gives them both pony tails, and gets ready to rock the night away! Granddaughter and Granny pull out the old records (“a guy named Elvis has a giant stack”) and do the Twist, the Boogaloo, the Monster Mash, and the Bunny Hop before collapsing back into their rockers. When Mom comes back to pick her little girl up, she kisses Granny goodnight and shuffles off to Buffalo, right out the door – until next time!

What a sweet book about grandparent bonding! Kids don’t always remember that grandma and grandpa were pretty darned cool before they had kids and grandkids; Rock Away Granny has too much fun reminding us about that. This book appeals to grandkids and their parents, who will likely remember hearing Elvis, The Twist, and the Monster Mash while growing up. My own mom is a diehard Elvis fan, so the two of us got a great laugh over the Elvis reference in the book. Instructions on doing the Bunny Hop and how to rock and roll end the book on a high note.

Mike DeSantis’ watercolor illustration gives a soft, cuddly feel to his artwork, and I love his movement when Granny and granddaughter dance. The swaying skirts and swinging ponytails, the imaginative underwater sequence for the swim, and Granny’s cat, who gets in on the action, give this happy book a joyful look and feel.

Bring this book on your next visit to Grandma and/or Grandpa’s, and get them up and dancing! Grandparent’s Day is September 10th this year – add this to your read-aloud and give everyone a dance party with a playlist from the ’50s and ’60s.


Award-winning author Dandi Daley Mackall has written more than 450 books for kids and adults. You can check out her website for more information. See more of Mike DeSantis’ illustration work at his site.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Dance like your life depends on it: Spin the Sky

Spin the Sky, by Jill MacKenzie, (Nov. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1510706866

Recommended for readers 14+

Eighteen year-old Magnolia Woodson and her older sister, Rose, have to live with the sins of their drug addict mother, who abandoned them after a tragedy a year before. Living in a small clamming town in Oregon, everyone knows who they are and what happened; the only folks who seem to think differently are Magnolia’s childhood best friend, George, and his mother, who’s taken care of the girls whenever their mother fell short. To change the way the town sees Magnolia and her sister, she decides she need to win the reality dance show, Live to Dance. She and George head to Portland to audition, but they make it! Now the real work begins: will the competition be too much for Mags? Will her friendship with George survive the stress of the show, and will she be able to live in the fishbowl that is reality television, especially with a secret she doesn’t want made public?

Spin the Sky has a strong premise that isn’t afraid to tackle some hot-button topics like drug addiction, sexuality, abortion, and miscarriage. Some of your more conservative readers may shy away from this one; steer them toward books like Sophie Flack’s Bunheads, Lorri Hewett’s Dancer, or Sarah Rubin’s Someday Dancer. Magnolia is a tough character to crack: she’s consumed with what other people think of her, and obsesses over winning the competition, seemingly just so that the town will accept her and her sister. She has a complicated love-hate relationship with her mother (understandably), and she has an unrequited crush on George, who she thinks is gay – and is really upset when it seems that isn’t the case. The other contestants all have their own issues that the author briefly touches on throughout the novel.

If you have readers who love reading about dance and are interested in reality television, Spin the Sky is a good backup for your shelves.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Early Reader, Fiction, Humor, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

The Zoo’s about to cut FOOTLOOSE!

footloose_1Footloose, by Kenny Loggins/Illustrated by Tim Bowers, (Oct. 2016, MoonDance Press), $17.95, ISBN: 9781633221185

Recommended for ages 2-6

Where are my fellow ’80s children at? Kenny Loggins, who basically soundtracked the ’80s, has given new life to Footloose – a song that I will still unabashedly jump off and dance to whenever I hear it (usually to my eldest teen’s mortal terror) – for the little ones! He was inspired to rewrite the song into a fun story for his grandchildren; what we get is a fun rhyming story about what goes down after a zoo closes to the public for the evening.

First things first: Yes, I absolutely did find a karoake version of Footloose on YouTube and played it while I sang this book. In the privacy of my bedroom, sure, but I did it and it was fabulous! The song and story line up nicely, and if that’s your kind of thing, and you have an audience that may be receptive to it, print out a set of the lyrics for the parents and go for it.

This is a fun story for kids about party animals getting down after dark, with Zookeeper Big Jack witness to the whole business. There’s rhyming, there are great illustrations of animals swinging from trees, dancing a tango, and turning it loose – Footloose!



footloose_4For me, this is a no-brainer add to my shelves – my storytimes include a lot of movement, my little ones love animal books, and I can easily read this, Eric Carle’s From Head to Toe, Lindsay Craig’s Dancing Feet, and Sandra Boynton’s Barnyard Dance to get the kids up, moving, and laughing. If you have animal picture book fans, it’s a great addition to your collections. If you like to sing and dance with your little ones, be it in your own living room or the storytime area in  your library, add this one. And if you want that karaoke link, here’s the backing track (just the music), and here’s one with the lyrics, in case you want to track how your reading goes compared to the pace of the song.

Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Preschool Reads

Ballet Cat is Back!

ballet cat_1Ballet Cat: Dance, Dance, Underpants!, by Bob Shea (Feb. 2016, Hyperion), $9.99, ISBN: 9781484713792

Recommended for ages 4-7

Ballet Cat is back! She and Butter Bear are having a dance playdate, and Ballet Cat wants to do super-high leaps. Butter Bear really doesn’t feel up to it, and keeps trying to put Ballet Cat off in a series of requests that become more outlandish as they go: it’s like showing off; she wants Ballet Cat to make her cereal and ice pops; she has to go to the bathroom; she has to go hibernate… Ballet Cat is getting frazzled! There’s a reason why Butter Bear really doesn’t want to do the super-high leaps… but will she tell Ballet Cat?


This is the second book in Bob Shea’s Ballet Cat easy reader series, and I can’t get enough of her. I love Shea’s cartoony art and bright colors, I love the wild and expressive text and ideas he comes up with for his characters, and I love how he gets preschoolers. Kids (and parents) will absolutely recognize themselves in Butter Bear, who puts things off in the hopes that Ballet Cat will just forget about it or give it up; they’ll also recognize themselves in Ballet Cat, who is tenacious and determined to get her way!

This may be an easy reader, but it’s great for a storytime reading. You can get silly and invite the kids to dance along with you, and you can put all sorts of wacky voices on as you reenact the dialogue between Ballet Cat and Butter Bear. And just mentioning the word “underpants” in a room full of preschoolers is comedy GOLD, so this book is a win all around. Pair this one with Vegetables in Underpants and Polar Bear’s Underwear for triple the fun, and let the kids decorate their own underpants with coloring pages! You wouldn’t believe how many coloring pages feature blank underwear for kids to color in. Thank you, Captain Underpants, for making undergarments mainstream.

If you’ve never read any of Bob Shea’s books before, you are missing out. Go check out his Dinosaur Vs. series (I’m partial to Dinosaur vs. Mommy) and Unicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great. Check out his author page for info on more of his books. Check out a few spreads from Ballet Cat: Dance! Dance! Underpants below!

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Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Hamster Princess is back, and she’s saving twelve dancing princesses!

hamsterprincessHamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic, by Ursula Vernon (March 2016, Dial Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780803739840

Recommended for ages 8-12

Babymouse fans, where are you? Come on over and check out the adventures of Princess Harriet Hamsterbone, a hamster princess with enough snark and sass to stand toe to toe with our favorite Mouse.

Written by Dragonbreath series author Ursula Vernon, Hamster Princess: Of Mice and Magic is the second book in this new series about a hamster princess who has a battle quail, a poncho of invisibility, and a best friend, Prince Wilbur, who she totally does not like like that, okay? She’d rather be cliff-diving than sitting at court any day of the week.

Of Mice and Magic finds Princess Hamster bored stiff now that all the local monsters have retired. She happens upon a fairy who tells her about twelve mice princesses – daughters of a very odd king with loads of issues – who are cursed to dance all night long. She offers to help break the curse, but she may have gotten herself in too deep when she comes up against a witch that’s really calling the shots.

This series is fantastic! I’ve been a fan of the Dragonbreath series for a while, and the kids at my library agree; the series is in constant circulation. I can’t wait to introduce them to Hamster Princess – she’s awesome for boys and girls alike, thanks to Ursula Vernon’s snappy dialogue, loaded with side-of-the-mouth snarky comebacks and a great graphic novel/chapter book hybrid format. It’s everything we love about Danny Dragonbreath, with a new twist on a beloved fairy tale. Where Dragonbreath’s art is largely green, black, and white, Hamster Princess glams it up a bit, with shades of purple and pink thrown in with the black and white. Princess Harriet is a great heroine – she’s smart, independent, can think on her feet, and can fend for herself. I love her, and I can’t wait for the kids in my library to meet her.

Ursula Vernon writes the Dragonbreath series, along with other great books for kids. Her website offers an FAQ, her blog, and a shop where you can check out some of her amazing artwork. While Of Mice and Magic won’t be out until March 2016, you can get started with the first book in the series, Harriet the Invincible, right now!

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club – a Jazz Age retelling of a beloved fairy tale.

kingfisherThe Girls at the Kingfisher Club, by Genevieve Valentine (Atria Books, 2014). $24, ISBN: 9781476739083

Recommended for ages 14+

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is a reimagining of the fairy tale, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, set in the Jazz Age. Jo, the oldest – known as “The General” to her sisters – and her 11 sisters are all but prisoners, locked in their businessman father’s townhome. Ashamed that his marriage couldn’t produce a son, he hides his daughters from the world, homeschooling them and giving them a small amount of money toward living expenses, like clothes and shoes. Their mother died, leaving Jo to watch over all of them. Their cold, standoffish father periodically sends for Jo to give him updates, but never spends time with his daughters.

Jo’s had enough. At first, she sneaks out to movie theatres, where she falls in love with dancing. She learns the moves, and teaches them to her sisters. And then, they start going out at night. As each of them are old enough, they join Jo, Lou, and the rest of their sisters, until all 11 girls wait for Jo’s nightly signal, sneak into cabs outside, and head for the speakeasies, where they dance their nights away. They live to dance and flirt, and Jo watches over all of them.

But nothing can last forever. The father has decided to start quickly and quietly marrying them off, and he expects Jo’s help in getting the job done. The time is coming for Jo to make decisions that will change all of their lives forever.

The Roaring Twenties is really a perfect setting for a retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses, and Ms. Valentine’s description of the nights out, dancing in the speakeasies, the clothes, and the music really placed me in the setting. One issue I had with the book is that, with so many characters, it was hard to “know” anyone but Jo. We get a very good idea of who she is, but the character development is really just touched on with the other sisters. The narrative sometimes slows down a bit too much, but it’s only because it’s leading to a literary explosion, a little more than halfway through, where I couldn’t put the book down. The tension between Jo and her father, when it finally comes to a head, is fantastic.

The book hits bookstores on June 4, and I think it’s a great summer read for teens. In an age when so many fairy tales are being remade for younger audiences, like Frozen’s retelling of The Snow Queen, we shouldn’t forget that teen readers can enjoy fairy tales, too. It’s also a great look into a prominent decade in American pop culture.