Featured Five: Illustrated Children’s Books

 Each Wednesday, I’ll feature five books that I’m currently loving. This week, all my picks are illustrated children’s books – perfect gifts for the young book lovers in your life!

Title: Too Much Glue
Author: Jason Lefebvre
Illustrator: Zac Retz
Publisher: Flashlight Press
Age: 5-7 (K-2)
Goodreads

Too Much Glue is too much fun. Young Matty is a glue enthusiast; he firmly believes you can never have too much glue. After finding himself in a sticky situation, literally, things may have gotten a tad out of hand. Great fun!

Title: My Pen Pal, Santa
Author: Melissa Stanton 
Illustrator: Jennifer A. Bell
Publisher: Random House BFYR
Age: 3-7 (P-2)
Goodreads

In this delightful story Ava sends Santa Claus a letter, thanking him for her gifts and inquiring after his New Year plans. Surprised that someone is thinking of him after Christmas, Santa writes back, beginning a year long correspondence with Ava that leads right up until following holiday season. Ava, full of curiosity and questions, asks many of the things children will often ask of their parents, but receives answers directly from Santa himself! I loved that this story addresses the tough questions – How does Santa get into houses without chimneys? How does he even fit down those chimneys? And does Santa know the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny? – while encouraging kids who still believe in Santa to hold on to the magic and keep believing, nevermind the older siblings and peers who might say otherwise!

Title: Snatchabook
Author: Helen Docherty
Illustrator: Thomas Docherty
Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky
Age: 3-6
Goodreads

In cozy Burrow Down, the rabbit Eliza Brown and her book-loving neighbors are without books to read at bedtime. Someone, or something, has been stealing books right from under their noses and Eliza is determined to find out who. When Eliza sets a clever trap for the book snatching thief and discovers the culprit is a Snatchabook, an adorable little imp, she quickly comes up with a plan to set things right. A beautifully illustrated story about sharing, forgiveness, and creative thinking, The Snatchabook is a fantastic read aloud story sure to enchant your readers.

Title: I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love
Author: Nancy Tillman
Illustrator: Nancy Tillman
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan
Age: 4-8 (P-3)
Goodreads

Nancy Tillman has done it again! An incredibly touching and moving portrait of the bond between parent and child, I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love belongs in every young reader’s library. Children will love the cadence of the story and the beautiful illustrations featuring children as animals of every shape and size and the parents who will “know them anywhere.” As always, I highly recommend this Tillman offering.

Title: Princess Tales: Once Upon a Time in Rhyme with Seek-and-Find Pictures
Author: Grace Maccarone
Illustrator: Gail de Marcken
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan
Age: 4-6 (P-1)
Goodreads

Perfect for anyone who loves fairy tales, this interactive book is sure to provide entertainment for both parents and children. Ten retellings are featured in Princess Tales, from the well-known story of Cinderella to the lesser known Twelve Dancing Princesses. What I loved most about the stories themselves was the diversity represented throughout the stories, as each takes place in a different part of the world or in an entirely new fantasy landscape. The tales are told via lengthy poems, making it a great book for parents and children to read together. After parents and children will have fun working together as they search for the items hidden within the illustrations.

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Review: Where the Moon Isn’t

TitleWhere the Moon Isn’t
Author: Nathan Filer
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press/Macmillan
Pub Date: November 5, 2013
Genre: Adult (Crossover)

Rec. Age Level: 16+
More by author: n/a

 Picture Me Gone

   

Where the Moon Isn’t begins with the recounting of a childhood memory by the 19-year old narrator Matthew. This memory, which may seem, to the reader, odd at best and unimportant at worst, has stayed with Matthew his entire life as a defining moment that set in motion a choice that ended in the death of his older brother, Simon. Now, Matthew is telling his story – and his brother’s story – as he attempts to bring his brother back. Matthew is convinced he’s found a way to do this: by going off the meds that keep his schizophrenia – and his brother – at bay. As Matthew tells his story, the reader struggles to unravel the truth from Matthew’s story, which one can never take completely at face value, as it meanders through past and present, sometimes linear, sometimes repetitively, but always with a steady, persistent goal: finding Simon.

I cannot stress how much important I think this novel is. It deals with a myriad of topics, most notably mental illness, in a raw, honest way that readers won’t soon forget. I was incredibly moved by Where the Moon Isn’t… not just by Matthew and Simon’s story, but by the stories of even the secondary characters. I can’t talk about this book without my heart breaking and my eyes filling with tears because it’s obvious that Filer has first hand experience with the issues he writes about in this book. My mother has spent most of her life working with for Community Mental Health of Michigan, so throughout my life I had the pleasure of meeting some of the most absolutely wonderful people who are saddled with mental and physical deficiencies. Filer gives these individuals a voice with Where the Moon Isn’t. This book is a compelling mystery with engaging psychological elements, but, because of the author’s heart and deft hand, it is also so much more.

While Where the Moon Isn’t is technically adult fiction, it has definite crossover appeal. The main character, Matthew, is only nineteen and much of the novel focuses on his childhood.

Notable Quotes:

“I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.”

“I decided each name on each spine was the person who the book had been written for, rather than who had written it. I decided everyone in the world had a book with their name on, and if I searched hard enough I’d eventually find mine.”

“But there are different versions of truth. If we meet each other in the street, glance away and look back, we might look the same, feel the same, think the same, but the subatomic particles, the smallest parts of us that make every other part, will have rushed away, been replaced at impossible speeds. We will be completely different people. Everything changes all the time.

Truth changes.
Here are three truths.”

“What happened next is less clear in my mind because it has merged into so many other memories, been played out in so many other ways that I can’t separate the real from the imagined, or even be sure there is a difference. So I don’t know exactly when she started to cry, or if she was crying already. And I don’t know if she hesitated before throwing the last handful of dirt. But I do know by the time the doll was covered, and the earth patted down, she was bent over, clutching the yellow coat to her chest, and weeping.

When you’re a nine-year-old boy, it’s no easy thing to comfort a girl. Especially if you don’t know her, or even what the matter is.

I gave it my best shot.”

 Check out the Youtube video inspired by Where the Moon Isn’t:
 

Review: The F-It List by Julie Halpern

With her signature heart and humor, Julie Halpern explores a strained friendship strengthened by one girl’s battle with cancer.

Alex’s father recently died in a car accident. And on the night of his funeral, her best friend Becca slept with Alex’s boyfriend. So things aren’t great. Alex steps away from her friendship with Becca and focuses on her family.

But when Alex finally decides to forgive Becca, she finds out something that will change her world again–Becca has cancer.

So what do you do when your best friend has cancer? You help her shave her head. And then you take her bucket list and try to fulfill it on her behalf. Because if that’s all you can do to help your ailing friend–you do it.

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Julie Halpern brings something new to the “YA cancer lit” subgenre with The F-It List… simply put, I love this book.
Most YA cancer novels feature either a teen who has cancer or who has a parent with cancer, but this is the first time I’ve seen that the main character is the best friend of someone with cancer. The fact that Alex is the best friend, not the patient, adds an entirely new perspective to the mix. When you consider the fact that Alex has recently lost her father (to a car accident), her boyfriend (after he slept with her best friend, Becca), and her life is now a complete and utter mess, then throw in Becca having cancer, you know that Halpern is going to steer readers towards some pretty heavy topics.. What you might not expect is that there will be plenty of laughter, plenty of hope, and even more living within the pages of The F-It List.
One of the defining elements of The F-It List was Alex and Becca’s relationship. It isn’t every day you come across best friends like these two. Sure, they’ve done some pretty horrible things to one another, but, honestly, what best friends don’t find themselves in those situations? Becca, in a moment of misguided weakness, sleeps with Alex’s boyfriend… the day of Alex’s father’s funeral. In response, Alex refuses to speak to or see Becca for the entire summer following the funeral and betrayal. But, the first day of the new school year, Alex goes in search of Becca… because they’re best friends and people make mistakes sometimes and deserve to be forgiven. Best friends are sometimes selfish and sometimes entirely self-sacrificing: Alex and Becca have been both, they understand and accept one another, and they’re stronger because of it.
For a cancer book, The F-It List, is surprisingly funny. It’s easy to expect quirky and/or touching when it comes to “cancer lit,” but I can’t remember the last time I literally laughed aloud; there is usually a lot more crying than laughing happening. Alex and Becca, however, keep living, with the help of the f-it list, and never give into the cancer that threatens Becca’s future. It’s clear from the start, when Becca flashes her neighbor to fulfill a goal on the f-it list and decides to shave her head to beat the chemotherapy to taking the hair she’s so proud of, that she isn’t the type to go down without a fight.
In the midst of Becca’s struggle, Alex has other things vying for her attention. Like the father she’s recently lost, her mother and two brothers who feels broken without her father, and a mysterious and distracting boy, who should be the least of her worries with all the death and drama currently surrounding her days, but who somehow keeps inserting himself into the forefront of her mind.
I truly appreciated that Halpern never made Alex’s issues seem less than Becca’s. Instead, the two girls were a united front. They were each fighting battles, sometimes together and sometimes separate, but neither was more or less important. 
I highly recommend Julie Halpern’s The F-It List. It deals with difficult topics in a very real, alive sort of way. There are tears, but there is also laughter and real, genuine happiness because Alex and Becca refuse to stop living, no matter what life throws their way.

Feiwel & Friends, November 2013, Hardcover, ISBN:  9781250025654, 256 pgs.

Review: This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales


Making friends has never been Elise Dembowski’s strong suit. All throughout her life, she’s been the butt of every joke and the outsider in every conversation. When a final attempt at popularity fails, Elise nearly gives up. Then she stumbles upon a warehouse party where she meets Vicky, a girl in a band who accepts her; Char, a cute, yet mysterious disc jockey; Pippa, a carefree spirit from England; and most importantly, a love for DJing.

Told in a refreshingly genuine and laugh-out-loud funny voice, This Song Will Save Your Life is an exuberant novel about identity, friendship, and the power of music to bring people together.

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Fans of contemporary YA fiction are seriously missing out if they haven’t read any of Leila Sales’ novels. This Song Will Save Your Life is the third book I’ve read from Sales, who is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors for smart, heartfelt realistic fiction and witty, engaging main characters.

This Song Will Save Your Life follows Elise Dembowski, a passionate girl who flings herself wholeheartedly into life and pursues her diverse interests with a reckless abandon. Well, at least she did, until she realized that being passionate and interesting just made her an easier target – for judgement, for laughter, for bullying. Elise decides to blend by embracing anything and everything that’s “in” in an effort to discourage the teasing and bullying, but, much to her disappointment, she finds even this carefully planned effort to escape loneliness isn’t enough. And then, unexpectedly, everything changes. One night Elise stumbles across a secret party, where she meets people who don’t know that she’s the unpopular, constantly mocked Elise Dembowski. Instead, she’s an interesting girl with good taste in music and a natural skill for DJing. Elise loses – and finds – herself during her clandestine nights at the secret warehouse parties, but the double life she’s carefully cultivated can’t last forever.

Though it’s alluded to in the novel’s description, I really didn’t realize how much of This Song Will Save Your Life would focus on bullying and suicide, nor did I realize how much it would affect me. This book reminded me how powerful a bully can be and how senseless bullying is. I was ridiculously angry at the kids in the book that picked on Elise over the years for absolutely no reason. Not that there is ever a situation that warrants bullying, but Elise, with her passion and interesting hobbies, is awesome! And I couldn’t understand how her peers couldn’t see how awesome she is.

When Elise finally gives up on winning the approval of her peers, I cheered for her. It was difficult to see her try to win over people who so clearly didn’t appreciate what she had to offer (friendship with an interesting, unique person!) and see the resulting low self-esteem take hold and inevitable, self-questioning of what was wrong with her (rather than what was wrong with them). I think that this aspect of the book really shone: Elise taking charge of her life, in spite of the haters, and reaffirming what she believed in and cared about, to hell with all of them!

There is a small amount of romance in This Song Will Save Your Life, but it’s definitely not the focus of the story. The romance elements seemed to be included to illustrate Elise’s growth and the changes in her self-worth. The true romance in this book is between Elise, the music, and the sense of pride it allows her.

I highly recommend all of Leila Sales’ novels, This Song Will Save Your Life included. Not only is this a great story about overcoming bullying and finding yourself, music lovers will appreciate the mentions of fantastic bands and songs!

Farrar, Staus, & Giroux, September 2013, Hardcover, ISBN:9780374351380, 288 pgs.

Review: New Money by Lorraine Zago Rosenthal

A young Southern woman of modest means suddenly finds herself thrust into New York’s high society when she discovers that she is the illegitimate daughter of a recently-deceased billionaire.

Savannah Morgan had high hopes. She dreamed of becoming a writer and escaping her South Carolina town, where snooty debutantes have always looked down on her. But at twenty-four, she’s become a frustrated ex-cheerleader who lives with her mother and wonders if rejecting a marriage proposal was a terrible mistake. Then Savannah’s world is shaken when she learns the father she never knew is Edward Stone, a billionaire media mogul who has left Savannah his fortune on the condition that she move to Manhattan and work at his global news corporation. Putting aside her mother’s disapproval, Savannah dives head first into a life of wealth and luxury that is threatened by Edward’s other children–the infuriatingly arrogant Ned and his sharp-tongued sister, Caroline, whose joint mission is to get rid of Savannah. She deals with their treachery along with her complicated love life, and she eventually has to decide between Jack, a smooth and charming real estate executive, and Alex, a handsome aspiring writer/actor. Savannah must navigate a thrilling but dangerous city while trying to figure out what kind of man her father truly was.

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Lorraine Zago Rosenthal’s sophomore offering, New Money, is a departure from her first book, Other Words for Love, but both novels have the same sense of heart and feature a main character fighting to stay true to herself.
New Money begins in the small South Carolina town where the main character, Savannah, was raised by her single mother. Savannah, now 24, often wonders if she made the right choices in her life. After all, her current situation – a dead-end job, an unused college degree, single, and disillusioned – isn’t what she’d dreamed of for herself. All that changes with a simple phone call: Savannah is the illegitimate daughter of Edward Stone, the recently deceased millionaire, and she’s been included in his will. Stone has left her his entire fortune, but, in exchange for her inheritance, she must move to New York and take a job within his company. Many things await Savannah in NYC, including two bitter half-siblings, a luxurious lifestyle, not one but two suitors, and drama and gossip, two things she’d hoped she’d left behind in SC. Savannah isn’t sure her rags to riches story will have a happy ending, but it’s abundantly clear her new situation will challenge everything she believes in.
While the premise of New Money is pretty straight forward, I still enjoyed following Savannah’s story. Though she has a good heart, she isn’t a perfect person, which makes her both frustrating and easy to relate to. Still, she redeems herself with her honesty. She admits when she’s wrong and doesn’t deny her faults.
My favorite character, however, was not Savannah but her new-found sister-in-law, Kitty. She’s a strong, independent, successful woman, who comes from money but never seems to take it for granted or believe that it makes her any better than others. I would definitely read a book where Kitty was the main character – I feel like there is so much more to learn about her!
New Money has the feel of television series fueled by drama, secrets, and good-looking men. It’s light, clean fun that I fully recommend.

Thomas Dunne Books, September 2013, Hardcover, ISBN: 9781250025357, 336 pgs.

Interview: Lorraine Zago Rosenthal, author of New Money

Today Lorraine Zago Rosenthal is at The Hiding Spot to answer a few questions about her writing and her newest book, New Money: A Novel. I loved Rosenthal’s first novel, Other Words for Love (review here), and this new novel, which has a complete different setting and main character than her first book. New Money is New Adult and features a rags to riches story, but still has the same heart I loved about Other Words for Love

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The Interview


Did you have trouble writing any of your characters or specific scenes within the novel? Or, were any characters or scenes particularly easy to write?

In general, writing a novel is challenging. It requires a lot of dedication, effort, and focus on the characters and their individual stories. What often comes easiest is writing dialogue after the characters’ personalities and relationships with each other have been established. When you really understand a character, it isn’t hard to figure out what he or she is going to say next.

Has the title changed or stayed relatively the same as your novel journeyed towards publication?

The title has stayed the same.

 What book or author has most influenced you as a writer or in general? 

I admire and have been influenced by so many authors. One of my all-time favorite authors is Emily Bronte. I love Wuthering Heights because of its emotional intensity and Bronte’s ability to make me understand and sympathize with characters who aren’t necessarily likeable. 

If you had to pick a favorite word, what would it be and why?

 “Yes” is a good word. It’s usually much better than “no.”

 My blog is dedicated to my personal hiding spot, books. Who, what, or where can be credited as your personal escape from reality? 

I’m a movie buff, and I have always found watching a movie in a theater to be a great escape from reality.

Find out more about Lorraine and her books here! 

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Review: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell


A coming-of-age tale of fan fiction, family and first love. 

Cath is a Simon Snow fan.

Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan . . .

But for Cath, being a fan is her life — and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?

Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?

And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

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I’ve heard, repeatedly, that Rainbow Rowell’s writing has a magical quality, so I knew I needed to read one of her novels. So, when the opportunity arose to read Fangirl, I had high expectations, but that ended up totally fine because I loved this book to pieces.

If you looked next to the definition of introvert in the dictionary, you might see a picture of Fangirl‘s main character, Cath. In real life, Cath is quiet, solitary, and anxious when it comes to interacting with others. Which makes her first semester at university especially difficult: she’s far from her dad, who she worries about constantly, her twin sister wants to branch out and begin her own, independent life, her new roommate might hate her, and her roommate’s boyfriend is entirely too chatty for loner Cath. To add to the overwhelming mess of college, Cath has some very unique commitments: she’s a Simon Snow fangirl. In fact, she’s so committed to the Simon Snow books that she writes them… well, versions of them. Cath is well known – and widely read – in the Simon Snow world and, with the release of the final book approaching, she’s under more pressure than ever to finish her version of Simon’s story as well. Cath has to figure out how to balance her relationships and responsibilities, how to leave the safe warmth of her comfort zone, and, ultimately, embrace happiness.

For me, the most amazing aspect of Fangirl was how completely I was able to relate to the characters and actually picture the events as they happened. I think this was partially from having gone to university and having felt just as lost as Cath at the beginning Everything that happened in the book, whether it ever actually happened to me personally, felt achingly familiar. There is an honesty about Rowell’s writing that allows for this sense of connection. Fangirl is a perfect example of a book that let’s readers know they’re not alone, that someone else out there in the world has experienced the same feelings and made it through the same situations.

I loved Cath’s writing professor. In my experience, it isn’t often that students run across professors that take such an interest in their students, who really care whether they succeed and embrace their potential, but it’s those professors who make the college experience really worth it. I appreciated the professor’s part in Cath’s story; she was a valuable source of direction and encouragement in the sea of overwhelming newness that is the first year of college.

It was also refreshing to see Cath have such a close relationship with her family. Her father, in particular, was an interesting character. Often, in YA, the reader only sees bits of the parent(s), but I felt like I really got to know Cath’s father. Cath’s mother is an entirely different story, having left the family when Cath was quite young, we are only able to see flashes of her, memories and quick images as she tries to salvage a relationship with the twins after years of absence. What struck me, however, about Rowell’s portrayal of Cath’s parents, is that they are neither good nor bad. They are just people with flaws and quirks and twin daughters. Again, the honesty of Rowell’s writing asserts itself.

Cath’s college experience is like that of many young adults, so the premise of Fangirl is by no means new and shiny, but Cath – and the way she thinks and sees the world – makes the premise feel new again. Cath messes up, she makes unexpected new friends, faces challenges, and falls for a boy. She must admit to her mistakes, open up to her new friends, find the strength tackle new situations, and the bravery to love a boy.

Read Fangirl, whether you already love Rowell’s writing or have only heard good things about it. And be prepared to fall in love with the raw honesty you’ll find within these pages.
St. Martin’s Griffin, September 2013, Hardcover, ISBN:9781250030955, 405 pgs.