Book Review: Before She Was Harriet

I am kicking off my holiday book review season with tons of fabulous books, but I’m not saving the best for last…This week I bring you the most beautiful book I’ve read all year. Seriously, if you only buy one book for Christmas, buy this book. This book literally gave me goosebumps.

before she was harriet

Before She Was Harriet (2017, Holiday House, Non-Fiction Picture Book)

From the publisher:

A lush and lyrical biography of Harriet Tubman, written in verse and illustrated by an award-winning artist.
We know her today as Harriet Tubman, but in her lifetime she was called by many names. As General Tubman she was a Union spy. As Moses she led hundreds to freedom on the Underground Railroad. As Minty she was a slave whose spirit could not be broken. An evocative poem and opulent watercolors come together to honor a woman of humble origins whose courage and compassion make her larger than life.


Before She Was Harriet, written by Lesa Cline-Ransome and illustrated by James E. Ransome, is quite possibly the most moving picture book of the year. The text and illustrations are simply stunning, and weave a powerful, haunting story of Harriet Tubman.

Both educational and beautiful, this is a biography of a figure we have all heard about, but maybe never considered the journey her life took and the influence she had beyond the Underground Railroad. For children and adults, Harriet will leap off the page as a real person and not just a historical figure.

Highly recommended for every reader young and old, but especially for classroom teachers who are studying Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. This story will stay with the reader long after the book is over.

5 stars to guide Minty through the night

Thank you to Holiday House for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: The Werewolf of Davenport

Hello all, I’m here with the last slightly spooky read of the season before we get into holiday books!!! I have some outstanding Christmas books for you all this year and I can’t wait to tell you all about them, but first….

The Werewolf of Davenport (2017, Branford Books, Middle grade fantasy)


In this sequel to The Midnight Glass, the reader is once again transported to the mysterious town of Davenport where a host of magical and mythical creatures live and work together. The sun now shines in the town once known for eternal darkness, but for Wyatt Dumont the dark times aren’t over. As the gatekeeper, he faces difficult decisions about who to allow into the city, and even more troublesome are the recent attacks by a vicious werewolf. Now Wyatt is seeing a ghost girl and he can’t help but wonder if everything is connected.

As the city adjusts to the sunlight, it seems evil has a greater presence than ever and the citizens wonder if sunlight might be a greater curse than the darkness.

The Werewolf of Davenport, written by D.T. Vaughn, is an exceptional sequel to The Midnight Glass. I reviewed The Midnight Glass last year, and was impressed by it, and I think this sequel is even more exciting and developed than its predecessor.

The characters are more developed and we see Wyatt’s friendships grow, as well as him as a person. The villains are wonderfully frightening and new creatures are introduced. With lots of twists and turns, middle-grade readers will love this page-turning adventure.

Readers should read the first book before picking this one up, as they might be a bit confused without the backstory.

Overall, an exciting, slightly scary, fantastical adventure that readers 10 and up will want to read late into the night. Highly Recommended! 

4 stars to shine at night in the spooky city of Davenport!

Thank you to Branford Books for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Snickerdoodle Takes the Cake

Snickerdoodle Takes the Cake (2017, Holiday House, Picture Book)

snickerdoodle cake

From the publisher:

When Snickerdoodle gets up before the rest of the family, he is thrilled to find one of Mom’s Famous Lemon Poppy Seed Cakes. Unfortunately it has a note on it that says “Do Not Touch.” In this test of his willpower, Snickerdoodle will attempt to bend the rules, and it will not go well for him. But Snickerdoodle will also use his brainpower to devise a plan that just might save the day.
A charismatic clan of chinchillas confronts everyday problems in this humorous story of family life and foibles.


Snickerdoodle Takes the Cake, written and illustrated by Ethan Long, is a fun read for young children and might teach them something about patience. Parents might be disappointed to see that Snickerdoodle faces few consequences for his actions, but he works hard to make it up to his family so maybe that is a lesson as well. The text and illustrations are engaging and have potential for an exciting story time. This is not a quiet bedtime read, and would be great to read to a group of children.

A cute story with fun illustrations, sure to get lots of giggles and interaction from young children when read aloud. Recommended for children ages 3 to 6 either as a read aloud or for independent readers to tackle on their own.

3.5 stars

Thank you to Holiday House for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Glow

Hope you all are having a safe and happy Halloween filled with lots of treats and not too many tricks 🙂

I am still hoping to enter Susanna Hill’s Halloweensie Contest, so I better get to work! But until then, here is a new review for you to enjoy…

Glow (2017, Albert Whitman & Company, Young Adult Historical Fiction)


From the publisher:

Sometimes the light is more treacherous than the dark.

When thrift-store aficionado Julie discovers a series of antique paintings with hidden glowing images that are only visible in the dark, she wants to learn more about the artist. In her search, she uncovers a century-old romance and the haunting true story of the Radium Girls, young women who used radioactive paint to make the world’s first glow-in-the-dark products—and ultimately became radioactive themselves. As Julie’s obsession with the paintings mounts, truths about the Radium Girls—and her own complicated relationships—are revealed. But will she uncover the truth about the luminous paintings before putting herself and everyone she loves at risk?


Glow, written by Megan E. Bryant, is a gripping tale weaving together a haunting story from the past and Julie’s modern day teenage struggles. Told in alternating points of view, the story is slowly revealed from Julie’s perspective as she tries to learn more about the mysterious glowing paintings, and through letters written by a young woman who lived a century ago.

The historical aspect of this novel is both fascinating and terrible, and the letters are beautifully written with an incredibly authentic feel. Julie’s narrative is strong as well, but her life is almost overly complicated. She has so much going on that the reader will struggle to fully grasp her situation until very near the end, but that’s a minor detail, as the story overall is a brilliant, page-turning creation.

A fantastic read for young adults. This story has mystery, romance, strong female characters, and creepy glowing paintings. The historical inspiration for this story is gripping, and will leave readers wanting to know more about the Radium Girls. Highly recommended for readers ages 12 and up.

5 glowing, gleaming stars to shine this Halloween night!

Thank you to the publisher for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Spliced

Counting down to Halloween with another thrilling and chilling tale!

Spliced (2017, Holiday House, Young Adult Science Fiction/Dystopian)


From the publisher:

In this gripping sci-fi thriller, genetically altered teens fight for survival in a near-future society that is redefining what it means to be human.

Sixteen-year-old Jimi knows people change, but nothing could prepare her for what’s about to happen to her best friend, Del. Del is obsessed with becoming a chimera (ki-mir-a): a person who pays back-alley geneticists, known as “genies,” to illegally splice animal genes into their own. The resulting physical changes have scared lawmakers into drafting legislation declaring chimeras officially nonpersons―so when Del goes missing, Jimi is desperate to find him before he alters himself forever. 

As she tries to save him, Jimi must face down unscrupulous people and risk her own life―all while knowing that if getting spliced is the choice Del has made, it means he’s leaving her behind forever.


Spliced, written by Jon McGoran, is a fast-paced science fiction thriller that will have readers staying up late into the night to read just one more page. Jimi shines as the unlikely heroine in this book and the chimeras are both beautiful and scary, at least at first.

The storyline is a nearly perfect blend of incredible, science fiction plot, and normal teenage worries set against a somewhat dystopian future. The reader will root for Jimi as she struggles to figure out who she is, while everyone around her seems to be choosing one side or the other in a heated debate. At times, the dialogue is a bit heavy on the human/non-human dilemma, but in this near-future fictional world, the debate plays out politically in a very real way, and has serious consequences for the chimeras.

Hopefully this is the first in a series, because the reader will be wanting more and the ending is left a bit too wide open to be truly satisfying as a stand-alone book. Overall, an entertaining and exciting read that will get readers thinking about the future of science and what might be possible. Highly recommended for readers ages 14 and up due to some scenes of violence and adult situations.

5 stars for this page-turning, thrilling adventure

Thank you to Holiday House for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Author Interview and Giveaway!

It’s the spookiest time of the year and I have great Halloween reads to share with you all!

To kick it off, I bring you an interview with author Stephanie Shaw and a chance to win a signed copy of her book Schnitzel: A Cautionary Tale for Lazy Louts!

See the end of the post for details on how you can enter to win this fantastic prize!

Schnitzel: A Cautionary Tale for Lazy Louts (2016, Sleeping Bear Press, Picture Book)


From the publisher:

Apprenticed to a famous wizard, young Schnitzel is not known for his hard work. In fact, it’s just the opposite. He’s lazy and lacks motivation. So late one night, when a door-to-door salesman selling vacuum cleaners offers to help, Schnitzel sees an answer to his housecleaning woes. Little does he know, however, that this is no ordinary salesman and the vacuum is no ordinary dust-buster. In this retelling of the classic tale The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Schnitzel is about to find out why it’s never a good idea to invite a cape-wearing, fang-toothed stranger in after dark. Fortunately for him, there’s magical help ready to lend a hand.


Schnitzel, written by Stephanie Shaw and illustrated by Kevin M. Barry, is the perfect Halloween read! With stark illustrations and spooky scenes, children will be delighted with the disaster that befalls poor, lazy Schnitzel when he invites in a strange salesman. Children will immediately see that Schnitzel should have done his own work, and hopefully the message will sink into their own lives as they reflect on their own household chores.

Overall, a delightful story written in rhyme, and sure to be a Halloween hit with children ages three to seven.

Interview with author Stephanie Shaw

stephanie shaw

Stephanie Shaw (photo from

Me: I love your new book Schnitzel: A Cautionary Tale for Lazy Louts, and I especially love that it was inspired by The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Although, I must admit my first thought was of Mickey Mouse and not the original poem!

Which original fairy tale is your favorite and which retelling have you most enjoyed?

SS: I love fairytales so it would be hard to choose.  As a child I loved the classics — Snow White, Cinderella, Rapunzel. And, folktales and fables were (and still are) favorites!  There are several modern retellings of The Three Little Pigs that I think are super clever.  

What is recently out is my fairy tale PIECE BY PIECE. It is an original story and once again Sleeping Bear Press took my breath away with the choice of illustrator. So, for the moment that’s my favorite retelling!

Me: People often wonder about the author-illustrator relationship especially when they might not know each other.

Did you know your illustrator, Kevin M. Barry prior to working on this project and what was the process like from your original text draft to the final product? Did you have any vision for what the illustrations might look like as you were drafting the manuscript?

SS: I have never met any of the illustrators for any of my books.  It’s true that authors (at least I do) ‘see’ the story as they write it. As picture book and so much of the heavy lifting is done by the artist. Schnitzel is my third book with Sleeping Bear Press and I trusted the SBP team to choose the best illustrator to take on the text. But, wow! Did they ever surprise me! I remember the day Senior Children’s Editor Barb McNally asked me, “What do you think of the work of Edward Gorey?”  Are you kidding? I love Edward Gorey!  Then she explained how Kevin thinking of doing the art in gray scale with just a touch of color.  I was intrigued and amazed.  And, I am so very happy with what Kevin did.

I make it a point to not communicate with an artist during the development of the book.  First of all, I can’t draw a straight line with a ruler and wouldn’t be any help at all. But, mostly I don’t want the illustrator to feel I am looking over his shoulder and pressuring him.  

As far as the process of the text from start to finish, again, Barb is just a super editor.  I don’t believe we changed the text much at all. But, then one day she contacted me.  There was a spot near the end that was slightly confusing. As the story was coming to its finish, it read a bit like ‘it was all a dream’ (which was not my intention at all).  So, Barb asked me to be sure to clarify that stanza.  It was one small line but I did five rewrites before we finally settled on the phrasing that satisfied us.

Me: I love the back page activity where you encourage children to write their own retelling of a popular story. When did you first start writing and do you remember any stories you made up as a child?

SS: I began writing after working with children in schools for many years. I was an elementary principal when I took an early retirement in 2006 to care for my mom. I had always loved children’s literature and writing was something I turned to for fun between care shifts. I sold my first story to Highlights Magazine in 2011 and my first book manuscript in that same year.   Honestly, I think the only stories I remember making up as a child were more ‘tall tales’ about the disappearance of the chocolate chips from the kitchen cupboard.

Me: Who or what would you say had the biggest impact on your writing career?

SS: Easy peasy! My parents influenced me by reading to my siblings and me every night. And, we had our library cards as soon as we could write our names. Saturdays were spent walking to the neighborhood library and carrying home armloads of books.  Books were also given to me as gifts and I still cherish a copy of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice that was the very first picture book my dad gave me.

Socerer's Apprentice

Illustration from original Sorcerer’s Apprentice picture book given to the author by her father. Written by Richard Rostro (William Morrow & Co. publisher, 1941).

Me: What advice would you give young writers or aspiring authors?

SS: Read the genre you want to write.  Read what’s coming out but also read all those wonderful classics. Writing is no different than learning a language or sport or musical instrument. If writing is where your heart is, invest in that dream through classes and workshops. It will save you from so many mistakes (trust me). And, also join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. It is a fantastic network of creative people and everything you ever want to know about the craft is available through SCBWI.

Me: With Halloween right around the corner, your book is a great story to share with little ones. Not too spooky, and lots of fun! What’s your favorite holiday and what’s your favorite holiday tradition?

SS: As much as I love Halloween (treats more than the tricks), I think my favorite holiday is Christmas.  When I was small we went to bed on Christmas Eve without a single decoration in the house except our stockings hung on the mantle.  But, in the morning Santa would have delivered a fully decorated tree and packages! How magical is that?  My poor parents had to wait until we were asleep to do all the work, but oh it was so enchanting! Of course, as I got older I noticed other people had trees up before Christmas, so that part ended. But, absolutely no gifts ever showed up until Christmas morning.  I still like that tradition!

Me: Is there anything else you’d like to share about this book or your writing career?

SS: Golly, I just want to say thank you so much for asking about Schnitzel and my writing. I love hearing from readers — kids, parents, teachers, writers.  If there is anything else I can share I can always be contacted through Sleeping Bear Press or my website

Happy Halloween!  

Me: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer questions and share about your fabulous writing! It’s a pleasure to feature you on my blog and your book is perfect for the Halloween season. 


Sleeping Bear Press and Stephanie Shaw have been kind enough to offer a copy of Schnitzel as a prize to one lucky reader. And not just any copy…a copy signed by Stephanie Shaw! No tricks here, just treats 🙂

To Enter:

Comment below with your favorite Halloween story or tradition.

Comment by Friday, October 27th to be entered for a chance to win. There will only be one prize awarded to one person selected randomly from the comments. The winner will be announced Saturday, October 28th on the blog. Once the winner is selected, he or she will need to provide mailing information and I will get the book sent out!

Don’t be shy, go ahead and comment!

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Thank you to Sleeping Bear Press for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Thank you to Stephanie Shaw for allowing me to interview her and for providing a signed copy of Schnitzel to a reader of this blog.

Book Review: Windows

Windows (2017, Candlewick Press, Picture Book)


From the publisher:

Walking his dog at dusk, one boy catches glimpses of the lives around him in this lovely ode to autumn evenings, exploring your neighborhood, and coming home.

Before your city goes to sleep, you might head out for a walk, your dog at your side as you go out the door and into the almost-night. Anything can happen on such a walk: you might pass a cat, or a friend, or even an early raccoon. And as you go down your street and around the corner, the windows around you light up one by one until you are walking through a maze of paper lanterns, each one granting you a brief, glowing snapshot of your neighbors as families come together and folks settle in for the night. With a setting that feels both specific and universal and a story full of homages to The Snowy Day, Julia Denos and E. B. Goodale have created a singular book — at once about the idea of home and the magic of curiosity, but also about how a sense of safety and belonging is something to which every child is entitled.


Windows, written by Julia Denos and illustrated by E.B. Goodale, encourages young readers to notice the world around them, and consider how people may spend their evenings in different ways. Through beautiful images of a city at sunset, the story takes the reader on a walk through different neighborhoods and offers a little glimpse of what might be happening through each window.

While the text isn’t exceptionally magical, it sets a soft, dream-like tone and works well with the illustrations. The illustrations are what really shine and make this one worth reading. In fact, adults might have fun letting children make up their own stories while looking at the pictures.

Recommended for children ages 3 to 7. Themes of home and family against a setting of night makes this a great bedtime read.

4 stars shining in your window

Windows hits shelves next month just in time for a lovely Fall stroll through the neighborhood.

Thank you to Candlewick for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Giant Pumpkin Suite

Giant Pumpkin Suite (2017, Candlewick Press, Middle Grade Fiction)

pumpkin suite

From the publisher:

Who are you, if you can’t be what you always expected? A moving coming-of-age tale of prodigy and community, unlikely friendship and growing things.

Twelve-year-old Rose Brutigan has grown seven inches in the last eight months. She’s always been different from her twin brother, Thomas, but now she towers over him in too many ways. The gap in their interests continues to widen as well. Musically talented Rose is focused on winning the upcoming Bach Cello Suites Competition, while happy-go-lucky Thomas has taken up the challenge of growing a giant pumpkin in the yard of their elderly neighbor, Mr. Pickering. But when a serious accident changes the course of the summer, Rose is forced to grow and change in ways she never could have imagined. Along the way there’s tap dancing and classic musicals, mail-order worms and neighborhood-sourced compost, fresh-squeezed lemonade, the Minnesota State Fair — and an eclectic cast of local characters that readers will fall in love with.


Giant Pumpkin Suite, written by Melanie Heuiser Hill, weaves a musical and magical tale of family and friends, and finding one’s true talent. With Rose having a passion for Bach, the story is told with many references to the composer and lots of tidbits and lesser known facts. Fans of math puzzles and music will enjoy this aspect of the writing.

The book is quite long for a middle-grade read and a bit slow to get started which might deter some readers. On the other hand, readers will feel a great sense of accomplishment by finishing such a long book.

In a market that leans heavily toward fantasy and magical realism, it’s nice to see a book planted more firmly in the real world, allowing readers to make more direct correlations between the characters’ lives and their own.

Overall, this book is interesting and well-written, just a bit slow as far as pacing goes. Recommended for readers ages 10 and up.

3.5 stars

Thank you to Candlewick Press for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: First We Were IV

I apologize for the long hiatus. For whatever reason, I was having difficulties getting to my site on my laptop. But I am back now and have a new review for you all!

Thanks for stopping by and as always, I welcome your comments and input 🙂

First We Were IV (2017, Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, Young Adult Mystery/Thriller)

First we were iv

From the publisher:

A group of friends start a secret society in this out-of-control thriller from the author of The Telling and The Creeping that examines the all-consuming love of lifelong friendship—and what someone is capable of when they’re afraid of losing it.

Izzie loves nothing more than her three best friends, Viv, Graham, and Harry, and the bond the four of them share. And she’s terrified of their friendship falling apart next year when they go off to college. To bind them together, she decides to create something that will belong only to them, a special thing that they’ll always share between the four of them. And so they dream up the Order of IV, a secret society devoted to mischief that rights wrongs and pays back debts. At first, it works like a charm—but when the Order of IV’s escapades get recognition beyond their wildest expectations, other people start wanting in. And soon, what started as a game of friendship is spiraling into something dangerous and beyond their control—and before it’s over, they’ll pay the ultimate sacrifice.


In First We Were IV, written by Alexandra Sirowy, readers follow the destructive path of four friends who form an order to maintain their friendship beyond high school, and instead it ends up creating something much bigger than high school friendship. Full of high school drama, bullying and teenage angst, many young adult readers will likely find this book engrossing.

There is a mystery in this book which is established at the very beginning, but the first chapter is a bit convoluted and vague. In an attempt to be super mysterious, the first chapter will likely leave readers scratching their head, but everything will be explained in time if the reader forges ahead. The book picks up after the first few chapters, and the author has a lovely writing style, but there are few truly suspenseful parts and overall the focus is on teenage relationships.

Fans of high school drama, teenage angst and secret clubs will enjoy this book, while others may feel a bit let down. Recommended for ages 14 and up due to adult situations and topics.

3 stars

Thank you to Simon & Schuster and Netgalley for a reading copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Landscape with Invisible Hand

Landscape with Invisible Hand (2017, Candlewick Press, Young Adult Science Fiction)

landscape with invisible hand

From the publisher:

When the vuvv first landed, it came as a surprise to aspiring artist Adam and the rest of planet Earth – but not necessarily an unwelcome one. Can it really be called an invasion when the vuvv generously offered free advanced technology and cures for every illness imaginable? As it turns out, yes. With his parents’ jobs replaced by alien tech and no money for food, clean water, or the vuvv’s miraculous medicine, Adam and his girlfriend, Chloe, have to get creative to survive. And since the vuvv crave anything they deem classic Earth culture (doo-wop music, still life paintings of fruit, true love), recording 1950s-style dates for the vuvv to watch in a pay-per-minute format seems like a brilliant idea. But it’s hard for Adam and Chloe to sell true love when they hate each other more with every passing episode. Soon enough, Adam must decide how far he’s willing to go – and what he’s willing to sacrifice – to give the vuvv what they want.


Landscape with Invisible Hand, written by M.T. Anderson, is a futuristic satire in which aliens have colonized on Earth and have caused a myriad of unforeseen consequences with their advanced technology. With each chapter titled as a still-life painting, the story has a poetic quality that gives it an other-worldly feel. The emotional connection to Adam is beautifully written, and will keep the reader turning pages to find out what happens to him and his family.

There are a few inconsistencies with what the vuvv supposedly offer versus how life is described throughout the book. It’s implied the vuvv arrived offering everything for free, but then most people can’t afford basic necessities and it’s unclear how other humans have become insanely rich. Still, it’s an interesting concept and the relationships between the characters are what really drives the story forward.

As a satire, it does feel a bit heavy in making a point at times, which might not appeal to some readers. Highly recommended for science fiction fans. Best for ages 13 and up due to some profanity and adult situations.

4.5 stars awarded by an invisible hand

Landscape with Invisible Hand hits shelves next month.

Thank you to Candlewick Press for a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.