Once Upon a Story
March 30, 2016

Twenty Yawns by Jane Smiley_cover (2)Twenty Yawns

by Jane Smiley, illustrated by Lauren Castillo

Published by: Two Lions

Release date: April 2016

Ages: 4-8

Pages: 32

From the publisher:

As her mom reads a bedtime story, Lucy drifts off. But later, she awakens in a dark, still room, and everything looks mysterious. How will she ever get back to sleep?

About The Author:Jane Smiley photo

Jane Smiley is the author of numerous novels, including A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, as well as five works of nonfiction and a series of books for young adults. In 2001 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2006 she received the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature. This is her first picture book. She lives in Northern California.

laurencastillo_headshot (2)About the Illustrator:

Lauren Castillo is the illustrator of many books, including The Reader by Amy Hest. She has also written and illustrated several books, including Caldecott Honor book Nana in the City and The Troublemaker. She lives in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. To learn more, visit www.laurencastillo.com.
Twitter: @studiocastillo.

My thoughts:

In our house, any book can be a bedtime book. Sometimes that means pulling out (or faking) that extra ounce of energy at bedtime to read that wild and silly book just one. more. time.
But then there are other days when the kiddo picks a book that’s just perfect for quieting down, settling in, and getting sleepy. TWENTY YAWNS is that kind of book.
The story opens with a day at a beach, and immediately we’re diving headfirst into happy memories, both Lucy’s and ours. Swinging in the waves with dad, walks along the water, rolling down the dunes. Then, as the sun sets and Lucy and her parents leave the water behind, the yawns begin. First mom, then Lucy, then Dad. The sun sets lower (Lauren Castillo’s spread of the sunset is ah-mazing), and the yawns continue. Into bed, story read…but then suddenly, shadows are creeping across the floor and poor Lucy, sleepy just moments before, is wide awake.
In a movement as effortless as a yawn itself, author Jane Smiley moves the reader from happy and content to nervous and cautious. Lucy knows exactly what she needs, but to get it she has to cross a darkened house, a house in which she’s the only one awake. Do you remember that feeling as a kid? How strange it seems, as if the whole world is asleep? How you tiptoe carefully, but as quickly as possible? The feeling is spot-on here. And when her mission is accomplished, and Lucy crawls back in to bed, there’s more yawns as we slip back into a mode of sleepy calm.
There’s so much to love here. The language and illustrations evoke such wonderful emotions, and the (you guessed it!) twenty yawns interspersed throughout create not only a feeling of sleepiness, but a fun little-hide-and-seek for the reader. Not every yawn is obvious!
This has already become a regular in our bedtime rotation.
Follow the tour!
Check out the activity kit!
Watch the book trailer!


One lucky winner will receive an adorable door hanger (one side for quiet time, one side for play) along with a copy of TWENTY YAWNS. (U.S. only. Giveaway closes at midnight on April 6th)


March 4, 2016

Good Morning Yoga-UPDATED cover hi-resGood Morning Yoga: A Pose-by-Pose Wake Up Story

by Mariam Gates, illustrated by Sarah Jane Hinder

Published by: Sounds True

Release date: March 2016

Ages: 4-8

Pages: 36

From the publisher:

This “wake up” story is so much more than a story. It’s a practice for kids and parents to greet the morning with joy and embark on their daily adventures with intention and confidence. Turn the page and reach up to the sky, press your feet into the earth, and get ready for a great day!

About The Author:Mariam Gates

Mariam Gates holds a master’s in education from Harvard University and has more than twenty years’ experience working with children. Her renowned Kid Power Yoga program combines her love of yoga with teaching to help children access their inner gifts. She is the author of Good Night Yoga (Sounds True, April 2015), and lives in Santa Cruz, CA, with her husband, yoga teacher Rolf Gates, and their two children. For more information, visit mariamgates.com.
Twitter:  @gatesmariam
Instagram: mariam.gates


My thoughts:
We are a yoga family. I started taking a class a year ago, and love it. My almost-7yo asked to learn some of the positions. And my preschooler’s teachers use it to center the kids throughout the day. So Good Morning Yoga is the perfect addition to our family library. The text is both lyrical and directional, each page guiding the child through a new pose and breathing technique. A summary of poses is included in the final pages, as well as directions for visualization. And y’all…these illustrations could not be any cuter. Bright colors, diverse, smiling faces. You can’t help but smile.
I invited Mariam to write a guest post here on the blog. Make sure you keep scrolling after her post for a giveaway!  And if all that’s not enough, you can watch the book trailer, listen to Miriam read from the book, and download this fun storytime kit.
But first, here’s author Miriam Gates with…

5 Ways Yoga is Like Reading


My favorite pastimes have always been yoga and reading. Check out how these two popular pursuits have more in common than you’d think.


  1. Shhhh…. Both yoga and reading are done quietly. What is happening inside is what matters most. And with each activity, the quieter you are, the easier it is to do.


  1. Develop those muscles! Yoga and reading are different kind of exercises, but both are strengthening and lead to a healthier you. Yoga is an obvious physical workout; creating increased flexibility and a stronger body. Reading develops those mental muscles and just like any other part of the body, it requires regular activity to keep it working at its best.


  1. Relaxation in Action: Everyone knows that yoga is a great way to slow down and de-stress. The wonderful thing about reading is that no matter what else is happening in your daily life, losing yourself in a great story is a wonderful way to find some inner tranquility and often much needed perspective.


  1. Imagination Central: Where else can you feel what it is like in your body to fly, or move like a snake in the grass? Where else can you imagine you are weightless in space or as large as a giant? Yoga poses, like reading, allow you to take your imagination on an incredible ride.


  1. Fun To Do Together! Doing yoga with your kids is a great way to spend time with each other and explore something new while learning to feel calm and awake mentally and physically. Reading together, it goes without saying, is one of the most wonderful activities you can do with your children because there too, you get to experience new worlds side by side.


One lucky winner will receive both books by Mariam Gates–GOOD MORNING YOGA and GOOD NIGHT YOGA, along with a full-color poster! (U.S. only. Giveaway closes at midnight on March 12th)


February 19, 2016

Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book!)

by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Tim Miller

Published by: Penguin Random House

Release date: February 2016

Ages: 4-8

Pages: 40

From the publisher:

Snappsy the alligator is having a normal day when a pesky narrator steps in to spice up the story. Is Snappsy reading a book … or is he making CRAFTY plans? Is Snappsy on his way to the grocery store … or is he PROWLING the forest for defenseless birds and fuzzy bunnies? Is Snappsy innocently shopping for a party … or is he OBSESSED with snack foods that start with the letter P? What’s the truth? 

My thoughts:
I’ve been blogging for a while now. My oldest was a year old when I started. She’ll be 7 in a few weeks. In that time, I’ve met many people, read many books, and shared those books with others who will hopefully love them as much as I do.
But it’s extra-special when I get to share a book I’ve watched grow from the very very early stages.
Julie and I “met” through our shared agent (I think? Maybe before?) three years ago. I very clearly remember the day this book deal was announced. And then illustrator Tim Miller began releasing glimpses of early sketches. And then the cover reveal. And the first advanced copies came out. And then the reviews began rolling in. STARRED reviews. Lots of ’em. And the excitement kept building and building and y’all…
Finally, two weeks ago, the copy arrived in my hands.  Then it left my hands.
Those starred reviews don’t lie. Poor Snappsy is just your typical nice-guy alligator,  trying to get on with his day. A normal, errand-running, non-remarkable day. Groceries, lunch, a good book. A little party planning. Things would be fine, except for the unseen pesky narrator who keeps a running commentary on Snappsy’s activities, first accusing him of stalking innocent shoppers and fuzzy bunnies, then following him home, then accusing him of being boring. It’s like the younger sibling that follows you around the house. “Whatcha doin? Whatcha doin’? WHATCHA DOIN’?” It’s no wonder that Snappsy snaps (HA! See what I did there?) But this is not your ordinary narrator and, as the reader will soon find out, not so easily scared off.
The story has a surprise twist ending, but other surprises abound throughout the  illustrations. Read it once, then go back and read it more slowly, spending time on each of the full-page spreads. It’s a little like one of those hidden picture games. Tim has included little details, jokes, and added moments in some of the most unexpected places. We’ve read it cover to cover multiple times and are still discovering new details on every read. And, as I’ve taught my kids, always, always remember to look under the dust jacket.
Congratulations, Julie, Tim, and Snappsy. Y’all sure know how to throw a party.
October 23, 2015

Displaying THE TROUBLE WITH ANTS cover.jpgThe Trouble with Ants (The Nora Notebooks #1) 

by Claudia Mills, illustrated by Katie Kath

Published by: Alfred A. Knopf

Release date: September 2015

Ages: 7-10

Pages: 164

From the publisher:

Nora Alpers is using her new notebook to record the behavior of ants. Why? Because they are fascinating! Unfortunately, no one agrees with her. Her mom is not happy about them being in the house, and when Nora brings her ant farm to school for show and tell, her classmates are not very impressed. They are more interested in cat videos, basketball practice, or trying to set a Guinness World Record (although Nora wouldn’t mind that).
Mostly they are distracted by the assignment their teacher Coach Joe has given them—to write a persuasive speech and change people’s minds about something. Will Nora convince her friends that ants are as interesting as she thinks they are? Or will everyone still think of ants as nothing but trouble?

About the Author:Displaying Claudia_Mills (c)Larry Harwood (2).jpg

Claudia Mills is the author of over fifty books for young readers. She does not personally keep an ant farm, but she does have a cat, Snickers, with whom she curls up on her couch at home in Boulder, Colorado, drinking hot chocolate and writing. To learn more, and to download free curriculum guides for her books, visit her website at claudiamillsauthor.com.
My thoughts:
It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Claudia’s work (you can read my other reviews here and here).  Picture books, chapter books, middle grade…it doesn’t seem to matter. Claudia’s voice is always authentic, her scenarios spot-on, and her characters the perfect blend of appropriately-aged angsty, and good-humored.
My first grader and I have most recently enjoyed the Franklin School Friends chapter books, which feature three friends, each of whom has their own unique talent (sports, math, science). Now Claudia is back with the first book in a new series for the same age group, The Nora Notebooks.  Despite the fact that this is a new series, fans of Mills will recognize Nora. She first appeared as a secondary character in the Mason Dixon series.
Isn’t it great when you meet up with old friends unexpectedly?
In The Trouble with Ants, Nora’s on a mission. A mission to convince the world (or at least her family and friends) that ants are more than pests. They’re fascinating! They’re strong! They’re intelligent! They’re…misunderstood! When the whole show-and-tell thing doesn’t work out, Nora turns to Plan B.  Her teacher, Coach Joe, has given her 4th grade class the assignment of writing a persuasive essay. Surely, surely, this is the way to show her classmates how awesome ants are.
So yes, this is a book about Nora and her ants. But it’s also a book about science ( packed with facts about ants, most of which didn’t know), about loyal friendships, about surviving the 4th grade, and even about loss. And as usual, Claudia Mills hits it perfectly.
Excited for what I’ve read. Excited for what comes next. Until we meet again, Nora…keep on investigating!


October 20, 2015

fanellisFeeding the Flying Fanellis and Other Poems from a Circus Chef 

by Kate Hosford, illustrated by Cosei Kawa


Published by: Carolrhoda Books (Lerner)

Release date: October 2015

Ages: 6-9

Pages: 32

From the publisher:

What do you feed a trapeze family to keep them up in the air? A fire eater with a penchant for hot sauce? Or a lion with a gourmet palate? How do you satisfy a sweet-toothed human cannonball who’s outgrowing his cannon?

Find out what keeps these performers juggling, balancing, and entertaining―meals prepared by their tireless chef! Poems from this jolly cook give a glimpse of his unusual perspective, from delightful to downright funny. Enjoy a front-row seat for this whimsical look at circus life that just might make you hungry!

About the Author:

Kate Hosford grew up in Vermont and is a lifelong fan of Circus Smirkus, a youth katecircus based there.
In 2010, she read an article about Ringling Brothers chef Michael Vaughn and began to wonder about the quirky food requests a circus chef might get from the various performers. The poems flowed from there. She is the author of several picture books, including Infinity and Me which won the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book award and was named an ALA Notable Children’s Book. She lives in Brooklyn with her family. For more information, visit her website: http://khosford.com/
My thoughts:
Gone are the days when teaching children poetry (and how to enjoy it) involves dry, boring, unrelatable rhymes, with a few clever poets thrown in. Today, the library and store shelves are full of rhyming picture books, poetry collections, and novels-in-verse. Some of them are wonderful, some of them…less wonderful. Truly great poetry takes skill, much more than just rhyming words. It’s attention to alliteration and assonance, meter and scansion. It’s end rhyme, internal rhyme, and blank verse.
Oh, and once you have all that down…make it unique and appealing to kids.
It’s tough stuff, that poetry.
Fortunately for budding young poets (and their adult readers), Feeding the Flying Fanellis is poetry done right.
The first poem is an introduction to the circus kitchen, and the chef who is “most content when cooking for my friends.” The next 16 poems allow us a peek inside the circus, via the performers themselves, and their culinary desires. It begins with the ringmaster and includes such colorful characters as Little Blue the hoop-jumping dog, Martin McGarrigle the stiltman, Hugo the human cannonball, and Lena the ballerina. The final two poems introduce a new member of the kitchen, and a feast of big top proportions.
The best part about this collection is its unpredictability. The poems vary widely in tone, length, rhythm, and rhyme pattern. Each poem can stand alone, but like the circus itself, presents a delightful performance when working together. The vocabulary is rich, as are the dishes mentioned. Not just cakes and cookies, but pâtés, chowders, bisques, and cheeses. The illustrations are whimsical and full of color, most drawn as two-page spreads whose perspectives are as diverse as the text. Kawa’s images depart from the realistic, into an almost dream-like world of performers, culinary delights, and maybe a little bit of magic (or perhaps it’s all an illusion).
Feeding the Flying Fanellis is a delightful collection of poems, a treat for both the ears and the eyes. A unique addition to any poetry collection.



October 5, 2015

(Just a reminder: You can always click on the image for more information about the book, including a summary.)


Happy Monday!

Are you dry? We had a wet weekend, but Hurricane Joaquin is missing us and blowing out to sea. Hoping any and all in South Carolina are doing okay!

Here’s what we’ve been reading while it rained outside:



Sidney, Stella and the Moon

Emily Yarlett

Feeding the Flying Fanellis: And Other Poems from a Circus Chef

Katie Hosford, illustrated by Cosei Kawa

Good Morning Sam

Marie Louise-Gay

Stella, Fairy of the Forest

Marie Louise-Gay

What are YOU reading this week?

September 14, 2015

(Just a reminder: You can always click on the image for more information about the book, including a summary.)


Happy Monday!

We’re finally back in school! Hooray! Summer was fun, but I’m ready for fall, and routine.

Here’s what we’ve been reading:

For me:

Big Little Lies

Liane Moriarty

For the Kids:


Little Red’s Riding Hood

Peter Stein, illustrated by Chris Gall


Janik Coat


Anne Rockwell


Scott Magoon

The Extraordinary Mr. Qwerty

Karla Strambini

Madame Martine

Sarah S. Brannen

Miss Hazeltine’s Home for Shy and Fearful Cats

Alicia Potter, illustrated by Birgitta Sif

What are YOU reading this week?

August 31, 2015

(Just a reminder: You can always click on the image for more information about the book, including a summary.)


One more week till we go back to school ’round here.

One week!

In the meantime, here’s what we’ve been reading:


For me:

Lost in the Sun

Lisa Graff

For the Kids:


Penguin and Pumpkin

Salina Yoon

On My Way to School

Sarah Maizes, illustrated by Michael Paraskevas

Goodnight Already

Jory John, illustrated by Benji Davies

What are YOU reading this week?

August 28, 2015

25122006That’s (Not) Mine by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Published by: Two Lions

Release date: September 2015

Ages: 2-7

Pages: 32

From the publisher:

Two fuzzy creatures both want to sit in the same comfy chair. The trouble is, they can’t agree who it belongs to. They get madder and madder, until…

With expressive illustrations and simple text, this giggle-inducing tale about (not) sharing and (not) being a good friend features the endearing characters from Theodor Seuss Geisel Award winner You Are (Not) Small.


About the Author and Illustrator:

Husband-and-wife team Anna Kang and Christopher Weyant are the creators of You Are (Not) Small, which won the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award and was named a Notable Children’s Book by the American Library Association. They live in New Jersey with their two daughters, Kate and Lily, a guinea pig named Athena, and a hermit crab named Anna Kang Headshot 8-16-15 _credit Christopher WeyantOlaf.
Anna, a native New Yorker, grew up believing everything was hers until one day she realized it was her brother’s, too. She received a master’s degree in fine arts from the USC School of Cinematic Arts, where the visual storyteller in her was awakened, forever changing the way she saw art, life, and everything in between. In addition to writing, Anna loves to read, travel, laugh, eat, and nap. Visit her online at www.annakang.com or on Twitter @annakang27
Christopher Weyant Headshot _credit Anna Kang
Christopher is a cartoonist and illustrator. His work can regularly be seen in the New Yorker. His cartoons are syndicated worldwide and have been featured on the Today Show, Meet the Press, and World News Tonight. Christopher likes to share everything but his personal space on the subway. Visit him online at www.christopherweyant.com or on Twitter @chrisweyant05
My thoughts:

Last year, I shared with you Chris and Anna’s first book, You Are (Not) Small. From the first reading, this book was wildly popular at our house. In fact, a year later, it’s still sitting in our rotating book basket in the living room, and still gets read frequently. And we’re not the only ones who loved it.  Earlier this year, the book was awarded the 2015 Theodor Seuss Geisel Award, an American Library Association award given annually to a book for beginning readers.

So when That’s (Not) Mine, the newest collaboration by this husband and wife team, arrived on our doorstep, there were many grabby hands. The six-year-old, who has read the first book so many times she practically has it memorized, the three-year-old, who immediately recognized the bears on the cover, and mine.
We were not disappointed.
That’s (Not) Mine features the same two bears we’d already come to love. This time, they’re faced with a topic well known to the preschool (and sibling) set: sharing. One comfortable armchair, two bears. One bear who was sitting in it first, but got up.  One bear who took it over.
Sound familiar?  So will what happens next. One clever bear comes up with a way to trick his friend from getting out of the desired comfortable armchair (my 6yo is a pro at pulling this stunt on her younger brother). But it doesn’t take long for the duped friend to realize what has happened, and then the battle is on.
The text is sparse, the illustrations big and expressive against a white background. The result is that each page conveys so much emotion and action, simply. We see the progression from slight irritation , to sneaky retaliation, to satisfied smugness, and then to outright anger as these two friends battle for what is apparently the best seat in the house. It’s a scene that’s played out half a dozen times (or more!) in preschool-aged homes everywhere. Then, as with You Are (Not) Small, the final page leaves the reader with a satisfied giggle.
This book is just so much of what you want your young child to read. It’s silly, and simple, and wholesome, with characters who are real and flawed and lovable.
Just like those preschoolers who won’t be able to keep their hands off it.
Want to win a copy? One lucky winner will receive a copy of THAT’S (NOT) MINE plus an adorable full-color poster. (U.S. addresses; allow 6-8 weeks for delivery.) Just fill out the entry form below by midnight on Friday, September 11th.




August 25, 2015

(Just a reminder: You can always click on the image for more information about the book, including a summary.)

I just love all the back to school posts, from both teachers and parents alike. The pictures of shiny classrooms and shiny kids. Fresh start!

I’ll post mine in two weeks. TWO WEEKS. Because ’round here, we don’t start until after Labor Day. And Labor Day is late this year. Which means I have two bored-with-summer kiddos at home. And my productivity is hovering *just* above ZILCH.


Here’s some of what has caught our attention lately.

For me:

Goodbye Stranger

Rebecca Stead

Finding Audrey

Sophie Kinsella

The Impossible Knife of Memory

Laurie Halse Anderson

For the kids:

Pippi Longstocking

Astrid Lindgren

The Day the Crayons Came Home

Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers


Sally Sutton, illustrated by Brian Lovelock

Outstanding in the Rain: A Whole Story With Holes

Frank Viva

Boats for Papa

Jessixa Bagley

What are YOU reading this week?

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