Once Upon a Story
October 1, 2014

1423183851 My Bibi Always Remembers by Toni Buzzeo, illustrated by Mike Wohnoutka

Published by: Disney Hyperion

Release date: September 2014

Ages: 3-5

Pages: 32

From the publisher:

Little Tembo, a baby elephant, is thirsty and her herd cannot find any water. But Bibi, the matriarch, “remembers the way to wet.” As Bibi leads them across the parched savannah, Tembo happily follows, every now and then getting distracted by her own memories of games she loves to play. With touching family moments interspersed between Tembo’s playful actions, this tribute to grandmothers will make a perfect read-aloud.


My thoughts:

When this book first arrived on my doorstep, I was getting ready to go out of town for the weekend with my eldest.  So after unwrapping it, I set it next to the reading chair upstairs, intending to get back to it the following week.

Upon my return on Sunday afternoon, it was my 2yo who followed me around, declaring we read the “e’phant book.” Knowing his attention span (about 3.5 seconds, on a good day), I gave him the book to flip through, but picked another one for bedtime.

Nice try, mom.

He accepted it that night, but the following day was chasing me again, “Read me e’phant book!” So that afternoon, I sat down and we started with the first page.

And read the whole thing cover to cover. And then he asked to read it again.

Perhaps it’s the lovable baby elephant as the main character, or the wide variety of African animals to identify, or the repetition of

When Bibi calls

everyone comes–

aunties, sisters, Mama–

one by one.


Searching for wet

which somehow has the slow, plodding feel of an elephant’s gait. Doesn’t matter. He was enthralled.

If you’ve read Stay Close to Mama or Just Like My Papa by this author-illustrator duo, you know that Buzzeo has a passion for the the animals of the African savanna. My Bibi Always Remembers, like its two predecessors, blends the wilds of this part of the world with tender family relationships, in this case a grandmother matriarch. Wohnoutka’s color palette is broad, taking us from the bright yellows and golds of morning, to the sharp blue skies of afternoon, and into the reds and purples of sunset. Through it all you have Little Tembo, a smiling, rambunctious, not-quite-obedient (elephant) toddler.

The sense of family comes through strongly. The elephants appear to smile, as they progress through their day–marching, resting, bathing–led by Bibi, larger, more wrinkled, more serious in expression than the others. Yes, it’s a story about elephant relationships, but it’s not a far leap to see one’s own human relationships in these giant animals.

A book to share between generations, a bedtime story, or, according to my own little reader (who continues to request this book) an anytime story, My Bibi Always Remembers is a beautiful addition to Buzzeo and Wohnoutka’s previous collaborations.


September 22, 2014

Ah, here it is, Banned Book Week. The week where teachers, librarians, booksellers, avid readers and book industry professionals band together to defend and promote books that others have attempted to remove from the hands of children.

It’s a passionate crew, y’all.

According to the above website 307 reported challenges were made to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2013. And that’s only a fraction of the books that were challenged in schools and libraries across the country last year.

There are other passionate people out there, y’all. On both sides.

And you know what?

I get it.

I’m a parent. This year, I’m a parent with a kindergartener who peruses the library on her own and is making her own book selections at school. I’m not there to influence her decisions, even if I wanted to. I’m not there to protect her 5yo eyes from viewing images she may have questions about. And in the coming years, I won’t be there to prevent her from picking up a book, reading the inside flap, and discovering that her world, its problems, its people, are much bigger than they may seem now.

As a parent, that’s tough. We want to keep our children innocent. We don’t want them exposed to violence, we’re not always prepared with quick answers to tricky questions, we’re afraid of the peer pressure they might experience.

What do I do if my 10yo wants to read The Hunger Games? Isn’t that violent?

Did you know The Diary of Anne Frank mentions sex(ual urges)? How can that be considered appropriate for an 8th grader

And so, sometimes, we, as parents, react with a knee-jerk response.

We remove the threat.

Or at least we attempt to.

Singularly, or alone, we raise voices, we pound fists, we storm the compound.

We demand that the book be removed.

Problem solved.

Child protected.

I get it.


Except it’s wrong.

Children need tough books. They need books that deal with scary issues. They need books about war, and hurt, and fear. They need a book about families that look like their own, especially if their own family looks different than many others. They need books. They need books with imperfect protagonists, even broken protagonists.  They need books with unhappy endings.  They need books that deal with their physical and emotional awakenings and the turbulence of adolescence.

Because somewhere, there’s a child dealing with scary issues. There’s a child impacted by war, eaten by hurt, living with fear. There’s a child with a family that doesn’t look like any other family in town, who struggles with loving his/her own parents,  and being ridiculed for that love. And as much as I, as a parent and human being wish it weren’t so, there are many, many broken children whose lives feel like a series of unhappy endings. And we’ve ALL experience middle school and know how horribly confusing that time can be.

But that’s not my kid.

And if that’s true, thank goodness for that. But if it’s not your child, I can say with absolute certainty that someone your child is in contact with on a regular basis is hurting or confused child.

Hurting kids need books written for them.

Those that are not hurting need books that show them a world beyond their own, to teach them compassion, forgiveness, patience, tolerance.

We all need those banned books.  We all need access to those banned books.

I recently saw Meg Medina speak on her new book Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass. I was disappointed to hear that a school in my home state of Virginia cancelled her author visit because the title was deemed in appropriate. Nevermind that the book, written for a young adult (12-17yo) audience, deals with a topic familiar to many teens, has received many awards, and is widely praised for both its writing and its relevance.

The word “ass” is in the title, and that’s too strong of a word for adolescent ears.

Because, as we know, that’s the worst language a teen hears on a typical school day. Right?

Medina admits that in the final stages of publication, she expressed concern to her editor for this very reason.  Parents would reject it based solely on the cover. Librarians would keep it from prominent display.

The editor’s response (I’m paraphrasing):

Who did you write this book for? The parents/teachers/librarians? Or the teen being threatened and bullied?

They kept the title.


As a parent, I get it. Would I allow my child at 10 years old  to read The Hunger Games? Nope. At least not willingly. It is violent. (Also, not written for a 10yo audience, but that’s another rant). That’s my personal decision as a parent, and a conversation I can have with my child.

Would I allow my 5yo to read And Tango Makes Three? Yep. Would every parent? Nope.

And that’s okay, too. We get to make those choices as parents.

Let’s just leave it on the shelve for the child who needs it, okay?

He might very well sit next to your child in class.



September 1, 2014


For me:

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

E. Lockhart

I am relatively new to the Lockhart scene, but now am working my way through her works. She writes with such clear voice, and startling realism. It would be nice if everything in life were wrapped up neat and pretty. But it’s not, and Lockhart clearly recognizes this.

The Meaning of Maggie

Megan Jean Sovern

Only a few chapters in. Again, a novel about dealing with the not so pleasant life. This time a young girl’s experience with her father’s illness, which will forever change her family.

For the kiddos:


Ivy + Bean: Doomed to Dance

by Annie Barrows, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Continuing our journey through the Ivy + Bean books with my 5yo. This one regarding dance, commitment, running away, and a giant squid was a hit. Bonus points for the cleverly woven From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler references.


 Chu’s First Day of School 

by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex

I’m so glad that Chu is back just in time to accompany my child to her first day of kindergarten (!!). This book, as title suggests, addresses a child’s common fears about starting school, but still features Chu doing what Chu does best. And if you don’t know what that is… I’m not going to be the one to ruin it for you. But my 5yo remembered :)

Flora and the Penguin

by Molly Idle

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet and hear Molly speak at National Book Festival this past weekend. She is just as beautiful, inside and out, as her books. My daughter, already a Flora fan from the first book, is thrilled with the signed copy I brought home for her. We’ve read it several times already, and she keeps it at the end of her bed to read after lights-out. No better endorsement than that!

Happy Monday, Friends!



August 26, 2014

Watch Out Hollywood! More Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child cover Watch Out, Hollywood! More Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child by Maria T. Lennon

Published by:HarperCollins

Release date: August 2014

Ages: 8-12

Pages: 224

From the publisher:

Hilarious tween heroine Charlie C. Cooper—reformed bully, misguided fashionista, and so-called middle child—is back! This sequel to Confessions of a So-called Middle Child will delight fans of Louise Rennison, Mean Girls, and Harriet the Spy.

Charlie’s adventures offer a fresh look at middle school, bullying, and mean girls. In Book Two, Charlie navigates sudden celebrity and auditions for a television series, but a little white lie may endanger the one friendship Charlie can truly count on—and her connection to swoon-worthy crush Bobby! Poignant and seriously funny, Charlie’s account of her dilemma is one all tweens will relate to.

Charlie knows what it feels like to be stuck in the middle, but it’s finally her time to shine. After saving her friend Marta in the old Houdini tunnels of Los Angeles, Charlie’s become a local hero, gained sudden celebrity, and *MIGHT* just become a TV star! But will Charlie let her newfound fame go to her head? Watch out, Hollywood!


Note about today’s special guest post:

I have been sharing books here on this blog for several years. When reviewing picture books, I’ll often include the thoughts and reactions of my own young children, but when reading middle grade or young adult books, I’m on my own…my children are not yet old enough for those titles.

I read the first book in this series a while ago, though never reviewed it here. What I enjoy most about Charlie is her flaws, her brutal honesty. A reformed bully, yes, but not sappy-sweet. Charlie has learned a lesson or two about compassion towards others, but she’s still a teenage girl, one struggling with her desire to fit in while standing out, loving her family while rolling her eyes at their lameness. Charlie cannot be categorized. She is real, and complex, and, well, a pre-teen.

A couple of months ago, I shared Confessions of a So-Called Middle Child with with a friend’s daughter, Allison. She finished it almost immediately, and asked if there would be any more.

As a matter of fact…

Not only was there another one releasing, but it was releasing soon, and I happened to have a copy at home. I handed the book over to her the following week, and she finished it within two days, and then agreed to guest post here on Once Upon A Story.

So today, I’m pleased to have my first guest post by a young reviewer, right in the middle of those “middle grade” years.  I give you…

Allison’s thoughts:

In Spring of 2014 I read Maria T. Lennon’s book entitled Confessions of a So-called Middle Child and enjoyed it cover to cover. She writes with a very unique style, both straightforward and detailed at the same time. From the perspective of a teenager in middle school, she captures perfectly the essence of growing up and adds an unusual twist to it.

In Ms. Lennon’s second, Watch out Hollywood! More Confessions of a So-called Middle Child, the same techniques are applied and the storyline is as exciting as ever. When Charlie, our “hero”, has become very popular with the media, an offer is made to her from an agent who promises her own TV show. But what Charlie doesn’t know, is that telling a tiny little lie to get the part can result in big social troubles with potentially everyone at her school. All the people she considered as friends are quickly turning on her. Now, Charlie has to fix what she has done and make up for her mistake before it is too late.

Ms. Lennon has brought the story to life. The challenges that Charlie face have become bigger than ever, and she has done an excellent job of illustrating that for the reader. This book has used amazing storylines to point out that doing something bad early on won’t help your situation; it will just expose more and more problems later on. As a 6th grader, I would recommend this series to my friends, and I hope that there is a third book!


Thank you, Allison, for taking the time to stop by!

Want to know more about Maria?Maria Lennon photo_credit Chiara Berruto
Maria T. Lennon is a graduate of the London School of Economics, a novelist, a screenwriter, and the author of Confessions of a So-called Middle Child, the first book featuring the irrepressible Charlie C. Cooper. When not driving one of her four children to school or volunteering at school libraries, she can be found sitting in a parked car, a café, or a library, writing novels, travel articles, or just passed out. To learn more, and to download a free curiculum guide, visit her website: http://confessionsofasocalledmiddlechild.com/.
Follow all of the stops on Maria T. Lennon’s blog tour!
Wed, Aug 13
The Hiding Spot
Mon, Aug 18
Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Tues, Aug 19
The Book Monsters
Wed, Aug 20
The Children’s Book Review
Thurs, Aug 21
Kid Lit Frenzy
Fri, Aug 22
Booking Mama
Mon, Aug 25
Read Now, Sleep Later
Tues, Aug 26
Once upon a Story
Wed, Aug 27
The Late Bloomer’s Book Blog
Thurs, Aug 28
The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia
Fri, Aug 29
Beauty and the Bookshelf

And now…


One lucky winner will receive both books featuring Charlie C. Cooper–CONFESSIONS OF A SO-CALLED MIDDLE CHILD, new in paperback, and WATCH OUT, HOLLYWOOD! MORE CONFESSIONS OF A SO-CALLED MIDDLE CHILD, in hardcover! (U.S. addresses only.)

1. Fill out the form below

2. One (1) entry per household

3. U.S Residents only, please.

4. Giveaway closes at 11:59pm on Tuesday, August 8th.

Good luck!


August 8, 2014

You Are Not Small You Are (Not) Small by Anna Kang, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Published by:Two Lions/Amazon Publishing

Release date: August 2014

Ages: 2-6

Pages: 32

From the publisher:

Two fuzzy creatures can’t agree on who is small and who is big, until a couple of surprise guests show up, settling it once and for all!

The simple text of Anna Kang and bold illustrations of New Yorker cartoonist Christopher Weyant tell an original and very funny story about size—it all depends on who’s standing next to you.

My thoughts:

We received this book a month ago. Which means, for the last month, I’ve been biting my tongue, trying not to say too much, because I knew I had this blog tour stop coming up.

You Are (Not) Small was an insta-hit in our house. The book arrived in the afternoon mail, we opened it right after naps. We read it once. Got to the end. And read it again. Both the 2yo and the 5yo, one on either side of me, demanding another read.

First, I love the play on perspective. I have a 5yo who, compared to her peers, is “small.” But if you ask her, she’ll tell you she’s “big”. She’s five, after all. Five year olds are big kids. “Small” is her 2yo brother, nevermind that he’s only a few inches shorter and a few pounds lighter. This books takes the idea of big and small and turns it on its head, with an ending that had my preschooler both thinking and giggling.

The text is simple, another reason this book was perfect for both my children. My youngest may not have understood the message about perspective, but he followed the simple plot. My oldest, who is just learning to read, recognized several of the words, and was able to read parts independently, something that’s hugely satisfying for an almost-kindergartener. Pair this with bright, bold illustrations and plenty of white space, and both kids were captivated.


I asked Anna and Christopher to share a little bit about themselves by answer a few questions. Here are their responses:

Chris Weyant and Anna Kang

You Are the best at recalling random and useless facts; nagging (according to my daughter).

You Are (Not) a fan of wet socks; shopping.

You Are happiest when reading.

You Are (Not) afraid to try new foods.


You Are the best at being able to identifying any actor just by their voice in commercials and radio.

You Are (Not) a fan of chalk.

You Are happiest when drawing or being with my kids. Or even better, drawing with my kids.

You Are (Not) afraid to try fixing stuff (even though I may make it worse).

Thank you, Anna and Chris, for taking the time to visit!
Want to know more?
Christopher Weyant’s work has been published worldwide in books, newspapers, magazines, and online. His cartoons are in permanent collection at The Whitney Museum of American Art and The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. Anna Kang received her MFA from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts. YOU ARE (NOT) SMALL is their first children’s book; they are currently at work on a sequel. They live with their children in New Jersey.
Be sure to visit all the stops on their blog tour!
Mon, Jul 28
Cracking the Cover
Tues, Jul 29
As They Grow Up
Wed, July 30
Susan Heim on Parenting
Thurs, July 31
5 Minutes for Books
Fri, Aug 1
Kid Lit Frenzy
Mon, Aug 4
Geo Librarian
Tues, Aug 5
Just a Little Creativity
Wed, Aug 6
Children’s Book Review
Thurs, Aug 7
Children’s Book Review

And now…


Two Lions/Amazon has offered to give away one (1) copy of You Are (Not) Small to a lucky reader. To enter:

1. Fill out the form below

2. One (1) entry per household

3. U.S Residents only, please.

4. Giveaway closes at 11:59pm on Friday, August 22nd.

Good luck!

Congratulations, Courtney W.!


July 14, 2014


For me:

The Night Gardener

Jonathan Auxier

Perfectly chilling, with an classic storytelling feel. Irish immigrant children, an old house, a family literally wasting into nothingness. I have so much more to say about this book, and if I get the chance, I will. For now, if you’re the type who likes something dark and twisty, this is wonderfully written.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Khaled Hosseini

What?! An adult novel? Why yes, I do sneak one of those in every once in awhile. Actually, this is the third time I’ve started this book and I’ve always had to put it aside for some other commitment. I’m finally sinking into it, and it’s fantastic, as are Hosseini’s previous novels. So many characters coming together in the most unexpected of ways.

For the kiddos:

In addition to Sara Pennypacker’s Clementine series, which we are reading our way through, my 5yo has recently declared that she wants to start reading books all by herself. Which is great. Except that we’ve been reading chapter books aloud for months, and so she’s developed a taste for stories with slightly more complex plot structure. ‘Hop on Pop’ just isn’t cutting it.

So on an excursion to our local indie bookstore Hooray for Books! I searched around and came across this series from Penguin Books for emergent readers.

Bake, Mice, Bake!

We picked up Bake, Mice, Bake and a Ladybug Girl text, both at the upper end of Level 1.  She’s not quite reading them independently, but I was surprised how many words she did know, and how quickly she picked up on words she didn’t after just a few repetitions. It won’t take long before she is reading them independently.


A new milestone is on the horizon.


Happy Monday, Friends!

June 23, 2014

Time for our weekly roundup! And we’ve been exploring a mix of old and new this week.

We took a mini vacation, a long weekend at the beach. And while the kiddos aren’t quite old enough for me to read on the beach (someday!), the fact that we’re all sharing a hotel room means that “bedtime” comes early for the adults. And that I got some reading time of my own in this week.

For me:


Rainbow Rowell

I first fell into Rowell’s writing with Eleanor and Park, which I’m still chewing on. I’m now going back and reading what I missed. While lighter in tone than E&PAttachments made me smile and was the perfect vacation read.

For the kiddos:

Last-But-Not-Least Lola and the Wild Chicken

Last-But-Not-Least Lola and the Wild Chicken

Christine Pakkola, illustrated by Paul Hoppe

I recently picked up this ARC (book is slated to release September 2014) because I thought it might be a good one to read with my 5yo. We’re only a few chapters in, but so far it’s a winner. We’ve been working our way through the Clementine series, knowing that it will eventually come to an end, so I’m excited to find this series from Boyds Mill Press that has a similar feel.  Spunky female lead, loving, but appropriately unusual family, real, solid friendships. This is only the second book in the series, I’m hoping there will be more.

The Bears in the Bed and the Great Big Storm

by Paul Bright, illustrated by Jane Chapman

This reminds me of Karma Wilson’s Bear books (same illustrator), but not in verse. Cute bedtime story, fairly predictable ending, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Elephants Cannot Dance

by Mo Willems

The 5yo has long since been a Mo Willems fan, especially Elephant and Piggie. And now the little one, at 2.5, is catching on to the fun. I love that these are books that both will sit and giggle to together. I think Elephant and Piggie may be our first real family storytime series.


Happy Monday, Friends!

June 17, 2014

The Change Your Name Store by Leanne Shirtliffe, illustrated by Tina Kugler

Published by: Sky Pony Press

Release date: May 2014

Ages: 4-8

Pages: 32

From the publisher:

Who am I? It’s a question a lot of children seem to ask themselves, at which point being “them” simply isn’t enough. They want to be someone better. Many kids want to change their names. This is what happened to Wilma Lee Wu. One day, Wilma decides she no longer likes her name, and she sets off for the Change Your Name Store to find a new one. Once at the store, the possibilities seem endless. Mrs. Zeena McFooz, the storekeeper, says that Wilma can try out any new name she wants with one catch: she must “go for a ride” to discover what it means to be that name. Will being Babette Bijou from France be better than Wilma Lee Wu? What about Dominga Delfino from Belize?

My thoughts:

I’ve had to do it. Twice.

You stress over it. You make lists. You discuss. You scratch out. You add. You discuss some more.

Sound familiar?

Naming my unborn children felt like this huge responsibility. It’s important, that name. It’s how they will be identified for the rest of their lives. You want to do it right.

And you do. Eventually, my children received names. And honestly, I can’t imagine them as being called anything else. Maybe it’s because I’m used to calling that name 1,467 times a day, but the names just fit.

Wilma Lee Wu would disagree with me. Wilma is, in fact, so dissatisfied with her name, that she sets out to find the Change Your Name Store. Not easily located, Wilma trudges around town, finally arriving at her destination tired and messy, but confident in her ability to find the perfect new name.

Babette from France? Dominga from Belize? Nuru from Kenya?

Author Leanne Shirtliffe takes the reader on a global adventure, as Wilma Lee Lu tries on name after name, until she does, in fact, find the perfect name for her. A name that sends her running, rushing, leaping home to her anxiously awaiting parents. Written in verse, the text demands to be read aloud. But when the read aloud is over, put the book in the child’s hands and send them on an exploration of their own. Because artist Tina Kugler has hidden names throughout the illustrations. Names from the traditional, to the unusual, from North America to Asia to Africa to Europe. I found all four of our family members, plus the dog. It’s that little added bit of fun that kids will love. What’s better than finding your own name in a book?!

And because once you find your name, you’ll want to keep that book forever, I have a copy signed by Tina herself, as well as some fun swag,  to give away!



And the winner, according to random.org is…

Betsy T.!



1. Fill out the form below

2. One (1) entry per household

3. U.S Residents only, please.

4. Giveaway closes at 11:59pm on Tuesday, July 1st.

Good luck!



June 2, 2014

It’s June! It’s warm! We can go outside!

Which after this last never-ending winter, we’re doing.  A lot.

Also, Virginia humidity is coming.

So, outside it is.

And squeezing in a few books, too.

WWere Liars

E. Lockhart

I’ve been having some good discussions about this book!  Have you read it? What did you think? (But NO SPOILERS!)

The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw

Christopher Healy, illustrated by Todd Harris

The last in this trilogy that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

Clementine: Friend of the Week

by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee

The 5yo and I have been reading our way through this series. She loves the quirky Clementine. I’ve even caught my husband listening in and laughing out loud a few times.

Beezus and Ramona

by Beverly Cleary, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers

I bought this box set at Christmastime. The 5yo and I read the first book, but it might be a little old for her yet. Didn’t quite capture her interest, though she didn’t complain, either. I think we’ll hold off on reading the others for a bit.

The Change Your Name Store

by Leanne Shirtliffe, illustrated by Tina Kugler

Who hasn’t wanted to do this, at some point? I have a whole post about this book, AND a copy signed by illustrator Tina to give away later this week!

Oh, and speaking of giveaways:

Today’s the last day to enter to win all THREE Franklin School Friends chapter books by Claudia Mills.

Click the picture below to be redirected to the giveaway!

Happy Monday, Friends!

May 29, 2014

We have a new author in the family.


Her debut book,  Mr. Lion Book, is simple. It’s the tale of Mr. Lion, whose friends come to play. When Mr. Lion loses his favorite toy, the friends all come together to help him find it. Which, of course, they do, because what’s a story without a happy ending?

Written, illustrated, and published in house kept overhead costs low. It’s nothing fancy.

But I’d say the first reading was a success.


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