Penguins Love Colors by Sarah Aspinall


Goodreads: Penguins Love Colors
Series:  None
Source: Received from publisher in exchange for an honest review
Published: 2016


Six little penguins love colors, but their home is full of white snow!  Can they find a way to create a colorful surprise for their mama?


Penguins Love Colors is the charming tale of six little penguins named after flowers–Tulip, Tiger Lily, Dandelion, Broccoli, Bluebell and Violet.  Even though they are surrounded by snow, they want to paint their mama a surprise. Thus begins a sweet story that will help younger readers learn to recognize and name colors.

Sarah Aspinall clearly created her book with beginner readers and their caretakers in mind.  Not only does it teach colors through naming and repetition, but it also includes the types of prompt questions adult readers are encouraged to ask of their young audiences to develop reading skills.  “Do you think they made a mess?” the text asks and “Do YOU know [which penguin painted which flower?]”  These moments encourage the reader to pause  for the child to predict what might come next and to try to identify the color that matches each flower.  Adult readers who are unsure what types of questions to ask their children or who are just beginning to learn what types of questions they should ask while teaching literacy will surely find these prompts useful.  And children will enjoy the interaction.

The bright pictures add to the book’s appeal.  A rainbow of color appears on nearly every page and the penguins spin and slide exuberantly through their vibrant (if snowy) world.  Readers are sure to fall in love with them as they break out their paint brushes to get creative.  And maybe readers will want to get creative, too!

Krysta 645 stars

Bonus Content

Interested in Penguins Love Colors?  Sarah Aspinall has created coloring pages and a teaching guide for you to use!  Check them out below!




Otter Goes to School by Sam Garton

Otter Goes to School by Sam GartonINFORMATION

Goodreads: Otter Goes to School
Series:  None
Source: Library
Published: 2016


When Otter asks how Otter Keeper became so clever, he tells her about school.  Since Otter can think of several friends who need school, she starts her own.  But when Teddy worries that he isn’t good at anything, Otter begins to think she isn’t a very good teacher.


Like  many of the other Otter books, Otter Goes to School does not have a particularly original premise–picture books about going to school are rather plentiful.  However, Otter gives this story added warmth and charm.  With her signature humor and many cute otter faces, she makes this book worth a reread.

What I love most about the Otter books is the expressiveness of the pictures and Otter’s enthusiasm for life.  Whether she’s dancing, giving out gold stars in class, or coloring, Otter loves it all.  It kind of makes me want to jump in and share the fun.  Everything is the best thing ever!  All this enthusiasm is balanced by some of Otter’s low moments, whether she’s scared or frustrated or sad.  Then her little whiskers droop and you want to give her a hug because Otters, you know, are just meant to be happy.

Spending a day with Otter is always a delight.  I hope there are many more Otter books to come to brighten our days.

4 starsKrysta 64

The Secret Keepers by Trenton Lee Stewart


Goodreads: The Secret Keepers
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2016


When Reuben discovers an old watch hidden in the most unlikely of places, he dares to dream that his life could change.   With the money he could gain from selling it, he could help his mother return to school and find a better-paying job.  But soon Reuben learns that the watch hides a terrible secret and that the shadowy figure who rules the city of New Umbra is actively seeking it. Can Reuben and his friends outwit a man who has never been seen?  Or is lights out for Reuben?


Writing a book that would stand up next to The Mysterious Benedict Society was always going to be difficult for Trenton Lee Stewart, but he manages it here with apparent ease.  Immediately he welcomes readers into the story in much to the same way he welcomed them into Reynie’s story long ago.  We have a boy who is a little unusual, but certainly loving, and definitely about to have the adventure of a lifetime.  All he needs now is a team.

Reuben, however, is not a second Reynie.  He is a loner, stealthy, keeping to the shadows.  And he has a mother whom he loves very much and who works very hard to support him–Stewart does not shy away from addressing poverty and how it can affect a family.  His story is different because his main motivations are always how to help and protect his mother.  He’s a good kid.  And readers are encouraged to root for him.

Reuben’s team will be assembled a little haphazardly.  He’s used to working alone and comfortable walking in the shadows.  Still, he meets a watchmaker who comes from another country and somehow worked her way from poverty to a modest little shop.  He meets a young, redheaded girl who believes in daring and honesty.  And he finds himself protected by a man who likes a good fight, but for the right cause.  They are a strange crew, but they work.  And their diversity of experiences is what makes them strong.

Notably, the team’s experiences really are valuable here.  The team has to anticipate and work out problems if they are to succeed in saving the city of New Umbra from a power-hungry man.  Have you ever read a book and wondered, “Why didn’t the characters think of this very obvious hole in their plan?” or “Why didn’t the character just do X, Y, and Z?” or even “Why is the author suggesting that this character is smart when he doesn’t have to do all that much?”  Well, the characters here are really smart, they really figure stuff out, and they always go for the most obvious solution when they find themselves in trouble.  There’s no running forever in a straight line from a boulder they could have escaped by simply turning to the right.  Do you know how engaging a story can be when there are real problems and real answers?  It’s incredible!

Once again Stewart has presented readers with a fun and complex read, one full of sympathetic characters, high-stakes missions, and just the right dash of humor.  Is it too soon to ask him to release another book?  What will we all do until he does?

5 starsKrysta 64

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz


Goodreads: The Inquisitor’s Tale
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: September 27, 2016

Official Summary

1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.

Join William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne’s loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead. Told in multiple voices, in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, our narrator collects their stories and the saga of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.


As some of you who follow the blog know, I study medieval literature, so I really, really wanted to like The Inquisitor’s Tale.  The world simply needed a middle grade novel inspired by Saint Guinefort (a greyhound who really did acquire his own cult during the Middle Ages).  Touches of Joan of Arc and other historical figures make this book right up my alley. So I’m sad to say I was bored through most of the book, and I really don’t think I would have enjoyed it if I’d read it as a child.

Most of my pleasure in the book came from playing “spot the medieval reference.” And medieval references are something Gidwitz is great at.  The book draws on a lot of medieval tales but mostly uses them as inspiration, rather  than using them in their entirety. So Jeanne has elements of Joan of Arc, but she isn’t Joan. She has visions, for instance, but she is not called to lead France through a war.  Jacob isn’t any historical figure in particular, but represents the Jews who lived in France in the Middle Ages.

And Gidwitz portrays the attitudes of the Middle Ages pretty faithfully.  Though there are violent parts of the book, one could argue that the darkest parts of the story are the various prejudices the children protagonists encounter: against Jews, Muslims, women, peasants, etc. Gidwitz explores these issues thoughtfully, while asking some tough questions like “How can someone say they hate Jews while befriending a Jewish boy?” Gidwitz shows the nuances in medieval thought, which is great, since the Middle Ages often get dismissed as a boring period of complete ignorance in pop culture.

The format of the book is also clever, if you’re into Chaucer.  Gidwitz alludes to The Canterbury Tales by having different characters tell each chapter and titling them such things as “The Jongleur’s Tale.”  There are also asides, as the storytellers interact with each other, in between telling their tales.  This structure, however, is also one of the sticking points for me.   It means that the protagonists’ story is told by a conglomeration of people who, for the post part, were not really in the story.  It creates some distance between the protagonists and the readers. It also means the story is constantly interrupted by the frame tale, which is something I just personally dislike in books.

The other reservation I have is about the plot and pacing. As I mentioned, I was simply bored thought a lot of the book. Stuff was constantly happening, but it took a while for it to all come together into any discernible overarching story.  I felt as if I were just watching characters run around inanely for half the book. The only reason I didn’t DNF is because, seriously, I’m really into the Middle Ages.

The Inquisitor’s Tale has really high ratings in general on Goodreads, and I can respect that since the book is clearly well-researched and rather creative.  However, this is one instance where I would love to get some children’s opinions on the book.  I do not think I would have liked or finished this novel if I had read it when I was in middle school. It’s slow and complex and altogether simply unusual for a children’s book. I didn’t relate to the characters or even understand for half the book what it was they were trying to accomplish.  I wonder if this will be a hit with adults more so than with the target audience.

3 stars Briana

The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation by Shannon and Dean Hale, LeUyen Pham


Goodreads: The Princess in Black Takes a Vacation
Series:  Princess in Black #4
Source: Library
Published: Nov. 2016


Fifteen monsters in seven days?  Princess Marigold is ready for a break from her goat-protecting duties as the Princess in Black.  But when she takes a trip to the beach, she discovers that her vacation might not be so peaceful after all.


Though my library shelves these books with the middle grade, I think that they could more accurately be considered beginner readers.  The plots and the jokes are very simplistic and somewhat repetitive.  Some of the vocabulary is more advanced, but the sentences are simple and also somewhat repetitive.  I can see young readers enjoying these a lot, especially because the idea of a princess who fights monsters is undeniably cool, but, as an older reader, I find myself not entirely charmed.

Strikingly, I have only read the first book and the series and now this fourth one and it seems very much as if I have not missed anything and that I am actually reading a variation of the same book.  In book one, we are introduced to the Goat Avenger.  In book four, it seems the Princess in Black has just met the Goat Avenger.  A joke that was made about the Princess in Black in book one is made about the Goat Avenger in book four.  Moves that the Princess in Black uses in book one are used again in book four (perhaps not surprisingly).  And the plot?  Well, it boils down to the Princess in Black fights monsters.  This could work, obviously–“monster of the week” works–but somehow it feels a tad bland, even with all the bright illustrations.

Still, I recognize that younger readers tend to embrace repetition and that these books are not written for me.  I would definitely introduce children to them because I am sure they’d fall in love with a princess who can fight and that they would find the jokes funny even when I do not.  I would prefer a beginner reader that could also appeal more to adults–this is important since adults end up reading these books many times with their children–but the series sells, so it’s clearly doing something right.

3 starsKrysta 64

Classic Remarks: What Would You Do in Anne of Green Gables?

Classic Remarks

Classic Remarks is a meme that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation.  The schedule for 2017 is available now, if you would like to participate. We look forward to seeing your responses!

You’ve been dropped into L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables.

What do you do first?

Anne of Green Gables

Although I love the characters L.M. Montgomery creates in the Anne series, I am also enchanted by her portrayal of Prince Edward Island. I know that life on the Island may not have entirely been idyllic in the late 1800s/early 1900s.  (Anne’s chores are sometimes noticeably glossed over in the books, unless she’s having a mishap baking cakes or such.) However, Montgomery still makes the Island sound like one of the most beautiful places on earth, and if I were plunked directly into Anne of Green Gables, I would start exploring it.

Anne is enraptured by the red soil and the beautiful flowering trees when she first heads to Green Gables with Matthew, so I like I’d like to start there, traveling down the White Way of Delight. I’d move on to see all the beautiful places where Anne spends her girlhood, from the Lake of Shining  Waters to the Dryad’s Bubble to Lover’s Lane.  I think walking around Anne’s haunts would be a well-spent day.

If I had more time in Avonlea, I’d love to see what events were happening.  Entertainment in the past seems so much different than our own today.  (People really went to recitals to hear children recite great poems of literature?) However, it also sounds charming. I think I’d enjoy going to a school concert or a church picnic, or whatever was happening that week, and hopefully there would be delicious homemade desserts!

If you are participating this week, please leave the link to your post in the comments.


At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald

At the Back of the North WindINFORMATION

Goodreads: At the Back of the North Wind
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1871


The poor son of a cabman, Diamond never dreams that the hole in the wall will allow the entrance of the North Wind–a being who appears to him as a beautiful lady and takes him on journeys across the globe as she goes about her appointed tasks.  But his lovely experiences become fewer as he grows and soon he must face the hardships of everyday life.  But one who has been at the back of the North Wind never can forget the beauty there, or the promise of joy to come.


George MacDonald’s classic fantasy contains elements of the sentimental, featuring a young protagonist (Diamond) who goes on a spiritual journey with the North Wind and returns refined–a pale-faced boy not of this world, who sings to his baby brother, cares for the poor girl who sweeps the street crossing, and inspires drunken men to reformation through his kindness and gentleness.  If ever there were a cult of the child, MacDonald seems to be one of its most fervent members.  And yet, somehow, MacDonald’s work never does seem to feel overly sentimental or moralizing or silly.  Instead, it seems to capture that beauty and that childlike wonder similar stories could not.

Much of the first half of the story engages with philosophical questions about the nature of evil–why does the North Wind, an agent of God, sometimes cause destruction?  Why does she appear as a frightening beast to some individuals but a beautiful lady to Diamond?  Does seeming harm sometimes actually result in good?  Young Diamond cannot understand all that the North Wind tells him–and, indeed, the North Wind admits often that she does not fully understand God’s plan, either, though she knows she must obey–but he accepts her words with childlike faith.  He is clearly meant to be a model for the reader, who might grapple with the same questions but also ultimately have to admit he or she cannot understand everything.

The second half of the story sees the North Wind as a character fade from view, though her influence remains always in evidence.  Having seen the country at the back of the north wind, Diamond becomes a changed individual, determined to lessen misery wherever he finds it and convinced that pain will ultimately be replaced with joy.  So he goes through life a model child, so convinced of his morals that others call him simple simply because he is good.  Concerned with worldly cares such as hunger, illness, and death, many cannot fathom why Diamond would share what little he has or help others when he might advance himself instead.

All this seems very didactic, and MacDonald even inserts an authorial voice from time to time to tell readers what the lesson of the story is, lest they missed it.  And yet, somehow the book never feels preachy.  I think it is too convinced of its own message; MacDonald is not just telling people to be good–he is utterly convinced that goodness exists and that people can find it.  And, what is more, he illustrates the goodness and beauty he believes in, and invites readers to participate in it.  It’s as if he’s hearing a far-off echo of a secret message and he’s trying to share it.

It is not difficult to understand why so many people love this story or why it has become a children’s classic.  Many books try to engage with the ugliness of life and succeed, but it is far more difficult to represent the beauty and joy of life.  MacDonald does not shy away from depicting the dirty and coarse parts of life, but his ultimate message exclaims that the purer things outshine the others.  And that kind of hope is a rare gift indeed.

4 starsKrysta 64