Friday, December 1, 2023

Today's read... How to Decorate a Christmas Tree by Vikki VanSickle

 It's the 1st of December, and I'm going to launch the month with a book, which mirrors our own activities today—decorating the Christmas tree. We did put it up last weekend, and during the week, I managed to get the lights on, but the true decorating starts today. We always have a chaotic tree...something my kids are insisting I change this year....thanks to our 'special' ornaments. This book is all about these keepsakes and memories, and should show a more atmospheric angle to Christmas tree decorating. 

by Viki VanSickle
Illustrated by Miki Sato
Tundra Books
Picture Book  /   Holiday
40 pages
ages 4 to 8

A little girl shares the steps for the perfect tree trimming — a holiday picture book for fans of Pick a Pine Tree and The Little Christmas Tree .

In this charming Christmas tale, readers will follow along with the main character as she shares all the things that go into decorating a

Hot chocolate
Taffy the cat
And, most importantly, family!

With stunning three-dimensional art by Miki Sato and a delightful story by wordsmith Vikki VanSickle, including a twist ending, this book will quickly become a Christmas tree decorating tradition of its own.

GOODREADS    /    BOOKSHOP     /    B&N


The fun and warmth of decorating a Christmas tree comes across with lovely illustrations and a few surprises.

It's time to decorate the Christmas tree! From hauling the tree into the house to unpacking decorations, drinking hot chocolate, discovering memorable ornaments, and a few antics in between, the ritual of putting up decorations becomes a celebration all of its own.

This read goes beyond the basic tree decorating. Instead, it follows a young girl as she carefully unpacks the ornaments and discovers those, which have special meaning and history. Each one carries a little story...simple ones such as a small cat sent from an aunt in Japan or the first ornament made after the little girl's birth with her name on it. Each memory is told in a couple quick lines, making this great for even those who have shorter attention spans. These memories are, for the most part, familiar enough for listeners to connect with and realize what makes them special.

There's a little bit of humor and quirks sprinkled in to keep the read from becoming too serious. The cat adds a few antics as well as the uncle and father with their jokes. Plus, there's a surprise at the end, too. 

The highlight of this read rests in the illustrations. By using images with layered, textured items, the scenes carry a hint of realism, which makes the details grab. Especially the Christmas tree benefits from this style and makes these pictures worth revisiting time and time again.

And here they are...

VIKKI VANSICKLE is the author of a number of acclaimed novels for children including Words That Start With BSummer Days, Starry Nights; the award-winning The Winnowing; and picture books If I Had a Gryphon; Teddy Bear of the Year; and Anonymouse. Vikki started her career as an independent bookseller and worked in children’s publishing for twelve years. In addition to writing, she curates and presents regular book segments for CTV Your Morning. Currently, she lives and writes in Toronto.

MIKI SATO is a Japanese-Canadian illustrator who uses a variety of different papers and fabrics to create layered, three-dimensional illustrations. Born and raised in Ottawa, she currently resides in Toronto, where she attended the Ontario College of Art and Design to study illustration. More examples of her work can be found at:

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Today's read... Drawing Deena by Hena Khan

Today's read comes from an author, whose works I've been enjoying for several years. She always mixes culture with everyday life so smoothly, and I appreciate her tales. So, I'm expecting quite a bit with this one, too. But then, the cover has already won me over. My favorite color just happens to be yellow, and I adore, its so artsy and dreamy. 

This one doesn't come out until February, but it's always great to have an up-and-coming list, right?


by Hena Khan
Salaam Reads
Middle Grade Contemporary
240 pages
ages 8 to 12

FEBRUARY 6th, 2024!!!

From the award-winning author of Amina’s Voice and Amina’s Song comes a tenderhearted middle grade novel about a young Pakistani American artist determined to manage her anxiety and forge her own creative path.

Deena’s never given a name to the familiar knot in her stomach that appears when her parents argue about money, when it’s time to go to school, or when she struggles to find the right words. She manages to make it through each day with the help of her friends and the art she loves to make.

While her parents’ money troubles cause more and more stress, Deena wonders if she can use her artistic talents to ease their burden. She creates a logo and social media account to promote her mom’s home-based business selling clothes from Pakistan to the local community. With her cousin and friends modeling the outfits and lending their social media know-how, business picks up.

But the success and attention make Deena’s cousin and best friend, Parisa, start to act funny. Suddenly Deena’s latest creative outlet becomes another thing that makes her feel nauseated and unsure of herself. After Deena reaches a breaking point, both she and her mother learn the importance of asking for help and that, with the right support, Deena can create something truly beautiful.


Middle school and family hit naturally with all the smiles and hurdles to touch the heart from beginning to end.

Deena's stressed. At least, that's what the dentist claims. Between no one understanding her love for art, her grades, her friends, and, more importantly, her family and their money struggles, life isn't easy. But there might be a chance to ease both the art and family ends. Determined to help her mother sell her created clothes more efficiently, Deena gets together with her cousin and best friend to set up a few social marketing endeavors. And it's a success! But it's getting to her cousin's and friend's head, which is causing Deena more stress than before. If only there were a way to fix everything.

Deena comes across as an average, middle school girl with very normal problems. She's kind, unsure, and tries her best to cope. Everything about her comes across naturally and spot-on age-wise, making her very easy to connect with, like, and cheer for. Her family is loving and kind but not perfect...just like every family. The back-and-forth between home life, school life, and friends rings with true-to-life problems and situations, while still remembering to bring enough humor to draw those needed smiles of relief. There are more than a few things readers will identify with and see in their own lives, and that in an entertaining and wholesome way.

I appreciate that the author allows Deena to tackle issues in a larger way. In other words, her mother (although not in all aspects) listens to her suggestions and lets her tackle the social media marketing, showing readers that they can accomplish even 'big' projects with determination and work (inspiring). Yet, it stays in reality and shows the borders, and in this case, that help isn't a bad thing. Of course, nothing is easy, and that's also a great message for today's readers.

Then, there's the cultural aspects. These weave in so seamlessly and add a wonderful touch. Deena never thinks about the differences really, but rather, the food, dresses, details and more are simply part of life. Readers learn about the culture...and even more, with art history and such...and that without ever feeling as if there's something to learn. It creates a smooth read with depth in many ways, which is enjoyable to read.

And here she is...

Hena Khan is a Pakistani American writer. She is the author of the middle grade novels Amina’s VoiceAmina’s Song, More to the StoryDrawing Deena, and the Zara’s Rules series and picture books Golden Domes and Silver LanternsUnder My Hijab, and It’s Ramadan, Curious George, among others. Hena lives in her hometown of Rockville, Maryland, with her family. You can learn more about Hena and her books by visiting her website at or connecting with her @HenaKhanBooks.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

What's Coming in December?

December is a very busy month...and not just in our household, I'm assuming. While the Christmas tree is already standing, the Advent's wreath ready to be used this weekend, and cookies already baking, there are still plenty of hours for reading. I have a small collection of Christmas tales from various cultures and time frames, which stand near the Christmas tree. And, of course, there's always room for new tales.

This month, I have quite a few reads to ring in the holidays (no surprise there), but I also have a mix of others to spice up those cooling nights as hot chocolate gains popularity again. There are quite a few picture books on the holiday themed-end, where my young adult ones will pack more tension. The middle grade reads are a little sparser this month, but the ones I have head more toward school and life drama.

Here's a quick peek at a few. Just a sneak peek of the almost 30 reads that will be appearing in the next weeks!


This is the first novel in a series, which made its debut earlier this year in May. I might be late in getting to it, but that doesn't mean I'm not excited I' expecting a dusting of magic and quite a bit of school drama. It seems to be doing well, so it should be an entertaining read. Let's find out how spellbinding it is on the 3rd.

Middle Grade Fantasy


 This book is also part of a series...and no, I haven't read any of the other books, yet, so this one is new to me. The train on the front made me smile, and I already had tons of ideas of what this story might hold speeding through my head. I have a feeling its going to be a touching and fun read. Be ready to jump on board with me on the 5th to learn more about this one.

Picture Book / Holiday


This one is releasing this month and just happens to be from a very talented, author friend. I adore her tales and never know what to expect next. This one circles around a ghost, a small town, and a teen, who's trying to find footing again after some terrible family happenings. I have already taken a peek at this one and will just say that I'm excited to share it with you on the 7th.

Young Adult Paranormal


When I saw this title, I thought of the traditional tale about three little kittens who lost their mittens. But I'm pretty sure this book has nothing to do with that story. I was very curious to see what these little mittens are up to and hope that it's a warming read to cuddle up with. Get ready for some snuggly thoughts on the 9th.

Picture Book


This cover definitely doesn't drift to snowflakes and colder weather, but that's fine with me. This one promises fast-paced action as it circles around a mysterious girl, and secrets surrounding a small town and it's residents. I'm not sure what else to expect but am hoping this one will keep me hooked in the pages and, maybe, demand a late reading night. See how thrilling it is with me on the 13th.

Young Adult Thriller


No Christmas can pass by without, at least one read about Santa and the North Pole. This one promises to be a whimsical, imaginative read and perfect for those last dreams before Christmas arrives. I'm hoping for elves, toys, reindeer, and everything Santa. And more. Find out if this read is worth a slide under the tree on the 21st.

Picture Book / Holiday


I picked this lovely book up at the library and was thrilled to be able to work it in on here as a holiday/library read. It heads back to around 1815 or so and circles around a mystery and romance. I found the red and gold cover a lovely touch of traditional Christmas feelings...and a sleigh ride in the snow? Sign me up! I'll be visiting this one on the 22nd, so make sure that mistletoe is ready and waiting.

Young Adult Historical


Ghosts and family should be the highlights of this read. It surrounds a boy, who never fits in thanks to his paranormal talents. I've seen quite a bit of buzz about this one this last year and was excited to finally have the chance to take a peek at it. Join me on the 27th to see how spooky it gets.

Middle Grade Paranormal


This is the first in a new graphic novel series for the YA audience and surrounds a girl, who is anything but a 'good girl'. Yet, she's the only one capable of saving the day. A villain turned hero story, by the sounds of it. I'm expecting tons of action and am looking forward to a quick-paced read. We'll learn more about this one on the 29th.

Young Adult Science Fiction / Graphic Novel

Oh, and before I forget, there's the reveal of My Favorite Reads of 2023 coming up on December 31st!

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Today's read... The Broke Hearts by Matt Mendez

Today's read is another young adult fiction story which should hit the gut. It's the 2nd in the series, and nope, I didn't read the first. So, I'm hoping that doesn't prove to be an issue, since this one should circle around some pretty rough circumstances which happened in book one. I am in the mood for something deeper and grittier, and I hope this one delivers everything it promises. 

(Note: I'm going to have to go back and read book one because after reading this, I'm adding it to my possible favorites of the year list.)

Barely Missing Everything, #2
by Matt Mendez
Young Adult/New Adult Contemporary
240 pages

In this piercing follow up to Barely Missing Everything , JD and Danny, still reeling from the gutting death of their best friend by police gunfire, grapple with life-changing decisions and the kind of people they want to be, for Juan.

A year after losing their best friend, JD and Danny are still brokenhearted. JD’s impetuous decision to join the Air Force only makes him yearn for “before” more than ever. Danny, who’d rather paint murals than open a book and certainly never thought of himself as college material, makes the equally impulsive choice to do what Juan will never be able to and enrolls in a community college.

Danny’s father, The Sarge, is proud of him for the first time ever for living out Sarge’s own dream of being a first-generation college student, but Danny can’t shake the thought that it should be Juan, not him. And studying hasn’t gotten any easier for him despite his new academic goals. When Danny is on the verge of flunking out and JD gets notified of imminent deployment, the two are forced to confront their shared grief that led them to these paths. Can they learn to live lives that are their own in honor of Juan, rather than for him?

GOODREADS    /     AMAZON   /    B&N


The tale hits with surprising potency and leaves an impression long after the last page has been read.

Danny and JD battle with the loss of their best friend, each trying to continue life in their own way. Danny's college aspirations are proving to be more than a struggle, not due to a lack of talent but a fight against himself. JD, who has joined the Airforce, isn't coping any better, despite his determination to reach his goals. They both must learn to handle the past and find a way to push forward, but that's easier said than done.

I did not read the first novel in this series, but that proved not to be a problem. The author allows each character to gain footing in the first chapters and reveals just enough of the past for readers, like me, to catch on what has happened without regurgitating the information in ways which might bore those who did read book one. Instead, Danny and JD are presented as they are: attempting to start anew. The pain and emotions lure the reader in, bringing sympathy immediately. It pulls at the heartstrings, lets harsh reality hit, and doesn't forget to throw in needed shimmers of hope...but with enough struggles to wonder if that light can really shine.

It's the character arc, which makes this a read to get lost in. Both Danny and JD have a long way to go and a rough climb if they want to make it. It digs into the rawer side of humanity and the world, hitting home in more ways than one. Especially teens will see part of themselves reflected in the characters as both hit the seemingly unsurmountable obstacles. It's a read to connect with, suffer with, and discover growth on the other side.

And here he is..

Like his characters, Matt Mendez grew up in central El Paso, Texas. He received an MFA from the University of Arizona and is the author of the short story collection Twitching Heart and young adult novels Barely Missing Everything and The Broke Hearts. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can visit him at

Monday, November 27, 2023

Today's read... Clever Crow by Chris Butterworth

It's said that the early bird catches the worm, and I should get a huge one considering how ready I am on today's read. This book concentrates on crows and should give young readers a better look into this interesting bird. It doesn't hit the shelves until next Summer, but I do enjoy getting excited about upcoming reads. 

by Chris Butterworth
Illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill
Candlewick Press
Picture Book / Nonfiction
32 pages
ages 4 to 8

JULY 9th, 2024!!!

For young bird-watchers and enthusiasts of the natural world comes a beautiful, eye-opening picture book about the familiar but ever-surprising crow.

Crows may not have flashy feathers, beautiful songs, or fancy flying skills, but if a crow looks at you with its small, round eye, you can be sure that it’s thinking, as these birds have very big brains. Did you know that crows will use a stick to poke into a crevice to tease out tasty bugs? Or that they like to play like kids by tumbling down a snowy roof? Or that they remember where they hide their food—but sometimes only pretend to bury a treat to fool other birds? Original and accessible, with Chris Butterworth’s welcoming text and gorgeous, expressive artwork from Olivia Lomenech Gill, Clever Crow is sure to generate newfound respect for these unassuming creatures that young readers come across every day.


The awe surrounding crows remains high as readers learn more about this clever bird.

Readers will learn all about crows in these pages, while never nearing the boredom of dry facts. Everything from crow feathers to flight techniques to food habits and more is mentioned and explained through a flowing text, which almost hits poetic but never quiet gets there. It keeps the listener/reader engaged and pulls them from one page to the next.

Through the use of unique backgrounds and style, the crows are presented in an easy-to-recognize way. The images support the information in the text to help deepen the understanding. Some of the scenes are familiar, while others edge toward an enigmatic atmosphere. This keeps a sense of mystery to the birds and does heighten interest while reading. 

The information is understandable and adds some tidbits young listeners/readers probably didn't know. It's a lovely way to introduce young readers to crows and also can be used to open up a theme for classrooms, groups, or homeschoolers.