May Bird is adjusting to life in the land of the living just fine. Her particular brand of fame means that she’s part of the popular crowd in her middle school, and she works hard to stay there. But sometimes she misses exploring her imagination, wandering around the woods of Briery Swamp, and she especially misses her friends from the after-life. But ever since the lake dried up, she hasn’t been able to find a way back. Just when she’s ready to give up hope of ever being able to save her friends, Briery Swamp gets its first snow storm in history and May is swept off on another adventure into The Ever After – only this time, it’s the fate of the universe on the line, not just the land of the dead.
I really enjoyed how this story was told. At the end of book two, May had the choice to return home or stay and fight… and she chose to return home. But now that’s she’s back, she’s ready to take Bo Cheevil head on. Everything is on the line, and May refuses to fail this time. The three year gap between the second and third books allowed May to mature as a human and also weigh all of her options. Her interactions with her classmates and family helped the reader see her as a regular person, and her actions in The Ever After showed her to be a true hero, full of heart, and ready and willing to put the safety of others before her own. This series ended up being 100% delightful, one I got used to the creepy ghouls, zombies, and vampires. There is always something new to discover in The Ever After, and that is always one of my favorite parts of books – especially in middle grade books.
May Bird is stuck in the land of the dead, but for the first time in her young life she doesn’t feel alone. She has Fabbio, and Bea, and Pumpkin, and Somber Kitty. They survived the bogey’s wild chase, and have made it to the train to North Farm, where a letter claims a lady can help them. The road to the north is strewn with the downtrodden, the fearsome, and downright petrifying, but May is determined to get home to her mother in Briery Swamp, West Virginia.
This second book in the May Bird trilogy, rather than being struck down by the sophomore slump, used its time to build up May’s character. Leaping off of May Bird And The Ever After‘s set-up of the world of the dead and May’s presumed destiny, as well as some of the obstacles she will face, May Bird Among The Stars helps May along the path to growing up and becoming who she was meant to be, willing or not. As she pushes to get home, May is unable to put on blinders that would prevent her from being influenced by the world around her. Deserted towns, refugee encampments, souls kept live slaves… It all has nothing, and everything, to do with May Ellen Bird. Word has spread quickly about her entry in The Book of The Dead – That she will vanquish the evil Bo Cheevil and safe The Ever After from certain disaster – but May would rather blend in and stay hidden until she can get home. As she approaches her destination, May must come to terms with what it means to be “The Chosen One”, and how she can only blend in for so long, when she was born to stand out.
Princess Cimorene of Linderwall has very proper parents. She is nothing like her six elder sisters. Her hair is black and unruly. She avoids her dancing classes to fence with the castle armsmaster, learn magic with the court magician, practice economics with the court treasurer, or bake in the castle kitchens. Bored out of her mind, she summons her fairy godmother, who is no help whatsoever. So she runs away. Cimorene takes up the perfectly acceptable life of being a dragon’s princess, but she is nothing like the other captive princesses. She finds a place where her abilities (math, declining latin, cooking, baking, cleaning, magic) are welcomed and even useful. Now if only the knights and princes would stop showing up trying to fight Kazul and carry Cimorene off to live happily ever after.
Every year when International Women’s Day rolls around, I think of Cimorene. Wrede didn’t write her as a feminist. Equality is something that Cimorene takes as a given, not something she has to fight for. Anything that isn’t based in equality is just absurd, regardless of what is deemed ‘proper’ by the governing bodies. Cimorene is strong, smart, curious, and stubborn. She is, in short, my favorite literary character ever created and I hope I can write characters half as cool as her someday. I read this book at least once a year, usually more, and it is one of the biggest inspirations in my writing, equal to Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time and Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted. I bring a copy with me any time I babysit and read it to my charges regardless of age and gender because it never fails. This book is pure magic.
Dealing With Dragons is not a romance. It is about Cimorene finding her place in the world and turning it into her best life. When life gives you lemons, make fresh-scented soapy water. Trust me, it can solve most of your problems.
Princess Amy is the youngest of seven princesses, and her parents are sure she will be the most beautiful… until the court advisors insist that all of the local fairies should be invited to the christening, and then no one bothers to provide adequate transportation for the eldest fairy, Crustacea, and she gives Amy the gift of being ordinary. When her parents begin to despair and the court advisors begin to get desperate for her to marry, Amy decides to run away and live in the forest. The approaching winter pushes Amy to get a job as a kitchen maid in order to afford new clothes. Little does she know that the man-of-all-work she quickly befriends is really the young King Algernon, who is just as ordinary as she is!
This book holds a special place in my heart as the first story I have memories of reading all on my own. I’m sure there were others before it, probably the Little Golden Books versions of Cinderella and The Little Mermaid, maybe even some other beloved books, but I don’t remember reading them like I remember reading this. I remember loving it so much I immediately started it over from the beginning.
Amethyst (Who’s name I distinctly remember pronouncing as “Azmyth”) was ordinary, with mousy brown hair like my own, and she ran away and made a life for herself. She was never a princess that needed to be rescued. She fell in love the way normal people do, slowly, and she lived happily ever after with a gaggle of children and the love of her life.
This book showed me that there was magic to be found in the mundane, that you didn’t need to be “the chosen one” to have an adventure – that life was the adventure – and that everyone has their own path to take to get where they’re headed.
Princess Amy and Prince Perry’s story might be the one that started my writing. If someone like Amy could find adventure and love, then so could anyone. And if adventure was a possibility for anyone, than writing was possible for me. It gave me permission to be myself instead of the cookie-cutter images of perfect little girls I saw on television and in other books. I could pursue my interests, chase my curiosities, have my adventures, and still someday find love. I’m happy to say that since that day, at maybe 6 or 7 years old, I’ve never looked back. I’ve chased my dreams and let nothing hold me back. And I’d just like to thank Queen Amethyst Alexandra Augusta Araminta Adelaide Aurelia Anne (originally of Phantasmorania) and King Algernon (+7 more names, one of which is Peregrine) of Ambergelder for showing me that being myself was the best thing I could ever wish to be.
One of my childhood idols, Carmen Sandiego, returns to screens this month when Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt and Netflix team up to bring us an animated reboot of the world-class thief’s origin story.
Carmen, played by Jane The Virgin‘s Gina Rodriguez, must come to terms with her orphaned upbringing on a mysterious island when she makes contact with Player, a young hacker from the outside world played by Stranger Things’s Finn Wolfhard. As we learn more about Carmen’s past, the story takes some new and surprising turns that put Carmen more in the middle of the war between ACME and VILE than ever before. A colorful and diverse cast of characters brings Carmen’s fact-filled world to life, with many returning characters taking on new roles in a world dominated by a single red trenchcoat and fedora.
I definitely binge-watched all nine episodes when they were released on January 18th, and loved every second of it. Ivy, Max, and the Chief are back in action, and ACME and VILE are up to their old antics. Carmen is still the brilliant and yet humble thief extraordinaire we all know and loved to look up to as young girls, and the red is here to stay. I’m all about the new twists they’ve put on Carmen’s world, and seeing everything from her point of view for the first time ever just makes her even more inspiring. I might even call this show the kid-friendly version of Alias. If you’re looking for a strong female character your children can look up to, look no further than Carmen Sandiego.
You can find Carmen Sandiego streaming now on Netflix.
Lucy and Oliver Tinker live with their father at his clock repair shop, scraping by selling antiques ever since their mother passed away. When the rich Mr. Quigley walks in at closing one day and offers Mr. Tinker a fortune to fix a giant clock at his home in Rhode Island, they can’t say no. Blackford house is situated in the middle of nowhere, falling apart at the seams and without electricity. The forest around the house is barren and quiet despite it being the height of summer, but Lucy is determined to make Blackford house home. Then the wooden animal statues she finds around the house start talking, and Oliver meets a mysterious boy who lives in the dark woods. Before long the Tinkers are drawn into a centuries old war between light and dark, and the fate of Blackford house hangs in the balance.
I received an ARC of Watch Hollow from the author in exchange for an honest review, but this is something I would have eventually picked up anyway. The characters are lovable and yet complex for a middle-grade book, and I love how the world itself is alive. The plot moved well and I was quickly swept up in the Tinker’s adventures. Funaro plans a sequel, making this a duology, and The Maze of Shadows is sure to be just as good when it comes out next year.
My favorite part of this book was definitely the clock animals. The whole idea of light and dark being incarnate in them, balancing the powers and powering the clock and providing electricity for the house, not to mention the naming conventions – Torsten Six, Fennish Seven, Tempest Crow – Everything about them is just fantastic. My second favorite part was obviously the shadowood vs. sunstone debate, and the ash-acorns. At ~250 pages, this book was the perfect length to get wrapped up in. I would have loved to read this as a child, and it’s still great as an adult! I will definitely be picking up the sequel next year.
Available from January 12th wherever books are sold!
HHC Rating: 5 Stars.
Other reviews in this series: The Maze of Shadows(Available 2020)
For the last ten months, I have had the pleasure of nannying for my sweet baby cousin (A.K.A. Grandchild #20, or G20 for short). Now that he’s going on 18-months-old, he’s getting ready to start daycare as I prepare to start a more corporate job. Before my tenure as his nanny ends, however, I wanted to share with you all some of our favorite board books. We read each of these upwards of six or seven times a day, often over and over again in a row. I know what you’re going to say, “Amanda! You’ve created a monster!” and I, of course, will reply to that by saying YES, I HAVE! A READING MONSTER! MUAHHAHA!!! Because I am so proud of the little reading monster he has already become such a very young age. On that note and in no particular order, here are the top 10 board books that I read every day as a nanny.
#1 – Are You My Mother by P.D. Eastman
A baby bird hatches and cannot find his mother anywhere, so he leaves the nest to search for her.
This was one of my favorites growing up, so I bought it for G20 when he was born. It has quickly become a fan favorite, and I like to think that is t least partially due to my rendition of animal and machine noises to accompany the story.
#2 – Jamberry by Bruce Degen
A boy and a bear go berry picking and end up in a land made of food.
Another childhood favorite, my mom sent this one for G20. His favorite part? Pretending to eat all of the berries!
#3 – The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
A caterpillar is born and eats everything in sight until he becomes so tired that he builds a little house and wakes up to a miracle!
G20’s favorite part of this one is all the foods the caterpillar eats every day. Good for counting, and the foods all have little holes in them where the caterpillar eats through. Great for little fingers!
#4 – Little Blue Truck – by Alice Schertle
Little Blue Truck makes friends with all of the farm animals, and doesn’t hold a grudge against the big dump truck that runs him off the road and then gets stuck in a mud puddle.
An old neighbor sent this because their own boys were loving it. G20 is obsessed with all of the noises we make to go along with this one (especially the dump truck horn)!
#5 – Chicka Chicka Boom Boom – By Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault
The lowercase letters dare each other to climb a coconut tree, but will it hold all of them?
Anyone have this one memorized? *raises hand*
#6 – Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
A little bunny says goodnight to all of the objects in his room.
This story always turns into a game of find the mouse.
#7 – The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
A little blue engine volunteers to drive toys over a mountain when another train is unable to do so.
Teaching kids they can do anything they put their minds to, no matter their size, since 1930. Props to Piper for first realizing that ‘I think I can, I think I can’ actually sounds like a train going ‘chugga-chugga, chugga-chugga’ and thereby convincing the world’s children that trains are always giving themselves a pep-talk.
#8 – Good Night, Sammy by Cyndy Szekeres
Sammy the fox can’t get to sleep, so his parents sing to his twitchy tail and rocking chair until everything falls asleep, including them!
A good bedtime book, bringing everything down a notch so your child can get off the hyper train and go to sleep.
#9 – Little Hoot – by Am Krouse Rosenthal
Little Hoot just wants to go to bed, but as an owl he must stay up late, late, late! How ever will he manage?
A bit of reverse psychology never hurts. You may recognize the author from being touted on various celebrity Instagram accounts, as her books are loved far and wide. Although Rosenthal passed very recently, she was in the news this past year for setting up an online dating profile for her husband. You can read her essay about it here, but be sure to have a box of tissues nearby, because I just re-read it sitting in the library and now I’m a mess.
#10 – Guess How Much I Love You – Sam McBratney
A father puts his son to bed, but first the baby bunny tries to convince his father that he loves him more.
This book is just adorable. Our grandparents sent it to G20 for his first birthday, and we read it frequently.
What books do your little ones love? Share them below!