Book Review: Fortunately, The Milk

Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Skottie Young
Publisher: HarperCollins (September 17, 2013)
Audience: Grades 2nd to 5th
Formats: hardcover, e-book, audiobook
Source: book for review; purchased audiobook
Fiction * Adventure * Fantasy

Description from GoodReads:
"I bought the milk," said my father. "I walked out of the corner shop, and heard a noise like this: T h u m m t h u m m. I looked up and saw a huge silver disc hovering in the air above Marshall Road."

"Hullo," I said to myself. "That's not something you see every day. And then something odd happened."

Find out just how odd things get in this hilarious story of time travel and breakfast cereal, expertly told by Newbery Medalist and bestselling author Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Skottie Young.

My thoughts on this book:
When I heard that Neil Gaiman was reading Fortunately, The Milk, I knew I had to listen to the audiobook.  Gaiman does a great job as the narrator for this story.  As I listened to the audiobook, I couldn't help but imagine Doctor Who as the father, who goes out for milk for his children's breakfast and gets waylaid by a fantastical story. Was the excuse real or just made up?   Fans of Doctor Who will recognize both the analogy (comparison of the Doctor to the father in the book), but also the fact that Gaiman has penned an episode or two of Doctor Who.

Fortunately, The Milk has time travel (albeit questionable at best), dinosaurs, slobbery aliens, pirates/wumpires, and ponies.  The story is a fast-paced, fantastical adventure, definitely imaginative, and would make a great read aloud (especially if you can pull off a British accent), or better yet, just play the audiobook.

Check out the videos below for a taste of Fortunately, The Milk

Watch the Official Book Trailer:

Neil Gaiman reading Fortunately, The Milk.  Gaiman reads Fortunately, The Milk in the audiobook version:

Chris Riddell illustrating Professor Steg from Fortunately, The Milk.  Chris Riddell illustrated the UK version of the book.  Though I enjoyed Skottie Young's illustrations, I would love to find a copy with Riddell's illustrations.

Look for a copy of Fortunately, The Milk at your nearest Indie Bookstore.

Book Review: The Year of Billy Miller

Author: Kevin Henkes
Publisher: Greenwillow Books (September 17, 2013)
Independent Reading: Second and Third Grade
Read Aloud: First to Third Grade
Source: Purchased Copy
Fiction * Family * Humor * School

Description from GoodReads:
Award-winning, nationally bestselling author Kevin Henkes introduces second-grader Billy Miller in this fast-paced and funny story about friendship, sibling rivalry, and elementary school. The Year of Billy Miller includes black-and-white art by Kevin Henkes and is perfect for fans of the Ramona books, Frindle, by Andrew Clements, and the Clementine series.

When Billy Miller has a mishap at the statue of the Jolly Green Giant at the end of summer vacation, he ends up with a big lump on his head. What a way to start second grade, with a lump on your head! As the year goes by, though, Billy figures out how to navigate elementary school, how to appreciate his little sister, and how to be a more grown up and responsible member of the family and a help to his busy working mom and stay-at-home dad. Newbery Honor author and Caldecott Medalist Kevin Henkes delivers a short, satisfying, laugh-out-loud-funny school and family story that features a diorama homework assignment, a school poetry slam, cancelled sleepovers, and epic sibling temper tantrums. Illustrated throughout with black-and-white art by the author, this is a perfect short novel for the early elementary grades.

My thoughts on this book:
Every once in awhile you need to pick up a book that makes you feel good. I figured that I had read enough Kevin Henkes' books to safely know that this would be one with great characters, a fun story, and maybe even something a bit special.  The Year of Billy Miller was exactly what I was looking for and I am glad I picked it up to read.

What is different about The Year of Billy Miller is rather than be a story that fixates on Billy's issues at school with one classmate or how he struggles with homework or paying attention, readers get insights into the life of this second grader through his relationship with his teacher, father, sister, and mother.  Some readers may believe that there were lost opportunities.  However, I felt as if, Henkes was really doing a character sketch of this very energetic young boy.  He is a typical second grader.  He accidentally misunderstands when a classmate says that her nickname is "Emster" instead hears it as "hamster".  While playing around with two red markers, Billy is worried that maybe his new teacher thinks he is making fun of her and the red chopsticks she uses in her hair.  And when he should be working on his poetry, Billy gets distracted with a water fight, and building a volcano, and even covering his little sister in mud.  As I read through the story, I kept saying "Yes, he is a 2nd grade boy."
There are several things that I love about this book.  Henkes use of language is superb which makes this an ideal read aloud.  Readers will also identify with Billy, his younger sister Sal, and even his father. And where most books feature mom prominently and dad takes a more backseat role, this book is reverse. Dad is an artist who stays at home to work and take care of the kids.  It is his father that cooks during the week and makes fabulous cookies.  Mom, on the other hand, works as at teacher in a high school. And though it is the relationship that Billy has with his dad that you see the most, there are a few scenes with his mom towards the end of the book, which are very touching.

So, what do you do with a book that is clearly written for a particular age group but is also 240 pages?  First, there is a lot of white space and has large type.  It would be a perfect independent read for mid-year second to third grade.  It will also provide kids with that "thicker" book they want to carry around. Second, even more so, it would make a lovely read aloud.  I look forward to sharing this one with students.

Meet Kevin Henkes video by HarperCollins:

Look for The Year of Billy Miller at your public library or independent bookstore.

The Wig in the Window Blog Tour & Giveaway

The Wig in the Window
by Kristen Kittscher
Publication Date: June 18, 2013 by HarperCollins

About the book:
Sophie Young and Grace Yang have made a game of spying on their neighbors, but when they stake out the home of notoriously phony middle school counselor Dr. Charlotte Agford (aka Dr. Awkward), they stumble across a terrifying scene.

Or do they? The girls are convinced that Dr. Agford’s sugary sweet façade hides a dark secret. But as they get closer to the truth about Agford, the strain of the investigation pushes Sophie and Grace farther apart. Even if they crack their case, will their friendship survive?

Perfect for fans of The Mysterious Benedict Society, The Wig in the Window is a smart, funny middle-grade mystery with a Rear Window twist.

Jax, Age 12 and her mom talk about the book:

I am sitting here with Jackie (you know her from the Interview Video) and her mom talking about The Wig in the Window.

Mom:  Why did you think I liked this book?

Jax: I think you liked this book because it kept you on the edge of your seat and it captured you from the start and you didn't want to put it down... 

Mom:  Can I put words in your mouth?  You told me that it needed to be captivating for me because I had a short attention span.

(now they are trying to bribe me not to write this)

Jax: That is so true.  Mom, do you relate to any of the characters  and why?

Mom: Kids aren't suppose to ask questions like that...hmmmm...well...I relate more to the kids than the adults because when you break rules, I haven't been successful in taking your phone for any length of time...  And I do like the idea of spying on neighbors.

Jax: How do you know I haven't already done so?

Mom:  Give me your phone, girl! *waits, turns to me* See she won't give it to me... Jackie, I felt this book brought us closer.  I want to start a spy business with you now.

Jax:  Am I getting paid for that?

Mom: You can stick to making fan videos!  Why did you like the book?

Jax:  I liked the book partially for the same reasons; kept me on the edge of my seat, there were these smooth turns that kept me wanting to read it. It, it grabs your chest, I mean it, it holds your heart.

Mom: Are you trying to say it made you anxious or excited or that the book grew arms and attacked you?

*laughter all around at this point*

Jax: No, it was like...I wanted to use a big word...It is inevitable that...

Mom:  ...You will devour it, much liked pickled beets?  ...I bet those tasted horrible.  What a loser gift.  I never trusted that counselor.  Anyhow, Did you think it was realistic?

Jax:  I thought it was realistic because of what the characters went through seemed realistic, plus they seemed realistic and the plot line seemed realistic and the scenes were realistic...

Mom: can you say realistic one more time...*giggles*

Jax: *rolls eyes* Realistic, I said it one more time.

Mom: When I read it, it sounded realistic (don't write that word!) and I went "no way... way... they'd never... well maybe... no way!... way!  where am I going with this? 

Jax: Did you have a fight inside your head?  Wait, what do you call that?

Mom: Domestic violence?

Me: Dang this has just deterioriated...maybe we need to go back to...

Mom: I do have a short attention span!!

Me:....maybe we need to just watch the video.

 And now for a special treat - Jackie and Amelia's Shameless Promotion Video

The Wig in the Window: Jackie & Amelia's Shameless Promotion from Alyson Beecher on Vimeo.

About the author:  "Kristen Kittscher was a child neighborhood spy but (allegedly) grew up to be an upstanding citizen and middle school English teacher. A graduate of Brown University, she now works as a writing tutor in Pasadena, California where she lives with her husband, Kai, and their hyperactive lab mix. The Wig in the Window is her first novel. Visit to investigate more about her and Young & Yang's next adventure, The Tiara on the Terrace."

Kristen Kittscher: website | facebook | twitter |

If you haven't seen, the Author interview conducted by Jackie and Amelia, click here.  Check out the official book trailer, here.

To check out all of the blog tour stops, click here.

As part of the blog tour, I am giving away a signed hardcover of The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher.

This giveaway is open to those with US and Canadian mailing addresses:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

School Visit - Fancy Nancy's Robin Preiss Glasser

Last school year, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Robin Preiss Glasser at Vroman's Bookstore.  We chatted and talked about her visiting my school for an illustrator visit.  This past February, I ran into Robin again at the SoCal Independent Bookseller's Association Literacy Dinner.  Over dinner, we reconnected and agreed to work out a time for a school visit.  Well, the wait was finally over this past Thursday.  I had the wonderful honor to host Robin at two of our Pasadena Unified School District Elementary Schools.

Robin kicked off the morning visiting 300+ Kindergarten to Second Graders at Willard Elementary.  I love her boa and tiara.

Kris (Once Upon a Time Bookstore) and Karen (Willard Librarian) organized all of the order forms for books at a very fancy table.  There were a lot of book orders. 

The kindergarteners were dressed up in some very fancy clothes. 

Robin taught the boys the proper way to bow. 

Then she proceeded to instruct the girls in how to curtsy.

The visit ended with a question and answer time. 

Next stop, Cleveland Elementary.  This was their first author/illustrator event.  Damaris Raya the school librarian welcomed some very excited little girls into the library to celebrate Fancy Nancy.

Here is Damaris with Robin.  I think this was a dream come true for Damaris.

Robin is fantastic at explaining her work with author Jane O'Connor, and how she is the boss of the pictures whereas Jane is the boss of the words.

Robin explained to students that she modeled Fancy Nancy's dog after her own dog Boo. 

Robin had the girls work on their posture by balancing a banana on their heads.  It was so cute.

Thank you Robin Preiss Glasser for coming and visiting Willard and Cleveland.  We loved our time with you.  And thanks to Harper Collins for sending bookmarks, and stickers to share with students.

I, also, want to thank Kris from Once Upon a Time for arranging for the book sales and for all the logistics that went into it.

Thank you everyone for giving such a wonderful experience to so many students!!!!

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909

Author: Michelle Markel
Illustrator: Melissa Sweet
Publisher: Balzer & Bray (January 22, 2013)
Source: Bought
Audience: Grades 2 to 5
Nonfiction * Women's History * Strikes * Clothing Makers
Melissa Sweet's website | Michelle Markel's website

Description from GoodReads:
When Clara Lemlich arrived in America, she couldn't speak English. She didn't know that young women had to go to work, that they traded an education for long hours of labor, that she was expected to grow up fast.

But that did not stop Clara.

She went to night school, spent hours studying English, and helped support her family by sewing in a factory.

Clara never quit. And she never accepted that girls should be treated poorly and paid little.

So Clara fought back. Fed up with the mistreatment of her fellow laborers, Clara led the largest walkout of women workers in the country's history.

Clara had learned a lot from her short time in America. She learned that everyone deserved a fair chance. That you had to stand together and fight for what you wanted. And, most importantly, that you could do anything you put your mind to.

My thoughts on this book:
To close out National Women's History Month, I am featuring Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel and Melissa Sweet.  It's books like this that can ignite an interest in children to research and look into historical events which they may not have otherwise had an opportunity to learn about.  Markel's story focuses on one particular women, a young immigrant named Clara Lemlich who played a significant role in launching one of the most significant strikes in United States history, the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909.

In Brave Girl, Markel provides young readers with enough background history for them to understand some of the conditions faced by factory workers in the late 19th century and early 20th century.  By sharing Clara's story, readers have a face and a name in which to identify with the cause including the significant risks that workers took when striking against factory owners.

Melissa Sweet's mixed media illustrations beautifully compliment this story and there is a link below where you can browse through the book on the HarperCollins website.  At the end, more information is provided on the history of the Garment Industry along with some additional resources.  Below, I have included a link to a discussion guide also provided by the publisher. 

If you can't tell already, I am very excited about this book.  Pick up a copy of it for your classroom or school library.  And remember to shop Indie whenever possible.

If you are wondering, what is a Shirtwaist? Check out this article.
A video of Shirtwaist Makers' & The Strike of 1909:

Remembering the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911, check out video below:

Browse inside the book, click here. HarperCollins has put together a discussion guide, click here.

Don't forget to link up your recent nonfiction reviews: