The Humming Room by Ellen Potter

I just had to check out this book that has been hyped as the modern Secret Garden. That was my favorite book in 5th grade, thanks to my teacher Mrs. Haneke. I spent hours on the cover of my big Secret Garden project, illustrating the perfect robin (most likely based on an encyclopedia picture) and old-fashioned key. We had to read the story out loud with a partner and I sometimes read it in an English accent to show off or better express my love of the book- I’m not sure which it was exactly, a little of both I suppose. I wished to be in the story more than once. You can see why I would want to read The Humming Room.

Roo Fanshaw is the victim of a modern plague, drugs- a parallel to the original story where Mary Lennox’s parent’s fall victim to a plague of cholera.How fortunate that we are able to avoid so many plagues that were unavoidable before due to advanced medicine and research, and yet how unfortunate that there are so many children who are the unwilling victims of the plagues their parents at one point, at least, consciously chose.  When Roo’s parents are claimed by violence, Roo is sent to live with a reclusive Uncle who inhabits an island previously used to house a tuberculosis sanitorium for children. Creepy things happened there once upon a time… actually creepy things continue to happen. Roo finds an old chute that was used to dispose of expired patients and in her discovery, happens upon a hidden world, that helps to heal her soul and find a place in her new family.

I really enjoyed this modern re-telling of the secret garden. The original will always be my favorite, but I think many of the younger crowd will prefer this one. It would be fun to have a school unit comparing and contrasting the two stories.


The Voyage of Turtle Rex by Kurt Cyrus

I love the soothing rhythm of this prehistoric tale. The life cycle of a turtle has changed little from ancient days to present. This is a fun read- especially for lovers of dinosaur lore. I felt like I was bobbing on the waves of the ocean as I read it out loud to my boys, who loved it as much as I did. Kurt Cyrus has a very interesting story that you can read more about on his website here.

When Blue Met Egg by Lindsay Ward

A fun little story about a bird that finds a lost egg and devotes her days to finding a home for the precious egg. When no distraught parents show up to claim the egg, and she has searched high and low with no luck, Blue takes the egg under her wing. Blue pours lots of love on the little foundling. They have many adventures together and Blue demonstrates a heart of gold, only to make a startling discovery at the end. Children will love this sweet story!

Dear Cinderella by Marian Moore & Mary Jane Kensington illustrated by Julie Olson

I have been waiting for this book to hit the shelves since last summer when I heard about it at the WIFYR writer’s conference in Utah. Julie Olson, the illustrator, came and spoke to the students in the picture book class I was taking from Kristyn Crow, and gave us a sneak peak at some of the illustrations.  She has a great blog with tons of tips on honing your artistic skills.

Ok, sometimes I wonder why I wasn’t born in the princesss era. Back in my day I was obsessed with Little House on the Prairie and prairie dresses. The whole  princess thing would have been right up my alley, though. So, maybe it was lucky after all (for my parents and siblings, who would have had to tolerate me and my frills). Many of the clothes I grew up wearing were hand-me-downs from neighbors, remakes of old polyester outfits, or on sale at the thrift store. The closest thing I had to a princess dress at home was a prairie dress that came from a neighbor down the street whose daughter had outgrown it. So, I probably would have had hand-me-down princess dresses too. Which really wouldn’t have bugged me, because that’s all I knew. There’s nothing wrong with thrift and economy right? Especially when you come from a large family. I have to say though, I’m not sure how you could have made a very fancy princess dress out of blue polyester pants.

Back to the topic at hand, my review… in Dear Cinderella, Snow White and Cinderella write to each other (actual real letters, not emails) as pen pals in this adorable picture book. It’s fun to get a first-person perspective to the fairytales that we hear mostly in third-person retellings. Olson’s watercolor illustrations are lovely and the story is charming. It reminds me of endless letter-writing sessions in high school and college, trying to keep track of friends who had moved. It’s nostalgic for us grown-ups because of the letters, and perfect for little princesses. It could also be used for a letter writing unit in school by resourceful teachers. The almost-lost-art of letter writing has found new life in this beautiful picture book fairytale.

The Hourglass Door Trilogy by Lisa Mangum

I just finished this time-travel series and I have to say, I’m in awe. I only hope that someday I can do something this amazing, or at the very least in the shadow of something this amazing. I’ve read time-travel series before, and I’m usually fascinated by them at the same time that I’m a little annoyed because there is so much randomness to how the time travel actually takes place. I had no such irritation this time. Lisa Mangum has an amazing imagination. Have I said how amazing she is yet? I know, I’m getting a little redundant. Moving on…

#1 – The Hourglass Door

The first book in the trilogy had me a little nervous at the beginning. I really was afraid that Dante might be a vampire or something. Not that I’m afraid of vampires, just a little sick of them. I was refreshingly surprised to find that it had nothing to do with vampires, but the river of time. Abby is living a life that seems ideal, but it’s not the life that she wants and she decides to look into changing that life to the dismay of her boyfriend and family. I enjoyed each one of the three books in the series, and think that you will too. Be sure to check out the second and third books in the series, The Golden Spiral and The Forgotten Locket. I think the third was my favorite, but I think that all of them are worth adding to a home library.

The House on Dirty-Third Street by Jo S. Kittinger Illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez

We are all about fresh starts, here in America. Fresh starts have been forced upon many families as a result of the real estate crash, massive job-losses, or even after the loss of loved ones whether from divorce, death or any number of unfortunate circumstances.  The House on Dirty-Third Street is a glimpse into the resiliency of the human spirit. Gonzalez’s illustrations gradually fill with more and more color as life gets better and better for a struggling little family starting over. There is a truth to the fact that the help they receive comes after the Mother and her daughter first reach out to help their neighbors, and then are humble enough to ask for help at the corner church on Sunday. Soon, their yard and home are filled with people giving service, reaching out to lift their neighbors. It reminded me of the times when communities would gather for barn raisings and accomplish something in a brief amount of time that would be almost impossible to achieve independently.

Magic is real. You can see it all around you in the wonderful acts of kindness that go on in our schools, neighborhoods and churches. Ugly things can be transformed, communities can be changed. Life does get better. We create a wonderful synchronicity when we come together for a worthwhile cause. Kittinger’s nameless character expected starting over would bring adventure and possibly buried treasure. In her journey of beginning again, she really does find treasure- the treasure of a changing and caring community!

The Kneebone Boy by Ellen Potter

I loved The Kneebone Boy. Have you ever read a book that was so well written that you just wanted to be part of the book? Well this is one of them a story of love, family secrets and mystery. Three English children go on journey and while at times it seems a little bit out of the ordinary, the story keeps you going. Mom mysteriously disappeared several years ago. Rumors abound in their small town as to where she went. Artist dad paints portraits of exiled royals and while he is out of town again painting the portrait of another royal, the babysitter who is supposed to watch them happens to go out of town as well. This unintentionally leaves the children to fend for themselves. Being resourceful children they manage to come in contact with a cousin from the United States who happens to be staying in a castle. Join them on the adventure that while changed their lives forever.

Ellen Potter’s Website

What Do Illustrators Do? written and illustrated by Eileen Christelow

I have a child who wants to be an illustrator when he grows up. I used to dream of that when I was younger myself. So, when I saw this book at the library I thought it would be the perfect thing for both of us. I really liked it. I loved seeing the whole process. Some of my favorite visits with author/illustrators have been learning about the development of pictures to final products. Creativity is such a variable thing for everyone. The book, in summary is about two different illustrators each illustrating the same story. It shows how an illustrator designs a character, chooses which perspective to illustrate each scene from, and what tools they use to create their illustrations. Each person comes up with a completely different version of the same book.

I highly recommend this for anyone interested in illustration, young or old. It’s full of great pointers and practical advice. Even my five year old could use some of these pointers, even though he’s not the one interested in illustration. He was in tears today over his homework- he had to draw a picture of his favorite television show, which is Wild Kratts. He was very unhappy with his picture. It wasn’t perfect- the hair, in his distraught opinion looked like birthday candles on a cake instead of spikes. I did try to tell him that even professionals make sketches and mess up a lot and start over. He didn’t want to believe me. They could mess up, but he wanted to be perfect. Without practice. Hmm. That would be kind of nice. I’d sign up for that ability any day.

But, since that’s not likely to happen, I decided to take an illustration class this summer from Julie Oleson. I’m a little nervous. I want to be perfect too. Even though I know I’m not and I will never improve if I throw fits and whine about how I’m not as good as I would like to be. I’m taking the plunge. I signed up for the class. There are no refunds. Wish me luck!

Do you have a life-long dream that you’ve thought about pursuing? Maybe you want to be a writer, or an illustrator, or a dancer? Take some lessons, sign up for a class! You’ll never get there if you don’t start down the path no matter how scary it may be.