Fuzzy Mud

One of my job perks this summer is getting to help with clubs – Lego Club, Cooking Club, Crochet Club, Coding Club and the Tween Book Club. One of the girls who comes to multiple clubs was adamant that I read this month’s book, Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar.

I’ve discussed other Sachar books before, Wayside School. I also love his book Holes, but Fuzzy Mud very different from them. It has a menacing feel to it, so this book is geared more towards 5-7 grade students.

The story is set in a private school in Pennsylvania. Tamaya is a 5th grader, Marshall is a 7th grader and Chad is his bully. Marshall leads Tamaya through the woods one day so that he can avoid a fight with Chad. Chad finds them, and to help Marshall, Tamaya grabs a handful of a strange tar-like mud that has a fuzz of moss on top, and shoves it into Chad’s face.

The story progresses quickly from there. Tamaya developes a strange rash on her hand that keeps spreading and Chad goes missing. There are transcripts from a environmental hearing where the safety of a new alternative fuel is being debated spread between the chapters. The fuel uses a genetically modified slime-mold for energy. Is it safe? What if it wasn’t contained? What if there was a leak into the surrounding countryside? 

Sachar has also put in clues as to how quickly the problem is progressing. The chapter headings show an illustration that might just be a Petri dish. For Chapter 1 there is a single dot in the dish. As the story progresses, it begins to look more and more like this:

The ergonym in the biofuel doubles every thirty-two minutes. As the story builds towards its climax, we also see simple math equations:

2 x 1 = 2

2 x 2 = 4

2 x 4 = 8

It doesn’t take long for the equations to create very high numbers.

2 x 67,108,864 = 134,217,728

2 x 134,217,728 = 268,435,456

Tamaya, Marshall and Chad are in grave danger and no one knows it. The kids have to overcome all of their fears to make it through.

Science Comics

I really like to learn new things. I’m fabulous at trivia. I soak facts up and secret them away in the books and crannies of my brain, and I’m always looking for more.

I learned the coolest facts about bats this weekend, thanks to a great series of graphic novels called Science Comics.

Did you know bats are extremely important in pollination? Trees and plants who only bloom at night can’t rely on bees, so they rely on nectar drinking bats. Fruits like mango, guava, bananas, durian and cocoa rely on bats too. And guess who is responsible for replanting trees by pooping after eating…that’s right, bats.

I was astounded to learn that bats have this awesome leg tendon that automatically tightens when the bat hangs upside down. The bats use more energy to let go then they do to hang because of it! And speaking of their anatomy, they are more closely related to primates then rodents! They have a thumb, something almost all animals besides primates lack.

But I didn’t just read about bats this weekend, I also read about dinosaurs.

This book was told in a neat way. As the information about dinosaurs was collected, each “generation” was positive that they knew everything and they were 100% sure of it. Of course, as new specimen are found and the ways scientist study those specimen becomes more high-tech, we are constantly changing what we thought we knew about ancient life.

I knew that coprolites (fossilized dinosaur poop) existed but I did not know that originally they were thought to be bezoar stones from the stomach. And who knew the idiocy that competition caused in the men looking for fossils! Two feuding paleontologists were know to purposely plant false fossils to discredit each other’s work and weren’t above dynamiting fossil beds to keep each other from making finds.

The book does a great job explaining how the different dinosaur families are divided, how they probably evolved and furthered other sciences. It is because of dinosaur fossils that we understand plate tectonics.

The series has quite a few titles:

I have read Coral Reefs: Cities of the Ocean but I don’t own the other books. I plan to buy them all and get anything forthcoming. They are published by First Second Books, the same company that publishes the Olympians series.

Ok, saving the best for last, here is a page of Dinosaurs: Fossils and Feathers that explains the different ways Dinosaurs may have died to later become fossils.

Look at that first panel with the T-Rex and the Stegosaurus. Now imagine the “Aw yeah!!” in a voice like Flava Flav. LOL!!

The Girl Who Drank the Moon

Kelly Barnhill won the Newberry Medal for her amazing story, The Girl Who Drank the Moon. It’s not like anything I’ve ever read before.

There once was a village nestled between the never-ending bog and the most dangerous of forests. The village, called the Protectorate lived in fear of the witch in the woods who demanded that the villagers sacrifice their youngest child each year. What did the witch do with those babies? It’s probably better not to think about it.

There once was a witch who lived in a dangerous forest with her simply enormous (pocket-sized) dragon and four-armed bog   monster. Once a year the witch rescued a baby abandoned in the woods by the people of the Protectorate. What did the witch do with those babies? She traveled through the dangerous forest, feeding them starlight. She then took them to new villages where she found loving families for them.

There once was a little baby girl whom the witch accidentally fed moonlight. It enmagicked her and set events into motion that were 500 years in the making.

I really want you to read this book for yourself. It makes us think about what we accept in our lives without question, and it forces us to reconsider who we think of as the villains. As I said before, it is very different than anything I’ve ever read before. Time has a way of warping our memories and it’s even worse when the villain changes the story of what really happened. 

Fans of fantasy will love Luna, Xan, Fyrian, Glerk and Antain, I know I did! I would like to read more of Barnhill’s books, especially The Witch’s Boy.

Author Spotlight: Leo Lionni

Leo Lionni did not study to be an artist or writer, but after creating a story to amuse his grandchildren in 1958, he found his true calling. That first story was little blue and little yellow.

Most of us have read at least one of his books. I doubt I could show his full body of work in one blog entry, but here are some I’m familiar with.

An Extraordinary Egg may be my favorite to read aloud. The kids get so frustrated with me when I agree with the frogs and insist that a chicken hatched from that egg.

Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse and Frederick are favorites with my girls. I also like Cornelius. Today I read one that I’d never seen before:

Pencil and Scissors decide to make rabbits and each has their own style. The rabbits get hungry and discover what makes a character “real”. Very cute and simple, as many of the best books are.

I hope I helped jog your memory of a great book by this author. He isn’t too far forgotten though, he was recently the Kohl’s Cares author (my daughters got Frederick and one of the frogs.) He also has numerous board books for little hands and there are others like me who still read his stories to children on a regular basis.

My Baby Crocodile 

I have never read anything by Gaëtan Dorémus before. 

I was very intrigued by the cover art in this picture book, so I figured, why not?

Before I tell you about his book, here’s what Google had to say about him:

Gaetan Doremus: Born in 1971, GA TAN DOR MUS received his degree from the School of Decorative Arts in Strasbourg in 1999, after which he picked up a few other degrees while creating picture books and illustrations for the press. Doremus has illustrated over 20 books and has produced hundreds of freestanding illustrations and cartoons. He loves to bicycle ride, walk in the mountains, and eat green tomatoes with cinnamon. In 2006, he became a Papa.

Born: November 20, 1976 (age 40), Lille, France

Books: Chagrin d’ours, Empty Fridge, My Baby Crocodile, Swimming with Dolphins, Leander, Ping pong

So now, the book! A kind-hearted but cross-eyed crocodile discovers a baby crocodile one day and decides to adopt him. For some reason the baby can’t swim, doesn’t like raw meat and keeps trying to run away! Worst of all, he squeaks and gets rusty….

Eventually, the crocodile figures things out and the baby crocodile, now revealed to be a little boy, tells his side of the story. He considers leaving but it’s awfully fun to live with a crocodile. The question then becomes can a boy trust a crocodile and can a crocodile trust a boy?

This story has a poignant ending that I didn’t expect. I might have to seek out more of Dorémus’ work.

Author Spotlight: Bob Shea

Bob Shea is one on my newest favorite author/illustrators. Besides illustrating numerous books written by other great authors like Jody John and Kelly DiPucchio, he writes his own hilarious books.

I brought this book up in my unicorn post a few weeks ago. It was my first Bob Shea book. I adore this book. But, since you know that already, let’s move on!

Cheetah thinks a whole lot of himself and the kittens know it. But the kittens aren’t innocent. They try more than a few sneaky tricks on Cheetah. They remind me of that super-wonderful, old Little Golden Book The Color Kittens.

Bob Shea has a son who inspired a series of books about a fierce dinosaur. These books are simple and fun.

Another great series is Ballet Cat. They are nice for early readers. They seem very pink and girlie, but boys are going to giggle at them too. There are three or more in this series, I just haven’t found all the covers.

He has plenty of books that aren’t series that are well worth reading. I haven’t read them all, but I’m working on it!

What would daddies do without help from their little ones? A perfect Father’s Day story.

This one is definitely getting purchased for my library this year!

I think, since it says Buddy and the Bunnies on the top, that this may be the start of another great series. Buddy is a fierce monster but who can blame him for wanting to eat the cupcakes the bunnies make before he eats them? And if he agrees to play hide-and-seek with them while the cupcakes bake, that’s no big deal, right? Buddy’s plan to eat those cute little bunnies just seems to keep derailing. Those bunnies are kinda smart!

I know I didn’t get all of Shea’s books. He even has some who were illustrated by other great illustrators like Lane Smith. I think Shea is going to become as popular as Mo Willems. Their illustrations are actually quite similar and I think kids will see that and have no problems enjoying both authors.

Author Spotlight: Hudson Talbott

It’s not often that I spotlight an author after reading just one book from their body of work. I was impressed enough with Hudson Talbots’s book O’Sullivan Stew to do just that.

When the King takes the local witch’s horse in leui of taxes, Kate O’Sullivan tries to raise the villagers to help. But they tell her “the witch isn’t one of us,” and ignore the pleas. You should never anger a witch and this one is no different. She stops the nets from catching fish, the gardens die and the cows’ milk dries up. Kate talks her brothers and father into stealing the witch’s horse back, but they aren’t very good thieves and get caught.

In the style of wiley women like Scheherazade, Kate tells the King stories of how she, her brothers and her father have all been in worse situations than facing hanging for horse thievery. 

I really liked all of the stories, Kate is taken by the Wee Folk on Mid Summers Eve and just manages to escape, Kelly is attacked by a horde of demonic cats, Fergus escapes the jaws of a sea monster with the help of a selkie (Irish shape-shifting seals, kind of like mermaids), and her father, Seamus fought a giant to rescue a baby! The king says her imagination would surely be enough to save her, but he must punish someone….until his mother steps in to verify that at least one of the stories Kate told is true. I’m not going to tell you which one is true, but I will say they get to take the horse home to the witch and the village agrees that she’s part of the ‘family’.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Talbots’s books. I was surprised to find he wrote the book We’re Back which was made into a movie, as well as a few sequels to it.

I don’t think I own these books, but I’d be interested in getting them. I am also hoping to find copies of his King Arthur stories and this fairytale:

He also has some funnier looking books I wouldn’t mind getting my hands on:

Did you notice that he’s the illustrator on most of these? His style is really varied, I feel like that’s true talent! Look st the Lady of the Lake!

Every single book on this list looks amazing, and I didn’t even show them all! The Arthur series has quite a few titles alone. More for the old wishlist, I guess!

Basher Science

I’m a total nerd. And not just for books! I love science and math and history too. So I find it pretty exciting that my girls love that kind of stuff. So why not find fun ways to expand their horizons?

This weekend at Target, we found the cutest game, it had decks in biology, chemistry and minerals and elements. The cards can be paired with books by Basher Science. I’ve seen them in Scholastic book orders and they look fun, giving each element or cell or chemical a cartoon persona. 

The card game is relatively simple. The cards are numbered 1-8 and each person takes one from each number and shuffles their hand. The game is then played kind of like war (you’ve all played it) where the larger card laid down wins, except that each card has a special ability. It might affect the round it’s played in or it might affect other cards later on.

The cards also have facts about whatever they represent and the decks can be mixed. This is a fun game, although the 10 year old kept beating me. And there’s another fun side to the game. You can buy bonus packs with more cards and the little characters in plastic figures (take a hike Shopkins!)

I’m hoping that Basher comes out with more decks to match their huge variety of books. Go check them out at their site by clicking here.

So yeah, it was more about the game than the books, but I think the game will open the doors to the books with reluctant readers.

Urso Brunov

I probably would have been the perfect kid to read Brian Jacques’ Redwall series. It’s about a fantasy kingdom of animals. It would have been right up my alley. But, alas, I didn’t read them.

So, when I came upon this picture book, I thought it was worth looking at. Urso Brunov translates to brown bear, doesn’t it? 

I really loved the idea behind this story! Urso is the Little Father of All Bears, specifically the Brunov tribe, who live far, far away where earth meets sky, beyond the silent mountains, across lonely windswept plains, in the high forests (Russia?). This tribe is very hard to find because a Brunov Bear is only the size of your thumb!

This great story has all the trappings of a traditional folk tale. Urso is the guardian over his tribe, and is wise, strong and clever. The littler bears don’t always listen to him though. They want to go south for the winter and get bearnapped! Urso must travel far to find his little bears. Along the way he finds many animals who have had a loved one taken by the same hunters. He promises to free all the animals, and always says, “Believe me, for I am Urso Brunov!” The animals are trapped within a place with a lightning flash and two cartwheels.

Okay, I thought that was clever! I was really expecting some grand and foreboding fortress, but it’s a handwritten sign…too funny!

Urso is wise, and strong and clever so it isn’t hard to believe he is able to quickly overcome the humans.  He rescues all the animals, brings them back to their families and brings the little bears home. He doesn’t even punish them. What an awesome guy.

I am…the strongest, cleverest, bravest, fiercest bear that ever lived. And the most modest, too. Believe me, for I am Urso Brunov!

I was very excited to see there is at least one more book about Urso:

I am hoping it’s in print, and if it isn’t I will definitely be buying it used.


I found a wonderful storybook collection about a classic character I’m not familiar with.

The reason I had not heard of the Milky-Molly-Mandy stories Is that they are from the U.K. I looked them up online and discovered that the stories are about a little girl in the late 1920s in southern England. Her full name, Millicent Margaret Amanda, is long so she goes by the shortened version.

The series was created by Joyce Lankester Brisley but this collection is illustrated by Clara Vulliamy. In the Foreword, Vulliamy tells us how she enjoyed Milly-Molly-Mandy as a girl and now shares them with her own children. She tried to stay true to the original Brisley style but with color added.

This is one of the Brisley illustrations.

And this is Vulliamy’s interpretation of Milly-Molly-Mandy.

I think she did a great job and stayed true to the original feel of the book. I have a couple of friends who grew up in England. I think it might make their day to see this book.

When I originally saw the book I thought the stories might be similar to the Dick and Jane books. These are not for early readers though. They are short stories that are just the right length to be bedtime stories. They are very cute, she says Farver instead of Father and Muvver instead of Mother, and her friend is literally called Little-friend-Susan.

There are other Mills-Molly-Mandy books available, I might have to add them to my wishlist!