The Saddest Little Robot

The other night I shared with you some post apocalyptic books I love. Dystopian books fall right in with them, and I wanted to share a kids’ dystopian that ended up being fairly profound.

In The Saddest Little Robot, Snoot is a Drudgebot, and a confused one at that. He can’t figure out why the Halobots, who run Dome City, get some much extra light (all robots need light to survive). He thinks so much about this he gets easily distracted and is consequently the least productive of all robots. He is also oddly shaped and the others make fun of him. Curious about what exists in the awful darkness outside the Dome, he ventures forth and discovers that all it not as it seems. 

Snoot’s original explorations have to do with his curiosity, but then as he discovers the truth about the Dome, he selflessly decides to help the other Drudgebots who haven’t always been kind to him.

I read this book to 5th grade last year and it was very fun to listen to their theories about the Dome and life outside the Dome. We loved the little bugs who work so hard to help robots they don’t even know. Humanity could learn a lot from the characters in this book.

Caldecott Award Winners

Right now I have the Newberry Medal, Newberry Honor and Caldecott Award winners on display. The Newberry is for best story of the year and the Caldecott is for the best illustrations of the year. I haven’t read the current winners of either category yet, but I did take a few minutes today to look at some older Caldecott winners. Their illustration styles differ greatly, but each suits their story perfectly.

My Friend Rabbit by Eric Rohmann is the 2003 winner. The story is about Mouse’s friend Rabbit, who has well intentioned ideas that always lead to trouble. I liked the cartoonish style to Rohmann’s book.


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Grandfather’s Journey is the true story of Allen Say’s Grandfather and how he emigrated to America from Japan and then immigrated back to Japan. The artwork is so beautiful, it could almost be photographs. This book is the 1994 winner.


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Finders Keepers is the 1951 winner. I like the color-block style of art to this story. The dogs found a bone together, but who gets it, the one who saw it first or the one who touched it first?


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Hands down, my favorite today was Many Moons. The original edition that won the Caldecott in 1944 was republished in 1990 with new illustrations by Marc Simont. My copy is from 1990. Here is a comparison of the two editions:




The styles are different, and both have their merits. I am not sure why it was reworked. The only thing I can think of is that Simont loved the story and wanted to give it his own personal touch.

The story is about a little princess who falls ill. When asked what will make her feel better, she asks for the moon. The king’s wise men are useless but the jester figures out a way to give the princess the moon. I thought the story was sweet and funny and I loved how the princess could be both naive and wise at the same time. You really should try this book!

🎶It’s the end of the world, and I feel fine🎶

I really enjoy post apocalyptic stories. I find the question “what would you be willing to do to keep your loved ones alive?” very intriguing. I haven’t read many of them lately, but I have read enough that it’s hard to pick which ones to share.

One of the first books I ever read in this genre was The Stand by Stephen King. This story is scary because a pandemic could easily happen with the ease of world travel and our dense population. It’s also terrifying to see how quickly some people choose to do bad things to keep themselves alive.

The Road was a great story that felt both real and heartbreaking. The father is working so hard to keep his son alive and safe. I can’t imagine trying to raise a child in such a world.

Kunstler’s World Made By Hand series is a bit of a more gradual decline. The people who have survived a flu epidemic have adapted fairly well and are making their way in the new world. They aren’t above violence though.

If you like zombies, and I do, this is probably the best written zombie book I’ve ever read…and I’ve read a lot. Max Brooks approaches the story as a reporter with individual stories following the pandemic in both geographic and chronological progression around the globe. (I was blown away to discover that Max Brooks is the son of Mel Brooks, as in Blazing Saddles, Young  Frankenstein and Space Balls!)

Though not true zombies, Amanda Hocking’s Hollowland series is along those lines. This is a young adult series, and the writer began her career by self-publishing online. She has found well deserved success. I loved the main character’s grit and determination. She will do anything to protect her brother and even manages to befriend a lion that helps protect them.

Another great YA series is the Ashfall series by Mike Mullin. The supervolcano under Yosemite erupts and sends the North American continent into chaos. The main character is a 15 year old boy trying to get from Des Moines to his family in Indiana. I’ve read the first two books in the set and loved them. I hope to catch up on the series this summer. 

One of the most powerful stories about a world gone wrong is Life As We Knew It and the follow up books in the series by Susan Beth Pfeffer. An asteroid hits the moon and shifts it closer to Earth. This results in tsunamis and massive flooding. Then later on, as the world reels, volcanic activity skyrockets plummeting the globe into a nuclear winter (of sorts). The story follows a 15 year old girl and her family in Pennsylvania. The second book is about a family in New York City and the third book brings the two families together. These families rely on the power of love and their devotion to one another to see them through.

I could probably come up with 20 more books like this that I think are good enough, or unique enough to tell you about. I would have recommended another volcano triggered apocalypse story if I could recall the name, and there’s an odd one by a classic author, again my brain is not working–where 100 years has passed since a virus wiped out most of the educated class. The servants survived in greater numbers and the result is an uneducated group of people who no longer even speak English correctly. I wish I could think of the name!

What big teeth you have!

If I had to pick a favorite fairytale, it would be Little Red Riding Hood. I don’t know why, it’s just my favorite.  Which is why I was excited to get in a new picture book called Wolf In the Snow by Matthew Cordell.

While it doesn’t follow the traditional Red Riding Hood story, there is an obvious comparison. The story is told all in pictures, the only words are the howling, whining and sounds of breathing. It is simple, but powerful. I won’t give it away but kindness is always returned is a great theme for this book.

For the traditional version, you’ll want to read Little Red Cap by the Brothers Grimm.

If you want a different culture’s Red Riding Hood, you might try Lon Po Po retold by Ed Young.

This Caldecott Award winning book tells a version of the story from China. I read it to my 6th grade students last year and we were surprised that it seemed to combine Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs.

If you want to laugh at a story about Red Riding Hood, try The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, the Wolf, and Grandma by Diane & Christyan Fox. 

The cat is trying to read to the dog, and he keeps interrupting and misinterpreting the story. You have to read this gem to truly appreciate the humor.

So let’s see if I have this right. The Red Hood is on her way to help an old lady when she meets the Wolfman. He has an evil plan. He likes to dress up in girls’ clothes and eat people. He and Red have a big battle, and Red’s father puts an end to Wolfie.

A more grown up version of the story can be found in the Daniel Egnéus illustrated book.

I found this one at the dollar store, of all places. The artwork is amazing!


And all this leads up to the book that I don’t have yet: Liesl Shurtliff’s Red the true story of Red Riding Hood.

I loved her books Rump  and Jack and I’ve been waiting for this for a few years. Red is Rump’s best friend in the first book so I was sure she would get her own book.

One last book recommendation for you. Tanith Lee’s Wolfland from her Red As Blood collectionif you want a little more sinister in your story.

It’s not a very nice story, is it?

Are you absolutely sure this is a children’s book?

The Spindlers

Think Alice In Wonderland heavily influenced by Neil Gaiman. If you can picture a dark-dark world below our own, you can imagine the setting for The Spindlers.

Lauren Oliver has created this creepy world Below to house the terrifying Spindlers. The Spindlers are like spiders, but can change in size. Oh, and they can steal your soul. Do not attempt to read this book if you have arachnophobia.

The main character, Liza, wakes up one morning to realize her brother’s soul has been stolen. She’s willing to do anything to save him, even going Below. She accepts the help of a rat who wears makeup and a wig, and meets more than a few unsavory characters. 

Liza told herself stories as though she was weaving and knotting an endless rope. Then, no matter how dark or terrible the pit she found herself in, she could pull herself out, inch by inch and hand over hand, on the long rope of stories.

Through it all, Liza’s devotion to her brother remains strong. She pushes past many obstacles, temptations and riddles to free his soul. 


I loved this story! I think it’s sweet how Liza fondly remembers her games with Patrick at the same time as his tantrums. For a nine year old girl, she show remarkable bravery and love. I love how she comes to care for Mirabella, her rat guide, and how quickly she is willing to accept Mirabella’s faults. Liza overcomes challenges and riddles that would have had most kids giving up. She is an awesome character, in fact, I’d like to see more books about her. 

There is also the Spindlers Queen – a fabulously devious villain! I shuddered and shivered at the description of her. She makes the dark and creepy setting so much more profound.

There is no such thing as fair. There is only the way things are.

William Steig (part 2)

Yesterday I talked about some William Steig books that I’ve enjoyed. There are many more! I don’t own them all at school, but I’ll share about the remaining ones I do have.

I did not know until I was an adult that Shrek! was a book first. It’s not exactly like the movie. They elaborated a lot on Donkey and the Shrek in the book is not nearly as nice as the one in the movie. The book never names his princess, but she doesn’t look much like Fiona.


Amos & Boris is a story about an adventurous mouse named Amos who is adrift at sea when a kind whale named Boris saves him. The two become fast friends and Amos promises to help Boris if ever the need arises. Boris doubts it will, but  things have a way of happening when you least expect them.


The Amazing Bone is an odd story. The young pig finds a magic talking bone and they become friends. But on the way home bad guys mug the pig, or at least try to before the magic bone saves the day. But can the bone outsmart a crafty fox bent on porkchops for dinner?


Zeke Pippin is about a pig who finds a magic harmonica that puts people to sleep. It fell off of the garbage wagon so he scrubs it with this toothbrush and then rinsed it with his father’s schnapps (won’t find that in a modern picture book). The problem is that Zeke doesn’t realize that the harmonica puts people to sleep. In a huff he decided to run away from his family and play for audiences that appreciate his talent. It’s not until he’s gotten a fair distance away that he realizes what’s really been happening. Can he get himself home safely? 

William Steig (part 1)

As I’m sure you know, I love older books. Vintage and retro illustrations are favorites and the simple goodness of those stories just make me happy. I also get a thrill whenever I read a book that triggers a memory from childhood. 

I know that my brother and I had this book as kids. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is the story of a donkey foal who finds a pebble that grants wishes. Unfortunately, he makes a wish that causes him to become a boulder and his parents don’t know how to find him.  As a kid, it never occurred to me that real kids actually do disappear. I had no idea how scary this situation would actually be for parents. I love this book so much that I decided to read more books by William Steig.


Brave Irene is about a little girl who must deliver the gown her mother has made for the Duchess, despite a terrible snow storm. She fights her way over the mountain and wins the admiration of everyone at the palace.

Pete’s a Pizza is a cute story about a father cheering up his son with silliness. Steig has other books that play with words, C D B? (See the Bee?) and C D C? (See the Sea?) but I don’t have them at school. 

Yellow & Pink is an interesting book. The two wooden dolls wake up in a sunny field with no idea how they got there. Pink thinks they must have been made by a higher power, but Yellow argues that it could have happened by chance. I’m thinking Steig is religious because Yellow’s rationalizations aren’t super convincing. The best part is at the end when they come face to face with their creator and don’t recognize him for what he is. Steig may have been trying to tell us something with this one.

Mammoths! 

A first grader excitedly showed me his nonfiction book about wooly mammoths to me today. I have to smile because I’ve wanted to be a paleontologist since I was a little girl. I have read many articles online about mammoths frozen in the permafrost that could •maybe• be used for cloning.

Lyuba – mammoth calf from Russia

Yuka – mammoth calf from Japan

I decided they would be a fun catalog search topic, just to see what I had. Aside from my nonfiction books on extinct animals, I had two picture books about mammoths: 

Rafe Martin‘s book Will’s Mammoth doesn’t have a lot of words, but it show perfectly how a child’s imagination is limitless. Stephen Gammell‘s funky illustrations are perfect for the story. When he draws hair, it looks like wonderfully wooly hair.

Samson In the Snow is a fairly new book about a mammoth who’s lonely but doesn’t know quite how to make friends. He is very nice to others though, and in the end, that kind heart is what helps him find some friends. I love Philip C. Stead‘s story and artwork.

There is one other recently released book about mega fauna I’d like to get for school. It’s called Toby and the Ice Giants.


Tony is a bison who is curious about the giants around him. I think it’s a picture book but it’s informative, enough that I’m not sure which section of the library it would go in.

Rainforest stories

It’s gotten chilly and rainy around here, and I’m really dying for spring to finally arrive! So to fight the chill, I thought I’d read about very warm rainforests.

I have never read this book before, but I have had it on my list for awhile. Every year the teachers at school put stuff they don’t want in a specific spot and we all rummage through it. A few years ago I found a huge pop up of a rainforest scene that needed some TLC. I knew it was from The Great Kapok Tree so I put it on the old to-read list.

I like this story because the animals clearly explain why chopping fown rainforest trees is so bad. Kids can understand the consequences of one seemingly small act. Lynne Cherry has quite a few other titles that have to do with conserving the rainforests. They all look great.

The Great Kapok Tree reminds me, at least visually, of Heart of a Tiger. Heart of a Tiger takes place in the rainforests of India. The animals choose their own names, and though the fourth kitten is shy, he longs to be a beautiful bengal tiger. The kitten proves his courage when he saves the tiger’s life and earns his name.

I was enthralled by this illustration. I just love it! I’m a cat person and I am saddened by the loss of our big cat populations, so this story was a big hit with me. (Also this little kitty with a big heart looks just like my Bloo kitty.)

May I Bring a Friend?

There is something enchanting about illustrations in old books. I love modern illustrators’ work too, but the process is very different. In older books, the pictures are often colored in only a few colors, since each color was printed separately and adding more colors was expensive. Today, illustrators have access to amazing computer programs that allow them to layer their work and provide fantastic detail. Both are wonderful – afterall, it wouldn’t be a picture book without the pictures. 

The big award for illustrations is the Caldecott Award – and the committee who decides each year’s award winner considers the dust jacket, the cover itself and the endpapers along with the pictures in the book. I chose to re-read a sweet story that won the Caldecott in 1964: May I Bring a Friend? by Beatrix Schenk de Regniers. The illustrations were done by Beni Montresor.

The little boy is asked to the castle every day for For a visit with the Queen and King, and every day he asks if he may bring a friend. His friends are a wild bunch!

The lions are my favorite, they come along for Halloween.

The story is written in sweet sing-song rhyming stanzas. The story is simple and fun, no big underlying lesson, but that’s okay! Simple for the sake of simple is missing in a lot of kids’ daily lives.

I’ve never read any other books by this author, and the only other book illustrated by Montresor that I’m familiar with is On Christmas Eve by Eve Bunting, I think if I ever find more by them, I’ll snatch them up!