Author Archives: Amy

Armchair Cybils–December Linky

Can you believe we’re a mere seventeen days away from the shortlist announcements?  Wow!   I’m having a good time reading books I quite possibly would’ve never known about were it not for the Cybils.  These are the Cybils nominees I’ve read and reviewed since last month’s linky.  Links are to my reviews:

I will refrain from sharing my opinions just yet.  I hope to post a few more reviews before January 1, and on January 1 I’ll put up a linky for you to share your shortlist predictions, thoughts, and reactions.

This is so much fun!  :-)  Please share your own reviews or thoughts either by linking up your blog posts below or sharing your thoughts in the comments.

A couple of Cybils picture books

These two Cybils picture book nominees are both a little different, not your typical picture book at all.
100 Things That Make Me Happy by Amy Schwartz is just that:  an illustrated list of one hundred happy things.  The beauty and joy of this book are the exuberantly, colorfully beautiful illustrations and the way the words rhyme.  I think this book wound translate very well into board book format; the bright and bold illustrations are perfect for baby and toddler eyes, and the sing-song of the rhyme is perfect for little ones’ ears.  Here’s one opening:

Bucket trucks

Yellow ducks

Grocery carts

Frosted hearts

Grandma’s lap

A Gingersnap

The typography, page design, and illustrations all complement the tone and spirit of the book beautifully.  I thought my four year old list-lover would like this one a lot, but we made one pass through it and he opted for a different book.  I think it might grow on him if we read it a few more times.  I like it a lot.  (Abrams, 2014)

I think I’ve mentioned a time or two that I don’t like a gimmicky book, haven’t I?  Well, that’s how I would describe A Perfectly Messed-Up Story by Patrick McDonnell.  It’s the story of this little guy named Louie, only before Louie’s story can get off the ground, bad things begin to happen:  a blob of jelly is dropped on a page of his story; someone’s inky fingerprints mar the page; a puddle of orange juice is spilled.  Poor little Louie is dejected to the point of despair until he realizes that life goes on and his story is loved.  Obviously, this wasn’t my favorite book, but the DLM loved it.  I will hand it to McDonnell–the messes are very realistic, so obviously he is an expert at combining various artistic mediums.  This one reminds me a little bit of Van Allsburg’s Bad Day at Riverbend.  (Does anyone remember that one?)  The DLM gives this one a Highly Recommended.  (Little, Brown, 2014)

The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier

Sometimes I’m really not sure how I’ve ended up reading mostly from the elementary/middle grade speculative fiction list for this year’s Armchair Cybils thus far.  Perhaps it’s Sherry’s influence.  This is not a category that I normally delve into very much, so each time I pick up a new book, I have to remind myself that that’s what it is.  On his website, the book’s author, Jonathan Auxier, bills The Night Gardener as a “Victorian ghost story,” which is a nice, succint description.  Unlike other speculative fiction I’ve read, I didn’t have to read very far to know the nature of this book; Auxier does a great job of setting the mood early with his opening:

The calendar said early March, but the smell in the air said late October.  A crisp sun shone over Cellar Hollow, melting the final bits of ice from the bare trees.  Steam rose from the soil like a phantom, carrying with it a whisper of autumn smoke that had been lying dormant in the frosty underground.  Squinting through the trees, you could just make out the winding path that ran from the village all the way to the woods in the south.  People seldom traveled in that direction, but on this March-morning-that-felt-like-October, a horse and cart rattled down the road.  It was a fish cart with a broken back wheel and no fish.  Riding atop the bench were two children, a girl and a boy, both with striking red hair.  The girl was named Molly, and the boy, her brother, was Kip.

And they were riding to their deaths.

And yes, that’s what happens–almost–except Molly and Kip are neither one likely to take anything like this lying down, which is good for them and the family they’re going to work for, the Windsors.  It turns out that the Windsors’ home is just plain old weird.  It has a huge, gnarly old tree growing into it, and it’s not a normal tree.  But that’s not all–something strange happens in the home at night.  Molly spends a good part of her time every day cleaning muddy footprints and dried leaves off the floor.  Who is the mysterious night visitor who leaves his trail throughout the Windsors’ home each night?  Well, as with all ghost stories, this is a story best not ruined by spoilers.  I will leave it at this:  this story deals with wishes and greed and desperation and love.  It’s a very suspenseful story with a happy ending for all of the main characters, and it keeps from being over-the-top scary because all of the weird and scary things that happen have a definitive boundary of the Windsors’ environs.  It’s not really a complicated story, like Splendors and Glooms, which is what this story reminded me of a bit, but again, that keeps the creepy factor from going over the top.  Anyway, if ghost stories are your thing, this one is one you’ll enjoy.  I think it’s my favorite of the Cybils elementary/middle grade speculative fiction thus far.  (Abrams, 2014)

Reviews elsewhere and related links:


WWW: Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

This year we’re using Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp for our family Advent reading.  We’ve used her free devotional (or my own paraphrase of it) for several years, and we’re still using her free ornaments along with our homemade felt Jesse Tree this year.  Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of Voskamp’s writing style, though I almost always really love her message.  Last night we read the December 8th devotional (because, as usual, we’re behind :-) ), and I absolutely loved it.  The scripture reference was from Genesis 28 where Jacob dreams of the ladder from heaven.  This is how Voskamp relates it to Advent:

See, Jesus doesn’t just come down to show you the steps you have to take to get up to heaven–Jesus comes down and makes Himself into the steps to carry you up to heaven.

Everybody else may tell you the steps you have to take to get better.  But Jesus is the only One who becomes the step to take you there Himself–because He loves you already, just as you are.

Jesus doesn’t wait for you to be good; He comes to be with us who are having very awful, miserable, no-good days right now.  Jesus comes to carry us who are feeling mad and bad and sad and anything but glad, and He left heaven to be with us who feel left out.  Jesus comes to us who seem to get every step wrong–He becomes the step just to get us.  (51)


That’s Good News.