The Beatryce Prophecy – Kate DiCamillo

Illustrations – Sophie Blackall

How to make me fall in love with your book in 5 easy steps

Step 1: Begin with a quote that makes me cheer on the girl before I’ve even met her. 

It is written in the Chronicles of Sorrowing that one day there will come a child who will unseat a king.

The prophecy states that this child will be a girl.

Because of this, the prophecy has long been ignored. 

Step 2: Make your main character someone who loves to read, who is imaginative and brave and resilient and adorable. 

“There are twenty-six letters in all,” she said. “You will learn each of them, and once you know them, you can mix them as you will, and then use them to form the words of the world and the things of the world. You can write of everything – what is and what was and what might yet be.” 

Step 3: Introduce me to characters who will live in my heart long after I finish reading. People like…

* A monk who sees beauty everywhere and whose words are true
* A boy with a brilliant memory who talks to bees
* A man who remembers how wonderful it is to laugh.

Step 4: Impart wisdom and, in doing so, make me highlight an absurd amount of sentences. 

He said, “The world is not always a kind place.”

“No,” she agreed.

“But there are sweet things to be had,” he said.

“Nothing is more terrifying to evil than joy.” 

She felt as though the darkness were trying to swallow her up.

She must not allow that to happen. She must stay herself. 

To be brave is to not turn away.

To be brave is to go forward.

To be brave is to love. 

Seemingly, the heart could hold an untold amount of things – letters and people and goats and bees.

Seemingly, there was no limit to what it could contain. 

We shall all, in the end,

be led to where we belong.

We shall all, in the end,

find our way home. 

Step 5: Include gorgeous illustrations.

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Bonus points if there’s a goat called Answelica who has attitude and a very hard head. 

“I do believe the best and wisest thing we can do is to follow the goat.”

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

We shall all, in the end, be led to where we belong. We shall all, in the end, find our way home.

In a time of war, a mysterious child appears at the monastery of the Order of the Chronicles of Sorrowing. Gentle Brother Edik finds the girl, Beatryce, curled in a stall, wracked with fever, coated in dirt and blood, and holding fast to the ear of Answelica the goat. As the monk nurses Beatryce to health, he uncovers her dangerous secret, one that imperils them all – for the king of the land seeks just such a girl, and Brother Edik, who penned the prophecy himself, knows why.

And so it is that a girl with a head full of stories – powerful tales – within the tale of queens and kings, mermaids and wolves – ventures into a dark wood in search of the castle of one who wishes her dead. But Beatryce knows that, should she lose her way, those who love her – a wild-eyed monk, a man who had once been king, a boy with a terrible sword, and a goat with a head as hard as stone – will never give up searching for her, and to know this is to know everything. With its timeless themes, unforgettable cast, and magical medieval setting, Kate DiCamillo’s lyrical tale, paired with resonant black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Sophie Blackall, is a true collaboration between masters.

Mercy Watson #6: Something Wonky This Way Comes – Kate DiCamillo

Illustrations – Chris Van Dusen

Mr and Mrs Watson are going to the drive-in to see When Pigs Fly, which may be a love story or inspirational, or perhaps even a figure of speech. Whatever it is, the Bijou Drive-In concession stand most definitely sells popcorn.

“Yes,” said Mr. Watson, “it says here that the Bijou proudly serves real butter on every Bottomless Bucket of popcorn.”

Butter, you say? All you can eat? That sounds like a job for Mercy Watson!

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She’s in! So are some of the other residents of Deckawoo Drive. They all pile into the Watson’s pink car and make their way to the drive-in. Once there, the buttery popcorn smell is irresistible. Mercy needs to investigate.

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Not everyone is happy about a porcine wonder investigating their buttery popcorn though. Pretty soon Mercy is the entertainment, not the movie.

It seems like pretty much every character you’ve met in this series shows up in this book. This is the first Mercy Watson book I’ve read (other than the prequel) but I knew some of the characters from the couple of Tales from Deckawoo Drive series I’ve already enjoyed.

Kids will enjoy Mercy’s antics, although young readers may have trouble with the pronunciation of some of the characters’ names. Bonus adult nostalgia points for the drive-in setting.

I absolutely adore the illustrations. They’re colourful and fun, and all of the characters are very expressive. Interestingly, the humans are the same colour as Mercy.

I wish my library had the first five books in the series so I could binge them all! This pig is so cute!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The porcine wonder is off to the drive-in – and driven to follow that buttery smell – in a comic crescendo that reunites a familiar cast of characters.

Some may find it wonky to take a pig to the movies. But not Mr. and Mrs. Watson, who think the title of the film, When Pigs Fly, is inspirational. And not their beloved Mercy, who is inspired by the fact that the drive-in proudly serves real butter on its Bottomless Bucket of popcorn. So when they pull up in their convertible, Mercy lifts her snout and becomes a pig on a mission – for what is more heavenly than being hot on the trail of a true butter smell?

Masterful slapstick director Kate DiCamillo sends Mercy on a delirious chase, followed by a trail of hapless rescuers whom fans will recognise from prior episodes. And Chris Van Dusen’s comic retro illustrations perfectly capture a nostalgic pastime – along with the newest antics of a charmingly single-minded pig.

Stink #12: Stink and the Hairy, Scary Spider – Megan McDonald

Illustrations – Peter H. Reynolds

When his dollar bill origami frog leap frogs away from him, Stink encounters something really scary in his yard. Spiderzilla!

“A ginormous, hairy, scary, radioactive mutant spider!”

This is definitely not an ordinary spider. After all, it has pink toes!

Determined to get his frog back without having to encounter the arachnid again, Stink enlists the help of his sister, Judy Moody, and his friends, Sophie of the Elves and Webster. Webster, being the wonderful friend he is, decides he’s going to help Stink overcome his arachnophobia.

But spiders made him shiver. Spiders made his skin crawl. Spiders felt like a thousand tiny prickly feet marching up and down his arms and legs.

But even with spiders on the brain and his fear threatening to overwhelm him, Stink works hard to face his phobia. He learns he’s not the only one who’s scared of spiders

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and that there are steps he can take to conquer his fear.

Besides catching up on Stink’s latest adventure, there’s plenty of extra content in this book. Some of the things you’ll find include fun facts about spiders, learning how to make an origami jumping frog and seeing how to make a hand shadow spider. There are also some spider jokes, which are Dad joke quality. My favourite joke was:

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Q. What do you get when you cross a spider with an ear of corn?

A. Cobwebs.

See? Groan-worthy. Granted, the accompanying picture was what made me laugh.

As usual, Peter H. Reynolds’ illustrations add to the humour. My favourite picture features a rather unconventional arachnid rescue.

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After having some problems with the content of the previous Stink book, this story was a welcome return to form. I’m looking forward to finding out what Stink gets up to next.

Freaky-deaky!

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Stink’s spider phobia spurs his sister, Judy, and friend Webster to try some desensitisation techniques – until a real-life encounter takes them by surprise – in a hilarious episode offering a bonus origami activity.

Creepy! Crawly! Criminy! Everyone knows that Stink is bonkers about most scientific things. But there’s one exception: dangle a spider in front of him and he goes berserk! Stink is so freaked out by spiders that he can’t read about them. He can’t look at them. He can’t think about them. And he for-sure can’t touch them! Stink has arachnophobia (a fear of spiders), and he has it bad. But when a hairy backyard emergency arises, Stink is forced to face his fear – and eight beady eyes – head-on. Will he manage to tame the heebie-jeebies, or will he remain stuck in his web of terror? Arachno-fans will love the comics sprinkled throughout with facts about spiders as well as a hands-on origami challenge.

Gustavo, the Shy Ghost – Flavia Z. Drago

I have to be brave.

I have to let the others see me!

Gustavo is such a sweetheart!

This lonely ghost desperately wants to make a friend but he’s too shy to talk to them. Even when he’s near the other monsters, no one sees him.

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Finally, Gustavo comes up with a plan. Even though he’s filled with self doubt in the lead up to the Day of the Dead, Gustavo is determined to be brave.

I love that Gustavo’s plan involves an activity that he enjoys, that he doesn’t try to become someone else in order to get the other monsters to notice him. His courage is rewarded and this little spectral introvert finds not just one friend but many.

The illustrations are so cute, clearly showing the way Gustavo is feeling throughout the story. There are a variety of monsters and plenty of background details to enjoy.

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I’ve already read this book so many times that I’ve lost count. I only wish I had a little monster to read it to.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for introducing me to such an adorable kindred introvert.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

This winning debut picture book from Mexican artist Flavia Z. Drago about finding the courage to make friends is perfect for the spooky season – or anytime.

Gustavo is good at doing all sorts of ghostly things: walking through walls, making objects fly, and glowing in the dark. And he loves almost nothing more than playing beautiful music on his violin. But Gustavo is shy, and some things are harder for him to do, like getting in a line to buy eye scream or making friends with other monsters. Whenever he tries getting close to them, he realises they just can’t see him. Now that the Day of the Dead is fast approaching, what can he do to make them notice him and to share with them something he loves? With fancifully detailed artwork and visual humor, debut picture-book creator Flavia Z. Drago’s vivid illustrations tell a sweet and gently offbeat story of loneliness, bravery, and friendship that is sure to be a treat for little ghouls and goblins everywhere.

Tales from Deckawoo Drive #5: Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem – Kate DiCamillo

Illustrations – Chris Van Dusen

“Anything can happen, Stella Endicott, anything at all.”

Stella Endicott loves second grade and is looking forward to writing a poem with metaphors that will impress her teacher, Miss Liliana.

Things don’t go as planned when Horace Broom, second grade know-it-all and the bane of Stella’s existence, calls her a liar.

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An argument ensues, which results in Stella and Horace being sent to the principal’s office. While Stella is determined to meet her fate with curiosity and courage, Horace isn’t so sure.

While facing fears and finding metaphors, Stella and Horace find some common ground and an unexpected new friend.

This is a sweet story that includes a few words that the target audience may find difficult. Chris Van Dusen’s illustrations are as wonderful as I’ve come to expect, with expressive characters and humour.

Leroy Ninker’s story felt unfinished to me in Leroy Ninker Saddles Up and Stella’s story feels unfinished here. Although there is a conclusion, I’m left with unanswered questions. Did Stella ever get to share her poem with the class? What did Miss Liliana think of it?

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Stella Endicott loves her teacher, Miss Liliana, and she is thrilled when the class is assigned to write a poem. Stella crafts a beautiful poem about Mercy Watson, the pig who lives next door – a poem complete with a metaphor and full of curiosity and courage. But Horace Broom, Stella’s irritating classmate, insists that Stella’s poem is full of lies and that pigs do not live in houses. And when Stella and Horace get into a shouting match in the classroom, Miss Liliana banishes them to the principal’s office.

Will the two of them find a way to turn this opposite-of-a-poem day around? In the newest spirited outing in the Deckawoo Drive series by Kate DiCamillo, anything is possible – even a friendship with a boy deemed to be (metaphorically speaking) an overblown balloon.

Tales from Deckawoo Drive #1: Leroy Ninker Saddles Up – Kate DiCamillo

Illustrations – Chris Van Dusen

Former thief Leroy Ninker dreams of being a cowboy, which is why he often says, “Yippie-i-oh”. He has a cowboy hat, cowboy boots and a lasso.

“That is the life for me. A cowboy is who I was meant to be.”

What Leroy doesn’t have is a horse, and every cowboy needs a horse. Leroy decides it’s time he found himself a strong, fast horse.

Instead, he finds Maybelline. Maybelline runs on compliments and loves spaghetti. She doesn’t like being alone.

Leroy and Maybelline’s story was a really quick read for me and I found it quite sweet. I didn’t have to work at all to get into this book but it felt unfinished to me. Did Leroy ever find a way to get Maybelline inside his home? I also wondered if Maybelline overcame her fear of being alone once she learned to trust that Leroy would always return to her.

This is the first book in a spinoff of the Mercy Watson series. Maybelline and Leroy accidentally wind up visiting Deckawoo Drive, home of the Watsons.

I really enjoyed Chris Van Dusen’s illustrations. Both humans and animals are very expressive and the details line up well with the narrative.

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I’ll be looking out for this spaghetti eating horse and her cowboy as the series progresses.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Yippie-i-oh! Saddle up for the first in a spin-off series starring favourite characters from Kate DiCamillo’s New York Times best-selling Mercy Watson books.

Leroy Ninker has a hat, a lasso, and boots. What he doesn’t have is a horse – until he meets Maybelline, that is, and then it’s love at first sight. Maybelline loves spaghetti and sweet nothings, and she loves Leroy, too. But when Leroy forgets the third and final rule of caring for Maybelline, disaster ensues.

Can Leroy wrestle fate to the ground, rescue the horse of his heart, and lasso loneliness for good? Join Leroy, Maybelline, and a cast of familiar characters – Stella, Frank, Mrs. Watson, and everyone’s favorite porcine wonder, Mercy – for some hilarious and heartfelt horsing around on Deckawoo Drive. 

Mercy Watson #0.5: A Piglet Named Mercy – Kate DiCamillo

Illustrations – Chris Van Dusen

Mr and Mrs Watson lived perfectly ordinary lives until Mercy arrived. Now life on Deckawoo Lane will never be unpredictable again.

This prequel is my introduction to Mercy Watson and I’ve already fallen in love with her. I don’t think that I’ve been introduced to a pig this adorable since I met Wilbur and Babe.

As a picture book, Mercy’s origin story isn’t especially detailed but it was enough for me to want to continue her story. Because I’m me, one of my takeaways from this book is concern for all of the pigs that didn’t fall off the back of the truck.

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Chris Van Dusen’s illustrations gave off such a wholesome 1950’s vibe, with the possible exception of cantankerous Eugenia Lincoln, that it felt like I was reading a classic rather than a recent release.

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I’m expecting sisters Eugenia and Baby Lincoln will compete to become my favourite human character as I continue this series.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Every porcine wonder was once a piglet! Celebrate the joy of a new arrival with this endearing picture-book prequel to the New York Times best-selling Mercy Watson series.

Mr. Watson and Mrs. Watson live ordinary lives. Sometimes their lives feel a bit too ordinary. Sometimes they wish something different would happen. And one day it does, when someone unpredictable finds her way to their front door. In a delightful origin story for the star of the Mercy Watson series, a tiny piglet brings love (and chaos) to Deckawoo Drive – and the Watsons’ lives will never be the same. 

Pony on the Twelfth Floor – Polly Faber

Illustrations – Sarah Jennings

Kizzy has wanted a horse for eleven years but she lives in the city and there are no horses there. Until the day she finds a pony in the supermarket happily gobbling up all of the donuts, that is. This is the opportunity Kizzy has been dreaming of.

She names the pony Donut and sets out to take care of her new equine friend. The only problem is that Kizzy lives on the twelfth floor of an apartment building and there’s no way her mother would let her keep him if she knew. Enlisting the help of her best friend, Pawel, Kizzy learns just how difficult it can be to hide a very hungry pony in a city.

Young readers who, like Kizzy, adore horses and dream of the day when they can adopt one of their own will delight in Donut’s adventures.

Parents of said readers will not necessarily be impressed with the lies that Kizzy tells (with very few consequences) to try to keep her new friend just a little bit longer. They may also be creeped out a little when Izzy goes to a secluded place alone with an acquaintance to see something that needs to remain a secret; this is entirely innocent but my alarm bells rang just the same.

Thankfully this is not a sad animal story. Donut spends plenty of time eating and pooping, and finds his very own happy ending.

Sarah Jennings’ illustrations are as cute as the story, with an emphasis on Donut’s rotund stomach and sometimes messy adventures.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Kizzy has always wanted a pony of her own. So when she finds a pony snacking on donuts in the grocery store, she instantly knows that she must have him – and what to name him. But there’s just one small problem: it’s not easy to hide a pony in an apartment complex!

Enlisting the help of her best friend, Pawel, Kizzy manages to keep Donut fed, ride him around the park, and even hide him in her school’s garden. But Kizzy is finding it harder and harder to keep Donut a secret. Will she be able to give him up if it means finding him a better home? A heartwarming story about following your dreams – no matter how far-fetched they seem.

Bears and Boos – Shirley Parenteau

Illustrations – David Walker

It’s Halloween and almost time for Big Brown Bear, Fuzzy, Yellow, Calico and Floppy to go to the parade.

The young bears are eager to find the items they need for their costumes and in the rush Floppy is knocked over.

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Only one item remains in the box when the other bears are done and it’s not enough for a costume. One by one the other bears share an item from their costumes with Floppy. Then it’s time to go to the parade.

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With an emphasis on learning to share, Bears and Boos is an introduction to Halloween, minus the scares. I always find bears easy to love; the colour palette used in the illustrations made this book’s bears even more adorable. I particularly liked Calico, who’s wearing the wizard’s hat.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The adorable bears are excited to dress up for Halloween – but are there enough costumes for everyone?

Big Brown Bear and the four little bears can’t wait to dress up for Halloween. Everyone grabs their costumes from the costume box, but – oops! – in the rush, Floppy is knocked on her furry behind, and now there are no costumes left for her! Fuzzy says she’s sorry and offers Floppy a golden gown. Then each of the other bears shares an item with Floppy, and soon she’s dressed like a queen – just in time for the parade! Shirley Parenteau and David Walker combine cheerful read-aloud rhyme and irresistibly charming art in another story for the youngest cubs and their big bears.

Bunnies on the Bus – Philip Ardagh

Illustrations – Ben Mantle

It’s been six and a half weeks since the first (and only) time I’ve read this book before today and throughout that time my brain has involuntarily and quite randomly been singing/chanting at me:

Bunnies on the bus!
Bunnies on the bus!

No wonder there’s a fuss
about the bunnies on the bus!

So, parents beware: this book comes with its own built in earworm. And I still love it!

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The repetition not only helps the rhymes to flow well, but also gave me the same weirdly soothing feeling as The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round.

Besides the chaos caused by the bus roaring past the citizens of Sunny Town, there’s another adventure being told solely through the illustrations. There are plenty of details to enjoy over multiple readings.

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I get the feeling this isn’t the last time I’ll be reading this book.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Candlewick Press for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A romping, riotous read-aloud from best-selling author Philip Ardagh and award-winning illustrator Ben Mantle.

Bunnies on the bus!
Bunnies on the bus!
No wonder there’s a fuss
about the bunnies on the bus!

There are bunnies on the bus, and they’re causing mayhem in Sunny Town! Watch as they whiz past the bus stop, fly by the swings, and zoom over the crosswalk – these bunnies aren’t stopping for anyone. They finally reach the station, but where are they hopping off to now? Uh-oh … Acclaimed author Philip Ardagh’s rhyming, high-energy text and “Bunnies on the bus!” refrain is ideal for library or classroom read-alouds, and Ben Mantle’s colourful illustrations are chock-full of zany details perfect for repeat reads.