WELCOME! Once a month, usually on a Thursday evening, a group of writers, illustrators, teachers and librarians meets in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles to discuss children's books. Usually we talk about one picture book and one middle grade or YA novel. After the meeting, Sandy Schuckett, a retired LAUSD librarian, summarizes our discussion. Here are her reports of our thoughts about the books we have read. We'd love to have your comments too!
Thanks to Nancy Hayashi for our wonderful title art! Our group has been meeting since 2007. It was organized under the auspices of the Children's Literature Council of Southern California (CLCSC).

Thursday, January 25, 2018

LEAVE ME ALONE by Vera Brosgal and THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas

We discussed our picture book, Leave Me Alone by Vera Brosgal first. We all liked it a lot. We thought it was an 'old-fashioned' type of story of a grandma who just needed some peace and quiet from her many grandchildren, who prevented her from doing her always-important knitting. When she left them, carrying only a large bag full of yarn and traveling through time and space, she finally found a place where she could just sit and knit, and enjoy tea from her samovar. She finally came back with new sweaters for all. We all liked the illustrations a lot; one person liked the pictures of the grandma, with all of her expressions, better than those of the children. We liked the fact that an old lady was the main character, without being a witch, as usually happens in many children's stories. We talked about whether children would relate to an old woman as the main character of a story, but agreed that probably all children had at some time experienced an adult (or older sibling) saying, "Leave me alone!." One of our members had read it to a group of young children, and she reported that they giggled and laughed throughout, and loved it. A couple of us wondered how Grandma was able to bring the large samovar, plus a broom, in her bag on her journey, but -- oh, well -- it's a story! So we suspended disbelief. and gave it a unanimous 'A'!
We had a great discussion of our novel, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. We all agreed that it was a very important book for the times we are living in, and a few readers felt that this story of a 16-year-old black girl, Starr, who witnesses her friend shot to death by the police while she is in the car with him should be required reading for all white people. Along with the aftermath of the shooting, and whether Starr can testify about really happened, we liked the fact that this book provides a detailed window into one black community -- the strength of the family, the interrelationships between people and the support they give each other, the idea of having to live in two worlds (the community and a mostly white private school), the usual teen-aged angst and relationships in high school, and the fact that things are not always how they look on the surface. A couple of readers expressed that they had learned so much from this book, and that they would probably look at some of the similar situations in today's news arena with different eyes. A couple of readers were put off by the first chapter, which was told in black vernacular, and said they just couldn't go on reading -- although the voice ultimately changed as the story went on, and was quite comfortable for us to read. So -- though a very important book, and a great story, an 'A' rather than an A+. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

GRAND CANYON by Jason Chin and THE SUN IS ALSO A STAR by Nicola Yoon

For our holiday dinner get-together at our last meeting we enjoyed delicious food and fun. We discussed our picture book first, Grand Canyon by Jason Chin. We all agreed that the illustrations in this book were stunning, and we also loved the amount of information it contained about the Grand Canyon. Many of us felt that the writing was quite dry and 'textbook-ish,' but we felt it could be a very useful book, both in classroom situations and for families planning to visit this noted American landmark. A couple of readers were a bit put off by the illustrations of the dad and his daughter on their trek through the canyon, as well as the many small illustrations of Grand Canyon plants and animals shown throughout in the margins of many pages. Others of us thought these were fine. We mostly liked how the design of the book showed a small 'hole' in the page on a particular illustration, and then after turning the page you could see how this fossil or other formation had happened from a historical point of view. We also liked all of the information presented in the 'back matter,' which made it obvious that the author/illustrator had done extensive research. So, though we weren't thrilled by the writing, we all agreed that this was a good, important book.
For our novel, The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon, there was a definite divide between the 'romantics'  and the 'nonromantics' among us. All of the 'romantics' loved it. A few readers spoke of sobbing, or at least tearing up at the end. We felt it was a plausible story, which dealt with the many issues of a Korean-American teenaged boy and a Jamaican immigrant girl falling in love -- all in one day -- after a chance meeting in New York City. We liked that it included their families, their cultures, the issue of immigration and possible deportation, and the idea that we never really know what 'the universe' has in store for us -- and how within just a single moment everything can change. Many of us liked how the story was told in different voices: the two protagonists, their relatives, other characters with whom they came in contact, and 'the universe.'  A couple of readers just didn't like it at all, and in fact couldn't finish reading the book. They thought it seemed contrived, 'fairy tale-ish,' and just unreal. But those of us who loved it really loved it, even with the seeming 'fairy tale' ending. We thought it was an important story that needed to be told, and we loved the format in which it developed.

Thursday, November 2, 2017


We had a large group at our last meeting and we discussed our picture book first: My Favorite Pets: by Gus W. for Ms. Smolinski's Class by Jeanne Birdsall. All of our comments were favorable. Many liked the book, some loved it, and one reader liked it but thought it was a little too "comic-bookish' due to the dialog balloons in many of the illustrations. But -- that being said, we all loved the illustrations, including the expressions on the sheep. We thought they were humorous, and perfectly fit with the text which was Gus' actual report on sheep, done in 2nd-grade-type manuscript writing, shown realistically on each page. We liked the arc of the story as the sheep's activities became more and more ridiculous, and the way Gus teased his little brother and the way his parents reacted. We thought the book could be useful in a classroom setting as an example of writing a simple report, and even as an introduction to the study of animals on a farm. We liked the ending, where the teacher's grade (B+) and remarks were shown in red pencil on Gus' report. Basically positive reactions all the way around.
We had a great discussion of the novel, Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. Everyone said they loved the beginning, and were brought immediately into the story by the descriptions of the nine orphans on the seemingly perfect island, and the various personalities and interactions between them as they learned about using elements of their natural world to survive, and followed a hierarchy of 'power' according to age. When Jinny's best friend, Deen was called to leave in the green boat, and was replaced by the newcomer, Ess, a little girl, Jinny suddenly had new responsibilities as a caretaker, since she was now the oldest. As her character was developed,and various crises occurred, it became more and more obvious that this role was difficult for her, and she learned many things about herself. But -- when the green boat returned (we assume a year later) for her, she decided not to leave. Suddenly things became very chaotic on the island, and she felt responsible since she had disobeyed the rules. This is when many of our opinions about the story changed. Many of us felt that the remainder of the book was not so much fun to read, as the narrative was more and more in Jinny's head -- the angst of a 12-year-old girl -- and it just became cumbersome. No-one liked the ending, although it was obvious that there would be a sequel. Some said they would never read it; others would. We also had many questions about how the island got 'organized' in the first place, who decided which children went there, who made the rules that everyone followed, where the green boat went when it left, and more. Perhaps a prequel would have been a good idea? Everyone agreed in their dislike for the character Ben, who was a year younger than Jinny, did all of the cooking, and seemed to know everything and always have the answer. He was just too perfect for words! So....mixed reviews altogether, and some curiosity about what might come next from this author.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

NANETTE'S BAGUETTE by Mo Willems and FULL OF BEANS by Jennifer Holm

We had a small, but verbal group at our last meeting, including the grandson of one of our members, a third-grader, who read our picture book, Nanette's Baguette aloud to us. In his opinion it was great! He said it was "weird, but in a good way," and that it was a "tonguetwister." He also loved the use of the words, 'Krack!' and 'Kaboom!' It was neat to hear the opinion of a real kid! We pretty much agreed with him. We liked it a lot, the use of '-et' words throughout a delightful story of a little girl sent for the first time to buy a baguette for her family at the neighborhood bakery allowed for many language activities in a classroom. One of our members who grew up in France explained that this was a real honor for a small child, and that it was very normal to eat up the pointy ends of the warm, good-smelling baguette on the way home. Nanette, however, ate the whole thing, and was worried about her mother's reaction once she returned home, but we loved how the mother understood perfectly and they both returned to the bakery for another one, which mom proceded to eat on the way home. (Krack!) We thought the illustrations were humorous, and appropriate for the story, although some of us would have preferred that the characters shown were actual humans instead of frogs. We learned that Mo Willems had actually created a paper village for this story, and that the scenes in the book all occurred in parts of this village -- as shown in each illustration...quite an unusual and creative premise. Altogether, positive opinions on a fun read.
We also all liked our novel, Full of Beans by Jennifer Holm. We liked the fact that it reminded us of a simpler time (1934) when kids were pretty much left alone to explore their town and solve their own problems without helicopter parents. We liked that Beans and his friends were very resourceful in finding ways to earn a bit of money during this Depression-affected time in Key West, FL. A few readers felt it was somewhat reminiscent of many of the Beverly Cleary books. A couple of readers were a bit put off by the fact that Beans did some illegal things: transporting liquor for a rum-runner in his wagon and setting of fake fire alarms to distract attention from what he was doing. They thought that he wasn't adequately punished for these things, even though his guilt had a profound effect on him. We thought it was a well-plotted and well-written story, and we liked Beans' voice as he described his life and the activities of the WPA people who had come to Key West to revamp the town to attract tourists. We also liked the Author's Note, which explained that many of the incidents in this story had actually happened, and the list of resources at the end provided many websites with further details and photos of Key West before and after the WPA project. So -- two good books, two positive reviews. It's great when that happens!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

THE GIRL IN THE WELL IS ME by Karen Rivers and CITY DOG, COUNTRY FROG by Mo Willems, illus. by Jon Muth

We had very interesting discussions at our last meeting, starting with our novel, The Girl in the Well is Me by Karen Rivers. We all marvelled at the fact that a novel that almost totally takes place in a well where Kammie has fallen could even get published. We had varying opinions of the story however. Many readers said the whole thing made them feel very claustrophobic and therefore difficult to read. We basically liked how Kammie's story developed as she told about how her father had been sent to prison for embezzlement, why she and her mother and brother had to move to Texas, and how she had so much wanted to be accepted by the 'cool girls' -- who actually turned out to be mean girls, since they did little to help her after she fell in the well, and may have even caused her fall. Many of us felt that they didn't receive proper comeuppance at the end after Kammie was rescued. Although we liked Kammie's descriptions of the various details of her life, several of us felt that when she started describing what was going on in her mind, after she became delirious, it just went on for too long. A couple of readers skipped thru that part quickly. We also felt that there were a few things that just weren't plausible, even though they made for a good story. Mixed opinions all around.
We mostly all liked our picture book, City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems; illus. by Jon. J. Muth. We all loved the illustrations, which revealed new details each time one re-looked at them, and beautifully depicted the year as the seasons passed. Most of us liked the development of the friendship betwen the two animals as they taught each other new things each season, but a couple of readers felt that the friendship actually became too dispensable, since it appeared so easy for Dog to make a new friend at the end when Frog wasn't there waiting for him when Spring returned. We felt it could be a good story to read to a small child to help deal with the death of someone near and dear, OR to explain why a good friend had left. At first we all felt that Frog had certainly died, but as we talked more, we learned from one reader that frogs hibernate, so Frog could have just left for that reason. It's amazing how knowing one additional piece of information can affect one's perception of a story. . . which is why reading, and the thinking it creates, are wonderful things!

Thursday, July 13, 2017


At our last meeting, we discussed our novel first: Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman. There were many parts of it that we liked: its depiction of Elizabethan Era London, the great 'cursing' language used by Meggy and her 'frenemy' Roger, and the details about alchemy that were given in the author's notes at the end. Several of us felt it didn't match up to some of the author's previous books, and one reader felt that her 'lists,' as she enumerated various elements in the London setting were just 'lazy writing.' A couple of readers felt that it wasn't a real story, as much as a series of vignettes or incidents, and that the relationships between Meggy and her father weren't well developed. Ditto for her relationship with her mother. We wanted to know more about why her mother thought so little of Meggy as she was growing up -- perhaps because of her physical disability, something that wasn't well-accepted in those times. We liked Meggy's 'spunk' and determination to make something of her life, given the hardships she had to endure, and we felt that would be encouraging for young readers. We also felt that it would give young readers a feeling for the time and place in which the story occurred.
Everyone liked the picture book, Time for (Earth) School, Dewey Dew by Leslie Staub. One reader absolutely loved it, and thought it was a perfect picture book. We all liked the illustrations, and the fact that it was a new 'take' on the 'being the new kid in a strange school' meme. A couple of readers were a bit put off by the weird words (in Dewey's language) that were used to describe everyday things.....even though we felt that kids would completely understand what he was saying. We liked the fact that Dewey was a character with whom young readers could relate -- mainly because he was the 'new kid,' and not for any other reasons that might create any kind of bias. We felt there were some very poetic passages, and we all loved the double-spread illustration when Dewey's smile lit up the playground (and the universe) after he made a new friend. A generally positive review by all.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

BANG by Barry Lyga and SLEEP LIKE A TIGER by Mary Logue

We had great discussions at our last meeting, combined with delicious pizza, since that played such a big part in our novel, Bang, by Barry Lyga. We all liked this book -- some of us more than others. We agreed that there were some interesting plot twists, and we liked the portrayal of the relationship between the 14-year-old protagonist, Sebastian, and his new friend Aneesa as they produced a pizza-making online video log. We thought that felt very natural and realistic. Some of us felt that making her a Muslim might have been a bit grauitous, given the times we live in, but we agreed that it was dealt with in a positive fashion without being 'preachy'. We talked at length about what it means to keep a big secret, as Sebastian did in the story while he planned the exact moment of his (possibly impending) suicide as the guilt of accidentally having shot and killed his baby sister when he was only four years old consumed him. We also talked about the necessity of communication, which seemed to be missing in Sebastian's life until he met Aneesa, and we were especially struck by the scenes in which Sebastian and his mother, and then later, he and his father finally let all of their emotions out, including the enormous guilt that each felt. The only thing we unanimously didn't like was the inclusion of an essay that a teacher had assigned -- against Sebastian's wishes -- where he asserted that his thoughts and feelings were nobody's business. We felt that essay added nothing to an otherwise gripping read, and a heartfelt glimpse into the mind of a troubled young teen. We also liked the addition of resources at the end that could possible be helpful to young readers in a similar situation.
We didn't agree on our picture book, Sleep Like a Tiger, by Mary Logue, and illustrated by Pamerla Zagarenski. A couple of readers didn't like it at all. They thought the illustrations were terrible, and would not be appealing to young children, and they thought the story was dull, not really saying anything, and not so much fun to read. Others however had a different opinion: that the story was an almost perfect circle as the little girl who 'wasn't sleepy' asked her parents about how various animals went to sleep, and then mimicked the same actions as she fell asleep also. We liked that the illustrations showed that all of these animals were actually her own toys. We agreed that this book wouldn't be so great as a read-aloud to a group, since the illustrations would be difficult to enjoy from a distance, but that an adult sharing it with a child at bedtime could help the child notice various nuances in the pictures which were more visible close-up. Mixed feelings and opinions always make for a good discussion.