And Now For Something Completely Different…

..well, not that different. But today, April 2, is International Children’s Book Day; instead of a review, I thought I’d post some recommendations for children of all ages. (Or if you’re like me, and perfectly happy to read kid’s books because they’re books and they’re there and some of them are really quite good)

For the very young:



Chu’s Day is a wonderful little picture book by Neil Gaiman. There’s a sneezing baby panda in it.





 If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Numeroff, is another good one; this time involving mice and cookies.





But No Elephants, by Jerry Smath, is about neurosurgery. Kidding. It’s about an old woman grudgingly acquiring a houseful of animals; hijinks ensue.




For 4-6 (or so) year olds:



The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish (again by Gaiman) is hilarious, and the title basically explains the whole story.




I Want My Hat Back is by Jon Klassen, and the first time I read it I laughed so hard I could barely breathe.





Where’s My Cow, by Terry Pratchett, is a great take on the Spot-the-Dog type books.



For kids getting into chapter books:



Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J Sobol is a great book in an equally enjoyable mystery series.





Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien is one I read as a kid; I loved it.





The Tale of Despereaux by Kate diCamillo is absolutely adorable–a huge-eared mouse saves the day for everyone. 



(good grief, they’re almost all animal stories. let’s change that with the next category!)

For the more advanced readers (but still age-appropriate):



The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud is a great adventure story set in an alternate-reality London.





The Outlaws of Sherwood, by Robin McKinley is one of the best retellings of the Robin Hood story in the history of ever.





The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (by Avi) is a book about a girl crossing the Atlantic when a mutiny breaks out aboard the ship.


(Of course there are so many other choices, including classic options like Treasure Island or Johnny Tremain or Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm; but if you’re reading a review blog I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with them, so I thought I’d look for things a little less ubiquitous) Aaand, those are some of my suggestions for the book-loving child in your life. And if they don’t love books, give one of them a shot anyway. You never know what might ignite the spark.

Happy International Children’s Book Day!



The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf, by Gerald Morris–a Guest Post by CJ!

Quick note from Two: This is a guest review by our very own CJ, who can occasionally be found lurking in the comments. Everybody be nice, as it’s very nice for CJ to contribute.

There is none so cursed as those with stupid sisters.

Lynet’s sister Lyonesse is a doozy of a stupid sister. She is everything a lady should be. Beautiful if you go for doe-eyed, manipulative, and useless. Their castle is besieged by an amorous and amoral knight that thinks beheading all comers is the way to a lady’s heart. Of course with a lady like Lyonesse he is not far wrong.

Lynet on the other hand is smart and resourceful if a bit naïve. She sneaks from the castle and heads for Camelot. Armed only with the promise of her sister’s hand she seeks a knight of the round table to save her home. Along the way she meets and defeats a strange little dwarf named Roger. He helps her to Camelot. She was a bit lost if we are honest.

At Camelot she finds she is not the first to offer the hand of the fairest lady in the land. In fact, the knights suspect her sister is less lovely than claimed. To make matters worse she refuses to name her castle for fear Arthur will not aid a former enemy. All she manages to get for her trouble is a scruffy kitchen boy. She soon finds he is as dumb as he looks though not bad with a sword. She needs the help of the dwarf to counteract the idiocy.

This is the kind of story where nothing is what it seems. Morris takes the oldest of Arthurian lore and infuses it with wit and hilarity. He captures the beauty and peril of the fae world and makes it new. The damsels are savage and smart. Courtly love is seen for the farce it is and real love gets a chance.

Join the savage damsel, and the odd dwarf as they meet enchantresses, Sir Gawain, King Arthur, and more on the way to complete the quest.

Favorite Line:

‘A lady,’ he repeated. ‘I’ve just been disarmed and taken prisoner by a lady.’ He shook his head slowly. ‘I really am pathetic,’ he moaned.”

Don’t read if: you can’t stand witty banter, role reversals, enchantments, or dwarves who like farming.

Got a review idea of your own? Want to share a book, movie, or TV show you love with the Internet, where it can live forever? Head over to the Comments and Guest Reviews Page and let me know, or just email me at!

Much Ado About Nothing, by William Shakespeare

Today we’re going old-school, all the way back to the 16th century, in the town of Messina…

Don Pedro has just returned to the home of Leonato after a successful battle against unnamed foes, bringing with him his best-slash-favorite comrades in arms (Benedick and Claudio) and his bastard half-brother (John, who is, of course, a bastard in more ways than one). Everyone is overjoyed by Pedro’s arrival–successful military campaign, house full of hot soldier types, what’s not to love? Everyone, that is, except Leonato’s niece Beatrice. She and Benedick go way back, and not in a good way. They fight. A lot. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

Leonato’s daughter Hero, however, is happier than most–she and Claudio are in love, and his prowess in battle means he finally has the stature to request her hand in marriage (John, meanwhile, hates that everyone is happy and wants nothing more than to make everyone as miserable as he is, so he and his cronies spend the entire play trying to screw everyone over). Minor shenanigans ensue, and Claudio and Hero get engaged. Yay! More rejoicing (except from John, of course, because he is that guy who has to wreck everything for everyone, all the time). As plans for the wedding get under way, a plot is hatched (by asshat John) to ruin the wedding.

But we don’t really care about any of that, because this whole story is really about Beatrice and Benedick. They rant about each other to anyone who will listen, and at each other whenever they’re in the same room. The back-and-forth between the two is simply phenomenal. And their constant bickering, of course, gives their friends an idea: let’s get these two together. So now major shenanigans ensue.

This play is (in my opinion) one of Shakespeare’s absolute best. It’s fast-paced and funny, with a biting wit that wouldn’t be out of place on TV today (although, yes, some of the language is a bit archaic, which brings me to another point. There’s a series called No-Fear Shakespeare, and it’s got both the original text and a modern interpretation, which is perfect for anyone who has trouble with old-fashioned language. If you’ve been wanting to try Shakespeare but find the whole olde-tymey thing a bit intimidating, try those. ) Give this play a whirl, and let me know if you think I’m right, or if I’m just making a whole lot of ado about nothing.

Favorite Line:

Ha! ‘Against my will I am sent to bid you come in to dinner;’ there’s a double meaning in that.

Don’t read if: you really don’t like witticisms, snarky women, snarky men, plots to besmirch a good name, or happy endings.



Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters

A recently-wealthy, opinionated Victorian spinster goes on a Nile cruise with a new friend–what could possibly go wrong?

Amelia Peabody has just come into a great deal of money. As a spinster with no ties holding her down, she decides that it’s time to travel to all the places she’s ever wanted to go: Paris, Rome–and Egypt. While in Rome, she meets another woman, Evelyn Forbes, and the two hit it off–so well, in fact, that Amelia insists that Evelyn travel with her to Egypt as her companion.

Before embarking on a trip up the Nile, they spend a few days in Cairo seeing the sites (the Giza pyramids, the Cairo Museum)–and meeting the Emerson brothers, Radcliffe and Walter. Walter is a good, kind man who swiftly catches Evelyn’s eye.  Radcliffe, on the other hand, is loud, rude, and irritating; and he and Amelia don’t exactly see eye to eye. Not that it matters, because Amelia and Evelyn are off on their cruise.

They stop at Amarna, famous city of the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten, and find a pair of archaeologists working to preserve and restore the site–it’s the Emerson brothers, in fact. Fascinated by the process, the ladies decide to stay awhile and help–but end up getting far more than they ever bargained for.

With suspicious accidents happening left and right, a mummy on the loose, and Evelyn’s past coming back to haunt her, Amelia knows it’s up to her to save the day.

This is a fun one. It’s a lighthearted, thoroughly enjoyable (and informative!) mystery featuring one of the most indomitable heroines I’ve ever encountered. Amelia knows her mind (and speaks it), takes no crap from anyone, and doesn’t back down, no matter what (It doesn’t hurt that the Egyptology is dead-on–Elizabeth Peters earned a PhD in Egyptology before she became a writer, so the history and archaeology are both accurate).

Travel up the Nile with Amelia Peabody, and have a Victorian adventure unlike anything you’ve ever read before.

Favorite Line:

Men are frail creatures, of course; one does not expect them to exhibit the steadfastness of women.

Don’t read if: you have a distaste for boats, Egypt, ambulatory mummies, or tapioca pudding.

The Unexpected Mrs Pollifax, by Dorothy Gilman

Sometimes, achieving a childhood dream can take you to the strangest of places…

Mrs Emily Pollifax (of New Brunswick, New Jersey)is at a bit of a loose end. Long since widowed, her children grown and gone, she doesn’t see much reason or meaning in her life. Oh, sure, she volunteers for various worthy causes and is active in the local Garden Club, but none of it is terribly enjoyable any more. But one day, asked if there was ever anything she had truly wanted to do, she admits that she’s always had a secret desire to be a spy.

Then it hits her: why not? Why couldn’t she be a spy? So she packs a bag and travels down to Langley, Virginia, and presents herself to the CIA as a volunteer. No one there is entirely sure what to do about it–after all, who volunteers for a job as a spy? But the unorthodox head of the most unorthodox department takes one look at her and realizes that she’s exactly what he needs.

The assignment is simple: Travel to Mexico and play tourist, and on a certain day go into a certain bookshop to pick up a package of some sort. So simple, in fact, that it quickly goes very, very wrong.

I want to be Mrs Pollifax when I grow up. She’s amazing–elderly and inexperienced, she takes on trained spies, double agents, and evil men–and wins, on her terms, and makes the unlikeliest of friends along the way.

An enjoyable romp through Mexico and [spoiler redacted], the Unexpected Mrs Pollifax is an engaging spy novel that reminds us all that maybe, just maybe, our childhood dreams aren’t as impossible as we think.

Favorite Line:

I don’t know what country you work for, General Perdido, but your taxpayers would certainly have every right to be furious if they knew.

Don’t read if: you have anything against flowered hats, sinister shopkeepers with gold teeth, talking parrots, or goats.

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

For my first review here (no pressure!) I’m looking at the book that, in many ways, started it all. I’d read about a book in another book, and it sounded interesting, so I went to the local library to see if they had it. They did, and the rest, as they say, is history…

The Phantom Tollbooth is a book about Milo, a boy with plenty of time. He comes home from school every day to a room filled with every toy imaginable and is far too bored to play with any of them. One day, though, he comes home to find a very large package addressed to him, and (having nothing better to do) opens it. It’s…a tollbooth. A purple, undersized tollbooth, to be sure–but it’s very definitely a tollbooth. A bit bemused, but still feeling like he has nothing better to do, he hops into his toy car, drops some change in the booth, and finds himself–

Somewhere else. It’s an entirely unfamiliar world, but he soon acquires two companions to help him on his way–a faithful watchdog named Tock (who goes ticktickticktick) and a slightly unpleasant, rather unhappy fellow named the Humbug. Tasked with rescuing two lost Princesses and saving the land from encroaching doom, they travel throughout the Kingdom of Wisdom, and meet strange people (Officer Shrift,  Dr Kakofonous A. Discord, and the Everpresent Wordsnatcher) and see even stranger places (Dictionopolis, the Island of Conclusions. and the Forest of Sight), along the way.

This book is fantastic. It’s one huge metaphor taken very, very literally, and it’s full of clever–well, I hesitate to call them puns, because they go so far beyond a simple surface play on words, but that’s the best I can manage.

I loved it as a kid; I thought it was a great adventure story. I love it even more now that I actually get all the references and little asides. For any kid who finds chapter books a little too easy, and for anyone beyond–hop in Milo’s little car and join in on the adventure.

Favorite Line:

Being lost is never a matter of not knowing where you are; it’s a matter of not knowing where you aren’t–and I know perfectly well where I’m not.

Don’t read if: you don’t like fun, or adventures, or literal interpretations of abstract concepts.