Posts tagged Children’s book reviews

A TurtleAndRobot Book List: 15 Picture Books featuring Birds

It is not uncommon for a child to latch onto a specific subject and then focus intensely on that one thing for a time. When such obsessions begin, the book purchaser’s job suddenly becomes easier and imbued with a new sense of fun—any book containing that subject will be an instant winner. But once the obvious choices pertaining to that topic have been exhausted, choosing books can become a painful, and fruitless, process. Buyer beware- that T.V. tie-in title that pertains to your child’s interest may be tempting but I assure you there are always higher quality choices still undiscovered.

I compiled this list of fiction picture books for people with a bird-loving child in their lives. Angelo by David Macaulay, a phenomenal and underappreciated book, is about a pigeon that brightens the life of an elderly stone worker. Bob Staake’s Bluebird spotlights an attentive bird that befriends a boy who is being bullied by his classmates. Whether the cobalt-hued hero of Bluebird is an actual bluebird or just a bird that is blue isn’t made clear, but that won’t matter to those who choose this remarkable wordless picture book. The remaining titles feature generalized, i.e. not necessarily naturalistic birds of a recognizable breed, as their main characters.

 

Inch by InchInchByInch

Ages 3-7

By Leo Lionni

32 pages

Knopf

1960

1961 Caldecott Honor Book

 

Time FliesTimeFlies

Ages 3-7

By Eric Rohman

32 pages

Crown Publishers

1994

1995 Caldecott Honor Book

 

A Home for BirdHomeforBird

Ages 3-7

By Phil C. Stead

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2012

 

See TurtleAndRobot’s full review here.

 

Hello, My Name is RubyRuby

Ages 3-7

By Philip C. Stead

36 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2013

 

Flap Your WingsFlapYourWings

Ages 3-8

By P.D. Eastman

48 pages

Random House

1969

(Also by P.D. Eastman, Are You My Mother? and The Best Nest)

 

The BirdwatchersTheBirdwatchers

Ages 3-8

By Simon James

32 pages

Candlewick

2002

Out of print

 

Little Red BirdLittleRedBird

Ages 3-8

By Nick Bruel

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2008

 

Poppy and EllaPoppy&Ella

Ages 3-9

By Jef Kaminsky

48 pages

Disney-Hyperion

2000

Out of print

 

Franny B. Kranny, There’s a Bird in Your HairFrannyBKranny

Ages 3-9

Written by Harriet Lerner and Susan Goldhor

Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

40 pages

HarperCollins

2001

Out of print

 

13 Words13Words

Ages 4-7

Written by Lemony Snickett

Illustrated by Maira Kalman

40 pages

HarperCollins

2010

 

See TurtleAndRobot’s full review here.

 

Bluebird

Ages 4-8

By Bob Staake

40 pages

Schwartz & Wade

2013

 

A Funny Little Bird

Ages 4-8

By Jennifer Yerkes

48 pages

Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

2013

 

Feathers for LunchFeathersForLunch

Ages 4-9

By Lois Ehlert

36 pages

HMH Books for Young Readers

1996

 

AngeloAngelo

Ages 4-9

By David Macaulay

48 pages

HMH Books for Young Readers

2006

 

The Life of BirdsLifeofBirds

Ages 5 and up

By Quentin Blake

80 pages

Doubleday UK

2005

Out of print

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Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh: A playful lesson in primary colors.

Mouse PaintMouse Paint Cover-001

Board Book

Ages Birth to 3

By Ellen Stoll Walsh

16 pages

Harcourt

1995

 

 

This lighthearted, simple story is also a lesson in primary colors. Three white mice are able to conceal themselves against a sheet of white paper and become invisible to a sleek, gray cat. But when the inquisitive mice discover three paint jars—one red, one yellow and one blue—they nearly blow their cover!

Thinking the jars they’ve discovered are for painting themselves, the three adventurous mice jump right in.

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Their paint drips onto the paper creating bright puddles of color, inspiring the mice to play.

As each mouse—boldly adorned in a primary hue—dances, hops or jumps in the puddles, new and wonderful colors are created.

The illustrations, done in cut-paper collage, are set against a white background and clearly differentiate each vivid color.  The clean and unembellished design is incredibly pleasing; Walsh manages to make a seemingly basic array of primary and secondary colors seem like a celebration.

Each lesson in color mixing is given two full spreads, allowing children time to process how the new colors are made.

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After all the playing in the paint, the mice are feeling sticky and give themselves a bath in the cat’s water bowl.

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Readers are given a helpful reminder on how to create the new colors when the newly cleaned mice decide to continue painting. This time they use the paper instead of themselves and, learning from their past experience, they leave a little bit of white so that they may continue hiding from the cat.

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Walsh’s masterful technique at introducing a basic concept is quite likely to prompt little ones to explore color and art, painting and drawing.

 

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The Ant and the Elephant by Bill Peet: There’s strength in numbers.

Ant&Elephant

The Ant and the Elephant

Picture Book

Ages 4-10

By Bill Peet

48 pages

Houghton Mifflin

1972

 

 

Bill Peet (1915 – 2002) wrote and illustrated 36 books (most of which remain in print) and I truly love them all. His books are sublime. Full of humor, compassion, and warmth, his stories often focus on friendship, kindness and respect for the environment. Yet Peet was never condescending or didactic, he held his audience in high esteem. That his lengthy, complex books still hold the attention of today’s easily distracted children is a testament to his connection to young minds.

Peet’s lavish, enchanting art was created with colored pencils, pastels and India ink. His illustrations are colorful, detailed, expressive and whimsical. His wholly satisfying books are fantastical journeys into strange yet familiar lands featuring lovable, sympathetic characters (usually animals).

Prior to publishing his first book, Hubert’s Hair-Raising Adventure (1959), Peet worked for Disney Studios (he was there from 1937 to 1964). He worked on several of Disney’s most famous films, including Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Jungle Book (though his work on that film went uncredited due to a dispute with Walt Disney).

Peet also created the first Disney film to come from a single storywriter, 101 Dalmatians—based on the book by Dodie Smith. He wrote the script, created the storyboards and designed the characters. It was Bill Peet who created the iconic Disney villain that so many people (myself included) love to hate, Cruella de Vil.

Cruella Deville

Isn’t she just perfectly evil?

Because of Peet’s work with Disney there’s a familiarity to his art; once readers begin to recognize his style, it becomes easy to spot his creations in the films he worked on.

 

The Ant and The Elephant is a twist on Aesop’s The Lion and the Mouse, in which a meek, small character is remarkably able to help a large, strong character.

While climbing a long blade of grass for a better view of the river, a small ant finds himself in a predicament after being blown by the wind. The minute creature lands on a stick in the middle of the river. He would surely drown if he tried to get to the shore himself, so he asks a nearby turtle for assistance; the grumpy turtle cannot be bothered to help.

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Soon enough the turtle finds himself in a bit of a bind, having tipped onto his back while trying to climb onto a rock.

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He asks a nearby hornbill for a hand and receives a response quite similar to the one he gave the ant.

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And so it goes down the line through several unhelpful—and perhaps shortsighted—African animals, until readers are introduced to the noble elephant. He hears so much with his large ears, “the faint rustle of a leaf, the least snap of a twig, or even the tiny voice of an ant calling.”

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The accommodating elephant, having heard all the events of the day, makes his way to the river to assist the miniscule creature. He offers the trapped ant his trunk; the grateful ant crawls on and is deposited safely on the shore of the river.

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The elephant continues on, helping each of the helpless—and shockingly ungrateful—creatures along the way.

Soon it is the elephant that finds himself in a disabled position; he’s fallen into a ravine.

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He calls for help and waits and waits. As the sun sets, the elephant hears the sound of tiny footsteps. Soon, ninety-five thousand ants arrive to help him!

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They successfully lift the giant beast and carry him up the wall and onto flat ground. And in return all of the ants climb aboard their new, grateful friend for their first ever elephant ride!

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Who Is Melvin Bubble? by Nick Bruel: Fun with point of view.

Who Is Melvin Bubble? cover

Who is Melvin Bubble?

Picture Book

Ages 3-9

By Nick Bruel

32 pages

Roaring Brook Press

2006

 

 

Nick Bruel is the creator of the enormously popular Bad Kitty series, which features a feisty and mischievous cat. His writing is funny and clever, his exaggerated characters have vast appeal and his art is brightly colored and engaging.

 

Who Is Melvin Bubble? opens with a letter from a boy named Jimmy, imploring the author to write a book about his best friend Melvin Bubble. What follows is both an excellent lesson in perspective and a well-crafted picture book.

The author asks several people the same question, who is Melvin Bubble? Each response generates a different perspective on this young boy, and gives a bit of insight on the responder as well. The caricature-like characters are vibrantly colored and their responses are encapsulated in giant word bubbles and coupled with visualizations.

 

Melvin Bubble’s dad calls Melvin a chip off the old block; his mom says he may be the messiest boy in the world.

Who Is Melvin Bubble? interior

 

Melvin Bubble’s teddy bear tells readers how much Melvin likes hugs.

Who Is Melvin Bubble? interior

 

His best friend says “Melvin’s the coolest kid I know! He can whistle “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider through his nose!”

 

Santa Claus has only good things to say about the boy who always makes his nice list, but the Tooth Fairy had an unfortunate experience having to do with the boy’s very large head.

Who Is Melvin Bubble? interior

 

Taking some hilarious turns and building comic momentum, the author also solicits responses from a big, ugly monster with three eyes, a beautiful princess and a magic rock (a wonderful homage to Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig). The rock turns out not to magic after all so the author turns to a talking zebra instead. The zebra’s response, a nod to the humor of Looney Tunes, is my favorite.

Who Is Melvin Bubble? interior

 

Finally, the author asks Melvin Bubble himself to describe who he is, and all the pieces fall neatly into place.

Who Is Melvin Bubble? interior

 

Through its layered perspectives, Who is Melvin Bubble? offers children an opportunity to recognize alternate points of view. It may also prompt them to think more about the concept of identity and how one person can be different things to many people. This hilarious and energetic picture book is sure to be a read-aloud favorite.

 

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Clown by Quentin Blake: A wordless delight.

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Clown

Picture Book

Ages 2-10

By Quentin Blake

32 pages

Henry Holt

1996

 

 

The work of Quentin Blake has appeared before on TurtleAndRobot.com,  here and here. He is perhaps my most favorite illustrator. Fortunately for me, he is extremely prolific. Unfortunately for me, I may never be able to collect all his books. His skilled storytelling, expert lines, quirky style and exceptional art never cease to amaze me. Clown, a wordless picture book, is among my favorite picture books ever. Blake’s generous palette is radiant and expansive. The story is sweet and sad; the art, as always, is active and expressive.

Though this is his only wordless picture book to date, Blake’s art often needs no words; with a quick line and a splash of color he is able to convey more energy and emotion in one panel that some artists can achieve in an entire book. The small and elite group that I consider to be in the same realm of Blake’s artistic genius includes only two other illustrators: Shel Silverstein and Tomi Ungerer. Each of these men is able to breathe irrepressible life into a single line. Though the style may appear to be easy and uncomplicated it is in fact richly complex and expertly crafted.

Wordless picture books can be off-putting to some adults—they panic, “What do I read if there are no words?” But a wordless book can be liberating. Readers have an opportunity to change the story every time they tell it. The story is right there in the pictures and how it’s told is up to the reader. Wordless books offer children and adults an opportunity to observe the action, follow a sequence of events and tell their own version of what they perceive. Wordless stories can aid in developing visual literacy, narrative skills and creativity. Freed from the confines of text, novel nuances emerge every time the book is opened.

 

Clown opens with a grandmotherly figure descending the steps of a brownstone, her hands full of old, worn dolls. Into the garbage they go; the lifeless toys oblivious to their new unfortunate situation. In the next spread, a surprised Clown—who is amongst the recently discarded—looks around in dismay and quickly wriggles free. He drops to the ground and brushes himself off. Noticing his ragged shoes, the quick-thinking Clown roots through the neighboring pile of garbage and finds himself a sporty pair of high-top sneakers. The rejuvenated Clown is off and running!

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He soon spots a young child and rushes to tell her his story, but before he can finish she is scooped up by her parents and taken away. The baffled Clown is wondering what to do next when he’s picked up by an adult and promptly added to a group of costumed children being photographed. Clown, growing distressed, tells his story to a young girl dressed in a fairy costume. She happily picks Clown up and takes him with her. When she arrives at home her mother promptly throws the used toy out the window.

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Clown lands safely on the street and is immediately chased down by an angry dog. The situation seems dire but the ever-energetic Clown jumps onto a crate and puts on a show of acrobatics for the now bewildered dog. Just then, the dog’s owner comes along and Clown quickly finds himself being tossed aside again.

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He flies through the air and lands inside a home where a woeful caretaker is desperately trying to comfort a crying child. Clown’s unexpected appearance shocks them both. Without delay, the charming Clown begins entertaining his new audience. Swiftly relieved of their tears, the guardian and her charge are won over. Once again he explains his predicament. Clown and the caretaker quickly come to an agreement: he will help her clean up the house before the child’s mother arrives and she will help him rescue his friends from the garbage.

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The new friends work wonderfully together and the apartment is soon in perfect order. Clown, caretaker and baby head out to liberate the toys from their difficult situation. After retrieving his rejected comrades from the garbage, Clown finds a lovely blue ribbon for the babysitter’s hair and a bouquet of flowers to decorate the apartment; the jovial trio returns home.

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When the tired-looking mother arrives, she’s surprised and delighted to find a happy child, a clean home and a menagerie of new friends. Clown rests happily, his ordeals behind him, with his old friends and his new family.

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Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat: World’s best boy detective.

Nate the GreatNatetheGreat

Early Reader

Ages 3-9

By Marjorie Weinman Sharmat

Illustrated by Marc Simont

64 pages

1972

Delacorte Press

 

 

Marjorie Weinman Sharmat has published over one hundred and thirty books, though her Nate the Great books, with twenty-six in the series, are the most well known. Her descriptive text and direct dialogue are peppered with a dry humor. With the exception of one single word—Nate sports rubbers, instead of boots, in the rain—this forty-year old story holds timeless appeal.

This is the fifth book illustrated by Marc Simont to be reviewed in this blog. Like his art in A Tree is Nice, the spreads alternate between color and black and white. Simont uses vivid pinks and bold yellows in one spread and warm grays and lush blacks in the next. No matter the medium, Simont’s art is always expressive and energetic, pleasing and comfortable.

 

“My name is Nate the Great. I am a detective. I work alone.”

NatetheGreat1

Using classic hard-boiled detective language, Nate tells readers about his latest case: helping his friend Annie find a lost picture.

He’d just finished a breakfast of pancakes (Nate loves pancakes) when she called and enlisted his help. He donned his trench coat and Sherlock Holmes style hat and headed straight out to Annie’s, but not before leaving a note for his mother.

NatetheGreat2

When he arrived at Annie’s she was just sitting down to a pancake breakfast, so Nate joined her. They discussed the missing picture. Using bright yellow paint, Annie had painted a picture of her dog Fang the day before and left it out to dry, and then it was gone.

After breakfast, Nate searched Annie’s room. He was already sure of one thing, Annie liked yellow.

NatetheGreat3

He asked her who had seen the picture.

“My friend Rosamond has seen it, and my brother Harry. And Fang.”

Nate started with Fang. Fang was big, with big teeth. Nate watched him eat, then he watched him bury a bone. Nate had an idea that maybe Fang took the picture and buried it, but after two hours of digging in the backyard Nate and Annie only found rocks, worms, bones and ants.

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It was time for more pancakes.

“Cold pancakes are almost as good as hot pancakes.”

Nate and Annie when to Rosamond’s house next. Rosamond was dubious of Nate’s detective status so she asked him to solve a case of her own: find her missing cat, Super Hex. Rosamond had four cats, all named Hex, and a house full of cat paraphernalia. Nate sat down and Big Hex jumped onto his lap. Nate wanted to leave immediately; he stood up to go and stepped on something long and black. There was a loud meow. He’d stepped on the tail of Super Hex, who’d been hiding under the chair. The case inside a case had been solved. Nate and Annie left.

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Nate knew Rosamond did not take the picture, she clearly only liked cats. They headed back to Annie’s house to question to her brother Harry. Like Annie, Harry liked to paint; the walls of his room were covered in his art. There was painting of a red house, one of a red clown, and one of a red tree. There was also a painting of a three-headed monster but that one was orange.

“I, Nate the Great, have found your picture.”

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Annie was confused; Nate explained. All of Harry’s paintings were done in red paint, except the monster. Annie’s picture of Fang was yellow. When you mix yellow and red you get orange. Harry had painted his red, three-headed monster over Annie’s yellow picture of Fang. The case was solved.

‘“I don’t know how to thank you,” Annie said.”’

“I do,” Nate said. “Are there any pancakes left?”

 

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The Story of Little Babaji by Helen Bannerman and Fred Marcellino: a perfect update to a classic story.

BabajiCover

The Story of Little Babaji

Picture Book

Ages 3-8

By Helen Bannerman

Illustrated by Fred Marcellino

72 pages

HarperCollins

1996

 

 

Helen Bannerman (1862-1946), the author and illustrator of The Story of Little Black Sambo (published in 1899), lived in India for several years; the basis for the story came from illustrated letters she wrote to her children during her time there. Though “sambo” was a term used throughout the 1800s it seems to have risen to its now well-known racist usage in the first half of the 1900s, perhaps in part owed to this story.

The Story of Little Black Sambo has been a point of controversy for nearly as long as it’s been in print. The story itself obviously took place in India, featuring tigers and ghee, or clarified butter, but Bannerman’s art featured an offensively caricatured black child.

LBSambo

Despite being married to some highly objectionable art, the story itself features a wonderfully clever and brave boy who outwits four hungry tigers to escape the jungle without being eaten. I did not understand the connotations of the word “sambo” as a child, and I loved the story. It was included in Volume 2 of the My Book House series and featured illustrations of distinctly Indian characters.

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I loved all the fancy clothes and their vivid colors. I was fascinated by the idea of the tigers turning into butter, and then being used on pancakes, and eaten! And the number of pancakes the family consumed, two hundred and fifty-one, astounded me.

The Story of Little Black Sambo has been retold many times. The Story of Little Babaji, illustrated by Fred Marcellino (1939-2001), was published the same year as another retelling, Sam and the Tigers, by Julius Lester and illustrated by Jerry Pinkney. In Lester and Pinkney’s version, a whole new story is fashioned and takes place in the fictional village of Sam-sam-sa-mara, where everyone is named Sam.

In general, I object to publishers altering or removing what is, now, deemed to be offensive material from books. In addition to the fundamental danger of hiding a rightfully shameful past, these books provide an opportunity to see how attitudes have evolved. Historically speaking, I think it’s important to be aware of the original book, with all its faults.

Marcellino’s version adheres to the original tale; he simply changed the names of the characters and created art to reflect the story’s Indian setting. He also chose a trim size (6.5 in x 6.5 in), close to that of the original book (4 in x 6 in). This decidedly improved edition is a beautifully designed book and a wonderful story worth sharing.

Fred Marcelino illustrated several children’s books; in 1991 his lavishly illustrated version of Charles Perrault’s Puss in Boots received a Caldecott Honor. Its striking cover bore no title and featured a gorgeous illustration of a finely dressed cat.

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Marcelino’s stylish watercolor art in the Story of Little Babaji is lighter and airier. Each exquisitely delicate and lively illustration is rendered in a wide-ranging, joyful palette. The highly detailed art alternates between being elegantly simple, with no background, and lusciously full, showing the surrounding environs.

 

“Once upon a time there was a little boy, and his name was Little Babaji. And his mother was called Mamaji. And his father was called Papaji.”

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Mamaji made Babaji a fine red coat and a pair of lovely blue trousers. Papaji bought him an ample green umbrella and a lovely pair of purple shoes.

“And then wasn’t Little Babaji grand?”

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After donning all his new items, Babaji went for a walk. Before long he encountered a tiger who threatened to eat him! Babaji pleaded with the tiger and offered his fine red coat in exchange for his life. The vain tiger accepted the deal and walked away declaring, “Now I’m the grandest tiger in the jungle.”

Babaji escaped unharmed but in no time at all his path crossed with another tiger who also threatened to eat him. This time Babaji surrendered his blue trousers to remain uneaten. Now a second tiger was claiming to be the grandest in the jungle.

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Babaji continued on his way and soon came face to face with another hungry tiger. When Babaji offered to trade his lovely purple shoes for freedom the tiger responded that he had no use for two shoes when he has four feet. But Babaji convinced the foolish tiger to wear the shoes on his ears. Another vain beast marched off announcing his grand status.

When Babaji met the fourth (and final) tiger, he had only his umbrella left to offer and since tigers have no hands to carry umbrellas, Babaji tied it to the tiger’s tail.

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“And poor Little Babaji went away crying, because the cruel tigers had taken all his fine clothes.”

Before Little Babaji could reach safety he heard the tigers growling nearby; the growling grew louder. Babaji hid behind a palm tree and spied the tigers—all in their fine new items—arguing over which of them was the grandest in the jungle. The tigers removed their adornments in a fury and began clawing and biting each other; forming a circle around the tree, each tiger grabbed hold of another by the tail.

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While the vicious creatures were otherwise occupied, Babaji retrieved his things and rushed off to a safe distance, where he magnanimously provided the opportunity for the giant cats to reclaim their items! But the tigers were too angry and refused to let go of each other’s tails and Little Babaji re-dressed in all his resplendent finery and walked off unscathed.

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Meanwhile the tigers, still bound in a circle by tails and teeth, began chasing each other faster and faster until they were a blur of orange and black; then the tigers ran so fast that they melted away into a pool of ghee (though this is the common spelling, in the book it’s spelled ghi).

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As it happened, Papaji was on his way home from work and came upon the beautiful buttery pool and scooped it all into the brass pot he was carrying. He brought it home for Mamaji who used the ghee to make a pancake feast for the whole family. The pancakes “were just as yellow and brown as little tigers” and “Little Babaji ate a hundred and sixty-nine, because he was so hungry.”

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