Monthly Archives: December 2012

Christmas Moments

As I was driving to work today, I kept thinking that I haven’t really had a Christmas moment this year. You know, those moments that can only happen at this time of year. The ones that somehow capture the spirit of the holidays. The store has been busy for weeks, all our Giving Tree presents have been wrapped, the names are all on the tree, we’re playing holiday music, and we’ve been wrapping Christmas and Hanukkah presents since September, but it still doesn’t quite feel like Christmas. Then tonight everything changed. While I was working, I could see a father and his young son looking at the Christmas books. I thought he was reading the stories, but as I got closer I could hear the father softly singing “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as the two of them looked at the pictures together. A few hours later, a boy — probably around 10 or 11 — came into the shop and performed a version of “What Child is this?” He was there for a reason, and with permission, but I don’t know all the details. His voice wavered a bit and he was nervous, but still he sang. For those few minutes, everyone stopped and the store was silent, other than his one small voice. These were my Christmas moments. Although I thought about asking the story behind that boy’s performance — I’m sure there is a perfectly logical explanation — I’v decided I don’t want to know. All I need are those moments of quiet reflection as we all paused and listened to him sing.

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Make Way for Fifty Shades of Grey

We’re open in the evenings in the summer and December. The store is usually much quieter, people spend more time browsing, and the age range of our customer changes significantly. Not that we don’t get young customers in the evenings, just not as many. It’s almost as if Eight Cousins has a split personality. Energetic, lively, and busy during the day; calm, quiet, and mellow at night. Insider tip for you.

The other night a customer picked up a copy of Make Way for Ducklings (Puffin Books, $7.99 and $18.99). Before making his purchase, he asked if we had a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey.  These moments delight me. Make Way for Ducklings and Fifty Shades of Grey? That is by far one of the best purchase sets I’ve had the pleasure of ringing up lately. Moreover, these books are such an interesting commentary on the book industry. I doubt anyone needs an introduction to 50 Shades; it’s been on the best-seller list for months. The peak sales were over the summer and although the mania is waning, people are still talking about it. It’s spawned articles, internet movie spoofs, fan fiction, even a cookbook parody (Fifty Shades of Chicken is now available in stock) all in a relatively short time. Conversely, Make Way for Ducklings is a children’s classic and was written by Robert McCloskey over 70 years ago. It won the Caldecott Award in 1941 and its beautifully rendered line drawings continue to enchant adults and children alike. The statue in the Boston Public Gardens is a tourist attraction and a great destination for a kids’ day out. It’s also one of the books we keep multiple copies of on hand at all times and in the the 26 years that the store has been open it has rarely been out of stock. Bestsellers are a funny thing.


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“Stories carry things”

I recently finished an advanced reader copy of Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger (Simon & Schuster, March 2013). It’s a rather interesting book about how things spread, focusing mostly on why people talk about ideas, brands, etc, basically what people take the time to share. The concept of sharing has become inseparable from social media, but Berger is more interested in offline sharing: the stories we tell, the items we recommend, and the ideas we discuss verbally. Although it’s usually easy to look backwards and explain why something goes ‘viral’, Berger argues that there are ways to predict what will become important. I’m still debating internally whether I think he’s right. I don’t think things are just random, but I’m not convinced virality is predictable according to 6 easy steps.

In one chapter, Berger has a sentence that made me pause. He writes, “stories carry things” (156). As someone who loves literature, I appreciate this sentiment, but what I liked even more was it’s simplicity and ambiguity. Stories carry things. It’s hard to argue with that statement and yet it’s so revealing. Stories are ephemeral. They are transient and constantly changing. Stories are also found across almost every medium. They are in books, of course, but also music, dance, art, movies, radio, television. Furthermore you can find stories on pottery, toys, food packaging, billboards. Forget stories carrying things; things carry stories. Almost everything carries a story. And yet stories exist outside of things. Stories exist in intangible forms: in the space between speaker and listener, and in our memories. So are the things they carry also intangible — limited to things like humor, advice, sorrow, empathy, romance, history? Or do stories have the capacity to carry solid, material things? I like the idea that stories, in all their ambiguity, can carry some tangible thing. Finally, I like Berger’s verb : carry. The word choice is a reminder that stories are vessels and that they move. They need to be filled up in order to fulfill their function. But the word carry also implies that stories are supportive. They move things that might not be able to move on their own. I liked Berger’s sentence. It is so simple and yet it invokes so much. Even so, I’d still like to suggest an alternative, or at least a companion. Stories carry people.

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Children’s World

“Carla Gillock forgot her monkeys”. So stated the note that was sitting on the counter when I arrived at work yesterday. Carla, a customer, had apparently bought several sheets of monkey stickers, but they hadn’t quite made it into her bag. The abandoned monkeys were sitting forlornly next to the note. Working in a predominately children’s bookstore is sometimes like living in a parallel universe. You find yourself saying — and hearing people say — things that you would never hear in real life. But there you are, in real life, listening to people ask whether you have a book about “the knufflebunny”, “the fart powder book”, or “that chicka chicka book”. And you often hear people talk about our stuffed animals as if they were, somewhat lazy, employees. “Where has Olivia gotten herself off to?” “Has anyone seen Clifford?” “Pigeon needs to be replaced.” I have to laugh sometimes because these conversations are always so serious. This isn’t some wise-cracking, middle-school kid trying to get a rise. Grandma, list in hand, genuinely wants to know where to find “Walter, the Farting Dog”, and dad doesn’t betray even the slightest twinkle in his eye when he asks if we have the “poopy pants” series. So thanks, kids, for living in a world that is imaginative, creative, and humorous. And thanks for letting us visit every once in a while. It’s a hoot working in a place where it is perfectly acceptable to give directions like, “over there, under the dragons” or have lengthy discussions about Scaredy Squirrel, Reginald von Hoobie Doobie, and Mr. Magnolia, with only one boot. Oh, and Carla, please come get your monkeys.

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Historians on History

9780807050217Today the Falmouth Public Library hosted their Narrative Non-Fiction group, which featured the book Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 by Stephen Puleo. Eight Cousins was on hand to sell Puleo’s books after the event so I had the good fortune of listening to his talk. He spent most of the hour answering questions, but the final question elicited an impassioned discussion on the importance of history, especially of teaching history. It’s always interesting listening to writers talk about writing, but today it was fascinating listening to a historian talk about history. Puleo talked about the necessity for history teachers to infuse a passion for history into their lessons. History often becomes bogged down with dates and events that mean little to students, but history is, as Puleo stated, a story. History is not simply events, but how those events came to be, the decisions that led to those events, and the lasting influence that those events had. Dark Tide, for example, isn’t simply about the Molasses Flood, but incorporates the people whose decisions affected the flood and the change in regulations that were later introduced because of it. Each moment is a piece of a larger narrative.

What a great idea for a reading group. If you’re interested, the next meeting is January 4th 10-11am at the library. The group will be discussing Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

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What exactly is a book?

We’ve recently started selling e-readers in our store. A company called Kobo has created a partnership with the American Bookseller Association, which allows independent bookstores to see e-reader devices in store and e-books online. As always there are varying opinions about this venture that don’t distinguish between staff and customers. Some people feel very strongly that we are a bookstore not a tech shop. S0me see the new technology as evolution, others love to talk about the impending death of the book. Yesterday, the Guardian published a very impassioned article about books and machines. I’m sure a lot of people will feel very similarly about the distinction that Beth makes, but she’s forgotten to include one crucial definition. What exactly is a book?

To define ‘book’, we’ll start with a book. Or what used to be a book, but is now more easily accessed online. The Oxford English Dictionary (def. 3) states that a book is

“A written or printed treatise or series of treatises, occupying several sheets of paper or other substance fastened together so as to compose a material whole. In this wide sense, referring to all ages and countries, a book comprehends a treatise written on any material (skin, parchment, papyrus, paper, cotton, silk, palm leaves, bark, tablets of wood, ivory, slate, metal, etc.), put together in any portable form, e.g. that of a long roll, or of separate leaves, hinged, strung, stitched, or pasted together”.

Books, as we now understand them, are made of folded leaves, that can be opened to any given page. This type of book is called a codex and is a relatively recent phenomenon. Printing books on paper is even more recent than that, not to mention the use of printing itself. The above definition encompasses more than the codex making it suitably vague: “written on any material”, “put together in any portable form”. Is my coffee cup a book? It’s been printed on. It’s portable. You get the point. But my coffee cup hasn’t been ‘put together’. At least not in that sense. I don’t have several coffee cups that are bound to each other, which would be decidedly less portable. E-readers are also ‘any material’ and they are certainly are in ‘portable form’. The defining distinction, however, seems to be ‘put together’. E-readers are made up of different parts, but not different pages, whether paper, papyrus, or screen. We have one screen, with changing text. With changing ‘books’ for that matter.

What exactly are people ‘reading’ on their e-readers, if, as Beth argues, they aren’t  reading ‘books’? And out of further curiosity, what do you think of bookstores selling e-readers?

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2012 Picks of the Year — Young Adult


The Peculiar
By Bachmann, Stefan
Greenwillow Books
9780062195180 $16.99

Teens are half child and half adult, which often makes them awkward and other people uncomfortable. In The Peculiar, Bartholomew has the additional handicap of being half human and half fae. His world is a grimy London existing in an uneasy balance of power between fae and humans. Someone is after Bartholomew and his sister, and it could be either side. Exceptional writing adds to the pleasure of the adventure.


Keeping Safe the Stars
By O’Connor, Sheila
Putnam Publishing Group
9780399254598 $16.99

The three orphaned Star siblings, Pride, Nightingale, and Baby, spent a short, awful period in the County Home before finding their way to the care of their grandfather, Old Finn, their only living relative. Old Finn is fiercely independent, but he becomes so ill that he’s hospitalized. 12-year-old Star takes charge to make sure nobody knows they’re on their own, and she’s not about to accept help.  10-year-old Nightingale isn’t so sure that’s the best way to help Old Finn or themselves, and 8-year-old Baby has a tendency to blow their cover, which would let others meddle.  Gathering bits of respect, bits of understanding, and bits of love, they manage to fashion a family.


Every Day
By Levithan, David
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
9780307931887 $17.99

A wakes up every day in a new body. Creating a personal code of ethics, A discovers what can (and cannot), should (and should not) be done when you’re living in someone else’s life. One day A wakes up as Justin, meets Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon, and on that day A’s own life finally begins.

Every Day is a unique inquiry into the relationship between body and soul. Is ‘who we are’ distinct from ‘what we look like’?  Is love really blind or do we fall for the ‘package’ as much as the ‘person’ inside? What makes us human anyway? Perfect for the philosophical teen, who likes contemplating life’s mysteries.


By Hartman, Rachel
Random House Books for Young Readers
9780375866562 $17.99

In Seraphina, Hartman has created an alternative, fantastic medieval world. The Kingdom of Goredd contains the anticipated castle, cathedral, market, and university. The royal family prevails, religion is integral in daily life, and a host of saints are familiar to all. Goredd, however, is bound by a tenuous peace-treaty with the neighboring kingdom of dragons. The knights have been banished — there is no use for them now — and dragons and human live side-by-side. Despite the official treaty, tensions between humans and dragons are high in Goredd, especially after a member of the royal family is killed in a distinctly draconian manner. Seraphina, sympathetic to both sides and also feared by both sides, stands at the center of this story; a story that incorporates high adventure and courtly romance and is well on its way to creating a modern legend.


The Fault in Our Stars
By Green, John
Dutton Books
9780525478812 $17.99

John Green gets it. He writes characters that precisely capture the transitional voice of teenagers poised between childhood and adulthood. In Hazel, he has created a character who has endured more than most adults, but retains the snarky running commentary that is pure adolescence. Hazel has lived most of her life on the edge of death. Although a Cancer Survivor — she mocks the melodramatic weight that people often use when discussing Serious Medical Conditions — Hazel is perpetually aware of her truncated life-span. Reluctant to get too close to anyone, because she repeatedly witnesses the pain of those who have lost a family member or friend, Hazel is unprepared for one Augustus Waters to bounce into her life. Her attempts to protect him prove futile and she ends up discovering why it’s never worth denying someone the pain of loving you.


The Raven Boys
By Stiefvater, Maggie
Scholastic Press
9780545424929 $18.99

Blue lives in a house full of psychics. She doesn’t have the gift herself, but she possesses the ability to augment others’ gifts. Therefore on St. Mark’s Eve, when she sees the spirit of a boy who has not yet died, there can be only two possible explanations: either he’s her true love or she’s the one who kills him. 

Gansey is on a quest. A junior at the all-boys Aglionby prep school, he surrounds himself with the friends and resources he needs to uncover an ancient legend. He’s wealthy and charismatic: a little too pompous for Blue, but she is slowly pulled into Gansey’s obsession. She has no interest in falling in love, certainly not with a Raven Boy from Aglionby Prep, but then why did Blue see Gansey walking the copse road, and what exactly connects her spirit to his? The first in a quartet, The Raven Boys blurs the lines between mysticism and realism. It’s an auspicious start to what is sure to be an excellent series.

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2012 Picks of the Year — Middle Grade Chapter Books


Unusual Creatures: A Mostly Accurate Account of Some of Earth’s Strangest Animals
By Hearst, Michael
2012-09 – Chronicle Books (CA)
9781452104676 $16.99

Michael Hearst is a composer of unusual music, including “Songs for Unusual Creatures.” He gathered so much fascinating material that he also wrote a book about fifty very strange animals, their habits and oddities. As a man of imagination, he has included not only the weirder details, but also playful humor and wit.


Jepp, Who Defied the Stars
By Marsh, Katherine
Hyperion Books
9781423135005 $16.99

Jepp is a dwarf teenager, and in 16th century Europe a dwarf is a curiosity of economic value. A greasy nobleman promises Jepp’s unsophisticated mother good things for him, and carries Jepp off to court, where a world of capricious luxury awaits. The beds are soft, but full of humiliation, and after initial wide-eyed excitement, Jepp and a friend try to escape. They’re partially successful, but find themselves in an even stranger situation.


Liar and Spy
By Stead, Rebecca
Wendy Lamb Books
9780385737432 $15.99

Georges (the s is silent) isn’t thrilled about his family’s move to a smaller apartment, but he understands his dad is unemployed, his mother is working extra shifts at the hospital, and he should do his bit to help. So Georges explores and meets Safer and Candy, two kids on another floor. Safer is a self-appointed spy looking for an assistant, since Candy is goofy and unreliable. Georges is wary but polite, and the results are funny, touching, and surprising.


By Palacio, R. J.
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
9780375869020 $15.99

Human kindness isn’t simple, as Auggie Pullman learns when he leaves the safety of homeschooling for a regular fifth grade class. His severe facial deformity gives everyone pause.  Among his family, classmates, and teachers, some are able to recognize the smart, funny, brave boy beneath the odd features, and some can barely tolerate him.  When the chips are down, when kids from another school start picking on Auggie, will anyone stand up for him?  The answer will sing out like a Handel oratorio.  In the few months since it was published, we already see schools taking up the book as a must read.


By Key, Watt
Farrar Straus Giroux
9780374350956 $16.99

Foster and his mother aren’t able to keep up the farm since his dad died, and his mother is trying to sell it, although she knows 12-year-old Foster wants to stay. Dax, the man who calls on her, is no friend to Foster, and Dax positively hates Foster’s dog Joe. Things are tense and getting worse when a stranger walks up the road. The stranger is Gary, an Iraq war vet who asks to trade barn shelter for chores. In Foster’s eyes Gary is a model of strength and masculine virtue. But Gary seems to have something to hide, and Dax would love to see Gary gone. The fiery climax reveals several things, including a more mature Foster.


The Last Dragonslayer
By Fforde, Jasper
Harcourt Children’s Books
9780547738475 $16.99

Reading Jasper Fforde is like listening to Spike Jones: serious sounding stuff except that there’s always one more outlandish boink and tootle where you least expect it. It works so well in Fforde’s Thursday Next mysteries that he’s now created the character of Jennifer Strange, a teenage foundling, who heads up Mystical Arts Management and keeps a knife-toothed Quarkbeast. Mystical arts and their practitioners were once revered, but lately they’re lucky to get paid for rewiring houses and unblocking drains. The less people believe in magic, the lower its powers ebb. The impending death of Maltcassion, the last dragon, is about to reduce it even further, as humans scramble to claim the valuable real estate that belonged to Maltcassion. And what does that have to do with the prediction of Big Magic? Jennifer Strange will be at the center of the coming changes, changes that are surprising to the end.

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2012 Picks of the Year — Early Grade Chapter Books


Outside Your Window: A First Book of Nature
By Davies, Nicola
Candlewick Press 
9780763655495 $19.99

Davies’ observations of nature are transformed into poems by Hearld’s glorious illustrations. This book will encourage any child with an ounce of curiosity and creativity to create their own nature journal.


Alex the Parrot: No Ordinary Bird: A True Story
By Spinner, Stephanie
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
9780375868467 $17.99

This book is a retelling, for children, of the book Irene Pepperberg wrote (Alex & Me : How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence —  and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process) about her language research with the African grey parrot Alex. At a time when bird intelligence was considered extremely limited, Alex proved to Pepperberg and the scientific world that he possessed vastly more smarts than anyone had guessed, and a boatload of personality as well.


Malcolm at Midnight
By Beck, W. H.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH)
9780547681009 $16.99

Malcolm is such a small rat he’s mistaken for a mouse when he becomes the class pet in Mr. Binney’s fifth grade. Soon Malcolm joins the Midnight Academy. The Academy is a secret society of the pets from all the classes, and they’re a varied lot. In fact, some of them may be traitors, allied with the unknown threat that lives in the clock tower. Malcolm has to manage tricky relationships with both the humans and the other animals. The writing is charmingly believable, and the many illustrations add another lively dimension.


The One and Only Ivan
By Applegate, Katherine
9780061992254 $16.99

A quick read based on a true story. A massive silverback ape, Ivan, lived for years in a cage in a faltering roadside attraction. When a baby elephant is added to the menagerie, he realizes she will be condemned to this humiliating drudgery unless he can come up with a way to free them both. Much of the book’s strength lies in the way it recognizes the power of language.

Bestselling author Applegate presents an unforgettable and uplifting tween animal fantasy that explores the power of friendship, art, and hope with humor and touching poignancy. Illustrations.


Lulu Walks the Dogs
By Viorst, Judith
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
9781442435797 $15.99

Lulu needs money, never mind for what, and decides her best gambit is a dog walking enterprise. She certainly does NOT want any interference from Fleischman, the goody two-shoes boy down the block. Lulu is terrible with the dogs, Fleischman keeps trying to be helpful. Chapter by chapter, compromise by compromise, they negotiate their way to a true partnership.

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2012 Picks of the Year — Picture Books


Step Gently Out
By Frost, Helen
Candlewick Press (MA)
9780763656010 $15.99

Young children examine small worlds intently, sometimes frustrated by things too busy or tiny to see well. This quiet poem is illustrated with remarkable close-up photos of delicate insects on stems, leaves, flowers, and dewy twigs.  Back pages give additional information about the eleven different insects.


Get Dressed!
By Chwast, Seymour
9781419701078 $12.95

New Yorker cartoonist Chwast provides plenty of flaps to unfold and lift. Most kids start with getting up and dressing in the morning, and end with pajamas and bed. But in between the book offers all kinds of fun prompts and attire: dragons, hiding in the jungle, cold weather, sand castles, making believe, rock star performing.


By Van Hout, Mies
Lemniscaat USA
9781935954149 $17.95

Once a child learns the basic nouns, verbs, “no!” and “please,” the way is cleared for expressing emotions. The more the emotions can be verbalized, the less they need to be acted out. Happy! is a series of colorful drawings, each of them of a fish that perfectly expresses a given emotion: happy, curious, nervous, brave, shy, surprised, and 14 others.


By Springman, I. C.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH)
9780547610832 $16.99

Inspired, clever, elaborate illustrations make this the perfect book for a bright child who may or may not be reading fluently.  Those sharp young eyes will detect the visual puns as a magpie collects compulsively until its excess brings down the entire overloaded nest.Luckily, the magpie has friends who help it downsize to the final pages: “Enough? Yes, enough.”


Olivia and the Fairy Princesses
By Falconer, Ian
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
9781442450271 $17.99

Possibly the most amusing Olivia book yet: Olivia is having an identity crisis: what will make her special if everyone is a princess! Olivia decides she’s done, done, DONE with pink. She’s seeking a “more stark, modern style.” It involves lots of black jersey, a la Martha Graham. After considering several possibilities, Olivia arrives at her latest and most definitely appropriate persona.


Cat Tale
By Hall, Michael
Greenwillow Books
9780061915161 $16.99

Three cats, Lillian, Tilly, and William J., start on an outing. Word play is part of the adventure: “They flee a steer.” “They steer a plane.” “They plane a board.” “They board a train.” In the middle the cats become confused for a couple of pages, but the tail/tale homonym sets them back on track to a comfy ending.


MOMA Color Puzzles: 4 Double-Sided Puzzles
By Komagata, Katsumi
Chronicle Books 
9780811876896 $10.99

Four reversible puzzles offer hundreds of ways to re-combine the few pieces, to explore the visual impact of shading, line, and contrast. Created for the Museum of Modern Art.


Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs
By Willems, Mo
Balzer & Bray/Harperteen
9780062104182 $17.99

Mo Willems is as irrepressible as ever. Three Dinosaurs , Papa, Mama, and “some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway” make a great show of setting out bowls of chocolate pudding, making their beds look comfy, and leaving the  doors open as they pretend to head out into the forest. Along comes Goldilocks, “a little girl who never listens to anyone or anything.” She ignores the many warning signs, and thing are looking ominous until she hears gloating outside the window and realizes she needs to scram.


The Monsters’ Monster
By McDonnell, Patrick
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
9780316045476 $16.99

Three little monsters, Grouch, Grump, and little Gloom ‘n’ Doom (he has two heads) squabble over who’s the biggest, baddest monster of all. Finally they decide to pool their efforts to make a MONSTER monster, using “tape, tacks, staples, and glue, gunk, gauze, and gobs of goo, bolts, wire, and a smelly old shoe.” When the huge creation comes to life its first booming word words are “Dank you!” because he’s thankful to be alive. The little rascals chase along behind as he crashes through the walls, marches down the mountain to the bakery, nad buys jelly doughnuts. Everyone shares them happily on a beach, completely forgetting to be monsters.


By Zalben, Jane Breskin
Roaring Brook Press
9781596435490 $16.99

By age 6,7,8, many children have visited an art museum. Like Janson, the mouse who lives in a museum, they may resonate to certain artists. Janson paints herself again and again in the styles of Albers, Rousseau, Warhol, Seurat, Braque, Picasso and 16 other major artists. Eventually she is discovered, and given an exhibition of her own. The book is a great way to introduce the idea of different styles, and associate names with them.


Duck Sock Hop
By Kohuth, Jane
Dial Books
9780803737129 $16.99

Rhythm and bounce will capture everyone’s silly sense as the catchy rhyme rolls along. This is a wake-up-and-get-moving book, not a nighty-night one. Today’s children will need a little clarification from grandparents as to the meaning of “sock hop,” and that’s likely to lead to demonstrations and imitations — in other words, a party.


A Home for Bird
By Stead, Philip Christian
Roaring Brook Press
9781596437111 $16.99

Vernon the frog is pleased to find Bird, whom he welcomes as friend, although bird says nothing. Vernon introduces Bird  to his friends, but Bird says nothing. Vernon is concerned that Bird might be lost, so he sets out to find Bird’s home. After an arduous journey that tests Vernon’s determination, they stumble into a little house and Bird speaks one word at last: “Cuckoo!”


Otto the Book Bear
By Cleminson, Katie
Hyperion Books
9781423145622 $16.99

Otto is a bear who lives inside a book, and is always happiest when children read his book. He has a secret: sometimes he leaves his book and goes exploring. One day while he’s out, the family moves, taking his book but forgetting Otto! Otto makes a plan, packs a bag, and sets off on a new adventure. The world is a little larger than he had expected, and he’s becoming discouraged when he sees full of light and hope: a library! There he not only finds another book bear, but also, best of all, children reading.

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