Pencilvania. Stephanie Watson. 2021. [August] 384 pages. [Source: Review copy] First sentence: Ever since she first learned to hold a crayon, Zora loved to draw. Premise/plot: Pencilvania is Stephanie Watson's newest middle grade (fantasy) novel. Zora, ...
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"Young Readers" - 5 new articles

  1. 63. Pencilvania
  2. 62. Billie Someday
  3. 61. Finn Throws a Fit
  4. 60. Loveblock
  5. 59. Pancakes, Pancakes
  6. More Recent Articles

63. Pencilvania

Pencilvania. Stephanie Watson. 2021. [August] 384 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Ever since she first learned to hold a crayon, Zora loved to draw.

Premise/plot: Pencilvania is Stephanie Watson's newest middle grade (fantasy) novel. Zora, our heroine, loves, loves, loves to draw--always has. But does that mean she always will? Her mom has a special word, VOOM, for describing when her daughter is in the zone and FEELING the art. Her mom appreciates her daughter's talent--some of Zora's drawings have become part of her mom's permanent collection. Frankie, her younger sister, also loves Zora's art. Especially when Zora draws horses for her. (Frankie loves, loves, loves horses).

But after her mom dies--of leukemia--Zora loses her voom. Every time she tries to draw, she ends up having a panic attack. On her sister's birthday, Zora tries one more time--for her sister--to draw. But that leads to a burst of anger leading to...well...the start of the adventure.

Pencilvania is the fantasy land our characters find themselves in. It is a land created--quite unintentionally in many, many ways--by Zora. EVERY drawing Zora has ever done--EVER, EVER--comes alive and lives in Pencilvania. From the earliest scribbles--the eeks--to the latest (a traced horse done the day of her sister's birthday) all are there. But all is not well in Pencilvania. TROUBLE is afoot.

Can Zora find a way to save the day?

My thoughts: While it isn't all that unusual for middle grade novels to handle grief in one way or another, I found the fantasy world of Pencilvania to be entirely unique. (Well, mostly). I love the premise! It's cute, adorable, relatable. I also thought it was clever. I loved the world-building! I loved that there was a SEVEN LEGGED HORSE, and that this horse is one of the central characters. I also loved, loved, loved the eeks--the earliest drawings, her stick figures, if you will. I loved the HAMSTERS IN PAJAMAS. There were plenty of little details that come together to create such a perfect fantasy world. (Like the thousands of baby lakes. Or how EVERY sun that she ever drew exists in this world so everything is always sunny!)

I liked the conflict as well. Everything just seems OH SO RIGHT about this novel. 

I personally loved, loved, loved it. I did. I loved everything about it. I loved the relationship between Frankie and Zora. I loved the emotional journey--highs and lows. I loved how imaginative and creative it was. It balances a super fun premise with authentic feelings of grief. This book has plenty of heart. But it isn't a heavy, heavy novel.


  • “We gather here today,” said the hamster, “like every day, to celebrate our creator. To offer our gratitude for the magnificent world she has made!” All of the hamsters raised their balloon strings high, like torches. 
  • “Well,” Airrol said, “as you looked at us, we looked back at you. Yours was the first face any of us ever saw. Everyone knows you created them, and they adore you for it.” In her mind’s eye, Zora saw the angry protesters by the Zoracle. “Not everybody adores me.” “True,” Airrol said. “But most of us do. And why wouldn’t we? You drew the whole of Pencilvania. Every creature, every blade of grass…” He looked up at the uneven puffs of white drifting overhead. “You drew the clouds, probably when you were just figuring out how make circles. 
  • “Everything you draw gets to decide what it’s going to be and do in Pencilvania. When a drawing arrives, first they pick a name. To make it official, they tell the Zoracle. Then they get on with the business of being themselves.” “Wait, you named yourself?” Zora asked. “Naturally,” Airrol said. “It’s my name. I have to answer to it. Shouldn’t I pick it?”

© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers


62. Billie Someday

Billie Someday. Andy Graham. 2021. 160 pages. [Complete and total guess] [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: It may have felt like an ordinary July morning high in this mountain valley, but you can be sure that it was not.This was a special day, because in the valley there happened to be a farm where, on a barn floor of well-trampled hay and mud, a proud mother goat lay chewing a bit of cud, waiting to give birth. She was alone for the moment, but soon there would be a sweltering gale of commotion, including a farmer, a doctor, wet nurses, dry nurses, congratulators—and a handful of nosy goats that would begin prodding for details.

Premise/plot: Billie Someday, our heroine, is a goat. A goat who feels it is her destiny to be the greatest of all time. Yes, our goat wants to be a G.O.A.T. Unsatisfied with her mundane life on the farm, this kid is determined to do something extraordinary: to return to the home of her distant ancestors. Billie Someday wants to be a mountain goat, or, perhaps a mountain climbing goat. But it won't be an easy journey. Far from it. Obstacles abound. Will Billie's dreams come true? Will she climb to the top of the mountain? Can she survive the oh-so-dangerous wolves that stand in between her and the mountain? Will she return to tell her tale?

My thoughts: Billie Someday is a middle grade animal fantasy. Since there is an animal on the cover, I do feel I need to mention that Billie (and friends) survive to the end of the novel. This isn't one of those books where you will need a box of tissues.

I do not have an adventurous bone in my body. I don't. But Billie does. Billie is all about ONE dream, and that dream will take her off the ordinary path so to speak. She's not like any other goat--well, farm goat, she knows. She's different and she has to fully and completely embrace her difference in order to realize her awesomeness.

The story is direct rather than cutesy. These farm goats are being kept for one reason only: for milk. The girls are kept, of course, and will go on to have kids of their own and be milk producers. But the boys, well, they aren't kept--or if they are kept, not intact. There for a while I thought this book was going to go semi-graphic in that department. (It didn't. Not really. Kids (human readers) may be curious about kids (the goats) and ask questions and look up definitions, but there's nothing inappropriate in the text itself. And it's certainly nothing that would be new to a farm kid.

I think my favorite character was the cat, Antoni.


© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers


61. Finn Throws a Fit

Finn Throws a Fit! David Elliott. Illustrated by Timothy Basil Ering. 2009. 32 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Finn likes peaches. Usually. But today, Finn doesn't like peaches. Today, Finn doesn't like anything. Today, Finn is cranky. Anything could happen.

Premise/plot: Finn is having a bad day. Perhaps even a terrible, horrible one. No one knows why. Least of all his parents. Elliott writes to parents, and for parents in this one. The narrative is descriptive and practically perfect in every way.

Thunder in the nursery! Lightning in the kitchen!
He cries. The house floods.
He kicks. An earthquake shakes the world.

But I think my absolute favorite part is:
The FIT goes on and on. It lasts until it doesn't.

My thoughts: I love, love, love, LOVE this one. Who hasn't met a Finn? Who hasn't seen a Finn in action? (I know I've seen Finn in a couple of restaurants.) I love the narrative. I love the descriptions. I love how true-to-life it is. I love how it captures the wild, fierceness of emotions. Some times emotions do RAGE out of control. I love how quotable it is. So much can be communicated by these two simple sentences: "Finn likes peaches. Usually;" and "It lasts until it doesn't."

 This has to be one of my all-time favorite, favorite, favorite books. I think it perfectly captures what it feels like to be BOTH a parent and a child. I think you could easily relate to both at the exact same time.

I do think it captures how heavy and overwhelming emotions can be at times. I think children definitely need to learn from very young age how to deal with--in a healthy way--experiencing all sorts of emotions.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers


60. Loveblock

Loveblock. Christopher Franceschelli. Illustrated by Peskimo. 2020. [October] 84 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: Love is a journey...and I'll be with you every step of the way.

This board book celebrates love and loving relationships. The illustrations are all of animals. The text is super-sweet perhaps syrupy. It features a lot of flaps and fold outs. 

It is a board book in Abram's block series. Other titles include Alphablock, Countablock, Dinoblock, Cityblock, Buildablock, Farmblock, etc.

Like the other books in the series, it's a bit bulkier than other more traditional board books. It is more like a block. As I mentioned earlier, it features a lot of flaps, fold outs, and cut-outs. It isn't unwieldy like some board books that are more like a toy. 

There is text on every page but not really any story. Each page says something about love in general. 

I do like it. I'm not sure it is my favorite and best of the series. But I like it.

© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers


59. Pancakes, Pancakes


Pancakes, Pancakes! Eric Carle. 1970. 36 pages. [Source: Bought]

First sentence: Kee-ke-ri-kee crowed the rooster. Jack woke up, looked out the window and thought, "I'd like to have a big pancake for breakfast."

Premise/plot: Jack wants a pancake--a BIG pancake. His mom tells him he'll have to help her if he wants a pancake. This help will include cutting wheat, taking it to the miller in town, having it ground into flour, gathering an egg from a hen, milking a cow, churning butter, and getting a jar of jam from the cellar. Some of these tasks take time--a good deal of time--and effort. Will Jack enjoy the pancakes more for all the work he invested in it?!

My thoughts: I like this one.  I do. I like the text more than the illustrations. The book is a very old-fashioned look at how we "get" our food. Flour, eggs, and milk don't come from the store. Pancakes don't come from a mix or restaurant.

Text: 4 out of 5
Illustrations: 3 out of 5
Total: 7 out of 10


© 2021 Becky Laney of Young Readers


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