The Dragon Whistler

The Dragon Whistler
Now available for E-Readers.


Picture Book: CIRCUS TRAIN by Jennifer Cole Judd (Ill. by Melanie Matthews)

I don't often post about picture books, but I found CIRCUS TRAIN (2015, TWO LIONS) quite adorable. Yes, the author is a dear friend of mine, but that aside, CIRCUS TRAIN takes the reader someplace special simply by rolling into town.

Jennifer Cole Judd demonstrated her penchant for the ghoulishly creepy with AN EYEBALL IN MY GARDEN: AND OTHER SPINE-TINGLING POEMS (co-edited with Laura Wynkoop) but here she gives us a nostalgic return to a simpler world.

Under the bold-striped big top, clowns cars, trapeze artists and cotton candy vendors spin an atmosphere that will capture the imagination of children (and their parents who look back fondly on such times). When roses rain down on the ringmaster, there's a distinctive note of melancholy as the train is packed back up to head to the next stop.

Matthews' bright and joyful illustrations perfectly complement Judd's rhymes, bridging the decades to make an old-school circus relevant to 21st century kids. Ideal for kids 2 - 6. Highly recommended.


I'll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson

If you're a long time Cool Kids Read reader you'll know I tend to get into patterns of reading: whether that's horror, post-apocalyptic, zombies... well right now it is apparently a line up of books designed to rip my heart right out of my body and stomp it into a mushy pulp.

I'LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson is so much this kind of book. I fell completely in love with the characters, obsessed over the story and hated to see it end.

Twins Jude and Noah grow up incredibly close, but something happened to drive them apart. Nelson doles out this backstory in tasty chunks, alternating between age 13 and 16, but this jumping around never feels jarring as Noah takes us through the pre-teen years and Jude the present.

Each telling half the story is part of the story, as the twins need to know what happened to the other in order to find themselves and each other again. As they explore their love for art, boys, Northern California, their parents, and their friends, the twins' stories intertwine in a poetic, lyrical way that hooks you — unwinding gently to the satisfying end. One of my favorite books of last year, hands down. It's real in is magical qualities and magical in how it approaches the real teen experience. A unique combination to be sure, but Nelson pulls it off in spades. A must-read for any reader, 14 and up.


All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

I’ve spent a lot of time this week trying to sort out how I feel about this book but I can tell you one thing, there are lots of feels. LOTS of them. Lots of good, but also, lots of tough ones. It’s a perfect storm of feels all over the place.

Violet Markey and Theodore Finch are two quirky, likable characters who meet on the ledge of their school’s bell tower, both contemplating suicide. Maybe seriously, maybe not. But it soon becomes clear that Finch has a thing about death. He contemplates suicide quite a bit — at least the mechanics of it. The history of it. The statistics of it. It’s on his mind all the time.

Violet is dealing with the death of her sister. She feels responsible for the car accident that took her life, and even though Violet’s parents are much more in tune with helping her deal than Finch’s parents ever will be, they just can’t seem to get to the heart of healing. So when Finch ends up saving her from jumping (or did she save him?) a tenuous bond is formed between the semi-popular girl and the “freak.”

Paired for a school project, the two wander Indiana together, chronically interesting sights. Through the wandering, Violent emerges from her traumatized shell and, not surprisingly, she finds her feelings for Finch growing.

But his soul is as damaged as it is bright, and he struggles with depression so palpable that I honestly had trouble getting through some chapters without breaking down. His heart-breaking downward spiral plummets to a conclusion that, while anticipated, is still such a kick in the gut that it makes everything leading up to it seem like a paper cut.

In the end, though, this story isn’t about Finch but how Violet is changed by her time with him. The Author’s Note at the end is essential — and explains a lot. This is a personal thing for Jennifer Nivens and it shows. I can’t imagine the incredible difficulty of reliving such pain, but hopefully she found it cathartic.

On its way to becoming a film (starring Elle Fanning as Violet), ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES packs an emotional wallop that will leave you reeling. Sure to be loved by fans of 13 REASONS WHY, ELEANOR AND PARK, and I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN (look for my upcoming post on this one soon).