Jillicious Reading: December 2013


Favs of 2013

SO many great books released in 2013.  Here are my favorites of the year:

Picture Books

The Day the Crayons Quit
by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
Hilarious collection of letters from the crayons who have had enough!  Overworked, ignored, or misunderstood, they quit!  This clever story is perfectly drawn with Jeffers’ charming artwork and lettering.  Innovative and witty, The Day the Crayons Quit is a must for every picture book shelf.   

Exclamation Mark
by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Ted Lichtenheld
Exclamation Mark is different and is trying to find his place in the world.  Funny and perfectly PUN-ny, this little book has a simple but important message for readers of all ages. Particularly for those who appreciate humor, word play, and a brilliant blend of text and illustration.   

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
written & illustrated by Peter Brown
Mr. Tiger doesn’t really like his prim, proper world and goes a little … wild.  He learns some things in the wilderness as do his prim friends while he is away.  Another riotous romp from Peter Brown, complete with his detailed, whimsical, perfectly hand-crafted illustrations. His use of line and color (ORANGE!) are pure genius. 

Paul Meets Bernadette
written & illustrated by Rosy Lamb 
Paul swims around and around in circles in his fish bowl … until Bernadette arrives. Bernadette sees things differently and shows Paul a whole new way to view the world.  The artwork, created with broad strokes reminiscent of Monet or Matisse, adds to the charm and beauty of this gentle book celebrating the impact one individual can make on the world … even one as small as a fish bowl. 

Flora and the Flamingo 
written & illustrated by Molly Idle
This wordless interactive book is a pure delight.  Plump little Flora, in a pink swimsuit and bathing cap, imitates the moves of her friend the flamingo.  Although not quite as graceful, her efforts result in pure fun.  Young readers will want to flip the pages again and again … and likely mimic the dance!  Created by a former DreamWorks animator, this duo begs to star in an animated short, whether it’s on the screen or in the reader’s mind.   

Middle Grade

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures 
by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by K.G. Campbell 
Another Flora! … and equally as endearing.  Flora Belle Buckman, a self-described cynic, steps in to help a squirrel in a tangle with a vacuum cleaner.  The squirrel (AKA Ulysses) survives and emerges a superhero with special powers and a penchant for poetry.  DiCamillo has woven another quietly brilliant tale with her exquisite word choice, endearing characters, and trademark charm.

Counting by 7s
by Holly Goldberg Sloan 
Willow Chance is a 12-year-old genius.  She has an amazing knowledge of nature and medical conditions, but knows very little about getting along with others.  When tragedy hits, Willow must learn to exist in a new reality and makes an unexpected impact on those around her.  The writing is impeccable, and Willow a true gem.  This tragic, but ultimately hopeful tale is one-in-a-million.  

P.S. Be Eleven 
by Rita Williams-Garcia 
Delphine and her sisters are back!  Returning home from time spent with her estranged mother, Delphine must reconcile what she has experienced and her newly found independence with her grandmother’s old ways, the changes happening in her family (her father is dating!), and the trials of 6th grade. Rita Williams-Garcia has created an excellent sequel to an excellent book.   I can’t wait for #3! 

Star Wars: Jedi Academy 
by Jeffrey Brown 
This little book completely surprised and delighted me!  Roan dreamed of entering the Pilot Academy, like his father and older brother before him.  He doesn’t get in, but instead is invited to the mysterious Jedi Academy.  Told through journal entries, clippings, report cards, doodles, and letters, Star Wars: Jedi Academy tells the ups and downs of Roan’s first year at the Academy.  The book is clever and entertaining, but also surprisingly perceptive as it addresses topics such as bullying, making friends, not giving up, and handling new situations. It has huge reader appeal and makes you want to pull out your old collection of Star Wars action figures (yes, I’ve got ’em.. even the Land Rover!) and maybe even start your own journal.  Read it you must, love it you will. ;

Young Adult

One Came Home  
by Amy Timberlake 
It’s 1871 in Wisconsin, and Georgie’s sister has disappeared.  The town assumes the worst, but Georgie, armed with only her sharpshooting skills and pure determination, sets out insistent on finding her.  Part adventure, part mystery and wholly original, One Came Home is a True Grit for tweens & teens (and 40-somethings!), immediately transporting readers to a different time and into the heart of a plucky unforgettable heroine.  Funny, smart, and insightful. 

The Fire Horse Girl 
by Kay Honeyman 
Jade Moon is born under the worst sign of the Zodiac for Chinese girls ensuring that she is willful and stubborn, traits not desirable in young girls.  While her grandfather worries about marrying her off, she dreams of a different future.  Her chance comes when a distant adopted cousin arrives with an opportunity to go to America.  But, admittance to this new country is not easy for the Chinese in 1923 and detainment at Angel Island is almost unbearable.  Jade Moon’s strength and will turn out to be just what she needs to survive. This well-researched novel gives readers an authentic view into Chinese immigration as well as a strong, feisty teen to root for as she navigates her new world.  

Going Vintage 
by Lindsey Leavitt 
I am a sucker for romance, quirky, loveable characters, and books that make me laugh… Lindsey Leavitt creates all three superbly!  When Mallory’s boyfriend “cheats” on her with an online girlfriend, she swears off all technology.  Armed with a to-do list her grandmother made as a teen in 1962, Mallory decides to “go vintage,” to return to a simpler time, and to try to accomplish her grandmother’s goals.  The challenge proves to be a little more than she expected (How does she run for pep club secretary when her school doesn’t even have a pep club??).  Through it all, Mallory makes many new discoveries about herself, her family, and those around her.  Reviewers have claimed Linsdsey Leavitt’s books have “humor and heart.” I wholeheartedly agree and can’t wait for the next one!   


by Andrew Smith
Ryan Dean West is the youngest in his junior class at an elite boarding school on the West Coast. He is a frequent target for bullies, but his wits, determination, and prowess on the rugby field help him rise above.  This year he is set on making Annie, his best friend and love of his life, see him as more than a friend and a younger boy.  But the year brings more than anyone anticipated.  This honest look into the mind and heart of an insecure, hormonally-charged 14-year-old boy is a true achievement. It’s wickedly funny, intelligent, surprising, and absolutely heartbreaking.  

And my two very favorites of the year …  

All the Truth that’s In Me
by Julie Berry 
Four years ago, Judith and her best friend disappeared.  Her friend’s body was found in the river; Judith returns to town two years later, mutilated and unable to speak.  Viewed as cursed and ignored by the town and her family, Judith silently pours her heart out to Lucas, the boy she has loved since childhood.  With echoes of The Scarlet Letter and Speak, All the Truth That’s in Me is an exquisite, completely captivating novel.  Readers are immediately pulled into Judith’s silent world and compelled by the mystery surrounding her disappearance.  This quiet but determined girl grabs hold of your heart as she searches for answers, for hope, and for her lost voice.  References to Joan of Arc, emphasizing sacrifices for love, and the use of the Psalms as a mode of healing are brilliant.  This rich, beautifully executed story stays with the reader long after the final page is turned.

by Rainbow Rowell 
Cath and twin sister Wren have been inseparable for years.  They share a love for the fantasy series Simon Snow and the world of fanfiction surrounding the beloved stories.  But, as they prepare to go away to college, Wren seems to be pulling away from Simon and from Cath.  Wren has always been the more confident, extroverted sister and trying to navigate college without her is a big challenge for reserved, socially-awkward Cath.  But, the year is full of surprises, new friendships, trials and triumphs, and unexpected love. Is it possible for Cath to leave the boy wizard’s magical world behind and fully embrace her own reality?  This novel is simply outstanding.  The characters are real, complicated, and funny; the dialogue quick and unforgettable (I have read the conversations over and over, treasuring the humor, originality, and emotion). This is a story that wedges into your heart and never leaves. It is pure magic.  

NOTE:  I LOVED Rowell’s Eleanor & Park, also released this year; but I decided to select just one to spotlight in this list and Fangirl won out. The deciding factor? Levi 😉 I am head-over-heels for this guy! 

These were the standouts for me from a year of many excellent reads. What were your 2013 favs?   


Jillicious Gift Ideas!

Need a few ideas for your last minute shopping?  Read on!

Everything I Need to Know I learned in a Little Golden Book   
by Diane Muldrow

I LOVED the Little Golden Books.  I read and treasured so many, favorites being The Poky Little Puppy and The Saggy Baggy Elephant.  This new book celebrating this special collection was created by Diane Muldrow.  Longtime editor of the beloved Little Golden Books, Muldrow realized that these books offer excellent advice for almost every real-life situation.  She combined these lessons and original illustrations into this special little guide to life manual.   Give Everything I Need to Know I Learned in a Little Golden Book  to those who grew up reading the Little Goldens, to  lovers of children’s literature, or to anyone who needs to be reminded what is important in life.

Book Lust To Go
by Nancy Pearl

A friend gave this at a recent book exchange, and I thought it was such an excellent idea for a book!  Librarian/author Nancy Pearl has created a guide of recommended reading for travelers.  Book Lust To Go includes fiction and nonfiction books to read before traveling to a new locale.  From San Francisco to Sri Lanka, travelers will find recommendations for over 120 travel sites.  A must for the traveler (or armchair traveler!) on your list!

Tequila Mockingbird  
by Tim Federle

Having recently finished Federle’s first middle grade novel, I came across this fabulous little book he also published this year.  The cocktail guide contains 65 recipes that pay homage to literary favorites including Brave New Swirled, Gin Eyre, Romeo and Julep, Huckleberry Sin, and Are You There God? It’s Me, Margarita.  Tequila Mockingbird is a fun gift for the readers, book club members, or cocktail enthusiasts on your holiday gift list. 

Anna Karenina: A Fashion Primer
by Jennifer Adams 

This darling board book is perfect for every little (or not-so-little!) fashionista on your list.  A dear friend gave it to me, and I am head over heels.  Author Jennifer Adams has created several other board books for the young reader inspired by classics such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights. I think I’ve got a new collection to work on!

Poems to Learn by Heart
by Caroline Kennedy, illustrated by Jon Muth

This collection of poems has a verse for every occasion.  Some silly, some serious, some familiar, some new, but all worth reading, reciting, and remembering.  I love this illustrated collection; it reminds the reader of the beauty of verse and the power of learning something by heart. Give this to wordsmiths young and old. 

Snowflakes Fall
by Patricia Maclachlan, illustrated by Steven Kellogg

Patricia Maclachlan and Steven Kellogg collaborated to create this heartfelt tribute to the lives lost in the Sandy Hook, Connecticut tragedy.  In this special book former Sandy Hook resident Kellogg and the Newbery Medalist Maclachlan celebrate individual uniqueness, the gift of life, and the hope that is found in renewal.  Give this to one who has experienced loss this year or to anyone as a reminder to treasure each day. 


Battle Bunny
by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett, illustrated by Matthew Myers

Now to end on a light note … and to bring things full circle.  Hilarious authors Scieszka and Barnett along with illustrator Myers have created a truly original picture book.  It begins as a gentle, Little-Golden-Book-like story about a bunny’s surprise birthday party.  Then, Alex, who receives the book from his Gammy, takes a pencil to the sweet Birthday Bunny and turns it into Battle Bunny, a devil-may-care rabbit intent to take over the world.  It is a riot!  Give this to young readers with a sense of humor.  After reading, these young creators can go to the Birthday Bunny site to download a clean copy of Birthday Bunny and then recreate the story in their own way.   

Good luck finishing up the last minute shopping.  Best wishes for a happy, book-filled holiday!  🙂


Jillicious Reading: P.S. Be Eleven

P.S. Be Eleven
by Rita Williams-Garcia

Summary:  After spending the summer of 1968 with their estranged mother, Delphine and her little sisters, Vonetta and Fern, are heading back to Brooklyn. They take with them a deeper understanding of their mother (a poet/activist), experiences with the Black Panthers, and newly discovered independence. Back home, Delphine struggles to reconcile new thoughts and perspectives with her changing family and the struggles of sixth grade. And, the only help her mother is offering is a continual reminder at the end of her letters to “Be Eleven.” 

Thoughts:  I loved One Crazy Summer.  It was the perfect blend of family drama, 1960s tensions, differing

perspectives, strong female characters, and the universal struggles of growing up, all explored with humor and heart.  And now in the sequel P.S. Be Eleven, Rita Williams-Garcia completely succeeds again!  I may even like this one better than the first.  

This novel picks up right where the last ended, allowing the reader to immediately see the way the girls’ summer experiences affected them and how balancing new thoughts and independent streaks is going to be a challenge at home.  As in One Crazy Summer, the story is told from the strong, honest voice of eleven-going-on-twelve-year-old Delphine.  She faces many obstacles as she tries to control her headstrong little sisters, laments being the tallest girl in her class, worries about the Valentine Dance, tries to accept that her father is dating, and seeks to understand her uncle who has returned from Vietnam a changed, melancholy man.  The story is interspersed with letters to and from her mother, Cecile; the correspondence perfectly contrasts the perspective of a woman dedicated to a cause and that of a young girl trying to figure things out, many times simply her own feelings.

One of my favorite parts is when the girls fall in love at first sight with The Jackson Five. 🙂 Williams-Garcia perfectly depicts the thrill of being swept away by new music and celebrity infatuation.  Reading it, I was immediately a kid again falling for Sean Cassidy, listening to Da Doo Run Run over and over (“Somebody told me that her name was JILL!!“)  🙂

Through it all, Delphine begins to reconcile her experiences, learn from new ones, and figure out who she is in … her family, in her class, and in the tumultuous world.  

Read P.S. Be Eleven, if you … 

  • read One Crazy Summer
  • enjoy quality historical fiction
  • like stories about strong, feisty girls
  • struggled being the oldest sister (or the youngest … or stuck in the middle!)  
  • want to expand your views of life in the 1960s
  • have ever fallen head-over-heels for a celebrity or boy band!  🙂     

Click here to visit Rita Williams-Garcia’s website to learn more about these books and her writing.  I hear she is working on another story about these plucky Gaither sisters… I’ll be the first in line!


Jillicious Reading: We Were Liars

We Were Liars
by E. Lockhart

Summary: Cadence Sinclair Eastman is the oldest grandchild of the flawless Sinclair family.  Her summers are spent on a private island with her cousins … her best friends …and the boy she loves. Together they are The Liars. Then, friendships turn destructive, lies are told, secrets are buried. Cady desperately seeks to discover the painful truth behind the accident and the family’s false facade. 

Thoughts: We Were Liars is a truly remarkable novel.  It is like none I have ever read.  From the first page, the reader is swept into the “perfect” world of the Sinclairs and absorbed by the secrets this privileged family hides.  

Lockhart masterfully crafts vivid characters – Johnny, he is bounce, effort, and snark… Mirren, she is sugar, curiosity, and rain... – and tells a haunting tale that stuns at every turn.  It is tense, atmospheric, exquisite. 

I highly recommend this book to teen and adult readers looking for a captivating, unforgettable story.  And if anyone asks how it ends, LIE!

Read We Were Liars, if you … 

  • are a fan of E.Lockhart 
  • enjoy sophisticated, intelligent writing
  • like suspense, plot twists, and surprises
  • are intrigued with the lives of those who “summer” on islands 😉 
  • want to read the book that everyone will be talking about!

Click here to learn more about E. Lockhart and her books.  Click here to hear the author reading an excerpt from We Were Liars.    

NoteWe Were Liars will be released May 13, 2014.  Click here to pre-order a copy!


Follow me!

In effort to organize my life 🙂 , I have created a new Twitter handle to go along with the blog.

Please follow @JilliciousRdg for tweets about books, libraries, and all things literary.

Continue to follow @jillbellomy for musings about food, travels, college sports, Texas A&M, and pugs!  🙂

See you in the Twitterverse!  



In November, I had the chance to attend my first NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) Annual Convention. The conference was in Boston – one of my very favorite cities … added bonus!

Four colleagues and I presented a session on igniting middle school readers and building a reading community.   

Our t-shirts advertising the session were a hit! 

We presented Friday afternoon, the first day of the conference.  We had a lovely crowd, and the presentation went very smoothly … quite a relief after planning and preparing for so many months!  After presenting, we were able to relax and just enjoy the conference and the sharing of ideas. 

Highlights of included: 

  • a fabulous dinner with Little, Brown.  I was able to sit next to the amazing Matthew Quick., author of The Silver Linings Playbook, and my favorite, Sorta Like a Rock Star.   What a treat to hear about his upcoming releases and many movie deals!  
  • an excellent session featuring some literary rock stars  … master teachers Colby Sharp and Donalyn Miller, literature guru Teri Lesesne, literacy experts Kylene Beers and Bob Probst, and hilarious author and reading promoter Jon Scieszka.  The standing-room-only session was entertaining, informative, and inspiring.

    Jon Scieszka … such a hoot!

  • a delightful Scholastic brunch with Reader’s Theater readings from fabulous authors including Rodman Philbrick, Elizabeth Eulberg, and Barbara Kerley.  The room fell in love with Natalie Lloyd, debut author of A Snicker of Magic
  • Delicious East Coast food!  One of my favorites was the lobster roll at Island Creek Oyster Bar (Best Lobster Roll 2013… definitely earned my vote!) And, a stop at Flour Bakery, breakfast at The Paramount, and a dinner in the North End are Boston musts!

Blueberry Pancakes at The Paramount

  • Visiting the amazing Boston Public Library.  I may move to this city just so I can go here on a regular basis.  It was almost a religious experience.  😉  

  • Sitting with incredible Jerry Spinelli at a Random House dinner.  He is such a talented man and a truly amazing person.  It was an honor to get to talk with him.

  •  Meeting Lindsey Leavitt.  She is one of my favorite “chick lit” authors.  Her books are heartfelt and hilarious.  I really want her for my BFF.  😉


  • Meeting SCOUT! … aka Mary Badham, the darling lady who played Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird!  



After the conference, we were able to stay for the ALAN (Assembly on Literature for Adolescents) Workshop. The event kicks off with a cocktail party for all attendees and featured authors.  

The lovely Sarah Dessen

The hilarious Jon Scieszka

The next morning you show up, and they hand you a HUGE box of books!  Opening it feels like Christmas morning!  Then you get to listen to author panels all day and get books signed by favorite authors.  Pure heaven for lovers of young adult lit!

It was a terrific weekend celebrating books, authors, and literacy in an amazing city.  I am thankful for the chance to attend, and can’t for next year!   


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