7 Children’s Book Characters Who Would Make Terrible Coworkers

The working world isn’t that different from the worlds within children’s books. There are plenty of nice people; those you can relate to and enjoy spending time with. Then there are those guys. Every office (and story) has a few of them — from the one who eats all the candy-dish candy, to the one who rolls in late and leaves early, to the well-meaning elder statesman who can fill an entire day with his stories. You may have a soft spot for some of them, but when you’re facing a tough work deadline you won’t want to have to rely on any of these shady characters.

Spot (Put Me in the Zoo, by Robert Lopshire)

 Spot is the ultimate anywhere-but-here guy. He thinks he deserves the promotion, the better office, that last donut. You just know he’s at his desk checking out Monster Jobs when he should be working on that project your team has due before lunch. Sure, maybe he’s right, maybe he is special, maybe he does deserve something more, but maybe he should try putting in a day’s honest work now and then (and stop taking your parking spot). You can’t help but like Spot, but you also like not being the one stuck putting together his PowerPoint slides when you should have gone home an hour ago. (Ages 5–8)

Curious George (A Treasury of Curious George, by H. A. Rey and Margret Rey)

 Sure, George is a nice guy, and he really does try to get the job done for the team, but dude also likes to go rogue. There is an employee handbook for a reason, but it’s as if George has never taken the time to read it (sometimes you wonder if he can read at all)! Still, he always gets results, and the bosses seem to like his unique thought process and gung-ho attitude. But for the rest of the office, who spends their days filling out his TPS Reports and showing up on time, George isn’t the spunky guy with the out of the box ideas, he’s the guy eats all the snacks in the break room and strolls in late with all the answers. (Ages 0–3)

Max (Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak)

 If Max doesn’t get his way, he stops contributing during your weekly brainstorming sessions. His temper tantrums at the water cooler and his reluctance to ever go out to lunch with the group have made him the office loner. When Max does take the lead on a project, he has no problem ruling with an iron fist; the phrase “benevolent dictator” was made for someone just like Max. Things may run smoothly when he’s is at the helm, and one day he will probably make a great CEO, but when things go off the rails he is the first to bow out and sail off into the sunset. Secretly you hope Max gets promoted to another department, where you won’t have to deal with his attitude or listen to him brag about how he’s helping a buddy redo his Night Kitchen. (Ages 3–5)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar (The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle)

 Is this guy never not on a lunch break!? If he’s not in the break room pilfering someone’s sandwich, snacking on the granola bars from the community basket, or swinging by your desk to eat all of your good candy, he is asking where everyone wants to eat. Every morning the Caterpillar shows up with his breakfast, which he eats loudly at his desk, and he keeps a bag of chips in his bottom drawer to snack on all afternoon. Behind the apple cores and strawberry tops he does somehow get something done, but people mostly like him because he is the first one to yell out that it is Taco Tuesday. The only way you can get him to come to a meeting is if you promise pizza, and then he always scarfs down way more than his fair share, and everyone notices. (Ages 3–5)

Owl (The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh, by A. A. Milne and Ernest H. Shepard)

 Owl is experienced; he’s the oldest guy in any room. He seems to have connections all over the industry, and he has met his fair share of famous faces. When management brought in the new boss, Owl revealedd that he used to ski with “that young woman’s father.” You try to be nice to Owl, and often times you are impressed — maybe even jealous — of his stories. But when he tells you about his well-regarded Great Uncle So-and-So for the hundredth time, you just want to hide behind the copier. Still, Owl is a fine fellow much of the time, so you will be the first one who offers to pick up the cake for his retirement party. (Ages 8–12)

Flash the sloth (Zootopia Read-Along Storybook & CD), by Disney Book Group and Disney Storybook Art Team)

 Flash Flash Hundred Yard Dash may be great for a laugh (What do you call a three humped camel?), but the only thing he does quickly is bolt for the door at the end of the day. No email is every responded to in a timely manner, and schedules and deadlines seem more like suggestions than mandates. Flash knows he isn’t quick, so he takes his criticism in stride, but he also does nothing to pick up the pace. Sometimes his leisureliness seems admirable, and it might make him the most thorough guy on any project, but when time is of the essence, you don’t want him on your team. (Ages 6–8)

Minecraft Zombie (Diary of a Minecraft Zombie Book 1: A Scare of a Dare, by Herobrine Books)

 This guy is just begging to be let go, and everyone in the office knows it. Every Monday he drags his feet in the door, wearing what looks to be Friday’s clothes. He takes the phrase “business casual” to the most extreme level, and has never bothered to personalize his space. His Facebook page is jam packed with photos from all of his nightly party antics, so it isn’t surprising that he has been caught sleeping next to the fax machine. You’re not even sure what his name is, since he never comes to staff meetings, has never been assigned a project, and has no interest in group trivia nights at the local pizza place. All and all he isn’t a bad guy, since he has no responsibilities, but it is a shame he get the same paycheck as everyone else. (Ages 6–12)

What literary characters do you think would make horrible coworkers?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on March 17, 2016.

6 Things You Should Never Say to a Harry Potter Fan

Harry Potter fans take their love of all things wizarding pretty seriously, so when a Muggle questions their devotion, don’t be surprised if they get a tad prickly. Whether you are a member of the fandom or not, the staying power—and magic—of Harry Potter cannot be denied. And with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child debuting in London this July, the first film in the Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them trilogy hitting theaters this fall, and the opening of the Hollywood Wizarding World of Harry Potter in April, there are now so many more opportunities to fall in love with the Boy Who Lived. For Muggles unsure of how to talk to a Potter fan during the upcoming excitement, we’ve collected are a few phrases that you probably shouldn’t open with.

Aren’t those books for kids?”

Is the suggested age range the Harry Potter series 9-12? Well, sure. But in 2016, many adults proudly read children’s and teen fiction—because it’s great. Harry Potter and the Cursed ChildLady MidnightGlass Sword, and Pax are all current bestsellers that were written for middle schoolers through teens, but are loved by both kids and adults. And it’s not just 2016 titles that have broad appeal; The Hobbit was originally considered children’s literature. Julius Caesar, one of Shakespeare’s classics, is listed as being for readers ages 12-17. What it all boils down to is that age ranges are subjective, even arbitrary: read what you want, and love what you love.

“I thought the Twilight books were better.”

Popular culture will always spawn these sorts of unnecessary rivalries: You can be a Trekkie or a Jedi. You can love Bond or prefer Bourne. Team Twilight; Team Potter. Of course, a little friendly competition never hurt anyone, especially when it gets people passionately discussing books. Having said that, the seven books in the Harry Potter series inspired a love of reading in fans of all ages, the movies became international sensations (and arguably began the trend of turning popular childrens’ series into blockbusters), and the first official Harry Potter story to be produced on stage, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, promises to be a West End phenomenon. Also, Robert Pattinson was in the Harry Potter movies first. You can love Twilight—we do—but you must respect the power of the Potter.

Magic isn’t real.”

Naysayers who have no love for a good fantasy are the first to jump on the No-Maj bandwagon. This debate really depends on how you define magic, though. Think it’s impossible to disappear for hours? Visit other planets without leaving your house? Travel through time? If you’re a reader, chances are you’ve pulled off all three feats in the last week alone. And consider the last time you sat down with a good book before bed and the suddenly realized it was after midnight. If that isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.

“There is no such thing as Hogwarts.”

Aside from the fact that there are now two brick and mortar Hogwarts Schools in the country (anyone else have their tickets to California booked?), Hogwarts is just as real as magic is. In the same way Narnia, The Shire, and Shakespeare’s love-torn Verona exist, so too does Hogwarts. To anyone who has ever needed an escape or an adventure, the wonderful worlds we visit in books are always there. “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it,” and those who believe in Hogwarts know where they can turn. If you can get lost in the feeling of a song, or the universe created by a movie, you can go to Hogwarts just as easily, all without the mess of owl droppings on your doorstep.

I would never want to be a Hufflepuff. Aren’t they supposed to be the lamest?”

Of the four houses at Hogwarts, three have wonderfully distinctive characteristics…and then there is Hufflepuff. Gryffindors are brave, Ravenclaws smart, and Slytherins cunning. Hufflepuffs are the nice ones who happen to live near the kitchens. Given their status as the welcoming house, they tend to be sadly overlooked and get no love in either the books or the movies. For a long time even a casual fan of the series could joke that they wouldn’t want to be in Hufflepuff. But J.K. Rowling has worked to correct this oversight, claiming that 2016 is the year of the Hufflepuffs, what with the rise of Newt Scamander and the film adaptation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Real Hufflepuffs also know that Cedric Diggory and Nymphadora Tonks were Hufflepuffs too, and there are few characters in the series that are as awesome as Tonks. So before you casually indulge in Hufflepuff hate, check yourself.

“The movies were better.”

This is the hardest point to debate in the Potter universe. The eight movies are must-watch material for all fans, and the pending three for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them look terrific. The seven books, and Harry’s textbooks, are of course amazing. And don’t forget the incredible, and undersung, audiobooks. Jim Dale is a read-aloud wizard and everyone should fall under his spell. His performance of Goblet of Fire won a Grammy in 2o01, and he won again in 2008 for Deathly Hallows. No matter which medium you prefer, the bottom line is that there is no BAD Harry Potter.

What else should you never say to a Harry Potter fan?

7 Perfect and Unforgettable Quotes From Children’s Books

Children’s books often stay with us long after we have read them. There is always a quote that rattles around in our brains for years afterwards, or a moment that we just can’t wait to read aloud to our kids. Sometimes it is the quiet turn of phrase, other times it is the call to action, or even just the stick-in-your-brain rhymes, but kids’ books have staying power. Here are a few quotes that have a life far beyond their pages, ones that will stick with us for years.

“Always.” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling)

 If you haven’t read the books, or seen the movies, then I don’t want to spoil this too much, since it is pretty much amazing. Let’s just say it is one of the most unexpected, powerful, jaw-dropping declarations of love in the entire series. Just when you think you understand it all, you are swept away in memory, regret, and love. This simple sentence — it is a single word, really — has so much power to many Potter fans that it has become a popular tattoo, and was a rally cry after Alan Rickman, the fan favorite who portrayed Snape in the movies, passed away. (Ages 9–12)

“You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.” (Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll)

 Like J.K. Rowling does with Dumbledore, we find this line from Lewis Carroll calling for readers to be themselves, no matter how crazy, weird, or wonderful. These differences make us unique, make us who we are, and we should embrace that. One of the beautiful things about children’s literature is that authors seem to say the most challenging things in the most simple way. Embrace your madness. (Ages 8–12)

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” (The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss)

 On Earth Day every year I read The Lorax with my daughter. She doesn’t get the message yet, but she thinks it is hilarious to say “brown barbaloots in their barbaloot suits,” and of course the art is lovely. The message, though, is one we see repeated over and over again, in Facebook posts, social media gifs, and plastered all over Pinterest: do your part to protect the planet. Dr. Seuss can turn silly into poignant like no one else, and this quote is just one of his many moments of magic. (Ages 6–9)

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling)

 It feels like a cheat, including two Harry Potter quotes, but of seven books how could anyone love just one line? In a line that is tantamount to Rowling’s love letter to reading, I think it should remind everyone to appreciate their imaginations. Reading, pretending, loving, so many of these things originate and live in our brains, but they can still grip our hearts and direct our actions. Dumbledore’s last lesson to us, as it was to Harry, is to value what we imagine and we believe. That is a pretty strong statement for a series of books meant for children. (Ages 9–12)

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real.” (The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams)

 The Velveteen Rabbit always hits me right in the feels, without question. When you are struggling with life’s challenges, questioning what you are doing, or trying to explain to kids how important family and love is, just grab Willaims’ classic. Nothing says more about the importance of investing your time, and finding who you are, with those that love you. Go hug someone you love, right now, and just see how real and wonderful that makes you feel. I’ll wait. (Ages 3–7)

”Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere.” (Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd)

 This line, when whispered at bedtime, is magic. For such a small, simple, picture book, it has an amazing power. We have all had this book read to us, and we have all read it to our children, and that in and of itself is astounding. But when you look at the meaning of that quote, the enormity of what it is saying, especially when you are reading it to someone every small…wow. The world is huge, the universe is so much more than us, but for right now everyone is going to bed, and it is ok. (Ages 0–2)

“I guess it simply goes to show that stuff will come and stuff will go. But do we cry? Goodness, NO! We keep on singing.” (Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons, by James Dean)
This musical series is full of great lines, all of them positive and innocent, but there is just something special about Pete and his buttons. It is so easy to get caught up in our belongings, be it a phone or a special stuffed animal, but Pete is right, as always. Let’s not get hung up on our possessions and instead enjoy life, enjoy our surroundings, or, like Pete, enjoy some sun and surf! (Ages 4–7)

What are your favorite quotes to live by from children’s books?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on March 7, 2016.

A Beloved Game Comes to Life on the Page in Poptropica: Mystery of the Map!

Poptropica: Book 1: Mystery of the Map is the first in a new series of graphic novel-style chapter books based on the uber-popular online game of the same name. Author Jack Chabert and illustrator Kory Merritt have taken Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney’s concept of a time-traveling, globetrotting, adventure-gaming world and transformed it into a fun new book series that is quickly going to turn into a must-read. Expect to see Poptropica front and center at the bookstore, as well as in every elementary school kid’s backpack.

Main characters Oliver, Mya, and Jorge begin the story by going on a hot air balloon ride, but soon things go from peaceful to adventurous when they soar out of range and onto an island, where the balloon crashes. The trio quickly realizes that they have been double crossed by the balloon’s pilot, who is on a mysterious quest that involves a magical map. Along the way Oliver, Mya, and Jorge are use their own talents to evade saber tooth tigers, escape Vikings, and explore the ever changing tropical island they are stranded on. With the help of the magical map, which seems to operate like a cell phone, GPS device, and mind reader all in one (who needs Siri anyway?), they work to find the balloon pilot and their only way back home. The story ends on a great cliffhanger, which I won’t spoil, that begs for a sequel — and so will young fans. When kids get done reading (and rereading!) Mystery of the Map, preorders are now open for Poptropica: Book 2: The Lost Expedition

What helps make Poptropica stand out from many other chapter books is its graphic novel style. A mixture of traditional story telling and in-depth comic strip art, graphic novels are the perfect combination of storytelling and visuals. The genre appeals to all ages, from fantastic adult fare like Alan Moore’s superhero thriller Watchmen, to the YA essential Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, which presents a vision of childhood during the Islamic Revolution. These types of book are a worthy alternative to traditional novels and should be part of every home library. For kids who love art and pictures as much as they enjoy stories, younger readers who aren’t quite ready to jump into full chapter books, kids who are just too active to sit and read for long periods, or for the kid who devours books and is looking for the next new thing, graphic novels are a fantastic choice.

With smart, funny characters and beautiful art, the first entry in the Poptropica series will be loved by both kids who are fans of the game (who will be excited to see the universe they already love expanding into print), and those who are brand new to the adventures. And yes, parents are going to love these clever and brave kids (Mya especially is a delight), who face impossible challenges with humor and heart. I can’t wait to see where this series goes — but in the meantime, grab the first book, enjoy some fabulous matching stickers (or more books from Jack Chabert and Kory Merritt), and get ready for some great spring break reading.

Are there Poptropica fans in your house?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on March 1, 2016.

Rob Roberge’s Memoir Liar Offers a Raw and Unfiltered Look at Mental Illness

“You are diagnosed as bipolar with rapid cycling and occasional psychotic episodes,” novelist Rob Roberge is told early in his memoir, Liar. Roberge’s fiction, including the novels More than They Could Chew, and The Cost of Living, and the short story collection Working Backwards from the Worst Moment of My Life, have dealt with depression, addiction, and darkness before, but this time readers are given a searing inside look at the life of a complex and talented man. Roberge is a college professor, plays in a successful band, and helps support his wife who suffers from debilitating pain. However, he is also a recovering drug addict who struggles with mental illness, has strained relationships with nearly everyone, and is terrified of being alone. At turns while reading his memoir you will find yourself wondering how he is still alive, whether everything he chronicles actually happened, and what will happen next.

The second-person narration in Liar gives readers little option but to explore up close what it must to be like to live in Roberge’s shoes. Instead of presenting his story in chronological order, as many memoirs do, everything is recounted in correlating snippets, further underscoring the author’s chaotic thought processes and frequent roller coaster of emotions. Add in drugs, sex, rock ’n’ roll, a stint in jail with Paul Reubens, and AA meetings, and Roberge has created a perfect storm of self destruction meshed with self exploration. Liar isn’t an easy memoir to read, and readers are spared very little, but coping with mental illness or addiction isn’t easy either. Roberge’s fearless look at a life that spirals out of control is all the more compelling because of his unflinching attention to detail.

“Using addicts know how they’re going to feel in five minutes,” Roberge writes. “Mental illness, on the other hand, is the ultimate loss of control.” As he grapples with the prediction that he will lose his memory as a result of the multiple concussions he has suffered, or that his body may not hold up to the years of abuse he has subjected it to, readers will in turn appreciate the dark humor and warped view Roberge brings to things like his hoarder grandmother and his many failed relationships. Along the way there are events that the reader will question (did he really wake up hungover in Canada?), and there are moments that the author himself questions, which raises interesting questions about the art of storytelling and truth. How can we believe memory? Do our pasts dictate our futures? Can we really rise above our mistakes? More than anything, during the thrilling twists and turns (and highs, and lows) of Liar, readers are given the opportunity to take stock of themselves and their own histories.

For a book that deals with so much trauma, Liar is beautifully written and thoughtful. It is a challenging memoir to read, but that is part of its indelible power.

Liar is on sale now.

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on February 24, 2016.

Quiz: Who is Your Ultimate Fictional Valentine?

Real Valentine’s Day dates are often disappointing, which is why when the going gets tough, the tough turn to fiction for a truly satisfying, lasting relationship with someone who will never arrive 30 minutes late to a dinner reservation you made two months in advance, ahem. In any case, our quiz below will help you sort out which fictional paramour you should pick up this February 14.

1. What is your ideal Valentine’s Day date?

 a) A proper meal with serious, earnest conversation.

 b) Whatever you can grab at the local cantina.

 c) You’re not much of a cook, it wasn’t something they taught in school. A nice restaurant with some dancing wouldn’t be too bad.

 d) A big party, with drinks and appetizers passed around on trays.

 e) A night on the couch, with some belly rubs.

2. How do you prefer to spend your free time?

 a) Caring for your family members, or looking out for your dearest friends.

 b) Usually you end up in some far flung corner of your city or town, helping a friend.

 c) In the library.

 d) Watching polo matches, or spending evenings with the best of society.

 e) Out on a walk. With you.

3. Favorite Valentine’s Day candy?

 a) You’ve haven’t much use for such trifles.

 b) Nothing special, sweetheart, but you will take a drink.

 c) A chocolate frog, and then you can share the card with your date.

 d) A box of Conversation Hearts; they are just such a laugh at parties.

 e) Anything in white chocolate, your diet can’t handle the richer stuff.

4. If offered an all expense paid vacation, where would you go?

 a) A long weekend at your estate, to be near only your closest family and friends.

 b) Not the desert. Or anywhere cold. Maybe not the jungle either. Somewhere out on your own seems best.

 c) You would love to use the time to help others, or reading some fantastic new book.

 d) Let’s go everywhere, as long as we can drive, and celebrate, and be happy.

 e) The beach. No, the woods. No, a long car ride. How about the park…

5. What song best describes you?

 a) “Lush Life” by Joey Alexander

 b) ”Smooth Criminal” by Michael Jackson

 c) “Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend

 d) “Young and Beautiful” by Lana Del Rey

 e) “Hound Dog” by Elvis Presley

6. Which reality show would your binge watch?

 a) Again, this type of frivolousness doesn’t have a place in your life.

 b) Deadliest Catch

 c) You’d prefer a book, actually. Maybe some nonfiction.

 d) Real Housewives

 e) Dog Whisperer

7. Perfect Romantic Movie?

 a) Pride and Prejudice. Now there’s a couple that gets it right.

 b) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Come for the danger, stay for the romance (and the danger).

 c) Shakespeare in Love. When it comes to romance, you can’t top The Bard.

 d) Titanic. It isn’t romantic if it ends happily.

 e) Marley & Me. The perfect movie to cuddle up to.

Are you in love yet? Add up those answers, put on something fancy, and head out with your perfect match.

Mostly A’s: Mr. Darcy; Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

 You admire those who lead a proper life, with a hint of sass of thrown in for fun. Your friends and family come first, and you hope to find the same in your true love.

Mostly B’s: Han Solo; Star Wars the Force Awakens, by Alan Dean Foster

 A scruffy rogue who will constantly keep you surprised might just be your soul mate. Travel the world — or worlds — together, either running for your lives, or saving someone else’s.

Mostly C’s: Hermonie Granger; Harry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling

 You spend afternoons in the library, and evenings helping out those less fortunate. Your match always has the best intentions at heart, along with a bit of a rebellious streak.

Mostly D’s: Daisy Buchanan; The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

 Beautiful, frivolous, and out for a good time, Daisy Buchanan will help you see the best in life. There may be some ups and downs, but she is your shining green beacon (with a side of tragedy).

Mostly E’s: Your Dog; Dog Songs: Poems, by Mary Oliver

 What else to you really need besides unconditional love, a few face licks, and a good long walk? A dog is just about the ideal companion, 365 days year.

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on February 10, 2016.

7 Cookbooks to Help You Stick to Your Sugar-Free Resolution

If your New Year’s resolution was to forsake sugar in 2016 and you’ve held on this long, then I applaud you. Making a dietary change like that is a challenge, and holding true for over a month is impressive. But even if you’re like me and slip the occasional candy bar into the cart after a long week, there’s still hope! Staying committed to any diet for the long haul can be daunting, especially when you’re passing the bakery aisle. But don’t cave in yet! Here are a few cookbooks to help inspire some sugar-free, healthy meals that just might bring your resolution all the way into 2017.

I Quit Sugar: Your Complete 8-Week Detox Program and Cookbook, by Sarah Wilson

 When explaining her sugar-free lifestyle, Wilson says, “When I quit sugar I found wellness and the kind of energy and sparkle I had as a kid. I don’t believe in diets or in making eating miserable. This plan and the recipes are designed for lasting wellness.” Her cookbook and meal guide will help jumpstart your life sans sugar, and help you cook and plan for the long haul. The program includes 108 recipes that cover every meal, along with contributions from Gwyneth Paltrow, Curtis Stone, Dr. Robert Lustig, Sarma Melngailis, Joe “the Juicer” Cross, and Angela Liddon.

The 21-Day Sugar Detox Cookbook, by Diane Sanfilippo
As the companion to The 21-Day Sugar Detox (which includes meal plans and over 90 recipes), Sanfilippo’s latest is here to help double your sugar-free cooking repertoire. With recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and even desserts, this book will delight cooks in search of a healthier path. Whether you use it on its own or in conjunction with the 21-day detox plan, you’ll find loads of variety, along with additional information for athletes, pregnant or nursing women, and others who follow limited diets. (The sugar-free ketchup and BBQ sauce recipes alone make this a worthy addition to any kitchen library.)

The Joy of Gluten-Free, Sugar-Free Baking, by Peter Reinhart and Denene Wallace

 Oftentimes when people think of giving up sugar, they worry about missing dessert. Cakes, pastries, cookies, and even breads can be packed with refined sugars; they can also taste amazing. Reinhart and Wallace have put together 80 recipes that really do let you have your cake and eat it, too, all while skipping out on the pounds of sugar the average American eats. No matter your reason for going sugar-free, the recipes presented here, ranging from banana bread to cheddar cheese and pecan crackers to brownies and blondies, make the transition a lot tastier. Pair the baked goods from this book with the meals found in any of the cookbooks listed here, and you’ll never look back.

Thug Kitchen Party Grub: For Social Motherf*ckers, by Thug Kitchen
This sequel to the tasty, funny, and health-focused Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook focuses on larger dishes, things that can be shared, and all the tasty party foods you want to eat but feel guilty about. The desserts may include sugar, but the queso dip, curry tempeh salad, and “worth-the-mess sloppy joes” (all of which are sugar free) will leave you so full and happy you won’t even know what to do with yourself. Like the first book, this one is full of useful tips to help you make your own broths, sauces, almond milk, and other staples (often omitting sugar and saving money). The racy language and unique photography are just added perks that make cooking a bit more fun.

Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat, by Melissa Joulwan

 Like vegan eating, paleo recipes tend to emphasize food that is processed as little as possible, has few additives, and can be found in nature. Not many Paleolithic humans were adding refined sugar to their morning coffee, so this is a great avenue for steak-loving sugar-free dieters to take. With more than 115 recipes, made with zero grains, legumes, soy, sugar, dairy, or alcohol, and an emphasis in planning and preparation, this is a nearly no-fail way to get more sugar-free days under your belt. The author also introduces the idea of “Hot Plates, a mix-and-match approach to combining basic ingredients with spices and seasonings.” If you can master the basics you can eat a huge range of things, with no sugar added.

The Vegan Stoner Cookbook: 100 Easy Vegan Recipes to Munch, by Sarah Conrique, Graham I. Haynes

 This falls in the category of “I want to eat healthy, but I don’t have time.” Most recipes have less than a handful of ingredients, few have any added sugar, and all are tasty. The hilarious illustrations and no-nonsense instructions are an added bonus few cookbooks have. The book may look deceptively small, but with 100 recipes there’s enough to change up your breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack options for nearly a month, on a budget, and with very few processed additions. The deviled potatoes are a must eat, and would be a great party snack in place of the been there, done that, deviled eggs.

The Everything Naturally Sugar-Free Cookbook, by Annie Forsyth, Holly Forsyth, Chelsea Forsyth

 The Everything series really does seem to have a book that covers everything — and they do it well. With a great overview of sugar-free options, from breakfast to dessert, there are plenty of choices to help expand your palate and satisfy some of those cravings. The beauty of this book, and many of the books in this series, is that the recipes are straightforward and cover a wide range of tastes. I frequently turn to The Everything Vegetarian Slow Cooker Cookbook (which also has some sugar-free options) for days when more intensive cooking isn’t in the cards, and each recipe presented is foolproof. If you need to jump start that sugar-free life, or you want more options, start here. You’ll be glad you did.

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on February 9, 2016.

7 Classic Children’s Books that Modern Kids Will Adore

As long as there have been books, there have been parents who can’t wait to share their favorites with their own children. When my brother and I were small, I remember my mom reading her favorite Nancy Drew mysteries to us one chapter at a time, and us begging her to read just one more. What else can a parent ask for than that; the chance to share the gift of a good story and to bond over a classic? (Or, you know, maybe the occasional chance to take a bath without someone knocking on the door.)

The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams and William Nicholson
Originally published in 1922, this ultimate tale of love and hope will show kids the magic in their toys. And it will bring parents to tears. With gorgeous, gentle illustrations and a story that is just as accessible today was it was in the ’20s, this is a bookshelf staple. Kids who are attached to their toys, kids who have to let go of something, and kids who have experienced a lengthy illness will especially find happiness and comfort in Williams’ must-read classic.

The Complete Tales of Winnie-The-Pooh, by A. A. Milne and Ernest H. Shepard
No childhood is complete without Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, and Piglet. The sheer number of revisits, movies, and other related media (including the 2016 Caldecott Medal-winning Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear) that have come from the original publishing of Winnie-The-Pooh are testament enough to the beautiful staying power of the Hundred Acre Woods. Pooh’s charming innocence and naiveté, Eeyore’s grumpiness, and Tigger’s boundless energy all reflect attitudes and emotions that children can strongly relate to. This series began in 1926 in England and has never lost its magic.

The American Boy’s Handy Book, by Daniel C. Beard
The ultimate 1882 handbook for outdoor adventures is a fit for every rough and tumble kid in 2016. The title may say that it was created for boys, but with instructions on how to build and fly kites, go fishing, blow soap bubbles, and track animals, there is a something for all children. Even if you are raising a future outdoor aficionado in a big city, kids will still love to read about all of the possible adventures out in the big wide world. We may not be hunting and trapping today, but our love of nature and adventure hasn’t changed.

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories, by Carolyn Keene
In 1930 publisher Edward Stratemeyer created Nancy Drew, and ever since a series of authors has taken this intrepid detective on countless mysteries under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene. Major female figures have cited Nancy as a role model in their childhood, and critics has applauded the series’ staying power. This early feminist idol, her tenacity, and her brave adventures, is just as exciting for boys, girls, and parents today as she was over 80 years ago.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins, by Richard Atwater, Florence Atwater, and Robert Lawson
Mr. Popper came back recently in a live action movie, but his original story was published in 1938. The tale of a painter, his dreams, and his growing brood of penguins that came to live with his family is an all time classic. Kids of all ages love penguins, that seems to be a universal fact, and everyone loves it when penguins get into mischief. The funny wordplay, the silly situations, and the dreams of Mr. Popper are infectious, and this story will easily become a bedtime favorite among modern children.

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein
If The Velveteen Rabbit doesn’t bring you to tears, then this 1964 classic will. The story is a stunning metaphor for generosity, love, and the power of selflessness, and parents will see themselves on every page. Kids may not be as deeply affected by the metaphor as parents, but they will understand the power of the tree and the amazing transformation it undergoes. This timeless story can also be used to discuss the evolution of fruit trees, the uses of wood, and the cycle of life. Basically, Shel Silverstein is a genius.

Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery, by Deborah Howe, James Howe, and Alan Daniel
This 1979 chapter book was personal favorite of mine when I was a kid, and I can’t wait to read it to my daughter. Chester the cat and Harold the dog have to work together to solve the mystery that is causing the household food to turn white, and contend with the family’s new pet rabbit. The four-legged sleuths will become your young readers’ favorite heroes as they work to get to the bottom of the mystery. The series continues with Howliday Inn, The Celery Stalks at Midnight, and others, so you are absolutely going to have hours of pet detective work ahead of you.

What treasured childhood books are you excited to share with your children?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on February 4, 2016.

6 Books for the Diary of a Wimpy Kid Lover In Your House

Everyone rejoiced when the 10th Diary of a Wimpy Kid novel, Old School, hit shelves last fall. But after speedily devouring that series’ newest title, Wimpy Kid fans were left wanting more — that is, more scathing observations, more loopy humor, and more family hijinks. To tide them over until author Jeff Kinney gives us book 11 (we’re ready any time now!), here are some readalike crowd-pleasers, and a couple of brand new novels with real crossover appeal.

Roller Girl, by Victoria Jamieson
Like the Wimpy Kid books, this coming of age junior high tale (and 2016 Newbery Honor book!) helps middle grade readers embrace, and find the awesome, in the crazy whirlwind their lives have become. The heroine, Astrid, realizes that her passions aren’t the same as that of her elementary school friend anymore, and as she comes to love roller derby she learns who she is, and just how strong she can be. This fantastic new girl power read will help anyone see that being themselves is the best.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate
A giant imaginary cat named Crenshaw helps a boy named Jackson find the courage to overcome challenging times as homelessness looms in his family’s future. As he helps him find beauty and love in the little things, Crenshaw brings Jackson hope, and may just save him and his loved ones. A truly heartwarming story that helps remind us that love and hope are everywhere, and that everyone has value.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by Newt Scamander and J. K. Rowling
Written as if this were one of Harry and Ron’s textbooks from Hogwarts, Fantastic Beasts is filled with clever “handwritten” notes from characters, fabulous descriptions of magical creatures, and wonderful illustrations. As an added bonus, there is a new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Themmovie coming to theaters next fall. Potter fans will love the references, Wimpy Kid fans will dig the illustrations and the funny marginalia, and everyone will be excited when the movie comes out. Get out in front of the excitement early — you won’t be sorry!

Tales from a Not-So-Perfect Pet Sitter (Dork Diaries Series #10) by Rachel Renée Russell
Written in a similar style to the Wimpy Kid series, the diary of self-proclaimed dorky girl Nikki Maxwell will thrill readers as she takes on seven adorable puppies in this newest adventure. With her friends at her side, and her arch-nemesis at her back, Nikki has to keep these puppies out of everyone’s — and she means everyone’s — way. If your reader isn’t up to speed with the series, they can kick things off with a box set of the first three, and then they can dorkify their own diaries! Fans of the series will also be excited to pre-order a copy of the first book in a brand new diary-style series by the same author, The Misadventures of Max Crumbly.

Wonder, by R. J. Palacio
Looking for another story of acceptance and perseverance? Middle grade readers have been flocking to the tale of August Pullman since it was first published in 2012. Auggie is a middle schooler who suffers from a rare craniofacial deformity, but he manages to attend school for the first time thanks to a push from some fantastic adults, and a few new friends who believe in him. Author R.J. Palacio even includes a few Wimpy Kid references in the book — just another reason that fans of one will joyfully fall in love with the other. If your young reader already loves Auggie, pick up Auggie & Me: Three Wonder Stories, a collection of stories centered around the characters from the iconic novel.

The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier and Doug Holgate
Jeff Kinney, the author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, has called The Last Kids on Earth “Terrifyingly fun” — and what bigger seal of approval can a book get for Wimpy Kid fans? It’s perfect for kids who want a humorous introduction to zombies that is more about laughs that thrills. There is also the promise of more books to come, so hang onto your braaains.

What books are on the list for your Wimpy Kid fan?

Originally published at www.barnesandnoble.com on January 29, 2016.

Poetry Reviews: Bad Baby

Bad Baby by Abigail Welhouse
Pages: 28
Publisher: Dancing Girl Press & Studio
Released: 2015

If a book could be a best friend, I’d want this one to be mine. This succinct chapbook is able to create a fully realized personality, one which is wholly enjoyable. With each page readers are introduced to a multidimensional speaker, who is both relatable and as unfathomable as all human beings are.

The title poem shows up first in the collection and establishes the strong, self-reliant, feminist theme. Stating “That’s not a rattle. It’s my scepter./You will obey me or else/I will make a noise/you will never forget,” the final stanza should really be a rally cry for anyone (and everyone) who is looking to make themselves known. Later in the collection “Dawson Gets A Haircut” is a coming of age ode to all 90s babes, saying “I don’t want to relax./I just want to huff ocean./I skipped church in favor of baptism./This is the new holy water.”

Not all of the poems follow this personal journey, or this call to action. Several seem to mirror the way the mind works, with wandering paths that are both tired to the concrete and surreal. “Cows, Mad” and “Q&A” are two examples where, literary, there are times the reader may be lost, but emotionally every word makes sense. Often times this is how the human mind, and heart work; a flowing mix of memories and imagined scenes that form who we are and who we feel.

Of all the poems I can actually see myself framing “Hell Is” and hanging it over my desk. I don’t want to spoil the poem, since I think quoting any of it would pull the beauty out of context. Let’s just say that hell in Welhouse’s world is a scary, caffeine free place. I also would not be supposed to see the closing poem, “Stable,” show up in an ode to Plath collection, given the lovely similarity to the poem “Ariel.”

Basically, hunt down this collection, grab a cup of coffee, and meet your new best friend.

Dog Eared Pages:
1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 11, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 22, 24, 27
Originally published at thenextbestbookblog.blogspot.com on January 27, 2016.