Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: There's Going to be a Baby by John Burningham

There's Going to Be a Baby

There's Going to be a Baby, published by Candlewick in Sept. 2010
Author: John Burningham
Illustrator: Helen Oxenbury

I was browsing for new books at our Shaker Heights library, and I couldn't believe I hadn't seen this book before. John Burningham has written many great books for children, including a favorite, Hey! Get Off Our Train. Helen Oxenbury is well known for writing and illustrating wonderful picture books and board books for the very young, especially her beloved Tom and Pippo books, for example, Tom and Pippo Go for a Walk.

A collaboration between these two seemed promising, but the true test is to read the book. The cover has a wonderful old-fashioned feel to it, and you simply can't help but fall into the illustrations inside. This is a book rich with illustrations, as a young boy imagines what the baby his mother tells him is coming will be like.

Part of what makes this book different than a number of other books about siblings is that it focuses so much on the imagined baby. The boy asks lots of questions of his mother about what the baby might do or become, but then his imagination takes over. There are pages with no words, but wonderfully warm and comic scenes where the baby cooks pancakes or plants a garden.

I can't recommend this book strongly enough. Small children will delight in it, and parents will be happy to read it again and again.

Five Stars!

See more about There's Going to Be a Baby on
See more about There's Going to Be a Baby on

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Review: The Dog in the Wood by Monika Schröder

The Dog in the Wood

The Dog in the Wood, published by Front Street in Nov. 2009
Author: Monika Schröder

Suggested by a local children's librarian in Shaker Heights (yay, librarians!), this is a book written from a perspective that may seem unusual, even a little uncomfortable to some. Fritz is a ten-year-old boy living in Germany in April 1945 as the Russians move in. His story reminds us that ordinary Germans suffered greatly after the war, and that the aftermath of any conflict can be a scary, confusing time.

The Dog in the Wood is very well written, and will be fascinating to children who are interested in history and different cultures. Fritz should be easy to identify with for the 4-6th graders at whom this is aimed, but parents and teachers should be aware that it might be a good book to read in parallel. Some of the scenes are disturbing, although more because of the disturbing nature of the times than any desire on the author's part to upset. Still, people close to Fritz die, and others are taken away, and that is enough reason to be careful.

That said, the book is worth reading, and would be an excellent book for a 5th or 6th grade teacher to use in a class. I would recommend strongly, but with a degree of caution.

Four out of five stars.

See more about The Dog in the Wood on
See more about The Dog in the Wood on

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

The Mysterious Benedict Society
The Mysterious Benedict Society, published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, Apr. 2007 Author: Trenton Lee Stewart

The Mysterious Benedict Society was recommended to me by Jessica Morales (@JessLMorales), a friend of my daughter. When I got it from the library, I realized that I had seen it before, and it turns out my son read it a couple of years ago. Long story short, I loved this book. It is a wonderfully woven plot with lots of mysteries and clues, all layered on top of some serious issues that many authors would be afraid to tackle. It reminded me a little of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which I assure you is high praise indeed, but even more of a lesser known book by Ellen Raskin, The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel). These are all wonderful books that make kids think, but make the thinking a huge amount of fun.

In The Mysterious Benedict Society, four gifted children find themselves trying to stop a nefarious plot to control people's minds by the conniving Ledroptha Curtain. Fortunately, on their side they have the mysterious Mr. Benedict and his helpers. At every step, they are close to be caught and brainswept by Mr. Curtain and his helpers, the Executives, but the children manage to escape again and again using wits, luck and courage.

Mingled in with the plot are many little clues and mysterious and word plays that would also make this a great book to read again and again. Kids will feel smart as they catch on to the name of the island and other subtle jokes that are not necessary to follow the plot, but make the read endlessly fun.

This book is aimed at grades 5-9, but is entertaining enough to be enjoyed by readers of all ages. I heartily recommend this book.

Five Stars!

More about The Mysterious Benedict Society and sequels on
More about The Mysterious Benedict Society and sequels on

Monday, January 24, 2011

Review: There's a Dragon in the Library by Dianne De Las Casas

 There's a Dragon in the Library

There's a Dragon in the Library, Pelican Publishing, coming out Jan. 29
Author: Dianne De Las Casas

I requested and was sent an electronic pre-release copy of There's a Dragon in the Library.  I curled up in my comfy chair with my cat, Percy, and read him the book aloud. Since my youngest child is fifteen, and since I didn't have a print copy to take in to try out on my pre-school Sunday School class, Percy had to sit in.

Max is visiting the library when he see a very small dragon hatch out of an egg. He tells his mom, but she laughs and says he has a great imagination.  The next week, he finds the dragon again, and it is bigger and hungrier.  In fact, it is nibbling on the books. Max runs and tells his dad, who doesn't believe him either.  Each week, Max finds a bigger, hungrier dragon who is eating more and more books.  Nobody believes him, until the day they can't miss the dragon any more.

In general, I liked this book very much.  Children, especially those 4 to 5 years old, will relate to the way the grownups don't always listen to them. Grownups will relate to the implicit messages woven into the story about caring for your books, and the list of ways for children to take care of their books which is added at the end.  Everybody will enjoy the illustrations which bring the story to life.

I do have two small problems with this book, which prevent me from being completely enthusiastic.  One is that the illustrations so completely fill the pages that there are a few spots where I missed the words.  That can lead to confusion until you catch on.  The second is that while I like the rhyming parts in a picture book, and like the way they sound when read aloud, it sounds a little awkward when Max keeps saying the same thing in language that feels a little unreal for his age.  This may not be a problem since adults are likely to be reading, but it doesn't feel quite right to me.

Overall, I recommend this to parents, teachers and librarians for use with 4-6 year olds.  The message is good, the story is fun, and book works well for either reading aloud or for a child paging through and looking at the illustrations.

Four stars out of five.

See more information about There's a Dragon in the Library on

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Making History (A Little Less) Horrible

The Groovy Greeks: AND The Rotten Romans (Horrible Histories Collections) Awful Egyptians (Horrible Histories)Rotten Rulers (Horrible Histories Special)

Many kids find the subject of History a little intimidating, a lot boring and a whole lot incomprehensible.  Years ago, while on a trip to London, my kids discovered a series that is slowly making its way to the United States - the Horrible Histories by Terry Deary (and others, including Martin Brown).

There are many books in the series, but I have pictured a few of the particularly good ones above. Each book is filled with horrible, gruesome stuff that will appeal to middle grade boys and girls, but they are also packed with history.  My older son was never a huge fan of history, but he loved these books, and I will always remember the day he came back from taking the A.P. European History test laughing because there were a few questions he had known the answer to because he remembered them from the Horrible Histories he had read in middle school.  And yes, he got a 5 (top score) on the Advanced Placement test.

Teachers, parents, librarians: take a look at these books, and make sure they are in your classroom or home or library. They may kindle a love of history which will serve your kids far into their later education, and they are great fun to read as well. (Yes, I've read a dozen or more.)

See more information about Horrible Histories on
See more information about Horrible Histories on

Friday, January 21, 2011

Review: Crush du Jour by Micol Ostow

Crush du Jour (Simon Romantic Comedies)

Crush du Jour, published by Simon Pulse in October 2007
Author: Micol Ostow

Paranormal romance may be at a peak of popularity right now, but it is a relief to know that there are still good contemporary romance novels out there. Micol Ostow has captured a fun and flirty style with Crush du Jour, where the teen angst is played with a light hand, and the mix of romance and restaurants makes for a quick but delicious read.

Laine is an over-achiever, both in school and with a succession of flirtations that never develop into the real thing.  In the summer before her senior year, she swears she will forego guys and concentrate on more important things, but her plans go quickly awry when she gets a job teaching cooking to a bunch of campers, and is teamed with the dreamy Seth.  Her pledge to stay away from boys is sorely tested, but even more so when Seth offers her a job in his family restaurant, Hype.

Laine may excel in other areas, but she is a disaster as a waitress, and her slips and falls are all noted with glee by Callie, a gorgeous honey-haired waitress who has her own plans for the scrumptious Seth. It doesn't seem that things could get any worse, until Laine's mother, a noted food critic, writes a terrible review of Hype.

Laine's troubles and turmoils are all blended together with her love of food, and spiced up by the yummy guys who seem attracted to her despite her awkwardness.  Her mixups and moods make this an entertaining, light read with plenty of laughs and heartache to spread around.

I would recommend this heartily for 11-15 year old girls, but also for anyone who likes a fun, light romance.

Five Stars!

Buy "Crush du Jour" from Amazon

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review Guidelines

5 Stars - I enthusiastically recommend, and encourage you to buy a copy to keep.
4 Stars - I recommend with enthusiasm, but have a few small concerns.
3 Stars - I recommend this book for some readers, but not for everybody.
2 Stars - I can't recommend this book, but know some others may like it.
1 Star - I do not recommend this, and have serious objections to it.

I am committed to giving honest reviews, but you will find very few overly negative reviews here.  If a book would receive fewer than three stars, I am likely to post a review on Amazon or Goodreads, but not here.  My purpose at My Comfy Chair is to find and share books that you and your children will read and enjoy, so I only post reviews here for books I can recommend.

I review books for any age up to early young adult.  See the links at the right hand of the site to help you find the appropriate topics, such as "picture books", "middle grade", "tweens", "teens" and "young adult".  Obviously, the boundaries of these categorizations is fuzzy, and should not be seen as a restriction, but simply a guideline.

If you have a book you would like to submit for review, see the "guidelines link" and read the Submission Guidelines.

Notes on content:

Books for middle grade through teens may contain some scary situations and some romance, but nothing terribly graphic in terms of violence, swearing, drugs or sex.

This is an open and affirming book review site.  I welcome books with characters of various religious, cultural, ethnic and racial backgrounds.  I will happily review books with married characters of the same gender, but will warn readers in case any adults are uncomfortable with such arrangements.

Submission Guidelines

I am happy to review books for any age up to young adult, but aim mostly at younger readers.  Picture books, chapter books, middle grade and early young adult are all fine, but the guiding principle is that these should be safe for parents, grandparents, teachers and librarians to buy, recommend or read aloud.

Books for middle grade and early young adult may contain some scary situations and some romance, but nothing terribly graphic in terms of violence, swearing, drugs or sex.

I am happy to receive review copies in electronic or print form, but I do not guarantee a review here.  While I rate on a five star system, very few books will appear here that receive one or two stars.  I may review those on Amazon or Goodreads or elsewhere, and probably will, but this site is for books I am comfortable recommending.

This is a multicultural, multiracial open and affirming book review site.  I welcome books with characters of various religious backgrounds.  I will happily review books with married characters of the same gender, but will warn readers in case any adults are uncomfortable with such arrangements [note:times change, thankfully].

Please send any submissions to BLanghinrichs (-at-) gmail (-dot-) com

Review: Tom Sawyer and the Ghosts of Summer by Tim Champlin

Tom Sawyer and the Ghosts of Summer

Tom Sawyer and the Ghosts of Summer, published by Pill Hill Press in July 2010
Author: Tim Champlin

I bought Tom Sawyer and the Ghosts of Summer without knowing anything about the author. I stumbled on the book because it was displayed on the publisher's website and the blurb sounded interesting.

I want to be clear from the beginning, this is not a derivative work like the many which fill bookstore today. This is an original story written by someone who clearly loved the Mark Twain books growing up. Tom Sawyer and the Ghosts of Summer is a great, nostalgic adventure story the way they used to be written. The two main characters are boys in the 1950s having the kind of real adventures that boys do, exciting without having to be contrived. While there is time travel involved in part of the book, by the time you get to it, it almost feels like the rest of the boys' imaginative adventures.

This is the sort of book which made me want to start My Comfy Chair.  From a small press, and not available in most libraries and bookstores, it is a wonderful book that deserves to be read.

I can easily see both kids and grownups enjoying this book. Heartily recommended for boys and girls aged 9-12. Buy it for your kids, but don't miss the chance to read it for yourself as well.


Buy 'Tom Sawyer and the Ghosts of Summer' from Amazon

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: The Interdimensional Dumpster by Ray Conner

The Interdimensional Dumpster
Author: Ray Conner

Description: Have you ever wondered if you were meant for greater things than sitting on a couch playing video games? That's how 12 year old Willie Ford felt until that fateful day his parents told him how he was found in a dumpster 10 years ago. The Interdimensional Dumpster follows Willie and his friends as they unknowingly return to that same dumpster. They end up in a strange, yet familiar land and must help save it from an evil king.

A fun, fast read aimed at 9-12 year old boys who like adventures, heroes, video games and dragons.  Will is a fairly ordinary boy who likes video games, especially Peril in Placidia, set in a world with kings and castles and dragons.  But then comes the day his parents tell him how he came to be found in a dumpster, and quickly everything changes.

Before long, Will and his friends find themselves back in that dumpster, and through to a place that feels awfully familiar to the video game playing boy.  Is he inside a game, or is something more mysterious going on?

The story moves quickly, and is sometimes rather obvious and convenient, but it looks like a good book for either reluctant readers who will see themselves in it, or young readers who simply need another good, light book.

I bought this for my Kindle after seeing a mention of it on Twitter.  I recommend it, but suggest that girls or readers of either gender who are more discerning may like a somewhat similarly plotted, but better written,  The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson.

Three stars out of five.

Order from Amazon

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Review: In My Bath by Beth Bence Reinke

In My Bath, published by 4RV Publishing LLC in May of 2010
Author:  Beth Bence Reinke
Illustrator:  Ginger Nielson

I had a surprise in the mailbox today.  4RV Publishing sent me a delightful picture book, In My Bath, about a boy taking a bath and the wonderful adventures he imagines.  I settled back in my comfy chair, and was soon lost in the bright, imaginative illustrations.  The boy in the bath, whose name we never learn,  frolics and plays with his animal friends as he scrubs and floats and dives.  Kids will laugh at the games he plays as he cleans himself and his bath toys.

This book will entrance and entertain 4-8 year olds, as well as their parents, although I do wonder who will clean up the mess after the belly flops and fun are over.  Heartily recommended.  5 STARS

Monday, January 17, 2011


Thank you for stopping by My Comfy Chair.  The place is a bit sparse now, but I soon hope to surround my chair with books and reviews, and perhaps a few stories and poems.  My aim is to keep this family-friendly and child-safe, so while you visit and browse through my books and reviews, you will find nothing more scary than a dragon or giant.

I plan to start with some old favorites, although they may be new to you, but as time goes on, perhaps I'll get the chance to read some upcoming books and share my reviews so you know what to anticipate.

Pardon me while I settle into my comfy chair and read my first book.  I think I'll start with The Interdimensional Dumpster by Ray Connor.  See you soon!

The Interdimensional Dumpster