Category Archives: General

merry and happy

gryfflesI have been absent from here for so long it feels strange to be back. Life has run away with me, and along the way there has been reading, but also some contemplating about what the future holds for me and blogging. For now, I just wanted to say Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! We will see what it brings!

Wishing you peace, love, extra thick books, and full plates of cookies this holiday season.


The Elf


Growing up sweet: Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine

rosie sprout

Naturally, my thoughts have shifted in a very Kindergarten direction since I found out that’s what I’ll be teaching next year. My list of Ideas / Things to Figure Out is getting longer by the minute, not to mention my list of picture books I love and want to “do cool things with” next year.

Pretty close to the top of that list is this lovely little treasure: Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine, by Allison Wortche. It is darling. It makes me smile and feel warm and fuzzy, and as a teacher, I can say that it’s a pretty fair representation of life in a typical classroom.

In Rosie’s class, it’s all about Violet. Violet is the fastest, the loudest, the fanciest, the Best. Everything Violet does seems to turn out perfectly, and Violet is not shy about soaking up the limelight. Sweet little Rosie is tired of hearing about it. So when Ms. Willis announces that they will each be growing their own plants in little pots, all of the kids (Rosie included) get ready to see VIolet be the best in the world at gardening. When the first pea sprouts appear, it would seem that Violet’s is off to a speedy start. But when Violet gets the chicken pox, Rosie has to make a choice. Will she sit by and let Violet’s plant wither, or will she do what’s hard but what is kind?

This one could’ve easily turned into a story that was unbelievably sweet and simplistic. I think Rosie’s reaction to Violet is really true to life. Violet drives her crazy, and Rosie quietly stews about it. When she sees Violet’s plant is growing faster than everyone else’s, Rosie dumps soil on top of it. Also, there’s a cute twist at the end that every teacher – and grown up – will smile about, because it’s not a happily ever after ending, it’s a true one. The only thing I wish was different is the fact that the teacher doesn’t really seem to do much in the way of guiding VIolet to become a little more tolerable and sensitive. The teacher comes off as quite passive in the situation. However, since the story is from Rosie’s perspective, perhaps it’s realistic that she wouldn’t necessarily observe her teacher’s response to Violet.

Patrice Barton’s illustrations are just wonderful. They are full of soft tones and have an expressive messiness to them that I just love. Each picture is packed with energy and emotion, just like a classroom full of kids this age really is.  

I am already thinking about how this book could have a place in a unit on plants, and growing things – not to mention growing good kids!

Maybe we could grow wheatgrass eggheads:


(Here’s a post that shows you how – just add googly eyes and you’re done!)

I know this for sure. I plan to pack my class full of adorable, so Rosie Sprout should fit right in.

Rosie Sprout’s Time to Shine is published by Knopf.

I can’t wait to read these!

gryffI promise I won’t be starting off every post with a puppy picture, but c’mon, how could I deny you such an adorable face? He’s a little charmer, that’s for sure. Moving on to All Things Booky.

It’s my March Break from school next week, and I plan to read, read, read (when I’m not training a certain someone to Sit, Down, and Come). There are so many books coming out now or in the next couple of months that I cannot wait to read and I’ve started keeping a list so I don’t forget any of them. What’s on your TBR list?

Here’s a collection of links to reviews of upcoming or brand new titles that you might want to remember too:

According to Reading Rants, Dark Triumph: His Fair Assassins by Robin LaFevers is “way more bloody and fast paced than the first but just as deliciously juicy.” I devoured book one, so this one is probably at the top of my list. Coming in April.

According to Vikki, The Darkness Dwellers by Kirsten Miller should hopefully get the Kiki Strike series onto more people’s radar. I support that. The first two books were such fun. More kids should be reading them. Vikki imagines a movie version would be “like Kick-Ass meets The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants only set in NEW YORK!” Yes please!

A Chair, a Fireplace and a Tea Cozy adored The Madness Underneath: Shades of London, Book Two by Maureen Johnson: “I loved, loved, loved The Madness Underneath. The Name of the Star is like the TV Pilot that gets the gang together and sets up a premise and The Madness Underneath is the episode where it all comes together and sparks fly.” I’m pretty sure that this one will be at the top of my vacation reading list.

Confessions of a Bibliovore thinks that Robin Benway’s latest, Also Known As, is pretty delightful. She promises, “if you’re jonesing for more Gallagher Girls, this should help with that. Breezy, funny, and sweet, this confection of a novel is just right to put a smile on your face.” Sounds like a treat.

I absolutely cannot wait to pick up Lisa Graff’s new Middle Grade title, A Tangle of Knots. Those who know me well know that a book with recipes is sure to get my attention. Welcome to My Tweendom was crazy about it for lots of reasons. Here are a few: “a bake-off, recipes, attempted adoption, archeological crime, a mysterious wordless stranger, a wayward ferret and an in-and-out narrator dressed in a gray suit, and you have A Tangle of Knots.” Sounds a little Polly Horvath-ish in terms of quirkiness.

So those are a few books I’m hankering after at the moment. Reviews to come soon, pinky swear! It’s hard being a new mama 🙂

Happy Friday!

Adorably Odd: Oliver by Birgitta Sif

oliverI loved Birgitta Sif’s new picture book, Oliver, instantly. You know this kind of love. It happens when every little thing about something just feels perfectly right, like finding a new sweater that is exactly the colour you wanted – better even – and it feels super cozy and makes you look dazzling and is locally made and affordable and is machine washable. You see it, and you know it might as well have been created just for you.

Every aspect of this book makes me happy, starting (and ending) with the end pages. The end pages are drawn to look like a wallpapered family portrait gallery, full of small framed pictures, except the pictures are of funny things like a tiny sheep and a single sneaker and a pig with cat eye glasses. You look at them, and you know you are entering the realm of all things adorable and quirky.

“Oliver felt a little bit different.”

This is where the story begins. It’s really a tribute to uniqueness, as odd-but-sweet Oliver, who enjoys living in his own world and adventuring with his puppets, finds that sometimes even someone who is different longs for another person, and being alone can be difficult. In the end, he finds someone who gets him, and who is a little bit different herself. We know it’s not the end, rather the beginning of the best kind of friendship.

The artwork, oh the artwork! I want Birgitta Sif to come to my house and fill up a wall with her work. The pictures have a muted palette and Sif’s style is very fine in places – take a look at the detail in the little puppet’s faces and expressions, and looser, more free, even a little scribbly in others. There’s so much texture and warmth. Amazing.

I plan to give this one to my fella for Valentine’s Day, because we are both “a little different” and so together, we are just right.

Here is the author, being lovely and looking lovely, talking about her book:

Oliver is published by Candlewick Press.


Hello 2013: My word of the year, plus reading resolutions


As soon as I decided to choose a word of the year, I knew what it had to be: love. Love has been on my mind a lot recently, and I’d like to keep it there all year long, to try to live every day with as much love as I can. How’s that for a resolution?

I thought it would be fun to make a few reading resolutions this year, to shake things up a little here at Shelf Elf. I know that they have to be fun ones though, or else they won’t happen. Here’s what I’m thinking:

  1. Read 1 grown up nonfiction book a month. This is very ambitious for me. I am embarrassed at the absence of nonfiction in my life. (Or at least a really long article from a smart magazine. I’m allowed a max of 4 articles, ‘kay?) A girl has to stay brainy.
  2. Reread at least one favourite book. I always say I will, and I almost never do.
  3. Find a new adult mystery series that is addictive and happy-making.
  4. Read 2 classics that have been on my list for a while.
  5. Read a few books recommended by my fella that I wouldn’t normally pick up otherwise. He has good taste, and is a more wide-ranging reader than I am, so I should take advantage of that.

I’m already a few days late, so I’d better get a move on, right? I’m thinking I’ll start with #1, and I can’t think of a better book than this:


(Perhaps I need a sweet sparkly “love” sign, to remind me of my word of the year? If I do, I’ll get one here, from Melinda. She makes adorable banners. We got one for our wedding).

Funny things kids say at the library

I would be lost without my grade 7 and 8 library helpers. Seriously. They are in all ways awesome. Not only do they shelve a kazillion books everyday, even in the Dreaded Dewey section, but they also keep me laughing by saying funny stuff all the time. Here’s a good one from this week.

“Hey Ms Millar?”


“There’s a pattern in these pink books.” (Squinting at pink-themed picture book display)

“Oh really?”

“Almost all of them are about little brats.”

Guess what? She’s right. Publishers take note. Enough with the bratty pink books already. Please.

Penguin’s Middle Grade Halloween Costume Tour & Giveaway

I’m not normally a giveaway girl, but I couldn’t resist jumping in on this fun tour from Penguin. All week long, at various cool blogs (*tooting own horn*), you’ll find not only some of the best middle grade reads from Penguin, but also fun Halloween costume suggestions for book lover. We’re only one week away from Trick or Treat, so it’s the right time for a little inspiration, don’t you think?

Step into some creepy stories this Halloween and become your favorite middle grade character…from the ghoulish undead to mischievous pirates, the costumes are endless. Today, we’re featuring:

Deadweather and Sunrise: The Chronicles of Egg, Book 1 by Geoff Rodkey, a stunning middle-grade debut full of heart, humor, and nonstop action.

It’s tough to be thirteen, especially when somebody’s trying to kill you.

Not that Egg’s life was ever easy, growing up on sweaty, pirate-infested Deadweather Island with no company except an incompetent tutor and a pair of unusually violent siblings who hate his guts. But when Egg’s father hustles their family off on a mysterious errand to fabulously wealthy Sunrise Island, then disappears with the siblings in a freak accident, Egg finds himself a long-term guest at the mansion of the glamorous Pembroke family and their beautiful, sharp-tongued daughter Millicent. Finally, life seems perfect. Until someone tries to throw him off a cliff.

Suddenly, Egg’s running for his life in a bewildering world of cutthroat pirates, villainous businessmen, and strange Native legends. The only people who can help him sort out the mystery of why he’s been marked for death are Millicent and a one-handed, possibly deranged cabin boy. Come along for the ride. You’ll be glad you did.

The Costume:

Impersonate a pirate like Egg this Halloween! With these easy costume ideas, no one will dare try to pillage your candy haul!

1. Grab some old clothing and sew or glue patches onto your pants and elbows.

2. Using eyeliner or face paint, create a “five o’clock shadow” by rubbing it on your chin and cheeks. Pirates don’t have time to shave!

3. Get a big piece of black construction paper and search “Make your own paper pirate hat” on the internet to complete your outfit.

4. Grab a toy parrot, a toy sword, or make a treasure map like the one on so you can navigate the treacherous Trick-or-Treat waters safely!

You can purcase the Chronicles of Egg here: Indiebound or Amazon.

And you should check out the other stops on the tour, for more book and costume recommendations:

Mon 10.22 MundieKids IN A GLASS GRIMMLY
Tues 10.23 Green Bean Teen Queen GUSTAV GLOOM
Wed 10.24 Charlotte’s Library UNDEAD ED
Thurs 10.25 Shelf Elf CHRONICLES OF EGG
Fri 10.26 Bookalicious CREATURE FROM THE 7TH GRADE
Mon 10.29 Book Chic WEREWORLD
Tues 10.30 Books Together BOOKS OF ELSEWHERE

Now… the giveaway! Thanks to Penguin, I’m happy to giveaway a set consisting of each of the books featured throughout the tour, to one lucky winner!

In a Glass Grimmly
The Creature from the 7th Grade
Books of Elsewhere
Gustav Gloom and the People Takers
Undead Ed
Deadweather and Sunrise: Chronicles of Egg

Leave a comment below, including your Halloween costume plan for this year, or perhaps your favourite spooky read for the season, and the winner will be selected on October 31st.

A few cozy books for Fall

After a chilly weekend with lots of leaves blowing about outside, I’m feeling like it’s nearly the time of year when there’s nothing I like more than hanging out at home with my favourite people (and animals) and lots of good things to eat. Speaking of good things to eat, I made these muffins over the weekend, and you should too. I have to share a picture, then I promise we’ll get to book talk.


There’s something particularly cozy about fall, don’t you think? It has me thinking about cozy recipes, cozy sweaters, and cozy books. Also cozy blankets, like this one. (Ah Anthropologie… how I long for you).

I have been compiling a list of cozy books to put at the top of my TBR pile as fall settles in. Here are some of the ones I’m most looking forward to:

What is it about the end of the world that makes me want to cuddle up with a kitten and some hot cider? Weird, huh?

Deserves to be bought for the cover alone.

Supposed to be a little bit like The Graveyard Book with a some steampunk-y flair. Yes, please.

A little Shannon Hale fantasy + a cup of milky chai tea + a pumpkin cinnamon roll = Sunday morning perfection, I’d say.

1920s New York murder mystery, rave reviews, imagined by Libba Bray’s genius brain. I’m in.

Got any cozy book suggestions? Anything that really grabs hold of you and begs you to sit still on the couch for hours and hours wrapped up in a blanket?

Day 29, book 29: The Monsters’ Monster by Patrick McDonnell

Isn’t this exciting? Two picture book reviews in one day! The Elf is on fire! It’s easy to get pumped when I’ve made it all the way to Book 29 in my 30 Days, 30 Picture Books Challenge. (I’ve saved quite the book for my big finish tomorrow, so be sure to pop by).

Today’s title soars right off the charts on the cuteness scale. What else would you expect from the mega-talented, Caldecott Honor winner Patrick McDonnell? I imagine this one will be a favourite all year round, but I couldn’t think of a better book to buy for any little one you know this Halloween.

Grouch, Grump, and little Gloom n’ Doom may be little, but they are pretty serious about being Monsters. They huff and puff and get mad about everything. They smash and crash and bash and say NO a lot. So when they come up with a plan to create the baddest monster ever, you’d expect they’d be pretty good at it. As it turns out, their Monster is the worst monster possible. He is really nice. He’s polite. He likes jelly doughnuts and sunsets. He changes their lives, but not in the way they had expected.

It’s really hard to decide what I like the most about this book. The text is full of funny moments: “Big!” little Gloom squealed. “Bad!!” little Doom squeaked. “MONSTER!!!” they all cheered together. You just want to be reading it out loud to make the most of the jokes. The images are packed with sweet humour too, like when Monster goes all over the castle gently patting the bats and rats and spiders and snakes. In between laughs, the kids might think about the power of kindness, unexpected friendship, and what it means to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. The Monsters’ Monster proves that monsters can be awfully adorable, especially the kind who share their jelly doughnuts.

The Monsters’ Monster is published by Little, Brown.

Day 27, book 27: Toads on Toast by Linda Bailey

There’s nothing better than a good breakfast. I can celebrate any meal of the day, but breakfast is perhaps the best. All breakfast lovers have their perfect brekkie. Mine is a sit-down, knife and fork, sausage and eggs and toast and jam and roasted tomato and bottomless coffee, kind of breakfast. Recently I had all that with sautéed mushrooms and some delish maple baked beans too. Now that was a breakfast.

My ideal breakfast does not involve toads. EVER.

Linda Bailey’s new picture book, Toads on Toast, should make readers consider branching out into new breakfast territory, away from Rice Krispies and PB on toast and oatmeal, all the way to something they might never have considered before: Toad in the Hole.

Fox is tired of his usual recipe repertoire: “Catch a big fat toad. Bring it home. Skin it. Boil it. Eat it.” He needs a change. He finds inspiration at the cookbook store, in their extensive toad section. Apparently small, young, tender toads are where it’s at. One night, he captures some toadlets and brings them home. Just when things are about to get messy, Mamma toad arrives to save her babies and put a stop to Fox’s terrible plan. Mamma teaches Fox a secret family recipe for, you guessed it, Toad in a Hole. At first Fox is skeptical, but in the end, everything turns out deliciously. The book finishes off with a do-it-at-home recipe for Toad in a Hole (no toad required).

I am crazy about the cover. Colin Jack got it absolutely right with this image. Each one of the toadlets has a different expression, from pleading to clueless to terrified. The little details are really funny – one toad’s buck teeth, another’s wee baseball cap, and the bow in one girl toad’s hair. You know just by looking that the story is going to get you laughing. Kids will be hooting before they even make it to the first page, for sure. Those hilarious details continue throughout, particularly when Mamma toad arrives and all the little ones start creating chaos in Fox’s kitchen (buttery food fights, cupboard climbing using pieces of licorice tied together, using a gravy boat for a slide…).

Linda Bailey makes this one just as funny and sweet and kid friendly as her beloved Stanley books. Who knew toads could be so cute? I think I’ve mentioned before that a book gets immediate bonus points for me when it includes a recipe (or a whole stack of them). I like what the story suggests about the power of food to make friends of characters you’d never think could get along, let alone share a meal.

Toads on Toast is a delightfully silly, culinary romp that should, like all the best dishes, get better and better the more times it’s enjoyed. Best served with breakfast.

A final word on the glories of breakfast. Any breakfast fan should pop over to simply breakfast, the beautiful photography blog all about savouring the morning meal.

Toads on Toast is published by Kids Can Press.