The Gauntlet

  • The Gauntlet
  • written by Karuna Riazi
  • published by Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster (2017)
  • Roar Score: 3/5

“Win and destroy the game, lose and be stuck in it forever.” Descriptions of Karuna Riazi’s debut novel The Gauntlet will naturally draw comparisons to Chris Van Allsburg’s classic Jumanji, which is only to be expected. Both are about board games that magically trap players in a dangerous, high-stakes world created within the confines of the game.

Riazi’s book, though, is free to explore the ramifications of what that experience might really be like – something Van Allsburg’s picture book couldn’t do in as much depth with a mere 32 pages.

Farah Mirza is 12 years old, and games are a standard in her family. But when a mysterious board game shows up during her birthday party, she assumes it’s a gift from her aunt. The Gauntlet of Blood and Sand.

Something seems a little…off about it, but she and her friends decide to crack it open and give it a go. And that’s when things start to go south.

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Amina’s Voice

  • Amina’s Voice
  • written by Hena Khan
  • published by Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster (2017)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

Amina has always been a shy kid. She does her own thing, is content to stay out of the spotlight, and stays out of trouble.

But now she’s in middle school. And of course, all bets are off. Especially when it seems like absolutely everything around her is undergoing massive change – change she can’t control.

On top of typical middle school struggles, Amina is facing several unexpected challenges that rock her world.

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  • Float
  • illustrated by Daniel Miyares
  • published by Simon & Schuster (2015)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

A boy. A boat. A rainy day. An adventure.

Wordless picture books are wondrous things. Indeed, any fan of David Wiesner, Aaron Becker, or Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse knows just how powerful they can be.

Float is a story about creativity, told on a few different levels. It begins with a boy making a paper boat on a rainy day. Puddles in the street provide the perfect place to sail, and all is right with the world.

The water, though, seems to have a mind of its own, and it starts to carry the boat away. And then it becomes a race against the current as the boy tries to catch up to his boat.

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Billy’s Booger: A Memoir (Sorta)


  • Billy’s Booger: A Memoir (Sorta)
  • written and illustrated by William Joyce
  • published by Atheneum Books (Simon & Schuster) (2015)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

This hilarious picture book became an instant favorite in my house. With that title, how could it not? Billy’s Booger is about a young imaginative boy named Billy who has a hard time paying attention at school and whose imagination is always getting him into trouble. Until he enters a book contest and channels that creative energy into his very own book: Billy’s Booger: The Memoir of a Little Green Nose Buddy.

Best title ever, by the way.

The art here is phenomenal, and the story is at once charming and laugh-out-loud funny. None of this should come as a surprise, since William Joyce won an Academy Award (Best Animated Short Film) for his art and storytelling on The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore.

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Lizard from the Park


  • Lizard from the Park
  • written and illustrated by Mark Pett
  • published by Simon & Schuster (2015)
  • Roar Score: 4/5

The story of a boy and an egg, which turns out to be a lizard, which turns out to be much more. What’s not to love? The latest from “authorstrator” Mark Pett, Lizard from the Park is a delightful tale about imagination and responsibility.

Most days, Leonard walks home from school by himself. One day, though, he decides to cut through the park. While there, he stumbles upon a mysterious egg and – like any good inquisitive kid – he takes it home. Where he plays with it all afternoon and cuddles up to it at night.

That’s a bit weird, I’ll grant you. And my kids thought so too, as they broke out in a fit of giggles when they saw Leonard playing dress-up with an egg. But I’m certainly not one to knock weirdness.

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…and Nick


  • …and Nick
  • written by Emily Gore
  • illustrated by Leonid Gore
  • published by Atheneum Books / Simon & Schuster (2015)
  • Roar Score: 5/5

Once in a while, a book comes along that touches you before the very first word. Sometimes, the cover design enchants you. Sometimes, a title is magically worded in such a way as to draw you in. Other times, it’s something unexpected.

…and Nick, from father-and-daughter duo Emily and Leonid Gore, touched my heart from the most unexpected of places.

The copyright page.

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5 Questions with Andy Runton


(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of 5 Questions with a 5-Year-Old. Today, Zoey chats with Andy Runton, creator of the Owly comics.

If you’re not familiar with the Owly books….first of all, shame on you! Second of all, you’re in for a real treat. They’re a blast of adorable.

They’re (mostly) wordless graphic novels that focus on a little owl with huge eyes and the adventures he has with his friends–mostly his friend Wormy. The stories rely on expressions and symbols for the narrative, which make them absolutely perfect for the youngest readers.

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5 Questions with Judith Viorst

Judith Viorst

(previous interviews in this series can be found here.)

Welcome to another installment of 5 Questions with a 5-Year-Old. Today, Zoey chats with Judith Viorst, the legendary children’s author who wrote–among many many other books–Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.

Zoey had the opportunity to sit and chat with Ms. Viorst during her appearance at this year’s National Book Festival in Washington, DC.

She prepared for her interview by voraciously reading (i.e., listening to me read) nearly a dozen of Judith Viorst’s books, each and every one of which she loved. She was already familiar with the Alexander books–particularly the original, since I still have my childhood copy and have read it to her numerous times before.

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