Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 The Matchstick Castle


What's the worst fate that can befall you as you get ready to enter middle school? Find out that you will be spending the summer with your uncle and his family in the town of Boring, Illinois. And it lives up the name. Poor Brian is sent to stay with his Uncle Gary, Aunt Jenny, and his cousin Nora while his father is off to Antarctica. It's bad enough that he will be away from home, his brothers, his friends, and the soccer tournament he was training for, but Uncle Gary designs educational software and makes Nora and Brian act as his test subjects. School every day of the summer!

Just when things seem really bleak, Brian and Nora accidentally discover the Matchstick Castle and the van Dash family who live in it. Suddenly they have more adventure than they could ever expect. The house sits on old mining tunnels and caves. The house itself is filled with hidden doorways and strange hallways. There is a ship on the roof (in case of flood), a submarine in the tunnels, and a larger than life family who are all famous explorers, adventurers, writers, etc. When a local city planner has the house condemned and schedules it for demolition, it is time to fight back and defend the castle.

This story is fun in many different ways. There are the wacky characters of the van Dash family who are always digging for lost gold, working on a new novel, trying to domesticate wild boars, and other unusual activities. Brian's despair over being stuck at a computer screen studying all summer is humorous, since we are not the ones trapped in that room listening to the animated Dara and Darrell and their annoying computer-generated voices. And the house itself, the Matchstick Castle, is so full of carrier pigeons, doors that lead nowhere, fire poles, and hammocks that it seems to have been designed by the architects of the The 13-Storey Treehouse.

Great for fans of the Treehouse books (by Andy Griffiths) and similar tales. Highly recommended for middle grade readers who enjoy humorous stories.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 The Mesmerist


It is the time when construction on the London Underground has just begun. Something is stirring up trouble. There is growing tension between the resident Londoners and those who have immigrated to England from foreign lands. A terrible sickness is killing people in the poor quarters of the city. An enemy from the past has reached out, causing Mrs. Grace to fear for the safety of her daughter Jessamine. And in the midst of all this unrest, Jess and her mother have come to London seeking help from a friend named Balthazar. But what can an old college chum of her father's do to protect them?

The Mesmerist is a thrilling mix of historical fiction and urban fantasy. Herring gulls flying over the seaside town of Deal. Charing Cross Station with its circular glass roof. A posh mansion in the West End. A shabby brick house in the East End. Each of the locations is like a window into Great Britain's past full of rag and bone men, ragged boys peddling newspapers, and rich gentry in their glossy carriages. And juxtaposed with signs of the modern age approaching (such as the Underground), there are things of the supernatural realm - ghouls, werewolves, necromancers. 

Readers who have enjoyed stories such as How to Catch a Bogle will find this similar in its dangers, suspense, and the fight between good and evil. There are also the same type of resilient children who choose to face off against the evil forces. Highly recommended for middle grades and up.

I received an advance copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 The Reader (Sea of Ink and Gold #1)


A world with no books. Or, rather, one book - the book. Imagine an entire world where no one knows how to read. Where nothing is recorded in written form. Where the only history is oral, and once a story is no longer told, it is forgotten. What would people in that world do to make sure their names and deeds will be remembered?

But there are those who can "read" other things. A sea captain might read the waves and find his way to the end of the world. A first mate might read the impressions of the ship's timbers and be able to track all activity on board. Others might be able to read an individual, seeing the events in their life that have led them to the present moment. 

And if it was stolen, what would those who had possessed the book do to get it back? Do the ends justify the means? Can terrible things - torture, murder, kidnapping, war - be used to create peace? Do individuals have the power to act counter to what is in the book, could they defy the written word and rewrite their fates?

Questions like all of these, and many more, are tackled in Traci Chee's new fantasy series, Sea of Ink and Gold. In this first book we meet Sefia, Archer, Captain Reed, and many of the other main characters in the tale. And we watch, with the images coming to us through Chee's writing, as we work our way through the pages of The Reader.

Perfect for fans of epic fantasy, with a detailed world, convoluted motivations, and intriguing characters.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 The Adventures of Bubba Jones: Time Traveling Through the Great Smoky Mountains


Author and family hiking expert, Jeff Alt, has created a book series that lets kids explore the history of national parks. Bubba Jones and his family have come to the Great Smoky Mountains to hike and camp. His younger sister, parents, aunt, uncle, cousin, and grandparents have all traveled to the mountains for a family vacation and for Papa Lewis to pass on a family legacy to his grandson. Bubba becomes the keeper of the family journal and the power to travel through time. Yes, you read that correctly, travel through time! 

This special ability is passed to every other generation and is a carefully guarded secret. Using that power, Bubba and his family get to see incredible scenes from the park's past, and even times before the park was founded. Imagine if you could read an historical marker and decide to travel back and see the actual event. The Lewis family visits events like the dedication ceremony of the park and also goes back to see when elk and buffalo roamed the area. They also search for Papa Lewis's cousin Will. Papa hasn't seen him in 40 years, since the camping trip when his grandfather passed the journal and his time travel ability on to Papa Lewis.

Combining the present day adventures of hiking and camping with the historical trips gives the reader a wonderful introduction to the park. My students live within sight of the park, so many of the locations will be very familiar to them - names like Cades Cove, Sugarlands, Clingman's Dome, and Gatlinburg will conjure up personal memories of family trips to those spots. But the additional information about the Cherokee people, early settlers, and efforts to create the park will build on those experiences and generate a greater appreciation for our local heritage.

I would recommend this book to families planning a trip to the park, those who are interested in outdoor stories, or readers who enjoy family stories in general. It would also be easy to build a novel study around this book and combine it with research into the national parks or early American expansion across the Appalachians. The author suggests topics of study in the curriculum guide, as well as providing discussion questions and a bibliography. There is also the added benefit of the title being part of a series; if readers enjoy this book, they can reach for the next one and continue on with Bubba to the next park he explores.

I received a copy of the book from the author for review purposes.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Noah Webster's Fighting Words


How do you write a story about the man who created the first dictionary of American English and make it interesting for young readers? Let him edit the story for you! As author Tracy Maurer explains in the Author's Note, it felt as if Noah was looking over her shoulder while she worked on the book. Readers will have fun with all Noah's editorial notes. He adds details in some of them, pointing out that he pushed for copyright laws or that he taught at several schools after he graduated from Yale. In other comments he suggests that the author delete or rewrite sentences he doesn't like, such as the paragraph that says he didn't take criticism well. The comments will keep young readers eagerly looking for more, and getting an impression of what Webster's personality was like.

Illustrator Mircea Catusanu rose to the challenge of depicting an historical figure in a way that would hold the interest of today's youngsters. She describes her method in the Illustrator's Note and explains the materials she used, including excerpts from "books, newspapers, and Noah's original handwritten letters." This collage approach gives the illustrations a fresh contemporary feel. Details like the students throwing paper wads in class add humor in much the same Noah's editorial remarks add to the text. One of my favorite illustrations is the image of Noah holding a musket. His figure is larger and is superimposed over a background of many colonial figures holding their weapons. But the barrel of Noah's musket is actually a large pen!

The creators of this book have managed to take what could easily have been a boring explanation of the first American Dictionary and made it as easy and entertaining to read as a piece of fiction. For anyone who may worry that the book does not have its facts straight - there are a timeline, list of sources, a selected bibliography, list of primary sources, and suggestions for more information.

Classes studying dictionary skills, famous writers, or the Colonial period of American history could all benefit from reading this delightful account of Noah Webster and his efforts to make American English separate and distinct from the English of Great Britain. Readers who enjoyed Lane Smith's comical John, Paul, George, and Ben, will find this book similarly appealing.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Fall Reading 2016 Canticos: Elefantitos/Little Elephants


Elefantitos is based on a counting rhyme in Spanish about little elephants. The original rhyme in Spanish tells the story of 5 little elephants balancing on a spiderweb. First one elephant, then another, and another climb out onto the web. When the web finally snaps there is a big "Uuuuupa! with the break in the web centered over the large U at the beginning of the word (and over the capital O in the English "Ooooops!"). The English version tells the same story, also in rhyme. The illustrations are filled with pudgy gray elephants and a spider that resembles a fluffy pompom with wiggly eyes. 

Families and teachers looking for bilingual books (English/Spanish), have a new resource in Canticos from Susie Jaramillo. Their unique presentation sets them apart from others in that genre. If you have read others, then you are familiar with the different ways the text is arranged. Sometimes the text is written in one language on one page, then in the other language on the facing page. In other books, the languages alternate lines on the page. Both ways can seem a little overwhelming because you feel that you have to read all the words, and that can mean a lot of repetition. But the Canticos books are put together with an accordion fold that lets you read through the story in one language, then flip it and read back through in the other language. There are also interactive elements like flaps to peek beneath and wheels to spin. The text and illustrations form a recipe for fun and educational books for young readers.

I read an ebook provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Rocket Robinson and the Secret of the Saint


Rocket Robinson, Nuri, and Screech are back for another thrilling adventure. This time they are visiting the beautiful city of Paris when a painting is stolen from the Louvre. It seems strange that with all the priceless artwork to choose from, the thief took a portrait of an obscure saint. Our heroes hear of the theft the morning after it occurs and are upset to learn that Nuri's uncle is the prime suspect in the crime. Despite warnings to stay away from the investigation, the youngsters begin searching for clues to the painting's whereabouts and the identity of the real thief.

Just as in his earlier adventure (Rocket Robinson and the Pharaoh's Fortune), Rocket seems to be a young Indiana Jones in the making. Narrow escapes from armed criminals, scuffles on board a zeppelin, Nazis with sinister intentions, and his interest in antiquities make the comparison almost mandatory. But with the setting and the link to the Knights Templar, this story also has some Robert Langdon vibes. The good professor would be very interested in the iconography of the saint's portrait, the cryptic clues, and the link to a fabled treasure.

Readers will have a hard time putting this down until they reach the end and see what becomes of Rocket, Nuri, Uncle Turk, and the villains. Is there truly a treasure, or is it all a legend? Will the bad guys escape? Will the intrepid police inspector ever believe that Turk is innocent? And will anyone make it home on time for the dinner Mrs. Mahfouz has cooked?

If you haven't encountered Rocket before, don't be afraid to jump right in. You can always go back and read the first book later - this story stands on its own just fine. And once you read one story, you'll be eager for more!

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Journey's End


Wow! A typical summer vacation becomes a magical quest in this wonderful middle grades adventure. Nolie travels from Georgia to visit her father, who is studying and odd phenomenon in Scotland. She thinks it will jut be a chance for the two of them to reconnect after 6 months apart. Instead, she finds herself drawn into helping save the entire town from a curse hundreds of years old, while making some new friends along the way.

Living close to Dollywood and the madness that is the tourist season here in East Tennessee, I suppose I can relate a little to the townsfolk and their reliance on the tourists who come to see the "Boundary." But that commonality can only stretch so far, since we don't have a cursed fog that swallows up boats, people, and even pieces of the town. Nolie's fascination with ghosts and the supernatural is like that of many other who enjoy watching TV shows about paranormal investigators. It seems odd in comparison to her father's focus on science, but at least they are interested in the same thing, even if it is manifested in different ways.

This might have just remained a story of scientific vs. magical world views, except that the author also includes some very real descriptions of what friendship is like during late preteen and early teenage years. Nolie's new friend, Bel, has experienced the loss of her best friend to the new girl at school and has been dreading her summer alone. And both girls meet Albert and have to deal with the awkwardness of boys and girls being friends at that age when everyone seems so aware of gender differences. There is also the tension of parents and children not agreeing on the best way to solve a problem.

The characters are entertaining and at times tug on your heartstrings as you read. (If I say that Alice needs to go soak her head, am I being too judgmental?) I would enjoy seeing them tackle a new quest together, but I can also be satisfied with how things ended.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Happy Mamas Blog Tour 2016


Rhythmic text, warm and colorful illustrations, and the appeal of cute baby animals will draw young readers to this book. Various mamas, both animal and human, are shown in activities with their offspring. Whether it is finding bamboo for a panda cub, a baby elephant spraying water from its trunk, or a child tiptoeing close to see a butterfly, each scene is vibrant and inviting. The mothers in the wild are busy making sure their young are fed, safe, and happy, just as the human mothers are. Penguins slip and slide on the ice, kangaroos and joeys jump about, babies play peekaboo or float rubber ducks in the tub, but they all have happy faces and contented mamas looking on.

The text also takes us through the various times of day, beginning with the dawn, twilight and even into the night with the moon aglow. Ruth Harper's illustrations capture the cool green of the bamboo forest, the frosty blues of the Antarctic ice, and the last shimmers of gold as the sunset fades away. She doesn't overly anthropomorphize the animals, but still shows the care and closeness of mothers and offspring. 

For young readers who are fascinated with baby animals, parents looking for a good bedtime story, or teachers searching for a text to do a compare/contrast lesson, this title fits the bill. This would also make a good mentor text for a writing lesson with plenty of examples of alliteration and descriptive writing. Those looking for diversity in children's books will be pleased to see a variety of ethnic backgrounds pictured in the human families. Whatever use you find for it, this book is sure to please.


Enter to win an autographed 6 picture book prize pack from acclaimed author Kathleen Pelley. The prize pack includes finger puppets, adorable stuffed animals, and Happy Mamas (illustrated by Ruth E. Harper, illustrator of the NY Times best seller The Kissing Hand).

One (1) grand prize winner receives:
Value: $150.00+

Three (3) runner-up prize winners receive:
  • A copy of Happy Mamas autographed by Kathleen Pelley
Value: $14.95

Giveaway begins October 10, 2016, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends November 10, 2016, at 11:59 P.M. PST.

Giveaway open to US and Canadian addresses only.

Prizes and samples provided by Kathleen Pelley.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Written by Kathleen Pelley
Illustrated by Ruth E. Harper
Publisher’s Synopsis: Happy Mamas is a lyrical read aloud that pays tribute to the universal joys of mothering in the animal and in the human kingdoms. Charming illustrations depict all the activities that bring joy to a mama and her baby over the course of a day: feeding her little ones bundles of bamboo shoots, teaching her calf how to trumpet loud a jungle cheer, playing peek a boo, watching her little ones fly from the nest, singing a serenade to the man in the moon, or crooning owly lullabies through the deep dark woods. But as the moon glows and the stars shine, what is it that makes all Mamas from desert to jungle, from forest to field, from land to sea happiest by far?
Mamas and babies everywhere will delight in this happy romp – a perfect ode to Motherhood. Perfect for one on one sharing or for use in the classroom. Ages 3-6 Ages 3-6 | CWLA Press | October 10, 2016 | 978-1587601606
Available Here:

Kathleen Pelley was born in Glasgow, Scotland, but spent most of her childhood summers playing on her grandparents’ farm in Ireland. Her passion for stories stemmed from listening to them on the radio during the BBC children’s story hour. Later, her gentle Irish father fanned the flame even more by feeding her his tales of fairies, leprechauns, and banshees.

So much did Kathleen love stories, that off she went to Edinburgh University and earned a degree in HiSTORY. She didn’t much care for all the facts and dates and numbers, but how she loved the stories of Rasputin, Napoleon, and Bonnie Prince Charlie! One character in particular captured Kathleen’s imagination—Florence Nightingale. After completing her degree, Kathleen studied to become a children’s nurse, but it was a brief and disastrous dalliance. For much as Kathleen loved children, she did not like to see them sick and suffering. However, decades later, Kathleen now sees herself as a kind of a nurse, because she believes that stories can heal the hurts in our hearts.

As a former elementary teacher, Kathleen enjoys sharing her passion with people of all ages. She has been a regular speaker at Regis University on “Nurturing a Passion for Stories,” makes frequent presentations at schools and conferences, and has been telling stories at an inner city elementary school for the past 20 years. She believes that one of the best ways to teach our children empathy is through stories that help them “walk a mile in another man’s moccasins.” When she’s not reading, writing, telling, or listening to stories, Kathleen enjoys knitting, Scottish music, and hiking with her husband and two Golden Retriever dogs along the trails of sunny Colorado.


Ruth is a self-taught English artist who fancies herself as a spiffy writer-in-the-making. She is the illustrator of #1 classic The Kissing Hand and Sassafras, and Happy Mamas is her 3rd book for CWLA. Powered by dark chocolate, she heartily knits stories together with letters, pencils and paintbrushes. She is often snatched up by breezes and colors and pint-sized things like rocks, leaves, shells, bugs, feathers, and creatures. You may also find her gardening, hiking, wildly dancing, and riding her bike really fast in an odd looking helmet. She now breathes easy in Iowa with an adorable husband, a dog, two cats, and six marvelous kids between them (with handfuls of grandbabies!). See her art at www.rutheharper.com.

The Fairview Review is participating in this blog tour in partnership with The Children’s Book Review and Kathleen Pelley. Use the campaign hashtag #HappyMamas and share the fun!

Fall Reading 2016 Goodnight Batcave


Remember reading Goodnight, Moon when you were a young child? Or maybe someone read it to you. The rhythm of the text was comforting and predictable. You could look for each thing that was named and find it in the illustrations. The artwork itself was bright enough to hold your attention, but calming enough to fit in with the bedtime atmosphere.

And how many of you have read a Mad Magazine? A favorite issue comes to mind in which there was a musical spoof of "Star Wars: A New Hope." It featured lyrics like, "Slightly used robots and brains electronic," or "I make my luck in the galaxy." Whatever the subject matter they were poking fun at in a particular issue, the tone was always the same.

Now - combine those two sources of inspiration and you have something like Goodnight Batcave, which manages to spoof that treasured bedtime story and the theme of superhero comics all in one fell swoop. Dave Croatto has created a book that shows Batman quietly getting ready for bedtime, only to have villains invade the Batcave. Now he must defeat them all before he can get a little rest. Items that are mentioned include Bat-chairs, a bat jet, a cape, and a special phone.

Children and adults can enjoy reading this humorous look at superhero life together. Soon they will probably have lines like, "Goodnight cave, goodnight knave, Goodnight crooks while they rant and rave" memorized. Tom Richmond's illustrations make the villains and our hero easily recognizable, while not treading on any DC copyright toes. The bats dangling from the roof, or moving about the cave, resemble tiny gargoyles. Touches such as the reminder "Call Gordon" which is scrawled on the notepad by the phone, or the rug with the reminder "Please remove cape" which is placed at the foot of the stairs, add an extra bit of whimsy and humor. Patented superhero moves such as punching two villains at the same time (one with each fist), or doing a back flip so that Cat Woman's whip catches Harley Quinn instead of Batman will make comic readers feel right at home. 

Whether readers are just beginning a lifelong acquaintance with superheroes, or if they have been loyal fans for years, they will all appreciate the hero worship for which Mad Magazine is famous.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Summer Reading 2016 I Survived the Eruption of Mount St.Helens, 1980

I am very excited that Lauren Tarshis has written an I Survived book with a female lead character. Here is some information she has sent out for fans and readers.

I Survived the Eruption of Mount St. Helens, 1980 (I Survived #14) by [Tarshis, Lauren]
Dear Reader,
Several years ago, I decided to write a few books that I thought my three sons, who were reluctant readers, would really like. I thought of the title I Survived, and initially imagined it would be a series of four books featuring a young person going through disasters from history. I can hardly fathom that six years have gone by and we are about to publish the 15th book in the I Survived series!
The Mount St. Helens story is a fascinating one to me because even though there were warning signs and thousands of earthquakes (yes, thousands) in the days leading up to the disastrous event, the eruption was a true surprise, even to scientists! Most scientists had thought there would be some dramatic warning before it exploded. But that warning never came. One minute the mountain was peaceful, and the next it erupted with the force of a one-megaton nuclear bomb. I placed my main character, 11-year-old Jess Marlowe in the middle of all of that chaos.
Like every book in the series, I learned so much by writing I Survived the Eruption of Mount St. Helens, 1980. I hope you do too!
Thanks for reading,
Lauren Tarshis

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Some Writer! The Story of E.B.White


I can remember my fourth grade teacher reading Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little aloud to us in class. We all looked forward to those quiet times after lunch each day when she would share a few more chapters with us. And my high school English teacher had us each purchase a copy of Strunk and White's Elements of Style to refer to for all our writing assignments. Despite all the enjoyment I have gained from his books over the years, I have never read a biography of White until now. And I am glad that I waited for Melissa Sweet's version, because it was thoroughly enjoyable. 

The biography is accompanied by a wonderful mixture of photos, copies of letters and journal entries, reproductions of original artwork from his books, and collages. It is fascinating to see "En" or "Andy" White's life as he grew from a shy boy to a writer for such well-known publications as The New Yorker. And I was delighted to learn that he had shared an office with another of my favorite writers, James Thurber, as well as working with legendary editor Ursula Nordstrom (check out her letters in Dear Genius). 

Young readers will be amazed when they read that Stuart Little began as a dream Andy had while on a train ride, or that Charlotte's Web grew from observations of life around his own barn. White's note to his editor that, "I would rather wait a year than publish a bad children's book, as I have too much respect for children," should make all his readers sit up and cheer. And it seems that Melissa Sweet has the same outlook, because she has created a book that is appealing and informative without talking down to any children who read it. She has managed to capture the charm and whimsy of E.B. White in this story of his life.

I received an advance copy from the publisher for review purposes.