Saturday, December 31, 2016

Winter Reading 2017 One to Ten: Squirrels' Bad Day


Besides the "If You Were Me" series that introduces young readers to countries around the world, and the entertaining Captain No Beard stories, Carole P. Roman also writes books that help children learn important coping skills. In One to Ten, readers see Squirrel devastated because she drops all the acorns she has gathered. When she acts as if it is the end of the world, her friends help her to put things into perspective. They talk through examples of other situations and help each other rate them on a scale of one to ten. By doing this, Squirrel and the others demonstrate how it is done and give children a great tool to use when they are facing a negative situation.

Perfect for parents or teachers trying to help children deal with disappointments or worries. Along with the supportive friends in the story, the illustrations also create a comforting atmosphere with their warm colors and scenes of friendship. Highly recommended for preschool and up.

I received a copy from the author for review purposes.

Winter Reading 2017 If You Were Me and Lived in...Israel


The "If You Were Me and Lived in... " series introduces young readers to countries around the world through the eyes of children. The book on Israel is the latest addition to the titles available. Descriptions of the shouk (market place), and visits to the Dead Sea are described, as are major cities such as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Common names chosen for boys or girls, and the nicknames for mommy and daddy are also introduced. Favorite foods, sports, and games are described. There is also a description of the holiday Purim and its historical heroine, Queen Esther. In the back is a glossary/pronunciation guide for the Hebrew words such as biet safer, glida, and shekels. 

Along with the everyday details of home, school, and pastimes, there are other facts about the country and its history. Many readers may not be aware that Israel has its own martial art form called Krav Maga. And they may be surprised to learn that four different religions consider it their Holy Land. (Since this is meant for younger students, the conflicts that have arisen over the years are not included.) Books such as this are great as a first introduction for elementary school students to the various cultures around the world. Teachers and librarians will find it handy to have the entire set on their shelves. 

I received a copy from the author for review purposes.

Winter Reading 2017 Frontier Grit


The introduction offers a definition of the term frontier - "a place where rules are still being worked out and negotiated - it is space available to anyone, not only the powerful players of the past." So Monson has taken twelve women from various backgrounds who all were a part of the westward frontier of the United States during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Rather than focusing on men, from any ethnic or cultural group, she chose a variety of frontierswomen who did everything from running a laundry, to being a doctor, writing novels, running hotels, even driving a stage coach.

Each section discusses one of these women, sharing information about where she was born, to why she traveled west, and where her life ended. The highs and lows of each life are described, and many of the accomplishments will leave modern readers astonished at how much could be done with so little. We live in a time of plentiful resources and opportunities, and young readers will be amazed time and again by these amazing pioneers. A helpful aspect of the way the information is presented is that the author reserves her own reactions and interpretations for a final few paragraphs at the end of each biography. Readers have the chance to from their own opinions before reading the author's, and then they can decide if they agree or disagree.

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

Friday, December 23, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Return to the Secret Garden


If you've ever read Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, you will recognize the setting immediately. But author Holy Webb also captures the feeling of the first book - the prickly orphan girl who has been brought to Misselthwaite, the grumpy boy who lives there and resents having to share his home, and the incredible secret garden behind the manor house. For those who are not familiar with the original story, this book does just as well as a stand alone, so don't worry.  

It is the eve of World War II and the children of London are being evacuated to the countryside to protect them from the German bombs that everyone is expecting to be dropped on the city. The twenty children at the Craven Home for Orphaned Children are all bundled up and sent off on a train to stay at Misselthwaite, the ancestral home of the Craven family. While dusting her room, one of the orphans, Emmie, finds some old diaries in a drawer and begins to read them. She learns of another little girl who was an orphan sent to Misselthwaite years ago, and how she discovered a forgotten garden and brought it back to life. Finding the garden becomes a mission for Emmie, as does finding out who is making the crying sounds she hears at night. Is there a ghost in the manor? What she learns about gardens and friendship helps Emmie to give up some of her prickliness and may even let her feel at home for the first time in her life.

This book is an excellent homage to the original story. It stays true to the setting and characters and takes them years forward in time to mingle with a new generation. The way the two stories are intertwined through the diaries and the overlap of the characters makes it feel like a homecoming to readers of the first book and will entice newcomers to reach for the original once they finish Emmie's adventure.

Readers of historical fiction, particularly if they are interested in the period around WWII, or about the Blitz in particular, will find this a good choice. Details like gas masks, rationing, and bomb shelters reflect the experience of wartime London. The way in which the boys from the orphanage find some binoculars to watch the planes fly overhead and learn to identify the different types of aircraft is another realistic note.

Highly recommended for middle grades (and up).

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 See You in the Cosmos


There have been a lot of books written through letters, emails, situation reports - but this is the first I have read that is written in podcasts. Author Jack Cheng says that he loves writing dialogue, so choosing to write the story in this way allowed him to write almost entirely in dialogue. Protagonist Alex is an eleven-year-old (but at least thirteen in responsibility years), who travels to a large rocket festival with hopes to launch a rocket into space carrying a golden iPod (to imitate his hero Carl Sagan's Golden Record). Along the way he meets lots of online friends, makes new friends, and even finds some unexpected things about his own family. 

Alex is a very self-sufficient tween. He does the shopping and cooking for himself and his mom, figures out how to travel to the rocket festival, and has even found a small job at a local gas station. Despite all the responsibility of caring for his mom, he hasn't lost his faith in the universe and wants to follow in his hero's footsteps and always search for the truth. Looking at the world from the viewpoint of such a highly intelligent, curious, and affectionate child makes the reader see things in a new way. 

Something Alex says really sums up everything he (and we), learn from his journey. "What if the times when we feel love and act brave and tell the truth are all the times when we're four-dimensional, the times we're as big and everywhere as the cosmos, the times when we remember, like, REALLY remember, really KNOW, that we're made of starstuff and we're human beings from the planet Earth..." We can all use a reminder now and then that we are made of starstuff.

Recommended for middle grades and up. Great for readers who enjoy realistic fiction with great characters, humorous moments, and times when your heart feels a direct connection to the action.

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

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Kate the Great: Winner Takes All


Kate is a wonderful and perfectly normal 5th grader. She struggles with balancing two best friends. Worries over basketball tryouts. Has a hard time keeping her older sister's secret about a boyfriend. Has to overcome her nervousness about meeting an elderly neighbor. She also has great parents, funny sisters, and a dog named Molly (who's a boy). 

For readers who enjoy school and family stories with characters who are dealing with real-life situations, Kate is a wonderful new protagonist. Whether she is dealing with homework, scout service projects, getting her ears pierced, or having an argument with a friend - her reactions are entertaining without losing their authenticity.

Great for middle grade students and fans of books like How to Outrun a Crocodile If Your Shoes Are Untied.

I received a copy for review purposes.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Fall Reading 2016 Rebel Genius


DiMartino has created a fantasy world in which artists have a Genius, an actual physical animal like the daemons in The Golden Compass. The ruler of the land is a tyrant who has made it illegal for anyone to have a Genius and has seized and destroyed all but her own. The artists who lose their companions become Lost Souls, eventually going mad or wasting away. But there are a few children who have a Genius and live in hiding. They undertake a dangerous quest to find the Creator's Sacred Tools, the artist's tools used to create the world, before Queen Nerezza can claim them and use them to remake the world as she chooses. 

As in most fantasy adventures, there are villains, a quest, and young heroes who are still learning what they are capable of. Just imagine - a world where artists can manifest physical forces with the power of their minds, drawing forms of Sacred Geometry to create defenses and attacks. The pen truly is mightier than the sword in this case. The children all have different backgrounds, and there are boys and girls in the group so that readers of both genders feel included. A mix of danger, adventure, personal growth, and even a little mysticism about the Wellspring of creativity all come together to make an entertaining and enjoyable tale. There could easily be more books featuring these characters.

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