Sunday, July 23, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Where's Your Hat, Abe Lincoln?


Wonderful basic intro to characters of the Civil War era. President Lincoln cannot find his hat anywhere, and his friends aren't available to help look for it. They are all busy with their own activities - nursing wounded soldiers, giving lectures, etc. But when he finally tracks his hat down, he makes it to Pennsylvania to speak at Gettysburg. Each two-page spread features a different historical figure, including: Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Clara Barton, Sojourner Truth, Ulysses S. Grant, Thaddeus Stevens, and William Seward. On the pages with Grant we also see Robert E. Lee. There are brief biographies of all the characters as well as a timeline of major events from 1845-1881 in the back of the book.

The illustrations show iconic features of the characters - Douglass writing a book, Sojourner Truth's shawl around her shoulders, Grant's uniform and horse, and Tubman with her lantern leading slaves to freedom. Between the images and the brief text for each spread, the book is a quick and easy read - perfect to introduce the historical period, or read just for fun.

I love this book as much as the Ben Franklin title from the series. Everything from the illustrations, to the choice of characters to include, to the back matter makes them great for young history buffs, clever introductions to topics and historical figures in the classroom, and even as mentor texts for students to create their own biographical board books.

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

Friday, July 21, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Tugboat Bill and the River Rescue


Bill the tugboat and Mabel the barge are friends on the Hudson River. The fancier and bigger ships actually insult Mabel, calling her "silly stupid and (gasp!) boring." Even though Mabel and Bill pretend not to hear it, they do. But when Mabel saves a kitten who falls into the river and becomes a hero featured in the newspaper, suddenly those vain ships are wishing they were more like that lowly barge.

This story offers a lesson on appreciating others and about how helping others is a good thing. It could also be used in a lesson on adjectives. The words describing the river, Boris (Bill's sleepy captain), Mabel, and the other ships are great examples to pull from. Of course, the brightly colored illustrations and the successful rescue of the kitten make it a good read-aloud for the very young - especially those already fascinated by boats.

Summer Reading 2017 If I Were a Kangaroo


Fans of Margaret Wise Brown's The Runaway Bunny will feel right at home in this story. A mother tucking her child in for the night tells what she would do if she were various animals at that time of night. A kangaroo would pop her baby in her pocket, while a mother bat would just be waking up to find her baby some dinner. The animals vary from domesticated to wild, land creatures to sea denizens, and something as tiny as spiders to tall giraffes. The habitat and habits of the different animals are reflected in the text and the illustrations.

I should point out that the illustrations are drawings in pen or pencil and some digital coloring combined with ink washes that give each scene a softness perfect for a bedtime story. Also, the spread showing the mother giraffe and her calf is laid out so that readers must turn the book sideways to view it, a clever touch which emphasizes the height of the giraffe. The back matter, titled "Sleepy Animal Notes," has a paragraph on each animal along with another illustration of the mother and young one(s). Animal lovers will enjoy learning that sea otters use kelp to keep their babies from floating away or that squirrels use their tails as blankets or umbrellas.

Great for bedtimes, nap times, or any other quiet story times.

Summer Reading 2017 My Busy Green Garden


A cumulative tale and a science lesson (cleverly camouflaged) come together with detailed illustrations to show the variety of life in a flower garden. Readers are told there is "a surprise in clever disguise" hanging in the garden. That clue will prompt a search through the scene on the page to locate the surprise. Other residents of the garden are introduced; ladybug, honeybee, hummingbird, inchworm, mantis, dragonfly, ants, grasshopper, and chickadee each appear and engage in their usual behavior. At last, the surprise unwraps itself to reveal... ah, that would be telling!

I will say that other creatures such as beetles, snails, and a chipmunk also move about the garden and many beautiful plants and flowers are shown. For a read-aloud in a one-on-one situation there could be plenty of time spent poring over all the tiny details worked into each spread. The back matter has  a closeup of each of the characters in this tale and a description of their habits. Fittingly, the largest of these entries is saved for the "surprise." Whether you are looking for a gift for a budding young naturalist, adding to a classroom unit on gardens, or even looking for a mentor text to use in a lesson on compound words or verbs, this is a choice that will satisfy all those needs.

Summer Reading 2017 Go for Liftoff! How to Train Like an Astronaut


A perfect addition to any collection of space books, or great as a gift for a future astronaut candidate. Dr. Dave Williams of the Canadian Space Agency has written a guide that covers what to expect if a reader hopes to someday become an astronaut. He details everything from physical training, to how many years of school to complete, to what sorts of experiences ASCANs undergo once they are accepted into the program. Plenty of photos of various astronauts working in simulators, during survival training, or on board the ISS make it a fascinating read. There are several books and online resources recommended in the Further Reading section at the end of the book.

I appreciate that Dr. Dave chose to include not only the STEM topics related to space travel, but he also points out the components of personality and attitude that are essential for success. Curiosity, commitment, passion, and resilience are just as important as medical training or piloting skills. This book covers the process clearly enough to give young readers a good idea of what to expect, but does not bog down with minutiae that would make it a boring read.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Hidden Human Computers


At ALA Midwinter 2017, Duchess Harris spoke to audiences about her book and her legacy as the granddaughter of one of NASA's hidden human computers. Growing up with that story in her family, she was inspired to pursue her own academic and career goals. Now she has co-authored this book that tells the story of those African American women who helped make the Space Race possible. Anyone who has seen the movie "Hidden Figures" has an idea of the prejudice and limitations these women had to deal with, and now this title for young readers makes it an accessible piece of history. Besides the details of the various women who are featured in the account, the archival photos make sure that they are not faceless names in a history book. Sidebars hold numerous extra facts and references.

For classes tracing the history of Civil Rights in the US, this is a book that describes the earliest opportunities for education and advancement from the time of the Civil War up to the opening of NASA's Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity in 2015. Back matter includes a timeline, Essential Facts (key figures, events, and their impact on society), a glossary, and a list of additional resources.

Duchess Harris and I (Jan. 2017)

Summer Reading 2017 Everything's Changed (The Top-Secret Diary of Celie Valentine #3)


If you've enjoyed Sternberg's books such as Like Pickle Juice on a Cookie, then you know what to expect. There are plenty of recognizable characters, some of them may even seem to have stepped out of your life and into the book. Celie is dealing with a lot of changes in her own life. Her grandmother's memory is not working well and the family moves to a different apartment so that they will have room for a a nurse to move in and help Granny. The move means a new school, leaving behind her old friends, and trying to make new ones. Unfortunately, one of the friends that Celie makes gets her into a lot of trouble with her sister, her parents...pretty much everyone. Celie will have to decide what is right and wrong and stand up for her beliefs about what makes a good friend.

For those who haven't tried any of the Celie stories yet, the books can be read on their own, or in order - whichever you prefer. No matter how you decide to approach the series, be prepared for some laughs and some moments of sympathy pain. Great realistic fiction for readers moving into chapter books.

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Summer Reading 2017 Thunder Underground


Master writer Jane Yolen has done it again. Her collection of poetry about what can be found underground is entertaining and informative. Everything from basements to underground rivers are explored and explained in various poetic forms. Some of the verses are introduced by quotes from other sources, but most leave it up to the reader to delve in and make connections with the meaning. "Thunder Underground," the title of the book, is also the title of a poem that describes the movement of beetles. Josee Masse's illustrations capture the charm and mystery of the poem's subject matter. On a page that deals with spelunking, we can see salamanders, scorpions, and other cave dwellers scampering just out of the light from an explorer's headlamp. "Corny Conversations" shares the news that corn rootlings communicate, and the picture shows rings like sonar radiating out from the plants. Dinosaur lovers will enjoy the variety of skeletal structures depicted on the pages along with the poem "Notes from Some Old Fossils."

Whether your interest is poetry, science, or a love of all things written by Jane Yolen, this book does not disappoint. Perfect to use as examples of how poetry can reflect nature and scientific topics (pair with Joyce Sidman), or to look at poetic language ("skirls of change: lacings of pipes, snorkeling sewers"), and a great addition to collections in elementary school libraries and classrooms.

I received a copy from the publisher for review purposes.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 The Youngest Marcher


Audrey was a young girl when Mike, Martin Luther King, visited with her family in Birmingham. Listening to the news, hearing the adults talk about all the problems with segregation, Audrey knew she wanted to do something to change things. She became the youngest of the students who participated in the Children's March and were jailed in Birmingham in May 1963. Author Cynthia Levinson was able to speak with Audrey and other marchers, as well as doing other research to prepare her manuscript. Details of the dishes served at her family dinners, the names of stores and ice cream parlors where Audrey wanted to be served equally, and even the name of her teacher make the story come to life. The illustrations show the clothing of the era, the large TV sets, and the signs carried by the marchers, making it easy to imagine Audrey in that time and place.

There are plenty of books about Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks, but there are still many figures from history that need to have their tales shared. Audrey is one of those figures, and now there is this book perfect for elementary school classes and libraries.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Murder, Magic, and What We Wore


If you were a 16-year-old young lady in London in 1818, all you should be worrying about is the social season and whether you have the right gowns for the right occasions. Unfortunately, Annis Whitworth has just received the news that her father is dead and then his lawyer brings the news that all the money from his banking accounts has mysteriously disappeared. Suspecting that her father worked as a spy for the War Department, Annis decides to take up the family trade and use her ability to sew magical glamours to find out who killed her father and where his money went. (BTW - glamours are magical clothing that can disguise someone, even to changing their facial appearance.) If she is lucky, she may even make enough money to prevent her aunt from being hounded by creditors. 

The characters of Annis, her Aunt Cassia, and the redoubtable maid Millie are a pleasure to read about and cheer for. Society of their day may have thought that women were weak and sheltered creatures, but these ladies can use knives, crack ciphers, and mend a ripped seam as well as any male agents. The supporting cast of Miss Spencer (friend and patisserie owner), Mr. Harrington (her father's man of business), and the insufferable society snobs Lord and Lady Prippingforth and their nephew Mr. Hustlesmith, provide plenty of opportunity for our heroine and her allies to use their skills of the verbal, physical, and wardrobe varieties.

A middle grade read-alike for Curtsies and Conspiracies, without the werewolves and vampires, but with magical glamours instead. Annis is sure to become a favorite character and leave readers hoping for a new adventure soon.

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

Summer Reading 2017 Perfecto Pet Show (Bobs and Tweets #2)


In this second of the Bobs and Tweets series, Lou Tweet and Dean Bob are friends and neighbors who attend Bonefish Street School together. As we read, we learn that their families are complete opposites in nature. The Tweets are all neat freaks, while the Bobs are mellow...well, slobs. And the funny thing is that Lou is very loud and messy unlike her family, and Dean is very quiet and neat unlike the rest of the Bobs. (It makes you wonder if the two kids were swapped at the hospital when they were born.) Their characters also have pets with similar outlooks; Lou's cat is outgoing and adventurous, but Dean's dog is shy and doesn't like messes. When their teacher declares a pet talent show, both families offer to help in their own unique ways. Lou and Dean choose to do things on their own, but when disaster strikes on the way to the show, the families have to cooperate despite their differences. Can such opposites really get along well enough to make it to the show on time? 

Obviously this was written with youngsters in mind. The full color illustrations and zany antics will capture the attention of avid and reluctant readers alike. I found the rhyming text a bit much, but it is probably more appealing to the intended audience. Overall it is a good book for those who are transitioning into chapter books but still enjoy the visual interest and support of a heavily illustrated text. Recommended for readers who like school and family stories with plenty of humor.

I won an ARC in a Goodreads giveaway.

Summer Reading 2017 Venturess


In Mechanica we were introduced to a complex world with the kingdoms of Faerie and Esting so different from each other and so intriguing. The folk from the Faerie kingdom are re-imagined in a way that shows them as distinctly nonhuman, however humanoid their appearance can be. The magic of Faerie and the mechanical, gear-driven inventions of Esting are as unlike as their creators. And there is Nicolette, our heroine - intelligent, inventive, and so lonely and mistreated since the deaths of her parents. Our hearts can't help but long for her success and happiness.

Now we have Venturess, the second of Nicolette's adventures. After the events in Mechanica, Nick moves from her childhood home and into the city. She lives near her friends Fin and Caro and has a workshop of her own to make her inventions and sell them. When Fin's father agrees to an attempt to negotiate a peace with Faerie, Nick and Caro climb aboard the airship with Fin and set off for the land across the sea. Incredible sights await them, along with discoveries about Nick's past, but so do danger, treachery, and battle. Can their love and friendship see them through all these hazards and into a future where the two realms are at peace?

The wonderment of all the mechanical gadgets (clockwork and otherwise), and the magic of Faerie will dazzle the imaginations of readers. Familiar characters from the first novel such as Fitz, Bex, Lord Alming, and Mr. Candery appear, along with our trio of heroes and Nick's trusty steed Jules. New personalities include the airship's crew, its captain (Wheelock), and the Faerie ruler Talis. Questions of loyalty, duty, love, friendship, and the meaning of family are all addressed by Nick and her companions, and readers will ponder them as they enjoy the story. After all, every good fairy tale has something to teach us.

I highly recommend this for anyone who enjoys fairy tale reworkings, mixtures of magic and mechanics, and young adults who are brave enough to reach for their dreams.

The publisher was kind enough to supply a galley for me to read and review.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Marti's Song for Freedom


I heard of Jose Marti when I read The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya. Arturo's grandparents loved Marti's poetry and his place in Cuban history. The excerpts that Arturo read within the story made me curious, so when I saw a picture book biography of Marti, I had to read it. The bilingual nature of the text makes sense, since Marti lived in the United States for years during his exile from Cuba, and he helped to make the U.S. and other countries around the world aware of conditions in Cuba and the struggle for independence taking place there. The gouache illustrations depict key scenes from Marti's life - seeing the treatment of slaves in the cane fields, working in the quarry after his arrest, giving speeches, walking in the Catskills during his time in New York, and Battle of Two Rivers where he was killed. But the pictures also show the things about Cuba that he loved so much. The palmas reales, the diversity of Cuba's population, even the iconic metal grill-work decorations on windows and pastel colors on the buildings provide a look at the country he held dear. Readers can also see the beauty of the Catskill Mountains, the street scenes of New York, and Marti writing at his desk. The illustration that Marti himself would treasure most is the crowd celebrating Cuba's independence; there are people waving their hats in the air, playing guitar and drums, even a couple dancing. It is a party he would have been proud to join.

The text works in pieces from Marti's poetry, as well as using images from his poems to bring his passion to life. An afterword and author's note provide additional information, and an excerpt from his Versos Sencillos is included. After finishing this biography, many readers will want to find a full length copy of his poems to read. This is a solid addition to school libraries and could be used in history lessons as well as language arts classes.

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

Summer Reading 2017 Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee!


James VanDerZee is a perfect subject for a picture book, since his love of art and creation of photographic portraits defined his life. The acrylic on canvas illustrations show key scenes from his life in warm colors and also capture samples of his iconic style of photography. In an era when few people owned a camera, James understood its power to tell a story and preserve a memory that would be treasured for a lifetime. The methods James used, such as taking the time to get his subjects to relax and smile naturally for the camera, retouching photos to bring out the best and minimize flaws, and even using photomontage to layer images, set him apart from other photographers. But what made him of special interest to history was his interest in picturing the life of middle class people in Harlem. The Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Harlem on My Mind" exhibit showcased the best of his 75,000 photos and 40 years of the history of Harlem, as well as portraits of celebrities such as Florence Mills and Joe Louis. Historians are fortunate that VanDerZee was present during the Harlem Renaissance to preserve the era on film.

The text and illustrations work well together to show the passion James felt for his art and to explain what set him apart from other photographers of his time. The changing times can be seen in the clothing, setting, and even the aging of VanDerZee himself. The book also includes a bibliography, suggestions for further reading, reproductions of a few of his iconic photos, and even a list of which photos some of the illustrations were based on. This is a wonderful example of a picture book biography and perfect for units on the Harlem Renaissance, artists, or Black History Month.

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

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Sip Tea with Mad Hatter Tour


Enter to win an autographed copy of Sip Tea with Mad Hatter: At KAMP®, by award-winning author Loretta Neff; plus a $25 Visa gift card to buy supplies for your own tea party!
One (1) grand prize winner receives:
  • A copy of Sip Tea with Mad Hatter: At KAMP®, autographed by Loretta Neff
  • A $25 Visa gift card
Two (2) winners receive:
  • A copy of Sip Tea with Mad Hatter: At KAMP®, autographed by Loretta Neff
Giveaway begins June 21, 2017, at 12:01 A.M. PST and ends July 21, 2017, at 11:59 P.M. PST.
Giveaway open to US and international mailing addresses.

Prizes provided by EW Foundation, Inc.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Author Laura Neff has created a kid-friendly guide to etiquette and manners, based on the setting and characters of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Each character offers different advice about being a guest or host at tea parties and other events. For instance, Absolem the caterpillar encourages guests to read their invitation carefully and be sure to dress for the occasion and arrive and leave on time. Alice models how to introduce yourself with confidence, while the Mad Hatter makes guests feel welcome by drawing them into conversations and including them in games. Once readers have finished the book, they will know all about table manners, accepting gifts graciously, and treating others kindly.

The illustrations are full of bold, vibrant colors that transport readers to Wonderland and a realm where a talking Dormouse or Cheshire Cat seem perfectly believable. Signature details such as Alice's blue dress and the Red Queen's grumpy pout make the characters easy to identify for even the youngest readers. At the end of the book there is a final list of all the life skills, as well as definitions of EWF Core Values, a glossary, and even a brief history of the afternoon tea tradition. All of those features should be very helpful to parents and teachers using the book. And everyone should refer to the "Magical Phrases and Words" that are listed - you can never have too many reminders to say please and thank you. For family members giving this book as a gift, there is a pledge for children to sign, promising to "Do well by doing good deeds."

Overall, this is an amusing and innovative way to introduce youngsters to social etiquette, good behavior, and graciousness in any setting. Young readers will be drawn to the colorful Wonderland characters and adults will appreciate the simple advice on being a polite host or guest.

Written by Loretta Neff
Illustrated by Anirban Mitra

Publisher’s Synopsis: Sip Tea with Mad Hatter  makes learning afternoon tea manners fun, meaningful, and most important, memorable. Any adult or child who reads this book will delight in the clever illustrations and correlations of Alice in Wonderland’s characters to the manners advice.

Phrases like Be as cool as a Cheshire cat, Don’t be a mean Red Queen, and My teacup runneth over with gratitude are easy-to-grasp concepts for children.

With the demanding schedules of parents, caregivers, and teachers, the importance of social skills is often overlooked. Learning social skills early, especially during childhood, can shape a child’s character and greatly impact his or her life for the better.
The EW Foundation® (EWF) vision is to teach, inspire, and motivate children to perform spontaneous acts of kindness and consideration. The benefits they receive from simple, good behavior will be both tangible and intangible. Our belief is that children can “do well by doing good deeds.“

The topics covered in this book are part of the EWF KAMP® curriculum – 2015 Promising Practices National Award Recipient by

“Once again, thank you, Loretta Neff, for another well-written and entertaining resource that teaches important life skills.”—The Children’s Book Review

Ages 6-12 | Publisher: EW Publishing | 2017 | ISBN-13: 978-0998555904


Loretta Neff is an award-winning children s book author and the founder of the EW Foundation®, a nonprofit provider of character education programs. Loretta has specialized in character and etiquette education since 1994 with clients ranging from children to Fortune 500 companies.

Loretta’s books are inspired by her love of humanity and desire to share her resources with children who need them most. Through her books and charitable efforts, she hopes to engage young minds and instill the values that can shape and transform their lives in a meaningful and measurable way.

Her first book, award-winning Tame Your Manners, released March 2014, received coveted reviews and has become a bestseller in its genre. Described as Madagascar meets manners, the book continues to charm the hearts of critics and readers alike.

Her second book, Sip Tea with Mad Hatter, is another delightful concept for introducing children to good character and tea manners. The book was inspired by Alice in Wonderland and will challenge kids to be creative and Think outside the rabbit hole.

Based on EW Foundation s KAMP® curriculum, a 2015 and 2016 Promising Practices national award winner, her books emphasize good character and core values while offering an affordable and comprehensive learning solution. Children can enjoy the series at their own pace or share it as a family or class. (For ages 5 12.) Loretta received a BA degree in 1989 with honors and had her sights on the legal profession. But after being accepted to law school at Michigan State University, she never attended, having found her real passion for philanthropic work and the teaching of business and social etiquette. Loretta remains committed to the advancement of numerous charities, societies, and educational foundations.



The Children's Book Review
Crafty Moms Share
Kori at Home
Lille Punkin'
icefairy's Treasure Chest
The Fairview Review
Word Spelunking
Mommy Ramblings
To Read, or Not To Read
Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

The Fairview Review is working in  partnership with The Children’s Book Review and the EW Foundation, Inc. to promote this tour.

Summer Reading 2017 It's Hard to Swim (Ellie the Wienerdog #2)


Ellie, our favorite dachshund, is back in her second book. This time around she tells us that it is hard to swim because she is meant to be on dry land. The first page shows her underwater with her cheeks puffed out from holding her breath. She lists all the things she doesn't have such as fins and scales, and we see her being sent aloft on the plume of water from a whale's blowhole. But all of this is just to let us know what is coming. Her human approaches with a doggie life vest and Ellie leans against the dock with her paw to her forehead like a classic damsel in distress. She imagine that she might simply sink and no one will ever be able to find her. The creatures she pictures in this calm little body of water include fierce looking fish, a seahorse with fangs, a shark with a dinner table and napkin just waiting for a meal, even a fish with a fork. As her human lowers her toward the water she holds her paws to her chattering teeth, then calls out, "GOODBYE! I'm going in !" (Talk about drama.) Soon she is trying out different strokes across and even under the water and having a good time, while smiling fish watch.

Even though Ellie is a dog and not a child, it is still easy to learn from her example. She builds up so many possible dangers in her imagination, then finds out how much fun swimming can be. At the end of the day she is wagging her tail and saying that "if you give it a try, you can do anything you wish!" Those fish that she was so afraid would eat her are now smiling and holding up score cards like Olympic judges to praise her swimming. She even decides that since she learned to swim, maybe she can teach the fish to sit. The scene of Miss Ellie's classroom with the puffer fish upside down, the shark with a bite missing from its desk, and the goldfish beaming as it perches on a chair in its fishbowl helps young readers imagine what would happen if the fish could come onto land to learn a new skill.

Although this story shows Ellie learning to swim, the lesson could easily apply to any new situation that is making someone nervous. She shows that things are not nearly as bad as we imagine them to be, and that once you give something a try you usually find it to be much easier than you thought.

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

Summer Reading 2017 It's Hard to Be Good (Ellie the Wienerdog #1)


Dachshund Ellie with her big brown eyes and wiggly body is trying to be good. In a scene reminiscent of vintage Looney Tunes characters, she has her good and bad selves both trying to influence her. Both halves of her conscience appear in dream bubbles, the naughty side appears among flames and tugs on Ellie's ear to get her attention with a wicked grin. In contrast, the good side is floating among clouds and barking to try and call Ellie away from the bad influence. Ellie says she's only a hound and thinks with her nose. As much as she longs for those words, "What a good dog!" it is hard to resist with "a freshly made sandwich calling." The illustration turns the letters of the word "calling" into slices of bread, ham, lettuce, and mustard, emphasizing the allure of that sandwich. When her "mind starts to spin," we see Ellie's eyes filled with spirals and her ears floating around her head in a psychedelic swirl. Will she be able to fight her way through the haze of fresh ham and earn a treat for being a good girl?

Young readers will find Ellie adorable with her expressive face and dramatic description of how her hound's nose leads her into temptation. It is easy to identify with her and the urge to give in when surrounded by tempting items. When she says that earning praise makes her heart grin, we can actually see a pale purple heart on her chest with a small smile on it. And when she imagines grabbing the sandwich and running off with it, her thought bubble shows an image of herself with the sandwich clasped in her front paws and her back legs running so fast they are a blur. This is a story sure to entertain adults as they help youngsters read and enjoy it. 

Perfect for parents and teachers of young children who are working on learning right from wrong and choosing to do what they know is right. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 DC Super Hero Girls: Summer Olympus


Diana and her friends at Super Hero High are ready for summer break, and everyone has fun plans for their time off. For young Wonder Woman, there is an invitation to spend time with her father's side of the family in Olympus. So Diana and her pal Bumblebee are hanging out with the Olympian gods and demigods when Batgirl, Beast Boy, and Katana come across a mysterious thief who is stealing classic artifacts from museums across Europe. But eventually these story lines will have to merge, because the stolen items all belong to Diana's half-siblings from her father Zeus.

Summer Olympus is a mix of school story, super hero action, and summer adventure. It also features the half-goddess side of Wonder Woman's background. This could be an introduction to mythology, or for readers who already have an interest, it can be a different view of these ancient literary figures. Perhaps the most important theme in the story is friendship. We see different groupings of the characters who choose to spend their vacation together, and interactions between the characters through phone calls and social media. But the power of their "sisterhood" may not be enough to overcome the villains.

Whether you are already interested in the characters, or this is an introduction to them, these stories show these young women (and a few of their male friends), learning to handle their powers and becoming the figures we are more familiar with in their adult personas.

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

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 egg


Kevin Henkes is a favorite author/illustrator for a reason. His 50th book is more of his signature style. A blue, a pink, and a yellow egg hatch, but one egg is "waiting." The little birds from the other eggs come and "listen" to the last egg. Then they "peck-peck-peck" (repeat about 20 times). And when the green egg cracks open, "surprise!" The birds fly away, startled, and the newly hatched baby is sad and alone. Will they come back?

This would be a great book to pair with a story like "The Ugly Duckling" and talk about expectations and how authors can surprise us by having something unexpected happen. It would also be good for talking about making friends, accepting others despite their differences, etc. The way that many of the pages are broken into panels would make it perfect for introducing how to read comics and graphic novels; how one moves from panel to panel and where to start on the page could be easily demonstrated.

Summer Reading 2017 Hug This Book


In a rhythm reminiscent of Green Eggs and Ham, the author reels off all the things you can do with a book. Everything from "You can read this book to a hippo," to "You can kiss and hug and smell this book" is suggested. The ink and paper illustrations are digitally colored and show scenes that look like they are drawn on a chalkboard or cityscapes with faces peeking out of windows. Young readers are liable to laugh out loud at scenes of two kids in the same sweater, or someone asleep under a tented book. My favorite is the final page that suggests, "You can start at the beginning and read it to a friend!"

Friday, June 23, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 You May Already Be a Winner


Olivia is a character that is full of life, which is a funny thing since she begins her story with, "One day I sunk to the bottom of the pool and died." It turns out that she did not die, but she does have very vivid daydreams. The daydreams are a way to escape from the unpleasant parts of her life, things like having to stay home from school and watch Berk, cleaning the trailer and fixing dinner because her mom comes home too tired to do it, or writing emails to her father that are never answered. Olivia, her mother, and her sister Berkeley live in Sunny Pines, "a trailer park attached to a KOA." Olivia becomes determined to offer Berk something better, so she enters online contests, as many as she can find. The sweepstakes entries are another coping mechanism to deal with missing her father, the loss of her best friend, having to stay home from school, and all the other negative circumstances in her life.

Along with Olivia, we see her neighbors and learn their stories, too. We also meet her eccentric friend, Bart. Can he really be an agent for the FBI doing surveillance in Sunny Pines? That is only one question we try to find the answer to as the story unfolds. We also wonder if her father is really off helping the rangers in Bryce Canyon and when child & family services will intervene in their lives. Sixth graders can't just stop coming to school without local agencies getting involved. And we wonder, just as Olivia does, what will happen when their situation is discovered.

The setting and characters are full of realistic details, and we can recognize how easily a family could wind up in the same condition as Olivia's. We laugh at her daydreams of heroically fighting fires or receiving the kiss of life from the life guard, but we also understand that we are laughing to keep from crying over her life. This is a strong piece of realistic fiction that showcases a memorable character. Fans of See You in the Cosmos might enjoy Olivia's tale.

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

Friday, June 16, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Max and Bird


Rejoice - Max is back! This time Max has a new friend, Bird. They have a problem, because Max is a kitten and kittens chase and eat birds. Max thinks this sounds like a good plan, but Bird points out that "friends don't eat each other up!" This prompts Max to think things over. After some thought, they agree to help each other, because that is what friends do. I love the way Max and Bird head to the library when they have a question. Bird tells Max, "Libraries know everything." The scenes of the friends looking at the shelves and reading together in a cozy armchair surrounded by books will make you want to rush to the nearest library and collect a stack of your own reading material.

As I've mentioned before, the illustrations of Max in his books are wonderful. So much personality is packed into such a tiny body that it nearly bursts off the page. Bird with his little wings on his feathery hips lectures Max on being a friend and we can feel the force of his argument. The images of both friends flapping their arms/wings as hard as they can, eyes squeezed tight in concentration and a result of "Zilch" will have everyone laughing. But my favorite would have to be the two friends curled up asleep together and both dreaming of flying - Bird winging across the sky with Max right beside him in a superhero cape.

If you are looking for friendship stories (unlikely friends), stories of learning a new skill, or stories of perseverance, then you need a copy of Max and Bird. Of course, all those of us who are already fans of Max need one, too. Highly recommended.

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

Summer Reading 2017 Castle in the Stars

Castle in the Stars: The Space Race of 1869- Book 1 (Castle in the Stars, #1)

A motherless boy. An accidental journey. An isolated king with a hobby others don't understand. All of these elements have played a part in other stories, but they combine to form the basis of Castle in the Stars

Seraphin's mother, Claire, was determined to uncover the secret of aether. She went aloft in a balloon an incredible 11,000 meters into the atmosphere, but never returned. Now a year has passed, and her logbook has been found by none other than King Ludwig of Bavaria, who is also interested in the possibilities of aether. Before they even reach Bavaria Seraphin and his father realize there is some sort of plot going on. As the story unfolds the reader learns that someone plans to sabotage the king, his experiments, or both. 

The book is done in gorgeous watercolor illustrations with the feel of a Jules Verne adventure. The setting is obviously our world in 1869, but an alternate history with a bit of steampunk vibe. The characters are easy to distinguish by their appearance and their personalities. Seraphin is a fair-haired young boy, idealistic, and still devoted to his mother. His father is a balding, austere engineer who is a strict taskmaster. And the individuals they meet in Bavaria are either loyal to the king or plotting against him, but it takes time to figure out whose side everyone is on.

The action is full of dangerous balloon ascents, explosions, chases, near escapes, and humorous accidents. And the ending will leave everyone eagerly waiting the next volume to see what happens next. 

If you enjoy steampunk, alternate history, or adventures like the writings of Jules Verne, then you need to pick up a copy of Castle in the Stars. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Goodnight, Lab: A Scientific Parody


Chris Ferrie, author of the Baby University series, now takes on a classic. Goodnight Moon gets an update with a scientific twist. A young female scientist is in the lab surrounded by items like a thermometer, a laser, and a portrait of Einstein. Slowly, more items are named and then as we reach the halfway point of the book, we begin to tell all the objects "goodnight." Like the original, the setting has green walls and a red floor, but there are no bears or chairs, n mittens or kittens. Instead of a lady whispering "hush," we have a grumpy old professor shouting "publish." The book follows the pattern of Goodnight Moon in its wording. It also limits the objects to what would be found in a lab, just as the original included objects from a child's bedroom or nursery. That is why we see things like tanks of liquid nitrogen or lab coats in the illustrations.

With the current awareness of the need for more diverse characters in books, having a young African American female as the protagonist is a welcome sight. From the perspective of STEM teachers, it is also great to see someone from such underrepresented groups happily working in a science lab. No attention is drawn to the gender or racial/ethnic background of the character, but the visual representation in that setting speaks loud and clear to those of us looking for such things.

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

Summer Reading 2017 From Ant to Eagle


This book is an excellent work of realistic fiction. It portrays the relationship between siblings very well, capturing the push and pull of having a brother to play with, yet also wanting time to hang out with friends of one's own. Calvin, the older brother, is eleven and bored over summer break. His younger brother Sammy is only six and can't do many of the things Calvin can. But Calvin has created a game with challenges that he makes up and Sammy has to complete to gain a level. Sammy started at Ant level, but wants to attain Eagle just like Calvin. Even with such entertainment available, it's understandable that when Calvin makes friends with a new girl from church, he wants to have fun without Sammy around all the time. When the family realizes Sammy is very ill, then Calvin begins to feel guilty over ignoring him all summer when he wasn't busy sending him on missions like spraying a bees nest to earn another level. And Cal's friend Aleta has her own guilty feelings to deal with over something from her family's past.

The characters really come to life in this story - the older brother annoyed by a younger tag-along; the new girl who captures the boy's attention; the younger brother with a case of hero worship for his sibling; the parents stressed by their child's illness. Readers can easily picture people they know in similar situations. Who hasn't hear siblings whine, "Do I have to play with him?" And many readers have probably has the experience of meeting a new kid at school, or in the neighborhood and being intrigued by the novelty of making a new friend. The saddest part is that some readers may also have firsthand knowledge of being in the hospital with a family member who is undergoing extensive tests. The portrayal of how each person within Calvin's family deals with the stress of the medical situation is heartrendingly real and may cause some tears among readers.

Recommended for middle grade readers who enjoy realistic fiction centered around family and friendship, and who don't mind some sadness and scenes that will bring out intense emotions. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.