Monday, January 23, 2017

Winter Reading 2017 The Dragon Hunters


A rainy day. Two siblings. Their beloved dog. And...a dragon? Yes, Flynn and Paddy and their chocolate lab, Coco, are stuck inside due to bad weather. But when Coco is sent outside, she is carried off by a dragon while the boys helplessly watch through the window. Mom doesn't believe them, so the boys have to stage a rescue themselves. Can two small boys really vanquish a mythical beast and retrieve Coco?

James Russell's jaunty rhyming text swoops us up and carries us into the story just as easily as the dragon snatched poor Coco. Parents and teachers will be pleased to see words such as wondrous, brandishing, fearsome, and scampered. Young readers will be expanding their vocabularies while they delight in the story. But there is also a great message in their quest to rescue Coco, "...never underestimate a boy's ability." The brothers may be smaller and younger than the dragon, but they have their own skills.

Link Choi's illustrations bring the story to vibrant life. Full color artwork captures moments such as Paddy's cheek mashed against the window glass as he stares open-mouthed at the dragon flying out of sight, or the brothers gathering their supplies by night. There are also pencil sketches showing Flynn tugging Paddy's hat into place, or giving him a hand up the steep slope to the dragon's lair. My favorite scene is the last double-spread showing the results of the boys' efforts (I can't tell you what that is without spoiling things).

But beyond all that, there is even more. Using the AR Reads app, readers of all ages may explore the world of Flynn and Paddy's island in interactive 3D. The large map found in the endpapers of the book comes alive with motion and sound. The giggles of the boys, the whoosh of the dragon's flames, the roaring of a waterfall, all drift out of the scene. And we can see the dragon swoop in and out of view, the boys running down the mountain from the cave, or the flickering on the Ridge of Rising Flames. There is a video demonstration available at

Young readers who have enjoyed tales such as Dragons Love Tacos, This Book Is Not About Dragons, or Do Not Bring Your Dragon to the Library will love having a new dragon story to read and re-read. They will be even more thrilled to learn that this is only the first in a series of adventures starring these brave brothers. Don't forget to check out the Dragon Brothers website!

Highly recommended for ages 4+. I read an advance copy provided by the publisher for review purposes.    

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Winter Reading 2017 Tricked (Fairy Tale Reform School #3)


We return again to the world of FTRS with Gillian Cobbler, Prince Jaxon, Maxine, Ollie, Kayla, and the whole crew. Headmistress Flora has stepped down and Rump, er... that is, Mr. Stiltskin has taken charge as the head honcho. He has made many adjustments to the way things are run at the school, and those are not the only changes. Gilly's father has more business than he can handle in his shoe shop now that he has the concession for glass slippers (there's a two-month waiting period to get a pair). Gilly's younger sister, Anna, has fallen in with those thugs Hansel and Gretel. Gilly is bored with normal life and misses all her friends from FTRS, but it's not like she wishes for a crisis or anything. Right? Then again, just because you aren't looking for trouble doesn't mean that it won't find you.

With the trickster, I mean, Mr. Stiltskin cutting off Pegasus Post messages, Visitation Days, and changing the rules so that more youngsters are being sent to FTRS than ever before - something certainly seems to be brewing. Can Gilly and her friends find out what it is before the kingdom of Enchantasia is in deadly peril?

Fans of the series will be delighted to see Gilly, Jax, and their friends ride into danger again. There are plenty of storylines still unresolved from the previous books - Kayla's family had been turned into trees by Rump, you-know-who, before she came to FTRS. Now that he is at the school, can she talk him into transforming them back? Why did Headmistress Flora step down and take the role of simply being a professor at the school? Will the reformed students be able to stay on the straight and narrow?

One of the things I like about this series is the theme that you can't let others tell you what to do or who you are. You have to decide on your destiny for yourself. The character of Red Riding Hood makes a very wise statement, "...this is your quest. You have to make the hard choices." That's also true of life. And perhaps the students can learn to believe "I can be whatever I want to be - even if I don't know what that is yet." Many of the middle grade readers of this story/series can take that to heart.

Author Jen Calonita has once again created a fast-paced tale with plenty of action, humor and gentle truths about friends, families, and growing up. Highly recommended for middle grades and up. Visit the Enchantasia website to find out more about the world of Gilly and her friends.

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

Winter Reading 2017 Big & Little Questions (According to Wren Jo Byrd)


Some questions seem like little things. What does your house look like? That seems like a small thing. But if your parents have divorced and you now have two homes, which house does that question refer to? How do you answer that question? What did you do over the summer? Again, that seems like a casual query, unless you spent it with your grandparents while your parents divided the contents of your home.

For Wren, all these seemingly little questions cause incredible stress as her new school year starts. To make matters worse, her best friend has made a new acquaintance over the summer who seems to have taken Wren's place in her affections. With her new visitation schedule with her father, how will she be able to enjoy sleepovers and weekend movies with her friends? If everyone finds out about the divorce, will it change how everyone looks at her? After things change in such a big way, can all the little things rearrange themselves into a new kind of normal?

Readers who have experienced a similar change in their own lives will appreciate the struggles that Wren goes through, and recognize some of her feelings and reactions as being akin to their own. They will find themselves cheering her on and hoping that everything will work out well for her.

Great for middle grade readers who enjoy realistic fiction with families and friends at center stage.

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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Winter Reading 2017 El Deafo


Author Cece Bell has written a wonderful memoir of her childhood. She uses the graphic novel format to share her memories of what it was like to lose her hearing due to a severe illness before she was even old enough to start school. As she explains, this is based on her own experiences, and is not meant to be a defining example of the lives of others with hearing loss of various degrees. Cece takes experiences and people from her past and uses them to show some of the situations that were difficult, funny, sad, or triumphant. Some events were exactly like what everyone deals with in elementary school such as learning how to make friends, being nervous about starting a new grade or getting a new teacher, and having a first sleepover with friends. Others revolved more specifically around her hearing - people exaggerating what they said and speaking extra slowly, kids assuming that she knew sign language because she had hearing aids, or being referred to as "my deaf friend." Cece's sense of humor helped her cope then and her imagination created a wonderful alter ego, a super hero named "El Deafo," which has now become the title character in this amazing story.

Although we do not have any students in our school who use a Phonic Ear like the one Cece depended on at school, this book is a great way to start a discussion about how one attribute does not define who a person is or what they can do. This is a very popular checkout in our library just because it is a graphic novel, but I think the students who read it are learning about tolerance and understanding (even if they don't realize it).

Winter Reading 2017 The Adventures of Bubba Jones: Time Traveling through Shenandoah National Park


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 visit Shenandoah National Park to hike and camp, and also to work on solving a family mystery. Bubba Jones and his family arrive with their grandparents with plans to meet up with their cousin Washington and his parents, since they live near the park. They find out that Washington is working for the government on a project within the park, but it is top secret and he can't tell them any details. Bubba and Hug-a-Bug (his sister), feel like they can be trusted with secrets, after all - they protect the family secret of their time traveling abilities. 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. They meet famous figures like Thomas Jefferson and Herbert Hoover, see Paleo Indians hunting a woolly mammoth, play in the Iapetus Ocean 500 million years ago, and even see a military camp of Stonewall Jackson's troops and meet Civilian Conservation Corps workers. 

Combining the present day adventures of hiking and camping with the historical trips gives the reader a wonderful introduction to the park. Places like Massanutten Lodge, Rapidan Camp, Skyline Drive, and the Appalachian Trail will sound very familiar to readers who have visited the park, and those that have not been there yet will want to go after hearing all about its attractions. The blend of present day locations with historical events and figures makes it sound irresistible - just like the blackberry milkshakes in the roadside restaurants in the park.

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. 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. (And I had to laugh at Bubba's father picking up one of the author's books from the park gift shop.) 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Fall Reading 2016 Secrets & Sequences (Secret Coders #3)


Hopper, Eni, and Josh are still working on their coding skills with Mr., make that, Professor Bee. They have learned how to use verbal commands, enter commands with a keyboard and combine simple programs to make the robot do something new. This time round they learn about ifelse statements. In the previous book, the rugby team seemed to have it in for the Coders, and now we find out why. (Nope, I'm not telling.) The friends learn more about Bee's history at the school and even find out some connections between Bee and Hopper's missing father. But they need to find a way to defeat the evil Principal Dean and his mysterious evil ally. And we are left - again - with a cliff hanger to keep us anxiously waiting for the next book, Robots and Repeats. No spoilers, but I will leave you with this quote from Eni, "When your arch enemy becomes your principal, it's time for your last resort."
For kids (middle grades and up), who are interested in computers, robotics, and solving puzzles - this series is wonderful. It explains how each program works, then asks readers to think through what program is needed to solve the next problem. 
To try out your own coding skills, you may want to visit
I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Winter Reading 2017 Click, Clack, Surprise!


Little Duck is turning one and every animal on the farm is getting ready for the big party. Even Farmer Brown is in on it, baking and decorating a cake for the occasion. But problems arise when Little Duck decides to imitate the methods that the other animals use to primp for the party. All the guests are in for a very big surprise indeed!

Cronin and Lewin have added another winner to the Click Clack oeuvre. All the familiar animals are present, and watching them clean up to attend the celebration is sure to induce giggles. The sheep "snippity-clip, snippity-clip, snippity-clip clean," so that they go from looking like small white Sasquatches to something more similar to prize poodles. The rollicking, repetitive language will pull readers in and have them chanting along. 

I dare any parent or teacher to read it with a straight face as they come across the image of Farmer Brown strapping on an apron, or the phrase "Mice are floating past the window." (Say what? Yes, they are flying along, hanging onto the ribbons of balloons.) Or the illustration of Little Duck scrubbing his back with a brush bigger than he is.And then there is the page that shows the various animals canceling each of the party games. Imagine the explanations and discussions with youngsters about why Donkey would want to cancel Pin the Tail on the Donkey. That will be a lively talk.

Fans of the creative duo and the previous books set on the farm will be very happy to see this new one. New readers who have not encountered Duck and Farmer Brown before will be introduced to a whole new set of characters that they will want to add to their favorites.

I won a copy of the book in a giveaway.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Winter Reading 2017 Dust Bowl Girls: A Team's Quest for Basketball Glory


I'm not a big sports fan, but I do enjoy an occasional story about outstanding players or teams. I really liked "A League of Their Own," and this book seemed to be a similar type of story. If you have never heard of the OPC Cardinals, you are not alone. But they deserve to have their story shared, and for others to look at them as a source of inspiration. Just the idea that a bunch of farm girls attending a small, Christian college during the Dust Bowl years could actually win a national playoff is amazing! Then, when you take into account the fact that they were playing the reigning champions, who were led by the legendary Babe Didrikson, their success moves into the realm of unbelievable. But they did it, and this book clearly details their time working toward the championship. 

Author Lydia Reeder is actually the great niece of the Cardinals coach from that historic time, Mr. Sam Babb. She uses details pulled from family scrapbooks (her own and those of players), newspaper and magazine clippings, interviews, and the accounts maintained by the team's unofficial historian. She manages to do several things at once - paint a backdrop of the economic climate in Oklahoma during the early 1930s, show each of the girls with her own individuality, and build the interest and excitement of readers as the team approaches the playoff. Even those who do not normally read sports can still have a wonderful time reading about the "Cards" and their visionary coach.

Great for historical perspective, sports history and development of girls' basketball, and female role models. Highly recommended.

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